I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You

Will Vodery shares musical credit with Ernest Hogan on this song from 1907’s show The Oyster Man. Hogan starred as Rufus Rastus, the title character of The Oyster Man. Rufus and friends travel to a utopian island called Blazasus where they are captured by the locals only to later escape. The show was successful up until its star Hogan became ill with tuberculosis and had to leave the production. He died in March 1909.

Will Vodery

Will Vodery

Will Vodery, composer, 1885-1951
Called “the ‘Sousa’ of the colored race” back at the turn of the century, Will Vodery’s big break came in writing the many songs for The Oyster Man along with the show’s star Ernest Hogan. Vodery was 22 years old at the time and still 15 years away from orchestrating George Gershwin’s operetta Blue Monday. Vodery’s orchestrating of the 1927 smash hit, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat, would be 20 years in the future.

His list of professional achievements is vast indeed. He was the musical director for Washington DC’s Howard Theatre; he led the top army band in WWI; and he was Fox Films’ musical director for three years in Hollywood. Versatile and talented, the one thing Will Vodery was not is “often photographed.” The photo above is only one of two photos that I know for certain are of him. He is presumably somewhere in the 807th Pioneer Infantry Band photo featured below. The next best thing to a Will Vodery photo that I could find by looking through old newspaper archives was a photo of his mother who seems very proud of her son (see below).

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Ernest Hogan

Ernest Hogan, composer, 1865 – 1909
Born Ernest Reuben Crowders in Bowling Green, KY, Hogan is credited with coining the term “ragtime,” as well as for committing to paper one of the first ragtime compositions. He never claimed to be the first ragtime composer.

Hogan was a multi-talented Broadway star: producer, singer, composer, dancer, musician, and comedian. His hit songs earned him a good deal of money and some notoriety as well, since some people objected to some of the racial stereotypes and dialects that he used occasionally and later regretted using.

Walton, Lester Aglar

Lester A. Walton

Lester A. Walton, lyricist, 1882 – 1965
At various times in his career Walton was a golf writer, drama critic, theatrical producer, director, lyricist, and ultimately a US minister to Liberia, appointed by FDR. Born in St. Louis and a graduate of Sumner High School, Walton would move on to New York City and later to Liberia. He is the man credited for putting the “N” in the word Negro, as he urged that the word be spelled with a capitol “N.”

Walton was a founding member of the group that would come to be known as New York’s Commission on Human Rights. Eventually he would work his way up to be the associate editor of the New York Age, though it may have helped that his father-in-law was the paper’s publisher.

It’s not clear how Walton stumbled into the singular profession of Broadway lyricist. Most golf writers do not end up as lyricists to my knowledge. Though he did not pursue a long-term career on Broadway (this may be his only published song), he certainly did have the utmost respect for the caliber of work that his Broadway friends were achieving:

“These great energetic leaders of the footlights were men of vision, ambition, high ideals and courage. Since their passing no colored musical shows have measured up to Williams and Walker, Cole and Johnson and Ernest Hogan for lavishness of costumes and scenery, class, uproarious comedy situations and soul-stirring ensemble singing. It was no easy matter to get their ambitious ideas translated into realistic stage presentations.”

(Editor’s Note: This song is titled “I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You” on the sheet music, though on the contents list on the cover to the sheet music it is listed as “I Just Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You.” I wish I knew which title the songwriter’s would prefer that we use today.)

Download fake-book style sheet music to “I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You” here: I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You

Lyrics to “I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You” by Lester A. Walton

Verse 1: Now I guess you want to know why I stare, dear, at you so,
I hope that you won’t think me queer, when my story you do hear.
I will give you my excuse for acting such a silly goose,
but you must promise you won’t laugh, while I speak in my behalf.

Chorus: I can’t keep my eyes off of you, for it is a hard thing to do.
Seems though I can feel whenever you are near.
I don’t have to see you or your sweet voice hear.
You are worth idolizing. You are so tantalizing.
You are so hypnotizing that I just can’t keep my eyes off of you.

Verse 2: Every time you come around, this whole world seems upside down.
Then my eyes commence to jump, and my brains to whirl and thump.
Then I look at you and gaze, like a small child in a maze.
Now flirting’s something I won’t do, so I think I’m trying to, but…

 

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Will Vodery Jr.’s mother, Selena

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Grand Opera House, New York City, one of many theatres where The Oyster Man was performed.

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Will Vodery’s Post Band of the First Army Headquarters, France 1918

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One response to “I Can’t Keep My Eyes Off Of You

  1. Walton is from St. Louis, and when we started performing this song our singer noted that her dad attended Sumner high as well (though a lot later on). There’s a review I read, where Walton was not overjoyed by the initial performance of the song…we really like to play it!

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