Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Narrow Gauge Line

Tom MacCluskey interviewed March 2010.

On July 4 1961, The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad was designated as a U.S. National Landmark. To commemorate the authorization the city fathers hired Ernie Kemm - who would later pen "Here's to Colorado," the state's official centennial song.

"We began performing together as a duo in Denver with Al Fike," said Tom MacCluskey. "Ernie was playing piano, I played drums, and sometimes piano."

When Kemm received the call to write the Narrow Gauge record, he had a regular gig at the Back Door in Denver. He enlisted the help of MacCluskey to arrange the recording, and put together a group of studio musicians.

"I actually hired some of the best jazz musicians in Denver to play on it," MacCluskey said. "I had Neil Bridge on piano, and Derryl Goes on drums, who later toured with Stan Kenton."

Recorded in Denver, at Western Cine Recording Studio, the record features the vocal stylings of 10-year old Becky Ann Todeschi, of Durango.

"I never even met her," said MacCluskey. "We laid down the instrumental tracks and she overdubbed her voice - she wasn't in the studio."


The b-side of the single - "The Sound of Silverton" - features sound effects of the train.

"...authentic on-the-spot sounds recorded at departure time at the D&RGW depot in Durango, will capture your imagination as you hear the train actually whistle, the drumbeats and bells of the dancing Indians, plus the call of "all aboard"....

The single was later re-released on the Durango label (Durango 101-year unknown).


Tom MacCluskey, who had previously never been to Durango, moved to the town in 2000, and is now a regular performer at the Mahogany Grille. He also hosts a Sunday morning classical music program on KDUR radio.

Visit MacCluskey bio on Mahogany Grille site.
Shortly after the release of the Narrow Gauge disc, Kemm released another record on the Spur label, "The Trail They Call the Navajo / Songs of the Navajos." He would also go on to record for the Denver-based Band Box label ("Here Kitty Kitty" / "Larimer Square" - Band Box label 369).

In 1965 Kemm left Colorado for New York City. He is now a regular cruise ship performer. He was unavailable to comment on this story.

Attempts to locate Becky Ann Todeschi were unsuccessful.

COMING NEXT POST: Alex J. Chávez

5 comments:

  1. A minor correction to your post : Band Box 369 is a much later release (was issued actually in 1966).

    In 1962, another Kemm release on the same Spur label was "The trail they call the Navajo / Songs of the navajos"

    What is the song on the flip of "The Narrow Gauge Line" please?

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  2. Made the corrections, thank you for the info - and thank you for the link on your blog! -Lisa

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  3. Bob & Lisa - coincidentally just picked up what I believe is an original copy of this 45/PS. It has a maroon label (not blue) and the flip is an instro also entitled "The Narrow Gauge Line" (not "The Sound Of Silverton"). It's possible that the B-sides are the same tune, as this one also features train sound effects.

    BTW - the A-Side is cat. #CP-6343 and B-Side is CP-6344.

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  4. Strange on the label variation. Yeah, the b-side on mine has sfx too. Sounds like they just pressed it on two different colors of labels, as the label numbers are also the same.

    Thanks for the info!

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  5. I cannot believe it! This was my favorite record on my phonograph when I was a tike! I have been searching since childhood for the name and the tune. and tonight for some reason I started searching again and FINALLY after almost 40 years, I hear it and see it!! THANK YOU SO MUCH, I played with my Lionel train set which I still have listening to this!! I mean every old person I could tell COULD NOT EVEN recall such a song. I got it from my grandmother when I was a kid.

    Finally my quest has ended EXCEPT I DONT HAVE THE FULL SONG!!!

    I DO recall that the SIDE B tune was the SAME TUNE BUT INSTRUMENTAL!! I so enjoyed the orchestrations, artists, and movies of the 40's and I am not even from that era! I can recall my teen years falling to sleep to some serious modern jazz(chic corea) and having the the "OLD TIME RADIO" show subliminally enter my ears and make me dream that I was in a scene(I just thought I was dreaming) from whatever show they played!! I even called the show to ask them about THIS TUNE! BUt the guy did not even know..

    Thank you so so so so much.

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