Wednesday, July 13, 2011

October Country - learn all about this obscure but wonderful L.A. band!

October Country are featured on disc three of L.A. Gemstones: The Pop Box with their song "October Country", as well as on disc three of Where the Action Is! with "My Girlfriend Is a Witch".  Little was known about the group other than the fact that they were signed to Epic and released one album that was produced by Michael Lloyd.  Until now.  Dig this amazing 25 minute short film, and get to know all about them.  Real Hollywood history on display here!

Friday, July 8, 2011

L.A. Gemstones: The Rock Box - Disc Two Liner Notes

PART ONE: Entering Heaven Alive

1966 can probably be considered the turning point in the evolution of rock music, and many of the most forward thinking artists responsible for this sea change emerged from the garages and recording studios of Southern California. And who better to kick off Disc Two of this set than the leading lights of the Sunset Strip scene: the fabulous Byrds, with their dynamic b-side "Why?!" The brain-melting take heard here is the original mono mix that backed "Eight Miles High" as a single back in April, 1966. In its own way, this take of "Why?!" is every bit as visionary and far out as its more widely heralded counterpart.

Next up: originally known as The Fender Four until they were rechristened by Kim Fowley, The Sons of Adam featured guitarist Randy Holden (later of Bay Area-based noise merchants Blue Cheer) and were the house band at The Cinnamon Cinder for a brief spell in '66. Shortly after sharing a double bill with Love at Bido Lito's, Arthur Lee gifted The Sons with his fabulous "Feathered Fish", a hulking slice of proto-metal that must surely have been one of the loudest recordings to make it to vinyl that year. The Sons' drummer Michael Stuart would soon join Lee's band, and the rest as they say was history.

Meanwhile, across town, the young songwriting and performing duo of Chris Ducey and Craig Smith (or Chris & Craig for short) decided to audition for a new ABC series about a struggling folk rock group named The Happeners, and ultimately landed the starring roles alongside Suzannah Jordan (later of Peyton Place).  A pilot was filmed featuring original music by Chris & Craig, but the show was ultimately discarded when the network refused to cut it down from one hour in length to thirty minutes. However, the duo did manage to release one fantastic side's worth of early baroque psych with the tantalizing "Isha", produced by Wrecking Crew stalwart Steve Douglas for Capitol Records. Chris & Craig would both later surface in the much loved Sunset Strip band The Penny Arkade about whom you'll hear more later.

Also found out and about on the Strip on any given day was local scenester Bobby Jameson. Having just returned to Hollywood from an less-than-successful meeting with Andrew Oldham and The Rolling Stones over in England, Jameson found himself in the peculiar situation of now having to write somebody else's music. To elaborate, Surrey Records owner Randy Wood had commissioned a budget-line album for his label titled Songs of Protest and Anti-Protest by the aforementioned Chris Ducey. When Ducey instead bailed on the project to cast his lot with Craig Smith, Wood was left in a lurch. You see, the album's cover art (a candid shot of Brian Jones onstage blowing harp at the Whisky a-Go-Go) had already been printed before Ducey even recorded a song, and now a lucrative European distribution deal for Surrey hung in the balance. Enter Bobby Jameson, who was summarily recruited to compose and record original songs to match the titles printed on the sleeve within in the span of two weeks. Jameson responded to the challenge admirably and turned in a great set of material, and in a bizarre final move Surrey simply changed the "D" in Ducey's name, and as such a new artist was born: Chris Lucey. After all this fuss, the album predictably tanked on both continents, and Jameson went back to what he did best: bumming up and down the Strip and auditioning for anyone who would listen. The blistering "Vietnam", included here and featuring uncredited backing from The Leaves, was recorded specifically for director Robert Carl Cohen's film MONDO HOLLYWOOD.

