wax Poetics
The Dragon brothers in the studio. Photo courtesy of Ninja Tune/The Dragons.

Youthful Exuberance

The Dragon brothers dreamed up an unheard psych-soul album

published online
Originally published in Issue 25, 2007
By David Ma

“I am the youngest of the three Dragon brothers. At the time of the recording, I was twenty-two,” remembers Dennis Dragon. “I played the drums, sang the high vocals, and participated in the mixing too.”  

Days were bright in Malibu in the late ’60s, and radio was rich with Aretha, Morrison, and Hendrix. For Daryl, Dennis, and Doug Dragon, the inspiration was ideal to make an album of their own. But like most young musicians, their ardor exceeded experience. “We weren’t sure of what we were doing,” says Dennis. “We had a friend named Donn Landee who was a recording engineer at Sunwest Recording Studios in Hollywood. We thought we could just get in there and experiment with instruments, arrangements, and noise. We were just kids, really.” But the brothers would subsequently face industry hurdles after recording the project, which would forever be remembered as BFI.

“There was no specific intention that we were going for. The songs evolved and took on their own personas. We weren’t going for a target like most of the acts at the time were,” explains Dennis, who acutely recalls the recording process. “We produced the project ourselves, because we had no producer. The project’s called BFI ’cause we randomly dubbed the sessions ‘Blue Forces Intelligence.’ Maybe that’s why it didn’t sell,” he laughs. “Doug told me he wasn’t motivated by commercialism, but rather a musical presentation of our lifestyle. I like that.” Doug Dragon, the oldest of the brothers, was also apparently the nucleus of the project. “These were all Doug’s songs. He wrote them all and was mostly in charge of the whole thing. I was involved in a lot of it, and Daryl helped here and there as well. Even nowadays, I feel very close to Doug and his music.”

The BFI sessions strictly took place at 3:00 AM because of day jobs and studio availability. But diligence wasn’t lost with daylight, as the project roughly took a year to complete. “Since there were no computers or sound modules available, we used what was around at the time—acoustic pianos and drums, Hammond and Farfisa organs, Clavinet, electric bass, and good old-fashioned tape machines. We finished it fast, because we had no choice,” Dennis clearly recalls. “Our sound is genuinely the sound of young musicians tinkering with equipment.”

However heartfelt, the work and time spent would consequently be shelved, unheard, and forgotten. Even in an era of unconventional record releases, BFI was viewed as exceedingly odd, and rejection became redundant. “We wrapped up the project and began shopping it everywhere. Labels complained that they didn’t hear any hits on the record. After being informed that all the majors turned down the project, our inside contact said he was no longer interested in pursuing a record deal for us. So that was it,” laments Dennis. “Just a lot of hard work to put back on the shelf.”

Four decades after its completion, the Dragons’ BFI remains a lively listen, offering glimpses of a lost era. The arrangements are active, mingling falsetto harmonies with deep bass, sci-fi effects with funk rhythms. But more so, BFI displays a youthful approach to making music, refreshingly unpretentious and lacking self-awareness. Daryl Dragon finally went on to find great success as the “Captain” of ’70s pop duo Captain & Tennille; while Doug and Dennis have remained prolific, gigging across the world and continually producing records. When asked to foretell how BFI will be received nowadays, Dennis concludes: “Yesterday’s music is a reflection of those times, just as today’s music is a reflection of these times. Anyone still interested in real musicians playing real instruments?”

The Dragons’ lost recording, BFI, was released in 2007 on Ninja Tune Records.

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