(with excerpts from Wikipedia)
In 1970, I dropped out of college and joined the circus – “The Grand Magic Circus” – an eclectic Paris-based musical-theater company that was on the verge of popular success. My younger brother, Danny Elfman – fresh out of high school – joined up for our European summer tour, playing violin. He and I did a violin and percussion number to open the show, which, I believe, was Danny’s very first musical composition. Danny went off to Africa for a year, foraging his musical way from west Africa across the continent to east Africa. I continued with the Magic Circus, marrying the show’s knock-out lead, Marie-Pascale.
In 1972, I took Marie to Los Angeles and we created (along with childhood chums Gene Cunningham and Matthew Bright) a musical-theatrical troupe called the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. Danny returned from Africa and I installed him as our musical director. My guiding musical vision for the group was “nothing contemporary.” We faithfully re-created GREAT music that audiences could no longer hear live anymore – Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Django Rheinhardt, Josephine Baker, and did totally original, off-the-wall compositions by Danny, including numbers using an array of percussion instruments that he and saxophonist Leon Schneiderman created for the group.
I directed and performed with the Mystic Knights until around 1976, when I left to do film and other theater projects, and Danny took over as director and lead singer.
Around 1980, Danny changed the group from a musical-theatrical ensemble to an eight-member “rock” band, and shortened the name to “Oingo Boingo.” I use the term “rock” loosely, as the music could not really be classified within typical rock styles, with normal three-minute length, simple chord structure, repetitive melodic and lyrical “hooks,” etc. If I might digress a moment: I really never saw Danny have any rock influences at all growing up – no garage bands, no rock albums, no guitar, no rock concerts…no music lessons. We did have classical music in the house. Danny and I liked Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky a lot. Our father had been a jazz trumpet player before we were born – so maybe something was in the blood. But it wasn’t rock and roll. My thing had been Afro-Latin percussion (I wanted to be a black Cuban). When Danny was around 16 or 17, he found he could play jazz guitar. Danny could just listen to an intricate Django Rheinhardt guitar solo and then figure it out and play it – and then figure out the intricate Stephan Grappelli violin accompaniment! (Danny doesn’t believe in past lives, although he seems to be a good walking example of it.)
In 1994, Danny shortened the band lineup to five members and rechristened it Boingo. The band retired in 1995, having reverted to the name Oingo Boingo.
The Mystic Knights years (1972-1980)
The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo was an eclectic musical theater troupe. We performed in garish makeup. A typical show would contain music ranging from the 1890s to the 1950s, in addition to Danny’s ethnic/avant-guard material. This version of the band employed as many as 15 musicians and dancers playing over 30 instruments. Shows sometimes included graphic female clown nudity and absurdist male boxing violence, which periodically led to minor bloodshed. (We didn’t fuck around!) (We’ll, maybe we did.)
Few recordings from this period exist, although the group did produce a novelty record about kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, “You’ve Got Your Baby Back.”
The band gained a following in Los Angeles and appeared as contestants on The Gong Show in 1976, “winning” the episode that we appeared on – without getting gonged. Our manager hadn’t really explained what the show was about – it’s first episode hadn’t aired yet – and I swear I would have stuck my trumpet up the smarmy host’s ass, had we been gonged.
When the group began to move away from its theatrical, cabaret style towards a smaller “band” format, I decided to capture the essence of our original live shows on film. The result was the 1980 movie Forbidden Zone. Filmed in black and white (although recently colorized by Legend Films) with a cast mostly made up of band members and friends, the movie’s music and visuals embodied the spirit of our original stage productions. Danny, as Satan, sings a Mystic Knights version of Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” I sing the 1920s novelty song “The Yiddishe Charleston.” Marie-Pascale does several French numbers from our stage show.
Along with the older numbers and Danny’s original show tunes, Danny managed to weave all the elements together with his first movie soundtrack score – arranged by Steve Bartek and performed by the original Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.
