Wild Burl

:: Burl Ives - Wild Side Of Life ::

:: Burl Ives - Close The Door Richard ::

To look at the photos of Burl Ives on this album cover, you might assume that he really did know a thing or two about the wild side of life, and he did. He almost got kicked out of college for drunken rowdiness, but he quit instead. With only the clothes on his back he walked off down the road and never came back. He traveled the country learning to play folk songs from the people he met along the way. In New York in the late 30s he broke into show business by way of Broadway, then got his own radio show. By 1940 he was a household name and was making hit records to boot. By the early 50s he began appearing in films. About this time he was called before the House Unamerican Activities Committee to name some of his communist ex-friends like Pete Seeger, which he did. This of course angered many of his fans, but Burl kept himself off the blacklist and continued to record and act in films.

He made a ton of records in the 50s and 60s, all of which are highly entertaining. In 1962 he went Nashville and enjoyed some of his biggest hits like A Little Bitty Tear and Funny Way of Laughing. I remember seeing his portrayal of Capt. Morton in Ensign Pulver, the pretty lame sequel to the pretty great WWII film, Mister Roberts. Ives played the evil Capt. Morton, taking over the roll made famous by James Cagney in the original film. I was maybe about 10 years old when I saw Ensign Pulver, and I remember absolutely hating Burl Ives. A more disgusting person could not be possible.

In real life, despite ratting out a few friends, Burl Ives was basically a hell of a good guy. He loved to perform for people, but wouldn't allow his records to be sold at shows because he didn't want to appear to be a shill for himself. He once opened up his home to some folks who blew into town on a boxcar, fresh from the dust bowl. Burl had heard that one of these people played a mean guitar. It turned out to be Woody Guthrie and family.

Mainly though, Burl Ives had a way with a song that was as unique as it was fun to listen to. Folk music was his beat, and whether he was doing a country song, a Christmas song or an American standard, that voice which was tailor made to sing sea chanties and lonesome hobo ballads always came through and never disappointed, even on a wacky novelty song like Close The Door Richard. And by the way, what the hell is "The Thing"?

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006 1:02:00 PM

"Sour cream-- LOVE IT!"    

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 7:44:00 AM

Anyone who ratted out their friends to HUAC does not get my vote as a "hell of a good guy", no matter how many folk singers they befriended.

BTW, I am not an expert on the era, but it sounds to me like "Close The Door, Richard" may be a response to two hits of that time, "Open The Door, Richard" and "The Thing". I don't remember who did "Open", but "The Thing" was a huge hit for Phil Harris.    

Wednesday, February 08, 2006 8:40:00 AM


I was just researching those 2 songs and it seems like Burl did kind of a clever mashup.

"Open the Door, Richard" was apparently recorded by a lot of folks in the big band days and had an ad-libbed structure similar to that "Fruit Jesus" song - can't remember who did that one though.    

Thursday, February 09, 2006 3:46:00 PM

"Fruit Jesus" has it's origins in the earliest examples of... oh, I Forget. My Dad used to play a 78 of "Open The Door Richard" when I was a kid. I'll have to look it up.    

Friday, February 10, 2006 10:27:00 AM

'Open The Door Richard' indeed was a big hit in the late 40s - I think 1947 - first done by Jack McVea, one of the writers of the song, along with the lyrics by "Dusty" Fletcher, John Mason
and music also by Dan Howell. There was a musical in 1945 called "Open The Door Richard" based on a comedy act in the 30s that Dusty Fletcher and John Mason used to perform. The two of them, Jack McVea and Dan Howell changed the words of the song, removed some of the more un-P.C. lyrics and set it to a swingy r&b melody. It hit the charts by not only McVea but Count Basie, Louis Jordan, and others. I have the McVea version - it was on the Lolita soundtrack.

Friday, February 10, 2006 10:29:00 AM

That wasn't written right - the movie is not the same as the comedy act, I kind of mushed that sentence together. I don't know what the signifigance of the movie is, I just know it exists and Dusty Fletcher IS in the movie, I don't know if the comedy act the song is about is FROM that movie though.    

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