Apocalypse Now

"Suzie Q" peformed by Flash Cadillac
Play/Download a FREE copy of "Suzie Q" (mp3)

In December of 1975 Kris was at the production offices of American Zoetrope for a meeting. While waiting in reception none other than Francis Coppola walked into the room. He recognized Kris from filming American Graffiti and stopped to catch up on the band's activities. His current project was "Apocalypse Now". As he was talking about the size of the project and the incredible logistical problems he was facing, he suddenly stopped and asked, "Did you guys ever play any psychedelic music?" Kris shrugged and said "We did start in Boulder, Colorado in 1969." Francis said, "I'll take that as a yes. Do you want to be in another movie? Do you have time to go to the Philippines? Have you got passports?" After several phone calls with our manager we were on board. American Graffiti had been so easy. One night of recording the songs. One day of filming the dance scene. A year later the movie came out and everything was wonderful.

What could possibly go wrong?

It was decided that we would do the song Suzie Q in the style of Credence Clearwater Revival, with lots of feedback and extended jams. We recorded it in a studio in Dallas during the spring. We were on our perpetual tour and wouldn't be back to Los Angeles in time for their scheduling. They needed to get the song to their choreographer so he could work with the girls from Playboy who would be dancing in our US0 show. It worked to our advantage in that we got to produce ourselves for a change. We got a raunchy, live sound going and then just rocked out. We played it over the phone for the choreographer, did a faster version so they would have an option, mixed it that night and sent it off the next day. So far, so good. And, so easy.

In May of 1976 we flew to the Philippines to film. Now all we had to do was show up, lip-sync the song while the Playboy girls danced around in front of us, entertain the troops in between the scenes, and end up in one of the biggest movies of all time. Here is Sam's version of what came next from a diary he kept for the trip.

APOCALYPSE NOW (Sam's diary)

Wednesday, May 19, 1976
6:00 A.M. to 7:00 A.M.

Hi, Sam here, reporting from the Philippines. We just arrived in Manila after a 16-hour plane trip, and I am completely spaced out. We took a shuttle bus from the airplane to the customs building. As we neared the terminal, brass band marching music was blaring out from everywhere. Felt like the army coming home from the war. Customs was a breeze. The movie people took us through, and they didn’t even open a single suitcase. Aha, first example of big money talking.
OK, out of the building and into the sauna bath. The first person I saw was a teenage soldier carrying a sub-machine gun, what fun. Into cars and over to the Philippine Village hotel. Owned by President Marcos wife I’m told and supposedly the nicest in Manila. Very good! While checking in, a movie guy gave us each a stack of 50 Peso bills an inch thick. Richard Pryor called it yang shit. Of course, we do too. Up to the rooms which are nice, and now for a little much needed sleep.

1 P.M. Same day.

Wake up. No small task! It's time to go to the production office for rehearsal. Meet this person and that person. Meet Doug, head-head and procurer of everything. Meet Linda Carter (Wonder Woman-to-be), Linda Carpenter (Playmate of the Month) and Cindy Wood (Playmate of the Year). Very good! These are the girls who will dance in front of us in our scene. Francis Ford Coppola, the director, comes in and we talk and listen to Susie-Q, the song we’ve prerecorded for the movie. I had wondered why it was so dark and cloudy all day, and now I know. Typhoon Didang (Olga) is blowing in. Hurray! It’s raining like hell outside, and they tell us traffic is jammed up everywhere and that we might have to stay at the office for the night. Eight of us pile into the last car to leave. As luck would have it, we get caught in a giant traffic jam. All transportation in Manila has come to a stop. Traffic has not moved for an hour and a half, and we are going stir-crazy. So out we go into the flood waters, the rain, and the approaching night with millions of other people stranded in downtown Manila. Our driver told us we we’re less than a mile away from the hotel. Ha! As it turned out, we walked about three and a half miles through flood waters, and who knows what else, sometimes up to our thighs. Most of the time the water was cold but every once in awhile there would be a warm spot. Not a good feeling! When we left the office it was 6 P.M. When we got to the hotel it was 11 P.M. When we finally reached the hotel, the power was off. I was off. I smelled like a septic tank. And there is no running water either. But after eating in the dark I felt pretty good and was able to fall asleep.

