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DIFFERENT DRUMMER: Dennis Dragon (1947 – 2017)

DIFFERENT DRUMMER: Dennis Dragon (1947 – 2017)

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Chemtrail conspiracist, Gump-class ping pong talent, waterman, dedicated Frisbista, long-time Malibu resident, raconteur, hair farmer, dude dresser and drummer/writer/producer, Grammy Award-winning founder of The Surf Punks – Dennis Dragon’s talent carved the widest of arcs – from the 1950s to the 21st Century: creative, funny, kind, prolific, eccentric, a lover and a giver.

So why would someone shoot him? Why would someone want to kill Dennis Dragon, which is apparently what happened on the night of Monday, September 25 near a pond outside of Pacifica Studio in Williams, Oregon – out in the middle of a dark autumn night, in an obscure part of southern Oregon, far from Malibu and a lot of friends and loved ones.

The news of Dennis Dragon’s death first appeared on Facebook. Three days later, details were sketchy and mostly based on local rumor around Williams and on the Internet. But the truth is, Dennis Dragon died of a gunshot wound near a pond outside of Steve Miller’s former recording studio in Williams, Oregon and no one knew why.

Judging by the reactions on Facebook – before all the details were known – Dragon’s sudden departure was abrupt but in character:

Tay Uhler posted: Spoke to Denny 3 days ago. We always kept in touch since 1961. Malibu, surfing, music, surf punks, recording and most of all laughing our asses off. Unexpected but he left a lot of joy for lots of people. RIP

Jeff Hronek posted: total bummer. dennis was a great. i remember many times he and brit would paddle out at dume, dennis with no wetsuit on his boogie and in the middle of winter, classic style !!! RIP homeslice

Vince Herman posted: Well said brother, he was a unique interpretation of what it means to be a human. I treasure our time together also

Keith Goldsmith posted: Played guitar for some of the Dragon’s projects with the three Ds; Dennis, Doug and Daryl, including Dennis’ soundtracks for Hal Jepsen and some other band demo tapes. We always recorded up at one of his studios in Malibu, with better-than-Hollywood equipment. I am on “A Sea For Yourself,” a couple songs. There was no better drummer, engineer etc. ever. RIP DD My sympathies to the Dragon family.

Charles Button posted: I leased his current studio with him for a year recently and we did a lot of work together. Shocked saddened and he will be missed he was a very unique individual highly talented. And a great drummer.

Dennis Dragon was born January of 1947 into a musical family of five children, all of them inheriting prolific musical talent from their father Carmen Dragon, a Hollywood symphony conductor/orchestrator and mother Eloise, a soprano singer.

Carmen Dragon has a long list of credits as a composer on IMDB, covering 20 years from 1941 to 1961. Carmen Dragon conducted the Hollywood Bowl for 10 years and the Capitol Symphony Orchestra. Carmen conducted the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, and several British television series, and he was a guest conductor for a number of American symphony orchestras.

Music was a thing in the Dragon family: Brother Doug (1939 – ) is a pianist now living on Maui; sister Kathy (1951 – 2013) was a flutist and founder of the Carmen Dragon Music Library; sister Carmen (1948 – 2010) was a harpist and brother Daryl (1942 – ) is a keyboard wizard and the Captain in the Captain and Tennille – one of the most popular acts of the 1970s, selling millions of records with a long string of hits: Love Will Keep Us Together, Muskrat Love, Shop Around, The Way I Want to Touch You, Do That To Me One More Time.

In 1975, Dennis Dragon engineered The Captain and Tennille’s first album, which won Record of the Year for Love Will Keep Us Together. And it was Dennis twirling knobs and pushing sliders for most of the Captain and Tennille’s recordings – and many others from the 1960s in Malibu, all the way into the 21st Century in Williams.
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Drums, Frisbees, ping pong studio dials and sliders: Dennis Dragons hands were always in motion

Born and raised in Malibu, Dennis Dragon began banging on the drums at age five. Music was in his DNA and his heart, according to cousin and best friend Alan Goulding and one of his first gigs was with a group of talented kids called Malibu Music Men Plus One:

The Malibu Music Men Plus One was Skipper Riddle – the son of Nelson Riddle – on piano. Greg Tibits played bass and Natalie Cole – Nat King Coles daughter, known at that time as “Cookie” Cole – was the singer.

Alan Goulding and Dennis Dragon: On the beach. Photo courtesy Alan Goulding.

Their first paying gig was a wedding when Dennis was 12.

 

 

According to Doug Dragon on his Artist Profile on jango.com:

After being honorably discharged from the US Navy in 1960, I bought a set of Deagan vibes for my brother Daryl, bongos and congas for brother Dennis, and a Wurlitzer electric piano for myself. This was the beginning of the group to be called The Dragons.

Malibu was all about gigging, surfing, partying, and girls. I rented a beach house with a porch on stilts below high tide, played volleyball in the sand in the daytime, and played music ‘til the wee hours.

The Dragons played in clubs around the LA area – Venice, Santa Monica, and Hollywood. Each of us also had plenty of sideline gigs with other groups, all the way through the early ‘70s. Those other gigs led to us getting called out to go on tour with the Beach Boys. I’d play keyboards, Daryl played piano or bass, and Dennis covered percussion and drums. We’d tour separately or in different combinations. And for a while, I was backup band manager for the Beach Boys.

The album BFI, cut in 1969, was the last statement The Dragons made together. Its name stood for Blue Forces Intelligence, from a mystical concept that came to me about an extraterrestrial source of higher intelligence. That album was the first time we’d experimented with vocals. We couldn’t find a taker for it in 1970, but it finally got released 37 years later, thanks to a London DJ by the name of “D.J. Food” on the Ninjatune label.

Right after we made BFI, Daryl saw a Ray Bradbury musical with Toni Tennille in the lead role. The two of them hooked up and became The Captain & Tennille. Dennis went on to play with and engineer various groups, creating the Surf Punks in the mid 70’s along the way.

Dennis Dragon was a water person – whether it was bodyboarding at P____ D____ or bomb days at Jalama. Peter Maguire is an author/historian/surfer who goes back to the 70s with DD:

Not only was Dennis one of the funniest people I have ever met, beneath his comic exterior, he was a real waterman. When I was younger I used to love to surf giant Jalama. This was late 80s. There were very few takers, Dennis was one of two people I could call at O dark thirty and he would always answer the bell. We shared some very specials go outs at giant Tarantula’s and often we were the only ones out. RIP Dennis, see you in Valhalla.

 

In 1976 Dennis Dragon teamed up with Drew Steele to form The Surf Punks, which Wikipedia summed up pretty well:

The live shows of the Surf Punks, in the heyday of the punk explosion in L.A., were wild and abandoned. High points of the show were “I Can’t Get a Tan” and “Big Top”.

The lyrics of the band centered primarily on the in-group/out-group experiences of “locals” (surfers living on the beach in Malibu) and “valleys” (commuters from the San Fernando Valley to the private and public beaches of the exclusive Malibu Beach community). Never truly “punk” in the traditional sense of the word, the Surf Punks were sort of a “Beach Boys” of the punk world, offering an intelligent take on the “turf wars” over the southern California beaches and its waves.”

The Surf Punks produced three albums: Surf Punks (1979), Locals Only (1982) and Oh No! Not Them Again! (1988). The band got a lot of airtime on KROQ, which lead to a lot of rowdy live shows around Southern California, California and the world.

Dennis Dragon became interested in the technical side of producing music during a session at Capitol Records with his brothers in the early 1960s. He began begging, borrowing and collecting audio equipment and set up a studio in his Malibu bedroom where he and Daryl Dragon produced more than 30 tracks – and laid the Gold Record foundation for The Captain and Tennille.

In 1975, Dennis Dragon engineered Love Will Keep Us Together for The Captain and Tennille, which won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. That notoriety lead Dragon to set up a professional studio in Malibu, where he worked with Lou Adler, Carole King, Johnny Rivers for Slow Dancing. Swaying to the Music and other hits, Cheech and Chong for Born in East L.A and other hits, and a long list of talented musicians and productions.

Dragon also engineered/wrote/performed on soundtracks for a variety of surf and skate movies, including Wet ‘n Wild for Grant Rohloff Films/Pyramid Films, Strictly Hot for Dale Davis Productions, Innermost Limits of Pure Fun with George Greenough, Super Session, Go For It, A Sea for Yourself and other Hal Jepsen productions, Steep and Deep a ski movie with Warren Miller, Kelly Slater in Black and White for Quiksilver and a variety of skate productions for the Powell-Peralta Corporation.

