Jack Webb of Dragnet recorded a bizarre album of jazz standard covers
No, he doesn’t sing – they’re all spoken word. Hear Sgt. Joe Friday reciting "Try a Little Tenderness."
In 1958, the original Dragnet series began its final season. Jack Webb had successfully transitioned his LAPD detective drama from radio to television and shepherded the production for eight seasons. It was already the project that defined his career, a fact further cemented by later iterations of his straightforward, buttoned-up portrayal of Sgt. Joe Friday. But Jack Webb had a different side.
1958 was also the year Mr. Webb released a jazz album — of sorts. He was a lifelong jazz enthusiast, so recording an album was a next step. Webb enlisted prolific composer Billy May to arrange and conduct lavish orchestral instrumental versions of "You’re My Girl," "When Sunny Gets Blue" and "Try a Little Tenderness," among others. Billy May, who worked with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole and many more, was a natural choice.
Somewhat less conventional was how the songs were put together. Webb spoke the lyrics for each song in his trademark monotone voice. These “vocals” were put together with the full orchestral accompaniment to form an absurd, poetic masterpiece.
The album contained twelve songs and was appropriately titled You’re My Girl: Romantic Reflections by Jack Webb. In 2000, Rhino Entertainment released You’re My Girl and Jack Webb Presents Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down, a series of instrumental jazz tunes inspired by the colors blue and red, as a collection called Just the Tracks, Ma’am. Pete Kelly was the name of Jack Webb’s jazz ensemble. The moniker came from Webb’s character in the 1955 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues.
Sit back, relax and enjoy Jack Webb’s strange yet soothing rendition of Try a Little Tenderness.
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About the time of the '60s Dragnet revival, Jack Webb went on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show to plug same.
Carson's staff got hold of a copy of She's My Girl, and asked Webb about his "singing".
Jack, looking a bit sheepish, explained that when Dragnet was at its ratings peak in the '50s, Warner Bros. Records suggested making a record to cash in.
Webb told Warners that he couldn't sing, but Warners countered by telling him about Franklyn MacCormack, who was well-known at the time for reading lyrics while backed up by lush instrumentals.
Webb was "convinced", and recorded the album, with backup from many musical pals; it was a lark, and Jack thought it would go unnoticed - little did he know.
So anyway, a decade later, Johnny Carson asks Jack Webb if he'd care to "perform" one of the numbers for his audience - and Webb dutifully went center stage and recited "When Sunny Gets Blue", with Skitch Henderson's band providing discreet backup (if it seemed like a set-up, well, that's how they did things back then ...).
Johnny's audience was polite, Jack was a bit red-faced, and a bit of fun was had by all.
If memory serves, this was before Johnny Carson's family got control of the Tonight tapes, so most likely this episode doesn't exist any more (if by chance it does, you can bet that somebody's going to put it up on YouTube).
What I do remember is that Jack Webb's 'Sgt. Friday' voice wasn't a monotone (that was Stan Freberg's parody); more like a fast, buzzing snarl which really wasn't right for a romantic ballad.
My opinion, of course; your mileage may vary.
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Just picture an at-ease Jack with an especially open collar saying...