Free-wheeling craziness from “I Get Weird” creator John “Chris” Christensen and hand music virtuoso “Musical Mike” Kieffer of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Grammy-winning “Eat It.”
￼The Utensils were the creation of Mike Kieffer and me, John "Chris" Christensen, a.k.a. John W Christensen. I met Mike during a heady period when I was one of the winners of the Dr. Demento Great Novelty Songwriters Contest in the early 80s. Mike was a mainstay of the Dr. Demento Radio Show and a participant in some of the music of "Weird Al" Yankovic. We (Chris and Mike) have always shared a love of music that is unusual and different and not too well known. Although The Utensils have not recorded in many years the bond of friendship is as tight as ever, and tapes are still traded and music discussed to the dismay of whoever is paying the cell phone bills. Someday given the right creative impulse "Weird and Musical" (our original name before it was pointed out to me that confusion with the aforementioned Yankovic person would ensue) will agree on a project and record again. Until the re-release of selected tracks from the "Worse Than Slime" CD and the largely forgotten "Beastie Wrap" this will be the only opportunity to hear the interesting ‘crinkle’ that was The Utensils.
Having grown up in the 50s and 60s in California I remember a time when "drum records" were a staple of local radio. Artists like Sandy Nelson, Preston Epps, Cozy Cole, The Hollywood Persuaders, and the most famous of all, the Surfaris with "Wipe Out," were heard on the radio all the time. Remember Let There Be Drums, Bongo Rock, or Topsy? Probably not. They never get played on the oldies stations today because the stations play the same 100 records over and over! You know, "there were only 100 good records in the 50s and 60s and everything else was crap." Anyway, enough bitching! Those drum records all shared a common motif; play the melody for a few bars, give the drummer some, modulate the melody for a few bars, give the drummer some, play the melody some more, give the drummer a bunch more, melodic tag, coda - OUT! Being first and foremost a drummer, I loved those records.
In the early 80s I was working as a synth programmer and second engineer at Rockshire Records recording studio. Rockshire had a state of the art recording studio and synth lab with some of the earliest sampling keyboards; Wave PPGs (with the Wave Term) and Emu-1s. I had made some really rude samples and some pretty twisted stuff on those things, layering and reversing and generally having a great time. Then it hit me; what if I made a drum record with no drums in the drum solos? What if I replaced the bongo groove with Mike’s Hand Music? What if we filled the solos with lots of really outside shit? I laid down a basic track while I excitedly phoned Musical Mike and described the unfolding insanity. It all happened very fast. "Willie and the Hand Jive" took a lot longer, but that’s a tale for another day.
When Mike arrived at the studio later that evening I was on a roll. Tracking was going really well, and after doing the stereo Hand Music vamp, we began to "improvise" the solos. Mike would get one solo and a chorus for The Hands, and the rest of the breaks would be filled Tarzan yells and demolished versions of standards and rock and roll classics. Then we would add Looney Tunes character voices and whatever else we could come up with. Basically any insanity that "timed out" the rhythm. I thought it was wonderful, and it still brings a demented gleam to my eye and a little chuckle whenever I think about it. Mike to this day wishes that the solos had been more structured. Whatever you think, when you hear it you’ll have to admit that there’s never been anything else quite like it.
P.S. The liner notes for the original 45 sleeve were written by our good friend Barry Hansen, a.k.a. Dr. Demento