Category Archives: Garage Bands

The Plum Beach Incident / Dave Yarnell

It was terrific to speak recently to Dave Yarnell, guitarist and singer with the Plum Beach Incident, whose sterling “Pretty Thing” I first featured back in 2010 in a post surveying ‘60s jangle pop.  A warm, friendly gentlemen whose continued passion for music was obvious, Dave filled me in on some of his ‘60s band history, and the story of the Plum Beach Incident.

Early life and Dantes

The son of an educator, Yarnell was born in Sacramento, CA, relocating with his family early in life to his family’s home state of Ohio, where he grew up.  Inspired by West Coast surf music and the rock ‘n’ roll of pre-British-Invasion groups like the Beach Boys, the Kingsmen, and Ventures, the self-taught Yarnell began playing guitar in the sixth or seventh grade.

The early version of the Dantes.  Playing at Ohio State University, circa 1964.
Early version of the Dantes. Playing at Ohio State University, circa 1964.

In high school Yarnell and his classmate Richard Wakefield formed an early edition of the Dantes.   (Yarnell referenced local group the Electras – the future Fifth Order – as an inspiration, noting their musical equipment and use of bar chords in particular.)

An early songlist for the Dantes
An early songlist for the Dantes, circa 1964

Halfway through high school in 1965, Yarnell moved with his family to Falls Church, Virginia, a town just outside the D.C. beltway. The Dantes would go on to eventually enjoy some success – a few of their 45s charted in Ohio – but, by that point, Yarnell was no longer with the group.

Ye Bay Rums

Yarnell was serious about music.   “I had a natural ear for harmony” – and he’d sometimes be seen carrying an inverted history book to strengthen the chording muscles in his hands.  He wasted no time in founding a new group, Ye Bay Rums, as a junior at George Mason High School.

Ye Bay Rums included Tim Woolsey (drums), George Cotner (Hammond organ and vocals), Tom Turrisi (bass) and Yarnell (guitar and vocals).  The group played local events, dances (“Great money for kids in high school”) and the occasional opening slot for touring artists like the Ohio Express and Wilson Pickett.  The group’s repertoire featuring period covers (Beatles, Sam & Dave, Young Rascals, Wilson Pickett) along with the occasional band original like Yarnell’s “Picture with the Eyes that Move” and Cotner’s “Love Came on” and “Let Me Make it Up.”  Yarnell also played cornet in his high school’s band and would, along with Cotner (a fellow horn player) be seen grabbing his horn onstage for covers of “Land of 1000 Dances” and “Midnight Hour” and other period soul and R&B.

Ye Bay Rums made some demo records for Lionel Hampton’s Glad Hamp Records, but, while there was commercial interest, nothing was actually released.  By 1967 Yarnell had graduated high school and began attending Corcoran School of Art in D.C..  Ye Bay Rums would disband in 1968.

Plum Beach Incident

The Plum Beach Incident was started around 1968 by Art Morales, a colorful local musician who modeled himself on guitarist Eric Clapton, then with Cream.

Plum Beach Incident
The Plum Beach Incident. (front, l-r): Arturo Morales, Sharon Theet, Johnny Smith, Karen Theet, Keith Edwards; (rear): Steve Croson.  Note: Yarnell is not pictured.

Yarnell’s involvement began upon answering an audition ad posted by Morales at a local music store in 1968.  The group – which would largely coalesce through Morales – would come to include Johnny Smith (keyboards), Steve Croson (bass), both previously of the Organic Cavemen – a popular Northern Virginia band, Keith Edwards (drums – the “hippie-est,” according to Yarnell), and the telegenic singers (and sisters) Sharon and Karen Theet.    Everybody in the group sang.  The group was listening to and performing a lot of West Coast psychedelic rock at the time. (Yarnell also cited the Bee Gees’ “Words,” the Doors’ “Love me Two Times” and covers of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield, with the Theet sisters assuming lead vocal duties.

The Plum Beach Incident playing the Knights of Columbus hall in 1968
The Plum Beach Incident playing the Knights of Columbus hall in 1968. (l-r): Steve Croson, Sharon Theet, Karen Theet, Dave Yarnell, Johnny Smith, Arturo Morales, Keith Edwards.

The Plum Beach Incident played live around northern Virginia, Washington D.C. and Maryland, attaining enough local celebrity to land opening slots for nationally-known artists like Vanilla Fudge as they came through the area. The group also shared stages with local groups of the day like the Fallen Angels, the English Setters, and later, the Cherry People.

Envelope direct from Orpheum Records.  Postmark August 1968.
Envelope direct from Orpheum Records to Arturo Morales. Postmark August 1968.

The Plum Beach Incident, Pretty Thing

The group’s management team helped facilitate the recording session that led to “Pretty Thing” along with its flipside “Summer Love.”  The session took place over the course of a few days in New York City in August 1968.  The lyrics were handed to the Plum Beach Incident, the arrangement and interpretation were entirely the group’s own.   In addition to the 45, a few other songs were also recorded in that time to acetate, including an original, “You Need a Friend.”

Plum Beach Incident, 1968
Plum Beach Incident, 1968. (l-r): Steve Croson, Sharon Theet, Arturo Morales.

Despite its potential – “Summer Love” was discussed for placement in a Clairol advertisement at one point – the 45 was not a commercial success.   It probably didn’t help that its release was delayed in deference to Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ version of “Pretty Thing,” or that Orpheum Records, along with its sister label Pop-Side, was winding down its operations by the late ‘60s.

The group lasted less than two years, the pressures of the draft, drug busts, lifestyle changes, pregnancies and family life eventually finally catching up with them.

After the Plum Beach Incident

Of the group, it was bassist Steve Croson – he passed away in 2010 – who enjoyed the most success in the music world – playing and singing on a number of Nashville country sessions, touring for years with various country music artists and, in recent years, founding the Roy Orbison tribute show “In Dreams.”

Yarnell enlisted for a stint in the Air Force as an AF Illustrator after being drafted in 1969, and would afterwards return to finish his studies in fine art.  He started a family along the way, worked as a graphic artist and, later, as a licensed boat captain between D.C. and the Florida Keys.  Dave still plays music, and currently can be heard playing around northern Virginia as Capt. Dave and the Neptunes.

Many thanks to Dave Yarnell for the archival photos, and for this interview.

Posted in Garage Bands, Psychedelic/Pop, Updates | 5 Comments

Another view from the outer fringes

I always feel a little bit leery of posts like these because there’s nothing in the way of, say, regional or sociocultural provenance or shared stylistic cues drawing the selections together, nothing guiding them into cohesive genres or concepts with tidy boundaries.  These are fitted together mostly because they fit together somehow in my mind.

So this is actually a continuation of a post from a million years ago.   Beginning in the ’50s, and continuing into the ’80s, a spate of unusual, unhinged, otherwise untrammeled examples of musical individualism found their realization on the 45rpm record, that most democratic and affordable of the post-War recorded formats.  An overall concept that’s nothing particularly new in the Office Naps universe.

But the Beat Generation – its electrifying, groundbreaking forms and beatnik clichés alike – looms in some way behind each of these selections, even if it’s only inadvertent, and somehow the fact that these three 45s, which would have been unorthodox no matter their year of release, evoke the spirit of an entirely earlier decade seemed worth more exploration.  So here we go.

Tamara’s New Generation, Traffic (IRC 6943B)1. Tamara’s New Generation, Traffic (IRC 6943B)
Tantalizingly few credits to work with here.

Recorded in mid-1967, “Traffic” was released on the Chicago-based IRC Records.  IRC was operated to a large degree as a custom label – meaning that, for a fee, it would press a set quantity of a record for any artist or small recording studio.  IRC’s small LP run favored European folk music while its 45 discography, which extended from the early ‘60s until the mid-‘70s, included a relatively unfiltered cross-section of period sounds, including teen pop, sound effects novelties, gospel, personality records and, perhaps most notably, some mid-‘60s garage band singles by the Little Boy Blues, Placy Anatra & Jimmy Watson, Danny’s Reasons and the Phantoms.

And this selection?  Tamara’s deadpan spoken word meditation on the modern condition in “Traffic” – not to mention those charmingly artless flute accents – are the very image of youthful Greenwich Village existentialism of a decade earlier.   As with a lot of custom label output, obscure ysteries would often see release, but little else among IRC’s schedule would sound like “Traffic.”  Little else anywhere sounded like “Traffic,” though the Miriam 45 bears some passing resemblance.    (“Just Flowers,” the nominally more orthodox flipside, is a more psychedelic number that seems straight from some jam at the Golden Gate Park Be-In, again with flute and a bit of Tamara’s spoken word vocals).

The Night People, Erebian-Borialis (Del-Nita DN-1002B)2.  The Night People, Erebian-Borialis (Del-Nita DN-1002B)
The Night People were a mid-‘60s Cleveland-area group.

While the Night People might read like your standard local mid-‘60s garage band on paper, it’s clear with this 1967 45 – the first of the group’s two releases – that something slightly different was going on.  To begin with, the a-side of this 45, a crudely psychedelic rave-up entitled “We Got It,” featured a prominent theremin, an instrument otherwise nearly unheard of in the context of local ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll.

This selection, “Erebian-Borialis,” is the yet-more-anomalous b-side.

