Wednesday, November 10, 2010


It strikes me as strange that a young musician would choose a "goodbye" song as a theme song. But perhaps it was not so much intentional as situational. I have a friend who as a young trombone player became associated with "Stardust" because he played it well and with great feeling. When he formed a band and went pro it became his theme song. More incidental than intentional, he mentioned recently.

Gaetano Lombardo was born in London, Ontario in 1902, one of five sons(Carmen, Lebert , Victor and Joseph) of a tailor who was also an amateur vocalist, and a stay-at-home but musical mom. There were also at least two girls, Elaine and Rose-Marie. Three boys were taught an instrument so they could play for their father. Joe was the dissenter - he had no interest in music but was interested in art and eventually became an interior decorator. In grade school, Guy had already become the leader - without challenge, apparently - of the Lombardo Quartet. Guy and Carmen performed for the first time at a lawn party in 1914. In 1919 the quartet had a summer engagement at a dance pavillion at Grand Bend, Ont. and expanded the group to include a saxophonist, drummer, tuba, guitar and trombone. UP to that point, the brothers had doubled in several slots including vocal. This larger orchestra got an engagement at the Winter Garden in London, and at Port Stanley, Ont. in the summer. Following those seasons they moved to Cleveland. America became their home thereafter, although they toured Canada in later years.

By 1924 the orchestra, known as "Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians" became the resident orchestra at the Claremont Tent, a Cleveland nightclub.
A coach, Louis Bleet, slowed their tempo, lowered their volume and introduced the popular medley of songs requested by patrons of the club. The slow romantic dance style of the Lombardo orchestra became hugely popular. Smooth sax led by Carmen's alto, the use of a tuba instead of double bass, the quiet, barely audible drumming (except to the other musicians) contributed to the sweet harmonic rather than rhythmic style. Carmen was also an emotional vocalist, often satirized and mocked for his precise pronunciation. The magazine Downbeat, whose readers were mostly of the swing and jazz audience, referred to Lombardo as the "King of Corn."

In 1924 the band made their first recording in a studio in Indiana. And they also arranged to play an unsponsored radio program , which gave them the opportunity to gather a following, and thus engagements in the area. In 1927 the band moved to Chicago where they got an engagement at the Granada Cafe. Guy realized early on that radio was the tool for publicity and with the aid of Jules Stein, convinced the owner of the cafe to put in a wire and broadcast the show.
They split the cost three ways.

The first broadcast was New Year's Eve at 9:00 p.m. The program began with an almost empty cafe, but by closing there was a packed house. From that night, Lombardo's popularity soared. And the Granada Cafe kept the "wire" in place, and the cafe became the second most popular place in Chicago, right behind the Blackhawk Restaurant.

The man who facilitated a lot of Guy's Chicago success was named Quadrach. When Lombardo felt he was ready to move on to New York he found out - Chicago style - that he was not as much in charge as he had thought. He was delayed several months disentangling himself from commitments Quadrach had made in his name. Accordng to what I could find, some of the stories did not come out until many years later. It was suggested that some of the people involved "were not the kind you would want to aggravate."

The Royal Canadians moved into the Roosevelt Hotel in in New York 1929 which turned into a very long engagement. Except for the occasional hiatus when Lombardo chose to play elsewhere or take time off, that engagement lasted until the Roosevelt Grille closed in the late 1960's. Meanwhile, Decca began recording and The Royal Canadians were among the first to sign on. This resulted in a long list of best selling recordings including at least four which reached the million mark.
Some original compositions were "Boo Hoo", "Powder Your Face With Sunshine",
"Seems Like Old Times", "Coquette" and "Sweethearts on Parade." Guy Lombardo and The Royal Canadians closed out every year, for years, on radio and eventually television, with his "Auld Lang Syne" signature piece.

Guy had another interest - quite unrelated and quite perilous. He was an avid speed boat racer who won the 1946 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River in a boat he called Tempo VI. The boat had an old hull and a new motor. It was said he had "a good rhythm and conducted to a fine crescendo, rather like as if he were directng Ravel's Bolero." Racing rules changed and boats became much faster in '47 and '48, and he did not win those races. However, he did break a world record in Miami in 1948.

His goal was to break a speed record of 141.74 mph set in 1939.
He said he needed a new boat and a suitable body of water.

He was performing in Glens Falls, and he and his brothers and some members of the band as well as some of his racing crew went to Lake George to see if it was a good place to break the record. Seeing that it was, Guy began making contacts for the boat and the organization of a race. Henry Kaiser, who built fast ships for WWII, was going to pay for a new boat for Lombardo. Another character entered the picture, big in the racing world- the owner of Ventnor Boat Building, which had built Guy's Tempo VI. He said he wanted the record to be broken at Lake Placid where he had a summer home. Guy said he would use Tempo VI if it were going to be at Lake Placid, in deference to Ventnor's owner. Caused some publicity for both Lombardo, Ventnor and the racing community as it was seen as a conflict among the "big players." Lombardo left, and never returned. It was later implied that the whole "dust-up" over the location was a publicity stunt for Lake Placid and possibly for Guy Lombardo.

There was a Lombardo Museum in London, Ontario, Canada. It was established and managed by Doug Flood who was dedicated to preserving the Lombardo relics. The TEMPO VI was found and restored. and a building was built especially to accommodate it. It became too much for Flood to handle, and he tried to make a deal with the city of London to take it over. The city of London apparently did not want to support it, and Flood could not continue it on it's merits alone. Thus, it has closed permanently, as far as I could find out.

Flood, who owned the relics, took them out of the museum to his home. He commented, "My house is not longer a home, it's a warehouse." A few items have been donated to the Museum London, such as an award given Lombardo by the City of London. Other items may be donated to archives in the locality, but the manager of London City Services has said the items belong to Flood and he has the right to do with what he chooses with no influence by the city.

This was one of the most interesting and most difficult items I have attempted. There is a great deal written in many sites on the band and the Lombardos.
Guy won the Ford Memorial competition in 1948; the President's Cup and Silver Cup in 1992; Was reigning US National Champ from 1946 to 1949; won every trophy in the sport before his retirement in the late '50s. In 2002 he was inducted into the Motorsport Hall of Fame.

In later years Guy Lombardo lived in Freeport, L.I. NY, where he invested in "Liota's East Point House, a seafood restaurant, which later became known as "Guy Lombardo's East Point House." He became promoter and musical director of Jones Beach Marine Theater which was built by Robert Moses especially with Guy in mind.
Rose-Marie sang with the band, and by her own admission she wasn't a great singer.
Elaine Lombardo urged Guy to hire Kenny Gardner after seeing him in another night club. Guy did listen to him, and hire him, and Elaine married him.
Victor died in Bocca Raton of a heart attack in 1994. He left a wife, two sons and a step-daughter.
Carmen died in 1971 of Cancer. I could not find any reference to family.
Lebert died in 1993. His son Billy attempted unsuccessfully to keep the band together.


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