West Coast Branch

The West Coast Branch in Redondo Beach, late '67 or '68.
The West Coast Branch in Redondo Beach, late ’67 or ’68.

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.

When Marchese graduated in 1964 he faced the typical teenage dilemma. “When I got out of high school at seventeen, I was just a kid with no plan except going to the beach. Dad said I either had to go to college or get a job, those were the choices. Well, I already knew school wasn’t my thing but it would take a few weeks of bagging groceries at Von’s Market on La Tijera and Centinela for me to know for sure that work wasn’t for me either. I was really going to have to grow up here or something and I wasn’t into that either! I was just about out of options. Then, a minor miracle happened.”

The miracle came in the form of a rock band. What kid didn’t want to be a rock star? The Beach Boys from neighboring Hawthorne were already making hit records and the Beatles had just done their thing on Ed Sullivan. The Byrds and Turtles were starting to become known locally too.

“Craig Long, a guitar player and school buddy of mine, saved my life,” Marchese recalls. “He offered me a full time ‘job’ playing drums with some guys at a club in Inglewood called The Preview. The Seeds had been the house band there but their record ‘Pushin’ Too Hard’ had propelled them into stardom and out of the Preview.”[1]

“Craig took me to the lead singer, Joe Luster’s, house to meet the rest of the guys and, as I remember it, I brought along another school friend, Jon Hill (the same guy who’d run for class president), who played a multitude of instruments and was into the same funk, blues, soul and R&B music I was into. So we all went to Joe’s, met the other band members, and played together and I guess we all liked the way it was sounding and Jon and I were hired.”

Craig Long, Rolf Sorenson, Joe Luster, and Lee Aaker, 1966.
Craig Long, Rolf Sorenson, Joe Luster, and Lee Aaker, 1966.

The lineup was Luster on vocals, Marchese on drums, Rick Jamison on bass, Gene Fontaine on guitar and vocals, Craig Long on lead guitar, and Jon Hill on rhythm guitar. That day the guys jammed on some contemporary tunes by Them and the Animals, but Marchese had some ideas of his own about how he wanted the new group to sound. “Later on I brought some of my favorite records over to play for the guys like, ‘Your ‘Ol Lady’ by the Isley Brothers and ‘It’s All Over Now’ by the Valentinos to try and inject a bit more funk into the band.”

Next up was to create an identity. Animals and plants were big in L.A.—as they had been in England—what with the Leaves and Byrds and Turtles around. “We named the band the Twigs, to play off of the Seeds thing a little, and badda bing, we were working at a club! Whew, Saved from growing up!”

The Preview Club in Inglewood featured bands on weekends playing alternating sets. The place was run by a fellow named Red, and while the guys had fun playing the club, it wasn’t that great of a money making venture. “Now, ‘Red,’ the owner of the Preview, was a likable fireplug of a guy but he wasn’t big on parting with money,” Marchese remembers, “He ‘gave’ us food and booze nightly (but ran a tab), and sometimes let us and a few friends hang out, drinking and playing pool after the club closed, but when it came time for cash to exchange hands there was usually a problem. Every now and then he’d say, ‘Hey, here’s a couple hundred on what I owe you, slow week, sorry.’” The upside was that the Twigs really got their act together and were able to work out their sound, which by this point was leaning towards gritty R&B. Remembers Marchese, “We had a lot of fun anyway, and over most of that year we spent most days rehearsing and nights playing the club and got pretty tight, as a band and as friends.”

Besides getting tight, the other big benefit of playing the Preview didn’t pay the bills but it sure made life a lot more interesting and fun, especially for some kids right out of high school. Recalls Marchese, “Aside from growing as a player, the one big perk I got from that job was dating, for a few wonderful months, my first girlfriend. A waitress there named Toni French who was thirty-something and liked to dress me funny. (Hmmm, so did my parents…) But it was a lot more fun with her, and a lot more educational than high school.”

In the summer of ’66 Marchese was still living at home but was gravitating more and more westward on the weekends to the beach towns. “That summer, the band guys were hanging out a lot at our bass player, Rick’s, house on The Strand at 2nd St. in Hermosa Beach or at our singer, Gene Fontaine and Lee Aaker’s house, also on the Strand.”  Aaker was a fellow Inglewood High alum who’d become an actor,  playing Rusty on the Rin Tin Tin TV series.

