Nardwuar vs Tommy Chong

Nardwuar: So Tommy, what ever happened, how did you ever end up playing on a Joni Mitchell record?
Tommy Chong: Oh right, yeah, well her and Cheech had an affair one time, she liked Mexicans, so uh they were, they were, a number then I guess. She actually liked tacos alot, so she asked us if we'd be on a record, and she was on one of ours so we returned the favor.

Have you ever heard of Maclean and Maclean before? Canadian comedians?
Maclean magazines?

Maclean and Maclean, they're a Canadian comedionic team, they had Burton Cummings sing for them once, I was just wondering if you new why he did, but I guess you've never heard of them.
I have heard of them as a matter of fact. They're Canadians aren't they?

Old school Canadians like yourself!
Are they from West Van?

No, I think that they're from out east.
Where, like Beggarville?

No I think it might be Halifax or something like that.
Halifax, well that's back east, eh!

Hey, who is Abe Stenanko, like he's a real guy isn't he?
Abe Stenanko is a cop from Vancouver, who busted every hippie in town, until I put him in the movies and got his ass transferred to Turkey.

Do you know where he is now, he's still in Turkey?
I don't know where Abe is now, I hope he's in Turkey, he's probably been, you know, the other end of that midnight express you know, being raped by some prison guard, and liking it knowing Stenanko.

What was that band that you were, like, really was it four N's and a, what was it, I don't get it, I don't get it, I don't get it.
I had a band once and we called it "four niggers and a chink".

And then you changed it to "four N's and a C" and then "three coloured fellas and an oriental lad".
Every week we changed the sign, it started out as "four niggers and a chink", and then went to "four coloured fellas and a chinese lad" and then it ended up "four N"s and a C", and then, uh.

You even played cool places like "Oil Can Harry's"
Worked Oil Can Harry's, Danny Beseida, you know the owner, he's in uh, he's a dealer down in L.A.

Do you really love drugs?
I really do, I love it, I think drugs are what's happening and I advise everybody to do them, especially young kids, huh-huh.

Are there any drugs you haven't done? That you won't do, that you sort of want to?
Cigarettes, I won't do cigarettes, nicotine will kill ya. And I don't really drink alot of booze, alcohol will kill ya...but I smoke all the pot I can find, I don't smoke it all at once, I just do a little bit at a time, and I uh, I used to take acid but I quit around 1971.

How about ecstasy, there's a lot of new ravers that are in to ecstasy and stuff are you in to that?
I done ecstasy and uh, it was great. Remember John Lurey from Stranger than Paradise an actor? Ya, him and I did ecstasy together we had a very nice time, we sort of chatted all night, while some strange man necked with his girlfriend in another room for about four hours, and she came out of the room and she's on ecstasy too, and she thought it was John, she'd was necking with a stranger and she thought it was her boyfriend.

Are you a Canadian, still?
(laughs) Well I don't know, I might have lost my citizenship, I don't think you can lose your citizenship though. I made it in L.A. so sometimes we get disbarred from places.

But you were born in Canada?
I was born in Edmonton, eh! University Hospital.

Right here!
Right here in Edmonton.

What year?
1938. May 24, 1938, In fact my mother said there was firecrackers going off, they had a big celebration.

And you got on the rock and roll tip right off the bat?
I was about sixteen when I discovered that music could get you laid, so I got into music boy, didn't matter what you looked like either, you could be a geeky looking guy but if you played music, whoa, you'd get the girls.

That band "four N's and a C", now didn't you also join Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers?
I was the original guy that started that group, Bobby Taylor was, I started off with a group called The Shades we were in Calgary.

Not the Shades of Blonde was it, featuring Mel Shaw, 49th parallel, sixties garage punk, Danny Low ,Q sound, Madonna?
No, but they probably got the name from us if you say Mel Shaw.

Is that Mel Shaw junior or the guy that discovered the Stampeders?
The guy that discovered the Stampeders. OK, well because see he was a groupie hanging around when we were, our first band was called the Shades cause there was a Canadian Indian, a black a guy named Tommy Melton, the Indian named Dick Bird, and myself who's half Chinese, we called ourselves "The Shades" cause we're all different colours. We used to do a stage show, with Eric Murray on drums, Pete Watts on sax and my brother on bass and then we called ourselves The Shades, and we'd play Calgary and Edmonton from 1955-56 to 58 when we were asked to leave by the mayor. Then we became Little Daddie and the Bachelors.

Little Daddie and the Bachelors! Did The Shades ever record anything?
The Shades never recorded anything, Little Daddy and the Bachelors recorded a couple of records, ya. We won a contest at the teen fair in Vancouver and the first prize was a recording contract and we recorded at a radio station on the stairway, and we did a record and it got put out.

That's Walk on the Wild Side, right?
No, the record was uh.

