Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Freeze Frame! - Dancing With the Firehouse Five Plus Two

"The roots of the band germinated in the early 1940's when some of us at the Disney Studio used to gather in my office at lunchtime to listen to my records of such jazz legends as King Oliver, Baby Dodds, Jelly Roll Morton, and Louis Armstrong. Since most of our little nucleus of old-time jazz lovers had played various musical instruments back in school, we decided to really get into the spirit of the music by playing along with the records. Then one day the phonograph broke down right in the middle of "Royal Garden Blues." Undaunted, we kept right on playing and found to our amazement that we sounded pretty good all by ourselves!"

-Ward Kimball

The Firehouse Five Plus Two was no mere musical novelty act. Popular with both the general public and jazz music enthusiasts, the group's notoriety extended well beyond their roots at the Disney Studios. In a 1999 article for the Frisco Cricket, writer Hal Smith described the origin of the band's firefighting motif:

With leader Ward Kimball, trombone; Clarke Mallery, clarinet; Frank Thomas, piano; Ed Penner, bass sax and Jim McDonald on drums, the group billed itself as the “Hugageedy 8” and later as the “San Gabriel Valley Blue Blowers.” Eventually they picked up a trumpet man—Johnny Lucas—and a fine banjoist: Harper Goff. The final evolution came about when the Kimballs discussed the idea of taking the band along on a Horseless Carriage Club caravan from Los Angeles to San Diego. The only vehicle Ward Kimball could locate which was large enough to hold the band and old enough to qualify for the caravan was a 1914 American LaFrance fire truck. Keeping with the “fire” motif, Kimball acquired genuine fire helmets and red fireshirts to outfit the band. The newly-outfitted band was rechristened as the “Firehouse Five Plus Two."

Being born out of the Disney Studio, it was only fitting that the Firehouse Five Plus Two find their way into a Disney-produced cartoon. In 1953, they appeared in the Goofy short How to Dance, and were even acknowledged on the short's title card.
Images © Walt Disney Company


Anonymous said...

awesome. just watched "How to Dance" on YouTube. Love those "How to"s. George Geef. too funny.

Unknown said...

I've read that the Firehous 5 + 2 played at Disneyland almost every weekend. At some point, they were able to get the anouncements for the Santa Fe canned so it wouldn't interrupt their playing.

I can't imagine how much fun those guys had in the early days of Disneyland.

The Blue Parrot said...

Cool! That cell set up? Look for it as one of the pieces to be displayed in the new Walt Disney Family Museum in the Presidio in San Francisco.

Cory Gross said...

I love the Firehouse 5+2! Pretty much the only reason I picked up that "Extreme Music Fun" DVD was for this cartoon!

What I like best about them is that they had fulfilling day jobs... the band was something they did purely for the fun of it, and it REALLY comes out in the music. I don't know of much other music where you can hear the band enjoying themselves as much as this one does!

Unknown said...

Wonderful post, Jeff; when working on a recent post about Harper Goff I came across the same album cover you have in today's post. I found it interesting that while it's Harper's visage in the animation, it does not look like Harper is on the album cover. I know Harper was a contract employee and I wonder if that played into whether or not he was pictured on the various album covers.

Anonymous said...

I loved the announcement at the end of side one:
"Now we're going to take a short 15-minute break, so you have time go go on all the rides!"

loosetoon said...

To Richard Harrison: The line-up for the band had many changes over the course of the band's history. Harper Goff was no longer a member and Dick Roberts had taken over the banjo duties by the time this "At Disneyland" Album was recorded.

Anonymous said...

FYI, the Firehouse Five plus Two was also caricatured in the 1999 direct-to-video movie, "Mickey's Once Upon a Christmas".

Tim Halbur said...

Hey, does anyone know if these guys played on The Jungle Book as well? The trumpet solo in Bare Necessities has always been a favorite of mine, real hot stuff, but the liner notes I've been able to find don't credit the musicians. I say it's gotta be Johnny Lucas. Anyone know for sure?