DEAR JERRY: My brother and I grew up in Liverpool, England, where he was an avid collector of records, especially Dixieland and Progressive Jazz.
One he had, “Miserlou,” is a piano solo by Jan August, though we never could find any other records of by him. He has always remained a mystery.
What can you tell me about Jan August? Was he a solo artist or a member of a band?
I enjoyed your recent response to the question about “Gloomy Sunday,” another record in my brother's collection.
Our parents would complain whenever we played it, saying it gave them the creeps.
Reginald Simmons, Mulberry, Fla.
DEAR REGINALD: “Misirlou,” or “Miserlou” as it is more commonly spelled, a Top 10 hit in early 1947, became Jan's best known tune stateside. My UK charts only go back to '52, so I don't know how it fared there, but it must have been popular for your brother to have brought home a copy.
Jan August (nee: Jan Augustoff) began as a pianist with Paul Specht's Orchestra, afterwhich he played piano and xylophone for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.
However, Jan had been a solo act for several years by the time “Misirlou” came out.
From 1949 to '51, August accompanied singer Roberta Quinlan on her NBC TV variety show.
August is also remembered for “Bewitched (Bothered and Bewildered),” the 1950 hit from Broadway's “Pal Joey,” performed with Jerry Murad's Harmonicats.
A drastically different rendition of “Miserlou” has become a rock instrumental classic, that of course being Dick Dale's 1962 release.
Buoyed by its choice as the dominant piece of music in the 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction,” it became known to a new generation while also endearing itself to baby boomers who grew up on 1960s music.
Dale's “Miserlou” has since been featured in more radio and TV commercials than it's possible to recall, and it is on the playlists of most oldies format radio stations and satellite services.
Also, Dick Dale's “Miserlou” has one of the most instantly recognizable opening notes ever recorded. Anyone can name that tune in one note.
DEAR JERRY: I recently watched a street performer in Daytona Beach peforming his puppet routine to a song that included these words: “is you is or is you not my baby.”
Can you tell me anything about this song, such as the artist, correct title, availability, etc.?
Karen Keller, St. Petersburg, Fla.
DEAR KAREN: Not having been to Daytona Beach since 1975, I missed this puppeteer's show, which means I don't know which version of “Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby” is part of the act.
Most noteable are the three waxings that became hits: Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five, from the film “Follow the Boys” (1944); Bing Crosby with the Andrews Sisters (1944); and Buster Brown (1960), my favorite of the bunch.
All of these are available on different LPs as well as CDs.
Among some other artists to record “Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby” are: Cootie Williams; Billy Butterfield; Dinah Washington; Errol Garner; Barry Harris; Joe Jackson; Anita O'Day; Sonny Stitt; and the Syndicate of Sound.
DEAR JERRY: I recall a hit song in the 1960s from one of Troy Donahue's movies, possibly “Rome Adventure.”
All I can remember is “Al De La,” and it is a beautiful song that I'd love to hear it again.
Can you help?
Pat Litten, Burlington, N.C.
DEAR PAT: You've got the title, at least phonetically. It is “Al Di La,” and is indeed from “Rome Adventure,” and is found on that soundtrack album.
The vocalist is Italian singer-actor, Emilio Pericoli, and it became a Top 10 hit in the summer of '62.(Warner Bros. 5259).
Two other marvelous versions of “Al Di La” charted later, first by Connie Francis (1963), and then by the Ray Charles Singers (1964).
Though not a chart hit, and one I have not yet heard, a couple of people wrote to say that Jerry Vale has a version that is also quite good.
IZ ZAT SO? Among the No. 1 Folk/Country and Western hits of 1944 are tunes by the nation's top C&W singers at the time, stars such as Al Dexter (“Pistol Packin' Mama” and “Rosalita”), Ernest Tubb (“Soldier's Last Letter”), and Tex Ritter (“I'm Wastin' My Tears on You”).
Yet quite inexplicably, the tune topping those Country charts in the summer of '44 is “Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby,” by R&B hitmaker, Louis Jordan.
Conspicious by its absence is the hillbilly twang of Ernest Tubb and the cowboy drawl of Tex Ritter. There's not a trace of either on “Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby.”