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Vince Giordano: The Fresh Air Interview

Giordano has been obsessed with 1920s jazz since he first heard it on his grandparents' Victrola. His band the Nighthawks performs the music heard on the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.


Other segments from the episode on December 30, 2013

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 30, 2013: Interview with Steve Young, Sheldon Harnick, and John Russell; Interview with Vince Giordano.


December 30, 2013

Guests: Steve Young, Sheldon Harnick & John Russell - Vince Giordano

DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, filling in for Terry Gross, who's out today with a cold. We're continuing our holiday week series of some of our favorite interviews of the year.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) My bathroom, my bathroom is a private kind of place, a very special kind of place, the only place...

BIANCULLI: Why would someone write a sentimental ballad about a bathroom? For the same reason someone would write a rousing song about tractors: so the song could be used in an industrial musical. These musicals were like Broadway shows, but they were written and performed for corporate sales meetings and conventions, and the lyrics were all about the products being sold and how to sell them.

Some of these industrial musicals were lavish and costly, even though they'd be performed only once. And as ridiculous as the songs were, they were often written and performed by really talented people. A few had lyrics by the young Sheldon Harnick, who later became famous for writing the lyrics for the Broadway hits "Fiddler on the Roof," "She Loves Me" and "Fiorello."

In October, Terry talked about these industrials with Sheldon Harnick; with John Russell, who performed in dozens of them; and with Steve Young, the author of the new book "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals," which had just been published. Young is a writer for "The Late Show With David Letterman" and used to be the writer in charge of the feature "Dave's Record Collection." Here's a little more of "My Bathroom."


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) My bathroom, my bathroom is my very special room where I prim and fuss and groom, where I can get away from all and really feel in bloom. I'm free, I'm free, I've closed out the world, I'm free. I'm free, I'm free, now at last I can really be me. My bathroom, my bathroom is much more than it may seem, where I wash and where I cream, a special place where I can stay and cream and dream and dream and dream, dream.


TERRY GROSS, HOST: OK, I love that song. Steve Young, Sheldon Harnick, John Russell, welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for coming. Steve, you wrote the book "Everything's Coming Up Profits." Where is this song from?

STEVE YOUNG: This is from a 1969 American Standard convention show in Las Vegas, and it was for the distributors of all the American Standard bathroom fixtures. Many of the songs on the record are filled with details about the new line of shower stalls and tubs, but this was really more of an anthem, an ode to the business as a whole, why they do what they do, and it's a remarkable piece of work that I've been humming around the house for 20 years.


YOUNG: And everybody who hears it is just floored by it. So I think it has some enduring value well beyond 1969 and the convention.

GROSS: I love the subtext of this is - because the subtext is like this poor woman has no privacy at home, her family's driving her crazy, so she has to lock herself in the bathroom to find any peace.


GROSS: Sheldon Harnick, you are so well-known and loved for your musicals, including "Fiddler On the Roof" and "She Loves Me" and "Fiorello." How did you end up writing lyrics with your partner, your late partner Jerry Bock, for industrial musicals?

SHELDON HARNICK: Well, I only did one industrial with Jerry. That was for the Ford Motor Company. The other - I started writing lyrics out of desperation. I was broke and wondering where my next job, my next meal was coming from, although I had had several successful review songs on Broadway. And then I got a phone call from an advertising agency. They did industrials. They helped write them, they produced them, and they had an in-house writer.

And it turned out that they were doing a new industrial, I think it was for the Shell gasoline company, and whoever the executive was did not like what he'd read. So they decided to get somebody else. And they knew my review songs. So I got a call to do an industrial. I had no idea what that was, and I said how do I find out what I'm doing.

YOUNG: And they referred me to their musical director, a wonderful musical director named John Morris, who later wrote several scores for the Mel Brooks movies. Anyway, I went over to John's. He gave me a tutorial and told me how to write an industrial, and so I did, the first one for Shell Gas, which was, thank God, successful.

