About this Recording
8.120778 - MITCHELL, Guy: The Roving Kind (1950-1953)

GUY MITCHELL The Roving Kind
Original Recordings 1950-1953

A top-ranking entertainer on both sides of the Atlantic, Guy Mitchell the personable face of 1950s pop secured a place in the annals of rock-n-roll with his multi-million-selling 1956 ‘Singin’The Blues’. His career, however,was more varied and multifaceted than even his most ardent fans may realise. Born Albert Cernick, to immigrant Yugoslav parents in Detroit, Michigan, on 22 February 1927, as a child he showed flair for the stage and by eleven was already earmarked by Warner Brothers as a possible successor to Mickey Rooney. More drawn to vocalising, however, by his teens he was heard regularly on Los Angeles’ KFKB radio and even after leaving school, when he took up employment with a firm of saddlers, he continued to sing professionally in his spare time. During 1945- 1946 he served in the US Navy and after demobilisation auditioned successfully in 1947 for the Carmen Cavallaro Orchestra, that same year making his first recordings, as Al Cernick, for Decca in Los Angeles.

Owing to temporary illness, Guy was forced to curtail his activities with Cavallaro, but later, after moving to New York, he made further records, for the King record label under the pseudonym of Al Grant. In New York, he worked as a song-plugger for various organisations and in 1948 won first prize on Arthur Godfrey’s popular radio talent show. A demo he made was heard by Columbia’s musical director and A & R man Mitch Miller (born Mitchell William Miller, 1911), who signed Guy to a prestigious first contract with the label in 1950 and recommended Guy use the full version of his own surname for professional purposes. Guy, who was to remain with Columbia for the greater part of his recording career,went on to cut 22 US Top Forty hits, including six Golden Discs, with overall sales by the end of the 1950s alone already in excess of 44 million.

Although Guy’s first few recorded sides failed to make their mark, Miller continued to back him and found him a more congenial recording niche, commercialised country, which included numerous contributions by Bob Merrill (alias Henry Lavan, born 1921). Among the earliest of Miller’s suggestions were two items that Frank Sinatra had rejected which, fortuitously for Guy,were issued backto- back on the same disc, thus constituting a virtual double million-seller. The first, the novelty My Heart Cries For You, an adaptation by Percy Faith (credited by the pseudonym of ‘Peter Mars’) of an 18th century French folk-tune entitled “Chanson de Marie Antoinette”,was coupled with The Roving Kind (an arrangement made from the tune of the Old English sea shanty “The Pirate Ship”, a trend in folk borrowings he would continue with Wimmin’, based on the shanty “A-Rovin’’). My Heart Cries For You and The Roving Kind made, respectively, US No.2 and US No.4, in December 1950.

Pre-1954, Guy’s US Top Thirty hit list was crowned by two more million-sellers:My Truly, Truly Fair (No.2 in June 1951) and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (No.4 in March 1952). Significant among the lesser sellers were: in 1951, Sparrow In The Tree Top (at No.8), Belle, Belle, My Liberty Belle (at No.9),You’re Just In Love (Guy duetting with Rosemary Clooney, at No.24) and a coverversion of the Hank Williams country classic I Can’t Help It (at No.28); in 1952, Feet Up (Pat Him On The Popo) (at No.14) and The Day Of Jubilo (a No.26 Terry Gilkyson re-hash of a folksy number earlier popularised by Frank Crumit) and, in 1953, the ever-popular Guy Mitchell ‘standard’ She Wears Red Feathers (at No.19).

By the early 1950s Guy had set his sights on screen stardom. His vocal contributions were perceived as a plus by Paramount, but he achieved only moderate success with leading roles in two films. The first, Those Redheads From Seattle (1953 – with Rhonda Fleming, Gene Barry,Agnes Moorehead and fellow popstar Teresa Brewer, set in Alaska during the Gold Rush) was soon followed by a second, Red Garters (1954 – a creditable if predictably stylized Western musical spoof by any standards, co-starring Rosemary Clooney, Cass Daley, Gene Barry, Jack Carson, Pat Crowley and Reginald Owen, this proved a more successful venture, insofar as its art direction, by Hal Pereira and Roland Atkinson,was nominated for an Oscar).

By mid-decade, however, Guy’s career as a personality vocalist had taken off sufficiently to make further forays into a medium that did not really suit him superfluous. He could already boast his own regular show on US TV and made frequent special appearances in Great Britain, where he enjoyed an even greater following than in his own country (the recipient of five British No.1 awards, he had an almost open invitation to tour whenever he liked). Having first appeared in England at the London Palladium in 1952 (his two-week sellout run creating a still unbroken box-office record at that theatre) he returned there, memorably, two years later for a Royal Command Performance and was subsequently co-star (with Gracie Fields) in the first televised Sunday Night At The London Palladium, in 1955. In 1956 Guy scored his biggest hit – and first No.1 – with “Singin’The Blues” (one of the key songs of the 1950s era, this was actually a cover of a Marty Robbins country hit).

During the 1960s Guy Mitchell made his name as a straight actor, refocusing his career towards theatre and TV (his work in that sphere included the Western series Whispering Smith, co-starring Audie Murphy, for NBC). He also appeared in one more movie, The Wild Westerners (1962, with James Philbrook, Nancy Kovack and Duane Eddy, this was another ‘Yankees get their gold’ special) and continued to sing and (from 1962 onwards) to make recordings, including singles for Joy and Reprise and the country albums Travelling Shoes and Singin’ Up A Storm, for Starday Records. Sales both of Guy Mitchell re-releases and new recordings on his own GMI label continued to keep his name alive, although during the 1970s his stage activities declined after he took up ranching. In 1979 he made a successful tour of Australia and played the US nightclub circuit until 1981, when his profile was boosted by his guest appearance in a US TV tribute to Mitch Miller.

In 1984, Guy made a comeback tour of Great Britain, which included a standing ovation from a capacity audience at the London Barbican, and subsequently he returned annually for further British tours until the mid-1990s. He also made regular foreign tours, most notably to Australia. In 1990, for the BBC in Scotland, Guy filmed the six-part John Byrne drama series Your Cheatin’ Heart, and during breaks in the production made various UK country festival appearances including, on New Year’s Eve, a ‘live’ ITV show from the London Palladium. In 1991, following radio and TV appearances in Australia, he made a further tour, during the course of which he was severely injured in a horse-riding accident.

Fortunately, he made a full recovery and in later years made many appearances for charity, which teamed him, at select international venues, with colleagues as varied as Plácido Domingo, Kathryn Grayson, Buddy Greco, Bob Hope, Howard Keel,Mickey Rooney and Kay Starr. Guy Mitchell died in hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 1 July 1999, aged 72 years.

Peter Dempsey, 2004

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