As I have mentioned many times, Soundies producers understood that “sex sells,” even in more benign cases as Cowbell Song from 1946. On-screen, a sextet of lovely young ladies entertain us with the title song written by Dale Cross. Cowgirl Priscilla Callen, a New York dancer and occasional Broadway performer, is out front. Tommy Morton takes the vocal. Like Callen, Morton sang in Manhattan nightclubs and landed an occasional role in a Broadway musical. Moton and Callen are credited on screen … but something else is happening here, too.
In the 1930s and early 1940s, Maurice (Maury) Cohan held down a saxophone chair in big bands led by Don Bestor, Jack Jenny, and Sammy Kaye. In 1943 however, the leadership bug bit him and he decided to form a band of his own. Feeling, perhaps, that his name was a bit “ethnic,” he decided to bill himself as Dale Cross. His band never became a top-echelon unit, although it played on both coasts, including a stay at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles. Because there is some ambiguity to the gender of the name “Dale,” some have mistakenly assumed that the band was an all-female unit lead by a woman bandleader.
The band was in New York City in December 1945, and sometime during the month, it recorded four soundtracks for Filmcraft Productions. The band was a very well-rehearsed and cohesive group, and Cross’s composition “Cowbell Song” is a fine (if slightly gimmicky) example of swing from the mid-1940s. Unfortunately for Cross and the band, producer/director William Forest Crouch decided not to have them appear on film, and instead substituted the sextet of female sideline extras noted above. Information about both the recording Orchestra and the sideline band is scant. We don’t know any members of Dale Cross’s band, and the only instrumentalist identified on screen is pianist Dorothy Drew, and I am not completely certain that it is her.
Some might argue that this Soundie is a “cheat” from beginning to end, although I would have to disagree. Granted, the band on screen is probably composed of non-musicians. But what we ultimately have here is a delightful three minutes of musical entertainment. Cross’s band plays well on the soundtrack, the composition has an attractive melody, and the cutting between dancer Callen and the on-screen members of the band, along with the featured cowbell, keeps the action moving forward. The cowgirl theme works well, and for once Crouch does not overly focus on any part of the female anatomy, although bare legs are definitely on display. Is the film somewhat of a cheat? Certainly. But equally certain is the fact that this Soundie would have been a popular three minutes short in any bar, tavern, or recreation hall. It holds up well today, so step aside and share the stage Milli Vanilli.