Oct. 17--William Shatner, the Capt. Kirk of so many sci-fi childhoods and star of the humorous Priceline ads that of late have featured Ventura County's own Kaley Cuoco, is now the frontman of a progressive rock album at age 82.
Not only that, but Shatner and the band Circa (featuring two former members of prog rock kingpins Yes) will play the new album, "Ponder the Mystery," in its entirety Thursday at The Canyon in Agoura Hills.
It's one of three Southern California gigs that will serve as a litmus test. If it gets a good reception, Shatner told The Star recently, "we might expand the tour and feed into our fantasies of what we think we might have."
The album dropped last week on the Cleopatra Records label. Shatner has called the 15-track set "quite possibly the most creative thing I have ever done."
If all this sounds a bit far out, then perhaps a closer look at Shatner's eclectic, 60-years-plus showbiz career is in order. "Ponder the Mystery" is Shatner's fourth album and follows on the heels of another prog rock effort, "Seeking Major Tom," that was released in October 2011.
To Shatner and his hard-core devotees, it all makes perfect sense. Shatner, in fact, still seemed to be soaring along on the Starship Enterprise, filling out a captain's log as he talked about similarities between his "Star Trek" glory and his latter-day music.
"Prog rock is like science fiction, exploring musical boundaries and boldly going where no music has gone before," Shatner said during an interview from his Los Angeles home.
The veteran actor touched on "Star Trek" and its enduring gravitational pull as well as other aspects of his varied career, including the Priceline ads, his recent appearance in Ventura to shoot a music video with country star and longtime pal Brad Paisley, and his penchant for riding horses in Somis.
With a little help from his friends
Foremost on his mind was his latest project. "Ponder the Mystery," Shatner said flatly, is progressive rock.
Prog rock enjoyed its heyday in the late 1960s and 1970s. At the forefront were such bands as Yes, ELP, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, early Genesis (the Peter Gabriel years) and even early Styx, among others.
The music is marked by long, dense instrumental sonic stews, especially featuring keyboards and guitars, and extended musical themes. Much of it was entrenched in another hallmark of that era, the concept album.
Shatner digs its creativity and the crashing of musical boundaries.
"I like the imagination of it, the idea of coming at the listener in a variety of ways sonically," he said.
For "Ponder the Mystery," Shatner tapped latter-day Yes guitarist Billy Sherwood and longtime Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye as well as fellow Circa members Ricky Tierney (bass) and Scott Connor (drums).
Former Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman is among the many name musicians who make guest appearances on the album. Others include jazz cats Al Di Meola and Dave Koz, guitar wiz Steve Vai, former Doors member Robbie Krieger, country star Vince Gill and Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese.
"Ponder" is an oddballish mix -- in a good way -- of traditional prog rock instrumental elements with spoken words, poetic verses and singing. Much of the vocals are done by Shatner, who wrote all of the album's lyrics.
Asked if he played any instruments on it, Shatner cracked, "Oh no, I'm doing all I can just to come in at the right time (vocally)."
The album came about, he said, because Cleopatra Records asked him to do another one after the well-received "Seeking Major Tom."
For "Ponder," Shatner came up with the theme of a guy sitting in despair about an hour before sunset and taking him on a pensive journey through twilight and darkness until just before dawn.
"In that period of time," Shatner said, "he rediscovers his joy of life. Gradually, he sees the beauty all around him."
Wakeman joins him on the thematic song "Change," Vai's guitar work graces the title track, Gill appears on "Imagine Things," Di Meola on "So Am I," Krieger on "Deep Down" and Froese on "Do You See?"
Shatner knows how to reel in name musicians for his projects, though he can't really explain why. On this one, he said, the musicians "all jumped at the chance to do it with me."
Paisley, Sheryl Crow, Peter Frampton, Lyle Lovett, former Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Zakk Wylde and former Yes guitarist Steve Howe were among the guests on "Seeking Major Tom," which featured unique covers of such songs as "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Iron Man," "Spirit in the Sky" and "She Blinded Me With Science."
Shatner also did the 2004 album "Has Been" with Ben Folds. His first album was "Transformer Man" in 1968.
Looking back on the mother ship
That was around the time Shatner donned Capt. Kirk's uniform in the maiden "Star Trek" TV series. These days, Kirk, Spock and Trekkies still buzz in the pop culture.
"It's a phenomenon unlike anything else in the entertainment world," Shatner said. "It really is an entertainment empire unto itself. And each edition of it carries forth a new fervor, a new energy."
Shatner said he's enjoyed director J.J. Abrams' new take on "Star Trek," the same-titled 2009 film and its successor earlier this year, "Star Trek: Into Darkness," that had Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk and Zachary Quinto as Spock.
Shatner said Pine did a "great job" filling his old shoes, adding, "He's talented and good-looking."
