“Weird Al” Yankovic, the zaniest American musical artist since Spike Jones, has a four-decade history of recording success and mass popularity. Yankovic brings his “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour” to Napa this Sunday, May 20, at the Uptown Theatre.
On the phone from Los Angeles last week, Yankovic’s long-time drummer and sidekick, Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, talked about how the two musicians first teamed up on the Dr. Demento radio show in September of 1980. “Demento played all sorts of wacky and rare music,” Schwartz said. “Al was already popular on the show, the most popular artist on the show, I think, ever.”
“He was debuting this new song he had written, ‘Another One Rides the Bus,’ and asked if I would beat on his accordion case. I did and fortunately Dr. Demento rolled tape on that, not just the usual cassette air check, but a quarter-inch tape of us playing live on the air. And that became the single. At some point later in the evening, I said to Al, ‘You need to have a band, I’ll be your drummer,’ and he said, ‘Okay.’”
Now, 38 years later, Schwartz is still in the band and Yankovic has recorded 14 albums and collected four Grammy Awards, four gold records and six platinum records. His most recent recording is 2014’s “Mandatory Fun,” which peaked at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and won the Grammy for Best Comedy Album.
Schwartz said that everyone on the Demento show had a nickname and that Yankovic gave him his. Zaniness of course, prevailed. “Al came up with ‘Bermuda Schwartz,’” he said. “Now, Bermuda Schwartz originally was a character on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, so Al may have taken it from there, and, of course, there was the obvious play on words.”
Yankovic is the creative force behind the whole body of “Weird Al” work. “He originates everything and then tells us what we’re doing,” Schwartz said. “On the parodies, we already know what the original song is and there’s really not much different about that unless he wants to change a key or he makes an edit or something.”
“On the polkas, he arranges those, he creates all the horn parts. I mean he’s 100 percent, he’s the Paul McCartney, the Frank Zappa, he does it all. He writes out the parts and we work with that. As far as the original songs, again Al creates all of those from scratch and he’ll do a personal demo of them.”
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“Sometimes, they’re not very complete or sometimes they’re amazingly complete. By the time we go into the studio, they are like 99 percent done. We will very often get them in one or two takes.”
Aside from his duties as Yankovic’s drummer, Schwartz is the “Weird Al” historian and archivist, and he takes this seriously. “I’m not a hoarder or a collector,” he said, “but I always saved things that involved my musical pursuits. I just sort of like cataloging them, so when I met Al I just followed suit. I’ve kept everything that he’s been involved with.”
“I’ve got the complete U.S. discography and bibliography and all of that stuff. I keep records of video, film, tapes, of course, album release dates, chart information — anything that’s notable, anything that could be assigned a date or a photo or a fact. I just want it to be accurate and I want it to be complete because someone might ask some day. And they do ask, and it’s good that I have it.”
Looking back on his decades with Yankovic, Schwartz recognizes the uniqueness of the experience. “It was a very serendipitous sort of thing.. There was no indication that there would be a career or anything really tied into it. He was just this good-natured guy who wrote funny stuff and played an accordion and sang well enough. And I thought, you know this could be fun. Almost 38 years later, it is still fun, which is unusual in this business.”
At the Uptown, Yankovic will be accompanied by Schwartz on drums, Jim “Kimo” West on guitar, Ruben Valtierra on keyboards and Steve Jay on bass.
Comedian Emo Phillips will open the show.
Sunday, May 20, 8 p.m. $65-$90. Uptown Theatre Napa, 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123. UptownTheatreNapa.com