Bob Rivers (Twisted Tunes)

by Carl Wiser

In the '80s, the two big players in parody were Bob Rivers and "Weird Al" Yankovic. Al made an impact with songs like "I Love Rocky Road" and "Eat It" - he was (and still is) very much into food. Bob did topical parodies for his popular radio show (like "Breaking Up Is Hard On You" about the breakup of AT&T), but made his biggest impact with Christmas parodies. His most popular is "The Twelve Pains of Christmas," which include finding a Christmas tree, rigging up the lights, and five months of bills. His Twisted Christmas album, released in 1987, went Gold, selling over 500,000 copies. Standout tracks include "O Come All Ye Grateful Dead-Heads" and "Wreck the Malls."

Unlike Weird Al, Bob doesn't sing or tour. He's a producer with a talent for writing the parodies and getting top-tier talent to perform on them (photos of well-known rockers performing in Bob's studio are at the bottom of this story). For many years, he did four parodies a month for his radio show, the best of which appear on his Twisted Tunes albums.

Bob's radio career took him to WAAF in Worcester, Massachusetts (1981-1987, with co-host Zip Zipfel), 98 Rock in Baltimore (1987-1989), and KISW, KZOK and KJR in Seattle (1989-2014, with co-hosts Spike O'Neill and Joe Bryant). But it started at Branford High School in Connecticut, where he started a radio station with hand-me-down equipment from WELI, the powerhouse New Haven station.

In this interview, Bob explains what makes a great parody song, and why it's so hard to create one that sticks. He also talks about what it was like being a rock DJ in Seattle at the dawn of grunge.
Bob getting into elf makeupBob getting into elf makeup
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Which of your song parodies is nearest to your heart?

Bob Rivers: "The Twelve Pains Of Christmas" might be the most powerful parody we ever made. It's still played now, and we made it in 1986. It was one of the first Christmas parodies, and it was written for my morning show at the time, the Bob And Zip Show at WAAF in Worcester. We used to call it "Worcester-Boston," because we had a great signal in most of Boston, so we invented this mythical town, "Worcester-Boston." I was writing parodies because I was a failed musician in a sense. I always wanted to be a musician, play in a band, but really I was made to be a disc jockey. Because I did this morning show in Worcester-Boston and I missed playing music, I figured the best way to do both of the things I loved was to make song parodies for the radio. And since I wasn't a great musician, which is putting it mildly, I made friends with people who were.

In thinking about Christmas, the "Twelve Days Of Christmas" came to mind, and I started thinking about all the things that are annoying about Christmas. We sat down, me, Brian Silva and Dennis Amero, and we wrote this song for my morning show, just for fun. We recorded it in my basement with my children starring on the record. We recorded it on an 8-track Tascam reel-to-reel 1-inch machine, which I had to break the bank to buy - my wife did not understand. We invited a bunch of people over. There are a lot of famous people on the Twisted Tunes, and I guess the most famous person at that session is a guy named Robert Ellis Orrall, who had a hit record with "I Couldn't Say No." He came over and played and helped, and he had the most famous line on the record, which is "rigging up the lights!" - "One light goes out, they all go out!" He's the mad guy that did the finale of all the 12 Pains of Christmas, and he was genius in his performance.

My son Keith is the one who could speak. He would say things like, "I want a Transformer for Christmas." My son Andrew was only about one-and-a-half years old, so he couldn't speak, but near the end of the record, when everything's getting really frantic, that's him crying. You want to be careful how you make a baby cry for recording, and we were punching in on the tape, so we needed him to cry on performance: When it came around to his part, it was time for him to cry. My wife and I got a candy bar, and we held it out just to where he couldn't reach it. That's how we got the baby to cry.

It's one of the most beautiful, nostalgic moments I've had recording a song. It was a group of people all feeding each other's enthusiasm. A lot of the lines and a lot of the characters were made up on the spot. It was pure fun.

