As we speak, I’m most likely on a plane to my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, where I’ll be conducting the Marching Band who will be playing my big hits at the Homecoming football game on Saturday. This is not only exciting but insane as I don’t read a stitch of music despite the fact that my songs, 9/10ths of which I also write the music for, have sold over 50,000,000 records. What I’ve learned from watching marching bands on YouTube is that versions of the songs they play not only differ from the records but also differ from each other. So I’ll just be winging it. In front of 82,000 people. Here’s a video I found on YouTube when I decided I should see how big the band is. I almost had a heart attack when I saw this:


I may not know where the band is going with my songs but one of my musical strengths has always been that I’m best creating spontaneously. Throw something at me and I can make immediate sense of it, like I can put a melody over chords the first time I hear them. So my plan is just to listen for what the band’s doing and react instantaneously. At least the hundreds of musicians in the band will be able to clearly see what I’m doing because I just got done attaching bicycle handlebar grips and glittering my batons or whatever you call those sticks conductors use to conduct with.


I always have a lot of drumsticks and mallets on hand.


All the plain drumsticks are missing because they’re going to the football game with me. Which brings me to the main reason why I’m so excited to conduct a marching band. First, I’m elated, of course, that they’re playing my songs. But even moreso, I love marching bands. And I especially love marching band drums. Not only do I have a vintage set as you can see in the photo at the top of this post but I have quite a few sets of them, including one we used in my current YouTube extravaganza, “Jungle Animal” by Pomplamoose and Allee Willis.


“Jungle Animal” is by no means the first time I used marching band drums in one of my songs. In 1980 we used an entire marching band in “Street Beat”‘, a song I wrote with Toni Basil and Bruce Roberts and sung and danced brilliantly by Toni here in 1980:


All of which is to say I’m pretty damn pumped about conducting the University of Wisconsin band. I’m a little concerned about falling off the conductor’s platform as from what I hear it’s just a few feet square, with no rails and 25 feet up in the air. I’m not one to be trusted not to move, between my natural proclivities to do so and the sheer psychologically altered state I’m sure I’ll be in in front of all those hundreds of musicians playing my own songs in my #1 favorite genre of music. I have no idea what I’ll attach myself to but I’m bringing extra strength bungee cords along to hook on to something so if I tumble I’ll just bounce. Knowing me, I’m pretty sure I can bounce in rhythm.



I used to love back scratchers as a kid, the long skinny brittle plastic kind that the hand snapped off of if you jerked them along your back too fast. I always loved the little lifelike looking clawed hands, fingers curled for maximum scratching action. I remember the first time I saw one of the battery-operated ones. I had already been made aware of similar looking battery-operated things though those didn’t have aluminum arms and teeny little hands attached to them. And none of them were near as elegant as this tiger skinned vibrating gadget.


One of my favorite things was that the little hands and fingers had such incredible detail to them. From a Kitsch POV, I like this one even better because in order to make it look like a tiger paw, the fingers have taken on the look of little kernels of corn and the palm looks like it has a big blister in the middle of it.


Once assembled, the tiger paw back scratcher is almost 18 inches long.


The base of it is really heavy, making it uncomfortable to scratch yourself for too long.


I haven’t interacted with my vibrating cordless electric Tiger Paw in quite a few years. I really only stumbled across it because I was combing through my decades-old-and-counting Kitsch kollection looking for jungle themed items to go along with my just released “Jungle Animal” song, video and game with Pomplamoose that’s racked up over 80,000 views on YouTube in less than two days.


I’ve spent the last few months working on this thing, hunched over my desk, breaking my back. So the Tiger Paw is going to stay close at hand now and keep me company as I can definitely use a good scratch every now and then.



Because the opening line of my very first hit song, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire, is “Do you remember the 21st night of September?” I constantly get asked the significance of that date, the very day it is TODAY.  People are always looking for some great meaning, especially those whose birthdays are today and to whom the song has held a special place. Sad to say, the only real significance is that that it felt so perfect to sing. Those three syllables – twen-ty-first –  hugged those notes tighter than an angora sweater and once that happens any good songwriter knows they need to just leave it alone because it works. What I’m most proud of achieving with my co-writers, Maurice White and Al McKay, is the transformative effect the song seems to have on people. I could be at a funeral and if “September” even came on as a ringtone most people’s lips would curl into a smile and their toes would automatically start to tap.  Beyoncé and Jay-Z even chose it to dance their first song to at their wedding. And that makes me very happy.


