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Broad Appeal of Humor : Novelty Songs Make Hit on the Request Line

February 24, 1989|PAIGE St. JOHN | Associated Press Writer

SHPEMING, Mich. — telephone lines have been jammed for weeks in this tiny town on Michigan's northern coast, as Americans elsewhere are discovering swampers, deer camps and people called Yoopers.

They're calling up to talk to a certain Yooper, Jimmy DeCaire, or to order tapes from his band, Da Yoopers. There were so many calls to DeCaire's house deep in the snowy woods by Lake Superior last month that the circuits gave up and phones rang willy-nilly around town.

"Dentists were getting called. Little old ladies were getting called at 2 in the morning. They're ready to burn me in effigy. It's the biggest thing in Ishpeming since the high school burned down," DeCaire said.

Welcome, Ishpeming--tiny town among the pines and swamps of Michigan's Upper Peninsula--to the world of novelty music.

The songs won't be showing up on Billboard charts or in record store bins, but they and others like them are flourishing in gas stations and on radio shows across the United States.

Novelty music is a do-it-yourself business. Da Yoopers record in DeCaire's basement and distribute their comic songs--four mailbags' worth a day--from DeCaire's dining room.

"They exist in a kind of underground way," says Barry Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento in Los Angeles.

Hansen relied on old standbys such as Spike Jones when he started broadcasting his Dr. Demento radio show in the early 1970s. Now, he said, he receives as many as 150 new tapes a week from would-be wackos who want air time on the 185 stations that broadcast Hansen's nationally syndicated show.

Underground music is flourishing. But not-so-underground has been the appeal of Da Yoopers, named after the people of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, a.k.a. the U.P.

One Da Yoopers' tune reached the cult-coveted "Funny Five" status, topping out at No. 1 on Dr. Demento. It has had similar ranking on more conventional radio shows, including the Satellite Music Network's Pure Gold program, a show out of Dallas that reaches more than 160 stations.

The song is called "Second Week of Deer Camp," and the flannel-shirted Da Yoopers sing it to a polka beat in the Finnish accent of ice fishermen and lumbermen from their native North:

It's da second week of deer camp,

And all da guys are here.

We drink, play cards and shoot da bull,

But never shoot no deer.

De only time we leave da camp

Is when we go for beer.

The sound is local. The appeal is universal.

"They're very, very, very good. That's about 16 verys," said Dan Christopherson, disc jockey for radio KXRB in Sioux Falls, S.D.

"Oh, they're great!" said Frank George, a deejay for WCHS, a country music station in Charleston, W. Va. "In fact, I've got their tape in my hand right now."

"Second Week of Deer Camp" outdid everything else on the WCHS request line for weeks, George said. That's not surprising in West Virginia, where schools, factories and even a trash pickup service shut down for deer season as the population went hunting.

Da Yoopers' other hit, "Rusty Chevrolet," has evoked a similar grass-roots response. Played to the tune of "Jingle Bells," "Rusty Chevrolet" follows the diatribe about one man's decrepit automobile:

Oh, rust and smoke,

The heater's broke,

The door just blew away.

I light a match to see the dash,

And then I start to pray.

The frame is bent,

The muffler went,

The radio, it's OK.

Oh what fun it is to drive this rusty Chevrolet.

A good novelty song will ring more request line phones than something at the top of the charts, Hansen said. "Songs like these reach out to something special for individual people, whereas Michael Jackson tries to reach the whole world."

But how is it that the folks out in Texas can take a shine to group that sings about rubber boots called swampers and Canadian beer?

"That's what makes the United States so unique is our accents and stuff and the different pockets of people," DeCaire said. "There's no difference between a guy in the U.P. (Upper Peninsula) and a guy in southern Texas, except they talk a little different. They all drink beer and go to work and drive a truck."

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