Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

From Academic Kids

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (more often the Bonzo Dog Band) was the brainchild of a British art-school set of the 1960s. Part jazz band, part psychedelic rockers, the Bonzos came to the attention of a broader British public through a children's television programme, Do Not Adjust Your Set. In the spirit of their origins, they were originally called The Bonzo Dog Dada Band. (Bonzo the dog was a popular British comic strip character created by artist George Studdy in the 1920s.)

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The band's foundation

The band was founded by two dada enthusiasts, Rodney Slater and Roger Ruskin Spear (a descendant of Victorian literary giant John Ruskin and son of the British artist Ruskin Spear). Roger Ruskin Spear specialised in the manufacture of early electronic gadgets/objets d'art and sound-making systems. Also from art school came the two main songwriters in the group, Neil Innes, piano/guitar, and Vivian Stanshall, trumpet (as well as other wind instruments, including belly wind) and vocals; and "Legs" Larry Smith, drummer, dancer and "chanteuse"; as well as others listed in "The Intro and the Outro" below.

A move from jazz to rock

Although they started out playing jazz, they changed their style of music from jazz to rock in order to counter claims that they were beginning to sound like the Temperance Seven. In fact, a former member, Bob Kerr went on to create his own band Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band which combined the lunacy of early Bonzo music with music which did in fact have a great deal in common with the Temperance Seven.

They appeared on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a children's show notable for having several future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus and David Jason in the cast.

Their first album Gorilla included "Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold" which savagely parodied their early 'trad' jazz roots and featured some of the most deliberately inept jazz playing ever recorded. "The Intro and the Outro" in which every member of the band introduced and played a solo, started with genuine band members:

Hi there, nice to be with you, happy you could stick around.
Like to introduce "Legs" Larry Smith, drums
And Sam Spoons, rhythm pole
And Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell, bass guitar
And Neil Innes, piano.
Come in Rodney Slater on the saxophone
With Roger Ruskin Spear on tenor sax.
Hi, Vivian Stanshall, trumpet.

before including such improbable members as:

Big hello to big John Wayne, xylophone
Looking very relaxed Adolf Hitler on vibes
Eric Clapton on ukulele [it was actually Clapton playing],
Yeah! Digging General de Gaulle on accordion.
Really wild, General! Thank you, sir.
Roy Rogers on Trigger [sound of flowing liquid].
We welcome Val Doonican as himself. [Irish voice repeats "Hello there"].

Urban Spaceman et al

They had a hit single in 1967 with "I'm the Urban Spaceman" which was produced by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym "Apollo C. Vermouth". The Beatles were great fans of the group and they featured them performing the song "Death Cab for Cutie" in the Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour. Their anarchic song "Trouser Press" — featuring a solo by Roger Ruskin Spear on a genuine trouser press he had fitted with a pickup — gave its name to an American anglophiliac rock magazine. "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?" lampooned the British blues boom, and tap dancer/drummer "Legs" Larry Smith was an onstage hit with his lubricous dancing. Another notable number, "Humanoid Boogie" presaged rap music. Of their many songs parodying parochial suburban British attitudes, arguably the best was "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe" on the album "The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse", whose lyrics were printed in minuscule fluorescent pink type on a generally grey background.

Other favourites from the album Keynsham (1969) were "We Were Wrong", starring Rodney "Rhino" Desborough Slater ("Rhino", seemingly because of his facial skin) and including the inimitable lines "I'm going to rhino over your lino, I'm going to rhino with you ... In all kinds of leather, we rhino together, we'll keep rhinoing through" and "Tent": "I'm gonna get you in my tent (tent, tent), where we can both experiment (ment, ment)...".

The band appeared at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival.

The Bonzos toured the United States with The Who and also appeared at the Fillmore East with The Kinks. Their stage show was true to the dada spirit, with Stanshall doing a mock striptease and Roger Ruskin Spear with a platoon of robots, including one that sang "I'm forever blowing bubbles" while actually blowing bubbles. "The Canyons of Your Mind" featured a particularly poor guitar solo to comic effect.

One of the Bonzos' song titles, "Cool Britannia", was revived as a label for a supposed trend in the UK media following the 1997 election of a Labour government (oblivious of the patently satirical intent of the original song). This alleged trend was seen by many to be a symptom of political spin, possibly intended to boost tourism to the UK.

The band's line up

Their line-up varied, sometimes on a weekly basis and a list (although incomplete) of members would include: Vivian Stanshall on trumpet, "Happy" Wally Wilks, Tom Parkinson, Chris Jennings, Claude Abbo, Trevor Brown, Tom Hedge, Rodney "Rhino" Desborough Slater on saxophone, Eric Idle, Neil Innes on piano and guitar, Roger Ruskin Spear on tenor sax, Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell on electric guitar, Mike Oldfield, Eric Clapton on ukulele, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Martin "Sam Spoons" Ash on the rhythm pole, Leon Williams, John Parry, Raymond Lewitt, Sydney "Big Sid" Nicholls, "Legs" Larry Smith on drums, James "Jim Strobes" Chambers, Bob Kerr, Dave Clague, Joel Druckman, "Borneo" Fred Munt, Chalky Chalkey, Dennis Cowan, Aynsley Dunbar on drums, Jim Capaldi on drums, Anthony 'Bubs' White on guitar, Andy Roberts, Dave Richards, Dick Parry, Hughie Flint and Glen Colson.

"Legs" Larry Smith toured with Clapton and Elton John and can be heard tap dancing on John's "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself".


Original LPs

  • Gorilla. October 1967. US release: Imperial 12370.
  • The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse. November 1968. (a euphemism for a toilet built in a back garden) US release (as Urban Spaceman): Imperial 12432.
  • Tadpoles. August 1969. US release: Imperial 12445.
  • Keynsham. November 1969. US release: Imperial 12457.
  • Let's Make up and Be Friendly. March 1972.

Compilations and miscellaneous

  • The Best of the Bonzos. August 1970.
  • The History of the Bonzos. April 1974. Double-CD rerelease: Beat Goes On, 1997, BGOCD376
  • The Very Best of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. October 1984.
  • Unpeeled. Strange Fruit/BBC SFRCD134, 1995.
  • The Peel Sessions. Strange Fruit/BBC SFRCD108, 2002. A reissue of Unpeeled with the addition of four newly discovered tracks.
  • The Bestiality of the Bonzos. April 1990.
  • The Best of the Bonzo Dog Band. Rhino, 1990, R2 71006. In addition to Bonzo Dog Band material, contains Trouser Freak by Roger Ruskin Spear and His Giant Orchestral Wardrobe and Suspicion by Vivian Stanshall and His Gargantuan Chums.
  • Cornology 1: The Intro. EMI, 1992. Contains Gorilla and The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse. (Together with The Outro and Dog-Ends, also available as part of a three-CD set, Cornology.)
  • Cornology 2: The Outro. EMI, 1992. Contains Tadpoles and Keynsham.
  • Cornology 3: Dog-Ends. EMI, 1992. Contains some singles and Let's Make up and Be Friendly.
  • Anthropology: The Beast Within. DJC (i.e. Dave Clague) DJC008, 1999. Rehearsals, demos, and out-takes, 1967-8.

See also


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