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Big Band Sound "Swing" Bob Burns Band & Dan Garson Orchestra Southwest Wisconsin - 1930s-1990s

Written by Lonna Arneson, reprinted with permission

Southwest Wisconsin

Written by Lonna Arneson, reprinted with permission

"Big Bands" started becoming popular with the spin off of "Swing"; the natural product of the jazz and blues era, and it was the only musical form to have originated in America. Prior to World War II, this art form borrowed heavily from African-American music (Dixieland) and had begun to modify by the 1930s. This new performance style was believed to have been labeled, "Swing", after Duke Ellington's song, Sing, Sing, Sing (With Swing).

The turnaround came when Benny Goodman played at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California on August 21, 1935. The concert became spectacular when he introduced "Swing" in the second half of the show. The crowd went wild. Some of the audience was dancing in the aisles. "Swing" dominated the music scene from then on and became the pulse of American society. The "Big Band" sound was huge from 1935 through the 1940s.

Some of the most well-known dance bands, or orchestras, during those years were: Benny Goodman (The King of Swing), Glenn Miller (he was inducted into the Army and modernized the Army-Air force bands until his death, December 15, 1944, in a plane crash), Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Dick Jurgens, Jan Garber, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa, Duke Ellington, Russ Morgan, and Stan Kenton.

We can't forget the singers of those years who helped to popularize so many familiar tunes: Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Perry Como, the Andrew Sisters, and the Mills Brothers.

Music reflects the feeling of the nation, and after having just come through the Depression, people were looking for a good time. As it happened, the "Swing" era coincided with the development of the radio industry, and the programming helped to build morale at home as well as the morale of those serving in the military.

Everywhere you looked there were posters urging you to conserve, produce, give blood, or buy War Bonds. Music, and movies served as an escape from the realities of war. Those who had access to radio, and the entertainment provided, can vouch positively in that regard.

Some of the songs of the era were patriotic in nature, and others reflected the emotion of being away from a loved one. Some of the songs listed were in the "Top Ten": The Chapel in the Moonlight, In the Mood, I'll Be Seeing You, Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, Kiss the Boys Goodbye, Don't Get Around Much Anymore, and Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy.

Of course, there were those in society who felt this music, along with the "Jive" (the slang which followed), the clothing styles and dance style known as the "Swing", or the "Jitterbug", were an immoral influence on the youth. Or, as my grandmother referred to it, "pushing and pulling." But in general, the music was optimistic in nature and the listeners were content with the "happy beats".

The bandleaders became heroes to a loyal following of admirers. They would follow their favorite bands to as many performances as possible. Goodman's success gave encouragement to excellent musicians across the country to form bands of their own. Across the nation, these smaller bands were encouraged to do their part on the home front, helping to keep a sense of normality by easing wartime stress. Daily lives were riddled with thoughts of loved ones and friends who were fighting to protect interests at home.

Several talented musicians from Iowa County, including Dan McIlwee of Ridgeway, and Bob Burns (brother of Cyril Burns, a longtime Mt. Horeb photographer) from Hollandale, Wisconsin, formed the Bob Burns Band in 1938. The photo (included) shows the original members of the Bob Burns Band and was taken at the Letcher Studio in Dodgeville.

They started playing together as a result of some of the members having won amateur talent contests, which were popular at that time. All of the musicians could read music and some could improvise as well. Lyle Thompson was the youngest at age 18. The Arneson brothers, Garfield and Thomas, and Lyle Thompson had been music students of Fred H. Hanneman, of Mt. Horeb, who later was known as "Mt. Horeb's Music Man". Mr. Hanneman divided his teaching time between the Mt. Horeb, Barneveld, and Verona schools from the mid to late 1930s.

Uncle Sam called Bob Burns into service in the early 1940s. After the war, Bob started another band, and later married Marie McNurlen from the Lone Rock area. She played piano until her death in 1998. Her brother, Harold, played drums and went on to form his own band called the Hal Mack Band. Tom Arneson played trombone with the Hal Mack Band in the late 1940s and quit playing entirely in the early 1950s. Some other bands familiar to this area in the "Swing" days were: Norm Kingsley, Benny Ehr, and Eddy Lawrence.

In the late 1980s and 1990s, Bob Burns was playing with a group of seven called the Big Band Showcase. They played tunes from the "Big Band" era and Dixieland also. They played for the 50th anniversary of the Hollandale Community Building in May of 1990, a Syttende Mai party in May of that year, and for Mt. Horeb's Frolic on June 1, 1990. During those years, Bob and others would gather for a jam session on Sunday afternoons at Pott's Inn (Sam's Hall in earlier years), at Cross Plains. Pott's Inn (which was located next to Baer Park on Church Street) was purchased by the Village of Cross Plains and torn down in 2002.

About two years ago, after having provided the area with so many hours of enjoyable entertainment and memories, Bob passed away.

Later, in the early 1940s, some of the original Bob Burns Band members reorganized using the name the Dan Garson Orchestra. Mrs. Ole (Naomi) Arneson, Thomas and Garfield's mother, came up with this idea. The "Dan" was for Dan McIlwee, the "Gar" for Garfield Arneson and the "son" for Thompson and Arneson. This band played into the 1960s with various changes in membership along the way.

The enclosed picture of the original Dan Garson Orchestra was taken at the Riverview Ballroom in Sauk City. [note - both photos mentioned are in the photo section of this site]

It's remarkable, but neither organization got together to practice as a group, according to Lyle Thompson. Music was selected by mutual agreement, and Lyle Thompson wrote some of the arrangements. They considered themselves a "Swing" band, but primarily "Sweet", using a combination of the styles of Guy Lombardo and Jan Garber. "Old-time" music, such as waltz, schottische, or polka, was not played unless there were requests from the audience.

