Clubbo Records > 1962: Clipper Cowbridge > Clipper Cowbridge interview

Selected Artists

1962: Clipper Cowbridge

1963: The Swiss Invasion

1965: Marilyn Kaye

1969: The Fold

1970: Yorgi

1971: Devon Shire

1972: Sandee Saunders

1976: Rockfinger

1978: The Spooky Bunch

1979: Decoupage

1981: Bleep

1985: Tiger Love

1985: Laryssa Foxxx

1986: Smasher of Things

1987: Suthrn Cuzn

1989: ~pianogirl~

1990: Razorflesh

1995: Breaker Bear

1996: Action Plus

1998: J Lounge

2001: Eesk

2004: Lazarus Project

Clipper Cowbridge interview

Alan Asch conducted this impromptu interview with Clipper Cowbridge on Feb. 12th, 2004. It took place on the set of the Groove Channel’s Masterpieces of Modern Rock program, then hosted by Asch. The pair spoke while the crew was packing up after filming an installment featuring Magna artists Flem. (Used by permission. All contents ©2004 Smokin’ Asch Productions.)

AA: Well, Mr. Cowbridge. . .

CC: Please, call me Clip.

AA: If you call me Alan. So, Clip, it’s just you and me and my trusty Takahashi Tape-Boy. I wish our budget could have covered the cost of keeping the video crew here. [Whispers.] If it were up to me, we’d be filming you and tape-recording the kids.

CC: I appreciate the sentiment, but far be it from me to deny those boys — the Phlegms, they’re called?

AA: [Laughs.] That’s Flem. F-L-E-M.

CC: Far be it from me to deny them their day in the sun. Believe me, I understand better than most the evanescent nature of popular music. Really, the only thing that surprises me is that anyone should evince any interest whatsoever in the, er, eructations of my youth. [Pauses.] How well do you know classical music, Alan?

AA: Little to none. I’m just your typical, aging rock-and-roller.

CC: Have you ever heard of Stanislav Turetsky?

AA: The Little King Nicolai and the Ninety-Nine Clarinets guy? I took my kids to hear it at the symphony last season. It was beautiful, though I have to admit I fell asleep before it was over. But my oldest loved it. He wants to learn to play the piccolo.

CC: That’s interesting. Most kids today seem more drawn to the electric guitar. Or phonograph scratching.

AA: [Laughs.] Well, he grew up hearing his old man strumming guitar every night, so that’s always going to be an uncool instrument in his world.

CC: Really? I wasn’t aware that you played music as well as writing about it.

AA: A little. But we’re here to talk about your music. Why do you mention Turetsky?

CC: Were you aware that he also wrote fourteen symphonies, fifteen concertos, three operas, various anthems and oratorios, and vast quantities of chamber music?

AA: Nope.

CC: But most listeners know him solely for Little King Nicolai, which he dashed off during a brief Caspian Sea holiday. A birthday gift for a young niece, I believe. I mention Turetsky because I sometimes find myself comparing my musical fate to his. But at least his Little King Nicolai is a finely honed children’s classic, whereas my claim to fame is about a digestive disorder.

AA: Who’s to say that’s a less enduring accomplishment? Kids will always love burps, even after the world has forgotten what a clarinet is.

CC: [Laughs.] Perhaps you’re right, Alan. Consider the names of these young bands. Flem. On my way here I passed a poster for a combo called Mukus, and another for the Pieholes. I certainly don’t mean to sound self-pitying. I suppose it’s chiefly a matter of irony.

AA: So how much serious concert music have you written?

CC: [Laughs.] To reprise your apt phrase, “little to none.” When I attended Harvard I majored in electrical engineering, the field that later evolved into the computer sciences. But I devoted all my electives to music, and I eventually studied with Turetsky. This would have been in the mid-’50s, shortly after he defected from the Soviet Union.

AA: Aha! The connection.

