Stranded in the Jungle

For fourteen years, Flipped Out Phil restored the sanctity of the radio D.J. across Montreal’s airwaves.

Christmas, 2011 / No. 27
Photograph by Thomas Blanchard
Thomas Blanchard

Rockabilly, punk, garage, psychedelic—Flipped Out Phil played it all. From 1985 to 1999, the jive-talking host of Radio McGill’s The Subterranean Jungle spun tunes with a rat-a-tat-tat style reminiscent of D.J.s from AM radio’s golden age. Originally a half-hour pre-recorded show, The Subterranean Jungle hit its stride when it expanded to a two-hour live-to-air program in 1987, when its campus station became CKUT and broadened its reach, across Montreal’s FM airwaves. Today, Phil lives in Toronto, where he works as a record store clerk and a voice-over artist. He has been archiving The Subterranean Jungle on—while also plotting its return. Tim Davin, a Toronto-based art director and no stranger to the world of music himself, spoke to Flipped Out Phil about his years spent in the Jungle.

Tim Davin: You asked that I not reveal your full name. Has it always been off the record?

Flipped Out Phil: Yes, instead of starting off my show, “Hi, welcome to The Subterranean Jungle! I’m Phil, your host”—any more than Wolfman Jack was calling himself by his real name, or the Mad Daddy was saying, “Hey, I’m Pete Myers”—I wanted to be in character. So, the fact that I was sort of anonymous behind the microphone meant I could not only invent an imaginary place of my own choosing called the Subterranean Jungle, but I could also invent my own D.J. name, which was a play on Phil: flip, flipped out. And if I wanted to be over the top and manic and crazy over the airwaves, talk in a way that wouldn’t necessarily get me arrested, I could do it under the alias—recreate myself.

T.D.: How did you arrive at the character Flipped Out Phil? And when did you start getting into being a D.J. and having a D.J. persona?

F.O.P.: In 1985 I decided I wanted to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk, by doing my own radio show. And I had the opportunity by meeting the new production manager of Radio McGill, then known as CFRN, and talked to him and he just basically said, “Wanna do a show? It would only be half an hour a week, I’d produce it. It’s not easy to get a show on the air right now, but if you come in through the back door…” And, you know, I’d fantasized about doing a show, but I never got off my ass to do it. And so I thought of the kind of show I wanted to do, and I really wanted to play stuff I loved and stuff I was continually getting into. Because getting into music is almost like peeling back layers of an onion, right? And it made me cry to do that. I was so stoked on sixties punk, so stoked on the new garage-revisited scene of the early to mid-eighties.

T.D.: Give me some for instances.

F.O.P.: Like the Fleshtones, from New York City. Lyres, from Boston. The Chesterfield Kings, from Rochester, New York. And a new band on the scene in Montreal, called the Gruesomes. I loved Deja Voodoo, who’d been around for a while, from Montreal. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And I loved punk rock. I was exploring. By then I’d gotten beyond the oldies to explore the more obscure rockabilly rhythm-and-blues from the fifties, soul surf and groove from the sixties, the whole British beat, and the psychedelic scene. The proto-punk thing, too. And as I was amassing a record collection, I just wanted to do something with it. I loved radio, and I fantasized about what radio could be like at its best, and I wanted to have a chance in my own little way on a college community radio station, like Radio McGill, to do it. But I thought, screw being so-called natural behind the microphone—I only have half an hour, and O.K., I’m going to be coming from a place that’s going to be underground, that’s going to be hidden from view. I can play around with the imagery and the underground subterranean. It’s wild, primal, and primitive. It’s untamed. The Untamed World? No. Already been taken. The Subterranean Jungle! It’s a great Ramones album. And I loved “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” It’s like The Subterraneans. And songs like “Stranded in the Jungle,” by the Cadets, and the Cramps’ “Psychedelic Jungle.” And then I just thought of a D.J. name. I loved the sound, the timbre of those different AM radio D.J.s who I remembered from the seventies, when I was a teenager. I’d reach back to do a bit of research on earlier D.J.s when they were in their prime, in the sixties, and I thought, “You know, I don’t want to imitate anyone.” I was more shy at the beginning. The first time behind the microphone I was more muted sounding than compared to when the show was full-fledged.

T.D.: Let’s go back to your early influences. I want to talk about the D.J.s. We spoke earlier and I told you that the first time I heard your program, on, I was reminded of the Mad Daddy, from Cleveland. He was really hot at the end of the fifties and early sixties. Were you really that aware of him when you were building your character?

F.O.P.: I was aware of him when I began doing the show. It was probably from reading interviews with Lux and Poison Ivy, of the Cramps. Lux remembered listening to the Mad Daddy when he was originally on the air, raving about this D.J. who rhymed all the time and was creepy. And I just imagined what he would sound like, and then I caught a little excerpt of the Mad Daddy doing one of his spiels on an obscure comp. But by this time I’d already started flipping out in the Jungle.

T.D.: How about some of the other ones? Who were you aware of as a kid or afterward? Because, unfortunately, now we’re in an era where there are no more radio personalities.

F.O.P.: Well, growing up in Montreal, I listened to CKGM in the seventies. It was the main English-speaking Top 40 AM radio station. I may not have always liked the music—there was a lot of crap, in my opinion. There was some great stuff like Curtis Mayfield, Alice Cooper…stuff that I responded to. But I liked, or loved, the whole feel of the jingles, the contests, in and out of the songs. The D.J.s were sometimes interchangeable. They had names like Chuck Morgan and Steve Shannon—they did not sound mellow and stoned, they sounded really excited. So finally, years later, I began doing my own show. I wanted to be fast-talking. In and out, and just be super-descriptive without being long-winded about it. I did a bit of research into Montreal radio in the sixties, which I was too young to remember. There were great D.J.s like Dave Boxer, Dean Hagopian and Buddy Gee, all of whom later had oldies shows in Montreal, playing the general, well established—

T.D.: Kinks, Beatles, Stones stuff, or even older?

F.O.P.: Yeah, almost ad nauseam. It was great when I didn’t know this stuff, but you know, “Party Doll,” by Buddy Knox, followed by “Ain’t That a Shame,” by Fats Domino, the Shangri-Las, Herman’s Hermits, and you know, “My Girl,” by the Temptations. And I thought, they’re just scratching the surface and playing to commercial regulations and restrictions, but when they were in their prime, they’d not only play the top national hits, but regional breakouts, and I thought, “I’m going to dig into the sleazy underbelly of rock ’n’ roll and play that stuff. But with the kind of AM approach. So, that was basically the founding philosophy, so to speak.

T.D.: Your two-hours shows were live?

F.O.P.: Better live than dead! And I was hopped up like crazy, baby. I had jumping beans in my jeans. I was bouncing around the D.J. booth behind the microphone, and at the same time laying down those wailing pounds of sound, and queuing the records, and playing stuff off cassette. And the jingles and vintage commercials I had. So I was high while doing it, because I was playing the air guitar to the music, but then, fuck, I had to queue up the next record. It was a natural high.

T.D.: Yeah, a natural high ….I was wondering how you prepare yourself to be so rapid-fire, and how do you come off—

F.O.P.: You’ve heard of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

T.D.: Yeah.

F.O.P.: You’ve heard of mild-mannered—not that I mean to compare myself to such a legend, I’m not that much of an egomaniac—but you’ve heard of Clark Kent and Superman?

T.D.: Yes.

F.O.P.: So basically, Phil’s Clark Kent—flipped out!

T.D.: What kind of kid were you? What was your upbringing like? Were you always gregarious, loud, and maybe the class clown, or were you more introverted, and Flipped Out is an alter ego of sorts?

F.O.P.: I was not a class cut-up—didn’t like to raise my hand and volunteer stuff. I used to love to draw cartoons, and I’d be drawing in my exercise book and all that. I was not a shy boy, I was pretty sociable, but I wasn’t the life and times of the party either. I think as I got older, I just acquired more confidence. I think I was perhaps a closet case when it came to being comfortable on stage or behind the microphone, but I didn’t know it yet as a child, or even in my teens. It started to bloom for me in the mid-eighties. And then I eventually hit the stage as a lead singer of a couple of bands, and now I’m a professional voice-over artist, too. But I never went to broadcasting school. In retrospect, I guess I could have and tried to make a living doing that, but ….

T.D.: As a kid, did you collect a lot of music?

F.O.P.: I taped songs off the radio. I didn’t have too much disposable income. My parents were working class, just above the poverty line, and I had the same G.I. Joe from the age of four to seven.

T.D.: What a hardship!

F.O.P.: I was deprived! So when I was listening to CKGM, I taped songs off the radio. As I got summer jobs and a little money, I started buying records. The Beatles blew my mind.

T.D.: What was the first record you ever bought?