When we played that thing on the radio, the phones exploded. For weeks it was the most-requested song. It was viral, as viral was back then. That was the year before we recorded the Christmas album, so that song gave me the impetus.

At the time, there hadn't been a Supreme Court case yet on song parodies [more on that later], so I decided to go to the library, pull out books of Christmas songs, and look for songs that are "traditional" or "author unknown" so there would be no one I need permission from to make the song parody. So that's how I came up with all the songs on the first album. We began writing the album right after Christmas because we had so much fun with this one song. I think we had to turn in the album in July to have it ready for the following Christmas.

At the time, the little label we were on [Critique] was distributed by Atlantic Records. That little label would go out of business but one of the bigwigs at Atlantic just loved all off the songs and he wanted that record. That launched Twisted Tunes and Twisted Christmas. I would eventually do seven albums for Atlantic Records.

Songfacts: Were there any "pains" you considered that didn't make the cut?

Yes. When you're improvising, you fall into character voices, and we had one version with a Bullwinkle line, and another that sounded like Archie Bunker.

Songfacts: It seems like you never run out of material with Christmas.

Rivers: Well, I did do seven albums, and most of them are not very spiritual. But there are a few things I wouldn't put in there because I was raised Catholic. I wanted to make these edgy but I wanted my parents to enjoy them as well.

Songfacts: Instead of going into the WAAF production studio, you got your own equipment, which was very cumbersome and expensive.

Rivers: Yes. Absolutely. I could have done it in the production studio with a vocal eliminator, but it would have sounded like crap. I had always dreamed of making records, and I knew I wasn't going to be a rock star. This was an opportunity for me to rub elbows with lots of wonderful musicians. I had players throughout the years on Twisted Tunes, some of whom swore me to secrecy. There are touring, rock-star caliber people sprinkled throughout the Twisted Tunes, because they had fun.

Songfacts: Are there any you can name?

Recording session for "Holidaze," featuring Alan White (drums), Randy Hansen (guitar), and Mike Raine (vocals)Recording session for "Holidaze," featuring Alan White (drums), Randy Hansen (guitar), and Mike Raine (vocals)
Rivers:Yes. In the early years at WAAF I got to work with Cliff Goodwin. He was Joe Cocker's touring lead guitarist for a dozen years, and also recorded with Robert Palmer. He knew how hit records were made. In the beginning, he was the producer. I was the sponge.

And Alan White of Yes. He lives in Seattle because he met his wife Gigi there. I met him because a co-host on my show named Joe had a neighborhood bar, and one day he saw a guy sitting there and said, "That guy looks a lot like Alan White." He walked up to him and said, "Are you Alan White?" He said, "Yes I am."

They got to talking, he told him he was on the radio, and Alan said, "Do you think Bob would let me play on one of his Twisted Tunes?" Joe said, "I don't know, I'll ask him."

So we had a song called "Holidaze" to the song "Purple Haze." Alan said, "I know exactly how that song is played," like I would be worried he wouldn't be good enough to play on it. Alan comes over, sets up his kit, and bangs it out in one take. Part of me is like, Wow, that's fantastic, and then part of me was like, I only got to watch him play of two minutes. I think I found some excuse to try another take, but it wasn't needed.

On that song, I had Randy Hansen, who is a Jimi Hendrix tribute musician, on guitar. He still to this day attracts thousands all over the world with his Jimi Hendrix tribute.

Songfacts: You need a full band because you need to create the backing track from scratch. You are not using a karaoke track.

Rivers: Yes. It started with me miking everything, including the kick drum and the hi-hat. As the years progressed and digital recording came into being, we used Pro Tools, but when I began, I used 2-inch Otari 24-track tape decks. I used classic compressors, equalizers. I had a Telefunken U47 mic, which is the microphone that Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, and everyone in between craved.

I was fortunate: I had a successful morning radio show that allowed me a little discretionary income, so I built a real recording studio. One entire floor of my house was a full-blown recording studio, and for many years that's how I did it.

