Dakota Datebook

Tommy Tucker Time!

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Today is Tommy Tucker’s birthday. He was born in 1908 in Souris, where he was known by his real name, Gerald Duppler. Fans of 1940s big bands will recall his 1941 hit, “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.”

Tommy Tucker was one of the most successful orchestra leaders of his day. He specialized in slow dance music for hotel ballroom audiences, a style that kept him at the top of his profession for nearly thirty years.

Tucker majored in music at UND and graduated Phi Beta Kappa Key in 1929. His first band, Tommy Tucker and His Californians, was formed that same year. They made several recordings, with Tucker on vocals, before breaking up in the mid-thirties. Despite the Great Depression, Tucker flourished when his next orchestra hit the hotel and ballroom circuit. During their heyday, the band bus carried an average of 25 performers plus 13 wives. Their schedule was brutal.

The Tommy Tucker Orchestra was also a favorite on radio shows such as the very popular “Fibber McGee and Molly Show,” in 1936-37, and the “Georgie Jessel Show” in ‘38. Tucker wrote, “Since our music was not especially stylized, we needed a trademark. So I hit upon the idea of using the sound of a clock’s tick-tock to introduce our radio shows, a spoken slogan, ‘It’s Tommy Tucker Time!’ and then our theme. This was an instant success. It took only a lick or two on wood blocks of different pitches… with many of our listeners at home and in the ballroom imitating our tick-tock.”

Tucker’s theme song was an original called I Love You, Oh I Love You. Two other original tunes also became hits: Cool, Calm And Collected and a song that was considered too suggestive for children, The Man Who Comes Around. The lyrics parents found objectionable were, “There’s a man who comes to our house, every single day. When papa comes home, the man goes away.”

Tucker’s personal favorite, That Old Sweetheart of Mine, never made it big. “It was based on a poem by James Whitcomb Riley,” he wrote, “which I had studied in grade school and greatly enjoyed. I had high hopes for that tune. It wasn’t to be, but we never stopped trying.”

When swing became popular during World War II, Tucker tried to make the transition by hiring an arranger named Van Alexander, who had arranged Ella Fitzgerald’s famous tune, A-Tisket, A-Tasket. But, Tucker’s foray into swing failed, so he went back to his tried and true formula, three slow songs, then an up-tempo.

When the popularity of big bands waned during the late ‘50s, Tucker finally quit performing to take a job teaching music at Monmouth College in New Jersey.

“Every morning on my way to the college,” he wrote, “I came to a fork in the road. The left fork would take me to the open highway where I had spent a quarter of a century of endless miles and sleepless nights as we jumped from one city to another, the task of setting up the band, playing the job, packing up the instruments early in the morning, and getting on the bus to continue ever onward; but the fork to the right took me to the college and home every night.”

Tucker didn’t retire from his second career until he was 71. He died in Florida in 1989.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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