The era of the 'mix tape' may have evolved into that of the 'playlist', but people have been sharing their cultural tastes for generations, passing along small glimpses into their personality and times. Similarly, the top-ten lists come flooding in every new year, as do those desert-island picks. Today on Spy Vibe we look at the musical world of Ian Fleming.
Spy Vibers may have an image of Ian Fleming in their minds. The creator of James Bond was photographed often in a dapper pose and holding his constant companion, a cigarette holder. Other famous promotional photos show him holding a pistol to evoke that 007 vibe. But did you ever imagine Ian Fleming tapping his foot and bouncing a Hawaiian slide guitar on his lap? If you read Andrew Lycett's excellent biography, it's possible that you missed this brief mention about Fleming's life as a teenager. Ian shot his first stag at sixteen in 1924, but as Lycett notes, his heart wasn't really in to the family hunting trips that were becoming so frequent. As Lycett relays, "His idea of artistic endeavor was playing the Hawaiian guitar (he took lessons from an Italian woman). He liked to put his feet up to a record of the Royal Hawaiian Serenaders when, as he put it, 'I should have been outdoors killing something'." (Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, Andrew Lycett, 1995, p. 24). The author of Goldfinger and Casino Royale played Hawaiian Guitar? I wonder if he had any talent for it? Perhaps this side of the Flemings's personality was best captured in photographs taken at Goldeneye. Relaxed in his island retreat, the camera often captured a boyish excitement in the author's face. Often grinning, the images show him enjoying the companionship of his dogs and the healthy routine of water sports and creative endeavors. Story continues.
It's not difficult to imagine the young Ian, with his taste for leisure and travel, becoming entranced by Hawaiian music. Any collector of vintage sheet music or 78 recordings can tell you the sounds of the islands- those soft ukuleles and whimsical slack-key guitars- became a world phenomenon in the early 20th Century. Performers like Sol Ho'opi'i were celebrated recording artists. Here on the mainland, prodigy Roy Smeck (the Wizard of the Strings) spread his renditions of Hawaiian melodies and hot jazz tunes in some of the earliest sound films. The world was crazy for Hawaii, and music and instrument sales skyrocketed. But Fleming made a point to mention that he loved the "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders" in 1924, and here our mystery begins. Below: 1924 Hawaiian Guitar instruction book.
There were in fact many groups that used that name, "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders". Some were actually associated with the Royal Hawaiian Hotel. Known as the Pink Palace of the Pacific, the famous hotel didn't open its doors until 1927- later than Fleming's story. Alvin Kaleolani Isaacs played at the hotel with his band and gained great fame in the 1930s and 1940s. He was a huge star, but his recordings would have been made when Ian Fleming was older. Falsetto singer George Kainapau started recording with Sol Ho'opi'i in the late 1920s and later played with a band called the "Royal Hawaiin Serenaders". Willard "Honey" Kalima (born 1924) and his "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders" played at the famed hotel and recorded for Decca and for Waikiki Records. I found an interesting photo of Richard Gustav Holldorf (born 1877), supposedly a German showman from Kansas City, with the "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders". But what about Ian Fleming's records of 1924? Doralinda, a Hula star of the Montmartre super club in the late teens and 1920s, was sometimes accompanied by Clark's "Royal Hawaiian Serenaders". I found a cool announcement for their outfit in 1916 editions of the New York Evening Telegram. Could they have been Fleming's favorite band?
Is it possible that Ian Fleming loved the Hawaiian style of music at sixteen, but only mentioned the name of a band, "The Royal Hawaiian Serenaders," which actually discovered later in life? Unless Fleming's original records are archived somewhere and can be studied, it will be impossible to tell which group fired his imagination, or what their recordings sounded like. But maybe if we broaden our view to hot Hawaiian guitar in the 1920s, we can imagine a sixteen-year-old Ian hiding away in a room with his record player. Maybe he closed himself off from the hunting parties, wound up the player and placed the heavy sound arm on to his favorite 78. Maybe he had his guitar resting in his lap, and he listened carefully as his fingers tried to keep up with musicians coming through the wooden speaker. Did it feel like romance and adventure? Did he dream of moving far away to a tropical paradise? Maybe Hawaii, or perhaps... Jamaica? Here is an example of the musical style from a 1939 Pathe film featuring "Felix Mendelssohn's Hawaiian Serenaders". Story continues.
