Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

04 September 2007

Yellow Bird

I watch very little television anymore. To be honest, although I get my internet and phone from Cox Cable, I don't subscribe to even their basic cable t.v. Why not? I dunno...thought about it, but just decided that I don't need what t.v. offers. I can get by without seeing who's on "Dancing With The Stars" or any of the inane dramas, "reality" shows or...are there even any good sitcoms on t.v. anymore? I wouldn't know. Don't want to, either. I get PBS and the local Pensacola commercial channel.

My computer then has become my lifeline to the outside world. This is not necessarily a good thing. We used to call watching television a mindless waste of time. In that regard, t.v. has nothing on the internet. You can literally spend your whole day and the next night wading through crap if you're so inclined.

I like reading blogs and watching vlogs (video blogs). In fact, I've become addicted both. I like seeing what's on other people's minds. One vlogger recently put up a video of him (crudely) playing the song, "Yellow Bird" on his ukulele. (Why I clicked on this, I do not know.) Maybe you've heard of the song, maybe not. It's a pretty tune with a Jamaican/Caribbean lilt. It's become something of a standard, a signature song of artists like Harry Belafonte, Arthur Lymon and others. The "classic" arrangement usually has steel drums, something no self-respecting "calypso-ish" song should be without (although the song is definitely not calypso).

The YouTube vlogger credits the song to the Mills Brothers. With every video posted, YouTube offers up related videos on the same subject. In this case, one of them was a clip of the Mills Brothers singing the very song.

As a music fan and former d.j. I've known about the Mills Brothers. But they were from my parent's generation. They were huge - in their day. Singing since the mid-1920's, their recording career lasted from 1930 through 1968(!). However they continued performing well into the 1980's, when death began removing the original members one by one. However, younger ones in the family stepped in and kept the torch alive in name at least.

I knew about them but I'd never been a fan. Not really my cup of tea. Ah, but with age comes tolerance and a wider appreciation of art and talent. In was in that spirit that I clicked on the video clip from 1971 of the Mills Brothers singing "Yellow Bird." And it's awesome! There is something about singing siblings - their voices just naturally blend together in a way that is almost other-worldly. It's easy to see why the Mills Brothers enjoyed such popularity. They are the embodiment of "smooth." Not only that, they look like they're having a ton of fun up there on the stage (Harry was always particularly goofy). That in itself is noteworthy because by that time they'd been singing together for over 45 years!

And here's the aviation connection. In the 1960's there was the always-struggling Northeast Airlines, whose jets were painted in a distinctive yellow paint scheme. They called them "Yellowbirds." Northeast began running
a t.v commercial using a version of "Yellow Bird" with the lyrics changed slightly. It was a pretty and catchy tune, and you know how I am about pretty, catchy musical stuff. Forty years later, I can still recall the lyrics.

Yellow bird,
As new as a jet can be
Yellow bird,
The next time you fly,
Take me

...Or something like that. If you were living in New York and thinking about making a trip to Miami, that commercial would force you to choose Northeast Airlines, such is the power of advertising. Alas, it didn't help their revenue, and by 1972 Northeast Airlines, which had been in continuous business since 1933, was absorbed into Delta Air Lines.

I don't have a clip of the Northeast Airlines commercial, but we can listen to the Mills Brothers version of the original song. Enjoy!


Redlefty said...

Fun post -- it weaved in and out of topics just like an intenet browsing session.

Bob Barbanes said...

Now there's a compliment you don't hear every day: "Fun post." Thanks! I do have a lot of fun writing this stuff, and it makes me glad to know that others (well, at least one other) thought it was fun to read. I appreciate it.

dga said...

First time I ever flew was on a Yellow Bird. There was some kind of fund-raiser in Boston (Jimmy Fund?) sponsored by the local media (WBZ?) where you could get a 30 minute plane ride around the city in exchange for a donation. My mother took me on the trip and I still remember taking off from Logan, even though I was probably only a kindergartener.

I found the new upholstery on the MBTA's Red Line to be reminiscent of 1970's airlines, but my wife thought the new seats reminded her of late 1980's NWA seats. So anyway, this got me looking for old photos of airlines, which somehow got me to your post. I loved the "Yellowbird" ads too, and still sort of remembered the lyrics. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I never heard the Mills Brothers version of the original prior to today but I can remember my 1st flight was on a NE Yellowbird from Philly to the Bahamas with my parents, at age 6. Believe it or not I remember the lyrics 40yrs later......Yellowbird, we make your vacation fun...Yellowbird, our service is number one....Wow our seats are wide, lots more room inside, food gets cooked on-board, have your faith restored, so just fly away, in the sky away....Yellowbird is more fun !!!
Thanks for letting me share that memory !!

Bob Barbanes said...

Wow, "anonymous," you filled in the blank! I could not for the life of me remember much of the modified jingle. The power of advertising is sure something, huh? Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Here is how I found your blog. I was just taking a shower (my hair is still wet) and you know how the mind can wonder to just about anything while taking a shower, well mine wondered to a memory from the 60's involving two Yellowbirds.

I wanted to clear up whether I had a partial "false memory". I remember the Yellowbirds having a single tail exhaust coming directly out of the...well...tail section.

Why this was significant was that I witnessed a near collision of two Yellowbirds and they were so close that one ate the smoke exhaust of the other. And my memory sees one entering the tail exhaust of the other at a distance of much less than a plane length. Much less!

I was walking home from school back then in the 60s and I heard a loud, loud jet noise approaching from behind me. Up over the hill came two Yellowbirds at very low altitide, converging.

I can only speculate that the two were receiving identical instructions from the tower (I wasless than 25 miles west of Logan Airport, Boston). The tower confused the two identical Yellowbirds. They were taking evasive action and had both come to low altitude (less than 1000 feet, by my memory).

They then both went into steep altitude gains -- simultaneously. One passed through the exhaust trail of the other and then their paths widened, thankfully.

They could have collided right over my neighborhood (not to mention, me).

Well, that is how I found my way to your Blog.

The picture you supply does not seem to have the configuration I recall, but now that I am late for work, I will research more later.

Bob Barbanes said...

Anonymous, I can imagine how horrifying and scary it must have been to witness that near-collision. Aircraft often have similar and confusing call-signs; even today you should hear the tower controller at JFK Airport try to sort out all of the JetBlue flights when a bunch of them are "pushing" (departing) at the same time. So yes, your theory of the reason for the near-collision is probably correct.

As far as Northeast Airlines, well, back in the 1960's they used a variety of jets both big and small in their distinctive yellow paint scheme (which airlines call "livery"). The jets you most likely saw were either Douglas DC-9's or Boeing 727's. They are similar airplanes in that they have "clean" wings and their engines are mounted at the rear of the fuselage.

The -9 (in the picture above) has two engines in the back, which gives the plane a distinct dual-exhaust signature. However, the 727 has three engines: the third is buried in the very rear of the fuselage. Its intake is on top of and at the rear of the fuselage, just in front of the tail, and it is difficult to see from the ground/below. Thus, the 727 could certainly display a smoke (exhaust) trail from the very rear of the plane.

Perhaps the near-collision you saw was between two 727's, or a 727 and a DC-9 crossing behind it? On the other hand, the mind - and the memory - can play tricks on us.

You can check out the history of NE Airlines at

Finally, I hope you dried your hair before going out of the house - you could catch your death of cold!

Thanks for writing!


Anonymous said...

Musical connection...

This is "anonymous" again, who witnessed the near collision
of two Yellow Birds.

(I had witnessed the near-collision while walking home from
school some time back in the 60's. Exactly when I am not sure.)

When I first arrived at your Blog two days ago I did it while
in a hurry, looking for a photograph of a Yellow Bird.
Now I have had the luxury of musing over this page, the
Mills Brothers and ukuleles (thanks!).

It is amazing what one can find on the Internet (your page, and this):

"1968, new routes were opened from Boston and New York direct to
Nassau and Freeport, resort cities in the Bahamas, and beginning
March 14, 1969, Bostonians could fly Yellowbirds straight to Bermuda."

When Northeast Airlines (later assimilated by Delta Airlines on 8/1/72)
opened the Yellowbird route to Bermuda they did it with a ceremonial
promotion. My highschool marching band was invited to play at the
ceremony! There it is -- Friday, March 14, 1969. Try and imagine two or
three school buses carrying a highschool marching band and from them
comes the cacophony of teens - most screwing around, some doing
impromptu practicing of the song "Yellow Bird".

We had been provided with sheet music and my lasting impression is
that whoever did the arrangement did a rather plain-vanilla job. Wish
I had kept my copy of the music -- Yellow Bird for trombone. If your
inner imaginative ear can do it, try imagining Yellow Bird, not played
on YouTube by a ukulele, but by a lousy (ok, I admit it) highschool
trombone player (#!@).

The ceremony consisted of a small grandstand set up overlooking
a parked Yellowbird from which short speeches were made by
dignitaries (I have no recollection of who they were and I probably
paid no attention anyway). And as best I can recall the only audience
for the speeches were the dignitaries themselves and the enlisted
(make that drafted) marching band.

We played Yellow Bird once, posed for pictures and then that was that.

It is shocking what the memory can hold. I dug up a sudden surprise
when I contemplated that ceremony at the airport. Our reward for the
work that day was a copy of the official photograph from the ceremony.
Days or weeks later each member of the band was handed a nice glossy
photo. I remember being really miffed. The photo was taken from the
grandstand and captured dignitaries, the Yellowbird and most of the
marching band. I say "most"; actually it was "all" of the band except
for the one band member in the frontmost right corner. (Hint:
trombones go in the front row of most marching bands.)

Shades of the movie "Back to the Future" where photographs showed
people being erased from time! A pair of Yellow Birds almost erased me
from time with their near-collision over my head!

An interesting factoid came to mind about the flight of that pair of
Yellow Birds. I had been alerted to their approach by the roar of their
engines and I turned around just in time to see them "dusting" the
nearby hill. A hundred yards away from me was the huge brick house
of John Bottomley which stood on the top of that hill. This was "The"
John Bottomley who was played by Henry Fonda in the 1968 movie
"The Boston Strangler" (Tony Curtis played the strangler).

Now THAT would have made an interesting postscript to the Boston
Strangler tale. Imagine the headline: Strangler detective killed by
Yellow Birds.

I didn't personally know the Bottomley's, so it is anecdotal that this
was "The" John Bottomley. I did deliver the Sunday newspaper to that
house when I was a wee tyke, though. Don't remember them, but they had a
humongous lumbering Saint Bernard who would scare the bejesus
out of me. It was like anticipating the dragon as I pulled my wagon
up their long driveway -- "would he be there or not?". I loved dogs
but to a 60 lb nine year old it was like being pursued by a VW Beetle
with hair.

There was one item in my memory of the near-collision that
hung me up for a while. My memory refused to see the pair of planes
in yellow, like the yellow in the photo you provide. It demanded to
paint them in burnt-orange. I couldn't reconcile this and I spent alot
of time searching photos of Braniff planes, etc. to see if I could find
a match. Finally, I came full circle and looked at Northeast Yellow
Birds again, voila!

These two pictures are much closer in color (but still not exact)
to what I recall:


I really hope this particular link stays good for awhile!!!:

The second link is to an old Northeast Yellowbird poster, hey!

Had you remembered the Yellowbird slogan?
"Catch a Northeast Yellowbird"

It is a Ski New England poster. Someone had been selling the poster
at jumpingfrom.com (don't know when that sale was taking place but
Google stored the photo in cache from December 3, 2008).

(Be aware there might be rights issues if you distribute the photo.)

Here is where the Google cache originally directed me:
Ski New England "Catch A Northeast Yellowbird" poster

A little trick: when I arrived at the cached link I used Internet Explorer to
View/Source (click on the menu item View and then the option Source).
Notepad then opened with the source and I did a Find for "jpg". That
showed me where jumpingfrog is actually storing (temporarily?) the photo.

Hope you enjoy the poster.

Hope 2009 is a great one for you! Keep looking UP!

