The Splendid Beginnings of a Laine Collection

Rub-a-dub-dub

By the time I was in my 20s, I had already amassed a fairly large Frankie Laine audio collection. Most of my collection at that time consisted of 78 rpm and 45 rpm records, a few albums, and cassette tapes containing several of Frankie’s albums. How I loved playing my tapes! In fact, it was a daily routine of mine while sipping my morning coffee.

I had acquired my tapes of Frankie’s albums through the local radio station. I had, perhaps, three of Frankie’s actual albums. At that time, I was a full-time drummer. A friend of one of the members of the band I was in had been a long-time radio personality for the WMT radio station in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This station, an adult-contemporary service, featured news, weather, sports, and music over the years that included varying degrees of easy listening, pop, soul, and rhythm and blues. As luck would have it, and as a perk of being a musician in this particular band, I was able to get cassette tape dubs of several Laine albums that, up until then, I had never known existed.

One evening, that station employee—Dave, had attended one of our nightclub performances. After our gig was finished, he invited the band to his home. He had a massive album collection in his living room. As I looked through his collection, I mentioned that I was endeavoring to collect Frankie Laine albums. Dave informed me that he was certain there were a number of Laine albums in the WMT record library. As it turned out, because of Dave, I was able to bring my cassette recorder and turntable right to the radio studio and dub all of the Frankie Laine albums within the WMT library. As I recall, there were close to 20 albums. It took several hours to dub all the albums, and I had to put up with everything from embarrassing questioning looks from staff to the disconcerting scowls of a few of the more prominent radio personalities. After all, I was occupying their turf! But it was all well worth the effort! That’s how I had acquired my coveted Laine cassette tape recordings—by rubbing elbows with a very important person at WMT!

Warm Vacuum Tubes and a Sizzling Voice

When I was a teenager, I started collecting Frankie Laine. This was unusual because I was born in 1956. By the time I was born, Frankie Laine had been a famous singer for a decade!

My first Laine recordings were “Greatest Hits” albums. The first was a Columbia Records album of hits, and the second and third were Capitol Records and ABC Records, respectively. I played them over and over, again and again. The Columbia album brought to me the sounds of an era that I knew belonged to my parents’ generation. I really think that further endeared me to the songs. Frankie’s emotion, excitement, and powerful renditions were absolutely spellbinding for me!

As I entered my 20s and began searching antique shops and places that still had a supply of old 78s, I discovered Frankie Laine on Mercury Records. And, I discovered a new Laine sound—even though that sound predated what I had heard up to then. That sound was Frankie as a younger and totally imaginative singer. His artistry was experimental, new, jazzy, and bluesy. The sound of the 1940s was there along with the excitement of a voice that was absolutely unique.

It was around this same time that I was developing a keen interest in the decade of the 1940s. I also still loved the era of the 1950s, but a decade earlier became a kind of enchanting phenomena for me, in much the same way one may covet movies from this time period.

I lived in the country. One day, while browsing a used furniture shop, I spotted an old Zenith radio and 78 rpm phonograph console. I thought it was the most beautiful piece of furniture I had ever seen! The shop owner informed me that it was still fully operational. He said that if I purchased it, I would save it from it being converted into a mini bar! I bought it. I took it home to my old farmhouse. It seemed right in character with the old wood trim within the house.

I couldn’t wait to play my Frankie Laine Mercury records on the unit. These records will be played on a device of the same age and era!

I will never forget how warm, mysterious, and beautiful my Laine 78s sounded on this machine. The warm tubes of the old Zenith reproduced these old platters with the full richness originally intended. The sizzling voice of Frankie Laine as a hot new artist came dashing through the single speaker! Toward the beginning of his career, Frankie Laine was once asked what his thoughts were when he listened to one of his records. Frankie’s reply, using the “hip” jargon of the day, answered that it “fractured” him. That term today would be tantamount to “blew my mind!”

My Zenith and Frankie Laine’s 78s certainly had come through for me! It was thrilling! The warm vacuum tubes, the hot new voice, and each great song definitely had fractured me!

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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.