He's A Serious Musician In Search Of Funny Sounds

Posted: September 26, 1997

Sure, Artie Schroeck is a serious musician. Anyone who has known Schroeck over the years will testify to that. But then a lot of these same people would be surprised to learn that he is spending a lot of time collecting junk these days. The fact of the matter, though, is that Schroeck's scavenging is an important element in his latest quest to create serious music.

Well, maybe not all that serious. Schroeck, you see, has set out to re-create the sounds of Spike Jones and His City Slickers - and the junk he's collecting is to make Spike Jones-like noises. The New City Slickers, opened Tuesday night in the Broadway by the Bay Theater at Harrah's, where it will continue through Oct. 5.

Eleven talented musicians and singers are assembled on stage. Those who recall the original City Slickers - who performed from the late '30s into the '60s - know what to expect. For the uninitiated, it can be quite a jolt.

Jones was called the ``King of Corn,'' and the title was most appropriate. He specialized in musical and visual slapstick, and the music was punctuated with an endless array of oddball sounds. There were bells of every description, horns, hiccups, car crashes, burps, screams, sirens, sneezes and, well, you get the idea.

All of this and much more were incorporated into Jones' interpretations of such numbers as ``Cocktails for Two,'' ``You Always Hurt the One You Love,'' ``Love in Bloom,'' ``William Tell Overture'' and ``Der Fuehrer's Face.''

``I guess those guys weren't taken very seriously at the time, but they were really good musicians,'' Schroeck said. ``They had to be good to keep right on playing with all of the tricks Spike would throw into the music. . . . No matter what he added to the music, no matter how weird, it was all rhythmically correct.''

Schroeck is no stranger to Harrah's. He and his wife, singer/pianist Linda November, appear frequently as a duo in the Atrium Lounge. Needless to say, their music is much more conventional.

The idea for the New City Slickers came from Schroeck's brother, Harold, 74, who retired from show business 50 years ago.

``The idea was for Harold to front it,'' he said. ``But then it became obvious that it would be too grueling for someone Harold's age, so I finally jumped in. However, Harold is with the show, playing sax and doing some comedy things. I'll tell you one thing - we've all been having a lot of fun putting this together.''

Schroeck, who will turn 59 next month, became a professional at the age of 5, teaming up with Harold in a song-and-dance routine, with Artie playing drums.

``Our mother was what you could call a subtle stage mother,'' he said. ``She wouldn't go to agents and be pushy, that kind of thing, but I took lessons in one thing or another just about every day.''

They opened for a lot of the big bands back then. That's how the young drummer met Gene Krupa when he was 8 and became a Krupa protege, although Schroeck went on to play piano.

Harold retired from the act to go to work as a mechanic for their father's trucking firm in Newark, N.J., and it wasn't long before Artie decided to put his performing career on the back burner. In 1965, he went to New York, where he became a studio musician, which is how Spike Jones began. He also began writing commercial jingles and arranging for such artists as Liza Minnelli, Neil Diamond, Sammy Davis Jr., Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and Barry Manilow.

In addition, Schroeck found more than a little success as a songwriter. He wrote ``Here's to the Band'' for Frank Sinatra and ``Lovin' Things,'' which was recorded by Petula Clark.

``Petula recorded that song in about seven different languages,'' he said. ``I remember getting a check from France. I looked at it and said, `Hey, I didn't write that song.' But I'm still writing and still doing arrangements. And I conduct the orchestra for Paul Sorvino whenever he feels like doing some concerts. So, yeah, I keep busy.''

Schroeck and November met in the late '60s when they were both working on a Frankie Valli recording session. At the time, she was a background singer who worked on such records as ``Do You Know the Way to San Jose,'' ``After the Lovin','' ``Copacabana'' and ``Leroy Brown.'' November has also had a prolific career as a jingle singer, appearing in 20,000 radio and television commercials.

``We were both married to different people at the time,'' Schroeck said. ``We didn't get together as a couple until 1988. By the way, Linda is serving as director for the New City Slickers show.''

When the Harrah's engagement concludes, Schroeck wouldn't mind if the show finds additional life.

``We have about three hours of material and only do an hour and 10 minutes now,'' he said. ``So we can certainly do another version or two.''

If You Go

Where: Broadway by the Bay Theatre, Harrah's Casino Hotel, 777 Harrah's Blvd.

When: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 7 and 10 p.m. Through Oct. 5.

Cost: $25.

Phone: 800-242-7724.

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