More sides from Mrs Slydes

Most of you will already be acquainted with Leona Anderson: I’ve written about her a couple of times before but it’s always nice to revisit old friends, especially if you have something new to share.

And boy, do I. Today I present for you the missing Leona Anderson 45, her second for Columbia and her third release at that point, Limburger Lover/Yo-Ho the Crow.

Let’s have a quick recap of her story (if you want more, there’s a chapter on Leona’s career in my first book: most of what follows is culled from there).

Born Leona Aronson on April 3, 1885, Leona was the younger sister of early cowboy movie star Gilbert ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. She began her showbiz career at fifteen and seriously thought about a career as an operatic singer (I’ve read that her brother paid for her to travel to London to study) before appearing in a number of films - thankfully all silent – including Mud and Sand (which starred Stan Laurel as Rhubarb Vaseline) and In the Park which starred Charlie Chaplin. Unsurprisingly she also appeared in several movies directed by and starring her brother. Many years later (in 1959 to be exact) she appeared in the Vincent Price horror film The House on Haunted Hill as the demonic Mrs Slydes.

By the mid-1950s Leona had developed her unique singing style and made many cabaret appearances sending up opera singers: she once said she chose this career because ‘Opera singers just can't kid themselves properly; they never can let their voices go’, which is not a criticism that you could ever level at her. Throughout her career she would wilfully let her voice go just about anywhere it damn well pleased.

Described by Billboardas ‘a gal with cultivated, and broken, pipes’, Leona (erroneously credited as Leonna Anderson) issued her first waxing, Fish, on both 78 and on clear red vinyl 7”, in 1953. Fish was released by Horrible Records (motto: if it’s really a Horrible Record it’s bound to be a hit) and put out as the B-side to the Dr Demento favourite There's A New Sound (The Sound Of Worms Eating Your Brain) by Tony Burrello. Fishwas co-written by Burrello, who also played calliope on the track; Bill Baird (a puppeteer who would become better known a decade later for the Lonely Goatherd marionette scene in The Sound of Music) played tuba. 500 copies were originally pressed but within two weeks Horrible Records had received orders for a further 100,000 copies. TV comic Ernie Kovacs heard it and invited her on his show. Aided by Burrello and Murray Leona put together a nightclub act, which she called Songs to Forget; the success of the act, coupled with Kovacs championing her cause led to her recording a cover of the Pattie Page hit The Mama Doll Song (backed with I’m A Fool To Care) for Columbia (featured on this blog before) – of which Billboard wrote ‘her cracked tones, sadly out of tune (have) the same macabre appeal as the miserable chirping of Florence Foster Jenkins’.

Issued in March 1955, more than 18 months before her seminal album Music to Suffer By, her second (and last) 45 for Columbia – and the one I present for you today - featured Limburger Lover and Yo-Ho the Crow. Both songs also appeared, in re-recorded form, on the album. Catalogue info exists for 78 rpm versions of both Columbia singles although, as is often the case with these things, there appear to be more promotional copies of the 45 in circulation that retail copies. A fourth single, Indian Love Call/Habanera, was also issued, in March 1956 as both a 78 and 45 by Unique (it was also issued, with the sides flipped, in Australia: I’m lucky enough to have picked up a copy recently for my own collection). She also recorded a theme tune, of sorts, for the Bob and Ray radio show in March 1956.

‘I sing songs which cannot be ruined,” she once said. “I don’t sing very off-key… just enough. I decided that if I couldn’t be the best I’d be the worst.’

She died, on Christmas Day 1973, in a retirement home in Fremont, Alameda County, California at the age of 88. She may be gone, but she left us with a legacy for which we should be forever grateful.

A copy of this 45 recently turned up on Ebay: I was bidding for it but dropped out at $30. I’ll console myself with the MP3s until the next one turns up.


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