'Batman' was just the beginning for Johnny Green

'Batman' was just the beginning for Johnny Green

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Johnny Green eats fire.

"I'll do it right here," he says, standing in his Bismarck hotel room. "Or, well, we should probably go outside."

He speaks in the hot, colorful bursts you might expect from someone who consumes flames. He is here and then he is there, then he goes somewhere else before coming back here again.

Soon, you begin to realize that fire-eating is the least remarkable thing about Johnny Green.

"When I worked on 'Batman,' man, that was a riot," Green says. "A lot of people say that episode with us playing on the beach was one of the best shows ever in the series."

As it turns out, Green co-wrote the theme song for the campy 1960s series. That "Da na na na na na na na, da na na na na na na na, Batman!" was his. He and his green-haired bandmates - Johnny Green and the Greenmen - acted as the Joker's henchmen in 27 episodes.

Green began to tell a story about Burt Ward's photographic memory, when out of the blue - as if a big POW! had appeared on the screen - he veered in another direction.

"I was the Shah of Iran's personal musician for 18 months," Green said. It's true. In 1969, Green gave up a slot at Woodstock to head to Paris. Shah Reza Pahlavi's brother saw the band and approached them with $5,000 and a plane ticket to Iran.

BAM!

"I remember sitting in a hotel room in Saigon with Bob Hope, watching Westerns," Green said. "He loved John Wayne."

The Greenmen were on Hope's 1968 USO troupe that toured Vietnam and Thailand. Green and Hope became friends, and Green later booked the famous entertainer at several shows across the United States.

BIFF!

"Anyway, about Holly," Green said. "She's got a great voice. She's one of the few people who can do Patsy Cline, then turn right around and do Aretha Franklin."

Holly Duffy, 25, is from Bismarck. She's the new singer in the Greenmen, who happen to be on a tour stop here this week. Johnny Green and the Greenmen will perform at the Lonesome Dove tonight through Sunday. Shows start at 8:30 p.m.

Duffy isn't the only local connection in the band. Keyboardist and saxophonist Rick Borr, of Mandan, joined The Greenmen in 1990, and has been touring with Green and company since.

"I never thought I'd find two people of such high caliber in Bismarck," said Green, who has played in 102 countries.

At the Lonesome Dove - on the "Strip" in Mandan - Johnny Green and the Greenmen will play country, rock-and-roll, blues, swing music and more. There's a good chance audiences will hear the "Batman" theme, as well as "I've Had It," a Greenmen original that charted in the '60s. Other than that, the band only has about 500 other songs in its repertoire.

Many of those songs Green learned on the fly, playing backup and touring with musicians that include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and more. Green played the Whiskey-a-Go-Go when few had heard of Jim Morrison, and performed in Jamaica with a soon-to-be reggae legend, before anyone outside of Kingston had heard Bob Marley's name.

Green bought a van from Ricky Nelson, and had his car appear on an episode of "Bewitched." He's performed for four U.S. presidents.

Green told many of his stories to author Mark Starks, whose book, "Johnny Green and the Greenmen: The Incredible True Story of the Green-Haired Entertainer and His Top-Rated Show Band," will appear on shelves at Barnes & Noble in about three weeks.

BANG!

"Dick Clark laughed at me," Green said. "He told me the 'Batman' theme song would never work."

ZIP!

"We lost three guys from our (unit) in Vietnam," he said. They also got shot at in Turkey and in Lebanon.

CRASH!

"Now, you probably don't know who Joey Bishop is, but I remember doing his show …"

(Reach Tony Spilde at 250-8260 or tspilde@ndonline.com.)

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