The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)

Who doesn’t love “The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don’t Be Late)”? It introduced the world to Alvin, Simon, and Theodore, arguably the world’s most famous trio of singing rodentia. The song, released in 1958, is a staple of the holiday season. It’s among the earliest holiday songs that I can remember, and it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas unless I’ve listened to it a whole googob of times while singing the line, “Me I Want A Hula Hoop!” at the top of my lungs.

As improbable as it seems, the song reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart and helped net composer Ross Bagdasarian Sr. three Grammy Awards (Best Children’s Recording, Best Engineered Record – Non-Classical, and Best Comedy Performance) in 1958. Two years later, the Chipmunks would win another Grammy for their album “Let’s All Sing With the Chipmunks” (which included “The Christmas Song” as the final song of the album). All this fame and fortune resulted in an animated television series, movies, and a popularity that has lasted now for 60 years. However, let’s rewind just a bit. How did we even wind up with a trio of singing chipmunks?

Rod Bagdasarian apparently first came up with the idea after spotting a chipmunk by the side of the road. The stubborn little critter wouldn’t move for his car. Somehow, this sparked the idea in his imagination. Their names were taken from the president, chief engineer, and founder of Liberty Records, the label that released the song.

Earlier in the year, Bagdasarian had achieved success with his song “Witch Doctor”. He performed the song under the name David Seville, which fans of The Chipmunks likely recognize as the name of the group’s manager. Before these successes, Bagdasarian had written songs for Rosemary Clooney. However, he was struggling to make ends meet and was just about broke. With only $200 to his name, Bagdasarian purchase a machine for $190 which allowed him to speed up his voice. He employed the novelty on the chorus of the song “Witch Doctor” and it was this machine that gave The Chipmunks their distinctive high-pitched voices.

The inspiration for the “The Chipmunk Song” apparently came from one of Bagasarian’s children. His son Adam had a tendency to start asking if it was Christmas yet as early as September. He realized that kids all over were probably asking similar questions, and decided that it would make good subject matter for a holiday ditty. However, it didn’t come all at once. The song went through several revisions, including an instrumental version and one entitled “In A Village Park”. The third version was “The Chipmunk Song” we’ve all come to know and love, and Bagdasarian performed all three voices. An article in a 1959 issue of LIFE Magazine noted that it was the first time in the “annals of popular music that one man has served as writer, composer, publisher, conductor and multiple vocalist of a hit record, thereby directing all possible revenues from the song back into his pocket.”

In 1961, The Chipmunks were given their own TV series. It was known as “The Alvin Show” and didn’t achieve near the success as the group’s earlier music. There were only 26 episodes, going off the air in late 1962. The group also continued recording albums, releasing a total of 12 between 1959 and 1969 (including a Beatles’ cover album). During that time, the group had a number of hit songs, including “Alvin’s Harmonica”,  “Ragtime Cowboy Joe”, and “The Alvin Twist”.

Sadly, Bagdasarian died of a heart attack in 1972 and The Chipmunks went on hiatus until his children decided to revive the group later in the decade. In 1980, the group released “Chipmunk Punk” (an album whose title is a bit of a misnomer, seeing as how it featured songs by musicians like Tom Petty, Queen, Billy Joel, and The Knack). The following year saw the release of “A Chipmunk Christmas”, a television special produced by the legendary Chuck Jones, that brought the group back to their yuletide roots.

Now that the group have become pop culture icons with over half a century of success, it’s interesting to think that at one point their creator was down to his final ten dollars, placing all his hope in a machine that would make his voice sound funny. Even more fascinating? It worked.

 

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Yust Go Nuts: The Music of Yogi Yorgesson

I love Christmas. It’s the most hygge of holidays. There are warm fires, sweaters, comfortable socks, delicious baked goods, and gatherings of friends and family. It’s a cozy season. As the ghost of Christmas Present sings:

It’s in the singing of a street corner choir

It’s going home and getting warm by the fire

It’s true, wherever you find love

It feels like Christmas

One of my favorite things about Christmas is the music. I adore the sacred and secular songs. From “Silent Night” to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”, I love them all. In fact, I don’t necessarily see the need to restrict them to Christmas. I listen to Sting’s “If On A Winter’s Night” album year round.

Yogi Yorgesson (or Harry Stewart, born Harry Skarbo) is another musician whose holiday work I could listen to in the dead of summer. I’ve mentioned Yorgesson before. The delightful Stan Boreson drew comparisons to him, and the two were actually friends. While Stan Boreson’s musical persona was Norwegian, Yorgesson’s was Swedish, complete with a comically exaggerated accent (not quite the Muppet’s Swedish Chef, but still an over-the-top representation).

