It might surprise you to learn that Lawrence Welk wasn’t the first bandleader to have a ‘bubbling’ theme. Although Welk’s champagne bubbles eventually became a famous part of his image, Shep Fields preceded him with his Rippling Rhythm orchestra in the Thirties. His group — one of the ‘sweet’ bands of the big band era — was very popular with fans, and bubbles were part of the show.
The Brooklyn-born Fields began performing professionally while still in college, playing sax and clarinet in various groups. By the early Thirties, he’d formed his own orchestra and made some appearances in the Catskills, eventually building his fame with radio, records, and choice venues like Chicago’s Palmer House.
Along the way — so the story goes — he came up with his signature bubble theme by watching his wife playing with her soda at an ice cream parlor. Whatever the case, he incorporated the sound of bubbles into a lot of the band’s music. (You can hear it at the beginning of the song below.) He also invited fans to help name his group and the result — The Rippling Rhythm — was not only a catchy name for an orchestra, but also worked nicely for his popular radio show, Rippling Rhythm Revue, which was hosted by young Bob Hope.
By the War years, things had slowed down a little and Fields redid his group, dropping the Rippling Rhythm thing and going with a reed-heavy mixture of musicians. Billing the orchestra as ‘Shep Fields and His New Music’ did not gain a lot of new fans, and within a few years Fields reverted to Rippling Rhythm. However, a young singer he employed during that period bears a closer look.
Before devoting himself to acting, filling a lot of roles but notably that of ‘Festus’ on the long-running TV western, Gunsmoke, Ken Curtis was a regular vocalist for Fields, and also spent some time with Tommy Dorsey. You can see — and hear — him sing in the video below.
By the decade of the Fifties, Shep Fields had pretty much left performing behind. He worked as a DJ and spent some time in the promotions end of the business, and he also ran a talent agency for a while. He died in 1981.
Shep Fields (vocal by Jerry Stewart) – “Cathedral In The Pines”