Songfacts: So that's how you really set yourself apart. Instead of doing what most radio stations were doing for parodies, which was playing the song, putting on some phase cancellation, and singing over it, you dumped a ton of resources into this, hired really good musicians, and wrote really good stuff, which enabled you to create a commercial-grade product.

Rivers: I'm glad you put it that way, because having great equipment and even hiring great musicians is only two of the three legs you need on the stool in order to stand up. It all comes down to the song - any musician will tell you that - and a song parody is no different. A lot of people think if you have a hook, a phrase, an idea that seems to go well with the song, that now all you need to do is put lyrics down. But a song is poetry, so a fantastic parody has to also be poetry. So I would sit there with two computers - one with the original lyrics on it, and the other with the lyrics I was working on. And line by line, I would try to make it sound so much like the original, because I was using the original to tell a story, and I wanted to have have many parallels to the original.

Songfacts: Yeah, most people probably think this is easy, but if you take a Beatles song, it's very arrogant to think you can re-write the lyrics that these geniuses wrote, and have yourself something that is going to be a lasting piece of work. So when you do "Getting Fatter All The Time," you have to find a way to reconstruct it just like the Beatles did.

Bob and wife Lisa at the photo shoot for the <i>I Am Santa Claus</i> albumBob and wife Lisa at the photo shoot for the I Am Santa Claus album
Rivers: That's a great example. "I'm Getting Fatter All The Time" is a parody of "It's Getting Better All The Time," because as we get older, we like to think we're getting better, but a lot of the time, we're getting fatter and we don't want to admit it. So the parody there is to take what the Beatles are doing and say, "That's a great emotion, but here's the real fact."

Each phrase, I took how the Beatles said it, "I used to be this... now I'm that." That's the essence of writing a poetic version of another poem.

"What If God Smoked Cannabis" got a great response, and on YouTube there are now dozens of homemade versions. The original song is "What If God Was One Of Us," and how can you be more like one of us than toking up a joint? At the very end of that song, the lyrics wrote themselves, because Joan Osborne keeps going on with these tag phrases. I felt like I wasn't writing that song, like God was telling me, "You should try this line - 'And when the saints go marching in.'" Sometimes when you're writing you get in the flow.

I'm not a real songwriter - I'm a parodist, I do commentary. I have tremendous respect for the people I parody and I hope I'm seen as funny, not competition. "What If God Smoked Cannabis" sounds so much like the original, but when you hear it, you go, "Ha! Wish I thought of that." There, you've got the phrase, but every other line you've got to be telling a story just like the original.

Songfacts: So you need the inspiration and the artistry that it would take to write the original in order to do the parody.

Rivers: In comedy, there's a premise, there a buildup of tension, then there's relief. On "What If God Smoked Cannabis," a good friend of mine, Rockfish on KZOK, suggested the title. I thought, That's awesome.

When I have an idea like that given by a friend or listener, I say, "OK, let's see if it writes itself. Let's see if the premise carries through across verse 1, chorus 1 and fade." For it to be a parody, you only take as much of the original as you need, so most of my songs are 90 seconds to two-and-a-half minutes. When you begin the process of writing it, it's a sense of discovery: Will it work or won't it work?

That was one of the most fun to write. This gal named Trish Nielsen, a tremendous vocalist, sang it.

Songfacts: It sounds like you get a ton of suggestions for these song parodies - more than you can ever use.

Rivers: Some of the best ideas were suggested ideas that were just a phrase. Oftentimes the things that are suggested don't work at all, and I try to be really polite.

Songfacts: I had one for you that you turned down. I thought the Oasis song "Wonderwall" would work really well as "Wonderbra." The reason you gave for turning it down was that you didn't like Oasis.

Rivers: That is true. I actually received that idea from lots of different people, and I didn't like Oasis. Looking back, I probably should have done the song. I got four per month, and just didn't pick it.

