Monthly Archives: March 2012

Surf’s Latin tinge

I’ve written a number of posts that dissect rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, that, more specifically, document my fascination with the way this strand of music treated certain motifs, phenomena, and themes, summoning them as dramatically, as physically, as visually as possible.

It was a slightly different matter with the Latin themes prevalent in post-War rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals, though, starting with fun early hits like the Champs’ “Tequila” (and dozens of lesser-known soundalikes), the Fireballs’ “Vaquero” and the Ventures’ “Perfidia,” and culminating in sleek, elegant rockets like the Astronauts’ “Baja” and the Sentinals’ “Latin’ia.”

Surf's Latin tinge

A closer look at post-War surf music's Latin tinge this week.

The music didn’t merely seek to conjure fanciful, romantic Pan-American imagery – the offshore breezes, the conquistadores and dark-eyed maidens, the liquor-soaked revelry, the jungles and snowcapped mountains, the bullfights, etc. – though that was certainly a large part of it.  Nor was it just that many of young groups who contributed to the new surf form were comprised partially or wholly of Mexican-American musicians (not surprising given southern California’s shifting post-War demographics), though this again did inform the music in subtle ways, and is worth an essay unto itself.

Mostly it was just that Latin music was so well suited to adaptation by the instrumental rock ‘n’ roll form from the start, most particularly the “exotic” atmosphere and Fender guitars, deep reverb and crashing drums that characterized much early surf music.   And it wasn’t just Ernesto Lecuona’s sweeping Latin works – “Siboney”, “Malagueña” and “The Breeze And I” (“Andalucía”) – either.  From the Pharos’ “Pintor” and the Surfmen’s “El Toro” to the Tornadoes’ “Malagueña” and Dick Dale’s “Spanish Kiss,” anything from a stately Cuban bolero to a Flamenco riff or hopped-up border-town mambo might get the surf guitar treatment.

The rock ‘n’ roll instrumental would never again be quite so colorful.

Charles Wright and the Malibus, Runky (Titanic 5003-2)1.  Charles Wright and the Malibus, Runky (Titanic 5003-2)
Released in the summer of ’62 on the short-lived southern California Titanic label, this appears to be the only release by Charles Wright and Malibus.

Biographical details are limited, but the story of the group is likely connected to two personalities: Tony Hilder, a Los Angeles music promoter, and Bruce Morgan, a studio engineer and one of the song’s co-authors.

Tony Hilder had been a promoter, producer and operator in the Los Angeles music scene since the ‘50s.  Quick to recognize the nascent popularity of instrumental surf music in the early ‘60s, he coordinated studio sessions for a stable of local groups (including the Revels, the Sentinals, the New Dimensions, Bob Vaught & the Renegaids and the Rhythm Kings, among others), hustling, in turn, still-hot master recordings out to various local labels for release.   Hilder also tended to have his stable of groups record compositions that he owned licensing rights to.  So songs like “Vesuvius,” “Church Key,” “Intoxica” and, yes, “Latin’ia” (which, true to form, is the flipside of this 45) tended to get disproportionate exposure.

Bruce Morgan, one of “Runky’s” co-authors, was an engineer and songwriter who worked frequently with Tony Hilder in the early ‘60s.  Morgan remains best known for his role in some very early Beach Boys-related sessions, but he recorded many other young groups in that time.  His own frequently-recorded compositions “Exotic” and “Luau” (which was also cut by the Beach Boys) share something of “Runky”’s Latin sensibilities.

Personnel is unknown here, but it seems highly plausible that some Hilder/Morgan regulars are playing, though nothing else in their discography has the quite the same swagger or grinding gutbucket guitar as “Runky.”

This is unrelated to the Charles Wright of Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band fame.

Note: Thanks to artist/discographer Wash from Eighth Avenue, who wrote in with a correction; this 45 does in fact involve the Charles Wright in some capacity.  The Wright-Gerstl publishing credit seen above would be reflected in much of the Charles Wright’s ’60s discography.  Wright’s connection to this recording is still ambiguous, however.  He may have been involved in writing, arranging or playing on it.  Or he may have simply managed to get it published to his name.  Hopefully this mystery will be cleared up in time.

The Torquays, Escondido (Gee Gee Cee 8163-A)2.  The Torquays, Escondido (Gee Gee Cee 8163-A)
The Torquays, from San Jose, consisted of brothers Raul, Pete and David Martinez on guitars and bass along with Jim Sierra on drums.

“Escondido,” named for a remote surfing spot on Mexico’s Oaxacan coastline, was recorded and released in a comparatively late 1964, though unreleased demo versions of both “Escondido” and “Surfer’s Cry,” its terrific flipside, were recorded at a slightly earlier date for eccentric Hollywood producer and songwriter Gary Paxton.

This selection seems to have been produced and released independently of Paxton’s auspices.  “Escondido” clearly owes something to the sweep of “Siboney” (and numerous Lecuona themes) as well as to the haunting melodicism of early classics like Gamblers’ “Moon Dawg” and Astronauts’ “Baja.”  A particularly streamlined demonstration of how some of early surf music’s general aesthetics, its stately atmosphere and its propulsive feel, suited Latin-inspired themes.

