Tony Harris

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.

The Tony Harris were talking about here recorded a pair of fantastic 45s for a Los Angeles-based imprint called Dee Gee Records in the mid-‘60s. Harris’s Dee Gee output is a little hard to pin down stylistically. His first two-sider is “Honey/Scorpio,” with “Honey” being a solid sort of leftover teener kind of sound and “Scorpio” a completely different animal. Beginning with a cryptic spoken word intro, Harris kicks in with some hard protest-style acoustic guitar strumming, and begins piling on some freaky downer Dylan-influenced lyrics (“Just remember watchers are all waiting and blue lemmings pick apiece my brain”). It’s a pretty heavy trip. The second Tony Harris record on Dee Gee is “Super Man/How Much Do I Love You.” “Super Man” is a raw and snotty folk rock ode to the superhero in the vein of the Turtles best work. The flip is even better, moody and introspective—a great piece of baroque-Sunset Strip songwriting, very Mystic Males.

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Then I remembered I had another Dee Gee 45 and dug it out. It’s by a guy named Darrius. I’d had it for a few years but somehow never noticed that its “How Much Do I Love You” was the same song. Doy. The production and writing credits belong to Tony Harris too. The final straw was placed in the Luxuria Music studios. I was just finishing up my show and Howie Pyro was getting ready for his show, Intoxica! He handed me a 45 and said, “You should have this. It took me years to find my copy and I just found a second. It’s amazing.” I quickly recognized that familiar Dee Gee silver and black, and yep, there it was, Deborah Walley’s “Sometimes in the Darkest Hour,” written and produced by Tony Harris. As soon as I got home I emailed Paul and told him it was time to start sleuthing.

While other folks have casually attempted to unravel the Tony Harris mystery by speculating in forums and elsewhere, no one seems to have gotten very far. First off, we’re pretty certain that our Tony Harris is not the same Tony Harris who recorded three 45s for the Los Angeles R&B label Ebb Records in the late ‘50s. That Tony Harris, we have been assured, was Black. Soooo….

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The earliest appearance of our Tony Harris seems to be as a co-writer on a song called “Carmen P.” which showed up on the flip of “Do the Philly” by an L.A. group called the Citations (Princess 54). It’s an instrumental number and Harris shares writing credit with John Marascalco and Richard Delvy. Marascalco was a producer and co-wrote some of Little Richard’s hits including “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Rip it Up.” Delvy was the drummer for surf groups the Bel-Airs (“Mr. Moto”) and the Challengers, as well as an up-and-coming producer for the Vault and (his own) Triumph imprints. Sometime in ’63 Marascalco and Delvy partnered on a label called Princess. The only other releases we can find on Princess are the Surfaris’ “Surfer Joe/Wipe Out” (P 50) and the Travelers’ “Spanish Moon/Everywhere I Go” (P 52) though the catalog numbers suggest there were at least a couple more.[1] A German researcher named Andreas Grabsch posted something interesting on a Harry Nilsson site that Marascalco kept a stable of young writers at hand— including Harry Nilsson and Tommy Boyce—to write numbers for him. Nilsson in fact is one of the writers credited on “Do the Philly,” so Harris’s first release may also actually be one of Nilsson’s earliest as well! Grabsch also claims “there also was a pool of musicians from the surf genre around Princess Records (the Challengers, the Surfaris, Tony Harris, and Richard Delvy himself), who were often used for studio work and also for some [thrown together] instrumentals, which filled the flip sides like ‘Carmen P.’ behind ‘Everybody Philly’.” There are a couple things fishy about this statement. First off, there really was no Princess records scene. The Surfaris were from way inland in Glendora and probably never even met Marascalco and Delvy, who licensed the record from another label. Likewise the Travelers were an Arizona-based band and their record was licensed from a Tucson label. Westside musician/Western actor Ron Heiss, who wrote a couple sides for the Challengers, does recall bringing Travelers guitarist Ron Story up to California a few times. He told artyfactsinwax.blogspot.com last year, “Ron and I spent quite a bit of time in Hollywood as we cut deals with the Vault and Princess Record labels,” and he possibly could’ve been around long enough to lay down some tracks. Mostly though it would have been the Challengers who would have been around and available for studio work. As for Harris, nobody seems to remember him as being part of that South Bay surf group scene at all. It is quite possible however that he was one of the aspiring “writer” types hanging around Marascalco’s studio, especially considering his later achievements and the fact that he appears to have been studying music at USC at the time.

