Jesse Stone wrote smash hit song 'Idaho'

News-DemocratMay 29, 2013 

Q. I have been trying to find a song I believe to have been from the late '40s or early '50s. All I remember is that it included the line "Way beyond the hills of Idaho." Any suggestions?

-- D. Knight

A. Yes, I do: Come down into my basement. As I told my colleagues shortly after I received your email, you know you have way too many CDs when you uncover songs that you don't even know you have, much less listened to in years.

That's what I realized again after I solved your musical mystery. First, I found the song that has left you so puzzled is "Idaho," which turned out to be no small potatoes for musician/songwriter Jesse Stone. Benny Goodman turned it into a No. 4 smash in 1942 (with Dick Haymes doing the vocal honors), and Guy Lombardo sold 3 million copies of his version.

"Away beyond the hills of Idaho, where yawnin' canyons greet the sun," the lyrics start. "As it smiles above the trees in Idaho to say another night is done. Warm summer winds toss the wavin' grain, callin' me back to my home again. To dream sweet memories of the long ago, beyond the hills of Idaho."

Surely, I thought, I couldn't possibly have a copy of this one. Yeah, right. A search of my computerized music files quickly uncovered a version by Alvino Rey featuring songstress Yvonne King on "Hit Parade 1942." (If you'd like a copy, I'm sure we could arrange it -- or you can buy the entire CD on Amazon.)

Considering Stone's legacy, I shouldn't be surprised. Born in Atchison, Kan., in 1901, the great Count Basie wrote in his autobiography that by 1920 Stone already was regarded as the best piano player in Kansas City. (How he ever chose Idaho as a song subject, I don't know.)

He soon became a hit-making machine, churning out a string of songs that any lover of golden oldies will remember. In 1953, he wrote "Losing Hand" for Ray Charles and followed with "Sh-Boom" for The Chords.

Then, using the pseudonym Charles Calhoun so he write for both BMI and ASCAP, Stone cut loose with "Shake, Rattle and Roll" in 1954 for Big Joe Turner. It was ranked 126th on The Rolling Stone's list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. "Flip, Flop and Fly" and Bill Haley's "Razzle-Dazzle" weren't far behind.

"Jesse Stone did more to develop the basic rock 'n' roll sound than anybody else," Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records, once said.

Even as musical tastes changed, Stone's works remained standards. The Jerry Garcia Band covered Stone's "Don't Let Go" dozens of times in concert over the years. Steve Miller put "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" on his "Joker" album in 1973, and Huey Lewis did the same in 1994.

Sad to say, Stone was not there to enjoy one of music's highest honors -- induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. He died in 1999 at age 97 in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

Q. Please help. A few of us remember seeing New Athens' great Dixieland jazz sousaphonist in St. Louis in the late '60s, early '70s. It was at a small nightspot with a little dance floor and elevated seating area. All I remember is that its name may have included Magic or Music or Palace.

-- L.C., of Freeburg

A. You're remembering those great days when David "Red" Lehr and his buddies would stroll around Busch Stadium, pumping out those lively Dixieland favorites for Cardinals fans.

Afterward, they would keep the night rolling by making their way across the street to The Banjo Palace in the Buder Building at 7th and Market.

"The (Banjo) Palace was so popular that people would leave the game early to reserve a place to sit," Bill Hanks remembers on his Yahoo blog. "People would get so excited that they would actually dance on the tables. The music was that good."

As you know, those days are long gone. The Buder was razed in 1984, making way for Kiener Plaza. Fortunately for us Dixieland fans, Lehr, who started playing professionally in 1963 at Your Father's Mustache in St. Louis' old Gaslight Square, continues to toot away.

Happy golden anniversary, Red.

Today's trivia

Who was the first U.S. citizen to be canonized a saint by the Roman Catholic Church?

Answer to Wednesday's trivia: When Harry Potter began working his spell on children's literature in the 1990s, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry became one of the most famous fictional schools in history. (In 2008, it was voted the 36th best Scottish educational establishment in a just-for-fun survey.) Author J.R. Rowling said she may have taken the name from the hogwort plant she saw at London's Royal Botanic Gardens. But anyone who has seen the imaginative Terry Jones/Jim Henson 1986 movie "Labyrinth" will remember a dwarf named Hoggle, to whom Jennifer Connelly once mistakenly said, "Thanks for nothing, Hogwart." Hogwarts, by the way, may have originated in "The Compleet Molesworth," written in the 1950s by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle. It was a rival school to St. Custard's, which Nigel Molesworth, the central character, attended.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or

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