Thursday, January 2, 2014

wacky tacky tunes: Alvino Rey

Sometimes I have a hard time following my own train of thought because it makes quite the habit of jumping the tracks.  I was actually writing a blog post the other night and searching for the perfect musical accompaniment in the form of a youtube video; it wasn't long before I got distracted by listening to and singing along with Doris Day tunes.  Proud to say that I kept right up with her as she expertly maneuvered the trickiness of "Cuttin' Capers," I even made it through the tongue-twisting lyrics, "You'll never pick about or pick a quarrel with Mr. Krupa or with Frankie Carl; you'll never dig a list of bigger names a cuttin' capers with Harry James.  With Benny Goodman and his clarinet, and Tommy Dorsey's in it too.  Alvino Rey will star; a walkin', talkin' steel guitar..."  Hearing Rey's name, I couldn't help but forget Doris and remember the clip of "St. Louis Blues" as uploaded and shared by our pal, Deke.

"St. Louis Blues" - Alvino Rey & Stringy (the walkin', talkin' steel guitar)

After re-watching the above video, you can bet that even Casey Jones couldn't get my train of thought back on track; I had a first-class ticket on the Alvino Rey Express.

Heralded as "The King of Guitar," Rey was a pioneer in developing the technology necessary for electric instruments and modern sound equipment.  With his pedal-steel guitar, he forged new territory by incorporating electric instruments into the Big Band sound.  Rey's real magic, of course, was not just playing the pedal-steel guitar, but making it sing.    

"Mama Blues" - Alvino Rey & His Orchestra

"My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" - Alvino Rey & His Orchestra

"Bloop Bleep" - Alvino Rey & His Orchestra

Having met The King Sisters while performing with Horace Heidt's band, it was clear that Rey appreciated real singing talent over and above even Stringy's vocal stylings; in 1937 Rey married his favorite King sister, making Luise King his queen.

Alvino Rey & The King Sisters
I believe that's Luise on the far right.

Upon their marriage, Rey converted to Mormonism (The King Sisters were natives of Utah); it comes as no surprise as one look at Rey's orchestra looks like a veritable casting call for The Book of Mormon musical.  Fortunately for Rey, The King Sisters came as a package deal (insert ploygamy joke here) and after leaving the Heidt band, Alvino Rey created his own orchestra with the sisters as the featured vocalists.

"Tiger Rag" - Alvino Rey & His Orchestra featuring The King Sisters

As if it couldn't get any more wacky tacky than a marionette guitar, a pedal-steel guitar wailing for its mama, and a group of four grown women singing, "Here kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty, kitty" at hyper-speed, we see Mr. Rey's appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show.  Nothing makes our figurative pedal-steels sing like two giants of wacky tacky joining forces!

"Hindustan" - Alvino Rey on The Lawrence Welk Show

As the Big Band era faded, Rey continued to be an innovator, translating his dynamic musicality into the realms of lounge, exotica, and spooky soundtracks.

"Night Train" - Alvino Rey & His Orchestra
A cool arrangement of one of my all-time favorite songs.

"The Bat" - Alvino Rey

Needless to say, the original blog post has all but been banished for life to the blog wasteland that is the "Draft" folder.  Here's hoping your 2014 pours out upon you like a real REY of sunshine (or at least a saucy game of double-paddle, blind-man's ping pong)!!!

It's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt...


Mr. Tiny


  1. I. LOVE. THIS. POST. As if Stringy wasn't imagination fodder enough for this kitsch little heart, every paragraph you wrote about Alvino Rey just gets weirder. Mormonism! Lawrence Welk! Ping Pong! Vincent Price's The Bat! I'm glad whatever you were researching got sidelined, because WHOA was I sidelined by this wonderful post!! Happy New Years, Mr. Tiny!!

    1. Thanks, Lisa! If life is a banquet, I think Alvino was having second-helpings of dessert! Happy New Year to you guys too!

  2. Yes, this is a most interesting post! D'ye think he was married to ALL those sisters???Have you ever heard of Yma Sumac? I hear she has some unusual vocal talents!

    1. I think Alvino was a one-woman man (Luise didn't like to share). Yma is one of our all-time inspirations. I posted a blog about her sometime in 2012; here is the link:

  3. I want that ping pong album in a frame on my nightstand for life so every morning I could be greeted with that joy. And, as the queen of losing herself in a tangent, I totally understand a train of thought derailment.

    1. With three record collectors in my immediate family, the last thing that I need to do is start the collecting myself...but now I'm on the hunt for that album. Pedal-steel guitar and a saucy game of double-paddle, blind-man's ping pong, does it get anymore sophisticated than that?!!

  4. Hi, I'm a regular reader, great entry! Strange coincidence though... as far as I know, I had NEVER heard of Alvino Rey before today, but when I woke up this morning and was getting ready for work, I had the "Music Choice" channel; "Singers and Swing" playing in the background (as I usually do). I enjoy the music, as will as the tidbits of trivia they put up on the screen. Well, and Alvino Rey song came on and the accompanying trivia fact was that; "Alvino Rey was born, Alvin McBurney, July 1st, 1908 in Oakland, California."

    It struck me as interesting that in a time when many performers changed their names to be LESS ethnic, this guy had gone the other direction, adapting a stage name that was decidedly more exotic than his birth name. Then, I read your blog entry and realize that the name change was merely a drop in his wacky tacky bucket of life! Keep the great stuff coming Mr. Tiny!

    1. Hiya Anon! Thanks for your thoughts; I really appreciate them. I did read somewhere that the name change was an effort to set himself apart and cash in on the exoticism of latin entertainers that were setting the world aflame. I guess if my options were to dance to the sounds of Alvin McBurney or Alvino Rey, I would choose Rey every time!

  5. Big Band AND Lawrence Welk, what is this fast paced fairy tale?! The songs are so catchy! Great post!