A Closer Walk: The Pete Fountain Story
Pete Fountain With Bill Neely
Pete Fountain realized at the age of nine that music would be the most important part of his life. uring the countless hours he spent leaning against the wooden fence that bordered the top hat and listening to the sounds of Harry James, Gene Krupa, and Leon and Louis Prima, he discovered that jazz was in his blood. Jazz was born in New Orleans, and it was in the French Quarter of that city that Pete Fountain was born and that he learned to play the music he loves.
If Pete came from a musical city, he also came from a musical family. His father played all instruments by ear, and it was he who taught Pete to blow his first note on the clarinet. Pete's first concerts were given on the side-walks of New Orleans; there he first learned that he had a "fat sound." Pete continued to listen and practice. George Lewis, Papa Celestin, and Billie Holliday became his mentors.
The long hours, endless practices, and the temptation of drugs threatened to discourage Pete, but "either true, love or insanity" held him to his music. The decline of Dixieland and the birth of "bebop" in 1950 caused Pete to leave New Orleans and move to New York. But Dixieland was only dormant, not dead. In New York Al Hirt, Jack Teagarden, Ray Bauduc, and Ray Leatherwood began to revive the sound, and Pete was there with them.
Pete Fountain's success with Lawrence Welk is legend. Television audiences listened raptly to him every week and loved what they heard. Pete had the best of both worlds: his music and "respectability" in an unstable career.
In spite of his success Pete could not get the sights, smells, and sounds of New Orleans out of his system. Whenever he sang "Dancing at the Mardi Gras," "When the Saints Go Marchin' In," "The Blues," and his most popular song, "A Closer Walk With Thee," his home sickness became stronger. As he always knew he would, he returned to New Orleans and took his music and the music of others back to where it was born.
"A Closer Walk With Thee" is Pete Fountain's song, appropriately because his life has been filled with his closeness to his family, his fellow musicians, his city, and his music. The warmth and love of the man permeate A Closer Walk. But his story is not only about his life. It is the story of musicians, their struggles, their triumphs, and their friendship. And a closer walk is the story of jazz - the constantly changing, soul-rending music form that is a keystone of the American folk tradition.
Bill Neely has collaborated with Richard Petty on Grand National: the autobiography of Richard Petty and with Craig Breedlove on his auto-biography Spirit of America: Winning the World's Land Speed Record.
Henry Regnery Company
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Pete Fountain With Bill Neely - "A Closer Walk: The Pete Fountain Story" - Memorabilia