If absolute proof of the adage "it's the singer not the song" is required, then songwriter James Cavanaugh is the man of the hour. Mention of the song "You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You" immediately brings to mind Dean Martin, yet it was lyricist Cavanaugh who came up with the whole idea. Indeed, the melody this universal concept hangs on was nothing but a lot of humming and piano tinkling before Cavanaugh came along to express things in words. He was a member of quite a few different songwriting partnerships from the '20s through the '50s, sometimes working with composers such as Harold Arlen or Chick Webb, who also drummed and led bands. "Long Time, No See" was one of the musical greetings he came up with for the popular Andrews Sisters, while "The Man with the Mandolin" was typical of his co-writing ventures, a sentimental story song dreamt up with the help of Frank Weldon and John Redmond and a smash hit as well, spending a total of ten weeks on the hit parade of 1939.
Cavanaugh came solidly out of the Tin Pan Alley tradition. During times of war, he cooked up propaganda songs such as "The Man of the Hour, General Eisenhower" and when television networks came looking for holiday material in the '50s, he was happy to craft a musical impression of "Christmas in Killarney." Some of this composer's best-known works have a Southern flavor, including "Mississippi Mud," recorded by everyone from Bix Beiderbecke to the Muppets, and "Strictly from Dixie," written with Webb and Harry Brooks. Throughout the music business, movers and shakers tended to have great faith in Cavanaugh's material. One of the best examples is Joe Davis, active for more than 50 years as an A&R man, songwriter, publisher, and record label owner. The latter enterprise might never have occurred to Davis had it not been for an exhausting song entitled "The Watchman Fell Asleep," written by Cavanaugh with partners John Redmond and Nat Simon. When the big labels such as Decca passed on releasing the song because of shellac shortage problems during the second World War, Davis decided he liked it so much he would press it himself. That was the beginning of the Beacon label, and Davis' career running his own record companies.