Loosely-structured and freewheeling, it’s in the spirit of other early psychedelia, but the instrumentation and intimate production values of “Erebian-Borialis” are both quite unusual.   (The title itself seems to be a meaningless invention.)  Like “Traffic,” this side is simultaneously of its time and out of time; “Erebian-Borialis” succeeds in being utterly psychedelic, while little but a fuzzed-out electric guitar separates it from the flute-and-bongo coffeehouse aesthetic of a decade earlier.

“Erebian-Borialis” featured the group’s guitarist Terry Paul, drummer Greg Paul (likely on the bongo), bassist Joe Rose – and his brother Frank Rose on the recorder.   (Vocalist Bob Holcepl is not heard here.)

The Night People’s second 45, while also excellent, is much more in the vein of straightahead period garage band records.

The New Bangs, Go-Go Kitty (Prism 45-PR-1935)3. The New Bangs, Go-Go Kitty (Prism 45-PR-1935)
According to Buckeye Beat, the New Bangs were a studio-only project composed of members from two Dayton, Ohio combos.

The first of these, the Dawks, were a working group that included Terry Lawson (vocals), Jim Henson (lead guitar), Mike Clark (rhythm guitar), Lou Gore (drums) and Larry Henry (bass).  They recorded several times for the Prism Records label, their discography notably including “Good Thing,” a ringing gem that appeared on WONE: The Dayton Scene, a battle-of-the-bands compilation, in 1966.

And the second combo was the Bangs, an otherwise undocumented girl group.

This side was released in early 1966.  Even by the standards of b-sides – where the weirder, anything-goes material tended to live – “Go-Go Kitty” is a strange artifact, a shambling teenage head trip that transcends novelty by its sheer uncompromising, uncommercial wigginess.    It makes sense that this might have been a studio lark.  It’s certainly nothing like “Get Back in Your Tree,” its pop a-side.

The group released a second 45 (“The First Time b/w “She’s Gone”), also on the Prism label, but these sides again bore no resemblance to the madness of this selection.

Thanks goes to Buckeye Beat for much of the information.

Posted in Garage Bands, Psychedelic/Pop | 6 Comments

Bright Lights

Bright Lights!

Like AM Radio Dust, its companion volume, Bright Lights is just as much an exploration of lost spaces and places as it is of sound.

I hope you enjoy it.

Bright Lights
(single MP3 file)

Susan Rafey, “The Big Hurt”
Jerry Lee Trio, “Banshee”
Rick Durham and the Dynamics, “Southern Love”
Stan with the Marauders, “Echo Valley”
Maggie Ingram with the Ingramettes, “Melody of Love”
Zena Ayo, “Long Long Gone”
Mike Baltch Quartet, “Delilah”
Cheryl Thompson, “Black Night”
The Checker Dots, “Alpha Omega”
Fantastic Dee-Jays, “This Love of Ours”
The What Four, “Gemini 4″
Carole King, “A Road to Nowhere”
The Bittersweets, “Hurtin’ Kind”
Charles Wright and the Malibus, “Runky”
The Missing Links, “I Cried Goodbye”
J. Gale and the Games, “A Million Nothings”
The Benjamin Specials Gospel Singers, “I Am on the Right Road Now”
Link Wray, “Girl from the North Country”
Shirley Mc Donald accompanied by The Kay Nines K-9′s, “You”
The Santells, “These Are Love”
Houston and Dorsey, “Ebb Tide”
Dub Benson, “Shaping Up Today”
Henry Kaalekahi, “Hookipa Paka – Maunawili”
Johnny Love, “Rain Drops”
George Johnson, “Capricorn”
Fay Simmons, “Bells”
Cee Cee Carol, “The Right Guy”
Lou Smith, “I’ll Be the One”

Posted in Blues, Country, Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Girl-Groups, Gospel, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Mixes, Now Sound, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul | 11 Comments

Feel a whole lot better

The Byrds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” first released as a B-side in 1965, was several things.  It was, along with its A-side (“All I Really Want to Do”) the much-anticipated follow-up to the group’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” the Columbia Records debut 45 that enjoyed massive commercial response a few months earlier.   Penned by the group’s lead singer, Gene Clark, it was also a relatively rare – at least amongst the Byrds’ early chart-topping hits – original group composition to be promoted as a single.

“All I Really Want to Do,” however, was not a huge hit.  And, despite a label push, neither was “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”  But through some peculiarity in its composition – its robust, propulsive melody, its straightforward emotion and “put down” message, its energy, its relative technical simplicity – “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” tended, of all the Byrds’ songs, to get adapted by dozens of period garage bands.   It didn’t hurt that it also rocked like little else in the Byrds’ oeuvre.

