|The official biography of Al, plus bios of the band members!|
Sometimes it's not easy being Weird Al. Just because he's sold more comedy albums than anyone else on the planet doesn't mean George Lucas would automatically want him to parody Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. But he went ahead and wrote "The Saga Begins" to the tune of "American Pie," set a release date for his album (June 29, 1999), booked the tour, and then sent the filmmaker a copy of the song. "I crossed my fingers," says "Weird Al" Yankovic.
The Star Wars creator loved it, of course, but the situation was typical of Running With Scissors (Volcano Records), perhaps the sharpest and edgiest album of Yankovic's career. "I guess it's a metaphor for not wanting to play it safe, for taking chances and pushing whatever envelopes I can," explains Al. From taking on the cyber community in "It's All About The Pentiums" to the unmitigated chutzpah of "Pretty Fly For A Rabbi," from Jerry Springer to Eddie Vedder, from swing to zydeco, Running With Scissors, his 10th studio album, pierces end-of-the-millennium pop culture with humor and wit.
Yet what Yankovic did outside the recording studio was even more provocative — he ditched his signature eyeglasses (after laser surgery) and shaved his ever-present moustache. "Look," he reasons, "If Madonna's allowed to reinvent herself every 15 minutes, I figure I should be good for a change at least once every couple of decades."
And an impressive couple of decades it has been. Yankovic has been honored with two Grammy Awards (eight nominations) and one MTV Video Music Award nomination for "Smells Like Nirvana," which was named among the "Top 100 Music Videos Of All Time" by Rolling Stone; he wrote and starred in his own feature film, UHF (1989) (for which he cast the then relatively unknown Michael Richards and Fran Drescher as his co-stars); he has appeared in numerous television specials including those for MTV ("AL-TV"), Showtime and the Disney Channel; he has had three gold- or platinum-certified home videos, a network series ("The Weird Al Show" on Saturday mornings for the 1997-98 CBS season), a four-CD boxed set retrospective, and more than 20 gold and platinum album certifications in the U.S. and Canada.
The saga of Weird Al began in 1979 in the acoustically perfect bathroom across the hall from the radio station at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where as a young college disc jockey he recorded "My Bologna," a spoof of The Knack's "My Sharona." A devoted student of musical satirists Spike Jones, Tom Lehrer, Allan Sherman and Stan Freberg, Yankovic's budding career took off when the song became a smash hit on radio's nationally syndicated "Dr. Demento" show, where he subsequently recorded his live version of "Another One Rides The Bus" (to Queen's "Another One Bites The Dust").
He landed his first recording contract a few years later and has since created an extraordinary legacy of music and videos, including "Ricky," "I Love Rocky Road," "Eat It," "I Lost On Jeopardy," "Like A Surgeon," "Yoda" (his first Star Wars parody), "Fat," "Smells Like Nirvana," "Jurassic Park" and "Bedrock Anthem."
In 1996 came Yankovic's highest-charting, best-selling album to date, Bad Hair Day. Reaching No. 14, the album remained on the Billboard Top 200 for 56 weeks, and sold almost 2 million copies. Bad Hair Day included Al's "Amish Paradise," a send-up of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise," and "Gump" (to the tune of "Lump" by the Presidents of the United States of America). "There's always the pressure and challenge of trying to top myself each time out," he says. "I feel like I'm making a comeback with every album I do."
He continues to meet that challenge head on with Running With Scissors. The choice of "American Pie" for the music to "The Saga Begins," he says, was simple: "I suppose I could've done 'Pretty Fly For A Jedi,' but this movie is an instant classic and I just felt it needed to be paired with a classic rock song. Besides, both the song and the movie begin with 'a long, long time ago.' It just seemed custom-made."
Applying rap braggadocio to the computer world, Al breaks new ground with "It's All About The Pentiums" (spoofing Puff Daddy's "It's All About The Benjamins"). He takes the Cherry Poppin' Daddies" swing anthem "Zoot Suit Riot" and transforms it into "Grapefruit Diet," the natural follow-up to such smash gastronomic hits as "Fat" and "Eat It" and his first food-obsessed song in quite some time. "I went cold turkey on food songs for a while," he says.
The album also contains a wide assortment of Al originals, including "My Baby's In Love With Eddie Vedder," "Your Horoscope For Today," "Truck Drivin" Song," the Nine Inch Nails-inspired "Germs," and the 11-minute stream-of-consciousness epic "Albuquerque." And, of course, there's the all new accordion-led polka medley, "Polka Power!," that brings together hit songs from Spice Girls, Harvey Danger, Pras Michel, Backstreet Boys, Smash Mouth, Beastie Boys, Chumbawamba, Madonna, Matchbox 20, Third Eye Blind, Marilyn Manson, Hanson, Marcy Playground and Semisonic, all performed polka-style, "as God intended them to be heard."
And what would a new Weird Al release be without an eye-popping video to go along with it? In this case, it's Al's "Star Wars Unplugged" treatment for "The Saga Begins," which once again finds the Jedi Comedy Master both in front of and behind the camera. In addition to helming his own videos for most of the last decade, Al has recently found the time to direct videos for such artists as The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Hanson and The Black Crowes. He also created the critically acclaimed opening title sequence to the Leslie Nielsen-starring vehicle, Spy Hard.
