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Just Maybe, a Tuneful Parrot Can Help This Pet Project Hatch a Hit


Carla, a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot, has cut her first CD.

"Bird Beat" will be the third album to be released by Laurel Canyon Animal Co., whose other titles include "Cat-a-Tonic" and "Ugly Dogs Need More Love."

In a universe with a cable TV channel devoted to animal antics and a job market for pet psychics, should it be surprising that there is a record label for animals?

Music producers Skip Haynes and Dana Walden started the company for fun, writing about their own and neighbors' pets. What they've ended up with is a label, attached to Quicksilver Records, of original music inspired by the relationship between animals and their humans.

Haynes and Walden, neighbors in Laurel Canyon, had been searching for the perfect bird vocalist to sign to their label when they read about Carla the parrot in an article on bird clubs in The Times in March. Carla's vocal tour de force (and favorite refrain) is "Zippety-do-dah, I'm a green chicken," in the fashion of Ethel Merman.

Haynes and Walden, who had previously auditioned three birds, realized Carla could be a major talent discovery and lost no time in getting her signed. Her rendition, with Haynes, of the green chicken song (an excerpt can be heard at is the lead cut on "Bird Beat," and it is being released nationally as a single this month.

Lorrie Mitchell, Carla's owner and constant companion, says she's not at all surprised by her parrot's success. "She's always had it in her. She has the most amazing personality," says Mitchell, "even at an early age she had the crowd eating from her feet."

Haynes and Walden, who have worked with such mega talents as Buddy Miles, the Grateful Dead and Bonnie Raitt, said they were very impressed with Carla's professionalism her first time out. "She was pretty cool," says Haynes, "she did the whole session in just two takes and about 17 minutes--including warmup!"

Never having signed a bird to a recording contract, the producers wanted to do everything by the book. Walden contacted friend and colleague Dean Kay, an American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers board member, to say they were signing Carla and wanted to see about getting her registered as songwriter with ASCAP for royalty payments.

Walden says Kay's initial response was "don't do this to me,'" but he agreed to check into it. He presented the idea of Carla's being ASCAP's first songwriting parrot to the society's senior management and legal department. She wasn't immediately accepted, but the idea might be revisited "when she gets a Social Security number," Kay says.

Carla, 16, is one of six parrots in Mitchell's L.A. household. Mitchell, who is a preschool teacher, has taken her to local schools to help students learn about exotic birds. Carla's favorite food is pizza, though she's under vet's orders to follow a fat-free diet until she loses some extra ounces.

Once in the studio, Carla, like any diva, had special requests. Since it was her first recording session, Haynes asked Lorrie what would make Carla most comfortable. Lorrie responded "a brunet." It seems Carla prefers brunets to perch on while she sings (Mitchell is blond). Haynes and Walden found a dark-haired woman, and things worked out as Mitchell had predicted. Standing on the shoulder of Walden's sister Amber Nunez (who got assistant producer credit on the record as a result), Carla sang her little heart out.

Haynes, whose lead vocals dovetail with Carla's on the single "I'm a Green Chicken," says he felt odd at first singing a duet with a parrot but quickly got over it when he heard how well it came out. Mitchell says she was also surprised it came out as well as it did, "Carla's sense of melody isn't exactly the same as ours," she observed.

If "I'm a Green Chicken" is a hit, there will be more to come: Carla also reportedly does a mean version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The next stop for Carla? "TV appearances," says Haynes. But Mitchell worries, "I just hope all of this doesn't go to her yellow head." Meanwhile, Haynes and Walden are working on their next project. It will involve Koko the gorilla.

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