The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

#234 / July 21 Podcast

When we roll into Sal’s Speakeasy tomorrow night for The Flood’s monthly gig, we’ll bring with us a tune that has been rocking audiences for more than eight decades. And that, brothers and sisters, is the definition of a hit!

Bob Russell’s Big Break

Our tale begins with a young man named Bob Russell who was making his living in New York as an advertising copywriter, but who also nurtured a love for music and theater. He had dabbled in writing material for vaudeville and later wrote for movies, but his legacy was to be on the radio as a renowned lyricist.

His big break came 81 years ago when he wrote memorable lyrics for a stirring Duke Ellington melody.

Earlier, Duke had composed a number called "Never No Lament,” which his orchestra recorded in 1940. And what an orchestra it was! In fact, it was perhaps the best in the long Ellington history.

To jazz fans, it is known as the “Webster-Blanton” band (because it had Ben Webster on tenor sax and Jimmy Blanton on bass), but they weren’t the only stars on hand. The recording also was enriched by Johnny Hodges on alto, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Cootie Williams in trumpet and Harry Carney on bari. Whew!

A Song for Its Time

The instrumental was well received, but then Bob Russell came along with some dynamite lyrics that gave the melody a whole new life as "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."

In his lyrics, Russell meant to tell the story of a jilted lover who prefers to stay home rather than be haunted by memories of happier times spent at dances and nightspots. However, the timing of the song’s release gave many listeners a whole different — more poignant — perspective.

It was 1942 and America had just entered World War II. Couples across the country were separating as young people put on uniforms and shipped out. Against that backdrop, many listeners heard the song as the passionate promise of a lonely lover to put such good times on hold for the war’s duration.

It’s no wonder that within a year of Ellington releasing the song, no fewer than three versions were on the charts at the same time. Duke's original was joined by renditions from The Ink Spots and from Glen Gray.

(An amusing sidebar on this song concerns the first line of Russell’s lyrics. What Bob opened with was, “Missed the Saturday dance,” but that sometimes is misheard as “Mister Saturday dance” or “Mister Saturday night,” much to the amusement of musicians who still get these as requests.)

Hits Just Keep On Comin’

Russell could have rested on his laurels. From the mid-1940s to today, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” has been recorded by everyone from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole to Sam Cooke, The Coasters and B.B. King to Paul McCartney, Dr. John and Willie Nelson.

But Bob was just getting started. In the 1940s, he wrote more songs with Ellington, notably the hits “Do Nothin’ ’til You Hear from Me” and “I Didn’t Know About You.”

In the 1950s, he turned to writing music for films. The movies The Girl Most Likely, Blue Gardenia and Matter of WHO all included Russell title songs.

In the 1960s, teaming with the up-and-coming music superstar Quincy Jones, Bob was nominated for Academy Awards for two of their collaborations, their theme for For Love of Ivy and for “The Eyes of Love," from the film Banning.

Bob’s Final Hit

Russell’s last song was “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” co-written with Bobby Scott, to whom Russell was introduced at a California nightclub by the great lyricist Johnny Mercer.

It was at the end of Bob’s life — he was dying of lymphoma — and he and Scott met only three times, but they managed to collaborate on a song that became a worldwide hit for The Hollies in 1969 and for Neil Diamond the following year.

Just before his death in 1970, Russell was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2004, he was posthumously awarded ASCAP’s lifetime achievement award.

Come Out for a Sal’s Saturday Night!

Bob Russell’s greatest song — his break-through “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” — is on tap when we head back to Ashland’s wonderful Sal’s Italian Eatery & Speakeasy this Saturday night.

Flood sweetheart Michelle Hoge — back from her world travels with husband Rich — is driving in from Cincinnati to join us on stage for the evening. If you know Michelle, you know that the joint is always jumping when The Chick Singer is in the room.

Our brother Sam St. Clair can’t make the scene this month, but The Flood’s reed section will be in the good hands of the man whom Sam calls his “over-study.”

Jim Rumbaugh, who recently won Ohio’s harmonica championship, has sat in with us many times over the years. In fact, Jim and Michelle were both on the bandstand back in December when The Flood played its debut Sal’s gig. (Here’s a video that Pamela Bowen shot during that memorable night.)

So, we sure hope you’ll get your glad rags on and come party with us Saturday night at Sal’s, 1624 Carter Ave. in beautiful downtown Ashland, Ky. We play from 6 to 9. Tables sometimes fill up early, so reservations are a very good idea. Call (606) 393-1312 and tell ‘em you want a table near the band.

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The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: