Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The story of "Ruby Duby Du"

“Ruby Duby Du” was first heard in the 1960 MGM film Key Witness. The version in the film was performed by Charles Wolcott.

Paul Glass, the owner of Chicago’s Chief and USA labels, sensed the song's commercial potential, so he hired some studio musicians to record the tune and released the single under his son’s first and middle names: Tobin Matthews. (First pressings of the record accidentally spelled it "Mathews.")

When the Matthews record began to move—eventually reaching #1 in Chicago—Glass had to scramble to produce a “real” Tobin Matthews who could make personal appearances. He hired Willy Henson, the lead singer of a local group called Willy & the Jeepers, who had been bringing him acetates in an attempt to get a record deal.

Ronnie Lane, a former Jeeper, says that the Jeepers were so popular in Chicago that blues legend Willie Dixon offered to manage them. 

Even though Henson didn’t participate in the recording of “Ruby Duby Du,” he was soon playing gigs with Chuck Berry, Johnny Tillotson, and Tony Orlando to support the record. 

Henson kept "Tobin Matthews" as his stage name and recorded some singles for Chief on which he actually performed. He went on to record for Columbia and Warner Bros. under that name.

Last I heard, Henson lived in Fair Oaks, Indiana. I talked to him years ago, and it seems that no one can remember the names of the hired musicians who actually played on the Matthews version of "Ruby Duby Du." Phil Upchurch was rumored to be the guitarist, but I asked him about it and he had no memory of the record. 

Charles Wolcott, for his part, was a music director at MGM studios when he recorded “Ruby Duby Du” for Key Witness.

Although Matthews had the higher-charting hit, Wolcott’s record is the original version. Both versions peaked at #27 in Cash Box, but the Bill Gavin Record Report said that Tobin Matthews’ version was selling three to one over the Wolcott soundtrack recording. 

Other covers of "Ruby Duby Du" appeared as well, including versions by the Ted Heath Orchestra, Joanie Sommers, and the Volcanoes. 

Wolcott had previously worked as a musical director at Walt Disney Studios, where he wrote music for films such as Bambi, Song Of The South, and The Three Caballeros. He had a hit in 1944 with “Tico Tico,” which is featured in the 1942 Disney film Saludos Amigos, and he supposedly was responsible for the inclusion of Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” in the film Blackboard Jungle.

Here's the Wolcott version of "Ruby Duby Du":

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