CC: It became obvious quite early on I would never be more than a workmanlike composer. I also realized that I was much less interested in the abstractions of composition than in sound itself — sheer sound, in all its myriad colors and textures. Turetsky recognized this as well, and it was he who suggested I combine my engineering and musical endeavors by pursuing graduate studies with Patrice Chennaud at the IMNS in Paris.

AA: IMNS?

CC: L’Institut pour la Musique Nouveau et Sauvage. Chennaud was a pioneer in the fields of electronic music, found-sound assemblage, aleatoric composition — all areas where the phenomenology of sound takes precedence over the arbitrary formalism of the classical tradition.

AA: [Laughs.] I’m going to have to run and fetch a dictionary if we don’t get to the burps pretty soon.

CC: You haven’t long to wait. My experience at the IMNS led me directly to Clubbo Records. After Paris I accepted an assistant professorship at USC, but after a few years I had a falling out with the music department because I eschewed dodecaphonic serialism, the compositional approach that prevailed in academia at that time. That sounds so quaint today, doesn’t it?

AA: Quaint? I couldn’t even spell it! I’m just glad this tape is going out to a good transcription service.

CC: At any rate, I soon found myself jobless and penniless in Los Angeles. So when I discovered an ad in one of the trade papers seeking musicians who could generate “wild new sounds,” I eagerly responded. After all, “nouveau et sauvage” means “new and wild,” so I rated myself an expert! And as you have no doubt guessed, the gentleman who placed the ad was . . .

AA: [Interrupts.] Bo Bogerman.

CC: . . . who had recently joined forces with Chet Clubb to form Clubbo Records.

AA: Why do I suspect that they weren’t specifically looking for an aleatronic anti-dodecapus guy?

CC: [Laughs.] That’s true. But Bo Bogerman was seeking new sounds. You see, he and his partner Chet Clubb had attained some measure of success with what were then called “stag records,” off-color novelty songs that were literally sold from under the counter at many record stores. But Bogerman and Clubb were confronting some very serious problems. They had recently been indicted on morals violations, and their most lucrative artist, Professor Randy, had been arrested for narcotics possession and transporting a minor across state lines for immoral purposes. Meanwhile, Bogerman was laboring to convince Clubb that the solution was to venture over the counter via a series of less prurient recordings, ones that children and teenagers might purchase.

AA: Capitalizing on the baby boom.

CC: Exactly.

AA: Tell me about your first meeting with Bogerman.

CC: I don’t know that you can rightly call it a meeting. I arrived at Clubbo’s old storefront office space on Ivar Avenue at the appointed hour of 10:00 a.m. lugging several large suitcases containing my found-sound reels and some of the experimental audio-processing devices I’d constructed. I was made to wait some 45 minutes before Bogerman’s secretary ushered me into his small office. The room reeked of tobacco and vinyl. Cartons of records were stacked on every available surface — the floor, the chairs, even atop the typewriter and mimeograph machine. I didn’t see Bogerman, so I assumed he’d stepped away to use the washroom. I must have leapt a foot when a brassy voice seemed to erupt out of nowhere: “Can you make cwazy sounds?” I stepped around some boxes and peered down at a diminutive man hunched over a desk, holding a lighted cigarette in one fist and a moist cheeseburger in the other. He was perusing one of the trade dailies, or at least the portions visible between the ash and grease stains. I assured him that I could generate exceedingly crazy sounds, at which point he demanded, “Can you opewate a studio?” Again I answered in the affirmative. He then instructed me to tell his girl to show me to the studio and give me the “titty tape.” “Nix the Fwench words,” he said, “and add some cwazy sounds for the kids.” The entire interaction lasted all of ninety seconds, during which he never rose nor offered his hand. In fact, he scarcely even looked at me.

AA: What was the Clubbo studio like in those days?

CC: Well, I’d assumed that Bogerman’s assistant, a leggy young sylph, would escort me to another location, but she merely led me back to the reception area and opened what appeared to be a storage closet.

AA: The studio was a closet?

