American Original Tiny Tim

Tiny TimWhere I grew up here in California, much of the milk comes from Clover Stornetta Farms. And for decades, they have advertised using billboards featuring their mascot, a white milk cow named Clo. And these billboards always feature puns. For example, in one, Clo is dressed as a judge and she has quart of milk in her “hand.” The billboard proudly proclaims, “Supreme Quart.” There have been hundreds of these over the years, most of them real groaners: “Splendor in the Glass” or “Claude Moonet” or “No Business Like Clo Business.” But one of them was especially inspired. It was 25 years ago. They had Clo prancing through a field of tulips. And the caption read, “Tip Clo Through Your Two Lips.”

I bring this up because on this day in 1932, Herbert Khaury was born. But you probably know him better as Tiny Tim. But I’m not that interested in his one hit (which reach #17 on the pop charts), “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” He did far greater work. But even apart from the music, he is really interesting as a historian of Tin Pan Alley songs. I once heard that he had over a thousand songs memorized. That’s an incredible feat, especially given the diversity of the work.

As an act, he doesn’t seem that strange to me. He used the high pitch voice and wore makeup. But if you watch him on Laugh-In, he does whatever is necessary for the joke. I tend to think people like him are the bravest people around. He clearly wasn’t worried that people were going to get the wrong idea about him. He was an entertainer. Ultimately, I think he found an act that people were willing to pay for, so he ran with it.

Personally, I would rather just hear him sing. His first album, God Bless Tiny Tim (Funny title!) is a great album. It is filled with classics like “Livin’ In the Sunlight, Lovin’ in the Moonlight” and “Daddy, Daddy, What is Heaven Like?” In the second song, we can hear his beautiful baritone voice as the “Daddy” part. He sounds a bit like Dean Martin. The whole album is kind of like what The Madcap Laughs might have been like if Syd Barrett hadn’t been crazy.

But that isn’t all. Right before he died, he produced Girl with Brave Combo—the band he always deserved. Of particular note is perhaps the greatest version of “Stairway to Heaven” ever. The title track is a cover of The Beatles’ “Girl,” which is also better than the original. The album really doesn’t have a single loser: “New York, New York,” “Springtime In The Rockies” (sorry, no link), and a wonderful version of “Over the Rainbow.” But just see if you can avoid smiling while listening to this rousing version of “Hey Jude”:

Happy birthday Tiny Tim!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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