Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dick Cathcart: A Musicians' Musician

In our Lawrence Welk post we mentioned Dick Cathcart, a wonderful jazz trumpeter with a pure sound and melodic phrasing. He was compared frequently to Bix and Bobby Hackett, but had his own fresh approach to jazz. Dick also had some of Red Nichols' rolling style on Dixieland tunes. He was very underrated and was certainly a musicians' musician, despite his national exposure for 6 years on the Lawrence Welk show and as the trumpet of "Pete Kelly" (the namesake of this blog).

Dick was born in Michigan City, Indiana on November 6, 1924. His brothers, Jim, Jack and Tom, were also professional musicians. His first name band was Ray McKinley's in 1942 followed by a stint with Alvino Rey in 42-3. He served in the military from 43-5. After the war he worked with Bob Crosby (a frequent employer) in 46. This was not the "Dixieland" band , but a straight ahead swing band. He also did studio work at MGM from 46-9. During 1949-50 Dick worked and recorded with Ben Pollack's Pick-a-Rib Boys around Los Angeles. Jazzology CD-224 has some fine transcriptions by the band featuring future "Pete Kelly" bandmates Matty Matlock (clarinet), Moe Schneider (trombone) and Ray Sherman (piano). Dick's beautiful lead work and melodic solos are highlights of the sessions. In the early 50s Dick did more studio work with Ray Noble and Frank DeVol. He started a long association with Jack Webb when he "ghosted" the trumpet of Pete Kelly on Jack's radio series (more on that later) in 1951. Dick was also a talented singer and in the 50s he worked with the Modernaires, including a stint on Bob Crosby's daytime TV show.

As a result of his work with Webb on radio, Dick had a small acting and playing role in Webb's Dragnet movie of 1954. The following year saw Dick and his studio buddies provide the music for the movie version of "Pete Kelly's Blues." In 1959 Webb produced a short-lived TV version with William Reynolds as Pete and Dick and the band providing the music. We can only hope these episodes will re-surface on DVD some day.

The personnel of the "Big 7" was Dick, Matlock, Schneider, Sherman, Eddie Miller (tenor), Jud DeNault (bass), George VanEps (guitar) and Nick Fatool (drums). All great studio pros and great jazzmen. There would be more spin-off Pete Kelly albums to come.

During the 50s Dick participated in many studio dixieland and big band sessions. Here are some highlights: Louisiana from a P. Kelly capitol ep(the material was from the "radio" period of 1951)has a gorgeous solo by Dick in the Bix mode. Riverboat Shuffle from Billy May's Sorta Dixie on Capitol '55 has another Bix-ish chorus by Dick, but also very fresh and creative. Ida from Matlock's Dixie Men on Tops has Dick strutting through the lead and soloing in a Nichols-Charlie Teagarden vein. (Pickwick CD). On Webb's RCA P. Kelly lp Dick and the band star on tunes from the movie with Jack providing his Joe Friday narrative. (BMG-Collector's Choice CD). Two other Kelly spin-offs were the TV show album (Warner Bros. '59) and BIX MCMLIX, a Warner's lp featuring Dick with strings arranged by Warren Barker and with rhythm section. The tunes are all from the Bix book, but Dick goes his own way, giving his fresh but respectful tribute to the master.

In 1962 Dick joined the Lawrence Welk show. He was featured weekly on dixieland and big band numbers, often in the company of the great Bob Havens (trombone), Don Bonnee or Mahlon Clark (clarinet), Russ Klein (tenor) and Frank Scott (piano). His vocal talents also came in handy as Dick was frequently used in vocal groups on the show. Dick married Peggy Lennon of the singing Lennon Sisters. They would have 6 children (Dick had 3 from a previous marriage). He also became brother-in-law to the Wilde Twins (Bob Crosby singers and MGM starlets) as brother Jim married Lyn and Tom married Lee Wilde.

Dick's trumpet highlights on the show are many, but here are some stand-outs: Ja Da, a Bix-like solo with the Lennon Sisters; Jazz me Blues (65), a great lead and solos with some Bix quotes, also featuring Havens, Clark and Scott. Slow Poke and Tennesee Waltz show his mellow, Hackett-like side. On Woodchopper's Ball (66) he handles a plunger with great ease and on a Dave Wolpe chart of Never Be Another You, he gets into a more modern groove. Certainly a trumpeter for all seasons. Dick even got to sing a duet with Peggy on Cream in my Coffee and revealed a pleasant tenor voice. The Lennons left the Welk show in 1968 and Dick joined them as Music Director as he did on their 69-70 Variety show. During the 70s his musical activities lessened, but happily he was back playing in the early 80s. He pops up on some of the Blue Angel Jazz Club lps and was with old bosses McKinley and Crosby on 1984 Disneyland TV concerts. The old mellow Cathcart tones still sound great on these shows. He also joined Crosby and an all-star band for a 50th anniversary of the Crosby band in San Diego (available on VHS and hopefully on DVD). Dick also popped up on an Al Hirt special joined by old friends Havens, Sherman, Miller and Peanuts Hucko.

Dick's great horn was stilled on November 8, 1993 in Los Angeles. Thankfully recordings, the Pete Kelly series and re-broadcasts of Welk shows keep his music still in the foreground.

Pete Kelly Lives!


Royce said...

Nicely done.

Keep it up!

Suzann said...

What an excellent biography - I was glad to learn about Dick Cathcart. I'm bookmarking your blog, and look forward to reading more.

duncanjazz said...

Thanks for this excellent biography on Dick Cathcart. I have been a fan for many years and to me, Dick is right up there with the top of the Dixieland players. I have always struggled to find much information about Dick.
Such an underrated player, as was Moe Schneider, who in my opinion demonstrated what great Dixieland trombone playing was all about.

Many thanks for this.


Myc said...

I really love this... you see, my name is Mike Cathcart, and I'm the youngest son of Dick and Peggy. This bio is very nicely researched (though, with one fairly noticeable oversight -- Dad had one more brother besides Jim and Tom; Jack was the eldest and was an accomplished musical director for Judy Garland... he was married to Sue Garland for a time). At any rate, well done, and thank you for remembering. I just appreciate those who appreciate what he did, and how well he did it.

Myc said...

Oh, and as for revealing that 'pleasant tenor voice'... he sang with Paula Kelly & The Modernaires for three years in the early 50's!