Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream (butter pecan pancakes will do…)
It’s said that music is food for the soul. I’ve been fortunate to have spent my life in both the music and the food industries, so I’ll take it a step further: Music is food for the ears. And what better way to demonstrate that than to tie together one of Rehoboth’s guilty breakfast pleasures and something very special in the world of pop music.
There’s nothing like a hearty breakfast by the ocean, and I’m always amazed at how many neighbors and self-proclaimed foodies I encounter on my occasional pilgrimages to Cracker Barrel on Coastal Highway. Indeed, the very same “epicures” who sanctimoniously scold me when I wax rhapsodic over the best Rehoboth corn dog can be found at Cracker Barrel - often with their backs to the door - furtively chowing down on country ham and biscuits.
General Manager Jason Bradley tells me that, like many of the casual chains, Cracker Barrel has rolled out some healthy menu choices to appeal to an even wider variety of fans. But the Southern-style country fried steak and buttermilk fried chicken (with honey/black pepper sauce, yet) keep flyin’ out of the kitchen. Sometimes ya’ gotta have comfort food, and Cracker Barrel is happy to oblige.
Jason has been the GM for about five years. His introduction to Rehoboth Beach was as the managing partner of the local Outback Steakhouse. Before that he was the regional food tech for the chain, with 14 restaurants relying on him for training and management. Cracker Barrel is a large operation, and Jason takes his job very seriously. “I have 125 people on staff,” he says. “That’s 125 families making a living from whatever product we put out. I feel that pressure, and I try to make everything as good as it can be.”
Believe it or not, there is a musical angle to all this. Those of us of a certain age will certainly remember the 1954 smash hit “Mr. Sandman,” by the Chordettes. Jason’s mom-in-law is none other than Marjorie Latzko, a member of the Chordettes and one of the singers on the record. And she lives right here in Lewes. Marjorie was an airline stewardess for United Airlines, and she and her mother were also part of a women’s barbershop quartet. When one of The Chordettes required what we now refer to as “maternity leave,” the group asked Marjorie to audition. After learning 16 songs in just 10 days, she joined the group in July 1953.
“Mr. Sandman” went gold (sold 1 million units) in 1954, the same year it was recorded. In 1955, the group won The Billboard Triple Crown Award for (1) the Best Selling Record in the Nation’s Stores, (2) the Most Played Record on the Nation’s Juke Boxes and (3) the Most Played Record by the Nation’s Disc Jockeys. The Chordettes were inducted into the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences’ Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Marjorie’s husband Walter Latzko was the group’s musical arranger and vocal coach, and the slapping sound that accompanies the a cappella vocals in the first half of the song is Cadence Records owner Archie Bleyer playing his knees. He is also the voice of Mr. Sandman with his solicitous, “Yes?”
Since then, the number of people who have recorded “Mr. Sandman” is almost limitless and includes The Four Aces, Chet Atkins, Marvin Gaye, Vaughn Monroe, The Andrews Sisters, The Supremes, Linda McCartney, The Osmond Brothers, and even The Chipmunks. Marjorie’s musical talent was passed down to her daughter Melanie (Jason’s wife), who is a talented musician in her own right and plays regularly for Clear Space Theatre and the Possum Point Players.
As an aside, my parents were the proud owners of a 78 RPM version of “Mr. Sandman,” and my playing it (over and over, much to their horror) was one of the many things that contributed to my career in the music and recording industries. And now, 60 years later, here I am in Lewes, talking about country sausage with Jason Bradley, and taking a photo of his delightful mom-in-law and Chordette Marjorie Latzko while she holds her shiny gold version of that very same recording.
And I thought I was going to be bored down here.