Tavilla salesman garners songwriting inspiration from produce
By Brian Gaylord


It's probably going to take a specialized taste in “produce” music to come across “Rambutan,” the authoritative song about the “very hairy berry” by the same name.

But Bobby Locke, a salesman for Tavilla Sales Co. in Los Angeles , has hopes for the song he recorded in a friend's Santa Clarita , CA , studio, north of Los Angeles .

The catchy Calypso-style tune features lead vocals and guitar work by Mr. Locke and background vocals by his friend Jeff Vincent, who mixed in marimbas, drums and background music tracks.

Playing the guitar is not Mr. Locke's forte, but he can carry a tune. He knows of what he sings: A longtime salesman in Tavilla's tropical fruit department, he sells rambutan, a spiny specialty item.

Mr. Locke is in the process of sending the CD to people who grow the fruit. While chances of hitting it big with “Rambutan” are slim, Mr. Locke has gained attention with his songwriting efforts. He once placed sixth in a Billboards songwriting contest; Jimmy Buffet of “Margaritaville” fame gave that song a listen but didn't record it. Many years ago, Mr. Locke recorded in the studio of highly successful songwriter John Bettis, who co-wrote the blockbuster “Top of the World” with Richard Carpenter.

“Hitting it big with songwriting has always been a dream, but you have to be in the right place at the right time,” Mr. Locke said.

Native to Malaysia , rambutans are commonly grown throughout the archipelago and Southeast Asia . Small and deep red in color, the fruit is covered with soft hair-like spines.

Rambutans' harvest season typically runs from September through March, and Tavilla sources its rambutans from Hawaii .

The fruit is far smaller in volume than Tavilla mainstays such as mangos and limes, Mr. Locke said. At retail, a pack of seven to nine pieces generally sells for around $4, making rambutans a very expensive fruit offering.

The song's lyrics include instructions on how to eat the fruit and says it “can cure all your ills” and “put you in the mood.” The lyrics concede that the fruit “looks a little scary,” but claims rambutan — the flavor of which brings to mind a grape — is “sweeter than the sweetest grape.”

For the specialty produce song aficionado, “Rambutan” should be available on Tavilla's web site (www.tavillasales.com) by mid-October, Mr. Locke said. At the request of Dan Lawton, manager of Tavilla's tropical fruit department, Mr. Locke is working on a mango song.

Mr. Locke is hoping for better success with his songwriting efforts than he experienced some dozen years ago with “Incommuni-avocado.” He said he sent it to the “avocado board” but never got a response.

He added that the production quality paled by comparison with “Rambutan.” “I just had a drum machine — it was kind of cheesy,” Mr. Locke said.

“Incommuni-avocado” — a play on the word “incommunicado” — was about a produce employee near and dear to Mr. Locke's heart who wins the lottery and suddenly goes AWOL from his employer.

Alas, despite lottery dreams and songwriting forays, Mr. Locke has yet to quit his day job.

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