Los Angeles psychedelic rockers The Electric Prunes rose to #11 on the Billboard charts with their 1966 hit, “I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night)”:
The band were noted for their early use of fuzz-tone guitars, wah-wah pedals, and other studio tricks to add an eerie ambience to their rock’n’roll noise. Though they never had another hit, their 1968 album “Mass in F Minor” has become a psychedelia collector’s Holy Grail, a complex, baroque rock concept LP composed and arranged by David Axelrod (the jazz producer, not the political pundit) sung entirely in Greek and Latin. The record was so complex, in fact, The Prunes had difficulty playing the songs, and studio musicians were brought in to fill in the gaps. A song from “Mass in F Minor” called “Kyrie Elieson” gained some notoriety when it was used in Dennis Hopper’s 1969 biker classic EASY RIDER:
As for The Electric Prunes, they went back to a simpler sound before breaking up in 1970. There were several reunions and re-reunions over the years, but far as I can tell, The Prunes are no longer in existence. Anyone who knows otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment – Prunes fans wanna know!!
The very first concert I saw was… er, a very long time ago! Teenybop pop rockers Herman’s Hermits headlined the show, and the opening act was The Blues Magoos, performing their #5 Billboard hit, “(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet”:
The Blues Magoos, from The Bronx, were early practitioners of psychedelic rock’n’roll, going so far as to name their debut album “Psychedelic Lollipop”. They were loud, heavy, and wore these electric suits that blinked on and off during their rendition of the classic “Tobacco Road”:
Even without the suits, they were pretty far out, man! The lineup consisted of Emil “Peppy Castro” Theilheim (vocals, rhythm guitar), Mike Esposito (lead guitar), Ralph Scala (organ), Ron Gilbert (bass), and Geoff Daking (drums). They made the rounds of all the TV shows, like AMERICAN BANDSTAND, THE SMOTHERS BROTHERS COMEDY HOUR , and the above clip from a Jack Benny-hosted episode of THE KRAFT MUSIC HALL (Jack doesn’t seem to dig ’em… Well!). After four more groovy LP’s and a handful of singles, The Blues Magoos disbanded, only to reunite ten years ago. They continue to spread the Gospel of Psychedelia around to small clubs across the country.
Oh, there was a second group playing that night between The Magoos and Herman, an obscure British band noted at the time more for destroying their instruments onstage than their music:
San Jose’s The Syndicate of Sound reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966 with their proto-punk hit, “Little Girl”:
The band was formed in 1964 by members of Lenny Lee and the Nightmen and The Pharaohs as a San Jose supergroup: Don Baskin (lead singer/guitars), Larry Ray (lead guitar), Bob Gonzalez (bass), John Sharkey (keys), and John Duckworth (drums). Two years later, “Little Girl” became a local radio smash, and Bell Records picked it up for national distribution. Baskin’s snarling vocals and the speed-freak jangling guitar sounds got teens movin’ and groovin’, and the song today is considered one of the progenitors of the punk movement of the 1970’s.
Bell demanded an album from the boys, and after Ray was replaced by Jim Sawyers, the Syndicate cranked one out in three weeks that’s a garage rock classic. Besides their hit and five other originals, the group performed covers of Chuck Berry’s “Almost Grown”, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man”, Roy Orbison’s “Dream Baby”, The Hollies’ “I’m Alive”, Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby”, and The Sonics’ “The Witch”:
The Syndicate of Sound broke up in 1970 after several unsuccessful attempts to return to the top of the pop charts. Twenty years later, Baskin, Gonzalez, and Sawyer reformed the band, and they still play West Coast dates to this day. Rock on, gentlemen, rock on!
Direct from Haight-Ashbury, psychedelic hard rockers Blue Cheer ushered in the Age of Heavy Metal with “Summertime Blues”, reaching #14 on the Billboard charts in 1968 (Crank It Up LOUD!):
Singer/bassist Dickie Peterson, who lived on San Francisco’s Haight Street during the “Summer of Love” days, originally formed the band as a five-piece group, but stripped down to the power trio model popularized by Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience, with Leigh Stephens on guitar and Paul Whaley on drums. Blue Cheer’s hair was longer, and their sound more ear-splitting, than anyone around, and the band’s thundering heavy metal noise made both the single and their debut album “Vincebus Eruptum” into classics of early metal then and collector’s items today.
The band went through numerous personnel changes before breaking up in 1970. Peterson reformed the group in the 80’s and toured Europe, bringing their “cranked up to 11” barrage of sound to a new generation of metal maniacs, who worshipped these hard rock pioneers. Peterson died in 2009 from prostate cancer, bringing an end to what many call the Founding Fathers of Heavy Metal. Any act calling themselves Blue Cheer today simply ISN’T – BC without Peterson is like The Stones without Mick Jagger!
As for “Summertime Blues” itself, the song was first written and recorded by 50’s rocker Eddie Cochran, whose original version hit #8 on the charts. The tune became a staple for every bar band in the land, and has been covered by artists as diverse as The Beach Boys, Dick Dale, Alan Jackson (who hit #1 on the Country charts with it in 1994), Joan Jett, The MC5, Olivia Newton-John, Buck Owens, Rush, James Taylor, T. Rex, The Who (on their seminal “Live at Leeds” LP), and The Ventures. But nobody, not even Cochran himself, rocked “Summertime Blues” as hard as Blue Cheer did fifty years ago!
TV impresario Ed Sullivan hosted an Irish-themed “really big shew” on St. Patrick’s Day in 1957. Among his guests were actor Robert Mitchum (promoting his new Calypso record!!) and musical quartet The Ames Brothers, who joined sleepy-eyed Bob for a rendition of “Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral”:
Now you can begin your St. Patrick’s Day festivities… and remember, drink that green beer in moderation!