HARNICK: We had - at that time they did not use original music, or at least not the ones that I worked for. The theory was that the salesmen who were attending these conferences, they'd have enough work just to hear the lyric and absorb that without having to absorb new music, too. So I was told I could use whatever music I wanted to, which was great fun.

I used my favorite show tunes, and then a couple years later I found out somebody had done an industrial and used Meredith Wilson's "Trouble" from...

GROSS: "The Music Man."

HARNICK: "The Music Man." And somebody in the show was a friend of Meredith Wilson's and wrote to him, saying Meredith, you would've been delighted to hear this new lyric to "Trouble." Well, Meredith was not delighted.


HARNICK: He sued, and after that, any industrial I did, the music had to be original because they were just breaking the law by setting new lyrics to all these tunes. So at any rate I did write about, I don't know, four or five industrials, and then Jerry and I got the chance to do this huge industrial for the Ford tractor company.

GROSS: I want to play a song from it, and this is called "Golden Harvest." And what was the goal of this song?

HARNICK: I no longer remember, probably - it sounds like it must have been profit. "Golden Harvest" suggests that whatever we were doing was going to make money selling tractors.

YOUNG: Well, the whole theme of all these shows, beyond entertainment, was to boost sales and profits. The title of the book "Everything's Coming Up Profits" actually lifted from an industrial show in my collection for GAF Floor Tile.


YOUNG: It's a miserable show, but the title does really kind of set the scene for the whole industry and genre.

GROSS: OK, so Sheldon Harnick, do you actually remember this song? Because if not, hearing it will perhaps bring back memories.

HARNICK: I don't remember, and I'm looking forward to hearing it.

GROSS: Oh, I can't wait to hear what you think of it.

OK, so this is "Golden Harvest," a song from an industrial musical for the Ford tractor company.



UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) There'll be a golden harvest in 1959. There'll be a lot more buyers to sign the dotted line. With the new Ford tractors, the future's looking fine. Now's the time to roll your sleeves up because if you rise and shine it'll be a golden harvest in 1959.

(Singing) Going to be a lot more business, oh yes, oh yes indeed. Wait'll everybody hears you, got exactly what they need. Just like Jack and the beanstalk, you've got a magic seed. Now's the time to roll your sleeves up, go out and take the lead, going to be a golden harvest with (unintelligible).

(Singing) Turn your tractors and implements to a bumper crop of dollars and cents. Turn your tractors and implements to a bumper crop of dollars and cents. Gonna be a golden harvest in 1959, gonna be a lot more buyers...

GROSS: OK, Sheldon Harnick, now that you've heard your 1959 song "Golden Harvest" from an industrial for Ford tractors, what do you think?

HARNICK: I miss Jerry Bock.

GROSS: Oh yeah.

HARNICK: I think the music was exciting and just right. And I just remembered, at least in the shows I did, I did not have a totally free hand to create lyrics. They gave me things to say. They gave me slogans. They gave me information that they wanted in the song, and listening to that song I was thinking gee, I did a nice, professional job.

And in the first section, there's - there must be about five or six rhymes for shine, and that's well done. And I love what Jerry did, some of those (makes noises), those rhythms. They're very catchy. It's a good song.

YOUNG: Sheldon, I have to congratulate you on the rhyme of implements and dollars and cents. It's one of the examples of the kind of rhyme that really appealed to me when I started collecting this.

GROSS: Can we pay tribute with a whole line, turn your tractors and implements to a bumper crop of dollars and cents? That is so great.


YOUNG: That's right. That's what you don't get anywhere else but in these shows is that sort of unexpected combination.

GROSS: John Russell, as a singer in these musicals, how did you get into the business?

JOHN RUSSELL: The first industrial I did was for Bell Telephone. And it was choreographed by a lovely man named Frank Wagner who was my dance teacher. And I auditioned, and I got the job. And that's what started me doing - and that was in 1970. And over the next 25 years, I did 82 different industrial shows.

GROSS: Whoa.


GROSS: Let's - yeah.

RUSSELL: I just wanted to, while it's on my mind, you were asking Sheldon about parody lyrics in shows. And I did the most awful show I ever did was for Maidenform Bra.


