Excerpt From “A Minstral’s tale” by Ron Simmonds

Ron Simmonds is a professional trumpet player in England and has quite a history himself. When I was gathering info about Wally for this site about 3 years ago, he wrote me and offered his support. However I have not been able to contact him, through his site or his old email. My apologies, Ron for copying this text, but I think our readers should see this, and I’ll take it down if you want. Stephen Barncard.

Excerpt From “A Minstral’s tale” by Ron Simmonds… (see link below)

Now Wally Heider was in Berlin again. Last time he’d visited he had banged a hole in the lid of the boot of my car. He had come over with the Bee-Gees to record their concert in the Philharmonie, bringing three Ampex 24 track tape ma chines with him. We had fetched one from Tempelhof, put it in the boot, and he had smashed the lid down on one sharp corner.

I left the hole there. I was proud to point out who had made it. By now Wally had the biggest recording company in Los Angeles, and was re sponsible, among oth ers, for all the Buddy Rich and Woody Herman record ings now being made.

He hadn’t changed since Glasgow. Always in a hurry, he could hardly sit still long enough to get served in a restaurant. He had an authorisation from the State Department which allowed him access to all AFN archives. He intended pulling out all the wartime V-Discs he could lay hands on of the great bands. Most of the discs had been made from live broadcasts during the war.

I went with him. It was spooky down in the basement in Clay Allee, where the discs had been stored. Seeing thousands of those wonderful, huge, floppy records which had brought me so much pleasure as a boy on programmes such as Midnight in Munich, and Lunchin’ in Munchen brought shivers up and down my spine.

Wally didn’t have time for nostalgia. He went through the V-Discs like a cy clone, whipping them out, playing a few bars and saving or dis carding. In this way he went through the lot in six or seven hours. I kept him supplied with coffee and ham burgers from the AFN canteen upstairs.

The V-Discs were nearly all badly worn, but Wally enhanced them electronically, and gave me about twenty LP’s he’d made of them for his friends when he came the next time. The performing rights restrictions wouldn’t allow him to sell the records, because he didn’t have the complete line-up on each recording, necessary for the payment of musician royalties. The collection I now have is an amazing bit of big band history.

Wally was by now very fat, had heart problems, and walked with difficulty. This didn’t prevent him from his next, most rewarding coup.

During the war years we cinema-goers had, on rare occasions, been able to see jazz clips, which were usually sandwiched between the main and secondary films. These were shots of big bands like Ellington, Dorsey or Herman, or groups like Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway. Mostly there would be dancers in the clips, because the film-makers couldn’t compre hend that anyone would want to just stare at the musicians. This had always infuriated me.

Wally had discovered an archive of these clips at MGM and had started a nation-wide poll to discover just how many people would be in terested in seeing these films again. He asked every disc jockey in the USA to advertise the project, offering to pay one dollar for each name they could give him. People began writing in by the thousands. Soon, Wally had paid out one million dollars to the jockeys, and had a list of names as thick as a telephone book.

Before he had even had time to start negotiating with MGM he’d received offers of over a million dollars from several record companies, just for the list.

MGM agreed to release the clips, but stipulated that Wally would have to take everything, and sort the stuff out himself. This meant that he came into possession of things like the Our Gang short films and a lot of other stuff, a lot of it utter rubbish, but, once again, of historical value.

Wally began to fit all this on to video tape, to be sold commer cially. When he died around 1989 he was a multi-millionaire. He’d come a long way from being an un successful lawyer in Portland, Oregon.

Written by Ron Simmonds
Ron Simmonds Jazz Professional Site

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