Tuesday, July 09, 2013

ILL-USTRATED Songs #25 "EBB TIDE" from Jerry Colonna

It's summer, and humans are at the beach, pulling clams, crabs and lobsters out of their hiding places and into scalding water or onto burning barbecue racks till their shells crack. Mmmm, seafood mama!

Seafood doesn't scream, so let's allow Jerry Colonna (September 17, 1904 – November 21, 1986) to do it for 'em.

A human caricature with pop eyes and a stereotypical Italian mustache, Colonna was a trombone player for various big bands. His strange look and class clown personality made him a stand-out at live gigs, and a natural for handling novelty vocals. He eventually worked with the eccentric orchestra leader and composer Raymond Scott. Jerry worked with a variety of bands and many of them got radio gigs backing the top comics of the day. Comedians always liked to play to the hipster musicians, and often single out a few to ad-lib with. David Letterman with Paul Shafer is the most obvious example now. Going backward, there was Johnny Carson and Doc Severinsen, Merv Griffin and Jack Sheldon, Jackie Gleason and Sammy Spear and Jack Benny with Phil Harris. Colonna caught the eye of most every radio comedian he worked with, from Fred Allen to Bob Hope, who elevated him to second banana.

Colonna was versatile enough to be able to borrow from a variety of other comics of the day. Joe E. Brown was the wide-mouthed comic known for stretching out a yell to comic proportions, and Colonna became another. "The Mad Russian" was a comic who came out with pop eyes and a glazed personality and after a few eccentric words in a strange accent, disappeared again. Colonna did that, too. Like many an inane comedian, such as Joe "Wanna Buy a Duck" Penner, Colonna found a catchphrase that made no sense but was loved by listeners: "Who's Yehudi?" Phil Harris' snappy "Hiya Jackson" to Jack Benny was bettered by Jerry's impudent "Greetings, Gate" to Bob Hope.

Most of all, "One Note" Colonna had the trademark routine of wrecking a song with his corny over-the-top dramatics...always done with a look of lunacy in his eye. "You're My Everything" was sure-fire, the first word of the song starting softly in the back of his throat, gaining speed and volume and becoming an ear-splitting siren. One might not want a whole album of this, or hear this every week, but Colonna's mixed bag of eccentric tricks kept him a welcome co-star with Bob Hope well into the 60's and 70's.



jakeway1 said...

Cab Calloway recorded a tune called "Who's Yehudi"............

Anonymous said...

The phrase could mean "Who's Jewish," if you know that Yehudi is a translation of "Jewish."
Yehudi Menuhin was the Jewish violinist who either appeared on the Bob Hope Show or was mentioned in passing and Colonna made a joke on it.
Martha Tilton performed "Who's Yehouti" in Varsity Vanities (1940). Anyone know when the Calloway 78 came out?

jakeway1 said...

Calloway's version was recorded on 5/15/40 Vocalion 5566...it was Who's Yehoodi.

Ill Folks said...

Thanks everyone...a future post may have an answer to Who's Yehudi...or who recorded the best version. Odds are you'd have to take a Cab!