Monday, January 14, 2013


Here is part 2 of three of my look at singer Al Bowlly...

A visit to New York in 1934 with Ray Noble resulted in more success, and their recordings first achieved popularity in the USA; he appeared at the head of an orchestra hand-picked for him and Noble by Glenn Miller (the band included Claude Thornhill, Charlie Spivak, and Bud Freeman, among others).

During the mid-1930s, such songs as "Blue Moon", "Easy to Love", "I've Got You Under My Skin", and "My Melancholy Baby" were sizable American successes—so much so that Bowlly gained his own radio series on NBC and traveled to Hollywood to appear in the same movie as Bing Crosby, one of his biggest competitors, in The Big Broadcast (1935).

He had appeared with his own band, the Radio City Rhythm Makers, but they had split by late 1937 when his vocal problems were traced to a wart in his throat, which briefly caused him to lose his voice. With him and Marjie separated and his band dissolved, that year he was once again down on his luck. He was forced to borrow money from friends for a trip to New York for the surgery of which he was so in need. In 1938, he finally returned to the USA to undergo successful major throat surgery for the removal of his vocal wart, but still had difficulties later in his career.

His absence from the UK when he moved to the States in 1934 damaged his popularity with British audiences. His career also began to suffer as a result of problems with his voice from around 1936, which affected the frequency of his recordings. He played a few small parts in films around this time, yet never professed to be an actor. The parts he did play were often cut, and scenes that were shown were brief. Noble was offered a role in Hollywood although the offer did not, unfortunately, include Bowlly, as a singer had already been instated. Consequently, Bowlly moved back to London with his wife Marjie in January 1937, but never really explained why he had returned, with contemporaries and fans being treated to a variety of stories ranging from the fact that he missed London to claims that he got mixed up with a gangster's moll, so had been run out of America.

With his diminished success in Britain, he toured regional theatres and recorded as often as possible to make a living, moving from orchestra to orchestra, including those of Sydney Lipton, Geraldo, and Ken Johnson. He underwent a revival from 1940, as part of a double act with Jimmy Messene (whose career had also suffered a recent downturn), with an act called Radio Stars with Two Guitars, performing on the London stage. It was his last venture before his death in April 1941. The partnership was an uneasy one, as Messene suffered from a serious drinking problem by this stage, and was known to turn up incapable on stage, or to not turn up at all, much to Bowlly's consternation. His last recorded song, made two weeks before his death, was a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin's satirical song on Hitler, "When That Man is Dead and Gone".


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