Taming The Beast Inside Of Me

by Derrick Bostrom


About a year ago, when national treasure Merlin Mann took a brief hiatus from his blog, 43 Folders, he recruited a selection of substitutes to post in his absence. Much to my amazement, I was one of his recruits (due no doubt to Merlin's love of the Meat Puppets and not anything he might have encountered in these pages). Time permitted the completion of only two pieces, and I fear neither revealed much in the way of useful tips and tricks for his life-hacking hungry readers. I was more interested in poking fun at the whole idea of "productivity strategy" than I was in actually being "productive."

As it turns out, I wasn't as far off the mark as I thought. Merlin's return to 43 Folders has seen him take just the same kind of turn. His rants against "fiddling," of allowing "tools" to get between you and your work, have become increasingly shrill, as he twists somewhat publicly in the wind, trying to kick his message up a notch. I guess fatherhood will do that to you. I've noticed that getting older certainly does. I myself have begun to enter serious re-evaluation mode about the current state of my own "creative work."

What better time, then, to "reblog" one of my 43 Folder articles. This particular piece was never promoted to the front page, so hardly anyone read it anyway. And after all, Christmas is coming, and daddy's got to get out there on the street corner and hustle a flower or two. If a filler post helps give a man some badly needed breathing room, well, so much the better:

It's the central contradiction at the heart of our all-too-finite existence that we cannot reconcile the uncontainability of our dreams with the futile limitation of our resources. It's no wonder we've come rely on strategies to get through the day. In David Allen's world, the metaphor is the overloaded information-driven workplace. For Merlin, it's the in-box. Much like baseball, which employs elaborate rules to 'score' the uncontrollable moment when pine touches horse-hide, or Civil War reenactments, which apply a comforting tactical grid to our nation's most chaotic psychic trauma, GTD derives its power from our need to impose our will on random events. No matter what fate has in store, all we have to do is write it down and throw it in a box.

But some situations require us to think outside the box.

I've never been very good at handling demands from the outside world. I haven't answered my telephone in decades. When it comes to something like getting a haircut, visiting the dentist or changing the oil in my car, I'll either lie awake all night worrying about it or forget about it altogether. So I desperately wanted to believe in any strategy that could help me dispatch unpleasant tasks without the need to obsess over them. Once I made that initial leap of faith, the rest came surprisingly easy. Sure enough, I was amazed to discover how quickly I could swat down those hated chores with my very first trusted system.

As self-loathing abated, I looked forward to the promise of projects that might actually cause me personal satisfaction upon completion, and not merely relief. But external obligations sprout all by themselves, like weeds. I found myself spending far too much time whacking tedious projects off my plate and not nearly enough on the ones I truly loved. I came to understand that if my only motivation was avoidance of the pain from open loops, I'd do nothing but battle these impositions for the rest of my life. I knew I'd have to rethink my system.

Some stubborn projects defy the equation: the pain of doing them far outweighs the pain of leaving them undone. For these tasks, I've created an entirely new type of context, which I've set just above and slightly to the right of 'deferred.' I call it 'punishment.' Tasks falling into this category include certain home plumbing repairs, financial drudgery which I haven't figured out how to automate yet, or anything that tends to remind me of my inevitable demise (such as pruning photo albums of recently deceased pets or trying to read anything set below 12-point type). In other words, this context would include any task that would tend to ruin my day if attempted.

I save those tasks for when my day is already ruined. Whether I've overplayed my hand somehow and allowed my demons to surface, or just simply made the colossal miscalculation of allowing myself to 'believe' (whatever that means), that's when I pull out the punishment list. Suddenly, the tasks on this list don't look so foreboding -- that's when I know its time to jump on them. The benefits to this approach are threefold: first, I receive my self-administered comeuppance, second, I move a dreaded project forward, and third, if the project truly belonged on the list in the first place, then it's likely I'll get the opportunity to bang my knuckles against the pipes hard enough to restore emotional equilibrium.

This may sound a little extreme, but it works. The last time I tried this method, I was hoarse from screaming at my tools and there was a pile of broken pipes and kitchen paneling out behind the house. But my newly-installed under-the-sink reverse osmosis unit worked like a charm! Furthermore, I'd completely forgotten whatever was bothering me in the first place.

Give it a try, but make sure you have plenty of band-aids on hand.


Presidential Tchotchkas

by Derrick Bostrom


Here's an article I wrote last year for a proposed column over at LuxuriaMusic. The column never materialized, and they never used it, so I decided to offer it up here as part of this week's national President's Day hoopla. As for Lux, they are poised to unveil a long anticipated, Drupal based site redesign. Once in place, their new account management and RSS feed aggregating features will hopefully give them all the fancy new content their heart may desire!

Whenever I'm in the vicinity of Austin, Texas, I always try to make time to visit the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum. It's terrific facility; it's even got a presidential automaton. But instead of spouting pithy patriotic sentiment like Disneyland's Lincoln robot, the LBJ automaton tells jokes. My favorite gag has the punch line, “I know doctor, but I like what I drinks a lot better than what I hears” (you can fill in the rest of the joke yourself).

I've had my eye on the presidential dessert plates in the gift shop for some time. But they are rather pricey, and besides, it would take a stronger man than I to choose between the lush but stern extravagance of the First Lady Francis Folsom Cleveland pansies design and the breathtaking austerity of the Ida Saxton McKinley carnation. I settled instead on a collection of LBJ's phone calls from 1963 through 1965. My favorite track is the one in which Johnson bawls out Congressman Adam Clayton Powell for dragging his heels on an education bill: "You looked me straight in the eye and said 'I'll report this bill and I'll get it on the floor,' and you DID NOT DO IT!"

My wife recently visited the gift shop at Washington DC's Dulles Airport, and was surprised at how many anti-Bush collectibles she found there. You know the kind I mean: countdown calendars for for keeping track of how many days are left in the administration, “Don’t blame me -- I voted for Kerry" bumper stickers, “Drink up! The apocalypse is coming!” shot glasses, the usual. But she passed on all this contentious treasure, choosing instead a book of presidential trivia, a beautiful presidential kitchen towel, and a very nice book of presidential cookie recipes. Some of the must-try morsels include Herbert Hoover's lace wafers, Franklin Pierce's sesame seed cookies and Richard Nixon's USS Sequoia brownies (named in honor of the presidential yacht).

Anyway, in honor of this festive week of celebration, I am announcing The First Annual Bostworld Presidential Contest. Here’s the deal: the first person who can answer the following question will get a copy of President Zachary Taylor’s legendary recipe for black pepper cookies, hand-typed by Yours Truly: At the time of his inauguration, our 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was related to eleven former Presidents. Can you name them?

----------

Thanks to everyone who ventured their guesses! Like I said, I wrote this article last year. Not only can I no longer remember who the presidential relatives are, I can't even remember which book to look in for the answer! But I remember the recipe:

Black Pepper Cookies

2 EGGS, SEPARATED

1 CUP LIGHT BROWN SUGAR, PACKED

1 CUP FLOUR

1/4 TSP. SALT

1 TSP. CINNAMON

1/2 TSP. GROUND CLOVES

1/4 TSP. BLACK PEPPER

1/4 TSP. BAKING SODA

1/4 TSP. BAKING POWDER

1/2 CUP RAISINS

1/2 CUP CHOPPED NUTS

Preheat oven to 375

In a small bowl, beat 2 egg whites.

In another small bowl, beat 2 egg yolks.

Combine egg whites and yolks and mix.

Add brown sugar and mix again.

In another bowl, sift flour with salt, cinnamon, cloves, black

pepper, baking soda, and baking powder.

Add the sifted ingredients to the eggs.

Stir in mixed raisins and nuts.

If dough is not stiff, add more flour. Blend well.

Drop by a tablespoon onto a greased baking sheet.

Bake for 5 to 7 minutes.

Cool on a rack.

YIELD: 5 DOZEN COOKIES.


Love Workshop - The Wonderful Russ Interview

by Derrick Bostrom


In this exclusive interview, Phoenix broadcasting legend and real estate celebrity "Wonderful" Russ Shaw reminisces about "Love Workshop," the comedy show he co-created in 1976 with Tod Carroll for the progressive rock station KDKB-FM. He also shares stories about the early days of free-form radio in Phoenix and the various local luminaries he met along the way. he also talks about pirate radio, doing stand-up and selling houses.

Non-Phoenicians who maintain enough interest to keep reading this rather long interview to the end might gain context from this article about KDKB radio, as well as the KCAC Lives! blog, where surviving staff and fans share their memories of KDKB's predecessor, the short-lived KCAC-AM. Honorable mention must also be made of the online station Radio Free Phoenix, Andy Olson's tribute to the classic progressive radio format of the seventies, and KDIL-FM 666, the home of Phoenix's infamous pirate station. Meanwhile, you can dig Russ firsthand on the Bloodhound Blog, which is predominantly - but not solely -- about his adventures in the real estate trade.

And don't forget Bostworld's own "Love Workshop" page, which collects all of our content about this historic and awesome program, including rare scans and many hours of audio.


D: You’re from Phoenix?

R: Born here. Lived here all my life.

D: You were born in 1946; is that correct?

R: that’s correct.

D: How did you get started in broadcasting?

