Sweet Young Thing - History Part 6
The Watchband was an incredibly inventive, very raw, and guttural group. They would tell you to your face - We don't like it, too bad. We won't play it. And they meant every word of it. The Watchband had a different groove than the Standels. The Watchband was sloppy with intensity - yet it all held together. They were extreme. All the beats fell away from each other yet the whole overall beat fell together as one. They truly were a magical band. - Ed Cobb
Ed had a song in his head he just had to get out. It was called "Sweet Young Thing". About a week before it had suddenly come to him in the middle of the night. He told us how he sat upright in bed with it running through his mind. For the next week he anguished over it. The Standels, his first signed group, needed something big to follow up "Dirty Water". Ed knew with their last success, this could be their next big hit. But, he also knew in his heart, it belonged to the Watchband. This was our kind of song. It had attitude and snarl written all over it. Ed Cobb never played an instrument in front of us. If he did play one, we never knew it. He taught us his songs by humming them and clapping his hands to the melody. The opening riff that Mark starts in SWT was hummed to him. The little vibrato run that Sean plays was hummed next. Once they started playing, Gary and Bill joined in. Little by little, bits of the melody were added. Even though Ed was a great singer, he never sang the parts to me. I had all the leeway in the world to make up my own vocals. The lyrics were there but the singing lines were not.
Here is how the recording sessions worked. We never knew how many songs we would record when we started. We didn't know what all the songs would be. We had a few of our own that we brought with us but all of Ed's choices were kept in his head until it was time to record them. One by one, all the instrumental parts of the songs were put down on tape. All percussion, harmonica and vocals came on the very last day of recording when the other guys were already gone either back home or off to party in Tijuana. I stayed behind and sang. During this first session, as I sat smoking Benson & Hedges and Half & Halfs, I watched the whole process unfold in front of me. This came in handy when I got a chance, months later, to record and mix the two songs for the movie "Riot on Sunset Strip".
From "Sweet Young Thing", which took almost a day and a half to record, we started in on one of our old show standbys, "Milk Cow Blues". That evening, recording was cut short because we had a party to play. It was on the Queen Mary docked at the Santa Monica pier. The party was thrown by one of the movie studios that were friends of the Atarack Corporation. We were not amused. On board were all these rich old fat bald guys wearing Beatle wigs partying with all these soon to be hooker starlets. Nobody paid any attention to us - we were like furniture. So, of course, we immediately got into trouble. Mark put half a dozen tabs of acid in the punchbowl. THAT lightened things up a bit. I decided that what our rental van really needed was to be redecorated with all the trophies, dishes and artwork that were inside the boat ... the sooner the better. We even snuck out the 5-foot long replica of the QM and were duct taping it to the front of our hood when Ron Roupe caught us. What a dork! He made us put it all back! That night, for the first time, all of us knew what it was like to be on the outside looking in. Except, of course, Sean. He went home with one of the starlets and didn't show back up at the Sunset Orange till the next day driving her mom's new convertible. Seems her father was a movie star that had starred in a TV series about a doctor who had gone to prison and escaped and was now hunting for a one-armed man who had really murdered his wife. I can't tell you, for legal reasons, his name was David Jansen, so I won't.
Next day, we layed down the tracks for "Let's Talk About Girls" and "Medication". That evening, sitting on the end of Sean's bed in the Sunset Orange Motel, I hummed a song to him. It had been running through my head all day while the rest of the guys were busy recording. It was the first song I had ever written. I heard a distinct Bo Diddley beat to it ... I heard harmonica, and I heard the words "Time has gone and passed us by, You are here but where am I?" Sean sat there and played it on an acoustic guitar over and over for me until I felt it was finished. The next day was the wrap up day to do all my vocals. But, I had this song I felt we must put down on tape. So, the guys stayed an extra three hours that bit severely into their fiesta time, and we recorded it. When we were finished with it, something was still missing. It needed a sitar. As we talked about it, Mark and Sean disappeared out the front studio door. Twenty minutes later they returned with big grins on their faces and the biggest, most beautiful bad-ass red sitar any of us had ever seen. They had spotted it down the block the night before in a little music store on a dinner break. Necessity - the mother of invention - all it had taken was Richie Podalar's motorcycle, the same one heard on "Blues Theme". He was in love with that thing. There was more polished chrome on that thing than all the bumpers of every car produced at General Motors that year. Quietly wheeling it out the front door of the recording studio, they had traded it for the sitar! Mark sat down with it, crossed his legs and began to play it. He had never touched one before in his life. The studio lights were turned off. Mark took a big hit off a joint the size of a zuccini. A red spot light was placed on him making him glow like he worked with Homer Simpson. The tape tracks were reset and punched in to record. Mark played whatever came in to his head from another dimension. One take and it was done. It was only then, through waves of laughter, that Sean and Mark told Richie what they had done.
