Happy Birthday Dennis Cowan ► Bonzo Dog Band ► May 6
The Bonzo Dog Band

Happy Birthday to Dennis Cowan, celebrating the big Six Five today. Dennis was bassist for the Bonzo Dog Band, originally The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, then The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, before finally settling on the name everyone knows and loves.  The Bonzos, as they are affectionately known among fans, were the most influential band you never heard of and almost indescribable, but I’ll try. Cross a smattering of Lawrence Welk, with heavy doses of Spike Jones and his City Slickers, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, and Weird Al Yankovic and you’d get the Bonzo Dog Band…but Bonzos are funnier.

A little lesson in British comedy: One can draw a very crooked line from the surreal ’50s radio show The Goon Show–from which Peter Sellers sprang–to the anarchy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Between the two was the seminal children’s show [sic] Do Not Adjust Your Set. Later-Pythons Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin wrote and starred in this Thames tee vee series. However, people of all ages tuned in to see the antics of The Bonzo Dog Band, which featured today’s Birthday Boy Dennis Cowan on bass.

Here’s some very early Bonzos from Do Not Adjust Your Set:

People know the band Death Cab For Cutie. However, few know that the name is a tribute to the song of the same name that The Bonzo Dog Band performed in Magical Mystery Tour. This tasty little morsel of Doo Wop is one of few highlights in this horrible film that will always be an albatross around Paul McCartney‘s neck:

Neil Innes also came from the Bonzos and he became, almost, an auxiliary member of Monty Python Flying Circus. As told (accurately) by the WikiWackyWoo:

Innes wrote the songs for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He appeared in the film as a head-bashing monk, the serf crushed by the giant wooden rabbit, and the leader of Sir Robin’s minstrels. He also had a small role in Terry Gilliam‘s Jabberwocky. Because of these long-standing connections, Innes is often referred to as “the Seventh Python”.

And, indeed, a Neil Innes documentary was called The Seventh Python. Innes was also Ron Nasty in The Rutles, which makes him one
of the Pre-Fab Four. But this isn’t about Innes, which would be a fun transgression.

Photo © Barrie Wentzell
L to R: Dennis Cowan, Roger Ruskin
Spear & Rodney Slater 1969
Photo © Barrie Wentzell, who
sells beautiful prints of early
Bonzo Dog Band and more.

The Bonzo Dog Band classic 1967 recording The Intro and the Outro lampooned every band that ever name-checked and introduced the members of the band. Vivian Stanshall voiced the introductions. This song was the inspiration for Mike Oldfileld when he recorded his solo album Tubular Bells, famously used as the theme music for The Exorcist. Oldfield’s long version introduced all the instruments he played, voiced by none other than the very same Vivian Stanshall.

Lastly, for fans of Beatles trivia, like James Rosen of Fox News (who I stumped. That story coming.), here’s a real rarity: The promotional film for I’m The Urban Spaceman. The original recording of Urban Spaceman was produced Apollo C. Vermouth, which was a pseudonym for Paul McCartney. Enjoy.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.