Songs from the Xenozoic Age

Christensen/Schultz

A Rock and Roll concept album based on Mark Schultz' popular comic book series' Xenozoic Tales and Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. John "Chris" Christensen has infused the CD with the spirits of Link Wray, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, and Professor Longhair.

John "Chris" Christensen Chris has a career in music that reaches back to the mid 1960’s with the group Opus 1 that recorded the garage band cult classic “Back Seat ‘38 Dodge” for Mustang Records. At Mustang Chris worked for Richie Valens discoverer Bob Keane and with future recording star Barry White. In the 70’s Chris recorded for John Fahey’s Takoma Records with psychedelic prog-rocksters Laser Pace, releasing the unusual and ground-breaking album “Granfalloon.” In the 80’s he was the leader of avant-pop band Hot Food To Go! while simultaneously carving out a niche with recordings featured on the Dr. Demento show. In recent years he has scored the films: A Matter of Principal, Real Time; Siege at Lucas Street Market, Caveman-VT Hamlin and Alley Oop, and Mike Hammers’ Mickey Spillaine . A very large dose of his Film Noir music can be found on Troma Video's DVD box set, "Max Allan Collins' Black Box."

Mark Schultz Mark is an artist and writer of the highest order. Mark has been awarded five Harveys, two Eisners, and an Inkpot. His work on the Xenozoic Tales books, which he created, is legendary among fans of comics. In recent years, Mark has branched out, co-creating and co-writing SubHuman for Dark Horse Comics, writing the syndicated Prince Valiant adventure strip, scripting Superman, Man of Steel, for DC Comics. and writing a novel based on The Flash. He continues to write and draw, producing scripts and cover art for various other comics projects, including Star Wars, Aliens, and Predator.

Songs from the Xenozoic Age Based on the popular comic books "Xenozoic Tales" and "Cadillacs and Dinosaurs," "Songs from the Xenozoic Age" is the work of composer, musician, producer John “Chris” Christensen and Harvey/Ink Pot/Eisner award winning artist and writer Mark Schultz. The packaging by Bob Chapman and Mark Schultz, with artwork by Mr. Schultz, is absolutely superb! Anyone who buys modern comics collectibles knows about Graphitti Designs’ complete commitment to quality. The production on this disk sits comfortably with their best work.

Lyrically and musically this CD is a complete concept album, with words and music themed to the Xenozoic Tales comic books. Even so, Mark and Chris were careful to structure the songs so like the music of say, "Sgt. Pepper," the songs would stand on their own when removed from the context of the books and the album. Stylistically it’s a rock and roll record.

When Chris first approached Mark about the project, Mark asked Chris what type of music the books suggested to him. Chris replied that he envisioned a record that would "incorporate the spirit and essence of such influences as Little Richard, Link Wray, Eddie Cochran and New Orleans rock and roll; Professor Longhair, Benny Spellman, and Earl Palmer. It would not be a "Sha-Na-Na" nostalgic retread. The recording would contain that spirit, that essence, done today, as if those guys had been progressing for the last 30 or so years."

"Songs from the Xenozoic Age" contains guest appearances by all the (other) members of Seduction of the Innocent, Bill Mumy, Miguel Ferrer, Max Allan Collins, and Steve Leialoha. The CD opens with a dramatic reading, "Liturgy," performed by Miguel Ferrer. Other artists contributing their talents include; Bob Ernest (Hot Food To Go!), Don Wittsten (Lucille’s Night Out), Tom Habenstreit (The Jenerators), Robert Haimer a.k.a. Artie Barnes (Barnes and Barnes), Scott Rosner (Joe Houston, Midnight Flyer and others) and Kathy Bee (The Nashville Network).

Praise for "Songs from the Xenozoic Age": The Fort Worth Star-Telegram gave the CD three out of four stars and said, "This extraordinary CD could find a wider following among fans of such supercharged blues-rock acts as Anson and the Rockets, the Blasters and Omar and the Howlers."

Music Connection Magazine is quoted as saying: "The comic book series meshes crime comics of the fifties with prehistoric protagonists; dinosaur noir, if you will. The music is rooted in a time and place between these two extremes, though it would find itself most comfortably in Detroit circa 1972."

