Submitted by Joel Samberg, grandson of Benny Bell, who in turn was often credited with singing "Shaving Cream" in 1946, but the real vocalist was Paul Wynn.
A new CD has just been released featuring the work of offbeat novelty artist Benny Bell, composer of such songs as "Shaving Cream," "My Grandpa Had a Long One," "Everybody Loves My Fanny," "Without Pants," "Jerk of all Trades," "Six Feet Samba" and dozens of other rare cult classics.
The new CD is entitled "Benny Bell: Another Close Shave," and is available exclusively through the online record store, http://cdbaby.com/cd/bennybell. It is reawakening interest in the curious and fascinating career of Benny Bell, whose work spanned the 20th Century from the mid 1920s to the early 1990s. He died in 1999 at the age of 93.
When "Shaving Cream," originally recorded in 1946, was re-released in 1975, it became the most requested record in the history of WNBC radio in New York, drawing even more requests than the Beatles.
"My grandfather was one of the funniest, wackiest, craziest, busiest, most resilient and resourceful comedians ever to come out of Vaudeville and the Borscht Belt circuits," says Joel Samberg, producer of the new CD. "Unfortunately, once he was called to the big jukebox in the sky, there were few mechanisms in place to enable to legacy to live on through reissues and continued publicity. Many people, therefore, are missing out on these timeless novelty gems. So I"m spilling the beans"or more appropriately, the borscht"by making this new CD of Benny Bell tunes available for his fans."
Samberg says it will be the first of several compilations to be released. The next one, "Benny Bell: Borscht & Found," is currently in production.
Recently, at a radio convention in Newark, NJ, broadcasting legend Joe Franklin, on whose TV show Bell appeared several times, was quoted as saying, "I loved Benny Bell. Somebody should do a tribute to him." Radio jock Bruce Morrow and novelty broadcaster Dr. Demento, with both of whom Bell was acquainted, echoed Franklin"s sentiments. "Another Close Shave," comprised of the original recordings that Bell made in his own studio (where he cut more than 200 albums and singles), is the tribute that they and many others have been asking for.
Born in 1906 on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Benny"s story in some ways parallels that of the young Al Jolson. His Russian immigrant father was a cantor who would have liked for his son to follow in his footsteps. But Benny was too deeply drawn to music and humor to consider that a viable path.
In 1922, at the age of 16, he wrote a new version of an old public domain song, "Sweet Violets," which became a modest success. Throughout the next few years, he was able to interest artists such as Eddie Cantor and Harry Von Tilzer into listening and considering his songs. He appeared on radio several times and entered many contests, winning many fans along the way. By his early twenties, he began having songs accepted for recording by Herman Rose, Ted Collins and others"although many were never released. So Benny began recording his own songs instead.
At 22 he married Molly Ehrlich, whom he had known since they were young teenagers. To support his wife and two sons, he took various jobs, such as musical transcriptionist, pushcart peddler and messenger. But he continued to perform at hotels and record his own songs. His son Jerry remembers him sneaking union musician friends into his basement studio to circumvent the financial requirements of professional recording.
"He led an enormously interesting life," Samberg says. "He lived it the way he felt destined to"even if that meant a few years of poverty."
Several of his songs, including Pincus the Peddler (a comic story-song about a luckless immigrant), Shaving Cream and Take a Ship For Yourself, were popular jukebox hits, particularly throughout New York City.
Like his idol, Irving Berlin, Benny also wrote several elegant ballads, including If You Promise to Be Mine, and poignant war-time tunes, such as Ship Ahoy, Sailor Boy, recorded by Rose Marie, famous for her role as Sally on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."
Bell later branched out into books (such as "What Men Know About Women," which was several blank pages) and inventions (like "hot pants," demonstrated on the Joe Franklin Show, which steamed up whenever a sexy girl passed by). In 1975, when Bell was 69-years-old, both Dr. Demento and Cousin Bruce Morrow on WNBC radio in New York played Shaving Cream on the air for the first time in a long time, and a new career was born. His appearances at such top venues as The Bottom Line and the Beacon Theatre in New York, and the Country Club of Reseda in California, were met with great success.
With the "Benny Bell: Another Close Shave" CD, his career may be reborn once again. Bell fans, collectors, music historians, aficionados of novelty records and others owe it to themselves to buy the new CD (those who do will be put on a mailing list to receive the follow-up at a special price). We would also appreciate it if you would spread the word! Thank you.