For those of you unfamiliar with “the Strand,” it’s a ribbon of concrete at the edge of the sand that stretches from El Porto to the north to the Redondo Beach breakwall in the South. For decades it’s been the place to hang out, skateboard, watch girls etc. Black Flag’s Keith Morris would reference those days in the song “Wasted” a few years later in 1978 (“I was so heavy man I lived on the Strand”). Living on the Strand was even better than just hanging out there. There were constantlty parties and plenty of pretty stewardesses because of the nearby LAX airport. Marchese and Hill decided they’d like to spend more time down there in the sun and they looked to get a gig down in that area. Remembers Chuck, “We found a local club called the Flying Jib in Redondo Beach and decided to audition.” The Twigs went in and played a few numbers and got the job. They could literally walk up there from their pads on the Strand.

The Strand and 2nd St. in Hermosa Beach, 1968. Craig Long second from left.
The Strand and 2nd St. in Hermosa Beach, 1968. Craig Long second from left.

Located at 610 N. Pacific Ave., just a few blocks up from the King Harbor Marina, the Flying Jib occupied a small Polynesian-looking building. Nowadays it’s part of the offices for the Dive ‘n Surf complex there, selling wetsuits and diving gear. The club had been called Crispin’s Hut in the early ‘60s and featured a low-key place for beach types to hang out. There was folk music and comedy too, much like the other Southern California spots like the Icehouse in Pasadena and the Insomniac in Hermosa Beach. Comedian Pat Paulson did a stint there. The Beach Cities were pretty happening at that time, there was the Smothers Brother’s club Cisco’s in Manhattan, the Revelaire Club in Redondo, Linda Ronstatd even lived in Hermosa for a while right when she moved to California from Arizona. The Jib’s new owners were Don McGee and his wife Mary who was a motocross racer! The two were part of a biker crowd that rode with Steve Mcqueen. Their plan for the Jib was to get the club a little more lively with full bands and dancing.

Remembers Jib regular Will Schaff (Wich Stand) on Facebook, “McGee received a temporary dance license in December 20, 1965, then the actual dance license…The city council approved it in December so the Jib could be open for a New Years Eve party.” McGee began booking rock groups like the Rick and the Ravens (featuring a pre-Doors Ray Manzarek).

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“The Jib was a small place but it had big ambiance,” Marchese recalls. “It was all rough-hewn timber inside—dark and nautical. A long bar ran down one side of the room and across from it, a small kitchen with an open grill. Along one wall were removable panels (storm windows) that opened out into a fenced in patio, giving the small room a wide open, outdoorsy feel. In one corner (under the stairway that led to a smaller upstairs barroom with two pool tables and a guy named Benji serving drinks), was a tiny (I mean tiny) stage with two guys playing guitars and singing. Those two guys, I later learned, were ‘No Pants’ Lance Carson, a well known local surfer/beach kid, and (the late, lamented) Steve Aaberg, a blues guitar man thru and thru. The sound of those two guys really filled the room and there was a young, appreciative crowd that hung there. Laid back beach people, mostly—in shorts, t-shirts, tank tops, sandals—a bunch of local, happy drunks. We liked the atmosphere and the crowd. Next thing I knew, we were working there. After a few changes, that is.”

These changes had to do, unsurprisingly, with illicit substances. Remembers Chuck, “First of all, our name. The Twigs needed to go. Twigs, seeds, stems—these were all things you threw away. We needed a more substantial name but we wanted to maintain some continuity with our brand and the following we had thus far developed as the Twigs. So we chose one that perfectly reflected our move from Inglewood to Hermosa Beach, ‘the West Coast Branch.’ We were branching out!”

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Benji Cogswell, bartender at the Flying Jib
Benji Cogswell, bartender at the Flying Jib
Building that housed the Flying Jib today.
Building that housed the Flying Jib today.

In reality the name change coincided with a lineup change so the West Coast Branch was kind of a new group altogether. “Around the same time Rick, our bassist, (who was also in law school) and Gene who was a singer songwriter in his own right (and didn’t need a job, he had a trust fund), decided to leave the band. We were left in a quandary for a minute until a guy named Barry Gott, whom I presume Jon Hill knew from his high school track days, suggested a friend named Mike Costanza for the spot. Mike was a perfect fit for us, sure and solid, and we had a band again.”

Costanza was not from Inglewood but West L.A. where he attended Hamilton High School and played varsity football. Remembers Mike Costanza, “I knew ‘trackist’ Barry Gott through a mutual ‘trackist’ friend. I graduated in ‘64 but was supposed to have graduated in ‘65. I had skipped ahead a grade in elementary school—too smart for my own good—as evidenced by dropping out of UCLA for a couple of years (‘66/’67) to play with the WCB! I guess I was the youngest, ‘outsider’ (not from Inglewood) member of the WCB.”

