The first time I heard about a singer named Dick Haymes was August of the just ended year when I purchased a used copy of a wonderful book- the most enjoyable book I read all year- by Gene Lees: “Singers & the Song”. The book consists of essays about some singers and songwriters Gene Lees, known to me for having written the English lyrics to some Jobim songs, had come across in his years in the music business. After reading “The Last Comeback- Dick Haymes” I made a mental note to give him a listen although I suspected his style of singing would be more like Bing Crosby, pre-Frank, or not my cup of tea.
Now I do a lot of shopping for used LPs and had yet to notice any Dick Haymes- why would only later become clear to me- but recently came across a rather beat up copy of Haymes’ “Rain or Shine” LP with a strange red label. Since it was offered for the princely sum of $1 and I have been getting much pleasure from Capitol Records early LPs (things like Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, June Christy….they really were the jackpot for 1950s vocalists) I picked it up. It was a Japanese LP issue, hence the red label, which is of interest in itself as who would have thought Capitol was pressing LPs in
Well I think I know my vocalists and this “Rain or Shine” is very good stuff! Great American after hours type ballads. Sort of like Sinatra’s “In the Wee Small Hours” but a little stodgier…Haymes possesses a gorgeous baritone and his singing reminds me most of Johnny Hartman. In any case, this LP is worthy of sharing shelf space with Frank, Nat and the upper echelon of American singers. I can’t put it better than Nick Dedina’s review for All Music Guide:
The first of two albums that Dick Haymes cut for Capitol Records, Rain or Shine also happens to be one of the finest works of the vocalist's long career. Haymes was always a great singer (especially on ballads and torch songs) and it's a real shame his association with Capitol was so brief, since this album and its follow-up, Moondreams, are two of the best vocal jazz/traditional pop albums ever released. On Rain or Shine, Haymes brings his laid-back, deeply nuanced vocal style to a great set of romantic standards. Most often likened to his peer, Frank Sinatra, Haymes possessed a masculine baritone akin to Johnny Hartman, while his spare, introspective phrasing was closer to Chet Baker. Haymes started out as a big band singer and since jazz was in his blood, Rain or Shine finds him beautifully backed by a lightly swinging small jazz group and a small string section. Arranger Ian Bernard was part of the West Coast cool jazz movement and though the musicians aren't listed, they have to be culled from the finest Los Angeles had to offer (the set features the hippest drum work imaginable; it has got to be Shelly Manne orMel Lewis sitting behind the skins). The intelligent charts allow plenty of room for short, tasty instrumental solos and they merge deftly with Haymes' jazz-inflected phrasing. Nobody was better than Haymes at this kind of romantic "after-hours" material and Rain or Shine equals Sinatra'sNice 'n' Easy as the finest slow-dance album of all time. Songs from this session often make their way to new Capitol and Blue Note samplers, so it's a mystery as to why this superb album hasn't made it to CD yet.
Listening to this LP one wonders whatever happened to Dick Haymes? The commonly passed along bio leads like a cautionary tale of what not to do. I have yet to read a recently published biography of Dick Haymes by Ruth Prizogy(“The Life of Dick Haymes: No More Little White Lies”). Dick Haymes was born in Argentina to a British couple that was visiting there or briefly settled there depending on the story, his mother and family were abandoned by their father, moved to Europe and Dick Haymes ended up in New York City becoming a successful big band vocalist for the likes of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey in the 1940s replacing Frank Sinatra as featured singer in both big bands. He also became a movie star in pictures such as One Touch of Venus and State Fair. However, he was unable to make the transition to the 1950s, a transition that was also difficult for Frank Sinatra who nevertheless prevailed, albeit with a little bit of luck. Had Frank not been cast in From Here to Eternity would his career have fizzled like that of Dick Haymes? In his essay Lees writes:
Haymes was very much the figure of his age, the consummate singer of the best romantic ballads produced by the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. He was also, like almost every other major singer of that era, a product and alumnus of the big bands. By the late 1940s, the careers of all of them were faltering. Perry Como found a home in the new medium of television. Sinatra established a second career, bigger even than the first. Haymes did not.
Haymes’ career spiraled downwards, by all accounts, owing to a combination of alcoholism, a decision to claim legal resident status during World War II so as to not have to serve, multiple marriages including one to Rita Hayworth at just about the same time Sinatra married Ava Gardner, and most importantly perhaps changes in popular taste. It seems the
Gene Lees in his essay writes of driving up to visit Dick Haymes in
He had returned after ten years in Europe to open in 1975 at the Cocoanut Grove in
In fairness, the “Rain or Shine” LP does lack a bit of the swing or pizzazz / flair Sinatra brought to his 1950s Capitol Recordings (or should I say Nelson Riddle brought?) but be that as it may “Rain or Shine” is a classic and deserved far better.
Most of the pictures one sees of Dick Haymes are from the period of his greatest success so he is far younger than on the “Rain or Shine” cover which features him sitting pensive with a cigarette in his hand. Interesting to note that like Nat King Cole, who also was featured on numerous LP covers smoking such as “Just one of those things” holding a cigarette in a similar pose, Haymes would go on to die from lung cancer. The LP’s back cover notes I think evidence that by the time of “Rain or Shine”’s release Haymes had long ago ceased to be in the spotlight:
These performances also show notable skill because Dick Haymes has been singing love songs for quite some time- in fact, since he joined Harry James and his Music Makers at the beginning of that band’s fame. Then, he was a song writer who turned singer because he couldn’t sell his own songs. But, singing other people’s in his thoughtful, caressing fashion, he did famously well- with James, with Tommy Dorsey’s band, and, later, in smart supper clubs and on some phenomenally successful records.
The attempt to reintroduce Haymes to the market and lay the groundwork for a comeback like that of another washed up Capitol Records reclamation project, Frank Sinatra, ultimately failed.