The Dragon Brothers reunite

After more than 40 years, two of three brothers who used to live and play in Malibu (along with The Beach Boys) record a new album.

By Paul Sisolak / Special to The Malibu Times

Anyone living in or around Malibu in the 1960s will likely remember it as a magical place, encompassing five things: surfing, partying, music, the Dragons and more music.

Carmen Dragon was already renowned in Los Angeles as a famous composer and orchestral conductor. Music was the family’s lifeblood, and the surname was well known in Malibu and beyond. Carmen’s three sons-Doug, Dennis and Daryl-would become an integral part of the psychedelic era’s musical and aural landscape.

Now, after years geographically apart, two of the Dragon brothers have made an unlikely reunion via cyberspace, recording an album filled with the same blend of social awareness and songwriting mastery that once led Doug and Dennis to famous associations with, among other luminaries, The Beach Boys.

“The Propheteer,” the newest album of original material from vocalist/keyboardist Doug Dragon, was produced by brother Dennis, their first in more than 40 years. Released a few weeks ago, it’s a remarkable collaboration; neither Dragon was present in the same studio for the recording sessions, yet the collection of 12 songs galvanizes a fraternal bond that is stronger now than ever before.

Doug, who makes his home in the tropics of Maui, was inspired to pen politically relevant lyrics following events of the last decade -Sept. 11, the Iraqi conflict, the U.S. recession- heard in tracks like “Swine Flu,” “My Uncle Sam,” “Obese Nation” and “Recession.”

“They were all geared to the subtext of the album, which is headline news,” Doug said. “Why not try and write something, and work in some hip lyrics that will depict what we’re going through?”

When Doug completed his vocals and keyboard backing, he emailed his songs digitally to Dennis at his Oregon studio. There, Dennis laid down his own drumming, embellished by guitarist Tay Uhler, bassists Charles Button and Rob Loney, Duke Davis and Mikey Stevens on horns, and others.

It proved to be the final recording for Portland keyboardist Brett Claytor, who died of cancer last October.

“He was blind, he could barely walk. We could only use him for an hour at a time,” Dennis recalled. “But what he put on some of those tracks is as good, or better than, anything I’ve heard.”

Technological innovations aside, “The Propheteer” radiates a pure organic sound indicative of the 1970s, jazzy, horn-laden sound resplendent in Steely Dan or Frank Zappa – a Southern California sound the Dragon brothers can’t deny no matter where they call home at the moment. Malibu will be, for all purposes, home to the Dragons.

Their parental influence aside, the brothers’ awakening to becoming musicians was after Doug’s return from the Navy in 1960, when he brought home an electric piano for Daryl, drums for Dennis and a set of vibes for himself. It was the start of the sixties, and the start of The Dragons.

“Doug was always really good to me when he was in the Navy in the fifties,” said Dennis. “He brought me my own stereo, my own Hi-Fi set. We were Malibu staples for a long time. Doug and I were playing parties. The Dragon name was synonymous with parties.”

One all-nighter almost resulted in the demise of the Malibu Pier as we know it.

“We think the pier might give,’” Doug said they were told. “It got so crowded the pilings started to shake. That was one of the more great moments before I pulled the plug (on the group).”

The fact is, although the brothers had greater ambitions, and would conquer more challenging musical accomplishments, disillusion about the deteriorating South Coast had begun to set in. Doug recalled fishing off the pier, the sight of a sea bass darkened with black tar in its lungs.

“The water was being really permeated by the oil. That got the wheels going,” he said.

By the early 1970s, the Dragon brothers were at their most cohesive, with Doug, Dennis, Daryl, and Daryl’s future wife, Toni Tennille, joining up as supporting players for The Beach Boys. They became the glue to a band held back by leader Brian Wilson’s worsening physical and mental health.

“Brian I didn’t really know,” Doug said. “He was having nervous breakdown problems at that point in his life.”

But like Wilson’s “Smile,” an album of incomparable, yet misunderstood genius that lay unreleased for years, the Dragon Brothers encountered a similar experience when they recorded, and shelved, their “BFI” in 1968. “BFI,” the brothers’ free-form foray into experiment, was not received well by record executive Clive Davis and Herb Alpert, another Malibu resident.

“Herb,” Doug said, “was the head of A&M Records and said, ‘Doug, Dennis, if I don’t like it or think it’s not commercial enough, it won’t sell.’”

By the mid-1970s, Doug moved to Hawaii, with a brief detour to Australia, then back to the islands. Dennis remained in California, briefly fronting starting a family in Santa Barbara before heading north to the redwoods of Oregon. And Daryl became “The Captain” of Captain and Tennille with wife Toni.

Doug and Dennis said they do keep in close touch with Daryl, especially since his diagnosis two years ago with Parkinson’s disease, which has limited his abilities to perform.

“We wanted him to participate on [“The Propheteer”], but he [Daryl] said he was incapable of doing it,” Dennis said.

“The Propheteer” might never have been made if “BFI” wasn’t discovered, albeit accidentally, four years ago by DJ Food in England. He released the album on his own label, and the long-vaulted gem was well received, giving Doug and Dennis enough push to record new material of their own. Doug and Dennis are still undecided, but optimistic, about future projects together.

While Malibu will always be home to the Dragon family, there is truth to the saying that one can’t go home again. The relationship with the seaside hamlet differs between Doug and Dennis.

“It’s really crowded and it’s different,” Doug said. “For me, it’s too late in the game.”

“I still dig Malibu,” said Dennis, who visits several times a year. “It’s a huge part of my life. A lot of my friends are there.”

To find out more about the Dragon brothers, visit

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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