I have yet to hear a bad ’60s version of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better.”  This week we take a look at three of the best.

The Unknowns, I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (Marlo 1550)1.  The Unknowns, I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better (Marlo 1550)
The Unknowns were an accomplished rock ‘n’ roll band from Belleville, Illinois (across the river from St. Louis).  The group made some excellent folk-rock 45s in the mid-‘60s, later, having renamed themselves Spur, releasing the album that remains their best-known recording amongst collectors, 1968’s Spur of the Moment.

The Unknowns first came together in 1964, with Jimmy Fey (guitar) Larry Wilson (drums) and Rick Willard (vocals and bass).  Their debut 45, which appeared on the St. Louis-based Marlo Records in 1965, was “You Want Me Too,” backed with a cover of the Beatles’ “Baby’s in Black.”

With the addition of Ed Kalotek on guitars and keyboard, and Jimmy Fey’s replacement by guitarist Stan Bratzke, the Unknowns would record their second 45 – this selection.  (Incidentally, Fey would return to the group in 1967 and this line-up, a sequence of drummers notwithstanding, would remain largely consistent throughout the rest of the band’s career.)

Released in 1966, their “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” bursts with the ringing guitar lines and raw exuberance that was so characteristic of period versions of the song.   (Flipside “The Modern Era,” though sombre, was also good.)

A year later the Unknowns released their third 45 (“All Over the World” b/w “You Could Help Me Ease the Pain”) on the local Cinema label.   Its folk-rock sound restated the group’s folk-rock leanings, its world-weariness presaging an aesthetic that eventually culminated in Spur of the Moment, their album of fully-realized “mature” folk-rock, country-rock and psychedelia.

The band’s story is better documented elsewhere (see excellent commentary at Record Fiend).   The Unknowns’ trajectory is, in retrospect, similar to other ambitious regional rock ‘n’ roll acts in the ‘60s.  They began during the British Invasion with several youthful, of-their-time 45s.  And they would arc out of the ‘60s (and into the early ‘70s) with a full-length album and turned-on sound.

But, aside from their obvious musical talent, what interests me about the Unknowns, this selection included, was their attraction, from the outset, to the minor-key sound of many of the early wave of folk-rock bands (the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Grateful Dead and the Youngbloods come to mind).  This proclivity is heard persisting in their handiwork as Spur, with all of their recordings mirroring these better-known groups’ development from folk-rock into psychedelia and country-rock.

The cream of recordings – studio, live and unreleased-in-their-time – by Spur (as well as the Unknowns) has been recently compiled and released by Drag City.  Well worth seeking out.

Sources: Record Fiend, Rick Willard

The 4 of Us, I Feel a Whole Lot Better (Hideout H-1012)2.  The 4 of Us, I Feel a Whole Lot Better (Hideout H-1012)
The Four of Us, from Detroit suburb Birmingham, began playing together in 1965.  Their core included Jeff Alborell and Gary Burrows on guitars and vocals, though accounts conflict on the rest of the group’s personnel, which seems to have been fairly flexible either way.  (I am obliged to note that future Eagle Glenn Frey briefly sang with the band, though he’s not heard on this selection.)

A popular draw locally, the Four of Us, despite lineup changes, managed to make the most of their brief existence.  First and foremost, the band were regulars at the Hideout Club, an all-ages spot that played an important part in the very active teen rock ‘n’ roll scene outside of inner city Detroit.  Operated by local entrepreneurs Dave Leone and Ed “Punch” Andres, the Hideout would flourish for a few years in the mid-‘60s, and featured many of the hipper area teen rock ‘n’ roll bands from suburban Detroit in its time; Bob Seger and Suzi Quatro, among many others, would play the Hideout early on.

The Four of Us released two 45s, both on Hideout Records, the label that served as a direct outlet for many of the club’s resident bands.   Three Four of Us songs – “I Can’t Live Without Your Love,” “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and an unreleased-on-45 version of “Baby Blue” – also appeared on the rare Best of the Hideouts album, a full-length compilation released by Hideout Records in 1966.

This side, released in 1966, would be the second of their two mid-‘60s 45s.  Their first, “You’re Gonna Be Mine” is perhaps better known to garage band collectors, but the band’s reading of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better,” with its harmonies, jangling guitars and surging energy, stands out as the group’s finest moment.

The Four of Us dissolved by late 1966.

The Hitch Hikers, Feel a Whole Lot Better (Cuca J-6741)3.  The Hitch Hikers, Feel a Whole Lot Better (Cuca J-6741)
This version of “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” was released in a comparatively late 1967.

