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Interview by Rusty Pipes


"I did some stuff for Dupont and they said, 'Well, we know about the prunes and pizza rolls, have you ever taken on a really serious client?' and I said, 'Other than God?'" -- Stan Freberg


Always appearing in suit, tie and glasses, the classic image of Stan Freberg parallels that of Clark Kent. Looking at his picture you'd never think that this was one of the quintessential American satirists of the 20th Century. But make no mistake, inside that normal looking suit is a man of genius with a long career, a man who finally has a monument to his work, Tip of the Freberg.

Fifty years of towering achievements is too much to pack into one box, even when the set weighs in at four CD's and a video tape. Experts like Barry Hansen (Doctor Demento) and Donna Freberg, his wife, had to be called in to decide which material to use. They backed it up with extensive notes, in addition to the story of Stan's career. Of course Stan himself was integral to the process too. Talk about experts!

Yes, it's only part of Stan's work, but no Titanic is going to steam into Tip of the Freberg and claim they couldn't see it. The collection stands gleaming in the sun like The Great Pyramid of Comedy, covered with gold and gems. There's his first hit, John and Marsha, then Banana Boat, Green Christmas, Saint George and The Dragonet, and many other singles, plus selections from the United States of America Volumes One and Two, Elderly Man River from his CBS days, even a recent delight from last year called Conspiraski Theory. And that's just the tip of The Tip. It's truly a treasure trove of recorded humor.

It's also a tribute to a man the advertising world long ago rated a genius because he was able to put the same wit into his advertising work. One CD is mostly radio commercials and the video contains the best of his TV work, from the immortal Sunsweet Prune campaign to the Encyclopedia Brittanica commercials featuring his son Donovan.

Other unusual work here includes a six minute long Butternut Coffee commercial. Yes, six minutes. There's also the commercial he did for the Presbyterian church which sounds heartfelt as it gently needles about not going to church regularly. And quite possibly the most unusual commercials ever made--the McGovern-Hatfield Vietnam War spots, written to help end the war sooner in 1971. It was almost successful, too.

Bolstering his comic writing with great music, Stan is often drawing on the talents of swing experts like Billy May, but there's also contributions from Les Baxter, Quincy Jones and others. It's all beautiful work, and almost all was recorded live as you hear it. That's no small trick to get an entire orchestra and actors all firing on the same cylinder. Especially in the early work, there's virtually no studio editing of any kind; even the sound effects were recorded live. That's how radio is REALLY done.

Radio was Freberg's perfect medium. After Jack Benny's network radio show went off in 1957, only Stan was considered big enough to replace it. His new show was the last of it's kind--a radio show on a national network. For a total of 15 weeks. Amazingly in this day of unbridled humor, Stan's unerringly straight brand of satire had problems with censors. Looking back he stands like a paragon of virtue, especially compared to the up and coming comedians of his own day like Lenny Bruce and Mort Sahl.

I can't think of anyone who can't enjoy Stan's work, except possibly a professional censor. Like Star Trek's ubiquitous Trekkies, Stan's fans could be called "Freebies." Charter members would include Doctor Demento and Weird Al Yankovic of course, but membership would also run to Ray Bradbury, Marlon Brando, The Beatles, Stanley Kramer, John Cleese, The Firesign Theater, people he spoofed like Jack Webb and Lawrence Welk, fellow comedians Ernie Kovacs and George Carlin and countless more. Stan recounts that in a chance meeting on the set of the Monkees' movie Head, even Frank Zappa told him he was "the World's Greatest Freberg Fan." Freebies are everywhere it seems.

With his towering accomplishments in the world of comedy and advertising, maybe Stan's straight looking persona really is a secret identity. He probably is wearing a cape and a big "S" on his chest under that suit, because he certainly has super powers when it comes to comedy.