Oingo Boingo: the A&M years (1980-1984)
I think Danny’s reasons for transforming the musical theater troupe to a rock band were cutting costs and thus increasing mobility and exploring new musical directions that didn’t need theatrics to support it. The eight-member Oingo Boingo had Danny on lead vocals, Steve Bartek on guitars, Richard Gibbs on keyboards, Kerry Hatch on bass, Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez on drums, and Leon Schniederman, Sam “Sluggo” Phipps, and Dale Turner on horns.
Early success for the group came in 1980 with the song “Only a Lad,” which aired frequently in Los Angeles on KROQ and complemented the station’s then-unusual
“New Wave” format. Although the song was classified as New Wave and was compared to Devo, Oingo Boingo always defied easy categorization with the use of exotic percussion and unconventional scales and harmony. Following a regional success of “Only a Lad,” the group released its first full-length album, also titled Only a Lad (and featuring a new recording of the song), in 1981. Oingo Boingo also appeared in the 1981 film Longshot, performing their unreleased song, “I’ve Got To Be Entertained.”
Cult success followed, especially in Southern California. The band, recording for A&M Records, released albums in 1982 Nothing To Fear and 1983 Good For Your Soul.
A dispute with A&M led to Danny cutting a “solo” record in 1984 for MCA – in fact, it was a group effort released under the name “Danny Elfman” simply to circumvent a clause in Oingo Boingo’s A&M contract. (Eventually, the band was allowed to record under their own name again for MCA.)
Oingo Boingo: the MCA years (1985-1990)
[MEDIA=18] VIDEO: “Insanity”
With the move to MCA, the band made two personnel switches: Mike Bacich took over on keyboards from departing member Richard Gibbs, and John Avila replaced Kerry Hatch on bass.
The group’s first MCA album, 1985′s Dead Man’s Party, contained Oingo Boingo’s first real hit singles, which included “Weird Science” and “Just Another Day.” However, it was exposure in motion pictures, not on radio or MTV, that really catapulted the band into the public eye.
To this day, Oingo Boingo is probably best known among the general populace for appearing on a number of soundtracks in the early to mid-1980s, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which features “Goodbye, Goodbye.” Their most well-known song, “Weird Science,” was written for the John Hughes movie of the same name and was later included in the album Dead Man’s Party.
Later, the band made an appearance playing their hit “Dead Man’s Party” on stage in the movie Back to School. Three more songs from Dead Man’s Party were used in soundtracks: the song “No One Lives Forever” was featured in Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, “Stay” was used as the theme music for the popular Brazilian soap opera Top Model, and “Just Another Day” opened the 1985 film adaptation of S.E. Hinton’sThat Was Then, This Is Now.
Oingo Boingo’s 1987 album BOI-NGO didn’t make a huge impression on the charts. After this album, Bacich was replaced by new keyboardist Carl Graves.
The band’s 1988 release, Boingo Alive, was actually recorded live on a soundstage, with no studio audience, and contained a selection of songs from earlier albums plus two new compositions. The Boingo Alive track “Winning Side” became a #14 hit on US Modern Rock radio stations.
Beginning with 1985′s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Danny had begun scoring major motion pictures with increasing frequency. On 1990′s Dark at the End of the Tunnel, his growing orchestral soundtrack career was obviously playing a big part in his songwriting.
Boingo: the final years (1991-1995)
The group left MCA and shortened the name to Boingo, also reshuffling their lineup somewhat. Graves left (after recording “Lost Like This”), and added were Warren Fitzgerald on guitar, Marc Mann on keyboards, and Doug Lacy on accordion.