This is perhaps the least known of this week’s selections.   The most immediately recognizable aspect of this 45, in fact, is that it’s on Cuca Records.  Democratic if nothing else, Cuca Records was a crazily prolific label and recording studio founded by James Kirchstein, who ran his operations between the late ‘50s and early ‘70s out of Sauk City, Wisconsin.  An exemplary post-War indie label, Cuca and its several subsidiaries would serve as a sort of clearinghouse for many area artists.  In addition to the garage band and R&B and soul releases for which it’s best remembered, stretches a catalog of hundreds of 45s, with polka, pre-British-Invastion rock ‘n’ roll and surf, country, gospel, teen pop, easy-listening and blues and jazz all amply represented.

The Hitch Hikers themselves hailed from the small Wisconsin town of Platteville, part of the University of Wisconsin system.   (Nearest city was Dubuque, Iowa – Sauk City was seventy miles away.)  The group included Jim Hake (lead guitar), Rick Tryne (rhythm guitar), Bart Bell (keyboards), Mike Hendrickson (bass) and Larry Popp (drums).  They played local college parties along with area shows in southern Wisconsin as well as eastern Iowa and northern Illinois.

This 45’s flipside is a solid, uptempo treatment of the rarely-covered Bob Dylan song “One Too Many Mornings.”  This 45, released in April of 1967, would be the band’s only recorded output.

Sources: Gary Myers’s On That Wisconsin Beat, Dominic Welhouse

Posted in Garage Bands | 4 Comments

AM Radio Dust

AM Radio Dust


A new, or new to Office Naps, mix this week.

AM Radio Dust was my 2009 contribution to the annual CD mix swap over at the Waxidermy forums, the weird id of contemporary record collecting.

AM Radio Dust is a good reflection of where my tastes as a collector and music enthusiast stand.  It’s a parallel universe of sound, a lost, echo-y place of girl-groups, instrumental obscurities, haunted country singers and teen crooners, inadvertent drone and difficult-to-classify, space-age flotsam.

I did choose to re-record (320kpbs) and re-mix the original tracks, however, which suffered from some variable bit rates and generally poor mastering.  As always, nothing was cleaned up, though, no pops or clicks removed.  So here it is.

AM Radio Dust
(single MP3 file)

AM Radio Dust

(zip file with mixed tracks)

The Houstons, “Solar Light”
The Caravelles, “Hey Mama You’ve Been On My Mind”
Jimmy Barden & Donna Byrd, “It’s Never Easy”
Undecided?, “Make Her Cry”
Shadow Casters, “Going to the Moon”
Kumar Basnyet, “Chyangba Ta Naun”
Donald Adkins, “Lonley Side Walks”
Joe D. Gibson, “21 Years (It Takes a Worried Man)”
Jerry Williams & the Epics, “Whatever You Do”
Ervin Litkei, “Music to Play E-S-P By”
The Ultra Mates, “Pitter Patter”
Andrew Paul with Music by The Agents, “A Hearts Not a Toy”
The Desert Rats, “Sohonie”
The Stratfords, “Never Leave Me”
Red Garrison and His Zodiacs, “Chant of the Jungle”
Tracy Pendarvis and the Swampers, “A Thousand Guitars”
Holmes Sisters, “The Love of Jesus”
Ronny Kae, “Swinging Drums”
The Lawrence Comp., “Moon Beams”
Wilbert Harrison, “Happy in Love”
Buddy Long, “It’s Nothin’ to Me”
Johnny Williams, “Another Love”
Bill Osborn – Guitar Solo By Doug Allen, “Bamboo and Rice”
Little John and The Monks, “Black Winds”
Lorrie Collins, “Another Man Done Gone”
Willie Gregg and the Velvetones, “You Fool”
Mona Davis, “I’ll Pick Up My Heart”
Billy Sol and the Thunderbirds, “When You’re Alone”

Posted in Country, Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Gospel, Instrumentals/Surf, Mixes, Now Sound, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll | 20 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

La misère

This week’s three selections represent one particular dimension of the ’60s garage band phenomenon, one that doesn’t get much attention from collectors.

These are laments.  And they tended to take shape – in the form’s most effective examples, at least – in a discrete set of aural motifs.  That sound is one of the reasons I love this type of plaint so much: Tempos are slow, almost glacial, vocals are doleful, resolute in their despair, extra instrumentation (e.g., guitar solos)  is minimal and the levels of echo, as if to compensate, are cavernous.   The sound can be quite striking.

Moreover, in their unsparing detail of emotional vicissitude – related, always, to girl troubles – these selections dig beyond the mere pathos of the average minor-key ballad into something more desperate and anti-social.

