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Captain And Tennille's Captain Has Died -- Who Was He?

Music | January 3, 2019

You didn't need to know (or like) their music to dope out who was who in the '70s pop phenom Captain & Tennille. Tennille was the singer, a woman, which was clear because Captain was a guy wearing a ship captain's hat and, often, a shirt that said CAPTAIN. 

Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain

But who was the Captain? His real name was Daryl Dragon, and his death on January 2, 2019, has fans everywhere feeling both nostalgic and melancholy. Well, perhaps melancholy isn't the right word, considering the relentless peppiness of the duo's signature tune, "Love Will Keep Us Together."

Conductor Carmen Dragon. Source: Wikimedia Commons/public domain

Captain Was Born Into A Musical Family, Not A Nautical One

Daryl Dragon -- yes, that's a real name -- was born August 27, 1942, the son of Carmen Dragon, a noted conductor and composer. Carmen wrote scores for movies, winning an Oscar for his score for the 1944 musical Cover Girl. He conducted orchestras for radio shows and hosted a long-running classical music show on the Armed Forces Radio Network. One of Carmen's sons, Dennis Dragon, was a successful session drummer, working with the Beach Boys and the Byrds in the late '60s and early '70s, and co-founding the Surf Punks in 1976. A daughter, Carmen E. Dragon, was a classical harpist. And another son was -- or became -- the Captain.

Mike Love Of The Beach Boys Gave Daryl Dragon His Stage Name

Although Daryl Dragon played the Captain as a seafarer, the nickname had nothing to do with boating. Dragon played keyboards for the Beach Boys, as needed, from 1967-72, and lead singer Mike Love, impressed by Dragon's musicianship, took to calling him "Captain Keyboard." Dragon embraced the name, and even played it up by wearing a captain's hat. Dragon played with the Beach Boys without being an actual Beach Boy -- not so much replacing Brian Wilson as filling in, for a long time, while Brian sorted through some heavy stuff. Dragon's contribution to the group peaked with the 1972 album Carl & the Passions: So Tough LP, on which he had two composing credits. Dragon can be seen with the rest of the band in the sleeve art the single "Marcella:" in the image, Mike Love, Carl Wilson and others lean on a convertible. In the driver's seat sits Captain Keyboard, wearing his sailor cap.

The pair met thanks to Tennille's hippie musical "Mother Earth"

Toni Tennille had co-written a somewhat successful musical about the environment called "Mother Earth" in 1969, and after a run in San Francisco she was in need of a keyboardist for upcoming Los Angeles performances. Daryl Dragon made the trip up to San Francisco to audition in 1971, and he didn't just get the job -- he got the girl, too. Before long, the pair were performing together as a lounge act at the Smokehouse Restaurant in Encino. During this time, Tenille also did a stint as keyboardist for the Beach Boys, on Dragon's recommendation. As Captain & Tennille, they cut a single together, "The Way I Want to Touch You," which was a local Los Angeles hit, and led them to be signed by A&M Records.

Source: Discogs.com

'Love Will Keep Us Together' wasn't the Captain's first choice

Dragon and Tennille's debut album was, as you'd expect, heavily influenced by the Beach Boys, with songwriting credits from Brian Wilson, Dennis Wilson, and Bruce Johnston. It also contained originals by Dragon and Tennille (including "The Way I Want To Touch You"). The one outlier was a cover of a Neil Sedaka/Howard Greenfield tune, "Love Will Keep Us Together." Despite its undeniable catchiness, Dragon didn't feel it should be the duo's first offering to the pop charts, preferring their version of "I Write the Songs" (by Beach Boy Bruce Johnston). The Captain was wrong. The single "Love Will Keep Us Together" was released in April 1975, and the album of the same name came out the following month.

Source: Twitter

'I Write the Songs' was better for Barry Manilow

"Love Will Keep Us Together" was a smash, topping both the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. It was also Billboard's year-end #1 single, and won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year. The duo's next four singles, "The Way I Want To Touch You," "Lonely Night (Angel Face)," "Shop Around" and "Muskrat Love" were all top-five performers on the Hot 100, and reached #1 on the AC chart. The couple had found a niche as the embodiment of mid-'70s California good-life romance, and it didn't hurt that the couple really were in love. Amid the mad rush of chart success, they tied the knot on November 11, 1975. 

They did it to us one more time

In 1976, the two embarked on a TV career with the debut of a variety show simply called The Captain & Tennille. By 1977, they longed to get back to the music and touring, and ended their TV run after just one season. After their initial barrage of successful singles, Captain & Tennille faded from popularity slightly; their single and album releases made the pop charts but didn't dominate them. In 1979, Captain & Tennille made the jump to Casablanca Records, then the premiere label for disco music, home to Donna Summer and Village People. Their Casablanca debut, Make Your Move (which featured a rare photo of Dragon without his captain's hat on the cover), contained the chart-topping single "Do That To Me One More Time." Like many soft-rock acts of the '70s, Captain & Tennille saw their popularity dwindle as tastes changed in the '80s and the airwaves were ruled by edgier new wave and hard rock.

Captain sails on, through choppy waters, then off into the sunset

Once a celebrity's (or celebrity couple's) star has faded, we tend to hear only about the bad things -- such was the case with Daryl Dragon. In 2009, Toni Tennille revealed that Captain was suffering from Parkinson's Disease, which prevented him from playing the piano; she later clarified that the affliction was not Parkinson's but a condition known as "essential tremor." In January 2014, Tennille filed for divorce, calling the marriage "irretrievably broken" in court documents. The world was shocked that the pop-music couple who once epitomized romance -- whose biggest hit was about staying together -- were splitting up. In fact, Dragon himself seemed surprised, telling TMZ, "I don't know why she filed. I gotta figure it out for myself first." Tennille detailed her romantic frustrations with Dragon in a Toni Tennille: A Memoir, in 2016. But the Captain's story ends on a peaceful, if sad, note: The two remained friends, and Tennille moved back to Prescott, Arizona, in 2017 to help care for her ailing ex-husband. When he died, of renal failure, in January 2019, she was at his side.

Tags: music | obituary

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Josh Robertson

Writer

Josh Robertson is a freelance writer who lives in the past -- and likes it there. He's a former Playboy and Yahoo! Internet Life editor and current social media whiz/hack. He prefers Martin Denny to Herb Alpert, still reads his Kurtzman-era Mad magazines, thinks margarita mix is an abomination and believes Lazenby was the second-best Bond, deal with it.