The Long Beach Press Telegram: "The result (of the collaboration) is a strong, expertly produced (and even more expertly packaged, with a sharp Caddie-saur cover by Schultz) CD that would appeal to fans of ‘70s-era rock ’n’ roll, with its influences ranging from ZZ Top to Santanaesque Latin jazz and Funk."

Peter David’s "But I Digress…" in Comics Buyer’s Guide: "What it (Songs from the Xenozoic Age) does have is a series of nifty cuts featuring Schultz’s lyrics that cleverly evoke prehistoric imagery in a contemporary sensibility – sort of Bedrock and roll. This is combined with Christensen’s sturdy, confident beats that will generally have you tapping your toes throughout. (Geez, I’m starting to sound like Dick Clark. It’s got a good beat and you can dance to it! I give it a 93!)."

Mark Schultz Speaks about the collaboration It was a banner day in August of ‘90 when I first met Chris Christensen. It was on my first pilgrimage to that Mecca of the comic book world, the San Diego Comic Convention, during a party honoring the creator of the Spirit, Mr. Will Eisner, that Chris first approached with this notion of creating a CD’s worth of "music to accompany Xenozoic Tales." Having already been pummeled throughout that con by myriad scattershot proposals for exploiting my Xenozoic kingdom, most of dubious merit, I must admit that my first reaction to Chris’ idea was one of skepticism. But doggone if he didn’t go on ahead and say all the right things and quickly win me over.

Simply enough, that was because we were on the same wavelength. The music he proposed as Xenozoic-appropriate eerily clarified and amplified what had already been vaguely circling around my own brain stem. Here, indeed, was a New Orleans-style soul brother and a solid Link Wray to musical manifestation. Here was the guy who could make real the foggy notions in my untrained, undisciplined skull.

You see, musically speaking, I fall into the category of "I don’t know why I like it, I just do", whereas Chris is the ultimate musical insider, able to dissect any song, any form, and tell you just why it works or doesn’t. Without destroying it’s soul. So, lucky me, after three years of innumerable phone calls and musical discussions and basic education and frantic jabs in the dark at lyric writing on my part, and much patience and supervision and generosity and countless hours composing and performing and recording on Chris’ part-- after three years-- we had an album of songs I really liked.

I think the CD that Chris and I made is unique. In fact, I know it is. And half a decade later, it seems those songs have weathered very well.

A few links of interest about Opus 1, Laser Pace, and Time of Your Life:

http://www.garagehangover.com/

http://www.ilxor.com/ILX/ThreadSelectedControllerServlet?boardid=41&threadid=60117

http://rockindownthehighway.blogspot.com/2007/09/rockin-look-back-at-car-song-based-upon.html

http://home.unet.nl/kesteloo/opus1.html

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The Grith (Orchestral Bootleg)

Christensen/Schultz

The primal, subterranean natterings of unseen creatures swell to an orchestral rock and roll chorus of fevered exultation.

Take the richly imaginative film scores of Bernard Herrmann and Miklos Rosza,  and refract them through the orchestral rock and roll of Procol Harum and the carnival spirit of the Doors—and you get some idea of  what The Grith delivers.             John "Chris" Christensen, of that ‘90s one-hit-wonder Christensen/Schultz, has unearthed a dark treasure that didn’t quite make the cut for the original Songs From the Xenozoic Age CD. Polished and remastered, The Grith’s film score vibe may have kept it at odds to the rest of the Xenozoic Age songs, but it stands on is own as a highly evocative soundscape, rich in wonder and mystery.             Perfect enjoyed on its own, or as aural accompaniment to the Xenozoic stories that inspired it, The Grith is an otherworldly mind bender.

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Modern Blues

John "Chris" Christensen

Elements of folk-rock, rock & roll, psychedelia, blues, and surf music collide in this musical stew that manages to be both retro and progressive! New music by John “Chris” Christensen of Opus 1, Time Of Your Life, Laser Pace, and Christensen/Schultz!

Modern Blues is a feeling from the past with a look to the future, voiced in the present.

Rock & roll is my passion, my love; a fire that never goes out. It’s always there to lift me up or kick my ass whenever necessary. If I pick up a guitar, sit at the drums or the piano, or play a little sax - regardless of what style I may try to play, it’s always going to come out as rock & roll.

