California’s Grandpa Banana, who plays The Chichester Inn, Chichester, on Friday, February 3, brings a rich history with him - not least the explanation behind that name.
Real name Lowell Levinger, Banana, the original Hippie From Olema, was the founder member of the legendary San Francisco Bay area folk rock band The Youngbloods, formed in the mid-60s.
Now known as Grandpa Banana, he’s embarking on a European solo tour to showcase his new album Even Grandpas Get The Blues.
“I’ve been coming over to the UK at least once a year for the past five or six years. When I play locally here in my own neck of the woods I almost always do it with my trio Grandpa Banana’s Band, sometimes with an added fourth member /soloist.
“But it’s not financially feasible to bring the band along when travelling overseas so I get to play solo which I’ve really grown to love. It affords a flexibility and freedom that I find invigorating and leads towards new ideas and experimentation.
“The audiences in the UK are splendid. It’s fun to be treated as the guest from out of town and many folks here are aware of my previous work and happy to see what I’m up to these days.”
And that name?
“In 1962 Peter Golden and I were at the dress rehearsal of the Boston University production of On The Town by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, Leonard Bernstein.
“We were stage hands as Freshmen are not allowed to actually appear in major productions which this was. There is a scene in On The Town, with whose plot you may be familiar but I shall synopisize it here. .... three sailors on leave in New York City for only 24 hours. Will they find romance?
“Many great songs but one not so great is when one of the protagonists and his newly-found girlfriend are taking an open cab ride through Central Park. The “Cab” is actually a flat painted to look like a cab and it has large dowels protruding from its back so that two stage hands crouching down on their knees can hold on to the dowels while they painfully shuffle along making the cab look like it is moving on its own across the stage with the two actors walking behind it.
“Guess who those two stagehands were?
“The cab pauses in the middle of the stage and while the stagehands endure their agony the couple sings a romantic song. This song kept being interrupted during this dress rehearsal by costume people and then make-up people and then stage-blocking people and all the while Peter and I, yes, crouched down there.
“Well in our extreme agony and boredom we decided that it was absolutely imperative that we think of the funkiest folkiest name that might have been used in 1936.
“The best we could come up with was Harmon N Banana so we went with it. We formed the band right then and there.
“Harmon N Banana and The Bunch - Old Time Music With Appeal Within minutes we had created the secret hand shake and high sign which we both now have forgotten..
I can drag this story on for many more paragraphs about the clubs we played and how we realized the name was holding us back so we changed it to Harmon N Banana and The Down Home Redneck Jamboree. When our draw failed to improve we decided a more drastic name change was in order. Harmon N Banana and the Knights of Pytheas Wake The Dead Gospel Choir. Nope, still no stardom.
“Eventually we dropped the “Harmon N.” as it just confused people. What in the world they wondered was the ‘N’ for? ‘Nothing’ was our standard response!”
Tickets £12.50 on 01243 783185. Doors are at 8pm. There will be no support.