Tiki Tuesday: Remembering Les Baxter

Les Baxter

Les Baxter is one of the two most prominent figures from the world of exotica lounge music of the ’50’s and 60’s, along with Martin Denny. Baxter was born Leslie Thompson Baxter in Mexia, Texas on March 14, 1922. As a young man, he studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory, and then attended Pepperdine College in Los Angeles.

His musical career began as a singer for Mel Tormé’s Mel-Tones, and not long after, he was arranging and conducting for Capitol Records, which allowed his creativity to flourish. In a 1953 interview with Downbeat magazine, Baxter commented on his work with Capitol, “Under my contract with Capitol, I have complete freedom to do just about anything I want in my own way. When I want thirty musicians in the orchestra, I get thirty. I don’t try to make fifteen musicians sound like two each.”

There he was involved in the making of iconic classics including Nat King Cole’s “Mona Lisa” and the 1955 version of “Unchained Melody” under his own orchestra. He was also heavily involved in writing B-movie and horror film scores throughout his career.

However, he was probably best known for his exotica contributions, filled with the romance of the South Seas, some of the best being The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter (1951), Sacred Idol (1960), and The Primitive & the Passionate (1962)

Here is my favorite Les Baxter song, “Fruit of Dreams” from Sacred Idol (1960)

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