Costanza was originally a guitar player who first started learning to play after graduating at 17 from Hamilton. By the time he’d dropped out of UCLA in his sophomore year in early ’66 he’d managed to play some music (rhythm guitar and lead vocals) with a West L.A. R&B/surfer band called the Legends, whose biggest paid gig had been a weekend stint at Disneyland. But the Branch needed a bass player so that’s what he was brought in to do. “I’d never played bass for more than two minutes or so before the WCB,” Costanza admits, “I auditioned with my old green Gretsch guitar. I didn’t even have a bass at the time.” Apparently Costanza kept this little secret to himself as Marchese recently admitted, “I don’t remember ever knowing Mike had never played bass before until now!” Still, that was his duty, as certainly no one else was going to switch over. “I always attributed that to being the least musically accomplished/knowledgeable of the three guitar players in the band at the time,” Costanza admits.

Costanza borrowed and learned to play bass on-the-job at the Jib with Jon Hill’s Fender Jazz Bass, which he played until late ’67. One night he lost it by absent-mindedly leaving it in its case in the middle of a street in Inglewood while changing cars as the Branch was rushing to a second late night gig at the Hullabaloo Club in Hollywood after playing at the Jib earlier that evening. He borrowed a Vox bass back stage from one of the other bands and made due with that for the rest of the evening. Soon after he bought a red Gibson hollow body bass and played that until the Branch split up in ’68, by which time he’d managed to pay Jon back for the lost Fender bass — ouch!)

The vibe at the Jib was a much better one than the original group had experienced at the Preview. Remembers Marchese, “The owners, Don and Mary McGee, were a big change for us. Very early on, I think all of us in the band felt more like family or friends than employees. Don and Mary were nice people, open-minded and wanted this place to work for the musicians as well as the patrons and they welcomed our input, however crazy it would eventually become. Working within the confines of the tiny club, the West Coast Branch came up with a master plan. “First thing we needed was a stage big enough for five guys plus our equipment and in about a week, we had one. Next, a P.A. system bad enough to compete with said equipment—done. With the ‘Age of Aquarius’ dawning all around us, we soon wanted a strobe light over the dance floor—done. Our favorite records on the jukebox—done. They were usually open to whatever we came up with.”

Things got even wilder as time went on. Like the Third Eye club down the street (The one with the Buffalo Springfield standing in front of the painted wall) that had been the surf stomp spot the Revelaire, the Jib soon became psychedelicized.

The Buffalo Springfield outside the Third Eye club in Redondo Beach.
The Buffalo Springfield outside the Third Eye club in Redondo Beach.

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“We decided it would be cool, in a purple haze I’m sure, to do some collages here and there on the walls and ceiling beams, maybe add some black lights and fluorescent paint. They handed us the keys to the joint and turned us loose and in no time the Jib became a ‘psychedelic shack.’ They trusted our instincts and gave us kids a pretty free hand in creating, what we felt was a cutting edge, comfortable and ‘trippy’ environment. And judging by the lines outside the door most nights, it worked. All those people certainly weren’t coming there just to hear the band, it was the total ‘Jib vibe’ that brought people in. The little club soon became a South Bay attraction.” The pay was much better at the Jib as well. The McGees paid the group off the books so more went into the guys’ pockets. “I recall making $84 cash-money a week!” recalls Costanza. To top it all off the group was now playing with Fender-sponsored dual cabinet amps.

Article from Royal's World Countdown newspaper, 1967.
Article from Royal’s World Countdown newspaper, 1967.

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In mid-’66 the group was approached by a scout named Steve Fazio who represented Al Kavelin Productions and Valiant Records.  “Al Kavelin told us his claim to fame was having produced the hit ‘Alley Oop,’ remembers Marchese. “He had street cred,”  Seems Valiant was keen on getting into “the singles selling bag,” as label president Budd Dolinger told Billboard magazine on Oct. 2nd of ’65 in an article about new 45 releases from the Lords (doing Dylan’s “On the Road Again” and “She Belongs to Me”), Denny Provisor, and the Motleys; several of which, he believed to be “in the same selling category as disks now making the charts.”

The West Coast Branch went into the studio and recorded three numbers, the first being a fuzzed-out version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful” which they learned from the Howlin’ Wolf version. The Blues Project recorded it around this time as well, and both versions predated Cream’s version which didn’t come out in the US until ‘67. The Branch’s take is slow and heavy with atmospheric buzztone guitar.[2] The second song recorded was an original folk punker called “Linda’s Gone,” written by Hill and Luster, also with fuzz and some very Stones-influenced guitar playing with churchy pre-psych background vocals and a Leaves/Monkees kind of verse—sorta like what the Turtles were doing on tuff stuff like “Outside Chance,” but much grittier!

