Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Musical Stylings of Charles Dawson Butler

Daws Butler’s reputation is so dominated by his stellar cartoon voice acting, people forget he had several other successful and lengthy careers. Perhaps the biggest one—at least for a couple of decades—was that of recording artist.

Daws made three types of records during overlapping periods of time. While he was still in radio and working occasionally for Tex Avery at MGM, Daws began lending his voice to children’s records. For example, in late 1950, Belda Records released Daws and Marian Richman in such tales as ‘Three Blind Mice,’ ‘The Enchanted Toymaker’ and ‘The Flying Turtle,’ which came with its own comic book of the story. He moved to the big leagues March 5, 1953 by signing with Capitol, for whom he made such recordings as ‘Peppy Possum’.

Then in October 1953, Daws and Stan Freberg seem to have given birth to the comedy record industry with their Capitol 45 of ‘St. George and the Dragonet’ (Walter Schumann composed the Dragnet theme and had a version of it on the charts at the same time). Daws and Stan went on to record other satires that, in some cases, are even more relevant today (1958’s Green Christmas, for example).

Daws’ third type of recording came after the smash success of Huckleberry Hound when he cut various sides for Colpix (Columbia Pictures’ record arm) of characters of the Hanna-Barbera TV shows (distributed by Columbia).

Some of Daws’ recordings are rare and heard mainly on novelty record shows. But, thanks to the internet, they’re in circulation and we’ll present six eight of them for your listening pleasure. Click on the name of the cut and it should pop up in your media player. I know very little about these but we have experts reading who will no doubt fill everyone in.

Daws recorded a few of his own parodies. Configity-ential! is his take-off of the 1950s scandal rag ‘Confidential.’ Daws uses his Gleason voice here and if you don’t recognise the little old lady with him, you really shouldn’t be reading this blog. The Mr. Worm voice sure reminds me of one Freberg did in the ‘Bridey Murphy’ sketch.


CONFIGITY-ENTIAL!

Next comes The Sixty-Four Million Dollar Question, his travesty of the TV game show ‘The $64,000 Question.’ The voice of Ramsey Cull should remind you of a certain cartoon cat that’s, like, you know, orange and hates meeces to pieces. I like how the announcer is named “George”; George Fenneman was Groucho Marx’ announcer on ‘You Bet Your Life.’ June Foray is Ingrid. Did Billy May do the music on these two?

THE SIXTY-FOUR MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION

The next two are really cute. They feature Daws singing in character using one of his little boy voices that’s pretty close to Elroy Jetson but a little more upbeat. The boy in this case is a duckling named Inky. Who else but Daws would put “peptic ulcers” in the lyrics of a kid’s song? These both have piano accompaniment and a small chorus. The last one refers to “George.” I’d like to think it’s the great George Shearing doing some session work for some extra bucks.

INKY DINKY

LUCKY PIN

Now we come to two songs with Daws as Huckleberry Hound. Hanna-Barbera wasn’t making new Huck cartoons by 1964, but the affable blue dog was still in syndication and still very much a money-making property for the studio. Billboard of December 26, 1964 devoted part of its front page space to this story, which explains the background behind the final records we’re posting. Here’s the relevant portion of the story:

Hanna-Barbera Forms Label; Tap Bohanan
By ELIOT TIEGEL

HOLLYWOOD—Hanna-Barbera Productions, the eight-year-old TV film production firm, is entering the record industry, and has named Don Bohanan to head its new venture. The label will be known as Hanna-Barbera Records.
Bohanan, marketing director for Liberty Records, will move to H-B the first of the year. The label will produce and market material aimed at both the adult and children’s fields. Bohanan’s first duties will be to build his executive team.
Bohanan’s successor at Liberty will be named next week.
“We are setting up an operation to exploit all our cartoon characters and we expect to come out with a complete middle line of low-end, middle-price and class line of products,” said Bill Hanna, co-owner with Joseph Barbera of the successful animation film production company.
“We plan to go into all phases of the record business,” Hanna said. “We have our own recording facilities and are completely equipped to move ahead in that field. We feel our characters, as we have them now and as we continue to develop them, will make good merchandisable material for the kiddie and adult market,” Hanna said.
In the company’s eight years, its growth has been one of Hollywood’s brightest success stories. The Hanna-Barbera touch has been applied to such network TV properties as “Yogi Bear,” “Flintstones,” “Huckleberry Hound” and “Magilla Gorilla.”
In the past, H-B has placed its material with other labels. Through a licensing agreement with Screen Gems, H-B characters were issued on both Colpix and Golden Records. The company recently entered the novelty field through Ned Herzstam’s Merri Records which issued the single “Bingo Ringo,” by Huckleberry Hound.
It is understood Bohanan’s contract with H-B is for three years.

It’s not too clear when Herzstam started Merri. He was a pianist and former WW2 prisoner of war who wrote some songs in the ‘50s and eventually got connected in 1963 to a Los Angeles company called Fink Records. Here are the two Huck-style parodies released by Merri. Bingo Ringo takes aim at Lorne Greene’s ‘Ringo’, the spoken-word 45 that topped the Adult Contemporary and Pop charts in 1964.

BINGO RINGO

And finally, Huck does a beach blanket version of his signature song, Clementine. We get some cheesy, note-bending back-up singers in addition to kind of a lame guitar open. It’s too bad they didn’t stick in a bridge with a wicked surf guitar and a Hammond organ but, as another song of a few years later reminds us all, you can’t always get what you want. If it had been Freberg, he would have found a way to ridicule the whole musical genre, like he did others. Of course, Freberg’s hypothetical 45 would have been aimed at adults; this one isn’t.