Boingo’s lone self-titled album was issued on Giant Records in 1994. Though the band was officially a ten-piece ensemble, only five members (Elfman, Bartek, Avila, Hernadez and Fitzgerald) were pictured in the album’s liner notes, and indeed the guitar-oriented album used the keyboards and horns of the five remaining members sparingly, although it was backed by an orchestra conducted by Bartek, and featured prominent cello by Fred Seykora. TheBoingo album also continued in the less party-friendly vibe of Dark at the End of the Tunnel, although it did contain the modern rock hit “Hey!”
Reverting to the Oingo Boingo name, the band amicably parted ways after their annual Halloween concert at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles in 1995. The final concert is available on both audio and video recordings.
“Quite simply… the time was right. After 17 years together, it finally occurred to me that we had survived about 16 years longer than I had expected… pretty good by any standards, I think. It’s been good, crazy times, and I’m always amazed how loyal our fans have been, but I think it’s better to let things go before they turn sour. Also, scientifically speaking, modern research has recently proven that after a band has been together longer than a decade, the risk of the dinosaur factor kicking in increases exponentially each year thereafter. In short, it’s been fun. Adios, amigos.” -– Danny Elfman
Since the band’s dissolution, Danny has continued to find success with writing film scores, particularly in collaboration with director Tim Burton. He almost exclusively employs Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek as orchestrator. His film scores have included Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman 1 & 2, Edward Scissorhands, Good Will Hunting, Mission Impossible, Men in Black 1 & 2, Spider-Man 1 & 2, Big Fish, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Wanted, Hellboy 2 and dozens more. Danny also wrote the themes for more than a dozen TV series, including The Simpsons, Batman: The Animated Series, Desperate Housewives, Tales from the Crypt, Sledge Hammer!, and The Flash (TV series). Danny has branched out in recent years and comosed, Serenada Schizoprhrenia, which debuted in Carnegie Hall in 2005, and Rabbit and Rogue, a new ballet that he created for choreographer Twyla Tharp and The American Ballet Theatre, performed at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, June 2008 (coming to California in August 2008).
Steve Bartek, besides working with Danny, has composed music for various TV shows, including Tales from the Crypt and Desperate Housewives, and movie scores, such as The Art of Travel, Meet the Deedles and Cabin Boy.
Vatos formed a concert show along with Sluggo, Bartek, and Avila in California. The concert show features performances of Oingo Boingo’s most popular songs. This has led to speculation about a reunion. In early 2007, Danny Elfman said there would not be a reunion. He has irreversible hearing loss and is worried that playing live would exacerbate it. He stated that some members may also suffer from the condition.
Vatos continues the music and sound with the Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party, which features former band members Sam "Sluggo" Phipps on sax, John Avila on bass, Carl Graves on keyboards, vocals, Doug Lacy on accordian and percussion and Johnny Vatos crack, driving rhythm on drums.. Johnny Vatos Boingo Dance Party puts on a great show with top original band members that I totally recommend!
Also keeping the spirit alive is popular Oingo Boingo tribute band Dead Man’s Party, which has attracted a large, loyal following in Southern California. Lead singer Robert Elfaizy (below) sings quite impressive “Danny Elfman” vocals.
The membership in both the theatre troupe and the rock band changed over time.
