From the Desk of Johnny Holiday
I am dashing this off just after our March 15th program with my special guest stars, the Mills Brothers. Even as I write these words, I see a flurry of emails from some of the many fine volunteers who have worked so hard on the Johnny Holiday Program. I am constantly touched by the hard work of so many fine friends who care about our show in the Empire Room at the Sportsmen’s Lodge.
A few weeks ago, I was over at radio station KRLA 870 AM, where I was appearing on the Mark Isler Show. As I walked up to the studio window, I was delighted and surprised to see my guitarist, the legendary John Reynolds, along with my friend and a fine performer, Johnny Crawford. Now, John Reynolds is a remarkable and gifted artist who is simply the best when it comes to playing the old songs on guitar, and to hear him whistle is a joy. But to hear him playing with my friend Johnny Crawford – just the two of them – well, that was pretty special. As soon as the show broke for a commercial, I peeked in and spoke to John, Johnny and Johnny’s wife, Charlotte. We gabbed about this and that, and then John took his guitar and headed home, while Johnny and I stayed on for the second half of Mark’s popular radio program. After the show, we posed for some pictures together, and as I headed to my car, I thought to myself, “You need to ask Johnny Crawford to do your program!” We spoke again a few days later, and Johnny said he would be happy to appear as my special guest on Friday, April 12th in the Empire Room at the Sportsmen’s Lodge.
To give Johnny a proper introduction, I must go back a bit deeper into the past. When Johnny was appearing as Mark McCain on the Emmy Award winning show, The Rifleman, he was already nearly a veteran in our business. Johnny started as one of the original Mouseketeers selected by Walt Disney back in 1955. His credits on television and film are numerous, but what I treasure most about Johnny is his singing voice. Many people attempt to affect what they believe is the sound of the 1930’s when they sing…but when Johnny sings, you know it’s real. He is truly one of the last crooners I know of who still has an amazing and youthful voice. Johnny appeared on two of my shows in previous years, but for this upcoming show, I plan to open the door mighty wide and let him do whatever he likes. I can assure you that this man knows more songs than almost anyone I know, and to top it all, he can tell you who wrote it, when, and what they had for breakfast before they wrote it.
Johnny has had a remarkable career as a bandleader and vocalist, but he is also a man who cares about being true to the melody. The arrangements you hear on his hit compact disc, “Sweeping the Clouds Away” are perfect, and his version of the great song, “Isn’t It Romantic” is just about as good as it gets.
Today, some of us purists get a bit tired with the many male singers doing piano bar versions of “Come Fly with Me,” “Witchcraft,” and the like. There was only one Frank Sinatra, just as there was only one Crosby. But for me, some songs simply grow stale after a while. For while you loved the original versions, it’s not always easy to hear others sing them and attempt to replicate a Capitol recording from 1958. Now I plead guilty, as I do sing a lot of the old songs done by Bing, Jolson and others, but I know full well that no one can come close to the remarkable tones those men were able to produce. It’s funny to think that when I was still a boy singer with the bands, “The Crosby Clause” was in my contracts. I would never be asked to sing any song associated with Bing, so there was no “Swinging on a Star,” “Moonlight Becomes You” or “Please” for me. During the past few years, however, I have been singing these songs, and I’ve been singing them because I want folks to remember Bing. Plenty has been done to remind us of Sinatra and Elvis, but Bing was so much an “everyman” in music that he simply sort of faded away, and that was and is wrong. For over thirty years, only MCA released a few things, and then just a few years ago, an effort was made to remind people of “The First Citizen of Popular Music”… or so he was dubbed by the Grammy people back in 1960.
Today, I worry that too many of our younger singers rely too heavily on the more commonly known tunes to play it safe, yet there is a cornucopia of amazing songs that have been forgotten, and which deserve fresh voices to sing them. That’s why I encourage young vocalists to avoid what is common, and make themselves uncommon; own the song as if it were written for them.
When I hear Johnny Crawford sing, he owns every song he approaches. He delivers a ballad with feeling, and you can hear the smile in his voice when he sings something with a beat. I can assure you that when Johnny Crawford comes on my program, he will knock your socks off, because there is no one else who delivers the goods as this great singer does. Johnny is a fine man. He loves our country, he embraces the wholesomeness that is sometimes missing in our current culture, and he is a reminder of what a good performer truly is. No frills, no gimmicks – just an honest delivery of a wonderful song.
Come and see us in the Empire Room on April 12th and hear my pal Johnny Crawford sing with the Dean Mora Orchestra and my cast of talented friends. I promise you it will be a special night of great songs from those days I often wish I had known first hand. Actually I did…but that is another story.
Reservations for this special night can be made by calling 818.432.7502. Until next time…
So long for now,