Ay Round the Corner
Hey Good Lookin'(w/Frankie Laine)
In the Cool Cool Cool of the Evening(w/Frankie Laine)
Pretty Eyed Baby(w/Frankie Laine)
If You've Got the Money, I've Got the Time
It's Almost Tomorrow
Setting the Woods on Fire(w/Frankie Laine)
Wind in the Willows
Suddenly There's a Valley
It's No Secret
(Now and Then, There's) A Fool Such as I
On London Bridge
Thank You for Calling
With a Little Bit of Luck
Gambella, The Gamblin Lady(w/Frankie Laine)
Kissin' Bug Boogie
Love Me Good
All Night Long
Teach Me Tonight
You Belong to Me
Make Love to Me
Keep It a Secret
The late Paul Weston thought that Jo Stafford was the most versatile singer in popular music.
One might ask whether Paul was a mite prejudiced: he was not only her arranger on many of her hits. He was also her husband.
But Paul was right. The scope of her work is astounding. She established herself as one of the most beautiful singers of the
great ballads early in the 1940s, when she was with the Tommy Dorsey band. Johnny Mercer befriended her and said that someday
he was going to have his own record label, and he would sign her to it. He did: he established Capitol Records, and she became
one of its major assets.
Jo drew no lines between musical styles. She could sing folk music with rare authenticity. She could do the most amazing put-ons.
In 1947, she made a hilarious version of Temptation, retitled Timtayshun, in a style then called hillbilly. She used the pseudonym
Cinderella Stump, and for a long time few people realized she was the singer.
Indeed, she invented two dreadful singers. The other was the eerily out-of-tune society chanteuse Darlene Edwards, who managed
to sing both sharp and flat. Paul was on piano as Darlene’s husband Jonathan, who - like no small number of cocktail
pianists - played wrong chords and added or subtracted beats and bars with abandon. In the 1960s, they, made a series of albums,
which became cult items, particularly among musicians.
I have loved her singing since I was in high school, listening to the recordings she made with Dorsey. But recently I was
reminded of an aspect of her work that had slipped my mind.
I was listening to some tapes of the. Johnny Mercer Music Shop, fifteen -minute radio shows heard five times a week in the
1940s. As a regular on the shows, she was often assigned swing tunes. Her control of intonation has always been legendary,
but those shows demonstrate that she had fabulous up-tempo lime.
One writer calculated that on the basis of the weeks her records were in the Billboard charts, she was one of the top five
artists in popular music in the years 1940 through 1955. And this despite the fact that she did not seek and did not want
stardom, and when it was thrust on her found out that she didn't particularly care for it.
She saw herself as a group singer, and her greatest joy came from singing lead, which she did superbly with a group called
the Pied Pipers, which made its recording debut with Tommy Dorsey, and later recorded with her on Capitol. It was Dorsey who
set her on the road to stardom when be had her step out of the group and do some solos.
In 1950, Paul Weston moved from Capitol to Columbia Records, and Jo soon followed him there. She said, "I was so used to working
with him, I just couldn't see myself being turned over to new people at Capitol." At Columbia, they had a string of 29 hits
ranging from the ballad "You Belong To Me" to Hank Williams tunes such as Jambalaya and Hey, Good Lookin, the latter one of
several duets recorded with Frankie Laine.
Laine is also heard on In The Cool Cool Cool of The Evening, which has one of Johnny Mercer's cleverest lyrics. And of course
one notices immediately how she swings.
One of their biggest hits was the 1951 novelty Shrimp Boats, which Paul wrote in collaboration with lyricist Paul Mason Howard.
It was not written specifically for Jo.
"I just saw it and thought it was a good piece of material.” Paul was leaving the Dorsey hand when Jo joined it, and
he wrote only one arrangement for the Pied Pipers. But that was the start of their collaboration, and after working together
for ten years, Paul and Jo married in 1952.
They were to have two children, Amy, herself an excellent singer, and Tim. a thorough-going musician and record producer who
assembled and edited this compilation.
Never "as I have noted " entranced by stardom, Jo was considering an engagement in Las Vegas and thinking about her (then)
adolescent children. She thought they needed her more than she needed show business, and without fanfare, in the 1960s, she
left the business.
First she ceased public appearances, and then she stopped recording. More than one performer has retired only to return to
the business, and some have had what might be called serial retirements. Other than an occasional appearance for a charity,
she would never sing publicly again.
Jo was born in Coalinga, California, on November 12, 1917. Her mother, nee Anna York in Tennessee, played five-string banjo,
and this background is the reason for the authenticity of Jo's performances of folk and country material. In high school she
had five years of operatic training, her initial ambition being in fact to pursue a career in opera. "But it takes more than
five years of training to become an opera singer," she told me once, "and when I got out of high school I had to work."
She joined her two sisters, Pauline and Christine, in a vocal trio. It was an age of female vocal groups, often drawn from
the same family: the Andrews, DeMarco, Clark, Dinning and Clooney sisters among them.
The Stafford Sisters worked in the Los Angeles area, often in movie studios, and in radio. For a time they had their own show.
This work led to the formation of an eight-voice vocal group called the Pied Pipers, eventually pared down to four for their
work with Tommy Dorsey. This, as noted, led to her solo career.
Paul was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1912. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in economics from Dartmouth University,
where he had played piano and led a dance band. But, as he was wont to say, nobody was looking for young economists in the
Depression year 1933, and he went to work as an arranger, first for the Rudy Vallee band and then later for others, including
Phil Harris and Bob Crosby.
In a business where marriages are often unstable and frequently brief, that of Paul Weston and Jo Stafford was a notable exception.
It was close and warm and full of humor, and I have never known a couple who were more pleasant to be with. Their marriage
lasted until Paul's death in 1996. He was eighty-four.
Jo lives now in the Century City area of Los Angeles. She and Paul had an odd habit of referring to each other in their conversations
with others not as "my wife" or "my husband" but as "my friend." I always found it touching. And true. She and Paul were always
sort of musical royalty to me. They still are.
Gene Lees July 2001