PILSEN — Chicago musician Ralph Covert is into puppets. Especially ones down with time travel.
“You find yourself talking to the puppets. I’m putting my arms around them and I’m like, ‘They are my friends,’” said the Grammy-nominated musician.
Covert, the leader of the kids-music group Ralph’s World, recently shot a TV pilot with some animal puppets for what he hopes will become his first television series, "Time Machine Guitar," in which he travels back in time, meets historical figures and rocks his socks off. He calls it a "rock 'n' roll Mister Roger's Neighborhood."
And if PBS picks up the pilot — which aired last weekend on WTTW Channel 11 — the show could begin shooting as early as fall.
Going back in time in Covert's world would take you to the late 1980s, when he started The Bad Examples, a rock band that still performs today. The band's song "Not Dead Yet" was later recorded by Styx, which was the only song the classic rock superstars of the 1970s and 80s ever recorded that wasn't written by a Styx member, Covert said. Covert still occasionally plays with Styx guitarist and native South Sider James "JY" Young.
But Covert got his start in the “kindie” music world doing Wiggle Worms with his then-infant daughter Fiona at Old Town School of Folk Music. And, after realizing the need for children’s music that didn’t make adults go insane, Covert tried his hand at writing some himself, and released the CD "Ralph's World" in 2001.
“Back then, the whole idea of kids music was just Barney. You know, really low expectations,” he said in an interview at his recording studio, Waterdog Records, at 329 W. 18th St. in Pilsen.
The Time Machine Guitar song — with such memorable lines as “the baby bok choy was rocking with me” — follows a narrator who jams with vegetables and a girl in a record store.
But after waterlogging his guitar in the swimming pool, the hero goes back to the shop to get another guitar which turns out to be, you guessed it, a time machine.
So far, Covert, 50, said both the reaction to the show and a Kickstarter campaign he launched have been electric. And if the deal goes through, kids as far as California may soon be waking up to three puppets and a time machine guitar dude on their television sets.
“The response has been great. One little boy sent an email this morning saying, ‘Where do I get a time machine guitar?’ And the parents have been enthusiastic and it’s been fun to share,” he said.