Born this day in 1911, Lindley Armstrong “Spike” Jones isn’t too young to have been in vaudeville (plenty of people started in the business as children). Nevertheless, he wasn’t (in vaudeville, that is). He merits a listing in these annals on account of the vaudevillian spirit he infused his music with, a spirit that inspired musicians of his own generation but also the following one. He really cut his teeth in big bands (he was a percussionist). He seems to have started out fairly seriously, but turned the corner with his 1942 hit “Der Fuehrer’s Face”. This opened the floodgates for hundreds of humorous arrangements of well known songs employing wacky instruments and sound effects, and a stage show that relied on slapstick, including the services of a little person well known to show biz buffs: Billy Barty. The anarchy of Jones’ stage shows and record albums calls to mind that of the Marx Brothers, and the Olsen and Johnson of Hellzapoppin. Emphysema killed him in 1965 — tragically early, so that he was unable to see how his “Anything Goes” approach to music-making inspired the generation of rock groups and comedians who came up during the 60s, notably The Beatles, the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, Frank Zappa, Firesign Theatre and Monty Python….but a thousand others.
As for the film director who was doltish enough to give him the same name: I never call him that. I just call him “The guy who named himself after Spike Jones”. (I kid of course. I actually like Spike Jonez’ movies. But I wish he’d picked a better name).
And now the tune that started it all:
To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc