Category Archives: Instrumentals/Surf

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

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

Surf’s Latin tinge

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

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

Surf's Latin tinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jerry Cole passed away in 2008.

Posted in Instrumentals/Surf, Latin | 4 Comments

The Cave

This week, both a Halloween-themed post and an iteration of a familiar Office Naps theme: Namely, the ways in which certain phenomena – natural, geographical, supernatural, technological, etc. – get played out in entertaining, cinematic ways in pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll and pop.  (See also: The Desert, The Sea, The Desert Island, Space, etc.)

So The Cave, then.  Not only is there something very evocative about this week’s selections, but they intersect gracefully with what was then going on in ’50s Hollywood B-movies.  Everything from Eegah (1962) and Night of the Blood Beast (1958) to Beast of Haunted Cave (1959) and Invisible Invaders (1959) – naming just a few – situated the cave as some locus of action.  The cave was the lair, the labyrinth, opaque darkness, the den of horrors.

Beast of Haunted Cave

The cave as another rock 'n' roll archetype this week. Image from Monte Hellman's 1959 movie Beast From Haunted Cave. Image courtesy of the indispensible Bad Movies.

A discussion of the psychological symbolism of the cave I leave to others.  If it made for a good filming location or dramatic cinematic motif then, somewhere, somehow, there was a 45 that appropriated it, and, suffice it to say, the cave was no different.  The concept of the haunted cave or underground alien hideout was, in fact, not only peculiarly well-suited to post-War paranoia but also to rock ‘n’ roll in general, the instrumental form then a proven chart commodity, the crucial, heavy use of echo redolent of subterranean acoustics.

As the teenaged market for rock ‘n’ roll novelties expanded to include various odd – and, in the case of these selections, spooky – themes and concepts, the cave would receive some fascinating, strangely effective treatments in turn.

Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part I) (Bamboo 504)1.  Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part I) (Bamboo 504)
Drummer Gary Webb is perhaps best known to rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts for his participation in the Hollywood Argyles; Webb was part of the hastily assembled crew of musicians that toured on the chart strength of the 1960 R&B-ish novelty hit “Alley-Oop.”  (The “real” Hollywood Argyles were a handful Los Angeles R&B and pop session musicians studio put together by Hollywood producer and character Gary Paxton for what was an informal studio lark.)

Prior to his involvement with the Argyles, Webb was enlisted overseas in the Navy for several years, where he’d played drums in the Jumpin’ Jacks, a service group.  After his return to the states, and just prior to his involvement with Hollywood Argyles, Webb was signed to the Los Angeles-based independent Donna Records in early 1960, cutting “Drum City” (a swinging instrumental somewhat in the style of Sandy Nelson) for the label a few months later.

Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part II) (Bamboo 504)2.  Gary “Spider” Webb, The Cave (Part II) (Bamboo 504)
“The Cave,” released in April of 1961, was the second, and last, of Gary Webb’s releases as a group leader.  Certainly “The Cave” is much headier, atmospheric stuff than the average novelty churned by the Los Angeles independent labels of the era.  “The Cave” also borrows much from the murky, menacing production and strange character voices of Bobby Christian and the Allen Sisters’ 1958 horror opus “The Spider & the Fly,” adding tremolo guitar, lunatic jungle drums and heaps of teen psychosexual drama in the process.

During much of the ‘60s, Gary Webb played in the supporting band for flamboyant Los Angeles club fixture, singer Troy Walker, but, after that, there’s unfortunately little else to be found about him.

Chuck Holden, The Cave (Unique 358)3.  Chuck Holden, The Cave (Unique 358)
The Charles Holden Orchestra was a supper-club affair with a long residency as the house orchestra at Manhattan’s chic El Morocco nightclub in the 1950s and ‘60s.   Holden’s sole album, 1957’s Dancing at the El Morocco, consisted of stolid arrangements of numbers like “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” “Putting on the Ritz,” and “That Old Black Magic” – about as polite as it got.

Likewise, Unique Records, a New York City-based record label that operated in the ‘50s, had a discography essentially dedicated to releases by hotel orchestras, cabaret singers and aging entertainers.  Few concessions were made at Unique Records to rock ‘n’ roll, R&B, jazz or contemporary music of any kind; it was a strange, staid relic of a bygone era.

Charles Holden & His Orchestra, Dancing at the El Morocco

Charles Holden’s 1957 LP, Dancing at the El Morocco. Nothing could be further from “The Cave.” Image courtesy of bsnpubs.

I belabor this not because “The Cave” is just an extraordinary record, but because the psychic distance between everything about its conservative pedigree on one hand and its effect in reality on the other is quite jarring.

Released in 1956, there is, even today, nothing conservative about “The Cave.”  Its indecipherable moans, its unearthly piano string runs, its peculiar zither chords: the effect is somewhere between haunted house and Avant-Garde theater piece.  Nothing, really, could prepare one for this record.   It might have been marketed as a sort of novelty, I suppose, but no trace of humor or fun lightens “The Cave”’s dreary atmosphere.  Not a particularly easy record to listen to, but certainly effective.

Richie Allen, Cave Man (Imperial 5872)4.  Richie Allen, Cave Man (Imperial 5872)
A solo-and-session-guitarist-turned-producer with a strong trademark sound, Richie Allen’s is a somewhat old-school profile, and a very Southern Californian one at that, especially in the context of the post-War pop music business.  A future Office Naps post will be dedicated entirely to some of his early recordings but, in the meantime, here’s “Cave Man,” an instrumental he released in 1962.

Born Richard Allen Podolor (and best known as Richie Podolor) in 1940 in California, Allen showed prodigious musical talents as well as a knack – starting with his instrumental support for singer Bonnie Guitar on her haunting “Dark Moon,” a 1957 hit – for negotiating the music industry.

Allen also recorded early on as a leader, including 1958’s “I Love You Girl (And I Need You So),” a good Buddy Holly-influenced rocker.  But it’s Allen’s very first 45 as a solo artist, 1958’s “Samoa,” that’s particularly significant.  An atmospheric instrumental with elegant, minor-key riffs, “Samoa” would, in a moment, not only anticipate the moodier instrumental surf music spectrum, but would also anticipate the aesthetic of Allen’s ‘60s oeuvre as both a solo guitarist and producer.  (Allen would also re-record “Samoa” several times in these early years.)

Allen stayed busy in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, composing songs, playing live (as part of the Pets), forging further connections with Los Angeles studios and cutting many sessions, including, mostly famously, a series of Sandy Nelson’s hit rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals like “Teen Beat” and “Let There Be Drums.”  With demand for his talents as a session guitarist, solo recording opportunities arose, culminating in three instrumental guitar LPs – Stranger from Durango, The Rising Surf and the early compilation Surfer’s Slide – all released by Imperial Records between 1961 and 1963.

Like many of the era’s studio-created guitar instrumental albums, these tended to be a bit generic – the surf-themed LPs only nominally sounded like surf music – but the best moments – like “The Rising Surf,” “Haunted Guitar” and “Stranger from Durango” – nonetheless demonstrated Allen’s stately, booming guitar riffs to great effect.   Among these moments is also “Cave Man,” released in September of 1962.   Moody, if not spooky, and with a great Spagetti Western flavor, it is the logical extension of Allen’s “Samoa” sound.

Allen continued to avail himself of studio opportunities, forming a fruitful relationship with producer Gary Usher, then doing much to capitalize on the surf craze, with notable session contributions for various Usher vehicles like the Devons, the Hondells and the Super Stocks in 1963 and 1964.

There were other exciting recordings made as a guitarist, among them the Ghoul’s surf-monster exploitation LP Dracula’s Deuce and 1966’s epic 45 version of “Stranger from Durango.”  But Allen’s engineering handiwork for groups like the Monkees and Electric Prunes began to supersede his role as an instrumentalist as the ‘60s wore on.  Even so, Allen’s tastes occasionally surfaced in fascinating ways – a clear line can be drawn, for instance, between Allen’s majestic psychedelic instrumentals for the Chocolate Watchband (“Expo 2000″ and “Dark Side of the Mushroom”) and his “Samoa.”

In the late ‘60s, Allen found still greater success working as a producer, most famously for Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf, with big hits (including “Joy to the World” and “Born to be Wild”) for both.   Work with other heavyweights – including Iron Butterfuly, Black Oak Arkansas, Phil Seymour and Dillards – would follow in the coming decades, an entirely different chapter better documented elsewhere.

Thanks to Black Cat Rockabilly for some of the Richie Allen/Podolor information.

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf | 4 Comments

Blue Flame: a new mix

I put together a new mix for my Dutch compadre Cortez for the fifth anniversary of his fabulous Club Cortez blog.  You can find it there now.

Club Cortez has been around as long as Office Naps.  Cortez’s tastes in music immediately stuck out from the pack then – believe it or not, there just weren’t that many of us around in 2006 – and, moreover, they still do.   That we share eclecticism and certain stylistic sensibilities – a broad appreciation for musical beauty, for one – doesn’t hurt, of course.  Either way, I hope and fully expect us to be rhapsodizing about music and our latest obscure finds five years from now.

Blue Flame, a new mix

Blue Flame, my new mix over at Club Cortez.

When I delivered the mix over to Cortez, I was feeling a bit abstract, describing it to him this way:

A mix for the bittersweet hours.

