The Captain and Tennille Go Out on a Limb with a New Image, a Sexy Act and Separate Careers
The music is familiar to anyone who turns on the radio: It’s the new LP by the Captain and Tennille, Make Your Move. But who are those strangers on the album cover? Bushy-haired man with mustache and no yachting cap. Sensuous blonde minus the pageboy hairdo and the fussy frocks—in fact, she isn’t wearing much at all.
To end the suspense, it is indeed Mr. and Mrs. Daryl Dragon making the point that while love may have kept them together, lust has made it fun. “We’ve never shown our real feelings for each other on a record cover before,” Toni points out. “We want to say, ‘This is us.’ ” She says it another way in the hit single from the album, Do That to Me One More Time. It was No. 1 on the charts in February, even if she never does explain what “that” means. The couple’s new Las Vegas show in which Toni—sausaged braless into Bob Mackie sparkles and slits—bounces around center stage leaves little doubt.
“After our first hit,” Toni, 36, recalls, “everyone thought, ‘Aren’t they nice—so young and fresh.’ But we were 30 years old. We had to grow up.”
She blames their briefly successful ABC-TV variety show in 1976-77 for the “goody two-shoes” image. “Any woman can be a siren one minute and in pigtails the next,” she observes. “I am a very complex person with more than just the one facet that television played on.” Her husband is less gentle in his recollections.
“Who really smiles all the time?” Dragon, 37, asks. “We had to be fake, had to say everything but what I felt.” The experience even soured him on his trademark cap, which he now wears only onstage. “They had me wearing pink-and-green hats to match pink-and-green outfits,” he grouses.
At one point during the series Dragon, asked to do a dance routine, angrily hopped a plane for New York. He went to Fred Silverman, then president of ABC Entertainment, and said he didn’t know how to dance and demanded a new producer. He got one, but the couple continued to be given, and to reject, Sonny and Cher/Donny and Marie “put down” humor.
The Dragons weren’t dismayed when the show was canceled. The sale of some 23 million records has afforded them the luxury of indulging their artistic fantasies, and for the first time since they met, they are pursuing separate careers on the side.
Toni, who Daryl says “could be the Stephen Foster of modern times,” is writing songs for other people (three for Cher recently). She’s acting on TV (Fantasy Island) and will return to the tube regularly this fall to host her own talk show as a kind of New Wave Dinah. She prefers the perils of TV to the fickleness of the record business. “You have to pop out hits like pancakes,” she complains. “It’s a big fat drag.” Already most big-city NBC-TV outlets have bought her show. “I’ve got to look ahead,” says Tennille. “I’m not going to be rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ when I’m 50 years old. But you can be in your prime on television, compose songs or write a Broadway play when you’re 50.”
Meanwhile Dragon, who has mastered 16 mostly electronic instruments, dabbles in his $2 million recording studio. He’s oblivious to the lack of potential commercialism in his experimental music, which includes such exotica as trying to reflect “what an elephant thinks when he’s in the zoo. I want to capture subconscious things,” he understates. Curiously, he and Toni have never written music together. She composed two of their five gold singles, Neil Sedaka two others.
Daryl, of course, comes from a famous musical family. His mother sang professionally and his father, Carmen, was the conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Symphony. Daryl studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music before he joined the Beach Boys as a backup musician in 1967, earning the sobriquet “Captain Keyboard.”
Cathryn Antoinette Tennille grew up in Montgomery, Ala., where her father, who once sang with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats, owned a furniture store. She was one of four daughters. Her mother was a local TV talk show hostess and Toni played piano for an exercise segment on the show. When she was 20 her family moved to Los Angeles, and in 1965 Toni married a San Diego photographer. They later divorced amicably. “I worked very hard to support him in his career, but theater was my first love,” she says. “When things started happening for me I wanted to spend more time on myself.”
The Captain met his mate in San Francisco’s Marines’ Memorial Theatre in 1971. Tennille was looking for a key boardist for a rock musical she’d written and Dragon was between Beach Boys tours. “He was wearing dark blue jeans, jacket, shirt and captain’s hat—everything was dark including his glasses,” she remembers. “I knew that he would be very important in my life, but Daryl wasn’t ready for anything.”
He was still shaken by the death of his girlfriend of five years. “She overdosed on alcohol and drugs,” Daryl explains. “She drove up one of the canyons and died.” Two weeks later he met Toni. “As I began to fall in love with him,” she says, “I knew there was something weird, that I shouldn’t push my hand. Then he told me about Carol and I knew it would take a while before he was ready.”
Daryl rejoined the Beach Boys, who invited Toni to tour with them on piano. On the road she wrote The Way I Want to Touch You, which later became the couple’s first recorded song. “I wrote it for Daryl,” she explains, “but he was such a dodo. He even fixed me up with his best friend.”
By 1972, however, Dragon had left the Beach Boys, invested $5,000 in sound equipment and taken Toni as his partner. As the Dragons, they club-hopped around Southern California until they developed a following at the Smokehouse, a small cabaret in Encino. Daryl remembers those as his best years—”We were honest people and we played for honest people.” Toni was miserable. “The work was hell,” she recalls; “I sang my guts out five hours a night, six days a week. I used to dread going in there.”
In 1972 they set up house together. “It was difficult for Daryl,” Toni recalls. “When his girlfriend died, it crushed him. He’s really a one-woman man who never went for groupies when he was with the Beach Boys. He kept expecting me to go crazy. My main job was to be like a rock. That’s what he needed.” On Valentine’s Day in 1974 they got married in Nevada and their first hit, Love Will Keep Us Together, came one year later.
Toni and Daryl currently share a Pacific Palisades spread with four grand pianos and two homely English bulldogs. They agree on two important issues: vegetarianism and no children. “Because of the kind of life we lead,” Toni explains, “it would be worse for us to have children than not. I can’t even get Daryl to feed the dogs.”
They manage to lead independent lives. “Toni approaches things from the heart, emotionally,” Daryl says. “I look at them intellectually.” Toni attends some 50 Dodgers games a season, helps organize women’s hikes in the Sierra and jogs 20 miles a week. He’s less passionate about exercise.
“Our personalities and our interests are so different,” Toni observes, “it’s amazing that we’re still together at all.”
There are compensations, though. “There’s never any jealousy,” she says. “I’m always looking, checking guys out. But I know that I’m it for Daryl and he knows he’s it for me.”
Adds Dragon, “I’m a man and men don’t know what they want. I’m always analyzing. Every so often I realize how lucky I am.”