R: It was sort of a fluke at the time…I belonged to a record club, I don’t remember which one it was…Columbia House or one of those…and I was getting albums sent to me, and I forgot to send the card back, and wound up getting a record – it was a Lee Michaels album – that I didn’t really want. I hadn’t opened it; it was still in the shrink-wrap. At the time I had been listening – and I just started, believe it or not – to [Bill] Compton and Hank [Cookenboo] over on KCAC…

D: Uh huh…

R: And I wound up calling, and got Hank, and basically started chatting with him, and had several extensive conversations with Hank when he was either on the air and so forth…normally when he was on the air he didn’t mind having an extended conversation ‘cause he was sort of into doing fifteen or twenty things at once…

D: You mean on the air conversations?

R: No this wasn’t where I was on the air, this was while he was doing his show. And one of the questions I asked him was could he trade me the album. Like, could I give him my Lee Michaels album still in the shrink-wrap for something I might like better. And he said he’s see what he could do. And because he was so slow in taking care of this, it took…oh, if I tell you…maybe four conversations, maybe five, before I could ever actually set up a time to get together with him. And it was gonna be one day when he was getting off the air, if I would bring the Lee Michaels album down, that would be great…So I wound up, uh, going down to KCAC. At the time I was in the life insurance business…

D: Sure.

R: …and he wanted me to pull a gag on Bill Compton. And I’d talked to Bill, I think, once on the phone. So Bill would have known me at that time over the phone as Wonderful Russ.

D: Okay…

R: So I go in. I’d made my record deal with Hank and that’s out of the way now. So when Bill walks in to go on the air – I can’t remember what time of day it was. I wanna say…I think he went on the air at three…but it’s ten minutes to air when he walks in, maybe eleven.

D: Okay.

R: He walks in the station, opens the front door, the room was filled with hippies all sitting around, most of ‘em completely stoned. Anyway, he comes in, and I said, “William Edward Compton? Bill Bragston, FBI. I need to see you.”

D: [chuckles] Okay…

R: So he buys it. He’s startled, but he buys it. ‘Cause I’ve caught him off guard. He doesn’t miss a beat. He has the presence of mind to say, “it’s gonna have to be quick; I’m on the air in ten minutes.” So I say, “Fine. Right now, then.” As though I’m bossing him around in front of everyone. Just hilarious to me at the time. So anyway, we go to his desk, which was this small little wooden fucking thing that mighta had two drawers on the side, it was just stacked with crap…

D: Was this when it was out of a house?

R: It was over on 24th Street. It was probably originally a house when the building was first built. That building’s still there. I think now it’s an architectural firm. It was where KCAC was when it closed. And this would have been 1971.

D: Right.

R: So in any event, I go to his desk -- and again, I’m still impersonating an FBI agent – and I say, “Before we get started, clean this crap up,” pointing to the stack of different tapes and papers on his desk. Now at this point, he’s startled, like he can’t believe that anyone would talk to him like that. And so he looks up, uh, he stopped cleaning and he’s no longer nervous; he’s actually now kind of perturbed. And he goes…uh…oh! And he points at me: “You’re Wonderful Russ!”

D: [chuckles]

R: He’s got me! So he thinks this is so funny that as soon as he starts on the air, he puts me on the air. He has a conversation with me where I’m sitting there and he’s sorta interviewing me on his show. And that was the first time he did that, the first time I met him. And then Bill and Hank would simply interview me any time I would come down to the station. They would put me on the air. Not where I was running the controls, just sitting there where they would talk to me.

D: What would you talk about?

R: Just stuff that they apparently thought was funny. And I thought it was funny, whatever it was. They weren’t really trying to get information from me. It was more like entertaining.

D: That kinds goes to my next question, which is how you fit in with that crew, which I assume was a typical early seventies progressive radio crew of, like you said, hippies.

R: They were hippies. I didn’t come off as a hippie, but I think because I was so into the music, and so over the top in so many other ways, they couldn’t quite believe it and because I was blessed by Bill, everyone had to accept me whether they liked it or not.

D: Well, he gave you the thumbs up of approval, so they didn’t think you were a narc.

R: Correct. So, once that started like that, when KDKB got there, I just became part of the deal there. The first commercial I ever did was for The Beans, which is the band that preceded The Tubes.

D: Sure.

R: It was removed from the air for being filthy. But that was my first commercial. And then later, Marty [Manning] asked me if I would like to do the Leppla Moving and Storage, and that was my real start, so to speak.

D: So that was the first official thing you did besides just coming in and chatting?

R: Yes.

D: You never actually did any deejay work or anything?

R: I couple of times they let me do a show, but I was never a disc jockey there.

D: Had you had a lot of exposure to progressive rock music or the underground scene or whatever?

R: No, I just picked it up from them. I’d never heard music like that before…

D: So, what kind of bands did you like at the time?

R: Well, I think pretty much the stuff they were playing. I don’t know that I had any unique…uh

D: You liked their play list, basically.

R: Oh my god, yes.

D: You were a KCAC fan.

R: Actually, I was a fan of the music, but it was really Bill Compton…

D: Yeah…

R: Because, I just never heard anything like that on the air before, and really, I was drawn to him, and then it became, maybe secondarily, into the music. And once I got into the music, I was just flipped out. I’d never heard music like that before, and it was incredible. Pretty much, if they were playing it, I was interested in hearing it.

D: So, was there a big difference between KCAC and KDKB? Had KDKB existed before KCAC ended?

R: Well, no. It’s not a long story, but it’s a little bit more complex. KCAC had lost so much money for so long, they shut down. The people who owned the station – it was on AM, daytime only.

D: Oh it was. Okay.

R: Sunrise to sunset station. And it was over. Nothing would have save it. It couldn’t be saved.

D: So it went out in seventy-one or two?

R: Summer of seventy-one. Uh, Dwight [Tindle] and Eric…Dwight’s passed away now; just a few months ago…

D: Yes.

R: Dwight and Eric Hauenstein met at Woodstock…

D: Right, I remember that!

R: As strange as it might seem. Dwight became a millionaire when he was twenty-one. He inherited about 1.1, 1.2 million.

D: God, I remember all of that…

R: And that was a lot of money back then.

D: Yeah.

R: Dwight and Eric -- Eric was a time salesman from a station in Cincinnati – they decided to do a radio station. Of course, Eric was deciding to do it with Dwight’s money, since he didn’t have any…scouring the country for stations that they could buy and possibly get FCC approval…

D: Okay.

R: So they bought this station here in town. They were already coming here anyway. And because there was a progressive rock station here, Dwight gravitated to it.

D: KCAC.

R: Right. He was infatuated with Bill, and was probably going to hire Bill and Hank. After KCAC shut down completely, to Eric’s dismay – Eric was the general manager at KDKB – Bill went up to Dwight’s house, got him high, and got Dwight to agree to hire all of the staff of KCAC.

D: Nice!

R: That was Bill. That was just a normal thing for Bill to do something like that. Because of that, it seemed to the public like the station changed from KCAC to KDKB, because all the old crew from KCAC wound up on KDKB. But it had nothing to do with anything, other than Bill Compton’s magnanimousness.

D: So it pretty much started right up as the old station dropped?

R: It was a few months later. I think it was October when KDKB went on the air. Bill’s last show on KCAC was August 14th, 1971. I was there at the station when he did that. And then Bill just simply got all the old people jobs there at KDKB. Which was a source of constant friction between the air staff and management. Because Eric tried to make rules, and people would go to Bill and say, “what do you think?” Because they didn’t have to listen to Eric, he wasn’t really their boss. That’s how that happened.

D: Were you into comedy when you were younger? Was there anything that inspired you to create your on-air persona?

R: I don’t even…if I said, uh, working in my uncle’s furniture store. He would go out and refer to himself as “John Gobens The Great.” So when I was a kid, I used to say, “Russ Shaw The Great” and stuff like this, just mimicking my uncle. And then I think that, uh…when I worked at Chic Meyer’s House of Television, and I was there about five years – went to work there when I was seventeen, and lied and told them I was twenty three, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired me. And I think it was just sampling there, and trying out different things on customers. Found that if I said “Wonderful Russ,” it got a better response than any other adjective I could use. If you asked why, I’d say I have no idea, but that’s where that started. I was working at Chic Meyer’s House of Television, and I would tell the customers I was “Wonderful Russ.”

D: So basically, you’re main influence as a humorist was salesmanship.

R: You could almost say surveys. I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but I was doing sort of a survey to see what would make someone respond the best. It would be like testing different jokes to focus groups almost. And so if there was a thing that I did, it would have been that.

D: You sold yourself to Hank.

R: Yeah, we sort of were two peas in a pod. We wound up becoming very, very close friends.

D: Tod Carroll used to have a show on KCAC called “Bunkhouse Capers” with another fella?

R: With Barry Friedman.

D: I have never heard that program, only heard of it. Was the format similar?

R: Almost the same type thing; almost exactly. It was called “Buck and Barry’s Bunkhouse Capers.” And Barry Friedman at the time had been a writer for the New Times. It’s sort of funny now, ‘cause Barry’s almost unknown. But at the time, if I tell you that Tod was the one no one knew who he was, and everyone at the time would have known Barry Friedman. That sounds almost funny now. It seems almost unbelievable.

D: Did he move to the coast to make his fortune?

R: The last I knew, Barry owned a furniture store in Prescott.

D: I read that the show busted up when Barry moved out of town.

