Beyond Boettcher

Curt Boettcher, ‘60s wunderkind producer and arranger, has gotten some attention at Office Naps before.  The creative force who infused songs like the Association’s “Cherish” and Eternity’s Children’s “Mrs. Bluebird” with echt-Aquarian sensibilities, Boettcher played no small role in the southern Californian psychedelic sunshine sound, making, at his best, some transcendent pop along the way.

This week we look at three more examples of the ’67-’68-era sunshine pop phenomenon, gathered together not because they’re obscure or rare – and they’re neither – but because they so strongly reflect the Curt Boettcher aesthetic.

It’s not as if the musicians, arrangers, producers and engineers behind these particular selections were analyzing Boettcher’s handiwork with any particular fervor.  There would have been awareness, though, of Boettcher – or Boettcher’s successful productions – everywhere within the pop industry at the time; these selections are exemplary rather than merely derivative.

This was music forged and realized in the studios – a front line of skilled musicians, singers, songwriters and creative types supported by a cadre of session talent and commercially-minded, if forward-thinking, arrangers, producers and engineers with a bank of technologically advanced equipment at their disposal.

That so much of the same studio talent would have been involved in so many of the era’s psychedelic pop productions ascribes some sense of uniformity across the board, perhaps again misrepresenting the extent of Boettcher’s direct influence.  But Boettcher’s work was so much on the cutting edge of pop for a year or two that, just to make a certain type of radio-friendly, harmony-and-sunshine-soaked music was, inevitably, to be synonymous with the Curt Boettcher sound.

The Collection, Both Sides Now (The Hot Biscuit Company P-1455)1.  The Collection, Both Sides Now (The Hot Biscuit Company P-1455)
There are several different music industry forces at work here.

“Both Sides Now” is an early Joni Mitchell composition.  Though at this point essentially unrecorded, Mitchell’s reputation was already widespread due to high-profile versions of her songs and some terrific word-of-mouth publicity.  This blissful version of “Both Sides Now” would have been recorded and released sometime in early 1968, shortly after Judy Collins’s popular version.  (Mitchell herself wouldn’t release a version of the song until her 1969 album Clouds.)

Ensconced in the ‘60s New York City music industry, the team of Charles Koppelman and Don Rubin added, in 1967, record label operation to their various pop publishing, management and production concerns.  Their Hot Biscuit Disc Company Records (as well as the We Make Rock and Roll Records label – see below) would be a brief-lived quasi-independent subsidiary distributed by Capitol Records.  A relatively small number of rock, pop, R&B and soul recordings were released by these labels over the next year or two, none very successful, though many notable New York City-based songwriters and session musicians were enlisted, including – and remember this name – Eddie Simon.

His claim to fame as an early promoter of the Woodstock Festival notwithstanding, Artie Kornfeld, given the producer credit here, was in his mid-twenties and already working at Capitol Records under the honorific “Vice President of Rock Music” at the time of this selection’s release.   His portfolio of various production and songwriting co-credits notably included work for Jan & Dean (“Deadman’s Curve”), Crispian St. Peters (“Pied Piper”) and the Cowsills (“The Rain, The Park, and Other Things”), along with various pop titles for groups like the Shirelles and Tokens.

Finally, there is Jimmy Wisner, who, as arranger, probably had the most direct involvement in the sound of this recording.  Wisner got his start as a Philadelphia-based jazz pianist, but, following his fluke 1961 instrumental hit “Asia Minor” (recorded under the alias “Kokomo”), found greater commercial success as a composer, producer, arranger, songwriter and label operator.  Among his countless credits, Wisner had a hand in big hits by Tommy James & the Shondells (“I Think We’re Alone Now”), Len Barry (“1-2-3”), Miriam Makeba (“Pata Pata”), Alive ‘n Kicking (“Tighter and Tighter”), Jay and the Techniques (“Keep the Ball Rolling”), Spanky and Our Gang (“Lazy Day”) and, with Kornfeld, the Cowsills (“The Rain, The Park, and Other Things”).  Later a house producer and A&R executive at Columbia Records, Wisner tended towards a big, sophisticated, pop-oriented sensibility.  Though you wouldn’t guess that here.

This 45 is an interesting study.  It is characterized by many Boettcher trademarks – fanciful imagery, lighter-than-air, almost androgynous vocals, chiming, echo-y production and an unnervingly child-like quality.

It was also the comparatively rare sunshine pop 45 that was not produced in southern California.

Finally, nowhere am I able to detect even the faintest pretense of a real group.  The record’s convergence of established and emerging industry players leaves hardly any room for such.   It goes without saying that wholly studio-bound projects have long been a staple of popular music, but only rarely – after psychedelic pop’s late ’60s zenith -would they ever be so consistently artistically successful again.

The Parade, This Old Melody (A&M 841)2.  The Parade, This Old Melody (A&M 841)
A trio at their core, the Los Angeles-based Parade was composed of aspiring singer-songwriters and actors Murray MacLeod and Allen “Smokey” Roberds along with the young Los Angeles arranger, producer and composer Jerry Riopelle.

MacLeod – known, at least amongst fans of California sunshine pop, for his concurrent role in Roger Nichols & the Small Circle of Friends – and Roberds were already working together as a commercial songwriting team when they met Jerry Riopelle.  Riopelle, previously a session musician and Screen Gems staff songwriter, was working at the time in the unenviable position as a producer for Phil Spector.

The Parade's Sunshine Girl: The Complete Recordings, available on Rev-Ola/Now Sounds

The Parade. From the cover of Rev-Ola/Now Sounds's definitive (and highly-recommended) Parade anthology.

The Parade were very much a real group in the sense of working and forging music together as a unit.  If they get a perhaps too much credit for defining sunshine pop – like the Sunshine Company, Yellow Balloon or Love Generation, they would have comprised part of the second wave of such Los Angeles groups after the Association or the Mamas and the Papas –the core trio was nonetheless comprised of genuinely good songwriters and musicians.   (Separately and together they helped pen songs for the Clique, the Electric Prunes, Davy Jones, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, the American Breed, the Forum and Al Martino, among others.)

