Released in 1980, "Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album" included a track called "Rock Notes," where Python's Eric Idle satirized band names announcing: "Rex Stardust, lead electric triangle with Toad The Wet Sprocket, has had to have an elbow removed following their recent worldwide successful tour of Finland."
And that humorous reference inspired a bunch of young high school musicians in Santa Barbara to adopt the rather odd sounding name Toad the Wet Sprocket.
According to the band's singer/guitarist Glen Phillips, the Monty Python star was quite shocked when he discovered a group had actually picked a bizarre name he thought no one would actually use.
The Toad boys: Dean Dinning (from left) Randy Guss, Glen Phillips and Todd Nichols
"He wrote us a humorous letter saying if we sent him a gold record, if we ever earned one, he wouldn't sue us," Phillips reports. "We were a high school band, so we weren't taking ourselves very seriously. We had our first gig, but we didn't have a name. The sketch we got it from had a whole series of terrible band names, and we picked the worst one because it would be funny to see it in print. Then it became a running joke because the local paper would always print it wrong, like Toad and the Wet Socket. We spent a year trying to figure out a real name and we just kept it."
One of the most successful alternative rock bands of the 1990s, Toad The Wet Sprocket enjoyed massive popularity with platinum-selling albums and hit songs like "Walk on the Ocean," "All I Want," "Something's Always Wrong," "Fall Down" and "Good Intentions."
Splitting up close to the end of the decade, they resumed performing occasionally in the mid-2000s, and eventually announced their official reunion in December last year.
* Toad the Wet Sprocket performs at the Royal Lahaina Resort at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. The Eric Gilliom Band and Jim Major will open. Tickets are $50 for general admission and $75 for VIP.
And thus Phillips, bassist Dean Dinning, guitarist Todd Nichols and drummer Randy Guss will play Maui on Saturday at the Royal Lahaina Resort.
"We've done sporadic tours on and off, and the last three years we've been upping it slowly," says Phillips. "It's been good; it's been like getting into a warm bath. We had our issues when we broke up. Any band that stays together a long time will become 'Spinal Tap.' I think that's a law of nature. Whenever we started before, things would start feeling really edgy again, but a few years ago it seemed like we had all gotten over the history and were enjoying each other again. The new normal is that we're all happy to be together."
The rejuvenated band has been pleased to find their songs still resonating with audiences.
"I think the only reason to actually ever like us was you liked the songs," he continues. "And the audience is still there, because they care about the songs. We were never all that cool. We were kind of a band full of nerds before nerds were cool. We were certainly not cool when we came out. It was an initial change from college music, kind of post-punk, bands like The Replacements and Husker Du and REM. It was before the Internet when if you were into indie music, you couldn't Google it, you had to find it. People were very precious about it. It was their music. We came out of that world, and we were a weird anomaly, because we were all about feelings, different feelings than rage and alienation. Maybe at the end of the day our lack of coolness has helped us."
A couple of weeks ago, Toad released a new greatest-hits package titled "All You Want" on its official website. The 11-track collection features new studio versions of their hits, which will allow the band to regain publishing and licensing of the songs, as they've had no access to the versions they made for Columbia Records in the '90s.
On their website they collectively note: " 'All You Want' is us recalling our past for ourselves. While making this album we got to look under the hood at the parts we'd written long ago, pull apart some of the magic of the originals, and in some cases update arrangements, tempos or attitudes that we thought we could improve upon with the benefit of hindsight."
They sound great.
"We just put out a new greatest hits record," he explains. "It was partially because we own it, and it was great to go back to the songs and punch them up a little, make them more like we sound live. Sometimes I think I wasn't singing that strong then."
The four musicians began playing together as high school students in 1986 in Santa Barbara, Calif., influenced by a range of groups from Rush and The Replacements to Elvis Costello and The Pixies.
"Santa Barbara is like a small town with the extras of a big city," he says. "We had a tight little music scene, where everybody would show up and support everybody else. It was embracing instead of being highly competitive."
