Tuesday, October 19, 2010


When he was on television regularly, Hugh Downs was genial and a gentleman. I'm sure he still is. He believed that being invited into your home, even via a television set, was no excuse for being loud. It was easy to neglect or underestimate Hugh Downs for that very reason, as he quietly and tastefully built up hour after hour and year after year of being the host of a variety of talk and news shows. From 1958-1969 he hosted the quiz show "Concentration" (David Letterman is still fond of randomly quoting: "Not a match…the board goes back"). He was so erudite on that program that few would've guessed that in his spare time he avidly listened to country artist Red Foley: "I think Red Foley is one of the greatest singers of all time. And I include him with Caruso…I'm serious. His singing represents life and that's what music should do." It might've been his interest in Foley that ultimately led him to meld folk tunes to his mellow, urbane style of vocalizing on his obscure Epic album.

Well known to housewives via his daytime work, Downs became known to night owls as the announcer on Jack Paar's "Tonight Show." He smoothly took over on the infamous night Paar walked off in a snit, and so it wasn't much of a surprise when NBC decided to make him the host of their morning talk show, "The Today Show" (1962-1971). He would later anchor the evening news-magazine show "20/20" starting in 1978 and stayed with the show until he retired in 1999. Not just a "news reader," Downs was deeply involved in breaking stories and getting behind the news. Among his valuable news specials for ABC: "Growing Old in America," a three-hour documentary aired in 1985, "The Poisoning of America," an environmental special in 1988, and "Depression, Beyond the Darkness," in 1990.

A sidelight for Hugh Downs was hosting the classical music series "Live from Lincoln Center" from 1990 to 1996, but let's get back to the musical subject: "An Evening with Hugh Downs." At the time it turned up, Hugh sometimes would sing on "The Tonight Show." With the folk boom in progress, and "ordinary" fellows such as Burl Ives having such success, it wasn't much of a stretch for Epic Records to give the amiable Mr. Downs some studio time to record a pleasant, intimate album of songs, with spoken introductions.

The cover notes tried to liven up his mild image by pointing out his colorful hobbies: "skin diver, astronomer, antique gun and furniture authority, student of American history, delver into philosophy and psychology, ardent volunteer worker in Mental Health Campaigns, studious collector of symphony recordings, composer, pianist, guitarist, artist, amateur physicist, hi-fi set builder, telescope maker, avid reader, husband and father." The notes also mention Mr. Burl Ives, who was impressed by a Hugh Downs appearance on TV. Downs recalls that Burl "told me I deserved to wear a beard. I told him I wouldn't grow one. I had a mustache for five years but I finally did it in. It was sapping my strength."

As you'd expect, there's no "up" to Downs on his album. He maintains a generally calm and conversational tone throughout his set of a dozen songs. Your sample, the last two tracks on side one: "Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes" and "The Ride Back from Boot Hill." Mr. Hugh Downs is a great man, and deserves a lot of respect, but to make sure this post isn't too respectful, the album photo's been altered for a favorite Illfolks Photoshop stunt…turning a chord change into an excuse for giving the finger…which he can give to those who only see him on infomercials and ignorantly wonder what he did to get such an easy gig. The answer is he not only worked hard for 50 years, he did it with warmth, grace and conscience.

Two Folks Songs from HUGH DOWNS Instant download or listen on line. No pop-unders, porn ads, or wait time from pimp-like file hosting "services" selling premium accounts.

ANOTHER FIRST for the ILLFOLKS BLOG. Here's how it looked last week, when you typed in HUGH DOWNS at CAPTAINCRAWL.COM:

No comments: