"Morton Fraser's Harmonica Gang"
by Art M. Daane
Before using the name "Harmonica Gang" they used "Harmonica Rascals." One can only guess why they changed the name but I'm sure it had something to do with Borrah Minevitch, who already used the name "Harmonica Rascals." Little did anyone know that Borrah had never registered that name!
Front row: Tiny Ross, comedian - Morton Fraser; leader, and Nat Lees; accordeon and arranger.
Back row 2nd from the left is Stan Kay; chord player.
Mannie Fish, alias Morton Fraser was a stat harmonica solo act, he was the younger brother of
impressario Dan Fish, and was featured in variety theatres all over Europe until war broke out
in 1939. Shortly after he joined the Royal Artillery, and it wasn't for long before he went into
the famous "Stars in Battledress" shows, entertaining the Armed Forces.
Four soundtracks by Morton Fraser as a soloist:
· "Tosselli's Serenade" (1937)
· "Dark Eyes" (1941)
· "Song of India" (1943)
· "In the Mood" (1944)
During the time he served, he met many other harmonica enthusiasts and the idea was born of forming a 'Harmonica Group'.
The 'Gang' became an immidiate success, and performed all over the world. They
played the London Palladium many times, one season for 17 weeks. They
appeared on television and were firmly established as one of the funniest and most popular
comedy musical acts in Great-Britain. Their records on the E-M-I- International label sold all
over the world. Some of the titles I have in my collection are:
Gang medley - Hora staccato - Gallopin' comedians - Body and soul
Tea for two - Caravan - Chelsea - Your cheatin' heart, and a 1947 soundtrack by the 'Gang' of "In the Mood."
It was 1955 when I first met Morton and the Gang. They were touring South Africa with the
"Eve Boswell Show," she had released the hit song "Sugar Bush" prior to the tour and was an
accomplished organist as well. We reldaart.
(The Relda Trio) were invited to the Alhambra Theater in
Cape Town to meet Morton and the Gang back stage on a Wednesday afternoon, and see the
show in the evening. A time I will never forget, we joined the Gang on our instruments and
Morton then introduced us to the British impressario Gordon Mulholland, who wanted us for the
Windmill Theater in
London. However, the other two members of the trio didn't want to give up their jobs which
where we were, in Cape Town.
The featured diminutive star of the 'Gang' was Tiny Ross, he wasn't only a very funny
comedian but also an accomplished musician, and a pianist of great merit. All the
members of the Gang were multi-instrumentalists, and very fine vocalists too.
A few of the outstanding former members of this talented group were:
Henry Samuels - Peter March - Tony Rouse - Tony Vincent - Michael Jackson -
Clem Ratcliffe - Walter John (Tiny) Ross - Harry Simms -
Stan Kaye - Jim Garside - Nat Lees - Dave King - Don Cameron -
Ronnie Cresswell - Don Paul - Gordon Mills - Ken Howell - Johnny Stafford
and many others who received their schooling in show business from Morton.
The slogan of the Gang was:
"You Won't Stop Laughing".
Morton died on 10 June 1982, leaving a widow, daughter and grandchildren.
Source: Brian Holland, NHL Harmonica News.
Henry Samuels passed away on 6 April 2012 in the Los Angelos hospital. He was one of our great harmonica players and will be
missed by more than his many friends. Henry was still entertaining regularly when his cancer was discovered.
If you have not seen Henry perform, you can see 2 clips of his poromotion videos on www.Youtube.com/HenrySamuels1
Source: Al Smith, USA.
"The Story of Morton Fraser"
by Morton Fraser
THE re-birth of the National Harmonica Song Bands League is an event in my considered
opinion of as great importance to harmonica players and enthusiasts as is the fact that once
again; it is possible to go into any music shop and purchase a harmonica.
I say this from my, own personal experiences in pre-war days. while I toured the provincial variety theatres as a soloist. In every town harmonica players would find their way to the stage door and usually, an invitation to visit a local H.S. band vould be forthcoming. I always found these meetings most enjoyable, and was particularly impressed by the enthusiastic approach of these harmonica players, who invariably devote all their leisure and spare evenings to rehearsing and learning most avidly.
As a matter of fact, that is how the idea oy my forming a professional band was born; and
when I mentioned this to Dr. Meyer one day, he lost no time in helping me to start. In the
Summer of 1939, the headquarters of the H.S.B. League in Store Street. W.C.2,
became my rehearsal rooms nightly, and Mr. Millard, Dr. Meyer, and Mr. Mathis
(an eminent musician) gave me every assistance. I arranged to produce this band in October,
as you know, to quote a famous Scotsman who said something about the plans of mice and
men, war broke out.
During the time I spent in the Forces. I did a lot of entertaining in the various theatres of war, and met several harmonica players also in battledress, and I kept in touch with them until the war ended. In the Summer of 1946, rehearsals commenced once again, and on Monday, June 3rd, 1946, Morton Fraser and his Harmonica Gang made their first public appearance, and have been "going strong" ever since.
I APPEARED with my Boys until May, 1950, when, during an engagement at Oldham Empire,
I was taken ill, and could not work. The management was most helpful, and assured me that
they would get by somehow. By the time that Saturday came round, I was much better, and I
arrived at the Theatre just in time to see my own act from the front for the first time! I was so
impressed with their performance that there and then, I decided my davs of appearing with the
Band were over; and I could use my efforts to far better advantage attending to the production
of the act, and to looking after the business end full time.
The results of this decision have more than emphasised the wisdom of my snap judgement. Without any fear of contradiction, I can proudly say that Morton Fraser's Harmonica Gang is one of the finest aggregations of Harmonica Players in the World. If anyone wishes to contradict this sweeping statement, go and listen to them, and try to prove me wrong.
You can't accuse me of being Stage-Struck.
Remember. I don't work in the act ! I'm just making a statement of fact ! And whv shouldn't it
be so? Since June, 1946, over five and a half years ago, for five mornings every week, and I
mean EVERY WEEK. I have known where to find my boys. Shall I tell you were? Rehearsing from
10.30 'til I pm., they couldn't go on longer, as all theatres close at 1 p.m. The
standard we have always set ourselves has been the unattainable one of perfection, and even
when the Boys have come off the stage having stopped the show, and left the audience
shouting for more (and this is a frequent occurence) no one has ever been guilty of saying
"aren't we good."
I'm as proud of my musicians as Sir Thomas Beecham is of his- and most of my men come to
me without experience, and with only one quality, though I consider this the greatest-
determination to succeed! I said one quality, but I'm wrong. There is another quality they
possess in great abundance, "loyalty."
I'm afraid that I have strayed completely away from what I started out to talk about, viz., the H.S.B.League, but you see, I'm the Gang's greatest fan, and once I start talking about them, I find it hard to stop! But let me stress one thing to you harmonica enthusiasts. Whenever the Gang is appearing, don't hesitate to call round at the stage door if you have any problems, or want any advice about harmonicas. The boys will talk your heads off! (it's their favourite subject).
If I can help in any way, drop me a line care of the H.S.B. League, or the B.B.C. I'll be glad to hear from you, and if you are forming a band, or thinking or doing so, let me know what I can do to assist.
In conclusion, I am always on the lookout for good harmonica players, and if you feel that
your playing even remotely approaches the standard required for professional work, and you
'vould like to, as Wilfred Pickles would say "have a go, let me hear from you."
Source: Harmonica News, Winter, 1951-vol. 2
Art M. Daane
Webmaster: RELDAART ©
Copyright © Art M. Daane
All rights reserved