34. Phil Harris: Some Little Bug

Posted on 23/02/2017

 

 

34. Phill Harris: Some little Bug

Phil Harris is best known as Baloo in the original Jungle Book film. They are good songs and beautifully sung, rignt down the Oh-Oh as his disguise falls off and the King of the Jungle (played by bandleader and trumperter Louis Prima) goes after him. Although ‘I want to be like you’ and ‘Bare necessities’ are wonderful songs, Phil Harris did a lot more than that.

In the 1950’s he was to be heard on the radio singing ‘Woodman Woodman Spare that Tree’ about a man whose only refuge from his angry wife was to climb a slippery elm tree. His tree was endangered by a woodman who planned to cut it down to make kindling wood. Harris says ‘put down that forest razor, chop not a single chop’ and offers to pay him the five dollars he has stashed in a hole at the top of the tree.

Even better, in my opinion, is ‘Some little bug’. the song is quite old, dating back in some version to 1915, but Harris sung it in the 1950’s, though I can only find it on a compilation ‘The Dark Town Poker Club’ published in 2009. Harris himself lived from 1904-95: an impressive age. Not surprising because he seems a calm sort of person. This is the first verse:

‘In these days of indigestion it is oftentimes a question
As to what to eat and what to leave alone.
Every microbe and bacillus has a different way to kill us
And in time they all will claim us for their own.
There are germs of every kind in every food that you can find
In the market or upon the bill of fare.
Drinking water’s just as risky as the so-called “deadly” whiskey
And it’s often a mistake to breathe the air.’

[this version is due to Bob Waltz]

The lyric is clever: the lyric builds up from saying (quite wrongly) that drinking water is as risky as drinking whisky, while (in the Harris version):

 ‘its all kinds of bad mistake to breathe the air‘.

A wonderfully surreal notion.

Just for the record Harris died of a heart attack and not from any of the myriad bugs listed in the song. But the song is brilliant, and convincingly delivered. He was a real pro: starting as a kid of circus workers and drumming in his father’s band as a boy. He graduated to the radio in the 1930’s (when it was the cutting edge technology)  and his ability to invent one-liners got him onto the premier comedy show of the time, the Jack Benny one. From there he began his own show in the 1940’s and went on to do the voice overs for Disney films for which he is most famous.

This video shows some of his Disney roles, with his sonorous southern drawl (actually from Indiana via Nashville) and then part of a video of him singing:

I cant find a video him singing ‘Some little bug‘ but if you look as this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how he would have looked singing it!

 

 

 

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