Assembling a Laine Collection (Summer Series: Part Two)

(Continued from the May 2017 blog)

The “Platters”

Of course, platters are the coveted 78 r.p.m. records most music collectors of the musical generation concerning the pre-1960s couldn’t do without.

I had no luck locating anymore Laine albums in traditional record stores in the early 1970s. Therefore, I was content to play the few Laine albums I already had, supplemented by the Beatles, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, and the big bands. It wasn’t until after I had graduated from high school that I began to revisit my small Frankie Laine collection in earnest. By then, I was playing music in bands in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

I played the drums. I very quickly became aware that emotion played a huge role in making music great. Therefore, I became determined to find more Frankie Laine records.

Somewhere during the late 1970s, I recall being allowed to go through my landlord’s collection of 78s. He had a few of Frankie’s early Mercury records on the shelves in his basement. I was allowed to borrow the records and dub them onto cassette tapes.

Wow! I discovered that Frankie was a style-setting singer of jazz and popular music. I was thrilled to be able to discover a “new” sound—a unique sound, by the great Frankie Laine on these few records. Ironically, these records pre-dated the “Greatest Hits” albums I had acquired up to this point. But since these older recordings were so fresh and new, they seemed to be more modernistic than the Laine vocals on my albums.

When the bands I was in began going on the road and traveling to other states to play, I would seek out and shop any old used record stores or second-hand shops. At that time, many of these places had quite a few 78s in stock. I found several of Frankie Laine Mercury and Columbia 78s this way. I would take these record purchases home and dub them onto cassette tapes.

Aside: Years later, in 1999, I was visiting Frankie at his home in San Diego. I had brought along a few 78s of Frankie’s hits that I wanted him to sign for me. I had purchased a special white ink marker, so that he could sign the records directly over the grooves of the disc. This would give me a bright, white Laine signature. It was my intention to frame these after Frankie had signed them.

I handed Frankie the first record and the marker. He took the record to his desk and began meticulously signing it. I walked over to where he was scripting and saw that he was trying to write a note and sign on the label itself. I recall asking him to sign on the grooves and not the label. He looked at me and was quite sincere as he said, “Well if I do that, you won’t be able to play it.”

Frankie’s logic was completely understandable to me. He was part of the generation that steadfastly held a firm belief in not wasting resources. This generation came of age during the Great Depression and witnessed the rationing during World War II. It was also a generation of logic. Why destroy something still useful in its intended purpose?

Album Goldmine

I was slowly building a sizable Frankie Laine collection on audio cassettes from the 78s I’d found. I also dubbed my “Greatest Hits” albums onto cassette tapes. Therefore, I had a legitimate collection of Laine cassettes. My collection was finally a tangible collection! My biggest concern was twofold, however. I didn’t know the years in which any of the songs were recorded, and I didn’t have a clue as to how many total songs Frankie Laine had recorded, or what I yet needed. As many music collectors can attest, it is important to collect the total discography of a singer’s recordings.

A few years before I met Don Daugherty, the bass player in the popular band I played drums for, he and his cousin Glenn Goodwin had fronted a popular rock band, the American Legend. That band had played all over Iowa, even appearing on local television. During the band’s heyday, they became friends with Dave Schneider, a local radio disc jockey. Dave later went to work for Cedar Rapids television station KGAN, which shared the same building with WMT, a popular Iowa radio station.

After Dave heard us play at the club one night, he invited us over to his house for a party. At the party, I asked Dave whether he thought I could obtain permission to access the WMT studio record library to look for Frankie Laine albums. The station featured a format similar to Frankie’s style of music, and I was certain they had played his material at some point.

Soon thereafter, because of Dave’s position at the station, I obtained clearance to use the record library. The studio manager allowed me to bring in my turntable and cassette deck to dub any Frankie Laine albums I needed for my collection. Don accompanied me on the day of the scheduled radio station visit. I greatly increased my collection by dubbing several albums. Don and I listened to each recording through headphones while the dubbing took place. The whole time I spent taping those albums was as exciting to me as Christmas morning is to a child. I was exposing myself to Frankie Laine material that I never knew existed. I discovered a masculine energy and emotion within vocal renditions that truly were awe-inspiring. Up until that time, I’d recognized that Frankie was an emotional singer, but I had no idea anyone could put so much feeling into a song, carrying the listener away with the sounds. It was thrilling!

One of the albums I taped while in the radio library was the 1959 album Frankie Laine, Balladeer. As I listened, Frankie transported himself into a true storyteller who could sing with soul-stirring emotion. I hadn’t realized that anyone could create such excitement within a song the way Frankie did. It was during that radio library dubbing session, while discovering a glimpse of Frankie’s vastness in recorded material, that I made myself a promise: I will meet this man and shake his hand. I can’t explain it, but even though it was going to take a lot of determination and good luck to meet him, I knew I’d succeed.

I acquired several ninety-minute cassette tapes of Frankie Laine recordings from that radio station recording session. Each morning I played selections from those tapes at home while I was having my coffee. The songs inspired me. Frankie’s singing made me feel good. I began to realize, even more, that music, an emotional art, actually could move a person like beautiful poetry, a special book, or a good movie. Frankie Laine, blessed with the special ability to perform a song, hooked me in a big way.

The acquisition of everything Frankie had ever recorded, and transferring the songs onto high-quality cassette tapes, became my goal.

(To be continued in July)

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About the Author:

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Craig Cronbaugh, Director of the Legislative Information Office with the Legislative Services Agency at the Iowa State Capitol. As famed singer Frankie Laine’s special friend and a collector of Laine’s recordings and career memorabilia, Craig has written articles; has written, produced, directed, and hosted a distinctive radio program; and has appeared on Iowa statewide television regarding his Frankie Laine avocation. Craig has been highlighted briefly and has been given a research screen credit in the 2003 internationally distributed documentary Frankie Laine: An American Dreamer. Craig’s book, a memoir, Reaching for a Star, featuring his friendship with Laine, was published in 2005.