Sunday, July 09, 2017

Larry Vincent - What Rhymes with SHIT? "Sweet Violets"

    A cousin to the famous Benny Bell song “Shaving Cream,” here’s Larry Vincent singing “Sweet Violets.” A gag that never seems to get old, you still smile when, instead of the expected dirty-word get a chiding chorus oh-so-innocently offering a sweet, incongruous refrain.

 Among people who care about novelty songs…almost nobody really gives a pile of SWEET VIOLETS or SHAVING CREAM over whether Larry stole from Benny Bell, or the reverse. Most likely Benny Bell was the original, but the idea of an innocent word substituting for a nasty one goes back a lot earlier. Benny's "Shaving Cream" arrived in 1946, Larry's "Sweet Violets" in 1949.  

Born in San Jose, California (January 13, 1901) Vincent began touring in the 1920's. During a stay in Chicago he recorded his lone early single, “She’s a Great, Great Girl.” Singing straight material, he tried his hand at songwriting, coming up with “If I Had My Life to Live Over,” a co-write with the more established Jewish songwriters Moe Jaffe and Henry Tobias. Larry recorded it himself on the “20th Century Records” label, credit to “Larry Vincent and [the] Feilden Foursome.” The flip, a co-write with Haven Gillespie, is “Stay as Long as You Like.”

 If you don't want to know more about Moe Jaffe and Henry Tobias, skip this paragraph. Tobias, a cousin of Eddie Cantor’s, wrote the melody for “And Away We Go” recorded by Jackie Gleason. Henry wrote a book, “Music In My Heart and Borscht in my Blood.” He worked with several different people, including his brothers. Among his hits were “Miss You,” recorded by Jaye P. Morgan, Bing Crosby and others, “Cooking Breakfast For the One I Love” (Fanny Brice), “Easter Sunday With You’ (Perry Como) and “May I Have the Next Dream with You” (Jerry Vale). Moe Jaffe co-wrote “I Don’t Know from Nuthin’” with Henry Tobias, but worked with many others as well. Moe’s co-writes include “The Gypsy in My Soul” (with Clay Boland) “Oh You Sweet One” (with Paul Kapp), and “Bell Bottom Trousers,” which was a bawdy ballad he cleaned up (sort of the way Cy Coben cleaned up "Sweet Violets") “Collegiate” (a co-write with the oddly-named Nat Bonx) was recorded by quite a few people including Fred Waring, and turns up via Chico Marx in The Marx Brothers’ college comedy “Horse Feathers.” The versatile Moe could even knock off gospel titles, such as “Get Together with the Lord,” a co-write with Bickley Reichner that was recorded by Andy Kirk’s Orchestra.

Larry Vincent kicked around various peculiarly named nightclubs, from Benny the Bum’s in Philadelphia to The Lookout House in Covington, Kentucky, where he stayed for many years. Not quite as obscure as it might seem, Covington wasn’t too far from Cincinnati, Ohio. Go check a map. It was in the unlikely town of Covington that Larry and Moe Jaffe formed the Pearl Records label. Like Benny Bell recording for Bell Records, Vincent hired himself to record everything on his label.  He tried “legit” novelty songs (“I Grow Gooey Over Chop Suey”)  but ended up pandering to the “party song” crowd.

Larry’s popular numbers, including “Sweet Violets,” “Yas Yas Yas,” “The Smell Song (Fish Fish Fish),” “Sarah Sittin’ in a Shoe Shine Shop” and “I Used to Work in Chicago” were usually credited to  “Larry Vincent and the Pearl Boys,” or “The Pearl Boys,” “The Pearl Trio” or “The Pearl Five” etc. etc. With a nod to his hangout at The Lookout House, a number of his 78’s were also credited to “Larry Vincent and his Lookout Boys.” He had a certain wiseguy-charm that made his risque tunes more amusing than annoying, more light-hearted than smarmy. Most of his 78’s were released between 1946 and 1949, the date for "Sweet Violets."

As the long-play era started in the 50's Larry compiled some of his old tunes, including  “She Had to Lose It as the Astor,” “The Kanaka Song,” “Buster Astor,” “Get Off the Table Mabel” and various “butt” pun songs like “I Kissed Her But I Never Will Again” and “She Has Freckles On her But She is Nice,” (aka The Freckle Song). The albums include “Listen and Laugh” and “Laugh Provoking Ditties for the Party.”   

Still hoping for a legit hit, in the mid-50’s Larry recorded “The Whole Town’s Batty About Cincinnati” and lastly, the 1954 single “Let’s Bowl (The Bowling Song”) b/w “I Cried For You.”

Larry's risque rival Benny Bell didn't stay in the risque novelty genre in the late 50's or 60's. By then, silly double entendre stuff was passe, and instead of discs by those guys, or contemporaries Dwight Fiske and Ruth Wallis,  Lenny Bruce records were hot. Benny's "hot" tunes had also turned up the heat on him, as many Jews in his Brooklyn neighborhood frowned on such frivolity. Benny sang many straight novelty numbers in Yiddish and authored "freilachs" (dance instrumentals) that were played at weddings. The Jewish stores that sold this kind of thing (along with menorahs, prayer shawls and Molly Picon 78's) threatened not to carry Benny's material if he didn't clean up his act.

Benny did clean up his act, and when he composed novelty songs, they were aimed (not too successfully) in the direction of past (Mickey Katz) and current (Allan Sherman) Jewish novelty singers. For example, he hoped for a knock-off on Chubby Checker via "The Kosher Twist." Benny was pleasantly surprised when people old enough to be his grandson discovered and delighted in his old risque tunes. ‘Shaving Cream” was re-issued and became a surprise hit, landing in the Billboard Top 40 in 1975. Larry? He passed on, January 5, 1977.

Larry Vincent  
Sweet Violets   Instant download or listen on line. 

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