The actor Todd Bridges, best known for the role of Willis Jackson on Diff’rent Strokes, which he inhabited between the ages of 13 through 21, has precisely one credit on Discogs, the exhaustive music recording resource that you’ve probably already consulted five times this week, if not many more times than that. It’s a fascinating one, and actually, his performance pretty much puts the question of why he doesn’t have more music credits in his CV to rest.
In 1997, in the middle of a big era for hastily assembled CD compilations, Which? Records put out an amusing comp called Show & Tell: A Stormy Remembrance of TV Theme Songs, which exploited the marketable idea of having a bunch of punk and thrash bands do covers of famous TV theme songs. The Meatmen contributed two tracks, “Green Acres” and “Mission: Impossible,” Murphy’s Law did the theme to “Zoom” (with DM’s own Howie Pyro on backing vocals), and the Dickies recorded a cover of “Secret Agent Man.” It’s fun stuff—really, how could it go wrong?
The attention-getting bit of business—enough to merit special mention on the album cover, done up to vaguely resemble a copy of TV Guide—was Todd Bridges singing lead vocal on a thrashy cover of the theme song from the show he will never not be associated with. The full credit runs Todd Bridges and the Whatchu Talking ‘Bout Willis Experience cover “Diff’rent Strokes”—the familiar, perky ditty that was co-written by none other than Alan Thicke.
Not surprisingly, there was no such thing as the Whatchu Talking ‘Bout Willis Experience, other than that record. The bassist, John Jesse, and the guitarist, Roy Mayorga, at that time were members of a band called Thorn but were rather better known for their work in the influential crust punk band Nausea. Weirdly, Mayorga is credited as playing guitar on this song but is really a drummer.
The rendition lasts a cool 50 seconds, and Bridges….... well, let’s just say holding a tune is not a big part of Bridges’ skill set.
The October 1998 issue of Vibe featured a Q&A with Gary Coleman, Bridges’ diminutive co-star on the TV show, and writer Peter Relic asked Coleman about Bridges’ recent turn as a singer:
Vibe: Have you been to a gig of Todd Bridges’ punk band, the Whatchu Talking ‘Bout Willis Experience?
Coleman: You’re kidding! Todd didn’t tell me about that. He and I have been talking about The Cleaner. It’s a movie he and his brother wrote. They’re supposed to start lensing soon, and I’ve got a little part in it.
That Cleaner thing never came to pass, and it would easy to formulate a pot shot over that, but give Bridges credit. The narrative on the cast of Diff’rent Strokes is supposed to be what a horror show their later lives turned out to be, but after getting through a crack addiction and a murder trial in the 1980s (Bridges was acquitted), he seems to have turned his life around and leads an unglamorous life as a working actor/celebrity—check his IMDb page if you don’t believe it. He had a significant recurring role on Chris Rock’s TV series Everybody Hates Chris as Monk, an unbalanced veteran, and was a commentator on truTV Presents: World’s Dumbest… for many years until its cancellation in 2014.
Here’s the full album of Show & Tell: A Stormy Remembrance of TV Theme Songs—if you jump to the 12:21 mark you can hear the questionable output of the Todd Bridges and the Whatchu Talking ‘Bout Willis Experience:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
When satanic serial killer Richard Ramirez terrorized Willis from ‘Diff’rent Strokes’