Gary James' Interview With Don Zirilli Of
Papa Doo Run Run
Papa Doo Run Run is a legendary California band that just happens to sound like The Beach Boys. These guys have been around since 1965. They've toured and recorded with members of The Beach Boys as well as Jan and Dean. In 1975 they had a Top 40 hit with "Be True To Your School", which went to number one in California. A 1985 CD called "California Project" entered the Billboard Hot 200 chart at number 17. That CD earned the band their second Gold record and a Grammy nomination. Papa Doo Run Run also appeared in and recorded the soundtrack album for the CBS-TV movie Deadman's Curve, about Jan And Dean. Papa Doo Run Run member Don Zirilli spoke with us about his group.
Q - OK, so Don, you want to get across the message that Papa Doo Run Run is much more than a Beach Boys tribute act, don't you?
A - I know you're putting us in the Tribute Band section, but we don't consider ourselves a tribute band for several reasons. We get lumped in with that all the time 'cause we do a lot of Beach Boys songs. One is, we don't do all Beach Boys. We do Classic Rock. Beach Boys is about a third of what we do. Another reason is we've all performed with The Beach Boys. Most of the tribute bands have never even met the guys they're paying tribute to. Another point is, we have two Gold records and a Grammy nomination and I don't think you're gonna find any tribute band with those credentials.
Q - The Beach Boys recently played The Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York. They sold out an 800 seat showroom. I'm just guessing that you play bigger venues than that.
A - We play bigger and smaller. We just played a private party in St. Louis for 40 people. The next night we were in Roscommon, Michigan and there were 1,500 people. We'll play anywhere. Our average audience is somewhere between 1,000 to 2,000 people. The biggest show we do every year is on the beach of Santa Cruz and there's 9,000 people for that thing every year and we've done it for twenty-two years in a row. Probably the biggest event we've ever done is 80,000 people and that was in Ft. Vancouver, Washington. It was on the fourth of July. It's a huge event. We did that three or four years in a row. So it ranges up and down. That sounds like a pretty small venue for The Beach Boys.
Q - That's just it, how crazy is it when The Beach Boys can play for 800 people and a tribute act can play for double that and then some!
A - (laughs) Depends on what they're gonna charge at the door. (laughs) That might've been a pick up date for them too. They might've had something huge near there or on the way there. We do those too. We do pick up dates. We're doing one in Omaha. It's just like a small venue. It's like an amphitheatre park, but we're doing that on the way to a gig in the mid-west. But the one we're doing in the mid-west is huge. They'll be 3,000 people there.
Q - How many gigs a year are you guys doing?
A - You know, it's less now than we used to. We were averaging about 100 dates a year and the economy took a big slump. So, we went down to about 50. We're doing about half as many gigs. But we've built that up in the last few years. We started doing dates with symphony orchestras and that has really taken off. It's really huge. We do all the same songs, but when you have 80 guys behind you playing strings and horns, it's a pretty remarkable thing. We've been selling out. Every symphony we do is sold out. I think the reason is our audience is all my age. They're all baby boomers. They can't go to a bar and hear the kind of music they grew up with. They can't go to a bar and see band play that kind of stuff. It's not appropriate for 60-something-year-olds to go to bars and carousing. But, take the same band with the same music and put 'em with a symphony orchestra and suddenly that's respectable. They smoke cigars and smell like champagne when they get home, instead of beer and pot. (laughs)
Q - You actually had Brian and Carl Wilson come onstage with you when you were at Disneyland.
A - Many times.
Q - That must've been a dream come true.
A - Actually, it was. Brian's come out many times to play with us. He loves Disneyland. They have a stage that comes out of the ground there and he loved being on the stage. So, we'd have Brian come out and join us. It was really a fun, amazing thing. The best time was when we were with Jan And Dean. We were Jan And Dean's back-up band. We were playing at Disneyland on the big stage. That afternoon, Jan had a seizure. He was prone to seizures after his (car) accident left him with brain damage. He had a seizure and couldn't perform. So, Dean got on the phone to see if Brian would come out. Well, Brian brought with him Carl Wilson and half the Beach Boys' band to do the show with us. It was unbelievable. It was probably the best ever. It was really, really great. To hear Carl Wilson sing "Darlin'" blew me away out of the monitors. It was great. Over the years we've gotten to be really good friends with all of 'em.
Q - Did you ever meet Dennis Wilson?
A - Yeah, Dennis was a wild man. I met him a few times backstage, but we never hung out. Dennis was really into the party thing and that was really not our style. But I got along great with Carl. I loved Carl. Mike (Love) I know very well. He sang on a couple of our records. And Bruce Johnston of course produced our first single for us and we're still really good friends.
Q - How about Al Jardine?
A - Al I've only met one or two times. He's a really, really nice guy. A really nice man. I think of The Beach Boys that are left, Al has the voice. He's the one that sounds the best. I'd love to see Al, Mike and Brian get back together, but unfortunately it's probably not going to happen.
Q - Why would that be? Are they fighting?
A - No, they just have their own bands, their own interests. You always hear about the lawsuits going back and forth, but that's nothing. That's no big deal. Mike and Bruce are The Beach Boys. They lease the name from the rest of The Beach Boys, including the estates of Carl and Dennis. That's their thing. Brian has his own thing, an excellent band. In fact, my brother-in-law, who plays in our band, Jeff Foskett, plays in Brian Wilson's band. He's Brian's musical director. That's an amazing band. They're fantastic. Probably the best in the business. Then there's Al Jardine. His band is made up of all former guys who played with The Beach Boys. All three of the entities are just fantastic. I'm sure they're thinking "why should we get back together and make one third the money", 'cause they're not gonna sell for any more money than they get individually. So, it's probably a smart thing to stay apart.
