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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bubbles and Pop

I’ve heard of the story behind how Lawrence Welk came to use bubbles in his act because it happened in Pittsburgh, but I didn’t realize other big band leaders chose unique ways to start their shows. While Welk used bubbles and the pop of a champagne cork, a contemporary named Shep Field’s used bubbles of a different sort.

The term "Champagne Music" was derived from an engagement at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, when a dancer referred to Welk's sound as "light and bubbly as champagne." The hotel also lays claim to the original "bubble machine," a prop left over from a 1920s movie premiere. (Above Authentic Lawrence Welk bubble machine, early Altman model)

One night Shep Fields and his wife stopped for a soda during a one-night gig in Rockford, Illinois. While sipping, Fields' wife happened to blow into her straw. Fields heard that sound and knew it would make a great trademark to open his broadcasts.

Shep Fields' "Rippling Rhythm" is described as a "unique blend of styles and instruments, brought together to create an off-center sound that was immediately appealing and extremely danceable." You can click on the video below to have a listen. To me it sounds like the soundtrack to The Little Rascals or any number of early cartoons features from the 30s. In fact, Field’s does a great version of Disney’s “Whistle While You Work” with the original lyrics before changes were made for the 1937 movie Snow White.

Shep Fields did not play at Rock Springs Park, as far as I know, but Lee Barrett played in the Virginia Gardens Ballroom on Sunday, August 7, 1937. His band the “Rippling Rhythm Orchestra” is described as playing a “"Shep Fields' style" of dance rhythm, according to The Beaver County Daily Times. You might say Barrett's was an early Shep Fields cover band.

Beaver, PA - August 6, 1937


Lee Barrett and his Rippling Rhythm orchestra will play a return engagement in the ballroom at Rock Springs Park on Sunday night. This orchestra plays a "Shep Fields' style" of dance rhythm. Featured with the orchestra are Ray Williams and Charlie Como, cousin of the famous Perry Como. The management states Lee Barrett's band is regarded as the most popular band to appear in the park ballroom this season.

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