Ever since the song was released at the tail end of 1978, September 21st has been a magic date for me. In the pre-email/text days when I used to check my phone, the messages would be filled with people singing me the song. Some of the singers were famous and the versions were killer. Sometimes it was my dentist or a friend from camp and the versions were terrible, just the way, as a lover of kitsch, I love them.

Through the years, the popularity of “September” seems to grow, so much so that the entire month of September has started to feel like a holiday to me, especially this year when it started with Earth, Wind & Fire playing “September” with a 70 piece orchestra and fireworks at The Hollywood Bowl. So, I’ve decided to honor this date that has given me so many gifts with a few gifts of my own:

• First, the release of my “Jungle Animal” video/song with Pomplamoose, a YouTube sensation band I contacted to work together after I saw their version of “September”, with over 2,000,000 views on YouTube. Now would be a good time to watch “Jungle Animal”:


•  Second, the matching “Jungle Animal” music composition game I designed and that’s ready for your jungle playing pleasure right now at

•  Third, in celebration of the one-year-to-the-day opening of my social network, The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch at, The Jungle Animal Petting Zoo is now open, featuring some of the most cheesy and brilliant jungle animal artifacts on the planet.

• And fourth, the launch of “The 365 Days of September”, where I’ll post one new version of “September” a day for a year from the thousands of insane versions of it on YouTube.

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And I JUST found out that September will continue into October for me as The University Of Wisconsin Marching Band will play my songs at the Homecoming football game on October 9th and I’ve been asked to conduct! As some of you know, UW is my alma mater. And I LOVE marching bands.  And even more pertinent  on the kitsch tip, despite the fact that I’ve sold over 50,000,000 records and counting, I still don’t know how to read a stitch of music. So I anticipate that conducting the band in front of 80,000 people is going to be one of the seminal kitsch moments of my life!

So to all of you on this September 21st I say thank you and wish you a big “Ba-de-ya!”. May you all have nothing but”golden dreams and shiny days”.



For the last few months I’ve been holed away in the creative jungle known as my desk trying to complete a long-distance collaboration with Pomplamoose, the YouTube sensation band I collaborated with after I saw them do a highly unusual version of my song, “September”.  With “Jungle Animal”, a song and video we worked on together, as well as an online game that I whittled away at myself, theoretically just hours away from release, I thought that this off-kilter Atomic 1950’s zebra, knees buckling but still standing, was the perfect visual representation of what one feels like when they emerge from as intense of a workload as this.

Before this project, my connection to jungle animals was confined to those in my kitsch collection. Much more of a cat, dog or goldfish person, I certainly appreciated jungle animals but didn’t really come to love them as much until I had to stare at them over the last few months in order to do the artwork for the video and game.


I even opened a Jungle Animal Petting Zoo at my social network, The Allee Willis Museum of Kitsch at, so I would have more animals to study. I can see all the anatomically correct models I want with a Google search but I was more interested in how they’ve been interpreted via pop culture artifacts. For example, I learned a lot from this “dreamy tiger” submitted by aKitschionado Nessa.


And staring at this slightly blurry rope lion submitted by omahamama……


……provided for my interpretation of the king of the jungle:


And God knows, I’ve been staring at this zebra for years.


Long one of my favorite ceramics I’ve ever owned, this spectacularly Atomically tilted 1950’s zebra originally had a mate, a perfectly-tilted-the-other-way zebra. They really were the best set of jungle animals for my taste I’ve ever seen.  Both of them were quite heavy, filled with sand so they were sure not to fall off a shelf unless an earthquake of astronomical proportions hit. Unfortunately, that earthquake arrived in the person of someone I was interviewing to be my assistant who dropped the zebra carrying it to my car where I was about to leave to art direct some rock video. Needless to say, that was the end of the assistant, who I was much happier to lose than the zebra.

When it came to “Jungle Animal”, I stayed up for weeks painting.


I actually did every inch of painting in the computer. I just thought this was a great excuse to show what paints looks like when the artist loves her work. It was also a great excuse to show this box:


Perhaps if I spent less time growing up watching American Bandstand and more watching Jon Gnagy, the first television art instructor in the 1950’s and 60’s, I might have understood that despite the fact I think this looks dead-on like a real hippopotamus others might not.


The person who designed my favorite zebra was definitely not thinking about interpreting an animal of perfect zebratude when he sculpted and painted this:


Pound for pound, I think my zebra looks more like the real thing, though not as much as Jon Gnagy might have hoped for.


