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Thursday, September 03, 2009

And Even More "Richards"

You never know what's going to inspire reader reaction, but yesterday's post on "Open the Door, Richard" generated a ton of email. The Dreamtime transcriptions are apparently popular, as several correspondents asked for a transcription of what Mr, D. had specifically said about the song, Dusty Fletcher, and Jack McVea. So here we go, with appropriate accompaniment...

Our Host: "This is Theme Time Radio Hour and we're talking about Locks and Keys. One guy who talked a lot about `em was a comedian named Dusty Fletcher. He played in vaudeville and traveled the chitlin' circuit. He had a live routine that became one of the most famous records of the `40s. He'd walk out on-stage with a ladder, lean against the curtain, and call up to his friend Richard. He had locked himself out of the house, and he needed Richard to come down and open the door. Richard wasn't much help as he was probably intoxicated. It's actually much more interesting when you hear Dusty Fletcher tell it. Let's listen to a little bit of Dusty."

("Open the Door Richard" - Part 1 Dusty Fletcher [excerpt], January 1947)

Our Host: "Dusty's record reached #2 in the R&B charts, but another performer named Jack McVea recorded a more rhythmic version, and it made the song a national phenomena. By 1947, there were at least 22 versions of it. Louis Jordan did it. Dick Haymes, The Pied Pipers. There was a group called The Yokels that sang it in Yiddish. Bob Hope and Fred Allen would just mention Richard and the studio audience would crack up. Everybody was quoting the song like they quote [? ] today. Here's Jack McVea, with 'Open the Door, Richard.'"

("Open the Door, Richard" Jack McVea & His All Stars January 1947)

Our Host: "And listen to this..."

("Open the Door" Clive and Naomi 1965 [excerpt])

Our Host: "Not only were there country, polka, pop, and Yiddish versions, almost 20 years later it was inspiring ska musicians. Listen to a tiny bit of this, by Clive and Naomi....

Our Host: "'Open the Door' by Clive and Naomi. You see, that song can be done any kinda way. 'Bout time for it to come back again. Maybe I'll even do it...".

("Open the Door, Homer" Bob Dylan and the Band 1967 [unreleased out-take])

And Some Notes

Even after repeated listening, I still can't make out what word Mr D. says in the line, "Everybody was quoting the song like they quote [ ? ] today," It sounds like "Bo-ad" or maybe "Bo-at." Maybe someone with a better ear can decipher it.

I received several emails on the controversy over who "wrote" "Open the Door, Richard," with one correspondent - who prefers to remain anonymous - feeling I had given Dusty Fletcher short shrift. Anon. noted, "Fletcher was actually filmed performing 'Open the Door Richard' two years earlier [than McVea's recording] in 19 and 45, so he has to be considered the undisputed 'Richard' champ."

Well, no. As I replied to anon., the film is of Fletcher's comedy routine, not of him performing the song. You can see the 1945 short "Open the Door Richard" at the internet archive, if you're interested. The "Richard" routine starts about three minutes into the 9 minute film. Was McVea's song based on Fletcher's routine? No dispute there. Did McVea create a separate, musical work? I say yes.

A few people questioned which came first, McVea's or Fletcher's recording of "Richard." It sounded to me that Our Host implied that Fletcher's recording was first, although his remarks can be taken either way. In any case, both recordings were released in January 1947. Labels tended to move fast when there was a hit - and money - in the air. This Time magazine article, which also appears to be one the sources for Mr. D.'s commentary, notes that eighteen cover versions of the song were either in print or in the chute within a month after the original's release. Interestingly, the reporter writes that John Mason was "hastily cut in for half the profits," after his lawyers contacted McVea, but makes no mention of Fletcher or his "Richard."

According to various sources, McVea's "Richard" was recorded in either September or October 1946, although not released until January 1947. All the evidence points to Fletcher going into the studio and recording his cover literally days after after McVea's release. The label of Fletcher's National single notes him as the "originator" of "Richard," evidence that there was another "Richard" already out there. And, of course, the melody is obviously from McVea's "Richard."

And finally, the appropriately named "Richard" wrote in with this nugget. "The identity of the mysterious "Don Howell" [who shared co-writing credits with Fletcher for the music after the lawsuit dust settled] was none other than Decca owner, Dave Kapp. Current releases of 'Richard' credit Kapp. I guess Jack McVea was right that he was screwed out of his just due."

Thanks to all for writing in.

1 comment:

Dreamtime Fan said...


Mr. D says "like everyone is quoting Borat these days"

Very nice!