How about Night Train Review maybe that's another band - it's on that History of Vancouver Rock and Roll volume 2, that you probably don't see any money from, or you probably don't need the money right?
Well no, I always need the money but I don't see it. Were on it, it's called uh, Junior's Jerk.

Junior's Jerk has that great reverb on it doesn't it, like it's instrumental.
That was mine, I did that, and um.

Ever heard of Wes Dakus , cause he was from Edmonton.
Wes Dokess, Daekess.

We played battle of the bands with Wes. When the Shades came up, it was Wes Dakus and the Rebels was it, yea, he'd wear a little suit and play bass.

They ended up recording with Norman Petty in Clovis, New Mexico, with Buddy Holly's with the guy who did Buddy Holly.
I don't doubt it man they were good, Bobby Carrens played guitar he's a hell of a guitar player, Edmonton always had the better musicians, but we had better looking guys in Calgary.

What happened to Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, like it was you started that group or, it was the first Canadian group, the first non-black group to be signed to Motown, that's pretty wild!
Ya, we had a number one record, ya we, there's a lot of history there, we uh, we discovered the Jackson Five, opening for us one place.

That was Bobby Taylor who discovered, you helped.
No we were there, we were all there at the same time. We were playing a Chitling gig, Chitling circuit, all the black clubs and uh, we played the Regal Theatre in Chicago and, um, the Jackson Five were opening for us and so we took em to Detroit and had em signed on to Motown.

Was it hard to get signed to Motown being a Vancouver band?
Well, I had an after hours club in Vancouver and when any of the Motown acts would call.

It was called the Elegant Parlour, whenever the Motown acts would stay in Vancouver they would come down to my club, cause it was like a black after hours booze bar, and it was hip. And we played, that's when the Vancouvers, we played there and so the Supremes actually discovered us first. They were partying and they told Barry Gordy, and Barry flew in to Vancouver, seen us, signed us, and we went to Detroit.

Going to Detroit, what year was that?
It was in '67.

The same time, have you ever smoked anything with Neil Young before Tommy, Tommy, Tommy-
I never-

Tommy Ch-
I never-

Tommy Ch-
I never met Neil Young. I just seen him in a movie where he had a big coke booger in his nose..that's the only time I've-

And they airbrushed it out?!
No they left it in.

No, The Last Waltz they airbrushed it out.
Not in the version I saw! Big huge coke booger! He was playing with Rick James at the time, recording an album for Motown and it was never released. I met Rick James later, and I met George Clinton later, the only Motown people I knew were The Temptations, Smoky, Stevie, uh,

How about any of the KING artists , Brown, did you ever party with James Brown?
Well James, it's weird, uh, James, their band used to come to the parlour and sit in with us.

His band the JB's?
The drummer, some famous guy.

Fred Wesley? Maceo Parker?
Maceo! No. Maceo played sax, didn't he, well they used to sit in. One night this other promoter had a club upstairs trying to go psychedelic, this is at the height of the Motown era, and he booked all these groups that later went on to become mega superstars, like Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones, and he had this club upstairs and he couldn't make any money with it. It's called the Red Nose Circus and my club was right below that in the basement, and our club would be packed and his club would be empty, with the Rolling Stones, they never drew anybody, it was amazing. One night all the James Brown band was playing on stage and I look in the back and I could see Mick Jagger and Keith Richards trying to get in the club and they couldn't get in cause it was to crowded.

James Brown, what do you think his drug of preference was, cause he was known to do angel dust.
Well James went through a bi-sexual period that was real funny, remember that song Please Please Please, well James had a gay lover at the time and he'd be on his knees, if you look at some film you'll see him on his knees and this guy would run up and throw a fur coat over him, and pick him up and carry him off the stage, remember that?, and then James would break loose and come running back, "Please Please" , he'd sing some more, the guy that would run out and grab him that was James' lover, James was a very heavy bi-sexual for the longest time and then he, James, I don't know what happened to him.

He was trying to open a bunch of burger restaurants in the ghettos, did you hear about that, what was that about?
Ah, James, man, you know, he's a, he's from the south, and he was like a down home brother, you know, not to many smarts, like the rest of 'em, you know, like the rest of us, anybody in rock and roll, we just new one thing, you know, music, and James was one of 'em. He's a cool guy though, I met him.

Have you seen him since, or do any of the old rock and rollers phone you up at all coming through town?
They got short memories, a lot of them, they don't remember, well, they're old fuckers too you know, like Joe Jackson, Micheal Jackson's father doesn't remember me, I met him one time -

Maybe he doesn't want to remember you,selective memory?
He's fuckin stupid man he doesn't remember me, he does not, I look him in the eye and he doesn't remember me, it's weird man, I think he - I don't know, whatever, you know Jermaine and all the rest, they do, cause they were like half way - they had half a brain you know.