This was the only release on the tiny Gee Gee Cee label and, sadly, the only recorded output from the Torquays.

Thanks to Reverb Central and Ace Records’ Beach Party: Garpax Surf ‘N’ Drag for the information.

Calvin Cool, El Tecolote (CRC Charter CR-7)3.  Calvin Cool, El Tecolote (CRC Charter CR-7)
From a 1963 session put together by West Coast jazz-trumpeter-turned-studio-arranger Shorty Rogers comes this sterling gem.

This selection also appears on Calvin Cool’s Surfer’s Beat LP, released on CRC Charter (a webst coast subsidiary for MGM Records in the early ‘60s).

“El Tecolote” is easily the standout track on Surfer’s Beat, an album of otherwise uninspired sax-and-organ-dominated instrumental fare.  A studio-led cash-in to its core, and only nominally a Shorty Rogers product, Surfer’s Beat is likely the handiwork of the ubiquitous Wrecking Crew, a loose collective of Los Angeles-based studio professionals heard on thousands of the era’s hipper commercial pop, rock ‘n’ roll, soundtrack and R&B sessions.   (The surf music phenomenon was heavily exploited by the record industry – major and independent labels alike.)

It is almost certain the guitarist Jerry Cole providing the lead on “El Tecolote.”    Cole, a one-time member of the Champs, quickly distinguished himself as a session guitarist, even by the era’s standards incredibly prolific, moonlighting on hundreds of sessions, many of them surf-oriented, with a number of successful guitar instrumental albums to his own name as well (and many more released pseudonymously).  Likely supported by some combination of frequent associates like Leon Russell, Steve Douglas, Hal Blaine, Tom Tedesco or Larry Knectel, “El Tecolote” brims with wicked, forboding atmosphere, borrowing, like “Runky,” a bit of Les Baxter’s “Quiet Village” opening riff for good measure along the way.  It is a highlight of Wrecking-Crew-made surf, and one of Cole’s finest moments.

Jerry Cole passed away in 2008.

Posted in Instrumentals/Surf, Latin | 4 Comments

Get rhythm, part 2

Even by the early ‘70s, when Ace Tone Rhythm Aces and Maestro Rhythm Kings and Seeburg Select-a-Rhythms had achieved the limits of their popular use in rock and R&B music (see Bee Gees, Sly Stone, Lowell George, Timmy Thomas, et al.), the rhythm machine remained almost strictly a curiosity to the mainstream market, a demure electronic anomaly occasionally heard pattering away in the background.

If major-label artists and producers found the idea of their use beyond demo takes or studio rehearsals laughable, perhaps somehow offensive, the attractiveness for me of early rhythm machine records stems not just from their distinct sound (which I find charming), but also from their fundamental modesty.  One wasn’t necessarily aiming for the stars when a rhythm machine was used but – whether for their novel sound or out of necessity, or both – the artists behind these selections used them without any equivocation.

There are many other great, obscure examples of the instrument’s use on local and privately-pressed 45s and LPs from the ’60s and ’70s – from gospel and country to lounge-pop and wildly experimental rock.  I group these particular 45s together, however, not because they’re the clearest demonstrations of rhythms machines in use, but because there’s something unusual, if not psychedelic, about all of them.  Deliberately or not, the programmed rhythms of these machines help to add just another layer of peculiar atmosphere.

This is the second post about the early use of rhythm machines.

 Jupiter’s Children, This Is All I Ask (Triple O Records 000-228)1.  Jupiters’ Children, This Is All I Ask (Triple O Records 000-228)
There was much psychedelic weirdness in Michigan in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.  There were large cities there and, in the post-War decades at least, burgeoning, still-relatively-affluent suburbs.  The concentrations of middle-to-upper-class white kids there were the same type who, in a sort of logical extension of the mid-’60s garage band phenomenon, tended to create a lot of psychedelic weirdness later on.

Jupiters’ Children’s fantastic “This Is All I Ask” is a Detroit-area record from 1970.  The noisy production, haunting background vocals and bassline drone make for a strange record for certain, but its deeply melodic sensibilities are somewhat unusual, even by the standards of all that was “strange” about locally-produced psychedelia for the period.  Everything is kept restrained in an era of meandering jams and over-the-top vocals.

The Carnes listed in the song’s credits is Preston Carnes, who most likely sings on this.  Carnes was a local singer and musician who released a few rock’n’roll-oriented 45s in the early ‘60s.  Carnes also operated the Astra Records label, with some fine local R&B and instrumental rock ’n’ roll 45s to its credit in the early ‘60s.

In late ’66 or ‘67, operating under the sobriquet Preston, he released “This World is Closing In On Me” b/w “Waterfalls,” a brilliant and (again) wholly unique record of unique and early Michigan psychedelia, first released on the Sound Patterns label.  (“Waterfalls” can be heard on this old Office Naps mix.)

