"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
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: 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
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
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
Cosmik: I would have thought they'd cite the Goon Show or something like
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
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
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]
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
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
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
Freberg: What Does It Take To Get A Half-Way Decent Democratic Candidate.
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
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.
Elderly Man River
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.