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Tempo King

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By 1936, Fats Waller was fast becoming one of the Victor label's most lucrative jazz artists, and his extraordinary popularity engendered a number of Fats Waller imitators. Vocalion assigned that role to Putney Dandridge, and Decca encouraged Bob Howard to modify his own act so as to resemble Waller's, while the people at Victor boldly (and somewhat tactlessly) set up a Waller sound-alike band billed as Tempo King & His Kings of Rhythm. This act crossed the line between inspired emulation and conspicuous imitation, with the singer slavishly aping Waller's every vocal utterance, and Queenie Ada Rubin going to great lengths to operate a piano as if Waller himself were seated at the instrument. Beginning in August 1936, Tempo King's Kings of Rhythm recorded 55 titles, first for Victor's Bluebird subsidiary, then switching to Vocalion in June 1937 and cutting their last sides in December of that year. The band is chiefly remembered for the participation of clarinetist Joe Marsala, his trumpet-wielding brother Marty Marsala, and guitarist Eddie Condon. Other members were bassists Mort Stuhlmaker and George Yorke, and drummer Stan King. After Waller's sudden death in 1943, Victor appointed Pat Flowers as the label's official Waller imitator. By then, Tempo King was a swiftly fading memory. Timeless reissued 23 titles in 1991. Speculation continues as to the identity of Tempo King. Condon, who wrote extensively on his adventures in jazz, left no clues. Maybe it was Stan King, a drummer who sang through a kazoo as a member of the California Ramblers during the previous decade. He sustained tempos, and the surname fits, but this is only conjecture and it's quite possible that the mystery will never be solved. A bit of incidental evidence involves a hot jazz band calling itself the Tempo Kings, apparently made up of members of Ross Gorman's Earl Carroll Vanities Orchestra. The Tempo Kings, which sported vocals by Frank Bessinger and included Miff Mole, Dick McDonough, and Arthur Schutt, cut a couple of sides for Pathe in January 1926. Whereas the records issued ten years later under the name of Tempo King are closer to those of Willie Bryant, a chatty character who emitted streams of jazz vernacular in front of a swing band packed with outstanding soloists. ~ arwulf arwulf

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