Words from Richard about The Andrews Sisters
THE ANDREWS SISTERS
It's Apple Blossom Time in Minneapolis....
On February 16, 2011 a truly great girl singer of the 1940s, the girl who helped shape American music at the end of the Great Depression and during the second World War with her two sisters, Maxine and LaVerne, Patty Andrews will be 93 years young.
Patty and I have been friends for many years ever since our first interview in the early eighties which led to a magazine article about Patty and her sisters, the ultra-famed Andrews Sisters, which she utilized for presenting her then single act in and around Los Angeles, California.
I have always been in love with the Andrews Sisters. Ever since I first heard heard Patty and her sisters vocalize "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen."(It Means That You’re Grand or pretty). The song is an old Yiddish song with English words added by songwriters Sammy Cahn and Saul Chaplin. It became the beginning of my long-running affection for the three singing and swinging gals from Minneapolis.
The Andrews girls from Minneapolis became personal entertainers for many a serviceman during the war years with their mega-hits "Rumors are Flying," " I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time," and "Rum and Coca Cola."
By her own description, Patty is a very happy and contented retired vocalist living in a beautiful, Tudor-style house near Encino, California with her husband and manager Wally Weschler. After a thousand years together, Patty lost her beloved Wally in the fall of 2010. Patty had just completed writing the foreword for this book.
Looking back a few years: I had dialed the telephone to a number given to me by my friend, musical director and songwriter, Lee Hale:
"Hello, who is this?
"Hi, said I," and I identified myself, then inquired "is this the office of Wally Weschler, manager of the Andrews Sisters?
"Well, I'm actually looking for Patty Andrews," I inquired.
"It's me...it's Patty!" was the bubbling reply.
"Patty Andrews?" I repeated in disbelief and relief.
"Yeah!" she shouted gleefully over the phone wires spanning three-thousand miles from her home in Northridge, California, to me in New York.
Well, it just was too easy. I had found one of my musical heroes. Patty and I talked for two hours about her then current appearances with the Big Bands of Tex Beneke ( Once Glenn Miller's favorite sax player who doubled as band vocalist on songs like “Chattanooga Choo Choo”), Larry Elgart’s band and the Harry James orchestra, at venues like the Hollywood Palladium. Her concerts consisted of new and refreshing popular songs of the day, but she always closed appearances with some of the vintage, sensational Andrews Sisters' tunes of earlier days.
Speaking of those early days, when they were kids attending dancing school, the three girls began mimicking the popular Boswell Sisters. They entered the Kiddy Reviews during the summer months on the Orpheum Theater Circuit in Minneapolis. One of the headliners on the show invited the girls to become a permanent part of his touring show. They performed five shows a day sandwiched between movie showings. They gleefully copied the Boswell's charts but added some extra zest.
"When you are young, there is always someone you look up to," Patty told me just before Christmas, 2010, "so we did what they did and it helped launch our career." The girls sang tunes like "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," " When I Take My Sugar to Tea," and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cents Store."
Patty sang the lead and solos, Maxene the high harmony, and LaVerne took the third part, even though they had no formal training. "It wasn't until many years later-after serious problems with laryngitis --I finally had to take singing lessons to learn how to properly breathe in order to prevent damage to my vocal chords," Patty explained.
"We would work all day until we perfected new songs in our own bouncier style. It was then we realized we had something special to offer." And offer it they did, joining up with a big band and began singing on the radio in New York City with Billy Swanson's band from the famed Hotel Edison. It was to be their big break, as Dave Kapp, Vice President of Decca Records, heard them on his car radio and rushed to the hotel to meet them and contracts were signed the following day.
Decca had them record consistently with all the greats that included Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Dick Haymes, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, and every known big band, over a seventeen year triumphant run. Jack Kapp, President of Decca, took them in hand and guided them to great success as he did for Bing Crosby and many others.
Jack Kapp was the creative genius behind the Decca label: "He was young and aggressive and like a father to us young girls. He was Dave's older brother and President of the company. He also helped us get into the movies with the Ritz Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.”
The movies were The Road to Utopia, Buck Privates, Argentine Nights, Follow the Boys, Stage Door Canteen, and In the Navy,and nine others. Dave Kapp would select their movie songs: “Aurora,” “ Yes, My Darling Daughter,” and “Daddy,” became ours to sing in the movie and on records.”
It was a constant barrage of wonderful recordings that were rhythmic, bouncy,and gutsy--- includingv that ‘40s expression ---jivey. “I’ll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time,” a 1938 Decca Record with Vic Schoen and his Orchestra and a trumpet solo by Bobby Hackett, "The Boogie, Woogie, Bugle Boy from Company 'B'," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Beer Barrel Polka," "Pistol Packin' Mama," (with Bing.)"Joseph, Joseph," "Hold Tight," "South America, Take It Away" and Ciribiribin,” both with Bing) “Billy Boy,” Well, All Right,”and "Ferryboat Serenade." I reminded Patty that Ferryboat was my personal Andrews Sisters favorite. It just clicked with me, but all their songs are great and you can purchase them anywhere today in CD form.