The 1994 Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music Supreme Court decision ruled that 2 Live Crew's raunchy parody of Roy Orbison's "(Oh) Pretty Woman" was legal, establishing that parody can be fair use, but must be judged on a case-by-case basis. Two key factors are:

1) The amount and substantiality of the portion taken.

This is why many parody songs are shorter than the originals - because they only use what they need to make their point.

2) The effect of the use upon the potential market.

Meaning the parody doesn't make the original less valuable. This was a key to the court case: The judges decided that 2 Live Crew turning Orbison's pretty woman into a big, hairy woman that looks like Cousin Itt did not diminish the market for his song.

Whether or not a parody constitutes fair use is subjective and open to interpretation, but the point is moot if the parody artist gets permission from the publisher before releasing it, as Weird Al does.

So, if making a parody, you can send your new lyrics to the publisher and try to get permission, or you can be very careful about making sure it falls under fair use. Note that this applies to parody songs that are released commercially - just playing it on the radio doesn't carry these restrictions.
Rivers: You used to have to get permission before releasing a song parody on an album. For example, we did a song called "I'm Just A Big Ego," about David Lee Roth.

I'm just a big ego
And everywhere I go
People say that they enjoy me
They pay for just a chance
to look at my tight pants
Oooh It makes them horny


It was a wonderful parody, and Rhino Records loved it. They said, "If you can get clearance, we can put this out." Well, the song is a medley of two different songs: "Just A Gigolo" and "I Ain't Got Nobody." We got permission for the first one, but the people for the second one wouldn't return our calls, so we changed the music on the second half and just made it a scat song of a similar nature.

Perhaps my biggest rival song parody artist was "Weird Al" Yankovic. Our songs were frequently mislabeled online. Mine would be credited to him, and vice versa. We had a sort of ball-busting friendship for a while on the radio - we did a number of interviews over the years. I'm not sure he believed that I admired him as much as I did. He got permission for everything he did. He had clout, and major record sales. Parodies were always a means to another end for me: having a great morning radio show.

Members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in the Christmas spirit for a Twisted Tunes session.Members of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in the Christmas spirit for a Twisted Tunes session.
Songfacts: Was Weird Al getting permission even back in the '80s when he was doing "Another One Rides The Bus" and "My Bologna"?

Rivers: Yes. From Day 1. He was my big rival. For a while there, he was Coke and I was Pepsi... actually, I was more like Fanta.

Songfacts: Let's talk about "The Chimney Song," an original Christmas song you did that's kind of disturbing.

Rivers: "The Chimney Song" was written by Dennis Amero primarily. He had this offbeat idea: What if Santa Claus got stuck in the chimney and died there? And what if there's a little girl going, "Something's wrong with our chimney."

At the time, one of our singers, Joanne List, had a young daughter who sang, and we had her sing the song. She was so cute.

Songfacts: You ended up in Seattle in 1989. Did you even know who Nirvana was when you went out there?

Rivers: No, not in 1989. The grunge movement happened shortly after that, but in 1989 there wasn't even an Alternative Rock radio station in Seattle. It was KISW where I was, and KXRX, another big rock station. When grunge began to make its presence known, the Rock stations were all over it, as was the brand new Alternative Rock station, which was called "The End." All of the sudden, you had Pearl Jam and Nirvana - your Coke and Pepsi of grunge rock. They were just monstrous, and you knew it.

Songfacts: Did you have any idea Seattle would develop a major music scene when you moved there?

Rivers: No, not at all. I had come from Boston, where I was fortunate enough to be hanging around when J. Geils and Boston and Talking Heads were coming up. I just assume that wherever I move there's about to be a major music scene. But no, it was a total surprise.

In Boston I did get to hang at Long View Farm, which is a famous recording studio where The Rolling Stones prepared for their tour and the J. Geils Band made all their albums. I got to mic drums in the same barn where "Love Stinks" made that big, huge drum sound. "Centerfold" was recorded in the same room I was recording parodies in. So, I benefited tremendously in Boston at WAAF from the music scene there. Then, moving to Seattle, it was this huge music community, and of course, I needed great musicians to make great recordings.

