Saturday, October 24, 2020

Fools' gold?

Perform a Google search on the terms “Vince Guaraldi” and “gold record,” and the first result is a segment of the musician’s biography, which reads (in part) “… ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind’ became a hit, rising to the Top 20 of the pop charts and earning Guaraldi a gold record, as well as a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition.”


(Actually, the song peaked at No. 22 on February 23, 1963, so it was in the Top 30, not the Top 20. But that’s another matter.)


Read one of links further down, and you’ll see this sentence: “His breakthrough album Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus (1962), which earned him a gold record, etc.”


Performs searches on various permutations of “Guaraldi,” “gold record,” “Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus” and “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” and you’ll find countless posts and articles that repeat one or the other of these two claims.


So … which is correct?


Answer: Technically, neither.


Despite “accepted wisdom,” Guaraldi didn’t win an official gold record for either the album or the song. According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), which maintains a handy (searchable) “Gold & Platinum” page, neither ever hit gold status … not even to this day.


Which begs the question: From where did this misinformation spring?


The answer is … complicated.


I was prompted to investigate as a result of ongoing correspondence with Alec Huntley, a doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas, whose upcoming dissertation is titled The Guaraldi Sound: The Musical Devices that Characterize Vince Guaraldi’s Improvisational and Compositional Style. We’ve been emailing since February, and he has hit me with occasional questions and requests for clarifications. (Alec and his dissertation — when it’s published — will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.)


The merde hit the fan — although neither of us initially knew that — just a few days ago, when Alec queried a quote from journalist Barry Gordon, writing in the February 6, 2009, issue of The Scotsman — reproduced in my book — which says, in part, “Guaraldi was the first jazz musician to have a gold record; one of the first to win a Grammy; one of the first musicians to play a stadium; and one of, if not the, first artists to have their music played in space.”


In trying to verify the gold record claim — something I obviously should have done a long time ago — Alec came up with the fact that Glenn Miller was the first jazz musician to win a gold record, in 1942, for “Chatanooga Choo-Choo.”


Hmmm, I thought. Well, that was a gold for a single. Guaraldi’s gold must’ve been for the album, Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus.


But no. As I quickly discovered, the RIAA database shows no such thing. Going for additional verification, Billboard magazine also had no indication, in any 1962 or ’63 issues, that Guaraldi had won a gold record.


The RIAA database does note that Dave Brubeck’s Time Out album hit gold status on April 19, 1963. Furthermore, it is well-known that “Take Five” — from that album — was the first jazz single to attain gold-record status.


As it happens, I have access to archival data not available to the general public. Guaraldi and his mother saved everything relevant to his career, in the 1950s and ’60s. Thanks to Vince’s son David, I was able to view and copy all this data, while compiling information for my book. These included two BMI certificates for “Cast Your Fate to the Wind,” to acknowledge “over one million broadcast performances” and, somewhat later, “over two million broadcast performances.” (Maddeningly, neither certificate is dated.) I also saw the certificate for the Grammy Award that Guaraldi won for “Fate,” as Best Original Jazz Composition, along with the actual Grammy Award.


No sign of any gold record, or certificate acknowledging same. And it certainly would have been present, if it existed.


But this still didn’t answer the key question: From where did this misinformation spring?


I have a theory.


The confusion may have originated in Anatomy of a Hit, Ralph Gleason’s three-part 1964 film about Vince and “Fate.” The second segment, “We’re Getting’ Action,” concludes as Guaraldi good-naturedly climbs into the same back-stacks cubbyhole where he posed for the cover photo of his first Fantasy album, The Vince Guaraldi Trio. Once properly ensconced, Max Weiss hands Guaraldi a “gold record,” signifying — as Weiss explains — “sales of over 300,000 copies of ‘Cast Your Fate to the Wind.’ ”


Ah, but — at that time — official RIAA gold records were presented for albums or singles that achieved $1 million in retail sales … and 300,000 singles wouldn’t have come close to that total. (RIAA gold records were re-defined in 1976, to indicate sales of 500,000 units, either albums or singles.)


(Fantasy was no different than other labels, in this respect. Decca and RCA also presented their own in-house “gold records” in the 1940s and ’50s, as with the one mentioned above, given to Glenn Miller.)


Ergo, this was a nice gesture by Weiss, during a sequence clearly staged for Gleason’s film: an in-house “gold record” … and not an actual RIAA honor.


So, technically, yes; it’s true that Guaraldi was given a gold record. But it wasn’t a formally presented, RIAA-certified gold record.


This inaccuracy has blossomed ever since, gaining ever more credibility by the magnitude of Web exposure, and well-intentioned journalists who dutifully repeat the claim in almost every published overview of Guaraldi’s career.


I’m sorry to say, by including Gordon’s quote in my book — and failing to call attention to the distinction — I’m partially guilty for contributing to this ambiguity. Worse yet, I repeated this oversight in the brief Guaraldi bio I wrote for a reputable source that researchers would have no reason to question. (Rest assured, I’m taking steps to amend that, as these words are typed.)


Alas, as I’ve mentioned many times before, bad information circulates via the Internet far more rapidly, than efforts to rebut and correct it. I can only hope, with time, that this clarification/correction will propagate to the most important research outlets.

(It should be noted, by the way, that Guaraldi has earned three RIAA gold records posthumously: for the songs "Linus and Lucy" and "Christmas Time Is Here," and for the soundtrack album A Charlie Brown Christmas. The latter, in fact, has gone quadruple platinum.)

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