Dreamy, slightly folky, with layers and layers of harmony and hooks, “This Old Melody” would be the first, darkest and best of the group’s six different 45s.  (It would also feature a songwriting assist from group friend and contributor Stu Margolin.)  All originals, the Parade’s sides were released in quick succession in 1967 and ’68.  Backed by Los Angeles session elite, they tended towards the soft and sophisticated end of the ‘60s pop spectrum.  This 45’s a-side, the cheerier “Sunshine Girl,” was more representative of the Parade’s discography, and was a good seller, too, making it to number twenty on the national pop charts in 1967.

The Parade dissolved in 1968, its three members going on to interesting, sometimes intersecting, careers, music-related and otherwise.   Incidentally, in 1970, Roberds would be the first (as Freddie Allen) to record Paul Williams and Roger Nichols’s “We’ve Only Just Begun,” for White Whale Records, a song that, in the Carpenters’ hands, would become a mega-hit a few months later.

The always-reliable UK-based Now Sounds (part of Rev-Ola Records) compiled the definitive Parade collection a few years back.  A highly-recommended investment.

The Guild Light Gauge, Cloudy (We Make Rock ‘n Roll Records P-1600)3.  The Guild Light Gauge, Cloudy (We Make Rock ‘n Roll Records P-1600)
The Guild Light Gauge involved many of the same parties involved with the Collection 45 above – Artie Kornfeld, the Koppelman-Rubin team and the label itself – the awkwardly-named “We Make Rock ‘n Roll Records” – sister to the Hot Biscuit Disc Company.

But the Guild Light Gauge, led by one Eddie Simon, was closer to a real, working entity.

Eddie Simon is Paul Simon’s younger brother.  Their relationship obviously factored into the choice of “Cloudy,” one of several mid-‘60s gems originally co-written by Paul and Australian songwriter Bruce Woodley.

The Guild Light Gauge’s version of “Cloudy” was released in May of 1968.  Featuring Simon’s delicate guitar – he was the superior player of the brothers, by all accounts – and some otherworldly mixed harmonies, it’s a similar but slightly trippier arrangement than the original version of “Cloudy” that appeared on Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, Simon & Garfunkel’s third album from 1966.

Eddie and Paul Simon

Brothers Eddie (left) and Paul Simon (right) making a 1968 television appearance together.

Eddie Simon would only step from behind-the-scenes a few other times in his career. At this point, there’d already been an early ‘60s teen pop 45 – the surf-inspired “Beach Boy.”  Later, in 1969, as one half of the duo Crib and Ben, he’d record the gorgeous Simon & Garfunkel-styled “Emily” with Paul Gelber for Decca Records.  (Incidentally, Simon and Gelber would be listed as executive producers on Canadian singer Terry Black’s strange 1969 psychedelic album, An Eye For an Ear.)

There are other scattered songwriting and session co-credits to Eddie Simon’s name, especially during the ‘60s, as well as appearances over the years backing his brother, but Eddie Simon is perhaps chiefly known as one of the founders of, and teachers at, Manhattan’s Guitar Study Center, which closed its doors only a few years ago.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Psychedelic/Pop | 2 Comments


Some raw, wild instrumental combo rock ‘n’ roll from the late ‘50s this week. Contemporaries, these three selections embody the type of sound that would keep rock ‘n’ roll vital and interesting before the British Invasion.

While there’s no highly specific theme to otherwise link them, there are some shared sensibilities here.  Hovering about them is a vaguely Latin tinge, the kind that rock ‘n’ roll instrumentalists like the Champs and Preston Epps would mine with great success in the late’ 50s and early ‘60s.  There is, too, a wonderfully overdriven sound that owes something to the fearless guitar riffs of Link Wray and Bo Diddley.

Moreover, there’s a healthy dash of bongo-rattling exoticism.  It’s a great illustration of a phenomenon that gets a lot ink here at Office Naps and the Exotica Project: Namely, how some idea of the exotic – even if expressed in song title alone – gave license to groups like these to push the instrumental rock ‘n’ roll form into ever darker, weirder, more daring territory.

Marty Wyler and his Quartet, Chalypso No. 8 (Planet X 9623)1.  Marty Wyler and his Quartet, Chalypso No. 8 (Planet X 9623)
Marty Wyler and his Quartet were a New York City-based group, their “Chalypso No. 8” recorded in late 1957 or early 1958.  It would be among a handful of interesting 45s issued by the short-lived Planet X Records, a label that also released, in quick succession, Bernie Moore’s “Rock Guitar, Rock” and “It Takes Two,” a rare R&B vocal group side by Henry Sawyer and the Jupiters.

An October 1958 issue of Billboard connects Marty Wyler to Holland Records, another tiny New York City label with a small discography divided between rock ‘n’ roll and vocal group R&B.   But all other leads dry up early on with Marty Wyler and company.

This is Rock ‘n’ Roll 101.  Even at this early stage, the chord changes are breaking no new ground, and a thousand other instrumentals would follow the same essential formula.  But few would do it so well.  Lean, mean, all attitude, biting guitar and torrid, squealing saxophone, “Chalypso No. 8” exemplifies what makes a lot of early rock ‘n’ roll so brilliant.  It wasn’t necessarily what you did, but how you did it.

Gene Sikora & The Irrationals, Tanganyika (Coin 45-1506)2.  Gene Sikora & The Irrationals, Tanganyika (Coin 45-1506)
Milwaukee-based guitarist Gene Sikora is arguably the best-known of this week’s three artists.

Born in 1932, Sikora’s work seems to have happened largely behind-the-scenes, and not as your typical rock ‘n’ roller.   In addition to work as a guitar instructor, Sikora would play for a time with accordionist, polka maestro and Milwaukee institution Louis Bashell.

Sikora cut loose in 1959 with two churning, highly original solo 45s, both recorded by Chicago-based promoter and producer Paul Geallis and released on Frank McNulty’s Coin Records.  (In its time Coin Records would also feature some good teen pop and rock ‘n’ roll releases by Sonny Williams, Clyde Bowie and Marv Manning.)

An exoticized, percussive, noisy workout, “Tanganyika” was the first of Sikora’s Coin 45s.  Sikora’s follow-up 45 – “Non Comprendo” (and “Mystery,” its flipside) – is similar in style, his sleek guitar sound a bit reminiscent of a Chet Atkins or Nicky Roberts at their most electric and echo-drenched.

Sikora would resurface as a solo recording artist in the early ‘70s with two more 45s, both – the instrumental “Green Bay Picker” in particular – reflecting a slightly-updated version of the gorgeous style observed on his late ‘50s sides.