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These two songs were released as “Spoonful/Linda’s Gone” (Valiant 753) towards the end of 1966. That day the group also recorded an as-of-yet unreleased song called “And Others.” “I actually played guitar and not just bass on ‘And Others’ as I recall.” says Costanza. “It had an odd drum beat that I was rather proud of and the engineers name was John Haeny”[3], adds Marchese. The group had to join the Musician’s Union to enter the studio, they recall. “It was a total waste of time having to become a paying member of the L.A. Musician’s Union because of the record contracts,” Costanza recalls. The record didn’t do all that well on the radio but it did create some buzz citywide. At some point the group was approached by a couple guys who wanted to manage the group and convert them to Scientology!

Sometime around this time the group landed a gig at Bido Lito’s  in Hollywood where Love had gotten their start. Fellow musician Len Fagan recalls, “That’s where I first saw them, and they immediately became one of my ‘new’ fave bands. They reminded me the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and when I first approached Jon at Bido’s after a set to tell him how much I dug them, he told me I could get their 45, ‘Linda’s Gone,’ at Wallich’s Music City and I rushed over there and purchased it. The record was on my turntable quite frequently. They were better than some of the so-called blues bands from Hollywood. Unlike too many of the Hollywood bands, the WCB were actually good musicians, and seemed more interested in playing their music, rather than gigging because they hoped to pick up some groupies/chicks—though I’m sure they also did THAT !!”

Marchese remembers the gig at Bido Lito’s being an important milestone for the group. “We met two girls there, Candace Jacobs whom we all called “Candy,” and Linda Quilicot, known as “Quily. They were good friends with Arthur and the guys in Love and regulars at Bido Lito’s and we either met them when we went to the club to see Love perform; when we auditioned; or when we actually did the gig, I don’t remember. But they were a pair you can’t forget. They taught us a lot about the people of, and the scene in Hollywood; introduced us to some very interesting people; and guided us on many daytime and after hours excursions to old Hollywood haunts like Bronson caves, the Hollywood sign, the geodesic dome house, etc., and eventually to Canters Deli on Fairfax for breakfast, or whatever it was at that hour. We met their families and friends and they became close friends of ours, and Flying Jib regulars too. Candy later married our singer, Joe, and Quily married Craig. I still consider them among the close friends I can count on a hand or two.” Often after Bido Lito’s the band would end up at Ben Frank’s on Sunset Blvd. There they were introduced to Rodney Bingenheimer, who Marchese describes as “a famous ‘Groupie come celebrity’ that actor Sal Mineo supposedly nicknamed ‘the Mayor of Sunset Strip.'”

In October of ’66 the group drove up to San Francisco to play at the California Hall with Moby Grape, Lee Michaels, and a group called the American Dream on October 28th. According to Ross Hannan in an interview with Moby Grape’s Peter Lewis, the show was sparsely attended. Moby Grape was still in its embryonic stage and this was apparently the band’s first show in the City. Up until then they had been practicing during the day and performing in the evenings at the Ark, a nightclub on a paddlewheel steam ship called the SS Charles Van Damme in Sausalito. It seems the Branch may have played at the Ark that week as well. “(Branch manager) Don McGee arranged the week long tour for us,” Marchese remembers. “We did do some other gigs in the area that week, one in Sausalito. It was like playing the French Riviera to me.” How the Branch got booked in the Bay Area is unknown though its possible that either McGee had some sort of relation with the Grape’s manager Matthew Katz or that the connection was through Mike “The Bull” Bolan, a Flying Jib hanger-outer who would later serve as guitarist for Mount Rushmore, a San Francisco-based heavy blues act that played the Ark as well. Anyway, after the Bay Area gigs some of the guys decided to stick around and check out the scene. “Craig and I rented a couple of rooms in a large hippie house on Haight St. and stayed there for a few weeks after the tour,'” adds Marchese. “I think the rent was twenty bucks a week. There was no electricity in the house but the brothers and sisters living there taught us how to make an oil lamp out of a couple of jar lids with a piece of cotton cord from a mop as a wick to fight back the night while Craig played his electric guitar acoustically and we’d sit up singing and talking till daylight. We’d walk a couple of blocks to Panhandle Park to catch the free concerts that happened there rather spontaneously. All the local ‘Frisco’ bands played for free in the park (and Vito’s dancers freaked us) but the Steve Miller Band with ‘Curly’ Cook and Boz Scaggs really killed me. Frisco was magic back then.”

