“Stop the Drums”: Inspiration for Muppet Drummer

It’s true:  John McLaughlin once worked the pop scene.  The guitarist, whose name would become synonymous with 1970s jazz fusion, started out in 1960s London as a session player for the likes of Dionne Warwick & Burt Bacharach (What’s New Pussycat? soundtrack), Andrew Oldham Orchestra (“365 Rolling Stones (One for Every Day of the Year)” – 45 only!), Tony Meehan Combo (“Song of Mexico“), David Bowie (“Karma Man“), and The Hairy Ones (“Get Off My Cloud“), among many others.

McLaughlin would also be part of a 25-member assemblage of “musical stunt men” (as drummer, Bobby Graham, would quip*) who would join forces on February 23, 1965 at Pye Recording Studio for a classic album – British Percussion – that was never released on this side of the Atlantic.  This “all-star” band – who had previously backed such top French artists as Eddy Mitchell, Françoise Hardy & Sylvie Vartan – would be assembled at the behest of bandleader, Bobby Graham, with the blessing of label magnate, Eddie Barclay (previously featured in a Zero to 180 piece about the Parisian “guitar army,” Barclay Stars).

As Colin Harper writes in issue #38 of fab UK music magazine, Shindig!:

British Percussion was Eddie Barclay’s semi-blank cheque to Bobby Graham to pull some people together and sell a slice of Swinging London to the French.  Sales-wise, it might have sunk like a stone; musically, especially as a sonic snapshot of an era, it’s a delight from start to finish.  In a way, it is exactly how one imagines, through the prism of posthumous pastiches like the Austin Powers soundtracks, Swinging London sounded.

Bobby Graham and Jimmy Page cowrote three tracks, including the blistering opener, ‘Stop the Drums’ – a souped-up riff from the school of Link Wray bookending a drum battle between Andy White and Ronnie Verrell.  White was the man who had already earned his footnote in history as the session man who replaced Ringo on The Beatles’ first single; Verrell, drummer with the Stan Kenton Orchestra, would earn his in the ’70s as the man who was Animal in The Muppets.  And that’s exactly what ‘Stop the Drums‘ sounds like”:

 According to Drummer World:

“Animal is performed and voiced by Frank Oz while his drumming is performed by Ronnie Verrell.   Fans of The Who’s drummer Keith Moon claim that the character of Animal was based on Moon, who was known for his wild antics.  However, there is no evidence in the original sketches for the character that suggest that he was based on anybody in particular.  Three of the other members of the Electric Mayhem were created by Muppet designer Michael K. Frith, and the sketches reproduced in the book Of Muppets and Men show that they were based on famous musicians.  Dr. Teeth is a cross between Dr. John and Elton John; Sgt. Floyd Pepper is based on the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album, and the original concept for Janice was a skinny, long-haired male character based on Mick Jagger.

“Animal, on the other hand, was designed by Jim Henson, and the rough sketch (also seen in Of Muppets and Men) doesn’t appear to be related to any real musician.”

     Ronnie Verrell, real-life inspiration for   …  Muppet drummer, Animal

Ronnie VerrellAnimal

Count this list of musicians who played on British Percussion, and you will reach 25:

Alan Weighel – Bass Guitar
Jimmy Page – Solo Guitar
Johnnie MacCloughlin – Rhythm Guitar
Kenny Salomon – Organ
Arthur Greenslade – Piano
Ronnie Verrell – Drums
Andy White – Drums
Eric Allan – Percussion
Barry Morgan – Percussion
Arthur Watts – Bass
Jim Buck Sr. – Coronet
Jim Buck Jr. – Coronet
Stan Roderick – Trumpet
Ray Davis – Trumpet
Albert Hall – Trumpet
Bert Ezzard – Trumpet
Johnnie Edwards – Tenor Trumpet
Keith Christie – Tenor Trumpet
Gib Wallace – Tenor Trumpet
Jack Thurwell – Bass Trombone
Keith Bird – Sax
Roy Willox – Sax
Rex Morris – Sax
Bill Skeets – Sax
Don Honeywell – Sax

1993 would see the UK release of a single by Animal as a solo artist that would reach #39!

Animal 45

More information about the musicians in this top-tier ensemble here at Discogs.