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The relative success of “Do the Philly/Carmen P.”—which would eventually be picked up nationally in June of ‘65 by Roulette Records (R 4623)—apparently gained Harris enough clout with Delvy to release his own record on Triumph. “Go Go Little Scrambler/ Poor Boy” (T 60) saw the light in May of ’65, credited to Tony Harris with the Woodies. It’s a great proto-garage/hot rod 45 with the top being a vocal cash-in on the Southern California motorbike craze (i.e. the Sandells “Scrambler!”, the Beach Boys “Little Honda,” and Ronny and the Daytonas “Little Scrambler”), while the flip is an attacking proto-garage teener. Both songs were penned by Harris and engineered by Mike Lietz who’d go on to produce Spirit, Fever Tree, and the International Submarine Band. A double-sided acetate of this single recently popped up on eBay. It featured a generic Richard Delvy Productions/Miraleste Music Co. label. Miraleste, by the way, was the name of a street (and later a school) in Palos Verdes where most of the Challengers grew up. Could Harris have South Bay roots as well?

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Wherever Harris was from, he seems to have slipped in and out of the studio without much fanfare as I asked Challengers bassist Randy Nauert (who usually remembers everything!) about the session and it didn’t ring any bells. Delvy unfortunately passed away a couple years ago so we can’t ask him. We do know that we know the Woodies was just another name for the Woods, a group that sang on several folk rock and surfer-style sides—a great one for Triumph in xxx of ‘65 (“Broken Marionette/Can’t Seem to Get Over You”) (T 62), the theme for the television show Ninth Street Beat, and a couple sides for GNP Crescendo after that. The Woods were a Hermosa Beach vocal group consisting of Richard George, Ray Duron, and John Mead. There were close connections between the Challengers and the Woods, specifically “Can’t Seem to Get Over You” was written by Challengers guitarist Ed Fournier and the Woods provided vocals on some Challengers recordings. In fact, the same recording of “Can’t Seem to Get Over You” was released as the flip of a Challengers 45 “Channel Nine” (Vault 918) in the spring of ’65 and San Bernardino/Riverside Top-40 station KXFM even spotlighted the release in its “Tiger Touts” the week of 6/5/65. The song also appears on a Richard Delvy-issued Challengers e.p. that was passed out by the band in soliciting gigs.[2] We recently tracked down Woods member Richard George but he too remembers little of the mysterious Harris, saying, “We met him at Sunset Sound when we recorded the vocals for “Go Go, Little Scrambler” and “Poor Boy.” That was it. I never saw him again.”

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Sometime in the summer of ‘65 a Richard Delvy Productions acetate came out credited to Tony Harris. RDP 63 has a Harris composition called “You Know What You You Can Do”—a brooding Stones-style punker with a “Time Is On My Side” bridge—on top. The flip of the acetate is another Harris number, a Beatles-ish jangler titled “I Love the Words.” In September these songs were officially released on Triumph (T 63) as the Lincoln Greens. Interestingly, the exact same recording of “You Know What You Can Do” also showed up on the B-side of a Dylan cover by a group called the Bows And Arrows that same year. “I Don’t Believe You/You Know What You Can Do” (GNP 356) was released by GNP Crescendo on Sept. 4th, 1965 and produced by Delvy. It seems that the Bows and Arrows and the Lincoln Greens may have been the same group, or more correctly, both studio lineups manufactured by Harris and Delvy, possibly a trick Delvy had gleaned from Marascalco. I would further that it’s a pretty sure bet that Harris singing on these cuts. Oddly, a Sept. 4 issue of KRLA Beat magazine has an article entitled “West Coast Clamors for Dylan Tunes” which mentions that the Lincoln Greens will be releasing a cover of Dylan’s “I Don’t Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)” backed by “You Know What You Can Do.” As far as we can tell this 45 was never released but instead GNP Crescendo picked it up and released it as the Bows and Arrows, while Delvy put his friend Harris’s  “I Love the Words” on the flip instead. The GNP issue seems to have been released only promotionally though the Triumph release is stock.

