SHORTY LONG (by Colin Kilgour)
Born Emidio Vagnoni 31 October 1923, Reading , Pennsylvania
Country musician, songwriter, Broadway performer. His varied career spanned more than 50 years. Who plays the fabulous piano on Elvis' "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" and "One-Sided Love Affair"? Shorty Long that's who ………… (not to be confused with the Motown artist of the same name). Shorty played a lengthy but single stint on Broadway as Herman in the original production of Frank Loesser’s musical The Most Happy Fella (1956). Long was mainly known as a multi talented singer-instrumentalist who specialised in hillbilly music and featured on the recordings of several artists
Shorty began playing music at age 6 when his parents gave him a violin, and a few years later, he was winning talent contests. At 11, he was playing professionally at hoedowns and western shows
And while Long was well-known for his country music, his career could have taken a much different turn. At age 16 his parents took him to Italy . Specialising in the violin, he had classical music training in Rome (enrolled at the Conservatory of Rome). In spite of the classical influence and a stint with the Reading Symphony Orchestra, the country fiddle won over his heart and Long decided after graduation from Reading High, to pursue the hillbilly and western music of the time. Reading is some 60 miles from Philadelphia.
He also played the accordion, was a fabulous pianist and had an easy tenor voice, which he put to good use in his various groups. He appeared on the Reading station WEEU during the 1930s and '40s as part of the popular "Uncle Jack and Mary Lou" show. He spent years in Santa Fe as the leader of the Santa Fe Rangers, who appeared in the 1948 movie Powder River Gunfire. As a vocalist (commencing in the 1940s), Long recorded many singles
Frank Loesser was an extremely successful songwriter, initially lyrics only e.g. "Heart and Soul". He moved on to also write the music and in 1950 had a Broadway and worldwide smash hit with the show 'Guys and Dolls'. In the mid-fifties he followed this with 'The Most Happy Fella' which many categorise as more opera than musical
Shorty had met Frank Loesser in 1949 when Loesser's firm published a song Shorty recorded. Also, around that time Long recorded a few of Loesser's songs. In Susan Loesser's biography of her father she writes "Casting for Fella, my father remembered Shorty's voice very well and called him to audition for the role of Herman, which fit him like a glove"
In that part, Long is one half of the show's 'comic relief couple'. Probably the best-known number in the show is “Standing on the Corner” sung by a girl-watching male vocal quartet, led by Shorty. Long's career really took off with his role in "The Most Happy Fella". He appeared on "The Tonight Show", "The Ed Sullivan Show" and many network radio shows
Shorty in 'Pop':
Of the Presley songs on which Shorty is listed as 'piano' for the above sessions, his input varied from prominent to barely noticeable. He is audible to great effect on the first several of this batch and less so (at all?) as the list descends
One-Sided Love Affair
As well as on the Elvis sessions, Shorty played piano on Janis Martin’s 1956 rockabilly hit “My Boy Elvis” + on her "Barefoot Baby". He was also a songwriter, most often with Bickley (Bix) Reichner. Their best-known collaboration for rock followers is surely The Crickets' "Rock Me My Baby" recorded Sept. 1957, writer credits to Shorty and 'Susan Heather'. Bix had to disguise his identity thus, to get around contractual commitments (an ASCAP/BMI conflict)
Shorty spotted the potential for "Hey Doll Baby" and recorded his version before the Everly Brothers. His music shifted from pure hillbilly to more energised western swing, a la Bill Haley - to rock 'n' roll (albeit with arrangements and backings that harked back to pre-rock and roll times). An unusual hybrid indeed
Eschewing more theatre offers, Long eventually settled back in Pennsylvania , where he and his wife put on country-music acts. Long operated the Sante Fe Ranch in Exeter Township and also Ontelaunee Park in New Tripoli, Lehigh County, both of which brought in top names in country music, including Johnny Cash, Hank Williams Jr. and Loretta Lynn
"Shorty's shows were more entertaining than some big name shows," said Pat Garrett, a country music singer who learned from and played with Long. "He worked harder than anyone". Shorty's wife was the former Gladys Ulrich of Mohnton, who went by the stage name "Dolly Dimples". Long had missed his fans and his country and western group "The Santa Fe Rangers" and those feelings brought him back to Berks County, PA.
Two neat pics of Shorty at the Elvis sessions
Colin Kilgour, June 2015
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