One of the most popular composers and arrangers of the 1930s, Larry Clinton worked with several well-known orchestras before forming his own band in 1937. Clinton arranged for both Claude Hopkins and Isham Jones in 1933 and the Dorsey Brothers in 1935. He remained with Jimmy Dorsey until he was hired that same year by the Casa Loma Orchestra to replace Gene Gifford. In 1937, he arranged for Bunny Berigan, Louis Armstrong, and Tommy Dorsey. After Dorsey scored big hits with two Clinton numbers, “Satan Takes a Holiday” and “The Dipsy Doodle,” both he and RCA Victor encouraged Clinton to form his own outfit.
Clinton recorded his first tracks in 1937 with a studio orchestra and debuted a live band in the summer of 1938. His catchy tunes quickly made him a popular attraction, though he never achieved the prominence of a Dorsey or a Glenn Miller. The group’s catalog, reflecting Clinton’s arrangements in general, was built around several stock clichés, which, though well executed, presented little variety.
Clinton’s biggest asset was singer Bea Wain, considered by many to be the best vocalist of that era. Her presence was sorely missed when she left in 1939 to pursue a solo career. She was replaced by Mary Dugan, who was followed by Helen Southern and Peggy Mann. Other vocalists included Terry Allen, trombonist Ford Leary, and Carol Bruce. Hugo Winterhalter played sax, and Les Brown wrote some of the group’s early arrangements. Van Alexander joined as arranger in 1941, bringing with him saxophonist and novelty singer Butch Stone as well as drummer Irv Cottler. Cottler’s rhythm became key to the band’s 1940s sound.
Clinton’s compositions were always lively and danceable. In particular, he had a penchant for re-writing the classics. Two of his biggest hits, “My Reverie” and “Our Love” were adapted from Debussy and Tchaikovsky respectively. Unfortunately, Clinton was unable to record his most popular numbers, the two aforementioned Dorsey songs and “Study in Brown,” because they had previously been recorded, the latter by Bunny Berigan, on the same label. That didn’t prevent him from performing them live, however, and they quickly became his signature songs.
Clinton’s band broke up at the start of 1942 when he entered the Army Air Force, where he served as a flight instructor in southeast Asia during the war. After his discharge in 1946, he worked as musical director at the small Cosmo label, recording several sides during his stay. He briefly toured in 1948 and remained active with a group until 1950. He spent the next decade working off and on in semi-retirement. In the mid-1950s, he re-recorded his most popular numbers in stereo for RCA Victor. He officially retired in 1961.
Clinton was a consummate businessman, and he was able to retire in comfort, first to Florida and then to Arizona. In his later years he became a science fiction and humor writer. Larry Clinton passed away in 1985.