Thursday, September 17, 2015

Henry Busse and Henry Busse Jr.

Henry Busse and his Rhythm Shuffle Orchestra was probably the pinnacle of Busse's career in the 1930s. He was a jazz trumpeter, born near Magdeburg in Germany in 1894. He was forced to play trumpet for his uncle's Oompah Band, and ran away from home. By 1916 he was playing in a movie theater pit band in Hollywood. A year later he was in a band with Bing Crosby in a band named Busse's Buzzards. He later ran the house band at the Chez Paree, a night club owned by none other than mob boss Al Capone. Busse had a lot of lucky breaks.

But he had some critics. Downbeat magazine despised him and denigrated his music (even the hits) as "sweet" or "Mickey Mouse." Even 50 years later the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio refers to his band as a "novelty orchestra." But he made a good living. He even played with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. In 1928 he founded his Rhythm Shuffle Orchestra and got married. His only son was born in 1931, and 3 years later he got divorced. But Henry Busse Sr. and his Orchestra continued to record and perform up until his death in 1955 at an undertakers convention in Memphis. (No kidding)

Busse Junior grew up in Milwaukee initially with dad then relocated with mom to Anoka, MN.  He grew up in the North Star State attended St. Cloud State University, then dropped out and went to Beck School of Broadcasting.  To avoid the Korean War, he enrolled in the National Guard and was stationed in Alabama. When he got out of the Guard he studied broadcasting at Brown Institute in Minneapolis, MN and after graduating he got a radio job in Aberdeen, SD... and was fired. The Brown Institute, found him another spot, this time in Mankato,MN at KYSM-AM. He would return to that station half a dozen times over his career.

Storz Broadcasting hired him to 660 KOWH-AM in Omaha,NE. He worked there from 1957 to late 1959 when Storz sold it.  He moved to WOKY-AM in Milwaukee, then to KTLN in Denver, CO and then back to KSYM.He tried to go straight and open a liquor store, but he was wooed back to the mic and was on air at KTOE in Mankato by 1979. Then like his dad he struck it lucky. He was hired to run KMSU-FM, the college station at Minnesota State University in Mankato. He remained there until 1994.

Then Busse Jr. went back to KSYM-AM again. But that time he got lucky too This time he was playing  playing jazz and big band and sometimes even his dad's records. A producer once brought Busse Jr. a set of fourteen 15-minutes radio shows of Henry Sr. recorded as “Henry Busse and his Meaumont Orchestra.” You see, Busse Sr. spent a bit of time on air as well. The book American Big Bands by William F. Lee noted that during WWII, Henry Busse Sr. and His Orchestra appeared on the weekly radio shows Coca-Cola Spotlight and the Fitch Bandwagon.

Toward the end of WWII he made recordings for AFRS programs in 1944. In 1945 he performed what was probably his lat radio work on the show Cosmo Tune Time on the Mutual Network. But, before that, the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio also lists a 30-minute NBC program airing in 1936 and 1937 sponsored by Maro-Oil in it's band remotes section. Those were live broadcasts sustained by the NBC network and broadcast without interruption. While that led to some very hot improvised performances by some artists, I'd expect Busse was more subdued. Busse Jr. died in 2013 at the age of 82. More here.