August Darnell talks life as Kid Creole, working with Prince, his new musical, teaching at Hofstra, and more
As the leader of seminal New York-based party band Kid Creole & The Coconuts, August Darnell first hit it big internationally in the early 1980s. The band's third studio effort -- titled Wise Guy in the States and Tropical Gangsters overseas -- reached #3 in the U.K., yielding three Top 10 hits. August began producing for other artists shortly after, although Kid Creole & The Coconuts regularly put out new music every few years into the early 2000s.
While Kid Creole put out I Wake Up Screaming in 2011 – the group's 14th full-length album overall – he still has plenty else going on. August is one of the writers behind Cherchez La Femme, a new musical featuring music from him and Stony Browder Jr. Cherchez La Femme opens at La Mama’s Ellen Stewart Theatre on May 23, following previews from May 20 to 22. Set to run until June 12, the play is set in New York City and the Caribbean in the 1980’s.
August kindly took the time to tackle some Q&A for No Place Like Long Island. Within such, he answered some questions about his ties to Long Island, which start with attending classes at Hofstra University. August's alter-ego can be followed on Twitter via the handle @kidcreoleband, while more information on his new musical can be found at www.cherchezlafemmemusical.com.
How did you wind up teaching at Hofstra University?
AD: I attended Hofstra University, which is located in Hempstead, Long Island. I majored in English with a minor in Drama. I lived on campus for the three years that I attended Hofstra, so I got to know Long Island very well.
I taught English and Drama at the Hempstead Middle School for three years. My brother was making a living playing music. I played with his band on the weekends. I lived in Manhattan after I graduated from Hofstra. My brother constantly poked fun at me for having a “nine-to-five” job. Eventually he wore me down. I was jealous of his care-free lifestyle. So I quit my job as an English teacher and entered the treacherous world of rock 'n roll! Hallelujah!
Have you ever played live on Long Island as a solo artist?
AD: Yes, I have played on Long Island many times with my brother's band, Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, and with my band, Kid Creole & The Coconuts. Thanks to an engagement at a club owned by Steve Rubell on Long Island in the 70's, I was always “allowed” to enter the pearly gates of Studio 54 when it opened. That gave me a lot of power in those days because everybody wanted a way into that den of iniquity; especially females.
These days, how similar are you to Kid Creole?
AD: I am far, far away from Kid Creole these days. My alter ego has become a distant shadow. I only bring him out to play when money is involved. Otherwise he is kept in a clean closet.
Other than Kid Creole, who do you think has the best live show? Are there particular artists you must always see when they come through town?
AD: My favorite live band has always been James Brown and his Renegades. Now that James Brown is gone, I do not go to concerts. I avoid crowds. I would not even go to my own concert if too many people were in the audience!
For people thinking of coming to your upcoming show, Cherchez La Femme, in Manhattan, what should be expected? A mix of songs from throughout your career?
AD: Be warned -- people who come to see Cherchez La Femme, the musical, will not be seeing an autobiographical show. Far from it. Cherchez La Femme is a fictional account of a bandleader and his romantic escapades. There are many familiar KCC and DBOSB songs in the score, but there are plenty of new tunes also. Fans will love the melodic memories, but newcomers will also embrace the zany characters and the dynamic choreography and the costumes and the music.
What can you tell me about some of the characters in the play?
AD: Caufy Keeps, the bandleader. A handsome, egotistic womanizer who gets his comeuppance when his main squeeze decides to say "bye bye birdie!" Stingy Brim, his brother, a loud-mouthed, misanthrope with a heart of gold. The Lemon Drops, the three female vocalists in the band; they have a love/hate relationship with Caufy. Deliciosa, the gorgeous femme fatale that breaks Caufy's heart and consequently almost destroys his band. Doris, the personal assistant from Cuba, who will do almost anything to protect her boss…
Can you speak about the song that Prince gave you and Kid Creole?
AD: Prince wrote a song for me called “The Sex Of It.” He said he felt sorry for me because although I had achieved superstar status in Europe, I had failed to rise to the same heights in America. He said that his song would do the job for me. It didn't!
I hear you're living In Maui these days. Is there anything you miss about living in New York?
AD: These days I live in Maui for half the year and in Sweden for the other half. Maui is a magnificent place to embrace nature. The weather is fabulous all year long. But I still love the seasons. That's what New York does better than Hawaii. But Maui provides more tranquility than New York will ever know.
Notwithstanding all of this gibberish, I am so happy I was born in the Bronx and grew up in Manhattan. New York shaped my destiny in a way no other place on Earth could have done. My wife and I own a martini lounge in Maui called Ambrosia. If you're ever in Hawaii, come see us. Eva will fix you the house special: the Lilikoi Lemon Drop! I'm told it's deeeelicious. I don't drink, so I wouldn't know.
When you're not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
AD: My motto is "every day is a holiday,” so even when I am working on a project -- like this musical -- it's still FREE time because I am doing what I WANT to do. Not what I HAVE to do.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Long Island?
AD: More people should realize that Long Island is an island!