Jack Owens - The Cruising Crooner

Roger’s uncle was singer and songwriter
John Milton “Jack” Owens

Jack Owens: Official Myspace Page
Jack Owens: Discography
Jack Owens: Song Lyrics (Coming Soon)

Jack wrote and/or co-wrote such hits as Hi Neighbor, How Soon, The Hut Sut Song, and of course The Hukilau Song. Listen to an obscure, modest selling hit written in 1944 by Jack Owens, entitled The Kid With The Rip In His Pants (mp3 song #10) performed by Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers.

Roger’s cousin, Johnny, was Jack’s son and was the inspiration for this song. Johnny was featured in a Tom Sawyer outfit for the cover of the lyric sheet for this song, published by Owens-Kemp Music.

John Milton “Jack” Owens - 1935.
Copyright 2005.
Courtesy of
Library of American Broadcasting University of Maryland
Don McNeill, with wife, Kay, and son Tommy, and
Jack Owens, with wife, Helen, and
daughter, Mary Ann - 1937.
Copyright 2005. Courtesy of
Library of American Broadcasting University of Maryland

According to the Chicago Daily Tribune’s article from Nov. 17, 1946 written by Marguerite Ratty, an 18 year-old Jack Owens planned on spending the summer of 1930 at his usual perch on the lifeguard tower, but a broken arm left him little recourse but to earn money doing something less physically demanding. As a result, talented Jack Owens first found work holding up applause signs at local Wichita, Kansas radio shows but soon earned a vocalist spot after an audition for a local radio station, KFH, in Wichita, Kansas. Owens’ background in music made it a natural transition for him. As a student at Wichita High School, he studied music theory, harmony, and appreciation with Thurlow Lieurance, according to the A.S.C.A.P. Biographical Dictionary, 4th Edition. In addition, he was a Glee Club soloist, and he sang and played at school events and parties. After eventually finding work in Wichita, he later moved to Chicago, and while much of his early singing was broadcast in Chicago at station WJJD, his talent carried him to performances in Vaudeville and with Ted Weems’ Orchestra and Hal Kemp’s Orchestra.

In addition, he recorded with the Eddie Ballantine Orchestra and the Roy Shield Orchestra. The legendary Roy Shield, also known as Leroy Shield and Roy Shields, was a genius in his own time and a humble, microphone-shy, yet super talented workhorse for NBC from the 1920’s when NBC was just starting out, throughout the 1950’s. He was the same Roy Shield who composed the waltz, “Good Old Days,” the theme song for Hal Roach’s “Our Gang / Little Rascals,” and he also composed the soundfilm shorts for Laurel and Hardy. By the early 1950’s, Jack Owens was able to record American Waltzes, an entire album of outstanding waltzes with Roy Shield, as part of the Tops Masterpiece Series.

While Jack was a gifted pianist and eventually wrote, composed, co-wrote, and/or sang more than 40 songs, ranging from silly tunes, romance ballads, and Hawaiian songs, Jack didn’t earn his nickname “The Cruising Crooner” until around 1944. The Roman Catholic radio singing star was a regular vocalist on several shows including The Breakfast Club with Don McNeill , and on that show is where he got the name and where he was initially introduced to the Eddie Ballantine Orchestra and the Roy Shield Orchestra, both of whom performed as the show’s band at various times.

The man who looked like Cary and sang like Bing went around woman to woman seated in the radio show audience, cruising through the aisles singing love songs directly to them, sometimes crooning while sitting on their laps. While this drove them crazy in one sense, it did so, too in another sense for critic, John Crosby of The New York Herald Tribune. After watching a special 1948 telecast of The Breakfast Club, seven years before anyone in the world ever had a glimpse of Elvis Presley’s suggestive, swinging hips or sneering, mischievous lips, Crosby cited, “I strongly object to a singer named Jack Owens who cruises around the audience singing love songs to girls. By radio this is painful; by television it is excruciating. Mr. Owens kisses the women, musses their hair, and sits on their laps. Why some irate babe hasn’t broken his neck is beyond me.” To view that same scene of Jack singing from that historic 1948 show, click here.