CC: Yes. Inside was a small mixing board and an early three-track recorder. For sessions, I later learned, they would simply push aside the desks and sofas and arrange the musicians right there in the reception area. The girl produced the appropriate tape box, asked whether I cared for a beverage, and then shut the door, entombing me inside.

AA: So what was this “titty tape?”

CC: It was an unpleasant little song called “Itty Bitty Titties.” Chet Clubb had recorded a version of it with Professor Randy, but it apparently no longer suited the Clubbo’s revamped marketing strategy. Since Bogerman was not one to squander money, it was his intention to remove the profanities that would have precluded radio play and replace the original sound effects with something a bit snappier.

AA: What sound effects?

CC: [Sighs.] Well, the original song was about a young man who laments the fact that his girlfriend [pauses] has an insufficiently ample bosom. He goes to a so-called “Gypsy woman” to obtain an appropriate potion, which he proceeds to slip into his girl’s Tom Collins. The original sound design was intended to depict the bouncing sound her newly augmented breasts made when she walked down the street. To be honest, I’m probably erring on the side of generosity in referring to a twanging Jew’s harp as “sound design.”

AA: So you heard “Itty Bitty Titties” and thought, “Hey, I can spiff up the sounds and sing it to boot!”

CC: [Laughs.] I thought nothing of the sort! The only thing that concerned me was impressing Bogerman. I was, as they say, hard-up.

AA: How did you come up with the burp idea?

CC: I can’t even claim full credit for that. As I racked my mind for an alternative approach, I recalled Die Verdauungsstörung, a found-sound composition by Uwe Schelling, one of my colleagues at IMNS. His sole sound sources had been the noises of his own digestive tract. Schelling had devised a waterproofed transducer small enough to swallow, and had recorded his stomach from the inside before vomiting the microphone back up.

AA: Gross!

CC: [Laughs.] You’ll be relieved to hear that I proceeded in a different direction: supplementing the recordings of my own burps with germane sound effects — hands rubbing on balloons, nails pulled from wooden planks, and so forth.

AA: That must have taken forever, working with tape and razor blades.

CC: Actually, it seemed to me that I was progressing quite speedily, so I was more than a little taken aback when Bogerman looked in on me upon his return from lunch and said, “Jesus Kwist! You’re still working on it?” Remember, I was of the classical music world, where it’s not uncommon to spend a year or more on a single composition. But Bogerman informed me that if I failed to produce something that “knocked him on his keister,” by 6:00 P.M., he was going to hire another “tape monkey.”

AA: I pretty much know how this story ends, and I’m still biting my nails!

CC: As was I. I redoubled my efforts. You can surely imagine the scene: Me perspiring away in that stuffy closet, my shirtsleeves rolled up, my collar damp, the sole ventilation a woefully undersized electric fan. Ribbons of tape garlanding my neck like Hawaiian leis. A dozen small cuts on my hands from working too quickly with the razor blade. I am by nature something of a perfectionist, and this was easily the shoddiest work I’d ever done. I hadn’t even time to double-check the integrity of my splices! Were I not in such desperate financial straits, I would surely have opted not to continue. Yet I somehow managed to cobble something together as the deadline approached. In the final minutes I scribbled some doggerel on the inside of the tape box simply to convey one idea of how the burps might be deployed in a narrative context, and then sang/spoke them onto the third track.

AA: And did you knock Bogerman on his keister?

CC: Well, when I played the track for him he simply nodded. Hoping his silence signified tacit approval, I asked whether I should return the following morning to resume work on the piece. He said, “What work? This twack is finished.”

AA: So you signed a Clubbo deal and toured in support of “Soda Pop Shop.”

CC: Yes. For a time it was quite exciting to gallivant about the country on a Studebaker bus, performing at teen dances and state fairs.

AA: Did you get mobbed by girls?

CC: Never. Remember, I’d just turned 30 at that point — ancient by pop music reckoning. That was the chief reason Bogerman had devised a novelty costume for me. Few recognized me when I wasn’t wearing it.