R: I had nothing to do with it. It was a finished thing. They had finished whatever they were doing. Tod got the idea of doing a show with me. He went to Bill Compton, got Bill’s agreement, and said he’d like to do another show with Wonderful Russ, got Bill to say okay. By the time Tod came to me – I hardly knew Tod; I’m not sure I knew him at all, actually –

D: Okay…

R: I mean, I just knew him from that show. By the time Tod came to me, it was a done deal. He had gotten the advertisers, he had the sponsors lined up, he had the taping dates set up, he had the script …Tod called me up, said, “I wanna do a show; I’ve already cleared it with Bill; when can I come by and talk to you.” I said yes, he comes by, he literally announces, “here’s the deal, we’re gonna make this much a month off of it,” and he split the deal with me fifty-fifty. He did all of the work. He arranged the show, he was the producer, the writer, he did all the post-production editing…I mean he did everything…

D: He was a radio guy?

R: No! He had some kinda engineering job, like an artistic engineering job, uh…at Motorola when I first knew him.

D: Was he not connected to KCAC or KDKB before “Love Workshop?”

R: He had the “Bunkhouse Capers” show.

D: But between those two shows, he wasn’t in radio.

R: No. Not at all. His skill was really as a writer, but he was very versatile. I mean, Tod was a very talented guy. So he just wrote the whole thing and all I ever did on that show – which was sort of fantastic, but it’s the very thing I wound up not liking – is I just showed up. All I had to do was show up, and he’d hand me a script.

D: Well, he definitely based a lot of the concept of the show around, at least, his conception of your personae, which you’d developed.

R: Correct.

D: So, was the recording easy? Did you have to do a lot of rehearsal?

R: No rehearsal ever.

D: So you were able to do just cold reads of this stuff?

R: Yep. We recorded on Sunday nights at KDKB. I would show up and be handed the script, and we usually started recording around seven or eight-o-clock on Sunday nights. And all I ever did was show up, and he split the money with me fifty-fifty. In that sense, there was nothing to complain about. What is ironic, is I had actually decided to stop doing the show, ‘cause he was…no one knew who he was. And everything that was being said, was as if I had thought it up to say it.

D: Yup.

R: And some of the stuff, I honestly thought was…it wasn’t that it…(sigh)…it just was mean-spirited. For me, some of it crossed a line, yet there I was saying it, and he had an invisible quality.

D: Right. He didn’t have to live down what he wrote.

R: Yeah!

D: But you did!

R: There you go! And so, I had literally said to him, “You’ve gotta tone this shit down.” And the next time I come in, it’s more of that just vicious, you know fucking women whose husband’s in prison and Vietnam war camps and stuff like that. So I said, “Let me try to explain this in terms you’ll understand: put one more thing of this nature – and you know what I’m talkin’ about, so I’m not gonna try to explain it – put one more, just one, in a script. I will hand it back to you; I will leave; that will be the end of it. I don’t wanna do that kinda shit, I’m not interested, so please don’t put me in that position.” So from that point forward, until the show was cancelled…but it wasn’t him canceling the show…

D: Uh huh…

R: It was already winding down. When Bill Compton got fired, the very first thing Hank did was cancel “Love Workshop.”

D: Was there a reason the show was cancelled, that you’re aware of? I remember when the station was bought; this was before that, wasn’t it?

R: No, it was bought after that. There’d been a falling out between Hank and Bill and me and Hank so much earlier that it was just old, old water…

D: Obviously, there were things on the show that would have rubbed certain people the wrong way.

R: And the manager of the station, the advertisers didn’t like it; the sales staff constantly bitched. The only reason the show was allowed to stay on the air, was because of Bill! Because no one had the right to take it off the air if Bill said it stays.

D: And Bill died in a car accident after he was fired.

R: Right. And the first thing as soon as they fired Bill, Hank was made program director, and either he’d already decided or at Eric’s behest, “get that god damned shit off the air.” But it was already winding down anyway.

D: So you and Tod Carroll didn’t hang out together, you weren’t friends…

R: No. We never hung out. We just didn’t have any of that kind of stuff in common. Like, the only time we ever saw each other was in connection with the show.

D: ‘Cause there’s a good rapport that’s built up on the show.

R: Yeah. Honestly, I would say my delivery on the stuff was good, but anything that would be…any credit on, uh, “look how nice this is, or how great that’s done,” I’d give him all the credit.

D: So, you didn’t work on any of the dialogue? None of it was extemporaneous?

R: Oh, I don’t know that I would go quite that far.

D: I mean, you’d almost have to be riffing during some of these purely conversational ones.

R: Yeah, and if it was stuff that I wanted to modify…I mean, he wasn’t some asshole to work with in the studio; in fact, far from it. If there was some deal where I thought I could make a line better, I just made it better. But it wasn’t me enforcing it, or him trying to stop me. As a working relationship in terms of actually recording together, I would have to describe Tod as a joy to work with. I mean, he was incredibly talented. There was nothing there that I had any disagreement with. It was just some of that mean-spirited stuff. You know, if you look at Steve Martin’s material, or Ellen DeGeneres, they’re not actually degrading anyone.

D: There’s nothing quite as mean-spirited as some of these routines.

R: Yeah. And that was my only disagreement. Not with his level of talent. He went on and wrote several screenplays, and as far as I know, he retired wealthy.

D: But you thought the shows were good though?

R: I thought the shows were fantastic. It’s just that…the stuff that honestly really got to me was that stuff on, like the Vietnam veteran held in captivity…

D: You mean when you seduce the guy’s wife?

R: Yeah yeah, that stuff. It just grated me. And I did it! And that’s probably the part that I felt the shittiest about. That wasn’t funny to me. It was outrageous, but it wasn’t funny to me. I didn’t really give a fuck about, what if someone got mad at me.

D: Sure.

R: It wasn’t that kind of thing. Because I have willingness to tell just about anyone to go fuck themselves. That’s really not the point to me, that well, someone might not like it. Let ‘em not like it. But it didn’t feel right to me.

D: And yet, some of the episodes in which you’re talking about insurance or discussing the value of Pepsi are just as good if not better. My favorite show is when you talk about insurance.

R: Well, I can’t remember the show but I’m glad you like it! [laughs]

D: It’s called “Focus on Rapping” and you’re talking about when you buy insurance you’re buying a piece of the company…

R: Oh yeah yeah yeah!

D: …and you can go up to the building and demand to be let in.

R: Yes yes! See but that’s more my style. That’s the kind of stuff where ya go…see, I like that. I really liked that kinda stuff. Because it’s just…it’s inane!

D: Well there’s an awful lot of targeting of what we now call “protected groups” on the show. Like the “Coon Line” routine…

R: I actually like that one.

D: Sure! But still you can imagine it upsetting people.

R: Oh yes! [laughs] I played that on KSLX when I was doing a show with Bob [Bell], oh, I’m gonna say ’90 or ’91, and Jeanne Sedello kept trying to tell ‘em to take it off the air; it was offensive and disgusting. And she left the room!

D: Times change. In the seventies there was climate of that kind of humor, with the “National Lampoon” and whatever, and the whole idea of pushing boundaries of taste…

R: Yes.

D: But that continuity’s been lost. The average person today may not understand the context.

R: Yup. I agree.

D: You remember “Animal House” of course.

R: I’ve probably seen it less than twenty-five times.

D: Right! It was kind of similar to your show. And of course it had a very specific kind of point to it, it spawned things like “Porky’s” and what not, which wasn’t anywhere near as satirically sharp, that just ended up kind of, uh, celebrating the very sort of thing that “Animal House” was satirizing.

R: Yes.

D: I just wondered if, for instance, if you thought people were “getting” Love Workshop.

R: I don’t think that I my level, honestly at the time, and I’ve never really thought about it since to be honest, I don’t know that I ever thought about it at those levels. It was more, “was it funny.” And that was the standard. I don’t mind – didn’t mind – being shocking. It’s easy after the fact to go “oh, here we were trying to make this statement.” I think that’s a certain amount – at least for me, and I think what Tod and I were doing at that time – would be sort of intellectual bullshit. Because really, we were just looking, like “was thing funny?” We thought it was funny if it was outrageous, if it was just completely over the top. I think we were just looking, was this something that would make someone want to tune in the following week to see where we were going next? It was more at that level.

D: So, do you recall when Tod was approached by the “National Lampoon?”

R: Oh, I not only recall it, he got the meeting, indirectly, because of me, because I had gotten Tod involved.

D: I remember Tony Hendra came to town.

R: But Tony didn’t come to see Tod. That’s how it looked after the fact. I didn’t like Tony Hendra; I thought he was a dickhead. Tod and Tony couldn’t have bonded faster or better. Tod was at that meeting because I actually invited him. And it’s kinda funny. I said, “You might want to come to this.” And he shows up. I had gotten Tod interested in “Razz Revue,” which was Bob Bell and Dan Harshberger’s magazine.

D: Sure.

R: And so Tod did a couple of articles begrudgingly for “Razz Revue.” So Bob gets Tod over to that Tony Hendra meeting. That’s how that happened. It was because of Bob Bell.

D: So, Hendra came to town to talk to the “Razz Revue” fellas?

R: Correct! He came to town to meet with Bob Bell. Bob had already done two articles for National Lampoon.

D: I remember those.

