Aside from the Music Machine, who temporarily called the port town their home, San Pedro, California was not really a hotbed of pop music in the mid-’60s. Nearby Hawthorne of course birthed the Beach Boys and the Merry Go Round and Torrance and Lomita had it’s share of groups like the Indescribably Delicious, the Rockin’ Bugs, and the Afflicted Children. Across the Vincent Thomas Bridge the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Starfires, and the Things to Come did their thing in Long Beach, but San Pedro pretty much just had the Grapes of Wrath. Most of you know the Grapes from the inclusion of their snotty “Cause It Was Her” on Garage Punk Unknowns. Last year Ron Swart, Paul Gammage, and I decided to dig a little deeper into what went on down by the harbor back in the day. Swart managed to track down Grapes drummer Bill Doheney and he was kind enough to sit down with us over a couple beers on 6th Street in San Pedro.
Hayward, California is a blue-collar suburb on the Eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay, about twenty-eight miles southeast of the Golden Gate. A one time farming community, it was long famous for the overpowering smell of ketchup that hovered over the town from the Hunt Brothers Tomato Cannery. As the modern era rolled in, new suburbs took the place of fields and industrial parks. Families filled in and by the ‘60s a whole generation of kids were coming of age, a coming of age that was abruptly interrupted by a group of four musicians from thousands of miles away—the Beatles.
The roots of the West Coast Branch started growing in Inglewood, California, a medium-sized suburb in the South Bay just a few miles inland from the beach. Chuck Marchese played a little music at Inglewood High School with a couple of his friends when he first met Jon Hill. “Jon (Hill) and I didn’t really run with the same crowd in school but when he ran for student body president, he asked my trio (two guitarists—Scott Williams and Bob Sheppard and Marchese on drums) who were doing mostly Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed covers to play a concert during lunch period to promote his candidacy, and we became friends.
Another favorite 45 that’s been getting spin-time at the WCF headquarters is Samy Phillip’s “I Wonder Freely/Magic Fly (for Jordana” (Infinite 2002) from 1964, with its swinging garage-soul groove, gruff, snotty vocals, and blaring Dylanish harmonica. I managed to track down Phillip last year and sat down to lunch with him at his favorite Boyle Heights Mexican restaurant. I brought along my good friend, artist Jan Steward, who’d known the musician back in the mid-60s but hadn’t seen him since.
Attila’s “When/Come Out” is one of my fave West Coast private 45s. The top side, “When,” is the one that gets all the attention with its two-note, Count Fivey fuzz intro, close-to-acid punk organ, and bee buzz-soloing. When the adenoidal vocals kick in, it gets a kind of a primitive, garagey Strawberry Alarm Clock sound, before going into a marching beat break with an improvised distorto-guitar lead, followed by a sped-up Ray Manzarek organ solo and then back into the two-note intro fer the outro. Totally incredible. The flip, “Come Out,” is even better. Again kicking it off with two notes (this time on organ), it’s a moody teenage attempt at being heavy with poetry class rhymes like “Give me one more try before I die.” Then they guys rip into the riff from the Four Seasons “C’mon Marianne” (which the Doors would also rip off for “Touch Me”) with another great Manzarek organ solo over it. Then it’s back to the verse and adieu with a fuzzy rave-up outro.
Paul and I have been digging around lately trying to get the scoop on a guy named Tony Harris. I’d been noticing his involvement on some interesting records over the years and thought maybe it’s time to put together what we know and cast it out there to see what comes back.
There’s a great little piece on the Sopwith Camel over at the Pondering Pig complete with cool news clippings like this ‘un. Our good friend Stephen Ehret of the Wildflower claims them as the best band on the scene. Unfortunately their in-town trajectory was halted for being out in New York for too long recording; for actually having a “hit record;” and for being on the same label as the Spoonful when Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone ratted out Bill Loughborough for selling them weed. In a Flamin’ Groovies interview for Cream Puff War way back in ’91, Roy Loney claims to have been in jail that night too, also for pot. “I was with the guy they turned in I think,” he says. Was Loney friends with Loughborough? Who knows? Cyril Jordan goes on to claim the guy “had an in with (Bill) Graham” and that’s what got them blacklisted. I remember also reading somewhere Loughborough being cool about the whole thing… kids will be kids, or something to like that. There’s a image of the court report for the case I saw somewhere online a while back but I haven’t been able to find it again. Someone?