Doc Severinsen – From the Tonight Show to New Braunfels
By: Dale Martin
Carl Hilding Severinsen was born in Arlington, Oregon on July 7, 1927. His father was a dentist and young Carl soon acquired the nickname of ‘Little Doc.’ He wanted to play the trombone at an early age but his father tried to persuade him to take up his favorite instrument, the violin. The elder Carl finally agreed to buy ‘Little Doc’ a horn but the only thing available at the local music store was a trumpet. Within a few weeks the seven year old trumpet player was good enough to join the local high school band. After high school, he was drafted and served in the Army during World War 2. In 1952, Steve Allen became the first host of the Tonight Show and Doc got a job playing trumpet in the house band. Johnny Carson took over hosting duties in 1962 and by 1967 Doc was promoted to band leader of what was now called ‘Doc Severinsen & the Tonight Show Band.’ Under his direction they became the most visible big band in America. He continued as bandleader until Carson retired in 1992.
Calling from his second home near Knoxville, Tennessee, Doc was ready to talk about a variety of topics, including his return appearance at the Brauntex Theatre on January 4 and 5. “After the Tonight Show was over,” he explained, “my wife and I moved up to Santa Ynez Valley near Santa Barbara and lived there for a few years. We started hearing about San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. We were rebuilding an old Mexican style farmhouse. We needed to get some authentic materials and decided to go to San Miguel. We fell in love with the city and moved there a few years later. That’s where I first met Ernie Jergens.
Ernie Jergens, owner of Ernesto’s Jewelry, brought Doc and his current band the San Miguel 5 to New Braunfels for two shows last year at the Brauntex Theatre. The shows were fantastic so he’s bringing them back again. “I was playing at an Italian restaurant in San Miguel and Ernie owns a home there. We struck up a friendship and now Ernie is one of my very best friends. He invited us to New Braunfels to play at the Brauntex. Everyone always brags about their hometown and Ernie was right when he described New Braunfels. I wasn’t prepared for what I found. It is a very outgoing community, good to outsiders and everyone made us feel so welcome.”
Doc has performed in thousands of venues, including Carnegie Hall, but had very nice things to say about the Brauntex. When he learned about the brand new dressing room he replied, “That theatre is gorgeous and the sound is incredible. I may just have to move there so I can anytime I want. We had so much fun last year; I can’t wait to come back.” Doc is currently working on a new album and plans on playing some new material at both shows. “We never have a set list,” he explained, “when we get onstage it just all comes together.” When I brought up the subject of a live album to capture how good their live shows are, Doc liked the idea. “There’s something to be said about a live performance, so maybe that’s something we should do. If we do, I can’t think of a better place to record a live album than the Brauntex Theatre.” Doc is also planning on writing a book about his life, one full of all the incredible stories he has to tell. This is one book I can’t wait to read.