R: Bob has been one of my dearest friends since we met. Bob and I are very close. So it was the relationship that Bob had -- this is not to take anything away from Tod – but it was the relationship that Bob had with Tony Hendra…

D: This is what I recall as well.

R: And then, at the meeting …I don’t think Hendra liked me at all. But what was funny is that he didn’t seem to give a fuck about talking to Bob or to Daniel either. But Tod and Tony Hendra were sorta like soul mates.

D: So when Tod came into the room it was love at first sight then.

R: Yes! Quite literally! They were two peas in a pod, and what they both had in common was that unbelievably high-volume passive aggressive quality. Which is not true with Dan and Bob and myself.

D: Right.

R: And that’s why Tony Hendra didn’t like me, and why he didn’t really give a shit about Bob any more, because if you were to sit and talk to Bob Bell, the first thing you’d spot is that he’s really a nice guy. Period. Tony Hendra had that mean-spirited quality to him. And so did Tod. And that’s what they had in common.

D: Your analysis jibes with how it seems to me as well. So basically, it sounds like Tod wanted to come out of that meeting with a job offer, and he made damn sure he got it.

R: Yeah, but it wasn’t like anyone felt used.

D: No, not at all! It was an opportunity.

R: It was an opportunity, and I don’t think it…It wasn’t that my relationship with Tod disintegrated, like it was some beautiful thing. He was always the same way. So it was just a match made in heaven for them.

D: Sounds like it was just the right time.

R: Yeah yeah. But I didn’t go, “Oh shit, he took advantage,” or “he got the good deal.” It was Tony Hendra, who just simply, genuinely liked him.

D: Did he move out of town?

R: He did after he got the Lampoon deal.

D: At the time, I wasn’t clear whether the show ended because he got that opportunity, or if it was cancelled.

R: It was over. It was off the air. It had nothing to do with that Lampoon meeting. In fact that happened well after the fact.

D: You didn’t really keep in too close contact with him after that?

R: Nope. But it’s not like we were having some kind of a fight or anything.

D: Yeah. But he’s nowhere to be found these days.

R: No, he’s under the radar, but that’s on purpose. He’s wealthy; the last time I talked to him was at a KDKB reunion. At that time, he owned a house in the south of France. He owned a house up on the coast in Vermont or something like that. And he had married a woman that I think he was very much involved with. And he just sorta rode off into the sunset. But I never had a contentious relationship of any kind with him. My only disagreement was with that stuff on the show.

D: Did you ever get any indication from him that he had any regrets about the program?

R: No.

D: Was he completely proud of it?

R: I don’t, uh,…I think he was….There’s parts of it I’m proud of.

D: I still think it’s a tremendous program.

R: I mean it was some funny stuff. That’s what we were trying to do at the time, and I think we did it. If I had it to do over again, in spite of anything that happened that I don’t like, in spite of anything I didn’t want at the time, if I had it to do over again, I’d do it again.

D: Well, any time you’re trying to fill a weekly show, you’re going to be trying different things, and you’re going to feel that some of it worked better than others.

R: Yeah.

D: Has there been any interest in Love Workshop over the last 30 years?

R: Oh god, I’ve been approached so many times…

D: What, just from fans?

R: You know, people, “can I get a copy of this, a copy of that…” I tried first giving the things to Andy Olsen, and Andy’s a nice guy. He’s a really nice guy. But I just thought, he’s got a certain slow molasses quality, and I just wanted it to be…Obviously, I had cleared this with Tod years back. If people wanted the show or wanted to get copies of it, did he want any kinda rights or money from any of it, and his position was, “hell no.” Didn’t give a crap. He had plenty of money, and whatever little morsels that could have been gotten from selling copies of that crap, he didn’t care.

D: This is why the Internet is so fun. You can let people hear it for nothin’.

R: Yeah! I wasn’t lookin’ like, “Hey, this is a quick way to make an extra five dollars” or something. So, for me, it was, anyone who wants them. So for years, what I’ve been doing – and it was just a pain in the ass – was personally, manually, making a copy and sending it to people.

D: Yeah, I’ve had to do the same thing. I like just offering it on the web a lot better.

R: Me too!

D: The greatest thing about doing this site is the way people have been coming out of the woodwork.

R: It makes me happy, not for the notoriety, just so that anyone who wants them can have ‘em.

D: Tell me about your work with KDIL.

R: That was nothing but fun for me. The guy’s name was Scott…Nelson, I think.

D: They have a web site as well.

R: He has a web site??

D: Yeah. Kdil.com.

R: I have to go to that right now…”FM-666!”

D: That’s it. I don’t know if they broadcast, but it’s a lot of the old fanzines they did...

R: Yeah! I was, uh…the title I gave myself was Executive Director for Mass Distribution for the Western Hemisphere of the KDIL Blues Licks. We used to Xerox them and I would go to the Dennys on 7th Street and Camelback, and walk around yelling out, “The KDIL Blues Licks is hot off the press!”

D: I never heard it. I’ve just seen the fanzine. Was it broadcast out of a truck or something?

R: Well, we would broadcast wherever Scott was living at the time. What we would do when they were going on the air – because it was a true underground station – to get an audience, Scott would start calling people. We would all call our friends and tell them we were going on and here’s the frequency we’re gonna go on at.

D: God…

R: Then, we would call various supermarkets and tell them we were gonna be having a contest, and if they would play it over their loudspeaker in the grocery store, they could win a crisp one hundred dollar bill. And this was one of my jobs was to come in with these liners --- this would get played at least every ten minutes: “A crisp one hundred dollar bill!” But it didn’t go to anything! It didn’t say what you had to do to win; it didn’t say when the contest was. All we would do was say over and over, “A crisp one hundred dollar bill!”

D: [laughs]

R: And, we would never use profanity on the air. I mean never. We were never saying anything that would cause someone to complain to the FCC, or anybody else. What was the genius of the station were the commercials. And there were lots of them. Again, this was a station that didn’t have any real advertisers. They would take – and it was mostly Scott – real commercials off the air and redo ‘em. The stuff that was my favorite was like a Lou Grubb commercial, back when Lou Grubb was a relatively young man, and he would talk for like three or four minutes on a commercial…

D: Oh, I remember!

R: Back when you could just have a commercial that was almost a free-form chat from Lou, right on teevee. So what Scott would do is he would tape those right off the teevee and then he would remix them with these lunatic jungle rhythms, but not do anything other than occasionally turn the African rhythm up so high it would drown out Lou’s voice. And that was it!

D: I’ve heard some of those.

R: Just insane!

D: So, you got out of KDKB after “Love Workshop” was cancelled. I assume there were no more ads?

R: I still did ads, like Discount Tire would call me and so forth, but I didn’t do anything at KDKB after that.

D: You worked with the companies directly by that time.

R: Yes.

D: You were an insurance salesman; when did you start doing that?

R: I was in the insurance business from 1969 to 1975

D: So, you stopped selling insurance and started working in real estate?

R: Actually, I phased out of insurance kind of gradually. I left in about 1975. About 1974, I went to work full time for the Church of Scientology. I was already a Scientologist, but I became a staff member, and I still had some income – which allowed me to do it – from the insurance business coming in, and I still had some income from the radio commercials I was doing, and even from “Love Workshop.” I was there on staff the whole time I was doing the “Love Workshop” show. So I worked full time from 1974-75 until about late ‘77 early ‘78.

D: What did you do?

R: I ran the public division. I ran, like basically introductory type lectures. That kinda thing.

D: Okay.

R: Then I just ran completely out of money, and didn’t have any income. And I knew I didn’t want to go back to insurance. That’s when I started in the real estate business. I went to real estate school in 1977 and started in ’78.

D: You also did standup in the 80s and 90s?

R: Yep. I had been doing stuff on Bob Bell’s show, and I saw an ad in the paper for some kind of a comedy competition. And I thought it was all amateurs! What I didn’t know was that professional comedians from all over the country came in and competed. And I had no act. Some of the people there who were actually the winners were saying, “God, you’re so good! You made it seem like you didn’t have an act!” And I said, “yeah I’m real good at making it look that way!” So I wound up, mostly because of people I knew, and again because I knew Bob Bell, and because every comedian that came to town would come on Bob’s morning show to plug the Impov, I got to work at the Improv several times, just because of my connection with Bob Bell and KSLX. But it wasn’t my favorite club to play. It was prestigious, but the problem was, the Improv had a set of rules, like a double standard. If you’re a name comedian – say anything you want. If you’re not a name comedian, don’t ever say “fuck” from our stage. Don’t ever make a drug joke from our stage. Period. Do it once: you won’t come again. So I had to do it anyway so I wouldn’t come again.

D: But you were a name comedian!

R: Well, not to them I wasn’t. A name comedian to them meant that the mere fact that you’re there fills seats.

D: Sure.

R: Oddly enough, there was a little shithole comedy club called the Uptown Comedy Club at 7th Ave and Camelback. And because I could fill seats there, I could do any fucking thing I wanted. So that was actually my favorite club to play.

D: But nowadays, you’re strictly real estate and you pretty much just write for your blog?

R: Yeah. I’m one of the top agents in the country. It’s the kind of thing where…the things that I’ve learned on how to do a lot of business…I’m able to…I mean, I spend most of my time literally helping other agents.

D: So, you’re actually a much much bigger real estate celebrity than you ever were a radio celebrity.

