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 favorite records that he would choose as his desert island picks. After listing a few choices, he said 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 yesterday 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. 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, Rough-House 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 and those editions enabled the listener to focus on a single track. 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 The Darktown Strutters Ball over and over (for you digital-age readers, you couldn't play an individual LP or EP track on 'repeat'). Hear song samples from Rough-House Piano on Amazon here.
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 apparently caught up with him.
It's likely that Ian Fleming found Carr's Rough-House Piano during his 1954 trip across America. The album would have been in the stores for less than a year at that point. Although there were business meetings to attend regarding his books, possible screen options, and the recent TV production of Casino Royale, Ian Fleming made a point during the trip to schedule activities that excited him as a writer: He visited the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago, meet up with policemen to talk about crime in the United States, and conducted some observational research about gambling behavior in Las Vegas. Fleming would have had many opportunities to find Carr's album at record shops in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. The Honkey Tonk and Ragtime styles of Joe "Fingers" Carr must have captured some of the sexual and violent nature of America, a kind of rebelliousness that probably appealed to the side of Fleming that made great efforts to avoid the dinner parties hosted by his wife. This is the side of Ian that we explored in our last segment- the Ian who played Hawaiian guitar, the boy who rejected traditional social conventions in favor of some rowdy tunes steeped in international culture.
For a man who was plagued by morose and melancholy waves, I imagine that this upbeat music 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 (see photo above). Fleming bought the record and evidently loved it. Ten years after the album's initial release, Ian Fleming was in the last twelve months of his life. Despite the success of his novels, he 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 just what the doctor ordered.
You can hear The Darktown Strutter's Ball at the Amazon link above. To give you a taste of the record here on Spy Vibe, below is another jaunty ditty from side one of Carr's Rough-House Piano album, Somebody Stole My Gal. Ian Fleming photo at the top of this page from the National Portrait Gallery.
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Check Spy Vibe for recent posts about Ian Fleming- Hawaiian Guitar player!, 1960s espionage writers, Spy Vibe's discovery of a rare Ian Fleming serialization, my review of SKYFALL, 007 at the Intnl Spy Museum, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, new Beatles bio from Mark Lewisohn, tributes to Donald Richie and Tony Sheridan, the Les Vampires serial on Blu-ray, Lucy Fleming, The Beatles first record session, Ian Fleming's desert island interview, new Ian Fleming book designs, Fantomas, Spy Smasher, Barbarella tv show, British spy comics, Piper Gates retro designs, Cinema Retro, and more.
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