It's ALIVE! - HISTORY BY DAVID AGUILAR
"They had rebellious attitudes. They insisted on doing things their way. Their music was like white balls of heat lighting the hearts of millions of kids around the world. They were not Gods. However, the popularity of their music remains undiminished. It continues to grow. Their legends and musical legacies live on." - Richie Unterberger, 'Unknown Legends of Rock & Roll'
In the mid-1960's, something new emerged from the garages of America. It was rough, primal and sizzling with energy that reflected the mindset of the most affluent generation to appear on the face of the Earth. It's been described as an irresistible mixture of electric-folk rock, Far East vibrations, mind-blowing surfing guitar solos and anti-establishment rebellion that espoused free love. It employed terse lyrics and a curious mixture of new sounds that became the foundation, in years to come, for punk, grunge and alternative rock. It exuded raw sensuality, love and anger for injustice, as well as unlimited hope for the future. It literally shaped and defined a new generation. It was the first musical language of the young Boomers and it was called "GARAGE ROCK."
To paraphrase Bill Inglot, rock critic: It was a time when amplifier feedback was your friend. Guitar solos were recorded in exactly the same amount of time it took to play them. Anybody with two weeks of music lessons was ready to play in a band. Tape recorders had moving parts. It was a time when nobody cared about image, pornographic shock lyrics, trendy remixers, branding, wardrobe stylists or choreographers. It was a time when all that a band cared about was their music...
Much has been written about us, the Chocolate Watchband. All of it has been from the actions of dedicated interviewers like Alec Palao, Mike McDowell, Richie Unterberger, Mike Stax, Jud Cost, Steven Hagar and John Battles. At times, when I read some of these stories, I smile recalling the great memories. At other times, I laugh reading about our lunacies. What is the mystique about our music that still lives on? Why do I still get phone calls from admiring 16 year olds in Dayton, Ohio, that have tracked me down? Why do college radio stations still blast us out over their airwaves? Why do some of our original albums sell for $1,000 in used vinyl stores? Why now, after all these years, are we back on the road touring and recording? Because I believe our music still speaks to the souls of every person who has ever loved riding the raw edge of rock and roll. I can't put in to words how amazing it is to have an entire audience sing the words to every one of your songs while you are performing them on stage.
The Watchband was a dream that came true for five young guys living in San Jose, California at the time when a stupid war was killing and maiming the best of our generation. It was a time when the pill suddenly appeared making free love not only possible but a right of passage. There were drugs floating around that could take you to other worlds or places of no return. And, there was a belief that it was possible for a young person to accomplish anything they wanted to do in this world. All they had to do was roll up their sleeves and begin.
There were three Watchbands, each one as distinctly different as microwaves to cement trucks. The longest lived and the one everybody recognizes from the albums and movies, was Mark Loomis (18) on lead guitar and keyboards, Gary Andrijasevich (16) on drums, Sean Tolby (22) on rhythm guitar, Bill 'Flo' Flores (18) on bass and Dave Aguilar (17) lead vocals and harmonica. This Watchband always did everything in twos. They had CONFIDENCE and FIRE. They made two movies, recorded two albums, released two singles, hauled women up, two at a time, into their second story hotel rooms with knotted-up bedsheets, ordered two separate dinners when they ate out, played two encores at the end of a show and came together and blew apart in two years.
Mark Loomis put this group together. One Sunday afternoon, I was playing with The Mourning Reign at a club in Sunnyvale called The Brass Rail. It was crowded with hundreds of hot and sweaty kids all crunched up as close to the stage as they could possibly get. Guys with serious looks on their faces moved their fingers with every lick the guitarists played. Girls with dreamy smiles swayed with every move the lead singers made. Really intense guys snapped their heads back and forth in rhythm with every beat the drummers made. Life was good on planet Earth!