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Meanwhile, on July 17th , 1965, Billboard magazine announced that “Tony Harris has signed a contract with Dee Gee Records as writer-producer for the label’s artists and recording sessions, and for acts under Dee Gee Productions slated for tours and night club engagements.” Not to be confused with Dizzy Gillespie’s Dee Gee imprint outta Chicago, this Dee Gee was L.A.-based and started by a woman named Doris Gilbert. We think she’s the same Doris Gilbert who was a television writer in the ‘50s. If it is her, she had basically retired from the biz by the early ‘60s; married actor Harry Lauter; taken up landscape painting in Ojai; and backed a small record label. There are several Hollywood connections to the label and a couple of releases were musical efforts by actresses. As we shall see Harris too had Hollywood movie connections. Gilbert it seems had some Hollywood pull and for extra insurance brought KRLA Beat columnist Julian Portman on board as an iterant staff producer, perhaps as a reward for plugs like, “Business woman in a field normally reserved for tough-minded men, will be the theme of an article to appear in Vogue magazine. The story is on Doris Gilbert, prexy of Dee Gee records, and should be a model for all our female teen readers.” In its year-plus run, Dee Gee released fifteen or so 7” releases ranging from early folk rock and garage to girl group/soul and more pop vocally kind of stuff. Producers for the label included Jerry Styner and Norm Ratner, who produced the Leaves and would go on to start Penthouse Records. Some folks over at the G45 Central forum put together a complete Dee Gee discography you can check out if you’re curious but here we’re gonna try and deal only with the releases that Harris was directly involved with and/or are relevant to our sesh.

To get things rolling, Dee Gee execs (Harris? Ratner?) began auditioning acts at a club called the Crescendo Tiger’s Tail located in Hollywood next to the Playboy Club. It had been Gene Norman’s club (hence the name of his label GNP Crescendo Records) and would later become the Trip and launch the Byrds career, but in the summer of ’65 the management let local djs have their own night. Dave Diamond’s (KHJ) night showcased the Turtles and Reb Foster (KFWB) had his own night as well. It is not known who all Dee Gee auditioned but we do know that on August 14th Billboard announced that along with Nat King Cole’s little brother Ike, “new pactees with Dee Gee Records are Jeannie Haywood, the Messengers, Frisby Clemens and Darius.” Actress Deborah Walley put pen to paper a week later and Harris went to work quickly booking the label’s groups into the studio that summer.

Dee Gee’s first release was the aforementioned Darrius record, “How Much Do I Love You/Lonely Boy” (DG 3001). Both sides were produced and the top was written by Harris, while the flip was credited to Harris and Darius (the song’s publishing credit actually reads “Darius, pseudonym of Robert J. Ott, & Tony Harris”). A native Ohian, Ott apparently moved to Los Angles sometime in 1964. How he met up with Harris is unknown—possibly through the audition night at the Tiger’s Tail—but the two soon went into the studio and began writing together and publishing (at least one song) through Harris’s Bolinger publishing company. Darrius’s version of “How Much Do I Love You” has a very similar arrangement to what Harris’s would later have, but with a brisker paced backing track; the main difference being the singer’s higher, dreamier voice and soulful outro. The single warranted a Chart Spotlight in Billboard on Sept. 4th, the same week the Bows and Arrows’ Dylan cover did as well. Harris was getting face time all over the trade mag charts in L.A. that summer!

