Behind the kooky Krofft glam rock band Kaptain Kool & The Kongs
Puppets like H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund the Sea Monster are the most recognizable characters that sprung from the zany brains of Sid and Marty Krofft, but the children's television pioneers dreamt up some fantastic in-the-flesh beings as well. The Krofft Supershow introduced live action wonders like the superheroes Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and Dr. Shrinker. Glueing it all together were the Supershow hosts, Kaptain Kool & The Kongs.
Unlike TV rockers The Monkees — accomplished musicians who fought to record their own compositions — Kool & The Kongs were a facade more along the lines of inhuman acts Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem or Gorillaz. Actors portrayed band members Kaptain Kool, Superchick and Nashville. The fellows who played Flatbush and Turkey, the drummer, had some music chops. Before twirling the sticks as Turkey, Mickey McMeel kept the beat for a brief spell in Three Dog Night.
With his huge poof of curly hair, it should come as no surprise that Bert Summer, a.k.a. Flatbush, starred in the original Broadway production of Hair. The folky singer-songwriter cut a minor hit single, "We're All Playing in the Same Band," that peaked around his performance at Woodstock. For a moment, he could also claim membership in the baroque pop band The Left Banke, co-writing and singing the 1967 single "Ivy Ivy." Oddly, with that resume, he was not cast as the lead singer of the Kongs. That duty went to Michael Lembeck, an actor who would go on to nab some significant roles on One Day at a Time (Max Horvath) and Norman Lear's cult soap Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman (Clete Meizenheimer). After the first season of the Supershow, Flatbush was no longer in the band.
The shift in the Kongs between the only two seasons of the the Supershow went beyond the lineup. In the first season, the Kongs were filmed performing in and around The World of Sid and Marty Krofft theme park. The tourist attraction, the world's first indoor amusement park, was built in the Omni complex in downtown Atlanta, a large, airy mall attached to the Hawks arena. The park was a complete flop and was closed by season two of the Supershow. The Kongs moved their performances to a studio audience.
The ghost musicians behind the music changed as well. Initially, the Kongs tunes were the work of the Osmonds, as the Krofft brothers also produced the Donny & Marie variety show. A kiddie album was released, Stories from the Krofft T.V. Supershow. Yet when the Kongs landed a honest-to-god contact with Epic Records, a new set of ringers stepped in behind the scenes for a set of original songs aiming beyond the sugary cereal demographic.
One of the writers and rockers behind the self-titled record, and perhaps the most interesting, was Gino Cunico. A former child actor, Cunico had a beat combo in the 1960s called The Affair, and went on to cut an album of soft rock in 1976. He recorded the song "Can't Smile Without You" — before it became a hit for The Carpenters and Barry Manilow. "Melanie" was one of hit tracks on Kaptain Kool & The Kongs. Check it out.
The Kongs would go on to perform on The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, another Krofft production. Check out an elaborate production from the show that included underwater dancers. It goes to show you just how many ingredients and how much money went into the bubblegum pop of your childhood.
Correction: An earlier version stated that Flashbush was axed from the band.