RUSSELL: And to show you how tacky it was, the producer/director came to the rehearsal studio one day with a trunk full of costumes that he had accumulated over the years. And he dumped them out on the floor and said to me, find something that fits.


RUSSELL: And the only thing that fit was a ringmaster's outfit.


RUSSELL: So, and we did the show in a resort in the Catskills. And it was, I was the only man; there were eight beautiful young women who were brassiere models. And one of the songs that I had to sing was a parody of "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story." And instead of it being (singing) see that pretty girl in that mirror there. I sang (singing) see that pretty bra in that window there. Whose can that attracted bra be?


RUSSELL: (Singing) Such a pretty strap. Such a pretty cup. Such a pretty - and the girls would say, (Singing) such a pretty me. Maidenform. Maidenform.


RUSSELL: It was just humiliating.

YOUNG: Well, that one never made it onto a record album.

BIANCULLI: Steve Young Sheldon Harnick and John Russell, speaking to Terry Gross in October. More after a break; this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, in for Terry Gross, back with Terry's interview from October with some of the people involved with the creation or the study of the industrial musical. Sheldon Harnick wrote lyrics for some of them. John Russell performed in them. And Steve Young wrote a book about them. It's called "Everything's Coming Up Profits: The Golden Age of Industrial Musicals."

GROSS: There's a song that you write about in your book. When I hear this one, honestly, it almost brings me to tears. It's like a woman singing about her husband, about how her one man is no longer a one-man operation anymore.

YOUNG: Oh, yes. From "Diesel Dazzle." First of all.

GROSS: Yeah, tell us about the show.

YOUNG: A fabulous title which really does combine the two worlds colliding in one phrase - heavy industry of the diesel engines in the dazzle of show business. Detroit Diesel Engine Division of General Motors, 1966, composed by Hank Beebe, a wonderful composer, still up in Portland, Maine. Hard at work on new music. Played in Detroit at an auditorium for the Detroit Diesel sales force in the spring of '66, and just a knockout piece of work.

GROSS: So this is about the importance of expanding your shop? Is that it?

YOUNG: Yeah. It was about understanding the trials and tribulations of the guy who is running the franchise to rebuild and sell diesel engines but through the perspective of the put-upon wife. You see this quite often in shows. Sometimes wise came to these shows and it was nice if you could put in a song about we know what you go through with your husband working very hard. So it was the overworked husband as seen through the wife's perspective.

GROSS: OK. So this is "One Man Operation" from the 1966 show "Diesel Dazzle."


GROSS: Here we go.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) He's coming home again just like other men. At supper he'll walk through that door, for the one that in my life is no one man operation anymore, anymore. He knows what hard work is. And its rewards were his till work became a weary chore. But now the one man in my life is no one man operation anymore, anymore.

(Singing) Once he thought he could do it but as more business came, rebuilding, selling, taking orders too. Work days, holidays, they all became the same and it was night when his day was through. He did it all alone. People (unintelligible) 18 hours every 24, but now the one man in my life is no one man operation anymore, anymore.

(Singing) Now he has two mechanics, a parts and service man, a girl to take the calls and keep the books. He spends weekends giving the children all he can and telling me how young his wife looks.


GROSS: I have to say, you know, I listen to that song and I kind of laugh and cry at the same time because it's really hysterical but it's actually so well written. It's very moving.

YOUNG: Absolutely.

GROSS: I kind of tear up when...

HARNICK: And beautifully sung.

GROSS: Yes. And beautifully sung.

YOUNG: Anything about a parts and service man or rebuilding that collides with that kind of music and that kind of performance. That's what really knocked me out when I first started these - finding these records, was the crazy juxtaposition of the subject matter and the execution. I just could not believe it was real. And it is real.

GROSS: Can we play one of the sillier ones from these industrials? And...

YOUNG: And that's saying something.


GROSS: Well, yes. I mean this does not have a beautiful melody. It's to the tune of "Old MacDonald." Steve, you know the one I'm talking about. You want to introduce it?

