I’ve written before about raiding my father’s collection of 45s. As a result of those raids, I am one of the few people in the world with a significant collection of Yogi Yorgesson records.
Yorgesson is an exaggerated Swede of the sort found in the upper Midwest, but his true origin was in the Pacific Northwest. Radio performer Harry Stewart based the character partly on a Swedish restaurant owner he knew in Seattle and partly on Mahatma Gandhi. “Yogi Yorgesson the Scandinavian Swami” answered questions and made predictions, both on the radio and on tour with bandleader Johnny Duffy. Stewart released his first records under the Yorgesson name in 1947. His most famous record, the single “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” backed by “Yingle Bells,” came out at Christmas of 1949. In the early 50s, Stewart added an Oriental character, Harry Kari, and released several records under that name, including a Christmas single in 1953.
If you know anything by Stewart/Yorgesson, it’s probably “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas,” but that was not the extent of Yorgesson’s contribution to American popular music. We dare not forget “The Bees and the Birds,” backed with “Real Gone Galoot,” “Mrs. Yohnson Turn Me Loose” backed with “Nincompoops Have All the Fun,” and “My Little Old Shack in Minneapolis, Minnesota” (“where the mackerel and the pickerel and the lutefisk go swimming by”), backed by “Someone Spiked the Punch at Lena’s Wedding.” All three of these have found their way from my father’s collection to mine.
I’m not surprised my dad had these records—the upper Midwest was Yorgesson country. According to an online biography and discography of Stewart’s work, he once scheduled a special tour of Minnesota because his records were selling so well there, only to be surprised when Yogi bombed on stage. People didn’t see the humor in the swami bit, so Stewart turned Yogi into a country bumpkin in bib overalls, which audiences liked better.
Stewart released a Christmas EP in 1954 featuring his two most famous holiday hits and two additional songs, “The Christmas Party” and “I Was Santa Claus at the Schoolhouse (for the P.T.A.).” His last record under the Yorgesson name came in 1955. Harry Stewart was killed in a traffic accident in 1956 at age 47. Hear the songs from the “Yingle Bells” EP at Ernie Not Bert, a blog that’s a must-visit each Christmas for unusual and hard-to-find music.
One Other Thing: One of Chicago’s top radio guys, Spike O’Dell, did his last show on WGN last Friday, retiring at age 55. Spike had been at WGN since 1987 and on the morning show since 2000, when he replaced the legendary Bob Collins following Collins’ death in a plane crash. Spike made the leap to WGN from the Quad Cities (IA/IL), leaving town shortly after I started working at an elevator-music station there. He’d been the top jock in that market for several years, but his leap to WGN shocked people nevertheless. He turned out to have been made for the place, however, and he retired as one of five Chicago jocks with a contract paying more than a million dollars a year.