I can’t tell you how many years I wasted not being an artist because I was so hung up that I couldn’t draw anything exactly as it was. It took me decades to realize that true art is all about personal style. It’s about having the balls to show your stripes.


“Jungle Animal” was a very challenging collaboration for reasons I’ll one day be ready to talk about. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from painting and animating all these jungle animals, not the least of which was inspired by this full tilt zebra who, despite all odds, continues to stand up straight, it’s that with integrity and perseverance one can not only survive in the jungle but thrive.


(“Jungle Animal” is supposed to be up on YouTube at 1 AM tomorrow morning, the 21st of September. Ba-de-ya!)


Yesterday, me and Mark Blackwell, who I work with, drove back to LA from up north in Sonoma where I was working with Pomplamoose. As I had raced through the last 48 hours to drive up there with a van full of props so we could shoot our “Shbaby” video, unloaded everything, danced and carried on like a lunatic for the video for much of the time, wrapped, re-wrapped and repaired  instruments I had made out of foamcore, many of which weren’t happy taking the trip, singing and finishing tracks for another song, “R U Thinking”,  finalizing our “Jungle Animal” video, racing back and forth to the hotel where someone who weighed at least 400 pounds was very fidgety in the room above me both nights… as all this was crammed into a less than 48 hour period I was drop dead T-I-R-E-D when it was time to head back yesterday morning.


The plan was that Mark and I were going to take a very leisurely drive down a very peculiar route back down to LA so we could see all these kitsch attractions we had never seen before. But the morning started out with me discovering that my trustee MacBook Pro had finally died. Dead as in completely, totally, this-is-going-to-cost-you-a-lot-of-money DEAD. At least I still had my iPad but this too had been giving me trouble like refusing e-mails from certain of my e-mail accounts, not retaining saves after I took copious notes, and the dictation program working as if I was speaking in Chinese. I also had my two iPhones, both of which are very early versions of the phone, and if you even look at either one of them funny the batteries instantly drain. Now I am someone who is very technology dependent. I’m also a gadget freak. The only way you ever see me with one of anything is if the mate had recently died and I hadn’t had a chance to replace it yet. But here I was miles away from home with a heap of scrap metal technology with a blog to get out and a social network to attend to before we even packed the van.

After an hour delay, we were on the road, whipping through towns I’ve never heard of where the temperature was inching towards 110° in a van with malfunctioning maintenance messages flashing on the navigator every 20 minutes, not to mention I’d had very little sleep in the last 36 hours. Not necessarily the set up for Allee taking a nice, relaxing drive home. We decided to take highway 99 that intersects the 5, a fast but excessively dull drive that puts you in LA from San Francisco in five hours. The 99, on the contrary, takes a couple more hours as it swings way east. But it hits the 5 again down past Fresno so there didn’t appear to be much to lose. Other than we didn’t count on a fire breaking out on the Grapevine, a brutal section of the 5, when a big rig overturned and spilled  hundreds of thousands of carrots across all four lanes and somehow ignited a fire. Which then sent us on one of the wackiest and lonnnngest  detours I’ve ever taken, changing what could have been a six-hour trip into a 14 hour pilgrimage and putting us home at 2 AM.  Here we are passing one of the trillion or so tankers that reflected the 110° heat back to us as we made bandannas stuffed with ice cubes to stay cool:


Thank God, before we realized we would be taking a trip of such epic proportions we passed this building off the 99 which at least fulfilled our dreams of seeing some kitschy sights. Unfortunately, there weren’t many of them but this is a bulldozer building that I would love to call my own.


We finally pulled into a town called Atwater that looked like it might have some interesting possibilities after three consecutive motel signs led us to believe that perhaps the town was untouched by time.


But it hit us almost immediately that time had, indeed, marched through Atwater and there was really nothing outstanding in the way of vintage or kitsch. I’m sure the Atwaterians see this as progress but we were bummed. Especially as this city has the longest traffic lights in history. I could have done with having more to see than a Marie Callendars on the main drag where we were for all most 15 minutes after two agonizing long lights and the longest train I’ve ever seen in my life.

A waiter at Marie’s told us how to cut over to the 101, something we realized we had to do it unless we wanted to sit in a steam room breathing in carrot scented smoke in a traffic jam of  legendary proportion that is a signature of that part of the 5 – there are signs at both ends of the Grapevine that recommend you turn your air conditioner off because the grade is so steep it kills cars. So we took the 152 to jump from the 99 to the 101.