This record is also worth seeking out for the equally brilliant, wigged-out flipside, “Check Yourself (Superman’s Got Blisters).”

6 7/8, Ski-Daddle (Dot 45-16877)2.  6 7/8, Ski-Daddle (Dot 45-16877)
Best known, perhaps unjustly, for top sellers like Pat Boone and Lawrence Welk, the Los Angeles-based Dot Records, in terms of its 45 catalog, proved a fascinating and adventurous label at its peak between the late ‘50s and mid-‘60s.  In addition to its own roster of artists under contract, the label would often lease masters from independent producers, artists and studios nationwide for release.  And so a lot of wild and excellent instrumental, surf, rock ‘n’ roll, country, R&B and garage band 45 releases subsequently received some national distribution.

1966’s “Ski-Daddle” was the only recording made by 6 7/8.  6 7/8 seems to have served as a vehicle for the New York City-based pop songwriter Tony Romeo, heard here at the outset of his career in the industry.   Among other  ‘60s and ‘70s pop songs and collaborations, Romeo would pen hits for the Cowsills (“Indian Lake”), Lou Christie (“I’m Gonna Make You Mine”), the Brooklyn Bridge (“Welcome Me Love”) and David Cassidy and the Partridge Family (“I Think I Love You”).   Romeo would also sporadically release 45s and LPs under his own name in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, competent, but largely straight-laced, pop.

Romeo’s pop pedigree only makes this unclassifiable gem that much more unusual.  The group seems likely to have been comprised of professional studio musicians.  Something about this record makes me think it might have started out as a demo recording intended for auditioning the song, too, but that it proved marketable, or at least peculiar, enough for Dot Records to give it a shot at release in 1966.

After 6 7/8, Tony Romeo formed the group Trout with Cassandra Morgan and Tony’s brother Frank Romeo.  They released an orchestrated pop album in 1968 that stands out as one of Romeo’s stronger collaborations.  “Ski-Daddle,” in fact, is redolent of the sound of Trout’s folk-rock vocal harmonies – enough that it seems reasonable to suppose that 6 7/8 included Cassandra Morgan and Frank Romeo as well.

But “Ski-Daddle” is its own beast, either way.  The folk-y harmonies, nearly indecipherable lyrics, shimmering organ line and great masses of echo imbue “Ski-Daddle” with a lost, otherworldly feeling.    “Ski-Daddle” must be one of the earliest examples of the rhythm machine’s use on a commercial release.  Certainly it’s one of the strangest.

Tony Romeo passed away in 1995.

The Common People, Here, There, and Everywhere (United of flbl&g 2318-8)3.  The Common People, Here, There, and Everywhere (United of flbl&g 2318-8)
The Common People were a band formed in 1968 in Grand Rapids, Michigan (another locus of a lot of terrific ’60s rock ‘n’ roll).   Best known as a live attraction, the Common People toured the upper Midwest (and greater United States) extensively in the late ’60s and ’70s.

The vocalist here is one Lynn Nowicki, who is also familiar to ’60s rock  ‘n’ roll enthusiasts and collectors as the singer and leader of Lyn & the Invaders, an early (and comparatively rare) female-led rock ‘n’ roll group who released the brilliant “Boy is Gone” in 1966.   (There was also a slightly different recording of “Boy is Gone” released – under the name the Incredible Invaders – a bit later.)

Early versions of the Common People would include some the Invaders’ former members, but this recording is something of an anomaly, sounding little like the Invaders’ oeuvre or the Common People’s club-and-festival-friendly brand of ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.

Released on the band’s own label, likely in the early ’70s, this is one of the more unusual and effective treatments of the Lennon-McCartney staple.   Nowicki’s haunting vocals are run through a Leslie amp or tremolo unit, with only an acoustic guitar and the fragile pinging of a rhythm machine for accompaniment.   A study in otherworldly sensitivity. (The flipside, incidentally, is a good but less unorthodox late-’60s-sounding folk-rock version of “Love of the Common People.”)

Check out the West Mich Music Hysterical Society and Grand Rapids Rocks for pages (and photos) dedicated to the Common People, Lynn Nowicki and Lyn & the Invaders.   I’ve tried contacting some of the original members of the Common People, and with luck hope to provide some more details.

Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)4.  [BONUS TRACK]   Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)
Each of this week’s selections are from different points, stylistically, but the sensibilities of “Runaway Girl” puts its orbit much further out than the others.  Again, like all the selections, there is a curiously psychedelic, lo-fi flavor running through “Runaway Girl” – especially its introduction and ending – but, stylistically, it belongs clearly in the ‘70s.

Certainly the R. Dukett credited was Duke himself, but there’s little else in the way of leads on this 45.  Joy Records was likely from the upper Midwest, probably Illinois, with no relation to the Joy Records based in the late ‘60s in Detroit or the Joy Records operated out of New York City in the early ‘60s.

Its flipside is a fun, lounge-y instrumental version of “Malaguena,” but does nothing to dispel the mystery of Duke and this 45.


Posted in Garage Bands, Psychedelic/Pop | 9 Comments