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‘After a few tunes, I hyperventilate and pass out.’ : King off the Bazookas

The self-proclaimed world’s only living bazooka player hoisted the world’s only active bazooka into position and blew. What came out was something that sounded a little like “Old Folks at Home.” It wasn’t.

“ ‘Let the Rest of the World Go By,’ ” Ormly Gumfudgin said as he finished playing. “One of my favorites.”

“Is that what that was?”

“Sure. What’d you think it was?”

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“I thought it was ‘Old Folks at Home.’ You know, Way down upon the Swanee River . . . “

Ormly frowned. “Hell no,” he said. “That goes like this.”

He blew into the bazooka again. It makes a kind of wheezy bass sound. The tune, if you can call it that, resembled a Bluegrass rendition of the Marine Corps hymn.

“There,” Ormly said, finishing. “ ‘Old Folks at Home.’ ”

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“Yeah,” I said, “I can see that now.”

Ormly Gumfudgin is not his real name. His real name is C. Stanley Locke.

“But who,” he asked me one day, “is going to remember anyone named C. Stanley Locke?” So he changed it to Ormly Gumfudgin.

He has been playing the bazooka for about two years. By bazooka, I do not mean an anti-tank weapon.

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The bazooka is also a musical instrument composed of two pieces of brass pipe, a whiskey funnel, a sliding handle and a tuba mouthpiece.

A radio comedian named Bob Burns, who used to call himself the Arkansas Traveler, invented it a long time ago.

I’m not sure why Ormly had a bazooka built. It’s just his way. Once he invented a gift battery. That was all it consisted of, a size AA battery, neatly packaged.

“No moving parts,” he used to say, “and fully assembled.” Later he added, “Toy not included.”

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Ormly not only learned to play the bazooka, but organized a band with Cornflake Francis on the washboard and Banjo Bob on the, you got it, banjo.

I met Gumfudgin five years ago over a chili pot. In addition to being the world’s only living bazooka player, he is also the world’s greatest chili junkie. He is to chili what Timothy Leary was to psychedelic drugs: the quintessential tout.

Ormly founded the International Chili Society 10 years ago and is a kind of elder statesman in the chili world, judging about 25 cook-off contests a year.

“Chili,” he likes to say, “is a great leveler. Bank presidents cook chili right next to ditchdiggers. Chili is without class distinction.”

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Ormly also believes that chili might be the ideal solution to everything. You cannot, for instance, make war and eat chili at the same time. Ditto the teen-age pregnancy problem. Keep ‘em busy with chili.

When he was still C. Stanley Locke, Gumfudgin worked for Pasadena’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for 22 years. A heart attack forced him into early retirement and full-time chili.

Now at 63, it’s the bazooka. He stood in the center of his living room, a lean and weathered man, 6 feet, 2 inches tall, resplendent in jeans and a yellow calico-print shirt with blousy sleeves. A gold-dipped chili pepper hung on a chain around his neck.

“I know 20 numbers,” he was saying. “My favorite is the theme from ‘Out of Africa.’ ”

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He blew into the bazooka. When he was finished I said, “That sounded just like it.”

“Just like what?”

“The theme from ‘Out of Africa.’ ”

“That wasn’t the theme from ‘Out of Africa,’ ” Ormly said indignantly. “That was ‘Arkansas Traveler.’ ”

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I have a little trouble with guys like Ormly Gumfudgin. I never quite know when they’re putting me on.

Ormly, for instance, rarely smiles. He squints. Al Broder is that way too. Broder is King of the Kazoos. He is a former New Jersey cabdriver who came to L.A. to market kazoos.

“I am going to be to the kazoo,” he told me once, “what Colonel Sanders was to fried chicken.” He thought about that for a moment then added, “That may take a little time.”

With the kazoo all you do is bring it to your mouth and hum.

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“To play the bazooka takes skill,” Ormly said, resenting my attempt to compare it to the kazoo. “Everything is in the lips.”

He played another tune. I refused to even guess what it was.

“It also takes lung power,” he confided, taking a deep breath. “After a few tunes, I hyperventilate and pass out.”

Ormly put the bazooka away and brought out a boom bass. A boom bass is a pogo stick affixed with a hybrid snare drum-tambourine, a bell and cymbals. The whole thing bounces as it plays. The boom bass makes one hell of a racket.

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“Red Dawg Weber invented the boom bass,” Ormly said. “He joined us in a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. After that, we . . . “

“Hold it, Gumfudgin,” I said. “You had a bazooka-boom bass concert at the Hollywood Bowl?”

“In the parking lot. A chili cook-off.”

Oh.

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When I left Ormly, he was seated at the living room table, putting together some badges he plans to market.

Their inscription says, “S.S. Titanic, Life Boat Drill Team, 1912 Champions.”

Go get ‘em, Gumfudgin.


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