Banana Blender band legacy lives on

Members of Banana Bender Surprise lounge next to their brown Suburban, the Brown Chariot. Band members included (from left to right): Jason Barker (89), Allen Hill, Conrad Choucroun (94), David Beebe and Gerard Choucroun (89).

Courtesy of Gerard Choucroun

Members of Banana Bender Surprise lounge next to their brown Suburban, the Brown Chariot. Band members included (from left to right): Jason Barker (’89), Allen Hill, Conrad Choucroun (’94), David Beebe and Gerard Choucroun (’89).

The following is an updated version of an article printed in the April issue of the Review.

It was Mardis Gras in New Orleans. 1998.

Houston band Banana Blender Surprise entertained a crowd awaiting rock ‘n’ roll legend Chuck Berry, who was nowhere to be found.

Banana Blender, as they are known to their fans, was a familiar name at St. John’s. Most of the group graduated from SJS, and they garnered a cult-like following in Houston in the 90s.

Their album “Paint the Town Brown” debuted in 2006.

Chuck Berry, who died March 18 at the age of 90, finally arrived in a rented Lincoln Town Car.

“His guitar sounded like the loudest ball of mud you have ever heard,” guitarist Gerard Choucroun (’89) said. “He was a cantankerous dude.”

While they once served as the backing band for a music legend, Banana Blender’s origin was far more modest.

In Middle and Upper School, Choucroun teamed up with guitarist Jason Barker, drummer Shannon Brown, bassist John Amonett (all ’89) and singer David Beebe, who attended St. John’s but went to Lamar after his sophomore year. Bassist Allen Hill joined after graduating high school and Gerard’s brother, drummer Conrad Choucroun (’94), joined when Brown was away taking college summer classes.

Banana Blender’s path to popularity began their senior year, when they won a Houston-area Battle of the Bands contest hosted by 101 KLOL, a popular station at the time. The grand prizes were a trip to Los Angeles that they never took, a Charvel guitar and valuable recording studio time at historic Sugar Hill Recording Studios, which allowed them to cut their first album.

Compared to the rest of the world, we were not suffering, and for us to play music about suffering seemed inauthentic.”

In keeping with the band’s name, most of the songs on that debut album are about food. While other popular rock bands at the time like R.E.M. and U2 had a distinctly angsty feel, Banana Blender took a lighter approach. Some of their favorite artists included the Beatles and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, an Austin-based blues rock band that landed the Top 10 hit “Tuff Enuff” in 1986.

The band’s lyrics hold a deeper meaning for songwriter Gerard.

“We knew we were well-off kids at St. John’s, and for us to be too emo felt insincere,” he said. “Compared to the rest of the world, we were not suffering, and for us to play music about suffering seemed inauthentic, like we were being posers.”

According to Barker, inspiration stemmed not only from the group’s favorite artists but also from their high school experiences. Their song “Barbecue” was inspired by a woman who pronounced the word as ‘ba-ba-coo.’

“At some point, Conrad kept saying ‘ba-ba-coo, ba-ba-coo, ba-ba-coo,’ with some weird beat to it,” Barker said. “It got stuck in my head, so I wrote some music to it.”

Banana Blender’s carefree sound reflects the personalities of its members.

“We didn’t take ourselves very seriously,” Barker said. “It was just clean, outrageous fun.”

The members did not rely on drugs or alcohol for their infectious energy — even if it seemed like they did. According to Beebe, their 1980

Courtesy of Gerard Choucroun
Banana Blender Surprise stands in front of their Brown Chevy Suburban, nicknamed the Brown Chariot.

Brown Chevy Suburban— fondly nicknamed the Brown Chariot — got pulled over multiple times because of how weird they looked, but they were only “hopped up on RC Cola and coffee.”

Perhaps caffeine intake led to another trademark: each gig was three to six hours long. The longest concert they played was a whopping nine hours, but they did not play music the entire time; instead, according to Gerard, every band member had a “solo spot.” For example, Barker did a “cheese lecture,” and the band set aside 45 minutes for a “Lecture by David” in which Beebe wrote a few pages of 30 topics that he wanted to discuss. He only got through the first one.

If only to enhance their legend, Banana Blender would play the entire gig with no breaks.

“I mean, what happens during the break?” Beebe said. “People leave, and you wind down. Why you wanna wind down?”

In 1995, Banana Blender played their last gig as a full-time band. They did not stop touring because of a falling-out between the members, but because Barker was going to attend medical school and Conrad headed off to college. The band still played some shows until 2006, when Beebe needed vocal surgery and decided to finally take a much-needed break, though today he is back in the business.

Today, several members of Banana Blender still work in the music industry, and those who do not still play for fun.

Conrad is a professional musician and records with many artists. In March, he participated in South by Southwest, where he was in the house band for the Austin Music Awards and played with many legendary artists, including Chrissie Hynde and Lyle Lovett.

 Hill performs with the Allen Oldies Band, which has been part of the Houston music scene for the past 20 years. He also runs a full service booking agency for private parties with live music.

Gerard trained as a social worker and now directs a veterans health program at the Presidio in San Francisco. He still loves to write songs, even if they are just for his children.

Barker works as an associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Iowa. In his free time, he plays guitar in his basement.

Courtesy of Gerard Choucroun
Banana Blender Surprise performed at the Royal Crown Club. They played their final gig in 2006 but are still involved in music.

Beebe never left the pandemonium of the music life. After moving to Marfa, Texas, Beebe is the Justice of the Peace in Presidio County. He owns Boyz2Men, a Marfa food truck serving burgers and tacos. He is also involved in several Houston businesses, including the Continental Club. He hosts an R&B radio show every Tuesday night on Marfa Public Radio, and he is the local Zapp’s potato chip distributor.

Beebe sometimes gives bass lessons and plays bass in a duo with “a 70-year-old Mexican dude” who plays guitar and sings.

Banana Blender has no current plans to reunite, but they enjoyed their ride while it lasted.

“People can tell when there’s conviction, people can tell when there’s unity on stage, and when it’s about happiness and food and fun, that’s the best,” Hill said. “Some really great experiences were created by the petri dish of Banana Blender Surprise.”

Buy their album here.