Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel? Sort of…
FROM KITTY HAWK TO SURF CITY
The Bamboo Trading Company’s (Gary Griffin, Matt Jardine, Randell Kirsch, Philip Bardowell, Chris English & Miami Dan Yoe) new CD From Kitty Hawk To Surf City was released on Tuesday, December 3. The collection includes different mixes, vocalizations and arrangements of songs that appeared on the The Bamboo Trading Company’s deluxe six-paneled self-titled predecessor released on Tuesday, April 23.
From Kitty Hawk To Surf City includes a guest appearance by Dean Torrence (Jan & Dean), alternate album artwork, four alternate recordings and the previously unreleased “Another Fine Mess.” Also included on this exclusive collection is the new skit, “Shrew Island Bar & Grill,” featuring “Return Of The Killer Shrews” actor James Best (Dukes Of Hazzard) as a part of a film/soundtrack crossover.
The album transports the listener from Kitty Hawk, NC to Surf City and the cool California waves. In the case of The Bamboo Trading Company, they make a few stops in familiar and unfamiliar territory, barely escape alive…and end up in Surf City drinkin’ beers. Chillin.’
Here’s the sequence for The Bamboo Trading Company’s From Kitty Hawk To Surf City:
Drinkin’ In The Sunshine [w/ Dean Torrence]
Star Of The Beach [w/ Dean Torrence, alt. version]
Tweet (Don’t Talk Anymore) [w/ Dean Torrence, alt. version]
Shrew Island Bar & Grill [w/ James Best]
Shrewd Awakening [w/ Dean Torrence, alt. version]
Tonga Hut [w/ Dean Torrence, alt. version]
Another Fine Mess [instrumental]
I’ve Always Loved The Ocean
Don’t Say It’s Over
The Bamboo Trading Company (Theme) [alt. version]
The four recordings that appear in the film are: “Tonga Hut,” “Don’t Say It’s Over,” “Star Of The Beach” and the title track, “Shrewd Awakening,” which is the official music video for the album and film.
THE MAKING OF THE “SHREWD AWAKENING” MUSIC VIDEO
“Shrewd Awakening” was the first song written for the “Return Of The Killer Shrews” soundtrack and spawned the music that resulted in the recordings for The Bamboo Trading Company’s two releases. Film director and screenwriter Steve Latshaw, music supervisor Gary Griffin and Dean Torrence took the time to discuss the experience of making the music video together.
Tell people more about the music video that we worked on together.
Steve Latshaw: When you and I first began discussing the concept of featuring some original songs on the soundtrack, we both arrived at the same conclusion well before anything had been filmed. We wanted the Jan & Dean vibe on the soundtrack. What’s that mean? It means satire. Subversive satire…sneaks right in on you.
Let me explain.
For “Return of the Killer Shrews” it began with the script, written by Pat Moran and James Best, with a little help from me. The screenplay was traditional horror and action combined with somewhat subversive humor. From the get go, James and Pat, who did most of the heavy lifting when it came to writing the script, intended to make a film that worked as a creature feature – and also as a satire of creature features. And musically, this was the same approach that Jan & Dean took during their recording career back in the 1960s.
Jan & Dean cut bona fide hit records that exploded on the rock & roll charts back in the day… and satirized top-40 records while they were doing it. Dean Torrence himself admitted that their hit “Dead Man’s Curve” was their “Fargo” – a darkly humorous send-up of the “Death Rock” trend of 1963 and 1964. Dean’s comic liner notes for their albums were nothing less than a California spin on John Lennon’s James Joyce riff “In His Own Write.” On the back of 1965’s Golden Hits Volume 2 album, Torrence wrote: “Well, Jan got together with a disk jerky named Roger whats his name and a beach guy called Brian... Well these three idiots came up with some silly song called ‘Surf City.’ Cripes I said to my shelf as not to over herd as that silly song pushed on to number one number one number one hallaluyah, heray we pranced and danced for joy... joy was a friend of ours who gave us a six pack of coke if we wood dance and prance for her.”
