Friday, October 19, 2007

Joey Bishop sings Hank Williams

I'd like to say that Joey Bishop, who died the other day, will be missed. But to be honest, I doubt it. Most barely know him for a) being a member of the "Rat Pack" and b) having the talk show that used Regis Philbin for an announcer.

I think Joey was more than a little bitter about this in his reclusive final decades, but there wasn't much he could about it. His sitcom was released on DVD but what was funny 40 years ago, with fans visiting an old friend out of habit each week, can seem less than amusing out of context, watching characters you need to live with a while in order to like. Well, nobody's watching Danny Thomas today, either.
I suppose the apt phrase for Joey is: "you should've been there." That's the phrase he used in autographing a vintage photo of himself with the Rat Pack. Only in my case, I couldn'ta been there, since they didn't allow toddlers into casinos. I do remember him as a good stand-up comic. He was a pioneer of the Steven Wright school of glum deadpan. One of his gags was about how he was a poor kid. He had to use his brother as a sled. He slid down the hill on his brother so often, his brother became his sister.
Joey not only wrote much of his own material, he was the guy responsible for much of the "ad-libs" Frank, Dean and Sammy used during their stage act, and wrote most of their special material.

Joey's two years competing with Johnny Carson is probably forgotten by most. One thing that got me conversing with Joey, was to thank him for all his support for Jimmie Rodgers, the singer who had hits with "Honeycomb," "Sweeter than Wine," and later "Child of Clay." Rodgers might've had had more hits except for a mysterious highway beating where the hits just kept on coming.
Somebody...mob goon, irate hubby, whatever, followed his car, impersonated an officer, pulled him over, and nearly knocked his brains out. Joey, fairly somber even on a good night, told his viewers about it, and kept up regular reports on the singer's health, something unheard of for a late night talk show. Jimmie recovered, and picked up the fragments of his career as slowly as doctors picked out fragments of his skull. I wanted Joey to know that along with his stand-up and some of his films, his kindness and concern for Jimmie wasn't forgotten.
Joey never issued a stand-up disc, but for some reason, decided to make a country and western singing album. It seemed like a joke, and to many, it's one of those "haw haw, nudge-nudge" bad celebrity vocal albums. I think Joey's love of C&W was sincere. There were a lot of people back then that liked Joey Bishop as a friend, and bought his record for the same reason they'd buy any friend's vanity project: just to hear a non-singer live out his fantasy. I'm sure that his fans listened with a grain of salt, and maybe some cotton in their ears. But it's no worse than anybody quietly singing along to instrumental tracks they like.
Anyone buying it had to expect he wasn't about to rival Jimmie Rodgers, or Frank or Dean or Sammy. (He probably sang better than Peter Lawford).
Joey was 89.
Ripped from the vinyl, here's Joey's soft-serve echo chamber tribute to Hank Williams, a double dip of "Cold Cold Heart" and Cheatin' Heart" and listen for his little lounge-cool put-down to the chick at the end.


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