The recording of Modern Blues contains hints and nods to my participation in other bands: the surf-tinged psychedelia of Opus 1 and Back Seat ‘38 Dodge, the electronic synth-wash of Laser Pace, the retro-rock of Christensen/Schultz’ Songs from the Xenozoic Age and the garage-fueled sounds of Time of Your Life. Drawing on those influences wasn’t because of any master plan, but merely a part of my DNA; like rock & roll, they’re just going to come out.

I’d like to thank my two collaborators on Modern Blues lyricists Mark Schultz and Gene Dorney. Thanks for putting up with me and bringing my concept to life.

John “Chris” Christensen. June 28, 2011

Modern Blues

A long time, not long ago I remember, walking the walk Bit my tongue, and held my own Don’t hold much with chatterbox talk

Those times are gone it seems And now actions don’t carry no weight People brag on what they pretend Chest-thumping, name-dropping in your face

Modern blues Everybody talking like they’re paying their dues Everyone too scared of what they might lose Everyone too busy talking modern blues

Got the don’t tell anyone, no preach, no beg blues Situation ethical, keeping it vague - modern blues

What I’m doing now please don’t inquire Never ask a compulsive liar What were you doing at the start of all this? Once long ago you were hard to resist

The tide went out and never came back Making this up and that’s a fact I got this weakness and it’s getting stronger I got a secret I can’t keep any longer

Modern blues Everybody talking like they’re paying their dues Everyone too scared of what they might lose Everyone too busy talking modern blues

Got the don’t tell anyone, no preach, no beg blues Situation ethical, keeping it vague - modern blues

It’s a private affair and the publics invited Got it together, my attention’s divided I want to do everything over and better I loved a girl once, now I’m sorry I met her

But I will not give in I won’t flow with the times Well, Gary Cooper, he got it right He kept his peace, respected thine

Modern blues Everybody talking like they’re paying their dues Everyone too scared of what they might lose Everyone too busy talking modern blues

Lyrics by John W.G. Christensen, Mark Schultz, and Gene Dorney. Music by John “Chris” Christensen.

Published by John Christensen Music ASCAP 2011.

Vocals and all instruments by John “Chris” Christensen. Recorded at Mad Labs Studio in Lakewood, Ca. Mastered by Ronan Chris Murphy at Veneto West.

Special thanks: Margie and Laura Christensen, Tyler Feeney, Mark Perry, Tom Lawson, Ally, Emily Kuleza, Mike Dugo, Bob Ernest, Don Wittsten, Bryan Thomas, “Crazy Joey” Migeed, Domenic Priore, Damien Smith, Susanne Stiward, Mike Markesich, Holly Elisha Roberts, the constant inspiration of Michael Ely and Spider Taylor, Stephen J. McParland, and to my good friends in Messina, Italy - Maria Aiello (Mamya Cavegirl) and The Out Key Hole; Tiziano Giunta, Carmelo Gazzè, Stefano Restivo, and Giuseppe Mangano.

Some relevant selected credits:

You Make Me Feel So Good/Ode To A Bad Dream Time Of Your Life 45 rpm Ionic Records 1965

Back Seat '38 Dodge/In My Mind Opus 1 45 rpm Mustang Records 1966

Granfalloon by Laser Pace LP Takoma Records 1974

Fries by Hot Food To Go! EP Erika Records 1983

Songs From The Xenozoic Age Christensen/Schultz CD Graphitti Designs 1994

Granfalloon by Laser Pace CD Decker Productions 2008

Where The Action Is Los Angeles Nuggets 1965 to 1968 (features Opus 1's "Back Seat '38 Dodge") Rhino Records/Ace UK 2009

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Adrenaline Drum

Hot Food To Go!

KROQ of the 80's style Techno-pop, layered with Synths, Simmons Drums, Great Bass Lines, Hot Sax and Guitar. Features the androgynous vocals of Laura Pickle and the unique production of John "Chris" Christensen

The Middle Years: In 1981-83 things were looking good for Long Beach “Avant-Punk/Pop” group Hot Food To Go! KROQ’s Raechel Donahue, nationally syndicated legend Dr. Demento, and Jimmy Christopher at KNAC, were all beginning to champion the band. Attendance at gigs was up, good venues were actually calling the band to play, and they were filmed for a new TV show. At that point HFTG had two indie releases under their belt; the infamous “Fries” shaped picture disc, and a cut on Mystic Records’ “The Sound of Hollywood Girls.” They had done a Dr. Demento concert with Weird Al Yankovic, and a major label was expressing interest in the group. With all of that going on, the unthinkable happened; Ruth Less left the band just as things were about to jump to the next level!

