They’re Dancin’ In Philly Over Big Daddy!

Kats & Kittens! We’ve got some exciting news! There is a Ballet Company in Philly called “Ballet X”. They have produced a Double Whammy “MASHUP” show, incorporating Ballet Dancers who perform to the music of Big Daddy! The creative genius of choreographer Adam Hougland dreamed up this marriage, and created the show in 2012.

We are so proud that our music is being used to In Hougland’s “Mashup” to defy genres and erase the barriers between dance, theatre, and comedy, proclaimed as a “nugget of choreographic genius” (The Dance Journal).

In fact, We’re so proud that we’re flying out to Philly for Opening Night!  You Can Meet two Big Daddy Co-Founders “Lightnin’ ”  Bob Wayne and Tom “Bubba” Lee on Opening Night, July 8th.

Success and popular demand has brought the show back for Summer Series 2015! The first performance is July 8, 2015, and runs for a week, along with 2 additional Adam Hougland Shows.

Please check out this edited Press Release for more information.

Then, call your friends and families and tell them to get to The Wilma Theater at 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia and GET SOME CULTURE!


Press Release
Featuring three works by choreographer Adam Hougland

Philadelphia, PA—BalletX, Philadelphia’s Premier Contemporary Ballet and the Resident Dance Company of the Wilma Theater, concludes its 2014-2015 Season with Summer Series 2015 (July 8-12). Featuring three commissioned works by Adam Hougland, the program highlights the range and vision of this talented American choreographer, demonstrating that “[BalletX] has emerged as one of the country’s primary producers of new ballet” (The Denver Post).

Summer Series 2015

Hougland’s zany Mashup dazzled audiences when it premiered on BalletX in 2012. Featuring a cast of five over-the-top ‘80s characters, this satirical work has been praised as “mysterious, sexy, funny, and surprising” by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Set to music by the parody band Big Daddy, dancers trip over ballet, jazz, and tap to pop standards like “Super Freak” and “Like a Virgin”. Hougland’s choreography mixes a classical vocabulary with nods to social dances and pop culture references as the dancers embody quirky personas ranging from dominatrix to virgin, from nerd to ladies man. In Mashup, Hougland manages to defy genres and erase the barriers between dance, theatre, and comedy, proclaimed as a “nugget of choreographic genius” (The Dance Journal).

Performances run July 8-12 at The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia. Tickets start at $22 for students, $30 for seniors, and $35 for adults.

Members of the press are invited to attend Opening Night on Wednesday, July 8, 2015 at 8PM. For press tickets, please contact Allie Vanyur at 215-893-9456 x128 or

Summer Series 2015 Performance Dates/Times:
Wednesday, July 8, 8:00PM, Opening Night
Thursday, July 9, 8:00PM
Friday, July 10, 8:00PM
Saturday, July 11, 2:00PM
Saturday, July 11, 8:00PM
Sunday, July 12, 2:00PM
Sunday, July 12, 7:00PM

Here’s a link to a short performance clip from 2012 …


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Media Contact:
Allison Vanyur
Marketing & Communications Coordinator
215- 893-9456 x128(o)

BalletX is a 501(c)(3) not for profit corporation. The official registry and financial information for BalletX may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free within Pennsylvania 1.800.732.0999

“Smashing Songs…” Who Played on What?


How we captured the sounds at Sunburst Recording...

The microphones that captured the sounds at Sunburst Recording…

Here are the singer and player credits from “Smashing Songs of Stage & Screen”…

   Over The Rainbow

-Lead Vocal Duet: Don & Marty

-Stand-Up Bass: Johnny Hatton

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Guitars: Don & Marty


   The Music Of The Night

-Lead Vocal: Tom

-Background Vocals: Bob, Don, Marty, Tom & Rosanne Limeres

-Character Voices: Don as “Dracula,” Marty as “Igor,” Bob as “The Evil Laugh “ & Tom as “The Howling Wolf”

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Gary Hoffman

-Cymbal Swells: Todd Tatum

-Electric Guitars: Don & Tom

-Baritone Saxophone: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Norman A. Norman

-Hammond and Pipe Organ: Wayne Peet

-Theremin: Bob


   Everybody’s Talkin’

-Lead Vocal: Bob

-Background Vocals: Don, Marty & Rosanne Limeres

-Bass Vocal: Tom

-Stand-Up Bass: Johnny Hatton

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Tenor & Baritone Saxophones: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland


   As Time Goes By

-Lead Vocal: Don

-Background Vocals: Bob, Marty & Rosanne Limeres

-Stand-Up Bass: Johnny Hatton

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitar: Don

-Acoustic Guitars: Don & Marty

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland

-Violins: Harry Scorzo, Richard D. Clark & Anna Adkisson

-Cello: Alan Mautner

-String Arrangement: Joey Altruda


   Stayin’ Alive

-Lead Vocals: Bob, Don Marty & Tom

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Congas: Craig Fundyga

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Tenor Saxophone: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Don


   I Could Have Danced All Night

-Lead Vocal: Marty

-Background Vocals: Bob, Don & Tom

-Shout & “Party” Vocals: Annabel & Emily Axtell, Kaiya Jefferson, Regina Klein,   Daniel Morgan, Anitra Wetzel, Barry & Diane Woods

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Todd Tatum

-Congas: Craig Fundyga

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland


   Try To Remember

-Lead Vocal: Bob

-Background Vocals: Don, Marty & Tom

-Bass Vocal: Tom

-Stand-Up Bass: Johnny Hatton

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitars: Don & Tom

-Tenor & Baritone Saxophones: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland


   What Kind Of Fool Am I?

