“Honey chile, honey lamb, honey baby, honey doll, honey pie.” Recently I found myself intoning this litany of “honeys” in a moment of love-drunkenness, with some cat or dog or person. It is from one of my childhood fave recordings, Spike Jones and His City Slickers’ 1945 version of “You Always Hurt The One You Love.” (An artistic peak, and it blows my mind that “The Blue Danube” is the B-side. To my mind, that’s right up there with “Day Tripper” and “We Can Work It Out” as a double whammy.)
It’s still a fave, though my politically-correct superego has wondered if that’s remotely OK during the monologue. (It’s almost impossible to enjoy comedy and animation from 60 plus years ago without confronting out-of-date stereotypes. I think it’s further fair to to say that the future may look ever-less-kindly on many moments of “The Simpsons” or Eddie Murphy’s “The PJs” that we give a pass to. Consider this an acknowledgement that there is some social complexity here that I couldn’t remotely hope to cover in one blog post, let alone a book.)
The first and third vocals are by Mr. Carl Grayson, who is mentioned by name by the monologist, Red Ingle. Listening and enjoying this for the thousandth time the other day, I decided that I should finally figure out if Red Ingle had a personalized parody target in mind with this performance, or if this was some sort of generalized blackface.
Research showed that the Mills Brothers had a Billboard #1 hit with (Doris Fisher and Allan Roberts’) “You Always Hurt The One You Love” in 1944. It was a quite popular song at the time, and though several stars were covering it at the time, they’d be the most likely target. Except that, in fact, their rendition is stylistically unlike the Spike Jones arrangement. It is wonderful, though, so here it is:
Here’s the actual Decca record:
No, Spike Jones and His City Slickers are doing this song in the style of the Ink Spots, who were in the middle of a long run of insane (and deserved) popularity. After a number of years in the early 1930s as a uptempo “Jive Swing” act, they had added to their ranks a young tenor singer named Bill Kenny. He introduced to the group (perhaps invented) a ballad style called “Top And Bottom”, in which his (or Deek Watson’s) tenor run-through of the verse was followed by a bass-voice spoken version, performed by Orville “Hoppy” Jones. Here is their massive 1939 hit which introduced the style:
“If I Didn’t Care”:
The style was influential, and is now seen as the stylistic predecessor to most of the doo wop ballads of the 1950s. I hear the Platters all over this, as well as the Moonglows’ “The Ten Commandments of Love,” one of my favorite recorded performances.
Hoppy Jones died of a brain hemorrhage in 1944, after collapsing onstage at New York’s Cafe Zanizibar. He was 39 years old. It appears that there are no films of the Ink Spots performing their signature song with Hoppy Jones in the bass spot. We have to go to a 1942 Abbott and Costello movie, “Pardon My Sarong,” to find Hoppy Jones at all:
Another song from this period, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.” You will notice that they stuck pretty darn closely to their formula once they found it. But it’s such a good one that it kept on working, song after song. You will notice that Hoppy Jones says “Honey” here, too. It was a part of the formula, and that’s what Red Ingle was magnifying in his deathless phrase.
The group continued on for many years after Hoppy Jones’ death, with other bass vocalists taking over the “Bottom” monologue. I am guessing this filmed remake of their first hit is from the early 1950s, shortly before Bill Kenny left the group:
Scott Schinder writes: “The proliferation of spin-off and impostor Ink Spots groups was/is a truly astounding pop-cultural phenomenon. The original group broke up in the early ’50s, but dozens of acts billing themselves as the Ink Spots, with tenuous or completely bogus connections to the originals, have continued performing ever since, and a handful are still around. Harold Jackson, the guy doing the monologue in the [following] version of “If I Didn’t Care” (with original Ink Spot Charlie Fuqua’s ’50s spinoff group) was still performing with an Ink Spots act as recently as three or four years ago, at the age of 90.”
Counterfeit they may be, but this is still a great performance, which is probably why we know about Harold Jackson at all. I would have been happy to see a concert of the 1950s lineup of Charlie Fuqua’s Ink Spots. WHO is that replacement tenor? Subject for further research.
Bill Kenny was a sweet-voiced tenor, but he was not gentle at all when it came to the subject of racism, and he was spot-on. The following quote is found on his Wikipedia page. Schinder and I both assume this is during WW2, the height of their popularity, when Kenny had a lot to lose to by making such a statement. I agree with him that this is also interesting, “as the Ink Spots were one of the first African-American recording acts to achieve mass success with white audiences.” Kenny’s quote describes a dichotomy that persists, in mutated form, to this day.
“As a loyal American citizen, I believe in America, but I am a complete alien where democracy is concerned. To the white man while I am on the stage, I am Mr. Bill Kenny. But when I am on the streets and still wear my colored face, I am no higher nor lower than the scum of this earth so far as he is concerned. On the other hand, after he learns of me, he immediately thinks differently because he feels that I have money. I am now wondering what Gen. MacArthur can teach the Japs (sic) about democracy when MacArthur knows nothing of that which he expects to teach Japan. If the American’s set about to teach the kind of democracy practiced here in America, this entire world in time, will be full of low ideals because there can be no crime committed by man lower than that of taking away the rights of an individual or a people. The Americans have since the beginning robbed the colored man of his legitimate rights, and this is a low crime.”
Tell it, Bill Kenny! And thanks for the great music.