The grunge scene was a little different because many of the musicians were reclusive. I interviewed a few of the players in Nirvana, but didn't get to know Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain, although there were some interesting brushes with what was going on back then. What really hit me: I'm in Seattle, and all these huge bands are all over the radio - Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. I take a flight across the country and I land in Baltimore. I get off the plane and put on the rock station in my rental car. Jimi Hendrix is on. After Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana. Then Pearl Jam. And Soundgarden. I went, "Wow, this is big."

Songfacts: In Boston, groups like The Cars benefited from local radio - that kind of broke them. It sounds like in Seattle, that was not the case.

Rivers: It felt like the scene sprung organically out of the dark clouds and the mood of the Pacific Northwest. Our rock stations were playing them before they went mainstream, but at the time, Alternative Rock was becoming a new format in radio, and this was the lifeblood of what that format became.

I got to meet some of the producers of these records, because I was very busy with my morning show and I was hiring people to record and mix. Kelly Gray, who was in Queensrÿche, was one of them - he was really my go-to guy for several years, and he showed me some of the tricks of grunge music.

There was a Twisted Tune on one of my albums called "Jesus's Birthday." It's a parody of the Beatles' "You Say It's Your Birthday." It's a simple song, but it has such an infectious hook. And it's smart - it was their version of "Happy Birthday." So at Christmastime, I had the idea that it's Jesus's birthday, and Kelly was all over it. One of the things the Beatles liked to do is run guitars through Leslie amplifiers that were meant for organs, and they did a bunch of it on that song. Also, there are vocals sung by Pattie Harrison and Yoko Ono. They were going, "Birthday!"

So, we were cutting the parody, and it's coming out pretty good:

It's Jesus' birthday
It's Hanukkah too, yeah


We get to the "birthday" part, and it isn't sounding right. Kelly leans over to me, and he says, "The problem is, Trish is a really good singer. They had Yoko Ono on this part."

So I went upstairs and grabbed my wife. I said, "Honey, can you sing a Yoko Ono part? You just have to sing, 'Holidays.'" She sang it and said, "That sounds awful." We said, "No, it's perfect."

Kelly, one day he played me a tape of a band he thought would be big. It was Candlebox, and the singer was Kevin Martin. They did a song called "Far Behind," which I called "avante-grunge." It was the next level of grunge: The songs were hooky, but more in a Black Crowes vein than Nirvana.

With Kevin, we did a parody called "Magic Comet Ride" about the crazy religious cult that committed mass suicide in San Diego. They thought they would float off on a comet together. So we thought "Take A Magic Comet Ride" would be funny. This is one of the great parodies we've done that was big for its day but didn't have a long shelf life. Kevin Martin came in and played the hell out of that Hammond B3 organ - I used to have a real B3 organ back then. I also had EMT plate reverbs to get that Rolling Stones sound. They were about 7-feet long.

So, Kevin Martin played that, and he sings on another song called "Space Station Oddity" about the space station Mir, which was going to plunge to Earth in a big fireball. I think they sent some scientists up to fix it or change the trajectory. The incredible David Bowie vocal is Kevin Martin from Candlebox.

Songfacts: Were there specific techniques used to make the grunge sound?

Rivers: Kelly would show me some things that are still used today and really modernized the sound of rock records. Previously, rock records would be loud, they would be recorded in spaces like cavernous halls that would give them their size and miked to create this big, stereo sound, but you ran into a problem: If you made something too big, it would crowd out everything else. So, around the time of grunge, they got a loud guitar sound and a really present drum sound that all fit together but still sounded intimate and warm in your ears. The way they did it, they would get a great drum sound, then they would feed a copy of that drum sound into another channel of the mixing console and they would cut out all the low end, so they would make it a high-pass filter, and they would take that high end and compress the shit out of it. You create duplicate tracks of the things you want - most often vocals and drums. They created a sound that was nice and crispy, that could be mixed in without affecting the meaty, beaty bottom. It was how you put your top end in without messing up the fullness of the sound.