-Lead Vocal: Tom

-Background Vocals: Bob, Don & Marty

-Bass Guitar: Johnny Hatton

-Drums, Cowbell & Shaker: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Guitar: Marty

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland


   I Dreamed A Dream

-Lead Vocal: Don

-Background Vocals: Bob, Tom & Marty

-Stand-Up Bass & Baritone Guitar: Denny Croy

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Piano: Wayne Peet

-Vibraphone: Craig Fundyga

-Violins: Harry Scorzo, Richard D. Clark & Anna Adkisson

-Cello: Alan Mautner

-String Arrangement: Joey Altruda


   Don’t Cry For Me Argentina

-Lead Vocal: Marty

-Background Vocals: Bob, Don, Tom & Rosanne Limeres

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Todd Tatum

-Castanets: Craig Fundyga

-Electric Guitar: Don

-Acoustic Guitar: Marty

-Tenor & Baritone Saxophones: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland


   New York, New York

-Lead Vocal: Bob

-Background Vocals: Don, Marty & Tom

-Bass Vocal: Tom

-Character Vocal: Gary Hoffman as “Aunt Edith” (as heard on “Eye Of The Tiger” & “Every Breath You Take”)

-Stand-Up & Bass Guitar: Johnny Hatton

-Drums & Woodblock: Damon DeGrignon

-Electric Guitar: Don

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland

-1957 Nash Metropolitan, 1958 Ford Edsel and 1959 Chevy El Camino Car Horns: Wayne Peet



-Lead Vocal: Tom

-Shout Chorus Vocals: Bob & Don

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Todd Tatum

-Electric Guitar: Don

-Tenor & Baritone Saxophones: Hal Melia

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland



-Lead Vocal: Don

-Little Varmints: Bob & Marty

-Stand-Up Bass: Johnny Hatton

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Splash Cymbal & Floor Tom: Todd Tatum

-Electric Guitar: Don

-Acoustic Guitar: Marty

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland

-Xylophone: Craig Fundyga


   When You Wish Upon A Star

-Lead Vocal: Marty

-Background Vocals: Bob, Marty, & Tom

-Stand-Up Bass: Denny Croy

-Drums: Todd Tatum

-Electric Guitars: Don

-Acoustic Piano: Carl Sonny Leyland

-Vibraphone & Orchestra Bells: Craig Fundyga

-Harp: Margaret Klemm


   Tara’s Theme (from Gone With The Wind)

-Lead Clavioline: Wayne Peet

-Lead Electric Guitars & Nylon Acoustic Guitar: Don

-Bass Guitar: Denny Croy

-Drums: Damon DeGrignon

-Cymbal Swells: Todd Tatum

-Harp: Margaret Klemm

-Piccolo: Hal Melia

-Sci-Fi Sound Effects: Bob

-Horse Galloping Effects: Bob & Marty



“Hey, We Put On A Play!”

May 15, 1991. Principal Heffler walked out on the stage, and…

I asked everyone to join me in with the Pledge of Allegiance.  And the entire audience stood up!

Well, almost the entire audience. One person remained seated. I pointed to him and said, “Stand up, son.”  Then, remembering this was Eisenhower High School, I added, “Make Ike proud!” And he did.  And the audience loved it.

As I continue with my welcoming comments at this “high school assembly,” my character, Principal Heffler, was taunted by Big Daddy band member Bob (“Guido”) Sandman who was a plant in the audience.  He stood up and yelled out, “A hefer?! Ain’t that a cow?!” and grinned at the shocked audience members.

I singled him out and fired back with, “I got my eye on you!”  But he’d continue to make nasty comments about me.

Fed up with his taunts, I kicked Guido out of the theatre/auditorium.  The audience applauded.  In fact, a number of people thought it was the real deal.

In the dressing room backstage of the Groundlings Theatre, there was a speaker mounted on the wall and, with a mic planted in the audience, you could hear not only the actors… but also the audience’s reaction.

We were only a few minutes into the play – Principal Heffler had left the stage – I was alone in the dressing room, the band was on stage… acting.  I listened to the speaker, and…

It was working!!

The audience was laughing.

I remember so vividly that first night, in the dressing room, listening to the audience’s response.  All the actors were on stage; I was by myself.  Hearing the audience laugh like that was an extremely emotional moment for me.  I had written a number of screenplays, but never a play.  This time the feedback was immediate.  And what I heard coming from that mounted speaker felt truly exhilarating.

Okay, so we now know the Pledge of Allegiance worked.  But what about the other two creative differences? (See “Hey, Let’s Put On A Play!”)

Yes, we allowed Norman to blurt out, “Bush?! It’s about time we had a chick in the White House!”

And so what happened?  Um, I never heard an audience boo.  I mean, really boo.

The problem was that these Big Daddy boys were good kids.  The line was not nice.  And the fact it came from Norman A Norman, whose character was slimy, somehow made it even worse.  (Again, let the record show I did not write that line.)

And the final “creative difference”: After Bob holds a CD and asks, “I wonder why they’re called CDs?”… Bubba takes the disc, looks at it, and says, “Maybe because they’re so small, you can hardly ‘see dees’.”

I’m proud I stood my ground because it was perhaps the loudest laugh in the play. Tom and I still reminisce about that line.  However, to be fair, it was Tom’s delivery – he breathed life into that line – that made it work.

So, two out of three “creative differences” worked. Not bad.

The scenes of the play seemed to flow fine.  Beginning in the past: the school talent show, the malt shop, the band’s garage.  Then the present: the talk show, the Head Banger’s ball, back to the band’s garage.  And finally the concert.

And the beats within the scenes seemed to work.

The play itself was solid, and the concert was the pay-off.  Everyone was pleased.

And the cast, crew, and audience celebrated that night at Mel ‘N Rose’s ‘50s Café down the street.  (Remember – The Groundlings is on Melrose Avenue!)

At the café, rather than merely basking in the moment, we spoke at length about how to improve the play – dialogue, acting, staging, etc.  I found the band members to be highly professional, engaged and committed to the project.

We continued to make minor fixes.

We videotaped all eight performances.  A few nights after each performance, all the band members would gather at my home to watch the play and critique their performances.

As the weeks went by, we continued to refine some beats.  These small tweaks helped make the play tighter.

It was notable how even the band members’ families rallied to make the entire process work:  As mentioned in my previous blog, John Hatton’s wife, Carol, and their sons were very much involved.

The other band members’ wives helped with merchandizing, especially Marty’s soon-to-be-wife, Vicki.  She was always there, in her poodle skirt and white socks, selling Big Daddy CDs.

