The Zippin Pippin was Elvis Presley’s favorite ride. The King rented Libertyland August 8, 1977 from 1:15 a.m. until 7 a.m. to entertain a group of guests. Decked in a blue jumpsuit with a black leather belt, huge belt buckle with turquoise studs and gold chains, the King rode the Pippin repeatedly during a two-hour period. Presley’s late night joyride was his last public appearance. He died eight days later.
40 years later, Milwaukee singer-songwriter Trapper Schoepp celebrates that rollercoaster and the other classic rides at the Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The six-song collection, Bay Beach Amusement Park, takes listeners on six different rides, each song named for its respective ride (“Zippin Pippin,” “Bumper Cars,” “The Scat”). The album was released June 2, 2017 on Xtra Mile Recordings/Kay Bank Recording with a U.S. tour to follow.
Located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the historic park is celebrating its 125th anniversary this summer. The spark for the concept album was Trapper riding the Pippin. The ride, one of America’s oldest wooden roller coasters, was relocated from Libertyland in Memphis to Green Bay in 2010. “My first ride was a total thrill. I got right back in line wanting to set lyrics to the rhythm of the roller coaster,” Trapper says. “It reminded me of the innocence of childhood and the great escape a ride can give you.”
“The shrieks and mechanical noises all have a very musical quality,” Trapper says of his favorite park. “There’s a charm and modesty in the atmosphere that is absent from modernized, mammoth parks like Six Flags.” After writing “Zippin Pippin,” Trapper listened in on kids’ humorous conversations at the park. Some utterances, hastily transcribed as iPhone notes, appear verbatim in songs. The jazziest tune on the album, “The Scat,” takes lines from a boy exclaiming a nightmarish experience on the spinning gravitron ride: “I feel weird, I feel numb, I wish that this would end,” Trapper sings.
The lyrics merge the exciting, romantic, and surreal aspects Schoepp attributes to the park. “Ferris Wheel” is a story song of two brothers whose wildest wish comes true. After screaming “we wish this never ends” in unison, the ferris wheel becomes an anthropomorphic, unstoppable ride--despite the best efforts of the FBI and the brothers’ meddling mother to shut it down. “Tilt-A-Whirl” is about a high school senior’s crush on the ride’s operator, who’s spending her last summer in Green Bay before college. “Welcome to Bay Beach!” is a surf-rocker that tells some park history (FDR visited in 1934) and shares the Bay Beach legend of a little boy named Eddie who wasn’t tall enough to ride but ignored the warning. As the story goes, the boy slid down the kid-friendly “Giant Slide” and flew into the bay, never to be seen again.
This musical joyride is suitable entertainment for both adults and children. “Come mothers, daughters, fathers and sons/You’ll feel a lot better after you’re done,” Schoepp sings in the first single “Bumper Cars,” where pop culture rivalries like Jerry Seinfeld and Newman and the Jedi and Sith collide on the ride. The stories of riders are set to a ‘50s inspired rock and roll sound - a nod to musicians like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. Recorded mostly live over a weekend at Pachyderm Studios in Cannon Falls, Minnesota, the album features a five piece band and the Riverside Horns. The album was produced by an 18-year-old Minnesotan named Eliot Skinner.
The release is a joint venture between Xtra Mile Recordings (Frank Turner, Against Me!) and Kay Bank Recordings. The latter label is a revival of a defunct Sun Records style studio and distributor known for Dave Dudley's "Six Days on the Road" and the Trashmen's "Surfin' Bird." Bay Beach Amusement Park follows 2016’s Rangers & Valentines, which Relix called a “mini masterpiece” and was named Billboard’s “Best of the week.”
Trapper – who’s already crisscrossed the country sharing stages with The Wallflowers, The Jayhawks and Old 97’s – will be back on the road throughout 2017 in support of Bay Beach Amusement Park, starting with a 3-week run throughout the US supporting Ha Ha Tonka. While the scope of the six songs is specific, Trapper notes that the entertainment value amusement parks offer is universal. “In a world of derivatives, Bay Beach is an original,” Trapper says. “It’s a happy place for me to return to in song and in real life.”