Friday, April 15, 2016

Getting Nowhere Fast – book by Ray Brandes

The San Diego and Los Angeles music scenes have always been well intertwined and it seemed especially so in the late 70’s/early 80’s as bands from both cities made the drive up or down the freeway multiple times every week. It is no surprise that as the guitarist/keyboardist for one of LA’s first garage bands (the Unclaimed), I was fairly intimately involved with the cast of characters in Ray’s book. I played shows with a good number of the bands here and many slept on the floor of my trashy Hollywood apartment. So, of course, it is good fun to read Ray’s reminiscence of these times.

Even so, there are some combos that I did not know – Glory was too early for me and I don’t remember the Dinettes (although they only lasted a couple of years, so that could explain that) – but many were integral in the Los Angeles scene due to their many excursions into town. The Zeros were among the first bands I ever saw in LA – at the infamous Hong Kong Café – although I didn’t get to know those cats until much later – and their tale of being very young teenage punks is awesome. The Crawdaddies were a terrific band (or bands, as members came and went) but, as Ray admits, they were very difficult to deal with personally. They were, however, among the first bands (along with the Unclaimed in LA and others on the east coast) to perfect a 60’s look and style as well as sound – in fact, San Diego was always known for their dedication to cultivating their look exactly, as opposed to LA,, where bands were a bit more free in their adaptations.

Although I got to know the Unknowns somewhat – and was a huge fan – I didn’t know the details of their story, which is fascinating. They are given a decent-sized chapter due to all of their twists and turns and life post-Unknowns – a truly original band at a time when new was clashing and mixing with old. I never knew much about the Beat Farmers, so the band’s prequel – the All Stud All Stars (that for a time included Mark from the Unknowns, among many others) – while interesting and certain integral to the SD scene, didn’t mean a lot to me. Manual Scan, on the other hand – San Diego’s first (according to Brandes, anyway) Mod band – did play in LA often and played with the LA garage bands since the material they were mining was from a similar time. Mods generally did not care for the wilder and more untamed and unkempt garage bands, though, which did cause some friction within the factions.

The chapter on the Nashville Ramblers includes a bit of the members’ histories, and I was surprised to find that the Mystery Machine – with Rambler Carl Rusk and author Ray – only played three shows and I saw the one in LA, which certainly stuck with me, as they were excellent. The Ramblers were one of the best bands of the day – great playing, amazing harmonies and wonderful songwriting. Highly melodic pop but far from wimpy – plenty of power and dynamics involved, as well. Of course, the legendary teenage garage combo, the Gravedigger V, is given its due before the book ends with Ray’s own incredible Pretty Things-styled Tell-Tale Hearts and its own convoluted history of pre and post bands.

Thoughts and Words Press is obviously a small-run release with a few punctuation, grammatical and editing errors (I should talk!) but Ray does a terrific job of telling the story of this local scene and all-too-short time span of excellent SD music. Obviously, there is lots more that can be told about the town’s musical endeavors so hopefully this will be well-received enough for Ray to author a sequel. Essential for lovers of 80’s garage!