A Handful Of Dick

:: Lady of Spain ::

:: Ebb Tide ::

:: Swinging on a Star ::

:: Come Back to Sorrento ::

:: Flying Home ::

:: Peg O' My Heart ::

:: Ciribiribin ::

:: Begin the Beguine ::

:: Baby, Baby, All the Time ::

:: Nature Boy ::

:: Arrivederci Roma ::

Dick Contino is one cool accordion player. He has the distinction of being the only real-life person to be exploited by novelist James Ellroy in a story while still alive, for one thing. He became somewhat of a star after squeezing and gyrating his way through “Lady of Spain” to win Horace Heidt’s “Youth Opportunity Talent Show” in 1946. Soon afterwards, he was playing big halls across America and hundreds of fan clubs were springing up in his wake. Pussy threw itself at him in an era when only Sinatra got groupies. Dick was on the rise.

Alas, what goes up must eventually come down. In 1951, Dick was drafted. After being sent to basic training, he freaked out and disappeared for 24 hours before turning himself in. He was labeled a draft-dodger and locked up in a federal penitentiary for six months. Upon his release, he was drafted again and sent to war in Korea. Though he served with distinction and was honorably discharged, he could never shake the draft-dodger tag, which was a big no-no in Red Scare America. That label, along with the accordion’s unfashionable status when he returned home, had him become more of a small lounge act rather than playing the big halls he enjoyed before the war. Still, he managed to put out a string of records for Mercury and starred in a low-grade B-flick called Daddy-O.

Enter James Ellroy, 1994. The crime writer remembered seeing Contino humping an accordion on TV as a child while his father pointed at the screen, saying “That guy’s no good. He’s a draft dodger.” Ellroy decided to seek Contino out and find out what happened to him. He met up with him in Las Vegas, where he was still performing his lounge act, and Contino began to take form as a literary hero in Ellroy’s mind. He thus became mythologized by Ellroy in the novella, Dick Contino’s Blues, the sordid tale of an accordion-king pussy-hound who saves a girl from commie-pinko influences and a fake kidnapping that coincides with a serial killer’s gory rampage. Spade Cooley even makes an appearance as a drunken madman slumped on his couch in a cowboy hat and sequin-studded chaps. The story, contained in the book Hollywood Nocturnes kicked my ass when I read it ten years ago. Because of it, I sought and found a VHS copy of Daddy-O, in which Contino performs his own stunt by cruising a super-charged ’51 Ford into the air to get past a roadblock. And while this 1958 live album might not seem the coolest thing ever, it has a lot of cool moments - and that’s saying a lot for an accordion record.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007 12:23:00 PM


Saturday, June 23, 2007 12:44:00 PM

Musically, this is a pretty bad ass album with some top notch players. Is it me or during "Flying Home" do they announce the guitar player as Joe Pass?
Thanks for making this available, tons of fun.    

Saturday, June 23, 2007 4:10:00 PM

It is indeed Joe Passalaqua on guitar. And that's Jimmy "Little Red" Blount playing trombone on that fine arrangement of "Nature Boy." He was also trombonist for Louis Prima's Band. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Don Stanley on bass, George Everback on drums, and Thomas Maxfield on piano.    

Tuesday, June 26, 2007 12:30:00 PM

This might be the first record I've found here that I already have on vinyl. Love the intro! Thanks a bunch.    

Thursday, June 28, 2007 12:34:00 AM

Thanks for the Contino, and for posting it all. Would like to hear more, you have good taste in music.    

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