Tom Lee’s wife, Wanda, took photographs that were used in the play.

And Don Raymond himself designed the very cool “Stranded in the Jungle” T-shirts.

Then there were the fans.

With the success of their concerts and CDs, Big Daddy already had a solid following.  Many fans came to see the play multiple times.  One passionate fan, Jane, attended every performance, and arrived two hours before every show.  In fact, she got there before any of us did! (And she drove in from Chino, a 90-minute commute.)

As mentioned in my previous blog, I had been a high school teacher and took a leave of absence to do the play.  Unexpectedly, many of my students attended. They, in particular, knew the music and loved the way the current songs were parodied.

Publicist Bobbi Cowan did a terrific job of promoting “Stranded in the Jungle”. The Big Daddy play was featured on “Entertainment Tonight” with Mary Hart and John Tesh, and “Good Day LA” with Steve Edwards. Also, NBC’s “Entertainment Guru” and MTV’s Kurt Loder promoted the play.  NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross even did an interview with the band and I at the Groundlings during our dress rehearsal.

One night, one of the performances was slightly “off.”  I never figured out why. The actors were fine, but the audience was somewhat nonresponsive. It just didn’t work.  We watched the tape.  No answers.  It just happened.  But thankfully only once.  Ah, the pitfalls of live theatre!

And we had our crisis.  Or what we thought was going to be a crisis.  A few days before one of the performances, Don Dolan, who played sleazy agent Irv Berger, told me he couldn’t be at one of the performances.  I panicked.  Do we get another actor?  There was no time for that.  We needed someone who knew the play and was familiar with the part.  Someone – I don’t remember who – suggested we ask Wayne Duvall, who played the talk show host, to play both parts?!  I asked him, and he jumped at the opportunity!  As the sleazy agent, he pulled it off with humor and verve.  Wayne embraced the role, made it his own, and had a blast.  So did the audience.

There were some notable highlights.  In the Los Angeles Times, John Hatton’s Spazz was singled out for his comedic timing.  But it was Tom Lee’s Little Richard that brought down the house.  If there was a climax to the two-hour play, this was it.  With his shiny cape flowing behind him, Bubba rocked it!

The final performance was on June 26, 1991. Moments before the opening act, Don Dolan whispered in my ear, “You know, Ira, often on the last night odd things can happen.”   He gave me a wicked smile.   And then Irv Berger, the sleazy agent, walked out on stage and quickly went off-book!  He adlibbed much of his dialogue, even mingled and interacted with the audience.  WTF?  At first, I was uneasy with this.  But I quickly “let go” and got into the spirit of the last performance.

After the final performance was done, it was time for our final bow.  I walked out first, followed by Carol Hatton, Wayne Duvall, and Don Dolan.  Then the band members – Lightin’ Bob, Marty the “K,” Bubba, Donny D., Spazz, Norman, Guido, and Nick Beat – entered the stage from opposite sides.  We clasped hands and did a “wave.” I took the mic and did my usual thank-yous.  When I was done, Bob took my mic and graciously thanked me for all I had done.  Then he and the rest of the band presented me with a Big Daddy jacket embroidered with the name “Principal Heffler.”  And, yes, I still wear it proudly.


“Stranded in the Jungle” sold out every performance during its eight week run.

The play ran during the summer of 1991.  As mentioned in my previous blog, many of the locations are no longer there. However, the memories are there… and still clear.

I always felt funny taking credit as writer and director.  But I like what Spazz said to me one night.  Halfway through the play’s run, he told me I was the catalyst of the play.  I don’t know if that’s true, but I’ll take it.


“Stranded in the Jungle” was nearly a quarter of a century ago. How I miss their creativity and our collaboration. Maybe we should bring it back?

Without a doubt, Nick Beat’s prophetic words “Dig! We can do this!” were spot on.




“Hey, Let’s Put On A Play!”

“Dig! We can do this!”  When things seemed tense and uncomfortable, Nick Beat’s dramatic proclamation at a pivotal moment in the Big Daddy play was a battle cry, which rallied everyone to forge on!  And forge on we did!

And this is how it all began…

I first met Bob Wayne in 1966 at Santa Monica College. (Back then, known as SMCC, Santa Monica City College).  Bob sat behind me in an English Lit class.  He and I would make fun of the professor.  He was an old, crotchety guy.  Be careful what you make fun of.

I remember walking to my parked car, hearing 1950’s Rock & Roll coming from a beautiful blue 1965 Corvette Stingray.  It was Bob giving me a wave.  Seeing him in that late ‘Vette, which he still owns to this day, was a tip off of what was to come!

When we transferred to Cal State University, Northridge (but when we were there it was San Fernando Valley State College) we both lived at the dorm (which isn’t there anymore) and that cemented our friendship.

Bob had an electric organ in his dorm room.  That was another tip off of what was to come.

In 1973, Bob formed an “oldies” band with Marty Kaniger, his childhood friend. And what did they call themselves? “Big Daddy Dipstick and the Lube Jobs.”  Yes, that was the band’s first name.  They performed locally in the Los Angeles area, and I used to go hear them at Regular Jon’s, a small pizza restaurant in Brentwood, California (which isn’t there anymore).

In 1982, the band along with Rhino Records came up with the idea to perform contemporary songs in a ‘50s style.

They performed at numerous local clubs in Los Angeles.  I went to hear them…a lot.

Rhino Records picked them up; they dropped the “Dipstick and the Lube Jobs,” and the record albums soon followed (on vinyl of course)!  I’ve still got all of mine…signed by each band member.

It was during this time that Bob suggested I introduce the band when they performed.  At that time, I was a high school teacher and we came up with a gag: as Principal Heffler, I was to introduce the band as if at a high school assembly. We tried it out at At My Place, a terrific club in Santa Monica, CA (no longer there – see Bob’s blog dated July 20, 2014).

The intro worked!  We did it a few times.  The boys, behind me, playfully taunted their principal.  One of them – I never found out who – always flew a paper airplane at me.

