Creators of the most outrageous music videos, Doug and the Slugs were pioneers
In 1978 I joined the band Doug and the Slugs, made up of my old high school buddies John Burton, Richard Baker and Wally Watson, along with bassist Steve Bosley and chief schemer Doug Bennett.
I’m proud to say that we created some of the smartest, funniest and most creative music videos of the time. Doug was not only a talented songwriter and showman, but also a talented director and gifted cartoonist, who used his graphic design skills to script his ideas.
Our videos – shot all over Vancouver and featuring the Slugs, our family and friends – were among the first to air on MTV, not because anyone knew who we were, but because the videos were full-length comedy movies (compared to lip-synced performances). which were the norm at the time).
By participating in the documentary Doug and the slugs and me, we’ve remastered our entire catalog, including creating new digital versions of our music videos. Here’s my insider story on how some of them were made.
Script: Doug pursues his (selfless) love interest, played by Nicole Robert. Nicole had been roommates with John and Doug a few years earlier and had played the role of Annette Funicello and the Snow Queen at our notorious theme dances before we grew up.
Doug’s storyboard included bar rubes, singing waiters, tropical tourists, and detectives, so we collected outfits for all the roles and picked friends, the crew, and unfortunate bystanders.
Notable Crew: Two film students, Rick Martin and Stan Szyczysyn, approached us offering to shoot one of those crazy new things: a music video!
We paid them a pittance and also covered filming, processing and editing costs. The rest of the cast and crew volunteered their time, and everything else was donated, except my London bobby uniform, which we had to hire.
Location: We filmed at the Cecil Hotel on Granville Street, a favorite haunt of Doug and Wally. At the time, the bars were closed on Sundays, so we showed up at 8am on Sunday and walked out of there around 5am on Monday, exhausted.
Fun facts: Rick Martin is the son of Dick Martin, from the popular 60s comedy sketch series Rowan and Martin’s laughter.‘
Nicole credits Doug with persuading her to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. She went on to a successful stage career, appearing in countless shows, including the Toronto production of Mama Mia! and a national tour of Menopause: the musical.
The video was a hit on the then-new MTV (at the time) and was also picked up by HBO, which aired music videos in the timeslots between films.
make it work
Script: make it work starred Doug as an insecure pornstar with his merry gang of sex therapists. For the costumes, we stenciled lab coats and used a collection of (ahem) high-tech sex toys, including a feather duster and a turkey baster.
In the video, Steve has excellent Albert Einstein hair and is armed with a toilet plunger. I wear nerd glasses and used too much Brylcreem but can’t remember what my sex toy was.
After a scary moment watching the centerfold of Playgirl magazine, Doug has a session with the sex therapists, which leads to a moment on the red carpet at the premiere of Deep Slug with Mr. Doug.
Location: The video was shot at the iconic 2400 Motel, which miraculously still exists.
Notable crew: Rick and Stan, who together produced four music videos for us.
Fun fact: John’s Dr. Strangelove character foreshadowed things to come. Dr. Strangelove was the house band at Vancouver’s Roxy nightclub in the early 90s and included three Slugs: John, Richard and Wally.
Day by day
Script: This video was our own fantasy about overcoming rejection and achieving independent success.
I read the termination letter from a record company in a robotic voice while Doug stared blankly in a Harris Tweed overcoat. Tour manager Ken Brault played the big role in serving us our eviction papers, and all of our office furniture was repossessed.
We dropped an abandoned piano from the roof of a building and it just missed Doug, who was sitting in the driveway reading a book about starting a record company. Then we played a chorus on the fire escape.
Location: We shot the video in the beautiful Heritage Hall at 15th and Main. It was vacant, so we were able to take all those moody photos of the band strewn across the checkerboard floor.
Notable crew: Michael Steele, early supporter and friend of the band, spent several years working in the Canadian film industry and pulled favors to find us an excellent professional team. They shot on 35mm film, requiring significant lighting, cameras, and expense. Now was not the time to have fun like we did in our previous videos.
Fun facts: In 1983, after three gold albums, our label, RCA Records, left us. Once again we were truly independent and went to Little Mountain Studios to record our fourth album, Popaganda.
Popaganda became our fourth gold album, but not before this video was made, so in a sense, the Day by day video predicted the future.
Script: Doug was a big fan of madmax movies, so he used that aesthetic for a battle scene between Nordor’s goofy army and ourselves, the Ritdong Rangers, in another nonsensical, time-traveling story.
Notable Crew: After blowing the budget Day by day, we approached our tireless photographer Hans Sipma to get out from behind his camera and shoot this video. Hans had shot most of our album covers, promo photos and photos, including the freeze frame shots used at the end of Day by day. He and Doug were a great team, and the result is the most creative video in our collection.
Location: We filmed at Hans’ studio and the York Theater on Commercial Drive. The battle scene was shot in the Rocky Mountain Sound (RMS) warehouse.
Everyone knows the rulers of the galaxy need a headquarters, so Hans concocted a mountain lair out of gray paper, model trees and a hubcap. I recorded an intro on my four track tape, a Tascam Portastudio.
Fun facts: Notable cameos include our tour manager, Ken, as Lord Notune; RMS owner Fred Michael as Fredicus Minimus; our beloved roadie Frank Felder as kidnapped Jimi Hendrix; and our publicist Denise Donlon as Queen of Nordor. (Denise went on to an illustrious executive career at MuchMusic, Sony Music Canada and CBC Radio.)
After that, Hans shot all of our videos, which qualifies him for his own lifetime achievement award in my opinion.
Doug has directed not only the Slugs’ music videos, but also those of other musicians, including Trooper, Alfie Zappacosta, Headpins and Images In Vogue.
Simon Kendall is a Canadian rock musician, film composer and longtime keyboardist for Doug and the Slugs.