The Breakfast Club was a huge part of NBC radio’s Blue network success during the show’s first 10 years. Then, it was broadcast over ABC radio, which was NBC’s own legally-mandated offspring. The Breakfast Club ran from June 23, 1933 to Dec. 27, 1968, making it the longest running network entertainment radio show in the history of broadcasting. Take a look at an excerpt from Chicago news curator Rich Samuels’ site, www.richsamuels.com that includes a bit more about a 22 year-old Jack Owens from the show in 1934. And for another excerpt, including a 17 min. mini-documentary on The Breakfast Club in Real Video format, click here.

Jack Owens was America’s 10th most popular vocalist from 1936-1944. He also had his own TV show, The Jack Owens Show, (aka The Brunch Bunch) which aired for at least three seasons in the early 1950’s. It first ran on KLAC Ch.13, Sundays from 10am-12 noon, then moved to ABC and then KTTV. Owens’ show was also broadcast over ABC and CBS radio and even received two Emmy nominations.

A number of well-known guests appeared on his show, including Natalie Wood, promoting her upcoming movie at the time, Rebel Without A Cause.

To view an admission ticket for The Jack Owens Show recorded at ABC Studios in Hollywood, CA, click here.

To view a radio script of the show that aired on CBS on January 11, 1952, and was also autographed by Jack Owens and George Burns, click here.

For an alternate, quick summary on Jack Owens’ career, visit here, part of JCMarion’s Net E-zines covering the music of the WWII and post WWII era. For more information about Jack Owens at Wikipedia.org, visit here.

Listen to a beautiful, soulful sample mp3 from singer Martha Wainwright off her new CD, BMFA, an offensive title to some perhaps, but once you hear Wainwright’s cover of How Soon? (mp3 song #15) you’ll see “how much” emotion she puts into this classic love ballad. Wainwright was even cast as a 40’s singer in the 2005 movie The Aviator. Others who have covered this song include Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Vaughn Monroe, and Dinah Shore.

Originally signed with independent label, Tower Records, Jack Owens later teamed up with Decca. In addition to his many recordings, Owens also sang old and new favorites like I’d Love To Live In Loveland and Love Is The Sweetest Thing as part of his routine on The Breakfast Club. His songs even appeared in such films as Manhattan Merry Go Round in 1937, They Meet Again in 1941, San Antonio Rose in 1941, Hi, Neighbor in 1942, and From Here To Eternity in 1953.

In the early 1940’s, Jack Owens was beginning to find his place among the nation’s growing crop of talented songwriters. With his popularity growing on The Breakfast Club, Owens wanted more out of himself, more than his very first recording from 1935, Love’s Old Sweet Song, a musical standard from 1910, and more than It’s Roundup Time In Reno, co-written with Gene Autry in 1937.

In 1941, he wrote When Love Is New, In The Make Believe Land Of Dreams, and Get Alive, a trio of lesser known songs for the 1941 film They Meet Again, co-starring Neil Hamilton, who would later be known for his role as Commissioner Gordon on the TV show, Batman. But Owens managed to find real success by writing the widely popular Hi, Neighbor (mp3 song #5), as well as By-U, By-O (The Lou’siana Lullaby). Hi, Neighbor also appeared in the movie of the same name, Hi, Neighbor in 1942. Click here to watch Barney and friends sing Hi, Neighbor.

In 1941, Owens also co-wrote the insanely catchy tune, The Hut Sut Song (The Swedish Serenade). Even a TIME magazine article “Hot Shot and Hut-Sut,” from July 28, 1941, pointed out how obscure the original song was despite its popularity as a repackaged nutty song. In addition, there is a TIME magazine article “June Records,” from June 16, 1941 that further details its rising success, noting it as B.M.I.’s very first huge hit.

To see a soundie of The Hut Sut Song, (soundie: basically the ancestor of the modern day music video), click here for the streaming 64kb soundie, or here for the larger 256 kb soundie.

To listen to a popular version of this song, performed by Freddy Martin, click here (mp3 song #3).

On a side note, just something of a historical and fascinating tidbit more than anything, but in that TIME magazine article “Hot Shot and Hut-Sut,” from July 28, 1941, as mentioned already, the writer was seeking the origins of the original lyrics on which the nonsense hit, The Hut Sut Song was based. Among the scholars, writers, experts, and artists questioned were those whose names read now like a who’s who of overachieving pioneers in their contributions to American culture and history through music and the arts- such names as Alan Lomax, poet Carl Sandburg, Burl Ives, and even W.C. Handy. These people were in the working and creative stages of their influential careers, the times of which were the building blocks of legend, and articles like this one serve as a time capsule or snapshot of their era.