“We loved recording with Bing. It was always so exciting. He used to do a little something unexpected, like the time he sneaked in that line at the end of “Pistol Packin’ Momma” -- ‘ Lay that thing down before it goes off and hurts someone.’ He broke us up. He would always record at eight in the morning,” she revealed, “I guess he used to vocalize in the car on the way to the studio---and he always wore his golf outfit. He claimed his voice had a husky quality in the morning.
“We had such fun with Bob and Bing when we did the Road picture,” Patty recalled, “Bob and Bing would each have their own gag writers on the set and would sneak in special gags and lines and throw them at each other in front of the cameras. And they were kept in too--you can tell--if you look closely--they always surprised each other.”
However, it was "Rum and Coca-Cola" that sold a whopping seven million records in a time when a million records were hard to sell. It was a favorite of tens of thousands of G.I.’s during the war, considering the shortage of shellac, the raw material that made the 78s. The demand for that recording was so great that both RCA and Columbia Records gave up their shellac allotment to allow Decca to meet the demand.
The girls also sang some of those songs at the Stage Door Canteen and Hollywood Canteen, which were sort of night clubs where armed forces personnel could go cost-free and meet movie stars and famous celebrities when on liberty or leave. They also performed regularly at Armed Forces camps, and USO shows.
In 1942 came the memorable “ Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree”, the bubbly “Pennsylvania Polka,” and one of most stirring songs of World War II, “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.” The very recall of that tune reminds me, as an eleven year old kid living in Brooklyn, New York, of the lines at the butcher shop and grocery stores where you had to turn in your limited supply of ration stamps or tokens, part of the wartime food rationing program, and of the frightening wail of the ‘blackout’ sirens, even though it was just practice drills. Patty remembered rationing too: “Especially when you couldn’t get nylons---so we had to beg our friends. You didn’t wear slacks then so you needed those stockings.”
The girls also toured with the most famous of all the Big Bands, Glenn Miller’s fine orchestra. In June, 1944, the girls went on a USO tour. They had to endure passing the required physical and receive inoculations when they went on secret destinations to entertain the troops. Overall they performed for over 150 million members of our armed forces over the four traveling years. They actually had to wear army uniforms in Italy to North America where the daily temperature reached over 100 degrees.
On VJ Day, the sisters were performing in the South Pacific when the Commanding Officer allowed them to read to the troops they were entertaining, that the Japanese had surrendered. The place went crazy with joy.
In 1950 the Andrews Sisters capped their career when they performed at the famed London Palladium. As a singing group the girls broke up a few years later. Afterwards, Patty went on to perform as a single in the 1980s with bands like Tex Beneke, who was fronting the great Glenn Miller Orchestra, before he too went out on his own after Glenn Miller became lost over the English Channel in 1944. She recorded two great hits with the great arranger and orchestrator Gordon Jenkins, "I Want to Be Loved" and "It Never Entered My Mind," Patty performing at her melodic best. It's so pure, and performed so perfectly.“ I Can Dream. Can’t I? ” rose to number one on Billboard’s chart and remained in the Top Ten for 25 weeks, Patty was indeed the leader of the girls and all the sounds must be channeled through the leader. The Andrews Sisters succeeded because of Patty’s leadership and soloing.
The trio’s last recording with Decca was “ In the Good Old Summer Time” and “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Their last three top-ten hits were in 1951 including two with Bing, ”Sparrow in the Treetop,” and “A Bushel and a Peck. The other was
” Too Young,” that was also a big hit for Nat "King” Cole.
To effectively write about the Andrews Sisters career alone, it would take a book. It would take another book to write about Patty Andrews own single career.
With Maxene and LaVerne gone, Patty has virtually retired, although she used to regularly attend local jazz festivals where she and husband Wally would meet with old musician friends including stellar trombonist Milt Bernhart to live music, music she has always enjoyed both listening to and singing.
Patty sidestepped the inevitable inquiry about naming her favorite recording: “It’s like a mother with ten children. You can’t say which one is the favorite.”
In the early nineties Maxene became active in night clubs. Her last performance was in Honolulu at the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II. She passed away in October of 1995. La Verne, due to illness, passed on in 1967, and was replaced for a while by Joyce (Murray) De Young. Lee Hale, who directed the music on Dean Martin’s Television Variety Show, recently told me Joyce fit in very well when appearing and singing with Maxene and Patty. Patty thought Joyce’s voice was close to her sister LaVerne.
You have to realize that the Andrews Sisters had 46 top-ten, hit songs in their career. Neither Elvis or the Beatles never reached that plateau.
During the 1980’s Patty successfully submitted my articles and promotional material to sell her one-woman act and would always call when she landed a gig.
Patty is truly grateful for an abundant and fruitful career and acknowledges her debt to all the fans, young and old alike. We are fortunate to have the recordings of the Andrews Sisters, which will probably be used by female group singers as a measure of their own abilities for many years to come.
Happy Birthday a little early Patty Andrews of 2011. We love the music you three girls that have always captivated all of us. So, thanks for all that beautiful music. And thanks for the photo you just sent me for Christmas.