Robert Bush 11 a.m., May 4
The Brain Police
Benny Bennett: Percussion | Larry Grant: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric) | Tony Johnson: Drums | Frank Mannix: Bass guitar | Rick Randle: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Keyboards, Vocals | David Randle: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric) | Norman Lombardo: Bass guitar, Vocals | Sid Smith: Drums
Sound description: Aural sunshine acid rock.
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Inception: San Diego, 1968
The Brain Police were an early psychedelic garage band who, in the late '60s, opened for many national acts, including the Who, the Byrds, Cream, Jefferson Airplane, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Steppenwolf, and Buffalo Springfield.
They essentially spun off from the group the Man-Dells, with guitarists Rick Randle and Larry Grant and bassist Norman Lombardo, who were all still in junior high when that group released its first single in 1965, "Bonnie" (with "Oh No" on the flipside). The trio also played with the Other Four.
Jan Tonnesen recalls "Norm Lombardo, bass player for the Man-Dells, and later The Other Four, played with the Avengers, the band I was in before it became the Contrasts. I also dated Bonnie to whom the title refers."
They became the Brain Police in 1968, with Rick Randle's younger brother David Randle joining on guitar, and earned a large local following.
Local concert promoter Carey Driscoll, who today runs Acoustic Music San Diego in Normal Heights, recalls "The Brain Police were one of my favorite local bands of the late '60s. Dave Randle is still around town...his brother David was in the news a lot for getting kicked out of school because of his hair length. He argued that it was necessary for his profession.
"The Brain Police had two lineups," continues Driscoll. "Their core was a five- to six-piece rock band, and for some shows they were supplemented by a black, mixed-gender group of singers -- and maybe horns, I don't recall for sure -- called the Soul Patrol, with whom the repertoire expanded to include a lot of great soul and R&B stuff."
They landed high profile gigs like opening for Buffalo Springfield at downtown’s Community Concourse, but the album they recorded failed to land a major-label contract. After a local show opening for Steppenwolf, the band split.
Original Brain Police drummer Tony Johnson later played with Hoyt Axton, Mary Wells, Commander Cody, Maria Muldaur, and others. Later drummer Sid Smith -- who had also played with the Roosters --left the Brain Police after their first single to tour with Roy Head. Rick Randle went on to join Framework, as well as backing up Rita Coolidge with Brain Police bandmate Norman Lombardo. Randle also went on to play with Bighorn, Child, and the Seattle band Randle-Rosberg, which later changed its name to Striker and put out one album in 1978.
A self-titled album recorded by the Brain Police in La Mesa in 1968 sat on a shelf for over 30 years until it was released by the U.S. reissue label Rockadelic.
Local music historian Clark Faville can be credited with rediscovering the Brain Police and getting their music in print. His interest in local music essentially began when he found a copy of the unreleased demo album. "It’s ungodly," he says. "Ten songs ranging from Beatlesque pop to the heaviness of Blue Cheer. That’s the sound I seek out from that era: guitar-based heavy rock, blues, pop, and psychedelic. Stuff from 1965 to 1973 or so.”
Faville's collection now includes rare 45s, albums, and live tapes from local groups like Sandi and the Accents (“They were huge from '63 to '66”), the Five Pound Grin (“They became Pale Fire and I have both their 45s”), and the Misfits (who opened for the Stones at Balboa Bowl in 1965), among others. He’s also helped gather material for a number of reissue recording projects. “The labels don’t pay very much, just a few records and a small fee. But I love turning up rare stuff like this.”
Among those reissues is the Brain Police album, reissued by Texas-based Rockadelic Records. “I found their guitar player and he thought it was a great idea,” Faville says before playing me the BP’s “Election For Mayor.” It reminds me of the Lemon Pipers (“Green Tambourine”) with distinctly Byrdsy guitars. Lyric sample:
“I’ll do the most in town (election for mayor),
I’ll drill the hippies down.”
"The song is about as goofy as it gets," says Faville. Rockadelic has also released music by late-'60s San Diego rockers Framework. Faville tracked down band members, obtaining unissued 45s and other material. “I ran ads looking for the bass player for three years before he finally called me. He’d been kind of a transient, moving around a lot. He only had one tape, but it was an hour long reel-to-reel concert recording. I couldn’t believe it. Perfect sound quality.”
Faville says he rarely sells anything outright. “I did trade a Brain Police record I got in San Diego to someone in France. But I’m primarily a collector.” Among his favorite memorabilia is an 8X10 photo of local band the Orfuns playing onstage in the '60s at Ozzy’s Battle of the Bands. “That was a big deal in San Diego then. It was a guitar shop and they’d have, like, 20 bands in an afternoon. What a scene that must have been, huh?”
Other labels with Brain Police records now include Shadoks Music (Germany) and the Italian label Akarma, which reissued the original demo album in 2000. A Normal/Shadoks CD reissure of the original unreleased album came with songs cut for a 1969 single and several earlier singles (1964-1966) by the Man-Dells and the Other Four, both featuring Brain Policemen Lombardo and Randle.