Ambrose

Bert Ambrose is the bandleader most often associated with Elsie Carlisle. She recorded with him during the years 1932-1935, often accompanied by singer Sam Browne.

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Ambrose
Ambrose

“My Kid’s a Crooner” (1935)

“My Kid’s a Crooner.” Composed by Marion Harris and Reg Montgomery. Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra, with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist, on January 3, 1935. Decca F. 5393.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-Sid Phillips-Billy Amstell-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

My kid's a Crooner, Ambrose, 1935

Elsie Carlisle – My Kid’s A Crooner (1935)

Video by Clive Hooley (YouTube)

“My Kid’s a Crooner,” a song whose subtitle is, naturally, “(Boo-Boo-Boo-Boo),” was written by British composer Reg Montgomery and American songstress Marion Harris, who had relocated to London in the early 1930s and had retired there. It involves a mother who is concerned about her infant child’s future, seeing as he mostly makes the sound “boo-boo-boo-boo” (and occasionally “ah-cha-cha!”). Concluding that he aspires to be a crooner, she resolves to contact Bing Crosby for advice. Elsie Carlisle takes this song, which is inherently very silly, and makes it even funnier by sounding almost genuine in her mock-maternal concern — yet not so much so as to let her quavering voice overwhelm her rather cute, moderately infantile, and decidedly Crosbyesque boo-boo-booing.

“My Kid’s a Crooner” was also recorded in London in December 1934 by Pat Hyde (accompanied by Edgar Jackson and His Orchestra) and in early 1935 by Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Harry Roy himself), the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra under the direction of Carroll Gibbons (with vocals by Frances Day and five-year-old Sybil Jackson, the latter of whom is surprisingly not that bad), Lou Preager and His Romano’s Restaurant Dance Orchestra (with Pat Hyde), and Billy Cotton and His Band (with vocalist Harold “Chips” Chippendall). There were other 1935 recordings by Phyllis Robins, Kitty Masters, and Eve Becke, and an apparently unissued take of Helen Raymond singing “My Kid’s a Crooner” is extant.

“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” (1934)

“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses.” Words and music by Fred Hillebrand (1934). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with Elsie Carlisle as vocalist on December 11, 1934. Decca F. 5371 mx. GB6806-2 (also F. 6926; Brunswick A. 81929).

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-Sid Phillips-Billy Amstell-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove- others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

Ambrose & His Orchesta (w. Elsie Carlisle) - "Home, James, and Don't Spare the Horses" (1934)

Ambrose & His Orchesta (w. Elsie Carlisle) – “Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” (1934)

“Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses” is an expression of pressing urgency that goes back to the mid-nineteenth century, but the statistics on its recorded use skyrocket around the time that Elsie Carlisle recorded the song with Ambrose and His Orchestra. Like the other comedy waltz “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” that Elsie had recorded the previous month (in November 1934), this song is set in the nineteenth century and is rather cartoonish. In it Elsie tells a funny story about a classy lady rebuffing a lover who has paid too much attention to other women. “Home, James, and Don’t Spare the Horses!” she declares at various points in the story as she dashes off in anger. Elsie’s recitative is delivered in an exaggerated upper-crust accent with many a trilled  “r” as she describes the heroine and her footman kicking the penurious former lover’s posterior. Elsie would record other such comic songs about high society in the following year, such as Cole Porter’s “Thank You So Much Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby” and “Algernon Whifflesnoop John.”

The popularity of “Home, James” is attested to by its being mentioned as particularly successful on the backs of 1934 and 1935 cigarette cards. Elsie would issue a record of medleys in late 1937 that featured “Home, James” along with its comedy waltz partner “No, No, a Thousand Times No!” (HMV BD 476).

Other versions of “Home, James” were recorded in Britain in late 1934 and early 1935 by Jay Wilbur and His Band (with vocalist Bertha Willmott), Charlie Kunz’s Casani Club Orchestra, Jack Jackson and His Orchestra, the Debroy Somers Band (with vocals by Bertha Willmott), Billy Cotton and His Band (with Alan Breeze as vocalist), and Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with singing by Bill Currie and chorus).

