Coming to Canada to avoid the draft in the late 60s Richard “Cheech” Marin found out that the grass is greener on the other side — in more ways than one.
That’s partly because of his chance meeting with Canadian Tommy Chong, the pair quickly developing a strong bond, deeply routed in marijuana and music.
The budding entertainers took to the stage in the Chong’s Vancouver strip joint to polish their trade, a comedic genre Marin later called “hippy burlesque.”
From the seedy side of town, they eventually made their way onto vinyl releasing their self-titled debut record in 1971 with now immortal tracks including Dave and Blind Melon Chitlin.
|Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin with a skateboard resemblance of themselves. (Submitted photo)
They then graduated to the big screen with their stoner blockbuster Up in Smoke in 1978 that was destined to be a classic, raking in over $44 million.
Since then, with Chong and on his own, Marin has appeared in countless productions, including movies and television shows ranging from The Simpsons and Sesame Street to Grey’s Anatomy and the host of WWE Raw and even Celebrity Jeopardy.
Cheech and Chong were in Penticton at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Oct. 9 as part of their O Cannabis tour but it wasn’t Marin’s first visit to the Peach City.
Having once vacationed in Penticton he shared some of the city’s trivia.
|Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin are bringing their O Cannabis tour to the South Okanagan Events Centre Oct. 9. (Submitted photo)|
“I loved Penticton. Did you know Alexis Smith is from Penticton? She was a very famous beauty of her day and she was in lots of films including Gentleman Jim with Errol Flynn, a really great movie from 1942,” said Marin in the telephone interview.
Smith was born in Penticton in 1921.
Before moving from Los Angeles to Calgary Marin had a pretty good idea what to expect.
“Sure, I knew what it would be like when I got there,” he said in his best Chicano accent all too familiar to fans who have enjoyed his work of the last four decades. “It was going to be Sgt. Preston from the Yukon with igloos, fighting Eskimos and sled dogs.”
Instead, this is what he found when he crossed the border: “Bakersfield (California). This is not the Calgary I pictured, it was more like Bakersfield, guys wearing cowboy hats, man, it was something else, I really wasn’t expecting that.”
|Vintage Cheech and Chong in the early years. (Submitted photo)
The son of a police officer, who got his nickname from an uncle who thought the newborn looked like a chicharron, Spanish for a deep-fried pork rind, opted to head north across the border rather than sit for three years in Leavenworth Prison for avoiding the draft.
“I went up to Canada and I became a potter; that’s making pottery, not smoking dope,” he explained.
Among the many highlights of his life, which he described as “a long and winding road,” are performing at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Centre.
Their hit song Basketball Jones on the Los Cochinos album also had a special guest musician.
“Yeah, George Harrison performs on that record, he was in the next studio and came over,” said Marin who then did his best British accent of what Harrison told them: “‘Nice chords, it needs a riff though.’ Then he starts this riff and immediately you know it’s George Harrison.”
Winning Celebrity Jeopardy, including knocking off CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, was another one for his highlight reel.
“Yeah, I won the most money, they came down and anointed me with oil, put a crown on my head and did all the ceremonies they had to do,” recalled Marin.
While his winnings on the show went to his favourite charity, he didn’t leave the studio empty-handed.
“They gave me a zillion dollars worth of Sony equipment. They gave you a catalogue”
The Penticton show was the second last stop of the 14-city Canadian tour and Marin says it’s been an incredible ride across the Great White North.
|Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin have been performing their own special brand of humour for over four decades. (Submitted photo)|
“It’s been fantastic, I’ve been shocked, I don’t know what it is, we’ve finally reached another performance plateau. There’s kind of a force moving through us right now, not only with the audience but with ourselves,” he said. “They’re going to catch us at a really good point in our careers. There’s a lot of music. That’s what makes it different from before, is we play a lot of music. We’ve really been musicians for all our lives and to really incorporate that more into the show is really a fun deal and it really ignites the audience.
“When we’re on that stage and cooking, there’s no better feeling in the world, you look into the audience and you can feel this energy it’s like taking a shot of energy I just love it.”
Who are the people attending the shows?
“Whoever was on Noah’s Ark,” he said. “We have two of everything from great grandparents to grandparents and their kids, ‘my daddy turned me onto you.’ People are going to see stuff they haven’t seen before, they’re going to see stuff they have seen before or listened to before. We have all kinds of elements.”
While he was happy to see Canada finally legalize recreational marijuana, he was disappointed celebrities are not allowed to endorse cannabis products.
“I have a strain and Tommy has a business too. ‘Hey, we’re Cheech and Chong, trust us,’ so I hope that will change,” he said. “So you have to come to the U.S. to get Cheech’s Private Stash, and they will send an Uber car to pick you up and take you to the dispensary and they will treat you with all due reverence and mention my name and you will get two per cent off.”