Jazzed in Cleveland
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Part 50 - Frankie Laine in Cleveland
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Frankie Laine was one of the most popular singers in the world. He had more than 20 gold records to his credit including "That's My Desire," "That Lucky Old Son," and "Mule Train." Most people have forgotten that Frankie Laine started out as a jazz singer and even fewer remember that he spent six years struggling for jobs in Cleveland.
The Chicago native came to Cleveland almost by accident. In 1937, he learned that singer Perry Como, who had left Cleveland's Freddy Carlone band a year earlier to join the Ted Weems Orchestra, might leaving Weems for another job. Laine was hoping to get the job with Weems. But, Como changed his mind at the last minute. Laine told me Como apologized and said, "Would you like to go to Cleveland? I can make a call and maybe get you a job." He did.
Singing under his real name, Frank LoVecchio, Frankie Laine came to Cleveland near the end of 1937 and began singing with the Freddy Carlone band at Vincent's Club on East 9th Street. But, bookings were scarce and "Two weeks after I started, Carlone fired everybody."
The future international singing star began 1938 unemployed and broke in Cleveland. He managed get a little work singing for a man named "Twinkle" Katz at a nightclub called The Ace of Clubs. But, a week after he started, the club burned down.
"So a friend of mine," said Laine, "suggested I go to Lindsay's Sky Bar at 105th and Euclid. I auditioned and I got the job there and stayed five months." Working at Lindsay's, Laine met a Cleveland musician named Art Cutlip. "And we used to teach each other songs that neither one of us knew. I put together a hell of a repertoire book of about 1,000 songs."
One night at Lindsay's, Laine heard the Cleveland pianist play a song. "'What's that?' He said, 'It's a song called "Shine." I said, 'I'd like to learn it.' So he taught it to me." Ten years later, Laine's recording of "Shine" became one of his biggest hit recordings.
Laine later sang at The College Inn, near the present site of Cleveland State University. It was there that he first heard a girl singer named June Hart sing the song "That's My Desire." He said he "absorbed the song from listening to her." Cleveland pianist Al Lerner, who later played with the Harry James Orchestra and became Laine's musical director, recalled, "Frank learned the song from her but she didn't sing it right, the way the music was originally written."
After singing at the College Inn, Laine moved to a nightclub called the Wonder Bar at East 17th and Euclid, across the street from the Palace Theatre where trombonist Pee Wee Hunt was performing. "One night," remembered Laine, "Hunt came in and I got to talking to him and asked for an audition. I showed him my book (of songs). He said, "Gee, this is great! Can I borrow it?" Half a century later, Laine said he never got his song book back.
After Laine lost the job singing at the Wonder Bar, a customer named John Curley asked him, "How would you like a regular job?" Laine recalled Curley "put me on as a third shift machine operator out at Parker Appliance at 175th and Euclid. The first week, I made 150 bucks, so I said, 'The hell with singing.'" Laine worked the night shift at Parker Appliance, now Parker Hanifin Corporation, for the next three years during World War II, but he continued to sing in Cleveland on weekends with a variety of Cleveland jazz musicians including Fred Sharp and Bill DeArango. He remembered them both as "wonderful guitarists." While working at Parker, Laine began composing songs.
Also while he was in Cleveland, Laine auditioned for the Benny Goodman Orchestra which was playing at the time at Cedar Point. Goodman turned him down. According to Laine, "Benny said I was a rhythm singer and he said his girl singers did those kind of songs; the male vocalists did the ballads" in his band.
When he was in Cleveland, Laine lived at the Club Albion on Cedar Hill in Cleveland Heights. Earlier he had a small apartment at East 24th and Euclid. After settling in San Diego, he remembered Cleveland being very cold during the winters. He said, "There were many a morning when I got home from work that I wished I were some place else because it was cold and it was snowing. It was icy and it was hard to drive and I lived on a hill. It was tough."
After living, working and singing in Cleveland for six years, Laine left for Hollywood in 1943. He got Parker Appliance to transfer him to a plant in the Los Angeles area. But, his goal was singing. He made a record of "That's My Desire," the song he had learned from a girl singer in Cleveland. The record sold over one million copies in 1947 and launched Laine's international career as a popular singer.
But, according to pianist Lerner, "The publisher of the song didn't recognize it the way Laine sang it." Laine later said he simply did the song the way he had heard June Hart sing it at that club on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland. "I never knew she was singing it wrong and I don't think she knew she was singing it wrong. She was doing it the way that she learned it. And I learned it from her and it was wrong." For decades, Frankie Laine was singing "That's My Desire" wrong. Years later, he could look back and laugh. "All these years," he said, "I've been receiving royalties on 'That's My Desire' from the wrong things that I learned from her."
Laine was also a successful composer. He wrote a number of songs with Clevelander Al Lerner and several with his longtime musical partner Carl Fischer. Among them was "We'll Be Together Again" which has become a jazz standard and has been recorded by about 150 jazz artists.
Copyright 2000 Joe Mosbrook
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You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available at some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-426-9900).