YOUNG: Oh, boy. That's right. Straps yourselves in, folks.


YOUNG: This is from a 1971 Keds sales meeting. Fred Tobias and Stan Lebowsky, respected composers, but boy, were they put to the test on this. Somebody handed them a pile of information about children's sneakers and said, oh, you've got to put this into a song. Do your best. Good luck. And it's wonderful and horrible at the same time, but even something so awful I love it so much because it's so far beyond what you think a show tune should be about.

GROSS: OK. So here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We all know about Old MacDonald who had a farm. Well, today we're going to learn about Old Don Hadley who has a line. (singing) Old Don Hadley has a line E-I-E-I-O. A children's casual footwear line, E-I-E-I-O. With a grasshopper here and a grasshopper there, here a sneaker, there a sneaker, everywhere a kid's Ked. Old Don Hadley has a line, E-I-E-I-O.

(singing) Now, five new sneakers join his line, E-I-E-I-O. The first is called the New Regatta. The New Regatta, you'll sell a lotta. A molded rub of boat shoe with a two-color sole and boxing too, a round-toe last and a wedge heel, the first children's wedge heel, four colors, endurable duck, a natural to make a buck. Children's retail $6.45.

(singing) For missus it'll be $6.95. Very attractive at that price. The dealer markup's very nice. Old Don Hadley line's gets hotta with a New Regatta.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) Old Don Hadley has a line, E-I-E-I-O. And the second new sneaker in that line, E-I-E-I-O is the javelin...

GROSS: Sheldon...

YOUNG: I'll just point out, we only got through one of the five sneakers.


YOUNG: This song goes on for over five minutes. And you can just imagine the guys sitting in the audience at this starting to look at their watches in alarm, just thinking oh my god, are they really going to go through five sneakers to the tune of "Old MacDonald"?

BIANCULLI: Steve Young, Sheldon Harnick and John Russell, speaking to Terry Gross in October. Their conversation was one of our favorites of the year. Young's book on the golden age of industrial musicals is titled "Everything's Coming Up Profits." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.


DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, sitting in for Terry Gross, continuing our holiday weekend series revisiting our more popular and entertaining interviews of the year.


BIANCULLI: The HBO series "Boardwalk Empire," is set in Atlantic City during Prohibition. The show is great in creating its period feel, thanks in large part to the newly recorded music the 1920 and '30s, performed by Vince Giordano and his band the Nighthawks. The second album of music from series came out in the fall. It features Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks performing instrumentals and accompanied by singers, including singers not associated with music of the '20s, such as Patti Smith, Elvis Costello and Neko Case.

Vince Giordano has been obsessed with music of the '20s and '30s since he was a child, and in Hollywood, he's become the go-to guy for music of that period. His band performed music in Francis Ford Coppola's film "The Cotton Club" and in Martin Scorsese's "The Aviator." Giordano worked with Dick Hyman's orchestra on several Woody Allen's soundtracks and played the role of a bass player in Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown."

When Terry spoke with Giordano in October, they started with an instrumental track from the album "Boardwalk Empire Volume 2." Here is "Sugar Foot Stomp," performed by Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks.



TERRY GROSS, HOST: That's Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, performing "Sugar Foot Stomp" from the new collection of music from "Boardwalk Empire." Vince Giordano, welcome to FRESH AIR. I love your music. It's a pleasure to have you on the show.

VINCE GIORDANO: Oh, it's a great honor to be on the show, Terry, thank you.

GROSS: So what's happening on this track that we just heard that's unique to the period?

GIORDANO: What we're hearing is almost like a unique language that is not spoken very much anymore because the way these musicians in those years phrased, it was very exciting, it was very on top of the beat, and it was very melodic and, for a lack of better words, a lot of fun.

GROSS: It's interesting you say it was on top of the beat. You know, later in jazz it gets very behind the beat, but this is like very on top of the beat and very syncopated.


GROSS: It's interesting, too, like, there's a banjo on the track that we just heard, in the place where you'd later on be hearing a guitar. People think of banjo as being like a country music instrument, you know, bluegrass instrument, and it's interesting to hear it in a jazz setting.

