Originally posted August 19, 2009:
In the early 1930s, while knocking around Hollywood, a comedian and banjo player named Harry Edward Stewart knew that he needed a new act. Hollywood was jammed with comedians and banjo players. So Harry dipped into his Scandinavian heritage: He was born in the state of Washington in 1908 to Elise Skarbo and her Norwegian-born husband Hans. (He got the surname Stewart after he was given up for adoption after his mother’s death.) Then he added a bit of whimsy.
And he became Yogi Yorgesson, the Hindu mystic from Stockholm, Sweden. According to a biography of Stewart at yogiyorgesson.com, he would wear a turban while he “gazed into a small fish bowl turned upside down as his ‘crystal ball’ and would make statements such as, ‘I can see my face on da udder side.’ That was his line, but his skit also answered questions that were posed to him by listeners. Actually, the listeners’ questions were simply part of the script that he wrote. He used an exaggerated Swedish dialect to add to the humor.”
Through the 1930s and 1940s, Stewart worked numerous sides of the entertainment business in radio, in advertising, script-writing for radio, directing and more, as well as recording and touring as Yogi, who became more and more famous. In 1950, according to the biography at his website, Yorgesson went to Minnesota, where his records had been selling well. The folks there like his songs, but his swami act – with the turban and the upside-down fishbowl – went over less well. So Stewart remade Yogi as a “country ‘bumpkin,’ wearing a straw hat, dressed in rube clothes and chewing on a straw.”
It was in 1949 that Yogi recorded the songs for which most people remember him (thanks in large part to frequent airplay by odd record maven Dr. Demento): “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas/Yingle Bells.” But Yogi recorded and released plenty of other records (and Stewart also recorded as other ethnic characters, including the Japanese character Harry Kiri).
The record that came out of my mystery box this morning was Yogi Yorgesson’s answer to the Davy Crockett craze that swept across the U.S. in 1955. When Walt Disney produced and aired Davy Crockett starring Fess Parker, it sparked a merchandising mania likely unseen before; every kid in the U.S. wanted a Davy Crockett something. Part of that mania was the song, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” with three different versions reaching the Billboard charts: Bill Hayes’ version was No. 1 for four weeks and No. 7 for the year; Tennessee Ernie Ford’s recording went to No. 4 on the country chart and No. 5 on the pop chart and was No. 37 for the year; and the version by Fess Parker, star of the television show, peaked at No. 6 on the weekly chart and was No. 31 for the year.
Seeing an opening, Harry Stewart wrote the “Ballad of Ole Svenson” and got it released on Capitol. It’s broad-based, gentle ethnic humor, and it provides a few chuckles. I can’t find any indication of how popular the record was, but it no doubt went over better in the Upper Midwest, the Pacific Northwest and the few other places where Scandinavian heritage is strongest. I may be wrong about that, though, as Stewart had toured for years all over the country as Yogi Yorgesson.
The B-Side features Yogi in his role as “Lonesome Loverboy” promoting in typical Yorgesson style a great new perfume for the ladies.
(The record is in pretty bad shape, and there are even a couple of skips on the A-Side. I’m posting it so readers can get an idea of Stewart’s gig as Yogi. If you want better quality or more of Stewart’s work, you’ll find an email link and a phone number at the Yogi Yorgesson website.)
“Ballad of Ole Svenson”
Capitol 3089 
The Dynamics were one of the many doo-wop groups who managed to get recording deals and put out a few records during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The website Doo-Wop has a few sketchy details about the group and lists four records, two for Arc and two for Decca.
One of the Decca records – a 1960 release – surfaced here this morning: “Seems Like Only Yesterday/How Should I Feel.” As there seems to be nothing on the ’Net beyond that sparse information at Doo-Wop, we’ll have to see what we can glean from the label.
Here’s a nugget: The last Grab Bag featured a record by the Toppers, with both sides “directed” by Jack Pleis (a function that I assume is equivalent to today’s producer). Pleis’ name shows up again today, as he directed both sides of the Dynamics’ record. He was – one would think – a house producer for Decca.
Let’s look at the writers: “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” which seems to be the A-Side, was written by committee, with credits going to Paul Nucilla, Bill Jennings, Walter Price, Albert Price and Richard D. Lombardo. The B-Side, “How Should I Feel,” is credited to Tom DeCillis and Richard D. Lombardo. Hmm. The photo of the group at Doo-Wop shows six young men. Could these be their names? I’m not sure how likely it might have been for the group to have crafted its own material, so it could be we have the names of six staff writers for Decca. I really don’t know.
And there’s not a lot of information out there. All-Music Guide has listings for a few groups of the same name, none of which seem to be the same group. Searches at AMG for the song titles come up with nothing for “How Should I Feel” and several hits for “Seems Like Only Yesterday” But none of them are the right song: Three of the hits are for a tune first recorded by Jesse Winchester in 1977, one is for a track from a 2007 release by a group called Undercurrent, and one is for a reissue of an album track recorded by the Four Seasons for a 1964 album. That sounds a little promising, but it’s a different song with different writers.
One thing I did learn, this from Doo Wop Shoo Bop Records: The single was re-released in 1962 as Decca 31450, not that it seems to have received any notice. My copy, the 1960 release, has some noise on it, but it’s worth a listen. “Seems Like Only Yesterday,” once it gets going, has some nice Four Seasons-ish percussion in the background. “How Should I Feel” is less, well, dynamic.
(Both sides of the single – along with two other Dynamics’ recordings and a lot of others from the same era – are available on a CD titled He Digs Doo-Wop Volume #7. Just Google the title and you’ll find plenty of links, if you’re interested.)
“Seems Like Only Yesterday”
“How Should I Feel”
Decca 31046 
The Miller Sisters, according to Mitch Rosalsky’s Encyclopedia of Rhythm & Blues and Doo-Wop Vocal Groups, were the daughters – Jeanette, Maxine, Nina, Sandy and Vernel – of William Miller of Hull Records. Between 1955 and 1965, the sister released twenty singles on a variety of labels, including Hull. There’s no entry for the sisters in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, so they never made that chart, but I have no idea if they reached any of the other charts.
One of their singles was “Walk On/Oh Why,” released in 1962 on the Rayna label. The A-Side is a pretty good dance tune that name-checks a number of current dance crazes like the hully-gully, the twist and the mashed potato. The B-Side is a ballad with some thunderous percussion that’s a little reminiscent of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound.
There’s no mention of the sisters at AMG. So all I have is the label on the record and Rosalsky’s encyclopedia. From the record, I know that the Miller Sisters’ father wrote at least some of their songs, as he’s credited with both sides of the single. Then, according to Rosalsky, the sisters “had a starring role in the first R&B motion picture, Fritz Pollard’s Rockin’ the Blues, in 1955.”
Rayna 5004