Vocalist Dick Merrick got his first break in front of the mic at age 16 when the band he played in needed a singer. By mid-1941, Merrick was singing with Jerry Wald’s orchestra. He left before the end of 1942 to sing for the McFarland Twins but was back with Wald in May 1943, where stayed for three years, recording several songs with the group, including “Laura” in 1945, his most notable tune.
In early 1946, rumors romantically linked Merrick, once described in a review as “balding” and “muscular,” with fellow Wald vocalist Kay Allen. The pair married late that year. Both had left Wald by that time, with Merrick joining Bobby Byrne in April 1946. By October he was part of George Paxton’s band. Facing heavy losses and debts, Paxton reorganized in May 1947. Merrick initially remained but soon left. He quickly found work with Wald again, traveling to Texas to join the clarinetist’s band.
Merrick’s reunion with Wald did not go well however. The two men had a falling out in June. According to Merrick, Wald “blew his top” when the singer gave notice that he was leaving the band over differences in vocal interpretations. “Jerry wanted intimate Tormé stuff and I’m an Eberly type,” said Merrick. While Merrick was on the bandstand in Galveston, Texas, singing one of his numbers, Wald accused him of fooling around excessively and ordered him off the stage and out of the building. Merrick denied the accusation and went back to the dressing room. When Wald found him there, he exploded and, in Merrick’s words, “jumped on me, tore my shirt and sent me home…with a half week’s pay and no carfare.”
Wald denied that the incident in the dressing room had taken place. Both men claimed that the “boys in the band” had seen everything and would back them up. “Dick Merrick caused dissension in the band, kibitzed around on the stand and made nothing but trouble,” said Wald, who contended that Merrick had been upset since the time of his arrival and was anxious to go home to his wife. Merrick filed charges against Wald with the American Guild of Variety Artists, the vocalists’ union, seeking $88 for transportation from Galveston back to New York. Paxton’s, in the meantime, had scrapped his reorganized band and put together another new outfit, with Merrick slated to return. When the incident in Galveston occurred, Merrick had two days left on his notice with Wald before he would rejoin Paxton. He remained with Paxton until 1949, when the leader scrapped his band.
Merrick and Allen had a son in September 1948. After Paxton disbanded, the couple settled in Philadelphia, where they appeared on local television programs. In early 1950, the couple recorded together on the Admiral label. In August of that year, Merrick signed with Capitol Records as a solo artist, and in 1954 he sang for the BBS label. He recorded more than 50 songs in his career but never quite managed a big hit, a fact he lamented in a 1981 interview. “I always wanted a hit record. I came close but never could get it,” he said. “Just that one.”
Merrick continued singing throughout the 1950s, ending up on the nightclub circuit. He quit show business in 1962 and moved to Florida, where his father lived, taking a position as Director of Activities at the Carillon Hotel in Miami Beach, which involved singing and hosting in the hotel’s Tambourine Room. In 1969, he became social director at the Versailles Hotel, remaining there into the 1980s.
Union rules required bandleaders to provide transportation home to any member of their band that was fired or let go while on the road. This prevented musicians and singers from finding themselves abandoned in the middle of nowhere without the means to buy train or bus tickets home. ↩︎
The incident with Wald and Merrick was the lead story in Down Beat magazine for July 2, 1947. ↩︎