Though Shep Fields will always best be remembered for his “Rippling Rhythm,” he also lead one of the most critically-acclaimed sweet orchestras of his day. Fields began his career as a bandleader while in college. In 1934 he accepted an invitation for his orchestra to go on the road with Veloz and Yolande, the nation’s top dance team at that time. Dubbed the “Veloz and Yolande Orchestra under the direction of Shep Fields,” they began an engagement in Chicago. There he began to experiment with arrangements. Taking a hodgepodge of styles from different, popular sweet orchestras of the time, he blended them together to form his own unique sound. Radio listeners and audiences responded enthusiastically. A contest was held to name this new sound. Four hundred entries called it “rippling rhythm.”
When the Chicago engagement ended, Fields and his orchestra traveled to Los Angeles with Veloz and Yolande but soon quit and headed back to New York. On their way to the East Coast, the band stopped for a one night stand in Rockford, Illinois. It was there that his legendary trademark was born. Fields tells it that he and his wife were sitting in a soda shop when she began to blow into her drink. Fields immediately grabbed onto the gimmick, and from then on the orchestra introduced each performance with Shep blowing through a straw into a pot of water. Though he was constantly kidded about the sound, it served as a memorable trademark throughout the band’s existence.
The orchestra signed to RCA’s Bluebird label and produced a string of successful hits throughout the late 1930s and early 1940s. Vocalists were Clare Nunn, Phyliss Kenny, Hal Derwin, Charles Chester, Jerry Stewart, and Bob Goday. Fields, though, wasn’t satisfied. In 1942 he disbanded the group and formed a new, more musical dance orchestra, Shep Fields and His New Music, which featured only reed instruments. Among its members were future TV stars Sid Caeser (saxophone) and Ken Curtis (vocalist, who went on star as Festus in television’s Gunsmoke). Billy Usher, Meridith Blane, Ralph Young, Gene Martin, Tommy Lucas, Toni Arden, and Bob Johnstone also sang. The band initially recorded for Bluebird, switching to Musicraft in 1945 and the MGM label in 1946.
Though the new orchestra met with great critical acclaim, it failed to find as much favor with the public as had Fields’ earlier group, so in 1947 he gave up and returned to his previous sound. He continued rippling into the 1950s. His popularity eventually waned, however, and he disbanded his group for good in 1955 and became a disc jockey for a Houston radio station. In 1963, he and his brother, Freddy, formed the talent agency Creative Management Associates. Shep Fields died of a heart attack in 1981.