Pat Dailey has always hung out with a colorful cast of characters, including Walleye Willie, Piano Joe, and the Mermaid of Ontario.
Now the singer-songwriter, in concert tonight at the Valentine Theatre, will be introducing audiences to some new friends like Bubba Barracuda, Speedy the Snail, and Fred the Trout.
After years of talking about “Underwater Land,” Pat Dailey is finally singing - and laughing about - the zany fish tunes he recorded more than four years ago with his friend and mentor, the late poet Shel Silverstein.
The 17 songs, written for children but irresistibly entertaining to kids of all ages, showcase the ageless exuberance and whimsical wordplay of Silverstein, who wrote such humorous pop classics as “A Boy Named Sue,” “Cover of Rolling Stone,” “Sylvia's Mother,” and “The Unicorn.”
An eccentric literary genius also known for his children's books and poetry, Silverstein had suggested to Dailey that he record some children's songs, believing such a project would help the singer achieve nationwide fame. But when Silverstein died of a heart attack in May, 1999, the disc became lost in record-business limbo.
After years of delay, Dailey finally released the disc - whose full title is “Pat Dailey Sings Shel Silverstein's Underwater Land” - on his own label, Olympia Records, late last month.
It's a musical mix of Dr. Seuss, Monty Python, and Abbott and Costello.
Now that the business obstacles are past, Dailey's enthusiasm for the project has been rejuvenated.
“Finally, when I got this thing out and listened to it, I thought, `What a genius Shel was,'” Dailey said in an interview this week.
The disc features a six-piece backup band, for example, but the instrumentation is sparse. There's just enough music to set the mood and keep the words flowing without distraction.
“I kept waiting for the groove,” Dailey said, “waiting to rock and roll. But the music was like Shel's drawings - just little things around the lyrics. Only a great musician could have done it like that.”
On “Bubba Barracuda,” Silverstein is the stuttering title character who complains that Dailey is singing about “every fish but me.”
When Dailey responds in song that he can't think of anything to rhyme with barracuda, Bubba offers a long list of suggestions: “What about a b-b-beautiful blue-eyed barracuda b-b-bikin' through Bermuda on a b-b-brown scooter?”
The creative interaction and genuine friendship between Dailey and Silverstein comes through clearly on “Dale and Shale's Big Fish Tail Sale,” a hilarious duet with the lyrics paced by the tap-tap-tap of a simple drumbeat and ending in a burst of laughter.
“That's the kind of stuff we did all the time,” Dailey said, “just making up skits, acting like we were nightclub singers - goofy, fun stuff.”
“I laughed and cried when I listened to the CD,” said Tom Brady, Dailey's manager. “I laughed because Shel is so funny and I cried because he's no longer with us.”
Now that “Underwater Land” is finished - with enough songs already recorded for a sequel - Dailey is hoping to get back to his usual routine performing at Put-in-Bay and Key West, Fla.
“I hadn't written any songs since Shel died,” he said. “Finally, last month, I wrote a new song.”
He said he'll add three or four of his new fish tunes to his concert repertoire, which also includes a number of bawdy bar tunes.
“Playing for drunks is very much the same as playing for kids,” Dailey said. “You've got to fight to keep their attention.”
Pat Dailey plays at 8 tonight in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets are $15, $32, and $40 from the box office, 419-242-2787. Information on the new disc is available online at www.underwaterland.com.