1956; 1970: Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion” and the Dr. Demento Show

The story of Nervous Norvus’ “Transfusion” was also the story of how novelty radio DJ Dr. Demento got his name. Apparently, after the Dr. played “Transfusion” on his then un-branded-by-dementia radio slot, he began getting phone calls from baffled, enthused listeners. Dr. Demento’s name and unique radio slot took off thereafter, and with it a host of weirdo novelty personas who flocked to the outlet he provided. The crash of “Transfusion” and Dr. Demento was so momentous that Demento was quoted upon his retirement this year as saying “I think without The Dr. Demento Show, the probability is high that Alfred Yankovic would be a professional architect today.” If, indeed, “Transfusion” and other popular oddities were responsible for the rise of Demento, then they were indirectly responsible for Demento’s giving exposure to generations of novelty artists once his persona was established: Frank Zappa, Monty Python, Al Yankovic et al.

“Transfusion” had already been a big hit for Nervous Norvus by the time it was rediscovered by Dr. Demento in 1970. By 1957 the novelty song was always a strong contender for a hit, and it appears that Norvus had deliberately intended to become a novelty artist like his idol, Teen comedy presenter Red Blanchard. He bought a baritone ukulele, got piano lessons, and submitted the results of his song-writing efforts to Red’s comedy show. It was Blanchard who added the ‘crash’ sound effects between the verses of Transfusion. It was also Blanchard’s lingo that Norvus copied when he came up with his own handle; ‘Nervous’ was one of the show’s words for ‘cool,’ and the shy Jimmy Drake chose to identify himself as ‘Nervous Norvus.’

Norvus hired himself out as a producer, but his own sound never expanded into a fuller rock ‘n’ roll band. He stuck with a straightforward kick drum to accompany his own ukulele playing. The sound effects between verses became standard after Blanchard added howls to Norvus’ second hit “Ape Call,” an even more hilariously tentative song about quotidian encounters with danger. Norvus’ other great asset, his jittery voice, struck a primitive note as he cheerfully and tremulously suggested that a cat’s wisest approach in the jungle of romance was to single out an equally nervous chick and howl with bravado. The final and most important feature of Norvus’ sound was his jive jingle lyrics; “The pterodactyl was a flying fool” (“Ape Call”) is typical of his alliterative silliness. “Transfusion,” though, is the song that sums up Norvus’ feel-the-fear, faint-at-heart delivery best of all. Every time a verse ends, Norvus vows that he’ll never ever speed again, but by the next verse he’s apologetically looking for a fix, saying things like “Slip the blood to me Bud” or “Make that Type O, Daddy-O.”

The lack of conviction in Norvus’ voice was ironically his best asset. As a middle aged rocker, he managed to cut a dangerous figure at a time when so many kids idolized the sacred ton of metal that was the car in 1950s America. As Norvus was making light of dangerous driving, other musicians like Bill Hayes and Ferlin Husky were cranking out so-called ‘death discs’ as cautionary tales of teenage recklessness. Naturally, this genre of public safety warning crossed with rock ‘n’ roll was also mined for glamour (see Bill Hayes’ “Message from James Dean”), but Norvus was singular in exploring the phenomenon for its comedy potential. Knowing that “Transfusion“‘s comedy was accidentally-on-purpose at the cutting edge in the 1950s sheds light on its shrewd rediscovery by Dr. Demento. It perfectly fit the spirit of nonsense and apolitical anti-heroism of the comedy music that was popularized by the Doctor in the following decades.


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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