I discuss this song in greater detail in my article “Elsie Carlisle’s Top Hits, Then and Now” in the December 2014 issue of the Discographer Magazine.

A photograph of Elsie Carlisle, signed "Home, James - Elsie Carlisle"
A photograph of Elsie Carlisle, signed “Home, James – Elsie Carlisle”

“I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” (1934)

“I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You.” Words by Eddie Pola, with music by Franz Vienna (a.k.a. Franz Steininger). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra, with vocal chorus by Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle on November 20, 1934. Decca F. 5318 mx. GB6777-1.

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-reeds / Sid Phillips-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-reeds / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) - "I'm Gonna Wash My Hands of You" (1934)

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) – “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” (1934)

This foxtrot of vituperation is particularly suited to Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle, who had convincingly played the part of the bickering couple in “Seven Years With the Wrong Woman” in 1932. “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” has lyrics by Eddie Pola, who co-wrote other songs that Elsie recorded, such as “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes,” “I Wish I Knew a Bigger Word Than Love,” and “Till the Lights of London Shine Again.” As the flip side to “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” is a suitably dramatic complement. It involves somewhat more genuine singing and somewhat less booming, mock-thespian declamation; moreover, it includes more opportunities for the instrumental excellence of Ambrose’s band to be heard. For this author, however, the high point of the song is when Elsie sings  “You cheat, you!  I wish you were a gong so I could beat you!” and Sam replies “You wanna beat me, huh?” This song’s excellence lies in its fundamental goofiness.

Nat Gonella made a particularly “hot” recording of “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” in January 1935, and Billy Cotton followed suit the following month (with Teddy Foster as vocalist). The French group “Patrick et son orchestre de danse” (directed by Guy Paquinet, with Django Reinhardt on the guitar) turned out a pretty version in June 1935, with suitably sinister-sounding vocals by Maurice Chaillou. That year Pathé released a film short of “The Radio Three,” a female close-harmony group made up of Joy Worth, Kay Cavendish, and Ann Canning, singing a version of “I’m Gonna Wash My Hands of You” that recalls the style of the Boswell sisters.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” (1934)

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” Words and music by Al Sherman, Al Lewis, and Abner Silver (1934). Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra on November 20, 1934, with vocal chorus by Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle. Decca F. 5318 mx. GB6772-2 (also Decca F. 7204 and Brunswick A. 81929).

Personnel: Bert Ambrose dir. Max Goldberg-t-mel / Harry Owen-t / t / Ted Heath-Tony Thorpe-tb / Danny Polo-reeds / Sid Phillips-reeds / Joe Jeannette-as / Billy Amstell-reeds / Ernie Lewis-Reg Pursglove-others?-vn / Bert Barnes-p / Joe Brannelly-g / Dick Ball-sb / Max Bacon-d

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) - "No! No! A Thousand Times, No!"

Ambrose & His Orchestra (w. Sam Browne & Elsie Carlisle) – “No! No! A Thousand Times No!”

In “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” Sam Browne and Elsie Carlisle evoke the spirit of Victorian stage melodrama with its stock heroes: the damsel in distress, the villain, the hero. By 1934 melodrama risked seeming hackneyed and passé, and this novelty waltz accordingly treats the genre as a source of bathetic farce. The orchestra serves as a competent background to a long series of dramatic lines almost belted out, or even shouted out, rather than sung, with Sam and Elsie employing strangely exaggerated pronunciations to emphasize their ridiculously stylized sentiments.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” seems to have made quite an impression on the public. The 1934 Wills’s and 1935 Ardath Elsie Carlisle cigarette card reverse sides suggest it as one of Elsie’s two most popular songs, which is interesting, as she sang quite a few memorable songs in those years, including other very good ones with Sam Browne. That this comical waltz had staying power is attested to by its appearing in Elsie’s top-two list in her 1977 London Times obituary.