TIP OF THE FREBERG INTERVIEW

Author's Note: When I called up Stan for the interview, I was hoping to talk for perhaps as much as twenty or thirty minutes, but instead I got a wonderful conversation that lasted an hour and a half. We covered an incredible range of subjects. Unfortunately, deadline pressures prevented me from transcribing the interview in its entirety. So like the new box set which contains only a fraction of the whole, here is just the Tip Of The Freberg Interview.




Freberg: Freberg here.

Cosmik: Wow, I didn't expect you to answer the call yourself.

Freberg: Well I wouldn't have answered if I wasn't expecting your call.

Cosmik: I appreciate that. Anyway I should tell you I was in radio too, for thirteen years starting in 1969. My stock in trade was Frank Zappa, Firesign Theater and of course a lot of your stuff. It became a bit like Doctor Demento but I was much more into spoken word comedy. I have five of your albums on still usable vinyl even.

Freberg: That's great! Vinyl is slowly making a comeback as I keep trying to tell them at Rhino. Of all people they should know that but they seem to resist it. Too small of a vertical market cause now they are totally into CD's.

Cosmik: There's a certain warmness to the sound of vinyl, but at the same time I really appreciate having copies of your stuff in the new box set in nice pristine shape that doesn't have any vinyl noise or pops in them.

Freberg: You know, a guy came up to me in a department store, Bloomingdales, and said, "Mr. Freberg I want to thank you for simplifying my life. I asked him, "What does that mean?" And he said, "For years when I went to parties they'd say, "Bring all your Freberg collection," and he put his arms out like he was carrying two loads of books under each arm. "You know I used to come with all these LP's and tapes and CD's and fourth generation audio cassettes that I paid a lot of money for. Now I just grab this thing the size of a shoe box." I hope you realize though that this is not everything; that's why it's called Tip of the Freberg.

Cosmik: Oh, of course! There's a little bit of everything here, though. From your earliest records right up through those short opinion pieces you've been doing recently on radio.

Freberg: I was doing commentaries (drops his voice as if on air) -- Stan Freberg Here -- and I did those for nine years... Anyhow I did those commentaries until I had to take a hiatus from all that to put this box set together, because you can imagine the work assembling this! Nobody assembled it but me and of course my wife, Donna, who was my producer.

Doctor Demento, otherwise known as Barry Hansen, was very helpful. He claims to be the Worlds' Greatest Freberg Archivist. He may very well be, but he didn't have any access to all the commercials. He has this enormous collection. It's all over his house, ... I saw him the other night over at the Weird Al concert at the Greek Theater. Oh it was great, gee! Barry Hansen was sitting about four rows in front of me and down near the front. We both got complimentary passes from Al. So before it started I went down to the front and yelled up to Barry, "How come you've got better seats than I do? Oh I just remembered, you discovered him!" He hollered back, "Yes, but you inspired him!" Which is what Al says of course.

Cosmik: I was pouring over all the materials in Tip of the Freberg and found the synopsis of your life fascinating.

Freberg: That was sort of a shortened down, mini version of my book that Random House published in 1989, It Only Hurts When I Laugh. You can still find that on the Net actually. It's sort of technically out of print, but everywhere I appear, a stream of people keep coming up with that book to autograph.

Cosmik: I'd always seen pictures of you with a suit and tie on, and for that reason I got the impression that you were from the East Coast. I was really surprised to find out in the liner notes that you are actually from South Pasadena, right here in California.

Freberg: Well, that's how I was able to be a spy in amongst those people. I mean, in those days, they'd say, " Well, he looks like a normal advertising man. He has a proper tie and jacket, his hair is cut short. It's like I Was A Satirist For The FBI or something. Not really the FBI, God knows.

Cosmik: I was curious too, you're the son of a Baptist preacher. When John and Marsha first came out, your liner notes mention that some radio stations refused to play it because they thought it was too suggestive. What did your dad think of it?