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Mike "The Bull" Bolan, guitarist of Mount Rushmore somewhere in Hermosa Beach
Mike “The Bull” Bolan, guitarist of Mount Rushmore somewhere in Hermosa Beach

Meanwhile the scene at the Flying Jib was really happening. People flocked in from all over to the tiny club with the pool table upstairs. The age limit for guys was 21 but for girls it was only 18 (“Oops for some of the group!” adds Costanza.). All sorts of substances were imbibed, from “Red Mountain” wine coolers to marijuana and psychedelics. Jib-regular Jolene Firgens remembers there was something for everyone, “The place was filled with barbo freaks to the left and beer drinkers to the right!” “Thank god for the 4×4 posts in the middle of the dance floor that kept me from falling over while trying to dance,” remembers another female attendee.

If you look around in online forums and chatrooms you’ll quickly see that people still love to talk about how much fun they had at the Flying Jib. A guy named Lonnie Argabright remembers, “In 1967 I was home on leave from the Navy for 30 days and spent almost every night at the Jib. Most of the Torrance Beach crowd hung out there and alot of my friends were there. I can’t remember the bands name but they were great, they played ‘Friday on My Mind’ for me every night and it was hot! Costanza remembers the Easybeats record being in the jukebox so maybe Argabright remembers it from that. The Good Guys from Manhattan Beach played there a few times. Drummer Don Boomer recalls that the crowd was so gleeful “you’d get a standing ovation just for showing up!” though it could be hard to keep it together in the crammed space. “I remember the ceiling being so low over the stage that I accidentally stick drumsticks into the acoustic tiles of the ceiling.” Even Hollywood bands like the Sons of Adam came down to play. But through it all it seems the West Coast Branch were the local faves.

Inglewood-born Ed Wedemeyer remembers catching the Branch there often. “Used to see them once or twice a week. I went to high school with Jon Hill, the rhythm guitar player and I thought they were one of the best acid rock and blues bands around. Their version of ‘Smokestack Lightnin’ was the best I ever heard. I think they could have hit it big.” Costanza thinks Wedemeyer must have confused “Smokestack Lightnin,” which they didn’t cover, with “Spoonful,” which they did. Then again Marchese does remember it being part of the set list, along with versions of “Born in Chicago,”  “Little Red Rooster,” “Johnny B Goode,” “I’m a Man,” Traffic’s “Pearly Queen” and “Down the Road Apiece” (“a medium shuffle we would often open with, a warm up number we borrowed from the Stones.”). “I remember we used to play What a Shame & Talkin’ ‘Bout You (Stones) adds Costanza.” Towards the end of their set they’d play a few originals, like “And Others,” “Colors of My Life,” “Linda’s Gone,” and a Joe Luster-penned number that Marchese remembers being called “Thoroughly Modern Millie” though “maybe my memory of it was inspired by the movie of that name.” The finale was often “Caravan,” with an extended drum solo by Marchese. “Everyone used to leave the stage for 15 or 20 minutes,” he recalls.

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Interestingly another band that often played the Jib was called Smokestack Lightnin’, the same group who’d go on to record a heavy blues LP for Bell in ’69 and even get a billboard on the Sunset Strip. Back in the Jib days they were a more groovy thing, as evidenced by their White Whale 45s, which even charted locally. Remembers Marchese, “Back when I knew and loved them Ron Darling (whom I’ve tried to track down) sang lead, Howard Newhouse was on rhythm, and Kelly Green on bass, and I think they had another guitar player, too.” Steve Michaelson (who later played drums with Joe and Craig in a group called Sneaker Jones after the Branch break up) may have been the drummer early on, to be replaced by Art Guy, who had been a member of the Minutemen and had even recorded a couple of amazing 45s on his own, one for Original Sound with the Guys in ‘65 —“Walkin’ by the School/Funny Feelin’” (Original Sound 56) and one for Valiant in ‘67—“Where You Gonna Go?/Teenage Millionare” (Valiant 762).

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“The Flying Jib also had some great guest bands,” recalls Wedemyer. “One, in particular, was called the Sot Weed Factor. They played often at the Topanga Corral also which was near the top of Topanga Canyon and the crowd was mostly shit kickers and bikers. Interesting venue, to say the least.” The Sot Weed Factor were originally from Tuscon, Arizona and did one record for Original Sound in ’67—a cover of the Who’s “Bald Headed Woman” backed with “Say It It is Not So” (Original Sound 76). “Say It is Not So” is a great punk folker with an intro that’s awfully close to Love’s “The Red Telephone,” especially interesting as the SWF’s record came out in September and Love’s didn’t appear until a couple month’s later in November.

