Saturday, September 3, 2011

Kid Creole And The Coconuts

Some people form bands. Thomas August Darnell Browder formed a saga. A saga of a world where there are no labels or restrictions on music, gender or racial background. A sprawling story with a soudtrack that is equal parts funk, calypso, big band jazz , salsa and RnB. The stars of this tale are the above mentioned Browder having shortened his name to August Darnell alias Kid Creole (taken from the Elvis movie,King Creole), Andy Hernandez alias Coati Mundi, and the lovely trio known as The Coconuts. With able support from a big bad swinging band, this story has a happy ending night after night after night.
In 1974, Darnell and his brother Stony Browder,Jr. formed Doctor Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, whose self-named debut album went gold and produced a hit,"Cherchez La Femme"

Darnell left the group to form Kid Creole And The Coconuts with co-founder/musical director/vibaphonist/onstage comic foil Andy Hernandez, percussionist "Bongo" Eddie Folk, bassist Carol Colman, keyboardist Peter Schott, drummer Winston Grennan and guitarist Jimmy Rippetoe. They were augmented by a horn section, dubbed Pond Life with saxophonist Charlie Lagond, trumpeter Ken Fradley and Lee Robertson on trombone. The Coconuts were a trio of glamorous scantily-clad women who performed elaborate choreography and backing vocals.They were Adriana Kaegi, Cheryl Poirier and Taryn Haegy, who was later replaced by Janique Svedberg. This was the line-up during the band's peak years. Their first album, Off The Coast Of Me was critically acclaimed but sold poorly. The follow-up, Fresh Fruit In Foreign Places also received rave reviews but sold only slightly better. The band appeared on Saturday Night Live performing two songs from the album, "There But For The Grace Of God Go I" and "Mister Softee".

By this time Darnell became recognized as the wickedly clever lyricist and composer he is with crucial musical support from Hernandez, himself a gifted  musician and composer.
The band's shows were like a bigger -than-life carnival, strongly Cab Calloway-influenced with diverse musical styles expertly juggled throughout. They were huge in Europe, but struggled a bit in the U.S. due to their difficult -to-label sound.
It was in 1982 that their breakthrough album Tropical Gangsters was released, going to #3 in the U.K. charts and producing three top ten singles, "Stool Pigeon", "Annie I'm Not Your Daddy", and "I'm A Wonderful Thing". The collection, released as Wise Guy in the U.S., reached #145 on the U.S. charts with "Stool Pigeon" and "I'm A Wonderful Thing" flirting with the RnB charts.

The band played The Montreux Jazz Festival in 1986. During this time they released In Praise Of Older Women and I Too Have Seen The Woods. Despite the high quality of these albums, particularly the latter, they failed to chart although Older Women's single "Endicott" did chart respectably.

The band has appeared in a number of films including Against All Odds in 1984 and 1990's Lambada -themed The Forbidden Dance. 1990 also saw the release of Private Waters Of The Great Divide which featured the single "The Sex Of It". This song was written by Prince and recorded at Paisley Park Studios with Sheila E. While nowhere near the quality of the group's usual product, the song reached the top 40. During this period Andy Hernandez was separated from the band, and as brilliant as Darnell was, the group's output suffered quality-wise in his absence. Fortunately, Hernandez eventually returned to the fold.

Kid Creole And The Coconuts were and still are a top flight act. While their recorded output is chock-full of well crafted original songs and energetic covers, it is onstage that they make their true magic. Crowds world-wide have been witness to the band's consistently impressive musical and visual extravaganzas. Sadly, it seems that their adventurous melding of traditionally classic showmanship with modern-times  out and out rockin' has made them merely a cult favorite in the U.S. I would urge anyone who hasn't yet checked them out to do so and be richly rewarded.

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