Here is mystery and melancholy strewn with chunks of ecstatic, post-War energy: Jazz on a rhythm & blues kick, rock ‘n’ roll on a mambo kick, a palpable sense of clubland’s frayed edges. Put the lights out behind you when you leave.

But I’d say that’s about right.  If you enjoy Office Naps (or the Exotica Project or the Lonely Beat), you’ll dig it, anyway.

Get the mix and playlist at Club Cortez, and do check out what he’s got going on over there.   Thanks to Cortez for inviting me aboard and, again, congratulations.

Posted in Blues, Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, Jazz Obscura, Latin, Mixes, R&B/Vocal Groups, Rock 'n' roll, Soul, The Exotica Project, The Lonely Beat | 2 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

The sea, part two

This week, a second part to one of my all-time favorite posts.  As before, tremolo guitar, dreamy tempos and loads of echo chamber drama carry the day.  There’s something of a desert island mini-theme this time around, too, though the moody tones here are far more ominous than idyllic, more Lord of the Flies than Gilligan’s Island.

Three strange desert island miniatures this week on Office Naps

Three strange desert island miniatures this week on Office Naps

All three of these selections can also be found at the Exotica Project.

The Sound Breakers, Marooned (Radiant 1502)1. The Sound Breakers, Marooned (Radiant 1502)
A Los Angeles studio group production, the significant names here are Lincoln Mayorga and Ed Cobb, the song’s co-writers.

Cobb and Mayorga’s musical partnership originated with the Four Preps, a Los Angeles teen-pop vocal group who had some national hits (“26 Miles (Santa Catalina),” “Down By the Station,” and “Big Man”) in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s.  Cobb co-founded the group in 1956, with the Mayorga, a musically-trained friend from Hollywood High School, hired as arranger and pianist.

Cobb and Mayorga were still actively involved in the Four Preps when, barely into their ‘20s, they began independently producing, writing and arranging for various side-projects, notably the Piltdown Men and the Link-Eddy Combo.  These were studio-only affairs that brought some modest success in the instrumental rock ‘n’ roll market.   (The Piltdown Men had six 45s in total; their “Brontosaurus Stomp” went to number 75 on the pop charts in 1960.  The Link-Eddy Combo had three, with “Mr. Big C.” getting to number 28 on the R&B charts in 1961.)

The Sound Breakers were another Cobb-Mayorga studio-only endeavor.   Released in the summer of 1961 by the small Los Angeles label Radiant Records, the sublime “Marooned” was the sole 45 conceived under the moniker, and seems to be essentially unknown.   It is also by far the most interesting of the Cobb-Mayorga instrumental sides.  With its psychedelic sheen, Mayorga’s interests in composition probably go some way towards explaining the unusualness and otherworldliness of “Marooned,” which sounds like nothing else on earth.

The Cobb and Mayorga partnership bore fruit again in the spring of 1962 with Ketty Lester’s “Love Letters.”   Despite the single’s massive success, Cobb and Mayorga would henceforth work largely independently of each other.

Cobb’s behind-the-scenes career would blossom in the mid-‘60s with some notable songwriting successes, among them “Every Little Bit Hurts” and “I’ll Always Love You” for Brenda Holloway, “Dirty Water” and “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” for the Standells and “Heartbeat” and “Tainted Love” for Gloria Jones (with “Tainted Love” a bigger hit again in 1981 for Soft Cell).  He also helped produce and engineer records for, among others, the Standells, the Lettermen, the Zoo, the Chocolate Watch Band and the E-Types.   Ed Cobb passed away in 1999.

Mayorga worked throughout the ‘60s as a keyboardist on dozens of Los Angeles rock, pop and jazz sessions.  In the late ‘60s, he would help to develop and run Sheffield Labs, a direct-to-disc studio and audiophile label. To this day Lincoln Mayorga remains active with Sheffield Labs as well as with its sister label, TownHall Records.

The Shelltones, Blue Castaway (Band Box No. 355)2. The Shelltones, Blue Castaway (Band Box No. 355)
The most overtly surf-oriented of this week’s selections, the Shelltones’ “Blue Castaway” was released in early 1964 on Denver’s fascinating Band Box Records.

Band Box Records warrants some attention, if only because it’s the most tangible part of the story.   Founded by Romanian immigrant Vicky Morosan around 1957, Band Box Records was both a label and a recording studio.  A cooler, quirkier independent operation in Colorado rock ‘n’ roll history would be tough to name.   Certainly it was the most prolific.  The label’s decade-long discography includes some excellent rock ‘n’ roll and R&B releases (Jimmy DeKnight, the Monarchs, Little Joey Farr, Jackie Lowell, the Lidos, the Four Chevelles, the Manderins, Freddie & the Hitch-Hikers, Orlie & the Saints, Lee Chandler & the Blue Rhythms, Sonny Russell and Ronny Kae), though many of the label’s dozens of barely-known country, jazz and pop releases are also outstanding.

