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Betty Boop and Popeye music come to life at BAM

Written by
Leah Faye Cooper

Betty Boop is not just an old cartoon, its a show representative of a character who's inspired chic style everywhere, especially in New York. Saturday you can jam out to toons from the infamous animation at Gary Lucas's Fleischerei: Music from Betty Boop for free! We sat down with the man behind the show, Gary Lucas, to talk about his inspirations for such an idea.

New York–based guitarist Gary Lucas has 27 albums, all a testament to his skills on the Gibson. He’s strummed genres ranging from psychedelic rock to 1930s Chinese pop, and collaborated with rock legends like Jeff Buckley, Nick Cave and Lou Reed. Lucas’s latest project is a revival of songs popularized by Max Fleischer’s Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons. The axman shared with us how the tribute—featuring trombonist Joe Fiedler and Broadway singer Sarah Stiles (Avenue Q)—came about, and what to expect when he hits the stage.

Have you always been a Betty Boop and Popeye fan?
Absolutely. Anything that Max Fleischer and his brother dave put out I thought was amazing. I love the surrealist sensibilities; they’re very trippy cartoons. There’s an urban grittiness about them that appeals to me.

How did your collaboration with Joe Fiedler and Sarah Stiles come about?
I played with Joe in a Captain Beefheart tribute and we’d discussed doing a Fleischer tribute years ago. He was pretty gung ho about it. He did the arrangements for the horns and I did the guitar arrangements.

My wife is a casting director so we went on the hunt to find a young, engaging female voice who could handle both Betty Boop and Olive Oyl. Sarah fit the bill beautifully. She has a vibe that's perfect for this project. 

How is this different from your past work?
I think it’s jazzier and more traditional. We’re adhering very closely to the original melodies and keys. 

What are some songs on the bill?
We do a version of “The Music Goes Round and Round” which is a big band jazz standard from the Thirties and Sarah sings the heck out of that—and Olive Oyl's “I Want a Clean Shaven Man.” 

What type of guitar will you be playing?
I’m playing my favorite: a 1947 Gibson acoustic J-45. It’s pretty beat-up because I take it on the road and play it all the time, but I love it.


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