Everybody wipe out now

When they’re discussed at all, the early 1960s are usually derided as rock ‘n’ roll’s Dark Ages, the years when the hot guitar licks and sexualized strains of boogie and backbeat were subdued by an army of brylcreemed teen idols steering pop music safely back to Middle America.

It’s an unfair characterization. First, the Fabians and Frankie Avalons aside, there actually were a number of fascinating teen pop and R&B; productions particular to the time.

Second, and far more significantly, there is truth to the prevailing idea that rock ‘n’ roll in its original form fell out of commercial favor during the early ‘60s. But the spirit of adolescent musical fervor would remain very much alive in that time. The spirit had just reconfigured itself, stealing into the high school gyms, dancehalls and beer parties of the American landscape.

The Southern rockabilly front men, if you could find them in 1961, might be singing country in hinterland juke joints. Elvis was onscreen warbling “Blue Hawaii,” Little Richard had gone gospel and the Beatles were still pups. But from Tacoma, Washington and San Antonio to Minneapolis and Portland, Maine, every American burg had its young proponents of rock ‘n’ roll in the early ‘60s, its homegrown version of the Fireballs or the Champs. They were the combos turning out energetic, boozy covers like “Greenback Dollar,” “Tequila,” “Let the Good Times Roll,” and maybe a wild original or two. They took up the mantle of rock ‘n’ roll where the first generation had left off, taking their cues from a different lineage of musicians: the Isley Brothers, Link Wray and Wraymen, Bo Diddley, the Coasters, the Fendermen.

With saxophones, twangy guitars, matching suits, and a repertoire of party-friendly R&B; vocals and raunchy instrumentals, groups like the Ventures (“Walk, Don’t Run”), the Rivieras (“California Sun”) and the Johnny & the Hurricanes (“Red River Rock”) sprang from the demographic that would sustain rock ‘n’ roll for decades to come: the towns and suburbs of middle class America. It wasn’t as flamboyant perhaps as the first generation, but great rock ‘n’ roll, it turns out, was not in a state of hibernation in the early ‘60s. Not at all. It had just flown to the provinces.

Two or three years later, some groups might update their repertoires with the staccato guitar runs of surf music, that most stylized form of early ‘60s instrumental rock ‘n’ roll. Another year or two would pass and other groups might ditch the saxophones and buzz cuts altogether and, with any luck, transition successfully into the British Invasion. Some, however, seem to have always existed in a twilight zone of their own singular making. Like this week’s selections.

1. The Lincoln Trio, Shake Down (Fascination)
Fascination was a small independent label founded in the late ‘50s by legendary Detroit record impresario Armen Boladian. With only one other 45 (the similarly obscure and exotic “Garden of Eden,” also on Fascination Records) to their name, the whys and hows of the Lincoln Trio, however, remain elusive. The names in “Shake Down”’s writing credits can be spotted on several other Fascination releases, suggesting that Claude Howard, Jacob Davidson and Isidore Jacobs were Detroit studio songwriters and musicians that Boladian regularly hired.

They may been professional musicians. Or not. The guitar is muffled, the bass nearly non-existent: Boladian’s production technique is either sloppy or bracingly spontaneous, depending on the frame of mind. There’s a wonderfully dark and raw energy to 1960’s “Shake Down,” though. The kind of energy that says danger and drama. The kind of energy that’s impossible to recreate if you’ve had more than ten minutes to practice beforehand.

Armen Boladian would go on to form one of the great independent soul labels of the ‘70s, Westbound Records, home to the Parliament/Funkadelic aggregation, the Ohio Players and the Detroit Emeralds among other notables.

Boladian, strangely enough, has been in sampling and copyright law news in recent years.

2. The Crescents (Featuring Chiyo), Pink Dominos (Era)
The Crescents were formed in Los Angeles in the early ‘60s by Tom Bresh (guitar), Tom Mitchell (bass), Ray Reed (saxophone) and the mysterious Chiyo (guitar).

