Val Rosing: Crooner Extraordinaire
Dance, a track from Claudia Russell's Song Food CD tells the story of her mother and father and how they inspired her to be a singer and performer. The inspiration for the name Radio Rhythm Records came from Claudia's father, born Val Rosing in England.
Rosing was a popular vocalist in Britain during the 1930s. He sang and recorded with some of the best bands of his day, such as Henry Hall's BBC Dance Hall Orchestra and had his own swing quartet, the Radio Rhythm Rascals. He is thought to have recorded more than a 100 sides during his 6 year career as a vocalist in the UK. So far we have collected about 40 songs, ranging from gypsy swing to sentimental pop.
While in college, he started singing with the Night Watchman. Bandleader Spike Hughes landed a recording deal and recorded at Spike Hughes and his Decca-Dents. Rosing sand and played drums. Reportedly, he was a better vocalist than drummer, but we have not heard these recordings.
His big break was when he joined the Henry Hall Orchestra in 1931. He recorded several signature songs, including Teddt Bear's Picnic, Until
When the young crooner came to Hollywood at the behest of Louis B. Mayer, the studio changed his name to one more befitting an MGM contract player, Gilbert Russell. Russell was billed as the English Bing Crosby.
By the time Claudia was born in Los Angeles, he had changed his musical focus to opera and his family knew nothing about his "jazz" days in England. In the 60s, Russell was mostly known as a singing coach to movie and TV stars, counting George Chakiris (West Side Story), Natalie Wood, Beau Bridges, Dyan Cannon, Leslie Ann Warren, Tina Louise (Gilligan's Island) and Shirley Jones as clients. Claudia's father died in 1969.
Last year, Ray Pallett, an English writer, contacted Claudia about her father for an article in his Big Band fan 'zine, Memory Lane. He was wondering "whatever happened to Val Rosing after he left England in the 30s?" He sent Claudia a tape with over 35 songs Val had recorded, mostly with the BBC Dance Orchestra with bandleaders Ray Noble, Henry Hall and Jack Payne. She was thrilled to find out her father had had a million selling record with as the vocoalist who sang Teddy Bears Picnic!
Even cooler, the tape had recordings that Val recorded with his own quartet, The Radio Rhythm Rascals. Val plays drums and sings in a high vibrato-rich tenor, characteristic of the twenties and thirties. The slide guitar solo on Sweet Sue is very hip and it's obvious that Val and his band were listening to Django Reinhardt and other jazz players of the day. Perhaps this explains Claudia's affinity for swing music.
"I remember spending Saturday afternoons listening to music with my Dad," Claudia recalls. "He was such a fan of all kinds of music and all things British...even the Rolling Stones. He also turned me onto the Beatles, Aretha Franklin, Jose Feliciano, Ella Fitzgerald and Simon and Garfunkel."
"I wanted to learn to play the guitar. My dad showed me E, A, and D chords and taught me to play This Land Is Your Land. This made me way more popular in my Girl Scout Troop."
Claudia collects vintage stuff: postcards, old tins, matchbooks and other memorabilia of the 30s, 40s and 50s. While we were brainstorming ideas for the cover, we looked through all our matchbooks for inspiration. As we were wrapping up, I noticed an old orange birdseed tin of Hartz Mountain Song Food and grabbed it off the window sill. We each took one look and knew it would be perfect for the cover. (Ed Stern, president of Hartz Mountain, graciously gave us permission to use the artwork.)
This winter, while working on the artwork for the CD. I was looking for something to inspire our record company logo. I remembered an old matchbook we had from a San Francisco NBC radio station, KPO. The logo was perfect and contemporary looking, so with a few small changes, it became our record label logo.
At Christmas time, Claudia's step-mom, June Russell Pass, sent some old photos of Gil. The accompanying photo shows Gil singing at KPO, into the very microphone that is on the matchbook. Claudia and I were both in awe of the synchronicity with which the CD's artwork fell magically into place. --Bruce Kaplan
Gilbert Russell aka Valarian Rosing, best known as the man who first sang Teddy Bears Picnic and Try A Little Tenderness.
Click below to hear three familar songs Val recorded in the early 1930s. This will take you to the iTunes Music Store. Or purchase his 26 song CD here.
Teddy Bear's Picnic was recorded with the BBC Dance Orchestra led by Henry Hall.
Try a Little Tenderness was recorded with the BBC Dance Orchestra led by Ray Noble.
Sweet Sue was recorded by Val's own band, the Radio Rhythm Rascals.
Read the Memory Lane article that details Russell/Rosing's early career in England at www.memorylane.org.uk
Available February 2010, the CD compilation of 26 songs by Val Rosing performing with some of England's finest bands and orchestras!