In addition to playing Kirk on TV, Shatner played him in a series of six original-cast "Star Trek" films from the late 1970s into the early 1990s, as well as other iterations.
For some, Kirk has overshadowed other aspects of Shatner's long showbiz resume and is all he is known for, but he deflected that notion.
"Well, most people still address me as Shatner," he deadpanned. "My career is more than Capt. Kirk, and I'm happy if it's just Capt. Kirk to some people."
Carrying the banner of such a heavyweight pop force for so long, he insisted, had "very few lows with it."
"It was extraordinarily well-written," he said. "The part I had was terrific. I gained international exposure through it, and I had a good time with it."
Shatner is slated to appear at a "Star Trek" convention in the San Francisco area Nov. 9, amid stops at several Comic Cons in recent months.
Shatner in the 805
Yes, that really was Shatner in Ventura in late September at the upscale Watermark restaurant. Paisley, he said, asked him to be in the video shoot.
That might have been quid pro quo for Paisley being on Shatner's "Seeking Major Tom" album, though Shatner said their friendship runs longer and deeper than that. They have mutual friends and their families are intertwined; their wives joined them at the shoot.
"That day up there, I had the most fun with him that I've ever had, I think," Shatner recalled.
Shatner wasn't about to spill many beans, saying only, "In the video, I play a grieving father, and that's all I can say."
Paparazzi cameras have caught Shatner filling his gas tank near Somis lately. Shatner said he rides horses there frequently, often three times a week. His horse trainer lives in the Somis area.
Shatner is a longtime riding enthusiast, and still enters horseback competitions in Santa Barbara and elsewhere. For years, he's put on the annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show, an event that recently has had Crow and Canadian chanteuse Sarah McLachlan as musical guests.
He's also still a fixture in the Priceline ads. Of working with local native Cuoco, he said, "She's a dollface. She's the cutest thing, and she's funny and perky and smart."
Shatner likes the spots, noting they require short but on-point efforts. "It's like a sonnet -- you have to do so much with so little time," he said.
With all this going on, Shatner said, "My life is filled with fervor, and what should I do? Retire? Retire to what? I've had more fun than I've ever had in my life."
Suspense, and a butt-kicking
Shatner has done so much TV his head should be in the shape of a rectangular box.
He starred in such shows as "Boston Legal," "The Practice" and "T.J. Hooker." Back in the day, beyond "Trek," he did one-offs (and occasional repeats) on seemingly every staple 1960s-'70s TV show -- among them, "Gunsmoke," "The Big Valley," "The Fugitive," "Hawaii Five-O," "Mission: Impossible," "Marcus Welby, M.D.," "Barnaby Jones," "Mannix," "Ironside" and even "Petrocelli."
In the late 1950s and early '60s, he worked with Rod Serling on "Twilight Zone" and another certain master of suspense on "Alfred Hitchcock Presents."
They were, he said, two different cats. Serling, he said, was somewhat removed because he was so busy, but Shatner was enthralled with his "wonderfully entertaining" writing.
Shatner was in a memorable "Twilight Zone" episode titled "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and added, "It really speaks to the fear of flying, doesn't it?"
He called Hitchcock a "great technician" who understood the effect of a frame "and how that frame could work for him." He plotted out every shot, but sometimes that left little spontaneity for everyone else, Shatner said.
His major feature film debut was in "The Brothers Karamazov" in 1958 with Yul Brynner. Shatner received a little gamesmanship, or something, from the great star.
"He had this habit of kicking me in the pants," a still-perplexed Shatner related. "He'd just come up to me and kick me in the pants. I think it might have been a bit of bullying, I don't know. I didn't know what to do, if I should kick him back or what. So I just let it happen."
Years later, Shatner saw Brynner in a musical version of "The King and I," and went backstage to visit him. He brought up the "Karamazov" pants-kicking.
"And he looked at me and he said, 'I have no recollection of that whatsoever,' " a laughing Shatner said.
He said the thing he's learned over the years is "you don't learn anything. It requires a certain sanguine approach. You've got be philosophical about everything, because everything is cyclical."
That brought him back to "Ponder the Mystery."
"Everything changes, and nothing changes," Shatner continued. "It's like on the new album -- I write a lot about change, if you notice."
Get your dose of William Shatner
The "Star Trek" icon will team up with the band Circa to perform the album "Ponder the Mystery" at 9 p.m. Thursday at The Canyon, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. Doors open at 6 p.m. For tickets, $30-$55, call 818-879-5016 or visit http://www.canyonclub.net.
Shatner and crew also are slated to perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Saint Rocke in Hermosa Beach (142 Pacific Coast Highway; 310-372-0035) and 9:30 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano (33157 Camino Capistrano; 949-496-8930).
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