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Ira Ironstrings


Ira Ironstrings was Fritz Guckenheimer's Dixieland cousin, a fictional creation whose tongue-in-cheek musical comedy turned out to be one of Warner Brothers' hottest sellers when they started their record label in the late 1950s. The identity of Ira Ironstrings has proved as elusive of that of Watergate's Deep Throat, still inspiring speculation forty years later.

Thanks to Stan Cornyn, legendary liner notes writer and an early member of Warner Brothers' staff, the truth can be revealed. As Cornyn describes it in his forthcoming memoir, Jim Conkling, the label's exec, invited his distribution staff to write down their gut reactions to Ira Ironstrings Plays for People with $3.98, one of Warner's first releases:

Conkling looked over the answers. One sheet stopped him. It was from Don Graham, a sharp, fast-talking promotion man from San Francisco, who, oddly enough, was honest, too. Conkling looked up and asked, "Who wrote 'crap'?"

Graham answered, "I did."

"What's your name?" Don Graham identified himself as "Graham/San Francisco/Promotion."

"What do you mean, 'Crap'?"

"Oh, I don't know. Ira Ironstrings. It's kinda funny, but ..."

"Do you know who Ira Ironstrings is?" asked Conkling. "He's Alvino Rey!"

"So what?"

Conkling, with three brothers-in-law recording albums on the first release (Alvino Rey, famous for his "talking" pedal steel guitar; Del Courtney, San Francisco band leader; and Buddy Cole, pop organist--all of whom, like Conkling, were married to King Sisters), gently told Graham, "Well, tell your accounts that Ira Ironstrings is Alvino Rey. Whisper it to them. Tell them we can't put his name on the album since he's still signed to Capitol."

"They don't care, Mr. Conkling. They're interested in hit records and they don't care who records 'em."

An awkward silence followed. Graham, a kid, had convinced no one. The rest of the room felt sorry for him. He didn't know the Rules.

Ironically, Ironstrings was an exception to the real rule that rock 'n' roll was going to eat pop music's lunch, and Rey did better joking around under a pseudonym than he did for Capitol under his own name.

Like many of Warner's early albums, Ira Ironstrings' LPs are a treat inside and out. The comedy is light, not slapstick, and the music is produced and played with the kind of professionalism you'd expect of studio pros like Rey. Warren Barker, who also arranged several of Rey's Capitol albums, provided the arrangements, and the choice of tunes is far better than your average Dixieland record. And all the albums feature goofy liner notes (probably by Cornyn that not only parody the usually stuffy format, but also make fun of Warner's practice of recommending albums on other labels (Cornyn attributes this to the fact that Warner had so little in their own catalog in the first couple of years).


Recordings

  • Ira Ironstrings Plays for People with $3.98, Warner Brothers WBS 1204
  • Ira Ironstrings Plays with Matches, Warner Brothers WBS 1248
  • Ira Ironstrings Plays Santa Claus (Christmas Music for Those Who've Heard Everything), Warner Brothers WBS 1339
  • The Best Damn Dance Band in the Land, Warner Brothers WBS 1380
  • Joe "Fingers" Carr and Ira Ironstrings, Together for the Last Time, Vol 1, Warner Brothers WBS 1389
  • Ira Ironstrings Destroys the Great Bands, Warner Brothers WBS 1439
  • Big Band Polkas on Parade, Warner Brother WBS-1457
  • Stereo Goes Charleston, Warner Brothers WBS-1297 (issued in mono as Charleston in Hi Fi)


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