Well, this year there was slim pickings far as Super Bowl ads go, with the exception of some of the new film trailers (can’t wait for AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR ). The one ad that did stand out for me had a decidedly New England flavor, featuring Steven Tyler of Boston’s own Aerosmith travelling back in time in – no, not a Delorean, but a Kia!:
The world of rock’n’roll lost two of its architects in 2017, giants who can never be replaced. Chuck Berry (90) was rock’s poet laureate, a smooth showman who chronicled the life and times of 50’s teens with songs like “Johnny B. Goode”, “School Days”, “You Never Can Tell”, and the anthem “Rock and Roll Music”. New Orleans pianist Fats Domino (89) contributed his barrelhouse, let-the-good-times-roll sound on hits like “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, and “Ain’t That a Shame”. Music will not see the likes of these two originals again, and Cracked Rear Viewer respectfully dedicates this post to their memories.
Rock music suffered another one-two blow when Gregg Allman (69), who helped usher in the Southern Rock style with The Allman Brothers Band, passed away in May. Five months later, superstar Tom Petty died at age 66, taking his beautifully jangling guitar sounds with him. Both men remain staples of FM Classic Rock radio. Boston-based guitarist J. Geils , leader of the eponymous J. Geils Band, left us at age 71. Allman Brothers percussionist Butch Trucks (69) also departed, along with classic rockers Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople (69), prog rock drummer Clive Brooks (67), John Wetton of King Crimson and Asia (67), Steely Dan cofounder Walter Becker (67), AC/DC’s Malcom Young (64), Black Sabbath’s Geoff Nicholls (68), Steppenwolf’s Goldy McJohn (72), Prince percussionist John Blackwell Jr (43), and arranger Paul Buckmaster (71). All left us way too soon.
Reaching back into rock’s roots, legendary blues harpist James Cotton died at age 81. Other greats who passed include Lonnie Brooks (83), Guitar Gable (79), drummer Casey Jones (77), rockabilly pioneer Sonny Burgess (88), white soul shouter Wayne Cochran (78), Delta bluesman CeDell Davis (91), Chicago bluesman Robert Walker Jr (80), gospel blues singer Leo Welsh (85), and James Brown drummer Clyde Stubblefield (73). “The French Elvis” Johnny Hallyday (74) was little known in America, but a worldwide success elsewhere. R&B stars Della Reese (86), Al Jarreau (76), Junie Morrison of The Ohio Players (62), ‘Philly Sound’ singer/songwriter Bunny Sigler (76), Bobby Freeman (“Do You Want to Dance”, 76), Robert Knight (“Everlasting Love”, 72), Pete Moore of The Miracles (79), The Main Ingredient’s Cuba Gooding Sr (72), and soul man Charles Bradley (68) are also no longer with us.
70’s Teenybop idol David Cassidy, who made all the little girls scream as star of TV’s THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY and had hits like “I Think I Love You”, “Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted”, and “Cherish”, succumbed to organ failure at 67. Tommy Page (“I’ll Be Your Everything”) was a young 46. Gary DeCarlo of Steam (75) will always be remembered for the sports anthem “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” . Joni Sledge of Sister Sledge (60) hit it big with “We Are Family”, which became the theme song for the 1979 World Series winning Pittsburgh Pirates. Songwriter Ritchie Adams (78) not only composed the 1961 hit “Tossing & Turning”, but the theme for TV’s THE BANANA SPLITS!
More musicians we’ll miss: Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave (52), Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington (41), Husker-Du’s Grant Hart (56), Gord Downie of The Tragically Hip (53), The Afghan Wigs’ Dave Rosser (50), Faith No More’s Chuck Mosely (57), The Lollipop Shoppe’s Fred Cole (69), and Pat DiNizio of The Smithereens (62). Paul O’Neill (61) of the fantastic Trans-Siberian Orchestra is gone, so too are reggae stars Earl Lindo (64) and Michael Prophet (60), Mitch Margo of The Tokens (70), power pop singer Tommy Keene (59), gospel queen and Tony winner Linda Hopkins (92), “Bluer Than Blue” singer Michael Johnson (72), ‘Godfather of Jam’ Bruce Hampton (70), and Vegas entertainer Buddy Greco (90).
Country music fans mourned the passing of multi-talented Glen Campbell (81), Don Williams (“I Believe in You”, 76), M-M-Mel Tillis (85), Montgomery Gentry’s Troy Gentry (50), steel guitar wizard Billy Mize (88), and Cajun legend D.L. Menard (85). The world of jazz lamented the losses of singers Jon Hendricks (96) and Keely Smith (89), guitarists Larry Coryell (73) and John Abercrombie (72), drummers Ben Riley (84) and Sunny Murray (81), Big Band singer Dick Noel (90), saxophonist Arthur Blythe (76), accordionist Dick Contino (87), composer/arranger Dominic Frontiere (86), and producer Tommy LiPuma (80).
Those behind the scenes gone in 2017 include VILLAGE VOICE critic Nat Hentoff (91), Casablanca Records exec Larry Harris (70), AC/DC producer George Young (70, who also played with 60’s group The Easybeats and penned their hit “Friday On My Mind”), SHINDIG TV producer Jack Good (86), and producer/exec Pierre Jaubert (88). Each and every one of these individuals contributed to make music that’s accessible to everyone. May they rest in peace, and may YOU, Dear Reader, go out and enjoy as much live music as you can… before it’s too late.