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The Guy Lombardo Story
Part Three: I Never Get Bored Playing 1955-1977
by Christopher Doty

guy conducts a high school band 1961In the mid 1950s the North American music industry shifted from the adult-oriented popular music, which Lombardo had helped popularize, to teenage-based rock 'n' roll. Although he remained popular, the market for Guy's music began to erode.

 


In 1953 the Royal Canadians failed to chart for the first time in 25 years . Tax difficulties with the IRS hardly helped the Lombardo's finances. The band now found itself more reliant on tours, which had the advantage of re-establishing their London legacy.

In July of 1955 the Royal Canadians played at the city's centennial. Committee organizers even named a day in Guy's honor. Over the next three decades the band would give nearly twenty concerts in the London area, creating the myth that it performed at venues like Port Stanley's Stork Club on an annual basis - which was never the case. For the Lombardo brothers, London must have been an old-fashioned oasis in a changing world of Beatles music, flower children and LSD trips.

"We like the lack of hippies on the streets. We didn't see one," Guy told a reporter during a 1968 visit.

In April of 1971 Carmen Lombardo died of cancer. In addition to composing many of the Canadian's hit songs Carmen had been the band's musical soul. More than any of his brothers - including Guy - he had shaped the band's style and direction. Guy, who was closer to Carmen than to any of his siblings, was professionally and personally shattered by the loss.

The band's arteries began to harden. In March of 1974, for the first time in history, a Royal Canadians concert received a bad review in the London Free Press.

On June 4, 1977 the band under Guy's direction made its final local appearance. At the refurbished Stork Club, a weary-looking Lombardo went through the paces - too much of a professional showman to let down his fans. No one on the dance floor seemed to be younger than 50. It all seemed more like a reunion than an entertainment event.

"I never get bored playing," said Guy. "When I get tired playing Auld Lang Syne, I think I'll go fishing."

Five months later he was dead at the age of 75. The CBS switchboard received more phone inquiries about his death than the recent passings of Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley. In 1979 surviving brother Lebert severed the last of his family's connections with the band.

Guy once joked he would take New Year's Eve with him when he died. He was probably right. Since 1977 no entertainer has been able to push Lombardo off his throne as the official greeter of each new calendar. Auld Lang Syne - a tune first popularized by the band to please a Scottish audience in Glencoe - is as inseparable to the first few minutes of a year as O Canada is to the start of a hockey game.

lombardo interview 1975It's debatable that the Lombardos would have done as well in another city. But London, with its support of local artists and its insulation from the smothering cultural influence of larger centres like Toronto, gave the brothers a chance to develop their talent and self-confidence. In a more competitive metropolis, Guy probably would have just become a tailor like his father.

Exactly eight weeks after Guy's death London celebrated another New Year's Eve. At the home of Hubert Lombardo the phone rang off the wall as tearful Londoners wailed how the evening just wasn't the same without his famous cousin. Hubert's wife did her best to console them.

"Just put on Guy's music, sit back, close your eyes and enjoy," said Jean Lombardo. "We all miss him. But people can always remember."

This article originally appeared in The London Free Press on December 27, 1998.