Like most things in Los Angeles, this one involves a Ralphs.
That’s where Dennis Haskins – the actor known to a generation as Mr. Belding, the good-natured, frequently frazzled principal at Saved by the Bell‘s Bayside High – made his pitch to Shooter Jennings, son of Waylon and Jessi and an outlaw country scion of the highest order (even though you probably shouldn’t call him that). Haskins had heard that Jennings was interested in making another oddball 7-inch for Record Store Day, and he figured he should be the man doing the singing. So right then and there, in the parking lot of Ralphs, he recorded his demo.
“Shooter’s manager had called me looking for another artist, and I kind of went, ‘What about Shooter and I working together?'” Haskins laughs. “I gave him some ideas of what I usually do at karaoke, and then I sent a voice recording of me singing Kris Kristofferson’s ‘For the Good Times’ in the Ralph’s parking lot; I had to show him what I could do.”
Jennings’ manager, Jon Hensley, also happens to be the vice president of his label, Black Country Rock, which, in recent years, has released records by the likes of porn star Ron Jeremy, pro wrestler Mick Foley and, uh, Billy Ray Cyrus. Belding seemed like a perfect fit, so Hensley passed the recording on to Shooter, and the project was off and running.
“I had originally met him at the Roosevelt Hotel, and we’ve run into each other over the years. He’s always been in the periphery,” Jennings says of Haskins. “I’ve done weird shit with, like, Ron Jeremy before, so of course I wanted to do something with Dennis. And, you know, I’m 35, I grew up with Saved by the Bell, so it’s nice to get a text from Mr. Belding every once in a while.”
And so the two men began working on what would become Belding’s Blues, one of four vinyl releases Black Country has planned for Record Store Day (it’s actually coming out on BCR Los Angeles – this is a Hollywood production, after all). Kristofferson’s “Good Times” is on the A-side, though Jennings has melded it with Haskins’ dramatic reinterpretation of Tom Jones’ “Delilah.” Because, well, why not?
“When I get into my zone, I like smoking pot and sitting around, constructing the track. So I was working on ‘For the Good Times,’ but I wasn’t really happy with it, so I was like, ‘I’m going to go to ‘Delilah,’ start fucking with that,'” Jennings says. “By the time I got to the chorus, I had confused myself, and I accidentally played the chorus of ‘Good Times,’ and realized that it worked.
“Dennis got so into it, too, man. He was in my bathroom, recording the vocals, and it was like he was performing in front of thousands of people – his hands were very alive,” Jennings laughs. “His vocals give it this kind of Robert Durst twist. When people think of Mr. Belding, they’re definitely not going to expect this.”
Jennings isn’t kidding – for proof, have a listen to the final track, which has been renamed “For the Good Times, Delilah”:
“I literally approached this as an acting project,” Haskins says of the song. “I’ve been singing for a long time, but over the years I’ve found that you have to commit to character choices, and this is a dark song, a dark role. My singing, I have to say, I’m very proud of it; it’s some of the best I’ve ever done.”
Haskins has been singing for years, most of it onstage at Dimples, the beloved Burbank institution that bills itself as “the first karaoke club in America.” It’s been open for 33 years, and during that time, the likes of Katy Perry, Britney Spears – and, yes, Mr. Belding – have graced its cluttered stage. Sadly, Dimples shut its doors permanently on April 4, forced out in favor of a fucking Whole Foods. Which is a roundabout way of bringing us to the video atop this piece. While Haskins and Jennings were speaking with Rolling Stone, the two men made a pact: They would party at Dimples before it was gone for good.
In fact, Haskins had even planned a special tribute to the place – he was going to sing “What a Wonderful World,” a karaoke staple that just so happens to be the B-Side of Belding’s Blues. In some cosmic way, it all makes sense. Kind of.
“I started going into Dimples 15 years ago; I’ve learned and gotten better and better over the years, and now, we’re going back.” Haskins says. “My favorite karaoke joint in the world is going away, and so I’m going to do the song in honor of it. I dedicate it to very special people I’ve lost over the years, and what Shooter added to it on the record, man, it’s pure genius.”
“Thanks!” Jennings laughs. “I thought I just added a glockenspiel.”