Things were still going Harris’s way in September when KRLA Beat magazine announced Dee Gee’s second release, Tony Harris-“Honey/Scorpio” (3002), fawning, “Tony Harris, Dee Gee Records’ young bundle of talent, wrote, arranged, produced and sang the label’s hot-off-the-press release of “Honey.” Dee Gee even pushed this one by taking out an ad that ran concurrently with the plug. By the end of the month they further announced that that “’Honey,’ Dee Gee’s latest release by talented Tony Harris is quickly becoming a d.j. favorite around the country”—hot topic no doubt thrown out there by their pal Portman. Again at the end of October in “Portman’s Platterpoop” column the writer directed music fans to the “Do Yourself a Favor Dept.” and to “Do buy yourself a copy of ‘Honey’ by Tony Harris on Dee Gee records. It’s getting huge airplay in San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago. It’s getting big!” On Nov. 6th the record was even being pushed as a Billboard Chart spotlight. Of course few of these deejays ever flipped the disc to discover how gnarly the flip “Scorpio” was.

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Next up for Dee Gee was Jean Haywood’s “Flowers Die/Pietro the Prince of Patience,” (3003) both written by Tony Harris and arranged by Gene Paige. “Flowers Die” is doomy Spector-ish girl group stuff and Ms. Haywood sings almost as low as Nico. “Pietro” is very similar to “Scorpio” with odd “beat” poetry spoken dramatically over some Fahey/Takoma-esque guitar.

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Apparently not one to rest on his laurels, Harris went right back into the studio for a post-Mersey folk rock record (“Got a Feeling/Tonight’s the Night for Love” [3004]) by a group called the Fenians… or did he? On Sept. 11th, Billboard announced “We’ve had the English sounds, now be prepared to dig the Irish sounds. Dee Gee Records just recorded The Fenians first stateside release “I’ve Got A Feeling” b/w “Love Our Love.” An ad was placed the same week in KRLA Beat reading “You don’t have to be Irish but it helps! America’s newest imported sound.” Both sides of this record are produced and arranged by Tony Harris. This leaves us with three possible conclusions. 1. Harris licensed the record from an Irish group. We know he’d seen his pal Delvy have some success licensing, though Delvy generally picked up things already making a splash. These Fenians songs were apparently unknown. 2. Harris flew to Ireland to produce the group… highly unlikely. Or 3. The Fenians were Irish but living here in L.A. In the KRLA Beat ad there’s a Westwood fan club address where you can write in for a free shamrock. It seems this was the Dee Gee office (the building had been a machine shop up until the early ’60s). It is close to UCLA. Were the Fenians Irish students studying there? Their names were Dillon and Deeham. Of course right about this time, Delvy was marketing his version of the Travelers as a “British American Rock and Roll Band” with two of its members “arrived in the United States a year ago from England” and now “residing in Lomita and Harbor City.” Students too? An English (or Irish) band member would have been great attribute and draw, case in point Limey and the Yanks. Or was this all a fleece job, a part Harris and the Fenians were playing? Richard George recalls that when his group the Woods met Harris, “We thought of him as possibly being part of the British invasion at the time, as we thought he had a little bit of an English accent.” Whatever it was, the novelty didn’t seem to gather much steam. Even though by the end of October KRLA Beat was reporting that “Dee Gee records is being swamped with requests for the Irish shamrock they offered in last week’s BEAT ad in introducing their imported Irish folk-rock group The Fenians,” not a peep was heard of them after that.