Bill Eucker (the writer credited for “Pink Dominos”) was a guitar instructor at Ernie Ball’s store and studio in Thousand Oaks, California. It seems likely that it was there that Eucker handed off “Pink Dominos” to the Crescents’ guitarist Thom Bresh, then a young pupil at Ball’s studio.

Idle speculation aside, the group’s second 45 was “Devil’s Surf” and, with a title like that, you pretty much knew what you were getting: a minor-key title laden with echo, crashing drums and exotic surf guitar riffs. On the other hand, no listener would ever have any idea what “Pink Dominos” were, which in turn meant that Chiyo and company could do pretty much whatever they wanted with it. And so they did, turning their studio time into a noisy, pounding workout that was popular enough with the part of America that did not suffer from migraines to make it a small hit in 1963.

The Crescents were like other early ‘60s instrumental bands during California surf music’s glory years, issuing a few obscure 45s before migrating on to other things with the advent of the British Invasion. The Crescents were categorically unlike any other such groups, however, in one way: Chiyo was female. This would make her one of the very few, if not the only, female guitarists in all of surf music, as far as I know.

The Crescent’s guitarist Thom Bresh is the son of legendary country singer-songwriter and guitar picker Merle Travis. Bresh, himself a renowned guitarist, has enjoyed a wildly varied career in television,
film and country music since a young age. He remains active in the industry today.

3. Ronny Kae, Swinging Drums (Band Box)
Session drummer Ronny Kae’s professional career began in his native New York City, but he’s more likely to be remembered – at least in his adopted state of Colorado – as the founder of one of Denver’s venerable music shops, Drum City (now
Drum City Guitarland).

Before Drum City’s beginnings in 1965, though, before the Louisiana Purchase and before, even, the signing of the Magna Carta. It was somewhere around last Ice Age, I believe, back with the wooly mammoths and glaciers and everything when Ronny Kae would be cutting a few feral records of his own. Sandy Nelson, Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine: there was precedent for session drummers who made successful pop instrumentals in the early ‘60s, but nothing could have prepared audiences for the hairy kinetic racket that is 1962’s “Swinging Drums.”

“Pink Dominos” may be primitive, but “Swinging Drums” is positively prehistoric. If the instrumentation of “Shake Down” is unorthodox, then “Swinging Drums” is avant-garde. Minimalist art or caveman curiosity? As with all the best early rock ‘n’ roll recordings, “Swinging Drums” must be considered both ways.

Band Box was a tiny Denver record label. Shortly after “Swinging Drums,” Kae would follow up with another lowbrow milestone, “Drums Fell Off a Cliff,” also on Band Box.

After a successful, decades-long run in the retail musical instrument business, Ronny Kae passed on in 1993. His sons Tim and Jason now run Drum City Guitarland.

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20 Responses to Everybody wipe out now

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanx for putting those obscuro surf instrumentals up! Surf instrumentals are some of the best of early rock ‘n roll, and there was so much diversity because you had so many tiny record labels—not like today, sadly. These surf instrumentals are MUCH appreciated—post more if you’ve got ’em please?

  2. JeffW says:

    Finally….

    SWINGING DRUMS!

    I remember the day you found this. How many times did you listen to it that night? 30?

  3. Yeah, 30, very likely. Some people seemed to get its appeal, others less so.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Wow. It’s a damn shame that Mr. Kae has passed on; I think that Mark Smith of The Fall could really have got something incredible going with him. In fact, this sounds like a cruder, more evil version of “Lie Dream of a Casino Soul”…

    (AK in CLE)

    P.S. Are you considering someday posting “Drums Fell Off a Cliff”?
    I sure hope so!

  5. jon says:

    Magic! Swinging Drums is the best thing I’ve heard for ages. Thanks, and keep it up. Were there really no female surf guitarists? Or just one I mean. . . i bet some surf head maniac could come up with a couple more, maybe those female Garage bands started out doing surf stuff. . . hmmm.
    Jon

  6. Donna Lethal says:

    fantastic – love the pic w/Chiyo. Maybe we’ll find out more about her!

