I’d just like to start this very, very belated follow-up to my piece on Wonderboy’s Napoleon Blown Apart album with a profound and heartfelt apology to the man who sat still for an extremely long time and answered my every question: Robbie Rist. We had a great conversation about his entire career, and I felt like I couldn’t do it justice unless I split it into two parts. The problem, however, was that I kept setting aside the second part of the conversation and intending to transcribe it when I got a free moment. What I forgot was that I never have free moments…and as a testimony to this fact, I am typing this intro while my three-year-old daughter is leaning against my arm, asking, “When are you going to be done, Daddy? Because I want to show you the seashells I got at the beach today.” Clearly, I’m a terrible father.
Okay, wait, she says, “No, you’re not.” So let’s just say I’m a dedicated journalist.
Anyway, I hope everyone who enjoyed the first half of my conversation with Robbie returns to check out this second half, as we discuss various artists he’s worked with during his career in music, and we also finally get around to asking him about his acting…and, yes, that includes Cousin Oliver. So let’s get back to where we left off, having just chatted about Napoleon Blown Apart and starting to ask about some of his other work…
I wanted to run through a couple of other albums that you played on. I hope to do a column about the Barry Holdship Four’s The Jesse Garon Project, because I love that record.
Oh, right on! Yeah, I did some playing on that. He’s an awesome guy. Barry’s an awesome guy. I just wish he didn’t put drum machines on his records. (Laughs) But we’ll talk about that. That’s a whole other thing. I’ve told him many other times, “Let me produce your stuff!” And he does it at home, and he does an awesome job, but…well, look, I listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and I go, “I would’ve fixed that.” Because, you know, I’ve made so much money on my art that I can afford to sit around and make these kind of judgement calls on other people’s art. (Laughs)
I think my favorite song on Jesse Garon is “Twist of Faith.” I first heard that on…I think it was a Poptopia! compilation.
Yeah, it’s a really good song. He’s written a lot of really good songs. “Hang Me Out to Dry” is a really fucking awesome barn-burning song that the BoDeans should’ve bought. The BoDeans should’ve bought that song from him and just had a whole second career.
You’ve worked with Cockeyed Ghost quite a bit.
I played with Cockeyed Ghost for awhile, sure. Actually, it’s a crazy thing: Adam (Marsland) is one of those who I kind of sometimes want to punch in the head. (Laughs) We’ve known each other for that long. But I’ll also say that he’s written five or six of my favorite songs ever. It’s pretty amazing. He has a song called “Ginna Ling” that’s one of the best things I’ve ever heard. But going back to that, when I was playing with them, there’s a song on…I think it’s on Ludlow 6:18, and it’s called “Imagine You’re Dead.” (Writer’s note: actually, it’s on The Scapegoat Factory.) It’s a really cool, crazy pop song. “Asian Hero Worship” is another really great song. I mean, we toured for awhile, but it was sort of, like, once we got off the road… (Hesitates) I think it’s because I can’t be in a band and not go, “Oh, but I want to do it this way!” Adam has his ideas about how it’s supposed to be, and we were diametrically opposed on occasion, so once we got off the road, he said, “Yeah, I think I’m gonna go with Robert Ramos (on bass). And I just went, “Yeah, okay.” (Laughs) But we had an awesome time touring. All of the stuff you can imagine. We almost died! We were in a snowstorm outside of Flagstaff, and the car spins off the road, and the drummer’s asleep in the front seat. Adam goes, “Uh-oh, here we go,” and I’m thinking, “Well, this will be interesting. This’ll make for an interesting end of the story, won’t it?” But we were fine. And it was amazing. I think we played some amazing shows as a trio. Do you know James Hazley?
I know the name.
He was the drummer for Cockeyed Ghost for a very long time. He’s one of the best guys that’s ever played the game. I can’t believe that there are people out there that don’t know his name and who aren’t throwing lots of cash at him to play with them, because there’s nothing the dude can’t do. He’s a great singer, he’s a great songwriter, he plays multiple instruments, and he’s one of the best drummers that I’ve ever crossed paths with. Some of the shows that we played, Adam would go off the stage going, “Um, can you guys tone it down a little bit? I’m having a hard time keeping up with you.” And we’re, like, “That’s right, fucker, you are!” (Laughs)
You played on and…I think you produced the Receiver album, too, didn’t you?