Ironically, though he did have Swedish ancestry, his parents were Norwegian. Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1908, his mother died two years later while giving birth to her fourth child. His father found he could not care for his children and Harry was adopted by a family by the name of Stewart.

Before breaking into show business, he had a number of jobs, including work in the logging industry, as a bellhop, and as a radio announcer. He also worked as a weather reporter and banjo player while working for KVI, a radio station in Seattle. According to the Norwegian American Folk Music Portal, he developed the character of Yorgesson after moving to California. He was working on the Happy Go Lucky Show, a radio program on KRFC which later became the Al Pearce and His Gang program on NBC. Referring again to the Norwegian American Folk Music Portal, “in an effort to carve a niche out for himself, created the character Yogi Yorgesson, a Hindu mystic from Stockholm, Sweden.” There’s a lot to unpack in that sentence, but rather than dissect it let’s move right along to a description of the act which, “consisted of gazing into his crystal ball, which was actually an overturned fish bowl, and taking staged phone calls from radio listeners to set up his jokes. Harry enhanced his performances by speaking in a pronounced Swedish accent and dressing in a comical mishmash of garments, combining boots and a lumberjack shirt with a Hindu loincloth and a turban.” 

(For the entire article by the Norwegian American Folk Music Portal visit: http://vanhise.lss.wisc.edu/nafmp/?q=yogi_yorgesson)

As a side note, apparently after a show in Georgia, an audience member asked if he was actually Hindu…

Moving right along,  his first song was recorded in 1946 by a group called The King’s Jesters. The song was “Humphrey, The Sweet Singing Pig.” If you aren’t in love with the song because of the title alone, I’m not sure we have much to talk about.

In 1949, he released “I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas.” The song tells the story of a man shopping for his wife at Christmas time and ultimately deciding to buy her a carpet sweeper. At least, that’s part of the song. The other part is a parody of the poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and is all about getting seriously drunk on Christmas and then having to deal with extended family and rambunctious children while hungover. The B-Side was titled “Yingle Bells.” As unlikely as it might seem now, the album reached #5 on Billboard’s best sellers list the week after Christmas.

Among his other Christmas themed songs were “The Christmas Party,” which details the debauchery that was the old school office Christmas Party, “I Was Santa Claus At the School Party (For the P.T.A.), and “Be Kind to the Street Corner Santa Claus.” Outside of his Christmas repertoire, he wrote songs like “Real Gone Galoot,” “All Pooped Out,” and “Mrs. Yohnson, Turn Me Loose.”  

Sadly, Stewart died at the age of 47. While driving near Tonopah, Nevada, he was involved in a car crash. According to an article in the Minneapolis Star, patrolmen stated that the crash was likely caused by his falling asleep at the wheel.

As mentioned above, I discovered his music through Stan Boreson, who recorded a number of Yorgesson’s songs for his albums “Honey/Little Green Apples And Other Swedish Smorgasbord,” the holiday album “Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” and the LP “Yust Tinkin’ of Yogi.” Stewart’s Christmas music was also a regular part of the Dr. Demento radio show.

His songs are silly and light. They contain a goofy, gentle kind of humor. Add that spirit to the holly jolly atmosphere of the holidays and you get something truly wonderful. It’s the sort of music that makes you yust go nuts.  

Sara Marie Mullen and the Music of the Fair Folk

At least once a year, our family ventures to the town of Waxahachie, Texas to attend the Scarborough Renaissance Festival. We typically go in costume (yes…we’re those dorks), donning things pirate gear, billowy shirts, corsets (my wife, not me) or even steampunk clothing. It’s a family tradition, a brilliant chance to step out of the mundane, daily world and into the world of fairies, goblins, brave nights, dragons, and wizards.

There are countless things we love about the fair: the comedic antics of performers like Don Juan and Miguel, the vaudevillian delight that Cirque du Sewer (an act featuring acrobatic rats and a rather confused feline), the tongue twisting tales of Zilch the Torysteller, shops like the apothecary, the hat shop, and the little cart loaded with ornate parasols. We take time to stroll through the dungeon filled with monsters, to take in a joust, or to simply sit and chow down on authentic Renaissance pizza (wait…what?). Then there is the music.