There was little chart precedent for this sort of very raw emotion.  And these – not only is there something almost defiantly non-commercial about them, but, because this stuff was produced on such a limited, local basis, they’re sort of like using your high school yearbook profile to detail your various romantic travails.   And that is the other reason I love this odd corner of teenage rock ‘n’ roll so much.  There is great poignancy in the real, if over-the-top, vulnerability here.

Fantastic Dee-Jays, This Love of Ours (Sherry TR-Series Teen Sound 196)1.  Fantastic Dee-Jays, This Love of Ours (Sherry TR-Series Teen Sound 196)
An excellent mid-‘60s rock ‘n’ roll group popular in the Pittsburgh area, the Fantastic Dee-Jays recorded prolifically in their time before evolving into that rawest of all ‘60s garage bands, the Swamp Rats.

Formed in 1964 in McKeesport, south of Pittsburgh, the Fantastic Dee-Jays consisted at the start of teenagers Dick Newton (guitar and vocals), Tom Junecko (drums) and Denny Nicholson (guitar and vocals).  Discovered early on by popular local WMCK DJ (and producer, promoter and club and label operator) Terry Lee, the Fantastic Dee-Jays would, with Lee as manager, establish themselves as a major attraction in Pittsburgh’s vibrant teen dance circuit.

“This Love of Ours,” recorded in 1965 and released on Terry Lee’s own Sherry Records imprint, was the group’s first release.  An original composition, it digs deep on all fronts, pushing into stark emotional territory with a dramatic vocal, its effect increased – even as the words become somewhat difficult to understand – by its slow tempo and the extraordinary echo.  “This Love of Ours” is the absolute archetype for this type of sound.    (Its flipside, sadly, is a fairly dry reading of the guitar instrumental classic “Apache.” )

At this point it must be noted out that the Fantastic Dee-Jays were driven by two electric guitars and drums but no bass, an almost unheard-of configuration in its time.   While “This Love of Ours” didn’t neatly fit into the logic of the group’s discography – which was similarly original but Merseybeat-oriented – all of their recorded output had an aesthetic that was instantly identifiable, a sound driven by almost experimental masses of jangle – best heard on their roaring 1966 version of the Golliwogs’ “Fight Fire.”  Nor was it just the Dee-Jays pushing sonic boundaries.  Terry Lee’s penchant for echo – which he applied liberally to his own broadcasts – worked its way into the Dee-Jays’ recordings, which, in turn, he helped produce in the WMCK studios.

Still, if would-be impresario Lee made for a somewhat unorthodox match, it all somehow worked, at least for a year or two.  The Fantastic Dee-Jays proved popular, charting locally with their “Love Is Tuff” 45, opening for the Rolling Stones in 1966 as well as releasing a rare full-length LP, a costly investment, even with Lee’s patronage, in the era’s singles-driven marketplace for rock ‘n’ roll.

After five terrific 45s and one album, the Fantastic Dee-Jays disbanded in 1966.  Drummer Bob Hocko, who had replaced Junecko as drummer that same year, would continue with Dick Newton – again, under Terry Lee’s aegis – in the Swamp Rats, a volatile group who recorded some intense punk 45s in next year-and-a-half before they too dissolved.

The Stairway to the Stars, Cry (Brite-Star 17910)2.  The Stairway to the Stars, Cry (Brite-Star 17910)
From 1966, and likely from eastern Ohio, little can be stated conclusively about the Stairway to the Stars or Messrs. Sollosi and Benard, except that this 45’s origins lie along some of the more fascinating margins of the commercial record industry.

Brite-Star Records, run by one Tex Clark, was a mysterious, though not atypical, label operation that worked through its “offices” in Newbury, Ohio (east of Cleveland) and Nashville.  Largely in operation during the ‘60s, its discography includes a couple of weird records by fading country stars like Little Jimmy Dickens and Red Simpson, but it otherwise seemed to function as an outlet for aspiring musicians and songwriters who paid the label in exchange for some nominal promotion and distribution and, in some cases, for handling pressing and studio time.  Given both the general obscurity of Brite records (as well as releases on Roy, Brite, Bryte – all labels affiliated with Tex Clark) and some vague sense of unscrupulousness about the labels, it seems unlikely that they ever did much to sell actual 45s.

It makes sense, then, that Rite Record Productions pressed this record.  Based in Cincinnati, Rite Records was one of the better-known post-War custom-pressing plants.  The company would inexpensively produce small batches of 45s and LPs for various artists (who often included school and church groups along with aspiring singers and groups) and entrepreneurial spirits who approached them with tapes and demo recordings.

In both cases, low barriers to entry were assumed.  But, among the dozens of artless country singers and church group warblers, a lot of terrific and incredibly obscure music would see release on Rite-pressed labels such as Brite-Star.