F.O.P.: My first forty-five was given to me—I’m a kid still—“House Of The Rising Sun,”by the Animals, that my aunt owned. I loved the Monkees when they were on TV, and I loved Batman.

T.D.: So you were a normal kid, then?

F.O.P.: An abnormally normal kid, yeah. I really immersed myself in the world of raunchy sixties rock ’n’ roll, and I just thought that, given the opportunity to play that stuff over the airwaves, even if it was just on a great community college station…but when CKUT got its licence to broadcast over the entire Montreal area, that was a license to kill—or a licence to thrill! It was great.

T.D.: Once their broadcast bandwidth was enlarged in 1987, did you get an idea of what the Subterranean Jungle audience was like?

F.O.P.: Totally! A bunch of mop-top teens and twenties wearing pointy Beatle boots and chicknicks with long straight hair and flowered skirts and—

T.D.: Is that right?

F.O.P.: Yeah—in my imagination! I found out that a good friend of mine now, as a teenager got hooked on my show. He said it opened him up to a whole world he wanted to be a part of. And guys who were older than me who had been collecting records for a long time were tickled by hearing that stuff on the radio. And at times, working in a second-hand record shop, I’d occasionally talk to customers who’d walk in. They’d pick up something and I’d played it on the air and I’d strike up a conversation with them, or try to come on to the girl buying the record, and find out that they’d heard the show. And then, depending on how I was feeling, I’d say, “It’s me,” and, “Can I sell you my autograph? ”

T.D.: Does anyone ever ask you to do the voice on the street? Give us a sample of something Flipped Out Phil would say.

F.O.P.: Oh yeah, baby, you better believe I don’t mean maybe when I say you’re going to be flipping out with me tonight, here on The Subterranean Jungle, where the boss sounds are totally outta sight! I’m Flipped Out and I’m going to be with you till midnight, so, baby, stay tuned, strap yourselves down, cause these tunes are hog-wild!

T.D.: And you’d do two hours of that?! Let’s talk about the commercials for a sec. Without the Internet, where did you find the little commercials and jingles and things you used between songs? They were in and of themselves nostalgic commercials.

F.O.P.: Often featuring great rock ’n’ roll bands. You know, the Who, for Great Shakes milkshakes, or Freddy Cannon, for Coca-Cola, or the McCoys, for the Heart Association. I’d be a commercial ghoul digging up these thirty-second spots. I also found them on obscure compilations of fifties and sixties rock ’n’ roll surf garage. I was able to play them on rotation—along with jingles from The Who Sell Out—to give that feel. The music, the jingles, the commercials, the spiel.

T.D.: You mentioned earlier that you were in a couple of bands. Let’s talk about them.

F.O.P.: Yeah, from ninety-two to ninety-six, Platon et les Caves—Plato and the Morons. It’s a play on the legend of Plato and the cave. We were doing strictly French garage stuff. The band was partly put together by Bobby Beaton, who had been in the Gruesomes as lead singer and guitarist. The Gruesomes were no more, and he wanted to do French-Canadian stuff and wear togas. My attitude is, Have toga, will travel. So we played in Montreal bars and a couple of out-of-town gigs in Ottawa, and a couple of our songs wound up on compilations, including a Nardwuar compilation. I regret that we didn’t actually get our shit together enough to record an album’s worth of songs.

T.D.: And you matured and moved on to a turban band—the Whammies, in Toronto.

F.O.P.: The Whammies were even more infamous than Platon et les Caves, and if Platon et les Caves had a lot of fun being half-assed about it, we were quarter-assed about the Whammies. We were around from 2001 to 2005, with some really talented fellows who have also played in other local Toronto bands—the Midways and the Primordials—with a couple of lineup changes. We played a few bars and clubs in Toronto, opening up for bands at the Horseshoe or Rancho Relaxo and so on. And we never even got as far as recording. But we’re still thinking about it for the 2015 reunion tour. The reunion tour of Rancho Relaxo to the Horseshoe and back again.

T.D.: You said you opened for some other bands. What was the hottest band—the biggest honour opening for?

F.O.P.: Well, with Platon et les Caves, some personal favourites of mine were the Fleshtones, back in ninety-six. That was a real blast. It was a lot of fun inviting Neko Case to go-go dance to one of our songs when Platon et les Caves opened for the Smugglers, with the great Grant Lawrence, in May, 1993.

T.D.: She wasn’t really “Neko Case” back then.

F.O.P.: She was to herself.

