Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Captain

So, I was sorry to hear the news about the death of Daryl Dragon, better known as 'The Captain' in The Captain & Tennille. Dragon was one of my favorite musicians back in high school and college for whose work I retain a great fondness: I had all the Captain & Tennille albums and listened to them over and over.*

What I liked best about Dragon, who co-wrote many of the songs Tennille sang and played most of the instruments on all their albums, was the texture of the music. By chance I just finished re-listening to an ELECTRIC LIGHTS ORCHESTRA greatest-hits-and-then-some collection, and was struck by how tinny many of the songs sound now: an attempt at the Wall of Sound that now sounds as if you're hearing it from a little transistor radio. I don't get that feeling at all in the songs Dragon worked up: the sound ambiance on them still works.**

In private life Dragon was an extreme introvert, the quiet one, Teller to Tennille's Penn, who almost always wore dark glasses indoors and out since his eyes didn't dilate properly. Son of a famous conductor (whose arrangement of "America the Beautiful" we played in high school band), he was ten years into his training to become a classical pianist while still in his teens when he heard a Fats Domino record and decided then and there that was what he wanted to do with his life. He and his two brothers formed a Beach Boys-type group (called The Dragons) and released their first album, just in time to be swamped by the British Invasion.*** Dragon himself became a member of the Beach Boys' touring band, taking over the keyboard parts that had formerly been played by Brian Wilson. Though never an official Beach Boy he stayed with the band for seven years and left on good terms with them, his closest friends within the group having been Brian Johnston**** and Dennis Wilson.

If you've never heard anything of C&T's music aside from "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love", or to help erase the memory of the latter, here's a playlist I put together on a cassette years ago that might be a good starting place:

"I'm On My Way" [from DREAM]
"Lonely Nights" [SONG OF JOY)
"Shop Around" [SONG OF JOY]
"Happy Together" [a good cover version of the old Turtles song from MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"Let Mama Know" [the Captain plays banjo!, from COME IN FROM THE RAIN]
"D Keyboard Blues" [a rare Dragon instrumental from DREAM which shows he shd have done more]
"Honey Come Love Me" and "Cuddle Up" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER; examples of the extreme simplicity of the love songs that make up much of their debut album. If I were doing this list over I'd probably opt for Bruce Johnston's "Disney Girls" instead, also from that first album]
"Do That To Me One More Time" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]
"The Way That I Want to Touch You" [LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER]
"Good Enough" [DREAM]
"Never Make Your Move Too Soon" [MAKE YOUR MOVE]

Looking over that list now, some twenty years later, I shd have included more from COME IN FROM THE RAIN, replacing "Let Mama Know" with "Can't Stop Dancing, "Easy Evil", and esp. the title track. Also worth adding are "You Never Done It Like That and "Back to the Island", both from DREAM and the latter an appropriate swan song to their career. The only song from KEEPING OUR LOVE WARM I might include wd be their cover of the old Motown standard "Until You Come Back to Me".

It's too bad that most people may wind up remembering him from the C&T tv variety show, which he hated for its emphasis on comedy over music, knowing full well how stupid the 'hat jokes' made him appear. His final years were rather sad: he developed a palsy, a tremor in his hands (not Parkinson's but a related tremor), that prevented him from playing his beloved keyboards for the last decade or so. More recently failed joint replacements of both knees left him bedfast. Tennille left him when she cdn't face the stress of being his caregiver (though she apparently returned to resume her role as his caregiver in his final terminal illness). A sad end for someone who made so much happy music.

--John R.
current listening: Captain & Tennille, esp. MORE THAN DANCING, the final C&T album (released after they'd lost their major-recording studio contract); picked this up years ago but only cursorily listened to at the time.
current reading: a biography of Edward Gorey
current viewing: BBC/Netflix WATERSHIP DOWN (just started)

*to be more accurate, I listened to the first five of them over and over, the sixth some, and the seventh (acquired long afterwards as a kind of afterthought) hardly at all.

**though the song selection was sometimes iffy. There's no explaining away the blunder of having the chance to play at the White House for President Ford and the Queen of England, and choosing the novelty song "Muskrat Love" as their contribution.

***one of his brothers, I forget which one, much later formed a half of the duo Surf Punks, whose most memorable song was "The Beach Is Nothing But the Bird's Bathroom -- Watch Out!"

****Captain & Tennille were the first to record another Bruce Johnson tune, "I Write the Songs", the cover version of which by Barry Manilow was a big hit.

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