“Rattle and Roll” (1945) Benny Goodman

“Rattle and Roll”

Composed and arranged by Wilbur “Buck” Clayton.

Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Columbia on December 19, 1945 in New York.

Benny Goodman, clarinet, directing: Conrad Gozzo, first trumpet; John Best, Bernie Privin, Billy Butterfield, trumpets; Kai Winding, Chauncey Welsch, Dick LaFave, trombones; Bill Shine, first alto saxophone; Gerald Sanfino, alto saxophone; Stanley Gayetski (Stan Getz) and Michael “Peanuts” Hucko, tenor saxophones; Danny Bank, baritone saxophone; Mel Powell, piano; Mike Bryan, guitar; Barney Spieler, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

The story:

Benny Goodman’s career in the early and mid-1940s, after his spectacular success as a bandleader/radio star/movie personality in the late 1930s, was far less commercially successful than it had been during his three-plus year run as the featured bandleader on the CBS network Camel Caravan ended at the end of 1939. Although the Goodman band was still a potent musical force as 1940 dawned, and Benny was playing as well as ever, he seemed unable to secure another ongoing sponsored network radio show as a financial and public relations base from which to promote his band for theaters, ballrooms, and other engagements. In addition, after four years as one of the two top swing bands on Victor Records (Tommy Dorsey’s was the other), Goodman was scuffling to sell records on the newly reorganized Columbia label. (He had left Victor in the spring of 1939 when he felt that Artie Shaw was getting all of that label’s attention and promotion in the swing market.)

BG and Charlie Christian – January  1941.

Musically, the successful formula Goodman had followed in the late 1930s, of using the arrangements of Fletcher Henderson, Jimmy Mundy, and Edgar Sampson as the core of his repertoire, was by 1940 somewhat old-hat, no matter how well he and his musicians played those very familiar arrangements. (Fortunately for Goodman fans, Benny hired and featured the pioneering electric guitar virtuoso Charlie Christian in August of 1939. Christian’s playing often injected much-needed excitement into an increasingly predictable Goodman repertoire in late 1939 and into 1940.)

The top swing bands of early 1940, including Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey, were taking swing audiences into new musical areas. Goodman’s clarinet-playing competitor, Artie Shaw, after a layoff, returned to the scene with an orchestra that contained a string section, something that was definitely unusual for swing in 1940. After working somewhat cautiously with arranger Eddie Sauter in 1939, Goodman gradually in early 1940 began to include some of Sauter’s more harmonically and rhythmically complex arrangements into his band’s nightly presentation.

In the spring of 1940, the Goodman band was playing a residency in the Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California. While generally coping well with the challenges he was facing as a bandleader, Benny was increasingly becoming unable to cope with the debilitating back pain that he was having. (The eventual diagnosis was severe sciatica caused by a slipped spinal disc.) Many musicians who worked with BG then recalled the manifestations of his pain in Benny’s countenance and posture. Often, Goodman was almost unable to stand, and when he did, he was bent over in agony. It is a testament to Benny Goodman’s iron willpower that he was able to continue to lead his band and play his clarinet at virtuoso levels as long as he did while afflicted by intense pain.

Benny Goodman band on Catalina Island – early July 1940: L-R: front: Johnny Guarnieri, Les Robinson, Toots Mondello, Red Ballard, Jerry Jerome; back: Artie Bernstein, Bus Bassey, Vernon Brown, Irving Goodman, Helen Forrest, BG, Nick Fatool, Jimmy Maxwell, Ted Vesely, Ziggy Elman. Charlie Christian, who was also a member of this band, probably was refused lodging at the St. Catherine’s Hotel, where the band stayed, explaining why he is not in this picture.

But finally, the pain became intolerable. “On July 10, Benny’s sciatica had become so painful that an immediate operation was deemed necessary. He flew (from Los Angeles) to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota where surgery was performed on July 12. His orchestra (which was playing a residency on Catalina Island off the California coast from Los Angeles), finished the engagement led by (MCA’s top bandleader), Kay Kyser.”(*) Immediately after the gig ended, the Goodman band, which had been in continuous operation since the summer of 1934, disbanded. Six of Goodman’s sidemen immediately joined Artie Shaw, who had a network radio show and a movie commitment, top-level work, in Los Angeles.

