Spotlight on ……
By the time she joined the then recently-established Capitol label in 1943, Jo Stafford had already achieved considerable success with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, both as a solo vocalist and as a member of the Pied Pipers. Even earlier, she’d been one third of the Stafford Sisters, working regularly with her two elder siblings in radio and supplying vocal tracks for various Hollywood movies. They even got to appear on screen in a couple of Gene Autry westerns, one of which, "Goldmine In The Sky", was issued on DVD in early 2007 as part of the Autry centenary celebrations.
This album, however, is an appreciation of her considerable catalogue of work for Capitol Records. It’s not a "Greatest Hits" collection, more a scrapbook of the musical milestones in the career of a lady who’s been rightly described as "America’s Most Versatile Singing Star".
Songwriter Johnny Mercer, along with Glenn Wallichs and Buddy DeSylva formed Capitol in 1942, employing Paul Weston as its musical director. A year later Mercer signed Jo, and the Pied Pipers, to the label. Their first recording session, on October 15th, 1943, produced an immediate solo hit for Jo with "Old Acquaintance" and a slightly less-successful release by the Pipers with "Pistol Packin’ Mama". When Jo elected to leave the group the following year, in order to concentrate on her solo career, her place was taken by June Hutton. The new line-up backed Jo for the first time on "I Didn’t Know About You" and later contributed to her very first Billboard chart topped, "Candy", on which she duetted with Johnny Mercer.
That was in 1945 and, although she continued to release chart hits on a regular basis, it wasn’t until 1947 that she achieved her second Number One. This was the tongue-in-cheek version of "Temptation", re-titled "Tim-Tayshun" and sung with the zany, ex-Spike Jones renegade, Red Ingle. There are various explanations why Jo came to be the, originally, anonymous singer, on this novelty hit. Some say that Jo just happened to be in the building at the time and was persuaded to deputise for Ingle’s usual vocalist who was indisposed. More recently it’s been whispered that the absent lady in question was the late Cindy Walker, perhaps the finest female composer in country music history and a talented singer in her own right.
Initially the replacement vocalist on the 78rpm single was listed as "Cinderella G. Stump", but the true identity was later admitted and Jo eventually received her due credit. This hillbilly send-up was one of the many country/folk flavoured recordings she made during her stay with Capitol - items like "Travelling Salesman Polka" (with country singer Tex Williams). "Suspicion", "Feudin’ And Fightin’", "Red River Valley" and the original ground-breaking "Jo Stafford sings American Folksongs" LP, recorded in 1947 and from which "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" is a superb example of the sensitive Stafford style. She was to re-record that album in the sixties, but more on that later.
Chart-topper number three came with the inspired pairing of Jo with Capitol label-mate Gordon MacRae in 1948 on "My Darling, My Darling" from "Where’s Charley?", the Broadway musical version of "Charley’s Aunt". This lead to a string of successful duets by the pair, notably with a vintage sacred song that had caught the ear of orchestra leader, and Jo’s husband-to-be, Paul Weston. This was "Whispering Hope", written in 1868 by "Alice Hawthorne" which was actually one of many pseudonyms used by a gentleman called Septimus Winner. Although it only reached fourth place in the US charts, it actually earned them a Gold Record and was just one of the many religious titles they were to record together.
The Stafford-MacRae partnership also produced a memorable 10" LP in 1950 entitled "Sunday Evening Songs", re-issued four years later as "Memory Songs" with four additional tracks on a 12" LP. Among the "parlour ballads" included was "Love’s Old Sweet Song", written in 1884 by James Lynam Molloy and Clifton Bingham and perhaps better-known as "Just A Song At Twilight".
"Sunday Evening Songs" was not the only Stafford LP to be issued in both 10" and 12" formats - in fact, this appears to be the norm with most Capitol albums at the time - but one collection which defied the rule was the ultra-rare eight-track 10" "Songs Of Faith". It’s a well-known fact that Jo had, and still has, a strong religious faith, but it’s hard to imagine that any other top female singer on the Capitol roster who would have dared to, or even been allowed to, release such an album. (Think Peggy Lee, Margaret Whiting, Kay Starr, Ella Mae Morse!). It may well be that its rarity was due to poor sales, but it did include "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Nearer My God To Thee", both of which went on to become a lasting favourites with Stafford collectors, both in these original versions and the re-recordings she later made with Gordon MacRae.
With all this talk of Jo’s versatility in recording country, folk, comedy and sacred material, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that she is also reckoned by many to be one of the best interpreters of American popular song, something confirmed by the renowned jazz bass player and leader of the Charlie Hayden Quartet West who reckoned that Jo’s recording of the Arthur Schwartz-Howard Dietz classic, "Alone Together", was one of the most meaningful versions of the song he’d ever heard. He even went as far as to merge Jo’s version with that of his own on his "Always Say Goodbye" album and took his admiration one step further when he superimposed Jo’s 1947 atmospheric recording of "Haunted Heart" on to his own for his 1992 CD of the same name.
Show tunes, too, featured prominently in Jo’s repertoire, usually recorded to coincide with their Broadway opening, but later to become standards - "Almost Like Being In Love" from Brigadoon, "The Gentleman Is A Dope" from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s "Allegro" and Jule Styne‘s "Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend" from the original 1949 production of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" being just three of fine examples - but there are countless other songs, just plain and simple pop songs of their day, which Ms. Stafford made her own. "Scarlet Ribbons", "Autumn Leaves", "Long Ago (And Far Away)"and "Day By Day" are just a few of the titles which helped to make Jo Stafford Capitol’s best-selling artiste during the mid to late forties.