However, the gag didn’t work at The Palomino in North Hollywood, CA (no longer there.  See Don’s blog dated March 6, 2014). I got boo-ed.  This particular audience wasn’t there for our playful introduction.  They were there for the music. I think I blocked most of it.  But it sure did work at At My Place!

Everyone loved At My Place. Big Daddy was a regular there.  It was their home. (see earlier blog on this website.)

With the success of a number of albums, Big Daddy came out with their then latest CD, “Cutting Their Own Groove,” in 1991.

Rather than doing a series of conventional concerts, the band came up with the idea of doing a play to promote the CD.  Rhino Records was equally enthused about the idea and agreed to produce the play.

In the winter of 1990, the band asked me to write and direct the play.  I immediately took a leave of absence from my high school teaching job.  I always knew I’d be creatively involved with Big Daddy in some capacity, and here was my chance!

We first met to discuss the play at Delores’ Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd. (which is not there anymore. Are you noticing a trend?).  All the band members were there: Bob, Marty, Tom, and Don Raymond who had replaced David Starns in 1986… plus four other members: John Hatton, Norman A. Norman, Bob Sandman, and Damon DeGrignon. It was a large table.

First we discussed the hook of the play: Why are they doing contemporary songs in a ’50s style?

We brainstormed ideas: maybe they had been frozen and didn’t age, and they thawed out decades later?  Maybe they got scooped up by a flying saucer, they didn’t age, and decades later they got plopped back down on earth?  But we decided to go with the back-story that they already used from the first two albums:  In 1959, the band went on a USO tour, got captured by Laotian communist revolutionaries, and – decades later – they were finally rescued by the CIA. And so they perform today’s songs the only way they knew how: in the classic styles of the 1950s.

And we then came up with the name of the play, “Big Daddy… Stranded in the Jungle,” from the 1956 hit by The Cadets.

Next we broke down the main beats of the play:

Act 1 begins in 1959 at a high school talent show with their pathetically bad individual acts; then to the malt shop and their “Let’s-form-a-band-so-we-can-get-babes!”; then to the band’s garage.

Act 2 takes place in the present after their rescue with Big Daddy on a talk show; then their first performance… at a Head Bangers’ ball (hey, this was 1991) when they get boo-ed off stage; then back to the band’s garage.

Act 3 is the Big Daddy concert.

At these early meetings, we discussed the characters they played, their descriptions, and how each was unique from the other:

Bob was “Lightnin’ Bob,” Mr. Energy; Marty was “Marty the ‘K’,” with his passion for pink clothes; Don was “Donny D.,” the heartthrob; Tom was “Bubba,” words are playthings to him; John was “Spazz,” the nerd always with his bass fiddle, slide rule, and pocket protector; Norman was “Norman,” every mother’s worst nightmare; Bob Sandman was “Guido,” the pissed-off Italian; and Damon was “Nick Beat,” the beatnik.

I remember when discussing the characters with them I said that Bubba was somewhat dull and slow; Tom got a tad defensive: “No, Bubba is special; he’s just a tad different.  In fact, every now and then pearls of wisdom come out of his mouth.” Correction noted.

I took my notes from that meeting and started working on the first draft.

At that same time, we scouted equity waiver theatres, those with less than 100 seats to qualify for exemption for union wages for the two professional actors we would soon hire.  We hit quite a few theatres.  But the Groundling Theatre in West Hollywood, CA has the name.  From its sketch comedy and improv workshops came legendary comedic actors including Kathy Griffin, Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, Jon Lovitz, and Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman).

In addition to its reputation, it was a good venue for the band: the stage felt right, it was in a good location, and the guy in the audio booth knew what he was doing. I remember Marty was pleased with him. And that’s saying a lot.  But, most of all, it was the Groundling’s name.

In fact, I tried to capitalize on that name by printing, “The Groundlings Theatre Presents – Big Daddy… Stranded in the Jungle!”  They made me change it.  After all, they weren’t producing the show, they were only renting their facility to us.

And so we locked in the theatre!  Contracts were signed.  “Stranded in the Jungle” had a home!  The play would run on Wednesday nights for eight consecutive weeks.

One of the first things we did was shoot images to be projected during the play showing Big Daddy held captive by the Laotian revolutionaries.  Tom knew of a Laotian family that agreed to help.  With a 35 mm camera, we shot black and white slides (something else I imagine no longer exists).  This captivity sequence was photographed by Tom’s wife, Wanda van den Ende, at the Will Geer Theater in Topanga Canyon…see below.

To complete our cast, we hired two professional actors: Don Dolan and Wayne Duvall.

Don played the sleazy agent Irv Berger.  He was a regular on “General Hospital” for years.

Wayne played the talk show host Al Lasko (a la Steve Allen).  He has gone on to featured roles in Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13,” the Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” and Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”.

I kept revising the script.  We had our initial rehearsals in my rec room. Not yet ready for stage blocking, these first rehearsals were more like a table reading.  It’s such a cliché to say a project was a collaboration.  But it was so very true.  I did not write it solo.  Far from it. The boys had a great deal of input.  After all, who would know their character better than they?

This was in 1991, computers were not yet common.  I remember at first going to a typing service.  But there were a lot of input and script revisions.  So, because of this project, I bought my first computer!

Also, the Internet was young and this was prior to mainstream emailing.  Sending out multiple copies as email attachments would have been miraculous.  Instead, I was busy re-typing, printing, and duplicating the scripts.

With a lot of help from the band, I continued to flush out the story.

In a twist of fate, I was back as Principal Heffler! After a brief monologue from sleazy agent Irv Berger, I began the story as the principal of Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, and – along with Carol Hatton, Spazz’s actual wife who played the student body president – I conducted the school’s talent assembly.  I was heckled by Bob “Guido” Sandman, who was planted in the audience just to taunt me.

In the opening scene, the high school talent show, Bob and Marty were the first ones on stage, and they did an over-zealous and very bad performance of “Tom Dooley” with Bob on kazoo, Marty on autoharp, and Nick Beat on bongos; then Spazz came out with Bubba and did their own original – and embarrassing – dance craze called “The Spazz” which fortunately never caught on; when heartthrob Donny D. – along with Norman on keyboard – came out to croon Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are”… Carol sighed, swooned, and fainted in my lap; and finally, with Norman suddenly realizing he’s alone on stage, be breaks into a spontaneous – and truly disgusting – version of “Swinging on a Star”.