Composer-arranger Eddie Sauter.

Benny returned to bandleading at the end of October 1940, and put together a great band that was musically as strong as any he ever led. This band, which included at various times over the next year, trumpeters Cootie Williams and Billy Butterfield, guitarist Charlie Christian, drummers Dave Tough and Sid Catlett, tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld, trombonist Lou McGarity, and many other excellent musicians, provided strong stimulation (and musical challenge) to BG. His girl singers were Helen Forrest (a holdover from the previous BG band), and then a new discovery, Peggy Lee. The music made by this band ranks among the greatest of Goodman’s career.

With this band, Goodman’s flirtation with the work of arranger Eddie Sauter, evolved into something else. BG, perhaps reacting to the more advanced music being played by a number of other swing bands, began giving more prominence to Sauter’s original compositions and arrangements in his band’s presentations and recordings. The result was much remarkable music quite unlike anything any other bands were playing, and totally unlike the classic 1930s Goodman repertoire. Of course, Benny never abandoned his hits from the 1930s, so “King Porter Stomp,” and “Don’t Be That Way,” were played in the same night along with “Benny Rides Again,” “Superman,” “Moonlight on the Ganges,” and “Clarinet a la King.” Musically speaking, it was a tale of two vastly different sensibilities. The common denominator was the superb musicianship and spirit the Goodman band of 1941 brought to whatever they played.

As will be shown in subsequent posts here at swingandbeyond.com, the Benny Goodman-Eddie Sauter musical partnership was always an uneasy one. Despite the musical, and to some extent commercial success of many Sauter compositions and arrangements, BG’s involvement with Sauter’s music was only temporary. After the mid-1940s, Goodman essentially abandoned all of Sauter’s music.

Cataclysmic events swept over the United States at the end of 1941.The advent of World War II for the US, and the ongoing prosecution of the War for the succeeding three and a half-plus years, resulted in many casualties. Among those casualties was the cultural phenomenon known as the swing era.Other developments on the US home front also eroded the financial base and business model that the swing band business operated on. Probably the only reason why swing bands continued to work throughout World War II was the booming, war-fueled economy. People who remained in the US during the War were working full-time, and had money in their pockets. When they weren’t working, they went dancing, as they had for many years before the start of the War.

After the war against Japan ended in the summer of 1945, large-scale demobilization of the US armed forces began. By the end of 1945, millions of the men who had been in military service had returned home. Their lives had been on hold for up to four years. They were eager to reintegrate into life at home. They wanted to get a job, marry, have a family, buy a house and simply enjoy living in a non-military environment. Those pursuits kept them quite busy, and took most of the money they earned. They were not returning to the ballrooms and road houses where before the war, they danced to the music of swing bands. The downturn in business among dance bands/swing bands in late 1945 and through 1946 was precipitous.

Benny Goodman – mid-1940s.

Benny Goodman survived the calamitous events of World War II that affected the band business better than most bandleaders because he was Benny Goodman, a preeminent name in the field. While business was booming during the War, BG worked more or less continuously, demanding and receiving top dollar for his music. Still, he like all other bandleaders, was sensing the general downturn by the end of 1945. But unlike most other bandleaders, Goodman had built up considerable momentum during the War, and was still riding on that.

Trumpeter John Best with Goodman’s band.

Like other bandleaders who did not serve in the military during World War II (BG’s chronic back problems, plus his severe myopia kept him out), Goodman toured (often with military transport) military installations in the US with the bands he led during the War. This was done in addition to the other “normal” work a successful swing band did, like touring (which was difficult during the War because of gas rationing), broadcasting on radio from whatever locations they played that had a radio wire, and playing theaters for a week or more at a time. Benny could not make commercial records from August 1, 1942 until after mid-November 1944 because of the recording ban imposed by musicians’ union boss James C. Petrillo. Columbia Records, to whom Goodman was contracted, settled with the Union then. Due to continuing military conscription during the War, Benny had to deal with continuous personnel turnover in the years 1942-1945. Nevertheless, his clarinet playing during those years was superb, and top musicians were still thrilled to play with him, despite his sometimes odd behavior.

The music:

Goz the great.