Less, unfortunately, can be stated conclusively about the Shelltones themselves.   Based in the greater Denver area, and group came together in Adams City High in Commerce City, and would likely have participated in the vibrant teen rock ‘n’ roll scene that extended north to Boulder and Fort Collins and south to Colorado Springs in the early and mid-‘60s.

The eerie “Blue Castaway,” written by Cary Theil, the group’s bassist, would be the Shelltones’ only commercial release.   The perfect vessel for the cavernous production qualities of Band Box’s south Broadway studios, “Blue Castaway” takes the tremolo-driven atmospherics of the Islanders’ “Enchanted Sea” and the Safaris’ “Lonely Surf Guitar” and, to a certain degree, the Viscounts’ “Harlem Nocturne” to some new, lonelier place.

Flipside “Mark’s Blues,” another instrumental, features the hot fretwork of guitarist Mark Bretz.  After the Shelltones, Bretz would play keyboards with Denver-area garage band the Wild Ones in the mid-‘60s before joining, as guitarist, a late incarnation of Boulder’s nationally-known rock ‘n’ rollers the Astronauts in 1967.  Bretz would remain with the Astronauts through their name change to SunshineWard before settling in Denver for a career as a music teacher.

The Wailers, Driftwood (Golden Crest CR375)3. The Wailers, Driftwood (Golden Crest CR375)
The best-known name this week, the Wailers are often mentioned in the same breath as the Sonics, the Kingsmen and Paul Revere & the Raiders, Pacific Northwest groups who first blasted out wild rock ‘n’ roll and R&B in the early ‘60s twilight before the British Invasion.

A popular and locally influential live act in their time, the Wailers are somewhat underrated these days.   Formed in Tacoma, Washington in 1958 by several high school classmates, the Wailers attracted a local teenaged following and would find early, if somewhat unexpected, success with their “Tall Cool One,” a bare-bones sax-and-keyboard R&B instrumental.  The 45 became a national hit in mid-1959, helping to define the raucous aesthetic of early Pacific Northwest rock ‘n’ roll.

The Wailers, circa 1959.  From left to right are Rich Dangel, Mike Burk, Mark Marush, Kent Morrill and John Greek.

The Wailers, circa 1959. From left to right are Rich Dangel, Mike Burk, Mark Marush, Kent Morrill and John Greek. Image courtesy of music historian John Broven's fantastic website.

With their early line-up established – Mike Burk (drums), Rich Dangel (lead guitar), John Greek (guitar, trumpet, bass), Mark Marush (tenor sax) and Kent Morrill (piano and vocals) – the Wailers recorded a debut album.  At a time when full-lengths were still a fairly unusual proposition for regional rock ‘n’ roll combos, 1959’s The Fabulous Wailers, recorded for New York-based Golden Crest Records, was also an unusually original set of pre-surf guitar instrumentals.

Among standout originals like “High Wall,” “Shanghaied” and “Beat Guitar,” The Fabulous Wailers also included this overlooked exotic jewel.  The haunting, hypnotic tone poem “Driftwood” was released as a 45 by Golden Crest around 1960 (as seen above, with fab group photo label) and reissued, with a plain label design, in 1964.

A succession of Wailers 45s followed in the next seven or eight years, as did several more albums.  The Wailer’s 1961 version of “Louie Louie,” which predated the Kingsmen’s version, featured local singer Rockin’ Robin Roberts.  It was also the inaugural 45 release for Etiquette Records, a pioneering band-run label founded by Wailers Kent Morrill, Rockin’ Robin Roberts and Buck Ormsby (who joined the group around 1960).  The Etiquette Records years would be the Wailers’ best known, the group creatively peaking around 1965 with the caveman punk of “Hang Up” and the churning, wall-of-sound rock of “Out of Our Tree.”

Etiquette Records closed its doors around 1968.  The Wailers would remain popular in the region, but their later albums, including 1966’s Outburst! For United Artists and 1968’s psychedelic Walk Thru The People for Bell Records, while solid, would see diminishing returns.   Like labelmates and kindred spirits the Sonics, the Wailers were forged in an earlier era of rock ‘n’ roll.  Somewhat out of step with prevailing trends, exhausted by line-up changes and bad management decisions, The Wailers called it quits in 1969.

[Thanks to Peter Blecha’s great 2009 “Etiquette Rules!” essay for the label history.]

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf, The Exotica Project | 6 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 in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf | 6 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.