Doonesbury fans will already be familiar with the character of “Jimmy Thudpucker,” Garry Trudeau’s device for commenting on the then-new archetype of the big-time 70s rock and roll star. As Wikipedia has it, “He is generally seen as a combination of Bob Dylan and John Denver (and to some extent, Loudon Wainwright III), and became a rock star in the seventies, when he was only 19. Others have compared Thudpucker to a young Jackson Browne.” To my way of thinking, Jackson Browne is generic enough to serve as an ideal model for Thudpucker; that seems about right.
Dangerous Minds readers will remember the recent post we did about the 1977 Doonesbury TV special. It turns out that there was a similar cross-pop culture injection around the same time—I refer to the Jimmy Thudpucker LP release: Jimmy Thudpucker’s Greatest Hits, released on John Denver’s Windsong label in 1977.
“Jimmy” was accompanied by “the Walden West Rhythm Section”—in the Doonesbury universe, “Walden” is Trudeau’s stand-in for Yale University.
The Walden West Rhythm Section featured some of the best session musicians available—and crazily enough, the ad-hoc outfit may have included Keith Moon for at least a little bit. Let’s look at the evidence. What’s crystal clear is that the core of Thudpucker’s backup band was made up of some very familiar names such as the album’s producer, Steve Cropper, who also played guitar; bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn; guitarist Jay Graydon; legendary session drummer Jeff Porcaro. Of course, Cropper and Dunn are both legendary figures from Booker T and the MGs; and Porcaro was a member of Toto, which formed around the same time; whereas Jay Graydon awesomely nailed the guitar solo on Steely Dan’s 1977 song “Peg.” (In fact, a number of 1977 Doonesbury strips centered on a character called Jay “Wah-Wah” Graydon.)
So far, so good, right? Still no evidence of Keith Moon. But wait. The ninth track on the album is “Ginny’s Song”—it was released as a single and (I think) came out a year or so before the album—on Warner Bros., not Windsong; that is, it may have been an entirely different session. (“Ginny” was a reference to “Virginia Slade,” an important African-American character from the early years of the strip.) Here’s a screenshot from the video linked below, of a YouTube user playing the “Ginny’s Song” single and also showing the sleeve artwork.
Well, well! Another clue is that Steve Cropper was listed as one of the producers of Keith Moon’s 1975 solo album Two Sides of the Moon.
True to Thudpucker’s essence as a cobbled-together stand-in to represent any number of actual musicians, the tracks on Greatest Hits are all over the map. Sometimes, as on “You Can’t Fight It,” the music has a sultry, funky edge; “I Do Believe” is a pure Dylan parody; “Ginny’s Song” is white soul/pop hybrid.
The voice of Jimmy Thudpucker was actually James “Jimmy” Brewer, who, due to the in-joke nature of pretending that Thudpucker’s album was a real thing, à la Spinal Tap, was denied his due credit for his singing performance for, well, several decades. Here’s Brewer’s account, from a message board in May 2008:
I’m James “Jimmy” Brewer, the singer/songwriter who co-wrote the tunes and provided the voice for “Ginny’s Song,” the single for Warner Bros.; the film, “A Doonesbury Special,” and the LP, “Jimmy Thudpucker’s Greatest Hits,” released on Windsong Records.
For reasons still unknown to me, when all three projects were unveiled, Mr. Trudeau had completely removed my name from everything and had given the credit for my work to “Jimmy Thudpucker.” There was a “rumour,” circulated via many newspapers that regularly ran Doonesbury, that Trudeau was indeed secretly Jimmy Thudpucker. A number of the songs, including the two that were used in the film, were written before I ever met Mr. Trudeau.
I was the sole participant in all three projects whose work went totally uncredited. Twenty-five years later, after countless inquiries, he acknowledged me on his website.
“You Can’t Fight It”
“Take Your Life”
“I Don’t Know My Love”
“Where Can I Go”
“I Do Believe”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Brilliant ‘Doonesbury’ TV special from 1977 questions the high-minded ideals of the 1960s