August Darnell AKA Kid Creole, singer-songwriter
Without my brother Stony, I would have remained a teacher. He laughed at my job so much that I finally decided to join his band, Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, as a bassist.
Our first album went gold, and we went to California to record the rest but everything imploded: madness, ego and drugs for some members of the group. When I told the singer, Cory Daye, that I was forming my own band and that I would be the lead singer, she laughed at me. I had a lot to prove.
I drove all the way from California to New York City, and on that trip I envisioned Kid Creole and the Coconuts, a band that doesn’t do drugs and don’t have studio madness. In the Savannah Band, I modeled my style on 1930s / 40s jazz singer and showman Cab Calloway, and I created Kid Creole as an extreme version of that, sort of lounge / bon vivant lizard or something. that an ex-girlfriend called a “cute thug.” I had always wanted to be an actor and I played Kid Creole so well that I started to like him more than August Darnell.
Growing up in the Bronx, I had been surrounded by ethnic diversity, so I envisioned the Coconuts as a multiracial and mixed group. Coati Mundi, on vibraphone and vocals, was part of the Savannah group as Sugarcoated Andy but changed his name to avoid the association. Female bass players were rare at the time, but we hired Carol Colman because she was a really badass player. My then-wife Adriana Kaegi, who was a dancer and backing singer, directed, recruited and choreographed the Coconuts. She wanted a sophisticated group of girls who looked like her.
I listened to country, jazz and Caribbean music and our music was the same melting pot as the people. We were on ZE Records, but co-founder Michael Zilkha wanted bigger things for us and sent us to audition for Sire / Warner. Vice President Seymour Stein fell asleep during the audition but woke up and said, “Yeah yeah, I’m gonna sign them. “
We broke into clubs and discos, then went from the hipster scene to the mainstream with I’m a Wonderful Thing, Baby. The label hated the title because they thought people would say, “Who does this guy think he is for ?!” But I refused to change it. I had married a beautiful woman, had had success with the Savannah group, and thought I was the company. I got away with the clothes – zoot jumpsuits, baggy pants and fedora – and a knowingly raised eyebrow. I knew the song would become my calling card – even today, in old age, people come up to me and say, “I’m a wonderful thing, baby.
Peter Schott, keyboards, songwriter
I had just graduated from music school with a degree in classical music and studied jazz composition with drummer and composer Max Roach. A friend who ran a vintage clothing store introduced me to August. I couldn’t wait to get into the music business so much that none of the things I had heard about him being crazy and a studio 54 in the crowd put me off. The end of disco and the start of the new wave in the early 80s was a very exciting time in New York – fashion, models. We rehearsed solidly but it was still fun.
The drummer, Winston Grennan, had performed in Bob Marley and the Wailers. I had studied Beethoven but I was surrounded by all these funkmeisters and I was like, “What am I doing here? I had never written pop music before, but I gave August a cassette that contained a groove with instrumental melodies which was the start of I’m a Wonderful Thing, Baby.
I hadn’t done any orchestration, so we were busy humming songs for Charlie Lagond, who played sax and clarinet. I had a vocal melody but the only lyrics were “It’s a wonderful thing, baby”. My idea was that love was a wonderful thing, but August [who wrote the rest of the lyrics], being as selfish as he was, insisted on changing “It” to “I am” and, obviously, he was right.
August came from a humble upbringing and wanted to create this larger than life character who was different from who he was. We were strict on rehearsals but it was a crazy time. On tour, you never knew what was going to happen next. One night there was this huge explosion, and everyone on stage thought it was a bomb. I said to the tour manager, “I’m just the pianist, but maybe you told us you were going to use pyrotechnics.