Thursday, February 08, 2007

Big man, big voice (Ave Frankie, 1913-2007)

High Noon ("Oh Don't Forsake Me Oh Mah Dahlin'"), Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rawhide...etc; etc: those of us brought up on cowboy films and television series, will immediately recognise the voice of Big Frankie, (March 30 1913- February 6 2007) which was usually much more memorable than the film or TV series whose opening credits he sang over.

His big-vibratoed, emotive voice (early influences included Bessie Smith and Enrico Caruso) was - perhaps- little over the top, but ideal for horse operas, which are essentially melodramas.

He was a much more sophisticated musician than you might assume. His friend, the late Richard Boston quotes him from a 1974 interview: "In Lucky Old Sun (1957) in the middle of the bridge going into the last eight bars, I come in a fourth higher, which is startling -yet in this song it seems natural. A third higher is more normal.You don't expect a fourth". Boston comments: "When did a singer last say anything like that in an interview?"

Boston closes with: "He was a great singer, and a really nice man".

So it's perhaps not so surprising to learn that Frankie always regarded himself first and foremost as a jazz singer, whose early role model was Nat "King" Cole. And in 1955 he made a truly top-class jazz album with an all-star band organised by trumpeter Buck Clayton, entitled "Jazz Spectacular"; it's well woth obtaining (last I heard, it was available on a' Columbia Legacy' CD CK 65507).

But none of that is intended to disparage his cowboy songs (including the theme for Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles!): so long pard'ner.


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