It had the effect of an aural exciter, which makes something sound bright without over-brightening it. One of the big problems when you're producing a record is your ears want to hear everything bright, so you end up with everything fighting for brightness and it all sounds like trash.

Alice in Chains was great at this. Their stuff was brilliantly played, but it had this warmth that didn't exist on rock records until grunge came along. Grunge was a combination of brilliant songwriting from an area where it's pretty cloudy three-quarters of the year [Seattle], along with a new style of producing that was both warm and intimate, and big and heavy at the same time. And it was a style of playing that took chances and was different. It came out of a scene that had been percolating for years with bands like Gruntruck and Mudhoney.

Bob was at 98 Rock (WIYY) in Baltimore in 1988 when the Orioles opened the season by setting an ignominious record: They lost their first 21 games. After game 11, Bob held vigil for the team, staying on the air until they got their first win. He would sleep while songs were playing, sometimes putting on entire albums (like Dark Side Of The Moon) to get some rest. After a few days, his stunt garnered media attention; much of Baltimore tuned in to hear the weary DJ and commiserate over their hapless baseball team. As the team kept losing, the stunt got more attention and Bob got more loopy from the sleep deprivation. Fans tried to shame the team into winning, holding up "Free Bob Rivers" signs at games. He ended up on the air for 258 consecutive hours. It was bad for his health (no exercise, lots of pizza), but great for his career. His parodies got more attention and he made the move to Seattle, a much bigger market. There, he had to win over a new set of listeners who had no idea who he was, and also become a Mariners fan. One of his most successful stunts in that city was "Nudestock," an annual rock festival he staged at a local nudist colony.
KISW Nudestock circa 1990. 2,000 naked listeners for an outdoor, all-day concert. Everyone naked, including bands.KISW Nudestock circa 1990. 2,000 naked listeners for an outdoor, all-day concert. Everyone naked, including bands.
Songfacts: You were a rock and roll disc jockey with backstage access at a time when things were a lot less contrived and managed than they are now. What was that like?

Rivers: That would have all been wonderful if I didn't have to get up at 4 a.m. By the time I was in Seattle, I had gotten sober, I had fewer late nights, and I was more focused. Sometimes I'd go to a great show that started at 8, and at 8:45 I'd look at my watch and say, "OK, I better go. I gotta get some sleep."

In spite of that, there were some amazing experiences - let me give you the one that stands out. One day at KISW, the music director told me there was a secret, small club concert going on that night. Pearl Jam was playing at a venue called The Off Ramp, which was located right next to I-5, the main interstate that comes through Seattle. The Off Ramp maybe fit 150 people if you packed them like sardines, and this is Pearl Jam right after they've been on the cover of Time magazine. So, by hook or by crook, somehow I got a pass to get in there. It wasn't even a ticket - it was, stand at this door at this time and you will be let in. That's part of the privilege of having a morning show in a big city.

I walked in and got to stand right next to the stage and watch Pearl Jam do a set. At the time, Eddie was coming into his own as a big celebrity and a big star, and of course the fact that he was on the cover of Time was a big thing, but he was kind of anti-establishment, and I remember he had a copy of the magazine and when he got up to the microphone, he said, "I wipe my ass with the cover of Time magazine."

I'm a commercial radio host, so I'm like, "Dude, don't bite the hand that feeds you." But he knew what he was doing. And of course, Pearl Jam played a massively loud set that even for me was pretty loud. But they were a force to be reckoned with.