Jan & Dean’s absurdist style is all over the comedy of Steve Martin. If things had played out a little differently “King Tut” would have been a Jan & Dean song. Noted rock critic Dave Marsh called their music, incredibly subversive, pre-dating the rock & roll satire of Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention – and Flo & Eddie. As he said, they were the original “punks.”
In 1964 they cut an epic drag racing single… performed it on every hit TV show in the nation, sang it to screaming teenagers who thought Jan & Dean were the second coming of the Beatles… sold millions of records and watched it rocket up the charts (#3 with a bullet in Billboard). And never mind that the drag racer in this massive hit was a power-shifting Grandma, the drag strip was Colorado Boulevard in sedate Pasadena and the song, you guessed it, was called the “Little Old Lady From Pasadena.” And if that ain’t subversive satire, I don’t know what is. And that’s what we were after.
We wanted a Jan & Dean comedy vibe for the songs, because it fit with the film’s satirical horror lampooning. It didn’t hurt that our movie had a retro tiki jungle/beach movie feel. And by the time it was over, we had legendary music whiz Gary Griffin at the controls.
Dean agreed to record on some of tracks as a guest vocalist with The Bamboo Trading Company. He recorded vocals for five songs including the title theme, “Shrewd Awakening,” where his incredibly talented daughters Jillian and Katie join him.
For the “Shrewd Awakening” session, the movie’s co-star Bruce Davison dropped by, lending his musical and comedic talents to the proceedings. And this was a real reunion; back in 1978, Bruce actually played Dean in a CBS TV movie about Jan & Dean called, oddly enough, “Deadman’s Curve.”
As a filmmaker, those sessions with you, Dean, Bruce, Gary and the Bamboo Trading Company gave us more than we imagined in terms of great music for our film. Producer Dorothy Best was astounded the first time she visited Gary Griffin’s studio to hear early mixes. We didn’t have the biggest music budget in the world – but to hear those tracks – it sure sounded like it.
As a fan, for me, it was my Walter Mitty moment. You don’t get those often. And you never forget them.
What was the starting point for this music video?
Steve: With so many great songs on the soundtrack we knew we wanted to do a video for one of them. But when I first heard the instrumental track for “Shrewd Awakening,” I was hooked. Gary had created a new hybrid... classic retro Tiki music with a modern twist, sort of like Steely Dan doing a Martin Denny album, with a touch of Jobim. And when the vocals were added the track went to a whole new level… new and old at the same time. There was an incredible harmonic blend between Katie, Jillian and Dean that brought to mind Pink Martini meets The Sandpipers. The addition of Philip Bardowell on the bridge sounding a bit like Carl Wilson circa Friends completed the picture, if you will. The track is modern, 2013, yet very much 1967/1968. It’s fresh but could have fit easily into Henry Mancini’s score for the Blake Edwards/Peter Sellers film “The Party.” And the song is funny. Those beautiful voices singing your truly twisted lyrics. Straight-faced comedy. Tongue-in-cheek. Deadpan. Subversive.
Talk about how you got involved with the music for “Return Of The Killer Shrews,” which ultimately ended up on The Bamboo Trading Company CD.
Dean Torrence: Steve Latshaw is a Jan & Dean fan. After I received your call about recording a song for Steve’s film “Return of The Killer Shrews,” you laid out the idea of working on a new recording with me, Gary Griffin and my daughters Katie and Jillian.
What were your thoughts after watching the early screener version of “Return Of The Killer Shrews” without the CGI shrews added?
Dean: For those of us that aren’t in the movie industry… We’re more used to seeing something come out of the ground and have more bits and pieces to it as we work on it. To see a film that was basically “done,” and not actually see a shrew kind of shocked me; that the stars of the film, at the time that I saw it, weren’t even in it. That would be like Johnny Depp being in some Disney film, and they showed you the film, but they haven’t inserted him yet. It was just quite confusing to see a film and to make any sort of connection to it without the stars actually being present. I understood it, but it still seemed kind of funky.
