It was performed at ‘The Winter Garden Theatre’ in New York in Act 2 of the Broadway musical production ‘Spice’ in 1922. Early successful recordings of the song were by the ‘Peerless Quartet’, Blossom Seeley and Paul Whiteman. The song has been recorded numerous times from the early 1920s into the 21st century. It reached Number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100’ chart in early 1960. The song was performed by Harry Connick Jr. in a September 2005 NBC Katrina fundraiser, ‘A Concert For Hurricane Relief’, that raised over $50 million.
While I have heard this song many times as I was growing up during the 1950s, I became re-acquainted with it during my few years when living in Canada during 1964/65. For six months, I worked as a Hotel receptionist on the night shift at an uptown hotel in Toronto. The hotel was in a ‘dry area’ and although my standard wage was half as much again as the older Bell Boy (the only other hotel worker between 8.00 pm and 8.00 am) who took the guests to their rooms and carried their cases when they checked in, and likewise to their cars on check out, the Bell Boy ‘Ron’ usually made three times my earnings each month without any more significant effort than I would carry out my job.
There were two main reasons for this. The first was that being British, I always wholly unacquainted with the concept of a person taking tips for having provided a service that his employers were paying them for anyway. Consequently, and much to the annoyance of many hotel guests, my refusal to take tips was essentially unheard of. Secondly, the bulk of Ron’s earnings came from his business on the side he had going for him. You see, Ron had been twice married, was an alcoholic and a gambler on the horses. He was either in large debt to his creditors or stuffed with money.
He had three jobs in total and ran a ‘black market empire’ in the hotel on a night time; especially when crammed to the rafters with grounded flight passengers in the Toronto fog. Each month, Ron would work double shifts, totally abstain from alcohol consumption and then place $1000 on a horse to win. If he lost, he would work extra hours during the following month to meet his financial commitments, but if he won, he would take a week off work and travel to the mountains in part of the USA where he would indulge alone in his two favourite past times, clear water fishing in mountain streams and drinking all night and day long until his money ran out.
This had been his pattern of life for five years before I knew him. It was a way of life he had no desire to change. He even met his second or third wife bathing nude in a clear water stream and she jokingly told him, “Now you’ve seen everything I’ve got, Honey, you’d better make an honest woman of me!” The gentleman he was, Ron married the woman.
To finance his addictions and lifestyle, Ron was obliged to make as much money from his extra-curricular activities at the hotel as he could. Hence, Ron knew where to obtain the two most illegal and sought-after commodities that guests from another country who were stranded overnight in a strange city always enquired about; the purchase of liquor and female companionship (and sometimes male) for the night. The hotel was situated in a part of town where the municipal law prohibited all local hotels and restaurant establishments from selling alcohol. Each month, Ron would outlay around $200 purchasing booze and liquor from contacts he had dealt with for years, which he would then sell to guests for a greatly marked-up price whenever asked for. The ‘Glenview Terrace Hotel’ was situated close to the Toronto airport. It was a frequent occurrence for flights to America to be grounded due to fog conditions and whenever this happened, the 300-roomed hotel would be filled to bursting point with stranded USA travellers, eager for female company (away from home) and alcoholic beverages. I was particularly surprised to learn of the 10 per cent ‘introduction commission’ Ron had arranged with a local prostitute pimp; an agreement that was mutually beneficial to both parties.
During quieter periods of the nightly shifts, Ron and I would chat, and smoke and he would always play his favourite music. His favourite song of all was (you guessed it!) ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans’; a place he always swore that he would visit the first time a horse wager paid enough dividends to indulge his pleasure.
God Bless you, Ron, wherever you may be situated today.
Love and peace Bill xxx