Q&A with Big Band Swing’s very own Jim Stone
WLNZ Coffee Break host Karen Love recently rattled the brain of fellow radio host Jim Stone, host of Big Band Swing. Big Band Swing is a two-hour long weekly radio program that takes it’s listeners back in time. To a time when the songs of Glenn Miller, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald echoed across the nation. Back to a time when swing was king.
Karen Love: How long have you been doing Big Band Swing?
Jim Stone: Well, officially I took over a show called “Big Band Saturday Night” in 1986. This show evolved into Big Band Swing a few years later.
What made you want to start doing a show like this?
I was doing a ’50s-’60s radio show and the program director came to me saying the boss would like me to do a special on the big bands. So I lined up interviews with Ray Anthony and Les and Larry Elgart and discovered they had some interesting stories to tell about their careers. So the seed was planted however the actual big band show didn’t get underway for another four or five years.
When did you first get interested in Big Band music?
While in school as a teenager. My friends were listening to Elvis, Avalon, Anka but I was listening to records by Dorsey, Duke, Count Basie. As a matter of fact, the very first big band record I bought was by Glenn Miller. I still have that album today…”The Authentic Sound of Glenn Miller Yesterday and Today” released in 1960.
You’ve interviewed many artists over the years do you have an interview that sticks out in your memory?
Yes, a few. Spending time with Sam Butera, Louis Prima’s main man. I met him in person at one of his shows and he invited me to his hotel suite where we spent two hours doing the interview. Another was Trombonist Buddy Morrow. I met him three times, Lake Odessa, on the MSU Campus but one of the most memorable was when he stopped in Lansing on his way to Greenville and we had lunch together. Another was meeting and interviewing Jim Harwood at his home in Howell, MI. Jim had played in Glenn Miller’s AAF band, the Tex Beneke, Ray McKinley and Frankie Carle bands among others. (Can you imagine talking to a man who knew Glenn Miller and played in his band?) Others include Si Zentner, Ray Conniff, Keely Smith, Tony Bennett, jazz singer Diane Schuur, movie and recording star Monica Lewis, The Velvet Fog-Mr. Mel Torme. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint one as you can see.
Do you have a favorite big band song or piece?
I’ve been asked this question a few times. It’s difficult to name only one….because there are so many great swing tunes. Now if you said, name 50 of your favorites…I could probably do that.
What makes Big Band music so timeless? It seems the music and the songs have held up over several generations
You are absolutely right. The pop tunes of today are here now but in twenty years where will they be? The music of the 30s and 40s will be around forever. I get new CD’s in every day by new singers and bands and what are they recording? The standards because that music is timeless!
So much of this music has been done over and over is there a song where you’ve found you like a cover better than the original?
It’s really hard to compare the originals from the 30s and 40s to the same material that was recorded years later because of the advancement in sound quality. But the originals still shine through as the best. However if you asked me to compare an original by Harry James from 1942 to his re-recording of the same song in HI FI in 1955, it would be difficult to say which version was the best due to the advancement of recording techniques. Harry’s horn was still in top form for many years. Sometimes it’s the blend of the instruments that keep the originals ahead of the remakes. Blending was very important back then especially when you had 15 or 16 musicians in the band.
Let’s talk background, what’s your story regarding radio, how did you get into it? Why? Where? What was a moment from your career that stands out?
I grew up on a farm and my brother built one of those one watt transmitters so I could broadcast on the AM band. I was probably ten or 12 years old. I played music, did news just like the real stations and my aunt would listen to me about a mile and half away. Radio was in my blood….I remember going to the local station while still in school and asking them for work . I would do anything…..and they told me to graduate and get my 3rd class license. I can still remember the day I got my first job in radio. The year was 1964 at a small station, WPLB in Greenville, MI. I had just turned 18. The station owner was Earl Peterson who had quite a career himself as I found out later. He was known as Michigan’s singing cowboy and had recorded for Sun and Columbia records. HIs most famous song was “Boogie Blues”. Well, he gave me some wire copy and his watch and told me to do an ad lib commercial about his watch. He put me in this little audio booth and turned on the Ampex tape machine. After reading the copy I had no idea of what I was going to say about the watch but the first words that came out of my mouth were…..”SAY DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?”….. He listened to the tape…and I got the job. I was so excited that I almost forgot to give him his watch back. I found out the job was signing on the station at 5am…playing country music….(OUCH COUNTRY MUSIC?) …but I got to like it and then do a lively, good morning type show until 9:30am. You did everything at a small station from ripping wire copy, writing local news, commercials and emptying waste baskets. I’ll always remember those wonderful five years at WPLB. I was even on their bowling team.
After meeting and talking to so many artists we all get star struck at least once, who were you star struck by?
Again, another difficult question to answer because there have been so many….trumpet star and leader of the Tonight Show orchestra…Doc Severinsen, singer Lynn Roberts who sang with both Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, John LaPorta who was a member of Woody Herman’s band, composer Henry Mancini, drummer J. C. Heard and Benny Carter. I did the interview with Mr. Carter in his hotel suite before his appearance at Wharton Center. The one thing I noticed from all the people I have interviewed over the years is that they were all very cordial, friendly and sincere. And you have to realize these entertainers have done hundreds of interviews but they never showed any hesitation for doing one more. A true sign of a professional.