About this time last year, when I began writing “Making Life Swing,” it was hard to pinpoint where I would begin my journey of recounting the deep contributions of jazz and its practitioners to music on TV. I dug deep into my memories of television viewing as a kid, a teen, and a young adult. I mind mapped all my favorite theme songs, and ones that I thought were classics in the genre, Googling the composers, arrangers, and players who created them.
The internet being what it is, however, tugged at my sleeve in the margins of one website, with a blurb that mentioned “Schoolhouse Rock.” Of course – I would start at the beginning, namely my childhood diet of Saturday morning cartoons, interspersed with catchy and iconic tunes like, “I’m Just a Bill,” “Naughty Number Nine,” and “Conjunction Junction.”
I started searching for the creative minds that were responsible for this landmark series and found the website of George Newall, the former advertising executive who got the proverbial ball rolling. Per a request to come up with a way for his boss’s son to learn and remember his multiplication tables, Newall, who had studied composition and was a jazz pianist himself, was able to gather a cadre of musical luminaries, including Bob Dorough, to compose and perform the songs about the multiplication tables on an LP, which eventually became the TV phenomenon we now know as “Schoolhouse Rock.
I emailed Mr. Newall and to my great joy, he not only granted me an interview, but copied Mr. Dorough on his reply, which blew my mind. It was like seeing Duke Ellington or Mozart cc’d on a message to me. I interviewed the gracious Mr. Newall, but was a bit nervous about talking to Mr. Dorough. This was the composer and/or songwriter of classics like “Devil May Care,” “I’m Hip,” and Mel Torme’s hit, “Comin’ Home Baby,” which was composed by bassist Ben Tucker, another “Schoolhouse Rock” alumnus.
The day of the interview arrived and I phoned Bob at his home in Mount Bethel, Pennsylvania. He was the consummate Southern gentleman, and was patient, kind, and enthusiastic. And he sang a verse for me from “Elementary, My Dear” – moments like that in an interview are magical!
Without further ado, here is the MLS post on “Schoolhouse Rock.” And some great links for more on Bob Dorough.
Rest in peace, Mr. Dorough, and thank you for the music. There truly was “Nothing Like You.”
Obituary in the Arkansas Times