February 1, 1997

The Fred Waring Discography. Compiled by Peter T. Kiefer. Greenwood Press, 1996. 223 pp.
ISBN: 0-313-29910-2. $65.00.

 Reviewed by Tim Brooks

 Fred Waring (1900-1984) was one of the more remarkable popular musicians of the first half of
the twentieth century. Beginning as the leader of a college dance band at the University of
Pennsylvania, he landed his first recording contract with Victor at the age of 23 with a ten-piece
ensemble that included his dashingly handsome brother Tom and lifelong friend (and resident
cut-up) Poley McClintock. At their first session the boys recorded their dreamy theme song
“Sleep,” but thereafter Waring’s Pennsylvanians became known as one of the peppiest Victor
dance bands of the 1920s. Among their bouncy hits were “Collegiate,” “Where Do Ya Work-a,
John?” and “I Scream–You Scream–We All Scream for Ice Cream (rah…! rah…! rah…!)”

            By the 1930s Waring’s music had become quieter and more sophisticated, in tune with
the times, and gradually he developed his trademark choral sound. At first this manifested itself
in the use of a chorus (rather than a single vocalist) for vocal refrains with the band. Eventually
he gave up the band altogether to concentrate on full choral recordings. By the 1940s he was as
“square” as he had been “hip” in the 1920s, but his aging fans loved the now-conservative sound
and made his radio and television shows, as well as his records, highly popular. Two of his
biggest sellers, in fact, were perfectly straight readings of “The Whiffenpoof Song” (with Bing
Crosby) in 1947 and the children’s story “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” in 1942. In later
years he operated a music camp in his beloved Pennsylvania countryside.

            While the world may not be clamoring for a complete Fred Waring discography, it is
certainly useful to have one around. Such a work serves not only to codify his large body of
recordings, but to trace his rather dramatic musical evolution over the years. The main portion of
The Fred Waring Discography is an alphabetical listing of titles recorded by Waring during his
long recording career, which extended from 1923 to 1974. Each one is accompanied by headings
for composers, arranger, recording date and location, label and issues, issue date, soloists and
album name, although not all of that information is necessarily entered. Additional sections
include a chronological listing of recording sessions, listing of albums, list of arrangers, and a
special section listing 305 Lang-Worth radio transcriptions made during 1949-1950 (as well as
other commercial transcriptions).

            How comprehensive is The Fred Waring Discography? I checked it against 32 randomly
chosen Waring 78 rpm titles in my own collection, ranging from 1920s Victors to 1950s Deccas
(most are fairly common items). The good news is that they were all here. The bad news is that
every one of the 32 entries contained errors or omissions of one kind of another. These ranged
from missing release dates to garbled titles, wrong recording dates, erroneous composers and
transposed numbers. I do not even count missing issues–the author seems to have included only
the first few domestic issues, not subsequent reissues or foreign issues. Nor does he include any
information on session personnel.

            The errors are many and wondrous. Victor 20004 becomes 2004; 19784 is now 197864;
the composer of “Bless This House” is shown as “Brake” rather than Brahe; the title
“Syncopatin’ Sal” becomes “Syncopation Sal”; “After I Say I’m Sorry” is shown as recorded on
March 30, 1925 rather than the actual March 19, 1926; and so on. It helps to be an expert in
early record label numbering systems to decipher the information entered after the standardized
header “Matrix/Company No.” Sometimes there is only one number, which may be either the
master number or release number (unspecified); sometimes there are two, which may be the
master number followed by the release number, or the release number followed by the master
number (also unspecified). Numbers representing 78 rpm, 45 rpm and LP issues are sometimes
labeled as such, sometimes not. You’re on your own here.

            I was interested to see “After I Say I’m Sorry” near the top of the alphabetical title list.
Tom Waring’s tender rendition of this ballad has always been a favorite of mine. However the
record is not by Waring’s orchestra, as the discography suggests, but is a solo by Tom Waring
accompanied only by his own piano and a cornet. I then began to wonder if other Tom Waring
solo sides (without his brother) were included here, and among the six in my collection, four
were–in some cases, one side of the record, but not the other! All of the entries indicated that
they were Waring orchestra records, which they are not.

            The author claims that all recordings listed are in the Fred Waring collection at
Pennsylvania State University, however the pre-1942 entries appear to have been copied out of
Brian Rust’s The American Dance Band Discography (1975), carefully preserving Rust’s few
errors and adding new ones of its own. The arranger and transcription listings presumably came
from somewhere else, but no sources are given, and there is no bibliography.

            Mr. Kiefer is in charge of the Waring collection at Pennsylvania State University, and
according to his bio has been associated with the Waring organization for over thirty years. No
doubt he loves his subject, however it is unfortunate that an expensive book such as this was
compiled without the assistance of someone better versed in how to research a discography. At
least the book is clearly laid out, well indexed and seemingly complete as to titles (if not the
details about them). It is no model of discography, but it should nevertheless be useful to those
interested in the subject.

            The Fred Waring Discography may be ordered from Greenwood at 1-800-225-5800.



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