R: Correct. By far.

D: You’re nationally known.

R: Yes. I’m not trying to brag, but if you went and talked to realtors in New York or New Mexico or California, they’ll know who I am. So I get companies like Keller Williams – and I’m not a Keller Williams agent – having me fly in to their headquarters to interview me; to take the things I have to say and teach it to their agents.

D: I see you have a large staff of your own, and I assume you’re pretty much the mentor.

R: Well, I think I’m gonna give my wife the bulk of the credit there. Where I’m comin’ in would be in the vision, here’s how big we can make it; here’s where we can go next.

D: So, you’re not pursuing any entertainment venues at all any more.

R: That would be correct, but it’s not because I didn’t like it. It’s just…I’m an ex-smoker…can’t stand smoke…

D: Tell me about it. I played clubs for fifteen years.

R: I wouldn’t trade a minute of what I did, but it’s not something I wanna do…

D: So what was the high point of your entire career as a local celebrity?

R: I would say, the stuff at KDKB, that would have to be in the category, because it had more of an amazing thing. I mean, when I was doing standup, I just had a lot of fun. I guess there’s not one wonderful time that was the good time. I kinda have fun every day. So I guess I look at it and go, “my best years are still ahead of me.”


Interview With Hal Blaine

by Derrick Bostrom


t_drums.jpg

Whenevever I'm asked who my favorite drummers are, I'll usually rattle off a list of disappointingly obscure studio musicians. Most of 'em played on pop and disco records; not too many of them were rockers. But the daddy of them all will always be the great Hal Blaine. Skinsman for everyone from the Byrds and the Beach Boys to Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, with every television show you can think of thrown in for good measure, Hal Blaine is by far the king of studio drummers. Affiliated with a loose conglomeration Los Angeles musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, Hal chalked up thousands and thousands of dates during his heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. About twenty years ago, Hal and I used to hang out at the same drum store in Scottsdale. When I buttonholed him for an interview, he was entirely amicable. The following conversation was originally published in Breakfast Without Meat magazine in 1989.

BWM: Well, how did you get into it?

Hal Blaine: I started out playing big bands shows and different things. I was with several different small bands and groups, doing comedy and singing, emceeing, and I got a break with a very big star of the late fifties whose name was Tommy Sands...

BWM: Sure. He married Nancy Sinatra.

Hal Blaine: Yeah. And through Tommy I really started learning rockabilly, country, and rock and roll. When Tommy went into the service I started traveling with Patti Page. I was with Patti for several years, and it was during that time with Patti that her husband, who was a very noted choreographer at Paramount, brought me in on a picture with Elvis when he got out of the service  "Girls Girls Girls".

BWM: Oh yeah, that was your first one with Elvis?

Hal Blaine: I believe so. Either "Girls Girls Girls" or "Blue Hawaii".

BWM: They're pretty much the same. They're both in Hawaii.

Hal Blaine: Oh. right. Anyway, that led to my work with H.B. Barnum, who was a very noted arranger in those days in L.A. Still is. And H.B. got me with guys like Sam Cooke and the Apollos and all kinds of groups around L.A., and that led to Phil Spector and what I started referring to as the Wrecking Crew, known as the Wall of Sound. You know, it was all word of mouth. That led to the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean and on and on and on, and all the surf groups...

BWM: Did you ever receive any abuse or sour grapes from the old guard? Were there any people who'd, like, put down rock and roll...?

Hal Blaine: As a matter of fact, there were several. One of the best stories that I can tell is that when I used to go down to the drum shop to buy equipment  I was very friendly with the owner Bob Yeager  and he started telling me that there was a particular, pretty famous drummer, Frank Sinatra's drummer Irv Kottler, who had really been badmouthing me, about rock and roll and, what's all the big deal about Hal Blaine, he's just a loud drummer and this and that and the other, and I guess for a couple of years that went on. And then as fate would have it we both happened to be on a big Disney movie call one time and Irv was on tambourine and I was on drums...

BWM: Do you remember the movie?

Hal Blaine:...for this movie, yeah ...oh no, uh...it might have been "Pete's Dragon"...

BWM: That would have to have been recently. Hal Blaine: Well this was a long time ago.

BWM: Not "Babes in Toyland", which also featured Tommy Sands...

Hal Blaine: No, I was in "Babes in Toyland" as an actor.

BWM: Oh really? What'd you play?

Hal Blaine: I was a villager. Anyway, it was during that period  the early sixties, maybe '63 or '64  that I got to work with lrv. I'm almost positive it was a Disney. Some big movie call. And when we finished the date, lrv Kottler came over to me and shook my hand and told me how completely wrong he was about me and how I really impressed him that day, etc., etc., and that he realized that I was a real drummer and not just a kid making some noise on some drums, y'know, and we became very good friends ever since then. In fact, I got to do a bunch of Sinatra sessions that lrv did not get to do.

BWM: That's another thing I wanted to ask you about. The stuff that you worked with Sinatra on was like big beat kind of crossover type stuff...

Hal Blaine: Yeah, well "Strangers in the Night" was record of the year that year.

BWM: "Tell Her You Love Her", stuff like that. Buncha other ones.

Hal Blaine: Whole bunch of 'em, yeah. "That's Life", "Somethmn' Stupid". But the thing is, see what happened was that after I met Tommy Sands and he became such a big star, he married Nancy, and of course I was very close to the family.

BWM: So you knew Frank Sinatra, Jr. then?

Hal Blaine: Very well. I first met Frankie when he was fourteen. And a heck of a piano player.

BWM: Oh really.

Hal Blaine: Really a super guy and a super intelligent kid. And he's one of the few people that I know of in this business that knows lighting and sound backwards.

BWM: Did you ever work with him as a singer?

Hal Blaine: Yeah, I worked with Frank several times. We were in Vegas together.

BWM: Did you ever work with any non singers like Eddy Albert or William Shatner, who recorded albums to cash in on a hit TV series?

Hal Blaine: I never worked with them but I worked with Lorne Green, and I worked with, uh, what's his name who does "Heaven Can Wait'...he was the other star of "Bonanza".

BWM: Michael Landon?

Hal Blaine: Michael Landon we did albums with. And that other guy that played the brother. Dark haired guy that plays the doctor now.

BWM: Oh, uh, Pernell Roberts.

Hal Blaine: Pernell Roberts. Fine singer.

BWM: What sort of material did he do?

Hal Blaine: Oh, sort of folk type stuff. We were doing a lot of stuff with Ed Ames in those days and they were all sort of similar. Although Ed Ames is an absolutely magnificent singer.

BWM: You said you had an anecdote about Richard Harris.

Hal Blaine: Wonderful guy. The anecdote about Richard was that I got a call from Jimmy Webb. I was Jimmy Webb's drummer for the Fifth Dimension and Johnny Rivers and all those people that he was working with. So Jimmy called me from London  he was now the fair haired boy  and he called and said, look, I've met this actor over here, we're gonna do an album with him and I want you to come over. And I said, okay, great, but make sure I know way ahead of time so that I can block out that time, because in those days I used to be booked at least three or four months in advance, solid. Anyway, in about two weeks time the phone rang one day, and I answered the phone, and it was in the middle of the night, and it was Richard Harris calling. And he introduced himself over the phone and he said, we've got you booked on TWA flight so and so tomorrow. And I said, oh my god, you know I thought I was gonna get a real advance. Anyway, I called my secretary and she got me out of work for ten days, and I jumped on a plane and I went. Anyway, to make a long story short, I sat around in the apartment waiting for Richard. This was about six, seven o'clock in the morning, and finally Richard came out bellowing for the maid and we sat down to a very nice breakfast. And Richard said, Hal, do you know any good musicians like yourself, and I said, well jeez Richard, I do, but I'm sure they're working. I thought we were going straight to the studio. And he said, well, that's the other question. Do you know any good studios over here. So it turned out that we spent ten days there just partying, then we came back to Hollywood and did "MacArthur Park" and all that stuff.

BWM: Did you have any experiences with psychedelia in the sixties?

Hal Blaine: I never did. Never dropped anything, never smoked anything, never shot anything.

BWM: But you knew those who did.

Hal Blaine: Oh, there were a few people around. I mean, the Mamas and the Papas, you know, they lived on hallucinogens. I tell you, I was scared to death of that stuff. I was too solidified in a marriage and a beautiful home and I didn't want to lose anything. And I just...you know, the horror stories, the Jim Gordon stories, that's what happened to people.

BWM: Did you do much live performing?

Hal Blaine: I did Nancy Sinatra in Vegas a number of times, and then the Sinatra family, when we did Frankie and the Muppets. Big show in Vegas.

BWM: Have you done much television?

Hal Blaine: God, I couldn't tell you all the TV shows. A lot of the "Happy Days' we did. "Laverne and Shirley", and "Dynasty". "Hotel"..."WKRP" is showing really big. "Three's Company" was one of my big shows. 'The Brady Bunch", It just goes on and on and on and on. We did "The Partridge Family" In those days. Just so many shows I can't even think of 'em.

BWM: "Hawaii Five O"?

