The Lonesome Road

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"The Lonesome Road" is a 1927 song with music by Nathaniel Shilkret and lyrics by Gene Austin, alternately titled "Lonesome Road", "Look Down that Lonesome Road" and "Lonesome Road Blues." It was written in the style of an African-American folk song.

The lyricist and composer were both extremely popular recording artists. Gene Austin estimated he sold 80 million records, and Nathaniel Shilkret's son estimated his father sold 50 million records. Joel Whitburn lists recordings by Austin, Bing Crosby, Ted Lewis, and Shilkret (see list of recordings below) as being "charted" at Numbers 10, 12, 3 and 10, respectively. There are no reliable sales figures that can be used to verify or dispute any of the estimates above.

Use in film and live performances[edit]

The composition was notably used as a substitute for Ol' Man River in the finale of the part-talkie 1929 film version of Edna Ferber's novel Show Boat. It was performed onscreen by Stepin Fetchit as the deckhand Joe. Fetchit's singing voice was supplied by bass-baritone Jules Bledsoe, who had played Joe in the original stage version of the musical. The Shilkret autobiography contains a brief account of the motivation for using the song in the film.

The song was also used in the motion pictures Submarine Command (1951), Cha-Cha-Cha Boom! (1956), California Split (1974), Wild Man Blues (1997) and Crazy (2007). It was featured on two soundies, one with the Lucky Millinder orchestra, with vocal by Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and another with the Al Donahue Orchestra. Both soundies could be viewed on YouTube at the time of this writing.

It was used in the television series Andy Griffith Show (Rafe Hollister Sings, Episode 83), Peter Gunn (The Dummy), Gomer Pyle U.S.M.C. (Gomer Says `Hey', Episode 97), Matlock (Class), and The Odd Couple (Rent Strike, Episode 107). The Hollister rendition was viewable on YouTube at the time of this writing.

"Lonesome Road" was included in the television productions Vintage Sinatra (PBS, 2003), Now (with David Brancaccio, 2005), and Smuckers Presents Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate (2006), and in the Radio City Music Hall production Frank Sinatra: His Voice, His World, His Way (2004).

Recordings (Mechanicals)[edit]

It was initially recorded September 16, 1927, by Austin, accompanied by Shilkret directing the Victor Orchestra. There have been over two hundred recordings of "Lonesome Road," including versions by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ted Lewis, Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Chris Connor and Dick Dale.

Ella Fitzgerald and Andy Williams performed a duet on Andy's TV show of January 1, 1967.

Genres[edit]

"Lonesome Road" has been recorded in the jazz, gospel, blues, big band and dance music genres. There is a hint of humor in the Louis Armstrong and Hoyt Axton recordings, and the Dean Elliot recording is notable for its unusual sound effects, provided by Phil Kaye. The Keith Textor album was made by RCA to demonstrate sound effects using stereo; the "Lonesome Road" track demonstrates someone snapping their fingers and whistling, going from left to right and then back. The Wilbur Bradley recording contains a short passage identifiable as "Lonesome Road" at the beginning, with the remainder of the recording being a drum solo by Bradley's co-leader Ray McKinley. The Ivory and Gold recording features a flute solo.

In some jazz recordings, such as the one by Morris Grants, which credits Austin—Shilkret, the jazz improvisation is so dominant that the relation to the Austin—Shilkret Lonesome Road, if any, is obscure. The Montenegro recording is licensed, but here also the relation to the Austin—Shilkret song is obscure.

Many of the recordings are usable for dancing. The Sid Phillips recordings is excellent for (International Style) foxtrot, and the Madeleine Peyroux recording is also suitable for foxtrot. The recording by The Fashions is a quickstep. The Hoyt Axton recording is a good jive. Quite a few of the recordings are usable for East Coast Swing, and the Floyd Cramer recording is suitable for West Coast Swing. The twist could be danced to the recordings by Lyndstadt and the Collins Kids. The Chantays' recording has a cha cha beat.

Sources[edit]

  • Bradley, Edwin M., The First Hollywood Musicals: A Critical Filmography, McFarland, 2004, p. 166. ISBN 0-7864-2029-4
  • Parish, James Robert and Pitts, Michael R., Hollywood Songsters: Singers who Act and Actors who Sing: a Biographical Dictionary, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2003, p. 56. ISBN 0-415-94332-9
  • Shilkret, Nathaniel, ed. Niel Shell and Barbara Shilkret, Nathaniel Shilkret: Sixty Years in the Music Business, Scarecrow Press, Lanham, Md., 2005. ISBN 0-8108-5128-8
  • Whitburn, Joel, Pop Memories 1890—1954, Record Research, Menomonee Falls, WI, 1986. ISBN 0-89820-083-0