Ken Leighton 9 a.m., March 24
Sid Smith: Drums | Jack Pinney: Keyboards | Jerry Raney: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Vocals | Richard "Dick" Purchase: Bass guitar, Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric), Keyboards, Trumpet | Joe Gonzalez: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric) | Bobby Hijer: Guitar (acoustic), Guitar (electric)
RIYL: Brain Police, the Gants, Iron Butterfly, the Jacks, Powerthud
Inception: San Diego, 1965
Influences: Cream, Robert Johnson, the Yardbirds, the Beatles, the Dave Clark 5
Despite releasing a single and scoring a regional hit through then fledgling A&M Records, the Roosters are best known for having Sid Smith (Brain Police, Roy Head); Jack Pinney (Iron Butterfly, the Jacks, the Shames); and Jerry Raney (Powerthud, the Beat Farmers) as members.
The Roosters were the house band for the Cinnamon Cinder, San Diego's premier teenage nightclub in the '60s, an entertainment center with a no-liquor policy and no age restriction. Located in La Mesa, the building would show up later in local music history as Straitahead Sound recording studio. The club's band was led by Richard "Dick" Purchase, a multi-instrumentalist accomplished in trumpet, bass, guitar, and keyboards; the rest of the first line-up consisted of drummer Sid Smith and guitarists Joe Gonzalez and Bobby Hijer.
At the club, the band played four nights a week, four sets a night, and sometimes even backed visiting guest artists. Known for their cover versions of the day's top 40 tunes, the group built up a substantial following among local teens, attracting the attention of A&M Records. Despite decent sales in Southern California, the relationship didn't last past what would be their only release, sung by drummer Smith, "Shake a Tail Feather/Rooster Walk" (A&M 746).
In 1967, Smith was feeling limited by the band's cover song sets and departed to join the Brain Police; Jack Pinney took his place. When Gonzalez and Hijer also quit the band, Pinney convinced Purchase to bring aboard Jerry Raney, then playing with Dark Ages.
Initially, Raney was happy with the steady work. "That was four nights a week, so it's not like you'd need to play any place else, and you got paid well. I don't remember what it was, but it was good money."
Having to wear club-approved gear was definitely a minus. "I got to the point where I wouldn't wear the uniform anymore," explains Raney. "I felt like a goof up there wearing it. Plus, I was playing too psychedelic for them. I had, like, three fuzztones hooked together." The memory evokes a chuckle from Raney. "I could never tell if I had them all on or off at the same time."
Managers also kept a tight rein on the band's playlist. "I think the club even demanded that you play the top ten songs in the top 40 or something like that, and I was too much of a rebel for them. Although it was mainly really recognizable songs, we played some pretty strange stuff like 'Crystal Ship' by the Doors, and we actually did 'Sgt. Pepper' and 'A Day in the Life,'" he muses.
Raney remembers the occasions he played with visiting acts as his favorite while in the Roosters. "If there was a guest in town we'd play a couple of sets and then back them up," he recalls. "The greatest thing about being in that band was meeting all these people that were coming around and being on stage with the likes of the Drifters, the Coasters, and the Shirelles. And screwing up their songs.
"I never practiced for any of that stuff," he says with laughter. "I just went up there and winged it." Much of the time, contact between performers was minimal. "Most of them came up and just did their sound check, and at least one of them would walk up and ask 'Where's the nearest liquor store?' I think the biggest problem was with the Shirelles. A couple of them were just really bitching at each other."
Sharing a bill with the Buffalo Springfield, Raney also got to catch some of that band's infamous inter-band friction up close. "Steve Stills was beating up Neil Young in the parking lot," he remembers. "They were arguing and Steve Stills was being a hard ass." Raney almost got involved. "I was about to get him [Stills] myself," he laughs. "Because he was beating Neil Young."
Despite being a big part of Cinnamon Cinder's success and serving as their resident band for most of the decade, the club let them go. "Basically, we got fired because of me," laughs Raney. "The Roosters were the type of band who, you know, wore uniforms, did steps, and were like a regular nice little house band that did whatever the club wanted you to do."
The end of the Roosters came soon afterward.
-- Written by Bart Mendoza for San Diego Troubadour, used with permission)