Hal Blaine: No, I never did as far as I know. Wasn't that the Ventures' record or something? 'Cause I did do a lot of Ventures records. We used to do Ventures, you know, when they were on the road. But we were doing everybody's records then. You know, the first gold record ever handed to me was "Mr. Tambourine Man" by the Byrds. There must have been fifteen or twenty groups. As a matter of fact, the drummer that was with the Knack some years ago, and I don't remember his name right now...when I met him, his line to me was one of the great all time lines. He said, "One of my biggest disappointments in life was finding out that a dozen of my favorite drummers were Hal Blaine."

BWM: I was just the opposite...

Hal Blaine: Well, he meant it in a nice way,

BWM: I was glad that it wasn't those kids playing so good.

Hal Blaine: You gotta understand also that teenage kids just don't have the experience and the studio technique. I mean, in those days it wasn't electronic like it is today, where you can hit a drum and, you know, the engineer does it all. In those days, everything was live and you had to have decent sounds, and through the years you get to weed out what's bad and what's good. And a lot of people ask me, didn't the drummers of the groups hate it? Actually they didn't, because as I've said in the past, when I was making thirty five dollars for a session with the Beach Boys, that night Denny would be making thirty five thousand somewhere. And that gave him time to surf, ride his motorcycle, and play with his boats during the day.

BWM: Plus he doesn't have to unload his drums off the van.

Hal Blaine: Well more or less, sure. Once in a while Dennis did do some work, I always had to send him over a set of drums. Anyway, as far as the Beatles, people always say to me, how come we hear all these records that sound like you? First of all, Phil Spector produced a lot of that stuff. Secondly, when I worked with George Harrison, he was one of the first guys to see my monster drums and absolutely insisted that I have a set made, they were custom drums. He wanted a set made for Ringo and they were sent to him in England. But far as I'm concerned, Ringo played the drums on those records, period. I mean, that was his thing. I had done some tracks for Ringo on his own stuff, and of course I was working for John Lennon before he left for New York. I did that "Rock and Roll" album, Jim Keltner and I.

BWM: And Phil Spector. Hal Blaine: I'll tell ya, I had a very nice rapport with John Lennon. When I net him the opening night, I was in there early, just tuning and adjusting, and it turned out that he was a big fan of mine, obviously from all those years of listening to American records. And it was maybe a week later that my son and I were going into a drugstore, and John and his son were there. We had a nice afternoon chat, the four of us, which was really nice. But on the sessions, unfortunately, they were trying to keep the bottle away from him. He had, I don't know what you call that size, If it was two gallons size or what it was, sitting right next to him, a big giant bottle of vodka. It was a huge bottle.

BWM: I guess you got to see both sides of these people.

Hal Blaine: The thing about Spector of course, they call him the Howard Hughes of rock and roll. I never saw Phil Spector crazy in my life. 

BWM: You never saw him shoot a tape console?

Hal Blaine: No, I never saw that. He was a black belt in karate, and at one point I know when we started at A&M he was real upset with the air conditioning, and he dropped the fly kick onto the little thing on the wall and knocked it off the wall.

BWM: Well that's understandable.

Hal Blaine: But the thing is we got kicked out of A&M because of that. Then we had to go over to the Record Plant, and everything was fine. And then all of the sudden I hear that Phil had problems with the Record Plant and we're going back to A&M. So I dunno...

BWM: It must have been the toilets this time.

Hal Blaine: I have no idea. You know, you hear all these stories, but some of that stuff I never witnessed, and with Phil, everything was sort of comedy. He had a federal marshal with him at all times who was his bodyguard, fellow by the name of George. Really nice guy. And George used to come in and put up all these little signs, things that said Phil Spector is alive and well in L.A., or may rock and roll live forever. He'd put up funny pictures of monkeys, all kinds of things. They always had jokes. He always had gifts for everybody in the band.

BWM: Sounds like quite a career.

Hal Blaine: Well it was a wonderful career. On the career side it was triple A. On the personal side it was triple F.

BWM: At least it wasn't triple Z like some people.

Hal Blaine: Well those people did what they did. I don't know, I still think that it's because people get too much when they're too young. Oh my god, I have walked Into studios and I wish I could tell you their names, but I can't obviously  and I've seen mountains of cocaine sitting there. And these people are, before you know it they're never to be heard of again. I was very fortunate that I really always kept my head on straight.


Tiny Tim Interview

by Derrick Bostrom


Originally published in Breakfast Without Meat #13June 30, 1989

BWM: What order do the bands play?

Mike Pinera: Well, Cannibal and the Headhunters open up, and they stay on stage 'cause they're the back-up band for all the acts...

BWM: Yeah.

Mike Pinera: ... and the Coasters come on, and then Donnie Brooks comes and does "Mission Bell", his hit...

Chuck  Negron  (passing  by):  ...  and  they  chant, "Where's Chuck! Where's Chuck!"

BWM & Mike Pinera (in unison): "Chuck!"

Mike Pinera: That's Chuck ... then Al Wilson,, then The Surfaris, Tiny Tim, then me, then Herman's Hermits, then Chuck Negron...

BWM: Does everyone do like one number?

Mike Pinera:  Couple numbers.

BWM:  Just  like  the  old  days?

Mike Pinera: The old Dick Clark formula.  And it works out real well.

BWM: Speaking of Al Wilson, here's a funny story.  Hal Blaine lives here in town...

Mike Pinera: Oh yeah, sure.

BWM: And, uh, Hal's Stutz Bearcat is on the cover of "Show and Tell"...

Mike Pinera: Is that right!

BWM: But it's presented as a picture of early-seventies new black affluence, so he's got a couple of girls on his arm, whatever, and he's got a Stutz, you know, and he's got a nice suit...

Mike  Pinera: Right...

BWM: But he borrowed the car.

Mike  Pinera: That's incredible! What a great story!

BWM: Kind of ironic.

Mike Pinera: Oh that's a great story!

BWM: Yeah.

Mike Pinera: Lemmee check with Tiny, let him know you're here.

(Tiny emerges from his dinner, and the session        commences with a review of Bostrom's collection of Tiny Tim records.)

Tiny Tim: Ohhh! Where'd you find this?

BWM: In Orange. There's about forty antique stores down there.

Tiny Tim:  Orange, California?

BWM: Yeah, it's down by Disneyland.

Tiny Tim: Oh my goodness ... How many more of these do they have there?

BWM: I dunno, but if I ever find another I'll send it to you.

Tiny Tim: Ah ah, what's the last name again?

BWM: Bostrom?

Tiny Tim: Thank you.  Mr. Bostrom, you just picked up a record that's worth a lot of money from a collector's standpoint. You couldn't find this again if you went there.

BWM: It's the only copy I've found.

Tiny Tim: You aren't kidding.  You know how much this copy is worth? From a collector's standpoint, this is priceless.

Mike Pinera: What is it Tiny?

Tiny Tim: This is a record Mr. Pinera-- by the way, I'm talking to Mr. Mike Pinera from the Iron Butterfly...

BWM: Yeah, sure.

Tiny Tim: I know he's gonna get embarrassed, but this man has a voice! I tell you, if you don't have another hit record there's something wrong with show business.  But this record here, "Don't Bite the Hand That's Feeding You", was written in 1916 by Irving Kaufman, one of the top singers of his generation.  This was my last record for Reprise, in 1971.  The other side's "What Kind Of An American Are You?" and the writers are Charles McCarron, Lou Brown, and Al Von Tilzer.  The Von Tilzer brothers wrote "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" with Jack Norworth in 1909, sung by Billy Murray, "Wait 'Til The Sun Shines Nellie", and so many other big hits.  This song was also sung in 1916 by Henry Burr and the Peerless Quartet, and is my last record for Mr. Sinatra's record company, and they let me do it on my own.

BWM: Yeah, I read about it in Harry Stein's biography of you.

Tiny Tim: Oh! You really know what's going on!

BWM: It's kind of a slanted book.

Tiny Tim: I tell you, the man said the truth.  I spoke to the man in a very deep period of time, when I was sent back to my mother and I had to live in a tenement, back in 1975, in September, after two big years, 1968 and '69, and then I gave him all the information, and it was put out in '76.  But this record is priceless, and I would certainly afterwards sign it for you, make it more priceless.

BWM: Those are the singles, then I've got this, and this, and this of course.

Tiny Tim: This is my parents on the cover. 

BWM: Yeah!

Tiny Tim: In the middle of this album is a picture of Rudy Vallee.  Mr. Vallee was very nice to let his picture be used on this.  Here's a man who was the biggest name in the world, the first swooner-crooner with women in 1929. Before Crosby before Frank Sinatra....

BWM: Before microphones.

Tiny Tim: Well, the microphones were just coming in. Uh, this is Mr. Al Wilson, one of the great stars...

BWM: "Mr.  Al Wilson." Derrick Bostrom. 

Al Wilson: How you doin'.

BWM: I know your friend Hal Blaine. I've got your record with his car on the cover.

Tiny Tim (examining another record): "Bring Back Those Rockabye Baby Days".  Terrible recording; I said it then in 1968 and I'll say it now.  This great song was sung in 1922 by Miss Lee Morse, who was one of the great early singers, and behind her played a very young Benny Goodman and Jimmy Dorsey... Terrible recording of "Hello Hello".  The voice could not adjust at the time to the microphone.  "Great Balls of Fire" was my best commercial record for Reprise.  I am not one of those who doesn't like my stuff.  The fact is it's very difficult to record this voice because there are many spirits living there, from the days of the Edison machine to the current times like Jerry Lee Lewis there, and unless you're a great, great, engineer it's hard to capture five different voices.  How's this sound? ("Resurrection", 1986) I have it at home, but I don't have a CD player.