As all this was going on, Guido continually heckled me from the audience as I tried my best to reprimand him.

Carol, being very versatile, played two parts: in addition to the love struck student, she played a nasty dominatrix with a whip at the Head Bangers’ ball.

Later on in the first act, on a TV talk show (an homage of the old Steve Allen Show), the boys spoke to the host about their ordeal in Laos, and then – with Spazz setting up a movie screen in his Spazz-like way – they showed those black and white slides of their captivity on a Kodak Carousel Slide Projector. (Yet another relic of the past.)

Laos, 1959

Now, this is something I  came up with that I’m  particularly proud of: Just  before the talk show scene,  I  wanted a creative way to  transition from 1959 to the  present.  Picture a dark  stage, a spotlight snaps on  revealing an old radio from  the ‘50s as we hear the  music and news broadcast from that specific decade.  Then a radio from the ‘60s, then the ‘70s, and so on.

Yup, I was really proud of this device to show the passage of time.

We recorded these musical interludes and broadcast announcements at Bob’s studio, Sunburst Recording in Culver City, CA.

Once the script was pretty much complete, we started the staging and blocking rehearsals.

Was I really going to direct this?  I called on my director friends for some guidance and tips.

We had frequent rehearsals in my condo rec room.  Although I felt comfortable with the physical blocking and dialogue coaching, I cannot stress enough how much the process was extremely collaborative. It became more and more obvious that in addition to being talented musicians, these band members knew their characters and how to say their lines.

Spazz built a counter for the malt shop scene and a riser for the drum set.

I called on the favors of friends and family. Jerry Schneider, a childhood friend, helped Wanda shoot the captivity slides.  My dear friend Barbara Rinetti was our stage manager and prop master.  She kept a close eye on all the props.  Another friend, Arlene Wexler, came on board as the costume designer.  And Spazz’s two sons (with a little help from Carol) were our assistant stagehands.

A lot of time was spent finalizing the playlist: the selection of songs and the order in which they were to be performed.

As opening night got closer, we had our rehearsals in the theatre.  Then it was time for the full dress rehearsal, with wardrobe and props… and the concert itself. That’s where I first saw the play in its entirely: the story in the first half, and the concert in the second half.

At the curtain call, we decided to have Principal Heffler invite everyone – audience, cast, and crew – to join Big Daddy at a ‘50s Café just a few doors down from the Theatre called Mel ‘N Rose’s.  Get it? The Groundlings is on Melrose Blvd. (It’s not there anymore. Yup, there’s a definite trend here.)

As to be expected, there were some creative differences about the play. But all quite minor.

1. Rhino suggested we take out the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of the play.  I thought it was a clever way to push us back to 1959 and begin the talent show.  They thought it was not a strong start. B ut the band liked it.  So, everyone agreed to keep it in for the time being.

2. During the talk show scene, it’s revealed that George Bush is President of the United States. Norman A. blurts out, “Bush?!  It’s about time we had a chick in the White House!”  Originally, it was most likely an ad-lib from Norman. (Hey, I certainly didn’t write that line!)  We all laughed, but none of us – Rhino, Big Daddy, myself – were sure about keeping it in.  Again, we agreed to keep it in on opening night.

3. After the boys are rescued and back to the rehearsal garage, they try to play a CD on a record player. Scratch, scratch! Bob picks it up and asks, “I wonder why they’re called CDs?” Bubba takes the disc from Bob, looks at it, and says, “Maybe because they’re so small, you can hardly ‘see dees’.”  The band moaned.  Yes, it was a groaner.  Tom didn’t want to say the line.  The band agreed with him.  I was alone on this one. I pleaded with everyone to keep it in.  “Yes, it’s corny. But it will be funny. Please just try it on opening night. If it doesn’t work, it’s out.” Reluctantly, they agreed.

May 15, 1991. Opening night. I remember it well. Rhino hired Bobby Cowan as the publicist, so the critics were there: Hollywood Reporter, Los Angeles Times, and LA Weekly.

I’ve written and sold a number of screenplays.  But I never wrote a play (or in this case co-co-wrote) let alone directed one.

At 8:00 pm there is a hush as pre-recorded “sitting down” music plays, ending with Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” filling the theatre.

Jerry Lee Lewis is done. Silence.

It’s show time!

Sleazy agent Irv begins his monologue.

Backstage, we are able to peer through an opening in the curtain. The house is packed.

Critics are in the front row. What’s worse: my family members and close friends are there… yikes!

I remember standing backstage next to Marty moments before the start of the play.  He looked at me and said something. I can’t remember what it was he said, but it somehow made me feel more calm and confident.

Irv finishes his monologue.

It’s 1959.  The Groundlings Theatre is now a high school auditorium.

I am to walk out on stage. Solo.

Principal Heffler – wearing a coat and tie and thick glasses, holding a clipboard and pen – walks out on stage to greet the 99 “students”… and hopefully get all of them to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.

And then…

(Stay tuned for “Hey, We Put On a Play!” – the second and final chapter of “Big Daddy…Stranded In The Jungle” by “Principal” Ira Heffler.)


AT MY PLACE, home base for Big Daddy (1983 – 1994)

Having finished the first Big Daddy album in late 1982, and looking for a home base nightclub in the Los Angeles area, a fairly new spot came to mind in Santa Monica… At My Place.

I had been there a few times since it opened in 1981 and was intrigued by its unique format: featured musical acts with opening comedians.  Billy (Vera) & The Beaters were tearing up a storm on weekends to sold-out audiences; once I saw their show, I immediately knew why.

Billy was a great performer and was backed by an amazing horn band with four saxophones!  The closest thing I could compare it to was seeing Fats Domino in Las Vegas…”Fats” also traveled with a large – all saxophone – horn section.

Seeing The Beaters, as they were called by locals, at the club with its great sound system & stage lighting, and comfortable seating arrangement, was very exciting. The club was also set up strictly as a showroom – NO DANCE FLOOR – which played well with our vision of an ideal performance space for Big Daddy.

