The Band that Played California Lady is the name given by Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Mike Nelson to an unnamed band featured in the positively dreadful movie Track of the Moonbeast. During one of MST3K’s between film segments Mike explains the history of The Band that Played California Lady (so named for the terrible folk rock tune “California Lady” they belted in the middle of the movie, a performance that seemed to have no point in the movie other than to maybe give the director’s friend’s band some free publicity).

The Band that Played California Lady began as a duet featuring the vocal and acoustic guitar stylings of The Fish-Lipped Guy and The Eskimo. The Band that Played California Lady achieved little commercial success, playing numerous dive bars in America’s southwest. However, all that changed when they added a female backup singer known as The Friendly-Looking Backup Singer. Suddenly, their signature tune “California Lady” was everywhere, including a bad B-movie like Track of the Moonbeast, and they rocketed to sudden fame. They went from playing dusty bars found along state highways to huge venues, including Watkins Glen in New York. There they shared top billing with such bands as Wet Willy and Toots and The Maytals.

Like the moon, fame is also a harsh mistress. The Fish-Lipped Guy, uncomfortable with the creative genius role his adoring public thrust upon him, took to drinking and a circle of fast friends. The Eskimo, previously an equal partner in this musical concern, found himself left in the shadow, given names like “The Quiet One” and, of course, “The Eskimo”. He took to drugs to escape the pain of this public emasculation.

The Fish-Lipped Guy, no longer tethered by the support and friendship offered by The Eskimo during the band’s early days, took to heavier drinking and womanizing. This of course lead The Eskimo into a faster downward spiral using more drugs.

The Band that Played California Lady might have ended there but they managed to drag themselves into a studio to record a follow up album. In contrast to their upbeat, and dare I say peppy California Lady, they recorded a more somber, serious, introspective work called Rhode Island Lady. Fans were unwilling to accept The Band that Played California Lady’s exploration of new territory, wanting more peppy tunes about ladies in California, or at least Oregon. Their sophomore album failed to crack the charts.

The Fish-Lipped Guy and The Eskimo, bitten by the fickle bug that is fame, retreated further into their addictions. Their agent felt some regrouping was in order, like having them play some smaller fan-friendly venues instead of the massive stadiums they played during the heyday of the California Lady sound. He signed them to a deal where they’d open for Brewer and Shipley. However tragedy struck when The Eskimo overdosed and fell into a drug-induced coma for several months. The Fish-Lipped Guy added gambling to his growing list of destructive vices (drinking, womanizing) after The Eskimo’s overdose. The Band that Played California Lady was no more.

However, they did enjoy a small resurgence in the late ‘90s after a small reunion tour and a new generation of fans discovered the joy of “California Lady” and The Band that Played California Lady.

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