typified an era as surely as the acre of chrome on a 1948 Buick. He was the consummate smooth performer from the pre-rock and roll era who nevertheless survived the changing times and perpetuated his career into the '80s. However, a somnolent Perry Como Christmas Special from Hawaii in the '80s is a far cry from the music that first brought Como to prominence.
Como, born in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania on May 18, 1812, was a progeny of the big band era. However, he gave little thought to a career in entertainment and intended to make his career as a barber. As early as 1933, Como had his own barbershop in Canonsburg and, despite the onset of the Depression, he had a flourishing business. He was netting over $125 a week, good money in those straightened times, when he decided to splurge on a vacation to Cleveland, Ohio. At the urging of his friends, he tried out for the vocalist's chair in a local territory band, the Freddie Carlone Orchestra, which was based in Cleveland.
Two weeks after returning to Canonsburg, Como received a wire from Carlone offering him $28 a week to sing with the band. Despite the fact that this was almost $100 a week less than he was clearing in his barbershop, Como accepted. For three years, Como learned his new trade in the resort hotels and small dance halls of Ohio and upstate New York that were the staple diet of the Carlone band. He expanded his repertoire and learned vocal projection in front of a large orchestra. His approach was modeled loosely upon the informal style that had been refined by Bing Crosby with Paul Whiteman.
By 1936 Como was getting restless. He was approached by Ted Weems who, together with Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller and the Dorseys, was one of the lynchpins of the white big band scene. Weems offered him $50 a week and Como shifter allegiance. With Weems he hit Broadway and some of the larger venues in the major east coast cities. He also saw his name listed as featured vocalist on Weems' records.
In 1942, as the logistics of holding a big band together became tougher, Weems folded his orchestra. Como went back to Canonsburg, determined to re-open his barbershop and spend more time with his wife Roselle whom he had married in 1933 and their two year old son. He was on the verge of signing a lease on a storefront property when he received a wire from the General Artists Corporation offering him a Victor recording contract and a CBS radio show. Tom Rockwell, president of GAC, had pitched a demo that Como had recorded to Jim Murray, head of RCA Victor and Victor signed him to a contract despite the fact that there was a Musicians Union recording ban in place. This meant that Como's first sides were recorded with only a vocal group for support, because vocalists were covered by a different union.
His first Victor recording, Goodbye Sue, was a success and Como was promoted as Victor's answer to Frank Sinatra. GAC booked him into the Copacabana, the Paramount Theatre and the Versailles ballroom in New York. By the time his first round of solo appearances had finished, the line-ups extended around the block. In 1944 Como went to Hollywood to star in his firest movie, Something for the Boys, with Phil Silvers and Carmen Miranda. The Jingoism of those far off years is echoed in Dig You Later (A Hubba, Hubba, Hubba) with its somewhat disparaging references to the Japanese.
Como switched from his CBS sustaining series in 1943 to the CBS Chesterfield Supper Club the following year. Chesterfield cigarettes sponsored him on television in 1950 and established him in that medium. It was not until 1955 that Como joined the RCA affiliated NBC network to host the Perry Como Show and, four years later, the Kraft Music Hall. Como's relaxed style made him the consummate television performer.
By the time Como posted his tenth anniversary with RCA Victor in July, 1853, he had sold over 35 million records for Nipper. His cover version of Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes, for example, had sold over one and a half million copies.
The advent of rock and roll in the mid '50s certainly took Como out of the spotlight, which was focused squarely upon another Victor artist, but barely affected his record sales.
By the close of the '50s, the major hits had just about stopped coming (although he took Caterina, Dream On Little Dreamer and It's Impossible into the top 25 during the '60s and the '70s). By the dawn of his fourth decade before the microphone his singing style had become more somnolent and the vitality that he had inherited from his days fronting the big bands had dissipated. This album gathers together a cross section of Como's up-tempo recordings from the first fifteen years of his recording career. In them he captures some of the declamatory flair he had acquired during his formative years.
Colin Escott, January 1988
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