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There’s no truth to the rumor that Lindley Armstrong Jones was born with a drumstick in his hands, when he made his debut in Long Beach, California, on Dec. 14, 1911. But by the age of seven he had decided to become a musician. Spike, the son of a schoolteacher and a railroad depot agent, reportedly got his nickname from a telegrapher because he hung around the tracks so often. He took trombone and piano lessons as a kid, growing up in the desert towns of the Golden State. Jones led his own combo, the Five Tracks, while in high school and continued to do so following graduation in 1929. Among his gigs in the early ’30s was a swanky Hollywood dance band job with fledging bandleader Sam Coslow, soon to write a song called “Cocktails for Two” that would unwittingly prove an annuity for his ambitious young drummer. Read More»
Spike Jones wasn’t the first musician to wander into the “corn” field, nor would he be the last. Ted Lewis, Fred Waring, Irving Aaronson and others displayed an abundant sense of humor in their recordings of the 1920s; the Hoosier Hot Shots, the Schnickelfritzers and their virtual clone, the Korn Kobblers, proved the harmonic potential of washboards, cowbells and auto horns in the ‘30s. But Spike would leave them all in the dust when he and his acquaintances started making novelty records. Read More»
Jones put together a large dance band he called his Other Orchestra in 1946, disappointing an unsuspecting public. More successfully he reorganized the City Slickers for a new two-hour variety show, The Musical Depreciation Revue, and began touring the country on a punishing itinerary.
Spike and the Slickers enjoyed a two-year run on CBS Radio in the The Spike Jones Show from 1947-49, sponsored by Coca Cola and broadcast from various cities on their itinerary. “Hawaiian War Chant,” “My Old Flame,” “The William Tell Overture” and “Two Front Teeth” were among the numbers they recorded before the start of another year-long record ban late in 1947. Read More»
The band made its network television debut on NBC “The Colgate Comedy Hour”. The band hosted two episodes of NBC TV’s All-Star Revue in 1952, finally getting its first TV series on the same network two years later. Jones and the Slickers also starred in a 1954 film for Universal, Fireman, Save My Child co-starring Buddy Hackett and Hugh O‘Brian in place of Abbott and Costello, who were originally slated. Ever the perfectionist, Spike was dissatisfied with the finished product. He planed an ambitious daytime TV variety series, but failed to sell the idea. Read More»
Jones continued making records after departing RCA, waxing “Spike Spoofs the Pops” and a number of LPs for Verve, most notably “Dinner Music for People Who Aren’t Very Hungry.” He followed this assault on the public’s eardrums with “Spike Jones in Stereo” (aka “Spike Jones in Hi-Fi”) for Warner Bros. Records and “Omnibust” for Liberty.
In league with changing tastes, the Slickers abandoned their loud plaid suits for pastel tuxedos and became The Band That Plays for Fun, for a 1957 CBS TV series that marked a departure in style. The following year, Spike served as bi-weekly host for the summer season on NBC’s Club Oasis. Read More»
Jones’ prodigious activity in his last years belied his ill health. He recorded but did not release an LP parodying conductor Leonard Bernstein, “Spike Jones as Leonard Burnside Discusses…” He contemplated a staggering number of other projects, meanwhile recording four Liberty albums with his New Band ranging from “Washington Square” to “Hank Williams Hits.”
Jones managed to fulfill a February 1965 engagement in Las Vegas, despite his illness. In March, he collapsed at Harrah’s Club in Lake Tahoe – ignoring warnings that the altitude was too severe — and was flown to a hospital in Los Angeles. Read More»