Hernando's Hideaway

By the time Archie Bleyer started his super-successful Cadence record label in the early '50s, he had logged more than two decades in the music business. The piano player and songwriter from Queens, New York was 25 when he put his first band together in 1934, recording instrumentals and vocals (with a number of up-and-coming singers) for Brunswick Records and its budget-priced Melotone label, in addition to several independent labels including Romeo, Perfect, Banner and others. At the start of the 1940s he was actively involved in Broadway productions as musical director of Meet the People in 1940 and Best Foot Forward in 1941 (a few years later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced both as slick Hollywood feature films starring Lucille Ball, without any involvement from Archie, a New Yorker through and through).

After World War II, Bleyer became musical director for Arthur Godfrey's popular radio program, making the leap to television shortly afterwards and keeping busy as Godfrey became one of the top stars of the small screen with as many as three CBS series at once including Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, which began in '48, and Arthur Godfrey and his Friends a year later; the shows were extremely popular, often pulling in more than 50 percent of TV viewers for a single broadcast. Bleyer frequently appeared leading the orchestra, a welcome weekly sight in millions of homes for several years. During this time, Archie arranged and conducted the band on many of Godfrey's hit records for Columbia, occasionally doing the same for some of the label's other acts.

Cadence Records was founded in late 1952; Archie set up shop in Manhattan and signed Julius La Rosa, a young singer from the variety series, as his first act. He'd given much thought as to how he would run the company by signing relatively few artists and working closely with each to ensure quality. He initally took this concept to extreme; the label's first eight releases in 1953 and early '54 were all by La Rosa. Archie was dating Janet Ertel of female foursome The Chordettes, also regulars on the show, and Godfrey disapproved. Archie quit over this and other issues stemming from Godfrey's often arrogant treatment of employees, particularly La Rosa, whom he fired, on the air, in October 1953. The very first Cadence single, "Anywhere I Wander," arranged and conducted by Bleyer, had by that time been a major hit for the personable La Rosa; at the time of his termination, Julius scored a million seller with the humorous Italian-language song "Eh, Cumpari." Cadence was off and running. In early '54, Bleyer coaxed the Chordettes away from Godfrey; the comely quartet connected near year's end with one of the the decade's biggest hits, "Mr. Sandman." He and Chordette Janet were married and spent more than 30 happy years together until passing away within months of each other in 1988 and 1989.

Archie Bleyer

The Pajama Game was Broadway's biggest hit of the 1954 season. Richard Bissell's novel 7 1/2 Cents (its title referring to a modest raise sought by employees of the fictional Sleeptite Pajama Factory) was adapted as a stage musical by Bissell and George Abbott; Richard Adler and Jerry Ross composed a baker's dozen songs and Bob Fosse choreographed the dance numbers. The show played in New Haven, Connecticut and Boston before premiering in New York; it opened at the St. James Theater on Broadway in May and was an immediate sensation, sticking around for more than one thousand performances through November 1956. The production starred John Raitt, Janis Paige, quirky character actress and dancer Carol Haney and the irrepressible Eddie Foy, Jr. Fans were humming the hit songs from the show throughout the year. "Hey There" (a number one seller for Rosemary Clooney that fall) was sung in the show by Raitt. Scene stealer Haney sang and danced to "Steam Heat" (successfully covered by Patti Page) and the infectious tango "Hernando's Hideaway," describing a secret nightspot where booze, broads and debauchery were commonplace. Pajama Game was nominated for three Tony Awards and won them all: Best Musical, Best Choreography (the first of eight wins for Fosse in the category, an all time record) and Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Haney, in her role as "Gladys Hotchkiss"). All of the show's top stars were in Warner Brothers' 1957 film version except the talented and underrated Janis Paige, who was replaced by box office star Doris Day.

All this fabulousness didn't go unnoticed just a mile away at Bleyer's Cadence headquarters. Once the show took Broadway by storm, he was in the studio working up his own version of "Hernando's Hideaway" with male studio singers. The nearly-hushed vocals suited the lyrics ('I know a dark secluded place...a place where no one knows your face...') while contrasting Carol's animated original; castanets were played to perfection by Spanish film star Maria Alba, an accomplished flamenco dancer of the '30s and '40s who appeared in both American and Spanish films. Much like the musical, Bleyer's recording of the song was a smash, reaching number two on the Billboard charts in July and number one on Cash Box a few weeks later.

His follow-up hit, Sid Tepper and Roy C. Bennett's "The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane," was a fun, intentionally misleading ditty wherein the scandalous lady turns out to be a 'brand new baby girl.' The Ames Brothers led the way with their relatively straight version of the tune (which is more specific about the lady's age: 'only nine days old'), taking it top ten in early '55. Archie's rendition is more of a novelty, employing sound effects of Spike Jones proportions (explosions, slamming doors, bubbling sounds and, predictably, a baby's cry); it trailed the Ames version into the top 30. A third hit came with Archie's fifth release in the summer of '56. "The Rockin' Ghost," written by Ira Lee and Tonight Show host Steve Allen, is a spooky-sounding production featuring a prominent pipe organ; his studio group's vocals conjure cartoonish "Ghostly Trio" images, making it ideal for any Halloween party soundtrack.

Archie Bleyer made several more records, mostly instrumentals, under his own name but had no further hits. He concentrated his efforts on Cadence's stable of popular recording acts that included the Chordettes, Andy Williams and The Everly Brothers and, later, Johnny Tillotson and Lenny Welch, often producing and arranging their recordings as was his preference. His efforts paid off in the tens of millions as the company had more than its share of hit records. He decided to call it quits in September 1964 after less than 12 years in business, selling the masters to Andy Williams, who later distributed many of the Cadence recordings on his Barnaby label.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Hernando's Hideaway