Spike Jones died in 1965, but his orchestrations, which included sneezing, belching in tune, controlled hiccups and asthmatic wheezing, have not been forgotten. The guy who introduced such musical instruments as car horns, cannons, doorbells, water-filled balloons, anvils and flushing toilets will be paid homage this Saturday at the Sundome in "It's a Mad, Mad Musical Madhouse," a concert featuring a motley bill, scheduled to include Kaye Ballard, Pete Barbutti, Billy Barty, Adrienne Barbeau and the great buck-and-wing man, the original choice for the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, Jed Clampett himself--Buddy Ebsen, among others.
Spike Jones and The City Slickers were the kings of musical depreciation during the '40s and '50s. They had seven Top 10 hits during the '40s, beginning with the classic World War II raspberry-blast at the leaders of the Third Reich, "Der Fuehrer's Face" ("Ven der Fuehrer says, 'Ve iss de master race'/Sieg heil! (pfft!) Heil! (pfft!)/Right in der Fuehrer's face"). With his wife, the singer Helen Grayco--who was occasionally permitted to sing "straight"--Jones had a popular radio show in the same decade, and later hosted the fill-in television series The Spike Jones Show, off and on, from 1954 to 1961.
A City Slickers performance was a thing of cracked beauty. Strolling to the podium dressed in a frightening plaid suit with an oversize bow tie, Jones would pick up his baton and nod toward the string section. So far, so good. But then all hell would break loose. He might fire his pistol heavenward, signaling that the madness was about to start. Or "Cocktails for Two" might actually begin as the romantic ballad it was written to be, lulling the audience into a false sense of security. Soon it would devolve into a cacophony of hiccups, cymbal crashes, explosions and general mayhem, all perfectly in tune, mind you, and with complete musical logic. And no performance would be whole without a solo on the latrinophone--a toilet seat strung like a harp--or the infamous trained goat ("nnaaaaah").
A steady succession of zoo animals, giants, midgets, tap dancers and roller skaters would careen across the stage at key moments. Once-serious musicians were made to perform wearing clown costumes, fright wigs and even the dreaded chicken outfit. (Ever tried to strum a harp solo wearing a chicken outfit?) And every soloist could expect to have his suspenders clipped as soon as he'd stand for his moment in the spotlight.
With such antics carefully choreographed into their tight musical performances, there was probably no better-rehearsed group of players during the big-band era--these poor souls had to keep to the score while any number of distractions were taking place. So what can you expect at a tribute to such zany musical mayhem? More of the same, one would hope.
"It's a Mad, Mad Musical Madhouse: A Special Tribute to Spike Jones and the Craziest Comedy Bands of the Past" is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, November 14, at the Sundome, 19403 R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. Tickets range from $7 to $24. 975-1900 (the 'dome), 503-5555 (Dillard's).