Noel Coward featured prominently in Fleming's later life, connecting with the author's love of the tropical lifestyle. Fleming looked up to the playwright and composer and enjoyed his great wit. Coward had famously rented the author's Goldeneye retreat in Jamaica, which he christened 'goldeneye, nose, and throat' for its sparse, clinic-like atmosphere. Coward later built his own home down the beach and the two men became neighbors. Coward was a close family friend and Fleming biographies and documentaries are filled with wonderful and humorous anecdotes. One famous story is Coward's telling of Fleming's private wedding, in which the bride and groom had to turn their heads away from the bad breath of the officiate. At the party back home, they ate black crab, which Noel said tasted like ashes from a tin can, and then they buried the remains of a green wedding cake in the yard. Noel Coward wrote a number of witty tunes about Fleming and Goldeneye, but maybe the most famous is the Goldeneye Calypso. Spy Vibers may have heard it in the Ian Fleming documentary on the Living Daylights disc. In the song, Coward captures the couple's long affair and the strange dynamics between Fleming's Kemsley Press and Ann's ex-husband's Daily Mail. Here are the lyrics as they appear in the Complete Verse of Noel Coward. Photo below: Coward and Fleming at Sunset Lodge, Montego Bay, Jamaica 1953 (Getty Images).
Mongoose murmur ‘Oh my- oh my!
No more frig about- beg your pardon
Things are changing at Goldeneye!’
Mongoose say to Annee
Mongoose say to Annee
Your man as shady as mango tree
Sweet as honey from bee.
Hey for the Alka-Seltzer
Ho for the Asirin
Hey for the saltfish, ackee, ganja,
Booby’s eggs, Gordon’s Gin.
Mongoose listen to white folks wailin'
Mongoose giggle, say, 'Me no deaf.
No more waffle and daily Mailin'
Annie Rothmere's Madam F.'
Mongoose say to Annee
Varlyle Mansions N.G.
Goldeneye a catastrophe
Whitecliffs too near the sea.
Hey for the blowfish, blowfish,
Ho for the wedding ring
Hey for the Dry Martinis, old goat fricassee,
Old Man’s Thing.
Mongoose snigger at Human Race
Can’t have wedding without the Bryces,
Both the Stephensons, Margaret Chase.
Mongoose say to Annee
Now you get your decree
Once you lady of high degree
Now you common as me.
Hey for the piggly-wiggly
Ho for the wedding dress
Hey for the Earl of Dudley,
Loelia Westminster, Kemsley Press.
Among his many experiences in life, Noel Coward also did some spying during WWII. From Reuters: "As to his covert wartime activities, Coward was dispatched to the United States before it entered the war to gauge local sentiment, reporting to British Security Coordination chief William Stephenson about what he'd seen and heard. Later in life Coward reflected that he could have made a career in espionage, 'except my life's been full enough of intrigue as it is.'" Coward said that his cover was to just be himself, flamboyant and social, and tasked to use his celebrity to pick up useful tidbits of information. Spy Vibers of course celebrate Coward for his memorable roles in Our Man in Havana (1959) and The Italian Job (1969). Coward famously turned down the role of Dr. No in the first 007 movie. Story continues.
On August 6th, 1963, Ian Fleming made an appearance on the BBC's Desert Island Dics, where Roy Plomley interviewed him about the creation of James Bond and about his writing routine. As part of the show's format, Fleming also shared his his favorite records that he would choose as his desert-island picks. One of the first he highlighted was Cecilia by Whispering Jack Smith.
Whispering Jack Smith was born Jacob Schmidt in New York City in 1899. While serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in France during World War I, he was in a gas assault at the battle of Saint-Mihiel. He sustained permanent damage to the throat, resulting in a soft, whispering voice, which later became his trademark as a singer. He changed his name to Jack Smith after the war and worked as a club singer and song-seller for Irving Berlin Music for $100 week. By 1926 TD Kemp had landed him a gig at The Strand for $650 a week! Rave reviews in the trade magazines brought Smith further dates in England and Europe. Smith soon became a sensation through the 1920s and 1930s. Prone to melancholy and drink, Whispering Jack's career slowly eroded into obscurity. He died in 1952, leaving behind about 100 cherished recordings. Ian Fleming became interested in Whispering Jack Smith during that initial breakthrough period in Europe and the author said his favorite tune during his time as a student at Eton (1921-1926) was Smith's recording, Celilia.
