Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Bruce Lundvall & his "Smooth" W.C. Fields "Dear Chester" single

Bruce Lundvall (September 13,1935-May 19, 2015) was saluted in obituaries for his long career in music, which included becoming the head of CBS Records, then Elektra's "Musician" label in 1982, and ultimately Blue Note where he revived the old jazz catalog and signed newcomer Norah Jones.

In Illville? He's "Smooth Lundvall." That was the name he used when he booked himself into a studio and recorded a fake W.C. Fields single.

At the time, he was an exec at Columbia (only a few years away from becoming CBS president). Ah, yes, nepotism. But forgive him. Instead of putting out entire albums simply because he could, he restricted his enthusiasm to "Dear Chester" b/w "Ode to Larson E. Whipsnade." Oh yes, and a cover of "Winchester Cathedral" b/w "I'm Gonna Spoil You Baby").

Adopting a W.C. Fields cadence, but sounding more like Rudy Vallee, Lundvall attempted to be part of the "Fields cash-in" that included new books, pop posters, and the arrival of "Uncle Bill" (imitating the Great Man in both TV commercials and on a novelty album). Aside from the "Smooth Lundvall" single, Bruce did a real service by having Columbia issue four albums of W.C. Fields radio shows, and it was very rare for a major label to bother with that kind of thing.

"Dear Chester" references "Chester Fields," a mythical son W.C. loved to mention on radio just to annoy his sponsor, the rival cigarette company Lucky Strike. Lundvall recites a script that goes from copping familiar Fields jokes into inventing lesser ones. A distracting piano offers some period flavor, and sort of echoes the musical choice Bill Fields (and his recording engineer Les Paul) used for "The Temperance Lecture," which he left a sanitarium in order to make. He died before it was released (along with "The Day I Drank A Glass of Water.")

Lundvall was once chairman of the RIAA, and also held high positions at other alphabet soup groups; Country Music Association (CMA) and National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS). He received a presidential award (whatever that is) from NARM (whoever they are...the National Association of Record Merchants, whose job apparently is to wave farewell every time a record store closes.)

In his 70's, Bruce helped Blue Note continue to prosper, especially with Norah Jones' stuff selling millions. Cassandra Wilson, Al Green and Wynton Marsalis all had hits for the label. In a February 2009 article in the NY Times "Smooth" Bruce said "“I don’t want to sit around the house and mow the lawn. I don’t want to be a crossing guard for the Wyckoff, N.J., school system. I want to keep doing this.” Norah Jones declared, "I don't know where I would be in the world of music without Bruce as my friend and champion."

Don Was took over as Blue Note's CEO in 2010, as Lundvall's health took a turn for the nurse. Ahh, worse, unfortunately. Drat. The Fields imitator and music CEO was suffering from Parkinson's. Lundvall didn't completely retire; he ran some music festivals, and did so even at the assisted living home he was in. The festivals raised money for Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's research foundation.

Download "Dear Chester."

DEAR CHESTER No wait time, capcha codes, dopey Zinfart passwords or conjob demands to pay for a "premium account" so a cloud company can make the money the artist, writer and record label deserve.

1 comment:

Marc Edward Heuck said...

It should be noted that "Dear Chester" was also likely meant to parody the unexpected hit spoken-word single "An Open Letter to My Teenage Son" by Victor Lundberg, a somewhat reactionary reflection on the counterculture ending with a threat of repudiation for draft evasion, which had spawned many "response" singles in its wake.