Randy Fontaine and the Swingers celebrate their 20th anniversary this year, but the ultra-lounge combo’s venues keep disappearing.
“It seems like we have the anti-Midas touch,” says Fontaine. “It’s happened, like, four times to us: we get booked into a club/restaurant that suits us and our tastes, and within months we get word that it’s being sold for redevelopment.”
The band’s appearance a couple of weeks ago at the Flying Bridge will likely be their last; according to a restaurant manager, the Oceanside landmark will be closing, but an exact date has not been set.
“The Flying Bridge was first opened in the ’50s,” according to the website, “when Highway 101 was the only coastal route between L.A. and San Diego [before I-5 was built].”
Flying Bridge lore holds that John Wayne, Betty Grable, Sean Connery, and Richard Nixon dined there; country artist Barbara Mandrell is said to have sung at the piano bar. If plans are accepted by the City of Oceanside, the red Naugahyde booths and vintage bar will disappear to make way for a 127-room Hyatt hotel, according to a May 2007 article in the North County Times.
Another favorite Swingers haunt was the Hanalei Hotel in Mission Valley.
“They would actually bring you a drink in a flaming volcano bowl.… That went away in the mid-’90s.”
Fontaine says he and the other Swingers – Marvell Washington, Cal Cutta, Don Quayle, Tommy Ajax, Guy Bruce, and Nick Bowelini – had their first gigs at the long-defunct Mandarin Coast in Solana Beach.
“That’s where Randy honed his craft,” says Fontaine. “It was decorated to look like a Shanghai port, with all these stenciled crates. They served blue Hawaiians, scorpions, and zombies.… When we saw a huge rat run down a rope, we knew we were in the right spot.”
The Swingers started as a campy, kitschy side project for Del Mar punk rockers, a goof on a Steve Lawrence—style lounge act. Nowadays, show tunes, bossa nova beats, and jazz standards fill out their repertoire.
Randy Fontaine and the Swingers appear October 19 at the Belly Up Tavern.
– Ken Leighton