Thursday, January 24, 2013

DJ Spike Jones

Spike Jones was born Lindley Armstrong in 1911 in Longbeach California. He was a drummer by trade so the percussion was natural for him. But he also played with groups in the 1940s doing popular dance numbers. His first gigs on air were at KFOX-AM and KGER-AM around 1928 with the band Spike Jones and his Five Tacks. They played hot jazz, and weren't yet incorporating kitchen utensils and car horns. His first break was in the 1930 when he joined the Victor Young orchestra filling in for Vic Burton. By 1936 he was doing studio sessions with the group. Victor Young was connected, he was the musical director of the Harvest of Stars radio program. (It ran on NBC and CBS from 1945 to 1950)

After that he began appearing on syndicated radio programs. At first he was just a house drummer, playing for Al Jolson and Burns & Allen. Then he started appearing on the Kraft Music Hall program from 1940 - 1942 while Bing Crosby was it's host. That's about when his group officially became Spike Jones and The City Slickers. They played a NBC show called Point Sublime in 1941 under the name Duke Daniels and the City Slickers. The name Spike Jones appeared shortly thereafter. In 1942 they cut "Der Fuhrer's Face" and it exploded. He had a movie deal within a week.

But Jones kept working in radio. He played a bit on Fibber & Molly McGee 1940-1943.  Then the Lifebuoy Program aka the Bob Burns Show in 1943 and 1944 and now The City Slickers were the house band. He got an even more central role as a summer replacement in 1945  for Edgar Bergen on the  NBC program, The Chase and Sanborn Program.

Then he got his own show. Starting in 1947 he was hosting the Coca-Cola Spotlight revue, (aka the Coke Show) which was renamed in 1949 as The Spike Jones Show. He did a tour in 1949 and grossed over a million dollars. RCA Victor took out full page ads in Billboard just to brag. It was said that his booking agency MCA got him the gig. They had a lot of muscle back them so I believe that. Guests included Frank Sinatra, Frankie Laine, Mel Torme, Peter Lorre, Don Ameche and Burl Ives. The program ended in June of 1949. After that he went off to TV and Hollywood. But he had been a heavy smoker for decades and by then was using an oxygen tank offstage to keep going. He died of emphysema in 1965. He was only 54.