UR what U Play - History Part 8

by David Aguilar

I was standing in Wax Trax Records in Denver recently when I heard this age-heavy ‘love-child’ across from me say to the young boy who was with him, “When we were young we didn’t have MTV; we had to take drugs and go to concerts!”

In the 60’s, pretty good, sorta mediocre and really bad garage bands had the opportunity to play every weekend. With the sudden spurt of community colleges springing up everywhere in California, the plethora of existing high schools and junior highs, roller rinks, dance halls, churches and bars that turned into youth clubs at night, bands of all talent levels could fill the airwaves with distorted sounds to their hearts content. Hungry to be heard, garage band performances took many forms.

For new groups that had been together less than two weeks and felt safe playing the chords C-G & F, there was a stable of old standbys they could call upon at any moment to get them through a gig. Let’s say you were booked at a Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity party at San Jose State on a Friday afternoon. First, you collected your $50.00 before you even started. If not, there was almost a 100% chance by the time you finished, the guy that was supposed to pay you would be either passed out somewhere or drunk in bed with his best friend’s girl and you would never get paid. Secondly, since it was customary for bands to drink as much free beer as everyone else, it was prudent to scope out all the sorority babes while you were still sober. This was a good thing to do in case you ended up with one of them running her hands all over your crotch after the gig and your eyes couldn’t quite bring her face or body into clear focus. When it came to performing, any band could safely fill the afternoon with these five songs: “Louie Louie” was guaranteed to be requested over and over again as the frat boys got drunker and drunker. “G-l-o-r-i-a” was certain to turn a drinking and groping party of challenged scholars into spontaneous spellers. “Hey Joe” was fodder for less adventurous yet nonetheless enthusiastic one-note guitar soloists and drummers who had the guts to launch into spontaneous five-minute drum solos. “Oh Carol” was the show stopper. Everybody was qualified to play lead on this song with the really courageous changing it to “Johnny Be Good” and then maybe, back again to “Oh Carol”. Lastly, no repertoire of five song sets was complete without some rendition of “Twist and Shout”. With these five songs, many a courageous band launched themselves into a full afternoon of music frenzy with the secret knowledge that if the need ever arose, “Louie Louie” was always there in your back pocket to play “just one more time before we go”. This is how the Mourning Reign and countless other good and bad bands got started.

On the opposite end of the scale, if someone called, or you got wind of, or just happened to be there recovering from a bad acid trip, that there was a concert in Golden Gate Park that afternoon, and you were able to locate your equipment, a different kind of show might be played. It would consist of songs put together that began and ended for no apparent reason. In other words, no gray matter was harmed in the planning of this show just in the performance of it. The only song lists that existed were in the minds of the musicians on stage who yelled back and forth to each other saying “Hey, let’s play this one”. They might even have to hum a few bars of it before everyone was on the same wavelength. Not to be deterred by unnecessary details, some bands would even start a song not only unaware what the song actually was but even what key it was in. The success of these concerts were measured in direct proportion to the amount of drugs coursing through the blood streams of the audience. You always knew this was going to be a loooong concert that was like opening up a strangers’ refrigerator at four in the morning after six big hits on Swami Bob’s Super Bong. The meal was whatever it was … dried butterscotch pudding or was it brown gravy? with 2-inch cracks running through it … three bent slices of green bologna, a tub of mashed potatoes with a lump of something tan resting on it, two limp celery sticks, one wedge of leftover pizza curled like the shoes of a court jester, and a can of Cheez Whiz with two squirts left in it. In other words, it was a stony afternoon concert in the park with Country Joe, Quicksilver or the Dead.

A third type of show was played by bands who had big followings but different approaches to the originality of their music. These were the exact wannabe bands who could really play their instruments. They specialized in copying one of the big British bands and recreating their sound exactly. There were Beatle bands who looked, dressed and played just like the Beatles. An Animals song would never sully their show! They bought the exact same guitars, had the same haircuts, wore identical striped suits and were the closest things to the real performers many folks in the audience would ever see. There were Who bands that played “Happy Jack” and “Boris The Spider” perfectly but wouldn’t smash a crappy $17.00 Melody Maker unless it was a really big show at the San Jose Civic auditorium. There were Stones bands who would never, ever play a Beatle’s or a Byrds song. If they were good enough, these bands might get picked up by a promoter for a singles recording contract. Rarely did they have the option to do an album. Never two. Invariably, one of the amazing skills these groups had was the ability to learn and play a new song by their idols the very same day it was premiered on the radio. This thrilled audiences beyond belief. Most of these bands had played together or in other bands for a long time – sometimes years. They had played surfer music, 50’s rock and roll, folk, rhythm and blues and Motown. If they were able to stop doing covers, take the time to create their own sound and start writing their own original music, they could break out and become special like Creedence and the Byrds. If not, their futures were destined to be filled with wedding receptions, barmitzvahs and singles bars for the rest of their musical careers.

Then, there was the Watchband kind of music. We shaped a show like that date everybody dreams will someday happen. It was a fantastic one-night love affair that began the moment your eyes met those of a perfect strangers’. From across the room they locked together. It started with fascination, intrigue, and exploration. Then came a little mystery, whispered intimacies, and the possibility of it all really happening here and now. Suddenly, lust began to consume both of you. Your hearts beat faster, you began to sweat, your clothes were now too confining, your bodies met, so hot to the touch. You burned for each other. Time, morals, manners, nothing mattered. You were racing to another beat. Your bodies moved in wild arcs, they leapt, they soared, they felt things they had never felt before. You were on a roller coaster that had been hijacked by a crazy person. Oxygen ripped in and out of your lungs powering all the muscles in your body. And then, both of you reached an orgasmic climax like you had never known before! Your minds exploded like the Death Star. But you had have more. Corporeal love had turned to addiction. You must have more. You stamped your feet on the ground. You slammed your hands together. You wanted “More! More! More! until you were finally satisfied. Only then could you return to your other world where red lights lasted three times longer than green ones, new cars always got scratched the first week you bought them and only teenagers and your best friends’ mom could name all the Beatles. That was the goal of every Chocolate Watchband concert. And that’s what I got to put together every time we played.

We had songs that were new – just learned that week at practice. We had old standbys that we could pull out of our hat whenever we wanted to. We had strange songs nobody had ever heard before. We had songs that would change every time we played them depending on the mood of the crowd and what state our minds were in at the moment. Sometimes two songs would suddenly find themselves married together in a relationship that had never occurred to them before. Sometimes Mark would count off one-two-three-four and start a song. Sometimes, I might start playing a riff on the harmonica right after another song had ended - challenging the others to join in. Songs for us were like huge blank tapestries to be painted on with the colors of the notes we played. Sometimes we switched instruments. On “Keep On Running”, Bill sang. Mark played bass. Sean played tambourine and I played lead guitar. On “Season of the Witch” Sean played lead, Mark rhythm, Bill drums, Gary sitar and I sang and playing bass. We mixed obscure songs from bands like the Kinks, Yardbirds, Pretty Things, Lovin’ Spoonful, Them, Bob Dylan, Donovan and strange Japanese and French releases of unheard of Stones songs, with the music of Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Chuck Berry interspersed with our own original psychedelic trippy stuff. If we played other peoples’ music, we rearranged it and reshaped it for our own moods and feelings. But always the show … Always the roller coaster feeling of sitting on the hood of an out-of-control lumber truck careening down Highway 17 heading for Scotts Valley. That was a typical Watchband show.

CWB SONG LIST FROM COCONUT GROVE – June 1967



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