The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo
Open-ended years range from members that transitioned into Oingo Boingo
Richard Elfman: 1972-1976 – Founder, director, periodic lead vocal, percussion solo
Danny Elfman : 1973- – Composer, music director, lead vocals, brass, violin, guitar, percussion
Marie-Pascale Elfman: 1972-1977 – Lead vocals, dancer, comedienne
Gene Cunningham: 1972-1975 – AKA Ugh Fudge Bwana in Forbidden Zone
Matthew Bright: 1972-1973 – Bass – AKA Toshiro Boloney in Forbidden Zone
Steve Bartek: 1976- – Guitar, vocals, percussion – Played in ’60s band Strawberry Alarm Clock
Kerry Hatch: 1979- – Bass guitar, vocals
Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez: 1978- – Drums, percussion
Sam “Sluggo” Phipps: 1974- – Sax, flute, clarinet
Leon Schneiderman: 1973- – Sax, flute; instrument design and construction
Dale Turner: 1974- – Trumpet, trombone
Billy Superball: 1972-1974 – Trumpet, Upright & Fender Bass – AKA William Folwell
Josh Gordon: 1973-1975 – Trumpet, tuba, banjar, guitar
Jon Gold: 1973-1976 – Guitar, multi-instrumentalist
Jan Munroe: 1973-1976 – Mime, dancer, acrobat
William Winant: 1972-1975 – Percussion; performed/recorded with Sonic Youth, John Zorn, Mr. Bungle Ernie Fosselius: 1972. Wrote “Hipsters on Parade”; original music director, replaced by Danny
Stan Ayeroff: 1972-1975 – Jazz guitar
Miriam Cutler: 1976-1979 – Clarinet, vocals
Todd Manley: 1973-1974 – Percussion
Lori Mann: 1972-1977 – Accordian, lead vocals, dancer
Brad Kay: 1974-1975 – Piano at periodic intermission shows and “Yiddishe Charleston” in Forbidden Zone
Gisselle Lindley: 1976. – Planted as “waitress” in summer night club run, hit on by band members, top ripped off and chased into kitchen. Played Princess in Forbidden Zone.
Open beginning years range for members that transitioned from Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo
Danny Elfman: -1995 – Lead vocals, rhythm guitar, percussion, composition
Steve Bartek: -1995 – Lead guitar, backing vocals, horn arrangements, percussion, accordion
Richard Gibbs: 1980-1983 – Keyboards, synthesizer, trombone, percussion, backing vocals
Kerry Hatch: -1983 – Bass guitar, bass synthesizer, percussion, backing vocals
Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez: -1995 – Drums, percussion
Sam “Sluggo” Phipps: -1995 – Tenor & soprano saxophones, clarinet, percussion, backing vocals
Leon Schneiderman: -1995 – Baritone & alto saxophones, percussion, backing vocals
Dale Turner: -1995 – Trumpet, trombone, percussion, guitar, backing vocals
David Eagle: 1980-1981 – Drums
Bruce Fowler: 1983-1995 – Trombone
Paul Fox: 1984. – Synthesizers
John Avila: 1984-1995 – Bass guitar, bass synthesizer, percussion, accordion, backing vocals
Michael Bacich: 1984-1987 – Keyboards, backing vocals
Carl Graves: 1988-1994 – Keyboards, synthesizers, backing vocals
Warren Fitzgerald: 1994-1995 – Guitar
Doug Lacy: 1994-1995 – Accordion, percussion
Marc Mann: 1994-1995 – Keyboards, samples
John Avila and Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez were two members of the trio Food For Feet. They also formed the rhythm section of Tito & Tarantula, a Los Angeles band fronted by Tito Larriva of The Plugz and the Cruzados. Avila and Hernandez also joined Larriva and guitarist Stevie Hufstetted in a one-off project band call Psychotic Aztecs. The Aztecs released one album on the Grita label called Santa Sangre.
After the break-up, John Avila, guitarist Steve Bartek, drummer Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, and saxophonist Sam Phipps (along with Doug Lacy and other musicians) formed a band called Doug & The Mystics. They recorded one album, New Hat, which included a cover of the Oingo Boingo song “Try to Believe,” original songs, and covers of songs by Frank Zappa and other artists.
In 2005, John Avila, Johnny “Vatos” Hernandez, and Steve Bartek joined the list of performers on the soundtrack of the 2003 re-imagination of the classic sci-fi series, Battlestar Galactica. Richard Gibbs joined at this time as well, but is credited as both a performer and composer. Their performances can be heard in seasons two and three, and will likely be heard on subsequent seasons of the series as well.
As the Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo
As Oingo Boingo
Special thanks to Gary Griffith: Mysticknightsoftheoingoboingo.com
Links: Dan’s Boingo Page