After honing their sound in local bars, the musicians entered a local studio in 1988 to record their debut album, "Bread and Circus," for a total cost of $650. Originally sold as a homemade cassette in area record stores, the album peeked the interest of Columbia Records execs, and Toad was signed, but only after the label agreed to reissue "Bread and Circus" without any alterations or remixes.
"I was 16," he recalls. "I think 'Bread and Circus' took about 48 hours to record and mix."
After a couple of years of touring, Toad the Wet Sprocket finally hit the jackpot with their third album, "Fear," which sold platinum and produced the hit singles "All I Want" and "Walk on the Ocean," that became radio mainstays.
"We were shocked," he says about their success. "It was bizarre to see the audiences grow. It was very strange because we had toured nine months with the 'Fear' record, and 'All I Want' was the third or fourth single. The label was ready to send us back to the studio, but our project manager begged them for another single.
Ironically, the band almost didn't include "All I Want" on "Fear."
"We almost kept it off," he notes. "And we did keep 'Good Intentions' off it because it was too poppy. It was a B-side, which ended up on the 'Friends' soundtrack, and it was our second largest-selling single."
The memorable "Walk on the Ocean" highlighted the band's gift for crafting beautiful-sounding songs (with accordion and mandolin adding an Americana roots flavor) that lyrically contrasted hope and bitterness.
"We tended to have happy-sounding songs with really depressing lyrics," Phillips says laughing. "That was out schtick."
Three years later, Toad returned with "Dulcinea," another superb album that generated more hits with the rocker "Fall Down" and the moody "Something's Always Wrong." Exploring some spiritual themes, "Dulcinea" closed with the epic "Reincarnation Song," where Philips sang: "I thought this light would comfort me, I thought it would be easy, but there's a tugging at my sleeve, so much baggage I brought with me to leave, so I hurry back to little earth for another life, another birth."
After "Dulcinea," Toad released a B-sides collection, "In Light Syrup," (which included "Good Intentions"). "Coil" followed and then Toad split in 1998.
In December last year, the band released its first new studio track in 11 years - a free download cover of a Sam Phillips track, "It Doesn't Feel Like Christmas."
It was accompanied by a message on their website: "We're that band that did "Walk on the Ocean," "All I Want" and "Fall Down." The one with the weird name. We're back from a long slumber, and look forward to saying hello some time."
Now they're looking toward recording a new album.
"We're playing a couple of new songs in our sets," Phillips reports. "We didn't stop writing. I've got a lot of songs from the last 10 years and Todd's got a lot of songs. We're consciously moving towards doing an album next year.
So in closing why does he think Toad became so popular?
"Timing and luck," he says. "Success in music is a combination of timing, luck and industry, how hard you work. We worked really hard and we're really proud of our music. We showed up at a time when major labels were interested in college bands and they had a lot of cash. They could afford to work our records for a while. We didn't have a hit until nine months into our third record. There's no way a label would do that anymore. It couldn't happen. We had a chance to grow and have an authentic relationship with our audience. We were around at the right time. We were just so insanely lucky."
A hip, new Maui band, the Freeradicals Projekt, plays a Cinco de Mayo show tonight at Three's Bar & Grill in Kihei. With influences ranging from Sly and the Family Stone to the Brand New Heavies and John Coltrane, their irresistible fusion of funk, hip-hop, acid jazz and soul has been packing dance floors around the island. The show starts at 9 p.m.
Three Maui musicians will team for a Mother's Day benefit concert for Maui's Women Helping Women at Stella Blues Caf. Gail Swanson, Elaine Ryan and Sebrina Barron will serenade all, with dinner seating at 6 p.m. and show-only at 7:15. Gail, whose most recent album featured guest appearances by Willie Nelson, Pat Simmons, Michael McDonald and John Cruz, will be joined by indie recording artist Elaine Ryan, a part-time Maui resident, born in Ireland.
"Elaine's voice is incredible, and I love the way she writes," says Gail. "Nobody on Maui sounds like her. And Sebrina has a very special stage presence."
* Tickets are $60 for dinner and show; $30 for show only. Call 874-3779.