I was probably practicing a guitar lick in my Church stall, on a day the waterbed store was closed, when George called me to come downstairs for some cake. It was his birthday. As I descended the stairs, I heard a note from a pitch pipe followed quickly by the opening lines of the most over-the-top, enthusiasm-on-steroids, opera-style rendition of “Happy Birthday” I had ever heard. Belting it out was a short, sweating gentleman dressed in a blue blazer and red bow tie, his eyes ready to jump out of their sockets, his dark hair slicked back. The performance was post-eccentric. The volume he achieved was astonishing. Could have filled an auditorium. “Ozzie,” said George. “I want you to meet John-John.” John was an opera singing tenor who could hit high “C.” He was a friend of George’s from his Baker University days in Kansas—just the sort of person who would fall into George’s orbit. George had served as John’s protector from the louts who populated the pin ball parlor near Baker. He was the kind of person who had been mocked all of his life for being too boisterous, too different, too unique, too much.
Look around where you are right now, then proceed ten years into the future. How could I have possibly known that a decade hence I would utilize John’s talents to promote a television channel that no one had yet conceived, in an industry that had barely been born. At this moment, I was not conceiving anything beyond the birthday cake that John was devouring. This guy could eat.
Here is a compilation of some of my work with John Andrews, one of the most sincere and indefatigable performers I have ever encountered. The first video is pulled from Not For Chowderheads, the 1982 special produced by KTWU, Topeka. The videos that follow were part of a seasonal campaign for MTV while I was marketing director at Sunflower Cablevision in Lawrence, KS.
The Barking Geckos hatched in 1975 during lazy Kansas afternoons spent catching a buzz, listening to Bob Marley, banging pots, pans, and tambourines and singing along with the Wailers albums. We began as a ragtag aggregation of non-professional music lovers with varying degrees of musical acumen, joined together by a lack of inhibition and the absence of demanding employment. We never advanced much beyond that stage, but we became legendary. Almost mythical. At least in our own minds.
Our raggedy improvisations were punctuated with frequent, spontaneous outbursts of joyous barking and yipping. My mission was to remind all that conformity is not a pillar of freedom. Absurdity is truth. The songs I was writing careened from the preposterous to the unconventional with an occasional dose of blues or rock. The Geckos were a perfect vehicle for the nonsensical.
We were the opening band on the opening night of Off the Wall Hall. It was not a paying gig because there were too many of us to pay. Our motivation was based in joy. It wasn’t monetary.
The lineup was Brian and I on guitars, an ever-changing cast on bass, drums, mandolin, harmonica plus a vast array of rhythm shakers that often ended up in the audience. As many as five Geckettes provided percussion and background vocals, though being on key was never a primary goal. Linda was a Geckette and would be the first to admit that she has trouble singing on key. We weren’t an on-key band. Geckettes roamed the stage yipping profusely between songs which in turn caused the audience to bark. Spontaneous barking was our signature sound. At times, I had to politely ask the Geckettes to quit barking and yipping.
The Gecko look was influenced by thrift stores, the Marx Brothers, Sgt. Pepper’s, the Beggar’s Banquet photo shoot, and a host of mind-altering substances. It was anything goes. When Jaw Harp Joe spent a dollar on a box of fifty aprons at a yard sale, he donated them to the cause. I wrote a song now lost for the ages, “Cheap Apron Fashion Show.” Each Geckette improvised a way to showcase her apron at our next gig, either as an anti-fashion statement or as a giveaway item for the audience, a gaggle of tripping hedonists assembled to witness a myth in the making.
For one gig, the Geckettes dressed as nuns in homemade pastel hued habits. At another, they stood behind ironing boards, playing kazoo and washboard. At another, a bagpipe player led them around the block as the rest of the band joined the goofy procession, gathering curious potential fans as we advanced through sleepy downtown Lawrence. I often wore pajamas and a pencil thin fake mustache above my lip. Our drummer wore a gas mask, just in case. Brian sported pantaloons tucked into high boots as he meandered about the stage tuning his axe before, during, and after each song. Jaw Harp Joe wore reflecto mirror shades and a towel wrapped high on his head. Others wore fake noses, leopard skin prints, and garish un-matching outfits picked from Salvation Army bins. The audience yipped and yapped and held up signs. Mimes circulated. I gave away fake puke and other novelty gag gifts from the stage. The whole thing was wonderfully life affirming
Our most noteworthy gig was at the
National Surrealist Party Convention, a brainchild of Firesign Theater founding
member, David Ossman and his wife, Tiny. Firesign Theater was an absurdist
group that began in the 60s and had recorded a few well-known comedy albums.
The Surrealist candidate for President was George Papoon, a guy with a brown
paper bag over his head. His campaign slogan was “Not Insane”.
The national presidential candidates in 1976 were eventual winner, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford, whose running mate was Kansan, Bob Dole, who we referred to as Bob Dull. The Surrealist Party Convention was an antidote to Dullsville. We were in opposite-land, at the far reaches of time and space. I have no idea how the convention came to Lawrence but when Ossman saw the Geckos he knew we were of the same cloth. And it wasn’t polyester.
The Geckos re-formed in 1980, a bit more rehearsed and elaborate. We had two shows, both at the Lawrence Opera House. The first performance, in 1980, was staged for Randy Mason’s “Bringing It All Back Home” blockbuster cable show on Sunflower Cablevision. All of the band members were different than the first Gecko iteration except for myself and Kurt Sigmon (RIP). We were on to something and should have continued but life got in the way. Tell your kids about the Barking Geckos!
Wealth is aspirational. For every 1,000,000 who dream of becoming wealthy (hitting the lottery), only a tiny fraction can succeed. After all, how much room can there be at the top? The aspirants tend to overlook this statistic.
I penned “I’d Love To Be Rich” as a spoof from the viewpoint of a regular sap with daydreams of dough. Recorded in Lawrence, Ks. in 1981 or 82. The Geckettes provide the oooh wahh ooohs.
In the 70s, nothing was more anti-bohemian than the polyester leisure suit. It stood for all that was crass and square in modern, clueless, adult pop culture— disco style replacing freakwear.
Leisure suits are now considered costumes but in 1978 they were worn in a serious way. Fashion ugliness had reached a zenith. By about 1980 they had lost their luster.
In 1980, when the barking Geckos were re-forming, I put a classified ad in the Lawrence Daily Journal World asking for the donation of unwanted leisure suits, needed as a performance prop for a song of mine, Leisure Suit. Two women answered the ad. I obtained one exceedingly bright yellow number and one of a dull shade of green. Could not locate the Holy Grail color: lime green, the suit mentioned in the song. Dull, colorless green would have to do.
My son borrowed the bright yellow suit for his culturally upending dance performance with S. Hack at the South Junior High Variet Show circa 1996 or 97.
Here’s the only recorded version of the song from 1980 Barking Gecko performance at The Lawrence Opera House.