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Although Ernie Freeman is best known for his work with Frank Sinatra in the mid-1960s, space age pop fans should check out his own instrumental albums, particularly those cleared targeted for heavy rotation at dance parties in the early 1960s. Limbo Dance Party and Comin' Home Baby (with a Top 100-charting cover of Mel Torme's tune) will definitely get you out there doing a Pee-Wee Herman dance (in the privacy of your own home, of course).
Freeman started playing with groups in Cleveland while he was still in high school, and he and his sister Evelyn formed a combo that became quite popular among young black audiences in the area. After serving in World War Two, he spent a few years working as a pianist, alone and with groups, before he decided to try his luck in the studio business in Los Angeles.
For the first few years, Freeman scraped by as a free-lancer, pinch-hitting as an R&B and rock 'n' roll pianist on a variety of major and minor label recordings, all without credit. After the studio group, B. Bumble and the Stinger had a minor hit with their upbeat version of "Flight of the Bumblebee," "B. Bumble Boogie," Freeman was brought in to raise the quality of musicianship, and he played lead for most of the groups' other releases. Around 1955, Freeman also had a hit on the R&B charts with his original rocker, "Jivin' 'O' Round."
Freeman's first major break came when Lew Chudd hired him to work alongside Jimmy Haskell as the backbone of Imperial Records' music department. Freeman arranged, conducted, and played on many Imperial releases, and it's been suggested that he ghosted for Fats Domino on some of the singles Imperial rushed to market during Fats' heyday. But Chudd also let him record under his own name regularly, and Freeman scored several small hits, with a re-recording of "Jivin' O' Round," "Dumplin'," a Freeman original, "Indian Love Call," and a cover of Bill Justis' "Raunchy."
Freeman then switched to Liberty, which was just kicking into high gear with the success of Martin Denny, and he continued to record current pop instrumentals while handling a variety of other musical chores.
In 1966, he was hired as the musical director of Sinatra's Reprise label, and he backed Sinatra on a number of recordings, most of them rated as merely passing entries in the Sinatra catalog. However, he held the baton for Sinatra's biggest hit, his cover of Bert Kaempfert's "Strangers in the Night," for which he earned a Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist or Instrumentalist. He won the same award in 1970 for his arrangement of "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel. He also accompanied Dean Martin, helping his career shoot back to center stage with his huge hit, "Everybody Loves Somebody," and continuing through most of his very successful 60s albums, many with a country-western tinge, produced by Jimmy Bowen.
Freeman left Reprise in 1971 as the label mutated into a rock-oriented company and worked as a freelancer thereafter.
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