Books About the Mickey Mouse Club
|Mouse Tracks: The Story of Walt Disney Records
by Tim Hollis and Greg Ehrbar forward by Leonard Maltin
Univ Press of Mississippi, 2006
240 pages, 105 B/W Photos
Hollis and Ehrbar present an accessible story that focuses on the performers whose talents are preserved on vinyl issued by the various labels used by the Disney Company for marketing music. The book is a chronological narrative interspersed with frequent sidebar pages devoted to singers and voice artists. Darlene Gillespie, Jimmie Dodd, Annette Funicello, Cliff Edwards, Roberta Shore, the Mellomen, Fess Parker, and Archer and Gile are the original Mickey Mouse Club performers so highlighted.
The authors early on acknowledge the contribution of R. Michael Murray's pioneering Disney discography with its brief recounting of how the studio got into the music business. Both books rely heavily on Jimmy Johnson's then unpublished memoir (which co-author Greg Ehrbar later edited for publication) for the early part of the story.
Hollis and Ehrbar however incorporate many more recollections, particularly from Salvatore "Tutti" Camarata, the conductor, composer, and arranger who guided the recording sessions of both Darlene Gillespie and Annette Funicello. It was the latter's success as an unlikely pop-rock star that lifted Disney records out of a two year financial slump, though not without some artistic compromises. Camarata recalled the thinness of Annette's voice and how the original sound engineer for her sessions "quit in exasperation" over the efforts to get recording quality audio from it.
From Camarata's blended "Annette Sound" and the Sherman Brothers ascendence as the primary studio songwriters to the introduction of cassettes that eclipsed vinyl records, the authors cover the later history of Walt Disney records with a wide-ranging emphasis on performers, mostly obscure, who contributed so much for often little or no credit. Voice artists are given as much attention as singers, and backup groups are not slighted either, a most commendable egalitarianism.
There are few things in this book that strike a discordant note. The frequent interspersing of profile pages with the main story makes for a choppy narrative, and the statement that the arrival of the Sherman Brothers at Disney filled a staff songwriter vacancy that had existed since the 1930's ignores a great number of fine songwriters who worked at the studio during the forties and fifties.
Space constraints for the book seem to have dictated some necessary exclusions. The Disney Studio Music department isn't mentioned, nor is Leo Damiani and the Burbank Symphoney Orchestra, though they undoubtedly provided most of the music heard on the records issued prior to Caramata's arrival on the scene. Buddy Baker is credited on several pages, but musicians in general seem to take a back seat to those whose artistic medium is the human voice, whether for speaking or singing. Perhaps the authors will favor us with a future volume devoted to the history of the Disney Music Department?