In 1971, after 12 albums and 20 plus years of performances, the Firehouse Five Plus Two played its last official gig. It was a car show at the recently constructed Anaheim Convention Center. Lets take a look at a photograph:
We see Ward Kimball on the left sliding his trombone. Ward was the band's un-appointed leader, whose home served as the primary location for jam sessions that gave birth to the band. And, as I’m sure you already know, Ward was one of the fabled Nine Old Men, one of the greatest animators in the history of the art form, and later became an accomplished director. He also had a “little” fascination with trains. Ward remained the band’s only consistent member throughout its run.
For this show, the band welcomed guest artists, those seen without fire uniforms. The guest artists on stage are Danny Barrett, to Ward’s left, on the cornet. Towards the right, we see Larry Wright (left) and Jeff Beaumont (right) on soprano saxes. And Art Leon is sitting in the middle playing banjo. Back to the actual band, behind Art we see the five-string of Dick Roberts, who took over the role of banjo player in the Firehouse Five from Disney legend Harper Goff. Behind Ward’s leg we see the helmet of drummer Eddie Forest along with the band's banner hanging proudly one last time. Not seen in the picture, but somewhere up there, is George Bruns on tuba. Bruns was one of Disney’s greatest music men. And on the far right, sitting down, we have a glimpse of K.O. Eckland. K.O. replaced animator Frank Thomas on piano in the mid-sixties.
In the middle we see Don Kinch on cornet. Don flew in all the way from Portland to replace Danny Alguire, who had taken ill. Alguire would usually take the cornet, with Kinch on tuba. On the far right edge, missing his fireman’s hat for this number is George Probert on soprano sax. George remains today as the last surviving member of the band. He still plays jazz.
One historian recounts, “there wasn’t a dry eye surrounding the stage when the band roared into ‘Tiger Rag’ for the grand finale.” Over 20 years of energetic and electric performances all came down to one final playing of the classic “Tiger Rag.” Hold that Tiger! Hold that Tiger!
Here’s a clip of the Firehouse Five playing “Tiger Rag” twenty tears earlier in the film Grounds For Marriage (1951). In these early years the likes of Harper Goff and Frank Thomas were still active members:
Each member of the band would probably have given a different reason for why they were hanging their fire hats for the last time. They were tired, worn out, new contracts were not satisfying enough, or their work at the studio was piling up. Since the band had formed, much had changed both at the studio and in the world. Perhaps by 1971, the Firehouse Five were ready for some change themselves. No matter, there will always be folks eager to hear that siren lead them into another rambunctious cavalcade of song.
If you are attending the D23 Expo this week at the Anaheim Convention Center, be sure to take a moment to remember those musicians and what they managed to accomplish in their “spare time.” As Richard Sherman and Alan Menken grace the stage to play their classic tunes, think of old Ward up there, sliding the trombone through “Red Hot River Valley” or “Firehouse Stomp.”
-Butler, Robert. "A Brief History of the Firehouse Five Plus Two." Firehouse Five Plus Two. N.p., Sept. 2011. Web. <http://rbistudio.com/firehouse5plus2.html>.
- Firehouse Five Plus Two. Firehouse Five Plus Two Goes to a Fire. Lester Koenig, 1965. Vinyl recording.
-Firehouse Five Plus Two. Firehouse Five Plus Two Goes to Sea. Lester Koenig, 1958. Vinyl recording.
-Ghez, Didier. Walts People: Talking Disney with the Artists Who Knew Him. Vol. 11. [S.l.]: Xlibris, 2011. Print.
-Sampson, Wade. "The Secret Origin of the Firehouse Five Plus Two." Mouse Planet. N.p., 13 May 2009. Web. <http://www.mouseplanet.com/8819/The_Secret_Origin_of_the_Firehouse_Five_Plus_Two>.