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The Thing About Phil Harris

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Album Review

Living Era's compilation The Thing About Phil Harris presents 22 classic performances rescued from antique 78 rpm phonograph records and vintage radio broadcast transcriptions. Born January 16, 1904, in Linton, IN and raised in Nashville, TN, Phil Harris started out as a drummer with Francis Craig's band in Atlanta, GA. He made his way to California where he worked with the Henry Halstead Orchestra before assembling his own dance band in partnership with pianist Carol Lofner at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles. After relocating to San Francisco, what was by-then billed as the Lofner-Harris St. Francis Hotel Orchestra made a handful of records in October of 1931, including "River, Stay 'Way From My Door" and the provocatively titled "I Got the Ritz From the One I Love," a bouncy little number that was recorded again on the following day by Jack Teagarden and his orchestra. Phil Harris expanded into radio and motion pictures in 1933 while continuing to make records with his own well-organized ensembles, and in 1936 began leading the band on Jack Benny's Jell-O-sponsored radio show. Inadvertently, and perhaps inevitably, the charismatic percussionist and bandleader upstaged the violin-toting comedian on his own turf. Harris' own comedic inspiration was none other than legendary African-American entertainer Bert Williams. In addition to closely covering some of Williams' material (most famously "The Darktown Poker Club"), Harris patterned much of his deep-voiced delivery after the older vaudevillian. This sometimes resulted in a drawl that might remind some listeners of Amos 'n' Andy; to a certain extent the dialect was also a reflection of Harris' own Southern background. Of course Phil Harris achieved his greatest level of notoriety as the voice of Baloo the Bear in Walt Disney's animated motion picture adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, but that material falls well outside of this collection's time line (1931-1950). Highlights include a lush instrumental version of the Harris orchestra's theme song "Rose Room"; a list of toxic foods comprising the brilliantly funny "Some Little Bug (Is Gonna Find You Some Day)" and a wonderfully sober "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" As for the title track, "The Thing" has got to be the most energetic novelty ever devised about nothing in particular. Incredibly (and here's the real punch line) the original recording of "The Thing" was banned by the BBC because of a set of lyrics that referred to "St. Peter at the Golden Gate." A specially sanitized acetate edit was used for radio broadcast purposes.


Born: 24 June 1904 in Linton, IN

Genre: Vocal

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

Better known as a longtime actor who made his first film appearance in 1933, Phil Harris was also a successful drummer and singer. Harris played drums with Francis Craig and led his own groups during the 30s, using the song "Rose Room" as a theme. Harris was a regular on Jack Benny's radio show for a decade from 1936-1946 and had his own show with Alice Faye from 1947-54. He had a number...
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The Thing About Phil Harris, Phil Harris
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