The Scarborough Renaissance Festival has played host to a number of gifted musicians over the years. In the past, we always made a point of seeing Cast in Bronze, a unique musical act featuring the carillon. We adore the evening pub sing, featuring artists like singer and guitarist Leza Mesiah. In the way back time, we used to always stop and listen to the Corsairs, an a cappella group of singing swashbucklers. From morning until night, the air is always filled with music.

Sarah Marie Mullen is one of the artists we love seeing and listening to on each visit. A harpist who trained at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Mullen can typically be found performing near the Eagles Crossing Bridge which leads guests from the area known as Crown Meadow into Pecan Grove.

She sits at her harp and plays as people stroll by her. The music is delicate and hypnotic, the type that makes you feel as though it is being played for the fae. It’s as though the beautiful melodies have caused them to leap from the pages of Yeats and they are now dancing somewhere just out of sight.

When she isn’t playing, Mullen talks to guests, sharing the stories behind her music. This storytelling element is an integral part of her work. She has developed a number of musical programs, including The Harp of Ireland, which explores the ancient Irish bards, Fairytales of the Isles, a children’s program of music and storytelling, and Music of the Celtic Harp. In addition to a repertoire of traditional songs, she also composes her own pieces.

According to her official bio, her passion for the instrument began when she was five years old. Harps being rather expensive, she did not acquire her own until age 11 when she gained the money through a neighborhood wide garage sale. It was an investment that paid off and them some. Mullen has since released numerous albums and toured across the United States, earning accolades from Celtic Music Magazine and Renaissance Magazine.

It’s easy to get lost in her music, to get carried into another world as she plucks at the strings on her harp. It calls to mind one of my favorite poems:

The Stolen Child

By W.B. Yeats

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

Recuerdos: The Music of Cenobio Hernandez

A year or so ago, I was visiting my Uncle Brad and Aunt Priscilla in Bay City Texas. During our visit, my cousin Madaline sat down at her grandparents piano (they live just next door) and began playing a piece of music composed by Cenobio Hernandez.

Cenobio

I knew the piece. It was featured on an album by the brilliant Ricky Hernandez (Madaline’s cousin). The album is titled Recuerdos: Musica para Piano por Cenobio Hernandez. The album was released in 2002, and was something of a passion project. Cenobio is Ricky Hernandez’s grandfather.

Recuerdos

I’d discovered the album and the music of Cenobio in a roundabout way. As I’ve written about before, I am a fan of the sonic polka band Brave Combo. Bubba Hernandez was the group’s bassist for many years. After leaving Brave Combo, Hernandez embarked on a solo career. While looking into his work, I stumbled across articles about Cenobio. That discovery lead me to Ricky’s album, which sent me searching for any and all information I could find about the the composer.

He was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. His father and brother were both musicians and he learned to play cello, bass, and bajo sexto. During the Mexican Revolution he moved to San Antonio, where he began playing music at the Majestic and Empire Theaters for silent movies. When you listen to Recuerdos, this portion of his history is not surprising. It has a cinematic sort of feel, the kind of music you could picture being played over an old Rudolph Valentino film.

He changed his focus to composition as the silent film industry gave way to talkies. However, it was not an easy journey. The Depression forced him into migrant work, picking crops across the United States. Later, he worked as a transcriptionist at a furniture store. Numerous articles note that he was prone to write his compositions on things like brown paper bags, a fact which Hortencia (Madaline’s grandmother) confirmed when I talked to her about his work. As a side note, after Madaline played Cenobio’s song on the piano, we put the album in a CD player and Hortencia began dancing around the kitchen to it.

Over the course of his career Cenobio would compose over 100 pieces. An article written by Lucinda Breeding of the Denton Record Chronicle notes that many of the pieces were written in the orquestra tipica style, which blends Mexican influences with European chamber music. The liner note of the Recuerdos album notes that he, “composed forty two waltzes, thirty two polkas, three on-step pieces, one schottish, one march, one danzon, two danzas and two concertos for cello and piano.”

He died in 1950 at the age of 87 and, for a time, his work was largely forgotten by the world-at-large. His daughter Chabela kept his compositions in a wooden chest. She eventually gave them to Bubba (who included one of the songs on Brave Combo’s 1993 album No, No, No, Cha Cha Cha). Interestingly, this recording lead to Hernandez work being performed for an international audience when figure skaters Liz Punsalan and Jerod Swallow used his music in their routines for the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer and the 1998 Olympics in Nagano.