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The next Harris appearance on Dee Gee is by none other than actress Deborah Walley, “So Little Time/Sometimes in the Darkest Hour” (3006). This one’s absolutely fantastic. Again we’re sold by KRLA Beat’s description, “Deborah, the pixie of Gidget that went Hawaiian and now of the Bikini-type movies, has a Marianne Faithfull-type voice. She’s readied a socko single for release by Dee Gee records.” Harris produced and wrote just one side, but it’s the good side. Windy storm sounds back this dark ‘n moody beatnik number about being depressed about being depressed in the middle of the day, the end of the world, rain, etc. This is absolutely incredible stuff. Came in a picture sleeve too. Walley of course starred opposite Elvis in Spinout (1966) and appeared as Suzie on the Desi Arnez-produced tv show Mothers-In-Law. You can see her dancing to the Warts (the Seeds) singing “Pushin’ Too Hard” on the episode where her brother becomes the group’s manager. At the time, Walley was married to actor/singer John Ashley, “handsome hero of teen movies” like Dragstrip Girl and Beach Party. Ashley lost out on the lead to I Was a Teenage Werewolf to Michael Landon. Harris may have been looking to sign the heartthrob to Dee Gee as the same KRLA Beat article also mentions that Ashley “has two labels seeking his musical services.” Again, big thanks to Howie Pyro for slipping me his extra copy of this 45!

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John Ashley, 1962.
John Ashley, 1962.

“It had to happen. The Batman comes to television and Superman goes on Broadway…” wrote KRLA Beat on Nov. 27th, “Tony Harris, Dee Gee records fair-haired youth, has written and recorded a gassy-tune titled ‘Superman.’ If the b’way producer doesn’t hurry, he may have to change the name of the show.” We already talked about Harris’s “Super Man/How Much Do I Love You” 45 (DG 3014). One other thing I noticed about “How Much Do I Love You” is that on Harris’s version here there seems to be louder tambourine crunching and there’s a really cool tape edit at the very end where everything just sort of drops out except the beat and some kind of flute. There are rumours of a third Tony Harris 45 for Dee Gee (DG 3016) but little evidence to prove it, and in fact much to disprove it—that catalogue number was reserved for Jefferson County’s “Organized Confusion/City Billy” produced by who else… Julian Portman! Harris’s Bolinger publishing company does list a pair of unknown compositions—“Blue Boy” and “You Don’t Love Me Enough” from around this period. Could these make up the mysterious does it/doesn’t it exist third single? Or were these tunes recorded by another artist, or just never released at all. We’ve also seen mention of another 45 credited to “Darius DePaul” but have no info on song titles or label. Were any of these tunes related to that? Darius did go on to record a remarkable LP that was released on the Chartmaker label in ’69 but alas, it seems to have no Tony Harris connection.[3]

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In the last weeks of 1965 Harris arranged and produced 45s for Bob Walker and Friends and the Magnificents, whose “On Main Street” is somewhat of a soul collectors fave. Then it seems the Dee Gee empire crumbled. There were a few more releases but Harris’s name was not on them. Press coverage in the Beat stopped and the releases died out. An announcement in Billboard in April ‘66 tells us that Dee Gee (along with Monument, Hanna Barbera, Tower, and Crescendo) is now distributed by Privilege Distributors. Unfortunately by then it seems they had nothing left to distribute.

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As Dee Gee’s run ended, it seems Harris was busy immersing himself in a new venture—breaking in to the soundtrack biz. The first cinematic venture he was involved in was an exploitation flick titled The Black Klansman, released in June of ’66. The film was produced by Joe Solomon who would go on to produce classics like Hells Angels on Wheels, Werewolves on Wheels, and the Curious Female—each having fantastic soundtracks by the way, though none Harris-related.[4] There was a one sided promotional 45 released for The Black Klansman, written and sung by Harris. The melody, Paul points out, sounds a lot like Lee and Nancy’s “Sand,” while the lyrics predate the Ramones by more than a decade!

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The Ku Klux Klan killed my little girl
Now I’m alone in this hostile world
My plan for vengeance may seem odd
But with the help of God
I will destroy them from within
Disguise myself and be the Black Klansman

And the Klan will ride this night
Living their big lie
Burning cross upon a hill
Guiltless people die

Why can’t they learn to love and understand
What type fool could find it in the Klan
My life will not be complete
‘til the Klan has their defeat

It’s likely that Harris’s connection to the film world was through his father, movie producer Jack H. Harris, who produced The Blob, Astro Zombies, and The Eyes of Laura Mars amongst others. The younger Harris penned the theme to the elder Harris’s The Unkissed Bride (also known Mother Goose a Go Go), which was released on Oct. 12, 1966. Dig the synopsis!

