The big band of Harry James was something of a mother lode when it came to vocalists. So one is praising Johnny McAfee highly to say he held his own in terms of producing crooning ore during his stint with this band: other James vocalists included Dick Haymes, the striking Helen Forrest, songwriting genius Johnny Mercer, and a little skinny Italian fellow by the name of Frank Sinatra. And of course, none of them were sax players, which is what McAfee really considered himself. His boyish good looks were something of a drawback to serious musical aims, as bandleaders then, as always, have looked for someone handsome to stick out front behind the microphone. McAfee's vocal repertoire with James' band included numbers such as "Daybreak" and "One Dozen Roses." His first professional job of any note was in the band of Johnny Hamp, a New York-based swing band that recorded in the '30s for several labels under the name of Johnny Hamp & His Orchestra. Other members of this group included fine trumpeter Bill Patrick, as well as reed players Percy Brooks and Cliff Gamet. McAfee led Tony Pastor's sax section in 1939, his efforts in this outfit partially documented by a three-minute "soundie" gushingly titled Good Morning Mr. Zip Zip Zip. He then joined James in 1941 after the departure of Dick Haymes. McAfee also worked with pianist Eddy Duchin, as the singer with Sammy Kaye's show, and shared vocal duties from time to time with Leighton Noble in this singer and bandleader's popular big band.
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