A 2005 article details the work of  his granddaughter Veronica, who was producing a documentary about Cenobio titled, “A Man, His Music, and His Legacy.” It seems preserving and promoting his legacy has become a family passion. Eight years later, his work was performed in Denton, Texas. Local composer David J. Pierce arranged the pieces and both Bubba and Ricky performed at the event,

Some music is timeless. Other pieces become associated with a specific time and place in your mind. For me, the music of Cenobio Hernandez manages to be both. When I listen to his compositions, they evoke a bygone era, rooted as they are in the world of cinema. However, it has such emotional complexity and depth that it manages that it doesn’t seem quaint or dated.

I also can’t help but associate it with those family gatherings in Bay City, the family gathered around the piano as one of Cenobio’s ancestors gives new life to his music by playing it on a small piano tucked in the corner of a warmly lit dining room.

The Vocal Alchemy of The Edge Effect

Last week, our family took a trip to Walt Disney World to immerse ourselves in the magic of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, Hollywood Studios’ Flurry of Fun, and all of the other holiday events spread around the parks. It was an amazing experience, one that left us all giddy with delight and a bit starry eyed at the spectacle of it all. There were a lot of unexpected delights, like dancing to “Hey Ya!” by Outkast with enormous polar bears and a couple Christmas elves. The trip also introduced us to a new musical group: The Edge Effect.

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The group performed a short set at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, singing a handful of holiday songs in Tomorrowland. They are an a cappella quintet. One of the members, Karl Hudson (bass) sings in Epcot’s Voices of Liberty, is a member of Voctave (another a cappella group with close ties to Disney), and performs as Kiume in Festival of the Lion King. Sean Garrity (tenor) started his musical career with Disney, performing as Clopin in MGM Studios’ The Hunchback of Notre Dame before becoming a member of the a cappella group Mosaic. Danny Alan (tenor 2) previously performed with 42Five. John Gibson II (baritone) began singing professionally as a teenager, performing as a member of Jaze’ (later joining Mosaic, Levitical Rise, and EPIC). All four were brilliant, but it was Troy Dolendo (a vocal percussionist and baritone who also performed in Mosaic and was part of Epcot’s American Vybe) who provided the highlight of the evening for me.

After the group performed a couple songs, including an island version of Frosty the Snowman, Dolendo expressed his greatest Christmas wish: to be featured as more than just a beatboxer for one song. What followed was a pitch perfect performance of Run DMC’s Christmas in Hollis, one of the greatest of all the popular holiday songs. Dolendo swaggered across the stage while dropping Rev. Run and the Devastating Mic Controller’s brilliant rhymes.

As someone prone to digressions, I feel the need to stop here and mention that Christmas In Hollis (released in 1987) was not the first hip hop Christmas song. Kurtis Blow, the brilliant rapper behind songs like Basketball and The Breaks, performed the song Christmas Rappin’ in 1979.

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The Edge Effect have recorded several albums: Alphabet Radio, Uncovered, The Edge Effect Live, Do You Hear What We Heart?, and Please Come Home for Christmas. They regularly perform on cruises and at corporate events, but have also opened for musical luminaries like Prince, Stevie Wonder, and John Legend, as well as earning the praise of country superstar Keith Urban. They were finalists on the television show America’s Got Talent, winners of MTV’s Top Pop Group, and Boyz II Men’s Next Great A Cappella Group on CBS.

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There’s something exhilarating about a good a cappella group, about hearing a performance unadorned by auto-tuners or any other effect. Like barbershop singing, there’s a certain purity to the performance. The voices have nothing to hide behind, so the songs live or die by execution. The individual members of the group can’t simply focus on how they perform their own part. They have to listen to each other and blend their voice together. Individual egos have to be set aside for the good of the song.

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When most people think of alchemy, they think of it as the pseudoscience of transforming metals into pure gold. However, the philosophical underpinnings of alchemy go much deeper than this. The central concept behind alchemy was the idea of metaphysical transformation, the notion that the base things of earth could be transformed into something pure. Great a cappella singing is a form of vocal alchemy, and The Edge Effect has mastered the science.

Dr. Demento: Covered In Punk

Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento, is the Johnny Appleseed of novelty music. Since 1970, he has been introducing the world to quirky, offbeat records. A member of the Comedy Music Hall of Fame and the National Radio Hall of Fame, his show launched the career of “Weird” Al Yankovic, and helped popularize the music of musicians like Barnes & Barnes, Larry “Wildman” Fischer, Elmo & Patsy. He also exposed his listeners to classic novelty music, like the work of Spikes Jones & His City Slickers, Allan Sherman, Tom Lehrer, and Stan Freberg.