I did produce Inspiration Overload, yeah. I had just…wait, when did the Receiver album come out? 2001?
That’s the date on it.
Yeah, so in 1999, there was a voiceover strike, and I was looking around for work to do. And I used to have an 8-track studio in my garage when I was a kid, and I’ve sort of always been around studios, but I never got any good at it. So I got all this gear, I got a couple of ADATs at the time, which was the big technology, and I had lined myself into a job working for a website as a recording engineer. Now, basically, the guy said, “Do you know how to do this, this, and this?” And I said, “No, but I learn fast.” And I saw the look on his face as he told me I could have this job, and it really was, like, “Oh, really. You learn fast. All right, well, you’ve got the job, and let’s see what happens next!” And, basically, I was strapped to a very fast-moving vehicle that I was completely out of control of. But because of him, I’d gotten some gear and was trying to become a recording engineer at home, so I told Ken (West), “If you want to do some songs…” I was going out with Lisa (Mychols) from the Masticators at the time, we were living together, and we started recording stuff just in the house, and then I moved my studio out to with Mike Simmons from Sparkle*Jets (UK), and we finished it up there. Receiver kind of helped me become a recording engineer. You can see all of us sort of going “What the hell are we doing?” during the course of it. But, you know, I just listened to it again about a week ago, and there were things that used to disappoint me about how some of the mixes came out, but as I listen to it now, I go, “You know, how else would it have been done? That’s sort of what the band sounded like!” I mean, Kerry Chicoine…there’s some amazing bass playing on that thing. And Bill from the Andersons played some awesome guitar on it. He was, like, their secret weapon.
Do you have a favorite song from the album?
Well, “Inspiration Overload.” I love that song. And “Erika Kane” is really great. Oh, and “Accidents.” That’s a crazy piece of material! But, yeah, that’s totally…they weren’t together long enough to be a completely crushing live act, but the thing is, I think that record kind of sounds like what they were. It’s a little rough around the edges, and there’s some pitches that go a little north and south, but overall the energy of the thing is really good. It sounds like five people or however many having the time of their lives.
You mentioned Lisa a few minutes ago. When it comes to the Masticators album (Masticate!), are you able to listen to it and separate the music from your relationship?
Yeah, I mean, our sort of thing ended badly, and that was kind of a drag because…well, it split up the group, and… (Laughs) …in classic poetic fashion and classic me fashion, the night the band actually split up, we were playing an IPO show at the Galaxy in Anaheim, and somebody from Atlantic or somewhere was there to see us, and they were interested. But it just so happened that the minute we said, “Thank you, good night,” I walked over and said, “Well, nice working with you.” And later on, we found out that there was a possible deal on the table. I mean, nothing may have happened, anyway, but I kind of went, “Oh, that just figures, doesn’t it?” And for a while after that, I was kind of bummed about it, because it was at that time when it felt like anything was possible, and I really felt that, of all of the groups that were around at the time, the Masticators really had a chance to possibly poke their head up a little higher. And we never got that opportunity. Sometimes, I still go, “Goddammit!” But other times, it’s like the end of “The Commitments.” “It was poetry, Brother Rabbitte.” (Laughs)
How did you find your way into the line-up of the Mockers?
I met Tony (Leventhal) and Seth (Gordon) at the Philadelphia Music Conference in maybe 1996, and, boy, were they a promoting machine! (Laughs) I mean, they’re both really driven dudes with huge vocabularies, so I’m watching them at this thing…I’d gone there with Kristi (Wachter), the head of Racer Records…and we’d never done anything like that, and we were, like, “I dunno, where should we go?” And they kind of took us under their wing, basically, and said, “All right, you people, over here!” Shelly Yakus, the engineer, was there, and I played him some Wonderboy stuff, because you get five minutes with an industry professional, and he liked it, so I was, like, “Well, my work here is done!” Meanwhile, I think they’d already worked out a couple of soundtracks deals! They were pretty amazing. And then they came out to L.A. for an IPO, and I played with them. We played one very disastrous show with Walter Clevenger playing lead guitar and me on drums, and we didn’t know the material as well as we would’ve liked to, and yet they still wanted me to play with them!
