Spike Jones life and biography

Spike Jones picture, image, poster

Spike Jones biography

Date of birth : 1911-12-14
Date of death : 1965-05-01
Birthplace : Long Beach, California, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Famous Figures
Last modified : 2011-12-06
Credited as : Singer, City Slickers band, "Cocktails for Two"

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Lindley Armstrong "Spike" Jones was a musician and bandleader specializing in performing satirical arrangements of popular songs. Ballads and classical works receiving the Jones treatment would be punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and outlandish vocals.

Spike Jones was "a man whose name was synonymous with laughter in America for more than a decade," Dr. Demento wrote in the foreword to Jordan J. Young's profile, Spike Jones and His City Slickers. In the 1940s Jones and his City Slickers band became known across America as an outlandish group of musicians whose musical parody recordings, stage shows, and radio broadcasts frequently featured such "instruments" as the washboard, the cowbell, the auto horn, and the toilet seat, accompanied by the rhythmic punctuation of hiccups, Bronx cheers, and the sounds of various live animals. Jones and The City Slickers rose to prominence with the popularity of their hit "Der Fuehrer's Face," a World War II-era radio favorite that featured a blatant "raspberry" musical tribute to German dictator Adolf Hitler. George T. Simon commented in Best of the Music Makers on the special combination that brought Jones to fame in the early 1940s: "He created a blend of ricky-ticky Dixie and the soothing sounds of talent night in a lunatic asylum, and it added up to just the kind of spunky irreverence the nation needed in 1942."

Jones was born in Long Beach, California, and received the nickname "Spike" from his father's employment with the Southern Pacific Railroad. Jones played the drums in high school, during which he formed his first band. That group, The Five Tacks, eventually found itself on radio programs. Jones attended college for a time after high school, but left in 1931 to pursue jobs in music. Throughout the 1930s he played a variety of gigs in clubs around Southern California, eventually becoming a regular on Hollywood singer Bing Crosby's radio show. In the late 1930s Jones was active as a studio musician; he performed on recordings for Crosby and then-popular vocalists Judy Garland, Lena Horne, and Hoagy Carmichael. Not satisfied with the back-seat role of studio musician, however, Jones wanted more autonomy and exposure in his music career. One of his hobbies was collecting junk items that made interesting noises. In the late 1930s he joined a group of musicians similarly disenchanted with their music careers and began rehearsing novelty songs, experimenting with sounds and doing parodies of musical classics and standards of the day. The band eventually emerged in the early 1940s as The City Slickers, with Jones as the leader.

The City Slickers gained wide recognition in 1942 with their rendition of "Der Fuehrer's Face," a musical spoof that became a favorite of radio disc jockeys and soon after, a national hit. On the crest of the song's success, Jones and The City Slickers launched a nine-week "Meet the People" national tour in 1943, for which they added musicians and vaudeville performers to their lineup. "In addition to five or six shows a day," Young noted, "the band played for bond rallies, toured factories and otherwise made a spectacle of themselves." In 1944 The City Slickers traveled to Europe to entertain U.S. and Allied troops.

Among the band's favorite hit parody recordings at this time were "Cocktails for Two," which included a chorus of hiccupping, and "You Always Hurt the One You Love," which listed a series of "hurts" that included shootings, hangings, and poisonings. Jones was renowned as "The King of Corn" and in 1946 launched a two-hour stage extravaganza called "The Musical Depreciation Revue," which included jugglers, roller skaters, and other vaudeville acts. Throughout the 1940s Jones and The City Slickers were active making hit records, appearing on radio and in movies, and touring with their live act.

Young depicted the "sheer lunacy" of Jones's "Musical Depreciation Revue": "At the hub of the chaotic goings-on was Spike himself, manipulating an ensemble of homemade instruments he affectionately called 'the heap.' The contraption--which looked like nothing so much as the loot from a hardware store robbery--consisted of sleighbells, beer bottles, soup cans, a telephone, a Greyhound bus horn, a locomotive whistle, a gong and other necessary props.... Jones, who sometimes accompanied his harpist on the latrinophone --a toilet seat strung with wire--got some of his best laughs by choosing the unlikeliest of batons. He conducted the band with a .38 caliber pistol, a mop, an umbrella, a nightstick, and frequently a toilet plunger."

Although the 1940s were the heyday of Jones and The City Slickers, they continued to work through the 1950s, and even into the 1960s. In 1954 The Spike Jones Show aired on NBC television on Saturday nights with several new band members. The show, which enjoyed moderate success, featured Jones's second wife, Helen Grayco, who had been a singer with the band since the late 1940s. In 1957 a reconfiguration of The Spike Jones Show aired on CBS television along with a new name for the Slickers: The Band That Plays for Fun.

Jones's recordings continue to maintain a dedicated following and several have become collector's items. Simon commented on the lasting impression of Jones's talent: "His true genius had been revealed in his ability to make his countrymen smile when there wasn't much to smile at."

- Dinner Music For People Who Aren't Very Hungry (1956)
-Spike Jones in Stereo (1959)
-Omnibust (1960)
-Washington Square (1963)
-Spike Jones New Band

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