Here in the UK we had to wait until 1948 before Capitol records were made available, so many of Jo’s earlier recordings never achieved a British release. Naturally, many of those neglected titles have since appeared on CD, but the others have become much sought-after collectors’ items. Happily, some of those elusive tracks are included here, along with a few of the un-issued gems which not even our friends in the USA will have heard before.
In late 1950 Jo departed Capitol, joining Columbia where she continued to enjoy huge success, but, towards the end of the fifties she and husband, Paul Weston, became increasingly unhappy with the way their recording careers were being handled, the upshot being that they quit the label and eventually obtained ownership of most of their master recordings.
There then followed a one-off album by Jo and Paul’s tone-deaf alter egos, Jonathan & Darlene Edwards, for RCA in 1961 and four tracks for the Colpix label in 1962, two of which, "If My Heart Had A Window" and "Adios, My Love", are included in this collection.
Around about the same time, they were approached by their old label, Capitol, who signed them up to a six-album deal. These included "The Hits Of Jo Stafford", which contained new stereo versions of recordings she’d made for both Capitol and Columbia, and "Jo Stafford sings American Folk Songs" in which she re-visited her award-winning 1948 album of the same name, this time stretched to twelve tracks.
She was reunited with Gordon MacRae for a couple of sacred LPs, "Whispering Hope" and "There’s Peace In The Valley". Then came a solo religious collection, "Jo Stafford’s Sweet Hour Of Prayer" and, finally, "The Joyful Season" featuring a mixture of sacred and secular Christmas favourites. The very last song Jo recorded for Capitol was "Winter Wonderland" on August 14th, 1964.
From then on, although still only in her forties (she was born an unbelievable ninety years ago, on November 12th 1917), Jo took what really amounts to early retirement, preferring to stay at home and care for her two young children, Tim and Amy. True, there were three LPs for Dot and a series of sessions for Reader’s Digest in the years that followed, plus a final outing for Jonathan & Darlene on the Westons’ own Corinthian label in 1982, but, as far as public appearances were concerned, her musical career was over.
However, regular re-issues of her recordings have continued to keep collectors happy over the years and this new collection of favourites and rarities surely serves as a fitting tribute to the lady who had no less than 49 chart hits during her illustrious career with Capitol.
© 2007 Jim Marshall
THE ULTIMATE CAPITOL COLLECTION
ICPN – 0946 396072 2 8
CAT NO – 396 0722
1. Old Acquaintance
2. Pistol Packin' Mama (with The Pied Pipers)
3. I Didn't Know About You (with The Pied Pipers)
4. Candy (with Johnny Mercer And The Pied Pipers)
5. My Darling, My Darling (with Gordon MacRae and The Starlighters)
6. Tim-Tayshun (Temptation) (with Red Ingle & The Natural Seven)
7. Whispering Hope (with Gordon MacRae)
8. Winter Wonderland
9. Almost Like Being In Love
10. Autumn Leaves
11. Suspicion (with The Starlighters & Paul Weston's Mountain Boys)
12. The Traveling Salesman Polka (with Tex Williams and His Western Caravan)
13. Red River Valley (with The Starlighters)
14. The Old Rugged Cross
15. These Will Be The Best Years Of Our Lives
16. Love And The Weather
17. Love's Old Sweet Song (with Gordon MacRae)
18. No Other Love (with Paul Weston & Orchestra and George Greeley - piano)
19. Haunted Heart
20. Alone Together
21. I'll Be Seeing You
22. I Wonder As I Wander
23. Poor Wayfaring Stranger
24. Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair)
25. Georgia On My Mind
26. The Boy Next Door
27. The Gentleman Is A Dope
28. Make Believe
1. Carry Me Back To Old Virginny
2. Hold Me, Hold Me (with Gordon MacRae And Bill Loose Orchestra)
3. It's Monday Every Day
4. Near Me (with Gordon MacRae)
5. Sweet By And By
6. This Time
7. Oh, Holy Morning (with Gordon MacRae)
8. A Perfect Day with Gordon MacRae
9. Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend (with The Starlighters)
10. Day By Day
11. Echoes (with Gordon MacRae)
12. Feudin' And Fightin' (with Starlighters & Paul Weston's Mountain Boys)
13. If I Loved You
14. In The Still Of The Night
15. Nearer My God To Thee (with Thurl Ravenscroft Choir)
16. Long Ago (And Far Away)
17. When It's Springtime In The Rockies (with Gordon MacRae And Bill Loose Orchestra)
18. Roses Of Picardy (with The Starlighters)
19. Walkin' My Baby Back Home
20. Play A Simple Melody (with Starlighters & Paul Weston's Dixie Eight)
21. Some Enchanted Evening
22. Gee, It's Good To Hold You (with Billy Butterfield - trumpet)
23. Adios My Love (with Don Costa's Orchestra)
24. If My Heart Had A Window (with Don Costa's Orchestra)
25. The Last Time I Saw You *
26. Rockin' Chair *
27. You Wear Love So Well *
28. When Day Is Done * (with Gordon MacRae And Bill Loose Orchestra)
Accompaniment is by Paul Weston's Orchestra, unless otherwise stated