Wednesday, February 7, 2007

So Long, Mr Rhythm

You had Sinatra, Crosby and Presley -- all coronated rulers of their eras in recorded music. But there were also the troubadors that provided the links between male pop vocalists, from one genre to another.
Frankie Laine is likely remembered for such roustabout faux-western songs like High Noon, Rawhide, Ghostriders in the Sky and Mule Train, but it was in the bluesy and soul-esque fringes that he made his mark.
His style, he liked to say, came from the sounds of Louis Armstrong's trumpet — and it could be just as big, deep and sweaty as Satchmo's brassy melodymaker.
The list of films that he was called to sing the theme — Man Without a Star, 3:10 To Yuma, Gunfight at OK Corral, and Blazing Saddles, imprints a fine discography that was so much more than dusty, lusty western-ized ballads.
Take the growl from Rawhide, the pained exasperation from Jezebel, and the hopeful ballad I Believe and that was Laine on a platter. However, like anyone else who reaches the lofty age of 93 years, he had done much much more than mere music. He was active in the civil rights movement, and was the first white artist to step up and accept Nat King Cole's invitation to appear on his new TV show. While the show struggled to find a sponsor, Laine dropped his usual $10,000 appearance fee and sang for the union rate to help out his old pal.
I dare you to put on his 1957 Greatest Hits album and not feel the heat. A consumate performer, some of his best work came in duets with the likes of Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Johnnie Ray and Doris Day or accompanied by such greats as Buck Clayton and Michel Legrand.
He had it all — fame, fortune, talent. And he shared it all, too.
Here's to That Lucky Old Son!

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