Pop Music Muse 3/25/2022: The “Meat and Potatoes” of Rock

Let’s talk about what I call the meat and potatoes of rock and roll—a style that permeated the sixties. We’ll call it garage band rock: music made by groups of band musicians who often rehearsed in their garage and often created a hit or two locally, regionally, and if lucky nationally. Instruments needed? A couple of guitars, a bass, maybe a sax, and some keyboards, usually an organ. Add to that some aggressive or unsophisticated lyrics along with a basic simple chord structure, and you have a composition that defines the youth culture from the late fifties up to about 1968. The best example is by a group known as The Kingsmen in 1963:

But there are thousands of others. Taking a nod from rocker Richie Valens, the Chicano group The Premiers premiered in 1964 with a Don and Dewey R&B classic:

Now that’s a dancing party record. Garage band rock I think started in the Pacific Northwest in 1959 with the formation of The Fabulous Wailers, along with the Portland-based Kingsmen and the Idaho-based Paul Revere and the Raiders. But it was the pre-punk group The Sonics that put Seattle/Tacoma on the map in 1965 with an energetic monster called The Witch. Lead singer Jerry Rosalie had one of the best screams around shouting over a band that wouldn’t quit. Dig the drummer:

The Witch, The Sonics (March 1965)

The Pacific Northwest wasn’t the only area cranking out garage hit records. The sound flourished heavily in San Francisco, in Los Angeles with all the surf groups, and of all places in the Midwest. Keep in mind the garage sound not only competed with the British Invasion but got a creative boost from all the UK bands as well. A fellow named Domingo (Sam) Samudio got so hyped he formed a band in Dallas and called his band Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and sold millions of this song:

  • Wooly Bully, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (April 1965)

Garage rock was also labeled frat rock because there so many bands formed in colleges across the country, including The Castaways in the Midwest. Their one and only hit was recorded and released in the summer of 1965. Written by James Donna and Denny Craswell and produced by Timothy Kehr, the song features a falsetto vocal (not that you’ll remember) provided by guitarist Robert Folschow:

One of the most popular garage rock tunes was originally recorded by The Vibrations but covered by The McCoys from Union City, Indiana. It reached number one in August of 1965, the first such record to achieve that spot. The leader was Rick Zehringer, who changed his name to Derringer and provided the 1970’s classic rock ‘n’ roll hoochie coo. The McCoys got their name from a record by The Ventures called The McCoy.

The primary years for garage rock were 1964 to 1968. A group called The Gentrys scored with their one and only hit in August 1965. The seven-piece band hailed from Memphis, and was unusual for its false fade toward the end of the song. It capitalized on the dance of the day—the jerk—and featured lead singer Larry Raspberry and a great drumming part courtesy of Larry Walls. The short song was lengthened to fit the timing of the typical pop song of the day:

The appearance and dress of garage groups were as significant as the music. Many bands had outfits like the revolutionary gear of Paul Revere and the Raiders or headdresses like Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. With the arrival of the Beatles et al, longer hair became the vogue. Couple that with a teenage rebellious attitude and you have a parent’s nightmare. One garage rock tune that addressed the issue was from a group hailing from Cape Cod called The Barbarians, who posed the question: are you a boy or are you a girl? Add to that a one-handed drummer named Moulty and a hit just had to be born:

One of the better groups of the day were The Knickerbockers from the East Coast. Their first hit, which came out in December 1965, sounded so much like The Beatles even the Fab Four thought they might have made the song. Leader Beau Charles admitted that his band desperately needed to write something that sounded like the British Invasion. The Knickerbockers more than succeeded, recording some of the track in Leon Russel’s studio in Los Angeles. The Knicks were a solid band and great in person:

  • Lies, The Knickerbockers (December 1965) 

The garage rock boom really gained momentum in 1965, and it peaked in 1966. Many fortunate groups had more than one Top 30 offering. Some bands sound like they were indeed recording in a garage, but some band members were professionals or had pro session guys backing them up. One group with a solid sound entering 1966 was from Cleveland, Ohio. They were called the Outsiders, led by guitarist Tom King. Their major hit went to number five on the charts. They also recorded four albums. Ther signature single:

Then there’s a song by a band whose members became famous the world over. It’s up to you to guess who they might be. They are from the East Bay Area, and first went by the name of The Blue Velvets. They changed their name in early 1966 to The Golliwogs. Judging by their delivery, it’s hard to tell what group they would turn out to be because they sound pretty much like every other rock ‘n’ roll band back then. Can you tell who they are?