"I don't really fit neatly into any one category," says the singer-songwriter-director-producer-comedian-musician. "I'm just thrilled that I'm able to do exactly what I want to do for a living. It never ceases to amaze me that I get to be 'Weird Al' full-time."
And the saga continues.
|Birthdate:||January 26||First Al project:||"Weird Al" Yankovic album,|
Steve Jay is the most peripatetic of the group - he's traveled to Iceland, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, England, Scotland, Ireland, Monaco, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, Switzerland, Morocco, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso (Upper Volta), Niger, Togo, Algeria, Ghana, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, Borneo, the Philippines, Mexico and Canada, which is the only location not thousands of miles from his Detroit, Michigan birthplace! Steve later lived in Miami and Orlando, and has a Masters Degree in Music Composition from The University of South Florida. Although he is a bass virtuoso, the piano was his first instrument, starting at age 5. He is equally proficient on guitar, flute & oboe, and assorted African percussion. His musical influences are quite diverse: Igor Stravinsky, Miles Davis, Sly Stone, Bela Bartok, Isah Hamani, and Keith Richards!
Quite busy outside of working with Al, Steve has composed original scores for 75 PBS specials (and won 2 Peabody awards!) and other TV and film scores, played bass with Joe Higgs (Father of Reggae) and his own bands, worked with Hugh Masekela and Wayne Shorter, Ethno-musicological studies in Africa and Asia, produced 3 albums of traditional African Folk music, and is always continuing his work on the fractal nature of Harmony and Rhythm. In 1997, Steve released his first solo CD, Sea Never Dry. In 1999, he released a second solo CD, Tangled Strings, both available at www.stephenjay.com, and in September, 2000, Steve offered an exclusive, pre-release release to Al's fans, Self Avoiding Random Walk!! Also in the works is an instrumental collection titled Charcoal, and Steve continues to score music for PBS programs.
On the road, Steve writes and records music, practices, and occasionally disappears into strange new areas. At home he enjoys dirt bikes, surfing, mountain biking, hiking and climbing.
Steve cites his most satisfying Weird Al recording as Toothless People, and sends thanks "to the most important part of our little team, the fans."
|Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz|
|Birthdate:||August 18||First Al project:||"Another One Rides The Bus",|
Jon was born in Chicago, and grew up in Phoenix. He began drum lessons at age 9, with The Beatles and other '60s pop radio artists as influences. Jon and his family moved to Los Angeles a few years later, and it was there he decided he wanted to be a professional drummer. Jon marched in marching bands, performed in junior symphonies, and played in school orchestras and theater arts productions. He also spent two years at a community college taking such diverse courses as photography, the stock market, computer programming and human relations in business. By 1977, Jon was drumming regularly with a few bands.
After meeting Al in 1980, Jon became "Bermuda", and continued to play with other local artists between Al projects. Not much was heard from most of those artists, though Jon did record albums with Jim Silvers, and Rip Masters. But Jon preferred the recording, touring, and general notoriety that came with being Weird Al's drummer, and it remains his primary focus. Some of his favorite recorded work with Al includes The Plumbing Song, Cavity Search, George Of The Jungle, Airline Amy, Bedrock Anthem, The Night Santa Went Crazy, all of the polka medlies, and everything on the Running With Scissors album!
When traveling with Al, Bermuda seeks out Indian restaurants, thrift shops, CD stores, and old friends. At home, he can be found surfing the net, designing web pages, buying CDs, listening to '60s pop & Motown, '70s classic rock, and '80s & '90s alternative music, taking day trips with his wife Leslie and their dogs Fred and Ginger, and maintaining the weirdal.com web site!
To all the kids out there, Bermuda says "Hi kids!"
|Birthdate:||December 26||First Al project:||Dr.Demento's 20th Anniversary,|
Rubén, originally from San Rafael, California, began classical studies at the age of ten. After playing in high school orchestra, he attended U.C. Santa Cruz, and later was a member of the award-winning Cabrillo College Big Band. Upon graduation, Rubén led the popular jazz/funk fusion group Rush Hour, until moving to Los Angeles where he encountered fame, fortune, and much respect.
Then, he met Al.
|Birthdate:||December 18||First Al project:||"Weird Al" Yankovic album,|
Born in Toronto, Jim is the foreigner of the band and still retains his Canadian citizenship. He lived in Tampa, Florida before settling in the L.A. area, and has also traveled quite a bit. His passport has stamps from England, Scotland, Switzerland, Italy, Australia, Costa Rica and Mexico, and he is especially fond of Hong Kong, having spent quite a bit of time there.
He started playing guitar at age 12, and has had tons of on-the-job training in rock & roll. He also spent a few years studying visual arts in college. Jim had many early influences, and now he listens to quirky pop, various ethnic music, jazz (Bill Evans, not Kenny G), some 20th Century orchestral music, and any great guitar music. Jim also composes and records music for commercials, TV, and movies. In December, 1998, Jim released Coconut Hat, a collection of solo acoustic guitar music.
While on the road with Al, Jim seeks activities suited to the location, such as hiking, rafting, skiing, biking, etc. His hobbies include scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and, surprise, playing guitar!
Jim is particularly proud of his work on Let Me Be Your Hog, and urges everyone to "Come to an Al show...you'll never be the same."