Born Ernest Lawrence Fields, 28 August 1904, Nacogdoches, Texas
Bandleader / trombonist / pianist / arranger.
In 1959, amidst an ever-growing legion of teenage rock n roll stars, along came a 55-year old trombone player, scooping prestigious musical awards as one of the hottest "newcomers" of the year. Ironically, the musician in question had first started in the business some twenty-nine years earlier. More ironically, Ernie Fields did not even play on "In the Mood", the million-selling record that brought him sudden fame, nor had he been involved in its recording.
Texas-born Ernie Fields was raised in Taft, Oklahoma, studied to become an electrician and played trombone in the school's marching band. Later he moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where (around 1930) he formed his own big band, the Royal Entertainers, later renamed the Territory Big Band. The act became popular in the Midwest. While playing in Kansas City, the orchestra was discovered by legendary producer John Hammond, who invited them to New York in August 1939 to cut a session for the Vocalion label. The first of the four ensuing Vocalion singles, "T-Town Blues", was a minor hit. The band worked steadily through the 1940's, featuring the work of stellar guitarist / arranger Rene Hall and popular vocalist Melvin Moore from Oklahoma City. Following the decline of big band jazz/swing after World War II, Fields downsized his band and transformed it into a rhythm and blues group. From 1947 onwards, there followed a series of R&B recordings for small independent labels like Frisco, Bullet, Gotham, Regal and Combo. In 1955 Fields moved to Los Angeles, where he found a comfortable if low-profile niche as an arranger for West Coast pop and rock sessions.
The switch to instrumental rock n roll came early in 1958, when Rene Hall sold the master of "Annie's Rock" (produced in L.A. with drummer Earl Palmer and saxophonist Jackie Kelso) to the reactivated Jamie label in Philadelphia, crediting the disc to his old boss, Ernie Fields. Rene Hall, Earl Palmer and sax player Plas Johnson had almost daily contact in the L.A. studios. Combined with their shared Louisiana roots, this created a strong bond between the three Afro-Americans and towards the end of 1958 they decided to pool their talents in a production company called Record Masters. In 1959 they offered a rock n roll arrangement of "Christopher Columbus" by Rene Hall to the new Rendezvous label in Los Angeles. Rendezvous was interested, but needed a B-side. It was Earl Palmer who suggested "In the Mood", the old Glenn Miller favourite. Soon their beaty new interpretation of the standard was upgraded to A-side status. Hall, Palmer and Johnson had yet to attribute the record to any particular artist, knowing they wouldn't be available for any kind of promotion or touring, due to their studio commitments. After negotiations, Ernie Fields was called up to "work" the record, with credits going to "Ernie Field's Orchestra" (sic). The gamble paid off and with the support of Dick Clark, the single hit # 4 on the pop charts by the end of 1959 (also # 13 in the UK). When I first heard "In the Mood" on Radio Luxembourg, it immediately knocked me out and when I compiled my personal Top 100 of 1959 at the end of the year, it occupied the number one position.
The follow-up, again from the Glenn Miller songbook, was "Chattanooga Choo Choo", which went to # 54. Its flip, "Workin' Out", written by Hall, Johnson and Palmer, was one of the few tracks that actually featured Ernie Fields on trombone. There followed an LP release in 1960 (also called "In the Mood"), a combination of big band standards, covers of recent hits and two originals, "The Boot" and the fabulous "Knocked Out", from the pen of John Marascalco. The arrangements were split equally between Johnson, Hall and Palmer. My copy (I have the UK pressing on London HA 2263) has been played so often that I was overjoyed when Ace reissued the album on CD in 1996, along with 13 other tracks. However, the fact that the first 23 seconds of "Honky Tonk" were missing was a real bummer, though Ace rectified the situation somewhat in 1997 with the full version on "Teen Beat, Vol. 4" (a Various artists compilation of instrumental R&R).
The third Rendezvous single, "Begin the Beguine"/"Things Ain't What They Used To Be", lacked the heavy backbeat and excitement of the two previous 45s and was not released in the UK. Instead, UK London chose to lift two tracks off the LP, "Raunchy" and "My Prayer" (London HL 9227). In the USA, eight more Rendezvous singles would follow after "Begin the Beguine", but only "The Charleston" (# 47 in 1961) managed to enter the charts. By 1962, Rendezvous Records was concentrating more on singles by B. Bumble and the Stingers, a studio band comprising some of the same session men as those on the Ernie Fields recordings.
After the demise of Rendezvous in 1963, the Ernie Fields Orchestra - still with Hall, Palmer and Johnson as its nucleus - switched to the Capitol label. Three four-track sessions were held in 1963-64, under the supervision of David Axelrod, but only two singles were released, "St. Louis Blues"/"Lilies of the Field" and "Swanee River"/"Chloe". Compared to the Rendezvous recordings, they sound rather tame, almost middle-of-the-road. The unissued Capitol tracks finally saw the light on an Ace CD in 1998, minus "Surfin' With Soul", the tapes of which could not be found. New sounds invaded the US in 1964 and Hall, Johnson and Palmer soon abandoned the project.
Ernie Fields himself retired from the road in the late 1960s, but his son, Ernie Fields, Jr., carried on the tradition and continued in his father's footsteps as a bandleader, producer, and talent agent. Fields lived to be 92.
More info :
At present there is no satisfactory discography of Ernie Fields on the Internet.
Acknowledgements : Stuart Colman, Wayne Jancik, Eric LeBlanc.
Dik, February 2014
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