Possible sexual misconduct and the Mob. What a Soundies combination!

“Come up and see my etchings.” The story, or so it goes – it is recounted on Wikipedia, although I have run into it elsewhere – refers to a lawsuit filed against our featured performer, David Rubinoff, who apparently used this line to entice a woman up to his room. Pregnancy and a lawsuit followed, the case settled out of court, but the outcome unknown. And then…

Rubinoff was known for playing a $100,000 Stradivarius violin. Violinist Maddie Melnick, an old friend from many years ago, told me about this famed violin. “It was a gorgeous Stradivarius that he had purchased with money borrowed from Mafia crime boss Thomas Lucchese and had not paid back. Only an intercession from mobster Charlie ‘Lucky’ Luciano saved Rubinoff’s career and perhaps his life.

“My dad thought he was a real cuss,” said the late music historian Stephen Lavere, quoting his father Charles Lavere, who played briefly with Dave Rubinoff in the 1940s. Lavere suggested that Rubinoff – usually billed by last name alone – was not an easy man to work with and could be “demanding, moody, demeaning, and not always honest.”

That said, Rubinoff was a technically gifted violin player. His music often straddled the line between a light classical repertoire, ethnic tunes, Romani music, and what he (Rubinoff) felt was a swing-influenced performance. He was extremely popular on the radio and the variety stage and appeared as a featured musician in a handful of short subjects and feature films during the 1930s and 40s.

Fiddle Voyage was one of Rubinoff’s featured stage routines: Take a popular hit song and play it in a variety of styles. Here Rubinoff, accompanied by an unidentified pianist, performs Al Dexter’s mega-hit “Pistol Packin’ Mama” as it might be played in Vienna, Scotland, Ireland, Russia, and Harlem. Rubinoff’s interpretation of the song in swingtime – as played “in Harlem” – is particularly cringeworthy and there is no jazz feel whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Soundie is quite entertaining, and I expect that most viewers would have felt their dime was well-spent.