Monday, November 26, 2007

Alvino Rey

In 1942 the film "Syncopation" featured a scene of bandleaders playing together - Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Jack Jenny, Joe Venuti, Charlie Barnet, Bob Haggart and Alvino Rey. Enjoy the scene below:

Most of the featured bandleaders in the above film sequence are well known figures of the 30s and 40s swing big bands - except one, Alvino Rey, who seems to be almost forgotten today.

Alvino Rey is best known as the father of the pedal steel guitar. Born Alvin McBurney in 1911, Rey grew up in Oakland and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, at age ten. His first interest in music came when he received a banjo as a birthday gift. In 1927 he made his professional debut with Ev Jones and a year later signed with Phil Spitalny. He eventually switched to guitar and adopted the name Alvino Rey in 1929 while performing in New York City, where Latin music was the rage. He worked for Russ Morgan and Freddie Martin before joining Horace Heidt's outfit in 1935. With Heidt, Rey switched to the pedal steel guitar (which he later modified and called a console guitar) and quickly became popular for his unique sound.

In 1938 the vocal ensemble of Horace Heidt's orchestra, The King Sisters, left and was followed by Alvino Rey - one of the sisters had married Rey in 1937. They headed to Los Angeles, where Rey worked on forming his own band, which debuted in 1939 with the King Sisters as star vocalists. It was an immediate success.

I found a video fragment featuring The King Sisters backed by Alvino Rey's Orchestra

In 1942 Rey reorganized his orchestra, bringing in an enormous brass section. The new lineup included such future stars as Ray Conniff, Neal Hefti, Billy May, Johnny Mandel, and Zoot Sims. Though considered one of the best bands of all time by critics, the musicians' union recording ban of 1943 meant they were never able to record. Financial hardship caused Rey to dissolve his band in 1944, he was enlisted in the Navy, where he formed a service band. After his discharge in late 1945 Rey formed a new orchestra, which produced a few hits before being disbanded in 1950. Rey toured with small combos throughout the rest of the decade. In the late 1950s he served as music director for the King Sisters as they made their comeback. Rey continued to perform well into his eighties, he passed away in 2004.

I found a video from a TV performance late 50s to illustrate Alvino Rey's sophisticated playing of the console guitar.



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