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Also performing at the Jib in ’67 were the Hunger! (who’d recently moved down from Portland) and the Spontaneous Combustion, a group that featured Lance Fent who’d been a member of the Crossing Guards and had recently left the Peanut Butter Conspiracy. The group consisted of Fent on guitar, Duff (?) on bass, Len Fagan on drums, and Ronald Bonk on piano. “During the days the Monterey Pop Festival was happening up north, we played at the Jib all that week, and I’m almost certain we were the only band on the bill that week, because we played 4-5 sets per night,” recalls Fagan. “We might have even been there for two weeks straight, or maybe we were invited back at some other date, to do another week-long gig there. I was only 19 years old during my time in SC (while the other guys were at least five years older than me) and I felt I was more in tune with what was currently happening in the clubs and on the streets, musically. The PBC began as a folk rock band, a genre that was fading fast, and no matter how hard I tried to encourage the rest of the band to player harder, louder, and to write some real contemporary rock songs, both Lance, and Duff were longtime folkies, and couldn’t (or simply didn’t) come around to my way of thinking. Then Lance’s wife Caroline was christened the new lead singer of the band. I was very upset because this monumental addition to the band was done while I was out of town; the prospect had never been discussed before; and I made it clear that I wasn’t happy with their decision as soon as I was told about it. We played two to three nights at Bido Lito’s with the latest lineup, and I was almost ashamed to be playing drums with Caroline fronting the band. I made my feelings clear, and was kicked out soon after. Truth is, if I hadn’t been booted out of the band, I almost certainly would have quit within a month of my dismissal anyway. I had always wanted to be in a band with muscle, a dark, foreboding, appearance, and an old fashioned R n’ R rebellious nature, and SC didn’t turn out to be what I’d hoped it would be. I would have felt more at home in the West Coast Branch, in fact.” Fagan was replaced by John Maggi who’d go on to record with Turnquist Remedy when SC finally broke up.

Peanut Butter Conspiracy in Griffith Park. Lance Fent is the guy in the hat. from http://www.officialclearlight.com/

Peanut Butter Conspiracy in Griffith Park. Lance Fent is the guy in the hat.
from http://www.officialclearlight.com/

But back to the West Coast Branch! Sometime in the spring of ’67 the group signed a contract with A&M Records to record another record. A&M decided to “augment” the Branch with some professional musicians at the recording session in West Hollywood. As a result the sound is much more of a polished, sunshiney one than the group’s previous release. “I do remember A&M management brought in some studio guys on one occasion and wanted Joe to leave the group and go solo,” recalls Marchese. “I must have been a bit out of it by then,” Costanza adds, “I remember recording “Colors of My Life,” but I don’t remember much of anything about “Where is the Door?”, except of course, that Joe sang on it, but I never knew what anyone else in the WCB did on it. I think I just missed that day!”

1967. L-R Chuck Marchese, Joe Luster, Jonathan Hill, Craig Long, Mike Costanza.
1967. L-R Chuck Marchese, Joe Luster, Jonathan Hill, Craig Long, Mike Costanza.

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“Where is the Door?” was the featured side and written not by the group, but by the professional songwriting team of Stan Rhodes and George Goehring.  The fancy production was handled by A&M staffer Larry Marks and arranged by Leon Russell, the same pairing responsible for Gene Clark’s “Echoes” just a couple months prior. The flip, “Colors of My Life,” was another Luster-Hill original composition with great lyrics and a psychy Association-like sound. “’Colors of My Life’ was the one we tried to sell even though we couldn’t even play it very well since it wasn’t really us who recorded most of it!” admits Marchese. “We performed/promoted  it (or tried to, anyway) in Bakersfield,” adds Costanza.

COLORS OF MY LIFE

If I had my way I think I’d leave
Thoughts before eyes I can unseen
Stand inside myself and then the walls come tumbling down
I must find a way to get my feet back on the ground

Colors of my life go flashing by
I can’t even stop to peace unwind [and quiet?]
There are things that can’t be changed they just go on and on
Though these things aren’t a rearranged it doesn’t mean they’re wrong

Everything I do is part of me
All these things are planned consistently
There are grooves which you must follow they are [going wrong?]
If you stand outside the line your kingdom has to fall

Colors of my life go flashing by
I can’t even stop to peace unwind [and quiet?]
Stand inside myself and then the walls come tumbling down
I must find a way to get my feet back on the ground

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Around this time Jon Hill got drafted but claimed “conscientious objector” status and was able to remain stateside. “He was working days at the main Salvation Army store in downtown L.A. for free, sleeping four hours; going to play at the Jib; sleeping four hours; and returning to work every day for the term of his enlistment,” Marchese recalls. “I don’t know how he did it.”