  7. Yeah, Chiyo: would love to know more about her; where she is today, whether she was truly the only female guitarist on the southern California surf scene and, of course, whether she actually surfed.

    AK in CLE, you’re absolutely right. My first thought when I heard “Swinging Drums” was that it belonged more in the world of freakazoid post-punk skronk than it did in the early ’60s. Way ahead of its time! I don’t actually own “Drums Fell Off a Cliff,” unfortunately, I’ve only heard in passing. “Swinging Drums” is better, though, I think.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Swinging Drums is No 1 in my universe this week. Thanks a lot

    D

  9. Anonymous says:

    I believe a current surf/instro band called The Volcanos did a wonderful song called Drums Fell Off A Cliff or Drums Fell Off The Cliff. And I wonder if that was a serious cover of the Ronny Kae song. Without being able to hear the original,I can’t compare.
    The Volcanos are I think still around,and they released many singles and albums on Estrus Records.And are really worth checking out. They are very very credible surf/instro,just like in the vein of Satan’s Pilgrims.
    Good stuff! Please, MORE surf,and instrumentals. Thank you.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m currently looking for mp3s of Kim Fowley related projects.

    Here’s what the liner notes accompanying the CD release ‘Impossible But True : the Kim Fowley Story’, written by Rob Finnis, have to say on the Crescents :

    With ‘Popsicles And Icicles’ by the Murmaids already breaking, Fowley placed a second record on the Hot 100, ‘Pink Dominos’ by the Crescents, a frat rock instrumental with curious origins.
    ‘Pink Dominos’ originally came out on the miniscule Breakout label of Oxnard, California as by Chiyo & The Crescents.
    According to Fowley, “It was allegedly recorded in a shoe store in a long forgotten late night recording session. It started making some noise in the Oxnard-Ventura market. Chiyo was a female guitar teacher who was approximately 20 years older than the rest of the teenage boys in the band.”
    There were other salient details that he wouldn’t go into for fear of offending the participants. Fowley acquired the master together with a share of the publishing rights and placed it with Era, an LA label with national distribution.
    The cheapo frat beat and chunky riff (said to have influenced ‘Sunshine of Your Love’ by Cream) grabbed the attention of American kids who bought ‘Pink Dominos’ in sufficient quantities to keep it on the Hot 100 for a solid ten weeks during the early weeks of 1964, even thiugh it rose no higher than #69.

    thanks for sharing these tracks,

    ed keen.

  11. rockin'n'rollin' says:

    Three fantastic instrumentals.
    Very creative and wild rockin’.

    Many thanks for these wonders

  12. Anonymous says:

    Chiyo ran a guitar store in Oxnard California, “Chiyo’s Guitas and Drums,” in the early 60’s. She sold Fender guitars and amps, and Ludwig drums. She put out several 45, some very rare. She was a music major at University of Nebraska Lincoln, in the 40’s. She taught guitar, steel guitar, accordian, piano at the store. Chiyo, was, I far i know was about the only women to play surf guitar. They played in the So. Cal area. They played a wide variety of surf, rock, a stinging rendition of Steel Guitar rag, and others. I have all the 45’s and some old reel to reel recordings. Also have her steel guitar, the white Jaguar in the picture (now painted black), and pictures. A great recording, but other songs such as Devil Surf, Piki Teepee, are much more better.

  13. Outstanding, thanks so much for all the fantastic information on Chiyo! – I’ll try and work it into the post sometime this week. What did Chiyo’s own 45s sound like? Were you a musician yourself?

