In the late 60s and early 70s there was a band called Dando Shaft. They were part of the British folk rock scene, along with bands like the Incredible String Band, Pentangle, and Fairport Convention. Though nowadays they’re less remembered than some of those luminaries, it wasn’t for lack of quality material or playing. In fact, multi-instrumentalist Martin Jenkins had a celebrated sideman career post-Dando and was a major contributor to Bert Jansch’s landmark Avocet, re-released earlier this year.
Until recently, I only had a passing acquaintance with Dando Shaft’s music, but spurred on by Avocet (and Jenkins musicianship), I’ve been listening to them some. I started thinking – that name. Dando Shaft – what the hell does it mean? In the context of the music of the times, it sounds like some kind of pagan ritual, something mysterious, maybe dark. Something that wouldn’t be out of place in The Wickerman (“Yes, the Dando Shaft happens every spring on the blood moon…”) A little more research, however, reveals that I couldn’t have been more off. It’s actually the name of a book, published in 1965 by a guy named Don Calhoun. Specifically it’s the name of the main character in the book. Is it some kind of tome of historical study, or maybe a novel of the fantastical? No, it’s a novel billed as “Either the funniest dirty novel or the dirtiest funny novel of the year”, about a hapless middle-aged guy who works in advertising.
And, even though Dando the band was British, the book doesn’t even take place in England! But, I’m getting sidetracked – in the novel, Dando was at one time a brilliant ad-man, but he’s become uninspired, his life seems to be falling apart, and he’s got a thing for a young blond sexpot named Bunny Fairchild (yes, that’s really her name). In a moment of desperation he comes up with the idea to put an ad in the paper asking people to send him money and make him a millionaire. He’ll be “everyman’s millionaire”.
The story is a well-done comic satire on celebrity, consumer culture and suburbia which rings just as true today, if not more so. People start sending him money, so he quits his job, soon gets offered a TV show and of course gets Bunny (who is, unsurprisingly, willing to sleep with anybody if it will move her up the ladder). Dando is a likeable character in general. At least, you feel sorry for him a bit and hope he succeeds because he usually means well. But, cheating on his wife, plus the pitfalls of celebrity and quick money take their toll and everything comes crashing down in grand tragi-comedy. The book doesn’t have the feel of a morality play or that it’s especially trying to impart a lesson, though. Calhoun is having too much fun writing this raunchy tale. And the sex is quite explicit, especially for 1965. I’d venture to say that’s why the book isn’t better known (though the range of suggestive but cheesy book cover art used for different editions could be part of it as well).
There’s not a ton of info on Calhoun out there. It turns out he came from the advertising world himself and was also working as a cartoonist, as far back as the 1940s. He published another book, a graphic novel (before they were called that) called The Little President (see excerpt here) before Dando Shaft. He followed up Dando with Is There Life After Advertising in 1974. It makes me laugh that they used the same cover art and “funniest dirty novel or dirtiest funny novel” tagline for that one as well. I’ve got a used copy (well, they’re all used – I mean, I doubt it was in print for very long) of Life After Advertising on order. I’m curious to see if Dando is in it or not.
Calhoun lived to the ripe old age of 98, passing away in 2012 [obituary].
Dando Shaft the band broke up in 1972 and reunited for a one-off album in 1977 and occasional live shows in the 80s and 90s. In a bio of the band in CD compilation Reaping the Harvest, it’s noted that the band chose their name because it “had a nice ring to it”, not that they felt any special connection to the book. (It’s also noted that an early press clipping said “The name is misleading – cribbed from the title of a pornographic thriller, it suggests an abundance of well-oiled sex.”)
So, yeah, basically the band and the book have nothing in common besides a name. Then again, there was this ad for one of their records: