September 14th, 2020 marked the fortieth anniversary of the live recording of “Weird Al” Yankovic’s classic parody, Another One Rides the Bus, live on KMET’s The Dr. Demento Show. While Al already had some notoriety on the show’s “Funny Five” countdown, it was this performance that changed the course of Al’s career: this was the day that Al met Jon Schwartz, whom he politely asked to ‘bang’ on his accordion case to create percussion. Now, forty years later, “Weird Al” Yankovic’s drummer still continues to be Jon Schwartz — or, as he’s been christened, “Bermuda” Schwartz.
Common wedding tradition states that the fortieth anniversary is celebrated as ruby-red, but that’s not the way Bermuda is celebrating. Black & White & Weird All Over: The Lost Photographs of “Weird Al” Yankovic ’83-’86 (now available for purchase) is the personal presentation that will have fans flipping.
The Laugh Button recently spoke with Schwartz and discuss his new beautiful book, his musical legacy, and the economic value of Canadian money.
A lot of interviewers always seem to get Al’s name wrong. I’ve seen it spelled “Wierd Al” Yankovic, and sometimes I’ve seen and heard reporters say, “Yankovitch.” Has there ever been a problem with your name?
It’s hard to mess up “Schwartz,” but I get J-O-H-N all the time. A long time ago, my name was rife for misspelling, so when I set up my website I put in key words like my name spelled every possible different way. And you can literally go to Google and spell my name wrong and just put in ‘drums’ and I’ll come up, like, the first result.
And actually, when I set up Al’s website — and I was doing a website for him in ’95 — I also had it spelled “W-I-E-R-D-A-L,” I got that domain just for people who didn’t know how to spell it. And I always tell them you know what we learned in school the old saying “E before I? That’s weird!”
And with Al’s name, pronunciation. Everyone tries to be very educated. They think, “well it’s a Slavic name or something with a -vic at the end. Must be ‘vitch.’” They say it that way or they spell it that way. I think he’s kind of used to it. Personally, when people say my name, no matter which way they spell it, it always sounds the same.
It’s pretty well-established that “Weird Al” fans are hoarders (guilty). But your collection is legendary! What’s something in your archives that you think Al fans would want to see the most?
That’s really a hard question to answer. I mean, I’ve got some really, really cool stuff in there. But the hardcore fans have never seen a copy of the I Love Rocky Road picture sleeve, the 45. I don’t know why, but I know it’s extremely rare. There are literally only three people that have them. Al is one, I’m another, and I think Jeff Morris, who is Dr. Demento’s hench-person. They’re impossible to find. And other than seeing a picture of it, I don’t think 99.9999% of the fans have ever seen one in person.
I know I have a copy of that single, but of course I don’t have the cover.
Now see if you had that cover it would be worth a bunch of money.
I wish I thought of that at the time. Like so many things that I’ve collected, I wish I had gotten a few extras. That, in particular, if I had the opportunity to buy eight or ten of those, I should have done that. The same with The Authorized Al, a book that came out in ’85, is really rare. Copies of that are selling for $300… $400…$500 hundred dollars when they come up. That would have been very smart of me to buy a bunch of those at $8.95 or whatever they were.
But, I mean, I have a lot of other cool one of a kind stuff. Al’s original accordion case is in my collection. I used that one on Another One Rides the Bus. We took that on the first tour, and I actually played that accordion case on the first tour. It got beat up pretty good eventually, but it’s a part of my collection.
Do you know when probably the last time you ‘banged’ on it was?
It probably would have been ’83 after the first tour, I think. It took a pretty good beating, and I actually cooked up a couple of other accordion cases that I had built like sort-of a frame inside. I made them sort of structurally sound, and still managed to beat those pretty good too. That’s probably not the last time I handled it, but the last time I played it would have been on the ’83 tour. And it’s just been packed up ever since.
The bulk of [the collection] is at my house, and a lot of stuff are in some safes. All the video and audio and all my negatives are in there. Although some of the stuff I have moved to his storage where he keeps his touring stuff, and I’ve just moved a couple of boxes and posters. His original accordion case is in there.
You and Al have been working together for forty years. What’s the secret to your long- lasting collaboration and friendship?
I work cheap. No, no.
No, there’s a lot of trust and respect and just getting along. And of course doing a good job. When it comes down to it, it’s important to have the product sound right. And I’ve done that. We’ve all done that. We’ve all been able to meet his agenda and kept up with whatever he’s asked us to do, and that’s important. You get people that can do what you want to do and you hang onto them. He’s a good boss, and he’s also a good friend.
It’s a lot of fun, it’s a great relationship, and I enjoy it. I have to assume he enjoys it or he would change it. He’s made some changes in some areas, and in other areas where he’s got a good working relationship with the people, they stay as long as they want to stay. And that doesn’t mean just the band members, but on the crew: there’s people who love to come out and work with us because they like the relationship. They like the relationship with the other crew people, they like being able to get along with Al — he’s very easy to get along with. He’s a meticulous artist but he’s not really persnickety and not really demanding, he’s easy to get along with. You don’t ever feel like he’s going to come up and say, “I’m the boss here. You do it my way because I’m paying your salary.” He’s never like that. It’s a very give-and-take thing, and it’s a good relationship and it goes outside of the band.
There’s a lot of factors, the loyalty is all built from trust and respect and doing a good job. And we all stick around because we like working with him, and we like working with each other. It’s a really good family and you don’t really find that with every band. Or every crew or every organization. I mean, it’s really rare that the original band members will still be around forty years later. There’s only a few other bands who have done that, with their original members that are still together and still making music and still touring. And that’s U2 and ZZ Top. They’re the only other bands who are still together with their original members. And that’s pretty good company, I think. I’ll take that.
…And I don’t ever see — unless something really terrible happens — hopefully, I’ll never get fired and I don’t ever see myself ever walking away from this.
Do you think that, if somewhere along the way Al had hypothetically gotten a different drummer, do you think you would have still held onto these photographs for your book?
The photographs and all the Al memorabilia and stuff? Yeah, because I’m certainly involved in most of it. Most of this is my archive, too. It’s not just for Al. All those photos I have those are all mine. If I suddenly stopped being his drummer, that doesn’t change what is now almost forty years with him. I would still hang on to that. I don’t think a new drummer would be prepared to take on all of that stuff.
I had never really thought about this — and correct me if I’m wrong — but as the drummer, does that mean you’ve played on every one of Al’s songs?
Almost! There are a couple I didn’t play on. I didn’t play on You Don’t Love Me Anymore, for example. There’s also the song, Since You’ve Been Gone. That’s an a capella song.
What’s interesting though is that, so Al could melodically and rhythmically sing to it, we actually recorded an instrumental version of that that he could sing to. Unfortunately, that’s one of the great lost tracks I don’t have a copy of what we played. Which is very unlike me, because I have a copy of everything, and that’s one of those things where it’s music to a song that, by the time you’ve heard the song, it didn’t have any music. So that would have been very cool to have a copy of that. In theory, I suppose I could go to the master tapes and ask for the tracks that our instruments are on, but… if I had a wishlist that would be on it. That, and Yoda from our very first album never got completed, never got released. Those are the two things we played and never got copies of. They were never released.
But everything else, yes. I’ve played drums on, or I programmed the drums. So if you’re hearing any kind of percussion and drums, that’s something I’m responsible for.
Even if it’s an accordion case?
Especially if it’s an accordion case, then you know for sure that it was me!
You have undoubtedly helped cement the “Weird Al” footprint on pop-culture. Are there any sort of contributions you’ve made that Al fans might not know? Have you helped write any jokes or lyrics for him?
It’s not much that he really asks. Again, he knows what he wants to do. He will occasionally if he’s got a choice of lyrics. If there’s one line or word or something, he might run that by us. I mean, I think he tends to run it by me more than the other guys. “What’s funnier, this or this? If I use this term in a song, do you know what it means without having to Google it?” And so he may ask opinions but he doesn’t really solicit and doesn’t really take actual suggestions for things or lines.
I mean, there was one or two things I came up with that he did use. For MuchMusic in Canada in 1995, we did a tour across Canada called the Al-Can tour. And MuchMusic sent out a video camera and a bunch of tapes and a tripod and said, “We want you to do regular reports from the road as you go across Canada. And you can suggest editing things or how to edit them and we’ll air them, we’ll run them and promote the tour.” We thought that’s a great idea. So I generally got saddled with shooting the video unless I was in it. Whenever I wasn’t in the video, I shot that. I usually handled mailing back or overnighting the tapes back to MuchMusic. Al and usually I would sit down and watch the video footage and he would make notes as far as where to edit and what not to use, and you know, how to do stuff because he wasn’t really doing that stuff in ’95. We weren’t really capable of doing that. Now he would do it himself. They were pretty good about following the notes. Looking at those MuchMusic postcards from the road, they’re online on YouTube somewhere. They came out, they’re paced really really well.
And one of those was — toward the end of all those postcards, Al did a retrospective video about “the tour’s almost coming to an end, we really love being in Canada, there’s a lot of reasons why Canada is better than the United States,” and stuff like that. And there were going to be a whole bunch of little gags, as far why this is better in Canada than it is in the United States.
[Here] was one of them… because of the currency exchange rate, I said, “Al, this is great. You should hold up one of these dollar coins — a loony — and do a joke about it’s only worth seventy-five cents in the United States, but up here it’s worth a whole dollar!” That’s why Canada’s better, right?
And I may have also done this one, too. We talked about the difference in temperature, everything up there is Celsius. And this one may have come from me, he says, “In Canada, when it’s twenty degrees, it’s a nice day. In the United States, when it’s twenty degrees, it’s FREEZING.” And what’s funny is that we were in Eastern Canada when we shot that and it was actually cold out, so the chances are he had a heavy jacket on. It was sort of true.
But none of us really attempt or ask to give him any ideas. He’s a one-man show, and his instincts are usually really, really good. And if he thinks they’re not, he’ll run it by us. But that’s not to say he takes our suggestions but he just wants to get a little bit of a consensus as far as what sounds good or, “If I use this word, do you know what it means?”.
I think for one song — I forget what song it is — but he asked me, “Do you know what ‘butt-hurt’ is?” And this was long before I ever heard the term, and I said, “No,” and he ended up not using it.
He doesn’t want to put too much obscure stuff [out there]. He wants to appeal to a wide audience. It’s not just a bunch of teenagers online, that’s not his crowd. Thirty years ago, we had a younger audience. Now they’ve all grown up and we’ve got new younger people, so it’s a very wide demographic. He needs to appeal to a very wide age-range and a very wide culture-range. Obviously our fans who are twenty-year-old fans from 35 years ago are different than our fifteen year old fans today. He wants to target them both, he wants to make sure nobody gets left out in the cold. Twenty degrees or not. [chuckles]
You’re releasing your book Black & White & Weird All Over. It takes place between the years 1983 and 1986. Do you have any favorite weird moments that happened between those years?
I guess it was all weird. It was all new. Al was gaining in popularity, of course, blowing up with MTV, and we were touring for the first time in our lives and making videos and making a lot of good music. We had an album come out every year during that time: ’83, ’84, ’85, ’86. There was just a lot going on, there was a lot of growth as players, I guess. A lot of growth in popularity. I mean, none of that was weird — it sort of goes with the territory of someone who is growing. It was a new adventure for all of us, not only for us as band members but for Al as a celebrity, as an artist who was popular and getting more popular. In that respect, it was just a really great time, it was very much of a growth experience for all of us.
So not “weird,” but “Weird Al,” I guess.
Are there any photos in the book that you think fans will be shocked to see?
Well they get to see… I mean I’ve taken a lot of photos. This is just a small era and these are just black and white, so these specific photos haven’t been seen. There are pictures of Al in the studio or on video sets and on the tour busses. They’re going to see a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, but there are some photos in here that would perhaps be more interesting than some of the others.
There’s one photo, and I wish I had gotten more information about it before I wrote the chapter for I Love Rocky Road because I got a little more information about it afterwards. But it’s something I kind of [had] forgotten about. There were a whole bunch of kids there with accordions and I had color photos of that out in the field of rehearsing. But when these black and white photos were all scanned, I was able to look at each of them more closely I saw that all of these kids were actually being shot for a scene or two for the I Love Rocky Road video. They were actually in there with us, with the band!
I didn’t even remember that! But I’ve got photos of it, by Musical Mike Kieffer — any photos that I’m in, Musical Mike took. And so I’m in these photos with these kids and I don’t even remember them being in there. I just remember these color photos of them out in the field and that was it. So I had to pursue it and try and find out exactly… I mean, they were obviously shot for the video but they obviously didn’t show up in it. I found out only a little later that whatever scene they were supposed to do, it just didn’t really “read” so it didn’t get used in the video. I don’t know if it was actually shot or not, but they decided to not use it and that was it. But they were there and I have pictures of them with the video camera on them, so I know they got really close to being in the video and weren’t.
But fans are going to be kind of fascinated with that. They were all wearing accordions and all with soda-jerk hats on. There were fifteen or sixteen or something of ‘em, and they were from an accordion school and the lady who was their teacher — a lady named Ruth [Less] — was also in a band called Hot Food to Go which was popular on The Dr. Demento Show, so there was kind of a connection of how she got to be there and got her students to come down for it. Sort of a friend of a friend.
And I didn’t have all that information when I wrote that description so I didn’t get it until later. I don’t know why I suddenly found out a month afterward instead of a month before, but it was too late to actually change the book. If we ever do a second edition and get a second chance at rewriting these chapters, I’ll put that story in and get a little more information about it and maybe include some different photos. Maybe include the photo where there’s actually a camera on them and you can see they were there, they were ready to do their scene and it was just yanked at the last minute I guess. That’s going to be a little shocking to see all those people there and then wondering what happened to them.
I wonder if any of them are going to stumble upon the book and go, “Hey! That’s me! I did do that!”
[Laughs] I sent the teacher some of the photos, some of the high-res versions of the photos and if she’s in touch with any of them, will undoubtedly pass that along. But, again, this was 37 years ago. I don’t know, how many school teachers are still in touch with their students many years down the line? So it’s hard to say.
Then again, you teach somebody else accordion — that’s a different kind of a bond than just being in school with a whole bunch of different students. Hopefully, she’ll tell them about the book and maybe they’ll buy a copy maybe they’ll want to see themselves. That would be cool.
There’s one picture that I love and I’m sure other fans will, too. There’s one particular photograph — and it looks to be from the I Love Rocky Road music video — that’s of the band, along with Dr. Demento, in a field. There’s no doubt that will be the page fans are going to ask everyone to get autographed.
That’s going to be the cool page to have signed in the book. When it comes time for someone has a book and he catches a bunch of us after a show, I think that’s probably going to be the page that we’re going to end up signing. Now that photo goes across the entire book, that’s going to be a 12’’ x 18’’ photo, which is really cool!
When the publisher first said, “Some of these photos are going to be across both pages. Some of them are going to cross over the middle and some of them are going to be full-on across both pages.” I said, “What about the cover? What about how the book is glued?” It’s going to go into the middle, obviously were not going to put someone’s face in the middle, but it’s going to disrupt the photo. And the book is actually going to be, instead of glued on one edge, it’s being sewn.
So what that means is that the book can kind of lay flat, the pages can kind of pucker up a little. You can see that there’s a seam down the middle, but it’s going to lay flat enough that from a couple feet away it’s going to look like one giant photo! That photo was originally going to be a smaller photo… And I said, “You know what? That’s the only photo in the entire book where all of us are together, plus it’s got Dr. Demento. If we could get that across two pages, that would look really nice.”
The fan that is able to get all of us on there with Rubén Valtierra [the band’s touring keyboardist] and they’re able to get Dr. Demento, and they wanted to sell the book?! That would be a million dollar book. I’m not even going to have a book with everyone’s autographs in it!
If you could go back in time and give a piece of advice to the Bermuda of 1983 or tell him something about what you will achieve one day, what would you say?
I would say, “Young Bermuda, SAVE YOUR MONEY. Put your money away.”
No, I think I did everything right. I don’t think I would do anything different. I think that I had a good time, and made a lot of good decisions. Maybe not some goofy things, but everything was fun. I would absolutely do everything the same again, over and over. I had a good time. Nothing different. And I eventually did save my money, so I figured that out. I did it right, I was lucky or I was smart.
No changes, very happy with the way things turned out —in terms of “Weird Al.” If I could go back and buy more Tesla stock when it was just twenty dollars? Uh, yeah!!
Black & White & Weird All Over: The Lost Photographs of “Weird Al” Yankovic ’83-’86 is available for purchase from several online retailers here.