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Orange Curtain Call

17 Jan


Gonna talk a bit about music from that flank of SoCal I always tried my darnedest to avoid, but invariably ended up getting lost in: Orange County. Growing up as a kid in the South Bay, OC wasn’t nowhere except a place you’d caravan to for birthday parties – it was the home of Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Movieland Wax Museum, and the longgone Movie World. Then overnight: it was home to HC punk bands with a knack for nasty, raging tunage – SOCIAL DISTORTION, AGENT ORANGE, THE ADOLESCENTS.

While a few trips to Huntington Beach in the intervening years to see bands play did challenge my preconceived notions, those endless tract home neighborhoods and creepy conservative political groups down there continued to intimidate the hell outta me up until meeting my wife in ’95, down Irvine way. With a little help from her and a couple of longtime Buena Park residents, my eyes finally began opening to what is actually a fairly unique, richly diverse patchwork of suburban SoCal sprawl. When we left America for the UK, I found myself sorta missing OC. Well, almost.

Now I’m no expert on their music, but recently my attention has been caught by a bunch of records that were born/bred in that godforsaken county. I’ll start with the 60’s/70s, but do return at a later date to a hear a bit about ’80s OC action too. In chronological order:

1. THE HUMAN EXPRESSIONLove At Psychedelic Velocity (Collectable Records, 1994) Just rippin’ garage rock by at bunch of cavemen with Prince Valiant haircuts who sulked around mid/late 60’s Tustin and Westminster. It’s straight from Sky Saxon’s SEEDy school of 2-chord wonder, with bipolar moods teetering from raging anger to somber mournfulness and then back again, over and over. “You’re sick, and it’s wrong/ and baby it won’t be long/ til they’re readin’ your will” – yes, all you long time outsider types will no doubt be familiar with the inherent pleasure in such wallowing. Even the unreleased solo cuts that leader Jim Quarles did years later develop naturally from the early minimalism and sound strong. This kinda contrary sneer actually makes way more sense coming straight outta trackhome hell than off Sunset Blvd. A small but incredibly vital baby step in the growth of wildass, hairy rocking & rolling.

2. WILDFIRESmokin demo (self released, 1970) Laguna Beach boys who first waxed in the early 60’s surf era with Phil Pearlman as PHIL & THE FLAKES. Phil’s freaky work from the 60’s/70’s has been the focus of a number of revisitations as of late, but I prefer the groovin’, heavy motion his old bandmates made after they forged ahead on their own. By the time this demo was recorded, they were living out in Austin, TX and recording at Sonobeat Records – home to dozens of other great TX psych/blues acts at the time. I’m not sure how much of this fuzzfaced, GRAND FUNK-inspired sound was in place before they left CA, though the lyrics do have a feelgood California thing to em. I wish more modern heavy bands could express themselves with such ease – heavy don’t haveta mean dark/angry/brooding, ya know. In the end its irrelevant, since what’s been handed down to us is totally hot, blue, and righteous.

3. HARVEST FLIGHTOne Way (Destiny, 1971) Rock of The Jesus Movement stands as one of the odder musical scenes to develop in the 70’s. It was a Bizzaro-World version of the mainstream rock world, complete with IRON BUTTERFLY organ monsters (AZITIZ), DOORSish prog-blues dudes (AGAPE), and guttural, soulful JOE COCKER types (Larry Norman, Randy Matthews). Lots of these guys were listening to the very same stuff you/I love from that period, and more than a few of em had talent to spare. The better relics they left behind deserve a wider audience than they got from 1/8 page advertisements in backpages of The Hollywood Free Paper.

This LP sprung outta the very earliest OC Jesus Movement stirrings centered around Costa Mesa’s Calvary Chapel, and the main guy here, Evan Williams, was a talented gtrist and all-around musician (for a Christian). Although this is largely a solo project it incorporates an intimate familiarity with all sorts of LA rock stuff around that time – Sunset Strip STRAWBERRY ALARM CLOCK harmonies, cool DOORSian organ/gtr blues, floaty MU-like acoustic passages – yeah I’d reckon Merrell Fankhauser ain’t a bad reference point for the kind of wide-eyed musicospiritual exploration going on here. If only the lyrics weren’t so fucking intrusive in their BORN-AGAIN BONEHEADEDNESS (and believe me they are), I’d give this one a 9.5 on the psych-o-meter. Me, I try and imagine he’s singing about some little grey reticulan, since the music on this is quite fine, indeed.

4. HONKFive Summer Stories Soundtrack (Granite Records, 1972) Dennis Catron of THE MECHANICS (see below) names HONK as the best band that OC ever gave the world, and listening to their sweet soundtrack to this surf documentary tonight, I’m inclined to agree. It’s that early 70’s Cali mix of rural/country/jazz rock that most of you dread, and have fair reason to do so. A bit of later BYRDS, some Skull & Roses-era DEAD, a dollop of brassy CHICAGO, all topped with occasional group vocal harmonies that FLEETWOOD MAC would make us all despise a few years later. Yep: this should by all rights suck major dick.

But these guys (& one gal) are so musically inventive and gorgeously melodious with their hippie-as-surf rocking, all comparisons fail to do it justice. And make no mistake, they do rock, when not quietly weaving acoustic-driven instumental passages. Every cut here comes out like a great big pretty smile, every goddamn time. It reminds me of nothing so much as the beautiful pair of MORNING LPs that came out around this time, also in SoCal. Ooh Man the hills above Laguna Beach – laced as they were with copious amounts of Brotherhood of Eternal Love acid – must’ve been real nice back then. Never seen the flick in question but YouTube clips make it seem like something that might accidentally make your next Friday evening in alone. This LP certainly will.

5. THE MECHANICS – The best late 70’s band from Fullerton – hell, from the whole of SoCal! – that you never heard of. They rocked tightly wound, punk-fueled hardrock songs that belied wide-ranging influences. Yes I hear THE STOOGES and maybe some DEAD BOYS, but also BÖC and that bitchen pre-industry VAN HALEN (see their Gene Simmons demos from ’76 for proof they once had something to offer) too. THE MECHANICS ended up like something Phast Freddie woulda raved about in the pages of Back Door Man magazine, and sounded as great as LA’s THE DOGS – you know, what new wavers decried as metal, but what hardrockers slandered as punk. They somehow continued sounding amazing long after the LA hardrock scene had completely gone down the toilet – go figure.

Apparently both THE AVENGERS and THE ADOLESCENTS covered their songs, while Rikk Agnew and Mike Ness still profess deep love for em to this day. They have an incredible website maintained by gtrist Dennis Catron full of insightful and hilarious info, great photos, and tons of MP3s not only by them but equally-obscure related acts – it sets a benchmark that I wish every lost band from that time would aspire to. If you like to rock and never heard THE MECHANICS, there’s a money-back guarantee says this stuff’ll absolutely floor you.

Thanks to Rejuvesite for the photo I can relate to