As The Byrds were off touring the U.K. (an experience that would unfortunately cost them the services of their fine singer/ songwriter Gene Clark) and professionals like Chris Ducey, Craig Smith and Bobby Jameson struggled to find their place amidst the greats, things were starting to get white hot in the garages of the surrounding suburbs. From Santa Barbara hailed The Vandells, who would quickly change their name to The Dovers and release four hugely regarded (by collectors) singles on the tiny Miramar label. The pick of the bunch is "The Third Eye", an absolutely insane acid-fueled two-minute masterpiece. While somewhat obscure even during their own time, The Dovers may have well as been The Beatles when compared to another local band Thee In-Set, about which we could locate absolutely no information, other than the fact that they hailed from the greater L.A. area and released one single on the ultra-obscure Cal Omen label. The a-side, "They Say", is a soulful garage scorcher and well worthy of inclusion here.  Santa Barbara's His Majesties Coachmen were nearly as obscure as Thee In-Set. All we know about these fellows is that their jangle pop wonder "I Don't Want to See You" came out on the tiny Gemini label and bubbled under on the KIST Santa Barbara charts the week of August 13, 1966. Elsewhere, from the town of Garden Grove came the aptly named Limey & the Yanks, comprised of four American backing musicians and fronted by Brit expat Steve Cook. The Yanks achieved a bit more success than those other groups I just mentioned, releasing a handful of singles including the ultra-catchy "Out of Sight, Out of Mind", playing with many top acts of their time including The Turtles, The Association and The Byrds and striking a commercial sponsorship with "Boss Radio" KHJ that included promotional appearances alongside the casts of 1966's two hottest TV shows: Batman and The Monkees.

The Monkees was the brainchild of producers Bob Rafelson and Burt Schneider, and was influenced not only by A Hard Day's Night, but also by The Happeners which it was originally slated to run up against until the latter was pulled by ABC.  Craig Smith was actually one of many local kids to audition for The Monkees, and wound up striking up a friendship with Michael Nesmith in the process. (Nesmith would record Smith's "Salesman" for the Monkees' 1967 Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones, Ltd. LP and subsequently manage The Penny Arkade.) Other notable Monkee auditioners included: Stephen Stills, Rodney Bingenheimer, Bobby Jameson, Bill Chadwick, Bryan MacLean (Love) and Mark Andes (Spirit/ Jo Jo Gunne). Once the group's membership was narrowed down to Davy, Peter, Micky and Mike, Colgems exec Don Kirsher set about finding potential hit songs to record for the group. Two of the primary sources for these songs were the duos of Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart and Gerry Goffin & Carole King. The latter actually co-composed the wild "Sweet Young Thing" along with Mike Nesmith, and it is included here as a prime example of Mike's early musical greatness, as well as a stand-out track from the first Monkees LP.

Several of the tracks recorded for the Monkees' first two Colgems albums were recorded by other groups at more or less the same time. Boyce & Hart's "Words" was first recorded by The Leaves (as heard on disc one of The Rock Box), while their classic "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" would be also covered by both Paul Revere & The Raiders and The W.C. Fields Memorial Electric String Band. Likewise, Goffin & King would see their "Take a Giant Step" reworked by a dynamic Sunset Strip band by the name of The Rising Sons. Though not generally recognized today (chiefly due to the fact that their album was buried by Columbia and never released) The Sons contained some pretty notable players in Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and Jesse Lee Kincaid. One of the Strip's first bi-racial groups, they were also one of its best, regularly referred to as L.A.'s Rolling Stones. The Sons are represented here by Jesse Kincaid's wistful Merseybeat tribute, "The Girl with Green Eyes".

All up and down The Strip, and in endless garages throughout SoCal, the Revolution was in full bloom by Summer '66. The Byrds were now a top-tier worldwide headlining act, hobnobbing with The Beatles and The Stones at home and abroad, while in their absence Love had now conquered the Strip, becoming the hottest ticket in town upon the release of their debut LP and killer singles "My Little Red Book" and "7 and 7 Is". Finally America was producing top notch talent at or near the level of their British peers, and even the second or third rate Sunset Strip bands like The Enemys (led by future Three Dog Night-er Cory Wells) and The Things to Come (featuring the soon-to-be renowned session drummer Russ Kunkel) were producing great music. And if one were looking for signs that things were getting a little bit weird out on the southern side of the west coast, one need only consider the choice of subject matter shared by The Things to Come's "Speak of the Devil" and "The Man That Makes the Deals", a sinister cauldron brew by a young Fullerton band with the memorable moniker of The Satans. There was also an upstart group of misfits from the Valley who somewhat ridiculously named themselves The Electric Prunes. Their first single was a cover of The Gypsy Trips' "Ain't It Hard" that featured the memorable couplet "Well your brother's in the bathroom with acid in his head/ and there's no place to go 'cuz the town's all dead." Indeed.