T.D.: What band was she in?

F.O.P.: I think she was playing in Cub or was taking over for someone when Cub and the Smugglers played the Jailhouse Rock and Platon et les Caves were invited—much to the promoter’s eternal regret—to open up for them.

T.D.: What the worst time you ever had on stage?

F.O.P.: I think when the Whammies played a cold March night at the Cadillac Lounge, in deepest, darkest Parkdale. It was 2002, and for some reason, despite how much fun that place could be, we had a bit of a hostile audience that didn’t want to see some goofball on stage in a turban gyrating around to Kingsmen songs. And so some crusty punk with a staple gun came up and started basically trying to, uh, staple us. Staples flying…

T.D.: You also do some writing, mostly for zines—

F.O.P.: No! Biblical tracks! Warning the populous of the upcoming apocalypse. What are you talking about?! I love zines! You know, aside from listening to the radio and collecting records and meeting musicians and record collectors and soaking up that so-called trash culture, which is a treasure for me, zines, not just mainstream magazines from way back, like Rolling Stone and Creem, but great zines, like Kicks, out of New York City, or Ugly Things, out of Southern California. They also became an education for me when it came to finding some of these sounds.

So I co-edited a zine called Lost Mynds, based out of Montreal in the mid-to-late eighties, and another one called Popaganda, back in ninety-seven, in Montreal. And I contributed to other local zines as well.

I love counterculture, especially when that meant something—call it “under-the-counter culture.” So, you know, whether you’re talking about beats, or at one point, dangerous biker gangs, and surfers and mods and rockers and punks. The punk rock thing was the first thing of my time I could really identify with, because the rest, like the beats, was really behind me. And certainly in my own way I tried to pay tribute on my show to all that as well, and, sure, I was definitely influence by the beatnik lingo.

T.D.: I get the sense that Flipped Out Phil is the byproduct of all these cultural influences.

F.O.P.: I’m a one-man Dumpster and garbage got thrown into me and I just spewed it out in my own way after that. But hey, it’s the grooviest garbage around.

T.D.: You were pen pals with Lux Interior, from the Cramps. How did that happen? How long did it last?

F.O.P.: A few of us were just hanging out backstage at a Montreal club called Les Foufounes …lectriques, where the Cramps were doing a sound check. A close friend of mine, Daniel Fiocco, record collector and totally knowledgeable about French-Canadian Québécois garage rock and surf stuff from the sixties, had some rare—for Americans—sixties Quebec surf compilations for them. And my wife, Sophie, brought some of her self-published comics she thought they might get a kick out of, because Lux and Ivy loved comic art. And I had a tape or two of my radio show, and so we chatted with them briefly after their sound check before watching them go hog-wild that night, and we just exchanged addresses, so for a while Lux and I corresponded and sent each other tapes in the mail. Audio and video tapes. And, as it turned out, I was flattered to find that they really enjoyed my tapes of the show in their car as they tooled around Los Angeles.

T.D.: That’s cool.

F.O.P.: Yeah, it was an honour. And hopefully I didn’t give them too much of a headache. So may he rest, and hopefully he’s rocking out like crazy in the chicken shack in the sky.

T.D.: O.K., why did it end?

F.O.P.: Basically, my wife and I made our move down the 401 to Toronto, and it was the new millennium, so the very last Subterranean Jungle show was broadcast on the CKUT airwaves on December 28, 1999. And a week or so later we were unpacking our records here in Toronto. And I did Internet radio for a while, worked in television, and I’ve been working as a freelance voice-over actor since 2003 along with working at a record shop that will not be named—too many groupies at the front door. Fortunately, I’ve been getting the shows I have taped digitized before they totally deteriorate, sound-quality wise, and putting them up on the website. And I might do a podcast! The Subterranean Jungle will rise again!

T.D.: Well, fourteen years is a good run. O.K., well, let’s sign off, Phil. Just pretend it’s one of your shows, and give me the full-on Flipped Out.

F.O.P.: Well, baby, I gotta make like bubble gum and blow, or like a banana and split, but remember, baby, you can always take a frantic fit with me, Flipped Out, in the Subterranean Jungle, next week, when I return to blow your mind, and not your cool, with all the sounds guaranteed to make you drool.

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Tim Davin lives in Little Italy. He has fond childhood memories of collecting CHUM Charts and listening to the Jungle Jay Nelson morning show. He lives with his wife, and two sons who don’t listen to radio. Last updated Christmas, 2011.