Hello again, fellow roadies! Welcome to the holiday bonus edition of the Route 66 Song Of The Week. Only a few days ago, we treated you to Natalie Cole’s take on her daddy’s big hit and our favorite road anthem. But no sooner had we posted it than a hue and cry went up for Daddy Dearest. Well! This being the ultimate All-American Weekend, what with The Fourth, and it being the height of the road-trip season as well, how could we refuse? After all, who could beat the guy who held the title of King long before Elvis?
So: by popular demand, we give you the definitive Nat King Cole and King Cole Trio’s YouTube version of “Route 66,” as uploaded by Gene Vincent’s Official Nat King Cole Fan Club. This is clearly a filmed/videotaped version meant to look like a club date but is most likely a performance the group did for television. It may even be from Nat Cole’s own brief TV show, which ran in 1956 and 1957. It seems Cole was much more popular as a guest on other people’s TV shows and specials, at least where TV sponsors were concerned.
Here’s what IMDb.com, the Internet Movie Database, has to say about The Nat King Cole Show:
The show originally aired without a sponsor, but NBC agreed to pay for initial production costs; it was assumed that once the show actually aired and advertisers were able to see its sophistication, a national sponsor would emerge. None did; many national companies did not want to upset their customers in the South, who did not want to see a black man on TV shown in anything other than a subservient position. Although NBC agreed to continue footing the bill for the show until a sponsor could be found, star Nat ‘King’ Cole pulled the plug on it himself in its second season. In the 1956 season, the show had a 15-minute running time. It was expanded to a 30-minute segment in 1957. Said Cole of the doomed series, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.” …
Someone out there (besides me and my fellow jazz fans) must know that Cole was one hell of a jazz pianist, even though he was more popular for his singing; but we’ll bet you didn’t know that Cole also had a modest film career (23 roles), mostly playing singers and piano players, etc. His best – and longest – role was probably as the lead in the 1958 W.C. Handy biopic, St. Louis Blues. That film is particularly notable for having nearly as many jazz and blues singers and musicians acting in it as union actors! Pearl Bailey played Handy’s Aunt Hagar, singer Billy Preston played Handy’s younger self, and the rest of the cast included Eartha Kitt, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, and instrumentalists Barney Bigard (clarinetist), trumpeter Teddy Buckner, bass player George ‘Red’ Callender, and drummer Lee Young, brother of tenor sax man Lester ‘Prez’ Young. Cole’s last film role was as Shouter in the 1965 Jane Fonda western Cat Ballou.
If anyone out there recognizes definitively where this clip below is from, please do let us know. BTW, if you want a version of the same audio track with lyrics and some great Route 66 scenery (though none from Illinois, let alone the Chicago area, dammit!), you can find that clip at this link. And here you go.
Until next time,
your own DJ SweetMarie