Other sightings out on the horizon: From the south suburbs of LaVerne came a group of stoners calling themselves The Bees who released one all-time classic single in "Voices Green and Purple"/ "Trip to New Orleans". The Orange County band The Human Expression were, if anything, perhaps even more deranged than the Bees, but nevertheless crafted some brilliantly lysergic art/punk singles for the Accent label, with the help of engineer par excellance Wally Heider. The sinister "Every Night" was composed by leader Jim Quarles and was the b-side of their first 45. Another group that were getting way out of their minds by this point were Lancaster's Merrell & the Exiles, or as they were now calling themselves Farpardokly. Led by a brilliant young songwriter in Merrell Fankhauser, the group had been crafting quality music since their original surfin' days as The Impacts, during which Fankhauser had composed a little number you might have heard of called "Wipe Out". By late 1966 he had set his sights on the phoniness of the record industry with his acerbic ballad "The Music Scene." Finally there was the deceptively clean-looking Somebody's Chyldren, who wrote great garage punkers for Mike Curb's Tower Records subsidiary like "Goin' Back to New York City" and are immortalized by perhaps the most bizarre piece of wax to come out of the entire L.A. scene: a garage rock album they cut with Mae West on vocals.

PART TWO: A Swift Descent Back to Reality

The L.A. youth music scene was, of course, centered around Hollywood's Sunset Strip and the clubs and cafes that lined it: The Whisky a-Go-Go, The Trip, The Galaxy, The London Fog, The Sea Witch, It's Boss (previously Ciro's), Pandora's Box and others. With top local bands such as The Byrds, Love, The Seeds, The Standells, The Leaves, The Turtles, The Mothers of Invention, The Grass Roots, The Buffalo Springfield and The Doors (not to mention worldwide touring acts such as The Yardbirds, Them and The Lovin' Spoonful) playing nightly, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the Strip was getting mobbed with teenagers from all over the Southland on a regular basis. Local proprietors, no doubt scared shitless by the prospect of long haired "weirdos" scaring off their straight clientele, went bitching to Country Sheriff Peter J. Pitchess and City Supervisor Eugene E. Debs. The kids were tying up traffic and, worse, not spending any money. They would have to go.

The fascist Debs wasted no time developing a plan of action based around a 10pm curfew for anyone 18 or under found on the streets of Hollywood, and Pitchess's gestapo were only to happy to oblige their Supervisor. Reports of police entering Canter's deli and physically carrying minors out and throwing them into squad cars were not uncommon. Many young men reported having guns drawn on them by the fuzz and being questioned as to the nature of their sexuality due to nothing more than the length of their hair. Eventually frustration amongst the local youth reached critical mass, and starting on Friday, November 11th, 1966, a peaceful youth demonstration organized by C.A.F.F. (Community Action for Facts and Freedom) was staged. Four the next nine days, altercations between police and protestors grew progressively worse, culminating in what the press referred to as a riot when a small group of protesters overturned a bus outside of Pandora's Box. (The full details of the showdown on the Strip can be found in Domenic Priore's aptly named Riot on the Sunset Strip [Jawbone Books; 2007].)

In the wake of the standoff, numerous clubs including the Trip, the London Fog, It's Boss and Stratford-on-Sunset were all closed down by the City. Others, like the Whisky, immediately stopped booking rock bands for fear of having their dance cards revoked. It was, in essence, the death of the scene. And while The Buffalo Springfield's timeless "For What It's Worth" did an incredible job of encapsulating in music the negative vibes the L.A. cops brought with them, no song did a better job of presenting the average teenager's point of view than Terry Randall's "S.O.S. (Save Our Strip)". In the plaintive voice of an every-teen, Randall (whom as far as I know never recorded anything before or since) lays out the lament of his entire peer group:

"Don't they realize?/ Can't they see?/ We're just being what we've got a right to be/ We have a Constitutional guarantee behind us."

If anything positive can be salvaged from the wake of what was essentially the autocratic destruction of the epicenter of the artistic renaissance of the late twentieth century, it can be summarized thusly: America's youth still had one year left until the end of the innocence. While the downfall of the Sunset Strip's nightlife may have moved the heart of the peace movement to Golden Gate Park and Height/ Ashbury, at least there was still a peace movement throughout 1967, and flower power was very much alive. And as we will see, 1967 would be the first year where the LP would overtake the 45 RPM single as the music medium of choice for "today's listeners". And no group could have more ably kick-started that trend than a group of Angelinos who had been steadily working their way up the L.A. musical hierarchy for the last year and a half: The Doors.

Not since The Rolling Stones had a band so thoroughly captivated the hearts and minds of American listeners, and not since Jagger had there been a frontman to tangibly dangerous and exciting as Morrison. Had the band only released "Light My Fire", they would still stand as one of the great groups of their era. Thankfully they would go on to release two entire LPs just in 1967 alone, the first of which would include the shimmering "The Crystal Ship" as a highlight.

Also making their presence felt at roughly the same time as The Doors were two other crucial bands of the Sunset Strip Scene: The Buffalo Springfield and The Seeds. Both had released albums prior to The Doors and already had hit singles to their name with "For What It's Worth" and "Pushin' Too Hard" respectively. However, while The Springfield were a constantly evolving entity as their follow-up single "Mr. Soul" (presented in its original mono 45 mix here) amply demonstrates, The Seeds knew exactly where their bread was buttered and proceeded to repeat the basic stomp formula of "Pushin'" ad infinitum. Not that this didn't make for some killer grooves, as the early stoner anthem "Mr. Farmer" proves beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Meanwhile, Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention had returned from Hawaii with a new album ready to record. With their budget from MGM slashed in half after Freak Out! didn't deliver commercially, Frank and his cronies nevertheless went on to create what in retrospect stands as perhaps their finest album ever. Absolutely Free shows the early MOI to be a band already at the height of their powers, bolstered immeasurably by the addition of keyboardist Don Preston and second drummer Billy Mundi. The album is a stone classic from beginning to end, and would remain the Mothers' highest charting LP. "Plastic People", a song the group had been performing since 1965, was the opening cut and sounds great here in its original mono mix.

Rounding out the set, the most notable groups are the great electric boogie band Canned Heat whose "Rollin' and Tumblin" would be one of the highlights of The Monterey International Pop Festival (which we will discuss in more detail in the next essay) and The Chambers Brothers, a black family vocal group originally from the Bay Area who possessed strong gospel and folk roots but were in the process of adopting a harder rock/ soul sound since relocating to L.A. "(She Don't Want to) Tie Me Down" captures them right in the midst of this transitional phase, and is perfect. The Leaves you'll of course remember from disc one, and they make a return appearance here with a cut off their second LP All the Good That's Happening: the delightfully lysergic square dance singalong "Twilight Sanctuary". It's too bad the group imploded shortly after this, because, trust me, this song is a blast!  Elsewhere, The Merry-Go-Round were the brainchild of teenaged wunderkind Emmit Rhodes, who at a young age had already played drums with The Palace Guard and was now well on his way to achieving great stature as a McCartney-esque balladeer. Keith Allison was a sought after session guitarist from Texas, good buddy of Mike Nesmith, and future Raider. Here he adds his lead vocal to an old Raiders' album cut, the exciting "Louise". Brewer & Brewer-- formerly Mastin & Brewer, but not yet Brewer & Shipley of "One Toke Over the Line" fame-- were at this point friends of The Buffalo Springfield who put together a nice little single in the form of "Need You" that highlighted the Brewer brothers' excellent acoustic guitar work against a decidedly low-pitched flute. Billy Mundi was their drummer for a brief spell before he hooked up with Zappa.

Of the more studio-oriented rock groups releasing records in early 1967, The Grass Roots were pretty much the best of the bunch. Actually, while the musicians were new to the group, the band had been around in name only for over a year and had even had a minor hit in 1965 with a cover of Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" which they simply re-titled "Mr. Jones". When the nascent Grass Roots (a Bay Area band originally called The Beaudoins that were enlisted to tour behind the Grass Roots name by producers P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri) could no longer hold down the gig, Sloan and Barri enlisted a new group, formerly known as The 13th Floor. This would be the line-up we all know and love, featuring the late great Rob Grill on vocals and Creed "weird dude on The Office" Bratton on lead guitar. They hit right off the bat with a re-recorded version of "Where Were You When I Needed You" (see The Pop Box [disc one]) in '66 and then re-recorded an Italian hit by the name of "Let's Live for Today", having a mega-hit with it. The Let's Live for Today LP (which also included "Where Were You When I Needed You?", co-incidentally the title of their previous LP... Confused yet?) was a mini-masterpiece, featuring numerous strong album tracks by from  both the Sloan/ Barri team and the group themselves. "Wake Up, Wake Up" is perhaps the best of the bunch, a sterling acoustic gem with a fantastically trippy breakdown section.

