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Saturday, June 17, 2006

1957 - "PoPsie" Randolph's lifetime pass to Benny Goodman

It is said that luck is when preparation meets opportunity and in the first half of the 2oth Century, there were none who were more prepared than William "PoPsie" Randolph.

"PoPsie" first met Benny Goodman when he hanging around the New York City radio stations that broadcast the great Jazz players of the day. Benny had the kid help him with some band gear and tipped him 5 dollars. "PoPsie" never forgot Benny's kindness and vowed that he would someday join Benny's band.

"PoPsie" loved Jazz music and had purchased a trumpet and practiced on it until he was mildly proficient. But he wasn't good enough to crack the ranks of the Jazz world as a musician, so he decided to use his smarts to get in to the band in other ways. He hooked up with the Ida Ray Hutton all-female Orchestra as a band boy or "gopher" and became legendary among the musician ranks with his constant jabbering and random acts of signing his name any place his band would visit.

He later hooked up with the Woody Herman band and was a valuable source of information about where the best places to eat were and what musicians were available to steal away from rival orchestras. But "PoPsie" wanted to be with the biggest and best band at the time... Benny's !

His opportunity came when word got around that Benny was putting back together his band after a long layoff and needed someone who was a real go-getter to put the word out. "PoPsie" heard through the grapvine that this position wasn't filled yet and he decided that he was the man for the job.

Goodman's secretary Muriel Zuckerman was in charge of personnel and "PoPsie" knew that she was a tough sell, so he did what he did best... He regaled her with tales of his exploits on the road with his previous bands and with an encyclopedic knowledge of Benny's previous bands and songs, she had no choice but to relent and let him have the job.

It was a decision that changed both Benny's and "PoPsie's" lives greatly. "PoPsie" and Benny became best friends and often acted like brothers. They laughed, fought and traveled together for years and "PoPsie" only left his side when he met a showgirl and decided to stay put in New York to raise his family. Benny bankrolled "PoPsie" when he started his photo business and purchased his first camera as a wedding present to "PoPsie".

In 1957, "PoPsie" quipped that as a youth he used to have to sneak into Benny's shows to see "The King of Swing". Benny decided to give the ultimate fan the ultimate ticket to see his shows. Benny often came by the Randolph household to see "PoPsie" and his growing family and ended up purchasing an electronics kit for "PoPsie's" eldest son, Michael.

Michael never forgot the gift and has told me that was the seed that got him into the electronics field which lead to a long career and lots of travel around the world... Just like "PoPsie" decades before, Benny helped a boy achieve a dream. Michael actually got to thank Benny personally in 1982 at an appearance when he used his dad's pass to get into a sold-out show and complete the journey that started 50 years before.

"PoPsie" was one of the luckiest men of the 20th Century... As I am quite lucky to bring you this story thru the "PoPsie" Randolph Archives.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Jan 31, 1956 - Elvis Presley at the William Morris Agency

On January 31, 1956, the face of music was changed forever. That's when Elvis Presley and Col. Tom Parker signed with the William Morris Agency and set into motion the series of events that caused the creation of Elvis Presley as an American icon.

This is also the starting point of my new online column "MusicXposed". This column along with the assistance of the greatest music photo archive known to man (The archive of William "PoPsie" Randolph, the Legend of Broadway) will recap the greatest musical moments of the 20th Century and give you access to the archive that up to now has been safely tucked away from public view. I started working with the estate a few years ago and I am AMAZED at the wealth of photos that "PoPsie" produced. I will during the course of time, shed light on the life and times of "PoPsie" as well and do my part to get him recognized as the great photographer he was.

Now, back to the event in question... Elvis at this time was just starting to make a stir and turn a few heads on the musical horizon. I won't recap all of the details here, but let's just say when RCA Victor contacted "PoPsie" about their new discovery; "PoPsie" was less than impressed.

According to his son, "PoPsie" was not crazy about Rock music or its impact on New York City at the time. Oh, sure he had a LOT of paying gigs from the new labels that sprung up like weeds around the city, but he was a Jazz cat at heart and his passions were placed with the musicians that kept in touch with him from his days as a band boy with the Benny Goodman Orchestra.

Looking at the negative sleeve from the session, I immediately noticed that Elvis' name was spelled wrong. It's always fascinating seeing this kind of thing in the archives 50 years hence and realizing that at one time in the entertainment universe, Elvis was a Persona non grata to the journalists and photographers that covered the industry.

"PoPsie" must have made a connection with the "kid" because he ended up shooting a recording session, a copy negative of his high school graduation photo and the back cover photos for the Elvis Presley LP. It was rumored that "PoPsie" also did the front cover of the LP as well, but that was just a long time misunderstanding by Elvis collectors who saw the caption "Photos by PoPsie" on the back of the cover and unduly gave him credit.

Almost exactly 8 years later, lightning would strike again as "PoPsie" would be enlisted by Capitol Records to do the same with a new British group of long hair kids who would be coming to New York to seek their fame and fortune as well, but that is another story for another time...