Back To The Beginning: The band originally started in 1979 because John “Chris” Christensen had mentioned to Michael Ely (Hey Taxi and Red Wedding), that he was looking for a lyricist; Michael suggested Laura Pickle. To Chris the chemistry was immediate. Songs were written easily and quickly, and then the duo decided to demo the tunes. Chris turned to local pros and lifelong friends, bassist Don Wittsten, and drummer Bob Ernest to complete the rhythm section. After a few rehearsals, demo recordings were started, and it seemed to be a very good fit. Noises were being made about actually doing some gigs, and it was felt by all the participants that some keyboards would add atmosphere and texture. Auditions were held, but no one really clicked. Out of the blue, Chris remembered a concert he had done in the 60’s with The Town Criers, opening for Gary Lewis and The Playboys. There had been this remarkable sound coming from the accordionist in The Playboys. Chris thought that might be really cool, and something radically different for the time. Bob Ernest said he knew someone perfect for the gig, and suggested Ruth (Nix) Less. Again, the chemistry was immediate, and the sound was just enough off of the ‘acceptable’ radar that the band loved it. During a rehearsal Chris suggested the name “Food To Go,” a phrase he had seen on buildings everywhere, to which Don responded “Hot.” So, “Hot Food To Go!” it was. This HFTG (mach I) lineup only played one or two gigs. Just as the basic tracks were being completed, Laura left to become the singer with a Journey-style, Guitar-Hero rock band.

What To Do?: Left with what they felt were some really great songs, HFTG (mach II) decided to move forward, finishing the demos with Chris, Don, and eventually Ruth, taking over the lead vocal chores. At this point the sound really began to evolve. The guitar got more distorted, the tempos got faster, the time signatures got weirder, the subject matter a little more twisted, and a stage show began to develop using props (including E.T. heads and plastic lawn mowers), sound effects, tape loops, percussion of all types, and the addition of an exotic dancer named Karen More. The music got a whole lot tighter and stranger as the band began to flex their musical muscles and stretch out. Just as it was getting good, the aforementioned departure of Ruth Less took place!

The Return Of Laura Pickle: Intrigued by the promos she had heard for HFTG on the Raechel Donahue Show on KROQ, Laura expresses interest in “returning” to HFTG. Part of the “return” package would be the inclusion of her friend, multi-instrumentalist Debbie Roemhildt. A few rehearsals take place, and again the chemistry is good. New tunes are written. This time the direction is completely different. Chris decides to put the guitar in the back seat, opts to use synths and keys, and pledges that they will write an album full of hit songs. Around this same time he starts working at Rocshire Record’s Recording Studio. A side benefit of this job was that he can use the studio down time for his own projects. Some songs are built up completely in the studio. There are many late nights, sleeping on the studio floor, only to begin working again early in the morning. The “Adrenaline Drum” CD begins to take shape. At this point things in the band are beginning to get a little tense; there are personal problems that begin to interfere with the musical dynamics. Certain members are becoming uncooperative. The ‘pro’ side of the band is really unhappy with the attitude of the ‘talented amateurs’ live performance delivery. While HFTG (mach III) is great with ‘direction’ in the studio, “live” is now interesting, but uneven. As the bad vibes come to a head, Rocshire Studios is sold and Chris has only 24 hours to mix the entire Adrenaline Drum album.

Enter The Benefactor: Colin Gillis is a talented stand-up guy. He likes the mixes and sets out to get HFTG a record deal. Chris and Colin make the rounds and get the usual music biz crap: that is, the only thing any one knows how to do is follow what’s already been done; they say, “Put burning guitar all over the album” - “Change that name!” - “The image is all wrong” - “What you should do is...” etc, etc, etc, - all this instead of actually hearing what’s there! Colin decides that they are all full of s@#t and decides to put up the money for an EP himself, using three of the songs produced for “Adrenaline Drum.” Then, records get pressed, promotional performances are set up, and Debbie quits/is fired/leaves the band. Scott Rosner becomes the new band member, and as the new line up solidifies, Laura Pickle leaves the band (again) just as the record is released. So, without the group that ‘made the record’ being able to follow through on the promotion, the record dies, and then HFTG sadly, ceases to exist.

