About The Group
They were billed as "America's most nonsensical dance band". On top of that, believe it or not, they were discovered by none other than famed band leader Guy Lombardo when they were playing at the Old Vienna in Cincinnati, Ohio in the summer of 1939.
In a song folio also called "The Korn Kobblers America's Most Nonsensical Band" published in 1943, we find that Mr. Lombardo spoke to the managers of the Ballantine Inn at the World's Fair in 1940 to see if they might have a spot for this group. Because of this inquiry, the merry band of six were booked at the inn for two weeks. But they remained there until the end of the fair.
After their stint at the fair, they moved on to The Flagship in Union, NJ. After what was called a 'one-nighter and theatre tour', they returned again to The Flagship. In October 1942, they moved on to the Rogers Corner in New York City, NY.
Now, back a few years before they became what they became famous for, they were ready to disband because of the 'starvation days', they got an idea from someone to start a 'corn' band. It seems they were at a point where they would try anything and from that point on, became known for their 'corn and comedy' and became one of the 'outstanding novelty entertainers in the country' - and that praise was attributed to Song Hits magazine and other nationwide pubications and critics of the day.
The band was said to be a co-operative one. Each artist owned an equal share of 'stock' in the organization. How much did they earn? Well, this folio claimed that they earned as much money as some 18 piece swing band. They were also being heard on 175 radio stations, coast to coast on 'commercially sponsored transcribed programs' (nowadays they would tell us 'recorded earlier for rebroadcast at this time'). They recorded on Okey records and were seen in several movies.
Let's take a little look at each of the six members of this group as they existed back then:
They called Harry Turen a 'scene stealer'. He just had the knack for doing little things that would get the crowd squealing in laughter. And they said when he was doing his featured 'spot' in the Casey Jones number, he was said to rival Jimmy Durante, George Jessel and Jack Benny. He was from Lyons, Nebraska. He once had a band back there called "Turen's Toe Teasers", which included fellow Korn Kobbler Stan Fritts on trombone. And being in a small town, he knew he needed another job to help pay the bills if need be. He became a printer and was editor of the newspaper for a while in Lyons. He played the saxophone and clarinet but also managed to squeeze some musical tones from other less common instruments such as the tonette, mouth harp, fiddle and even a smoke stack. He had the onerous job of smoking at least six cigars a performance but was said to not mind as the other guys had to chip in and help pay for this. He was probably what we call a 'straight man' judging by the fact that they said '...one would never think he had such an unusual sense of humor by the "still" face he displayed on the band stand."
Charlie Koenig 'hailed' from Superior, Wisconsin and was in addition to being the bass fiddle player for the Korn Kobblers, was their truck driver. They may have been highly paid entertainers, but evidently were adept at cost control. They also called him 'Charles' and smoked a pipe on the show. But they say he smoked so much that the group had a fund set up to cover his monthly visits to the doctor to get his 'personal pipes' cleaned. Sounds like an early form of a medical plan to us. He was the 'sharpie' of the group. He had a knack for wearing rather loud clothes, broad-brimmed hats and pegged pants. They also called him "Houdini" as he could perform magical tricks each night that would amazed nobody but himself. He played the bass, but seemed to have more fun playing the specially tuned gas-pipes.
The guy from St. Paul, Minnesota, was called 'chief' because he just looked like the executive type. He was the drummer for the Korn Kobblers and was once a member of Ben Pollack's original great band. Like all members of the group, he had other chores to tend to beyond what you saw on stage. Chief was the transportation director for the gorup. He had to make sure they knew when to catch the bus, train or whatever when they travelled. In addition to playing the drums, Chief could also play the vibraphone, xylophone and the 'duck quacker'. He could also do impersonations of 'famous theatrical personalities' and various Irish impressions.
You can tell by the picture Nels Laakso was as handsome as Clark Gable and as great a trumpeter as Harry James. He came from Wakefield, Michigan, where they say the population dropped to 2,446 when he decided to leave town to find his fortune elsewhere. He struggled for a bit before joining the Korn Kobblers. But before he could join, he had to learn to play the ocarina, slide whistle, mouth harp, slide cornet and the 'skoocherphone' - which the group developed buy no one can seem to commercially reproduce the unique gadget. Just like the man they compare him to, Harry James, Nels learned to play the trumpet from his dad. For some reason, he became known as the noisest boy in town back in Wakefield during those learning times. It was said that if he hadn't hit it big with the Korn Kobblers and all, he would have been the leading man for Ginger Rodgers.
The Korn Kobblers didn't really have a 'leader', but Stan Fritts filled the part of front man for the band. He was also from Lyons, Nebraska. He found that there wasn't much to do back there except planting and harvesting corn (no pun intended I'm sure), so he joined the family band and played the drums. He liked to travel and musicians certainly did travel. In addition to learning the trombone, he took no chances on that talent alone and took lessons at the local barber college. In fact, he ended up with a barber's license from the state of Nebraska. He was a trombonist that could be compared to Tommy Dorsey they say. But being in the Korn Kobblers, he also sang a great deal of the corny comedy numbers and played their infamous washboard, which had automobile horns from many countries around the world and other 'strange gadgets'. He had to have 'corns' cut from his fingers as he got them from wearing the thimbles he wore when playing the washboard. Now that's a Korn Kobbler for you.
Marty Gold was from a real country place - Brooklyn, NY. While he was the piano player of the band, and made up their musical arrangements, he served as treasurer for the group, too. He always had sign taped to his head we think that said "Keep Smiling" - they say it was because the band always set up in such a way that he was off to the side out of the spotlight. And the group owes their name to this gent. For when they first started out and were struggling to come up with a name, it was Marty who came up with Korn Kobblers. He was talented enough to get some offers or feelers from other swing bands, but chose to stay with the 'corn'.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Group Members included:
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