Monday, August 15, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Buster Jones (Black Vulcan)

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

Tell me about your life before Super Friends.

I’m from Paris, Tennessee. I’m a single child. I have a half-brother and half-sister because my father remarried. I go back every year to my high school reunion. I was just talking to my first girlfriend who still lives there, has four kids. I’m an old disc jockey. I was doing it before voice acting. Once I was working at a nightclub and my friends threw me surprise for my birthday and hired a [woman with an adult profession] and it was my little sister! I hadn’t seen her since she was 12 and I was six. (My mother and father split when I was six.) This event changed her life. She went back to school and went to Howard University. I got her in. I worked in Washington DC as a disc jockey (rock and roll and jazz) and had influence in Washington. Today she’s in Canada. I got her a job with a band. She’s a very good piano player. I haven’t heard from her now in 4-5 years.

How did you get the job on Super Friends?

I was with a company called Cunningham and Associates, for commercials. They sent me out on an interview.

How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?

They made them up as they went along. Black Vulcan was Hanna’s project. You just walked into the studio and they told you who they wanted you to play. Scatman Crothers was there, too, part of the same company.

Do you know who created Black Vulcan?

Either Hanna or Barbera.

How did you feel about the character?

I was just glad to get a job, man. I had no idea if it would last for 13 weeks or one day. I was doing about five or six cartoon series. The shows we do are now being done by Japanese people. I still watch cartoons. Andrea Romano—I was going to call her.

Did you feel the character was stereotypical?

(Laughs) Who cares? I was just glad to get a job that lasted more than a day. Those jobs have disappeared completely. I don’t even have a voice acting agent anymore. I have a music agent. I do drums and guitar and saxophone. Last time she sent me out and all I did was clap my hands.

Would you want to get back into voice acting?

I want a job doing anything I can. I’m on pension and trying to live off of that. I’m broke. I’m trying to find a new agent. There’s not much work around. Now I have a studio in my home so I can record from home. And I opened my own record company—Buster Jones Records.

Of the episodes you were on, do you have a favorite?

I did so many. I think the cartoon series was sold to another company and I remember the girl who bought the company moved to Canada. I had to go up there to Saskatchewan and do about three or four Super Friends shows. Three other cast members were there—the bad guys. All the villains were played by two guys—white guy and black guy. Chris had a screechy voice. A bruiser kind of guy—Arthur. [NOTE: I don’t know who he is referring to here and suspect he may be confusing this memory with another.] Frank Welker got rich doing voices.

Do you own any Super Friends DVDs?

No, I had no interest after the show closed. I was too busy trying to find other work. It paid quite well. I lived off it Super Friends and other cartoons for about 3-4 years. I did get some of the cels. I still have them.

Variety 10/17/86

Are they just of Black Vulcan or other characters?

I did Black Vulcan and Mandrake the Magician.

Which voice actors were you most friendly with?

I just saw one of the black guys—Globetrotters. I hung out with Casey Kasem. In fact he hired me to do one of his American Top 40 shows. This was on the radio every Saturday morning. Whenever he went on vacation, he would call me to come in and do it for him. It lasted about two or three years in the middle eighties. It was a lot of fun.

I’ll name other Super Friends actors and please tell me what you remember. 

Danny Dark: I remember Danny. He had a great deep voice.
Jack Angel: He married one of the girls who worked for Cunningham, Arlene Thornton. They now have a cartoon studio. The Arlene Thornton Agency—I was with them for a while. He was a good friend and he got sick and I lost contact.Olan Soule: (didn’t remember)
Mike Rye: (didn’t remember)
Shannon Farnon: I remember her. I was in love with one of the women but don’t remember which one. [MTN: I believe he meant Sarah Partridge, with whom he worked on Defenders of the Earth and who is now a jazz singer.]
Wally Burr: He’s a good guy. He got me all these jobs.

Do you have any fan letters from the 1970s or 1980s?

It went through the agent. There were a few letters that I got from kids back east. There was one kid from Connecticut who always wrote me when I was doing Super Friends. I always answered him.

Do you still have those?

Some of them I do. I used to answer the ones that got through to me. I’ve lived in three houses since then, always in LA.

Do you have any other photos of the cast, either at work or play?

I do. I have a photo of the whole cast. I have [a picture/possibly a cel] of Black Vulcan. Mandrake was on Super Friends, too. [NOTE: Mandrake was on Defenders of the Earth.] I’ve got a placard here. “Marvel Productions Inc.” It’s a collector’s item. The studio sent me this and I kept it because it was so impressive. Hanna and Barbera were good friends of mine. We talked all the time on the telephone. They always called me to ask if I wanted to participate. They got so big because they were cartoonists. They could draw their butts off.

Did you attend any of the parties at Danny Dark’s house?

No, [Danny and I] had the same agent. Cunningham. I’m still getting checks from them—but it’s run down to 13 and 14 cents.

How do you look back on your time on SF?

Very good. I wish it was still running. It was quite lucrative. I was up to 287 pounds during Super Friends. Now I’m 167 pounds.

[He then brought up the love of his life but said “I can’t remember her name to save my life.”]

What do your children and grandchildren (if applicable) think of your time as a superhero?

Never married. No children. My parents have passed away. I have three cousins in Chicago. I have a girlfriend now in Palm Springs.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

[No.] A long time ago, in the 1960s, a girl from England did an article about my radio work. I don’t know what publication.

Can you elaborate?

I lived in North London for almost a year when I was 11-12 years old. I graduated Central High School in Paris, Tennessee. All through high school I had a band called the Thunderbirds. I got out of Paris by playing music. I went to Lane College in Jackson, Tennessee. I got into a band and then got a job with WJAK in Jackson as a disc jockey. The second year working in Jackson I got hired by Louis Brooks and the Hightoppers to go to London to play drums. They’d heard about me working in Jackson and brought me to London. After a week, they left me in London with all the bills. I was about 18 or 19. I never saw them again. I had to find a way to get back to America. I was in London about two years. During the week I paid for the hotel I was living in by washing dishes at a club. I was working in a boat on the Thames on the weekends.

[He explained that he was one of the DJs on the boat like in the movie Pirate Radio.]

I flew back from London to east coast and then took Joe Cocker’s bus to LA but I don’t think I even met him. I wasn’t doing music. I was taking care of uniforms. Working for the band was my way of getting back to America. A guy whose name I can’t remember really helped me, hooked me up with the band. [He really wanted to remember this man’s name as he felt indebted to him.]

Have you ever participated (i.e. signed autographs) at a comic convention? If not, would you be willing to (if the convention paid your way)?

Yes, I would.

Anything else about the experience that you’d like to add?

You got me all fired up reliving all this old crap.

NOTE: When I returned the photos he kindly mailed me to scan, I also included the first-ever Black Vulcan action figure, which came out in 2009. He called to thank me for sending his stuff back. When I asked about the figure, he said “Who is that, Flash?”

9/16/14 addendum: Buster Jones passed away today.

Next: Fernando Escandon (El Dorado).


Anonymous said...

He's probably talking about Chris Latta and Arthur Burghardt from G.I. Joe.

Anonymous said...

I remember Buster Jones when
I was seventeen years old. I was working next door to WOL radio station in Wash.DC. I still remember that voice!
I never forgot it. I am now 62!

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Nice to hear from you! Were you a DJ too?

Anonymous said...

No, actually I was in high school at the time working in the evenings before going off to college. WOL radio station was next door to my place of employment. I would see Buster Jones all the time!

Anonymous said...

Do you know how to reach Buster?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Anonymous, please email me at