Backstage With Tiny Tim

by Derrick Bostrom


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When the compact disc format was first introduced some twenty years ago, at the top of my reissue wish list was a boxed set of the complete catalog of Tiny Tim's recordings for Reprise records. Well, I can't believe its taken this long, but someone's finally done it. For fans of Tiny's unique obsessive style, Rhino Handmade's limited edition three-disc collection, "God Bless Tiny Tim," is truly a blessing.

Gathering together Tiny's three Reprise albums along with rarities and a slew of unreleased material, the box is a perfect mix of Tiny Tim's encyclopedic knowledge of pop music history and producer Richard Perry's Beatlesque ear candy. It also throws in a generous dollop of hapless marketing, since beyond Tiny's one hit, "Tiptoe Through The Tulips," nothing else they threw at the wall had any sticking power whatsoever. The third and final Reprise record, the childrens album "For All My Little Friends" is as clueless an exersize as it is a barefaced move to run down the clock on Tiny's contract and get him the hell off the roster.

But that doesn't diminish in the slightest such great rare singles as "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days" and the patriotic "Don't Bite The Hand That's Feeding You," finally brought back into print after over three and a half decades. Strong tracks abound throughout the three disks, from modern upgrades of such jazz age chestnuts as "The Old Front Porch" and "I'm A Lonesome Little Raindrop" to more contemporary fare such as "This Is All I Ask" and the eerily prescient "The Other Side" (with it's description of a post-global-warming landscape). As an added bonus for the most rabid among his appreciators, the collection features over an hour of Tiny alone in the studio, riffing through nearly four dozen songs from his voluminous repertoire.

To mark this marvelous occasion, I dug out my old tapes from the time when Tiny Tim's path converged with mine. I managed to ambush him for an interview one evening fifteen years ago when he was on the road as part of a "Thirty Years Of Rock And Roll" package tour. Appearing alongside of such worthy peers as Al Wilson, Donny Brooks and Chuck Negron, Tiny had a ten-minute slot, which he filled with songs like "This Land Is Your Land" and "She'll Be Coming 'Round The Mountain." But before the show, he gave me a private performance that revealed where his heart actually lay.

Before allowing me to actually interview him, Tiny made me sit through a twenty minute monologue -- a history lesson devoted to the intertwining careers of his idols, the singers Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, and of course, Russ Columbo. I have to admit that I was getting antsy by the end of it. I had my own questions to ask.

It wasn't until I said my goodnights, enjoyed the show, and returned home to my lair that I realized what a treasure I'd captured up on my portable cassette recorder. There, amidst a noisy backstage full of his fellow performers, Tiny Tim had evoked the spirits of dead crooners of sixty years previous with fervor of a mystic holding a seance. Most of the material he performed was new to me, and it was a revelation. I quickly acquired as much Rudy Vallee and Russ Columbo as I could find, and there wasn't much back then. (I already had plenty of Crosby.)

I fantasized about going into the studio with Tiny myself and producing an album of some of these songs. I even got my record company to sign off on the idea. But my label and I parted company before I could contact him, so the honor of working with Tiny Tim had to go to another band. He did finally manage to release a tribute to Russ Columbo, however, but that record hasn't remained in print.

As for me, I have to content myself with my interview tape. I'm certain this monologue is a set piece that he'd drag out for anyone who'd listen. In fact, something like it is offered for sale at the Ukulele Hall Of Fame: a video Tiny made just hours before his death. Furthermore, I'm sure if you browse the archives at tinytim.org, you'll find these stories in similar, if not identical form. Regardless, here's the version from my personal collection, plus the interview as it was finally published:

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Tiny Tim interview from Breakfast Without Meat, 1989