    Feel free to email me at:

    djlittledanny@gmail.com

    Thanks again.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for posting these rarities, I was doing a internet search for pink dominos and washed up on here. Loved your background info on these obscure groups. I learn something new each day. 🙂
    Cheers
    Torontomush

  15. Anonymous says:

    hi superb,
    thank you

    please visit my blog for more obscure surf garage psych 45s
    http://cicodelico-obscure-grooves.blogspot.com/

  16. Dave Bowers says:

    My name is Dave Bowers, I worked at Chiyos most of my high years. I sold stuff and taught drums. Chiyo Ishii (she was married to a Japanese engineer) was primarily a flamenco guitarist and that is what she taught at the store. We never liked here band, and they didn't play a lot in the area. The most popular band was the Dartells who had a great selling single Hot Pastrami and Dartell Stomp. My band "The Surtones" later the "Darvons" were quite popular also and we played a lot at the local military bases of which there were three at the time.

    I have to say, even at that time the Chiyo's band was geekie as hell. She played a big pastel colored Jaguar and was all dressed up like a geisha girl. Most teenagers thought is was way too weird.

  17. Reo Fendel says:

    Fascinating!! I new Ronnie back in Denver. When I was in college in 1980, I used to buy my drum sticks at his shop and always thought to myself: “now here’s an interesting character, New York accent and all!” Later on in 1992 when I was working as an engineer/ session drummer in studios, I was very surprised to see him come into the studio where I worked, where he brought in this “world’s most expensive drum kit” (a gold plated Sonor kit) and wanted to record an instructional drum tape called “Rockin’ Ronnie on the drums” After hearing him I thought to myself “he has to be kidding, is this for real?!” Then to top that off, he also recorded a song that he was going to pitch to the Broncos called “Elway… Throw that ball!” – sounded more like “Elway… trow dat booall!!” (very similar to the “cave man-esque” Swingin’ Drums) It was all I could do to keep a straight face the whole time, although I was sympathetic to his cancer illness. I wish I’d made a copy of that stuff – classic character! Even though you could barely call him a drummer through his gruff exterior, he was always cordial to me and his character was worth a million bucks! -Bigger now than he ever was when he was with us.

  18. Reo Fendel says:

    Fascinating!! I new Ronnie back in Denver. When I was in college in 1980, I used to buy my drum sticks at his shop and always thought to myself: “now here’s an interesting character, New York accent and all!” Later on in 1992/93 when I was working as an engineer/ session drummer in studios, I was very surprised to see him come into the studio where I worked, where he brought in this “world’s most expensive drum kit” (a gold plated Sonor kit) and wanted to record an instructional drum tape called “Rockin’ Ronnie on the drums” After hearing him I thought to myself “he has to be kidding, is this for real?!” Then to top that off, he also recorded a song that he was going to pitch to the Broncos called “Elway… Throw that ball!” – sounded more like “Elway… trow dat booall!!” (very similar to the “cave man-esque” Swingin’ Drums) It was all I could do to keep a straight face the whole time, although I was sympathetic to his cancer illness. I wish I’d made a copy of that stuff – classic character! Even though you could barely call him a drummer through his gruff exterior, he was always cordial to me and his character was worth a million bucks! -Bigger now than he ever was when he was with us.

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  20. Michael Aitchison says:

    I took guitar lessons from Chiyo Ishii around 1964-66. My Father worked at Pt. Mugu Naval Air Station and worked with her husband Fred, that was my connection to Chiyo.
    When I started the lessons were done at the Ishii house in Oxnard, later Chiyo open Chiyo’s Guitars in the BobbiLu Shopping Center on Saviers Road near 5 points in Oxnard.
    My Dad purchased my now classic Music Master Fender and Fender Champ amp from Chiyo, which I am proud to say, I still own and play occasionally!
    Chiyo was of Hopi Indian decent and I believe was from Arizona. I can remember her having Hopi Indian foods that she prepared and shared with her students. That was quite exotic for a 10 year old.
    My memories are good of Chiyo, she was a great teacher and must have had a profound effect on me, I have loved music all of my life. I actually become a good drummer later on and played in various bands over the years.
    I recently purchase an acoustic guitar and I am trying to re-learn what I have forgotten over the years.
    I wish I could enlighten as to what happened to Chiyo. I do not know. She and Fred did have two boys who were about my age. They would be in their fifties now.

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