Here is where things begin to get just a little bit crazy. They happened so quickly that events now seem to run together like a bad tie-dyed shirt. Ed Cobb was part of the Atarack Corporation in a division called Greengrass Productions in Los Angeles. He was in partnership with Ray Harris. Recently I saw a PBS documentary on the British invasion. What really struck me was that once the Mersey beat had caught on, anyone with any connection to a record company rushed around looking for young new rock groups to sign. I never realized it but the same thing was happening here in the States. Harris and Cobb were fishermen trolling California musical waters for anything they could catch. They already had the Standels on their stringer, they were dangling bait at the E-Types, and they were playing us on their line. The problem with the Watchband was that when they tried to reel us in, we kept towing the boat farther out to sea. None of these groups ever met in the recording studio and rarely had the opportunity to perform together on stage. (It took us nearly 30 years to finally get on the same bill with the Standels at CAVESTOMP 99 and we had to leave for home hours before they played.)
Ed shuffled songs he'd written between groups. We never heard them ahead of time. They were introduced to us in the studio. Ed couldn't play an instrument, so he hummed and sang them to us. Some we accepted and some we rejected. Sometimes, not very gracefully. The Watchband was not crazy about "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" or "Medication". We felt those songs weren't a fit for us. Ed passed them on to the Standels who did a great job with them. I'm sure they had shots at some of the songs he gave to us too. It didn't matter. Ed had a vision of what he was going to do regardless of who the group was. But I'm getting way ahead of myself here. Let's go back a few months in time.
It was the spring of 1966. It was a very different world than what it is today.
Using the words of Tom Shachtman, "America was a monster. Our booming economy was one leg of the colossus and the other was our Military might. In the world, only the Soviets and we counted. We believed our environment and natural resources were virtually limitless. We were certain American ingenuity, technological virtuosity, and money could solve the world's problems. We believed Americans could fix anything and that nuclear missiles, the ultimate weapons of destruction, could actually keep us from having a global war. On the ladder of life, youth was expected to start at the bottom and creep upward as described by the system. In other words, the ladder of success was a long and arduous climb everybody had to make to succeed in this world. We lived in a dream of constant upward mobility. It was powered by never-ending consumption. We knew how much people above us were earning because it was reflected in the things they owned."
The Watchband lived in nuclear families in identical little patio homes in the suburbs of San Jose. The nuclear family consisted of a man and woman, married for the first and only time to each other, living together with their natural 2.4 children with a cat and dog thrown in for good measure. Single-parent families were rare and the thought of one was difficult to comprehend to our society. Mark's dad had passed away when he was 2 and his mother had never remarried. He was the exception in the group. We all went to the same schools, studied the same things, and had the same teachers our brothers and sisters had. At school we dressed up in costumes for Halloween, planted trees on Arbor Day, sent tiny little punch-out paper hearts around for Valentine's Day and had both Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays off. We obeyed most of the rules, feared discipline from our parents if we screwed up, and any young woman getting pregnant paid the penalty of either being banished to a relatives' house until delivery and adoption took place or was she ushered immediately into the wedding chapel. If it was before the sixth month, she got to wear white. There were no ifs, ands or buts about this one. Single mothers and inter-racial marriages were unheard of. FM radio was called "Underground Radio" because they played songs longer than 3 minutes in length and didn't have a lot of commercials. TV went off the air at 1 AM and came back on at 6AM. Milky Ways and Snickers cost a nickel and Cokes in green bottles were a dime with 2 cents returned on the empty bottle .... no lie!
Meanwhile, blacks in Selma, Alabama, were marching with new found strength and leadership from the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty raged on, the undeclared War in Vietnam was becoming a real war making a lot of young men suddenly very interested in going to college for the deferment. The British invasion of rock and roll had found a new challenge as psychedelic bands suddenly emerged from their suburban American garages. All across the nation, polite clean-cut teenagers were becoming unkempt, drug-induced, free-love, peacenik hippies that wanted to destroy the God fearing military-industrial complex that had been so good to them. As children, the mantra for our parents had been,"Clean your plate, there are children starving in India". Now, every teen's mantra was "Tune In, Turn On, Drop out and Don't trust anyone over 30"! Why, there was even rioting on the Sunset Strip! What was to be done? Call out the National Guard?