The Funny Thing: People are still interested in the music. Many people have expressed interest in all phases of the band’s repertoire over the years, and because of it “Adrenaline Drum” is seeing it’s first complete release 23 years after the 24 hour marathon mixing session that finalized it.

The Future: There are two to three more releases planned of Hot Food To Go’s recordings. Let’s hope it’s not another 23 years before we all finally get to hear all the rest of the output of this amazing little band’s juggernaut.

About The “Adrenaline Drum” Album: People who are familiar with the earlier work of Hot Food To Go! from the Dr. Demento Show, the Fries EP, or the quirkier stuff from “Worse Than Slime” will be amazed that such a radio-friendly, atmospheric, beat-driven collection could come from essentially the same group of musicians. A conscious decision was made by the members of the group to create a new palette and use different colors and brushes to fashion a new sound.

Even so, the quirkiness still pops up here and there.

Adrenaline Drum track synopsis:

“Streetcar Named Desire” benefited greatly from the input of the late Curt Boettcher. Moving along with a great driving bass part by Don Wittsten, the conflict between between the lyrical content of “I’ve acquired a taste for bittersweet love - the kind that’s done but never spoken of” and shouts of “Romance!” in the chorus add to the depth of the deceptively simple dance-groove. Most people are surprised and amazed when they find out that the vocalist is a woman. A perfect album opener.

“Pretty Little Boy” has the subject matter of sexual tension between an older women and young man. It opens with an almost ‘western movie’ string theme - and is accompanied with a solid back beat of six-foot-thick handclaps, it has a surprisingly pretty chord progression and dancing groove considering the subject matter. Again, the androgynous lead vocal gives the whole piece a twist.

“Powder Blue” is propelled by industrial percussion supplied by the found objects of drummer Bob Ernest. It has a middle-eastern sounding opening theme, a jazz-tinged chord progression, smoky vocals by Pickle, and a completely ‘deconstructed’ guitar solo. A very forward-looking composition.

“Present State of Affairs” is driven along with a rhythm-melodics Simmons Drums figure, growling bass by Wittsten, and latin percussion supplied by drummer Bob Ernest and guest percussionist Stephen Taylor Hodges. The screaming lead guitar by Christensen has a wonderful, creamy, overdriven sound.

There are a couple of nods to Raggae and Island Music that really have their own character and flavor in “Joey” and “Almost Home (I Do, I Do).” The latter tune features the trombone talents of Debbie Roemhildt - this on an instrument she had never played before and only picked up the day of the recording; she plays it with surprising authority. "Joey" features great sax work by Debbie Roemhildt, more latin percussion by Stephen Taylor Hodges and Bob Ernest, and multi-keyboard work from Christensen.

“Crashing Drums” has it’s ‘nightmare music’ psychedelic middle section, fueled by the clocks’ tick-tock percussion, and an oddly angular guitar part. It's the saga of a cheating woman and the man that’s losing his grip!

“Never Come To Blows” is a brooding mood-piece, opening with church bells, and punctuated by a sensually atmospheric sax section and tremoloed guitar part. Fretless bass by Don Wittsten, and sultry vocals by Laura Pickle add to the atmosphere.

“In The Crystal” is the pop-iest tune on the album. Featuring finger-snapping rhythms, catchy synth melodies by Christensen, and another cool bass part. Highlights are the guitar, supplied by Amazing Rhythm Aces’ Barry “Byrd” Burton, and the voice of The Oracle in the coda.

“Adrenaline Drum (It’s What Drives You)” contains some more of that great 'adrenalized' Simmons Drum sound by Bob Ernest, another strong set of lyrics and dynamic vocal delivery from Pickle, and possibly the best sax solo by Debbie Roemhildt on the album. There is also interesting guitar work, PPG Wave, and production from Christensen. A popping bass break by Don Wittsten closes the record.

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I Get Weird - Single

John W. Christensen

Quirky, off-kilter, novelty rock song. This slightly bizarre recording has shown up many times in the top ten on Dr. Demento's nationally syndicated radio show since it's original release on vinyl in 1982. It has been unavailable since 1989.