The album Covered In Punk, released at the beginning of 2018, is a punk rock celebration of Dr. Demento’s career. Produced by John Cafiero (the frontman for Osaka Popstar) the album features a diverse group of punk artists and entertainers reimagining songs made famous by the Dr. Demento Show (as well as a few songs described as “wild cards”). There are 64 tracks on the album, which runs over two hours, and it is sheer musical bliss.

There’s way too much to cover in a single blog post, so I’ll just hit a few of my favorites parts of the album.

Fish Heads by Osaka Popstar

Osaka Popstar performs the classic Barnes & Barnes tune Fish Heads. The most requested song in the history of The Dr. Demento Show, Fish Heads was originally released in 1978 after being written on a napkin in a Chinese Restaurant.

While the original is a bizarre little ditty that sounds a bit like something you’d hear after drinking too many Red Bull and not sleeping for three days, Osaka Popstar re-imagines the song as an up-tempo pop punk explosion. It’s eminently singable, and educational too! By the end of the track, you’ll have a very clear idea of what fish heads can and can’t do.

Dead Puppies by James Kochalka Superstar

Another one of the most popular songs in the history of The Dr. Demento Show, Dead Puppies was first performed by Ogden Edsl. The song laments the fact that dead puppies aren’t much fun. According to Demento, it prompted a lot aspiring musicians send him tracks explaining why dead puppies are, in fact, a lot of fun. Demento always declined to perform these tracks. Apparently, singing about your dog being dead and rotting in the hall was okay, but celebrating the death of dogs was beyond the pale (he’s not wrong).

James Kochalka Superstar performs the song on the album. Kochalka is a multi-talented artist, responsible for comics like American Elf, Johnny Boo, and Glorkian Warrior.

The Thing by Adam West

There’s no way I could write about the Covered in Punk album without mentioning the fact that Adam West performs a track. West, inarguably the greatest Batman of all time, performs The Thing.

The song was written by Charles Randolph Green and recorded by Phil Harris. As a Disney fan, it’s a bit odd to listen to the original. The voice is instantly recognizable as that of Baloo from Disney’s original Jungle Book movie, as well as Thomas O’Malley in the Aristocats, and Little John in Robin Hood.

West’s performance of the song is brilliant. He doesn’t exactly sing it. It’s more like he speaks the lyrics in tune. Listen to it and try not to picture him in his Batman costume as he performs.

National Brotherhood Week by The Vandals

I was first introduced to the Vandals back in high school. My best friend owned a copy of Peace Through Vandalism, and we would play it at full volume while we drove around in his car. Here, the group is performing National Brotherhood Week, a song written and performed by Tom Lehrer (a satirist who wrote songs like Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Vatican Rag, and We Will All Go Together When We Go). As the songwriter for the satirical program That Was the Week That Was, Lehrer’s music could be bitingly political, such as his song lampooning scientist Wernher von Braun, a one-time Nazi who flipped sides and began working for the United States.

The song National Brotherhood Week made fun of the actual National Brotherhood Week, which was observed with regularity from the 1930s-1950s. While the holiday started as a response to the anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, and anti-Jewish sentiment of the 1920s, Lehrer skewers it as a conceit where Americans set aside their prejudice for a week before diving gleefully back into them when the week ends.

Monster Mash by The Kids of Widney High

Most everyone has heard the song Monster Mash by Bobby Pickett, but they’ve probably never heard it quite like this. In the hands of The Kids of Widney High, the song sounds more like Minor Threat than the bubble gum pop of Pickett’s original.

Of all the bands on Covered In Punk, I may love the story behind The Kids of Widney High the most. The group consists entirely of mentally and physically challenged students on vocals. The project started in 1988, and has performed in locations like The Knitting Factory and in festivals like the Vans’ Warped Tour over the years since. In addition, the group has released four albums, been featured in a documentary, and in a comic book.

Altogether, the album is a monumental achievement, the kind of record that you can’t listen to without smiling. More than a simple retrospective of Dr. Demento’s remarkable career, it’s a celebration in musical form. It’s the kind of thing you want to push on everyone you know, because you know that listening to it will make their life just a little better.

Strangeways, Here We Come: The Music of Panic

There’s something special about being a fan. At least, I sure hope there is because it’s kind of my shtick. A substantial amount of my writing is built around fandom. When I’m not writing about the music I love, I write about things like retro video games and Walt Disney World. I write about things that I’m passionate and obsessive about, things that consume most of my waking thought.

