Friday, August 1, 2014

Singer used leather, denim and a Trailblazer for '55 hit

Baritone Vaughn Monroe dressed as motorcycle hoodlum on a Royal Enfield twin.
That just could be a Royal-Enfield-built 1955 Indian Trailblazer that singer and band leader Vaughn Monroe is riding in the publicity photos for his hit record of that year, "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots."

Monroe was an avid motorcyclist whose celebrity brought him a relationship with the Indian motorcycle company. Naturally, the motorcycle he's riding has "Indian" on the tank.

But not until Royal Enfield enthusiast Mark Mumford of the UK pointed it out did I realize the motorcycle in the photos could be one of the powerful Royal Enfield twins of that era.

Mark wrote in response to my blog item about Monroe and his love of motorcycles.

"David, great publicity shot of Vaughn. I notice he is riding what is (probably) a Trailblazer and probably a 1955 model as that appears to be the only year this model had the Indian head on the front fender.

"A Google image search brings up a shot from the same shoot but showing the other side in which the Enfield identity is much clearer.

1955 Indian Trailblazer was a 700cc Royal Enfield twin.
"I have recently added a Trailblazer project to the workshop, a particularly desperate example recovered from the U.S. by Allan Hitchcock. It is missing a lot of parts, notably the complete front forks but a bit of swapping and sorting through my parts store has produced most of the components including the top yoke for the huge Stewart Warner speedometer."

Indian turned to Royal Enfield for motorcycles in 1955, having ended its own production. The U.S. company would market virtually the entire line of Royal Enfields under its own name up to 1959. Often these were customized for American tastes, including the tall "Western" style handlebars seen in the catalog photo.

Dressed up in motorcycle boots, denim pants and leather jacket, Monroe looks the part of "the terror of Highway 101" in the publicity shots.

With his broad shoulders and square jaw, the suave, former New York City band leader even played the role of a cowboy in some movies. But terrorizing highways on a motorcycle was not his nature. He was a spokesman for motorcycle safety.

"That article on Vaughn Monroe was swell," reader John Donlon of LaGrange Park, Ill. wrote. "He and his society band with the Norton Sisters were just so classy. The songs were so good and 'old leather lungs' will live in my memory forever."

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