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01:00 Mon 01st Apr 2002 |

Q.� My parents have a load of James Last albums which they love�- what can you tell me about him < xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A.In spite of his English-sounding name, James Last is actually German by birth. Hans Last adopted a more English Christian name to ensure that his potential success was not hampered by any lingering memories left over from the war. He has made a massive success from the often-derided 'easy listening' sound made by his big band, The James Last Orchestra, and is a huge star throughout Europe, although success with his chosen style has failed to find similar success in America.

Q.� What is his sound all about

A.� The template for James Last's success is his album Non-Stop Dancing, released in 1965. The formula of recording brief snatches of popular songs, mixed together into a continuous medley with big band orchestration and dubbed party background noises proved to be a massive success with the more mature music lover, and his follow-up albums suing the same style have sold in millions.

Q.� How did James Last get to have his own orchestra

A.� Last began piano lessons as a child, but he switched to his instrument of choice, bass guitar, while in his teens. He joined Hans Gunther Oesterreich's Radio Bremen Dance Orchestra in 1946 when he was just seventeen years old. In 1948, Last became leader of the Becker-Last Ensemble where he remained for seven years. During this time, Last's considerable talent as a bassist was acknowledged�- a German jazz poll voted him best bass guitarist for three years in a row. When the orchestra disbanded, Last became in the in-house arranger for German record label Polydor, and spent ten years as a 'behind-the-scenes' hit arranger for such artists as Helmut Zacharias and Catarina Valente.

It was with his success with the Non-Stop Dancing series that Last made his own name, and fronted his own Orchestra. Throughout the next three decades, Last cornered the market in MOR success, churning out endless collections of pop standards, all given the unmistakable James Last treatment. Pop and rock musicians may scoff at Last's unfailingly cheerful sound, and his cheesy grin as he smirked at the camera while conducting his ever-lively arrangements, but his sales speak for themselves. Between 1967 and 1986, Last has made 52 hit albums, which makes him second only to Elvis Presley in chart success terms. Oddly enough, Last has only managed one hit single, the theme from the Richard Gere film American Gigolo, called Seduction, which charted in 1980.

Q.� Why is James Last so successful

A.� A combination of musicianship, and an eye for a gap in the market. Medley music has always been a firm favourite with German audiences. The medley format, where one song mixes into another over a three to five minute record has been a staple of the German charts since they began. Last was clever enough to see the potential in an older market�- people who would like to make their party sound like it was a happening place to be, by putting on an album of another party. The soundtrack to huge numbers of special occasions was�Last's party sounds, with the ubiquitous medleys playing, and the sound of people talking, laughing, dancing, drinking, and clapping in time, in other words, having a really great party of their own. The formula was massively successful. Never mind the credibility gap, check out the sales stats, and Last's own bank balance!

Q.� So he plays pop music in a big band style

A.� Mainly pop yes, but Last has covered every musical style going�- from Gregorian chants to Nirvana's Smells Like Steen Sprit - nothing is safe from the band-meister's eye for a popular tune, which he can add to his non-stop repertoire, making sure it really is, er, non-stop! The Beatles, Celine Dion, even Lou Bega's Mambo Number Five, have all 'benefited' from the Last treatment.

Last's inventive inclusion of rock and pop instrumentation�- bass and lead guitars, keyboards and synthesisers into his standard orchestral line-up has seen a cross-over from strictly pop audiences to the huge and hitherto untapped middle-of-the-road record buyers, an audience which James Last has made very firmly is own.

Q.� What do artists who have their material covered by Last think about it

A.� Well, what ever they may feel about the treatment Last gives to their musical output; they will be assured of laughing all the way to the bank. Inclusion on a James Last album ensures an instant royalty cheque of several thousand pounds, with the prospect of an enduring future for their own songs which will sell to Last's massive army of fans for years, as well as accruing payment for use in Last's live tours which are equally 'non-stop'.

Q.� Is it going to continue

A.� No reason why not. With a work rate that at its peak saw a James Last album being recorded and released every eleven days, and an album tally of 450 titles and rising, there seems little sign of the Last hit machine slowing down. He obviously enjoys recording and touring, his adoring audience regard him as some kind of mega-star, and the fact the teenagers would probably walk across hot coals rather than buy his records moves him not at all. James Last's music is for mums and dads; grannies and granddads, those times when they get a few friends round and need some music to play on the Dansette while they have a drink and a bop. Let's face it, their money goes into Last's bank account the same as any other, so why should he care if hes not hip Would you

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By:� Andy Hughes.

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