Thursday, July 07, 2022

Happy birthday, Merv!


Well, actually, Merv Griffin's birthday was yesterday, but I didn't have this post quite ready last night--it needed a blog essay, is all.  I almost got it to the blog on time, but... that'll happen.  It's the thought that counts.

The late Merv Griffin was known for any number of accomplishments, though people chiefly remember him as a talk show host.  And the funny thing is, Merv's show comes across (in today's entertainment-culture environment) as something we would expect from PBS.  There was a serious tone to the pre-tied-in-to-the-latest-Hollywood-movie talk shows, and an almost unplanned texture which seems, in the face of today's rushed, carefully prepared talk show segments, almost surreal.  At any rate, Merv had a CBS show for a while, but he got in trouble for booking guests who were anti-war (namely, the Vietnam war).  I believe that Merv's response to CBS was to find some pro-Vietnam celebs, and he'd be happy to put them on.  I wonder if there was a note of sarcasm there.  The guy, even though he portrayed himself as semi-naive, had a sharp sense of humor.  An exceptionally bright man.

And he was a fine singer, as we'll hear in today's examples, all ripped by me from 78s in my collection--examples which date back to his mid-1940s period as a radio singer headquartered at/in San Francisco's KFRC, to his very successful stint as chief vocalist for the Freddy Martin Orchestra (roughly, 1948-1952) and continuing into his early solo career at RCA and Columbia.  The special features include two selections (Falling in Love With Love, Lullaby of the Leaves) from the 1946 set Songs by Merv Griffin (pictured above), which was released on Merv's own Panda Records label.  My copy of same has a Merv autograph--not to me, but to one Mrs. Hawkins.  According to Wikipedia, this two-78 set was "the first U.S. album ever recorded on magnetic tape."  I've encountered the same claim elsewhere, too.  Merv is wonderful on these cuts.

Plus, three other pre-Freddy Martin sides, all very possibly demo sides--Goodnight to the Night (whose mp3 tag I misspelled), Love Is on a Holiday, and I Don't Want a Thing to Remind Me of You.  There is also a circa-1953 privately-recorded "blue side" titled Ain't Got a Hit (and sung to the tune of Wish You Were Here).  A "language" warning is in order--you might want to skip it, though it's hilarious, and not simply as a chance to hear Mr. Jeopardy curse.

Oh, and a great radio-period Merv link: Merv Griffin KFRC Circa 1945

Included in the Merv-with-Freddy sides (all terrific) is 1949's You Was, a copy given to me by the great R&B expert Pete Grendysa, who died last year at the age of 82.  (Here's his daughter Becky's beautifully written remembrance.)  I had carried on a fairly long (but not long enough) email friendship with Pete, discovering along the way that, in addition to his deep love for R&B (whose history he knew down to the last groove), he had (like me) an equal respect for pop.  As in, post-WWII pop music.  There's no contradiction when it comes to loving both Howlin' Wolf, the Clovers, LaVern Baker, plus Perry Como and Andre Kostelanetz.  Anyway, though we never met in person, I miss Pete.  We traded many a CD-R.

Back to Merv, shortly before I became a blogger, I got to know (through email) Merv's publicist, Stace Bass.  When she learned that I had most of Merv's recordings (and he had quite a large discography, between RCA, Columbia, Decca, Mercury, Dot, Carlton, Cameo, etc.), she asked me to make a cassette tape for the famous TV host.  I did, and he loved it, sending Stace an email about how much he enjoyed hearing "the old songs."  Made my day.  I felt like I was giving back, as Pete put it.

I confess that I initially collected Merv's sides for (what I presumed to be) their camp value; I thought a Merv Griffin collection would be kind of a snarky, hip thing.  Of course, in no time, I came to love his recordings, especially his no-holds-barred novelties, which included the Halloween mega-classic, House of Horrors (1962).  Anyway, thanks to Diane for alerting me to the date, which I had spaced out (I'm good at that), and apologies for some typos in the mp3 tagging, owing to the rush-job nature of this post.  It was, nonetheless, a labor of love.  And a long overdue Merv return to the blog.

Again, sorry for the typos on the tags!  (That almost sounds like a Danny Kaye novelty...)

DOWNLOAD: Merv Griffin's Birthday--July 6, 2022

Love Is Such a Cheat (The Gypsy Song)--Merv and the Martin Men With Freddy Martin Orch., 1949

My One, My Only, My All--Same

1400 Dream Street--Same

You Was--Merv With Freddy Martin Orch., 1949

Love Me, Love Me, Love Me (Steve Allen-Bob Carroll)--With Normal Leyden Orch. and Chorus, 1952.