These were busy years for the band members. Each person was a student, or had a fulltime job in farming, sales, writing, and so on.

Dan McIlwee handled bookings for both bands, and Gene Calhoun did some of this for the Dan Garson Orchestra also. In a letter (July 19, 1941) to his brother, Marvin, who was in basic training in Illinois; Thomas Arneson writes that, because of rain, he had a day off from farming and spent the time getting bookings. He traveled to Lone Rock, Boscobel, Fennimore, Lancaster, and Cassville (this was the first time he'd seen the Mississippi River). He then went on to East Dubuque, Platteville, and Rockville too. That evening he received a phone call and the band would play, for a fee of $47.50, the next week.

It was up to the dance halls, or whoever hired them, to take care of advertising, and it was rare for a dance to be cancelled, but it happened twice. Once when there was a power outage in Waunakee and again because of a fire at Sauk City.

Each person had to be a card-carrying member of the national musician's union. Thomas Arneson's card showed that he was a member of Local 243, of the American Federation of Musicians out of Monroe, Wisconsin. Lyle Thompson's last Madison Musician's Union card is dated 1961.

During World War II gas was rationed and cost approximately 17 cents per gallon. Needless to say, there were some packed cars, filled with young people, who followed their favorite band to various locations. Admission to a dance in this area was usually 25 cents.

The number of nights and events they played for varied by season; heavier during holidays and slower during Lent. They often were booked for the same event year after year. Some types of events were: Proms, homecomings, wedding and anniversary dances, benefits, St. Patrick's Day, Valentine's Day, New Years Eve, Syttende Mai (Norwegian Independence Day - May 17), private clubs and firemen's dances.

Some of the locations played were: Rainbow Gardens at Spring Green, Lilac Gardens (now Trash to Treasures) on Highway 14 near Arena, Sam's Hall (Pott's Inn), Cross Plains, Riverview Ballroom at Sauk City (where Lyle Thompson met and later married Frances Bongard); the Opera House (owned by Ayer's Furniture) and Hi-Point both at Ridgeway, Soldier's Memorial Park ("The Pavilion") at Mineral Point, Simon's Hall at Springfield Corners, Smitty's in Waunakee, and the Club Chanticleer (means rooster, now Fitzgerald's), Highway 12, Middleton. In Madison they played at the Loft, Turner Hall, and the Elk's Club. Mt. Horeb locations were Club 18 (which opened in 1946), west of town on Highway 18, the Strand Theatre (now an antique shop), and the Parkway Theater and Ballroom (Jenny Johnson Real Estate) both on Main Street. They seldom traveled out-of-state for a booking.

On August 10 and 24, 1946, the Dan Garson Orchestra was recorded at the Parkway Theatre and Ballroom by Dean Tvedt, Warren Grinde and Harley Swiggum, of Mt. Horeb. The recordings were done during dances and the crowd can be heard in the background. They had not planned on being recorded and used only one microphone. The reed section could be heard quite well, but not enough brass could be heard to give the recordings a good balance. They were cut on blanks and made into 78 rpm recordings in those days.

Tunes recorded were: Oh, What It seemed to Be, Woodchopper's Ball, Easter Parade, Johnny's Boogie, To Each His Own, In the Moon Mist, and Study in Riffs (a Garson original). Also recorded were: How Deep is the Ocean. I Don't Know Enough About You, I Believe in Miracles, and Sophisticated Swing, which was the Dan Garson theme song.

The eight bands members on the recording were: Marion Chermak, Stan Schumacher, Dan McIlwee, Gene Calhoun, Phil Gordon, Lyle "Eddie" Thompson, Thomas and Garfield Arneson.

Even though the conditions for recording were not ideal, the records have provided hours of listening pleasure and discussion to those who still have them in their possession.

Madison area musicians who played at various times in the Dan Garson Orchestra, until they dissolved in the 1960s: Art Mayland, trumpet; Ted Hubin, saxophone; Bob Kaether, trombone (took Tom Arneson's place); Jim Peshke, saxophone; Johnny Finken, piano; Lee Hoiby, piano; Carl Huber, trombone; Karl Miller, trumpet; Doc DeHaven, Sr., trumpet; and Earl Smith, saxophone. Only two of the original musicians played into the 1960s and they are Lyle Thompson and Dan McIlwee, presently living in Madison. As noted earlier, Lyle and Dan were original members of the Bob Burns Band, and another from this band, Roy Voss, lives in Green Lake, Wisconsin. They are the only survivors from the two original bands.

The Dan Garson Orchestra had a wonderful following and it doesn't take much to conjure up the special memories that were left along the way; a familiar name, a date, or a tune not heard so often any more.

Lyle Thompson: band member (major input and editing)
Lois Arneson Collins: informative memories (she and Thomas Arneson are the parents of Lonna Arneson)
Sue Arneson Theobald: provided old letters (parents, Marvin Arneson and Verna Aeschbach, met at a dance)
Lyle Voss: memories (married the Arneson's only sister, Alice, and is a brother to Roy Voss)
Don and Gertie Henderson: memories, and are volunteers for the Mt. Horeb Area Museum
Melvin "Ole" Olson: memories, Dogeville area
Stephen and Joshua Wolenec: computer expertise (son and grandson or Lonna Arneson)

Submitted by:
Lonna Arneson
April 2003

Linked toGarfield Ole ARNESON; Thomas Meredith ARNESON

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