 “Newlyweds Ted and Margie Hastings immediately begin to have marital problems on their honeymoon at the hotel of Margie’s uncle, Jacques Phillipe. Margie, to overcome her nervousness during lovemaking preliminaries, picks up a copy of Mother Goose and begins to read aloud from it, whereupon Ted faints. A secret visit to psychiatrist Dr. Marilyn Richards reveals that Ted has a “Mother Goose” complex. Hotel detective Ernest Sinclair complicates Dr. Richards’ treatment (conducted for convenience’s sake in the hotel) by his overzealousness–he believes that Ted, like his employer, Jacques Phillipe, is being unfaithful to his wife. Dr. Richards solves Ted’s problem by treating him with an LSD spray while he sleeps, causing him to hallucinate and thus incorporate into reality the fairy tale characters from his fantasies.”

The title track, “Mother Goose à Go-Go” has words and music by Tony Harris, sung by Tom Kirk while another number, “Queen of Soul,” has words and music by Tony Harris and is sung by Barbara McNair, an actress and singer whose career took her from the tiny stage of S.F.’s Purple Onion to the pages of Playboy.

Interestingly the summer of ’66 also saw old partners Richard Delvy and Harris’s names still connected. An August 13th Billboard chart spotlight announces the Great Scots’ new 45 “The Light Hurts My Eyes/You Know What You Can Do” (Triumph 67). Unlike the Bows and Arrows 45, this is a completely new version of Harris’s song, done in a more Animalsy, show-group style. The Great Scots were originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia and were working in Los Angeles when Delvy signed them. After a few 45s on Epic and appearances on Shindig and other television programs in ‘65, the group had grown cold and Delvy apparently thought he could revive them, first issuing “Ball and Chain/Run, Run For Your Life” (T 66) and then “Light Hurts My Eyes.” It’s unclear whether or not Harris had any involvement in this resurrection or if Delvy just suggested the group record the Harris tune as a b-side because he had the rights to it. Interestingly, Challenge Records concurrently released a pair of Delvy-produced Great Scots’ tunes “Blue Monday/Show Me The Way” (Challenge 59339) as the more-hiply named Free-For-All on Challenge that same summer.

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Harris’s next job was over at Vance Music Corporation, then aspiring talent agent Steven Vail’s new label. A December 9th article in Billboard announces that “Vance Music and VMC Records have been formed to develop as a full-line record company. First act signed by 23-year old Vail is the David, a male quartet he formerly managed and had on the 20th (Century) Fox roster. Vail says his financing comes from a wealthy scientist-silent partner.” Aside from the David (incidentally produced by Gene Paige who Harris had worked with before), VMC had some other pretty hip acts as well, and even Electric Prune Jim Lowe landed himself a job there as an artist-producer in ’69. VMC had a pretty good string of garage/psych rock and pop records in the late ‘60s with highlights being the outsider ego trip LP by Dennis Olivieri, the spooky flower power 45 from Redondo Beach’s Paper Fortress, some 7” California toytown madness frwom Morley, and the heavy vibes of John Guess’s “Up From the Sea” 45 split with Magnus Opus. Harris’s participation at VMC began with him arranging and producing Milton Berle’s novelty version of “Yellow Submarine” (V 726). Over some sunshine pop and acidy guitar, Berle does a little comedy routine referencing all sorts of maritime movies and jokes. It’s pretty funny actually. Like several VMC 45s, this one came in a hiply-designed monochromatic picture sleeve.

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Next up Harris gave his own music a shot again. His 45 “The Oldest Profession/Love Mantra” (V 727) featured songs from the soundtrack to a 1967 film called The Oldest Profession, a French production directed by six different film directors (Jean-Luc Godard being one of them!) each one doing a segment on prostitution through the ages. It features cameo roles by Anna Karina and Raquel Welch, who graces the 45’s picture sleeve. Harris’s father was a producer on this as well, which is undoubtedly how this ended up on VMC. It seems Harris graduated from USC’s Thornton School of Music in 1968 with BA in Music around this time. The film was released in the U.S. 8/68 dubbed into English. It is doubtful that the original featured Harris’s music.

