At some point, I realized there was a brotherly link between drummer/engineer Dennis Dragon of The Surf Punks, one of silliest yet competent new wave/punk bands ever, and keyboardist Daryl Dragon, the Captain of Captain and Tennille, soft-rock superstars. At the time, I wasn't surprised they went in such different directions because there's usually rivalry with brothers. But I noticed that Dennis had credits on some Captain & Tennille records. I found some fun instrumentals on the same records with nutty synths and odd rhythm breaks. I started to notice the synth bits that appeared on the Surf Punks' records as well. I found out that Dennis, Daryl and another brother, Doug, played in the psych/pop band The Dragons (a CD, BFI, recently came out) and later with the Beach Boys. And then... I decided I needed to talk to these guys.
Dennis: My remembrances go back to the early 1950s. My dad, Carmen Dragon [film and radio composer and arranger], was sponsored by Ampex and JBL. One day, when I was very young, Dad got a big, fat delivery — I think Daryl remembers this also — of Ampex tape machines!
Dennis: To be exact: an [Ampex] 300, mono, full-track; a 350, half-track, mono; and a 600, half-track, mono. And that introduced me to the wonderful world of audio recording.
Were you doing this stuff at home?
Dennis: Well, we were pretty young at that point. Our dad was an audio recordist. He enjoyed recording all sorts of crazy stuff like sound effects. I think I inherited the recording bug from my dad.
I didn't know he did any recording. The only information I found on your parents was that your dad was a conductor and your mom sang.
Dennis: He dabbled in recording. That was his hobby. He had a studio set up at the house where he could record to the [Ampex] 300. Cam McCulloch, who was the recordist for the I Love Lucy show, set him up with it. He'd come over and do a bunch of tech stuff — he even set Dad up with a way to cut records. This would have been in the early 1950s. I was actually too young to be involved in it.
Daryl: Well Doug — our older brother — was fascinated and was actually getting involved in helping our father. Remember Dad and that whole "Santa Fe Suite" thing? Doug was out there recording trains and dynamite blasts on the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico.
Dennis: I know when they performed the "Santa Fe Suite"; they had JBL Paragons — one on each side of the hall — along with a live orchestra. And the Paragons delivered these sound effects that were incorporated into the suite.
Daryl: I didn't have an interest in recording at all because Doug and Dennis were so into it. I'd just play the piano and say to them, "Hey, put this on tape." I hated technology. I hated meters. To this day I hate meters.
Why do you hate meters?
Dennis: I love meters.
Daryl: There's something about a meter that drives me nuts.
That it's monitoring your performance?
Daryl: Is my life dependent on this meter? What if it's off? What if it's not calibrated correctly? Everything could be distorted and I wouldn't know it.
Dennis: Okay, so it's the late 1950s and we were living in Malibu, California. I'm getting more interested in recording, but Doug is getting more into ham radio. Eventually we lost Doug as a recordist, so I borrowed Dad's microphones. He had a couple of Telefunken U47s — originals. I also "borrowed" his Ampex 351-2 and put it upstairs in my bedroom. So Daryl and I are dabbling in music, with me playing the drums and Daryl playing the keyboards. I had some large Altec 604E speakers in the room, the 351-2 and an Ampex mixer, as well as some pretty cool tube stuff. I had drums set up in the corner of the bedroom. Daryl had his [Hohner] Clavinet and some other stuff. What were you using at that time, Daryl?
Daryl: Not much. Doug bought a lot of the stuff. There was a Wurlitzer electric piano, a Clavinet - just that basic "real" stuff they had back then. No synths.
Dennis: There was a Farfisa organ around.
Daryl: Yeah. I had vibes, a Vox Continental organ and a Fender bass.
Dennis: We were recording early soundtracks for surf films.
The Dragons. What was that music like?
Daryl: Well, normally the surf music of that period consisted mainly of guitars and drums, you know, like Dick Dale and his spring reverb. We put a kind of tropical feel in it by adding vibes to the mix. I played bass and Doug would play electric piano. We used to play in local bars and clubs, and all these hot surfers would show up. That was back in the early 1960s, before The Beatles came out. We were an instrumental group —...