Because of this, seemingly little things which are connected to my passions can become monumental labors of love. The process of selecting the music I listen to is ritualistic. I still listen to CDs, and putting together a wallet full of discs is a painstaking process. It requires the kind of thought that I used to pour into making mix-tapes. I try to select albums that fit with a certain mood or theme, even if the connections are obvious to no one but myself. The theme could be by era or genetic similarity (that is, how one album or band influenced/led to another). It might be something completely arbitrary. For instance, if I’ve read a particular comic or novel, I might put together a collection of albums that I think would make a suitable soundtrack to the story or the universe it depicts.

Not everyone understands this kind of fandom, but I suspect that Josh Venable does. After all, he’s more or less built a career around it.  As a high school student, Venable fell in love with the melancholy pop brilliance of The Smiths. The sensitive, angst filled lyrics of Morrissey and the jangly, Velvet Underground-esque guitar work of Johnny Marr were the perfect antidote to teenage awkwardness and depression. He became a devoted fan of the group.

While still a teen, he was given an internship at KDGE, a radio station in Dallas. George Gimarc (the creator of the legendary ‘The Rock & Roll Alternative’ show and author of Punk Diary: 1970-1979 and the Post-Punk Diary:1980-1982) offered him the position and became his mentor. In 1994, Venable took over the weekly Adventure Club program for departing DJ Alex Luke. For the next 18 years, he ran the show (briefly sharing the duties with Keven McAllister…the DJ, not the character from the Home Alone franchise).

I’ve written about The Adventure Club in the past. It introduced me (and countless others) to some of the greatest music ever recorded. It was what rock and roll radio should be, created for passionate fans by a passionate fan. While other shows fixated on things like celebrity gossip, generic Top 40 Hits, and the manufactured personalities of the DJ, The Adventure Club was all about the transcendental, sonic bliss that can be found in a great song.

Outside of his radio work, Venable has found another creative outlet for fandom: the cover band. For a time, he was in a Bruce Springsteen cover band called Nightmare on E-Street. The group performed from 2007-2010, but it was really a just a preamble to his current gig. Venable (who now works at Z104.5 in Tulsa) is the front man of Panic: The Smiths Tribute Band. Somehow, calling them a tribute band doesn’t quite do justice to the group. They’re made up of some music luminaries from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. Aside from Venable, the group consists of Glen Reynolds (guitarist for Chomsky and Starr Blazerz), Paul Davis on drums, Poppy Xander on keys, and Daniel Reid (bassist for Long Sword Spectacular).

They started the group, according to Venable, because they considered The Smiths “the greatest band of all time.” In a 2015 article, Venable said of The Smiths, “They saved my life when I was in high school. I think I lived a very John Hughes sort of life growing up as a kid. I was depressed, just like a lot of other people are who love The Smiths. Those records and those songs are some of the most important things in my life, and have been since I was 14. I can’t imagine my life without these songs.”  

For the rest of the article, check out: https://mckinney.bubblelife.com/community/off_beat_north_texas/library/35880152/key/351187263/Dallas_tribute_band_Panic_gives_Smiths_and_Morrissey_fans_what_they_want

Venable doesn’t just sing the songs. He channels his inner Morrissey. He dons a wig that replicates Morrissey’s iconic blend of mohawk and quiff. He wears a pair of glasses, helping replicate the look Morrissey sported while still in The Smiths. He even imitates the British singers propensity for keeping flowers with him onstage (either in hand or in his pocket). In a recent promo for a free show in Dallas, Venable encouraged fans to bring flowers to the gig. Most importantly, he’s able to imitate Morrissey’s timbre. Like the music of David Bowie, much of The Smiths music is tied to the Morrissey’s voice, which has been alternately described as an “aggressively vegetarian tenor” and evoking “a sentiment of utter disinterest in modernity.”

Panic

The group plays a blend of music by The Smiths and songs from Morrissey’s solo career. A typical set might include songs like Bigmouth Strikes Again, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out, Girlfriend in a Coma, A Rush and A Push and the Land Is Ours, Spent the Day In Bed, First of the Gang to Die, and Suedehead.

The sad truth of the matter is that the world will never see The Smiths in concert again. At least, it seems about as likely as a Pink Floyd reunion. Fortunately, we have folks like Venable and the rest of the members of Panic who have made it their mission to get the rest of us crazy fans as close as possible to the real thing.