Monday, October 3, 2011

Pheaturing Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz From Al's Band

Hello, welcome back to the Phile for a Monday. So yesterday we went to the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum and after spending fifty dollars for all of us to go in, it was more like Rip-Off's Believe It Or Not. Did you see Joe Biden on “The View” the other day? It was a little weird, when Whoopi said it was time for “Hot Topics,” Biden was like, “The sun! Coffee! Toasters! Did I win?” A town in China just canceled a dog-eating festival that has been a tradition for 600 years. Or as cats put it, “Uh oh... ” Republicans are having trouble luring Gov. Chris Christie into the presidential race. They should try pie. The two American hikers have been released from Iran and they’re trying to reintroduce them to American culture. Right now, they’re in a screening room outside of Washington, going through Jennifer Aniston comedies. There was no communication for the two years they were captive. There were a couple of emails from Anthony Weiner, but that’s it. Did you know that if if you donate $5 to President Obama’s re-election fund, you have a chance to have dinner with him? It's true. The first lady will even come around and personally knock the dessert right out of your hand. It’s all part of the president’s plan to get the country gambling again. Now, they’ve dropped the price from $5 to $3. It’s the first presidential groupon. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently went hunting and killed a bison. Yeah, it was weird, because the bison’s last words were, “I... hate... the new Facebook layout!” Last week, an 80-year-old woman in Alabama was arrested for selling cocaine. Which is why every birthday, her grandson gets a rolled up $5 bill. Okay, everybody, I want to show you something. I found something on the internet and I cannot find where to buy them. I want these so bad. Take a look. 

If you find them or know where I can get them, email me at So yesterday at Ripley's I met my twin. 

Or it's me in ten years. 

Okay, while I was at Ripley's I thought of a new pheature for the Phile. Here it is. It's...

This apparent disaster-waiting-to-happen is on the Island of St. Maarten. The airport has a particularly short runway that ends just 40 feet from beach, leaving large planes just barely enough room to land. So they have to come in low, directly over the beach, making it a prime destination for an afternoon of quiet, relaxing sunbathing.

Alright, today's guest has been is a drummer best known for working with the singer-songwriter "Weird Al" Yankovic. The new album long-awaited new album "Alpocalypse" is out now from iTunes and in stores and he could be seen in the Blu-ray and on Comedy Central in "Weird Al" Yankovic Live! - The Alpocalypse Tour". Please welcome to the Phile, the one and only... Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz. 

Me: Hello, sir, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Jon: I'm phine, thank you! Also very excited to be here, this is my phirst Blogspot interview!

Me: I have to ask, your nickname is great. Bermuda Schwartz. Like Bermuda shorts. Have you had that nickname all your life? Who started calling you Bermuda?

Jon: Al started calling me Bermuda Schwartz early in our association. He felt that since "Weird Al" was in quotes, I should also have a quotable name. So it's officially Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz, and my name appears that way on the albums, my driver's license, credit cards, bank accounts, etc.

Me: Does your family call you Bermuda instead of Jon?

Jon: Well, I have a neice who calls me Uncle Bermuda to avoid confusion with her Uncle John, but otherwise, I'll always be Jon to the people closest to me.

Me: Let's talk about Al, have long have you known him? Did you see him on "Conan" recently?

Jon: I met Al on September 14, 1980, so we've known each other well over half of our lives. I saw the "Conan" thing online, nicely done. It's funny that after many years of trying to make an appearance, it winds up being so brief, but it's a start!

Me: So, you've been working for him pretty much his whole career?

Jon: Al was already a popular artist on the Dr. Demento Show, and Capitol had issued "My Bologna" as a single before I came along. But starting with "Another One Rides The Bus" - performed live on the air the night I met Al, and recorded for posterity - I was there.

Me: When you first started out did you ever think he would get so big?

Jon: I wasn't sure what I thought at the time, except that Al was a nice guy and the whole idea of parodies and accordions and sound effects seemed like fun to me. I don't think I could have imagined touring, gold records, videos, or an actual career just working with him. But it wasn't long before it was obvious he was going to stick around for a while. I would never have guessed that more than 30 years later we'd still be at it, but it's actually pretty cool. And the fact that Al & the original bandmembers have stayed a unit for so long is a real anomaly in the music business.

Me: Jon, where are you from, sir? Do you still live there?

Jon: I was born in Chicago, moved to Phoenix, and by age 12 was in Los Angeles where I live today. Chicago is kind of a distant memory, I was only 3 when I left there, but I still have a warm spot for Phoenix where I spent my formative years and started playing drums.

Me: You grew up in a musical family, right? Are you the only one that played drums?

Jon: My father played accordion, mom played piano and sang, and my brother played drums. I initially took accordion lessons, and when my brother switched to guitar, I inherited his kit and started taking lessons. That was in 1965, and my brother stuck with the guitar, and has made quite a name for himself in the rock, pop and country worlds. Not as a Schwartz though, he's used the name Richard Bennett and can be heard on countless hit records, as well as touring and recording with Neil Diamond for many years, and Mark Knopfler since the early nineties.

Me: I played drums a bit when I was a kid, but I was way too lazy to learn any instrument. I do play the kazoo though, so if you ever need a kazoo player... My dad was also a musician, so I had music all around me growing up, and now my 11 year old is learning to play the guitar. Do you play any other instruments?

Jon: Besides drums, I play some percussion like tambourine, shakers and the like, and a little bit of congas too, but not like a real congero. Definitely nothing melodic, although I can figure out where C is on a piano, and then I know where the rest of the notes are! You're Dave's son? How cool, I loved Foghat! I know he passed away about 10 years ago, I'm sorry for your and music's loss.

Me: Thank you, Jon. I have to ask, when Al approaches you and the other band members with ideas, does he ask for your thoughts?

Jon: Al pretty much knows what he wants right from the start. We get to put a little of ourselves into the originals, and he might ask opinions about a lyric or two, but what you hear on the albums is 99.99% Al.

Me: His song parodies are different then most other musician's songs parodies as his versions if you listened to the music, it's almost note for note to the originals. He even uses the same instruments, right? What was the hardest song to learn that he approached yo guys with?

Jon: We do our best to cop the parts and sounds on the parodies, and on the originals, capturing the vibe is just as important. So on the Weezer soundalike "Skipper Dan", it needs to sound as if they came in and recorded it. Probably the most challenging thing he's thrown at the band was "Genius In France", in some of Frank Zappa's classic styles. It was a real workout for all of us, and was recorded in 17 or 18 sections, then edited together into a seamless performance. I can't even tell where some of the edits are! I know that Al is particularly proud of that song, his piece of resistance (feel free to translate to the French.)

Me: Did you ever think, man, that song is gonna be a bitch to record and perform live?

Jon: There are several songs that would be almost impossible to pull-off on stage, and that certainly tops the list! It's kind of the Beatles syndrome, where they had begun to record material they couldn't play live. Although we have the technology to reproduce any of our songs with partial backing tracks, we try to keep it real in concert. If that means not doing a song because it would end up being karaoke, then we don't do it.

Me: Do you have a favorite song you guys did?

Jon: I have several, both old and new. Each album is better than the last, so I tend to like the current album's material. We're playing most of the songs from "Alpocalypse" on the Summer/Fall 2011 tour, and I like all of those. But my fave 'oldies' are "Dog Eat Dog", "Living With A Hernia", "Cavity Search", "Don't Download This Song"... there are a bunch more. It's impossible to pick one.

Me: I was researching for this interview and I discovered something which I knew a long time ago, and forgot, that Rick Derringer produced Weird Al's first six albums. How did he get that gig?

Jon: Rick's manager at the time was Jake Hooker. Jake wrote "I Love Rock & Roll", and in seeking permission for that song, Jake got Rick involved. Rick arranged studio time to record what became the first album, and he stuck with us through the UHF soundtrack.

Me: Was Rick fun to work with?

Jon: Rick's a real live legend, so it was more cool and awe-inspiring than fun per se. But he was easy to work with, and knew that Al had great ideas and an excellent sense of what works, so Rick was there more as a guide and extra set of ears, rather than telling us what to do. Rick did play almost all of the guitar om the first album, and some occasional solos as well, including "Eat It".

Me: Let's talk about "The Weird Al Show". Were you part of that show?

Jon: The band recorded the theme, and appeared in one episode. I actually appeared in 2 additional episodes, but none of us were actual cast members.

Me: I never saw it, but I am looking for it on DVD. Anyway, when it was canceled were you surprised?

Jon: Unlike making records, there's a finite amount of channels and time available for TV programming. Obviously, not every show lasts forever, and many don't even get the 13 episodes the Al did. So maybe surprised isn't the right word, but we were disappointed. Even though there were only 13 shows, they ran for an entire year, so the show was pretty visible. BTW, the DVD set is still available on Amazon. :)

Me: And what is this you were in the first Transformers movie?

Jon: Not me, but the song "Dare To Be Stupid" was in it. 

Me: Yeah, I knew the song was in it but I thought you were an extra or something. I am an idiot. Okay, let's talk about your music. You and the other guys in the band have recorded a few songs without Al like the song "We've Never Played in Hawaii" and the song "Al's Band" on the Weird Al tribute album "Twenty-Six and a Half". Who are the other guys in the band?

Jon: Steve Jay is on bass & vocals and Jim "Kimo" West on guitar, vocals and occasional keys, have been around since early 1982 and the first album sessions. Keyboardist Rubén Valtierra came along in 1991, and also didn't have the good sense to leave. All are quite accomplished, and each writes and records his own music. The Al's Band tracks were kind of just for fun, a chance for us to cut loose a little without Al. We've worked with each other at times over the years, but this was the first time all four of us worked together .

Me: Are you guys gonna be recording anymore songs?

Jon: We keep threatening, Steve's got something in mind for the next track, but with Al's schedule and our personal commitments over the last few years, it's hard to find the time.

Me: The new Weird Al album "Alpocalypse" took a long time to come out, right? The first single came out a few years ago. Why did the album take so long to come out?

Jon: This was definitely an album in search of a hit single. We'd been gradually recording songs since 2009, and everything had been finished for about 6 months before the Gaga track finally happened. Basically, good parody material is hard to find. In the end, choosing the single was a crucial decision, and Al, and the label, and the fans just had to wait until the right song came along. There's no question that "Perform This Way" was the right choice for a single, and we think it was worth the wait.

Me: Of course, like every album Weird Al released there is a polka song. When did the polka thing first start and become a Weird Al staple?

Jon: The 'polka medley' started in 1982, and never stopped. I think we've done polkas in every show since, although two albums never had them: the first album, and "Even Worse".

Me: Do you prefer the polka stuff or the other songs?

Jon: The polkas are definitely more interesting, taking several different songs and radically changing their vibe. But I like all of the songs.

Me: I read that there's gonna be a video made of each song on that album. Al keeps you guys busy, right?

Jon: Most of the videos are animated, and were included on the deluxe version of "Alpocalypse". And speaking of polkas, for the first time, there is a video for a polka medley. It will also be animated, using the talents of several different animators for variety.

Me: Speaking of being busy, you work with a bunch of other bands as well, is that right? Where do you find the time?

Jon: I've always juggled local bands with Al, and they all understand that at times I'll be touring and unavailable to play. Most of the time they'll use a sub for the few months I'm away, and I get to resume playing when I return. Understandably, some need a permanent drummer and of course it's their prerogative to replace me. But sometimes I'm working 5 nights a week with as many bands. So much for my 'time off' between tours!

Me: I was impressed to find out that you do the Weird Al website and are the band's historian. How did you manage to get that role? I think it's cool.

Jon: I've always been a packrat, and an archivist at heart. I always took photos of people and things, and kept flyers, posters and other materials on all of the bands I was in. When Al came along, it was initially just another band, but soon the importance of the memorabilia I had became more obvious. I was also a computer user for many years, and in 1992 got my own computer at home. It was just a year later that I logged onto the internet for the first time.

Me: Have you been into web design for awhile?
Since about mid 1995. A few of Al's more savvy fans had cooked up sites dedicated to Al, and I decided to follow in their footsteps with the cool info and photos that I had. I created The Bermuda Files, writing code from scratch. Within a few years, it became and I still maintain and update the site, and I still write code. The kids call me a coder.

Me: I have to ask you, what do you think of the Phile's design?

Jon: I like a simple, easy-to-navigate, fast site, and The Peverett Phile is all that and more!

Me: Bermuda, sir, thanks so much for being here on the Phile. You're very busy and I appreciate it. Mention all your websites if you'd like, and I hope to see you guys in concert in Florida here soon. And please tell Al I would love to interview him on the Phile. All the best, and please come back soon.

Jon: Thanks, will do, I had phun! My site's a good starting place:

There you go, another entry and done and one of my favorite interview's ever. I hope I can get Al on the Phile real soon. That would be freakin' cool. The Phile will be back next Sunday with singer RJ Chesney... I wonder if he is related to Kenny Chensey. I have to ask him. And then the Phile will be back on Monday with Daniel Perzan from the band YAWN who will be playing at the Social here in Orlando on the 7th. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

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