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

1984: 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

Ava & the Avalanches: Swiss Invasion Sweetheart (1963)

CLUBBO CHIEF BO BOGERMAN had a bad attitude about the Beatles. “Turn that crap off!” he’d snap whenever “A Hard Day’s Night” or “Help!” came on the radio. He was equally cranky about the Kinks, hated the Who, and sneered at the Stones.

Bo’s annoyance was distilled from the sourest of grapes. In 1963, his own attempt at imported pop — the so-called “Swiss Invasion” — failed miserably when the bargain-bin white vinyl used to press the Swiss discs turned out to be both toxic and unstable. By the time the records were recalled and reissued on less-hazardous red vinyl in the spring of 1964, the British Invasion had conquered America, leaving little room for competing imports.

It’s unlikely that any of Clubbo’s Swiss Invasion artists would ever have attained Beatles status, but not all of them deserve their present-day obscurity. One of the best combos was Ava & the Avalanches, a popular bar band from the Alpine resort of Zermatt, whose would-be hit “Ski Baby Ski” still conjures the exhilaration of a reckless toboggan ride.

MEOW! Support Ava’s big cat rescue efforts

YUM! Ava shares a unique vegan fondue recipe

HIC! The refreshing cocktail inspired by Ava’s biggest hit


Ski Baby Ski

“Ski Baby Ski” lyrics and credits


Anyone familiar with pop history knows the classic cautionary tale of Bo Bogerman and the Swiss Invasion. In early 1963, flush with the proceeds of Clipper Cowbridge’s “Soda Pop Shop,” Bogerman made a whirlwind wintertime tour of Alpine ski resorts, signing up every chalet combo that could keep a beat. His plan: to release their talents en masse as a readymade genre called the Swiss Invasion.

Bo believed that America’s growing hordes of novelty-hungry teens would greedily devour his prefab pop. But he made one fatal error: In a cost-cutting move, he pressed the Swiss 45s on inexpensive white vinyl that turned out to contain high levels of both lead and arsenic. Besides being toxic, the vinyl was highly unstable — the labels peeled off almost instantly, and within weeks the discs softened into a moist, turntable-clogging goo.

Rare red vinyl pressing of "Ski Baby Ski" (Clubbo Records)

Rare red vinyl pressing of “Ski Baby Ski.”

Bogerman recalled the faulty discs and rushed to reissue them on more reliable red vinyl, but it was too late. The British Invasion had already claimed the hearts and minds of America’s youth. As so often happened in Clubbo’s history, the window of opportunity had slammed shut on Bo’s fingers.

Clubbo nearly went under. Only Bogerman’s fortuitous poker winnings kept the label afloat until other, more lucrative acts could be launched.

But not all of Bo’s Swiss Invasion acts deserve their oblivion. One of the label’s most appealing artists was blonde sex kitten Ava Langenthal. Her group, Ava & the Avalanches, was the house band at the Hotel Post in Zermatt, the quintessential skier’s party town nestled in the shadow of the Matterhorn.

Ava was a naïve 19-year-old when she co-wrote “Ski Baby Ski,” a good-natured romp that features another Swiss Invasion heartthrob, Heinrich Schwiz, on tuba. (Schwiz is best known for his poignant pop waltz, “Always Two Hearts in My Pocket,” also from 1963.)

With Ava’s good looks and appealingly husky, if untrained, voice, it was only natural that Bo chose her as the face of the Swiss Invasion. A 1963 press photo shows her kneeling in the snow wearing a rented leopard coat. As it happened, this photo shoot marked a philosophical turning point for the young singer. In a 1977 Guardian interview, she recounted the experience:

“As I was for these photos posed in the snow, wearing the fur of this magnificent cat, I discovered that I was not at all cold. This caused me to think sadly of the poor dead creature whose skin I then wore, and filled me with a sense of great pity and horror that I, and not the leopard, should now be inside this fur. And yet I must still keep smiling for the camera!”

The release of “Ski Baby Ski” was met with great fanfare in Zermatt. A bartender at the Hotel Post created a new “Ski Baby” cocktail, and Ava was presented with a special award: a miniature replica of the world-renowned barrel upon which generations of revelers have danced in the hotel’s Broken Bar disco.

But disaster lay in wait. Ava’s fiancé, Johann Schell, an athlete who hoped to win the first-ever luge event at the 1964 Winter Olympics in Innsbruck,  lost his life in a tragic incident just days before the games opened. Due to a lack of snow, the Austrian Army had been tasked with carving out 20,000 ice bricks from a nearby mountaintop and transporting them to the bobsled and luge runs. A fatal miscommunication sent Schell downhill on a qualifying trial just as a final load of ice was dumped at the foot of the luge run.

Ava was crushed almost as completely as Johann — and her distress grew when she discovered, only three weeks later, that she was pregnant. She continued to perform with the Avalanches for a few months, but when Clubbo dropped all the Swiss Invasion acts, the combo quietly folded.

Her career as a pop star may have been brief, but Ava’s post-Clubbo years tell an inspiring tale of courage, creativity, cookery, and cats.

The original “Ski Baby” cocktail (click to enlarge).

Ava’s son Johann Langenthal was born October 15, 1964. After an unsuccessful attempt to find a fresh start in Geneva, the young mother and child returned to Zermatt, where Ava worked as a sous-chef and cocktail waitress at her old stomping grounds, the Hotel Post. Little Johann grew to toddlerhood behind the scenes at the hotel, where he “helped” mash potatoes and shell peas in a corner of the kitchen, and was often rocked to sleep by the comforting thump of music from the Broken Bar disco.

But Ava was determined to create a better life for herself and her son. In 1967, she began making whimsical, pop-art cuckoo clocks, which she sold on consignment through a local gift shop. The clocks were a hit with the tourists, and when one was featured in a chic London design magazine, orders poured in from around the globe.

The official Swiss horological federation branded Ava’s efforts “inauthentic,” yet she soon found herself overseeing a twenty-person workshop. She added more items to her line: linens, hand-painted dishes, stationery, and other fanciful goods. The sole constant was a strict “no animal products” policy — the traumatic leopard coat incident still haunted her.

Ava’s entrepreneurial spirit paid off in 1975 when she sold her now-sizable business to a growing Swedish housewares retailer. After setting up a trust for Johann, she used most of the remaining proceeds as seed money for a series of no-kill animal shelters throughout Switzerland and a big cat sanctuary based on a friend’s estate in the English countryside.

Ava’s son Johann followed in his mother’s bootsteps as a Clubbo artist. Perhaps he was influenced by the discothèque beats that once served as his lullaby. In any case, he became a club music pioneer in the late ’80s and early ’90s, working under the name DJ Hellvetica. He’s best known for his 1992 club hit “SOB NRG,” a remix of Suthrn Cuzn’s “Sonofabitch,” and still enjoys an active career as an internationally recognized DJ and scene-maker.

These days, Ava spends much of her time promoting animal conservation and rescue, with a focus on big cats rescued from show business, fur farms, hunting ranches, and private owners. She is an outspoken critic of the fur trade. (At one high-profile fundraiser, she shared the stage with fashion designer Oleg Cassini, who turned against fur after realizing that the leopard coat he’d made for Jackie O had launched a fad that killed more than 250,000 leopards.) She invites all Ava & the Avalanches fans, old and new, to meet some of her favorite feline friends via her web page, Ava’s Big Cats.

Ava is also a renowned vegan chef. In 1995 she published a best-selling animal-free cookbook, from which she was gracious enough to share this delicious fondue recipe.