Thanks to Gary Myers’s On That Wisconsin Beat and Dominic Welhouse for the information.

The 4 El-Moroccos, To-bango (Alton 500-A)3.  The 4 El-Moroccos, To-bango (Alton 500-A)
Another group that seems to have come and gone without a trace, the mysterious 4 El-Moroccos unleashed this wild instrumental upon the world in July of 1959.

The salient detail here is that both “To-bango” and its flipside “El Mambo Cha Cha” were recorded under the aegis of one Julius Dixson.

Dixson got his start as a deejay but is better known as a prolific and versatile New York City-based commercial songwriter.   Among his dozens of songs placed with various aspiring vocal groups and teen singers in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a number would become pop or R&B hits, including 1955’s “Dim, Dim the Lights (I Want Some Atmosphere)” for Bill Haley and the Comets, 1957’s “It Hurts to Be in Love” for Annie Laurie and ”Begging, Begging” for James Brown and, biggest of all, 1958’s “Lollipop” for the Chordettes.

The seemingly tireless Dixson also owned and operated several small independent record labels devoted to teen rock ‘n’ roll and commercial R&B, including Deb Records and Alton Records.   Among Alton’s discography was a sizeable hit – 1959’s “The Clouds” by the Spacemen.   The fact that the “The Clouds,” not to mention several follow-up instrumentals by the Spacemen and the Skyscrapers (another Dixson session group), was a studio-only affair leads me to believe that the 4 El-Moroccos may have been the same – that is, a Dixson project comprised of for-hire New York City musicians.

None of this detracts from the “To-bango” experience, of course, which doesn’t so much rock as swagger.  Primitive, clanging, this is where the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental stood before its final incarnation and creative peak as surf music.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf | 6 Comments

The desperate hours

This week we look at a few representative examples of a wonderfully dark, slow strain of post-War rhythm and blues.

The lyrical content has always hovered around the same subjects – lost love, deep loneliness, obsession, suicide, death – a cluster of images and motifs traceable in turn to a body of material popular with pre-War blues musicians – sepulchral, haunted laments and pleas like “St. James Infirmary Blues,” “One Kind Favor” or “Poor Boy Blues.”

With R&B’s national marketing and ever-increasing commercial viability in the post-War years, however, a certain set of standard stylistic indicators would crystallize.  The aesthetic was embodied early on in R&B hits like the Dominoes’ “The Bells” (1952) and Nolan Strong and the Diablos’ “The Wind” (1954).   Classics like Donald Woods and the Vel-Aires’ “Death of an Angel (1955),”  Tarheel Slim & Little Ann “It’s Too Late” (1959) and the Vibrations’ “So Blue” (1960) further defined the aesthetic:  spare instrumentation, spectral vocals and harmonies, a funereal beat.  Some dramatic examples, like Billy Miranda’s “Go Ahead” (1959) and Jackie and the Starlites’ “Valarie” (1960) – not to mention “The Bells” and “Death of an Angel” – would feature actual sobbing.  Most of all, there was a persistent, sometimes relentless, note or sequence of notes picked out on a piano or guitar, a droning, repetitive quality eerily conveying the very passage of time.

Desperate hours

Some atmospheric R&B for the desperate hours this week.

Soul music precipitated out of gospel and R&B in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, but the basic sensibility would persist.  Diamond Joe’s “Moanin’ and Screamin’” and Jean Knight’s “The Man That Left Me” held something of the funeral dirge at their heart.  There is high cinema to this week’s three selections, too, a kind of voyeuristic pleasure to be taken from the drama and slow beat of despair.    They go to those bleak places so we don’t have to.

Merle Spears with Lionel Whitfield's Orch., It's Just a Matter of Time (Whit 713)1.  Merle Spears with Lionel Whitfield’s Orch., It’s Just a Matter of Time (Whit 713)
Who was Merle Spears?   I can tell you little beyond what Sir Shambling provides at the excellent Deep Soul Heaven.

Born in 1939 in Louisiana, Merle Spears’s profile, or what we know of it, is not unlike other aspiring Southern and Gulf Coast R&B vocalists and musicians in the ‘60s.  He cut a few records, probably performed live and made some guest appearances around Baton Rouge and Shreveport and, on occasion, may have provided his talents in the studio as a supporting musician.

If Spears never made the full-time leap into the professional music business, it was not for lack of talent.  His recorded legacy is thin – a handful of 45s, all dating to the mid-‘60s – but consistently excellent, revealing a vocalist with a rich baritone and an unruffled sophistication that owes much to then-reigning Texas blues stylist Bobby Bland.

Among Spears’s handful of 45s are fine R&B dances like 1964’s “I Want to Know,” classy mid-tempo numbers like “Ain’t No Need” (the flipside to “It’s Just a Matter of Time”) and deep Southern fare like “Wisdom of a Fool.”   But 1965’s riveting “It’s Just a Matter of Time” will always remain my personal favorite.  Likely recorded at Cosimo Matassa’s legendary New Orleans studio (thanks to Ana B and Dan Phillips for that tidbit), here the debt to Bobby Bland is blatant.  The production invokes the slowed-down meter of Bland ballads like “I’ll Take Care of You” or “Lead Me On,” Spears infusing his phrasing with an otherworldly, almost detached, level of emotion and foreboding.

This selection, as well as two other great Spears sides – “I Want to Know” and “Ain’t No Need” – were written by one Calvin Reed, a Baton Rouge-based musicians and songwriter.  (Reed, also known, I believe, as Murray Reed, has a frustratingly vague biography as well.)

Notably, this 45 would also be an early release for producer and manager Lionel Whitfield and his Shreveport-based Whit Records, a label that would find some national success in the ‘60s with a series of records by blind R&B singer Bobby Powell.

Sadly, Merle Spears passed away in 2009.

Bobby Newton, These Empty Arms (Foxie 7003)2.  Bobby Newton, These Empty Arms (Foxie 7003)
A singer and entertainer from Reading, Pennsylvania, Bobby Newton is the best-known and most prolific of this week’s three artists.

Recorded around 1961, released on Foxie Records (a brief-lived R&B and teen pop subsidiary of 20th Century Fox), “These Empty Arms” would be one of Newton’s earliest recordings.   His releases over the next decade-and-a-half showcase a stylist changing with the times.  Newton’s greatest gift was his versatility, his voice moving from mellow baritone to soul shout, often in the span of a single record.