GIORDANO: Well, in the early days of recording, drums were very hard to record. In fact, I met a few drummers who worked in the 1920s and recorded, and the recording engineers were extremely hard on these fellows. They would say you could use the cymbal; you can possibly use a wood block and a little bit of a snare drum. Bass drum was not allowed at all.

So to compensate for the lack of the possibilities of what drum effects could be on a recording, they found that the banjo - and if you look at a banjo, it resembles a drum head, and it's got strings on it, it provides a rhythmic pulse.

GROSS: Many of the characters on "Boardwalk Empire" are fictional. One of the characters, based on a real-life person, is Eddie Cantor. Tell us about the real Eddie Cantor. And I should say on "Boardwalk Empire" he's played by Stephen DeRosa, who's terrific.

GIORDANO: He's wonderful. He's an amazing actor and singer, and he comes into the studio so full of life, like Eddie, and usually gets all his songs in one take, believe it or not. But we take safeties. Eddie Cantor was an amazing man, came from the Lower East Side, poverty, very humble man and great entertainer: Broadway, film, made vaudeville, made many recordings.

GROSS: Yeah, and he was, like, probably best known for the songs "Makin' Whoopie" and "Ma! He's Makin' Eyes At Me."

GIORDANO: Yes, he had a lot of songs that he introduced, and "If You Knew Susie," and "Yes, Sir, That's My Baby." And he was an amazing, an amazing performer.

GROSS: I want to play Stephen DeRosa from the new "Boardwalk Empire" collection. This is one of my favorites. The song is called "You'd Be Surprised," and tell us about the original version of this song before we hear it.

GIORDANO: The original, of course, is recorded back around 1919. So it's very challenging to hear for most modern people. For me, I've been listening to this old 78 rpm fidelity for many, many years. And Irving Berlin wrote it, who was an amazing composer, a friend of Eddie from the Lower East Side where they grew up together. it just has a lot of fun, and, you know, a little bit of a wink here, a little double entendre of what they could get away with in 1919.

GROSS: And so Eddie Cantor did the original version?


GROSS: OK, so this is Stephen DeRosa with the Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks band from the new collection of songs from "Boardwalk Empire."


STEPHEN DEROSA: (as Eddie Cantor) (Singing) Johnny was bashful and shy. Nobody understood why Mary loved him. All the other girls passed him by. Everyone wanted to know how she could pick such a beau. With a twinkle in her eye, she made this reply: He's not so good in a crowd but when you get him alone, you'd be surprised. He isn't much at a dance but then when he's taking you home, you'd be surprised. He doesn't look like much of a lover, but you can't judge a book by its cover. He's got the face of an angel, but there's a Devil in his eye.

(Singing) He's such a delicate thing but when he starts in to squeeze, you'd be surprised. He doesn't look very strong but when you sit on his knees, you'd be surprised. At a party or at a ball, I've got to admit that he's nothing at all. But in a Morris chair, you'd be surprised.

GROSS: That's Stephen DeRosa and my guest, Vince Giordano and his band The Nighthawks from the new collection of music from "Boardwalk Empire." And that's such a great recording, and I have to say about Stephen DeRosa, he enunciates so terrifically. I just love the way he seems to enjoy every word that he is saying.

GIORDANO: Yeah, he really embraces the music and being Eddie Cantor, and he just really enjoys getting it as close and as right as he's heard on that recording.

BIANCULLI: Vince Giordano speaking to Terry Gross in October. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview from October with musician Vince Giordano. We're revisiting the conversation as part of our holiday week series replaying some of our favorite interviews of the year.

You know, some of the singers that are used in "Boardwalk Empire" really know the period, and some of them really don't, like Patti Smith. I mean, maybe she knows the period, but it's not why we know her. She's - I think she's a good choice, in part, you know, I've interviewed her several times, and I think the first time I talked to her, she told me that her mother was a singer.

