ANIMATION SPIN
May 9, 2017 posted by

Walt Disney’s “Pecos Bill” on Records

(“Melody Time,” Part 3)
A look at several records that were released over three decades that were inspired by the final segment of the 1948 package feature.

Roy Rogers Rip Roaring Adventures of
PECOS BILL

from Walt Disney’s “Melody Time”
With Songs by Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers
RCA Little Nipper Records Y-375 (3 10” 78 RPM Discs (Also 45 RPM) / Mono / 1948)
LP Reissue: RCA Camden CAL/CAS-1054 (with Johnny Appleseed)

Adaptation: Ed Penner. Song: Eliot Daniel, Johnny Lange. Running Time: 17 minutes.

The Pecos Bill sequence in Melody Time (1948) begins much like “Mickey and the Beanstalk” does in Fun and Fancy Free, with a live action/animated scene in which Bobby Driscoll and Luana Patten are told the story (they sure had to listen to a lot of stories in the ‘40s!).

On the record, Roy Rogers addresses the listeners directly, as Patten and Driscoll are not present.

The album adds a few details that are not in the film, most notably a character named Wide Awake Jones, who stops by briefly to challenge Bill about whether or not he’s a human. Jones’ personality spoofs a very popular radio comedy of the time, Lum and Abner, right down to its catch phrase “Well, I swan.”

Pecos Bill is one of the most popular and heavily played segments from Disney package films. In its day, the immense popularity of Roy Rogers, especially to kids, and the appeal of playing cowboy was sure fire. It’s strange though, that like the downer ending of The Whale that Wanted to Sing at the Met in Make Mine Music, Melody Time brings down its curtain after the bizarre, Roald Dahl-like dispatch of Slue Foot Sue to the moon. Sure, it’s all just a tall tale, but it’s not the typical happy ending of most early Disney cartoons.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Pecos Bill” (RCA Little Nipper Version)

Very much like the film version, this is among a handful of Pecos Bill-related records released by Roy Rogers in the ’40s. Individual recordings of the songs were also released.


Walt Disney’s PECOS BILL and Other Stories in Song
Including “Noah’s Ark”

Starring Fess Parker
Disneyland Records DQ-1269 (12” 33 1/3 RPM / Stereo / 1964)
LP Reissue: DDF-4 (with The Littlest Outlaw / 1972)

Executive Producer: Jimmy Johnson. Producer: Camarata. Musical Direction: Camarata, George Bruns. Running Time: 27 minutes.

Performers: Fess Parker, Paul Frees, Jerome Courtland, Jeannie Gayle, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee.
Songs: “Pecos Bill,” “Blue Shadows on the Trail” by Eliot Daniel, Johnny Lange; “The Ghosts of San Juan” by Bill Walsh, Al Teeter; “The Hunter’s Return” by Stan Jones; “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” by George Bruns, Tom Blackburn; “The Catfish Song” by Fess Parker; “Old Timer” by Alexander and Fisher; “The Riddle Song (I Gave My Love)” Adapted by Fess Parker.
Noah’s Ark Songs: “You Gotta Help Me Build An Ark,” “Love One Another,” “The Good Ship Noah’s Ark” by George Bruns, Mel Leven.

On this album, “Pecos Bill” is represented solely by the title song. It’s one of several songs reissued from a 1957 Disneyland album called Fess Parker: Yarns and Songs, later rereleased in 1969 at Fess Parker: Cowboy and Indian Songs.

What’s especially interesting about the album is that it also includes three songs from the soundtrack of the Oscar-winning 1959 stop-motion Disney short, Noah’s Ark. Produced during a period when Walt was green lighting several “out-of-character” animated shorts (Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom) to expand the studio style and address changes in the art form.

The songs are by Mel Leven (“Cruella DeVil”) and George Bruns are sung by Paul Frees as Noah with Bruns’ wife Jeannie Gayle, Thurl Ravenscroft and the film’s narrator, Jerome Courtland. Courtland was an up-and-coming singer/actor at the time, having sung the theme to Old Yeller and starred as Andy Burnett for the Disneyland TV series. Courtland became a producer for such TV shows as The Flying Nun and became a fixture at the Disney studios in the post-Walt era.

The album treats the Noah’s Ark songs like afterthoughts. There is a mention of them on the front cover with a few photos on the back, but each song is not given a proper track listing. Instead, all three are lumped under “Songs from Noah’s Ark” at the beginning of side two. Yet such soundtrack releases were very rare during this period in Disneyland Records’ history, and having them on a record is rather special and wonderful.

The Pecos Bill song was also recorded in 1970 on Disneyland Records by Jeromy Stuart during a transition period during which Jimmy Johnson and Camarata were moving on to other things. This was Robie Lester’s last recording in the little LP book-and-record series, her last Disneyland LP appearance being the singing voice of Bianca in The Rescuers.

Noah’s Ark

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“Pecos Bill” (Fess Parker & Jeromy Stuart Versions)

The version Fess Parker sings on his early Disneyland albums is combined here with Jeromy Stuarts’ 1970 contemporary version, which only appeared on the 7” read-along. It’s presumably from the same sessions that yielded the music from 1971’s Silly Symphonies LP, which we examined here

2 Comments

  • There is an air of melancholy that hangs over much of Disney’s animation in the 40’s. By the time of “Cinderella” it seems to have been dispelled.

    As a child, I was a bit startled and shocked by the bittersweet ending. Later, I read a book of tall tales in which this story was retold, and in the original version, Pecos Bill rescues Slue Foot Sue and they get married. When you think about it, if Bill can shoot the stars out of the sky or rope a cloud to bring rain, why couldn’t he just lasso the moon and bring her back? So I’m afraid this story has never quite “worked” for me–although its sadness could definitely account for the mournful cry of coyotes. If you’ve ever heard coyotes howling at the moon, it’s a gut-wrenching cry that seems to represent a lot of grief.

    Overall, the sequence is pretty interesting, with its “Blue Shadows on the Trail” introduction…but it, too, has an air of melancholy that foreshadows the story’s tragic end as presented in the Disney version.

  • I recall reading another non-Disney version, which had Slue Foot Sue eventually landing but being too angry to marry Bill. Somehow the cartoon never struck me as tragic because the whole thing is impossible whoppers.

    Compare to Willie the Whale, who resides in a world that’s real (by comparison).

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