West Coast Branch poster that hung in the Flying Jib
West Coast Branch poster that hung in the Flying Jib

During the summer of ’67 the group’s reputation kept expanding beyond the South Bay and they were asked to do a free show at the Easter Love-In in Griffith Park by the merry-go-round along with dozens of other groups. Beginning as impromptu Human Be-Ins over by the Greek Theater and Fern Dell, these pretty-much word-of-mouth gatherings were getting larger and larger and were moved to bigger areas like Elysian Park and the other side of Griffith Park by the merry-go-round. This one was the biggest one yet and even featured out of town groups like the Grateful Dead and the Steve Miller Band. It’s a little unclear as to who all played that day but local bands like Clear Light played sets, as did Alice Cooper in his first L.A. appearance with his group the Nazz. “I remember that playing at the Griffith Park Love-In was a great experience,” Costanza adds. “I recall we got a really nice and unexpectedly good reception—didn’t we fare even better than Iron Butterfly?” MArchese thinks they did. “Mostly I remember sitting in front of the stage watching the Steve Miller Band in rapt awe. Maybe it was the acid, but they always blew me away. I also remember the L.A. Police Dept. sending swarms of new recruits from the nearby police academy down to the park, swinging clubs at all us ‘Peaceniks,'” he recalls.

Fern Dell Be-In from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkanouse/3312885497/in/photostream/
Fern Dell Be-In from http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkanouse/3312885497/in/photostream/

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Griffith Park Love-In from http://www.pbase.com/saintj/image/32263195
Griffith Park Love-In from http://www.pbase.com/saintj/image/32263195

Later that summer the West Coast Branch was offered a run at the Cheetah Club in Venice Beach at 1 Navy St., opening for the Seeds and the Boston Tea Party. There are pictures of the outside of the club with the West Coast Branch and The Seeds on the marquee. Master info-digger-upper Corry Arnold surmises online, “I am pretty certain that it is the week of August 15-20, 1967. West Coast Branch is playing during the day (at the time of the photo), The Boston Tea Party at night (it says ‘Tonight’) and the Seeds are headlining later in the afternoon (3pm). This would cause me to think it was Sunday, August 20, 1967. Of course that was a big night for Seeds-singer Sky Saxon—he was turning thirty!

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from http://www.flickr.com/photos/46245038@N02/

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Next up for the Branch was a residency at a new club called the Happening at 2905 Sunset Blvd. at Silver Lake. The Happening was a short-lived nightclub/head shop/boutique for the acid set. It seems to have been open briefly during the spring/summer of ’67. There are a couple ads in the L.A. Free Press that give us a little info. The first is from the club’s “grand opening” May 19th with musical guests the Nomads and the Zoo. Also advertised (I would imagine figuratively!) was “liquid sunshine direct from the Avalon in San Francisco” and “Animal Huxley of Cheetah fame.” Of course Huxley deserves an entry to herself—she was the grandaughter of Aldous, one of Vito’s dancers, a Zappa associate, etc. Also part of the Happening was something called The Zap Palace, “a total electro-audio-visual environmental experience on ceiling, walls and you!” I would imagine there was some Zappa involvement or crossover (“ZAP PAlace”) or at least someone hoped it’d be construed as such. There was at least one “Free Concert and Get-Together” in Glendale’s Scholl Canyon Park a year or so later presented by “the Zap People” which may or may not be related to this. The second ad we’ve dug up is for June-2-4 with Smokestack Lightning, Zone 26, and Outlaw Blues Band. Here we can see how word-of-mouth got bands gigs as these are all bands the Branch had or would share stages with. The ad mentions “dancing every weekend” so we’re guessing it lasted at least another month and that the Branch’s tenure there was sometime early that summer. Interestingly this room formerly housed an establishment called Club Zarape (and at some point the Havana Club). It also has some Black Dahlia murder connections you can find by poking around online m. The building is actually still there, though it has been seriously altered and is now called the Silversun Plaza. For those of you who live in the neighborhood, the club was upstairs and is now a dentist office.