Sometime later, another top-secret, super-cool thing was happening: MTV was recording Pearl Jam and Nirvana for an MTV special. This was not MTV Unplugged - this was a live concert with the two biggest bands from Seattle. It was at a makeshift venue down by the waterfront that held about 300 people, and I was once again invited. We're standing in line, and when we get there, we're informed that Pearl Jam is pissed off at MTV and had backed out. So we go in, and Nirvana does just a wonderful performance of their In Utero songs. I remember thinking as I was watching Kurt Cobain perform, Eddie Vedder has his head up his ass and doesn't know what he's doing. This Kurt Cobain is the responsible one - he's going to have a nice, long career.

Songfacts: Are the privileges like going backstage at an AC/DC concert as wonderful as they sound?

Rivers: It is wonderful, and you get to meet lots of really amazing, intelligent people. You get to interview people coming through town that nobody else would get to talk to, and you get to have these quick conversations. That's the glamorous side. The side that you wouldn't know or expect is that in order to maintain your position, you have to study. You have to prepare. And almost no amount of preparation leaves you feeling like you've done enough. Even though it was amazing - and I have nothing but gratitude for being able to do it - I would have trouble sleeping the night before a big interview because I would wonder if I had enough preparation to do a good job.

David Letterman was once asked, "How did it feel to know you were changing television?" And his answer was, "I was just trying not to get fired." When you're doing it well, you're always being competitive and always trying to hold onto your job.

So, yes, all the other stuff is great, but while you're doing it, you have a great responsibility to do a good job.

Bob and Spike O'Neill interviewing Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of AerosmithBob and Spike O'Neill interviewing Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith
Songfacts: You used to be a guy who sold albums, and you even had a Gold album. Now, if you want to hear your Twisted Tunes, you can go on Spotify, YouTube or all these other streaming services. What has that transition been like for you?

Rivers: I'm a big believer in embracing the future. You cannot fight digital technology. You cannot fight any time there is a change that is going to bring more art to more masses in a more efficient way.

I'm a huge Spotify fan - I'm a paid subscriber. Does it change royalties to more nickels and fewer dollars for some people? Yes it does. However, cable TV changed that same paradigm, and Netflix has changed that paradigm. The upside is that anybody can post music, and if it becomes popular, you get distributed globally. In the old days, most people couldn't even get someone at a record company to listen to their tape, if they could afford to make one. Now, you're walking around with the equivalent of a television and music production studio in your right hand in your phone. I had to beg my wife to get a 4-track tape player!

Songfacts: How are your streaming earnings?

Rivers: They're miniscule. We can go out to dinner and get a chicken sandwich. It's a nice little thing, but I don't enjoy going to the mailbox [to get the royalty checks] as much as Sir Mix-A-Lot does.

Songfacts: Seattle's Sir Mix-A-Lot.

Rivers: I asked him in an interview once, "What do you do for a living now?" He said, "I go to the mailbox and pick up checks." He did radio for a while, and he's a delightful guy.

Songfacts: When you interview Sir Mix-A-Lot, it's like you're contractually obligated to talk about "Baby Got Back," but you don't want to be that guy.

Rivers: He said, "I'm not going to criticize the song that gets me the checks. I go to the mailbox, and I sing that song all the way back to the house."

Songfacts: I understand you ended up in a band with members of Heart.

Rivers: When I retired from radio, just like a character in that movie School Of Rock, I got to follow a dream I had set aside in order to have a career in radio. One of the biggest bands out of Seattle is Heart, and Heart split up in the early '80s when the girls more-or-less fired their band.

The original rhythm section of Heart, drummer Mike Derosier and bass player Steve Fossen, who happen to also be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, put together their own version of the band called Heart By Heart. They found an amazing singer, Somar Macek, and another gal, Lizzy Daymont, who played killer acoustic guitar and also sang. It was a dead-on, concert-quality act.

When I was leaving radio, I was enjoying music more than ever. I was playing a little bit of keyboards. I would say I'm not very good at playing keyboards, but as a producer, I took pride in copying hit records note for note. I got invited to jump up on stage with those guys and play two songs, so I jumped up on stage and I played the two songs. Miraculously, I didn't crash and burn, and they said, "You can play with us any time you want." I said, "Be careful what you wish for, I'll camp outside your house."