The song was light and charming, and it had a hint of innuendo that must have appealed to Fleming's "red-blooded" instincts. Cecilia was in fact Smith's first recording, made for Victor on September 15th, 1925. For you collectors out there, the matrix number was BVE-33383 and the label description read 'Male vocal solo, with piano." The song was also released later by Decca. Reading over some of the lyrics, one can imagine a young Fleming embracing the song's image of courtship and conquest.
Now, little Miss Cecilia Green,
A little over sweet sixteen,
But the cutest flapper that you've ever seen;
When the fellows pass her by,
She will always wink her eye,
And when she talks to them, when she walks with them,
This is what they all cry:
Does your mother know you're out, Cecilia?
Does she know that I'm about to steal ya?
Oh my, when I look in your eyes,
Something tells me you and I should get together!
How about a little kiss, Cecilia?
Just a kiss you'll never miss, Cecilia,
Why do we two keep on wasting time?
Oh, Cecilia, say that you'll be mine!
During Ian Fleming's appearance on Desert Island Dics, he also told Roy Plomley that, if he were allowed only one record, it would be the barroom jazz hit, The Darktown Strutter's Ball, by Joe "Fingers" Carr. Fleming biographer Andrew Lycett and I corresponded about the topic of Ian Fleming's musical tastes and he mentioned that Fleming collected jazz records during some of his trips to the United States during the early 1950s. That would have been the perfect time to discover this recording. So who was Joe "Fingers" Carr and what can we learn about Ian Fleming from this music?
Joe "Fingers" Carr released The Darktown Strutters Ball on his 1953 Capital album, Roughhouse Piano. The album was issued in 10-inch vinyl (catalog H-345), as well as in sets of 45s and 78s. Songs on the record included Somebody Stole My Gal, The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady, Dardanella, Twelfth Street rag, Lou's Blues, Minute Walz Boogie, Narcissus, and The Darktown Strutter's Ball. The album was re-released later with additional tracks. It is possible that Fleming had the 45 or 78 set, as he singled out that particular tune (those formats enabled the listener to focus on a single track rather than a whole side of songs). By the 1950s, however, it is more likely that he was collecting 10-inch vinyl jazz records. With four songs per side, Fleming probably did what any obsessed music fan would do and he dropped the needle down on Darktown Strutter's Ball over and over (for you digital-age readers, you couldn't play an individual LP or EP track on 'repeat'). Below: Side 2 label of Roughhouse Piano..
Joe "Fingers" Carr was born in 1910 as Lou Bush (later Busch). He was a talented pianist who favored the ragtime and early hot-jazz styles. By the age of twelve, he was performing as Lou Bush and His Tickletoe Four. He worked for Hal Kemp in the 1930s and was picked up by Johnny Mercer at Capital in the late 1940s. He worked in A&R and played as a studio musician for Peggy Lee, Tennessee Ernie Ford and others. He then donned the moniker Joe "Fingers" Carr and began releasing Honkey Tonk and Ragtime albums in the 1950s, which is when Ian Fleming caught up with him.
For a man who was plagued by morose and melancholy waves, I imagine the upbeat music of Carr also served as a quick elixir to clear the cobwebs of his mood. About The Darktown Strutter's Ball, Fleming said, "This tremendous racket would keep the ghosts away." [Lycett pg. 419]. well, there is nothing like bawdy jazz to rekindle the twinkle in one's eye. Fleming bought the record in the early 50s and evidently cherished it still in August of 1963 when he was interviewed for Desert Island Discs. Music apparently continued to provide an oasis away from unwanted pressures. Fleming was facing the last twelve months of his life at the time of the music interview with the BBC (he died in August, 1964). Despite the success of the James Bond novels and his enjoyment during stays at Goldeneye, the author was plagued by health issues, an unhappy marriage, and a chronic lawsuit over Thunderball. He was a man who had ghosts to keep away, and Joe "Fingers" Carr was apparently just what the doctor ordered. Below: The Darktown Strutter's Ball. Spy Vibers, I'm making my first trip to England later this month. If you can help, please consider making a small donation in our Paypal tip-jar at top-left of the page. Thank you! -Jason
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