Of the two remaining tracks on this disc, The Leathercoated Minds were a group of session musicians including J.J. Cale who covered "The hits of the day" and lumped them together into one neat-o package titled A Trip Down the Sunset Strip. It sounds horrible in concept but in actuality the record is fab, and the groovy cover version of "Eight Miles High" that we pulled from it is the best track. Cale very nearly emulates Jim McGuinn's 12 string passages lick for lick-- very tasty! The Good Feelins were a part of what was a pretty cool little underground scene up in the Inland Empire, hailing as they did from San Bernardino Valley College. This one was released on the tiny Rock-It label.

See you next time, folks!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

L.A. Gemstones: The Rock Box - Disc One Liner Notes

If you take a look at the current state of popular music, one notion that seems to be disappearing from our collective consciousness is the idea of a "regional sound", the last vestiges of which seemingly evaporated around 1996 in the wake of the Telcom Reform Act and Clear Channel's subsequent domination of the commercial airwaves. Seemingly the days of referring to commercial artists as part of the "SoCal Pop Punk", "East Coast Hip-Hop" or "Manchester Underground" scenes are gone, and what we're left with is a Top 40 comprised of homogenized end product with no distinct identity.

When considering the artists who define pop music and by extent pop culture today, there is no real connection to the communities or scenes that produced them. Lady Gaga does not portray a New York "sound" any more than Beyonce's music is representative of Dallas, Texas or Katy Perry's is of Southern California. In other words, while the music is state-of-the-art, it is also highly interchangeable. A Swedish producer might create a beat that is turned down by Kelly Clarkson (Fort Worth, TX) and Britney Spears (Kentwood, Louisana) before being co-opted by P!nk (Doylestown, PA). This is only made possible by the fact that most mainstream commercial artists of today's pop music market do not bring forth any sort of regional identity to their art.

Now contrast this with the 1960s, when each particular region of the United States had a signature "sound", and a listener could often identify where a record was cut simply by listening to it. Again, much of this had to do with radio play, as "regional hits" were still quite prevalent. A song that was a dud in Chicago might take off in Dallas, spread to Phoenix and then onto San Francisco, sometimes affording artists an opportunity to tour a specific area, and thereby hopefully generating a modest amount of success for them.

Likewise, a record cut for a small indie label also had the potential to explode nationwide, thereby turning a regional sound to a nationwide sensation. This happened with Chicago's Buckinghams, who recorded their first single "Kind of a Drag" for the tiny U.S.A. label. The single spread regionally, slowly at first before picking up steam, before ultimately becoming a Billboard #1 smash hit and introducing the peppy, horn-driven "Chicago Sound" to a nationwide audience.

But as this package focuses exclusively on bands from Los Angeles and Southern California, it might behoove us to consider exactly what was the L.A. sound? There are perhaps a few defining factors; of course no two bands of the era were exactly the same. But as with most cultural movements, if studied intently patterns begin to emerge.

At the top of the decade, the four primary musical influences that permeated throughout the sound of nearly every group on the SoCal scene were Rockabilly, RnB, Folk and Surf.  Which style you played determined which sort of band you were. While initially four very distinct entities, by late 1964 in the wake of the British Invasion these strains would begin to merge, and would soon be joined by a fifth (electric blues), sixth (modal jazz) and seventh (country/ bluegrass) dominant paradigm.   So while each of these seven strains were uniquely American, it was really these U.K. beat groups that first succeeded in blending them-- as with The Beatles covering Smokey's "You Really Got a Hold on Me" or The Who doing their own spin on Jan & Dean's "Bucket T".

For young West Coast bands just starting up at this time (who were perhaps not particularly as steeped in any of these influences as their musical forefathers were) it was the popular British bands who provided the blueprint, and soon these young groups began co-opting both the heavy, blues-based sounds of The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds as well as the pop smarts of The Beatles and The Hollies. Two years later, acid would hit the scene and bring with it a renewed appreciation in Eastern culture and all things mystic, along with a heavier guitar-driven sound deeply influenced by Jimi Hendrix of The Experience and Eric Clapton of The Cream. And when this psychedelic steam engine inevitably crashed, many bands would lick their wounds and retreated to the country to make a different sort of music.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here.  Let us first begin with the early (1960-63) sixties, a time when a renewed sense of optimism, fueled by a popular young President, was reflected in the popular sounds found around Southern California. While young adults would flock to the Sunset Strip to check out their favorite "show bands" (tuxedo-clad outfits specializing in covers of the "hot" songs of the day), hip teenagers were making their way up and down the coast to dig the various surfer "stomps" held at the sundry ballrooms, auditoriums and beachfront dives that dotted the coast. The bands that played these stomps were generally instrumental combos specializing in the new "Surf" style, heavy on Duane Eddy-style guitar twang, but possessing a new melodic sensibility not found in Rockabilly. (These wonderful Surf bands will be canonized in a future edition of L.A. Gemstones.) Many of these groups also doubled as show bands on a teenage scale, generating all out RnB mayhem at local hops and teen dances. Occasionally, a really hot act from out of town might come through and blow some minds. One such unit was Portland's Paul Revere & the Raiders whose driving first contribution to the Rock Box, "Over You", does a good job of capturing their early intensity as a live act.

