Billy Vaughn – “‘I Don’t Know How To Love Him'” (1971)

I.

Billy Vaughn in full Sam Peckinpah mode

While the American bandleader Billy Vaughn (1919-91) is pretty much forgotten these days, he charted a whopping 42 singles on the Billboard charts, often focused on the sound of two alto saxophones leading the charge. Vaughn also charted an incredible thirty six albums on the Billboard 200, beginning with 1958’s Sail Along Silv’ry Moon and ending with 1970’s Winter World of Love – all on the Dot label.

By 1970, the Paramount-owned Dot label had turned in to a “country label” and Vaughn was likely moved over to Paramount (previously reserved for the company’s film or TV soundtrack music), without much thought, consideration, promotion or effort. Both labels are now owned by Universal Music.

‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ – I include the album cover’s odd single quotes as a way to highlight how the album’s seemingly desperate title is in no way about something else – was issued with little-to-no fanfare in September1971 and is the second of Billy Vaughn’s six albums released by Paramount Records between 1971 and 1974.

But there is a reason this record is especially notable: it is a little-known gem buried in the Bert Kaempfert treasure chest.

Issued at about the same time as the German bandleader’s Bert Kaempfert Now! (1971), ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ was arranged and produced by Kaempfert’s “silent partner” Herbert Rehbein – indicating the disc was likely recorded in Hamburg – and contains not one, but two, Kaempfert-Rehbein compositions that appear absolutely nowhere else – curiously and unusually crediting Rehbein first.

A Swingin’ Safari (1962)
Sweet Maria (1967)

Vaughn had a minor hit with Kaempfert’s “Sweet Maria” in 1967 and a major hit with the German bandleader’s “A Swingin’ Safari” in 1962. But the American bandleader covered many of Kaempfert’s distinctive tunes, including “Sunday in Madrid” (1962). “Moon Over Naples” (1965), “Wiederseh’n” (1966), “The World We Knew” (1967), “Lonely is the Name” (1968) and “My Way of Life” (1968).

Composer, arranger and conductor Herbert Rehbein (1922-79) first partnered with Bert Kaempfert in the mid sixties. As Kaempfert’s musical partner, Rehbein also helmed three albums under his own name, all mostly more strings-oriented than the Kaempfert records (Rehbein was an accomplished violin player): Music to Soothe That Tiger (1964), Love After Midnight (1967) as well as …And So to Bed (1969).

The two collaborated spectacularly on the number-one Frank Sinatra hit “Strangers in the Night” (1966). But while the melody of “Strangers” is said to be the brainchild of Rehbein (solely), only Kaempfert got the credit – and, as a result, the residuals. This caused a huge rift between the two men that never really healed.

Still, their partnership continued, mostly because Kaempfert proposed a “Lennon-McCartney”-type credit for any of the songs either Kaempfert or Rehbein wrote in part or full. And while Rehbein never really got over all of this, he arranged two Kaempfert tributes for American clarinetist Pete Fountain (1967) and Johnny Mathis (1970) and produced (!) this particular record for American saxist and bandleader Billy Vaughn.

II.

Herbert Rehbein

While it’s hardly surprising that Vaughn would eventually team up with either Kaempfert or Rehbein, it is amazing that nothing is made – here or elsewhere – of the Kaempfert connection. Perhaps Kaempfert was past his marquee prime. But such a decidedly uncommercial decision seems absolutely intentional on somebody’s part. It surely went a long way to get the album all but ignored. And ignored it was.

The programming is off, too. Rather than mixing the covers of then-recent songs with the anachronistic originals, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ seems to scream “I don’t know how to find my audience.” Let’s start at the end, where the album’s three originals all appear.

Of the two blatantly fifties-era tunes “Rehbein and Kaempfert” provide to the program, only “To the End of This Day” is somewhat notable. My sense is that Rehbein wrote both of these tunes in an effort to make both (the other song is “Rise to the Sun”) sound utterly un-Kaempfert-like: neither tune has the the fun swing or enchanted exotica of so many Kaempfert melodies or the moody melancholia of so many of Rehbein’s originals.

Vaughn’s own “Kelli” – the album’s sole single and, remarkably, Vaughn’s final American single release – moves much closer to that Kaempfert sound of yore. It also has more of that classic Billy Vaughn sound as well. But this odd duck never caught on and was surely an outlier on an album that has much more to recommend it.

The first two-thirds of the record – a mix of standards, current pop hits and film themes – is much more notable, worthwhile and, frankly, far more listenable. Not surprisingly, none of these tunes have ever factored on any Bert Kaempfert record. But this Vaughn-Rehbein pairing offers several pleasures worth noting.

The LP’s opener, Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” initially a 1970 hit for Sammi Smith, but covered by many since then, has a vim and vigor that should have made it more notable for the leader. Indeed, Vaughn recorded the song again in a more country-inflected version on Country’s Greatest Hits (1973), and it is that version of the tune that is better known among Vaughn listeners.

The album’s terrifically-arranged title track – from Jesus Christ Superstar – is another hit-in-the-making that never was, at least for Vaughn. It was, however, a hit that year for both Yvonne Elliman and Helen Reddy. Little wonder that this tune would appeal to Rehbein as it is said to be based on a theme from Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor. Also of note is the little-known “Amour Amour,” from the 1970 Jacques Demy film Peau d’âne (a.k.a. Donkey Skin), another showcase for Rehbein’s sensitive touch.

The real highlight of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ is surely the exceptional cover of Lobo’s “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo.” Lobo’s original version of the song was a Top Five hit in 1971. It should have been a hit here, too. But, again, no one tried. Vaughn’s two-sax signature comes to the fore nicely on the choruses, while the guitar, piano and strings make “Boo” jump right off the record.

Vaughn’s version of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” surprisingly appeared on CD in 1997 – not on a Billy Vaughn disc but rather as a bonus track to the European CD reissue of Bert Kaempfert’s 1970 album The Kaempfert Touch (the 13th volume of the Good Life Music series).

At the time, it was believed to be an unreleased Kaempfert recording (Rehbein had died in 1979 and Kaempfert passed away several months later in 1980). It was later learned that “Boo” was not a Kaempfert recording but rather this recording made by Billy Vaughn1 – making it the only track on ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ to ever get a CD release.

Despite its benefits and rewards, though, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ came and went with little to no notice at all. None of the music journals even bothered reviewing the record. By this time, Vaughn’s brand of “easy listening” had had its day. The market was being still saturated by these types of records, but record buyers had moved on – likely to MOR or “soft rock,” if anything at all. Even Vaughn would only continue making records for a few more years.

Half a century later, the mostly wonderful ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ is ripe for rediscovery – if not for bringing back the warm and appealing sounds of Billy Vaughn in general then for the delightful joy of “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” in specific. Dig those crates for this one.

  1. This is the reason the producers of the American Bert Kaempfert CDs on Taragon and the recent The Bert Kaempfert Decca Collection (2024) did not include “Me and You and a Dog Named Boo” as a bonus track. ↩︎

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *