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Geoff Cooper (R.I.P.) and the Roto Rooter Goodtime Christmas Band
One Sunday evening in the late summer of 1973, I was doing my live show on KMET in Los Angeles (that was before the show went national). Captain Chaos and Jungle Judy were answering the phones for me when the Captain announced "There's this guy on the phone who says he has Napoleon XIV with him!" I picked up the call, and was quickly introduced to Jerry Samuels, who is indeed the creator of "They're Coming To Take Me Away, Ha-haaa!" Just another amazing little moment in the history of the Dr. Demento Show.
The guy who made the call was an amazing fellow himself. It was the late Geoff Cooper, who died on November 28 at 65. After I spoke with Jerry, Geoff got back on the phone and told me about the band he was in, the Roto Rooter Goodtime Christmas Band. He asked me if I'd like to come to his place and meet Jerry and hear some music by the band.
I didn't normally play unreleased music on the show at that time...station management was worried about lawsuits and such. But the chance to meet Jerry was a temptation I could not refuse. I went to Geoff's place, met Jerry, and heard some tapes of the Roto Rooter band's irresistible music. On my next show, lawyers be damned, I played the band's brilliant rendition of "March of the Cuckoos," the Laurel & Hardy theme.
That opened the door for a whole lot more unsigned artists, including, eventually, "Weird Al" Yankovic. But in the meantime I became a rabid fan of the Roto Rooter band, catching as many of their shows as I could. I'd often act as a quasi-M.C., and eventually made them the guest stars on my own shows. After the network show began we did some out of town shows as well, as far away as Seattle.
The Roto Rooter band was no ordinary group. The members met while playing brass, saxes and drums in the UCLA marching band, which connived to get Geoff selected as UCLA's head cheerleader. (His long hair and hippie-ish demeanor were acutely controversial on campus). After graduation they stayed together as a sextet, playing concerts and impromptu appearances (often outdoors). Their repertoire consisted of breezy arrangements of the classics plus nostalgic tunes like "On the Good Ship Lollipop" and "Happy Trails" along with such incongruities as Jimi Hendrix' "Purple Haze."
Roto soon evolved into a nightclub/concert act with zany, elaborate staging in the Spike Jones tradition. With indoor sound systems they added such specialties as "Martian March," featuring space-age sound effects and Auf the Wally's dulcet vocals. The band was signed to Vanguard and made an album, which included their rendition of my theme song, "Pico and Sepulveda." One day they appeared at my manager's office and surprised me with a complete set of themes and jingles for my show. The opening theme from that package, an instrumental version of "Pico and Sepulveda," is still heard on every single show. It's also Roto that plays the fanfare that introduces the Top Ten, and "It's time for Number One, this is it, here it comes, Number One!"
Geoff played saxophone in the band. Like all the members he sported a crazy nickname, "Dr. Mabuse DOA." He was also the band's recording engineer deluxe. He studied TV sound production at UCLA, and spent a little time doing studio engineering in New York, which is how he met Jerry Samuels. A bit later he became an audio engineer for NBC-TV's Los Angeles studios, and remained there for a decade or so. He also recorded many live reggae performances in Jamaica for Roger Steffens' well-known radio show. After that he opened a collectors’ record shop in Burbank, named for D. B. Cooper, the storied airline hijacker (no relation). It was there that the Roto Rooter band, which had broken up in the early 1980s, held a joyful reunion in 1997, with me once again as the quasi-M.C.
Geoff did like his smokes, and he became ill with lung cancer last summer, just as the band was starting work on a comeback CD. After his passing, many warm and hilarious tales were told about him at a gathering of friends on December 3.
The Vanguard album has never appeared on CD, but something even nicer is available -- a CD of Geoff's excellent recordings of the band, including superior versions of "Pico and Sepulveda" and "The Martian March" along with "Jungle Boogie" and "The Rite of Spring" (a wondrous showcase for Geoff's sound effects). It can be found at amazon.com.
Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band
I do have a copy of the album, but it is in stereo. I won it on eBay sometime back.
I also have the test pressing I won on eBay back in January 20th, 2004!
It is also in Stereo. I was hoping it was the quad, but it's not. This is a nice piece of Demento history! The band sent Dr. Demento a test pressing before the album was released!
From: Dr. Al
Doctor D - Great writeup. Please keep the blogs coming because learning a little about the backstory enriches the music. A few decades ago I was on travel for work in LA and stopped at the intersection of Pico and Sepulveda Blvds. I had Pico and Sepulveda running in my head for the rest of the day.
From: Dr. Demento
For the record: our historian Jeff Morris has dug deeply into the files and reports that I first played Roto's "March of the Cuckoos" on June 10, 1973, so the phone call from Geoff must have happened on June 3 or perhaps a week or two earlier, rather than in the fall of that year.
I met Geoff at his store also, in March 1998, thanks to Dr. D.
Does anyone have a copy of the quad version of the Vanguard album? It's mentioned on the back cover, but I've seen the album many times and it's always been the stereo version.
From: Colorado Russ
So sorry to hear that Mr. Mabuse has passed on.
I became a fan of the RRGTCB after hearing "Martian March" on your show, and once owned two copies of their Vanguard album. (I gave one of them away at a swap meet.)
I even met him at his record store in the 1990s. He said that those vinyl albums were still collectable (the note on the back label was right)!