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November 16, 2018

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During this wild heavy-metal recording session, it’s all Carrot Top — and clowns


John Katsilometes

It’s a rush … of clowns! And the neighbors are caught unawares.

The Saturday recording session is supposed to start at 3 p.m., but it is now 5, and the musicians, technicians and assorted cohorts are starting to murmur. Someone remarks, “It’s always the drummer who’s late, right?” It is suggested that maybe someone on hand -- say, Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson -- can sit in on drums. Such a shift in lineup would render the assigned drummer, the maddeningly tardy Vinnie Paul of Pantera, the Pete Best of this project.

But instead, we wait. Calls are made. Vinnie is stuck in traffic, we’re told. Stuck in traffic? That’s no excuse! We all made it to the house/studio on the outskirts of Las Vegas at the appointed time, including the Strip headliner whose idea started all the hooey -- Carrot Top.

“Is Vinnie here yet?” becomes The Topper’s mantra. Not yet, he’s told, over and over.

Finally, the buffed, tanned and impatient redhead says, “I’m starting to get a little annoyed, to be honest.” He long ago ran out of ways to keep occupied. He’s played the drums that are set up in the living room and received a quick lesson in fretwork from Lizzy Borden guitarist Ira Black. We’ve shot some pool. A couple of women in the crew have offered hair-care tips. The comic has been followed with a video camera, mugging and telling jokes. He’s told tales of hanging with Dennis Rodman a decade ago, and Jay Leno this week. We’ve all chatted up wailing vocalist Paul Shortino of Quiet Riot and Rough Cutt, who is singing on the project and helping produce what will hopefully transpire this afternoon. Shortino, incidentally, is a key player in one of the funniest scenes in “This Is Spinal Tap,” in which he portrays Duke Fame. We recite his famous scene almost verbatim: “The EnormoDome -- you sold out?

“I had no idea what we were going to do in that scene,” Shortino says. “They just told me to act like a rock singer. Easy! But I didn’t even have a record deal then. Afterward, when I walked away, they called me a wanker. I should have done something wanker-like!” Shortino is a funny guy with a high-decibel voice who practically shouts even in conversation, and he seems to have limitless patience for his rock star brethren. But even this rock star is starting to pace.

Finally, a white Cadillac Escalade pulls up to the house. It’s Vinnie! Or is it? In a scene pulled from Barnum & Bailey’s Circus (which is appropriate, because a sign for the old show hangs in the living room/studio), a half-dozen clowns tumble from the vehicle.

“Oh ... my ... God” is the instant response from Carrot Top, who must be slightly relieved that for once he’s not the most visually distinctive person among the group. “This is too (effing) funny!” Somewhere in the group is, in fact, Vinnie Paul. The others are FOV (Friends of Vinnie) who really went all out to dress for the occasion. Some were perhaps too convincing to those with clown phobia. “That one over there,” says Carrot Top’s publicist Steve Flynn,” is totally weirding me out.”

By now you’re wondering, why all the clowns? What is going on here? Good questions.

Black, Paul and Shortino are friends of Carrot Top’s who are recording a new opening for C.T.’s stage show at the Luxor. The song is a muscled-up version of the Stephen Sondheim classic “Send in the Clowns.” The Topper heard this song randomly (how else?) when surfing his car stereo a few months ago while stopped at a traffic light on Spring Mountain Road and Jones Boulevard. He thought of the moment in his show where he refers to himself as a “mean clown” and imagined that song in the hands of some of his heavy-metal buddies. He first asked Shortino to take part, and the project quickly came together as Shortino summoned Black, Paul and 18-year-old session player Tyler Burgess on bass.

The house studio being used for recording of the song is something to behold, a technically modified home located far northeast of Craig Road. Its owner is Tom Parham and the place known as Hit Track Recording Studios. Parham also is proprietor of Vegas Disc, a recording, mastering and duplications company. Thus, the house serves as a fully functional recording, printing and packaging facility -- among those who are having their CDs packaged there are R&B vet Sonny Turner and prominent Las Vegas attorney Robert Massi (it’s not music but a spoken-word advice release).

As soon as Paul sheds his clown suit, he takes his spot behind the drums and asks the musical question, “Now, what are we doing?” He’d never heard the song before today. But in a stunning display of musicianship, he and Black work out much of the drum and guitar parts to the beefed-up version of the tune in a matter of minutes. “That’s just great talent,” The Topper says. The finished version of the song should be ready for the show in three or four weeks. Maybe we’ll even have a video, as the clowns ran around the neighborhood chasing Carrot Top and startling who happened to be driving on that street.

“I hope this thing really takes off,” Topper says, taking a rest outside as Paul and Black produce inspired noise inside. “It’s like what Sam Kinison did with ‘Wild Thing’ a long time ago.” That video featured Slash and Jessica Hahn, so it’s a fairly high standard.

But even if it doesn’t take off, this was a really wild time, thanks to the clowns.

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