Category Archives: Psychedelic/Pop

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

The Guild Light Gauge

It was my pleasure to recently speak with Fern Nash, the singer in both the Guild Light Gauge and Collection, whose 45s I featured back in May 2011.

This was something of a coup – there was so little that existed in the way of details about these 45s.   I was additionally surprised to learn that the two 45s were in fact directly connected through Fern and members of the Guild Light Gauge.  (I had originally written about the Collection and the Guild Light Gauge as entirely separate entities, connected only by a shared label and arrangement/production team.)

I’m thrilled to at last be able to provide some more details about the Guild Light Gauge, the Collection and Fern Nash.

Born Fern Kaufman in 1947, Fern grew up with two sisters in Queens, New York, her father a jeweler by trade, her mother a housewife.  While her father occasionally sang, Fern was, of her family, the one most inclined to music – she displayed an ear for playing music early on, picking out tunes overheard from her older sister’s piano lessons.  She also wrote lyrics, and loved harmony singing, teaching herself how to play guitar and flute along the way.

Fern entered Queens College in 1965, studying to be a teacher.  There she met fellow Queens College student Eddie Simon (Paul’s brother – they vocally sounded quite similar, apparently).  The two started harmonizing together during impromptu singing sessions at fraternity house events.   It was Eddie who introduced Fern to Ann Willcocks, then also a student, and from this trio of singers the Guild Light Gauge formed.

The Guild Light Gauge, from a series of publicity photos. Fern Kaufman (Fern Nash), Eddie Simon, Ann Willcocks. Bass player Stuie is in glasses. Note incorrect spelling of "Gauge."

Paul Simon and Artie (as he was known) Garfunkel were both around Queens College as well, and it was Paul who dubbed this new group the Guild Light Gauge, a name based on a particular weight of Guild guitar strings.

The Guild Light Gauge live at the Bitter End

The Guild Light Gauge live at the Bitter End, Greenwich Village. (l-r) Fern Kaufman (Fern Nash), Eddie Simon, Ann Willcocks.

A fourth member, Stuie, joined them a bit later, playing bass for the group.

The Guild Light Gauge, whose focus from the start was on harmonies, were absorbed into the New York City folk scene.  Their time together would include not only a residency at Greenwich Village’s Bitter End in 1968, but a variety of more unlikely appearances, from Long Island racetracks to a spot opening for Spanky & Our Gang in West Virginia.  In these years, Nash cited everything from the Everly Brothers to the Critters (“Mr. Dyingly Sad”) to Laura Nyro and the Beatles as favorites, but singled out the lyrics and music of Joni Mitchell as an influence.

The Guild Light Gauge, Cloudy
The Guild Light Gauge, CloudyBoth the Guild Light Gauge 45 (“Cloudy” b/w “14th Annual Fun & Pleasure Fair”) and Collection 45 (“Both Sides Now” b/w “Tomorrow is a Window”) were recorded while Fern was still in college.

The Collection, Both Sides Now (The Hot Biscuit Company P-1455)The Collection, Both Sides Now

The Collection 45 was recorded at a different session than the Guild Light Gauge, and again featured the vocals of members of the Guild Light Gauge – that’s Fern heard as soloist on “Both Sides Now” – though without Willcocks’s participation.  Both Jimmy Wisner and Artie Kornfeld were also on hand during these sessions.

While steeped in gorgeous, period-specific production and studio accoutrement, these vinyl releases did not necessarily reflect the largely acoustic format of the Guild Light Gauge, according to Fern.

Fern graduated from college in 1969 – in time to make it to Woodstock later that summer – and moved to Boston, there joining a group of folk singers named AHS. Recently married, and with her license to teach, Fern would relocate back to New York City in 1972, where in coming years she worked a variety of gigs, sessions and engagements on the periphery of the music world, including singing jazz (with the Bones of Contention – thirteen trombones!), writing jingles for Hudson’s, acting in commercials and joining a local musical theatre group.  In 1986, Fern began teaching music at Public School 139 (in Rego Park, Queens), and led her elementary school students in the Public School 139 Glee Club (who were featured singing at televised sporting events at Madison Square Garden and Shea Stadium).

Fern Nash, retired since 2010 from P.S. 139, and living in Bayside, Queens, has a full-grown daughter and son-in-law (both music major graduates), and a two-year-old grandson who enjoys the music he’s surrounded by.  Fern’s long-time love for singing and arranging continues to this day – she owns, and still plays, the piano she learned on as a child.

Note: Fern remained close friends with Ann Willcocks after the Guild Light Gauge dissolved.  Willcocks, who worked at Sony Music for many years (eventually rising to a Vice President position), is now retired and living in Atlanta, Georgia, and, according to Fern, still sings in her church’s choir.

Finally, there’s great YouTube footage of Paul playing “Anji,” with Eddie joining him on guitar (and Fern Nash making an appearance around 1:40).

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop, Updates | 3 Comments

UPDATE: “Duke” Dukett

The mystery of one of the more enigmatic 45s here – Duke’s “Runaway Girl” – was cleared up recently when Michelle Moffett, daughter of “Duke” Dukett, contacted me, and filled me in on her father’s life (and “Runaway Girl”).  Many, many thanks to Michelle for her memories, patience, and work in gathering the details, stories, clippings and photos of her father. Read on.

Guitarist, keyboardist, singer, songwriter and music teacher “Duke” was born Richard Earle Dukett in 1943 in Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Richard’s mother was an artist and painter, his father was in the Army, but, of both generations of parents, Richard would be the one with the strong musical inclinations.  A self-taught guitarist, Dukett also played keyboards.  Though he grew up in Baltimore, “Duke,” as he would long be known, would begin playing professionally in his teens with New Jersey groups, including Duke and the Handjivers, the Off Keys and the Peppermint Stix.  Later, in the ‘60s, he would tour, perform and record, as guitarist, with a wide variety of touring bands, even orchestras.  Among the better known would be the Bill Black Combo (they would play on the same bill as Bill Haley & the Comets, one of Duke’s heroes, in that time), Al Allen, Ronnie Dove & the Beltones, the Lettermen and the Al Wallace Orchestra.

Duke’s home regularly shifted over the course of a long career, with spells in the Mid-Atlantic, the Southwest, Florida, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.  In the early ‘70s he moved his family to the San Diego area.  There his work as a professional musician would continue apace, with a live repertoire based in rock, jazz, country, pop, oldies, Hawaiian and Latin fare.  A versatile entertainer – Duke would also perform impersonations as part of his show – he was a popular draw in the nightclubs and lounges of Southern California and beyond, including places like Don the Beachcomber in Hawaii, the Dunes and the Sands in Las Vegas, El Cortez in the Sky Room, the Catamaran and the Coronado Cays Yacht Club in San Diego and the Crown Room in El Cajon, CA.

Guitarist and singer Duke "Dukett" in the '70s with his guitar in a promo shot

Guitarist and singer Duke "Dukett" in the '70s with his guitar in a promo shot. Duke recorded "Runaway Girl" in 1975, a track that I featured back in March.

Incidentally, along with regular news mentions of him, several print ads featuring Duke appeared in this time.  One was shot for Fanfare Studios, with Duke listening to his own recording with the pitch San Diego artists are using Fanfare quality sound for their record projects.  ‘Duke’ Dukett recorded his original for Joy Records at Fanfare Studios. You too should record at Fanfare. You’ll like the sound.  Another ad would be photographed for Toppix hair products, with Duke holding a can of hair product with the following line: A good musician must always be conscious of his appearance and ‘Duke’ Dukett is one of the best.  The ad later appeared in Esquire magazine.

Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)Duke, Runaway Girl (Joy MWX-391)

“Runaway Girl” was recorded and self-released by Duke in 1975 on his label Joy Records (named for Joy, his wife).  Hand-delivered to various Los Angeles record companies, and rumored to have received radio play, “Runaway Girl” demonstrates a startlingly original side to Duke that wasn’t necessarily reflected in the popular favorites of his live repertoire.  An avid Martin Denny collector (among his repertoire was “Quiet Village”), it’s hard to point to anything in Duke’s resume that would anticipate the otherworldly sound of “Runaway Girl,” but, in its own way, the dreamy quality of exotica bleeds over a bit into “Runaway Girl” (and more so “Malagueña,” the 45’s flipside).

He would follow “Runaway Girl” with another 45 – “Playing the Part,” an original, with an instrumental version of the Western classic “Riders in the Sky” on its flipside (with vocals by a singer named Wendy, and added studio instrumentation).  It was recorded at El Cajon’s Fanfare Studios, and released in 1976, again on Duke’s Joy Records.  It stirred some interest, but in the end received no further distribution.   Two other 45s would be recorded in this time, again with Duke on guitar and vocals with rhythm machine accompaniment: “Where Are You Going” (another Duke original) b/w “Love Is the Reason,” released on the Santee-based label Loraine Records, and “Lord Remember Me” b/w “Merry Merry Christmas,” recorded for Ed Woolsey Productions.

Duke remained in Southern California, playing there professionally, and mostly as a solo performer, into the ‘90s, before moving to Tucson.  Duke was “an enigma wrapped up in a mystery of soulful skill and talent,” as Michelle Moffett, his daughter, writes, and was beloved by his audiences and those who knew him.  Richard Earl Dukett succumbed, at age 57, to alcoholism-related complications in 2000.

Posted in Psychedelic/Pop, Updates | 6 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

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 in Psychedelic/Pop | 3 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 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 in Country, Psychedelic/Pop | 5 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.