Thursday, May 20

I just woke up at 6:30 A.M. Incredible, I never wake up at this time normally. Rumor has it that we’re going up north closer to the set at Iba. We are told we will leave about 9 A.M. Still no power or water and it’s raining and blowing just like a typhoon. Twelve noon and still no further word about leaving. I don’t think we’ll go today. Finally at 3 P.M. they say we are going to brave the weather and roads and go. By 5 we’re on our way, all packed into a small bus they call the coaster. Drinking Philippine rum and singing songs, we travel through small towns up the coast to the Marmont Hotel. Lawrence (Larry) Fishburne is hanging close because he likes being with "the band". Also, he's amazed that we know by heart all of his is favorite Richard Pryor routines. The hotel is just north of Olongapo City and very near Subic Bay Naval Base. A very important base for the United States. The Marmont is an OK place; at least it has power and water for the moment. It’s full of cast and crew of the movie. Separate rooms and a squeaky air-conditioner, but I manage to get to sleep without any trouble.

Friday, May 21

Up again before 8 A.M., and it’s crazy, this is just not like me. We take a car north to Iba, which is on the coast of the South China Sea. Several of us wade in the water, “because it’s there”. It’s not raining very hard so the trip up is fine except for a flat tire. The driver gets out to fix it and we think we’re all alone on a small road in the middle of a jungle. Soon a man appears out of nowhere and squats down to watch this fascinating scene. Not long after, he is joined by more interested people. By the time the tire was changed we had quite a crowd on hand. Nothing better to do I guess? More fun than carrying sticks, which seems to be the national pastime. We get to Iba and nothing much is happening at the set. We do however meet Terry Leonard and his gorgeous wife. Terry is the stunt coordinator and we talk to him for quite awhile about many things including how many times he’s broken every bone in his body. A very nice guy. We also get our costumes, which are army fatigues. We all joke about finally getting into the army and how this is the closest any of us hope to get. On the trip back to the hotel it’s raining extremely hard and blowing. The water is a foot deep across the road and when we get to the hotel the power is out for the night. Hurray! We were again the last car to make it back, so there are a lot of people much worse off than we are. Nothing to do but sit in the restaurant. And that’s a good thing because it takes an average of one and half-hours to get your food. It’s good though. Tonight I sleep with the door open to the outside. Lots of lizards on the ceiling and around the doors and windows, but I can stand them much easier than some of the insects I’ve seen them eat. It’s really blowing now, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance of the power coming back on very soon.

Saturday, May 22

8 A.M. Awake again so early for me. The power came on about 5 A.M., but it’s off again now. No water either. Nothing much doing today. Weather's too bad. Nothing to do but drink, sweat and eat. Try to spend Yang-shit.

Sun. May 23.

Holiday! Oh boy. The weather's too bad to do any work anyway. So, let’s party! Have been enjoying talking to Bill Graham, the promoter, he’s a real interesting man. Linda Carpenter is really nice and Linda Carter has her moments. This turned out to be the party day of all party days. Most of the cast and crew ended up in one of our rooms for most of the day. Frederic Forrest was having lots of fun telling stories about Marlon Brando on the set of Missouri Breaks. Bill Graham and I talked about baseball for hours, mostly about Walt Dropo. Terry Leonard took a dive into the pool from on top of the hotel, chugged a glass of vodka and then threw up. But the crowning achievement of the day was nabbing Francis from his room, carrying him down in his bedspread, naked, and throwing him into the pool. A good time was had by all.

Monday, May 24

What fun! I woke up today throwing up and having the runs at the same time. All morning long still the same. I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think anything happened today. Still blowing like crazy!

Tuesday, May 25

Played cards with Bill Graham and other sharks. We commandeered the instruments from the hotel band and played music in the bar with everyone in the band and in the crowd sick and drunk. Coppola said it was the best thing to happen to the cast and crew in weeks. Had the runs. Passed out. (Wiki-Wiki, YANG-SHIT!

Wednesday, May 26

Weather’s better. There’s talk of some of us going back to Manila because the set has been destroyed. The roads are still out. There's talk of a Philippine Airlines charter into Subic to rescue us. Francis took some cast and crew up to Iba in helicopters to try to shoot some interior scenes. Good Luck! We are not leaving today. Play in bar again. Pass out.