Well, her mother loved to sing around the house, and so Patti Smith grew up listening to a lot of jazz recordings. And then she just - I asked her what Patti Smith liked to sing around the house, and I forget whether it was her or her mother who liked to sing songs like "I'm Going to Get You on a Slow Boat to China," the Frank Loesser song. And Patti Smith sang a few bars of it, and I realized wow, she has this other musical life in her head, you know.

GIORDANO: Oh yes. When she was recording with us, in between takes she said this one's for you, mom.


GROSS: Oh, great.

GIORDANO: So there was a lot of that, and she said my mom would be so proud to hear me singing this now.

GROSS: Oh that's - see, I love that.

GIORDANO: Yeah, so...

GROSS: That's one of the things I like about the new album is that people are singing songs from a period, a period that I love but that's maybe a little out of their comfort zone, but they maybe have an affection for anyway. So it's just really interesting to hear them. Let's hear Patti Smith singing "I Ain't Got Nobody" with Vice Giordano & The Nighthawks from the new collection of music from "Boardwalk Empire."


PATTI SMITH: (Singing) There's a saying going 'round this town, I'm beginning to think it's true. It's awfully hard to love someone when they don't care about you. I once I had a sweetheart just as good as anyone in this town, but now I'm sad and lonely, he done turned me down. I ain't got nobody and nobody cares for me.

(Singing) That's why I'm sad and lonely. Won't some sweet daddy take a chance with me? I'll sing sweet love songs all the time if you come and be my daddy mine. I ain't got nobody, and nobody cares for me.

GROSS: That was Patti Smith with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks from the new collection of music "Boardwalk Empire: Volume 2." And Vince Giordano is my guest. He is immersed in music from the '20s and '30s, has been playing that music for decades, leading his small big band.


GIORDANO: That's right.

GROSS: And, you know, collecting arrangements from the period and so on. When you started playing music from the '20s - because you realized that's home for you - was it hard to find people to play with who shared your enthusiasm?

GIORDANO: Oh, yes. Most jazz musicians want to play something a little bit more modern, or very modern. You'd get a lot of musicians in my early days of the band who were into the old traditional jazz, New Orleans jazz, Dixieland Jazz, whatever you want to call it. But then they didn't have the ability to be able to read arrangements or charts.

So I pretty much decided on getting a band of professional musicians who had worked, some of them as far back as in the '20s and '30s, because they at least had an understanding of what I was trying to do. And I was very lucky. I got fellas like Clarence Hutchenrider, who used to play with the Casa Loma Band, and Bernie Previn, who was the hot man in the Artie Shaw Band and Carmen Mastren, who played guitar with Tommy Dorsey, still had his banjo - when he was, you know, first starting, he played the banjo - and the great Jimmy Maxwell, who played lead with Benny Goodman. And we became a repertory band.

GROSS: When you were young, you studied for a while with Bill Challis, an arranger who arranged for, among other people, the Paul Whiteman Band. How did you find him, and what are some of the things you learned from him?

GIORDANO: Bill Challis was an interesting man and a very great inspiration to me. When I joined the union when I was 14 years old, we got a little directory of all the musicians, who in it were by instrument - trumpet, trombone, clarinet. And, in the back, there was arrangers.

And I had been reading about the 1920s, and I was particularly fond of a book called "Jazz: The New York Scene," written by Sam Charters and Lenny Kunstadt. And they talked a lot about Bill Challis, working with the Goldkette Band, the Paul Whiteman Band, being friends with Bix Beiderbecke, and being a very avant-garde arranger for that time and very well-respected.

And one day, I was just leafing through my union directory and I see William Challis in Massapequa. And I said, wow, this must be the same fella. So, I was too afraid to call him. I was a teenager. I was about 15, 16 years old, and I wrote him a letter. And I said, I'm a fan of the 1920s. I'm a fan of your work. Would you consider giving me lessons? And he wrote back and he said, sure. So, I lived in Smithtown, and my dad used to have to drive me to Massapequa every Saturday.

