As a fifth-grader, Doug Fleming Jr. wrote his first song - a rather adult-themed song called "I Want to Make Love to You" - and performed it with his band The Peacemakers at his older brother's birthday party. The group disbanded shortly thereafter, Fleming recalled with a hearty laugh.
It wasn't until he was 17 that Fleming wrote his next tune. This time, "Life is a Gilligan's Island" got more play - on Gilligan TV portrayer Bob Denver's radio show in West Virginia.
Now, Fleming performs his rock 'n' roll children's songs more than 400 times per year, mostly at day-care centers, schools and Learning Garden educational centers throughout the Greater Seattle area.
He also sings at birthday parties, bookstores and the annual Folklife Festival with Decateur Buff percussionist Mike "Bongo" Young, himself a stay-at-home father with a toddler.
"A lot of kids don't know what their parents do [for work]," said Fleming, 45. But his two daughters know Fleming's work is to "play music for the kids."
Finding his way back to music
Though Fleming has worked in the travel industry, counseled at a camp on Orcas Island and taught English to adults in Thailand, music has always been a part of the Washington Park native's life.
His college band performed covers of the Rolling Stones and Beatles tunes in California's Bay Area (influencing his trademark Beatles wear), and he later performed on live-music nights at The Attic Tavern in Madison Park.
When Fleming started teaching preschoolers at the Denise Louie Education Center in the International District and Beacon Hill, he would bring his guitar and write songs for his young students that would often teach such lessons as "Use Your Words" or "Wait Your Turn!"
It was the students' reactions that sparked Fleming's continued songwriting. "They caught on to the songs," he said enthusiastically. "It [became] easy to write music. It seemed to flow and was very natural.... Maybe I'm just a kid at heart."
Ultimately, Fleming's love of music led him to make a demo tape of his children's music in his Madison Park home studio. A friend, iPoet Music Co.'s Bill Rigert, offered to produce it for him, and the rest was musical history.
Fleming recorded five more songs with producer Pat Gray and Spasms drummer Mike Anderson in a Ballard studio in 2000 and, having already quit his full-time teaching position, marketed his first CD, "Little Square Wheels," to bookstores.
He has since released three other CDs: "Shufflin' Farm," "In Our Circle" and "Shake, Shake, Shake!"
"You enjoy [playing] the music more when you know someone else is enjoying it," Young said of performing for children.
Despite his musical success, Fleming's priorities lie with his family: his wife of nearly 13 years, Tessa, and daughters Frannie, 7, and Natalie, 5.
He made the choice, he said, to have "more presence in my family's lives than most parents," instead of putting all his efforts into marketing his music: "I have many years ahead to work on selling [my music]."
And his girls are often the inspiration behind many of his songs, including Fleming's favorite "House of Balls" and "Bouncing, Hopping, Wiggling," which Fleming wrote in a few minutes while the girls played.
Other younger family members have influenced his music, as well, in "Baby, Won't You Use Good Manners?!"
And yet more family members and friends have worked their way into various songs, most notably on the appropriately named "Friends & Family, They Rock Our World" and "Walt Bender (Maverick Milkman)."
His brother, Bill, even plays piano on the reissue of "Life is a Gilligan's Island."
"It's not [typical] 'baby music,'' Young said of Fleming's musical style.
"It's kids music [parents and other adults] can listen to," Fleming elaborated. "It reminds them of the style of music they grew up with."
Fleming's next shows are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 8, at 11 a.m. at the Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park, and Oct. 29 at Third Place Books in Ravenna.
His CDs are available at The Children's Shop, 4216 E. Madison St., and Izilla Toys, 2840 E. Madison St., or on-line at cdbaby.com. Or contact Fleming at 390-5198 or dkflemingjr @aol.com.[[In-content Ad]]