Daryl Dragon — best known as “The Captain” as part of the hit-making '70s and '80s duo Captain & Tennille — died on Wednesday (January 2nd) of renal failure at a hospice in Prescott, Arizona. The Associated Press reported his former-wife Toni Tennille was at his side. Dragon had been suffering in recent years from a neurological disorder similar to Parkinson's. The famed couple divorced in 2014, but in recent years, Tennille had moved back to Arizona to care for Dragon.
Toni Tennille said in a statement: “He was a brilliant musician with many friends who loved him greatly. I was at my most creative in my life, when I was with him.” In addition to Tennille, Dragon is survived by his older brother, Doug Dragon, and two nieces, Kelly Arbout and Renee Henn.
Captain & Tennille will always be remembered for their nine Top 40 hits between 1975 and 1979, starting out of the gate with their chart-topping version of the Neil Sedaka — Howie Greenfield tune, “Love Will Keep Us Together” — followed by such pop favorites as “The Way I Want To Touch You” (#4), “Lonely Night (Angel Face)” (#3), “Shop Around” (#4), “Muskrat Love” (#4), “You Never Don It Like That” (#10), and the 1979 Number One hit “Do That To Me One More Time.”
From September 1976 to March 1977 the duo starred in the own ABC variety show, The Captain And Tennille, but were asked to be let out of their contract after only one season to get back to recording and touring.
Dragon's father was the esteemed conductor, composer, and arranger Carmen Dragon. Between 1967 and 1973, Daryl Dragon made his bones playing keyboards and doing occasional orchestrations for the Beach Boys, where he first was named “Captain Keyboard” by Mike Love due to his fondness for captain's hats. He struck up a professional relationship with Dennis Wilson, releasing a 1970 single as a duo — Dennis Wilson & Rumbo, before co-writing and orchestrating such signature Wilson songs as “Cuddle Up” and “Make It Good.” All told, Dragon performed on such classic Beach Boys albums as 1970's Sunflower, 1971's Surf's Up, 1972's Carl & The Passions – So Tough, and the 1973 double shot of Holland and The Beach Boys In Concert. Toni Tennille actually toured with the Beach Boys playing keyboards on a handful of dates around that time and holds the distinction of being the sole “Beach Girl” to ever tour as part of the band.
In the late 1990's, Dragon joined forces with the Beach Boy Al Jardine and Brian Wilson's daughters Carnie and Wendy Wilson for the short-lived touring revue Beach Boys Family & Friends.
Brian Wilson tweeted a salute to his former colleague, posting: “So sad to hear about Daryl Dragon. Daryl was a great guy and a hell of a musician and keyboard player. I feel very bad about this. Love & Mercy to Daryl, his family and friends.”
Mike Love posted on Facebook: “The passing of Captain Keyboard as I affectionately referred to him is particularly heartbreaking. It’s a sad way to start the New Year with the news about Daryl Dragon's passing. For all of us who knew him, loved him and actually had the opportunity to perform with him, it is especially sad. He was the ultimate keyboard player who as an incredible talent, blessed our stage for several years before becoming an enormous success with Toni Tennille as the Captain and Tennille. Daryl was an unassuming genius, unassuming but never aloof. The Beach Boys we’re (sic) blessed to have had the Captain in our band. Many precious moments were spent together on tour, in the studio and just hanging out. We will miss you Daryl and will always be grateful for the good times we enjoyed together. Rest in Peace my friend. Peace & Love, Mike Love.”
Al Jardine also paid tribute on Facebook, writing: “Very saddened to hear of the passing of Daryl Dragon. Toni Tennille and Daryl joined The Beach Boys in the early 70's and met each other in our band. They then became The Captain & Tennille and love kept them together all these years. Daryl was a great musician and songwriter (he co-wrote 'Cuddle Up' with Dennis Wilson) and a very special person but what I value most, he was always a true friend. Rest in peace Daryl.”
Neil Sedaka posted on Twitter: “RIP Daryl Dragon, The Captain, a great musician, keyboard player and friend for over 40 years. He took 'Love Will Keep Us Together,' made it his own with the magic of his playing and her incredible voice. My sympathy to his family and to Toni Tennille.”
Some years back, Captain & Tennille appeared on the syndicated Yolanda show and Daryl Dragon revealed how the Beach Boys had given him his famous moniker: “I used to work — remember the Beach Boys, remember the group? (Crowd: Yeah!) I worked six-and-a-half years with those guys, and about four years into it, I bought a captain hat once and they called me 'Captain Keyboard' and I'd wish you'd all salute me now (laughter).”
Between 1979 and 2003, Daryl Dragon owned and operated the famed L.A. recording studio, Rumbo Recorders. Among the many artists that called Rumbo home for one or more projects were Fleetwood Mac, the Beach Boys, Ringo Starr, Heart, Guns N' Roses, UFO, Barry Manilow, Ronnie James Dio, Jeff Lynne, No Doubt, Ratt, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Poison, Kiss, Celine Dion, Bad Religion, Damn Yankees, Roy Orbison, John Mellencamp, Eddie Money, Mr. Big, Smashing Pumpkins, Bruce Hornsby, Belinda Carlisle, Sheena Easton, Paula Abdul, and Stone Temple Pilots, among many, many others.