Once in a while, I hear a piece of music that immediately reminds me of my dad. In some ways that’s a little surprising because it’s been well over two decades since he passed on, but he did have very memorable musical tastes. He liked a lot of different kinds, including marches, polkas, and the pop music of his era, but I think his favorite was light classics. He didn’t have anything against regular classical music, and even had a few records filled with the pure long-hair stuff, but he leaned toward lighter variations.
He always had several of those special collections of short classical pieces – often just excerpts – combined on one record by The Readers Digest or similar folks. You know the kind I mean — they have titles like One Hundred Beloved Melodies, or maybe World’s Most Treasured Classics, and the fancier versions might even be a set of several records. But as much as my dad liked those, they paled in comparison to his favorite variation — classical pieces performed by the Harmonicats.
He absolutely loved those guys and their music, especially when they ventured into the classics. A good example would be their version of “Ritual Fire Dance,” which is from a ballet called El amor brujo (Love the Magician), written a hundred years ago by Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. It’s been performed straight by a lot of classical musicians for years (see video at bottom) but it was perfect for the Harmonicats — or at least it was as far as my dad was concerned.
Jerry Murad headed up The Harmonicats, and he often receiving lead billing in appearances and on records, but during its heyday the other members of the trio – Al Fiore and Don Les – were also vital to the success of the group. Coming together in the years following World War II and following in the footsteps of earlier combos, the guys found their biggest success with 1947’s “Peg O My Heart,” a piece that claimed the number-one spot on the hit parade for months.
The guys never again reached those heights, but they did continue to be very popular into the 1960’s and beyond, selling a lot of records with songs such as “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” and others. In the following decades they continued to perform occasionally with changes in personnel from time to time, but Murad’s death in 1996 ended an era.