Another VMC group Harris had a hand in was Eastfield Meadows, a decent Buffalo Springfield kind of fusion group without the talent pool of their mentors. The group was signed in October of ’68 and managed to have their debut LP out before the end of the year. The first single pulled, “Silent Night/Love’s Gone,” (V 734) features some tasty guitar leads and Steven Stills-influenced vocals. Our man gets production credit on the A-side and arrangers co-credit on the B-side label. On the self-titled album (VS 133) Harris wrote one of the songs (“Weekend”) and is mentioned on the back cover both as producer and in a column with band members leading some to speculate that Harris was actually in the band. There are six members listed, but only five in the photo. Would it make sense that he could be doing a “fifth Beatle” sort of thing, maybe?

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Smooth soul singer Hal Frazier did a version of Harris’s “Flowers Die” on his self-titled LP (VS 136) in 1968. Harris produced this record at TTG Studios in Hollywood at pretty much the same time the Velvet Underground were recording their third LP there (they also recorded/remixed much of the Velvet Underground and Nico here as well). Wonder if Harris ever crossed paths with Lou and crew during these sessions?

On May 3rd, ’69 Billboard announced that Harris had been named general manager of Vail Publishing and VSAV Publishing. At that time he was working with the group Pacific Ocean, featuring a young Edward James Olmos on vocals. Their 1969 LP Purgatory (V 135) may feature Harris as a band member as well. There are two songs credited to him on it, “The Road To Hell” and “My Shrink.” “My Shrink” was also on a 45 backed with “16 Tons” (V 738). Another 45, “I Can’t Stand It/I Wanna Testify” (V 732) has both sides arranged and produced by Harris as well. I’ve never been very impressed by this record… too late and too souly.

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Also in 1969 Harris produced a 45 by a group called Morning Sun—“Together / Little Girl You’re A Woman” (V 739). “Together” was a Harry Nilsson cover. Morning Sun featured some of the members of former Dunhill recording artists, The Thomas Group, specifically lead singer and organist Greg Gilford. “Tony Harris produced three recordings I performed for VMC,” Gilford informs us, ‘Together,’ ‘Little Girl,’ and ‘Someone.’ ‘Someone’ was the best cut—an original by moi, which Tony got the master of from Steve Vail at VMC. Tony sold that master to Epic Records. As luck would have it, a guy named Pete (don’t recall his last name) who was the head of A&R at Epic loved the tune, but then Epic got bought and the single was shelved. After our Epic Records master was shelved, I never saw or heard from/of Tony Harris again.” I think this was recorded in ’68 but when the Thomas Group splintered it took a while for it to come out.

Harris’s biggest success at VMC involved a singer named Duke Baxter. Baxter’s Everybody Knows Matilda LP (V 138) The 45 “Everybody Knows Matilda/ I Ain’t No School Boy” (V 740) peaked at #52 on the Billboard charts in 1969. Harris gets production credit on both sides and Hal Blaine and Larry Knechtel play on it. A couple more singles were pulled from the LP as well, “Superstition/Crosstown Woman” (V 749) and “John Q. Citizen / Don’t Hurt Us” (V 750).