So, when I left radio, I toured with that band for two-and-a-half years. I learned all of the keyboard parts to all of the original Heart songs. I built all of the sounds at the sound design computer level so I could tour with them and get everything right, from the solo in "Magic Man" to the '80s piano in "Alone," to the massive synth sounds in "What About Love." I had a blast doing it, but it's a lot of work, and my ears from years of headphone use made it hard for me to hear clearly on stage, and after two-and-a-half years I decided that I had fulfilled that dream. I'd still be doing it today if I thought I could do it justice. It was that much fun.

Songfacts: What was the best part of your job?

Rivers: Easy to answer: Best part of my job was when I got to be a part of a team of people who supported each other, played like a team, felt great entertaining each other. That feeling of making somebody laugh, or somebody making you laugh, and having that be your job, there's nothing greater.

More Photos From The Twisted Tunes Sessions

Ozzy Osbourne at Bob's Garage (basement) studio. At this session, some listeners were invited, and one fan made an unusual request, asking Ozzy to autograph a box containing the ashes of a fan who committed suicide. Ozzy graciously complied.


Lonesome Dave Peverett of Foghat singing into a mic with an improvised wind screen at Bob's Garage. Says Bob: "I thought some angry neighbors were coming down the road to bitch me out for the loud music, and the giant tour bus in our quiet cul-de-sac neighborhood. But they were clutching their Foghat albums, hoping for autographs."


Paul Rodgers (Bad Company, Free) rejected the legendary Telefunken U47 microphone, asking instead for a $100 Sure SM57.


Blue Öyster Cult recording at the garage.


Doing a Twisted Tune at Abbey Road. Says Bob: "Yes, the control room was over the same live room where the Beatles did 'A Day In The Life.' We were in London for a remote broadcast, and I charged a day at Abbey Road on a credit card, just to have the experience."


Seattle legends the Melvins, one of Kurt Cobain's favorite bands, on the hillside outside Bob's Garage (basement edition) in North Bend, Washington. See if you can spot lead singer Buzz Osborne from his hair.

December 16, 2019
Hear more Twisted Tunes at bobrivers.com. Photos courtesy of Bob Rivers, from his archives.

You might also like:
Fact or Fiction: Weird Al Yankovic edition
Experience Nirvana with Sub Pop Founder Bruce Pavitt

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Arlene from Longmont, CoLoved your Twisted Tunes! Played them often.
  • Ed Kelly Mc from DetroitIMHO, Bob's songs were largely better, as funny and/or funnier than "Weird Al's," but they are both exceedingly good parodists.
see more comments

Editor's Picks

Sarah Brightman

Sarah BrightmanSongwriter Interviews

One of the most popular classical vocalists in the land is lining up a trip to space, which is the inspiration for many of her songs.

Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)

Chad Channing (Nirvana, Before Cars)Songwriter Interviews

Chad tells tales from his time as drummer for Nirvana, and talks about his group Before Cars.

Janis Ian: Married in London, but not in New York

Janis Ian: Married in London, but not in New YorkSong Writing

Can you be married in one country but not another? Only if you're part of a gay couple. One of the first famous singers to come out as a lesbian, Janis wrote a song about it.

They Might Be Giants

They Might Be GiantsSongwriter Interviews

Who writes a song about a name they found in a phone book? That's just one of the everyday things these guys find to sing about. Anything in their field of vision or general scope of knowledge is fair game. If you cross paths with them, so are you.

Ian Astbury of The Cult

Ian Astbury of The CultSongwriter Interviews

The Cult frontman tells who the "Fire Woman" is, and talks about performing with the new version of The Doors.

Mike Love of The Beach Boys

Mike Love of The Beach BoysSongwriter Interviews

The lead singer/lyricist of The Beach Boys talks about coming up with the words for "Good Vibrations," "Fun, Fun, Fun," "Kokomo" and other classic songs.