"I Get Weird" wasn't recorded; It escaped!   The story begins: One day in 1982 I happened to spy an entry form for “The Great Novelty Song Contest” on the bulletin board of the Long Beach City College Music Department. It proclaimed that Dr. Demento and Jem Records were sponsoring a contest; they were offering untold riches and fame to the winners.  My interest was peaked!   Upon reading the examples of acceptable song types I said to myself--with probably a little too much confidence--“I can do that.” I busted my butt to get home and get to work with no real plan.  I turned on the tape recorder and began to improvise and things just fell into place. “The moon was in Dementia that night, and two and a half hours later ”I Get Weird” emerged, fully grown, from the machine.”*   Panic set in after I had finished recording the song. Rereading the entry form I noticed that the official deadline was that day!  I also noticed that there was an entry fee. Yeow! Money was tight. I’m a musician, and most musicians don’t have money; I’m no exception. I played the song for my better half; she was NOT impressed. Discussions and compromises were proposed and agreed upon.  I ran out the door and made it to the post office just in time to get the required postmark.  And then we waited…and nothing happened.   Weeks and weeks went by and life returned to normal. We eventually forgot about the song, the entry fee, and the compromises. Then one day the phone rang and I was told that “I Get Weird” had indeed made the cut and would be included in the upcoming Dr. Demento release “Demento’s Mementos.” Bubbling excitedly, Demento Show regular Sulu told me that she’d heard “I Get Weird” and vigorously lobbied for its inclusion on the LP. She stated that fact with some amount of pride. Thank you Sulu!   Fame (or infamy) followed.  I’ve been told that even though “I Get Weird” was initially way down on the pecking order of finalists, it emerged victorious as far as continued requests by Demento listeners. My better half certainly didn’t balk at the royalty checks!   The convergence of several elements including “The Great Novelty Song Contest” and the association with Dr. Demento made the 80s a great decade for me.  I received radio airplay as a solo artist, with Musical Mike Kieffer in our duo The Utensils, and with my band Hot Food To Go!    “Demento’s Mementos” - John W. Christensen 1982  “Fries” picture disc - Hot Food To Go! 1983  “The Sound of Hollywood Girls” -  Hot Food To Go! 1983  “Dave’s Burgers” maxi-single - Hot Food To Go! 1986  “The Spirit Picture Disk” - John Christensen and friends 1987  “Beastie Wrap” - The Utensils 1987  “Bop” - The Utensils 1988   “Fade To Black” - Blackbyrd McKnight and The Beat Brothers 1989  ”Worse Than Slime No. 1” -  The Utensils, Hot Food To Go!, The Downloaders, The Hodads with “The Poorman,” and John W. Christensen 1989     Because of those two and a half hours improvising in front of the tape recorder I managed to gain some very good friends, fans, collaborators, and career boosters. Very special thanks go to Artie Barnes, Raechel Donahue, and Bill Mumy for giving me a leg up!  To quote Barnes and Barnes with Wild Man Fischer and Rosemary Clooney: “It’s a hard business.”   To the good Dr. and his Dementites I tip my hat. I feel a special appreciation for those days and those fine, fun, people: Dr. D, Barnes and Barnes, Musical Mike, Sulu, Whimsical Will, Bermuda Schwartz, Weird Al, and all of the fellow travelers and residents of Dementia.   Over the years I’ve been asked about two things on the recording:   1)      What made the drum sound? An old patchable Moog Synth, either a Moog 35 or 55 (I no longer remember which).   2)      What’s with the reference to salting snails? Grandma had a bucket of salt in which she dropped snails she found eating her plants; they did indeed “bubble, bubble.”   John “Chris” Christensen May, 2010   “I Get Weird” was previously released on:   “Demento’s Mementos”       Jem Records  PVC 8912 1982 “Worse Than Slime No. 1”   Beat Brothers Records BBRLP 5002 1989  “Worse Than Slime No. 1”   Beat Brothers Records BBRCD 6002 1989    This release: “I Get Weird” (2010 remaster) Worse Than Slime - The Singles - No. 1              Beat Brothers Records BBRDD 8001   * Demento’s Mementos liner notes. “The Fischer King” Wild Man Fischer - Rhino Handmade RHM2 7701 1999   

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Bop

The Utensils

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


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