Starting with 1968 dance number “The Whip,” many of Newton’s releases found him working with Philly singer, producer and songwriter Jesse James as well as with musicians from the chart-topping MFSB stable.   Despite the cutting-edge professionalism of his productions and musical support, Newton was handicapped at times by somewhat undistinguished material.  He seemed poised for broader success at several points without ever quite breaking through, and his commercial releases tapered off after the mid-‘70s.

Of his eight or nine 45s, “These Empty Arms” is easily among the most memorable.  It is also the archetypal R&B dirge, all obsession and gloomy atmosphere, the arpeggiated guitar figure and Newton’s croon summoning, almost visibly, a sense of solitude and despair.

Bobby Newton is today still a force, and performs live with the Bobby Newton Band around Philadelphia area and southeastern Pennsylvania.

Billy Sol with Orchestral Accompanyment: Punty Guitar & the   Sensations, When You’re Alone (Domar DM-1124-A)3.  Billy Sol with Orchestral Accompanyment: Punty Guitar & the Sensations, When You’re Alone (Domar DM-1124-A)
R&B vocalist Billy Sol was likely Mexican-American, and almost certainly would have established himself on San Antonio’s West Side scene, a rich and fascinating milieu that produced pioneering groups like Sunny and the Sunliners, the Royal Jesters, Little Jr. Jesse and the Teardrops and Rudy and the Reno Bops and that became, along with East Los Angeles, one of the epicenters of Chicano R&B and soul in the ‘60s.

Sol’s place amongst the scene is poorly documented.  Released in 1966, “When You’re Alone” is the second of his two 45s on Domar Records, one of several San Antonio labels operated by local music hustler Paul Beckingham.  Sol’s third 45 was also released the eponymous Beckingham Records.   (Domar Records is probably best remembered today for several raw 45s by local garage band the Five Canadians, though the label also released teen pop, West Side R&B instrumentals and more traditional conjunto sounds.)

A mix of harmony ballads, Twist-type dances and more current horn-and-organ-driven soul, the music on Sol’s three lone 45s, all from 1966, is fairly characteristic of the repertoire of many young Chicano R&B groups of the period in San Antonio.  Even measured against the West Side scene’s somewhat flamboyant vocal standards – quivering ballad delivery, hoarse soul vocals and falsetto harmonies were typical – Sol’s singing style seems particularly dramatic.

This is amply affirmed on his version of “When You’re Alone,” a song originally recorded by the pop group the Hilltoppers in 1956.  Sol – helped in no small part by masses of echo and a gritty, atmospheric backing arrangement – is spectacular here, taking a fairly conventional theme of heartbreak to some harrowing new level of finality.

Incidentally, Sol clearly had idiosyncratic and particular taste in covers; among his three 45s would be a version of the aforementioned “The Bells.”

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in R&B/Vocal Groups, Soul | 2 Comments

Exotica mix

I have a new exotica mix (Time (Is Endless)) currently featured at online magazine Triple Canopy:

Time (Is Endless)

Time (Is Endless)

Time (Is Endless), my new exotica mix over at Triple Canopy

Since early 2008, Triple Canopy has been bringing together writing from essayists, researchers and cultural observers with work with contemporary artists of every stripe.  While somehow realizing, rather than merely hinting at, the promise of the Internet, the site above all honors good, clean writing and the intuitive structure of traditional print publishing.  It’s a true honor to be there.

The mix itself?  It’s an extension in many ways of the Exotica Project, pulling together an atmospheric and otherworldly sliver of a huge, forgotten discography of small-label exotica 45s and LPs that emerged in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

You can find podcast and playlist at Triple Canopy.  Hope you enjoy it, and please take the time to plunge into the site while you’re there.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Mixes, The Exotica Project | 8 Comments

The Lonely Beat: 100 themes from the Naked City

The Lonely Beat: One Hundred Themes from the Naked City

The Lonely Beat: Phase Two of the Exotica Project

The Exotica Project’s long-promised next phase is finally up and running:

The Lonely Beat: 100 themes from the Naked City

The Lonely Beat’s format should be familiar, but the collection focuses on post-War music inspired by, or evocative of (sometimes only loosely) the cluster of motifs, images and clichés associated with the mid-century American city.  This is a city based in some reality but remade by pop culture –  the gritty, dangerous, bohemian Naked City.

Again, the selections are diverse, with a panoply of 45s from different quarters featured:  obscure jazz musicians and exotic torch singers, Latin quintets and Hollywood arrangers summoning the city jungle, mambo-crazy R&B vocal groups and instrumental rock ‘n’ roll combos,  beatnik parodists, hipster-entertainers and various fringe characters.

I urge that the selections not be read in terms of either authenticity or purely commercial qualities – often they possess some measure of both.  I would also urge that the Lonely Beat’s index of motifs and themes not be taken too seriously.  The concept is more diffuse than the Exotica Project’s, the collection makes sense gathered together as a sort of world in sound, and its compilation was all subject to my own personal tastes and whims.  Selections at the Lonely Beat are included just as much for some indefinable atmospheric component as they are for any discrete, indexed motif.

Anyway, there’s still plenty of tweaking to be done, and much more that I hope ultimately to do with these beds of cultural obscura.  In the meantime, I hope you’ll enjoy the Lonely Beat.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in The Exotica Project, The Lonely Beat | 14 Comments


A point I like to make endlessly around here – and I’m far from the first to do so – is that rock ‘n’ roll didn’t cease to exist in the few years between its first explosion in the ‘50s and its second – the British Invasion – in the early ‘60s.  Sure, the national charts were overrun by teen schlock and limpid treatments of rock ‘n’ roll, but rock ‘n’roll was retrenching in the hinterlands in that time, becoming a regional phenomenon again, a live form for teenagers in towns and suburbs and college campuses.

These are not earth-shattering observations.  But think of this week’s selections as a sort of a slightly later – the mid-1960s, in this case – extension of liminal rock ‘n’ roll, somewhat curious holdovers that afford a sense of where rock ‘n’ roll might have stood in America in the mid-‘60s if the British Invasion hadn’t happened.