Turns out Duke Baxter’s real name is James Blake (although he does seem to have gone under aliases such as Dudley F. Baxter and Shaman. Apparently Canadian, he was in L.A. by ’66 and working with the Rob Roys on their great “Do You Girl?/Yes I Do” 45 for Accent (AC 1213) which was featured on Pebbles Vol. 22. He’s also the guy behind a group called Revelation, who released “Kiss Your Mind Goodbye/Dorplegank” (Combine 45-12) in 1967. The A-side is a trippy anti-acid number featured on Sixties Rebellion 11. The flip is just as wild. The group also featured Bob Priest on guitar, Dan Dougmore on xxx, and Kerry Hatch on organ. Hatch later played bass for Oingo Boingo (interestingly Boingo guitarist Steve Bartek had been in the Strawberry Alarm Clock) while Dougmore “wound up playing guitar with Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor a year or two later.” Blake remembers the group being a tight, inventive outlet. “Bob was fantastic and actually a little ahead of where I was musically and Kerry was my keyboard player in the Revelation Band,” which was more than just a studio concept, recalls Blake. “We played some concerts, e.g. at the Hollywood Palladium with the Seeds and the Grateful Dead;  UC Irvine with Canned Heat and the Buffalo Springfield (January 26, 1967 at Campus Hall); etc. The band got signed with MGM Records and worked with the very successful TV theme producer Mike Post who was a protégé of Jimmy Bowen of the Dean Martin hit fame. Mike Post who was also producing Kenny Rogers and other hit acts at that time. Also, in the band was a guy who ,  Dan Dougmore.” There’s a second Revelation 45 too, “Cotton Candy Weekend/Wait and See” (Music Factory 412), it’s a more of a pop-psych/bubblegum type thing, again with both sides written by Baxter.

Anyhow, when Revelation split up sometime in 1968 Baxter (neé Blake) became involved with Harris in setting up a new group. He recalls, “I met Tony shortly after I left the band for whatever reasons now forgotten. We were going to do a vocal trio with a girl named Abbegale Marabelle, (not sure of the spelling). One day, I was playing “Everybody Knows Matilda” for Tony in his office, when Steve Vail the young president of the VMC label walked by and heard me. From then on, it was me as a single artist with Tony producing. We did the album at TTG studios which was really hot in those days. Good times.” Located at 1441 North McCadden Place in Hollywood, TTG (“Two Terrible Guys”) was run by Tom Hidley and Ami Hadani  who recorded everyone from the Monkees to Eric Burdon there.  “Lots of interesting people came through there who were friends with Steve like Don Adams of Get Smart fame and David Cassidy.” Though the Duke Baxter stuff was selling,  “There was a lot of trouble getting paid for the record because Steve’s company was small and did not have the clout to collect. I suspect he just did not choose to participate in the rampant payola, layola, and drugola that was increasing at that time. Also the mob was moving in on the business from the promotion end.” Baxter evenytually got signed to Mercury at the same time as Rod Stewart did. (For more info on Baxter’s career go here.)

But that’s getting away from the subject of Tony Harris, which I guess it’s time to do anyway, as by late ’69, sounds had changed for the worse and Harris left VMC and went elsewhere. We’re sure there’s more Harris involvement in other later records but it’s pretty much beyond the realm of West Coast Fog. He had a good run of it though! Tony Harris, if you’re out there, drop us a line!

 

Thanks to James Blake, Lyn Nuttall, Brett Hosier, GM Gilford, Randy Nauert, Richard George, Colin Mason, and Howie Pyro.



[1] Delvy and Marascalco leased the Surfaris record from DFS Records; re-released it on Princess and then licensed it to Dot. Delvy also used the Challengers to record a whole album under the Surfaris name, angering the original group. Delvy also seems to have put together a Southern California version of the Travelers made up of members of the Challengers and a couple English ex-pats to play at the Teen Scene club in Lomita in October of ‘65. Either that or the name is just a coincidence. There is a second Travelers 45 from April ’64 on Vault, “Spanish Moon/She’s Got the Blues” (V 911). I’m not sure if the flip is a recording from the original Tucson group or a Delvy/Challengers concoction.

[2] There are actually two of these promo e.p.s with completely different songs.

[3] Darius has since passed away but his LP (and a second record consisting of a follow-up session also recorded in Los Angeles) is available from World in Sound.

[4] Harris was in good company as a Solomon scorer. Hells Angels on Wheels and the Curious Female are both Stu Phillips exploito-jobs (a promo 45 of the Curious Female theme exists), and the Werewolves on Wheels soundtrack by Don Gere is an incredible post-raga gem and has been reissued by Finders Keepers.