Watch the Original Schoolhouse Rock Composers Sing “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” Live in Concert

At first blush, School­house Rock!, the inter­sti­tial ani­ma­tions air­ing between ABC’s Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toon line up from 1973 to 1984, may seem like a catchy, edu­ca­tion­al equiv­a­lent of sneak­ing spinach into pan­cakes (and a major Gen X touch­stone.)

Not so fast! It’s also jazz, baby!

Jazz pianist Bob Dor­ough recalled how an ad exec at a New York ad agency pitched the idea:

My lit­tle boys can’t mem­o­rize their times tables, but they sing along with Jimi Hen­drix and the Rolling Stones, so why don’t you put it to rock music and we’ll call it Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion Rock?

Dor­ough, whose com­po­si­tion­al pref­er­ences ran to “extrav­a­gant love songs” and vocal chal­leng­ing num­bers, real­ized that his first order of busi­ness would be to write a good song:

I hit upon the idea, let’s pick a num­ber. Three! That’s a good num­ber. And I sat down at the piano and start­ed fool­ing around. It took me 2 weeks.

In his hands, three became a mag­ic num­ber, an ear worm to bring even the most reluc­tant ele­men­tary math­e­mati­cians up to speed in no time.

Even­tu­al­ly, Dor­ough was able to bring many of his jazz world friends into the fold, includ­ing, most famous­ly, trum­peter and Merv Grif­fin Show side­kick Jack Shel­don, whose one-of-a-kind deliv­ery is the hands down high­light of “Con­junc­tion Junc­tion.”

(Many School­house Rock! fans, view­ing the excerpt of the duo’s mid-90’s live appear­ance on the KTLA Morn­ing Show, above, pro­fessed dis­be­lief that Sheldon’s soul was of the blue-eyed vari­ety, even though the ani­mat­ed engi­neer who serves as his avatar in that three minute episode is white.)

In an inter­view with the direc­tor of the Fil­lius Jazz Archive at Hamil­ton Col­lege, Shel­don agreed that the series owed a major debt to jazz:

When we made Con­junc­tion Junc­tion, it was me and Ted­dy Edwards and Nick Ceroli and Leroy Vine­gar and Bob Dor­ough played the piano. That’s a jazz band…it was real­ly noth­ing to do with rock. It was always jazz, but we said rock and roll, so every­body loved it for rock and roll.

Anoth­er mem­o­rable col­lab­o­ra­tion between Shel­don and Dor­ough is the much par­o­died “I’m Just a Bill,” in which a weary scroll loi­ters on the steps of the Cap­i­tal Build­ing, explain­ing to a wide eyed young­ster (voiced by his son) the process by which a bill becomes law.

Dor­oughs’ School­house Rock! con­tri­bu­tions include the haunt­ing Fig­ure Eight, the folky Lucky Sev­en Samp­son, whose sen­ti­ments Dor­ough iden­ti­fied with most close­ly, and Naughty Num­ber Nine, which his pro­tégé, singer-song­writer Nel­lie McK­ay sin­gled out for spe­cial praise, “cause it was kind of weird and sub­ver­sive:”

(It) made me want to gam­ble and win. I got hooked when I heard Bob’s jazzy rasp of a voice break­ing the rules even as he explained them… this guy had a wild mind, which I fig­ured out lat­er equaled cre­ativ­i­ty.

She also paid the per­pet­u­al­ly sun­ny Dor­ough, whom she first encoun­tered “glow(ing) with health and good cheer, spread­ing sun­shine wher­ev­er he went on the cam­pus of East Strouds­burg Uni­ver­si­ty, the supreme com­pli­ment:

Lou Reed’s idea of hell would be to sit in heav­en with Bob Dor­ough.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

School­house Rock: Revis­it a Col­lec­tion of Nos­tal­gia-Induc­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Videos

I’m Just a Pill: A School­house Rock Clas­sic Gets Reimag­ined to Defend Repro­duc­tive Rights in 2017

Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock: The School­house Rock Par­o­dy Sat­ur­day Night Live May Have Cen­sored

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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