The live repertoire would have been textbook teen dance.  Precipitated out of a set of R&B-based numbers like the Isley Brothers’ “Twist and Shout,” the Olympics’ “Hully Gully,” the Marathons’ “Peanut Butter,” the Five Du-Tones’ “Shake a Tail Feather”, Chuck Berry’s “Reelin’ and Rockin’,” and the Clovers’ “Love Potion #9,” it would have also included dozens of dancefloor-ready Twist-style cash-ins, along with a few instrumental rockers like “Tequila” and “Rebel Rouser.”   Its combo format would have evolved out of what had become the de facto standard by the late ‘50s and early ‘60s:  Electric lead and rhythm guitars, bass, drums and combo organ or saxophone, or both.

The Temptashuns, 1962

Lexington's the Temptashuns tear it up at University of Kentucky's Fraternity Row, circa 1962. Photo courtesy of the incredible '60s Garage Bands website

Collectors and music fans sometimes refer to this peculiar early-to-mid-‘60s incarnation as “frat rock.”  The term isn’t bad, actually.   It was uptempo, libidinous, fun music.  It was a fundamentally functional development, too, with no overreaching artistic aspirations beyond entertaining crowds at armory halls, local clubs and high school and fraternity dances.  (Records were often produced to sound the part, in fact, with crowd noises, live-sounding call-and-response routines and a general air of recorded-in-one-take spontaneity.)

The Southern fraternity circuit was a particular hotspot – the Swingin’ Medallions and the Gentrys had hits with “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love” and “Keep on Dancing.”    It should be no surprise that the Pacific Northwest’s rock ‘n’ roll scene was fertile territory, too – the Wailers’ “Tall Cool One” was a popular early example; the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” was even bigger, and perhaps the high-water mark.  But charting examples were everywhere in the early and mid-‘60s.   The Dartells’ “Hot Pastrami”, Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs’ “Wooly Bully,” the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” and the McCoys’ “Hang On Sloopy” were all catchy riffs, boozy atmosphere, and sing-along insouciance.   Sloppiness wasn’t just a natural part of the music, it was a virtue to be embraced.  Lyrics, when not indecipherable (“Louie Louie”) or strictly nonsensical (“Surfin’ Bird”), rarely diverged from either romantic odes of the most basic pop variety, or a sort of novelty wit.

This week’s selections are but three representative, if intense, examples.   These are fundamentally the work of what anyone would term garage bands.  But they’re different from the ’65-’67 explosion of local teenaged rock ‘n’ roll.  Crucially, there is barely a whiff of influence from the British Invasion.   In retrospect, one is right to treat this as a form unto itself, a distinct, dead-end branch of popular music’s evolutionary tree, a unique species that co-existed for a few years alongside what became – after the Beatles, et al – modern rock music.  Sort of the Neanderthal to rock’s Homo Sapiens.

The Heart Attacks, Babba Diddy Baby (Remus 5000 ZTSP 98625)1.  The Heart Attacks, Babba Diddy Baby (Remus 5000 ZTSP 98625)
From coastal Virginia comes this completely unhinged 1965 thumper.

The Heart Attacks were widely known in their time as the Beachnuts, a Virginia Beach group who formed in 1962 as a surf-type combo, and who would play off-and-on until the end of the decade.

This would be their debut record, the Beachnuts at the time including Bill Walls (lead guitar), Carl Stevens (lead vocals, organ), Harold Henry (bass), Mike Johnson (guitar) and Tom Strew (drums and vocals).  “Babby Diddy Baby” is also notable for the involvement of one Frank Guida, who recorded and produced the song in 1965.  Guida is one of the colorful characters who made rock ‘n’ roll such an idiosyncratic and ultimately regional phenomenon in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  A record store owner and studio operator in Norfolk, Virginia, it is his record labels – LeGrand and SPQR, specifically – for which Guida is remembered above all.  Guida recorded and produced a lot of Tidewater-area talent – including Gary U.S. Bonds, Jimmy Soul and Tommy Facenda – managing some national hits with them in the early ‘60s (“New Orleans” and “Quarter to Three” for Bonds, “If You Wanna Be Happy” for Soul).

With his stable of local session musicians and distinct productions sensibilities, Guida’s was a very consistent sound.  A pioneer of the live “party” sound, there is a light Caribbean tinge to much of Guida’s handiwork as well, a result of time spent stationed in the West Indies during World War Two.

Guida’s hand is all over this 45 – there’s the“party” feel, again, with Walls’s unorthodox guitar work vaguely redolent of a steel drum (in reality, the strings being played at the bridge of the guitar).  Still, though, nothing else in Guida’s discography would hint at the careening, breakneck intensity of “Babba Diddy Baby.”  Retitled “Babba Diddy Baby” (from the original “Stop a Minute Baby”), and credited to the Heart Attacks, it would have made for a pretty transcendent experience at the local kegger.

Despite local popularity, the Beach Nuts themselves would release just one more 45 – 1968’s “What’s Gone Wrong,” interesting but much heavier fare – before calling it quits at the end of the decade.

The Street Cleaners, That’s Cool, That’s Trash (Amy 916) 2.  The Street Cleaners, That’s Cool, That’s Trash (Amy 916)
Released in late 1964, “That’s Cool, That’s Trash” is actually the work of the team of P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri, two talented songwriters, musicians and producers, heard here at the outset of interesting trajectories in the Los Angeles pop machine.

Philip Sloan formed a partnership with Steve Barri in Los Angeles in 1963.  Sloan, all of nineteen years old at the time, and Barri, a year or two older, were both aspiring singers and songwriters as well as New York City transplants.  By the time they began collaborating at the Screen Gems music publishing company, they’d separately logged several years recording, performing and publishing and placing songs – none with great success – on the periphery of the music industry.

PF Sloan and Steve Barri

PF Sloan (right) and Steve Barri (left) in the studio, circa 1965.

Their new partnership bore fruit.  Their early effort “Kick That Little Foot Sally Ann” was a hit for Round Robin, as were “I Found a Girl” for Jan & Dean and “Summer Means Fun” for Bruce & Terry.

Sloan and Barri continued to co-write songs and amass credits as supporting musicians and vocalists, managing, too, to make some recordings of their own (often with the benefit of Los Angeles session musicians).  The best known of these projects was the Jan & Dean-esque Fantastic Baggys, though many other obscure efforts (largely surf and hot rod-related) were recorded.

Amid this confusion of mid-‘60s projects, songwriting credits and session work came the Street Cleaner’s “That’s Cool, That’s Trash,” a concise celebration of everything that went into the form: girls, parties, records, dancing, modes of transport, a general spirit of drinking age joie de vivre.   Released by the New York City-based Bell Records in 1964, it is Sloan heard on the lead vocal here, his wonderfully biting guitar reminding me a bit of some early Lou Reed licks.   (The Kingsmen would also cover “That’s Cool, That’s Trash.”)

