The Monroe orchestra, which is
celebrating its 10th anniversary, is the most traveled organization f its
kind in the entertainment world. Each year Vaughn and his caravan of
musicians, singers, dancers and comedians, cover some 50,000 miles as they
travel the length and breadth of the country.
Most of their engagements are
made up of one-nighter dances and concerts, the total annual average running
to more than 200,. A typical one-nighter tour is the one made from January
to April, 1949, in which the band played more than 70 consecutive dates
through the entire midwest and south. The longest engagement played during
any year is a four-week New York hotel or theatre date. The only other
exception is when Monroe takes time off to make a motion picture in
Hollywood, such as his first starring western film, "Singing Guns."
Monroe, who has never disbanded
his crew since it was first organized back in 1940, firmly believes that a
name band has to keep moving to maintain its popularity. "You've got to get
out on the road and meet the people yourself to find out the kind of music
they like and which of your records the disc jockeys prefer to play. Trends
in dance tempos are like women's fashions. They change over night, and if a
band stays in one spot too long it soon becomes as dated as last year's
This insistence on the
importance of the road to the success of a band undoubtedly has a great deal
to do with the fact that he is now recognized as the top band attraction in
the country. Vaughn is generally conceded to be the only leader that can
take a company of 35 people on tour and make money.
Most of the traveling done by
the band while on tour is by bus. This is because tours are generally
arranged with the various cities close to one another. Where long distances
are involved, special trains are chartered for overnight hauls or, when time
is important, an airliner will be chartered for the entire company. A normal
day of the band on the road will find them finishing an engagement around
midnight or 1:00 A.M. They will then travel by bus overnight to their next
stop, arriving about 5:00 A.M., check into their hotel and sleep through the
day, getting up just in time for the next show. This goes on without respite
for the entire tour.
Add to all this Vaughn's weekly
CBS Saturday night Camel Caravan show, which is broadcast live each week,
band rehearsals, recording sessions, personal appearances for record
dealers, distributors and disc jockeys, helping to support collection drives
for such organizations as the Red Cross, National Tuberculosis & Health
Association, March of Dimes, Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, keeping in touch with
fan club activities, and you get a rough idea that leading a band consists
of considerably more than merely waving a baton. It more closely resembles
being a corporation president. Only most corporation presidents don't have
to sing and travel for their suppers.
Vaughn, who personally directs
his entire staff of specialists, including a personal manager, a booking
agent, lawyer, treasurer-accountant, a road manager, press relations
director and miscellaneous others, has often worked at breakneck speed all
day, just like many of the people he is entertaining, who little realize all
that has been involved in bringing the orchestra to their city.
To take the edge off these long
one-nighter tours, Vaughn does as much flying as possible. A licensed pilot,
he owns his own Lockheed-12 and is today the most airminded bandleader in
the business. While on dates within 300 miles of Boston, he often flies home
on his day off to visit the family and handle important business details.
But days off are rare on the
Monroe schedule, and Vaughn himself admits that to be a bandleader today you
need to the heart of the hobo and more stamina than a gold rush pioneer.