For a minute there it seemed like the beauty of the 152, passing through towns and circling a huge reservoir, was worth adding a couple of hours onto our trip. But when the 152 finally dumped us back onto the 101 it was an hour plus above Monterey, as if we’d driven in the shape of someone who was smiling hard and ended up wayyyyy north, six or seven hours still to go to make it to LA and we had already been in the car for six hours. A straight route down the 101 and 5 from Sonoma would have had me home an hour ago.

But there was one thing and one thing only that put my head in a better space. A few hours down the 101 was The Madonna Inn, a masterpiece of  kitsch. No, that’s not saying enough, the Sistine Chapel of  Kitsch, nestled right next to the 101 in San Luis Obispo.  If we drove fast enough, the dining room would still be open and sitting in the midst of this I don’t care if they served me a tin can I would be happy. We were very happy indeed sitting in the Madonna pink deliciousness and all that accompanied it.

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And after eating this classically American meal…


… I got to take my hopefully last bathroom break here before I arrived home in hopefully 3-4 hours:


Now mind you, I’ve just shown you the main dining room. There’s still the coffee shop, spa and gift shop that features items like this bedazzeled peace t-shirt…


And then there’s the 100 uniquely themed rooms, no two alike, with names like California Poppy,  Canary Cottage, Edelweiss,  Jungle Rock,  Imperial Family, Pick & Shovel and about 100 more in the hotel itself.

I would like to thank The Madonna Inn for coming to the aid of two road weary travelers after a couple intense days of incredibly great music and one day of the most circuitous trip I’ve ever taken. I would have wished for there to be more to see along the carrot/diesel-fumed detour we were forced to take but all in all it was an incredible three days. So also, thank you, Pomplamoose…


… and thank you, Mark, for driving every inch of the entire trip…


… and, once again, thank you, Madonna Inn, for adding a bit of sparkle to an otherwise exceedingly lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng, hotttttt day.



This game felt especially fitting because it’s supposed to teach you how to play by ear. Not only did I never learn to play by ear but I never learned to play period. Which makes the fact that my songs have sold over 50 million records a very kitschy thing indeed! I don’t suppose this game will help me, though, as there are no instructions included. I was never good at following instructions with anything anyway which is why just about everything I do is so spontaneous and free form. Which is what I loved about Pomplamoose when everyone started sending me links to their version of my song,“September”.   I sent them a message and asked them if they wanted to write something together, something I never do, but I thought they were so fresh and casual and inventive that it would be a good match. From the looks of their videos it looked like they already knew what this game had to teach.


A few weeks later in late December, 2009, Jack and Nataly, a.ak.a. Pomplamoose, drove down from  Northern CA. and we knocked out the healthy beginnings of six songs, shooting footage for the videos as we recorded.


We spent three more days together up north in June and are in the midst of a whirlwind day and half as we speak.  We have three videoSongs about ready to pop out of the oven, all of which I’m very excited about. They’re a fantastic blend of the similar in spirit yet very different styles we have.


If we took any breaks, which we don’t, I might try and figure out how to play “Maestro The Musical Bingo”. But I’ve always been able to keep up just by banging pencils together and humming into one of the four digital recorders and two cell phones that are always on me and singing higher than the illegitimate child of a BeeGee and a chipmunk.


One of the greatest kitsch aspects of “Maestro The Musical Bingo” is that in one place it says it was made in 1939 and in another 1940.


I find trying to learn anything that involves any kind of math memorization hard enough without starting off with a teacher who is so confused as to not know their correct date of birth.  But I can deal with this inconsistency because I’ve done pretty  well not going by hard numbers or knowing the rules.  So I think my involvement with “Maestro The Musical Bingo” is just to admire how pretty it is and let it sit here staring at me in my recording studio…


I will concentrate much more on writing great songs and doing great videos and, in the case of our first Pomplamoose with Allee Willis release, “Jungle Animal”, designing a spectacularly cagey and musical online music game and contest that will launch right before “Jungle Animal” comes out. This will hopefully be within a few weeks, whenever we can finish enough to put the puppy, or lion as it were, out there.


In the meantime should I find a spare a second I might try moving a few markers around and attempt to learn the names of the keys that my fingers fall on as I poke out tunes that come into my head. I doubt that I will make it far into the jungle known as musical theory but the important part is that whatever little animals I hum turn into songs and find their own way out of the jungle. Thus far I have led a pretty successful Safari, with or without a guide to assist me.



