Monday, October 09, 2017

Dragon Retreat - Death of a Surf Punk, DENNIS DRAGON

    And so it goes…guys who were once romping on beach sand are going six feet under. Dennis Dragon, who died on September 25th, was with the 80’s band The Surf Punks. If you don’t know them too well, maybe this is a simile. What the Beach Boys were to the Four Seasons, the Surf Punks were to The Ramones. Meaning, you just replacement a certain amount of urban attitude with dazzling sunlight. Which isn’t to say that sunlight can’t expose cracks, be it in the bikinis of beach bunnies, or in life itself and its ultimate reward.  

    Dennis Dragon of The Surf Punks had musical parents and siblings. His father was Carmen Dragon, an early, West Coast version of Arthur Fiedler. Dragon was a pops conductor and offered up the best light classics at the Hollywood Bowl and other venues. Dennis’s mother Eloise Marion Dragon was a popular soprano on many radio shows, and together, Carmen and Eloise produced “The Standard School Hour.”  The five little Dragons? Dennis, Doug and Daryl (the latter the “Captain” who sang with Tennille), as well as harpist Carmen and music publisher Kathy. 

    A drummer since the age of five, Dennis played with The Byrds, Rick Springfield and Neil Young. In the early 70’s, all three Dragon brothers worked with Brian Wilson and helped keep the fractured Beach Boys together in some form or other. It was not a great time for Wilson, and eventually the brothers moved on. Dennis ended up punking beach music with The Surf Punks, who got signed to Epic in 1980. He pretty much led the band, doing a lot of the writing and singing. 

Dennis was as interested in the studio aspect of music as being in front of the microphone, and owned his own studio in Malibu. He produced and engineered many hits for Lou Adler Ode acts include Carole King and Cheech & Chong (you remember their “Born In East L.A.).  He worked on the first Captain & Tenille album as well. He owned a Grammy for his work on “Love Will Keep Us Together,” which was “Record of the Year” in 1975. 
    “The Surf Punks” were spawned, naturally enough, during the original punk era, circa 1976, even if they were a little late in getting to vinyl and video. Into the 80’s and 90’s he worked on a variety of projects from movie soundtracks to “Locals Only,” a West Coast TV show featuring new talent and “Skate TV” for Nickelodeon. Fans love the BFI album by The Dragons, which at the time as given a pass by all the major labels. In 2011 he worked again with his brother Doug on “The Propheteer,”  which was a long-distance collaboration. Doug sang and played keyboards, and emailed his tracks to Dennis, who added drums, and brought in more players to fill out the sound.  
    No, not many people heard “The Propheteer,” and brother Daryl would soon have worse problems. Parkinson’s disease led “The Captain” to abandon touring. And so there’s a bittersweet nostalgia in acknowledging what’s happened to the Dragons who were so hot in the 70’s and 80’s with everything from pop to California punk. Reality; disease and death. ("Dragon Retreat," for those under 40, refers to the vacation residence of Ollie, a third of "Kukla Fran and Ollie. Anyone who remembers that kiddie show doesn't have long to live). Below, an example of The Surf Punks in action. As Murray the K used to say, "the sound is now," and when you listen to some of their stuff, the fun never stops. Or, you don't think it will.  

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