Almost Remembering the Alamo

ALAMO
One night in 1946, songwriter Joe Greene was asleep in Los Angeles and had a dream. Greene relates: “I was lying in bed with a broken arm. About two o’clock in the morning, I suddenly woke up – half asleep, half awake – then all of a sudden like a miracle, I saw a picture of the Indian [Native American] in front of the Alamo. I woke up my wife. I could still write with my right hand, so I started writing the melody, and my wife wrote down the lyrics as I told them to her. I finished the song in twenty minutes.”

The song was Across The Alley From The Alamo. The melody is lilting And cheery, but if you stop and think about it, the music hardly goes with the subject matter, which is about a Navaho and a pinto pony whose fate is to be run over one day by a train. It is a musical non-sequitur, but it does capture the droll melancholy that is San Antonio, home of the Alamo.

You might think that only a native San Antonian – a person who has lingered in the shade of the Alamo – could write a song like Across The Alley From The Alamo. Not so. Joe Greene is a native son of Spokane, Washington and a life-time resident of the West Coast. He has never seen the Alamo or ever set foot in Texas. His song was born in an instant and it became a hit almost as fast.

As Greene tells the story, it was just a fluke of luck. He relates: “I had been doing songs for Nat Cole, so the next morning I went to see Nat’s manager, Carlos Gestel. He managed Stan Kenton, Mel Tormé, Peggy Lee. I had three other songs with me that I had written. I’m a pretty good singer, so I sang them. Well, Gastel, he always went by the seat of his pants. He said, ‘Joe, those are pretty good songs, but do you have anything else?’ I told him I had just written a little Western tune. I sang it; he said, ‘Wait a minute,’ picked up the phone and called Mickey Goldsen in New York – he’s a song publisher. I sang it for him over the phone. Mick said, ‘How much advance do you want?’ I named him a four-figure advance. When they dangled a carrot, I knew to grab. He said, ‘Send me a demo.’ That was a Tuesday morning. We called up Tormé, who was in town, and told him to meet us at Eccles Recording Studio at the Pantages Theatre the next morning. Of course, he had been up late that night working, but he met us at nine a.m. and he made the demo. Next we got in touch with Tommy Rockwell, who was in Chicago with the Mills Brothers for a recording session. We played the demo for him over the phone. He said to send the demo special delivery and he’d hold up the recording session. And the rest is history, right?

Well, not quite.

Tommy Rockwell called Greene on Thursday of that same week. Greene could hear the Mills Brothers singing in the background. Another verse was needed for the song. Greene sat down and in about ten minutes wrote the additional verse – a strange set of words about Duz and Lux.

Now, anyone who came of age on Puff The Magic Dragon, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, and Day Tripper knows when a Navaho and a horse are washing beans in soap powder (as in these lyrics), there has to be a hidden meaning. Are we talking about drugs, about some kind if illicit behavior here? Greene says no.

But why Duz and Lux?

“It was just one of those kooky things that happen in this life,” says Greene.

The Mills Brothers version was a hit recording, quickly followed with charting versions by Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.

Joe Green wrote other successful songs, including And Her Tears Flowed Like Wine and Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying. Greene died in 1986 and as far as we know, never saw the Alamo or set foot in Texas.

And it all began with a dream.

THE LYRICS
ACROSS THE ALLEY FROM THE ALAMO
(1946)
Words and music by Joe Greene

Across the alley from the Alamo
Lived a pinto pony and a Navajo
Who sang a sort of Indian “Hi-de-ho”
To the people passin’ by
The pinto spent his time a-swishin’ flies
And the Navajo watched the lazy skies
And very rarely did they ever rest their eyes
On the people passin’ by

One day, they went a walkin’ along the railroad track
They were swishin’ not a-lookin’ Toot! Toot!, they never came back
Oh, across the alley from the Alamo
When the summer sun decides to settle low
A fly sings an Indian “Hi-de-ho”
To the people passing by

Across the alley from the Alamo
Lived a pinto pony and a Navajo
Who used to bake frijoles in cornmeal dough
For the people passing by
They thought that they would make some easy bucks
By washin’ their frijoles in Duz and Lux,
A pair of very conscientious clucks
To the people passin’ by

Then they took this cheap vacation, their shoes were polished bright
No, they never heard the whistle, Toot! Toot! they’re clear out of sight
Oh, across the alley from the Alamo
When the starlight beams its tender glow
The beams go to sleep and then there ain’t no dough
For the people passin’ by

One day, they went a walkin’ along the railroad track
They were swishin’ not a-lookin’ Toot! Toot!, they never came back
Oh, across the alley from the Alamo
When the summer sun decides to settle low
A fly sings an Indian “Hi-de-ho”
To the people passin’ by
Across the alley from the Alamo

THE RECORDINGS

Mills Brothers Across The Alley From The Alamo
Woody Herman and his Orchestra (vocals by Woody Herman, accompanied by The Four Chips) Across The Alley From The Alamo
Stan Kenton and his Orchestra (vocals by June Christy) Across The Alley From The Alamo

2 Comments

Filed under Pop Music

2 responses to “Almost Remembering the Alamo

  1. Sherry Padavich

    I don’t think I have ever heard that song. Maybe I would know it if I heard it. Interesting story though. Hope you are doing well.

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