The first combination of the CWB had just broken up with the majority of the members forming a new group called The Other Side. In fact, they were getting ready to play for the first time that Sunday afternoon on the stage right across from me. They were precise, inspired, good musicians. They had a mission to do covers of songs by a new band called The Who. Meanwhile, my group, the Mourning Reign, together for almost two months now, wallowing in something by Chuck Berry, stunk. Earlier that month, in the middle of a performance at West Valley College, our lead guitarist on his $35 Melody Maker had launched most of his fingers into what he loosely termed a 'lead break', when somebody mercifully came up from the audience and yanked the main power plug on our amplifiers. It was the only applause any our performances ever garnered. I had fallen into this group when our old lead guitarist/singer, borrowing my green Gretch guitar, disappeared one night in the middle of a performance. He went to the bathroom and never came back. My guitar didn't either. I was really in this band because, well, I had a guitar. I sang back-up vocals to Byrd's songs, played tambourine and harmonica. At that moment in time, I became the lead singer. I didn't know any better.
That afternoon, as I moved around the stage at the Brass Rail with a tambourine in one hand and a microphone in the other, I saw two guys with long blond hair, Sean Tolby and Mark Loomis in the front row of the audience watching me. I didn't think much of it. There was always other band members hanging around checking out the competition. Later that evening, while I was struggling with chemistry homework in my bedroom, my Dad called up the stairs and said there was someone on the phone for me. It was Mark Loomis. He said he was forming a new band called the 'Chocolate Watchband'. Was I interested in joining it? It took almost a nanosecond to decide. "Hell Yes!" "Good" he said. "We meet next Thursday night at 6 PM at my house. Here's my address. " That was all we said to each other. When I drove up four days later, drums and cymbals were being thrown out the front door onto the lawn. I could hear yelling going on inside the house and a woman wailing in her high pitched voice. Out came the last remnant of the old Watchband, a drummer cursing and flipping off some invisible entity inside the house. I was thinking, wow this is one hell of a reception! When I got inside, everything was peaceful. Mark had a broad smile on his face. He was standing in front of his mother whose face was redder than a ripe tomato. All he said to me was, "Well, that's done. Let me show you where we're going to practice."
He led me past the kitchen, through the family room and out into the garage. In those days, the garage was where all good and bad bands ended up. Sometimes we had to share the space with gas leaking oil spilling lawnmowers, beat to shit permanently paralyzed cars, smelly flea hotel dog beds, overflowing garbage cans, cardboard boxes stuffed with old National Geographics stacked six feet high and messy workbenches with broken TV sets precariously perched on top of them where Ann Calvello and Georgie "Run Run" Jones jammed on roller derby every Saturday afternoon. Before you could play, you had to move things around, set up your equipment and then tear it down again when you were done. If you left it behind, a neighbor kid might try to chop firewood with your Telecaster. And, you always seemed to attract every pre-pubescent female living within fifteen miles of the house. I'm convinced that just before practice sessions, 60's rock bands secreted pheromones detectable from outer space by the underage female species of Homo erectus. But basically, we didn't care. We were in our element. This was Gods' country!
I remember once, with guitars chords ricocheting off bare stud walls in a garage filled with marijuana smoke thicker than a July fog coming through the Golden Gate, we saw a flash of light from a badge in the window of the back door. When the door suddenly flew open, there stood a blue uniformed police officer. Before we could say "Oh Shit!" he took a deep breath and holding it in, said in a whispered voice, "could you turn the bass down a little guys? Somebody two blocks over complained that they couldn't hear their TV set". Then he exhaled and took in another big deep breath, held it and said, "Good song. Try a drum solo in the middle." Then, he closed the door and disappeared. It was a scene right out of a Cowen brother's movie.
Mark's garage was awesome. No cars, no crap, just a garage with soundproof walls, carpet remnants on the cement floor and two little neighbor girls ages 11 and 12 with pimples on their chins sitting in lawn chairs with wide grins on their faces. It was time to rock and roll!
