By Darlene Donloe
When it hit the airwaves in 1993, the long-running NBC sitcom, “Frasier,” became a fan favorite along with its catchy theme song.
The unforgettable lyrics “Hey baby, I hear the blues ‘a-callin’ tossed salads and scrambled eggs” were part of the Zeitgeist of the 1990s, as it became one of the era’s most memorable and recognizable theme songs. The song became just as popular as the show itself.
Music industry veteran Darryl Phinnessee is the man who wrote the memorable words. He has largely remained behind the scenes until now, surprising many who had no idea a Black man had written the lyrics for the timeless theme song. While his name has always been on the credits, people are now able to put a name to a face.
“I’m really happy that people like the song,” Phinnessee said. “And, I think it’s great that they’re using the song for the new show.”
With the reboot of “Frasier” on Paramount +, the theme song’s popularity has been revived, recapturing its original fan base while being introduced to a new audience.
The meaning behind the show’s popular lyrics continues to be discussed. Just what is meant by “Tossed salads and scrambled eggs?”
Who better to reveal the meaning of the lyrics than the man who famously wrote them?
“Yeah, it still appears to be popular,” said Phinnessee, an East St. Louis, Illinois native. “Of course, I’m pleased about that.”
Phinnessee, and Bruce Miller, who wrote the music, had worked on other projects together when Miller approached him about writing the lyrics for a new show called, “Frasier” about a Seattle-based radio psychiatrist played by Kelsey Grammer.
“He explained the show setup, the character Frasier, and what he did for a living,” said Phinnessee, whose multi-hyphenates include singer, lyricist, songwriter, vocal music director, arranger and producer. “‘Frasier was the second TV theme song we wrote together. I sometimes write the melody but always the lyrics for things I’ve done with Bruce. He told me the guy from ‘Cheers’ has a spin-off series and has moved to Seattle. He has all these ‘crazies’ calling him.”
Phinnessee said the show’s creators didn’t want a “right-on-the-money” song about Frasier’s profession.
“When Bruce said, ‘He’s got all these crazies calling him,’ the first two things I wrote down were ‘Tossed salads and scrambled eggs,’ which are metaphors for people’s mixed up brains,” Phinnessee said. “They didn’t want me to talk about psychiatry, ‘crazy’ people, or anything directly related to the show’s premise. So ‘mixed nuts’ was too on-the-money. The twist in the show is we get to see the psychiatrist’s quirky personal life.”
“The lyrics express Frasier’s uncertainty about handling his listener’s constant flood of issues, his ‘blues,’” Phinnessee said. “When I wrote that line, ‘tossed salads and scrambled eggs,’ I thought, ‘That’s it. That’s how Frasier thinks!’ I wanted to write something that felt as if Frasier himself was saying it.
“After all, psychiatrists, like chiropractors, see everybody as being in need of some kind of fix. That’s why the song works for the reboot as well.”
In a Y Entertainment article published recently on yahoo.com, Miller admitted he wasn’t initially enthusiastic about the lyrics. He’s quoted as saying, “I got him (Phinnessee) the music, and he came up with ‘Tossed salads and scrambled eggs.’ I didn’t know what to think at first. It was like, ‘Do I want to present this?’ And he (Phinnessee) was pretty adamant that it worked.”
“Bruce had faith in me, and we presented a united front,” Phinnessee said. “When we pitched it to the studio, some in the room were like, ‘Huh?’ And I thought, ‘Yes’ because it’s the kind of expression in art that I find most rewarding — where you don’t see it at first, but upon examination, it’s all there.”
“Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs,” which garnered an Emmy nomination in 1994 for Outstanding Individual Achievement in main title theme music, was not Phinnessee’s only venture into writing television show themes. In collaboration with Miller, he also wrote the theme songs for “Kids Say The Darndest Things,” “Til Death” and “Union Square.”
Phinnessee’s love of music began when he was just 5 years old.
“I remember being in church singing with the congregation,” Phinnessee said. “I would sing the melody with everyone and then I would sing a third below or above the melody. Sometimes a fifth above it. Singing, and hearing the harmonies, came easy to me. At that age, I figured everybody knew how to do it.”
In grade school and high school, Phinnessee was the lead singer in an R&B quintet called the Deltones. The group won a number of talent shows all over East St. Louis.
“We rehearsed four to five hours, five to six nights a week, and won the large majority of those talent shows,” Phinnessee said, “We were one of the most popular groups in East St. Louis. Everybody knew us.”
In college, with the same work ethic, he would lead one of the most popular bands, Real To Real, in the Southern Illinois area.
When he graduated from Southern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in music, Phinnessee, who had always planned to move to New York City, helped a fellow graduate drive across the country to Los Angeles, met a number of people in the music business and instead decided to head west.
Once in Los Angeles, he began work as a session singer. Soon thereafter, he was touring with Michael Jackson as vocal music director on “Bad” and a featured soloist for Jackson’s “Bad,” “Dangerous” and “History” world tours.
Phinnessee also was a featured singer on tours with numerous A-listers, including Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie and Don Henley. Recording with Stevie Wonder, Ringo Starr, Whitney Houston, and working with Quincy Jones and Spike Lee, to name a few, it’s a sure bet that millions have seen or heard his work.
Today, Phinnessee is a music veteran with an extensive industry background. He has an enviable, storied career. At the top of his game, Phinnessee is a “first call” session singer and touring vocalist.
He has been a featured soloist with the Norwegian Wind Ensemble and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. He was also a featured vocalist in the films “This Is It,” “Annabelle: Creation,” “Save the Last Dance” (also as a composer), and “Dance Academy,” as well as “Under Suspicion.” He was an animated character in Hanna Barbera’s “I Yabba Dabba Do,” performing the theme song at Pebble’s and Bam Bam’s wedding.
A Grammy Award-winner (Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo Or Group for “Free Fall”), Phinnessee was also a vocalist on “Dancing with the Stars” from 2007-2013.
He is currently working on a solo EP called, “The Dream.”
“I’ve contributed in many ways to a lot of popular music, but the ‘Frasier’ theme song is one of the things I’m most proud of,” Phinnessee said. “People worldwide know the lyrics I created. Those lyrics wouldn’t exist if I didn’t exist. That, to me, is humbling and rewarding.”
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.