Sloan and Barri would be aboard when Lou Adler launched Los Angeles-based Dunhill Records in late 1964, contributing significantly to the label’s early success.  Sloan played guitar on the first few Mamas and the Papas LPs, and had two terrific but neglected folk-rock LPs to his own name (1965’s Songs of Our Times and 1966’s Twelve More Times), while Sloan and Barri together would record another surf cash-in album as the Rincon Surfside Band, the very first Dunhill album release.

But the duo’s source of success continued to remain their great songs – their feverish work ethic didn’t hurt, either – with major hits penned for Dunhill artists Barry McGuire (“Eve of Destruction”) and the Grass Roots (the first Grass Roots albums was Sloan and Barri) as well as “Secret Agent Man” for Johnny Rivers, “A Must to Avoid” for Herman’s Hermits, “Take Me For What I’m Worth” for the Searchers, and “You Baby” for the Turtles, among many, many others.

Sloan returned to New York City in the late ‘60s – his efforts as a singer-songwriter decreasingly successful.  Barri remained in the Los Angeles music industry, enjoying a long career behind-the-scenes in production as well as among the ranks of industry executive management.

The Invictas, The Hump (Sahara 45-SH-107 A)3.  The Invictas, The Hump (Sahara 45-SH-107 A)
Rochester’s Invictas were a good if fairly representative band from the era, an outfit who personified the raucous and energetic R&B and party rock ‘n’ roll of the early and mid-‘60s.

The band coalesced in the early ‘60s at the Rochester Institute of Technology.  Consisting of Herb Gross (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Dave Hickey (drums), Mark Blumenfeld (lead guitar) and Jim Koehler (bass), the quartet got their start playing area fraternity houses, which lead, in turn, to their residency at Tiny’s Bengal Inn, a Summerville college hangout.

The group’s first 45, 1964 ‘s “Stuff” (backed with a cover of “I’m Alright”) received only moderate attention, but “The Hump,” recorded and released 1965 on Steve Brodie’s Buffalo-based Sahara label, would garner significant radio airplay, its vaguely raunchy entreaty greatly increasing the group’s regional notoriety.  A big seller, especially in western New York, better dates and plum opening slots would ensue for the Invictas, with two similar 45s – “The Hook” (backed with “Do It”) and “The Detroit Move” (backed with “Shake a Tailfeather”) – released in quick succession.

The Invictas, live

The Invictas in action, with incredible home-built guitars. Image courtesy of the Invictas' website.

The Invictas’ brand of entertainment largely favored the more expedient 45 format, but the group recorded a full-length studio album, a fairly rare proposition in those days.  Invictas A Go-Go (also released in 1965) was practically a primer on ’60s dance-party-rock, with raw covers of “Hang On Sloopy,” “Shake A Tail Feather,” “Like A Rolling Stone,” “Satisfaction” and “Farmer John,” along with a few originals (including “The Hump,” notably, as well as “Do It,” their punkiest number).

But “The Hump” will remain the Invictas’ greatest achievement.  Based on a dance that originated during their time as house band at Tiny’s Bengal Inn, its unorthodox key changes, Gross’s shredding vocals and the song’s all-around go-for-broke mania will forever distinguish “The Hump” from hundreds of other ‘60s dance anthems.

The Invictas have reunited in recent years, playing gigs and making new recordings.  You can read more about the Invictas’ history at their website.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Garage Bands, Instrumentals/Surf | 4 Comments

The Space Race

The Soviet Union’s successful launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite in October of ‘57 was just one of several early culminations in what had already been a long-simmering struggle for space between the Soviets and the United States.  Sputnik was new and absolutely critical, however, in terms of the sheer boldness of its propaganda.

A Russian scientist with the pre-launch Sputnik.

A Russian scientist with Sputnik, pre-launch. Image courtesy of Sputnik Mania, David Hoffman's terrific documentary about the Sputnik phenomenon.

Sputnik was just a shiny radio transmitter.  But the media frenzy that followed its launch galvanized the American imagination, making the Space Race very much a public, ideological concern.  The Sputnik satellite’s mere existence heightened an already paranoid national mood, raising the technological and ideological pitch of the the Cold War in general.  New funding priorities were granted to science, math and technology education and research.  NASA would come into being.

Less gets mentioned of the fresh crop of science-fiction movies, serials, cartoons and books that were inspired by the Space Race, a body of work suffused with a particularly paranoid note.  In retrospect, Sputnik’s victory would be timed perfectly with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll, too.  Readers know of my fondness for the way that certain American motifs – pop phenomena and archetypal images alike – get affirmed and refracted in post-War popular music, especially in instrumental form.  (The eternal example here is surf music, that ultimate intersection of rock ‘n’ roll and impressionism.)

Everyone from country singers and R&B vocal groups to smooth balladeers and wild Southern rock ‘n’ rollers sang about space in the ‘50s and ‘60s.  But it took easy-listening maestros and instrumental rock ‘n’ roll combos and a cadre of jazz artists and early electronic music pioneers to truly embrace the concept of space, actually seeking to convey its experience.

Space, the concept, helped to fire musicians’ creativity and channel their energies.  It also afforded a unique amount of room for experimentation, space’s mystery, and its aura of the Unknown much akin to the way that the Other became the artistically liberating force behind so much exotica.

There’s an electronic sheen to these three tracks, yet there’s little academic gravity to them.  Absent are the smoothed-off edges of high-fidelity easy-listening.  They’re not quite surf, or even rock ‘n’ roll, though catchy riffs and AM-radio-friendly sensibilities prevail.  Like Joe Meek’s “Telstar” (and Meek’s many great follow-up records), or the Marketts’ Out of Limits album, or Peter Thomas’s incredible Raumpatrouille soundtrack, these three selections are beguilingly genre-less.

In the end, these three selections are only concerned with – and rightly so – an electronic rush of technology and the multitude of creative opportunities afforded by the mystery and concept of space.

The What Four, Gemini 4 (Reprise 0387)1.  The What Four, Gemini 4 (Reprise 0387)
As with much of the pop and instrumental rock ‘n’ roll that originated in Los Angeles in the early and mid-‘60s, this selection is a bit fuzzy on where the real group leaves off and where the studio engineering begins.