Everybody knew everybody else there except for me. I was the last critical element to be added. Mark had the vision, the garage, the gigs and Buddy Holly glasses. Bill had the big grin and the warm friendly handshake and lots of leather clothes. Gary had short hair, a shy smile and the talent at 16 of a 40-year-old professional studio drummer. Sean, well how do you describe him? He was the oldest. He had been in the Marines. He had the deadly good looks, blond hair and charisma of Brad Pitt. He could charm a charitable contribution out of a Republican. He was the type of guy that when we pulled up to an intersection in Hollywood, he'd lean out the window and strike up a conversation with the two babes in a convertible next to us. By the next light, he was sitting in their backseat. Next morning, he'd return to the Sunset Orange Motel driving a hot new car telling us he went home with one of the girls and spent the night servicing both her and her mother. This was her mother's car. She'd also loaned him $50. And equipment? Sean walked into Sherman & Clay music one day and when he came out thirty minutes later the band had new VOX amplifiers the size of the Great Wall of China, 7 new guitars and cases of drumsticks and a years supply of harmonicas. He convinced the owner that we were a band visiting from England and that it was a good idea to back us. He kept them going for almost six months. Then, they sold the amps to us dirt cheap because they were used! And me, I just had plenty of ATTITUDE and the desire to blow everyone else off stage.
That night in the garage, we sat in a circle and talked about music. What we liked, what we wanted to play. We set up our equipment around nine and proceeded to jam a little song by the Kinks called 'Bald Headed Woman'. It started out as a slow sort of bluesy thing that suddenly stopped: took a deep breath, and then took off like a pro-life bomber who'd just lit a short fuse. We played it maybe twice, just to see how we all sounded together. Gary had to go home and do his algebra homework. We agreed to meet on Saturday morning and drive up the City to take some photographs of the new group.
Saturday, we ended up in North Beach, ogling at posters of Carol Doda. Somewhere out there exists a picture of Sean nestled between two cardboard tits each about the size of an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. As we walked down the sidewalk together talking excitedly about our future, we heard music coming from a bar up ahead. Naturally, we were sucked in like a fat lady into a chocolate factory. Yikes! It was full of women! Performing on stage were five guys, all with perfect Beatle haircuts, perfect matching Beatle suits playing perfect covers of Beatle songs. We hung back at the bar, listening to all the praise coming from the admiring throngs of young women. We looked at each other and did our best to contain our smiles. Finally, I raised an eyebrow and whispered, "Let's do it". Everyone nodded a yes. When the group broke for their well-earned break, Mark approached the lead guitarist and told him that we were a new group. We had been together only one day. Did they mind if we borrowed their instruments and played a song? He looked us over like we had dog shit on our shoes. Their lead singer laughed. Of course they didn't mind. They had business to take care of with their fans.
We walked up on the stage. Mark re-tuned his borrowed guitar and created a sound on the amp I don't think the owner ever knew it could make. Gary thumped the bass drum a couple of times turned his drumsticks around backwards for a bigger sound. Bill rubbed the strings of the bass down with his handkerchief and started singing "It's All Over Now". . . Sean grinned at two infatuated girls suddenly glued to the floor in front of him. I just smiled back at the five finely dressed guys smirking at us at the bar as I pulled a harmonica out of my pocket. I walked up to the microphone and said, "I think this is a song we just learned." Mark hit a chord and bent down to sustain the feedback from the amp. He shook his guitar up and down so the note wobbled in space like a crippled Vogan starship. I started singing. "I don't want no bald headed woman, gonna make me mean, gonna make me mean...I don't want no bald headed woman, gonna make me mean Oh Lord, gonna make me mean." Mark came in with a soaring riff ... two more verses together and then we stopped. Every eye in the room was on us. Five sets were pissed and glaring. You could have heard a paper napkin hit the floor. And then, BAM! Gary hit it! All together blasting' and rock'n! We killed them! As the last chords rang out, we put down the instruments. Without saying a word, we stepped off the stage and walked out of the bar. We had arrived. We were the new force to be dealt with. We were The Chocolate Watchband.