So I would take this one-hour course every Saturday, and then have two hours, at least, of talking about his experiences working with the Dorsey Brothers and Bing Crosby and Bix and leading the Fletcher Henderson Band through rehearsals, and Louis Armstrong, and on and on and on. And I learned a lot from him.

GROSS: You have about 60,000 arrangements and transcriptions in your collection. I guess that includes sheet music of all sorts. How do you collect the stuff? Where do you find it now?

GIORDANO: In the past, I used to run an ad in a newspaper called The International Musician. And it went to every musician who was in the union all across the States. And I was looking for music of the '20s, '30s and '40s, and I'd get all kinds of letters, phone calls.


GIORDANO: Then I tried something very different. I handwrote these letters to members of the New York Local who had passed away - their families. And said I'm very sorry that Mr. X has passed away. I'm a young musician trying to keep this music alive. Perhaps someday you might think of parting with these old scores, or whatever.

And people called me. They said, my goodness, we had no idea what to do with this. Or you're too late. We put it all on the curb, and it's gone. Or make me an offer, you know, or it's worth a million dollars. You'd get all of that.

I cleaned out three movie theaters. I was reading an ad in the New York Times that a theater in St. Louis was going to be demolished and there were over 900 boxes of music there. And I flew out there thinking I'd be there for a couple of days. I was there for close to three weeks.

GROSS: Gosh. You were just looking for stuff?

GIORDANO: Yeah. Yeah, going through. And I didn't take it all because I couldn't. I only took what I needed and when the building was imploded, all that music that I left behind that I did not need, was duplicate music, you know, just went.

GROSS: Wow. I guess you can't find much of that at flea markets anymore.

GIORDANO: Not too much. You can find sheet music here and there. EBay is a way I can still find stuff. But having 60,000, you know, I'm sort of at the end of my line, I think.


GROSS: Right.

GIORDANO: And I'm running out of room, too. You know, in collecting all this music for many, many years a lot of folks would come over and criticize. What are you doing with all this stuff, you know, all these cabinets? And over and over and over. And I bought the house next door. You'll never use this stuff.

GROSS: Oh, you had a whole house to store it in?

GIORDANO: I have two houses in Brooklyn. I had to, you know, expand just to house all this stuff.

GROSS: Wow. So you have, like, your own warehouse or library or archive, whatever you want to call it.

GIORDANO: That I live in.

GROSS: But you have an extra one too.

GIORDANO: Yes. Yes. It's not the Collier Brothers yet. It's all organized. It's nice.

GROSS: Oh, oh, yeah. You're not a hoarder.


GIORDANO: I'm a hoarder but one who keeps it all together.

BIANCULLI: Vince Giordano speaking to Terry Gross in October. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview from October with musician Vince Giordano. With his band the Nighthawks he's released a second album of period songs recorded for the HBO series "Boardwalk Empire."

GROSS: I want to play another recording from Volume II of "Music from Boardwalk Empire." And this is a lot of fun. It's an incredibly politically incorrect song, really offensive lyrics. Offensive to Africans, to African-Americans, to women. Is this like the only opportunity that you have to play music that's, like, musically interesting, interesting for the period but really offensive lyrically?

GIORDANO: Well, you know, there was a lot of stereotype back then.

GROSS: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

GIORDANO: And you had, you know, German Vaudevillians doing German things. You had black Vaudevillians like Bert Williams and you had people dressing in blackface. And you had Italian dialect comedians. It was just a different time, you know.

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Would you say that this recording that we're about to hear is an example of the exotica from the period when people were really interested in deepest, darkest Africa? Like, King Tut's tomb had I think recently been unearthed. And that also set off this whole, like, exotica craze in music.

GIORDANO: There was a lot of that dreaming and thinking about going to exotic places. There was a Hawaiian movement at the time, you know, where - not a movement but just the whole slew of songs about going to dreamy Hawaii and, you know, everything is so calm. And the ukuleles are playing and possibly people aren't wearing too many clothes.


GIORDANO: You know, and that excited people. And then there was a Mideast period where people were going, you know, to the sheik of Arabi, you know, with Rudolph Valentino. I think people had all these little fantasies of what it was like to be in another place to get away from their boring lives.

