Spike Jones. Wikipedia Commons photo.

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The joyful noise, the rapturous racket that blared out of the bandstand of Spike Jones and his City Slickers, propelled the outfit to fame in the 1940s as the eccentric orchestra made musical mayhem, thrilling audiences with their butchering (in a good way) of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,”  Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours,”  Strauss’s “Blue Danube” waltz and Bizet’s “Carmen,” supplementing the brass, woodwind, strings and percussion instruments with a cacophony of dog barks, kitchen implements, doorbells, bicycle horns, gunshots, burps, sneezes and hiccups and the occasional small cannon.

Spike Jones was born Lindley Armstrong Jones in Long Beach in 1911 but moved to Calexico where his father was employed as a depot agent for Southern Pacific Railroad when Jones was 10 months old. He grew up amid the clamor of the train station and when he was 11, a  chef for the railroad whittled the boy a pair of drumsticks from the rungs of a chair and the beat was born as the youngster learned to keep time by drumming on a breadbox to the tune of “Carolina in the Morning.”

A year later, his parents bought him a full drum kit and Jones learned quickly and played for the elementary school orchestra.

Already an accomplished drummer as he reached high school age, Jones convinced his parents to let him move by himself to Long Beach in order to further his drumming education in Poly High School’s already nationally acclaimed music program under the direction of Dwight Defty.

Living in a house on 16th Street, Spike made excellent progress at Poly, drumming for the orchestra and taking on the role as drum major for the high school’s 90-piece marching band.

It was in that role that Spike later told a reporter was his most embarrassing moment.

He was leading the band in a parade down Pine Avenue and made a wrong turn on Fourth Street. “I was strutting so proudly and I was at least 50 feet up Fourth when I realized I had lost the band,” which had continued on Pine, he said.

The high-schooler spent most waking hours behind his kit, both performing and taking lessons. He studied the timpani under the Long Beach Municipal Band’s timpanists during the band’s intermissions. He practiced in his bedroom with the radio turned up loud. He performed during lunch in the Poly cafeteria.

Spike Jones, left, with Marilyn Monroe and entertainer Ken Murray at a charity event in 1952. Wikipedia Commons photo.

In 1927 Jones put together a popular Long Beach six-piece Dixieland band called Spike Jones and His 5 Tacks. The group played all over town and had regular shows on the Long Beach radio stations KFOX and KGER.

After graduating from Poly in 1929, Jones moved to Los Angeles and continued to play live shows in front of increasingly larger audiences with his band the City Slickers.

As a result of horsing around with fellow band members and other musicians (dozens of players were involved with the City Slickers over the years) he made home recordings in what he described as “a corny novelty style,” taking on Tchaikovsky as well as recording such titles as “Clink, Clink, Another Drink,” “Never Hit Your Grandma With a Shovel,” and most famously, a musical slam on Hitler called “Der Fuehrer’s Face.”

The recording earned him a deal with the Bluebird label and his career skyrocketed as crowds turned out for his “Musical Depreciation” concerts performed playfully by expert musicians along with a mess of racket from their various noisemakers.

His band returned to Long Beach a few times, playing before packed houses of 4,000 people in the 1940s and 1950s at the Municipal Auditorium.

In 1960, when Spike was still popular, though about to be driven out of the spotlight in three years by the British Invasion and the advent of rock and roll’s popularity, he explained in an interview in the Los Angeles Times that “my affinity for noise started by listening to the trains, the whistles, the bells, the telegraph keys—all the sounds of the railroad depot. The rhythm got into my blood.”

An enthusiastic cigarette smoker throughout his life, Jones suffered from emphysema in the 1960s but continued to lead the band from behind the drums with a bottle of oxygen nearby. He died of respiratory failure in Beverly Hills on May 1, 1965. He was 53.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.