Bobby Graham:  UK’s All-Time Timekeeper

*Kieron Tyler writes a great tribute to “the UK’s most prolific session drummer” on Bobby Graham’s own website that quotes from “Session Man” by Ray Davies, released by The Kinks in 1966 and rather appropos given that Graham did the actual drumming on the hits, “You Really Got Me” and “All Day and All of the Night”:

“A Million Sessions That Go Unseen,
He’s A Session Man,
Playing A Different Studio Everyday,
He Reads The Dots And Plays Each Line”

“Countryside”: Jim Henson’s Word Jazz

Would love to know how Jim Henson, so early in his career, was able to get Frank Sinatra to conduct the orchestra backing him on his first single, a playful word jazz piece entitled, “The Countryside:

Jim Henson’s first (and only) 45 – released January, 1960

“Tick-Tock-Sick”, the B-Side, would seem to presage Henson’s Academy Award-nominated experimental short film 5 years later, Time Piece, a surreal and bizarre  stream-of-consciousness meditation on what just might be the fourth dimension:

I was rather taken by Henson’s Time Piece when I first viewed it several years ago at the Smithsonian and was surprised to find how “bold” and “fresh” (including those parts that might not be wholly suitable for young children) this film still is.  At one time I was able to find the entire work online, but it would appear that only a small excerpt is what folks can view freely on YouTube.  Says the Museum of the Moving Image:

“In 1965, Jim Henson made Time Piece, an experimental nine-minute short film that tells what he called ‘the story of Everyman, frustrated by the typical tasks of a typical day.’  The film opens with a man—played by Henson—in a hospital bed.  A doctor takes his pulse.  The pulse turns into a drumbeat, which becomes the percussive soundtrack for the film, in a syncopated score created by Don Sebesky.  Through a series of jump cuts, we follow the man as he walks through city streets, then suburban streets, and then the jungle.  Playfully surreal sequences are bridged by short passages of stop-motion animation.  As Henson described his filmmaking goals:  ‘In Time Piece I was playing with a kind of flow of consciousness form of editing, where the image took you to another image, and there was no logic to it but your mind put it together.’  While the film retains his trademark sense of humor, it is also a bold example of nonlinear editing.

Time Piece played for a year at the Paris Theatre in Manhattan, along with the French art-house hit A Man and a Woman.  Henson’s film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film.  It remains fresh today as both a time capsule of 1960s experimental filmmaking, and as a brilliantly conceived and edited example of Henson’s creativity.”

Zero to 180:  Approaching the Two-Year Mark

Nearly one year ago Zero to 180 celebrated its one-year anniversary with a special “Howard Dean” remix of a Muppet-related release, “Mad” by Little Jerry & the Monotones.  Click here to link to this exclusive muppet remix that is accompanied by a brief essay – “Zero to 180:  Not Yet Potty Trained” – that humorously recounts the tragic math surrounding the blog’s original date of launch:  12/12/12.

“Mad”: Little Jerry & the Monotones Are Steamed

Anger doesn’t get any more adorable than when expressed by those muppet rockers,  Little Jerry & the Monotones, on “Mad,” the standout track from 1971’s Sesame Street 2: Original Cast Record LP — be sure to listen for the surprise “Howard Dean scream” that can only be found on this mix, a Zero-to-180 exclusive:

Mad (2004 Remix) – Little Jerry & the Monotones

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Mad” by Little Jerry & the Monotones.]

Song written by Princeton University’s own, Jeffrey Moss (class of 1963)

Sesame Street 2 LP

Thanks to Muppet Wiki for the back story:

“The members of the band were Little Jerry as the frontman, backed by Big Jeffy along with Lavender and Pumpkin Anything Muppets, usually known as Chrissy and Rockin’ Richard.  All members of the band are named after the people who served as their original (and primary) voices:  Little Jerry is named after Jerry Nelson, Jeff Moss supplied the voice for Big Jeffy, Rockin’ Richard’s by Richard Hunt, and Christopher Cerf was Chrissy. The individual members introduced themselves by name in the song “Four,” while the group name first appeared on a 1971 record.  On occasions, the names and voices for the back-ups, especially the latter two, were swapped.   In a late 1980’s appearance, the group consisted of Little Jerry, Big Jeffy, and another Fat Blue Anything Muppet performed by Richard Hunt.  At this point, the group’s previous hippie attire were replaced by more contemporary, yet still flashy clothes. The trio can also be spotted in a framed photo on Jackman Wolf’s desk in the 1990 video release, Rock & Roll.”

Click here to check out a “live” performance on TV’s Sesame Street.

Zero to 180 – Not Yet Potty Trained

With today’s post, Zero to 180 turns one!  Zero to 180 would like to thank WordPress for being such a pal.  WordPress, I quickly learned, time stamps each blog piece 4 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.  But what they don’t tell you is that the first time you flip the switch on a new WordPress blog, the time stamp of your first blog piece is two days prior to the current day.  Normally, that wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  However, the math nerd in me was very excited about the prospect of starting my blog on December 12, 2012 — 12/12/12.  So imagine my bitter disappointment, as I gathered up the courage to click “publish” on my first piece, only to look on helplessly as WordPress lied to the entire world that my blog kicked off on December 10.  It’s not true – and it’s important you believe me.