Earl Bennett, who performed with Spike Jones and the City Slickers, died October 4 at the age of 87. When he worked with Spike, he went by the name Sir Frederick Gas and played a wide array of musical instruments, many of which were not instruments at all. He could get notes out of hitting two pieces of lumber together or blowing on a leaf. He also belched a lot to music — ergo, the name.
Earl Fred Bennett was born November 5, 1919 in Kansas and grew up pursuing the dual paths of music and art. He studied painting at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1938 to 1941 before serving in World War II. In the service, he got to playing occasionally with military bands and appearing in shows so after his discharge, he gravitated in that direction. He toured for a time with a night club act featuring novelty music and appeared in Ken Murray's stage revues. In 1947, Bennett's act caught the attention of Spike Jones, who was then at the peak of his popularity and recording songs that employed the kind of odd sounds in which Bennett specialized. Spike hired him on and assigned him the handle of Sir Frederick Gas, which had previously been a gag credit on several of the City Slickers records.
Bennett appeared with the band on records, on radio, in movies and on Jones's 1954 TV series. He vocalized (often doing a Yiddish accent) and played odd instruments and even built some of the outrageous props that the orchestra employed. But after the '54 series, he decided there wasn't much future in that kind of act, and he was also tired of touring...so he got into film production, mainly as an editor but occasionally as a sound effects specialist. He worked for U.P.A. on the Mr. Magoo cartoons (he edited Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, among many other productions) and later became a long, friendly fixture at Hanna-Barbera Productions, working on all their shows from around 1965 on. He occasionally worked with Joe Siracusa, another member of the Spike Jones band who became a film editor.
I got to meet Earl at H-B and pester him with questions about his days with Spike. He spoke fondly of those days and of the people with whom he worked — Spike, especially — but insisted he was glad to be out of it. I'm told that after he retired, his career went full circle and he returned to painting, which he did until worsening eyesight forced him to stop. We miss you already, Sir Frederick.
Here's Earl Bennett as Sir Frederick Gas (in the striped shirt) singing "You Always Hurt the One You Love" accompanied on vocals by banjo virtuoso and RSG (Really Silly Guy) Freddie Morgan...