Like two bad boys caught fighting on the playground, Richie marched Sean and Mark down to the music store, made them apologize and get his bike back. The music store owner could have been David Crosby's dad. He had a long gray pony tail with a bald spot in the middle of his head. He was bigger around than he was tall. He didn't want to give the bike back. He knew what a good deal he had struck and wasn't about to give in. Adding insult to injury, he was also pissed off at Sean who was now flirting openly with his teenage daughter who was working there in the store. All arguments ended when Richie went over, picked up the phone, and started to call the police. The Universe was once again put back into order. Richie got his bike, the store owner got his sitar back, and that night, Sean got his daughter in his bed back at the Sunset Orange Motel. The consequences of all this commotion was that, I never got to finish the vocals on "Talk About Girls" - only a first take scratch vocal was recorded and I never got to even try a cut of "Medication". This recording session was officially over. The next day, we were back in the Bay Area, playing a weekend of shows at the Coconut Grove.
For the next two months, we didn't take a moment to think about those sessions. We were up to the top of our heads playing shows. From the Continental we went to the Battle of the Bands sponsored by a local music store, Sherman & Clay. I loved battle of the bands. It brought out the best and the worst bands all together in the same room. Going into a battle of the bands you either felt like a gladiator or you felt like a Christian about to be eaten by the lions. The year before, the Syndicate of Sound had swept the competition and now they were off to bigger and better things. This year, we knew who was going to win before we ever stepped into that hot auditorium. The Chocolate Watchband could not be stopped. Three songs were all you got for the preliminaries. Then, after some thirty to forty other groups had been brutally eliminated throughout the day, that evening, the best five returned and waged final war against each other. There were some great groups there. The Mourning Reign, my old group that had reorganized after I left, had learned many new chords and they were rocking. The Otherside was there and they were smoking! The E-Types from Salinas, also signed on the Greengrass label, were there ready to go. Every group had its fan club - a bevy of screaming girls just waiting for the chance to shatter every crystal glass with within a ten mile radius of the auditorium.
Three days earlier, we had gone to a costume shop and rented Sergeant Pepper looking uniforms. CHEAP SHOT? Maybe. But it also seemed to demoralize a couple of the groups. A Battle of the Bands is as much psychological as it is talent. Why else would anyone wear sunglasses to run the 100 yard dash indoors at the Olympics?
Nobody ever wanted to be the first to go on. The judges won't remember you. Some groups, like great athletes, step up to the opportunity and soar. Others are overwhelmed by it and dismount landing on their heads. We really did draw straws and came out number five. YES! We had no set play list for this last go around. The band trusted it would come to me intuitively. It always did. As we watched the other groups perform, I went back stage and let my mind wander. Where DID we want to go tonight? I felt like I was in the movie Matrix picking out all my weapons before the final battle. This is what I came up with. This is what we played.
Mark walked out all alone with his bonde Telecaster, hit a note, bent down and let flow like a Siren's song from a distant island. . Sean followed out with his new 12 string Blonde Rickenbacker and Bill with his white Vox Teardrop bass, plugged in and started to play the opening chimes to "Baby Blue". Out of the dark, I appeared at the spotlighted microphone, all dressed in black and started singing "The highway is for gamblers better use your sense ... take what you have gathered from coincidence.." Every group before us had come out and blazed through three pounding songs ... we came out with a ballad that soared like an eagle. The room held its breath. I could see it in the eyes of the audience. They were entranced. The sheer beauty of the song gave them chills running up and down their spines. The chiming sounds of the 12 string, running up and down the chord notes, was other worldly.
With the last notes chiming on the 12 string .... Mark put down the Telecaster and picked up his red Stratocaster hitting the opening riff to "I'm a Man". Sean picked up his Teardrop Brian Jones Vox and we are off to the races leading right into our anthem, "I'm Not Like Everybody Else". By this time, the crowd was singing with us. I slammed the microphone stand down so hard I broke it ... Two guys from the audience leaped up on the stage and started singing the chorus with me. Rick Guyer moved in from the left side of the stage for the kill but I knew these guys. I went to Campbell High with them. They were so caught up in the music they had to have a part of it. What they felt, everybody in the audience felt it too. And that night, we walked away the winners. To this day I can still hear that crowd roaring. It was one of the happiest moments of the Watchband. Mark's dream, our dreams were all beginning to come true.