Q - You formed this band in 1965, in California. Of all the places to be in the mid-'60s, you were there! Did you realize how fortunate you were?
A - Well, you know at the time there was a band on every block. There was so many bands starting up. There were garage band everywhere. You couldn't drive down the street without hearing a band playing out of someone's garage. And we just happened to be one of 'em. But we got really lucky. We persevered. We took a lot of cues from my father. My father was in the entertainment business for a long time. He owned a couple of night clubs. He managed several bands. He never managed us, but he managed Spiral Staircase for example. He managed a band called The Knickerbockers. He was really instrumental in helping us out. He bought us our first amplifiers, which were Super Beatles, and at the time, no bands had Super Beatles. Really hard to get. They were the big, giant amplifiers that The Beatles played out of. We would literally roll those tings onstage in the Battle Of The Bands and win just by virtue of having Super Beatles! They made us look really big time. So we had a lot going for us and we just stuck it out and are still doing it today.
Q - What nightclub did your father own?
A - He had one called The Glow Worm. It was south of San Francisco and he had another one in the Bay Area called The Embers. That was a pretty big nightclub. When I was in high school, I used to go to see all the bands come through there. I saw everybody from Bill Haley And The Comets to Little Richard, Fats Domino. They all played this club. It was a big influence on me, I would say.
Q - Did you see anybody like The Doors at the club?
A - No. I saw The Beau Brummels. Sly And The Family Stone. Not the major, major acts, but the ones just below those. It was a 500 seat nightclub. So, that's what he could afford to put in there and that's what he did.
Q - Very early on, you realized that a band had to look "smart" onstage.
A - Yeah.
Q - So, you guys wore suits.
A - Yeah, we wore suits. We were the only band around that wore suits. It was the beginning of the Hippie era. We wore black suits with paisley shirts and we were playing Top 40 in those days. We were playing songs by The Doors, The Animals, Chicago and whatever was happening in the late '60s. Until we stumbled on our Beach Party act, that's what we were doing.
Q - That was very perceptive of you to get the band in suits. You didn't want the band looking like the audience that came to see you.
A - Right. That was my father's thing. He said "You want to be professional? Look professional! Look like you're there to entertain and to work and not look like one of the people there to wait on tables." And he was right. It worked for us.
Q - You toured with Jan and Dean. That means you opened for them?
A - We were the opening act and the back-up band for five years.
Q - Where did you travel with them?
A - All over the country. Mostly performing arts kind of theatres. We played amusement parks. We did a lot of theatres in the round. Those were kind of fun. It was all big, big concert stuff. I don't know if you know the whole story. Jan got in a car accident in 1965. It was the end of his career. Around 1972 or '73 we met Dean. We had just started doing our Beach Party act then and we met Dean and he got interested in us. He'd come to some of our shows. We were both doing a gig at the Palomino Club in Hollywood. A big, popular club. It was just us and Dean. Jan was in the audience and we invited him up onstage and he came up reluctantly. He sang five or six Jan And Dean songs with us. The next day it was on the front page of Variety Magazine. It said "Jan And Dean return to the stage." The phone started ringing and everybody wanted to hire Jan And Dean. We did a little test, a mini-tour of the Pacific Northwest and it went over great. We did five or six cities. So, Jan and Dean got back together, hired a manager and we went on the road with them for five years. We went all over the country. We ended our Jan And Dean in October, 1980.
Q - You had Van Halen and The Doobie Brothers open for you when you'd play high schools and colleges?
A - Yeah. That was kind of funny 'cause they were nothing then. (laughs) We were the big guys on the block. We were the guys with the act as it were. We had a hit record with "Be True To Your School". So, we were the guys with the name act. Playing high schools and colleges is what we did. We were always really popular. These other guys were just getting started. In fact, I remember the night with Van Halen, it was the night that Columbia Records came out and looked at them and decided they wanted to sign them that night. (laughs) So, we were there that night.
Q - But, they didn't sign with Columbia. They signed with Warner Brothers.
A - Right. But Columbia Records came out. Then the dispute started. I think they waited for the money to go up.
Q - I can see how you would be paired with The Doobie Brothers, but Van Halen? They're hard rockin'.
A - Well, I think it was at La Puente High School. I think maybe some of the guys in Van Halen went to school there. I think that's why they were the opening act for that.
Q - When you looked at Van Halen and The Doobie Brothers, did you say to yourself "these guys are going places"?
A - Doobie Brothers I could. They were really, really good. To be honest with you, they blew us off the stage. But they were doing all original music, and in those days people didn't want to hear original music. Kids didn't. They wanted to hear Pop stuff. But Van Halen to me was pretty much loud noise. I never really got into it until they became popular and then you could really see the talent they had. Eddie Van Halen especially, an amazing guitar player.
Q - Don, did you achieve everything you set out to accomplish?
A - Yeah, I think so. We never set out to be huge stars on hit records. We just wanted to keep working. And we're still working. We're still working a lot. Having never had a real job was one of my goals and I achieved that. (laughs)
Q - That's fantastic. You are lucky.
A - Yeah. I think so. In college I had a couple of little jobs. I never sat behind a desk and got a paycheck. I was a process server for awhile.