Freberg: He wasn't crazy about it, but he understood that I really didn't do it as an obscene thing at all. I mean, it was just a satire on soap operas, radio soap operas which carried over into television. Television soap operas, if you close your eyes, sound exactly like radio soap operas. It was an exercise to see if I could run the gamut of emotions and not ever say anything except the names of the two leading characters, as opposed to all these script pages of verbiage going on and on, blah, blah, yadada, yadada.

Anyhow a friend of mine who was a country-western producer and entrepreneur, Cliffy Stone, ... he had seen me do this in nightclubs and he just had a hunch that it might make an interesting record, so he had me record just a little tape of it and he took this to an A&R guy at Capitol records named Ken Nelson. Nelson said [to] have Freberg come in. I came in and they signed me to Capitol records just on the basis of that little rough tape. Then I redid it in the Capitol studios and we put this syrupy music behind it. I was amazed the thing was a hit immediately. It went to number, umm, I forget. [#21] Barry Hansen's got that all annotated here; he did these wonderful liner notes by the way.

Cosmik: It sold like a quarter million copies, which for that era is insane. I gotta tell you I still disk jockey down at a coffee house in San Pedro. I've played John and Marsha there and last Sunday I played Heartbreak Hotel. They were rolling in the aisles with it. The stuff still works.

Freberg: Yeah. Some people have never heard that before. For example my friend George Carlin called me the other day and said, "I never realized you did John and Marsha! I'd known about that and laughed at it for years!"

Cosmik: George is great, and still so uncompromising after all these years.

Freberg: He's one of the few comedians in the world about whom I'd used the word "brilliant." He's really a writer, a satirist. A true satirist. So is Chris Rock but I changed my opinion slightly of Chris after he got up to get an Emmy for Best Writing [of a cable special] and like 24 writers got up behind him. Gee, I was amazed. My wife turned to me and said "Uh-huh, Chris Rock is a great writer! Look at all these people."

Cosmik: Yeah, but I like Chris in a lot of ways. He's willing to stake out positions that aren't exactly safe.

Freberg: Oh yeah! He can do the black jokes that us white guys can't do, but of course he was preceded by Richard Pryor, who beat him to the punch.

Cosmik: Speaking of other comedians, I was curious to hear your opinion of Lenny Bruce who was very much happening at the height of your radio career.

Freberg: Well, I think he was overrated. Everybody will probably pounce on me for saying that. He was okay, but unfortunately he'll be remembered as a guy who tried to get obscene words into his nightclub routine. If you listen to somebody like Chris Rock now, Lenny Bruce comes off like Walt Disney. But for his time it was amazing that such a fuss was raised. You know cops would come in and close him down and stuff like that. Then of course the thing that killed Lenny Bruce was, no secret to you, drugs killed him. Heroin. So it wasn't the censorship of people. ... He wasn't all that nice to me at the time. I knew him casually that's all.

One time I read a Playboy interview with Paul and Linda McCartney and the interviewer asked, "Where did the Beatles get their unique sense of humor?" and McCartney said, "Probably from listening to Lenny Bruce and Stan Freberg records."

Cosmik: I would have thought they'd cite the Goon Show or something like that.

Freberg: No, he ignored all the British comedians and came up with two American satiric comedians immediately, Lenny Bruce and Stan Freberg.

It's the greatest thing to come across something accidentally like that, you know. Flipping through a Steven King autobiography, something called Dance Macabre, I discovered that among the things that influenced his imagination was [my] commercial about radio, in which the Royal Canadian Air Force dropped a giant ten ton maraschino cherry into Lake Michigan, which of course is on this box set. I did that for the Radio Advertising Bureau.

[But King] said that they dropped the cherry into Puget Sound and it was a twenty ton maraschino cherry. And I thought, "Well, why doesn't he call me to get the correct script?" but then I realized that it really was a tribute to the medium of radio and to me that he remembered it in the theater of his mind as being bigger. And also he called me a genius, and that helped me get over the fact that he hadn't cleared it with me. (Chuckles)

And another great writer and director David Mamet [in his book] Writing in Restaurants, he did the same thing. He quoted this thing as one of the things that made him realize you could do anything, you could write anything.

He didn't say this but I'm telling you, that literature, the printed word is very much like radio. They are the only two mediums left in which the theater of the mind becomes the screen. Television is limited to 27 inches, or whatever it is now, and movies are the same way. It's all there on the screen. But with a book or with a radio experience, it all happens up in the theater of the mind.

So [Mamet] got the right lake, Lake Michigan, but I think he said a thirty ton maraschino cherry and he said that you could hear the sound of bomb bay doors opening, [but] I never put that sound in there and then [he said] there were skyrockets going off along the shore of Lake Michigan. But there were no skyrockets there! I triggered the theater of his mind and he remembered it as being bigger than it actually was. He didn't call me a genius, but he did say I was a fiendishly skillful writer.

But Lenny Bruce never did anything like that maraschino epic in his whole life. I mean, all he did was stand up as a stand up comedian. I don't mean to be cruel, but that's his body of work, recordings of his nightclub act.

Cosmik: You did your humor very straight compared to Lenny, but I was surprised to find so many instances where you had trouble with censorship on your radio show. I was especially surprised to read that the Stan Freberg Radio Show only lasted a couple months back in 1957.

Freberg: There's a couple reasons for that. The first thing was that radio was really on its last legs, that is, network radio. After I replaced Jack Benny in 1957 they were unable to sell me with spot announcements in the show. That would mean that every three minutes I'd have to drop a commercial in. So I said, "Forget it, I want to be sponsored by one person like Benny was, by American Tobacco or State Farm Insurance," except that I wouldn't let them sell me to American Tobacco. I refused to let them sell me to any cigarette company. Now this was 1957, that was a few decades before it became politically correct to not have cigarette advertising. Anyhow they said to me, "Are you nuts? We got American Tobacco, Philip Morris, Ligget and Meyers who want to sponsor at least half the show!" I said, "No, forget it, you have to go to some other, try Proctor and Gamble or something." I did not make it easy for CBS to sell the show.

Also I had constant run-ins with the censor there. He didn't actually run things, but on the first show I made him very nervous with Incident at Los Voraces [a long piece about two rival Nevada gambling clubs] the El Sodom and the Rancho Gommorah competing against each other.

Thirty-five years before the term "political correctness" had even been invented I was doing things like Elderly Man River, in which the censor keeps me from trying to offend certain groups, straightening out my grammar and such. The censor at CBS never picked up on the fact that I was kidding HIM. What he worried about mostly was Oscar Hammerstein and Jerome Kern's estates might get upset that I had re-written the lyrics to Old Man River from Showboat.

This is the guy that said to me to me one time, "The Zasloff family, those acrobats that you have on radio, what nationality is that?" And I said, "Well, aren't you even going to make a remark about how outrageous is it that I have acrobats on radio? It's so stupid." He said, "But Zasloff, what is that supposed to be, Polish?" I said, "I don't know, Polish, Czechoslovakian." He said, "Change their names to Smith or Jones, you know, that way we won't offend anyone." So when I interviewed Zasloff on the show, I said "Zasloff? What nationality is that, Polish? and he says, "No, it's Swiss! This way we don't offend anybody."

I kept that as a running gag. The only thing in this box set in which I did that gag again is in Bang Gunleigh, where I say, "C'mon Pedro, let's ride. And the girl says, "Pedro. What is that, Mexican?" and he says (Latino accent), "No, seniorita, Sweess. Thees way we don't offend nobody." (Laughs)

Anyhow after 15 weeks they gave me the ax, that's all. I bought an ad in the trade papers when that happened, and I ran a review by a woman named Kay Gardela, radio and TV critic with the New York Daily News, and she said that "Radio's tired blood is being revitalized by Dr. Stan Freberg." So in this picture [for the ad] I was sitting there in a white coat and there's an ax severing my head. And the ax says CBS on it. It was very devastating. Anyhow that's how that show ended.

Cosmik: You know, I must ask the question too about the Puffed Grass commercial that's in Bang Gunleigh from one of those shows. In retrospect it sounds like a marijuana joke -- or was it too early for that?

Freberg: No, no. I was so naive. I never smoked grass in my life. I didn't smoke it OR inhale it! (Laughs) But this was before the Sixties, it really came to be called grass in the Sixties, I think. It was 1957 when I did that. I just thought it would be funny that the gardener would take the clippings from the lawnmower and throw them into the big guns, kidding Quaker Oats, (switches to announcer voice) and the result -- Puffed Grass!

Cosmik: It turns your mouth green!

Freberg: (Laughs) Yeah, you can always spot the Puffed Grass eaters in every crowd, they've got a green mouth. You know, I wish that I had a window somewhere to keep doing this stuff that I did then on CBS radio, but there is simply no arena in which a guy like me can operate anymore. All we have is sitcoms, there's no place in television for it. You can't say Saturday Night Live because it's not the same thing at all.

Anyhow I think the British like my sense of humor because it reminds them of the Goons, and Monty Python, of course, who I admire greatly. John Cleese has told me he's a great Freberg fan. I guess all the right people are Freberg fans. If Charles Manson is a Freberg fan, I don't want to hear about it.

Cosmik: But I'll apply for that group immediately! I was curious if you ever had any interaction with Spike Jones, Bob and Ray or Ernie Kovacs?

Freberg: Ernie Kovacs was a contemporary of mine. We came up at approximately the same time. I was on The Ernie Kovacs Television Show which they did locally in New York and I almost got him in trouble, I almost got his sponsor to cancel. It was Chock Full of Nuts coffee... Somewhere I gotta find a tape of this, yeah, a kinescope of the Ernie Kovacs Show with Stan Freberg on it. I was only on it once, he was afraid to ask me back after he almost lost his sponsor.

We went to black during the Chock Full of Nuts commercial so I said (to Ernie) "That woman singing the Chock Full of Nuts jingle... she's singing flat!" He says. "Yes, I know." I said "Well, how did she get the job singing the commercial?" And he said, "She's married to the guy who owns Chock Full of Nuts," then, "Hold it hold it, we're back now. I'm sitting here with Stan Freberg. Stan, how did you get started in show business?" And I said, " Ernie I really don't have much talent, but fortunately I'm married to the woman who owns Chock Full Of Nuts Coffee." [Ernie just] rolled his cigar around in his mouth and blew smoke out and then leaned into the lens of the camera and said, "Goodnight folks."

The next morning I was awakened at seven o'clock, like at the crack of dawn at the Algonquin hotel there in New York, by the Capitol Records promotion guy, asking "What the hell did you say on the Ernie Kovacs Show last night?" And I said, "I was just interviewed that's all. What do you mean what did I say?" And he said, "Well, we have a subpoena for you. The guy says he's canceling the Ernie Kovacs Show and he's bringing a suit against you. When are you going back [to LA]?" And I said, "Oh I thought I'd go back tomorrow." And he said, "Oh no you're not, you're going back this morning!"

So I threw everything into my suitcases, I didn't even shower, I got out of the hotel and called the airline and got myself on another flight. I never heard anything more about that.

I never told this story before by the way. I met Kovacs a couple times after that and he said, "Thanks a lot, Freberg. I managed somehow to throw all the blame on you, by telling the man that I was sorry, that I had no control over what you were saying since we were on live. But Stan, the guy was sitting there in front of the television set, with his wife!"... The guy obviously had to defend the honor of his wife, even though deep down, he'd have probably said, "Right, that's my wife's story." She was actually like a half a tone flat.

But anyhow, Kovacs, he was a brilliant guy, and if only he had taken his Rolls-Royce home from the Beverly Hilton or wherever he was, instead of the maid's car, which was some crappy piece of tin... In those days safety was the last thing on anyone's mind. He hadn't been drinking or anything, and he told his wife, Edie Adams, "You take the Rolls," and threw her the keys. She had come late and borrowed the maid's car... He hit wet pavement, it was raining and skidded into this lamppost, and that was the end, snuffed out, of Ernie Kovacs... But he was one of the really brilliant guys, and I do, as opposed to Lenny Bruce who I thought was overrated, I do think Ernie Kovacs was probably underrated as a brilliant, brilliant humorist. [Some people say] some of the things on the video reel of this box set reminded them of Ernie Kovacs, and that's because our brains came from roughly the same place, making fun things. He was just a very inventive guy.

Cosmik: I was especially impressed with the fourth CD, which is composed of nothing but your commercials, and so many that I'd never heard before.

Freberg: I figured that most people would not have heard everything that was on there. And that was the first time that I've allowed anybody to put my commercials out for sale because I own the rights on all those things.

Cosmik: I can imagine the box set actually being used in a lot of marketing classes because it's really a tour de force in broadcast writing.

Freberg: I guess a guy could take that fourth CD and teach a class with it. [He should] read the running commentary that I did in the liner notes explaining why I did certain things. Like the Vietnam spots, if you just heard that cold without reading why I did them, you might think, "Well is Freberg making fun of the Vietnam War?" or "What's going on here?"

Cosmik: I saw that as a real departure. I hadn't known you to be an anti-war activist or operate in a political vein at all.

Freberg: It's the only political activist thing I ever did on that war. When we were in the Gulf War of course I was doing [the Stan Freberg Here] commentaries.

Cosmik: Have you ever written a commercial that just tanked, that didn't do what you thought it would do?

Freberg: No, no, I haven't. The worst that could happen was a commercial that did not make the sales shoot up, and in almost all cases sales went up. In varying degrees, at least in a small amount the sales did go up. But sales aside I made people now think of that company in a different way. That's what I did for giant Goliath clients like the Mellon Bank in Pittsburgh and General Motors. I did some stuff for Dupont and they said, "Well, we know about the prunes and pizza rolls, have you ever taken on a really serious client?" and I said, "Other than God?"

Cosmik: You mean your Presbyterian commercials?

Freberg: Yeah, That sort of stopped them. Yes, God was my client at one point, they never asked that question again. But I couldn't get their commercial through their red tape. But no I never had a campaign that really tanked, no. I had a couple campaigns turned down by the client which had nothing to do with the creative quality of the work. One was the Renault automobile company in which I wanted them to take on Detroit. They said (switches to stuffy French accent) "Monsieur Freberg, these are the most brilliant commercials we have ever heard, but unfortunately we do not, uh, how you say, have the guts, to take on General Moteurs, and ze Chryslers." Anyway I didn't have to give the money back, that's part of the deal. I make them give me the money in front and then I write the thing. And whether they like it, they can put it on the CBS network or they can throw it in the trash. They can do what they want with it, but I can retain the rights to the material and I don't have to give any money back. In other words I don't work on spec.

Cosmik: Nice to have a little clout.

Freberg: Yeah, one of the things I tell clients is I think so much better with the money in front. Anyway the only other time the same thing happened was with a guy that couldn't bear to do it to the memory of his mother. It was Mrs. Filbert's Mayonnaise. This guy, Mr. Filbert, came to me and it was a perfect mayonnaise, it has all the right ingredients and so forth and I said, "You don't mind if I kid your name, Mrs. Filbert's, I mean it isn't like Best Foods or something?" And he said, "No. no, no, do whatever you want. Why do you think I came to you?" So when I read him the commercials, he laughed and then three days later he called me up and said, "I've been thinking it over and I can't do this to the memory of my mother." That had nothing to do with the creative value of the stuff.

Cosmik: That's too bad.

Freberg: That'll be in my next book. I think I have a rough tape of it somewhere...That's the other thing that took so long with my wife and I had to search with the guy at Rhino helping find the masters from Capitol and other places. They have their stuff stored in about five different places now after the Northridge earthquake. Very paranoid. Nat King Cole is fifty miles away from Frank Sinatra who is thirty miles away from Stan Freberg.

Cosmik: That's funny.

Freberg: No, it's true. This guy Bill Inglot finally rounded up all these quarter inch 15 ips masters, and boy they were beautiful quality! I can't believe that magnetic tape would survive without any print through, any wowing. It must have been stored perfectly at just the right temperature, which I'm sure it was. Anyhow, for disc four we had to search in our archives in two different storage places to finally find the Vietnam stuff in very good quality. Of course we put everything through a computer system called Sonic Solutions. That's a glorious digital thing, you know. Before, when I transferred the United States of America [Volume One] to digital, if I thought of something I wanted to raise the level of something five or ten minutes in from the top we had to go all the way back to the beginning and start over.

Cosmik: Ouch!

Freberg: Yeah, it was terrible. I said to the guy, "All these years I wanted to raise the line, 'Rumble, rumble, rumble, mutiny, mutiny, mutiny,' about 2 dB," so the engineer just kind of sunk his head down and stopped the tape machine. I was used to film and videotape, well film at least, where you can punch up certain things. Now with this Sonic Solutions, they don't have to start over. I wanted to bring up June Foray's line on Little Blue Riding Hood, "A cop, I should've known!" It was always a little soft, I managed to pull that line up 4 decibels.

It was the same engineer, by the way, who had sunk his head down before, so he was all ready for me... he said, "We don't have to worry about that anymore, you can punch in anywhere you want." Bob Norberg is his name. He's a Freberg fan, which helps a lot, as opposed to somebody who says, "What kind of records did you make, Mr. Freberg?"

Cosmik: I am so knocked out by all the beautiful Billy May stuff that's all over these CD's.

Freberg: Oh yeah!. I want to use him on these new Michelina ads I'm working on that I wrote in a swing mode, just like old times. He keeps saying to me, "I've retired, that was it. That was the last thing I wanted to do, United States Volume Two! Don't call me!" But he'll come in and do this with me. He's a brilliant guy. He was there in the swing era, with Charlie Barnett, he wrote the arrangement for String of Pearls, Glen Miller he was with too.

Cosmik: So tell us about USA Volume Three, what period is that going to cover?

Freberg: Well I was up to General MacArthur in World War II. I had written a song about that and Richard Foos called me and asked, "What are you working on right now?" I said, "What do you mean? I'm doing what you instructed me to do, working on Volume Three of the USA. I just finished a song on the Great Depression called It Wasn't Such A Great Depression, and now I'm up to MacArthur who can't leave Corregidor because he can't find his sunglasses." (Laughs) And he says, "That sounds great but let that go for now. We've decided that we want to put out the Ultimate Freberg Box Set." So I said "No, no! We'll do that when I'm a little older." He said, "No, now. Now is the time." So my wife and I went in and sat down (with Richard) and first we said, "we don't want to put any commercials in there." And he said, "No, no! That's part of it that's another instrument that you play, It's another part of your career, you know, another hat," but I wanted them to put out a whole box set of just my commercials, radio and television.

Cosmik: I think that would be a huge seller just in the education market alone. It's a text book.

Freberg: Oh yeah, it would be. So they finally talked me into making one CD out of four mostly radio commercials. That's where I put in Oregon, Oregon, that's a few things I did for the Oregon Centennial and the BBC show, stuff like that. [I put it in] for the benefit of the people who are playing Disc 4 that would say, "That's about enough advertising, Freberg, what else can be got from you?"

Cosmik: I must tell you I was amazed by that six minute long monster for Butternut Coffee, Omaha. I had never heard that before.

Freberg: Oh, you never heard Omaha?

Cosmik: Yeah, I wasn't living in LA back then and I understand it was mostly played after Dodger games. It's amazing, it rolls along five minutes before it gets to the sponsor's name!

