Songs Of The Day 8/24/2015: Ray (Rae) Bourbon – “Spanish Passion” + “Let Me Tell You About My Operation”

We’re flying without a theme this week. Why the hell not? Summer’s coming to a close, I haven’t been on autopilot most of the season, and all the late night talk shows I’ve fantasized about being on are on vacation this week. Let’s just throw stuff at the wall. Besides, I have a list of stand-alone SOTD’s on standby precisely for this kind of occasion, by artists who can’t really be lumped in with any others. For example, what’s your inventory on post-vaudeville female impersonators who faked a sex change operation and were convicted of being an accomplice to a murder? You’re out? Well, I happen to have one right here.

Ray Bourbon was a female impersonator who found a modicum of success in the early half of the 20th century. As we’ve discussed here before, female impersonators were perfectly acceptable entertainment in even the more tucked-away regions of the U.S. before hypocritical media outlets suddenly decided they were a scourge, and Bourbon’s act – remodeled after his Bourbon & Scotch comedy team languished at the end of the vaudevillian era – found popularity in places like Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He got a lot less trouble there than he did in San Francisco and Los Angeles, though all indications are that he enjoyed a nice run there too. It’s just that big city cops needed to make some kind of splash and got Bourbon and his fellow troopers arrested. WFMU’s Beware of the Blog produced an amazing recap of Bourbon’s serial-quality life story, from which you can infer more about Bourbon’s life in detail. “Spanish Passion,” for which I could only get an estimated date of release of “the 1930’s,” was the sort of double-entendre-dependent ribaldry that was Bourbon’s stock in trade.

In the 1950’s Bourbon’s career was faltering in Los Angeles, and faced with the prospect of being unable to care for the 71 cats and dogs he had amassed – he loved animals – he tried a publicity stunt. That resulted in a name change to Rae and what might be his/her magnum opus, the 1956 album Let Me Tell You About My Operation. The premise was that Bourbon had obtained a sex change down Mexico way. I can’t tell for certain how many of his ’50s audiences fell for the ruse, but either way it attracted the attention of both adventurous cabaret-goers and moralistic law enforcers, which I suspect was at least partially the plan. “The pious called for a crackdown and the typically aggressive Los Angeles authorities were only too willing to oblige,” according to that WFMU article.

The story of Bourbon’s conviction for being an “accomplice to murder with malice” in the '60s is something of a stunner, involving a Texas kennel owner who was entrusted with the care of Bourbon’s still considerable coterie of pets after his career had all but vanished. Before Bourbon had finally amassed enough money to pay his bill to the kennel, the owner, a certain Mr. Blount, had tired of Bourbon’s delinquent debt and took dramatic and pretty terrible action towards the animals. An enraged Bourbon sent two of his cronies down to Texas to try and take care of matters; somehow this was interpreted as “shoot Blount,” which they did, fatally.

Bourbon was arrested in Kansas City and sent to trial in Texas, where narrow public opinion of three homosexual men facing charges on murder were circumspect at best. The man who pulled the trigger was sentenced to 10 years, while Bourbon -- in Kansas City at the time of the shooting -- got 99 years. He died in prison in 1971. I really encourage you to read that WFMU link, which is a lot more of a pot-boiler read than you’d expect from a public radio station’s internet presence.

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