Was that IPO ’99?
It might’ve been. Yeah, actually, it had to have been, if Walter was in the band.
(Laughs) Actually, I was at that show!
Oh, it was disastrous. Boy, did we suck! But, somehow, they still wanted me to play with them. And eventually Nelson (Bragg), who’s now with Brian Wilson, joined up, and now we’ve been to Spain something like six or seven times. It’s pretty crazy. It’s weird about American pop stuff. Spain loves it! I did a fill-in thing for this Spanish band a couple of months ago, where we opened for the Rubinoos, and people were fucking screaming, “RUBINOOS!” And I’m going, “Really? Oh, that’s interesting. Why?” I mean, I like them, too, don’t get me wrong. I like them a whole lot. But…really? I mean, here, even if they were assassinated in the street, people would shrug and go, “Who?” It blows my mind. But, yeah, we’ve been to Spain a bunch of times, and I guess they’re working on…let’s see, I think the first tour I did with them was in 2002, and Tony brought a film crew to film the whole thing, so it looks like they’re working on a documentary that’s almost done. The working title was “15 Minutes of Spain,” but you may want to talk to them to check on that.
Well, Seth only lives a few minutes away from me, so it’s easy enough to hunt him down…if he’s in the country!
(Per Mr. Gordon, “They’re editing it right now. The director/editor’s last project was a Jay-Z doc, and he’s been working on it for the last 6 months or so. He came down here to do some more footage and interviews, and we all met up in NYC a few months back to do more interviews and wrap up some stuff. I think the ETA is sometime later this year. Then he’s gonna send it out to the film festival circuit. We’re thinking of doing a premiere at the Naro, actually, and maybe tie that in with a Mockers show here in town. I’ll let you know, of course. I think the new title is ‘Mockstar.'”)
One more I wanted to ask you about was John Hoskinson’s album, Pancho Fantastico. That’s another one of those albums that, like Barry Holdship’s, will probably earn its own “Hooks ‘N’ You” column at some point.
Yeah, John is amazingly talented. Actually, it’s funny, ‘cause he and I did time together in Eugene Edwards’ band. That’s where I met him. Although we also kind of knew each other in a roundabout way, because he’s best friends with my old roommate’s lead singer.
Yeah. (Laughs) For years, he’s been friends with this guy Sean Anders, who did that movie “Sex Drive” that was just out. He also had a movie called “Never Been Thawed,” a weird indie movie that he made. So it really is a small world, because John knew Sean, Sean knew Travis, and then John and I were in the same band with Eugene, and then I find out that John is making his own record…and his material is really, really good!
In some ways, he kind of reminds me of Dave Gregory. No, wait, not Dave Gregory. Brian Stevens. Of the Cavedogs. He put out a solo album, and Dave Gregory worked with him on it. That’s how John strikes me. He has that kind of knowledge. Eugene is a really talented guy, but I kept finding myself listening to Hoskinson’s stuff, going, “Dude, you should just have your own band! You just play shows on your own, because you’re an awesome writer who shouldn’t be standing among the chattle!” He just had me play guitar on one or two things, but anytime somebody who’s that good says, “Hey, come play on my thing,” I go, “All right! That’s what I’m talking about! This is what I want to be involved in!” Now if only the Knack would call me about that drum gig…
I wish they would! I mean, I play drums the way I do in no small part because of Bruce Gary. I saw him when I was 14. The Knack hadn’t been signed yet, and there wasn’t a person on the stage that I wasn’t completely blown away by. Their first record…to this day, I can play the first Knack record from end to end on every instrument.
Yeah. And not that it ever happens, but if I was at a party and someone shouted, “Someone play ‘Lucinda,’” I could play it.
If only it would happen. Okay, since I’ve got you on the line, I might as well go ahead and quiz you about a couple of your acting gigs.
And first up…no, I’m not going with the obvious. I’m starting with…“Kidd Video.”
I have to admit, I watched it all the time when it first came on.