In looking at the personnel listing above for “Rattle and Roll,” I am struck by the large number of musicians who had during the War been in either Artie Shaw’s Navy band or Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force band, and then whom Benny hired after they left the military. From Shaw: trumpeters John Best and Conrad Gozzo; trombonist Dick La Fave; and bassist Barney Spieler. From Miller: trumpeter Bernie Privin; saxophonist Peanuts Hucko; and pianist Mel Powell. The trumpet section of Gozzo, Best, Privin and Billy Butterfield, all absolutely top line musicians, is as you will hear on this recording, superb. There is fire coming out of those horns on the brass shout passages, with Conrad Gozzo leading the way. Benny also had the 18 year-old tenor saxophone prodigy Stan Getz in the lineup, and drummer Buddy Rich, whose exuberant and explosive drumming at once drives and levitates this band.

Stan Getz solos under the watchful eye of Benny Goodman.

The composer and arranger of this tune, Buck Clayton, who had made a name for himself as a trumpeter with Count Basie’s band before the War, was still in uniform, stationed at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey when he sold this chart to Goodman. (For purposes of copyright, the composers of “Rattle and Roll” are identified as Wilbur Clayton, William J. Basie, and Benjamin D.Goodman.)

Clayton definitely knew a thing or two about the blues (“Rattle and Roll” is a fast blues), and about how to swing a big band.This performance starts with a blast of brass and an explosion of drums, and continues with joyous swing for the next three minutes and sixteen seconds.The soloists, in addition to BG on clarinet, are: Mel Powell on piano; Chauncey Welsch on trombone; Stan Getz on tenor sax; John Best on trumpet; and of course Buddy Rich on drums.

Post Script:

Buddy Rich – union scale??

Rich was contacted by BG before this recording session because Benny was having drummer problems yet again, and needed a strong performer to cut this tune, which is a real swinging romp. So Rich agreed to do the recording session more or less as a favor to Goodman. Money was not discussed, a mistake for Rich. Goodman knew what he was doing. BG scholar Russ Connor reported that Benny sent Rich a check after the recording session for union scale. Rich, who hadn’t played for scale since he was in Joe Marsala’s band in 1937, returned the check to Goodman. Benny in imitable fashion, kept the check, and never discussed the issue with Rich again.(*) Buddy then, in imitable Richian fashion, told anybody who would listen for the next forty years, that Benny never paid him for that recording date.

They never worked together again, although BG sent out a tentative invitation to Rich to be a part of BG’s forty-year anniversary Carnegie Hall concert, to be presented on January 17, 1978. Presumably, the money issue was resolved before the concert, and then Rich told Benny “I’ll play Sing, Sing,Sing like you’ve never heard it before!” Goodman recoiled, and said, “Say, Pops, I think I’ll use my regular drummer…”

(*) The Record of a Legend…Benny Goodman, by D. Russell Connor, (1984) Let’s Dance Corp., page 123.

(**) Ibid. page 174.

This recording was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

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  1. I look forward to these articles because you not only teach me history but you have a great “ear” unlike many music historians. When you describe the music, arrangers and players I can almost hear them play! I have to get one of those sharp double breasted suits pictured in the BG photo!!

  2. Excellent! Both the recording and the detailed notes. Thought I knew a fair amount about BG, but learned some new things here. Loved the BG-Buddy Rich exchange re Sing, Sing, Sing!

    Keep up the more-than-good work!

  3. Great post.
    Amazing that BG could insult Buddy Rich over a small amount of money. Was it really worth it to BG to have Rich bad-mouth his reputation forever?

  4. My lifelong musical idol Benny Goodman could be difficult at times but remember he broke the colour bar in America in employing black players in his bands and small groups.
    Benny you are my hero!

  5. This is totally under the radar, but I came across your commentaries while looking references to Dick LeFave. He was my late wife’s cousin Glad’s husband and we met him in Rockport in 1969 through Glad’s father, Albert Lehman, who was with a Boston paper and then Eisenhower’s Press Secretary. I hadn’t done exhaustive enough searches apparently but yesterday found your 2013 comment about ” thinking of Dick LeFave”. He continued barbering in Boston for years and locally for various events. I never heard him play, and finding the recording of “LTS Party”. We still have his trombone and really wish we had begged more persuasively for him to play or us.

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