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Flashback - The Captain and Tennille interview 1998

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The news broke today that the Captain and Tennille – Daryl Dragon and Toni Tennille – are getting divorced after 39 years of marriage. I had the pleasure of interviewing the duo over the phone back in 1998 prior to their first-ever show in Delaware, at Dover Downs. The last line of the feature – now very ironic – was always one of my favorites.

***

Speaking on the phone from their Wahoe Valley, Nevada home near Lake Tahoe, the Captain and Tennille are a lot like you might remember them from their 1976 television variety show.

Singer-songwriter Toni Tennille is outgoing and talkative, while her husband, keyboardist and producer Daryl Dragon is quiet and reserved. Even in a 3-way telephone interview, the Captain is content to let Tennille take center stage.

As you might expect, they're both very nice. But if you think you know everything there is to know about the Captain and Tennille from their hits and television appearances, you'd be wrong.

You might not know, for example, that Dragon was a member of the Beach Boys touring band from 1967 to 1972. In fact, it was Beach Boy Mike Love who began referring to Dragon as "the Captain of the keyboards" because of the hat Dragon often wore on stage.

Tennille also played keyboards and sang backing vocals in the Beach Boys, becoming the one and only "Beach Girl." Her friendship with the band led to a number of other notable backing vocal jobs. That's Tennille, along with Beach Boys Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston singing behind Elton John on "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me." Even more unlikely, but adding substantially to their hipness quotient, the trio contributed vocals to Pink Floyd's landmark 1979 album, "The Wall."

"It was early Sunday afternoon and I walked into the studio and Dave Gilmour greeted me with, 'Oh, I just saw you on television.'" Tennille recalls. "I thought, 'What the hell was he watching on Sunday morning? I figured they'd all be lying around smoking dope. But he said, 'Yeah, I saw you on "Kids Are People Too," I was watching it with my children.' So I guess that proves you should never make any assumptions about what rock stars are like.

"So we went in and did the work, and people always ask me what cuts am I on. Honestly I don't know, because they didn't have names yet. They would just have us do blocks of things - 'ooohs' here and 'ahhhs' there. But I thought the music was fascinating, and they were very professional the way the session was conducted. I just enjoyed the heck out of it."

Dragon has also worked with artists you wouldn't normally associate with the seemingly innocuous duo. He played keyboards on the Presidents of the United States of America's second album and most recently recorded with a Los Angeles-based alternative band called Size 14.

"I played on five of their cuts," he says. "One was called, 'I Touched Her Ass.' But actually, they were good writers, I wouldn't just take any gig. I liked their stuff."

It's been 18 years since the Captain and Tennille's last number-one single, "Do That To Me One More Time" hit the charts, but that hasn't diminished their drawing power.

"People always want to hear the music," Tennille says. "Once you've established yourself with hits that become part of people's lives, then they pretty much always want to see you."

Fans who come to the Dover Downs shows can expect to hear a wide variety of music, Tennille says.

"I do a little of my favorite music, Daryl does some 50's boogie, we do just about every Captain and Tennille hit, including some that weren't hits, but were just favorites," she says. "Plus we always do a few new tunes that we've never recorded."

It was hard not to see or hear the Captain and Tennille during their mid-'70s heyday. Between 1975 and 1980, the duo charted over a dozen Top-40 hits, including "The Way I Want To Touch You," "Lonely Nights (Angel Face)," "Muskrat Love," and their signature song, "Love Will Keep Us Together." They received five gold albums, six gold singles, two platinum albums, a platinum single, and a Grammy award for "Love Will Keep Us Together."

Although their variety show lasted only one season, they later starred in three specials for ABC. In 1980, Tennille hosted the nationally-syndicated "Toni Tennille Show."

They kept a lower profile in the '80s. Branching out, Tennille recorded two big band albums, "More Than You Know" in 1984 and "Moonglow" in 1989, both produced by Dragon.

"We were always working," Tennille says. "There was a period after my first solo album came out that about 50 per cent of my work was with symphonies and big bands. We did the Captain and Tennille as well, but it ended up being about 50-50."

But with '70s stars and music again in vogue, the time seemed right for the Captain and Tennille to enjoy a resurgence in popularity. In 1995, they released their first album in over ten years, "Twenty Years Of Romance" on K-tel/Nouveau records. The 20-song CD was a compilation of the duo's hits, as well as cover versions of romantic hits from the previous twenty years.

Rather than feature the original recordings, Tennille and Dragon decided to re-record their old hits.

"Recording technology has changed so much since we recorded those hits back in the '70s, that Daryl and I were both interested in how much better we could make them sound," Tennille says.

"...and still try to make them sound like the original versions," Dragon adds.

Last year, the Captain and Tennille again made the talk and variety show rounds, appearing on "The Rosie O'Donnell Show," "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," and "The Jenny McCarthy Show," among others. Additionally, "Love Will Keep Us Together" was recently featured in the films "House Arrest" and "Picture Perfect," as well as on the television shows "Ellen" and "The Simpsons."

Tennille has a new CD, "Tennille Sings Big Band" due out in April, but the project she's most excited about is starring in the touring production of "Victor/Victoria," opening the first week of September.

"I had been looking for something to do on Broadway," Tennille says. "I went after the part. I even made a video tape of me singing the songs in the show, but I got lazy and never edited it.

"Then one day my sister called me from Florida and told me that she heard that Raquel Welch was being considered to replace Julie Andrews. I went 'Raquel Welch! What are you talking about?' So I called my manager and we got the tape edited and submitted it. But we were one day too late. When they got the video, they had already signed Raquel Welch to the part."

The casting turned out to be a mistake, however. With Welch in the title role, the show closed in three weeks.

"While Raquel was in rehearsal for the Broadway show," Tennille says, "we got a call from Tony Adams, who is Blake Edwards' and Julie Andrews' partner, and the producer of the show. He asked me if I was interested in starring in a tour of the show. To be honest, that wasn't what I was interested in at the time, because i knew it would disrupt my life so completely. I had in mind going to New York and staying there. But of course I eventually said yes."

The stage role will bring Tennille and the Captain full-circle. Her earliest professional experience was in theater, and it lead to their meeting.

"In 1969 I wrote a musical called 'Mother Earth,'" Tennille says. "It was a rock musical with an ecology theme. We did it at the South Coast Repertory Theatre in Southern California where I was a member. It was a smash hit in this small theater. Then we went on to do a professional version of it up in San Francisco, and we needed a new keyboard player."

Dragon, who happened to be between Beach Boy tours at the time, was recommended to Tennille. With similar backgrounds as classically trained pianists, they hit it off professionally and personally.

"Mother Earth" toured for a year, including a pre-New York run at Wilmington's Playhouse Theater. After the tour, Dragon returned to the Beach Boys, and Tennille went with him.

They've been together ever since, despite unfounded recurring rumors that they are divorced.

"My favorite story about that happened years ago when we were performing in Atlantic City," Tennille says. "One of our musicians told me that he got into the elevator with a few other people and there was a poster of us in there. One guy said to the other 'Oh look, there's the Captain and Tennille. I thought they were divorced.' And the other person said, 'Oh yeah, they are, but they just stay together for the money.'

But anyone that knows anything about the Captain and Tennille knows it's not money, but love, that keeps them together.

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