Well, it was weird! First off, it was Haim Saban’s first American television show. Haim Saban was the guy who was responsible for bringing the Power Rangers to America. So he comes over from Israel, he’s got this idea for “Kidd Video,” and…he made all of his mistakes on “Kidd Video” about how you spend money. From us, he learned, “Wait a minute, I don’t have to pay anybody anything if I don’t want to!” (Laughs) It was hilarious in the early stages of it to hear him on the phone with NBC, just reaming them! I mean, here’s a guy who’s got a little tiny independent company, and he’s taking on NBC, chest out, just, like, “Come on, fuckers, I dare you!” And I think the show ended up…I think the reason the show went off the air, really, is because it was just too expensive to produce for a Saturday morning show. But the second year…I don’t know what they put in the water cooler in the animation department, but it became this crazy thing that…it was like “Lidsville.” It was this acid-influenced, crazy animation. It became something like “Alice in Wonderland,” and I was in my twenties and watching these second-season episodes, going, “Is this for kids?” It was just a little bit too weird. And I guess that “Kidd Video” was also responsible for what I believe is the worst cover of “Where Did Our Love Go?” that has ever been committed to media. It’s just…oh, God, it’s awful.
You don’t have an MP3 of that, do you? (Laughs)
Actually, the video is over at KVFlipside.org.
Well, I’ll be including that in the piece…
Well, the videos are all up on YouTube, along with a couple of episodes, but it’s weird because…I’ve been lucky in that certain jobs I’ve been involved in, for some reason, still have some kind of life however many years later. So there’s a cult of “Kidd Video” out there, people who really like the show and are still paying attention to it. Yeah, there’s a “Kidd Video” website, and there are two “Kidd Video” MySpace pages, I think. It’s pretty weird about that show that people are still talking about it. And then there’s the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” thing, the “Brady Bunch” thing, even “Iron Eagle.” I did all of these jobs and, years later, people are still talking to me about them.
I’ll have you know that I watched “Big John, Little John” religiously when it was on.
Now, see, that’s another one. There’s a weird little television show, kind of adult for what it was. I mean, it was “Brady Bunch” people who made it. I’ve gotten mail on it, with people saying, “You know, somebody should make a movie out of that.” I mean, it is a Jim Carrey movie just waiting to be made!
I can still remember that, when “The Golden Girls” came on and Herb Edelman showed up as Bea Arthur’s husband, the first thing I thought was, “Hey, it’s the guy from ‘Big John, Little John’!”
(Laughs) Will, I think you were the only person who said that.
I’m pretty sure you’re right. Okay, so, Cousin Oliver: albatross around the neck or not?
It used to be. At one time, I can say that it was. My big concern was, “Is that it?” I mean, the one chance I got for a ride on the cultural icon-hood train, and I was nine years old for it. I had no idea what I was doing the one time that this happened, and I wondered, “Is this going to be it?” And, of course, as it turned out, I did more things as I got older. But the weird thing about entertainment is that all of it is lightning in a bottle. Nobody gave a shit about Hasil Adkins when he came out, but some years later, there’s a cult of Hasil Adkins. And, by the way, you can say that, yes, I did lump myself in the same category of Hasil Adkins. (Laughs) Sinatra, no. Adkins, yes. If you don’t know who I was talking about, he was kind of the proto Mojo Nixon.
You know, when I’m trying to tell someone about Wonderboy or whatever, I always feel guilty when I try to explain why they should know you but eventually just have to sigh and ask, “You remember Cousin Oliver?”
Oh, yeah, but…well, on the resume, that’s the most well-known one. What else are you going to do? To an extent, it kind of overshadows everything else, but how many people get the opportunity for that in their lives, anyway? At least I have something that overshadows everything else, and I’m pretty proud of that. It was a lucky job. I wish it was my role on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” that got all the juice. I’m not unhappy with how “The Brady Bunch” turned out, but “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” is what I call real television. For me, I was lucky enough to be on a show that was as good as “All in the Family” or as good as “Cheers” or “Taxi.” You know what I mean? But that isn’t the one that gets remembered. “The Brady Bunch” was just syndicated and was on 30 times a day.
When “Battlestar Galactica” got remade and the original series was reissued, did you start getting more people remembering you for playing Doctor Zee?