“No! No! A Thousand Times No!” was recorded in America by Harry McDaniel and His Orchestra in November 1934. It seems to have been more popular with British artists, however, with versions done in late 1934 and early 1935 by the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (under the direction of Percival Mackey, with vocals by Bobbie Combier), Jan Ralfini and His Band, Phyllis Robins and Pat O’Malley, and Leslie Sarony and “Girl Friend” (identity unknown). In May 1935 Max Fleischer released a Betty Boop short film featuring the themes and music of “No! No! A Thousand Times No!” under the same title.

I discuss this song in greater detail in my article “Elsie Carlisle’s Top Hits, Then and Now” in the December 2014 issue of the Discographer Magazine.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (1934)

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Composed by Jerome Kern, with lyrics by Otto Harbach, for their musical Roberta (1933). Recorded by Elsie Carlisle in London on October 31, 1934.  Decca F. 5289 mx. TB 1696-1.

Elsie Carlisle - "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (1934)

Elsie Carlisle – “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (1934)

Elsie Carlisle, so often the torch singer, beautifully conveys the pathos of the lyrics of the show tune “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” As a veteran of light musical stage drama, Elsie had a voice suited to the song, with its memorable full-octave melodic ascension at the beginning (more reminiscent of European operetta than of popular song). It was perhaps in consideration of this perfect match between her vocal capabilities and the already popular song that Decca had Elsie record “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” twice in two days, first as a “solo” record, and again the next day with Ambrose and His Orchestra, in an arrangement that is perhaps somewhat less of a tear-jerker and more suited to dancing:

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.” Recorded by Ambrose and His Orchestra with vocals by Elsie Carlisle on November 1, 1934. Decca F. 5293.

"Smoke gets in your eyes" - Ambrose & His Orchestra

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” – Ambrose & His Orchestra

Video by Playedback (YouTube)

It seems hard to believe, but the perennial favorite “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was twice discarded from shows before it actually got used in the Broadway musical Roberta. Jerome Kern originally composed it as a tap dance number to be performed during a scene change in his 1927 hit Showboat, but for one reason or another, it was cut. In 1932 Kern retooled it as a march to be used as the theme song for an NBC radio series which never aired. It was in the light, romantic 1933 drama Roberta that “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” was finally introduced to the public, this time retooled as a sentimental ballad, either at the suggestion of the producer or of lyricist Otto Harbach. Harbach’s lyrics borrow their tag line “When you’re heart’s on fire, smoke gets in your eyes” from a Russian proverb. The original Broadway production of Roberta starred, amongst others, Bob Hope, Fred MacMurray, Fay Templeton, Ray Middleton, and Sydney Greenstreet, but it was Ukrainian actress Tamara Drasin, playing a Russian princess, who first sang “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

Notable American recordings in 1933 and 1934 include ones by Gertrude Niesen (with orchestral accompaniment directed by Ray Sinatra), Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra (with vocals by Bob Lawrence), Emil Coleman and His Riviera Orchestra (with vocalist Jerry Cooper), Leo Reisman and His Orchestra (with vocals by Tamara Drasin, from the original Broadway production), Chick Bullock and His Levee Loungers, Dick Robertson, and Ruth Etting. Film audiences would hear the song performed by Irene Dunne in a 1935 movie of Roberta.

In 1934 there were other British recordings of “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” by Jay Wilbur and His Band (Sam Browne, vocalist), Charlie Kunz’s Casani Club Orchestra (with vocals by Harry Bentley), Harry Roy and His Orchestra (with vocals by Ivor Moreton), Jack Payne and His Band (Billy Scott-Coomber, vocalist), Henry Hall’s BBC Dance Orchestra (with vocals by Dan Donovan, in a Bert Read arrangement), Lew Stone and His Band (with Alan Kane as vocalist, in a Stanley Black arrangement), and Joe Loss and His Kit-Cat Band.

"The Idol of the Radio." British dance band singer of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.