If someone had told me as recently as only a few months ago that a several-years-long CD labor of love of mine would ever actually see the light of day as a 2005 release, I'd have been tempted to invoke a paraphrase of that much-quoted line uttered by Estelle Reiner in When Harry Met Sally: "I'll have what you're having."
The album, Down in the Depths by ex-Gene Krupa band singer Bill Black, is just about the only one of my various writing or music projects to ever come to pass without my doing much in the way of causing it to happen.
Last year I went to Japan, half to try and sell some recording masters that I was representing, and just as much to experience cherry blossoms for the first time. As an afterthought, I placed a Bill Black track on a sampler disc. But leave it to the Japanese, true custodians and keepers of the U.S. cultural flame! Black was by far the least well-known of the lot, but a fine medium-sized record label chose his album for release over nearly all the other artists on the sampler, some of whom are fairly well-known. Down in the Depths is scheduled for release 8/31/05.
In the same spirit one might pay to have a favorite but faded painting to be cleaned up, I had shelled out to have the previously-unreleased 1955 recording restored, mostly because I wanted to be able to hear it without the attendant sonic distress that had built up on the acetate disc over the years. Then, like Topsy, it just grew.
The record outfit also picked up two others of the albums on the sampler for release this year on my own boutique label (Cellar Door Records - Japan) to be distributed by them. But I still can't get over the Bill Black release. In fact, it's already shown up for ordering on the great U.S. Dusty Groove web site.
I've just received the both concise and thoughtful copy for the text that will appear on the back of the CD. A Japanese associate of the label wrote it; I'd like to share it.
"Bill Black was born in 1927 to a musical family in Granite City, Illinois. He started singing professionally at an early age and, after several years in St. Louis, headed for New York. Gene Krupa hired Black as his band's vocalist in 1948. Black, who was with Krupa for 18 months, was the last fully-employed 'boy' singer with the band before it folded in 1950.
George T. Simon predicted that Black would become the next big singer, in the lineage of Crosby, Sinatra, Haymes and Como. In the 1949 "Down Beat" magazine readers' poll of Band Singers, he came in fourth, just behind Johnny Hartman and one notch ahead of Buddy Greco.
But Black's career did not progress after he left Krupa. He fled to Canada and changed his name to Clay Mundey, according to Black, to avoid a tax problem. However, others have said that in 1951 Black was attacked bythe Mob and left on a Los Angeles freeway, and that his injuries required ayear of recuperation. Around this time he had signed as a solo artist with Mercury Records, but for whatever reason, it was a contract he was never to fullfil.
Bill Reed, the release producer of this obscure but historically and artistically important album, met Black (still posing as Clay Mundey) when the latter was working as a desk clerk at the YMCA in New York City in the early 1960's. They became friends and Black gave Reed the original acetate disc of Down in the Depths, recorded in the mid-fifties. Despite a serious alcohol problem, Black remained popular with his friends,who included many Hollywood stars. Then, one night in 1989, a seriously ailing Black had one final shot of his drink of choice, vodka, went to sleep andwas found dead the next morning by a neighbor who looked in on him. He was buried in "Potter's Field."
and from my blog of. . .
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
A has-been under TWO names
By the late 50s, singer Bill Black, on the run from the mob, had fully inhabited his new persona of "Clay Mundey." And when, around that time, influential midwestern music critic Dale Stevens informed that, in essence, he would eat his shorts if Mundey didn't become the next big thing, he apparently had no idea that he was writing about the very same performer of whom, less than a decade earlier, major jazz critic George T. Simon had written:
"Right now Gene Krupa has himself a fine singer and a fine performer. I have a hunch that sometime in the future he's going to garner a little additional glory of the reflected variety from Bill Black."
Both men were very right about Black/Mundey's artistry, but couldn't have been wronger about the fact that he would soon arrive. He finally does---sort of---when SSJ Records (Japan) issues his posthumous CD, Down in the Depths on August 25th. Too bad there's no heaven, no hell (t'ain't ya know) from which he can observe his belated digital transcenendence.
I suppose I'll never get over wondering what it was that caused Bill Black to run so fast, so far from the long arm of the organized crime "wing" of the record biz.
Over the years since the, I have collected some of the several dozen air checks and the five commercial sides that Black/Mundey did with Krupa.. One of the songs, "Tulsa," has a somewhat interesting back story. Clearly the number was written for the soundtrack of the motion picture of the same name that year. And most likely, "Bill Black" would have made a commercial recording, which in turn might have been used on the soundtrack of the film. All of which could have conceivably pointed his career in a nice direction, because the tune, by Allie Wrubel and Mort Greene, is an uncommonly good one as far as these things go. And Black just might have scored a hit recording that would have catapaulted him out of the boy band singer category and into the solo big time. Alas, there was a musician's strike that year and, thus "Tulsa" was never commercially recorded. Thus the "live" version with the Krupa band here---along with one other Krupa/Black aircheck of the song---are, to the best of my knowledge, the only versions of this terrific little song ever cut.