Monday, October 20, 2008

Oh My Wha-Koo! You're Such A Fabulous Dancer

American soft rock ensemble Wha-Koo may have been largely overlooked in their own country, but during 1978 they did manage to make inroads into both single and album charts here in Australia.

The band formed during 1977 under the leadership of singer/guitarist Danny Douma. Douma assembled a talented entourage of musicians around him, including singer David Palmer (who had provided vocals on Steely Dan’s 1972 album ‘Can’t Buy A Thrill’ and worked with Carole King, co-writing her hit ‘Jazzman’), veteran guitarist Nick Van Maarth (formerly with the Crickets), keyboardist Richard Konsinski, bassist Andrew Silvester, percussionist Don Francisco (no relation to San), and Claude Pepper (AKA Jack Mack).

They announced themselves on their debut album ‘Big Wha-Koo’ late in 1977, by all accounts a strong mix of contemporary rock and ballad tracks, released on the ABC label. The album missed the charts but the label had enough faith in the group to back them for a second attempt to crack the market. With new bassist Peter Freiberger added to the formula, Wha-Koo worked with Ken Caillat to co-produce their sophomore effort ‘Berkshire’, released in the first half of 1978. Despite another fine collection of material, once more the American record market couldn’t find room for Wha-Koo. Australia by contrast was more receptive, and in July ‘78 the beautifully crafted power-ballad ‘(You’re Such A) Fabulous Dancer’ debuted on the singles chart. The song exhibited considerable longevity, spending 20 weeks inside the top 100, peaking at #10. I hadn’t started buying singles at that time, but years later I was bowled over to rediscover this hidden gem via a volume of the ‘Living In The 70s’ compilation series. Plenty of Australian record buyers did discover the music of Wha-Koo back in 1978, pushing the album ‘Berkshire’ to the very doorstep of the top 50 (#51).

Songwriter Danny Douma had too much material to be contained within the boundaries of Wha-Koo’s world, and in 1979 he signed with Warner Bros. and recorded his debut solo album ‘Nigh Flight’. In truth it was a Wha-Koo album in everything but name, with most of the band members contributing. In addition guest players included Eric Clapton, Garth Hudson (formerly keyboardist with The Band), and several members of Fleetwood Mac. Douma decided to focus fulltime on his solo endeavours, but singer David Palmer took up the Wha-Koo flame with a revamped line-up of the band, including Ron Fransen, Eddie Tuduri, and Eric Gotthelf. This roster released the album ‘Fragile Line’ in 1979. The album presented a harder edged rock style, but still Wha-Koo remained an undiscovered gem on the mainstream American music scene.

Danny Douma worked with old friend and Fleetwood Mac songstress Christine McVie on her 1984 solo album, and David Palmer contributed the song ‘Silhouette’ to the soundtrack from the 1985 comedy film ‘Teen Wolf’.

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