One day in early 1983, I stopped by At My Place in the late afternoon during that evening’s sound check.  Closed to the public at that hour, I snuck in through the back door…there was club booker and manager Matt Kramer, who I had heard about from his days promoting shows at The Troubadour in Hollywood and The Fox Venice Theatre.  He was sitting at his computer checking the schedule. I don’t think that I had ever seen a home computer in action before then!  The combination dressing room / booking office was hardly fancy, but going through the doors from there to the stage was exciting, as the showroom was so nicely laid out in terms of patron sightlines and comfort.  At the time, I had no way of knowing that we would go through those doors about 100 times on our way to the stage over the next ten years.

Matt asked who I was there to see and I quickly said, “who ever books the shows here…is that you?”  Being new to promoting the band, I fumbled into a sales pitch about Big Daddy and our soon-to-be released album on Rhino Records.  Matt, who by that time had heard it all before, asked the one question that every local booker asks and that most bands fear: “How many people do you think that you can bring in here during a weeknight?”  (Weekends were off limits as they were reserved for the bigger names of the day such as Vonda Shepard later a regular on Ally McBeal, Carl Anderson, who played Judas Iscariot in the Broadway and film versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, the then up and coming “Smooth Jazz” sax man Richard Elliott and of course, Billy (Vera) & The Beaters.)

Naturally, the next question of a club’s booker is “how much of a cover charge do you think that your crowd would pay to see you?”  Well, we had just started out with our 50’s Mash-Up concept and had only done a few gigs at one local bar in Playa Del Rey (Stern’s On The Hill) where there was no cover to get in!

It was clear that the next step in our career was to get lots of family & friends who were ready, willing and able to pay a cover charge to see us perform.  Testing the waters by talking to a number of them, we calculated that we could probably get at least 75 people in the club (which held about 185) with a cover charge of around $8.00.  This was a hopeful estimate and we were by no means confident that we could really pull it off, but having an eight-piece band really helped spread the word.

Matt was not overly impressed with our numbers.  He said that he might give us one shot at some time in the future but made no guarantees. So we waited and waited. As the album was released in early 1983 and started making some noise in the local press, we got copies of the articles over to Matt.  Our persistence paid off; finally Matt was willing to give us a shot! It was clear from my phone conversations with him that if we did not exceed our 75 person draw, we’d likely never get another chance to play there again.

So now the real work began!  We got on the phone with family and friends and started compiling a mailing list to send out postcards reminding people of our upcoming show.  At My Place did not sell tickets in advance for weekday shows, at that time, so we had to hope that enough interest in the show would get an audience there that night…It was a huge gamble that we would not know the result of until the very night of the show!

Needless to say, we were thrilled when over 100 loyal supporters showed up.  As momentum grew from there to a once-a-month Wednesday night spot,  Big Daddy became a regular fixture at the club and we could not have been happier being able to hone our craft and develop our show on the At My Place stage in front of our loyal fans.

It was an amazing experience to give mini-concerts right there in our own backyard (as most of us lived very close to the club).  Almost all of our shows sold out.  We would be greeted with an ovation every time we hit the stage and multiple encores became the norm.

Over the years, we had some very famous visitors at our shows including legendary singer/songwriter Hank Ballard (who wrote “The Twist” and had a number of other great top ten R & B hits in the 1950’s).  Hank sat in on a few numbers (see accompanying photo below from that evening in 1988).  Performing with a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was a true honor!

There were also some great opening comedians for our shows, including Robert Wuhl (Good Morning Vietnam, Bull Durham), Michael Winslow (Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones in all seven “Police Academy” movies) and Writer/Director/Comedian Robert Townsend.  Our old pal David Gee, who could do an uncanny impersonation of Jack Nicholson, would often stick around after his opening routine and introduce us in character as “Jack.”

Founding member Marty Kaniger even got married during one of our shows there in July of 1991 and the minister for the ceremonies was none other than club booker Matt Kramer.  Marty and his bride Vicki along with the entire wedding party were the featured act during a “special” second set of the evening.

But like all good things, this one came to an end when Matt left in 1992 along with his vision and passion for the club.  The room reopened shortly thereafter as Nightwinds, a predominately Jazz club.  We played there a few times (see our live version of “Baby Got Back” from 1993/ finally released on “Cruisin’ Through The Rhino Years” in 2014) but Nightwinds closed after only about a year.

The room was then remodeled and opened as American Pie, splitting up the space into a large bar and small stage for occasional music.  Unfortunately, the place was never the same and Big Daddy, along with all of the other regular acts that called this club home, did not like the new set-up.  What had made the club great had “left the building” and we all chose to take our audiences elsewhere.  Still the memories remain of what had once been an amazing place to perform.

Lightnin’ Bob, July of 2014

Hank Ballard Crop







Dancing In The Dark '85 videoAnd now for the final installment on Big Daddy’s “Adventures in England”…

Just as we were preparing to head back to the US from our first tour of the UK in February of 1985, Our record label there (Making Waves) hinted that we might need to return very shortly to appear on “Top of the Pops.”

For those of you not familiar with this BBC-TV show, “Top of the Pops” was THE music show in the UK. Starting in 1964, with the explosive British Invasion on the worldwide music scene, this show had the power to make or break a musical act with a single appearance. Everyone from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and countless other acts were on “Top of the Pops.” We knew that if we were invited to appear, it could easily make our then top 20 hit into a top 10 smash.

The decision about the featured musical acts – and they was always to perform live – was made just a day or so in advance of the show, which meant we would need to be back in the UK.  Confident in our inside track to that golden TV opportunity, and also sought by Making Waves for an MTV-type promotional video shoot in London (for “Dancing In The Dark”), after a week back home in sunny Southern California, we were off again “across the pond.”

We flew back in an early March that offered no snow on the ground, and were welcomed, once again, three to a room, in our same old Hampstead flat.  With the many friends made in our previous trip and our favorite neighborhood hang between shows and interviews, the restaurant “Farquaharsens,” we felt quite at home.

