Snapshots of the Early Years by Jim Cullum Jr

Original Happy Jazz Band, 1963. Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.

The photo at left is of the original Happy Jazz Band that started at the Landing in 1963. None are among the living except for me, I was much younger than the other guys. This band was together more or less for about ten years, up until the time of my father's death in 1973. The style of the band was very much the same as the style is now, except for the tuba which made it more of a two-beat feel. But the approach, philosophy, and overall style and type of material is the same as the present-day band.

The band worked on Friday and Saturday nights at the Landing and played for other functions around town on the average of about one night a week. This picture was taken in the fall of 1963, right after we had just made our first record, The Happy Jazz Band. We were standing in front of Sile's Music Company, a record store in San Antonio. The record came out between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and we sold slightly under 2,000 units, a truly amazing accomplishment!

Goose Pimples

Photo from the 1967 LP dust jacket for Goose Pimples. Left to Right: Jim Cullum Sr., Jim Cullum Jr., Bobby Hackett, Cliff Gillette, Willson Davis, Curly Williams, Gene McKinney, Harvey Kindervater. Photo courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.

From the start the Happy Jazz Band began to make at least one recording a year. Several years later Dad and I acquired Audiophile Records, and records of the Band and other jazz groups came rolling out.

One of the best was a 1967 LP called Goose Pimples, made with the great cornetist Bobby Hackett. Hackett, a jazz legend, worked with Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, and for a while he was a staff musician at NBC.

We recorded the album on the stage of the auditorium at Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, which had the best acoustics in town. After that session Hackett continued to visit the Landing and became friends with us.

World Series of Jazz

My father's association with Yank Lawson went back to the 1930s during Yank's days with the Crosby Band. He befriended Mom and Dad, who would burn up a lot of telephone time with him conversing and playing records over the phone. After the war, Yank was willing to set Dad up in the music business by providing valuable contacts, but Dad took a job in Venezuela working for Nelson Rockefeller instead.

L. to r.: Jim Cullum Jr., Billy Butterfield, Yank Lawson and Rich Matteson. Backstage at the 1968 World Series of Jazz in San Antonio. Courtesy Jim Cullum Jr.

I met Yank when I first went to New York. Yank took me with him to his gig on the Tonight Show, where I also got to meet Doc Severinsen, Sarah Vaughn, and Clark Terry. On another trip to New York (about 1964 or so), Yank took me to a Jean Goldkette re-creation recording session he was on. Dad and I also visited Yank at his home in Massapequa, NY, where I met Bud Freeman who was staying with him at the time.

Yank's first appearance at the Landing was in 1968 in conjunction with the first World Series of Jazz concert put on by Dad and me in San Antonio at the Theater for the Performing Arts (now the Lilla Cockrell Theater). This concert was conceived as a Battle of the Bands between the World's Greatest Jazz Band (we wanted to keep them honest) and our band. The World's Greatest was Yank, Billy Butterfield, Bob Haggart, Bob Wilber, Bud Freeman, Lou McGarrity, Carl Fontana, Ralph Sutton and Gus Johnson. Our band had Ernie Caceres and Rich Matteson as "secret weapons."

This concert, and the huge pre-concert jam sessions at the Landing, proved to be so successful (it sold out) that we decided to do it again in 1971. We used the same lineup except instead of Ernie and Rich, we had Emilio Caceres, Haggart, Bobby Hackett and Butterfield, and they had Eddie Hubbell and Vic Dickenson on trombones.