With all this going on, in just a few short months, the Watchband had catapulted from an unknown band to one headlining shows all over the Bay Area. WE WERE HOT! Mark had worked his ass off getting us gigs and now the phone was ringing off the hook. Promoters were calling day and night. Every weekend was booked performing somewhere.
In all the years that have passed, I would like to remember Mark's mom, Thelma, as a warm, sweet, gentle widow that loved everybody. I'd really like to but my sanity hasn't left my body yet. Thelma was a force no one wanted to mess with. She was a hurricane of nastiness that never left any survivors. Mark was her love. Sean, her knight in shining armor. I can still see him standing there in the kitchen sounding like Eddy Haskell. "So, Mrs. Cleaver, you look tired this morning. Was Ward too hard on the Beaver last night?" Bill and Gary skirted around her like bullets ricocheting off of steel. I was the odd one. I wouldn't let Thelma intimidate me. I smiled, she glared. I smirked; she shuffled off talking to herself. We gave each other lots of space.
Mark had an older brother who was a bad alcoholic. None of us had a clue what Tim did for a living. Our best guess was that he was the King of Professional Television Watchers who really took his job seriously. The family room was his kingdom. His throne was the big turd-brown leather chair that had a permanent crater in it where his butt strategically rested 24/7. He even slept in it when he was too tired to get up and go to bed. And then there were Floppy and Nappy. Imagine two giant standard black poodles standing easily three feet tall who knocked over major appliances when they wiggled excitedly through the house. Important Safety Tip: NEVER bring a girlfriend to the house for a practice session. To these two, with their drooly wet noses, crotch sniffing was a religious experience that needed to be practiced daily! One day, they nailed Bill's girlfriend from both the front and behind at the same exact moment with their nasal homing devices. Wow they had timing! Wow I've never seen a woman scream that loud and jump that high even in the Olympics! She may have been only five feet tall but I think she hit the ceiling with her head!
OK - TRUTH TIME ... I bet I got on Thelma's bad side the day Sean talked me into bringing that spider monkey into the house. Hey, how did I know spider monkeys made poodles go crazy? How did I know spider monkeys could make poodles piss all over the place? Our primate visitor had come from one of Sean's groupie girlfriends Linda M, who had given three of the guys in the group the clap in a record-breaking two days. Every one of them thought they were the only ones who had "gotten" a little from her until all three accidentally met at the free clinic. Truthfully, she was sweet and had a very 'sharing' personality. Knowing that I was interested in science, I got the call that she had trapped a small monkey inside her screened in front porch in the Saratoga foothills. Could I come and remove it? I caught it by throwing a rug over it and wrapped it up like a taco so it couldnít get away. I was late for practice so I decided to go straight to Mark's house and leave it in the car till it was over.
When I told Sean I had a monkey in my car, the spirit of compassion suddenly ran through his body like a giant helping of stewed prunes. He was certain what that monkey really needed was a banana from the Loomis' fruitbowl and a big drink of water from the sink. He named it Roger and for almost 15 seconds, it became our mascot because in it came and away it went. Did you know a spider monkey the size of a fat red squirrel can jump 15 feet across a room any time it wants to? We didn't. Did you know spider monkeys hate dogs so much they will scream and spit at them as they fly through the air? We didn't. Did you know an excited spider monkey can leap across a room and land squarely on the head of a shrieking old lady, dig its claws into her scalp and then launch itself out the front door like a rocket just as someone else comes in carrying equipment? We didn't either! Maybe that was why she just barely tolerated me. Who knows?
OK - Acid flash-forward!