Then, the sky fell with crushing disappointment.  Right on the excited heals of being selected to perform on “Top of the Pops,” just like that, we were bumped in favor of another band.  A major bummer to say the least! However, we re-focused our efforts in preparing for the promotional video of “Dancing In The Dark,” which included several planning meetings with the crew.

It was one very long day in Harlesden, a community of London.  Filming took place in and around the nightclub “The Mean Fiddler,” starting around 5 or 6 am with make-up and wardrobe.  The producers had hired a cast of snooty actresses (see photo from the shoot in upper left) dressed up in 1950’s garb and a fleet of iconic American 50’s cars.  That same evening, we were back to perform at the “The Mean Fiddler,” as we had in our first tour, to end the shoot with the filming of our live show – to a sold-out audience.

Many of us, myself included, were very apprehensive about the video (as is customary, video budgets are an advance to be repaid out of royalties from record sales).  Our suspicions were based on many factors, including the background and experience of the video team, which consisted mainly of producing educational films, not music videos.  The project’s story line was also very cumbersome, trying somehow to integrate detailed visual elements with the lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen penned song.

After the full day’s shoot, there we were, dog-tired, trying to muster up energy for the evening’s show. Fortunately, as often happens, the rush of the set up and sound check grabbed us, and we were off!  As with all of our live shows in the UK, the evening was christened with the royal arrival of the “King,” Dave Taylor, yelling at his girlfriend: “Tina hurry up already…over here!”  As usual, she was pushing his acoustic piano through the nightclub and lifting it up on the stage — all by herself!!  Dave would then take half a bottle of baby powder and sprinkle it over the piano keys so he could execute his amazing Jerry Lee Lewis sweeps just right.

The show went well and we were on our third encore when the film crew’s director yelled out: “We need a few more pick-ups on “Dancing In The Dark.”  With the excitement of the audience already peaked, we were required to perform the song’s ending sequence over and over again for the video, thereby, succeeding in killing most of the audience’s excitement by the time we left the stage.

We continued to do radio and print interviews and then about three days later we saw the fruits of our labors, a rough cut of the video…and it was HORRIBLE!  The look, the story, the staging everything was just awful.  It was a bitter double pill to swallow after being bumped from “Top of the Pops.”

A few weeks later our fears about the “Dancing In The Dark” video were confirmed when it was critiqued on BBC-TV by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme from the band 10cc.  They were also very well respected video producers who had directed projects with The Police and Peter Gabriel.  Their critique on our video was short and not so sweet, with a summation that “the video looks like it was directed by Stevie Wonder.”…Well, enough said.

-So there you have it, the three-part story on the Big Daddy tours of the UK in 1985.  Lest you think it ended on a sour note, in retrospect, we will always have the great moments, memories and a top 20 national hit.  Looking back, I’ll take that anytime!   …Lightnin’ Bob


Razzmatazz“How ‘bout a beer mates?”, yelled Dave Taylor, our UK piano man.  We were on the way back to London from a TV appearance in Birmingham in February of 1985.  The show was Pebble Mill at One, the second stop on the tour (after Whistle Test).   True to its name, the live afternoon variety program — similar to the old Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin Show(s) here in the states — aired live at 1 pm.

That morning, we picked Dave up on our way to the Pebble Mill show.  He was wearing an extra large trench coat over his jacket, which seemed quite peculiar.  The coat didn’t make sense until much later that day.

Our two-song set went well: “I Write the Songs,” & “Bette Davis Eyes” and then we were off to the green room lounge to relax before the long ride back to London.  This is when Dave and his trench coat went into action.  Quietly walking up to a well-stocked refrigerator, he started removing beers and stashing them in his coat.

Heading home in the touring van, Dave started to remove the beers and offer them around.  However, most of us, dog tired from the days’ performance, politely declined; a few made their way around.  Dave then started talking about his “hobby”…drinking!  “Lots ‘o guys like sports or chasing women or gambling….I like to drink, that’s my hobby…drinking” he said.  With one beer after another dispensed from his trench coat’s various pockets, Dave proved his point.  By the time we got back to London that evening, he must have consumed a dozen or so beers, seemingly without much trouble. Ahh…life on the road!

As the tour progressed, “Dancing In The Dark” was released as a single…well, actually it was a four-song, 7” vinyl EP, but “Dancing…” was the cut getting almost all of the airplay, eventually climbing up the British national charts and onto the top twenty in March of 1985. Busy every day, we became experts at riding the Underground, or “The Tube” as the locals called it, a subway system, which seemed to go anywhere and everywhere in London. Guest appearances on additional TV shows also included The Kenny Everett Show and Sky Channel-UK, which were both filmed in London, and Razzmatazz in Newcastle….where that great beer comes from!

We also performed live at a number of clubs in and around London and had a very successful live remote recording from Dingwalls aired by Capital-FM, one of London’s most popular radio stations. The rest of the time, we were busy riding “The Tube” to and from radio and print interviews with some of the largest media companies in the UK, such as BBC Radio and Melody Maker magazine.  In the near future, we will post some of these articles on and also upload audio from portions of the radio programs that we were interviewed on.

During our limited free time, we sampled the local culture and pubs (lots of great Indian food, which is about the only decent thing to eat in England except for maybe fish & chips and, of course, chocolate), and did some sightseeing – Gary Hoffman and I crossed the English Channel in a hovercraft to visit Paris for a few days. One evening, Marty and I spent time with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, who was represented by an attorney that we knew at the time.  Graham had an amazing home directly across the street from London’s premiere park, The Hamstead Heath, where we were invited over for…yes, you guessed it…Tea! To say that Graham was quiet was a major understatement.  We tried to make conversation but he just sat there quietly resulting in two hours of awkwardness.  Amazing, he told the attorney (Gary Stambler) that he had a great time with us!

The UK saw Big Daddy twice in 1985.  The group returned in March for a shorter visit, in hopes of a performance opportunity on the granddaddy of all UK-TV music shows …Top of The Pops.  More on that and the making of the “Dancing In The Dark” music video in the next (and last) installment of our UK tour adventures.