Freberg: I have a whole chapter in my book on Omaha. Don Keogh, he told me that when he played Omaha for the old gentleman, Paul Gallagher was his name, who owned Butternut company, he sat there entranced as it played and it played and it played and his brow began to furrow as he didn't hear the name of his coffee company mentioned. Finally in the end he was crying. This man Don Keogh said, "Mr. Gallagher, you're crying! Don't you like it?" And he said, "No, it's wonderful. I'm just so grateful that he finally mentioned the name of my coffee!" (Laughs)

At any rate after I did Omaha, which managed to quadruple the sales of Butternut Coffee in Southern California and Northern California...the guy at Capitol, Ken Nelson, my A&R man, said, "Gee, I was listening to that on the radio the other day, if we would just change the ending and didn't make it a commercial in the last minute, we'd put that out." So I re-wrote the ending and that's also on this box set. Doctor Demento insisted that I put in the non-commercial version of it. I won't give the joke away, you can hear that. And that sold very well, they put it on what you'd call an extended play 45.

Cosmik: It's a nice piece of work, very much like Rogers and Hammerstein.

Freberg: Billy May did the arrangement, it was spoof of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals original cast albums...He was always doing wonderful satiric jokes in the music. For example on Take An Indian To Lunch This Week on the United States of America, he realized that it was for the Indians, but that I also meant it for black people as well. In the end of the music he played "way down yonder in the land of cotton." ... Certain people like Quincy Jones said, "Man, I dig how you put Swanee in there at the last. ... The Indians were like the first niggers if you want to look at it that way. And the Indians loved that thing. I wrote in the liner notes about how the chairman of the Navajo nation whose (white) name was Peter MacDonald...he invited me to sing that at the Kennedy Center. And I got a standing ovation.

Cosmik: I had no idea you ever did a live production of that. I'm glad to hear USA finally made it to the stage in some form, but radio seems to be your best medium.

Freberg: It's the medium that I love the best because you're dealing with men's and women's imagination and theater of the mind. But I thought maybe that window had arrived in 1991 when the BBC came to me and wanted me to do The New Stan Freberg Show. So I did one episode only which they've re-run nine or ten times on the BBC. NPR ran it once around Thanksgiving [in 1991].

Cosmik: I remember that. You had Harry Shearer in it and that song about the Democrat candidates.

Freberg: What Does It Take To Get A Half-Way Decent Democratic Candidate.

Cosmik: Right!

Freberg: That wouldn't be too bad right about now.

Cosmik: Update it and release it as a single!

Freberg: Well, I told that to the President of Rhino who's a staunch Democrat, which I realized after he turned down the idea. I wanted to put that into this box set and he sort of wrinkled his nose at it.

Cosmik: But back to the show, why was there was only one Stan Freberg Show on the BBC?

Freberg: [At the time Margaret Thatcher] and some other people were trying to cut the fat out of the budget at the BBC. They went through the BBC slashing this, slashing that and my friend Jonathan actually hid under his desk as the guy came down the hall asking questions, ""Who's that? Who is that woman there; what is she doing?" ... In hushed tones, he was talking to me on the phone, under his desk. (shifts to English accent) "It's a bad time, old boy. It's a bad time to suggest a new series." That was nine years ago.

That reminds me it's about time to jog his memory again. Has the moment passed now? Is it safe now? I mean that. I'm going to call him up the moment I hang up with you.

Cosmik: I'm about out of tape anyway and I'd certainly be the last to stand in your way. Go for it!


(C) 1999 - Rusty Pipes

Whether you had no idea who Stan Freberg was until today (and what rock were YOU living under?) or you're a big fan, you'll enjoy these four clips from the new box set, Tip Of The Freberg, from Rhino Records. All you need is a real audio player. If you don't have one, snag one here.


Elderly Man River

Christopher Columbus

Puffed Grass

Christmas commercial