Today is a special anniversary in my life. Most of you know that I grew up in Southern California not far from Hollywood. Well, it was forty-seven years ago, today, that I recorded and sang “The Ballad of Woodsy The Owl – Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” for the US Department of Agriculture and MGM Records. Those were exciting times. Our band, “Maggie”,(Barry McGuire, Tom Barilier, John Bidasio, Bob Pelli, Dick Davenport and me, had just signed a contract with MGM Records. My mother had a friend who told me about the Woodsy project. Evidently, Smokey the Bear was too busy with forest fires and they needed a new character to help stamp out pollution. And Earth Day was launched that year, as well. So I got together with Mirian Bartoo. Mirian came up with original song idea and we spent several nights making it into the song we eventually recorded -“Give a Hoot – Don’t Pollute”. It became the theme song for America’s programs aimed at stopping pollution.
We recorded Woodsy and another song at A&M Studios. I had only been in a recording studio one other time but, now, I was at Herb Alpert’s studio. Very heady times for a new guy in town. The session was to record Woodsy, and, the “B” side of the record which was a song that my partner and I had written. It was called “Who You Gonna Be When You Grow Up”. It was for a children’s rock opera. Our producer was a guy named Joe Saraceno and our engineer was Henry Lewy, who was Joni Mitchell’s producer. A few years later I got to record on one of Joni Mitchell’s albums – what a treat!
Anyway, our producer – Joe Saraceno – had done a lot of surf songs and was a bit rough around the edges. We recorded the instruments, then my lead vocals, then the kids voices. There was a short piano solo in the song and I made the same mistake three times. Joe said, into my earphones, “Kimber, you FUC-!”. The next time I got it right but we weren’t done with Joe’s outbursts quite yet. A couple hours later we started mixing the song and guess what we hear during my solo??? That’s right – “Kimber, you FUC-!”. It stuck out, as Joe would say, like “bulls balls”. We were running out of time and Joe mixed his outburst way back in the mix. But if you ever hear that song on television listen real hard and you’ll hear something besides a children’s song.
After Woodsy we went to work on “Who You Gonna Be”. Being in Herb Alpert’s studio where so many stars had recorded was exciting and thrilling. “Who You Gonna Be” is a pretty song that I had written on a piano. Even though I had never played one, I kept hearing a harpsichord on the track. But, I didn’t have a harpsichord. I asked Henry, who knew everyone in Hollywood, where we could get a harpsichord. He said, “Let me make a call….”. Henry got on the phone and I hear him say, “Hi Burt, It’s Henry……yes, I have a new writer who needs a harpsichord – here, you talk to him.” I took the phone and said, “Hello, this is Dave Kimber and the gentleman on the other end said, “Hi David, this is Burt Bacharach. You can use my harpsichord and I’ll send it ASAP”. And he did. I asked him, “Why was your harpsichord here last night?”. He said the The Carpenters had been using it for a new song. I felt giddy with all of these famous names flying around. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Henry didn’t say, “Hey Dave, John Lennon is on line three.” And I would have to say, “Tell him I’m busy…..”. You can listen to both songs, below:
Woodsy The Owl, “Give A Hoot, Don’t Pollute” Original PSA Video
“Who You Gonna Be When You Grow Up”
That night I went to eat on Sunset Strip in Hollywood, at an outdoor health food restaurant. Somehow, this day was simply magical…and the magic just kept happening! A very pretty girl waited on me and within I a few minutes I learned that “Henrietta” was born on my birthday – not just the day, but also the year. That’s never happened again in my life.
Well, before I left for home a shadow came over the patio and I looked up and the Goodyear Blimp was cruising overhead. And under the blimp were flashing lights that spelled out, “Give a Hoot – Don’t Pollute”! At that point I just knew that Woodsy and our song was going to be a big success, all over America.
A couple of years later I was driving a group of Girl Scouts to a Woodsy appearance. Without thinking, I threw a small piece of paper out the window of my car – I think it was a gum wrapper. Of course, the girls were horrified. Here I was, the writer and singer of the Woodsy the Owl theme and an ambassador for this country’s anti-pollution efforts – and I was littering! It was an OOPS! moment that always makes me laugh.
PS. Within the next several years the animated cartoon service spot showed thousands of times in every state. If you were a child in those days, you probably knew every word to the Woodsy Song, because they played it so often.
I felt like the most famous guy you’ve never heard of……
Trip to Washington
From left to right: Woodsy, My Partner, Mayor Washington, Earl Butz (Secretary of Agriculture), Dave Kimber.
Woodsy’s First Appearance in The Rose Parade