Big Daddy hits the road in the UK…part 1

Our first album “What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59” had already peaked here in the US when we got word from Rhino in 1984 that a small record label in England – “Making Waves” – was interested in releasing the album in the UK.

We had experienced a few false alarms about foreign releases of the LP in the past, but this offer appeared to be different.  Making Waves, a new label run by well known English Blues guitarist Barry Martin from the Kursaal Flyers, was willing to fly us over to promote the album with national TV appearances, radio interviews and live shows including the legendary Dingwalls in Central London. The record would also be distributed by EMI in the UK.  Arrangements were made and in early 1985, we were off on what would turn out to be an amazing adventure.

Flying into Gatwick International in February, 1985 on the heels of a major snowstorm and seeing London covered in two feet of snow was quite a wonderful sight – that was until we arrived at our flat in the Hamstead area of North London.  There we were, in the middle of the night after a ten hour plane ride, having to cart all of our heavy band gear up two flights of stairs with the first flight being outdoors and completely covered in a thick sheet of slippery ice and snow!

Early the next morning we were off to the Nomis Rehearsal Studios to meet with two session musicians that had been selected by the UK label to augment the band on tour.  (We could only take six of our eight members to England due to cost constraints and labor laws at the time.)  After one very long rehearsal with saxophonist Nick Pentelow (later with B.B. King, Elton John and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings) and piano man Dave Taylor (a well known Boogie Woogie & Rockabilly recording artist in England and Finland), we were ready for a live BBC-TV performance that very night.

The first program we appeared on was “(Old Grey) Whistle Test” on February 12th.  We were following some pretty famous acts that had performed on that show over the years including John Lennon, Billy Joel and Bob Marley.

The show’s producer at the time, Trevor Dan, had us scheduled to perform two songs live and wanted to make a last minute change.  The first single on Making Waves was “I Write The Songs” but was bumped in favor of “Dancing In The Dark”, a bonus cut (from the UK cassette release of the album), that we had recorded for our then unreleased second Rhino album “Meanwhile Back In The States”.

Trevor had legendary “ears” and felt strongly that our version of the Bruce Springsteen penned “Dancing In The Dark” had hit potential and wanted it on the show along with our Little Richard inspired “Ebony & Ivory”.  He was “spot on” as the next installment of this journey will attest to.

   In a future installment…”Dancing In The Dark” hits the national charts in the UK!

London Underground, 2:85


The Land Down Under

In 1987, Big Daddy traveled to Sydney, Australia. The month was January, which put us right in the middle of summertime half way across the world. We left a cold and rainy Los Angeles and landed in a warm and sunny land very far away. How fantastic! We were to stay there for two months and perform 6 nights a week at a very popular theatre called Kinsellas, right in the heart of the Kings Cross. Before we left Los Angeles, we recorded a demo of Colin Hay’s hit song “The Land Down Under”. We arranged it to the old Drifters record “Under The Boardwalk”. We took the demo with us just in case we could get some radio play and maybe even get a record execs ear to have a listen. The six nights a week got our show very tight and we were gradually building a following. Making new friends was easy as the people I found to be very real and very hospitable. They took us for boat rides and dinner parties on our one day off a week. Tom (Bubba) took the initiative one day and played our demo record “The Land Down Under” for the president of Virgin Records in Sydney. How he got that meeting…I’m still amazed. Anyways, he loved it and wanted to release it. We were with Rhino Records at the time, so we had to work out a deal with them to release the record under the Virgin label. Being a demo, we had to wait till we traveled back to America to make the master. But that was great news and man the trip really was shaping up! Thanks, Bubba!


Down to our last week and the idea of going back to the States was making me a little sad. Being there so long, all the crew at Kinsella’s Theatre and making all those new friends, it was a very sad goodbye. I loved the pace of life there, it was like being back in the 1950’s. And you know how much I like the 50’s. When we left I was positive we would be back there within the year and support our new record, but that never happened. When we finally released the record, it was in the middle of their centennial celebration and there must have been a million songs being played with the land down under theme and ours was just another song. Bad timing I guess. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there, but I know there will always be a little kangaroo in me forever.

Donny D


Jammin’ With Duane Eddy

Photo By Tom Bert

Album Photo By Tom Bert

“Bubba”  (Tom Lee)  with a few notes about a wonderful experience…

I remember my first introduction to Duane Eddy as an  8 year old  kid, living in Detroit.  I was sick,  home from school listening to my big brother’s records in bed .   I  heard  Rick Nelson’s “Hello, Mary Lou”,  Jimmy Jones  “Handy Man”,  and  Duane Eddy’s  “Rebel Rouser”, and had to listen to them over & over again.   I knew nothing about production, and couldn’t begin to imagine how on earth they came up with that sound… but something wonderful was there to love, and it stuck with me.   A  few years later I had a Gibson LG-1 with a pick up, & a Gibson Falcon amp with reverb & tremolo.  The lights went on, and “Rebel Rouser”  was  the  first instrumental I learned.

Moving the hands of the Rock Clock forward 20 some years put me in Lake Tahoe, performing as a member of  Big Daddy at Ceasar’s Palace.  The fact  that Duane Eddy had come to hear us was such an honor, and we were all just floored.    After the show, Duane told us he liked the show, and that lifted us up to Cloud 9.

Duane & Deed , his lovely wife, graciously invited me to their home the next day, and I was given a  tour of one of the coolest houses I’d ever been in.  As I recall, there must have been about 20 guitars stored in their cases, and I believe a few on stands.  What blew me away is when Duane handed me a guitar & asked me to play something.   Talk about being  on the spot!   Good Lord, what does a mediocre guitarist play in the presence of one who wrote music history?

We played “Rebel Rouser”, which was a kick!  I decided to play a nicely arranged original song of mine called “Fool”.   Duane picked up a guitar and played the most beautiful counter part on the first listen… perfectly.

Guitarists of this caliper play from their soul, and notes flow spontaneously.   The second time around something completely different comes out…just as beautiful.

What stands out in my memory of Duane Eddy the most is his genuine, warm, friendly manner.   He is “Classic” … just like his music.

Album Photo By The Late Tom Bert