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“Derailroaded” documents the troubled life of one of the godfathers of “Outsider Music,” Larry “Wild Man” Fischer
Derailroaded: Inside the Mind of Larry Wild Man Fischer — watch it now on Night Flight Plus — documents the troubled life and quirky musical career of Larry Wild Man Fischer, whose double LP debut, An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, was produced by Frank Zappa in 1968, making this manic depressive and sometimes violent paranoid schizophrenic one of the godfathers of what we now call “Outsider Music.”
Lawrence Wayne Fischer was born in Los Angeles, CA, on November 6, 1944. In 1962 he was thrown out of Fairfax High for singing in class, but his expulsion was just the latest in what seems to have been a childhood filled with mental health issues. He ended up attacking his mother with a knife and in 1963 she had him committed (for the first of many times) to Camarillo State Hospital, where he was finally diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
When he was released in 1964, age 19, he would begin to show up at talent shows and various other locations where he continued to express himself through his off-kilter singing style, performing made-up little nursery rhyme-ish songs on the spot which would usually also include loud yelps and weird little noises.
If you were walking down the Sunset Strip in the mid-60s it’s likely he might have been there on the sidewalks too, looking wild-eyed and manic. He might have even introduced himself to you and then offered to sing you an original song for a dime.
It was during this same time, that he met soul singer Solomon Burke, who even took Fischer on tour with him briefly. It was Burke who christened the mercurial singer “Wild Man” for his sudden bursts of aggression.
In ’67 and ’68, he was going to open mic nights at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, and he even tried to convince producer Phil Spector to produce recordings by him using his famous “Wall of Sound” production. Spector declined. Fischer did, occasionally, land club gigs, even opening for Iron Butterfly at the Whisky a Go Go and for Bo Diddley at the Experience.
Mostly, however, he spent his days panhandling on the Strip, and that’s apparently how he met Frank Zappa, who would soon invite Fischer to appear with the Mothers of Invention, and in 1968 Zappa would end up producing an entire double LP of his songs called An Evening With Wild Man Fischer for his Bizarre Records label (distributed through Warner Bros.). That collection included a track called “Merry-Go-Round” which would end up being used in the 1969 Haskell Wexler film Medium Cool .
It was through his friendship with Zappa, in fact, that he would make an appearance on the hit TV show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In”:
Zappa’s working relationship and friendship finally ended when Fischer became enraged one day during an argument at Zappa’s house, something having to do with the non-payment of royalties. Fischer threw a bottle, barely missing Zappa’s baby daughter, Moon Unit, and Zappa kicked him out. They never spoke again.
In 1975, he would end up recording “Go To Rhino Records” on small tape recorder in a tiny office at the back of the infamous Rhino Records store. Harold Bronson and Richard Foos pressed it up as a 45-rpm single advertising their store, on a label they also called Rhino Records, and thus Wild Man Fischer became the very first artist to appear on now-famous label.
In 1977 Fischer, backed by the “Plastic Rhino Band,” saw the release of his second album, Wildmania, recorded on an inexpensive cassette recorder at Dodger Stadium. He briefly toured the Midwest to promote it.
When I first met Larry Fischer, sometime in 1978, I knew very little of his past, but learned he hadn’t adjusted his busking pitch for inflation, offering to sing me a song for a dime. He became a frequent habitué of the Licorice Pizza store where I worked, which we told you about here.
At the time, he was mostly doing his panhandling performances at Dodger Stadium and Disneyland, where I believe he went all the time, taking the bus (his mother had bought him a daily pass, as I recall).
I would also later cross paths with Larry again when I worked in 2001 at Rhino Handmade, an imprint within Rhino’s recorded music empire (now called Rhino Entertainment to keep the label’s efforts separate from the retail record stores which still bear the name Rhino Records).
In 1999, Handmade had put out a numbered, limited-edition collection (1000 copies) called The Fischer King, which collected tracks from three of his albums: the aforementioned Wildmania (1977); Pronounced Normal (recorded in 1980 with Barnes and Barnes, actor Billy Mumy’s comedic novelty duo — their songs, and Fischer’s too, were frequently played by Dr. Demento on his nationally-syndicated radio show); and Nothing Scary (released in 1983, a second collaboration with Barnes and Barnes).
Our contributor and fellow Rhino employee Tom Brown also wrote about first meeting him in one of our “Rock Stories” here on Night Flight (read his post here).
As Derailroaded shows us, Fischer’s life would change considerably once his family members (a brother and sister) persuaded him to go back on bi-polar medications in 2004, stabilizing his depression and mental health issues for the first time in forty years. He ultimately ended up moving into an assisted living facility in Van Nuys, where he lived quietly until he began having health problem.
He died of heart failure on June 16, 2011, age 66.
Director Josh Rubin’s quirky and remarkably honest film includes interviews with Fischer towards the end of his life, and also features photos and (amazingly) even home movies from his childhood, along with some vintage 8mm footage (shot by songwriter/producer Russ Titelman), TV clips, concert footage, animation, “motion graphic” pieces and even puppets (!).
Also included are on-camera appearances by Bill Mumy (of Barnes and Barnes fame), soul giant Solomon Burke, Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO, Barry “Dr. Demento” Hansen, Weird Al Yankovic, Frank Zappa’s widow Gail Zappa (she died in 2015), and Harold Bronson & Richard Foos (the founders of Rhino Records).