CLEMENTINE

It’s a pleasure to hear Daws do the characters he originated. Golden Records apparently cut its sides in New York, with local actor Gil Mack approximating Daws’ voice. Okay, he’s not. Some of Mack’s impressions are downright awful and at least one makes you wonder if he had ever heard the character before. We’ll save those for another time. If nothing else, they—like the six cuts above—make you appreciate the artistry of Charles Dawson Butler.

A Yowp Bonus: At the suggestion of Kliph Nesteroff, broadcaster, researcher, writer and humanitarian cyclist, I have added a third novelty record, I Was a Teenage Reindeer, released in November 1959 on the well-known Dico label.


I WAS A TEENAGE REINDEER

The review of this single in Billboard that month is ridiculously charitable by calling Backus’ performance “Magoo-ish”. It’s so full of Magoo, I keep waiting for him to walk onto an airplane wing and call for Waldo (played occasionally by one D. Butler). Daws doesn’t quite do Jinks, as the pitch is a bit different, but you’ll notice the resemblance.

And since Errol rang up the Yowp All Hits/All the Time request line, here are Daws and the unmistakeable Billy Bletcher in ‘Peppy Possum’, recorded at Capitol’s Melrose Avenue studios on October 21, 1953. It was turned into the soundtrack of a Mel-O-Toon cartoon about 1959-1960. This version skips at the beginning. We even get Daws singing in character, sped up.


PEPPY POSSUM

Daws got credit on the cartoon. Bletcher didn’t. If you go here to the 39:29 mark, you can see it in black and white. The Mel-O-Toons were produced by Art Scott’s studio; Scott had been an assistant to Dick Lundy and Ed Love at Disney in the pre-strike period, and you’ll see his name in credits at Hanna-Barbera, starting with The Flintstones. As for the record, Billy May conducted the orchestra and a member of the string section is Harry Bluestone, who composed his own stock music used by H-B a few years later.

10 comments:

  1. You're overlooking "i was a teenage reindeer," a Christmas-Beatnik novelty featuring Daws and Jim Backus!

    http://beemp3.com/download.php?file=6074348&song=I+Was+A+Teenage+Reindeer

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  2. Butler, as you may also know, co-wrote "The Humphrey Hop" with George Bruns in 1956. The song was a variation of the song "In The Bag" from the Disney cartoon of the same name, with different lyrics by Butler. There is a recording of it but I don't believe Butler was directly involved.

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  3. Great Stuff!!! I knew Daws did some recordings, but had no idea he did this many. I have a bunch of the old " Mel-O-Toons " where Capitol and RCA recordings were turned into cartoons, but sadly, not " Peppy Possum ". I have one of the Freberg albums, " Stan Freberg with the original cast ". Has a picture of Stan holding a script, and wearing a cast. Daws does some great work on those albums.

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  4. I like dug that teenage reindeer the most dad! What was on the flip of that hip vinyl biscuit? And what biscuit maker put out that slice of xmas cheer?

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  5. Wow, that Gil Mack was really bad news when it came Hanna Barbera, wasn't he?

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  6. "Yowp-Yowp" Dodsworth,

    We cannot forget that Colpix Records (Columbia Pictures' phonographic arm) ended turning into Colgems Records, Bell Records and nowadays Arista Records (which's linked to the Sony BMG conglomerate).

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  7. James, the reindeer single was on Dico. It was a label founded in mid 1959 by Lou Busch after a ten-year career at Capitol. Dico was one of all kinds of small labels released by Allied. Ned Herzstam was working for Allied in the late 50s so these guys all seem connected somehow. I believe the 'B' side was a Backus piece called "The Office Party."

    Errol, archive.org has the Mel-O-Toons consecutively in one long file. The animation makes Filmation look like 'Fantasia' but if you love children's records voiced by Don Wilson, they're interesting to listen to. Capitol had classy kids records, thanks to Billy May and Alan Livingstone.

    Zartok, I'm presuming exclusive contracts must have been the reason Golden used Mack. He may have talent, but not as a Daws Butler mimic. He's Dave Barry-as-Elmer Fudd bad at times.

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  8. My favorite Daws voice, Mr. Jinx, kinda reminds me of a hipster character Ernie Kovacs used to do.

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  9. Thank you for all these gems. I love Daws' work with Freberg as much as I love his HB stuff.

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  10. Gilbert Mack was a New York stage and radio actor, perhaps best remembered from being a frequent actor on the CBS Mystery Theater. He did many Golden Records in addition to the Hanna-Barbera titles.

    As to why they didn't use the "real voices," as I used to call them when I was a kid and yes, I noticed no matter how young I was, has more to do with budget and contracts than anything else. I have heard that Daws has a contract with Colpix at the time, but I don't know the facts behind that.

    What I can surmise is that Golden also had a limited budget that did not allow them to fly Daws Butler to NYC or their staff to LA. I also think that the Golden "Songs of the Flintstones" and "Magilla Gorilla" LP's may have been produced by Hanna-Barbera and released by Golden, much like Disney's Mickey Mouse Club records were.

    It's probably a safe bet that Gil Mack had little or no reference audio for the many voices that he had to do in what was likely a recording session with a limited time for preparation. They could play a few soundtracks for him, but it's unlikely that they showed 16mm prints for the hours needed to get the voices down. That's not an excuse for the relative quality of his impressions, but is more likely the reality of making a children's record that sells for one or two dollars.

    What was even odder was when Charles Shows cast anyone the HB characters for the HBR records using pretty much whoever could make the session. It is very interesting to hear Paul Frees' take on Mister Jinks and Allan Melvin as Yogi Bear. Not like the original, mind you, but interesting.

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