Down on the Sunset Strip, some local artists were beginning to emerge whose popularity threatened to outgrow the greater L.A. area. Chiefly amongst these was Johnny Rivers, a transplanted New Yorker who quickly parlayed his position as the headliner at the newly opened Whisky-a-Go-Go into a series of hit "live" albums and singles, and The Standells, a quartet of local boys helmed by their singing drummer Dick Dodd, who had previously played with the Surf combo The Bel-Airs. The Standells were perhaps the first local band to become fixtures on the Hollywood TV scene, clearing a path that many other hot local acts would follow.

In the wake of the first wave of the British Invasion, seemingly all L.A. was willfully indulging itself in all things Anglo, with practically every new band emulating The Beatles or The Rolling Stones to some degree. Though derivative by definition, many of these groups and performances are in their own way just as great as the artists and songs they chose to emulate.

In the Beatles camp, look no further than The New Invaders' "Don't Let Me Down" or the San Diego based The Other Four's "Searching for My Love"-- two of the best homages to A Hard Day's Night and Beatles For Sale that one is ever likely to hear. Even better at aping the classic Beatles sound were The Knickerbockers. These former New Jerseyites took the Strip by storm, headlining at the Red Velvet and garnering a reputation as the city's premier show band, even before their Fab-tastic "Lies" became a nationwide smash hit. Their harmony-laden "I Can Do It Better" (written by Dan Seals and Dash Crofts of "Summer Breeze" fame) is a lost classic of early Brit-influenced harmony pop and is included here for your listening enjoyment.

As for Stones-esque RnB swagger, no one could do it better than The Preachers. One can only imagine today what kind of reaction this performance on TV's Shivaree caused in parents and authority figures still frightened by the "long" hair and "raucous" sounds of the Beatles:

While The Preachers were the quintessential example of the show band "gone bad" (you could tell those matching suits weren't long for this world!), they were quickly followed by other groups in the same mold such as The Starfires, whose sinister b-side "I Never Loved Her" remains one of the highest priced garage 45s you'll find anywhere. (Original copies on the G.I. label have been known to fetch over $1,000 according to Wikipedia.) Suddenly, overdriven amplifiers and the Maestro fuzz box were de rigueur as so-called "garage bands" began sprouting up throughout southern California, lead by such gone but not forgotten teen combos as Bakersfield's The Avengers ("Be a Caveman") and L.A.'s The Rogues ("Wanted Dead or Alive"). If anyone was amused by this onslaught of fuzz, it must have been Dick Dale, who had been achieving his signature guitar sound for years via loudspeakers that had been slashed with a switchblade (and can be heard here on his Gary Usher-produced "Mr. Eliminator").

Across town in East L.A., Pachuco kids were getting into the act and starting their own garage RnB combos as well. Chief amongst these much loved groups were Cannibal & the Headhunters with their hit cover of "Land of 1,000 Dances", The Premiers with another great cover in "Farmer John", Thee Midnighters, makers of a bona fide instrumental classic in "Whittier Blvd." and the multi-racial Mark & the Escorts, best remembered for their frantic "Get Your Baby". These groups all received radio play from local DJs like Huggy Boy and Godfrey, and would often play together at large package showcases before the cops, responding to complaints from irate parents, quickly put an end to it.

Back in Hollywood, both the rockabilly and folk sounds that were popular at the beginning of the decade were beginning to evolve too in the wake of the British Invasion. A group of West Texas natives going by the name of The Bobby Fuller Four came to town and began bowling the locals over with their high-energy, Buddy Holly-influenced sound. "I Fought the Law" was the big hit, but just as good was their "Never to Be Forgotten". Folk Rock, meanwhile, began in earnest the minute The Byrds hit Ciro's, as surely everyone reading this already knows. "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better" was their strongest original song, and was written and sung by the great Gene Clark who also appears solo on L.A. Gemstones: The Pop Box. Interestingly, Surf heroes The Sandals actually seem to have presaged by a year the "jangle-pop" sound that later made The Byrds famous. The evidence is included here, and is titled "Always (I Will Remember)".

The Byrds stand at Ciro's led directly to the Hollywood Folk Rock explosion, as kids from all over southern California began to descend upon the Strip, looking for kicks. In no short order the world would be introduced to other top acts such as The Association and The Leaves.  The Association would of course go on to great fame as a vocal pop group, but they started off in a genuinely Folk Rock-y vein with their great cover of Anne Bredon's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You".  Likewise, The Leaves were a quintet of frat boys from Cal State Northridge who made inroads into the local scene at exactly the right time, and wound up replacing The Byrds as the headliners at Ciro's when that group left for their first U.S. tour.  (Their sinister version of Boyce & Hart's "Words" is their contribution to this set.)

Nobody benefited more from the Hollywood Folk Rock explosion than singer/ songwriter P.F. Sloan who along with partner Steve Barri penned hits for himself ("The Sins of the Family"), Barry McGuire ("This Precious Time"), The Turtles ("Let Me Be") and The Grass Roots ("Where Were You When I Needed You?").  And if The Byrds and these other artists just mentioned comprised the top tier of this new generation of L.A. bands, looming just below them were local club favorites such as The Palace Guard, The Matthew Moore +4, The Beckett Quintet and Chris Morgan & the Togas. It's also worth noting that some of the best records from this era came from groups that only existed in the recording studio such as The Green Beans (one of numerous anonymous studio sides to feature Davie Allan of The Arrows fame).  Somewhere in between were The Grains of Sand-- a legitimate L.A. bar band whose second single "Goin' Away Baby" was produced by ubiquitous Hollywood scenester Kim Fowley with assistance from Michael Lloyd of The Rogues.

However, three of the city's most important and individualistic groups did not appear on the scene until the end of '65.  Sean Bonniwell's black clad and gloved The Music Machine  were perhaps the most sinister band to emerge from the L.A. rock underground, and their Farfisa 'n' fuzz-driven sound, highlighted by Bonniwell's unnerving baritone, is perfectly represented on "Masculine Intuition".  The highly charged Love were led by the talented singer Arthur Lee and were not only one of the first racially diverse bands on the Strip, but also one of the best period.  The group played at the Sea Witch, Bido Lito's and the Brave New World before eventually graduating to the Whisky a-Go-Go, and stories of their early gigs are legendary.  "My Flash on You" is taken from their Elektra debut and is a prime slice of hard sixties rock. Closing out disc one is the most progressive band to emerge from the entire L.A. scene: Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.  Their "Hungry Freaks Daddy" is a timeless anthem for anyone who rejects mainstream society, and is featured here in its mono single mix.

We'll continue the trip with DISC TWO of The Rock Box!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

SO... what's this all about?!

Hello, and welcome to the all new L.A. Gemstones blog.  This blog is inspired by the classic L.A. Gemstones series compilations of rock and pop music from Los Angeles 1964-69.

It was decided by the compilers of the series that, in lieu of writing extensive liner notes that would probably take a year or more to finish, we would instead make the liners *interactive*.  This allows us not only the luxury of writing at our own pace, but also gives us the opportunity to address your questions on all things L.A. in the sixties.  Indeed it is our hope that this blog will also function not just as a reflection of the Gemstones collection, but also as an extension of it.

So ready the Wayback Machine for a groovy journey through L.A.'s past, as we discuss not only the bands that made the scene but also all aspects of the environment that shaped their lives and music.  Your first assignment (should you choose to accept it) is to familiarize yourself with the groups.  Start here, man:

L.A. Gemstones: The Pop Box -  1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
L.A. Gemstones: The Rock Box - 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5
Track Listing (both sets)

Once you've got that bit down, add us to your favorites and come back and check us out regularly.  There's always plenty to talk about!


J Pinnacle
Hon. Reverend
Church of the Crystal Sphere

This blog exists to honor and promote all the great musical artists that made Los Angeles in the 1960s the great artistic renaissance that it was.  We do not, nor will we ever, engage in any selling or attempting to profit off of this site or any content found within.  Thank you.