City Slang: “Timeless Treasures” revisited

They really don’t make bands like the Gaylords anymore and, to be honest, that’s probably a good thing. I first became aware of the band when reading David Carson’s magnificent book, Grit, Noise & Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock ’N’Roll. They pop up in chapter 3, when Carson is detailing the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, and the fact that Detroit’s youth was tiring of 'safe' singers like Doris Day and Perry Como and were hungry for something edgier. Sexier, even.

The Gaylords were among the last of the male vocal groups to hang onto the old crooner style and, for that reason, the band has to be celebrated. Carson describes the band as, “an Italian-American vocal group comprised of Burt (Banoldi) Holiday, Ronnie (Fredianelli) Gaylord and Don Rea. The trio formed while students at the University of Detroit. After developing a reputation in Detroit nightclubs, they made a demo recording that came to the attention of Mercury Records, which signed them to a contract in late 1952.”

After reading about the Gaylords in Carson’s book, I found Timeless Treasures two years ago in a gas station, in a bin filled with 50 cent cassette tapes (I also bought a David Johansen tape, incidentally). I simply couldn’t leave it there. The Gaylords might sound hopelessly dated now, but this Detroit music with an Italian flavor was made 60 years ago and it deserves better than a gas station bargain bin.

Musically, it’s the kind of thing your grandma, or maybe your great-grandma, would adore. It’s sweet, very safe and not devoid of humor (albeit that “Mr. Sandman” style of knitted-sweater-humor). “Tell Me You're Mine” is a passionate ballad (and was a huge hit back in the day), “The Little Shoemaker” sounds a lot like David Bowie’s “Laughing Gnome” and “Love I Do” is a bizarre semi-comedy/semi-love song.

The Gaylords’ music is a fascinating history lesson – a lesson in what popular music used to be like before Elvis and his like-minded buddies melded the blues with country. That they came from Detroit seems almost insane now, and yet they did and so they are our sweet little Italian-American crooners.