Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b George Robert Crosby, 25 August 1913, Spokane WA; d 9 March 1993, La Jolla CA) Singer, bandleader; brother of Bing. He worked for Anson Weeks and the Dorsey brothers, then was hired to front a band '35-42 assembled by Gil Rodin (arranger, reeds; b 9 December 1906, Russia; d 10 June 1974). The sidemen were mostly ex-Ben Pollack. The big Swing Era band was unusual in having a dixielandish style; key members from New Orleans had grown up with jazz, and the Bob Cats, a band-within-a-band, played the real stuff.

The original lineup included Yank Lawson on trumpet and Bob Haggart on bass, Ray Bauduc on drums (b 18 June 1909, New Orleans; d 15 January 1988), Nappy Lamare on guitar (b Hilton Napoleon Lamare, 14 June 1907, New Orleans; d 8 May 1988, Newhall, CA), Deane Kincaide, Matty Matlock, Eddie Miller; those passing through included Billy Butterfield, Buddy Morrow, Jess Stacey, Muggsy Spanier, Charlie Spivak, Joe Sullivan, Sterling 'Bozo' Bose on trumpet (b 23 February 1906, Florence AL; d June 1958, St Petersburg, FL), Irving Fazola on reeds (b Irving Henry Prestopnik, 10 December 1912, New Orleans; d there 20 March 1949), Bob Zurke (b Robert Albert Zukowski, 17 January 1912, Detroit; d 16 Februry 1944, Los Angeles) on piano: many of the best white jazzmen of the time. Singers included Johnny Desmond, Doris Day, Kay Starr etc as well as Crosby, who 'didn't know how to beat tempo' (Rodin said), 'but we didn't mind'. Of three front men proposed they made a good choice: he was an even-tempered diplomat, not a bad singer and got better. The band's theme was 'Summertime', with Gershwin's permission; their most famous record is 'South Rampart Street Parade', backed with 'Dogtown Blues', both composed and arranged by Haggart. On an early recording session the band anonymously backed schoolgirl Judy Garland (arranged by Glenn Osser). The recorded 'Martha' with old friend Connie Boswell in November 1937: it was a good seller, but the same session was also the Bob Cats' first: Zez Confrey's 'Stumblin' '; dixieland classic 'Fidgety Feet'; also 'Who's Sorry Now', 'Can't We Be Friends', 'Coquette', 'You're Driving Me Crazy'; the excellent small-group jazz of the Bob Cats has never lost public affection.

Also that month the band took part in the first West Coast broadcast of CBS radio's Saturday Night Swing Session, introducing 'Rampart'. Bauduc's and Haggart's duo 'Big Noise From Winnetka' '38 had Haggart whistling through his teeth while Bauduc used sticks on strings of Haggart's bass; it's a famous period piece, though not one of the band's 40 or so hits '35-51, of which the biggest included 'In A Little Gypsy Tea Room' '35 (vocal by Frank Tennille, father of Toni of Captain and Tennille), 'Whispers In The Dark' '37, 'Day In, Day Out' '39 (with vocalist Helen Ward). Several records had vocals by Bing Crosby: novelty 'The Pussy Cat Song (Nyow! Nyot Nyow!)' was a duet '49 with Bing and Patti Andrews. The band appeared in films (Make Mine Music '40); Bob made films (Reveille With Beverly '43, tongue-in-cheek The Singing Sheriff and See Here, Private Hargrove, both '44, Red Nichols biopic The Five Pennies '59).

WWII ended the band's golden age, but Crosby organized reunions; he bore the burden of being Bing's brother with grace and was a popular entertainer in his own right. The Bob Cats recorded for Capitol early '50s, Monmouth-Evergreen '70s; played at Nice Festival '81. Lawson had left '38, worked for Tommy Dorsey, played on countless studio sessions from '42 with Perry Como, Sinatra, Bing and many others as well as his own jazz records for Brunswick, Riverside and Signature. The Lawson/Haggart Jazz Band was formed '50s to play the music they loved and evolved into the World's Greatest Jazz Band '68 (see Yank Lawson). Haggart's studio work included producing and arranging at Decca for Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong (including four-disc Louis Armstrong Musical Autobiography '56-7, on which Lawson also played); Lawson albums included That's A Plenty on Doctor Jazz, Plays Mostly Blues '86 on Audiophile (with Haggart, Al Klink, Knocky Parker, Nick Fatool, others). Stomp Off, Let's Go! '83 by John Chilton tells the story of the Crosby band.