Ray Kleiman is the “Man” in “Runman” producers of a series of anarchic Malibucentric surf videos in the 1980s. Ray chimed in: “Dennis did the soundtracks for Runman, Runman Two and Runman 69.”

Alaric Valentin remembers working with Dennis at Powell-Peralta in the 1980s, producing the music for the Bones Brigade skateboard videos: Dennis was an adventure and education rolled into one unforgettable experience. Will never forget watching him work on a music edit for Stacy, as Johnny Rivers snored on the couch behind us in Capitol Records Studio A.”

 
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George Bunnell is a Calabasas resident who was one of the original members of Strawberry Alarm Clock. Bunnell goes back to the 60s with Dennis Dragon and followed Dragon’s arc as an engineer and producer:

I met Den on the first day of the Beach Boys Fifth Annual Thanksgiving Tour: November 1967. My band, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and The Buffalo Springfield were the opening acts. That was the first of two tours we did with the same lineup.

The second tour was the Beach Boy’s annual Easter tour on 11 April, 1968. Dennis, Doug and Daryl Dragon were in the BB’s back up band.

We all traveled together on the same plane, bus and limos. There are many memorable moments. Through it all, Denny and I remained friends.

After we both left our respective bands we reconnoitered in Malibu.

I think the first recording sessions we did together were at a house he shared with Jim (Roger) McGuinn up on the top of Rambla Pacifica around 1969.

Besides engineering Den played drums on a couple of the tracks. He was remarkable. Hard to put into words. But he played the drums as a musical instrument.

We continued on that path many times. When we regrouped the Strawberry Alarm Clock we recorded at the first Ocean Way studio which was in Alan Sides house.

I also co produced a country album at Dennis’ studio in Trancas…in his garage!

Then in the 80’s Strawberry Alarm Clock re-recorded a version of Incense and Peppermints at Denny’s studio in Point Dume…this time out of a truck. Strawberry Alarm Clock recorded with Den on several other occasions too.

Also in the 80’s, my band Speed Bumps recorded many times tracks in his studio at Chico’s Fruit Farm in Zuma.

We stayed in touch over the years, mostly by phone but he would sometimes come visit.

The last studio thing we did was his mastering of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s 2012 album, Wake Up Where You Are, which he did in his Williams, OR. studio.

Dennis Dragon at the controls in Pacifica Studio. Williams, Oregon, circa 2010. Photo: Ben Marcus.

The writer of this story (call me “I”) has a friend who lives in Williams, Oregon, a beautiful, rural and obscure corner of southern Oregon, close to Grants Pass. Williams is a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll, popular with ropers and dopers, as there is a struggling cattle industry visible from the road, and a booming cannabis industry that is hidden away behind walls and trees and in greenhouses.

There is trouble, right there along the Applegate River, with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Cannabis.

With the legalization of cannabis in Oregon, there has been growing conflict between long-time, traditional cannabis growers, and conglomerates who put up more than a dozen warehouses, and produce cannabis wholesale.

According to Damian Mann who wrote “Watching Williams Go to Pot” for mailtribune.com:

Growing marijuana has long been a way of life in Williams, but gardens were relatively low-key until recreational marijuana use became legal in 2015. Now massive commercial operations have sprung up throughout the community, drawing concerns over increased traffic, fences that stretch for hundreds of feet, semi-trucks racing down rural roads and large greenhouses outfitted with bright lights and loud fans. Four such greenhouses, erected near Highway 238, look like giant rockets laid on their side.

Those who moved to Williams for the peace and quiet say their lifestyle has been threatened by dummy corporations buying up large tracts of land, making it difficult to determine who the real owners are, Johnson said.

Williams is a good halfway point to pull up for a night when transiting between California and Seattle, and it was a surprise to find a card-carrying Malibu guy – one of the Surf Punks! – holed up in Steve Miller’s former studio, out in the middle of nowhere in southern Oregon.

I visited Dennis Dragon a few times at the studio. It gets very hot in southern Oregon in summer and very cold in winter, and the recording studio was an air-conditioned place to hang out, listen to Steely Dan, compliment Dennis on the layered engineering of Lonely Night (Angel Face) and talk about the bad old days in Malibu, and the recording industry.

Like a lot of long-time Malibu locals, Dennis was pretty much over the ‘Bu, and seemed pretty happy to have left a lot of memories behind and to be working in seclusion, in a quality studio, with local artists and others who would travel in from all over to work with a talented, experienced engineer with gold records on the wall.

Dennis was quirky – I was never sure if he was truly obsessed with Chem Trails, or if that was an act. But he sure talked about Chemtrails a lot.

And true to legend, he was a shit-hot ping pong player. Forrest Gump-class. Gnar.

Occasionally I would email Dennis with questions about music or whatnot, and he always responded promptly, and with intelligence. Under the hair and the eccentric energy there was a smart guy and a talented guy, an artist who came from a proud and talented but somewhat tragic family – both of his sisters died of cancer, and Daryl Dragon has been struggling with Parkinson’s, and was divorced from Toni Tennille after 39 years of marriage.

Uncle Dennis wants YOU! To have a good time, all the time.

The question remains: Who shot Dennis Dragon. And why? As of September 28, 2017, there was nothing in the news about Dennis, or the shooting, or a possible suspect.

A phone call to the Josephine County Sheriff’s Department in Grant’s Pass got a busy signal.

 

Alan Goulding communicated with Dennis regularly:

The last call I had with him was on the Saturday before this happened and he was very excited about a TV pilot shoot he had produced and sent me a copy to get my opinion. He told me he had to get this show going and needed to complete more episodes. We also shared our concerns about chemtrails and ‘geo-engineering’ when he said ‘Al I am worried I won’t finish the show.’ I asked why and his reply was ‘There is strange shit going on here and everywhere and you know what I am talking about.’ (I do know) We also talked about me going up to visiit which was long overdue for me but now I realize sadly that I waited too long. Dennis was in good spirits, happy and excited about his TV pilot.

Rick Henn was one of the last people to speak to Dennis Dragon. Henn is a Point Dume resident and the brother-in-law of Dennis Dragon, who was married to Dennis’ little sister Kathy Dragon Henn until her passing in 2013. He was the leader of the Sunrays in the mid 60’s and the second member with Dennis of the two-member recording group, The Protein Brothers. Henn now oversees the Carmen Dragon Music Library among other musical endeavors.

I spoke with Dennis at noon on the day he left us. He answered the phone ‘Hey Ricky Sticky what’s goin’ on dude!’ I told him the record company had unfortunately decided to drop our song “Drain Pipe”(one of his favorites) from the soon to be released double album reissue we co produced of the soundtrack to the ’72 surf flick, A Sea For Yourself. He said, ‘That’s a joke! Who cares, at least it’s finally coming out.’ We talked for a while longer and then he signed off, ‘I’ve got some stuff I’ve got to handle. I’ll call you later.’ No call ever came. There wasn’t a hint of any sadness or depression. He was just as hi-energy and upbeat as ever. He actually sounded really happy. Absolutely no indication of what was in the wind. I guess that’s how it had to be though. The man was totally unpredictable. A true original, you could never anticipate what was coming next with Den. I just feel numb now and I still can’t wrap my head around him being gone.

Dennis Dragon died by his own hand – a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, by a pond on an autumn night, outside of Steve Miller’s former Pacifica Studio, in an obscure corner of southern Oregon.

Those who know Dennis can only guess at what was swirling in his brain: A 70 year maelstrom of memories, family, happiness, tragedy, surf, music, gigs, gold records, good times, bad times. Dennis Dragon had more than his share.

And apparently, he had enough.

All who knew Dennis Dragon well knew he lived for the ocean, and in Williams, the ocean was a long drive away to the coast at Crescent City or Oregon – a drive Dennis didn’t take often enough.

According to one of his close friends: “Dennis died from lack of ocean visits.”

A somber, lonely, sadly sad end to a colorful, friend-filled, happily happy life of gigging, surfing, partying, girls and bushy bushy blonde hairdos.

From Runman to Angel Face – and hundreds of other projects local and international – Dennis Dragon carved a giant arc from the 1960s into the 21st Century. He leaves behind several lifetimes of work that will live forever.

A Malibu original and a talented member of a talented Malibu family, Dennis Dragon is missed.[/nextpage]

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  1. I really liked Dennis. He always had a good, happy vibe. I’m sad and confused by his death. The Malibu Times is reporting that he committed suicide. But this blog reports that he was murdered. Tragic either way.

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