AA: We’re talking about the mad scientist getup?

CC: Yes. Large, thick glasses, even though I had and continue to have excellent vision. A white lab coat. A stiffening agent in my hair so I could arrange it to look as if I’d just received electroshock therapy. And bushy artificial eyebrows that proved to be eerily prophetic of my appearance four decades later.

AA: Did you ever hear from your academic buddies after the song broke out? Did any of them see you on TV and freak out?

CC: [Laughs.] I don’t expect that many of my former colleagues were great fans of such programs as Pop Goes the Whistle and Teenville, USA.

AA: You never issued a follow-up track. You were pretty much the archetypal one-hit wonder.

CC: That was entirely my decision. I assure you that Bogerman was quite eager to replicate the success of “Soda Pop Shop.” For a time I was too. I used to imagine all the ways I might construct bridges between my acoustical research and Top 40 sensibilities. But it soon became apparent that the only follow-ups Bogerman envisioned were carbon copies of the original hit.

AA: You were not the last artist to make that complaint!

CC: That sort of thing still goes on?

AA: More than ever, believe it or not.

CC: What a shame. That takes all the fun out of the process, doesn’t it?

AA: So I’ve been told.

CC: Surely you can understand my lack of enthusiasm for some of the derivative sequels that Bogerman conceived while I was on the road promoting our record. Each of the prospective follow-ups reprised the burping sound of “Soda Pop Shop,” usually augmented by some dubious tie-in to one or another of the day’s fads. There was “Co-Co-Co-La Calypso,” “Ptomaine Twist,” “Mr. Heartburn,” and, most egregious of all, “Ubangi Brunch,” a loathsome little song that that transposed the burping motif into an anthropologically unfounded African cannibal setting.

AA: [Laughs.] Sorry for laughing. So did you go back to teaching?

CC: I tried, but I found it surprisingly difficult to return to the academic fold. I’m certain this sounds terribly vain, but once you’ve sold a million records and performed before hordes of hormonally charged teenagers, it’s difficult to abide such mundane conventions as academic peer review. So I attempted to deploy my electro-acoustical expertise in the commercial arena. I designed a number of pieces of high-end audio gear, several of which attained great popularity in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

AA: For example?

CC: The compressors I designed at Clipco Audio, for example. I’ve been told that at one point they were used on eighty percent of all Top 40 hits. I hear that original models sell for tens of thousands of dollars today.

AA: Wait a sec! The “CCs” in CC-01, CC-02, CC-2000, and all those guys are your initials!

CC: Yes, though in point of fact I had very little to do with the CC-2000. By that point I had more or less abandoned the commercial audio field.

AA: Abandoned it for . . .?

CC: [Pauses.] I’m not at liberty to discuss all my activities of the last several decades. Suffice it to say that the U.S. government has been the largest and most regular of my clients, and that several of my patents are likely to remain classified well into the foreseeable future.

AA: What exactly are you saying?

CC: [Pauses.] I’m saying that many audio-processing procedures have applications in fields other than music.

AA: [Rustles paper.] So did you ever miss the limelight?

CC: I’ve never even understood the concept of the limelight, let alone missed it. In that regard I’ve remained quite constant since I was very young. Sounds continue to fascinate me, while matters such as who made them, who owns them, and who disseminates them are generally of scant concern to me.

AA: You’re a purist.

CC: Am I?

AA: Don’t you think so?

CC: Perhaps, though the word “purist” tends to connote a willful, disciplined ideology, whereas my attitude is less a matter of principle than predisposition.

[END OF TAPE]

Clipco Labs CC-200 Audio Compressor

After leaving Clubbo, Clipper Cowbridge conceived the CC series of audio compressors, which have been used on approximately 75% of all hit recordings since the mid ’60s. Shown here: a cherry-condition CC-200 from the home studio of Leather Tiger guitarist Snickers Keith. "It would fetch north of $10K if I ever sold it," confides Snickers. "But I won't!"