Tommy Chong, one half of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong, was certainly pleased to hear the latest Eminem single. "Untouchable," a Revival track on which Em addresses the way African-Americans are mistreated culturally in America, relies heavily on a sample of his group's 1974 rock-star sendup "Earache My Eye."
"I loved it," says Chong, age 79, his voice sounding as warm and genial as it did on the group's Seventies albums. "It just shows that Eminem has a lot of talent. It's quite an honor."
Chong says that while he didn't speak with Eminem directly about the sample usage, he'd gotten word that the rapper was a big fan. "All those guys, they're big Cheech and Chong fans," he says of rap artists. "We have quite a large group of talented rappers, movie makers and musicians – everybody – who like what we do."
That's true of "Earache My Eye," a raucous, hilarious heavy-metal track – equal parts Black Sabbath and King Crimson – that first appeared on the 1974 LP Cheech and Chong's Wedding Album and was later featured in the duo's first movie, 1978's Up in Smoke. The tune features the fictional Alice Bowie (played by Cheech Marin) bragging about how "bloody rich" he is and how he only knows "three chords." It became a Top 10 hit for the group, spending 13 weeks on the chart. Since then, it's been covered or sampled by Soundgarden, Rollins Band, 2 Live Crew and Widespread Panic, among others. Korn even drafted Marin to appear on a cover version they recorded as a hidden track on their 1998 album Follow the Leader.
"It was very ironic at the time," Chong says of his intention behind it. "It was just of the times. We wrote it back when rock stars were making lots of money and only knew three chords."
Chong remembers the song coming together when a friend of theirs named Gaye Delorme, whom he says helped start Cheech and Chong, came up with the song's riff. He'd been staying at Marin's home and came out of the bedroom one day, started playing and sang, "Mama talking to me da-da-da-da-da." "The only lyrics he had was 'Mama talking to me,' so I took it and wrote the rest of the lyrics for the song," Chong remembers. "Then we went in the studio with some great musicians. We had Airto Moreira, who was a percussionist with Miles Davis for a long time, on drums and then Gaye was on guitar. The chord changes were very intelligent with a little mixture of jazz and rock, so it wasn't just full-on heavy thrash metal. That's why it was so popular."
Chong gave the song to Marin to sing, because "he's always been the vocalist" between the two. "I engineered and produced it and added that great solo in there," Chong says. "It was just a work of love."
They based the Alice Bowie character off of two of the era's most notorious superstars. "We'd been on tour with Alice [Cooper] a few times, and we really admired David Bowie," Chong says. "He was such an androgynous kind of character, and then when Cheech would put on the tutu he became Alice Bowie. By the way, I wore the tutu first. Cheech actually got jealous. He wanted to wear the tutu, so I let him."
Years later, they ended up revisiting the song in Up in Smoke when they felt a proposed closing scene for the movie didn't work. "Cheech and I sort of took over the ending of the movie, so we made it where we wrote the song in minutes and magically had costumes on and a full band for a performance at the Roxy," Chong recalls. "It was just perfect. That way we made it so that we could go on the road. It was another way of keeping Cheech and Chong going into the next adventure."
Now that both Cheech and Chong are in their 70s, Chong is happy with the way their music is finding new audiences.
"I love rap, man," he says. "I'm into it. We have the soul of a rapper. We don't have the energy, but we definitely have the soul."