A petite 4″ x 6″, this little metal tip tray was a promotional item given away in the 1950’s by the AMI corporation to celebrate their massive line of  exclusive multi-Horn, high fidelity sound system jukeboxes. It’s  been sitting in my recording studio collecting guitar picks for as long as I can remember after originally being brought in as a drink coaster after I ruined several keyboards with an avalanche of Diet Coke, Yoo-hoos and decaf.

Sunday night I was in Sonoma, CA. writing with Pomplamoose. We were shooting to finish three songs in four days. The work never stopped even when we went out to dinner as is evidenced by my little digital recorder that was on for four solid days capturing every thought and breath we had.


But when it came time to pay the check I reached out to lay the tip down and knocked over a bowl of lentils, dousing the recorder with a river of Indian goo. So every time I went to record after that I had to push down extra hard on the buttons to break through the crust that seeped into and dried in the recorder. If only the AMI JukeBox Tip Tray had been there so there was a nice designated and protected area to deposit the gratuity I would still have a recorder that didn’t smell like Bombay.



Without question, these are by far my favorites of the 50 or 60 pairs of headphones that I own. Although of no use whatsoever in my recording studio as their sole purpose is to wear them to listen to the radio they still are the best looking set of phones I’ve ever seen.headphones-music-muffs_6724

I oftentimes wear these two-speaker-but-not-really-stereo Music Muffs when a collaborator is working on something that I either don’t view as crucial to the record or something I know it’s better to just let them run with without any kind of censoring from a collaborator. So rather than sit there and get annoyed or bored I just tune them out and listen to AM radio.


I didn’t bring my Music Muffs with me on my trip up north to work with Pomplamoose where I am right now racing to finish three SMASH songs as the voluminous amount of percussion instruments that I stuffed into my suitcase didn’t allow room for the precious radio headphones cargo.


Pomplamoose has their own headphones but there’s not enough inputs into their audio interface so only two people have the luxury of listening to what they’re harmonizing to.  The other person steers blind.


Most people couldnt work this way.  But this group, just like me, thrives on spontaneity and working within insane limits, all of which adds life to the music.  This always happens when one must rely on their imagination to create great sounds as opposed to their pocketbook or massive array of equipment.


Though I do wish my Music Muffs had made the trip as the hard drive that I tripped over that all the video was being directly recorded to is being rushed to the hard drive doctor as we speak. In the meantime, I’m writing this post and trying to stay calmmmmmmmmmmm without the aid and distraction of beautiful mono sound.


And we just keep on singing…

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These 1950’s bongos with pearlized crushed ice wrap and heavy chrome hardware have been beaten on just about every song I ever wrote.  If it weren’t for their bone crushing girth they would be in my suitcase right now as I’m on my way up to northern CA. to finish six songs with Pomplamoose.


Despite having sold over 50 million records I still have never learned how to play, which always makes for a very interesting experiment when I collaborate. It’s rare that I leave my own studio and the over 500 percussion instruments that are in there because the easiest thing for me to do when I hear a melody in my head or some kind of repetitive lyric is to walk over to something like these bongos and start filling in rhythm.


I was drawn to Pomplamoose when I heard them do my song “September”.


I’ve seen trillions of versions of this song and no one gets within a continent of Earth Wind & Fire. But Pomplamoose dissected that thing like a frog and reconstructed something inventive and fun so I did what I never do, I tracked them down and asked if they wanted to make records together.


We got together for four days in December and got great starts on six songs, filming for the videos as we went.


I’m completely spontaneous. I don’t really plan anything when it comes to music or art. I just go with the first thing in my head or under my fingers which are usually these bongos and songs start to build from there.


I video everything and Pomplamoose videos every final take. Between all of us we had 40 hours of footage at the end of the four days.

I’m only taking one of my three HD cameras this trip but there’s also tripods to lug, plus enough tapes to let the camera roll for three days,  3 still cameras, my MacBook, iPad, 2 mobile phones,  6 travel drives, three digital tape recorders, cords for every conceivable configuration, not to mention my clothes –  I’m not the type who can wear one outfit for three days despite the fact that I’ll never be leaving the studio. My one regret is that there’s no room for the sacred bongos to come along.


My trip was postponed for a month so the suitcases on are back in the closet and the percussion is resting nicely in its regular bed.


Pomplamoose tunes are so hot and I hate to dial it back to simmer but all will be boiling in June when we get together and pick up where we left off in December.


Today I spent all day watching tv because no one knew I was home.