McGinnis: An interview with drummer Jon ‘Bermuda’ SchwartzWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | email@example.com
Sept. 14, 1980. Drummer Jon Schwartz — now known to fans worldwide by his nickname “Bermuda” —was appearing on the Dr. Demento Show out of LA.to discuss his band, Nipper. Also around the studio that day was a young man who was making a name for himself with his parody songwriting. His name was Al Yankovic.
“He was there that night answering phones, and just being Al,” Schwartz said in an interview with Toledo Free Press Star. “I’d heard of him, I even had a copy of ‘My Bologna,’ and he seemed like a nice ‘kid’ who I learned later wasn’t quite 21. He was going to sing a song he’d just written that weekend, a parody of Queen’s ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ called ‘Another One Rides The Bus.’ He asked if I’d beat on his accordion case, and as the fates would have it, I agreed.”
What followed was a magical moment. Their impromptu duet would become one of the most popular moments in Demento’s history. The recording would end up as part of Al’s first album in 1983. And Schwartz made an offer that would have long-lasting implications.
“When we were done, I said, ‘you should have a band, I’ll be your drummer.’ It was really just one of those chance meetings, nothing too memorable about it at the time, but of course things began moving forward a few months later.”
Schwartz had been in music long before that show, working as a drummer for years with a variety of bands. But his association with Yankovic has proven his most enduring and prolific. For over three decades, Schwartz has been Yankovic’s most consistent collaborator. He’s appeared on every album. Whenever Al’s performed in concert, Bermuda has been there — though an illness in 2003 meant he wasn’t actually onstage for three shows.
“Instead I was right behind my sub, Pete Gallagher, changing programs, hitting cues and guiding him through the show. He was pretty nervous, but did a great job and saved those shows,” Schwartz said.
Schwartz’s passion for his work with Yankovic extends beyond performance. He has also been the official “Al historian” since they first began to work together. “I’ve always been a bit of a packrat with things I’m involved with, especially bands,” Schwartz said. “So when I began working with Al, I just wrote down pertinent facts, and kept anything related to what the band or I did. I still have the KMET guest access card from the night I met Al, so I started archiving on day-one with him.”
His large collection of material would be featured in the “Authorized Al,” a book released in 1985, as well as numerous other documentaries and DVDs. It has continued to grow in the years since, and now will be chronicled in a coffee table book on the history of Al being compiled for release next year.
Schwartz also is the primary force behind Yankovic’s official website, weirdal.com — he’s updated and maintained the site himself for over a decade.
“When web browsers were fairly new, some of Al’s fans had created sites dedicated to him. I had been into computers for years, and figured that with the info and photos I had been collecting, I could do an interesting site” Schwartz said.
Things are heating up for Schwartz and his band mates, as Yankovic is back at the forefront of pop culture with the success of the new album “Alpocalypse,” which just debuted in the Billboard Top 10.
“We always hope for a hit album and single, but we’ve also learned not to expect it. We knew this was a particularly good album, but didn’t dare dream that we’d chart in the top-10 … again! This is our second album in a row to debut in Billboard’s top-10, and it’s very satisfying, and a real treat, especially after 28 years of releasing albums,” Schwartz said.
For an artist with history and influence as impressive as Yankovic’s, few mountains seem left to climb. Well, maybe one: The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Could music’s most hallowed halls ever find room for the world’s most celebrated satirist? Schwartz is realistic and optimistic.
“Part of the reason is that there are a limited number of inductees every year, and there are a few decades of artists ahead of Al,” he said. “Another part is that Al has always been considered a comedy or novelty artist, and his musical/cultural contributions are viewed as less significant than Jeff Beck, Paul Simon, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elvis, etc. None of whom had a good sense of humor, I might add! But with the last two albums being in the top-10 of all music, not just comedy, maybe the board who nominates the inductees will give Al a look.”
Email Jeff at PopGoesJeff@gmail.com.