|ODD MAN OUT|
FIREZINE: You've been involved with so many different kinds of projects over the years that our readers know little about. We'd like to take the opportunity in this issue to survey some of them. The "Duckman" (1965) 45 was your first released recording. We sent you a copy of it. What can you tell us about it?
PHIL AUSTIN: I had been in the Army and I got involved in a Psychological warfare unit. That's where I met the guys who I started recording with; a guy named Lee Bernhardi, who later used to direct "Barney Miller", and married one of the Lennon Sisters, Janet, and a guy named Ron Budnick. Out of that we started doing this thing called "Duckman", which because I forget why exactly but Gary Usher of Decca Records cut a single on. We were theoretically a group called 'The Buddies'. "Duckman" Part 1 and Part 2, died a quick death. It was based primarily on the fact that Lee Bernhardi could do a really killer duck voice, that was quite good. It's sort of a parody of the Batman television show, which must have been on the air at that time. Lee Bernhardi did the duck voice. The other voices were me and a guy named Ron Budnick, a San Bernadino Disc Jockey. It's just so odd. It's really simple minded and good hearted. I couldn't believe how good I was actually, as far as all these performances I'm doing and everything. These are all voices you'd come to associate later with The Firesign Theatre. I hadn't really realized I was doing them that early. It's a whole lot better than I thought it was going to be. Particularly that announcer, that I do, really pulls the whole thing together in a lot of ways. Gary was very good about the music. That music must have been actually composed for the record. He had at his time there as a house A & R man at Decca and later Columbia Records, access to symphony orchestras, if you wanted to put it on a budget. That music is not canned, he had that music played. In fact I remember, I believe a friend of mine from high school wound up doing the arranging for it. It's very odd. Lee and Ron, the 2 other guys, are really good I thought, very bizarre. I do almost all of the voices. Lee plays just the duck, that's all, just the duck voice. I play the worst voice on it too, which is the whimpy side-kick voice, I noticed most of the other voices are mine. Ron Budnick, who really didn't do voices, was a disc jockey and he plays the police chief or something. It was real interesting to listen to. It was such a nice piece of work really. It could have been just awful.
FIREZINE: You appeared on the Columbia LP, "The Astrology Album" (1967). What was that?
PHIL AUSTIN: I barely remember that. It was another Gary Usher project. I think I wrote narrative tracks, in which you're what your sign is like. I think I'm also the voice, and the I think it's woven together with a lot of stupid music, but I really don't know. I don't have a copy of it myself.
FIREZINE: You're also on David Cassidy's 1975 RCA LP "The Higher They Climb, The Harder They Fall".
PHIL AUSTIN: David and I are connected through a photographer named Henry Diltz, with whom we're both quite close. We know each other but not really all that well. I just sort of sat down and wrote that on the afternoon I came in for the session. It's just a very short little thing. Henry Diltz is one of the of 4 members of a band called "The Modern Folk Quartet". He's the lead singer, in fact. The Modern Folk Quartet is very famous in folk music circles. The Life magazine picture of Paul McCartney was shot by Henry. Henry shot all the Eagles, and Crosby Stills and Nash album covers and is a consummate wonderful musician, as well. Elizabeth, his wife is one of the girls on the cover of "Roller Maidens".
FIREZINE: Didn't "Crawdaddy Magazine" print some of the first detective novel you tried to write in the mid 1970s.
PHIL AUSTIN: Exactly. Didn't "Crawdaddy" use a section that where a detective is trapped in a place where it is Christmas all year round? I don't remember, but it was originally written as part of "Sucker's Game". And there were some parts that "Crawdaddy" didn't print that went on beyond. Nobody's ever seen it except me. There was a wonderful device that I'm gonna turn into a story or maybe just pull from the old manuscript of that story, which was about a writer who has a dream about being in a house in Hollywood, my house. The house that he's in is a screen writer's. His name is Ray Hammer, and he's a Hollywood guy, a guy who wears a thin mustache and always wears a coat with those patches on the elbows and always smokes a pipe, in Hollywood in the '40s. He's so successful that he has a specially made car that operates with a typewriter keyboard instead of a steering wheel. So you type with big old, clacky old keys on an old typewriter, you have to type G - O, or S - T - O - P, in order to stop. That sequence where the guy is driving this car into Pasadena in the '30s, I had originally written for the book, "Sucker's Game" and it's some of the better writing because it came later on. Then at a certain point I abandoned it, and now I can look back and see why, because it was going to be silly to spend too much time on something that essentially the writing was more conducive to writing shorter pieces. That same basic style of writing I've put into "The Old Detective" stories now. I think eventually I'll wind up using "Sucker's Game". I remember I had some good interesting oddball stuff in Crawdaddy. There's several little things, my old TV Guide material starts in there too. It seems to me that was good. The menus start there.
FIREZINE: Didn't you also write some erotic fantasy for "Screw Magazine"?
PHIL AUSTIN: They published a very short story of mine, years and years ago, called "Arnel Wong" I remember getting a really sweet letter from them saying, they really had big arguments about this because it was way too artistic for them. But they published it anyway. And I really have no idea of what happened beyond that point.