The garage was filled with acrid white smoke. It didn’t smell like cannabis. It had a different odor to it, more like tree resin. It was a warm afternoon. Mark and I were on our hands and knees making giant speaker cabinets. It was time to upgrade our sound system. The smaller guitar speakers we had been using died the night before during practice and we really did need something more substantial. So, we were making them. Earlier, Mark and I had cut enough 3/4” plywood with a handsaw to make speaker enclosures about the size of two large refrigerators. Inside of each, we bolted in a giant horn, a 12” tweeter and two16” kick ass speakers. While Mark bent over the boxes soldering in the connectors, I was busy casting two big VOX logos out of fiberglass resin. I had made impressions from Sean’s VOX amplifier with plaster of Paris. Now I was re-casting a set for our homemade system. Image was everything. Our Fender stuff had just been replaced with the all-new Vox equipment Sean had talked out of Benner Music. The only thing he couldn’t get was a sound system. We covered the boxes with black naugahyde purchased from a camping store down on San Carlos Street in San Jose. It looked good. We were pretty darn proud of ourselves! After the castings had set up in the warm California sun, I spray painted them chrome silver. When that dried, I painted around them with black airplane paint and then screwed them on to the front of the boxes. To the day the Watchband broke up, nobody ever knew how we got those two giant special sound speakers from Vox. Many groups tried to order them from music stores but we never saw another set like them.
“Holy banana jamma” Bill said as he walked in that evening to practice. “All right guys!” Sean said smiling broadly. “Damn”, Gary said, “They’re bigger than Sean and me!”. We stood there admiring them as if we had just single handedly built the pyramids when Ron Roupe hustled in as if two hungry Komodo dragons were nipping at his shorts. “Hey fellas, I’ve got news for you”, he said, completely ignoring our monuments to harmonica solos. “Pack up your things – you leave for Hollywood tomorrow to make a movie!”
Pulling Ron’s chain was not just fun, it was mandatory! Without acknowledging his presence, Bill turned to Mark and said. “I think they should say ‘EXPERIMENTAL’ on them somewhere.”.And so, the words, EXPERIMENTAL were stenciled in red on the backs of those speakers making them even more mysterious to admiring musicians.
“Hey, didn’t you guys hear me,” he said impatiently. “You’re going to go make a movie in H-o-l-l-y-w-o-o-d!” He spelled it out for us so we would really get it! Bill said, “I can’t. I have to go help my grandmother move this weekend”. Sean said he was due in court for a speeding ticket. I said that I had finals and couldn’t get out of them. Mark just looked at Ron as if could read his mind. Gary said, “Cool! I can go.” We were all lying. Ron stuttered and sputtered. We laughed.
“Riot on Sunset Strip” was a gift from one of Ed’s friends. It was going to be the vehicle to star the Standels, The Watchband and another group called the Enemies. They were really nice guys but their music was so bad, we called them “The Enemas”. Two years later, with the help of our engineer, Richie Podalar, they became Three-Dog Night. Who knew?
Riot on Sunset Strip was a ripoff of an incident that had happened earlier that year. No tear gas was involved – no looting – no demands for divesture – no television sets liberated or cars burned on street corners. Two people were arrested for indecent exposure and a lot of marching and chanting took place, but it still was a riot by LA standards!
When we arrived in Hollywood late that night, we moved back into our home away from home, the Sunset Orange Motel. Next morning, after our ceremonial breakfast at the House of Pancakes, we were off to the studios. First thing right off the bat, we could not get through the gates onto the lot. Nobody had heard of us and they weren’t expecting us either! Not a good sign. Actually, there had been a small incident earlier that morning that had really set the mood for the rest of the day. It was raining in LA. .... something that happens once or twice in between major glacial periods on Earth. Actually, it wasn’t raining – it was a pouring monsoon! So of course, it was time to be creative. Sitting in the back of Ron’s big white boat, I borrowed a cigarette lighter from Sean and proceeded to light a rubber band on fire I found on the floor. “Hey Ron”, I said, “I think your brakes are burning or something. It really smells bad back here!” In the pouring rain, Ron pulled off the Hollywood Freeway and got out to check his tires. Nothing! He got back in, dripping wet, not in the best of moods and drove off. A few miles down the road, I lit it up again. “Ron, what is that smell. I think the engine is on fire! I think it’s coming from under the hood!” said Mark. Ron could smell it now too so he got out again to check. Sean locked the door behind him. Can you imagine someone standing in the shower wearing a blue and white striped seersucker suit, a golf shirt and brown leather shoes? Can you imagine someone walking around in shoes the rest of the day that went “squish, squish, squish” every time they took a step? Ok – so Ron was not in the best of moods when we arrived and could not get in!
Six phone calls later, the gates parted and we were strolling in the land of cowboys, dwarfs and princesses. We were told to report to the sound stage directly. We had no idea why.
The Standels were hot. Dirty Water was a big hit and Greengrass had decided to feature them in the Film. They would open the show and have another prominent cameo before the movie was half over. This was going to put them over the top. Oddly enough, they wern’t even there on the set when we got there. They had come in the week earlier, performed their music, and gone. Now, it was just us and the Enemas.
We sat in a small green room filled with worn out brown leather chairs and red formica tables covered with ashtrays overflowing with butts. Ron left us there for a while and then rushed back. We offered him something from the vending machine that had mysteriously opened up for us when Sean kicked it trying to get his dime back. Between bites of Little Debbie powdered donuts and cheezeits, Ron explained that we had to come up with two new original songs immediately because we were recording them in half an hour. “Well now is a fine time to tell us that!” yelled Mark at Ron – “What the hell are we supposed to do?” …. The room grew very silent. I hummed a little slow ballad, the first thing that came into my mind, and everybody immediately agreed, IT STUNK! And, in the best tradition of skunks, it did. We had come all this way burning rubber bands in the back seat of cars and consuming mass amounts of dough and grease at the IHOP, what were we going to do?
Traveling up the elevator on our way to the sound stage that Elvis used for recording all his movie songs, an idea came to me. Facing an antiquated two-track recording deck and a big empty hall, the guys set up their equipment. We took the six microphones available to us and miked each amplifier, the bass and snare drums and my vocals. We turned on the tape, I hummed a few bars and made up the words right on the spot as I sang them. BINGO! “Don’t Need Your Lovin’ Anymore” was born! Four months later – Hell, thirty years later it still steals the show! Sitting in a box somewhere in my music room is a cassette tape John Battles sent me a while back that has versions of seven different bands covering that song…Some of them, especially the Dutch group, are pretty damn good. When we played Rome, eleven people jumped up or stood up on stage with us as we closed the last encore with that song. Everybody, Craig, Rudi, Massimo, everybody wanted to sing the song with me …. It’s not “Stairway To Heaven” but it sure seems to excite a lot of garage rockers … Go figure!