Friday, November 9, 2012
SINGER SPOTLIGHT: GUY MITCHELL
Mitchell was born Al Cernick in Detroit, Michigan in 1927. From an early age it was apparent that he had a remarkable talent for music, especially as a vocalist. This talent led Warner Brothers Pictures to put young Al Cernick under contract as a budding musical personality. In the early forties he did some vocalizing on radio in Los Angeles, then moved up to San Francisco with his family. Besides singing with his high school band, in 1945 he was a country music vocalist in that city. After two years of military service he signed on as male vocalist with the orchestra of Carmen Cavallaro and appeared on recordings made for the Decca label. The first of these was released in early 1948 and featured Al on the tunes "Dream Girl" and "Encore Cherie" for Decca.
Continuing in 1949, Al Cernick now known on record as Al Grant recorded some sides for the King Record label based in Cincinnati, Ohio. With Dewey Bergman he recorded "Cabaret" and "This Day Is Mine". In September of that year "A Frame Without A Picture" and "I Thought I Was Dreaming" was recorded with Rufe Smith. The last King record was released in June of 1950 - "Forget Me Not" with Dewey Bergman. Back on April 1, 1950 Al Grant, aka Al Cernick, was signed to Columbia Records. The A & R man for Columbia was the most important record producer of the time, Mitch Miller, who seemed to develop a Midas Touch since coming over from Mercury Records and bringing Frankie Laine with him. His first order of business was to transform Al Cernick (Grant) into a new personality with a new name to match. Cernick became Guy Mitchell.
By the end of 1950, Mitchell without a big hit at Columbia was struggling, and Mitch Miller took a more hands on approach with Guy Mitchell on the next session and acted as arranger and conductor. The result was "My Heart Cries For You" and "The Roving Kind". Guy Mitchell's days as an unknown entertainer were over.
The song "My Heart Cries For You" was partially written by Percy Faith and was adapted from a song supposedly composed by 18th century French Queen Marie Antoinette. "The Roving Kind" was a long time British sea chanty (originally known as "The Pirate Ship") often performed by Pete Seeger and The Weavers. Both sides were blockbuster sellers and made Guy Mitchell a new force on the popular music scene. Mitchell pulled off the rare double, where each side sold one million records on its own, and a gold record was awarded for each side individually. For more than five months both sides of the record were played constantly on radio and sales kept adding up. The young singer born in the motor city of Yugoslav immigrant parents had made it at last.
Seemingly a spillover effect happened in early 1952. There was so much action on the new release that copies of Mitchell's previous effort for Columbia started selling. And so, "You're Just In Love", the duet with Rosie Clooney, came back and actually made the top twenty five on the hit parade for a few weeks. Taking just a short time to catch his breath at his new fame, Guy Mitchell hit again with his next release for Columbia. "Sparrow In The Treetop" and "Christopher Columbus" on #39190 was out in March and immediately entered the best seller lists. Again it was a two sided hit, though certainly not with the force of his previous hit disc. "Sparrow" got into the top ten and remained on the hit parade for four months, while the flip side charted at number twenty seven and sold moderately well on its own. And so for a time in early 1951, there stood Guy Mitchell with five songs on the best seller lists. Not a shabby accomplishment for someone who saw five years or more of failed opportunities and missed stardom. The tide had turned and Guy Mitchell had arrived in a big way.
In September of 1956 Guy was in the New York studios of Columbia Records with the Ray Coniff Orchestra and put together a snappy tune called "Singing The Blues" and coupled it with "Crazy With Love". The song "Singing The Blues" was a phenomenal seller. It was that rare crossover tune that sold on the pop, country, and R & B charts all at once. It proved that someone besides Elvis could achieve that trifecta. It remained in the number one spot for an unbelievable ten straight weeks, and lasted on the charts for more than five months. It was a multi-million seller, and worldwide tallies put the number at twelve million or more.
Mitchell also starred in a couple of movies - "Those Redheads From Seattle" with Teresa Brewer in 1953 and "Red Garters" with Rosemary Clooney in 1954. Mitchell had a pleasant personality on the screen, but his acting was slightly wooden. On television he starred in his own "Guy Mitchell Show"on U.S. Television he starred in numerous TV Specials in the U.S.A. and here in Britain. Together with Gracie Fields, he starred in the first "Sunday Night At The London Palladium" on Britain's ITV network. On his first visit to Britain, in 1952, he appeared for two weeks at the London Palladium selling every ticket within 24 hours - a box office record that still stands today. One of the highlights of Guy's career was in 1954 when he was honoured to appear in the Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium before Her Majesty, The Queen and Prince Philip.
The 1960's saw a slowing of pace with Guy concentrating on acting rather than singing, although he did score some minor successes, most notably with two excellent 'country' albums "Travelling Shoes" and "Singin' Up A Storm" for the Starday label. He appeared in the NBC western television series"Whispering Smith" in which he starred with his friend Audie Murphy and he even made another movie,"The Wild Westerners".
Life had not always been easy for Guy and he had more than his share of personal problems. Two divorces, illness and alcoholism took their toll. By the mid 1970's Guy had decided to go into semi-retirement and concentrate on ranching.
At the start of the 1980's Guy appeared on a 3 hour U.S.A. television tribute to Mitch Miller. At the end of Guy's 15 minute spot the audience made it clear that he was far from being a forgotten man. As a result Guy was tempted back into the recording studios and, in 1982, an album of many of Guy's hits, newly recorded in stereo, reached No. 2 in the Dutch hit parade. This only emphasised the fact that Guy Mitchell records had never stopped selling. When persuaded to play a 'comeback tour' of Britain in 1984, even the most enthusiastic fan was staggered by the response. A capacity audience of 2000 at London's Barbican Centre gave Guy a standing ovation through three encores - scenes that were to be repeated as the tour progressed around the Country.
1990 saw Guy filming in Scotland for BBC Television. A six one hour series called "YOUR CHEATIN' HEART' gave Guy a cameo roll as Jim Bob O'May with his band 'The Wild Bunch'. Guy sang seven songs in the series which were released on BBC Records. The same year saw Guy appearing in country music concerts including headlining at the Morecambe International Country Music Festival. On New Years Eve, Guy appeared in a three hour television spectacular for ITV live from the London Palladium.
In 1991 Guy returned to Australia for a most successful concert tour, radio and TV. However, Guy was involved in a serious horse riding accident that left him with fractured ribs and severe internal injuries. A period in intensive care was followed by a lengthy stay in a Sydney hospital before he was fit enough to travel home to Las Vegas.
Over the following years Guy made further concert tours of both the U.K. and Australia, concerts in Florida, Chicago and at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, at the Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque, the Hacienda Hotel on the 'Strip' in Las Vegas, the Flamingo Hotel in Laughlin, Nevada, and a major tour in California with the Guy Lombardo Orchestra. He became a mainstay in demand at hotels and casinos in Las Vegas. It was there that Guy passed away in July of 1999 at the age of 72 putting an end to a most remarkable career.
Guy Mitchell is not remembered as a top singer as Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin is, and maybe Mitchell came along too late. However, his output for Columbia was tremendous, and he made the studio a ton of money in the 1950s. I don't think I have ever heard a bad Mitchell recording, and I hope more people discover this underrated crooner...