“Kitten on the Keys”: Liberace Plays the Boogie

2013’s Steven Soderbergh-directed Liberace biopic was ineligible for Oscar nominations since, as Mother Jones points out, the film was released on cable television (HBO) instead of U.S. theaters due to its “conspicuous gayness.”  Along with Milton Berle, Liberace was one of TV’s earliest stars and, as pointed out in the film, the first to look right into the camera.  The Liberace Show, which went on the air in 1952, enjoys distinction as one of television’s earliest syndicated programs, if not the first.

How curious to browse his discography of 7-inch records in the 45Cat database and see – despite his legacy of million-selling albums and sold-out shows – a considerably vast drop-off of single releases beginning in the early 1960s.  I inherited a Liberace anthology upon the death of my grandmother and was amused to discover that the pioneering pianist threw a bone to the Woodstock generation with his cover of “Suite:  Judy Blue Eyes.”

1970’s ‘A Brand New Me’ – First LP with Warner Brothers

Liberace LPcheck out the amusing typo:  “Stephen Sills”

One of the primary musical motifs in the HBO film Behind the Candelabra that demonstrated Liberace’s dazzling virtuosity was a live set piece “Liberace Boogie” that only enjoyed release, surprisingly, on LP.  And even then, I can only find it on 1956’s Liberace Hollywood Bowl Encore Volume 1, as well as 2000 compilation 16 Biggest Hits.  Even more impressive than “Liberace Boogie” is this clip from Liberace’s 1950s television show – “Bumble Boogie” – that shows his unique take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee.”

In 1956 almighty Columbia would issue a 10-inch release, Kitten on the Keys, that would include a couple prominent boogie numbers, “Yankee Doodle Boogie” and the title track:

Luther Perkins and Liberace, as it turns out, both played the boogie

British Sea Power would later pay homage to the great ivory tickler in a standout B-side from 2002, “The Lonely,” with their deadpan delivery of this delightfully oddball lyric:      “Just like Liberace, I will return to haunt you with peculiar piano riffs.”