The video incorporates a retro look…
Steve: We wanted “Return of the Killer Shrews” to have a retro/tiki feel from the start. The film takes place in the present but looks as if it might have been made in widescreen and garish color, in the 60’s. The video resembles a faded Eastmancolor print that might have been playing the neighborhood drive-in movie theater...a “soundie” from the 1960’s. I had seen a great video from 1965 featuring Gary Lewis & The Playboys doing “Little Miss Go-Go” at a yacht club. That was a bit of an influence, as far as the color palette was concerned. With the comic and performance footage from the video intercut with actual film clips we achieved that drive-in pop culture feel.
The video takes you back in time to a surreal late night at the drive-in, when the movies, trailers and snack bar commercials all blend together in your brain. The style is 1967. However, we avoided the counter culture version of 1967. This is more like the Beverly Hills version of 1967 hip... Dean Martin on a Vespa heading for the Hollywood Bowl to see the Beatles... Frank Sinatra in a Nehru jacket on one of his NBC specials... more Henry Mancini than Jim Morrison. Elizabeth Griffin added some great, whispered “You’re in for a...” bits to the song which immediately made me think of Claudine Longet and Nancy Sinatra on her “Movin’ With Nancy” TV special. So that’s how we shot Elizabeth. She really got the look; in those shots, Producer Dorothy Best thought Elizabeth resembled a 60’s-era Angie Dickinson.
Gary Griffin: Steve created a great video for this using many scenes from the movie and a lot of footage cut here at my studio – from the actual vocal sessions and some exterior shots of Elizabeth and me (as the “mad commentator”). It was nice to have Bruce Davison here also for the “Dueling Dean’s” footage.
What was it like for you to reconnect with Bruce Davison after all the years for the making of the “Shrewd Awakening” music video?
Dean: It was fun to see him in person. It’s kind of odd when you don’t particularly miss a person when they continue to be in the media (somehow). So, it wasn’t as though I hadn’t seen him in 30 years. It felt as though I was still connected to him after all these years. It was great to see him, great to catch up… He looked healthy and happy, and that made me feel good.
During the shooting of the music video, when he spontaneously leapt over and attacked your neck, you two were totally in sync with one another.
Dean: That’s probably one of the reasons Bruce was chosen to be in “Deadman’s Curve,” because he was a good spontaneous actor. I don’t think Richard Hatch quite as spontaneous as Bruce was, but it was more important for Bruce to be the spontaneous / comedic character when needed. I wasn’t surprised that he would do something like that. It just seemed perfectly in character to me after all these years. Some stuff never changes.
And that’s where you shot back with, “There’s the shrews… I finally saw the shrews!”
Dean: It was still weighing heavily on my mind that I was recording a song about a shrew, and I still hadn’t seen one. That was as close as I was going to get to a shrew that particular day, so it gave me some sort of pleasure to know that I had seen something similar to a shrew.
Finally, tell us bout the humor.
Steve: This gets us back to the Jan & Dean style of comedy I mentioned earlier, which is also the tone of the film. We went for the blended genre thing, like “Shawn of the Dead,” very much a thriller or horror/sci-fi piece featuring plenty of mystery and action but with deadpan humor all the way through. Gary added some Beatles/Goon Show-like commentary vocals to the track (“Outrageous!”). We featured him in the video as the anchor for all the craziness, like a horror host or a narrator in an old E.C. horror comic. And Dean and Bruce Davison do some incredible comic interplay throughout the video. Bruce Davison is, of course, a brilliant, Oscar-nominated actor who was into the humor of our film from day one. And Dean is a natural comedian with tremendous improvisational skills. Jan & Dean were known as the Laurel & Hardy of rock and roll in the 1960’s; this was like Buster Keaton doing schtick with Stan Laurel. It’s all in the video.
To purchase From Kitty Hawk To Surf City, visit Amazon.com.
©2013 David M. Beard / All rights reserved
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