Yeah, there’s a little of that that’s come around again. For the occasional money gig, I’m starting to do these autograph conventions, and people are showing up and asking about that show. Actually, weirder than that, the last time I did one, Bobby Sherman was there, and…in the early ‘70s, I did a low-budget movie with Bobby Sherman and Keenan Wynn (“He Is My Brother”). If you look back at my resume, sometimes I go, “I worked with him? No shit!” Keenan Wynn’s a legend, you know? So Bobby Sherman and I are at this thing together, and he’s at this autograph convention – he works for the LAPD now in sort of a P.R. position – and all of the Bobby Girls from back in the day, who are now in their 50s, were all there, too. So all during the day, every once in awhile, some woman would walk up to me and ask, “Would you autograph my copy of ‘He Is My Brother’?” And I think this movie was released in, like, one market. But here it is over thirty years later, and somebody’s coming up and talking to me about it. And I haven’t heard anything about it since I did it! God bless the internet…I guess. The internet sort of allows for the survival of things that natural selection would’ve taken care of at a certain point.
Is there anything beyond “He Is My Brother” that you get people bringing up that just freaks you out when you do?
Well, so far, nobody’s brought up “Dirty Laundry,” so I’m pretty happy about that. It’s a movie I did with Greg Louganis. And Sonny Bono. And Frankie Valli. That’s a pretty weird one. No one’s brought that one up yet, so I guess it hasn’t come around again yet.
I did an interview in Spain the last time I was there, and apparently in the ‘80s…you know, Spain used to only have three channels or something, and then all of a sudden there were 20 channels, and they had to fill it with content, so they were taking American television shows that maybe didn’t fly over here. And there was a show I did with Dennis Dugan. He ended up being the director of the “Problem Child” movies, “Happy Gilmore,” and other films, but he’s actually one of my favorite comic actors ever, and I got to do this show with him called “Shadow Chasers,” a paranormal comedy show. And this guy brings it up! He says, “Oh, and then you were in this show called ‘Shadow Chasers,’ and…” And I just went, “Hey! No! Whoa! Jesus, what are you doing? How dare you blindside me like that?” (Laughs) “Kidd Video” ran for a really long time in Spain, from what he said. Really? I don’t remember getting any money from that! You know, the first time Haim sent us on a tour of Israel, when we got there, they had “Kidd Video” bedsheets, candy bars, radios, all of this crazy merchandise stuff which, because it was Israel, he didn’t have to pay us for. It was hilarious. He’s one of the great white-collar criminals of our century. (Laughs) But, yeah, sometimes people will bring up these odd things that I did a one-off from. Like, I did a “Knight Rider,” and I’ll get an E-mail from a “Knight Rider” fan who says, “Look what I did to my car!” And I don’t know if you know about this, but there is a sub-cult of “Knight Rider” fan who trick out their cars to look like KITT. I’m, like, “Really? Isn’t there anything else you can do? Do you make that much money? Because I have projects I’d like to get off the ground, so how about you don’t make KITT and you give it to me?”
You’d like to think they can afford it because they won the lottery, but that’s probably not the case.
No, no, no. What, are you kidding me? My guess is that they live in a very small apartment that’s probably a complete disaster…but the car looks great!
And, lastly, let’s bring this back to music: what’s your favorite album that you’ve worked on? Even if it’s a small, unheralded one.
So, what, all of them? (Laughs) They’ve all been pretty small and pretty unheralded! I don’t know, let me think. I’ve worked on a lot, and I’ve worked on a lot of stuff that never came out. I was in The Last for a lot of years, and we never released anything with me on it, but what we did record I’m pretty proud of. I’m proud of all of the Andersons stuff we did. Of all of the little community of power pop guys, the Andersons did a handful of cover tunes for various tribute albums, and I think every tribute that we did was pretty solid. We did one for the McCartney tribute, “Temporary Secretary,” and it sounds completely unlike the original, and yet it’s still the same song. It’s funny, because I love Wonderboy and the Masticators and all of the groups that I’ve played with, but I’d travel across continents to be in The Andersons again.
Well, you know, any band who can write a song called Hey Coelacanth” deserves your respect.
Totally! We wrote a song about science. And they say music isn’t educational! If I can help one kid when he asks “what’s that,” and then he likes dinosaurs, then I’m okay with that. More than our recorded stuff, though, what I really loved about The Andersons was that it was really familial. I mean, I still play in the Steve Barton Band with Derek. Have you heard any of Steve’s stuff yet, by the way?