And with this article, in particular, it is one person, besides Jack Owens, who stood out as a focus of one of my Google tangents, and that’s Alan Lomax. I knew Lomax was credited for finding and recording Blues legends like McKinley A. Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Water (later known as Muddy Waters), but I never knew what year he arrived with his colleague at the dirt covered doorstep of young Morganfield.

It was August, 1941. And so, in that moment of monumental insignificance, yes I know, that I read that from an excerpt of Lost Delta Found, I realized that in this article, this snapshot of American cultural history from July, 1941, that Lomax was only one month away from discovering that “rolling stone” milling and mulling his life away among the tall grass and unforgiving crops of Mississippi.

But back in California, far from the misery of the Deep South that gave the Blues life, and vice versa, and seemingly worlds away, Jack Owens, about as opposite as one could get to the Blues, was busy writing away and finding his own sources of inspiration.

In 1942, he wrote Cynthia’s In Love, covered by Perry Como, among others. To listen to a sample of Tex Beneke’s version, click here (mp3 song #6).

Owens, in 1942, also wrote I Dood It, which was written for and popularized by comedian Red Skelton. The 1943 MGM movie title I Dood It, starring Red Skelton, was based on this song.

By this point, Owens not only had a handful of his songs in a few movies, but also appeared in one. Owens portrayed himself in a forgettable Mae West film from 1943, The Heat’s On, which also featured a very young Lloyd Bridges.

In 1946, Reynolds Pen Co. hired Owens to record The Rocket Song, counting on listeners to be reminded of Rocket Pens. Listen to a sample of The Rocket Song.

Owens got the chance to put his wildly successful How Soon on the B side of the record. Disc jockeys started to play it and requests poured in for the love ballad. He “expects to earn $100,000 from the song” according to TIME magazine article “It Comes Easy,” from Dec. 15, 1947. With Bing Crosby recording it after Owens, it’s safe to bet he did better than that estimation.

Interestingly enough, one disc jockey spinning tunes out of Philadelphia stood above the rest in being credited with the song’s nationwide catapult to chart-topping, hit status. According to a 1948 magazine article in Radio & Philadelphia’s Best, it was “no secret” that Stu Wayne was responsible for seeing the potential in the ballad and for getting it so much airplay, and consequently, song requests. Listen to Owens’ original B-side recording of How Soon, and listen to How Soon as released less than a year later, but this time, coupled with B-side, Begin The Beguine, the Cole Porter tune made famous by Artie Shaw about 10 years before. The re-release of How Soon seemed to have a slightly altered musical arrangement, including a more prominent one-two, one-two beat throughout than in the original recording.

In Nov. 1947, Jack Owens was a special guest on the Spike Jones Spotlight Revue on CBS radio. On the show he sang the original How Soon as well as a new recording at the time, I’m All Dressed Up With A Broken Heart. In addition, he sang the Hut Sut Song, followed by a rendition of By-U, By-O (Lou’siana Lullaby) sung by The Park Avenue Hillbilly, Dorothy Shay, followed by an instrumental version of Hi, Neighbor by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, to round out the “Owens medley” as Spike called it. In addition to Owens’ songs, Spike Jones also featured the song Alabama Bound in their typical whimsical fashion, a ballad You Do by Dorothy Shay, a comical interaction with show announcer and Coca Cola spokesman of the show, a young Mike Wallace, the same Mike Wallace of CBS’ 60 Minutes, and a wacky version of I’m Getting Sentimental Over You by George Rock, Horatio Q. Birdbath, Sir Frederick Gass, and the Barefooted Pennsylvanians. Also featured with Owens’ part in the show is Dorothy Shay’s huge song of 1947, Feudin’, Fightin’, and Fussin’. Click here for the entire 30 minute show, from Nov.7, 1947.

