Joni James with Ralph Marterie and his Downbeat orchestra – National Guard Radio program – 1954 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Heading into different territory this weekend. A live session with American pop singer Joni James along with Band leader Ralph Marterie recorded by the U.S. government for the National Guard Recruiting program, Let’s Go To Town.
When the subject of popular music of the 1950s comes up, the natural tendency for most people is to run off a slew of names most associated with the early years of Rock or Rhythm & Blues. Those cornerstone names, the backbone of mainstream Popular Music in America, don’t get all that much recognition these days. The Perry Como’s, Dinah Shore’s or in this case, the Joni James’ and Ralph Marterie’s of Popular music tend to get overlooked when the big picture of Pop Music is brought up.
Yet these were huge artists who sold in the millions during their heyday. Ralph Materie was almost a direct link to early Rock – listening to one of his big hits; Caravan, done in this live version with none other than Al Caiola playing guitar, gives some idea that this was at least a harbinger of things to come only months away. Joni James, whose wholesome girl-next door looks and sultry voice netted her some 100 million records sold in the course of her career was that breath of innocence so much a part of America in the 1950s. Joni James records figured more prominently in American juke boxes than Fats Domino in many areas of the country.
In a way, the style and the execution are reminiscent of the waning days of big-band – Ralph Marterie was voted most popular Band leader several times in Downbeat Magazine in the early 1950s – further evidence the genre wasn’t as dead as some would admit. Joni James represented a world not-quite-ready to embrace Rock n’ Roll, yet still wanted to dance.
You may or may not like these two artists – you may or many not know anything about them – you may have their records or you may never have heard anything like them before. You can listen to this as a sort of trip back in time or you can listen to this as making a discovery. Either way, it’s a little under 40 minutes and a representative sample of what the mainstream were up to in 1954.
Have a listen and have an open mind – that’s why we’re here.