Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Little About The Firehouse Five Plus Two

I recently got verbally beaten up over my last post featuring The Firehouse Five Plus Two because I didn't provide enough information about the group. So in order to right that wrong, here's the full story.
Back in the 40's, a group of Disney animators (Frank Thomas and Ward Kimball included) liked Dixieland Jazz and during lunch hours, would play some records on the studio record player of Jelly Roll Morton, Baby Dodds and Louie Armstrong. Kimball, who learned trombone in grade school, would play to the records. Other people; who also played an instrument, would come in and join Ward playing to the records. Finally one day, when a group of these guys were jazzing along to 'Royal Garden Blues', the record player broke down, and they kept on playing and according to Ward, " our amazement, sounded pretty good all by ourselves!" They got to be tight as a group and eventually drew crowds at lunch time. The band was first called the Huggyjeedy Eight, and later on they changed their name to The San Gabriel Valley Blue Blowers. When the local horseless carriage club asked them to play for their auto tour in San Diego, Ward found a 1915 Fire Truck, restored it, and with the group now dressed as firefighters, they changed the name of the band to The Firehouse Five Plus Two.
The FH5+2 ended up playing a good amount of local gigs around Los Angeles, while maintaining their day jobs at Walt Disney Studios, and were discovered by Les Koenig, who was a writer at Paramount Studios and had dabbled in producing Jazz records. Koenig liked their sound and offered to produce some records for them for Good Time Jazz. From 1949 to 1971, the band recorded 12 full albums of material which was distributed around the world, most of which have been available on CD and can be purchased here...The Firehouse Five Plus Two Story
The FH5 played many gigs in the 50's and 60's and appeared in movies, radio and on television!
The fact that this was all done on their spare time is even more impressive. Ward once told me that Walt Disney felt a certain amount of pride that his group of animators were equally talented as a famous music group! Between 1955 and 1971, the group could be found playing around Disneyland, but most often at Plaza Gardens (to the left of the Disneyland Castle, off Main Street) or at The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland. The group even released an album entitled, The Firehouse Five Plus Two at Disneyland, from one of their Golden Horseshoe performances.
In the clip above, Directing Animator, Ward Kimball (Jiminy Cricket, Jaq, Gus, Tweedle Dee and Dum, The Mad Hatter) is on Trombone, Harper Goff (the designer of the Nautilus from 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and The Jungle Cruise attraction from Disneyland) is on Banjo and Directing Animator, Frank Thomas (Pinocchio, Queen of Hearts, Tramp, Baloo) is playing the piano. Interesting to note; if Thomas looks a little like Roger playing the piano  from 101 Dalmatians, that's no coincidence. Milt Kahl who animated most of those scenes caricatured Thomas as Roger in the film!  Other Disney studio personnel is George Probert is on clarinet, Danny Alguire on Cornet and Ed Penner on Tuba. Jim MacDonald, the studios sound effects man and voice artist responsible for Jaq, Gus, Evinrude and in later years Walt Disney's stand in for Mickey Mouse, plays the skins.

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