BWM: I like "Till We Meet Again" especially. 

Tiny Tim: Boy, you can't beat the groove! That's right, I thought that was my best cut.  Richard Whiting wrote that, Margaret Whiting's father. 

BWM: I like how you include the opening verses usually omitted.

Tiny Tim: "Till We Meet Again" hit the groove there. The reason I said that is because some songs sound so good in the head and just don't come out as good when vou hear 'em.  "Tiny Bubbles" sounded better in the head, "Just A Gigolo" sounded better in the head.

BWM: I love vour version of "Prisoner of Love".

Tiny Tim: Ahh, that's Russ Columbo, may he rest in peace.  If Russ Columbo would have been alive ... can I do a snip?

BWM: Please! By all means!

Tiny Tim: Now these are not imitations.  I feel the spirit.  When I met Bob Dylan in 1967 before I became a name, he took me up to his house. and I said to him, you know Mr. Dylan, you are today what Rudy Vallee was in 1929.  He said, Mr. Tim, tell me about Mr. Vallee.  I said, well, in those days when the microphone was there, no one knew how to use a microphone yet.  Everyone says that the talkies were hard for silent actors, the same with microphones were hard for singers who sang in the Edison years.  Gene Austin was the first in 1926 to put the microphone on the map when he knew his voice was fit for it.  At that time, to hear a high voice like that on a microphone was a shockeroo! Gene Austin became the biggest name in radio from '26 'til Vallee caught on.  The difference with Vallee was that he was the first singer ever in radio history and record history when electric came, to make the women swoon.  The men did not really care for him, but that didn't matter. it's women who buy records most of the time, as Mr. Pinera knows, 'cause they swoon over him! And I can tell you, I really mean that.  The fact is, that Vallee in 1928 opened up in New York, in a place called the Heigh-Ho Club.  He played saxophone, but he had to substitute for Will Osborn who was a singer there.  He had a Monday through Saturday engagement.  On Monday night no one was there, the show was piped through WMC radio into Harlem.  When the women heard that voice, they swooned! By the time Saturday came around, the place was packed with women.  In 1929, March, they roped off Times Square from 42nd to 44th at the Paramount Theater when Mr. Vallee first appeared on the vaudeville stage.  You couldn't get near Vallee from '28 to '31.  I said, Mr. Dylan, here are some of the songs he made famous (sings "My Time is Your Time", "If You Were the Only Girl In The World", and "Old Maine", accompanying himself on ukulele).  Dylan just looked, and I said, supposing you were there in his day, here's how you would be sounding with this number: (hoarse nasal twang) "my time is your time, your time is my time, we just seem to synchronize, and sympathize, we're harmonizing, one step and two step, old step and new step, there's no time like our time, and no one like you..." You know what he said? "You want a banana before I go to bed?" I said, no thank you, I brought mv own fruits.  But in 1931, something happened to radio, and something happened to crooning.  I have never ever heard a voice like the young Bing Crosby.  Bing Crosby came on the networks on WCBS radio in 1931, October, sponsored by Creamo Cigars.  Now, Rudy Vallee said in his book, he called Crosby a cold S.O.B., but he said he knocked him out of the box.  I had the thrill and pleasure of doing the Hollywood Palace with Bing Crosby in 1968, and he was about seventy, and he was amazed, he never forgot.

BWM: Really.

Tiny Tim: Shocked when I brought him his young voice. (sings "Too Late", "Million Dollar Baby", "Just One More Chance", and "Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day").  The same year when Crosby was about thirty, Russ Columbo was about twenty-three...

BWM: I think I remember.  Something happened to him...

Tiny Tim: He got shot accidentally in '34 at the age of twenty-six.  He would have been as big as Sinatra.  Russ Columbo in 1934 had a 1940 voice way ahead of his time.  Over WNBC, Columbo was opposite Bing Crosby.  They called him the Romeo of Song.  It was not until the women saw him in a movie in 1933 where he played a gangster that they realized this was the same Russ Columbo they'd heard on the radio.They never saw his picture.  Not only that, rumors had it Carole Lombard was in love with him.  Back in 1934, she was doing a movie with Bing Crosby in Hollywood.  Columbo came on the set, and there were rumors of a feud between Crosby and Columbo at that time.  Russ Columbo wrote this great song in 1931: (sings "Prisoner of Love").  From '29 with Vallee to '34 with Columbo's death, from that period of time during the the depression, those three singers, Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee were the most powerful singers of radio, records, and movies in the history of the electronic age.  When Columbo died accidentally in California, Bing Crosby was a pall-bearer in New York where they had the funeral. It made front-page headlines in the Daily News.  Ironically, a song was written in 1931 for those three great giants (sings "Crosby, Columbo, and Vallee").  What three great giants, those three giants! They really wrote 'em then. (Chuck Negron passes by).  There's a giant in himself. 

BWM: Columbia's released a package of Bing Crosby from '28 to '34...

Tiny Tim: Really!

BWM:...and there are a couple of Paul Whiteman CDs with Bing Crosby.  All that stuff: "Paradise", "Shine", "Changes", "You Took Advantage of Me"...

Tiny Tim: Boy ... What else is on it?

BWM: Oh god, there's, ah...

Tiny Tim: (singing) "When you're all alone, any old time..."

BWM: That one! Yeah!

Tiny Tim: Oh man! "Get out under the moon, look look..." Helen Kane sang that first in 1929, may she rest in peace.  Betty Boop took her voice. 

BWM: "Mississippi Mud"...

Tiny Tim: I sang it in Mississippi just the other day!

BWM:  Of  course  they  had  the  racist  version  back then.

Tiny Tim: Oh I gotta watch that.  Almost slipped on that show.

BWM: I saw you on "Arsenio Hall" the other night.  They seemed a little unappreciative.  "So you got married on teevee; what about my career?"

Tiny Tim: Well first Mr. Bostrom, it's nice talking to you on your cassette. I would also like to state that this is a new generation.  It's hard to took back.  I played this theater when I was hot.  I had a concert here in '68 of July.  And now it's 1989, so years have gone by.  It's hard to understand, where I'm concerned, but when you had such a great career for two years, thank God for his righteous blessings, you think it's yesterday, but it's not.  These kids don't know who the heck I am.  And so I came on the Arsenic Hall show. He is today where I used to be in '68! And he's coming up, he's the hottest thing in the world.  So of course they don't know what's going on, and of course they're wondering what the heck is happening. 

BWM: I saw the clip from the video, with Judy Carne.

Tiny Tim: This record, "Won't You Dance With Me?", doggone it, like so many others today, you know, if you're not a record star today, forget it.  And I don't have a good track record.  I haven't had a hit since "Tiptoe Through The Tulips", which was in 1968, and so basically, in plain language, it was a fifty-thousand dollar video: no company wants to touch it right now.  Dr. Demento has a song I recorded last year for a guy named Stuart Hirsch, who I got into trouble with as a young kid, the song, "I Saw Mr. Presley Tiptoeing Through The Tulips".  We almost got noise on that, then RCA wanted it, the guy got a hot head, and that was the end of the record.

BWM: But you don't want to market yourself as a comedian.

Tiny Tim: Naw, not really.  I just love to get these old songs out.

BWM: Do vou have people coming to see you who are interested in the old songs at all?

Tiny Tim: First of all, I want to say that I happen to be with the Thirtieth Anniversary of Rock and Roll.  I mean, you're talking about blockbusters whose records were placed on the charts for years and years.  Millions of dollars are on this show! And the fact is, it's tough to get records today to record companies, all these things, because these are changing times.  In 1910, when ragtime was here, and "Alexander's Ragtime Band" came out, vou know what thev said?

BWM: "Never go."

Tiny Tim: That's right! Bring back the old songs! Like "I Love You Truly", popular in 1902, written bv Carrie Jacobs Barnes.  Times change. 

BWM: Are you still giving Beautiful Women awards?

Tiny Tim: Ahhh ... (swoons).  I tell ya, it's not easy to find the type of woman I go for.  I praise the Lord if nothing else, I thank you Jesus for the eyes to see beauty.

BWM: I agree.

Tiny Tim: Praise the Lord, my friend.  You're wonderful. in 1947, Mr. Bostrom I saw Elizabeth Taylor.  She was fifteen years old.  I wrote a poem then, gave it to her, she wrote me back.  I met her at the St. Regis Hotel.  She looked at me, threw me a kiss, I'll never forget that. I wrote her a poem:  "You came like a star that shines in the blue, you're like the roses sprinkled with dew, eyes that gleam like glittering gold, and a heart that's neither harsh nor bold, you're all of nature by itself, talent and beauty is your wealth, like an angel from heaven you're on the beam, I can't believe you're not a dream, so just be good and just be kinıd, and happiness you will find, and sometimes when your thoughts  are free, won't you kindly think of me." What  a beautiful woman.  So I tell you, for years gone by, I've been looking for that classic.  The good Lord once a year lets me see someone, some angelic light, you know? Short ... perhaps, but heaven.  But that's right, I've been giving out trophies for years. Since 1963, I've given at least fifteen trophies out to beautiful angels I've met.

BWM: You worked with Lenny Bruce?