When did, like, the Vancouvers break-up, was that your last band before movies started?
Ya, I got fired, I got fired, I had a, I was getting my green card, I had Motown pay for it, myself and the bass player, because you know how important a green card is, you know, working down in the States, so I had gig, I was backing up, Bobby had left, he went on with Smokey, and the Vancouvers were backing up a girl called Chris Clark, who was Barry Gordy's white girl of the month club, you know, so I had to leave town in the middle of the gig to go do an interview to get my green card, and uh, she fired me for leaving the gig, this is after I told her what I had to do, so I quit the band moved to Vancouver, and started an improv group, then I met Cheech.

Had Cheech been in bands before?
Ya, he was Little Caesar and the Chicanos, or something, he had a chicano band like a Ricky Valle kind of band, and he also was in Calgary, Brad Creek outside of Calgary, and uh, he's in a lot of bands.

Do you have any Brian Wilson stories?
(laughs) Cheech and I we were playing Vegas one time, we walked in the elevator and Brian was huddled in the corner, and I don't know how long he'd been riding the elevator for, but he just, kind of comatose in the corner, we never said anything we just kinda looked over and I said "Oh Brian".

Didn't you want to help him?
Naw, what can you do, he's fucked up...met Ted Nugent one time that was funny, just recently, I said in the elevator "Hey Ted, how are ya doin', I'm Tommy Chong" and Ted says "No, I'm Ted Nugent". And I said "No, Ted, I'm Tommy Chong" , and he goes "Oh, I'm sorry man, I'm deaf." He's deaf, he can't hardly hear!

What about Elvis?
Elvis sent us a Christmas card one time, and that's the closest I ever got to Elvis.

Who would send you Christmas cards, and why, just, who, celebrity to celebrity or any particular reason?
I think Elvis probably got into our movies and that was his way of saying, you know, hello, and that's about all I can think of.

What about Margaret Trudeau?
No, nothing on Margaret, no, I was doing movies when she was fucking Mick.

Did you get to go to the White House and meet Nixon? Any white house---
The closest I got to the White House, I was in the Swedish embassy with Peter Sellers, Peter was going with the daughter of the ambassador, I had a gig in Washington and Peter called me up and he said, he sent me a telegram saying that the Swedish Ambassador requests the presence of Sir Ashely Roachclip at the residence, and Ashely Roachclip was a character from one of our records. I went there and we had a great time, we played record, we got stoned, they kept ringing these bells that the maids would come in, you know, there's a bell there and it would say service, so we'd push it and a sleepy maid would show up about ten minutes later, we'd look around, "oh", "ya get us a beer", so she'd get us a beer, we had a good time, it was legal cause we were on Swedish territory so we could smoke dope.

So Tommy Chong, how were the Beatles, it's been rumored that Paul and John had some wild escapades in different rooms, did you ever hear anything about that?
I met John and Rod Stewart in a bedroom the same night at a party in Lou Athers house, and they were in there, I was going to find a place to smoke a joint, they were in there, John was sitting on the floor, he was into his Mai Ling era, you know, the chinese secretary and Rod was sitting on the bed, I think he was going or he had just met Brit Eckland at the time, and I come in and I "hey how are ya doin you guys" light up a joint and they freaked, they were afraid of the immigration, and John wouldn't take a toke and Rod wouldn't take a toke, so I said fuck ya, and I smoked it myself ! That's the only time I've met those guys.

Bruno Gerussi?
Who's Bruno Gerussi?

The Beachcombers! A canadian superstar. Leslie Nielson?

I seen Leslie, I rode the plane with Leslie, recently, that was a weird feeling man, it was like being in the plane in the movie, you know, it was like Airplane, you know, he's sitting in the you know, it was like Airplane.

So what are you doing now?
Trying to get paid.

By Paul Hughes? How are you trying to get paid?
For the gig! That's why the bands are here, they're all trying to get paid.

How much does it, if I dare may ask, does it take to get Tommy Chong to come MC a concert like this ?
Not quite two figures, well close, but ya, two figures.

Never one?
Oh ya.

So are you living here right now, like do you go home right now to your house in Edmonton, do you have anywhere to stay?
I don't think so man, Edmonton?

No relatives anywhere? You said you were from Edmonton, or you went to school here?
Na, no more relatives anymore, they tore Chinatown down man, whatever relatives I had, they were living there, they're gone, in Calgary, I got some nieces.

Stompin' Tom Connors.
I like him man, I like his Ketchup song, is that him, yeah.

Pierre Berton.
Good writer, great Canadian - , he knows more about Canadian bullshit than anybody.

All right, well, anything else you would like to add to our video documentation of Tommy Chong's evening here at Highwood 1993?
If I don't get paid I'm going to take a whole lot of Marshall amps home with me on the plane.

All right Tommy Chong....doot doola doot doo
Uh, doot doo.

Interview done in person, Edmonton, Alberta, Aug 14 1993.

Back to the Menu!