Saxophonist Armon Frank, credited as composer, figures first and foremost here.  A force in early California surf and instrumental rock ‘n’ roll, Frank was part of the Surfmen – he played on their “Paradise Cove” – as well as Dick Dale’s Del-Tones.   It was his otherwise-unrecorded combo the Vibrants – Casey Van Beek (bass), Bob Young (drums), Jesse Johnson (guitar), Larry Brittain (guitar) and Frank (sax) – who actually recorded the stripped-down core of this selection.

Jack Nitzsche in the mid-1960s

Jack Nitzsche in the mid-1960s

“Gemini 4” is every bit as much about its grandiose production, though, and almost certainly the production was the uncredited and after-the-fact handiwork of the brilliant arranger, conductor and producer Jack Nitzsche.

Nitzsche enjoyed an illustrious career in the Los Angeles pop music world – he was Phil Spector’s man for arrangements, for one, having scored various recordings for the Crystals and Ronettes.  He’d also pen, with Sonny Bono, “Needles and Pins” and nab his own instrumental hit, 1963’s anthemic “Lonely Surfer.”    It was largely his independent arranging, conducting and production work, though, by which he made his name.  By the late ‘60s, when he’d turned largely to soundtrack composition, Nitzsche had already done work for big names – the Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Jackie DeShannon, the Righteous Brothers, Tim Buckley and the Monkees among them – along with credits for innumerable lesser-known acts.

It will always be Nitzsche’s mid-‘60s achievements that resonate most personally.  Tracks like the Paris Sisters’ “See That Boy,” Judy Henske’s “Dolphins in the Sea” and the Buffalo Springfield’s “Expecting to Fly” are gorgeous and extraordinarily cavernous, taking the Spectorian aesthetic to some sort of cinematic extreme.

Gemini IV

Gemini IV's flight took place in June of 1965. It was the first American space walk, with astronaut Edward White (shown here) tethered outside the spacecraft. This spectacular image is courtesy of Great Images in Nasa, a site every Office Naps reader needs to spend a couple of hours with.

Released in the summer of 1965, “Gemini 4” is one of Nitzsche’s most obscure productions.  And certainly it is among his most grandiose achievements, even by his standards, building layer upon layer of orchestration and reverberating drama atop the Vibrants’ original recording.

Confusingly, Los Angeles pop duo Dick and Dee Dee are given the production credit here but they seem to have been involved only to the extent that they were acquaintances of Armon Frank, and may have passed along the source recording, in turn, to Jack Nitzsche.  Furthermore, the What Four credited here are wholly unrelated to another Nitzsche-produced group called the What Four.

The Astros, Space Walk (Golden State GSR-653-A)2.  The Astros, Space Walk (Golden State GSR-653-A)
The most instantly and visually identifiable feature of this record is its release on San Francisco’s Golden State Records.

Leo de gar Kulka’s Golden State Records was, along with sister label Golden Soul, responsible for a fascinating course of Bay Area rock ‘n’ roll, soul, psychedelia, gospel and instrumental music in the mid- and late ‘60s.

The labels themselves formed just part of Kulka’s commercial operations, though.  In addition to various music publishing companies, the Czech-born Kulka was a technophile engineer known above all as founder and operator of Golden State Recorders.  These studios – among the area’s most cutting-edge when they opened in San Francisco in 1965 – were not only where the Astros and all Golden State artists recorded, but were also where ‘60s San Francisco-area hitmakers the Beau Brummels and Syndicate of Sound were captured along with nascent psychedelic acts like the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead.

Leo de gar Kulka at Golden State Recorders

A mid-'60s trade advert for Golden State Recorders, featuring Leo de gar Kulka at the helm

That said, little can be concluded about the Astros themselves, or this particular recording.   Recorded and released in 1965, it seems highly plausible that, given the 45’s space-themed name and titles (the flipside is “Earth Hop”), its anonymity (Kulka gets the composition credit on “Earth Hop”) and its overall emphasis on studio wizardry – “Space Walk” may have been merely a sort of lark for Kulka.   No matter.  “Space Walk” is all swirling organ, vibraphones and whooshing, pre-psychedelic studio echo, an inadvertently appropriate prelude to the Haight Ashbury’s impending cosmic convergence.

The Houstons, Solar Light (World Pacific 77926)3.  The Houstons, Solar Light (World Pacific 77926)
This selection was a very early studio project for Japanese composer Nozomi Aoki, who would go on to score music for movies and television in his native land.

Recorded in Japan, “Solar Light” was released in 1969, with Aoki’s most famous work as a composer – his credits include music for the 1970s and ‘80s Japanese movies Little Adventurer, Harmagedon: Genma Taisen, Future War 1986 and television series Ginga Tetsudô Three-Nine, Josephina the Whale, Rock ‘n’ Roll Kids, Fist of the North Star and Hokuto No Ken – still a few years off.

The 45 would be timed to coincide with the America’s July 1969 moon landing.  The fabulously ambient flipside is “Sea of Tranquility,” so titled for the crater where Armstrong and Aldrin landed.  The moon landing would prove not only the symbolic beginning-of-the-end for the Space Race, but would serve as a sort of end-note for space-themed instrumental rock.  (Space would largely be the territory of electronic artists henceforth.)  A fitting coda then, “Solar Light”’s aesthetic is actually more in line with the slightly earlier zenith of crazily-engineered, electronics-tinged instrumental productions like “Telstar” and “Out of Limits.”

Nozomi Aoki remains active as a composer in Japan, with recent orchestrations for, among others, the 2008 series The Galaxy Railways.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Psychedelic/Pop | 7 Comments

The teen art of lonesome

Heartbreak and loneliness, as topics, had already been beaten to death in teenage popular music on the eve of the British Invasion. But that wasn’t necessarily the problem.  Rather, it was that heartbreak and loneliness were always so poorly and superficially conveyed.  At least on the national pop charts, these were big years for throwaway commercial pop arrangements and teenage sentimentality of the most maudlin variety.  Where was all the existential despair, bleakness and bad decisions?

The fine art of teenage lonesome this week on Office Naps. Feel the sun going down. Image courtesy of Amarillo-based Charles Henry, who has many marvelous, evocative images of Texas spaces at his flickr page.

