Inside Radio: Interviewing Mel Blanc

When journalists gather, the stories tend to flow: how I met so-and-so, that time I was in such-and-such, glimpses of places and people that come with a professional storyteller’s access. 

This week, veteran indie producer Tom Lopez offered a gem on the AIRdaily, the ListServ that acts as a job board, confessional, gear review site, and, sometimes, campfire.

With Tom’s permission, here’s the story of how he met Mel Blanc, the Man of 1,000 Voices who created the most beloved characters in the Warner Brothers pantheon:

Tom Lopez“Years ago when I lived in London, I did a number of interviews with rock musicians – Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Syd Barrett, Eric Burdon, Marc Bolan of T. Rex, etc.

“I always used a hand-held mic and, since these interviews lasted at least a half hour, I couldn’t hold the mic out at arm’s length, so I always sat down alongside the person I was interviewing. This formed a kind of trust, I believe. After spending close to an hour sitting alongside Jimi Hendrix, absorbing those electric vibes emanating from his presence, I must’ve been high for three weeks. And after interviewing Syd Barrett, who I think was high on acid, I was probably stoned for a week.

“But I wanted to tell about the time I interviewed Mel Blanc in his studio in L.A. He was a very charming and sweet man. He found a sofa where we could sit down alongside each other, and he told me how he found the voices for Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, the Frito Bandito, and so on. Of course he did the voices for me. What was amazing: His face turned into these characters as he did their voices.

“After he’d done a number of others including Foghorn Leghorn, Speedy Gonzales, Sylvester and Tweety Bird, Daffy Duck and then kissing the back of his hand as he did Pepe Le Pew, I asked about Yosemite Sam, and suddenly he grabbed my wrist, and he bellowed into the mic. I mean his mouth was about half an inch from the mic screen, and he really let loose. If you’ve heard Yosemite Sam, you know he can be heard across a saloon. My first instinct was to yank the mic away, but I couldn’t ’cause he’d turned into Yosemite Sam; he was clamped onto my wrist, bent over, bellowing into the mic. My next instinct was look at the meters. The arrow was right up at zero, almost touching the red, and there it stays. It never peaked.

“When Mel Blanc finished Yosemite’s tirade, he released my hand, and he apologized. He said he knew I’d pull the mic back, but he knew he’d never peak ’cause he he had such control of his voice. I was truly impressed.”

By popular request on the list, Tom posted a follow-up about where to download the interviews he mentioned — and then some. (There’s a nominal fee, between $1 and $3, per interview.)

Want more? Check out a 2011 “Weekend Edition” piece that includes a remastered clip of Blanc singing “I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat,” the excellent “RadioLab” episode “What’s Up, Doc?” from 2012, and the independent documentary “I Know that Voice,” streaming on Amazon Prime right now.