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He Was A Favorite But He Wasn’t Personable

Bandleader Ralph Flanagan won popularity polls in the 1950s, played for more than two million and generated a yearly gross of $600,000 in 1951 alone but he lacked a gregariousness that worried his backers.

Singer Harry Prime who sang with the Flanagan band during its popular years of 1949 to 1953 told Big Band's Christopher Popa that while Ralph was a good musician with a good band but "he was not a very personable guy. He was nice enough but he was kind of shy. He didn't have many smarts about the music business and I would call him a guy that was sort of like a 'fish out of water' because many times he would come up to me and ask 'what am I doing here?'. He was really a guy who didn't enjoy the limelight. Hated it frankly. But he was good. Asked those who heard him and his work as an arranger with Charley Barnet, Boyd Raeburn, Tony Pastor and Perry Como's Chesterfield Supper Club on NBC," Prime told Popa.

What made him so different from the normal journeyman piano player? Other leaders and arrangers found out that he had a flair for imitating other sounds and probably his best imitation was the Glenn Miller sound. At the time everybody was trying to duplicate what Glenn did because it was immensely popular but at the same time music was becoming more regulated by copyright. Ralph had a 'sugar daddy' in the competitive music trade. Veterans at RCA say that an A&R man named Herb Hendler helped put Flanagan over the top. Hendler knew where Miller had been successful. For example when RCA wanted to revive the big band sound, executives turned to Flanagan's handlers and success followed success. Flanagan opened where Miller did, the Cafe Rouge at the Hotel Statler in NYC on Sept. 11, 1950. Hendler planned it right. The Flanagan band followed up as Miller did on the Chesterfield show.

The Flanagan band was built on veteran pillars. Trigger Alpert on bass and a drummer named Frank Ippolito who would replace Tech. Sgt Ray McKinley from time to time. A number of alumni were already in their chairs. Bobby Hackett and Dale McMickle were in the trumpet section and Al Klink and Ernie Caceres formed the saxophone unit and the blend was a good fit. Hendler was so excited by the availability of these talented musicians he put together plans for a recorded tribute to Glenn Miller. Flanagan conducted the orchestra and Hendler inserted the famous Miller line "something old, something new, something borrowed something blue marketing" ticket . . .and it worked again! The biggest concern was the musician's strike which continued to be threat to the bands. It was disaster for some leaders but helped others.

"So Tommy and all the other artists recorded in advance of the strike so they would have labels to sell when the strike began. I did the last million-tune –selling tune that Tommy (Dorsey) recorded," he said.

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