MUSIC: Spike Up the Band

Fifty years after he demolished pop hits by orchestrating them for tubas, kazoos and pie pans, Spike Jones is again the rage

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Jones was born in 1911 in Long Beach, California. His father worked in a railroad depot, and train whistles, station bells and telegraph keys set the tone for Jones' sound. By his early 20s Jones had already formed several bands, but he paid the rent with studio sessions. As a drummer he backed Bing Crosby on the original recording of White Christmas, Fred Astaire on I Ain't Hep to That Step But I'll Dig It. Assembling the Slickin 1941 Jones scrounged club dates until he found a song (destined for a Disney cartoon) that gave the raspberry to Hitler. Thus began the Feuhrer furor.

Some stars emerged from the band, including monologist Doodles Weaver (Sigourney's dad) and clarinetist Mickey Katz (Joel Grey's dad). Trumpeter George Rock also did baby voices and Woody Woodpecker noises. One guy was hired simply because he could belch a perfect E flat. But being one of the Jones boys required more than a facility for rudeness. It demanded ace musicianship to tackle, and then mangle, every musical genre from Dixieland to country to klezmer to big band -- and Bizet, Liszt, Brahms and the other classical composers whom Spike insulted so deftly.

How innocent it all sounds now. And how precious, in a musical age that has no room for a modern Spike Jones, because the amiable conventions of mainstream culture -- the object of his burlesque -- have long since vanished. The new Spike CDs are a welcome reminder of a time when pop music was so demure and so universal in its appeal that a daredevil insider could give it the razz.

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