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Interview with Tex Beneke from 2/15/97

With special guests: The great Billy May and Glenn Miller trumpet star Johnny Best who impersonated Harry James on Jukebox Saturday Night!

Tex with Marion Hutton & The Modernaires 1942 in the Miller picture Orchestra Wives.

Tex with The Modernaires 1941 in the Miller picture Sun Valley Serenade.

Biography for Tex Beneke

Gordon Lee Beneke (born February 12, 1914, Fort Worth, Texas - May 30, 2000 or May 31, 2000, Costa Mesa, California), professionally known as Tex Beneke was an American saxophonist, singer, and bandleader. His career is a history of associations with bandleader Glenn Miller and former musicians and singers who worked with Miller. He also solos on the recording the Glenn Miller orchestra made of their popular song, "In The Mood" and sings on another popular Glenn Miller recording, "Chattanooga Choo Choo".

Beneke started playing saxophone when he was nine, going from soprano to alto to tenor saxophones and staying with the latter. His first professional work was with bandleader Ben Young in 1935, but it was when he joined Miller three years later that his career hit its stride. Beneke said: "It seems that Gene Krupa had left the Goodman band and was forming his own first band. He was flying all over the country looking for new talent and he stopped at our ballroom one night [to listen to the Ben Young band. Gene wound up taking two or three of our boys with him back to New York. [Krupa] wanted to take [Beneke] but his sax section was already filled." Krupa knew that Glenn Miller was forming a band and recommended Beneke to Miller.

On August 1, 1939, Tex Beneke solos on the recording the Glenn Miller band made of the Andy Razaf song, "In The Mood". Beneke appears with the Miller band in the films Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942), both of which helped propel the singer/saxophonist to the top of the Metronome polls. Tex Beneke is listed in the personnel of the 1941 Metronome All-Star Band led by Benny Goodman. In 1942, Glenn Miller's orchestra won the first Gold Record for "Chattanooga Choo Choo", a song written by Harry Warren and Mack Gordon. The band first performed this song in the 1941 Twentieth Century Fox movie Sun Valley Serenade." Tex Beneke was the lead singer on this song with Paula Kelly and the Modernaires vocal group. "Chattanooga Choo Choo", catalogue number Bluebird 11230-B, was recorded by the Miller band at the Victor recording studios in Hollywood, California, May 7, 1941.

When Miller broke up the band in late 1942 to join the Army Air Force, Beneke played very briefly with Horace Heidt before joining the Navy himself, leading a Navy band in Oklahoma. While employed with Miller, Beneke was offered his own band, as Miller had done with colleagues and employees like Hal McIntyre, Claude Thornhill and Charlie Spivak. Beneke wanted to come back to Miller after the war and learn more about leading a band before being given his own band. Beneke lead two bands in the navy and kept in touch with Glenn Miller while they were both serving in the military. By 1945, Beneke felt ready to lead his own orchestra.

Working with the Miller estate

Glenn Miller went missing in December 15 of 1944 while flying to France from England. After World War Two, the United States Army Air Force decommissioned the Glenn Miller-led Army Air Force band. The Miller estate authorized an official Glenn Miller "ghost band" in 1946. This band was led by Tex Beneke who as time went on had more prominence in the band's identity. It had a make up similar to Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band: it had a large string section. The orchestra's official public d├ębut was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three week engagement on January 24, 1946. Henry Mancini was the band's pianist and one of the arrangers. Another arranger was Norman Leyden, who also previously arranged for the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. This ghost band played to very large audiences all across the United States, including a few dates at the Hollywood Palladium in 1947, where the original Miller band played in 1941. The movie short Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Band was released by RKO pictures in 1947 with Lillian Lane, Artie Malvin and the Crew Chiefs vocal group performing. In a slightly sarcastic Time magazine article from June 2, 1947, the magazine notes that the Beneke led Miller orchestra was playing at the same venue the original Miller band played in 1939, the Glen Island Casino. Beneke's quote about the big band business at the time closes the article, "I don't know whether Glenn figured that times would be as tough." By 1949, economics dictated that the string section be dropped.

This band recorded for RCA Victor, just as the original Miller band did. Beneke felt that Glenn Miller promised him his own band in the early forties and this was his chance to have that promised fulfilled. Beneke wanted a band with Beneke's musical identity. Larry Bruff, an announcer for the earlier Glenn Miller radio shows says, "Beneke would even set wrong tempos so as not to sound too much like Glenn."The Miller estate wanted a band that was primarily associated with Glenn Miller, playing the Glenn Miller songs in the Glenn Miller style. By 1950, Beneke and the Miller estate parted ways.

After Miller

Beneke continued to perform under his own name with no official connection to Miller. He enjoyed less success in the early 1950s, partly because he was limited to smaller recording labels such as Coral Records and partly because of competition from other Miller alumni and imitators such as Jerry Gray, Ray Anthony and Ralph Flanagan. Eydie Gorme sang with the Beneke band in 1950. Beneke appeared on Cavalcade of Bands, a television show in 1950 on the DuMont Television Network.

In the latter part of that decade there was some revived interest in music of the swingera. Beneke joined a number of other leaders such as Larry Clinton and Glen Gray in making new high fidelity recordings of their earlier hits, often featuring many of the original musicians. Beneke and former Miller singers Ray Eberle, Paula Kelly, and The Modernaires first recorded the LP Reunion in Hi-Fi, which contained recreations of original Miller material. This album was followed by others featuring newer songs, some performed in the Miller style and others done in a more contemporary mode. The singer/saxophonist continued working in the coming decades, appearing periodically at Disneyland. He also made the rounds of various talk shows that had musical connections, including those hosted by Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson.

His appearances on The Tonight Show sometimes included duos with fellow Miller veteran Al Klink who was by then a key member of the Tonight Show Band. Ray Eberle recovered from his earlier illness and resumed performing with Beneke and the Modernaires for a period in the early 1970s. In 1972, Beneke agreed to re-record some of his Miller vocals for Time-Life Records' set of big band recreations, The Swing Era, produced and conducted by yet another Miller alumnus, Billy May, who was a dear friend of Tex and also a guest on our Tex Beneke interview.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Beneke had a new band playing a style that resembled the classic Miller sound but with as much newer material as older. At one point he also toured with former Jimmy Dorsey vocalists Helen O'Connell and Bob Eberly. Beneke suffered a stroke in the mid-1990s and was forced to give up the saxophone but continued to conduct and sing. He settled in Costa Mesa, California and remained active toward the end of that decade, mostly touring the U.S. West Coast and still playing in something resembling the Miller style. In 1998 he launched yet another tour paying tribute to the The Army Air Force Band.

Unfortunately just three years after the time he gave us here at The Big Band Broadcast, we lost Tex in 2000 due to respiratory failure at the age of 86.

He was a great great guy. You can hear it in his voice in the interview. Everyone loved Tex... and so did we.

Tex Beneke

        

Glenn MillerHarry JamesCab CallowayJimmy DorseyLouie ArmstrongLes Brown with Doris DayFrances LangfordSammy KayeThe Ink SpotsThe ModernairesBing CrosbyTex BenekeTommy DorseyFrank SinatraBob EberlyHelen ForrestRay eberleyKitty KallenBunny BerriganGene KrupaConnie HainesAlvino ReyThe Mills BrothersThe Andrews SistersAnita O'DayKeely SmithBillie EckstineCount_BasieDickHaymesVincent LopezWoody HermanHelen O'Connell