I just downloaded one of his albums, actually.
Go to his MySpace page. If you can somehow sneak “Cartoon Safe,” the single off the new record (Gallery), into the piece, that would be awesome. It’s on YouTube.
I love Steve, and…well, of course, like all of the projects I involve myself in, it’s complete suicide. (Laughs) But here’s a 50-year-old power pop / punk legend from the ‘80s, and I’m going, “Come on, we can get this guy on the road!” Because he’s better now than he was when he was in his 20s! It’s really crazy. His level of songwriting…I mean, I met him at IPO, and it was just him and an electric guitar, and he’s going through his songs. I walked up to him afterwards, and I’m, like, “First off, nice to meet you, you’re a big hero, but why don’t you have a band?” And he’s , like, “I don’t know. I just don’t have a band.” “Do you want one?” “Yeah, I think I’d like a band. Sure!” So I basically put a band together for him. When I was in my early 20s, I was listening to those Translator records, and I remember listening to Steve’s songs, going, “I’ll never be in a band with anybody this good!” And now I get to be in a band not only with somebody that good but actually with the guy who made me think that!
Yeah, when I first heard “Everywhere That I’m Not,” I listened to it over and over again.
Oh, yeah, it’s an amazing piece of material. There’s “Necessary Spinning,” “Fall Forever,” so much really amazing stuff that those guys did. And, now, our labelmates are Tommy Tutone, so we’re hoping that maybe we can get something together there. I mean, you can get the record at Best Buy – I just found out about that recently – and I’m really happy about that. You talk about being proud? I’m pretty proud of the work I’ve done with Steve. We’re on album three now. I work with people because I like them, not because they can make me any money. I mean, I hope that they do! (Laughs) I go into everything thinking, “This is legendary!” That’s why I involve myself with it. Do you know about Suzy and Los Quatro?
Only that it’s one of your credits.
Yeah, I produced their record, and I’m really proud of that one. And I play with Nice Guy Eddie. And I play with these groups not because I necessarily think they’ll make money, though I’d like for that to happen, but just because I think they’re really, really good. Everyone I work with is someone where, if I didn’t know them and heard what they did, I’d say, “That’s pretty great!” So all of these people I play with, that’s the reason I do it. You walk away from the experience saying, “Hey, I helped make something that’s pretty cool!” And on that note, if you can put in a shout-out for Slapdash, that’d be cool, too. That’s another band I’m working with. Right now, I’m producing a lot of bands, and I’d love to be able to plug those. What I’d like to do is be able to get more music-producing work.
It’s funny that you should make the comment about how you don’t necessarily do it to make money, since I’m writing this for Popdose, a site where we write for the love of what we’re writing about. (Writer’s note: Suddenly, it may make a lot more sense to you about why I had to keep putting off this piece in favor of meeting deadlines for my full-time…and paid…gig at Bullz-Eye.com.) I don’t know if you’ve checked it out or not, but it’s music, TV, movies, politics, and we all do it because we love it.
You know, the times we’re in really beg that sort of thing. Everything’s about niches now. There was a moment when popular music and the people’s definition of pop were neck and neck, running together. But somewhere in the mid-1980s, it just splintered, and now everybody’s just kind of finding their own little thing. Ultimately, something will poke its head up again, but in the meantime, all of us…and I include myself in what you’re talking about…are basically just showing our friends something and saying, “Dude, check this out!” It’s like we’re all in high school again. Eventually, something will rise up again and become a movement, but it’s really hard for movements to happen anymore because everyone’s so shuttered up in their own little area. Hopefully, it’ll be the beginning of new regionalism, which I miss. If you think about what rock music sounded like in California in the ‘60s and what it sounded like in New York, they were different. They were totally different, because they were kind of cut off from each other. With amplifiers, it was like you could only get Fender on the east coast, and you could only get Ampeg on the west coast. It created all of this regionalism that has really gone away, because the internet and television have homogenized our culture. Hopefully, us being shuttered up in our little areas will sort of create a new regionalism of some kind, because it all sounds the same now.
All right, Robbie, I appreciate you putting up with all of the questions. Thanks again, man!
Hey, thank you!