Mama's Gone, Goodbye--Same

If You Don't Hug'Er by Nine O'Clock--Merv and Ensemble, Freddy Martin Orch., 1952

Mambo Jambo--Merv Griffin and the Martin Men With Freddy Martin Orch., 1950

Twenty-Three Starlets (And Me)--WIth Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra, 1951

The Lord's Ridin' With Me Tonight--Same

I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts--Merv and Ensemble, Freddy Martin Orch., 1949

The Other Side of the Hill--Merv With Freddy Martin Orchestra, 1950

Ain't Got a Hit (To the tune of Wish You Were Here)--Circa 1953 (Warning: "Blue" lyrics.)

All the Livelong Day--With Paul Weston and His Orch., (Columbia 40141; 1953)

Goodnight to the Night--With Jack Ross, His Trumpet and Orch.  (Music-Mart 508; pre-Freddy Martin)

Love Is on a Holiday--With Tom Spinosa and His Orch. (Cavalier CAV 803; per-FM but released 1951)

I Kiss Your Hand, Madame--With Percy Faith and His Orch. (Columbia 40026; 1953)

Falling in Love With Love--With Lyle Bardo Orchestra (Panda Records, 1946)

Lullaby of the Leaves--Same

I Don't Want a Thing to Remind Me of You--With Art McCue, Rex Kelly, Al Burns (Fulton Record SSR-1043; pre-Freddy Martin)



Ernie said...

Thanks, Lee! Some good stuff in there. I didn't know he went quite so far back. I don't remember him being a big guy, yet they've drawn him in that caricature as being a Billy May-sized guy. Was he bigger than I remember? Or maybe he slimmed down in his later years?

Lee Hartsfeld said...

He had weight issues in his younger days. By the time he was singing for Freddy Martin, though, he had trimmed down considerably. But, even on some of Merv's sheet music photos of 1951 or so, you can see that he was stout.

Diane said...

Thanks, Lee, for more Merv! His "Christmas City" tribute to Duluth is one of my all-time fave holiday finds -- are there any more Merry Merv sides? You don't have to tell me now. By Christmas would be fine.

musicman1979 said...

This is a lot of Merv! I don't quite have as much as you do, however, I do have a handful of sides that he cut when he was with Freddy Martin on the 1950 RCA set "Freddy Martin Plays Jerome Kern For Dancing." They did two volumes in that set, and I have Volume Two on a ten inch RCA LP and part of Volume One on an RCA 45 EP with a cover. I may also have "Lovely Bunch of Coconuts". I may have to check my Readers Digest Big Band collections; it could be on there. Thanks for sharing with us. Cool that you got to know his publicist. Some great stories in this post.

rev.b said...

Thanks for the Merv recordings Lee, some unreleased? He was indeed an exceptional singer. Do you know if he ever recorded a song called An Extraordinary Guy? Years ago I had an acetate of it. While it didn't list the vocalist, it sounded a lot like Merv. In any case, thank for for this great compilation. Hope this finds you well.

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Okay, I can wait until the big day. I might post my copy of his 1966 TV-connected MGM Christmas LP. (Oops. I gave a preview, there...)


I think I have both the 10-inch LP and two 45 rpm boxed sets of the "Jerome Kern for Dancing." Had I accessed my Merv 45s for this post, it would have looked a lot different. Or, rather, it would have sounded a lot different, as I would have included "The Song Is You" from that set, at least. But working with my 78s was fun, especially since it entailed using those little-known pre-Freddy Martin sides. I had to impose a number of different playback curves, but that was fun, too. For the most part, the Merv-with-Freddy sides all had the same RCA Victor late 40s/early 50s preset curve in my VinylStudio program.

Reverend B.,

The only unreleased side was the "blue" 78, "Ain't Got a Hit." I was thrilled to find this copy on YouTube some years back, even if the condition isn't pristine. The other KFRC-period 78s were clearly small-time releases, with at least two of them likely commercially released once Merv had achieved fame with Martin. The Cavalier 78, for example, orig. came out in 1948 on the Black & White label. Then it had a much later (1977) release with a contemporary pic of Merv on the sleeve! Glad you enjoyed, and re An Extraordinary Guy, I'm not aware that he recorded it, but of course it's possible. He did some radio-play-only sides that showed up on the Hindsight label, LP-wise, with at least some of these earlier showing up on the 45 rpm Seeburg All-Time Favorites label!

Lee Hartsfeld said...


Er, I meant eBay, not YouTube, for my copy of "Ain't Got a Hit"!

gimpiero said...