Tiny Tim: That's right. He had pleurisy in 1964, and I gave him some holy water...and, uh, I don't know if he, uh... for a minute he got well. In 1966 he continued his problems. He was the first of his kind in his day, to be daring with jokes. He had me on the bill when I was unknown back in 1964. It said "LENNY BRUCE--PLAYS FOR PROFIT" and in small little words, "tiny tim--sings for love." He was a wonderful man, may he rest in peace. The police closed the theater down in '64 of Novemeber, and then I saw him again at his house in '66, in Hollywod. At that particular time,  he  wanted  to hear a song.  He  was  working  through  trials  of court cases,  trying  to  find  a  loophole  for  his case. Pour  soul,  rest  in  peace.  But  I  sang  him one  song.  This  song  was  sung  by  Billy  Murray, Irving  Kaufman  again  in  1924,  written  by  Abner Silver, who wrote that big  song  in  '22,  "Yes  We Have No  Bananas."  Well,  he  wrote  this  song  that Lenny Bruce always  listened  to  as  an  inspiration when he fought  his  case:  (sings  "When  Will  The Sun Shine For Me?"). He loved that song.

BWM: I've notice that your  albums  with  Richard Perry  all  bear  the influence  of  "Sgt.  Pepper".

Tiny Tim: Well, Richard Perry loved The Beatles.

BWM:  And  he  borrowed  some  of  their  ideas  for your records.

Tiny  Tim:  Well,  vou're  probably,  right.  Let  me tell  you  something, Richard  Perry  got  the  only hit I  ever  had,  and  I  will  say  that  he  was  a genius  in  his  own  right,  but  I  will  tell  you this. No one yet  has  even  had  a  hit  record  with me, period,  let  alone  a  hit  record  of  something that was  original.  Of  all  the  great  things  that Richard Perry  did,  believe  me  he  did,  the  only hit  he  had  was  "Tiptoe  Through  The  Tulips", which I did in shows across the country.

BWM: And on television,  so  it  was  basically  you getting the hit, not him.

Tiny Tim:  But  he  did  a  good  production,  I  will say, that.  However,  you  can  say  this  for  fact: he's  got  to  watch  himself.  He  looks  terrible. And I'm  not  saying  this  with  any  animosity.  I'm saying it as a friend. You  can  take  it  any  way you  want.  For  a  man  to  have  everything  like that, I saw a picture of him  in  the  paper.  Well, the thing is,  he  looked  terrible,  and  he's  gotta get out of that.  I  just  hope  he  saves  his  life. What  thev  all  need  is  Jesus  Christ  and  His blessings.

BWM:I'll  go  along  with  that.  Also,  about  him,there are  songs  that  don't  sound  like  they  come from your repertoire,  like  "The  Other  Side",  for instance...

Tiny Tim: That was Perry's idea.

BWM: ... where you celebrate the  melting of the icecaps.

Tiny  Tim: That  was a  prophetic song. They say they really are melting now.

BWM: I think  it's  prophetic  because  it  could  be a hit now.

Tiny Tim: Boy...

BWM:  And  then  there's  "Satisfied  With  Life".  is that  an  old  song?

Tiny Tim: That sure is an old song.  It was written by George M. Cohan. (A couple of girls come up for autographs)...I'll tell ya, as soon as I get paid tomorrow, I gotta go out and get some good toothbrushes.

BWM: Speaking of toothbrushes, will you sign some of my stuff?

Tiny Tim: I sure will. (autographs his children's album "For All My Little Friends") You know what song I like on this one?

BWM: I'll tell you what song I like on it.

Tiny Tim: Tell me.

BWM: I like "Lonesome Little Raindrop".

Tiny Tim: God bless you my friend.  You see? You can't fool no one.

BWM: That's a good song.

Tiny Tim: Sung by Sam Ash, 1920.  Written by Vincent Romo.

BWM: It's the best sounding cut on there.  A lot of it sounds like they wanted to get you out of there as quickly as possible.

Tiny Tim: They did! I wasn't even there, that's right.

BWM: You know, Nillsson did an album of Tiny Tim imitations.

Tiny Tim:  You're very nice.

BWM: You knew that, right? with Gordon Jenkins?

Tiny Tim:  Yeah, the son of a gun.

BWM: He did a version of, uh...

Tiny Tim:  "This Is  All I Ask".

BWM: ... and on the  record, they say your version's the best. and I agree.

Tiny Tim: Jenkins didn't say nothing.  Artie Butler was the one who suggested that song.  He deserves the credit for that.  You see, I've been recording other people's things, 'cause I love to record, and I know that, you know, maybe I'll get lucky on somebody else's material.  But one day if I still have the voice, and still have the health, I will record these great old songs.

BWM: Is there anyone writing today that you like?

Tiny  Tim:  The  honest  truth, I couldn't even tell ya the number one song right now.

BWM: George Michael was number one last year.

Tiny Tim: And he's got some good songs.

BWM: I like him.

Tiny Tim: But we are oversaturated today with so many great artists. we have so much at our fingertips, everything from CDs to tapes to ... I mean, we have outdone ourselves with entertainment. Too much of a good thing.  But each generation has their own Stuff. I have to stick with these great songs that were sung. Let's sayit's for a minute. A guy comes around and I can sing a song like "When Will The Sun Shine For Me?". If someone gets a thrill out of that, if someone likes the song, that's all the success you can go for.  I just want to sing these great songs that touch some people here and there.  It makes me feel good.  I just wanna go around, you know.  I tell ya, there's so many great love songs. These were great artists, and I could just close this, we're getting ready and everything, but, Rudy Vallee sang a song in 1933, when he was on the way, you know, down and that, but he was still there, still hot. But in 1933 he sang a song from a movie with  W.C. Fields, called "International House". it's strange, but the words are still good for today: (singing) "I don't know to what psychosis, we describe each diagnosis, or what sort of ailments we deduce, just as long as songs can cure all, then allow me to assure all, pills and drugs have now outlived their use, no matter what the case is or its urgency, be prepared with this for each emergency, and keep a little song handy wherever vou go, and nothing will ever go wrong, keep a little song handy and sure as you know, the sunshine will follow along, any single little jingle, that sets the toes a-tingle, will help you when you mingle, in any single throng, so keep a little song handy wherever you go, and nothing can ever go wrong."


The Power Of Healing

by Derrick Bostrom


happyhand.jpg

I wrote the following piece three years ago, shortly after making a career change from unemployed ex-drummer to hawker of organic produce. I don't do that any more; I sit behind a desk now, like I should. But a friend of mine had a run-in with a sharp object last week (hey: it's one of the hazards of her occupation), so I thought I'd dedicate this repost (which originally ran over at Luxuria Music) to her. Consider it part of the retraining she is now obliged to receive.

When I was young, nothing could touch me. Drink, drugs, bad food, no sleep and other poor choices were not a problem. But as I got older, I discovered dark forces -- germs, viruses, toxins and other agents of chaos -- all designed to leave me vulnerable. As I became older still, I realized that evil was not just "out there;" it was within me as well. Laziness, carelessness, selfishness, rage -- these too had the power to put me in the ground.

Over time, I learned to tip the balance in my favor. I modified my lifestyle. I gave up substance abuse; I put more thought into my diet, I even grudgingly made time for exercise. I designed strategies to help me avoid and eventually eliminate certain unhealthy human associations. I got into the habit of decreasing my speed when behind the wheel of an automobile. And for a while, I was able to harbor my energy and channel it into more life-affirming efforts and experiences. 

But the law of averages caught up with me. Without warning, I dropped my guard and slipped accidentally over the line. I got a JOB, an actual position of menial labor and minimal compensation. And in the process of trading the fear and uncertainty of financial instability for the self-loathing of exhaustion and potential unrealized, I placed myself in physical danger.

"Careful! You'll hurt yourself!" But it was too late; I was already handling sharp objects unsafely. Suddenly, there was blood everywhere. I was surrounded by my associates; one of them called a supervisor. Next thing I knew, I was sitting in her office filling out forms. "Hey!" she said suddenly as she entered my birth date onto one of them, "I didn't realize you were a twenty-three!" A lot of good that had done me.

I wound up with a laceration across the middle joint of my left hand index finger. Lashed to a crooked metal brace, my finger was held immobile, the wound threaded with an ugly length of black nylon. The joint itself was swollen to twice its normal size. Unable to use my hand, I raged at my coworkers, my wife and myself. When I was a drummer, protecting my hands from injury was one of my preoccupations, a practical necessity. My hands were my livelihood. Now, my injury was a grim metaphor for a new reality: my body was no longer an instrument trained to make concrete the gifts of my inspiration; it was a shoddy vessel for my masters to use and discard as they saw fit. Back at the job, they asked not, "how's your finger," but "how soon do you think you'll be able to return to full duty?"

It's been about a month now, and my finger has healed. First the stitches came out; then the swelling went down. Then the crack filled in. Soon, I could make a fist again. And I remembered something that in my fear and anger I had forgotten: residing within me alongside of my capacity for self-destruction is also the capacity for self-repair. Rather than diminishing them, my injury has actually made my hands more beautiful. Like a little pink smile, a crescent of scar tissue sits atop my knuckle, reminding me of my service not just to the hard forces of scarcity, but also to the life-giving power of abundance. I may be just another corporate slave, but I'm a cog in nature's machine as well.