Ron Roupe was our manager. We didn't find him, he found us. He was short, he was overweight, and he greased his hair back with Wildroot Creme Oil. We all secretly knew he was going to be bald by 40. He wore light gray suits and probably never owned a pair of Leviís. When he got excited, a little bead of sweat would run down his chin and just hang there jigglin' - doing nothin'. He lived at home with mom and dad and drove a big white Lincoln Continental that needed tug boats to pull it on and off Highway 17. He would drop into practice unannounced, never comment on the music we had chosen to play or how we performed it. He hardly ever showed up to any of our performances. He kept the books and paid us each a whopping $40.00 a week. AND, HE HAD CONNECTIONS!
One evening, out of the blue, Ron strolls in and tells us that on Saturday afternoon, we are to set up our equipment in the Blackford High School auditorium and some Hollywood agents are going to be there to check us out. We all look at him like he has just bent over to view the deceased and farted loudly in church. He has interrupted us at a very messy moment. Mark was demanding that we learn "Paper Back Writer" and I'm keenly pointing out that he is out of his F_ _ _N' mind! We are NOT the Beatles! We would have better luck picking up bowling balls with our butt cheeks than we would singing a three-part harmony ... Of course, Sean, the Mother Teresa of peacemakers, is siding once again with Mark. I seem to recall so many of his sentences starting with, "Now David". Meanwhile, Gary isn't saying a word. He was watching this event as if he needed the Hubble Space Telescope to catch any details. Finally Bill jumped in - the voice of reason. He suggested that we try singing and recording it on Mark's two-track REVOX reel-to-reel. The man is Albert Einstein in disguise! Twelve bars into the song and the verdict is signed, sealed AND delivered! It's a BIG TEN 4 Over and Out! The Beatles are in no danger of losing their place in history to us. For the moment, they are safe. Later, this desire of Mark's to play sweet, gentle harmonized music will kill the Watchband. That is why that moment remains so clear in my mind. As that intense glare on Mark's face comes back to my mind, I realize the seeds of our demise had just been sown.
On Saturday, Rick Guyer, our biggest fan and first Roadie, worked all morning to get us set up in the auditorium. Rick was a friend of Bill's. He was a walking hunk of muscle and brawn. He could stretch his arms around a Vox amplifier the size of a phone booth and deftly hoist it onto a stage six feet off the ground. He had short red curly hair, freckles and the kind of smile that said, don't mess with me. And, nobody did. Not even us. I arrived late to the tryouts. But, I had two good reasons. First, on my way to the audition, as I pulled around the corner towards the high school, my back tire fell off and passed me up on the sidewalk. I marveled as it bounced off a tree 20 yards in front of me. At that moment, I surmised the guy who just did my brake job probably wasn't that much into his work.
Walking into the auditorium, I was also quite aware that I looked like a dork! The afternoon before, Vicki, Mark's new girlfriend, cut everybody's hair. She called it styling, I called it murder. Yesterday I had long wild hair that made a statement. Today it's bobbed in back with straight bangs in front. I look like I belong on a can of Dutchboy paint.
When I walked in everybody else was tuned up and waiting for me on stage. Mark was talking to Sean. Bill was talking to Rick. Gary was talking to the custodian. Ron was sweating and wringing his little hands while talking to another sweating man in a suit. He was Ray Harris. Next to him was a tanned, thin man about 6'4" in height wearing a red checkered cowboy shirt with tortoise shell snaps on the pointy pocket flaps, worn stove-pipe Leviís and brown leather cowboy boots with polished silver metal on the toes. He was the only one who has noticed me come in. He walked up, stretched out his hand and said in a strong clear voice, "My name is Ed Cobb. I'm here to listen to your band. Why don't you show me what you've got?"
And I thought to myself, "I'm late. My hands are filthy from wrestling that damn tire into my trunk. The next time I see Vicki I'm going to hold her down and shave the center of her head so she looks like a monk. Just who is the Marlborough Man standing in front of me? And don't worry - you've never seen any band like us before!"