Disseminator of 'demented' ditties bringing revue to Baltimore

September 05, 1991|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Evening Sun Staff

WHEN BARRY Hansen moved into a new house in the Los Angeles area about 18 months ago, it took three 18-wheelers to finish the job, which seems excessive even by conspicuously acquisitive California standards. So what, exactly, was being transported?

"I'm a mild-mannered record collector who kind of lives with 200,000 records," says Hansen, explaining that the triple trailer load included all his precious 78 rpms, long-play albums, audio tapes, CDs and videocassettes.

For the surprisingly subdued voice over the telephone is also unmistakably that of Hansen's airwave alter ego, Dr. Demento.

He's the delightful radio savior of such stacks-of-wax classics as Bernie Bell's "Shaving Cream," Spike Jones' "Der Fuehrer's Face" and Allan Sherman's "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh." And let's not forget such nouveau novelties as "Weird" Al Yankovich's "I Lost at Jeopardy" and Julie Brown's hilarious "The Homecoming Queen's Got a Gun."

All of the above and more are part of the weekly "Dr. Demento Show," a syndicated radio outing heard weekly on more than 175 stations in the United States and overseas (via Armed Forces Radio). The program airs in this area at midnight Sundays on WHFS-FM 99.1.

And celebrating the 20th anniversary of his debut as curator of pop culture's neglected novelty numbers, Dr. Demento is due in Baltimore this weekend on a publicity tour for the new videocassette and album issue, "Dr. Demento: 20th Anniversary Collection."

He is scheduled to present a show called "Dement-O-Rama," live and on stage, at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Senator movie theater, at 5904 York Road in Govans. In addition, he has a live radio appearance on WHFS scheduled for noon on Wednesday and a record store appearance at 4 p.m. that day at the Sam Goody store in Springfield Mall, in Springfield, Va.

"I've never done an appearance in Baltimore before, except for a radio interview once," says Hansen, estimating that on-air chat took place way back in 1975 on the former WFBR-AM. His last national tour was five years ago.

In the stage show, Dr. Demento explores the visual world of weird relics, a more recent enthusiasm than the sound recordings with which he started the "Dr. Demento Show" in 1971 on Los Angeles' KPPC-FM.

The show will include the screening of movie trailers from "B" horror films (such as the legendarily bad "Plan Nine From Outer Space"), cartoons, vintage clips from old movies (such as the Spike Jones Band wreaking havoc to the tune of "Cocktails for Two") and even relatively recent novelty videos. Among the latter titles are the video "Fish Heads" ("eat them up, yum!") by Barnes & Barnes and the movie "Lobster Man From Mars."

"A lot of the mad music I play on my radio show is just as much fun to watch as to listen to," says Dr. Demento at the beginning of his new video collection, in which he appears in his trademark top hat and tails. (Local angle: Baltimore's own Cab Calloway is represented on the cassette in his familiar hi-de-hi-de-ho rendition of "Minnie the Moocher.")

"A lot of musical shorts were made going back to the '20s. Plus there were lots of funny musical numbers in feature films," explains Dr. Demento.

And while record companies no longer put out much in the way of novelty singles, such as those crusty classics "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor on the Bedpost Overnight?" and "Purple People Eater," music videos made with humor in mind serve the same purpose, and most recently include a number of rap songs.

Yankovich is another example, for the parody songwriter's highly successful video/recording career actually began on the Demento dial.

In early 1976, recalls the deejay, he received a tape of a parodic song, "Belvedere Cruising" (about the joys of motoring around in an old Plymouth), from one Alfred Yankovich, a 16-year-old high schooler from Linwood, Calif.

Hansen laughed and played that tape on the air, then a second one titled "School Cafeteria," and the "Weird" Al act was born. As a tribute to his mentor, Yankovich put Demento (along with Yankovich's own parents) in his hit video "I Lost at Jeopardy." The two also occasionally appear in public together.

Many would-be performers send him tapes and videos, says Hansen, who thinks he is into his second generation of fans. His first listeners were actually fellow college kids in the late 1960s.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Hansen, 50, studied piano but found he was more interested in playing the phonograph. He was initially attracted to novelty records by his parents' Spike Jones records. The diminutive bandleader Jones and his irreverent orchestra, the City Slickers, lampooned songs of the '40s and '50s with outrageous sound effects and exaggerated antics, in movies and on the road.

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