Ish Kabibble

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Born Merwyn Bogue, this versatile and amusing artist managed to come up with a stage name that was even weirder sounding than his real name. Or actually, his boss, Kay Kyser, came up with the name when…
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Born Merwyn Bogue, this versatile and amusing artist managed to come up with a stage name that was even weirder sounding than his real name. Or actually, his boss, Kay Kyser, came up with the name when the trumpeter joined Kyser's band in 1931. At first, "Ish Kabibble" was just the name of a trumpet feature that allowed Bogue a chance to do his thing. When Kyser became the host of the enormously popular '30s radio program kraftily kalled Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge, Bogue began to portray a perpetually silly and addled character named Ish Kabibble, serving as a comical sidekick to the leader. Why Bogue decided to take his character's name as his own might have had something to do with being named Merwyn Bogue, but the most likely inspiration for the Kabibble name itself was a humorous popular song by Sam Lewis entitled "Isch Gabibble" or "I Should Worry," published in 1913. The lyrics to this song connect the title with a relaxed, casual attitude about life: "I never care or worry/Isch Gabibble, Isch Gabibble/I never tear or hurry/Isch Gabibble, Isch Gabibble/...When I owe people money/Isch Gabibble, Isch Gabibble," and so forth and so on. A further presence of at least the "kabibble" part of the name was in a comic strip of that time, Abie the Agent by Harry Hershfield. This comic presented the adventures of a character named Abie Kabibble. Both the song and the comic probably helped popularize the expression "ish kabibble" as slang for "who cares?" in the early 1900s.

Defying this interpretation of his name, the trumpeter Kabibble remained one of the standout soloists in the Kyser group for nearly 20 years, minus a brief and unhappy stint with Spike Jones and the City Slickers. He often played the same sort of instrument as Dizzy Gillespie, a trumpet or cornet with the mouthpiece bent up at a 45 degree angle. He was a flashy soloist and handled the novelty vocals on numbers such as "Three Little Fishes," for which he is most famous. Yet it seems like what he was even more famous for was his haircut. His appearance was often compared to one of the Three Stooges, namely Moe Howard, and that is certainly no vision of loveliness. And although musical biographies should generally focus on music and not an artist's appearance, some of the following descriptions of the Ish-cut cry out for public awareness. "...It was extremely difficult to make out whether you were looking at the front or the back of his head." Or, Kabible's hair was "...like a brutal army haircut, put on the wrong way around. The result was that Ish Kabible looked somewhat like an Old English Sheepdog, but not half as pretty." Some musicians were even known to go around in Ish Kabibble wigs for a prank. The haircut seemed attractive in some way to Hollywood producers, as Kabibble was always given ample screen time in films in which he appeared with the Kyser band, including the horror comedy You'll Find Out, probably based on the comment Kabible's barber made to him before handing him the mirror, Swing Fever and Riding High. It is the horror production that remains the highlight of Kabible's haircut on film, as it manages to be more frightening than the combined efforts of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. The Kabibble character is also caricatured in the cartoon Hollywood Canine Canteen, directed in 1946 by Robert McKimson in which there is a dog character named Ish Kapoodle.

One of the vocalists who worked with Kabibble alongside Kyser in the late '40s was Merv Griffin, his talk show days just a twinkle in his eyes. Upon leaving the band in 1951, Kabibble vamoosed to the tropical climate of Hawaii. He wrote his life story, Ish Kabibble: The Autobiography of Merwyn Brogue, which was published by the University of Louisiana Press. He spent his final years in Palm Beach, CA, and died of respiratory failure. Meanwhile another Ish Kabibble had emerged. Jerry Penfound of London, Ontario, was nicknamed "Ish" or Ish Kabibble, and from 1961 on played horns in Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks. This Kabibble was usually part of that group's soul-band horn section along with Garth Hudson on tenor or soprano sax. Hudson, of course, went on to great later fame as a member of the Band. Not so for Penfound/Kabibble II. Maybe he just didn't have the haircut.