When everybody first heard The Standells, everyone thought they were from Boston, but they weren’t. They were Los Angeles all the way, even though their first single referred to Boston being their home town. Some rock fans think The Standells were THE punk band of the sixties, inspiring such groups as The Sex Pistols and The Ramones. The Standells were produced by Ed Cobb, formerly of the Four Preps. Another band member was Dick Dodd, a former Disney Mouseketeer:

One group born in the same area as The Standells was The Leaves from the San Fernando Valley. I first heard them in 1965 when they sang Too Many People Are Trying to Change Me. But their claim to fame was a revved up version of a folk standard. It’s known as the earliest release of this song. The group took over The Byrds’ spot at Ciro’s on Sunset Strip, and was heard by actor Pat Boone (of all people) who got them a record contract with the Mira label. Two members went on to join The Turtles:

Another band from the Bay Area, and just one of many from San Jose, was Syndicate of Sound. They waxed a rude and raw sound, and were forerunners in the psychedelic rock genre. Their biggest hit was their first, and it reached the national charts in June of 1966. They followed that up with a tune called Rumors. Keep in mind, at this time The Beatles had produced Revolver, The Beach Boys Pet Sounds, and Tina Turner River Deep.

Syndicate of Sound was just one of hundreds of garage bands from the San Francisco bay area. The Airplane, the Dead, and the Quicksilver Messenger Service were the more prominent ones. But few here (or anywhere else for that matter) featured women. One female that does come to mind is a gal named Jan Errico Ashton, who drummed and sang for a group produced by Sly Stewart (Stone) called Vejtables. She left that group and joined up with another city group called Mojo Men, which had a hit in ’67 with Steve Still’s tune Sit Down I Think I Love You. As a Vejtable, Jan sang this:

My personal favorite from 1966 is from a group out of Austin, Texas known as The 13th Floor Elevators, featuring Roky Erickson on guitar and vocals. The band might have gone further than this Number 55 joyride, but the band was undone by drug problems and a host of legal issues. They were considered a jug band—listen for this unusual instrument:

Perhaps one of the first garage rock bands associated with what would become punk rock was a band called ? and the Mysterians, led by vocalist Rudy Martinez who was “?.” This song was primarily propelled by an electric organ and Rudy’s raw vocals. It was so popular it reached well beyond the Saginaw, Michigan area where the group originated. It was Number One nationwide.

  • 96 Tears, ? and the Mysterians (September 1966)

Another garage rock standard was recorded by another group from San Jose called Count Five. It may have been a one hit wonder, but what a track. Reaching Number Five, it was one of the better rave up tunes of that time—meaning the music would speed up in certain sections of the song. Count Five wasn’t very sophisticated, and somewhat amateurish and raw, but they were sure played a lot on the AM dial:

Another favorite of mine is a song released by a group from Los Angeles known as The Music Machine, with Sean Bonniwell as the leader. This band employed some unique musical techniques, and they got their money’s worth out of their drummer. This song was one of the rougher and rebellious cuts of music for the time, and the group is considered to be one of the groundbreaking acts of that decade. Music Machine also went beyond the bounds of the typical garage band format.

The L.A. scene saw many different garage band maestros, including a group known as The Seeds, who had this relentless hit. The lead vocalist was one you couldn’t forget, and I tried. His name was Sky Saxon. There were four members making up The Seeds, and they had a follow-up called I Can’t Seem To Make You Mine. What’s amazing about this band is that they had almost 25 past members in time frames from 1965 to 1969 and 2003 to 2009.

One of the more psychedelic-sounding garage rock bands (though calculated) was The Electric Prunes, also from L.A. Their big hit tells the story…I had Too Much To Dream Last Night. And their instrumentation added to this sound. The group used a lot of fuzz tone in their guitar work. They sounded a little too slick for me. But many fans liked their free form style.

Moving on to 1967, the biggest garage rock hit that year no doubt was a song by a group calling itself Strawberry Alarm Clock. The large band was known as Thee Sixpence before they hit in the fall. The group was produced by the same guy who produced The Rays and Freddie Cannon. Frank Slay didn’t like songwriter John Carter’s singing, so he borrowed a 16-year-old neighbor from another band, Greg Munford, to track the song:

One of the more versatile bands with a flair for the garage sound was a group from L.A. called Love, led by guitarist Arthur Lee. Their music ranged from garage rock to folk rock to psychedelic rock in musical styles including blues, flamenco, and jazz. Love was also the most racially diverse bands at the time. Their first hit was My Little Red Book from the movie What’s New Pussycat, but it was the following song that put them on the map with help from their third album, Forever Changes (a classic):

What killed garage band rock? More progressive and sophisticated music. The rise of FM radio. The decline of singles and AM radio. The rise of albums. Musical genres like bubblegum and psychedelia.