Gene Greene--Singer of "King of the Bungaloos"
- by Tim Gracyk
Excerpt from: Another Book About Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925: The Unpublished Entries
Greene, Gene (9 June 1877 - 5 April 1930)
Rare photograph of Gene Greene from the collection
of Zachary Sigall.
The son of George S. and Francis Nash Greene, the singer was born Eugene Greene but was always known as Gene. He toured in vaudeville as "The Ragtime King" both as a soloist and with his wife, Blanche Werner, as the team of Greene and Werner. In 1912 he sailed to London on the beginning of a two-year European tour, continuing as a soloist after Werner's death in Dresden, Germany.
His most popular recordings in the United States were versions of "King of the Bungaloos," with Columbia issuing one take and Victor issuing two. The Columbia take was earliest (February 17, 1911). Victor first issued "King of the Bungaloos" in 1911 on single sided 5854, priced at 60 cents, but had Greene redo his signature tune in 1917, issuing this on double-sided 18266. The song was written by Greene with Charley Straight (1891-1940), who enjoyed success in the 1920s as a Brunswick recording artist. "King of the Bungaloos" opens with these lines:
I just received a cable back from my ancestral home
It tells me I'm the Great Gazoo
Successor to the throne
My throne will be a bungalow way up in the trees
Where I'll be the ruling monarch over all
My place will be gorillas, apes, monks and chimpanzees
Who will be ever ready after my call
Well, I will be that King Gazoo
The ruler high of the bungaloos
And when I ride on the mighty Nile
On that royal crocodile
When on the throne I'll take my stand
Then I'll be a mighty man
I'll be that zo-koo koo-koo grand king of the bungaloos
Towards the end of recorded performances, he sings a "jig chorus," or nonsense syllables delivered in a semi-improvised manner that is close to scat singing. Sam Rous (who had recorded for Victor as S. H. Dudley) wrote in Victor's August 1911 supplement that in this song "the narrative is accompanied by some of the remarkable stunts for which the singer is famous, and which no one could possibly describe!"
Victor's October 1911 supplement, announcing Greene performances on 16894 of the Williams-Van Alstyne composition "Go Back" and Wenrich's "Dublin Daisies," states, "Excellent value is offered in the first of the Greene records to be issued in double-face form. Leaving the 'coon' song field temporarily, this versatile comedian gives us an eccentric and amusing 'rube' number, and the favorite Irish march song by Wenrich, now offered for the first time as a vocal selection."
Other comic songs recorded by Greene for Victor include "Alamo Rag" (16887; 1911) "Maybe You Think I'm Happy" (16887; 1911), and "Ruff Johnson's Harmony Band" (18266; 1917).
Pathe issued approximately 64 titles in London between 1912 and 1914, none of which were released in the United States. Several contain "rag" in the title, including "Rag, Rag, Rag" (544) and "That London Rag" (P305). In late 1916 he made some Emerson discs, including "The Chinese Blues" (7140). He made at least one Little Wonder: "From Here to Shanghai" (541). For Columbia on November 9, 1917, Greene recorded "Alexander's Got A Jazz Band Now" (A2472), a song that alludes to Irving Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band." It includes lyrics about a trombone that "harmonizes with the saxophone." This appears to be his last recording.
He retired briefly from the stage, operated a Grand Rapids restaurant, then returned to vaudeville. In later years he split his time between Chicago, Grand Rapids, and New York, where he maintained a room at the Hotel Somerset on Times Square. He attempted a comeback in early 1930 and made his last stage appearance at the Grand Opera House in New York City on April 5, 1930.
Variety noted "Green's [sic] voice was pretty well gone...there was exertion written all over, but it was that same energy that brought Green [sic] out for extra bows." Shortly after the performance, Greene, at age 52, was found dead backstage of a heart attack.