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Mike Costanza also mentions that someone in the band “remembers playing a gig on a revolving stage somewhere and our lead guitar player (Craig Long) chasing the outlet to plug his amp into. That makes me think he’s thinking of the Aquarius Theater which I do remember playing at even though we were all on acid that night.” This was probably October 7th, 1967 at the Hullabaloo Club for something called the 118th Annual Edgar Allen Poe Electric Memorial and Breakfast, a benefit for the Student Mobilization Committee Conference at East Los Angeles Junior College. According to an ad read on KFWB by DJ B. Mitchell Reed, the performers were to be the Steve Miller Blues Band, the Kaleidoscope, the W.C. Fields Memorial String Band, the West Coast Branch, Taj Majal, Bluesberry Jam, and the Outlaw Blues Band, with lights by the Thomas Edison Memorial Flash. Tickets were just $1.50 and including breakfast which would be served at 2AM. This was probably the night Costanza lost his bass in Inglewood on the way to Hollywood after playing the Jib earlier that night. Oddly, Phil Lesh lost his Guild bass at the Hullabaloo as well when the Grateful Dead played there four months earlier. The Hullabaloo of course became the Aquarius Theater sometime in ’68.

Another big gig for the Branch was a return to the Cheetah to open for Big Brother and the Holding Company on what was advertised as their first L.A. appearance on Saturday December 2nd, 1967.

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Mesnwhile the A&M record didn’t really go anywhere for the guys and the group began to implode. At the Flying Jib things were changing too. Says Costanza, “I remember Don and Mary becoming more and more involved with a ski resort somewhere, and then things just sort of fizzled out for me after that.” “The ski resort was in Sun Valley, Idaho,” remembers Marchese, “Don and Mary were big skiers too.” Another reason for the group’s downfall was Craig Long getting drafted. “That really ended the Branch,” admits Marchese. “We could have gotten another guitar player but it wouldn’t have been the Branch. By that time, I felt like playing with some other people too, trying new ideas out with players I had met in the ensuing years.” “My dad died in ’68,” remembers Costanza. “And the last thing I recall was playing at a fairly big gig on a Malibu Beach.”

I have a suspicion that this large gig on the beach in Malibu was actually documented in the intro to Hal Jepsen’s surf flick the Cosmic Children. There are bands shown playing in the footage, and though they are clearly not the West Coast Branch, it could fit the description of the scene. Furthermore, there are stories of the Steve Aaberg Band playing outside in Malibu around then, and he too was a Jib performer. We’ll see.

Chuck Marchese, Venice, 196830139_1313975087485_1189857_n
Chuck Marchese, Venice, 1968

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In the end the Flying Jib outlasted the West Coast Branch, well, sorta anyway. The group split in late ’67 and  Marchese and Craig Long started a new group called Streamlined Baby with Chris Pritchard and Floyd Fletcher. “When we played at the Jib Don and Mary said our music made people wanna fight!” recalls Marchese, “I’m all peace and love, man!” When that group dissolved Marchese and John Hill briefly played with Alexanders Timeless Bloozband. By ’68 Marchese, Pritchard, and ATB’s Charles Lamont joined up  with Jimmy Carl Black in the post-Mothers group Geronimo Black. Tragically, the Jib burned down a few years later but it was rebuilt to almost exactly how it had been before. Bands like the Berries (who later changed their name to the Band of Angels), Jumbo (with some members formerly St. John’s Green), and Sage kept playing there up until at least 1973. Even after the Branch Marchese continued to frequent the Jib. “Two other bands that were my favorites there were, Joe Mama, with Danny (Kootch) Kortchmar on guitar, Ralph Schuckett on keyboards, Charlie Larkey on bass, and Abigail Haness swapping lead vocal duty with Kootch and another Inglewood High alumni, Mike Ney, on drums. The other was the Mann Beavill Blues Band, the only member of which I knew was guitarist, Steve Aaberg, who was one of the two guys playing onstage that first time I walked into the Jib. Mann Beavill was one of the grittiest, funkiest, drivingest blues bands I have ever heard. The lead singer had a ZZ Top-style beard and wore coveralls. I’m pretty sure one of the members was later killed in a bank holdup attempt. No bullshit guys, were these.”

Streamlined Baby (l-r Marchese, Craig Long, Chris Pritchard and Floyd Fletcher)
Streamlined Baby (l-r Marchese, Craig Long, Chris Pritchard and Floyd Fletcher)

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Flying Jib t-shirt from 1969
Flying Jib t-shirt from 1969
Chuck Marchese, early '70s.
Chuck Marchese, early ’70s.

If you knew the West Coast Branch or the Flying Jib or any of the bands mentioned here and can fill in more details on any of this, please drop Erik a line at westcoastfog@gmail.com
Thanks to Chuck Marchese, Mike Costanza, Jonathan Hill, Paul Gammage, Gary Schneider, Chuck Kelley, Gray Newell, Colin Mason, Ross Hannan, Corry Arnold, Domenic Priore, Richard Morton Jack, and anyone else I forgot!