(ps, almost forgot. Thanks for the info on the DC-9 and 727. I'll
go with Boeing 727. And I took your wet hair comment to heart
and have been taking my Cold-eeze, don't want to be sick for the
holidays and bowl games!)

Jo Anne Lefebvre said...

Way back in my time, I remember Northeast Airlines, their office was right across the way from Mohawk Airlines, where my father was a station manager. I remember the Yellowbird lyrics as this:
Yellow bird your sevice is #1
Yellow bird you make flying much more fun
Wow your seats are wide
Lots more room inside
Food is cooked on board
Have your faith restored
So just fly away
In the sky away
Yellowbirds are more fun!!

Anonymous said...

Another variation on the commercial:

Yellowbird, we fly more to the sun.
Yellowbird, our service is number one.
Wow! Our seats are wide!
Lot's more room inside.
Food is cooked on board!
Have your faith restored.
So just fly away,
in the sky away,
Yellowbirds to the fun!

Anonymous said...

My dad worked for Northeast Airlines and as a child I will always remember the "Yellowbird" song. There would be family picnics with many families attending. I won the Little Miss Sunliner Beauty Contest in 1965 or 1966. I would have been 4 or 5 yrs old. I still have the picture taken in Miami. What a memory I still have of these picnics the friendly people, great food such as steamed clams, corn on the cob, etc. The games were on going. Anyway, those memories will never be forgotten.

TrishBird said...

Found your nice blog while on a sentimental journey lokking for picture and info on the 1950's Northeast Airlines and its Yellowbird. Just remembering the best times flying to Miami Beach as a girl. I could never say enough to give the wonderful feeling of those times, but readers who did the same will know that those feelings have never been surpassed.

Thanks for the blog, and fun to all.

Anonymous said...

Didn't the commercials have singing cartoon yellow birds? I was a kid, but my brother and I loved them -- as we did pretty much anything with cartoons.

Bob Barbanes: said...

Actually, I don't remember a cartoon version for the airline. Perhaps the song was used to hawk some other product? Then again, my memory ain't what it used to be :-/

Anonymous said...

Yellowbird we make your vacation fun....

Yelllowbird our service is number one!

Wow our seats are wide!

Lots more room inside!

Food thats cooked on board!

Have your faith restored!

Yellowbirds are more FUN!

Anonymous said...

I found your blog looking for a Northeast airlines poster . I was a " fight attendant" , actually stewardess , when I was hired for Northeast and boy do I remember that song . I had to remember to turn on the music before all passengers started boarding. what a great airline to work for and did we ever have fun ! I have photos of my last day with my crew working officially as Northeast before we became Delta in our green and yellow " hot pants " uniforms .. Great memories !

Anonymous said...

Northeast yellowbird, as new as a jet can be.
Yellowbird, the next time you fly take me.
Take me with the best
Something something best
Then relax me down
To Miami town
Something something...

This has benn running in my head for days and I can't remember all the words. I was probably 5 when it came out and why it recently came to mind, I have no idea.

Duck Butler said...

Dear Bob,

When I was a wee lad back in the '60s, I lived in South Burlington, Vermont, literally across the street from Burlington [then] Regional Airport (Dad was a weatherman there).

I remember not only the NE Yellowbirds but the Mohawk airliners on the ramp.

And I remember watching the Yellowbird TV spots and hearing the jingle. So few memories so unspoiled.

Wonderful blog. CAVU.

Anonymous said...

Just saw an old episode of Let's Make a Deal. They gave away a trip on Northeast Yellowbird to the Bahammas. Part of the announcer's pitch for the airline was this line, "Featuring hostesses in dazzling hot pants."

Bob Barbanes: said...

Yes, amazing what they could get away with back then! But hmmm, a NE Yellowbird to the Bahamas...I'm in!

Anonymous said...

Years later ... FINALLY finding the words to the Northeast Airlines jingle that have eluded me for years and years! Life's simple pleasures. For anyone who still remembers, recall.that it was the Brothers Four cover of the Mills Brothers "Yellowbird" that earned them the re-cover for NE! Many, many thanks again!