It took a special treatment to conjure melancholy and youthful despondency effectively and attractively – to make it, in effect, cinematic again.  The archetypes will always be timeless tracks like Ricky Nelson’s “Lonesome Town,” Eddie Cochran’s “Dark Lonely Street” and Elvis Presley’s reading of “Blue Moon.”  Good lyrics were important, of course, though not absolutely crucial.  It was interpretation and, above all, the production that were paramount.  “A Cheat” by Sanford Clark or “Lonely Saturday Night” by Don French are spare to the point of nothingness, slowed down to a dream-like beat, and otherworldly, almost exotic at points.   This week’s selections, though performed by singers of wildly different pedigrees, all subscribe to the same basic vision in the end.  Crackling with shadows and atmosphere, there is some special, serious art to their loneliness.

Joe Gaston and the Crew, Without You (Brass 162 B)1.  Joe Gaston and the Crew, Without You (Brass 162 B)
Likely recorded in the early ‘60s – I’d guess 1961 – in Kansas City, there’s little information to be dredged up about singer Joe Gaston, alas, or the magnificent “Without You.”

All the components are there, though.  The aesthetic is redolent of some pure, lost surf instrumental ballad, the beautifully modulated echo chamber guitar and whistling conjuring solitude to great effect.  Again, it’s all very cinematic – an edge-of-town-at-sundown mood.  It would have sounded good coming through an AM radio.

“Without You” (and its flipside, the goofy rockin’ pop number “How Do You Know?”) seems to have been among the earliest releases for Kansas City businessman George Hodes’s Brass Records, a label that would go on to release a clutch of other country, pop, rock ‘n’ roll and instrumental releases into the ‘60s, including, most notably, an LP by folk group the Surf Riders (where future Byrd Gene Clark got his start), some cool ’64 country sides by Larry Good and Gene McKown and, a year or two later, three 45s by the Fab Four, a popular local garage band.

Incidentally, the Crew, Gaston’s backing band here, released a wild jungle exotica-type instrumental 45 (“Jaguar Hunt”) of their own around the same time on Brass Records that, speculatively, was recorded during the same session as “Without You.”   Decades later, the Norton Records team also turned up an excellent acetate by the Crew for the label’s Kicksville, Vol. 2 compilation, a track that features Gaston, I believe, again on vocals.

Johnny Williams, Another Love (Cinema 1001)2.  Johnny Williams, Another Love (Cinema 1001)
A Texas singer and entertainer in the Gulf Coast blue-eyed soul tradition, Johnny Williams will probably always be best known for his 1965 hit version of Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil.”

Born in the early ‘40s in Baytown, Texas, Williams’s “Long Black Veil” followed a haphazard, if felicitous, route into music.   He grew up on R&B, country, jazz and early rock ‘n’ roll.  Williams himself was a late-blooming musician, though, picking up guitar in college but quickly insinuating himself, with enviable pluck, into Austin’s early ‘60s east side R&B scene and the bands of the young Joe Tex and local favorite Blues Boy Hubbard.

Johnny Williams in his "Long Black Veil" days

Johnny Williams in his "Long Black Veil" days. Image courtesy of the the Johnny Williams website.

Upon returning from a stint in the Air Force in 1964, Williams fell in as vocalist with the Houston-area band the Jokers, who, as serendipity would have it, found themselves recording for the infamous Huey Meaux and, even more serendipitously, soon had a hit on their hands with a swampy, R&B-laced version of the great Lefty Frizzell ballad “Long Black Veil.”  A follow-up 45 and an album (with Williams and company covering of hits like “Miller’s Cave” and “The Last Letter”) was rushed out to capitalize on the single’s success.

It is Williams’s 1966 side “Another Love,” though, that stands apart as his finest effort.  Penned by the Houston-based songwriting team of Jerry Wright and Larry O’Keefe, “Another Love” borrows a bit of “Long Black Veil,” taking it to some sort of hypnotic extreme in the process.  The arrangement here is beautifully realized, its ghostly chorus, muffled floor toms, spare guitar work and mounds of echo a triumph of mood.

“Another Love” would also be an early, in not the earliest, release for Houston’s Cinema Records, a label behind some good psychedelic and garage band sides in the latter half of the ‘60s.  Oddly enough, both sides of this 45 were re-released the same year by legendary Houston-based psychedelic label International Artists.

Johnny Williams stayed around Houston, recording sporadically – and these mostly as a country singer – with his own groups in the ‘70s.  His energies would generally be directed to his role as a live performer, his ongoing association with musician-turned-club-owner Mickey Gilley making Williams a fixture in Houston-area clubs in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Williams returned to recording music in 2005 with Johnny Williams Volume 1, an album of blues vocals.

You can read more about Johnny Williams at his website.

Bill Osborn, Bamboo and Rice (Camelot CS-129-A)3.  Bill Osborn, Bamboo and Rice (Camelot CS-129-A)
Bill Osborn, born William Robert Osborne in 1940, was a pop singer and songwriter, fairly well-known in the Seattle area in his time.

His handful of 45s (including this) recorded for the great local labels Seafair and Jerden were largely released under the pseudonym Billy Saint, though he’d also record as Johnny London (for the soul-inspired “Watching Over You” 45).  And, of course, he’d record as Bill Osborn.

The pop sensibilities of the various Osborn sides that I’ve heard put him somewhat at odds with the Pacific Northwest’s raucous rock ‘n’ roll scene.  But his penchant for penning unusual songs is also rather striking.  His “Tanganyika,” for example, is pure exotica; the quasi-mystical “Who Walks in the Garden” could have been an Eden Ahbez composition; “Tear Down the Wall” features cryptic lyrics about “the other side.”

“Bamboo and Rice” is perhaps the most remarkable.  A strange love song about the American war in Vietnam (or Korea or Japan, just as easily), the glacial, pseudo-martial tempo and exotic touches are nothing if not atmospheric, adding to some sense of haunted drama.  The 45’s flipside – an instrumental version with local musician Doug Allen’s deep, booming guitar lines supplanting the vocals – is also highly worthwhile.

Arranged, produced and impeccably recorded by indefatigable drummer-turned-engineer Jan Kurtis for his Camelot label, “Bamboo and Rice” was released in 1966, near the tail end of Camelot’s brief-but-prolific existence.

By the ‘80s, Bill Osborn seems to have largely foregone recording for business.  He passed away in 2009.

Posted on by Little Danny | Posted in Country, Psychedelic/Pop | 5 Comments