Thursday, May 27

Wake up early. We are leaving. No we’re not. Yes. No. Yes. No. Yes! We all get on the bus for Subic. We get to the base and the base commander doesn’t want to let us on the base. Great! While over one hundred of us American citizens sit on the bus suffering from amoebic dysentery, a Navy officer decides to let us hear his feelings about our situation. He boards the bus and tells one of the producers that he hates him and all the rest of us too! He says he hates the movie (that he's never seen), and if it were up to him we’d all be back out in the flood waters. A great feeling of warmth and patriotism overcame me then, just knowing that I was an American.

We are given the OK to proceed to the airfield, finally, and move along. Arriving at the terminal we are treated to a customs-type search. We board the Philippine Air charter and for whatever reasons, we are grounded for two hours. We are not allowed back into the terminal area, even though everyone has dysentery and there are only two restrooms on the plane. It was lots of fun standing in line. Hurray, we finally take off and get to Manila in about twenty minutes. Sweet relief! Back to the Philippine Village Hotel, where life is beautiful all the time and there is plenty of water and power. The runs are worse than ever.

Friday, May 28.

Off to see the doctor. The skies are still cloudy, but at least it’s not raining or blowing. Everyone gets their ration of Lomotil and is told to eat a bland diet. Back to the room for books, rest and TV.

Saturday, May 29

Woke up to the phone ringing. It was one of our guys saying we could be flying home tonight. WRONG! The producers want to keep us around just in case the weather gets better. Never mind the fact that the three million-dollar set at Iba has been destroyed and blown into the South China Sea. Soft-boiled eggs and tea, and more soft-boiled eggs and tea and some burnt toast. Yuck! Stomach is better, and surprise, the sun has come out. Incredible! All the TV shows are old American and the commercials look like they were made in the 1950’s. Nothing wrong with that I guess. It’s entertaining, and besides I was made in the 1950’s.

Sunday, May 30

Well, surprise. It finally looks as though we’ll leave tonight. Of course, you never know until you're on the plane, and that’s not even a for sure. Just went out and bought some turisto stuff. The only worry for me now is whether I’ll have enough “YANG-SHIT’ to pay for it all. Never has been a dull moment here. The good news is that we get to come back later and try it again. So, until next time, Sam here, signing off from the Philippines.


The following November, just like MacArthur, we returned to the Philippines. This time the filming was going on at a completely different location. But, we got off to a similar start. There was a fire in the hotel the very first night, so Linn and Kris got to race down a smoke-filled hallway to wake up Sam and get outside.

The next morning actually was a great experience. One of the crew rounded us up and we traveled in a launch down a fabulous Adventureland river ride. Our destination was Village 2, where Robert "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" Duvall's air cavalry were attacking the coast preliminary to their barbecue and surfing activities. It was an exciting day of big-time moviemaking and we had an amazing time.

Originally, we were going to be wearing fatigues and our band would be called Romeo Foxtrot. In the six months we had been gone, a USO consultant had weighed in with the opinion that servicemen wouldn't be providing the music for the Playboy girls. A professional USO group would be the band. Sadly, this resulted in our having to wear cheesy, hot Nehru jackets, slacks, and boots. We looked and felt like a goofy lounge band.

Our scene was going to require one all-night shoot. Because of the rainy weather, we spent many days in the familiar hurry-up-and-wait movie mode. This time, though, we had a floating stage and it didn't wash away. When we finally did shoot it rained all night, but not enough to stop the proceedings. As Coppola kept saying, "it's not raining in the movie." The set-up was very difficult in that there was a helicopter in the middle of the stage dividing the band in half. As a result, we could only hear the other half of the band when the sound bounced back from the amphitheater seating in front of us. Needless to say, because of the sound delay, it was impossible to play any songs live. But it didn't affect lip syncing to our previously recorded track. After all the preliminary shots and dance sequences used up the night, the riot and helicopter takeoff were done in one very busy and chaotic take just before dawn.

After that, it was simply pack up, go home, and wait for the movie to come out. As everyone probably knows, that took quite awhile. We didn't get nearly the exposure as we did from the American Graffiti scene. Most people don't even know we were in the movie. But we were, and now you have even another reason to check out the new (2002), re-edited version of this highly acclaimed movie masterpiece.

 

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