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