When I met Irving Caesar who wrote "Swanee," you know, which was a big hit for Al Jolson and George Grisham, and he says as far south as I've got was Atlantic City. He says I've never been down South. But here he is writing about the South. And I think they were trying to get the imagination of people listening to this, going and all excited about a new exotic place.

GROSS: Well, let's hear an example of what we're talking about. So here's Rufus Wainwright with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks from the new collection, Volume II of "Boardwalk Empire."


RUFUS WAINWRIGHT: (singing) Far away in Jimbo Jambo lives a girl named Simbo Sambo and they say this little town will steal the heart away. When they hear her pretty lingo they fall for this dark skinned bimbo and anyone who's been to Jimbo has as much to say. I'm going back to Jimbo Jambo, find this little Simbo Sambo. She's the sweetest honey lambo that I've ever seen.

(singing) When this bimbo starts to dance to tom-tom melodies where she just shakes the coconuts and flips right off the trees. No one knows how much I am crazy about this little tambo. I'd live in a hut of bamboo if she'd settle down. Oh, I love her and she loves me. Oh, gee, oh, gosh, oh, gosh, oh, gee. And I don't give an embo for any other bimbo in Jimbo Jambo town.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Vince Giordano. He leads the band Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks. And they perform the music on "Boardwalk Empire." He's been immersed in the music of the '20s and '30s for decades.

There's a song I want to play here that I think a lot of people like myself associate with Hank Williams and it's "The Lovesick Blues." But this is done as a jazz song, not as a country song, and the melody is a different than what I'm used to hearing. The singer is Pokey LaFarge. Tell us about what this recording is modeled on.

GIORDANO: It's modeled after a Vaudevillian who came out of the 1920s named Emmett Miller. Emmett Miller was a Vaudeville singer, a very eccentric singer, a very politically incorrect singer to be quite honest.

GROSS: He sang in blackface, didn't he?

GIORDANO: Yes, he did. And, you know, he did a lot of minstrel work. And, again, some of the things that were happening back then. And the song dates from 1922 and his recording was really popular. He did it a few times when it first came out in the early '20s and then he did a remake for the electrical version of it with a lot of great jazz musicians like the Dorsey Brothers and Eddie Lang.

And I'm sure Hank Williams heard that recording and out of an homage or just out of love, you know, picked it up and revived it and made it his own. And Pokey is a big fan of the country music. He's really a wonderful new star. He's been on David Letterman and he's touring all over the world. He's a young fellow and we're really happy to see him, you know, embracing some of this great old repertoire.

GROSS: Well, Vince Giordano, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been a pleasure. And thank you for being so devoted to music of the '20s and for playing it so we can continue to hear it and hear that music and in a fresh context and without the scratches.

GIORDANO: Thank you, Terry, and keep on doing what you're doing.

GROSS: So this is Pokey LaFarge with Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks from Volume II of "Music from Boardwalk Empire."


POKEY LAGARGE: (singing) I'm in love, I'm in love with a beautiful gal. That's what's the matter with me. I'm in love, I'm in love with a beautiful gal. She don't care about me. Make her love me, I try. Lord, I sigh and I cry. But she just refuses. And ever since my baby has gone away, I've got them lovesick blues. I got a feeling called the blues, oh, lord, since my baby said good-bye.

(singing) Seems I don't know what to do. All I do is sit and cry, oh, lord. That last long day we spent alone. I'm yearning for her again. She thrilled me, filled me with the kind of loving I never will forget. The way she called sweet daddy, such a beautiful dream. I hate to think it's all over. I lost my heart it seems.

(singing) Yes, it seems that I got so used to you somehow, oh, but I'm nobody's southern daddy now 'cause I'm lonesome. Babe, I got the lovesick blues.

BIANCULLI: That was Pokey LaFarge from the second volume of music from HBO's "Boardwalk Empire." Vince Giordano spoke with Terry Gross in October. "Boardwalk Empire Volume II" is now out on CD. For Terry Gross, I'm David Bianculli.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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