In Jan. 1948, Owens returned as a special guest of the Spike Jones Spotlight Revue on CBS radio. He again sang the #3 hit on the pop charts, How Soon, but this time with the newer musical arrangement of the second release. Later in the show, he sang Cynthia’s In Love. Other songs featured on this broadcast of the Spotlight Revue include I’m Looking Over A Four-Leaf Clover by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, It’s The Little Things That Count by Dorothy Shay, My Old Flame by Paul Judson and Sir Frederick Gass, doing a classic Peter Lorre impression, more announcements and Coca Cola promotion by Mike (Myron) Wallace, and another ballad by Dorothy Shay with Somebody Loves Me. City Slickers’ own “Doodles” Weaver, as Professor Beedlebaum, performs a comedy sketch with the song Coming Through The Rye. And following Owens’ performance of Cythina’s In Love, is Mary by Dorothy Shay, and Kate by Spike Jones and His City Slickers. Click here for the entire 30 minute show, from Jan.23, 1948.

In 1948, Jack Owens was inspired to write what would be his most well-known song, The Hukilau Song, after a long day of sunshine and a hukilau and luau to raise money for the rebuilding of a Honolulu Methodist Church. This song was such an immensely popular song in Hawaii that it helped grow concern over the years for the preservation of Hawaiian culture. This directly lead to many Mormon members within the Hawaiian community to take a page from the Methodists actions on the islands of rebuilding churches or helping with fundraisers many decades before, by helping to construct the Polynesian Cultural Center, a must-see tourist destination ever since it’s opening more than 40 years ago. Click here for a more detailed history of the relationship between the cultural center and The Hukilau Song. To listen to The Hukilau Song, click here (mp3 song #18) for a mp3 of Don Ho’s classic version of the song, or here for a sample of the original version by Jack Owens.

And if you’re daring enough, click here for Annette Funicello’s version.
(There are other versions out there probably, but I couldn’t resist this one.)

There’s also Disney’s Beach Party video of The Hukilau Song from Mickey’s Fun Songs.

The release of that record in 1948 also delivered a B-side Hawaiian ballad, I’ll Weave A Lei Of Stars For You, a song that he co-wrote and sang. It would eventually become his most covered Hawaiian-themed song, second only to The Hukilau Song, making the record a venerable one-two punch that caught the attention of Decca records.

To listen to two very different samples of the song, one by The Royal Hawaiian Serenaders, and one by Andy Williams, click here.

To listen to a sample of the original by Jack Owens, click here.

In 1950, Owens covered Dream A Little Dream Of Me, a classic going back to the 1930’s and originally done by the Wayne King Orchestra. Owens makes his CD debut on this collection with this song. To listen to a short, 30 second sample of Owens’ recording of this song with Windows Media Player, go here. To use Real Audio, go here.

Owens’ eldest daughter, Mary Ann Owens, on occasion teamed up with her father not only on a handful of recordings, but also co-hosted Jack’s daytime show, The Jack Owens Show. Listen to a sample of their upbeat duet, Will You Be My Darlin.

Another little interesting note about Jack is that according to “An Introduction To Information Theory: Symbols, Signals & Noise” by John Robinson Pierce, during the 1950’s, early computer engineers were engaged in creating computer-generated music through the use of rules and programming code. In short sections, the “music” often wasn’t half bad, and on one occasion, Jack Owens set one computer-coded jingle to words, and it was played over the ABC network as Push Button Bertha. In “Robots Unlimited: Life In A Virtual Age” by David Levy, Levy adds further by noting that the music’s composer, a Datatron computer, complicated things for the Library of Congress. In less than one week after Owens’ lyrics were set to the music, there were five copies of the recording already on the market. Yet when a claim was made for a copyright in the name of the computer, the Library of Congress refused to issue a copyright certificate for a piece of music written by a machine.

Owens’ song publishing company, Owens-Kemp Music Co., was in Hollywood where the present day “Walk of Fame” is now located. The same address is now currently home to acting theater Theater Theatre.

After being an established artist for many years, Owens was a headliner at places such as Statler Hotel. He also enjoyed singing at night clubs in Southern California, and even in Hawaii when he returned there on vacation.

Roger and his siblings didn’t get to see Jack often, since Roger’s dad, Ross, and Jack were quite distant and different as brothers. Jack did his best under the circumstances to be there for Roger whether it was during Roger’s military jeep accident or at Roger’s first wedding when Jack played many of his classics on piano during the wedding reception.

In all his years performing, Jack Owens never made it on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, or other nationwide shows, but he was nevertheless proud of his nephew, Roger, for his growing success as the Famous Peanut Man at Dodger Stadium.

Updated: 06-22-2008 8:00 pm

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