Today’s spotlighted performer connects with a couple of previous posts on the GMC. Trumpeter and bandleader Dick Jurgens led a very successful band during the swing era, and for a while it provided the backing for crooner Eddy Howard. Also, Jurgens and his group often made appearances at Catalina’s Avalon Casino ballroom, an iconic building that was explored in an earlier post.
An early bloomer, the Sacramento native was just in his mid-teens and already a talented trumpeter when he and his brother Will put together a band in the late 1920s. Although the group started modestly as entertainment for summer camps in the Lake Tahoe area while the guys continued their schooling, they gained enough experience over the next few years to eventually break through with a job at San Francisco’s prestigious St. Francis Hotel.
During the 1930s the band became a well-regarded and popular group, featuring the kind of sweet but swinging music that was perfect for dancing or listening. By then brother Will was mostly working as the band’s manager, while Dick was the driving force behind the music, which included his old friend, guitarist turned crooner Eddy Howard. Regular appearances at places like the Avalon on Catalina, the Elitch Gardens in Denver, and the Aragon in Chicago helped make the band a popular national attraction. A Decca Records contract also came along during that period, providing another route to stardom. Even after Howard left and was replaced by singer Harry Cool, the band’s popularity continued into the 1940s. By then the group had enjoyed a number of good-selling records, many on songs Jurgens had written. Among the most popular were “Careless,” “I Married An Angel,” “One Dozen Roses,” and what was probably the band’s best known, “Elmer’s Tune.”
But World War II was a volatile time in the music business, and the Jurgens brothers ended up spending most of it in the Marine Corps, organizing and leading musical groups. The close of the war brought renewed success on the civilian musical scene, but within a few years the big band era began winding down. Dick retired from music during the 1950s, although he did make somewhat of a comeback a dozen years later when he formed a new nightclub band. He finally retired for good in 1976, and died at age 83 in 1995.