Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pete Kellys Blues

The Program Pete Kellys Blues was like a Detective novel, speakeasys, dope fiends, dames.. it's all classic pulp fiction. It's a classic crime drama set in the 1920s. Mezz Mezzerow would have been right at home. It stars an actor you'd better know as better known as Police Sergeant Joe Friday in Dragnet. You can download a few episodes here.

It's genus begins in actor Jack Webb. He was a huge jazz fan. he owned thousands of jazz records. Jack Webb's first gig in Radio was as an announcer at a couple USO variety shows. Then he got a gig as a disc jockey on an early morning Jazz program at KGO-AM called the Coffee Club. Webb met Richerd L. Breen there and together they created a detective program Pat Novak for hire. It was the beginning of the deadpan style Webb later made famous in Dragnet. Dragnet made his career, and while dragnet was in it's ascendancy, he managed to get the latitude to do Pete Kelly's Blues with Breen.

The program aired over NBC July 4 through September 19, 1951 without a sponsor. That's a dangerous way to live in the golden age of radio. Programs only ran without sponsors when they were trolling for a sponsor to pick it up. Nobody did. Only 13 episodes ran. We only know the names of a few of them, and some of these are anecdotal: Little Jake, Dutch Courtney, the Senator, Zelda, Dr Jonathan Budd, , Gus Trudeau, The Stockbrokers Daughter, The Wonder Man, Vita Brand, the rest is unknown. The series was canceled. Strangely they went on to do a Pete Kellys Blues feature film also starring Jack Webb but co-starring Peggy Lee and Lee Marvin. In 1959 there was even a television version.

The radio series starred 31-year old Jack Webb as the voice of Pete Kelly. It was created by Richard Breen and Jack Webb. Contributing writers included James Moser and Jo Eisinger. The announcer was George Fenneman. the studio band was comprised of THE BAND: Dick Cathcart on cornet, Marty Matlock on clarinet, Elmer Schneider on trombone, Ray Schneider on piano, Bill Newman on guitar, Marty Carb on bass and Nick Fatool on drums. it's really more of dixieland line up which is actually more accurate to the 1920s setting. More here.

The 1955 film had a soundtrack that was cut to LP (reissued in 2008). Peggy Lee sang all over it ruining the kitsch. Ella Fitzgerald did a couple more redeeming cuts as well. There is another version of the sound track on Collector's Choice with all classic jazz w/ Dick Cathcart , and a Jack Webb narration. It's actually better in my opinion.

In the film Dick Cahart over-dubbed Jack Webb's cornet solos. In 1952 he'd already played for the Radio series. Cathcart was no radio novice. While in the military in the 1940s Cathcart had played trumpet for The Army Airforce Radio orchestra. After his discharge he played with Bob Crosby Orchestra. He was well seasoned and it shows. Cathcart died in 1993, outliving the workaholic Webb by 11 years. Breen actually became president of the screenwriters guild in 1952, but died at the age of 48 in 1967.

One of the odd things about the series is that it gives the address of the Speak easy where Pete Kelly performs as 417 Cherry Street by the water in Kansas City, MO. That address is real and looks a lot like a bar...