“Cry” was most certainly among those.   Here the tempo is peppier and arrangement a bit more structured, but the booming echo and general levels of despair – the baleful spoken word interlude really enhancing the drama – again have a very strong effect.

This selection’s flipside is “Dry Run,” an excellent surf-style instrumental with hints of early psychedelia and lots of fuzz guitar.  A fantastic record.

Thanks to both Song Poem Music and 45 RPM Records for the information.

The Jades, Till I Die (Ector DAS-101)3.  The Jades, Till I Die (Ector DAS-101)
A popular local draw on the Fort Worth teen music circuit, the Jades – originally vocalist and guitarist Gary Carpenter, bassist Ronnie Brown, keyboardist Jack Henry, guitarist Larry Earp and drummer Alvin McCool – first came together in 1964 as high school students in the surrounding Haltom City and Richland Hills areas.

The Jades’ live reputation – in short time they’d be winning battles-of-the-bands, touring the state and opening locally for the likes of the Byrds and the Hollies – is perhaps more representative than their body of recorded work, which suffers in retrospect only because their three 45s were largely comprised of cover versions.  (Like many popular local rock ‘n’ roll groups in the mid-to-late ‘60s, the Jades focused on a crowd-pleasing live repertoire rather than original compositions.)

Released in 1965, “Till I Die” is the flipside to their first 45, the better-known “I’m All Right,” a raw, energetic reading of the Rolling Stones song that, in the Jades’ hands, performed well on hipper local radio stations like KFJZ.

“Till I Die,” written and sung by guitarist Larry Earp, is wholly uncharacteristic of the Jades’ oeuvre, and I can’t imagine it saw much live performance.  The dirge-like tremolo guitar, Earp’s rough-but-heartfelt vocals and, perhaps most of all, the lyric, with its profoundly macabre final verse, are all teenage lament de rigueur, though.

Two more Jades 45s – spirited versions of British Invasion-style R&B, mainly – would follow over the next year, including their third and perhaps best 45, a tough 1966 version of Them’s “Little Girl.”

Despite their considerable live reputation, the band – like many other groups who formed as teenagers – began to lose members as the ‘60s wore on.  Lead singer Gary Carpenter was the only original member by the time the group split in the early ‘70s, with only Carpenter and Jack Henry remaining involved in the professional music world.

Be sure to check out Norton’s Fort Worth Teen Scene series (which includes several Jades tracks), a brilliant document of the mid-‘60s suburban garage band phenomenon.  Also check Gary Carpenter’s website for some wonderful early photos of the Jades.

Posted in Garage Bands | 6 Comments

The desert, part three

Another variation this week on an all-time favorite Office Naps theme.

Its mystery and romance has provoked more than its share of paeans over the ages, but musical impressions of the desert’s expanse and mysterious beauty reached some sort of wiggy American culmination in the tremolo guitars and wide-open echo-chamber spaces of the rock ‘n’ roll instrumental.

More desert-themed instrumentals this week, with a hint of exotica and early psychedelia.

More desert-themed instrumentals this week on Office Naps, with healthy levels of exotica and hints of early psychedelia. Photo credit: flickr user Tom Olliver

Though drawn from different milieus – upstate New York teenagedom, the East Bay black community, the Los Angeles studio world – an unmistakable hint of Middle Eastern exoticism colors all of this week’s selections.  Furthermore, the hypnotic guitar riffs that drive the selections presage (in the case of two of the selections, at least) the ascendency of psychedelic raga-rock by several years.

If Office Naps and the Exotica Project have casually become a survey of some of the archetypal images of American rock ‘n’ roll, this week’s selections reinforce a basic tenet.  Many landscapes, spaces and places worked their way into instrumental rock ‘n’ roll’s motifs.  But few – the sea aside, interestingly – would inspire with such consistent, brilliant weirdness and experimental élan as the desert.

The Vaqueros, Desert Wind (Audition 6102)1.  The Vaqueros, Desert Wind (Audition 6102)
From 1963, the Vaqueros’ “Desert Wind” is one of thousands of American guitar instrumentals released in the pre-British Invasion era.  It’s also one of a much smaller set that really gets everything right.  In the process of summoning the Empty Quarter’s windswept spaces, it also dramatically captures, through sheer intensity and a spidery, Out of Limits mood, the later aesthetic of psychedelia.

No obvious clues present themselves about the Vaqueros or the group’s biography, sadly.  The song’s flipside, the also-excellent though more surf-oriented “Echo,” is again credited to writers Weld, Heath and Corona.  This seems to have been their only release as a group.

Incidentally, “Desert Wind” would also be one of the earliest releases on Audition Records, a cool Rochester label run by local promoter and impresario Al Cecere out of his office in the now-demolished Midtown Plaza.   Cecere’s Audition Records (and Nu Sound Ltd. Records, which succeeded it in name), would, over the next few years, be home to some terrific releases by upstate teen garage bands, including the Heard (“Stop It Baby”), the Humans (“Warning”), the Rogues (“You Better Look Now”), the Wee Four (“Weird”) and Pete Morticelli (“Lost”).

The Fatimas, Sandstorm (Original Sound OS-72)2.  The Fatimas, Sandstorm (Original Sound OS-72)
The Fatimas’ mysterious “Sandstorm” was released in 1967 on Original Sound Records, one of Los Angeles’s hipper indies of the ‘60s.

It should be pointed out that both “Sandstorm” and the single’s flipside, entitled “The Hoochy Coo,” are the same, musically speaking.  It’s just that the “The Hoochy Coo” has the chanted vocals of an overdubbed and otherwise unknown group of female singers – and does not enjoy the benefit of the howling wind sound effects.  (“The Hoochy Coo” is  the less commercial side, too – the vocals are memorable but strange, reminding me of late ‘70s female-led art-punk tracks like Kleenex’s “Hedi’s Head.”)

Either way, nothing suggests that the Fatimas were an actual working group.  The record was in all likelihood a one-off, anonymous studio lark.  But what a studio lark.  The handiwork of session musicians at their most inspired, the relentless beat and exotic production of “Sandstorm” are quite extraordinary, even with the vogue for all things “Oriental” and mystical then reaching a peak in rock ‘n’ roll.

The writer credits here belong to an unlikely threesome – popular Los Angeles disc jockey and comedian Bob Hudson, composer Richard Grove and future album cover artist Joe Petagno.  The basic composition was brought at some point in 1967 to the attention of Art Laboe, Original Sound’s proprietor, with his engineer Paul Buff – a freewheeling studio savant, musician, and surf music producer – creating the final version.

3.  Chuck (Big Guitar) Ernest with the Satellite Band, Blue Oasis (Delcro 45-826A)Chuck (Big Guitar) Ernest with the Satellite Band, Blue Oasis (Delcro 45-826A)
Like the other mystery discs this week, limited information is forthcoming about Chuck “Big Guitar” Ernest.

But Delcro Records warrants at least a few words.  The label was an imprint of the Berkeley-based label Music City, a fascinating independent record operation run by one Ray Dobard off-and-on from the early ‘50s to the mid-‘70s.  Dobard, the comparatively rare African-American record company owner in the post-War years, was in other ways the quintessential independent record hustler.  In addition to his labels, the diversity of his operations – he hosted radio shows and simultaneously ran a record store, recording service and publishing company – afforded him a certain measure of control over the local market for black music, if not some undue carelessness with royalty credits.   Perhaps better than any other single label, his would document the Bay Area’s blues, vocal group, gospel, R&B and soul music.  Dobard had a few minor R&B hits along the way, too, including the Four Deuces’ uptempo “W-P-L-J” in 1955 and guitarist Johnny Heartsman’s ‘57 instrumental “Johnny’s House Party.”

So who was Chuck Ernest?  A local guitarist, he obviously had some imagination and, if nothing else, enough confidence to get him in the door of a recording studio.   My first thought was that virtuosic session player Johnny Heartsman – something of an in-house bandleader for Dobard – might have been involved, but both “Blue Oasis” and its raucous flipside (“Party at Vern’s”) are too raw-sounding and too different, stylistically, to be anything that Heartsman had a hand in.  In reality Chuck Ernest’s backing band – the Satellite Band – was a group of young white and black Bay Area musicians, the “Duarte” listed as songwriter here a credit to their manager Vern Duarte.  According to the notes from Ace Records’ superb Music City Story, the sides were likely recorded by pioneering Oakland producer Bob Geddins and then leased to Dobard for their release on Delcro.  (Many thanks to sharp-eyed reader Boursin in Finland for the information.)

Released around 1960, “Blue Oasis” was also an anomaly coming from a label that largely focused on vocal sides.  Neither a hit, nor among the lost R&B, blues or soul obscurities most cherished by collectors, it is never mentioned in label histories.  No matter, though.  “Blue Oasis” is outstanding tremolo-driven exotica and quite prescient, too, confidently anticipating the faux-Eastern fixations of surf music and, later, psychedelia.

This track can also be found at the Exotica Project.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Garage Bands, Instrumentals/Surf, The Exotica Project | 11 Comments

New at the Lonely Beat:

A bit "Lotus Land," a bit "Key Largo," Dizzy Gillespie's "Rumbola" is rarely-heard side, recorded in 1954, and a lovely example of dark jazz noir in an exotic Latin setting.