Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones (1911–1965) was a popular musician and bandleader specialising in performing satirical arrangements of popular songs. Ballads and classical works receiving the Jones treatment would be punctuated with gunshots, whistles, cowbells, and ridiculous vocals.

Jones was born on the 14th December 1911 in Long Beach, California. He got his nickname by being so thin that he was compared to a railroad spike. At the age of eleven he got his first set of drums. As a teenager he played in bands that he formed himself. A railroad restaurant chef taught him how to use pots and pans, forks, knives, and spoons as musical instruments. He frequently played in theatre pit orchestras. In the 1930s he joined the Victor Young orchestra, and thereby got many offers to appear on radio shows including Al Jolson’s Lifebuoy Program, Burns and Allen, and Bing Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall. From 1937 to 1942, he was the percussionist for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra, which played on Bing Crosby’s first recording of ” White Christmas”.

The City Slickers evolved out of the Feather Merchants, a band led by vocalist-clarinetist Del Porter, who took a back seat to Jones duing the embryonic years of the group. They made experimental records for Cinematone Corp. and performed publicly in Los Angeles, gaining a small following. The original members of the band included vocalist-violinist Carl Grayson, banjoist Perry Botkin, trombonist King Jackson, and pianist Stan Wrightsman.

The band signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1941 and recorded extensively for the company until 1955. They also starred in various radio programmes (1945-1949) and television programmes (1954-1961) on both NBC and CBS.

Jones’s second wife, singer Helen Grayco, performed in his stage and television shows. Jones had four children, Linda (by his first wife, Patricia), Spike Jr, Leslie Ann, and Gina. Spike Jr. is a producer of live events and TV broadcasts. Leslie Ann is the Director of Music and Film Scoring at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.

The very name of Spike Jones became synonymous with crazy music. While he enjoyed the fame and prosperity, he was annoyed that nobody seemed to see beyond the craziness. Determined to show the world that he was capable of producing legitimate, “pretty” music, he formed a second group in 1946. Spike Jones and His Other Orchestra played lush arrangements of dance hits. This alternative group played nightclub engagements and was an artistic success, but the paying public preferred the City Slickers and stayed away. Jones wound up paying some of the band’s expenses out of his own pocket.

The one outstanding recording by the Other Orchestra is “Laura”, which features a serious first half (played exquisitely by the serious group), and a manic second half (played hilariously by the City Slickers).

Jones died on the 1st May 1965 in Beverly Hills, California.

Edited by Grosseteste on 3 Aug 2013, 16:53

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