Walter Mencken 2:37 p.m., March 1
Undercover Chronicles 2 – I Was An Undercover Bouncer
(My staff shirts)
An estimated 1,500 people attended the 1998 edition of Live on the Bay, where I worked undercover as security. Campland’s sites were more than eighty-five percent full for the event. The only complaints I overheard were about fatigue from having “too much fun” (“I was shrooming all night and I’m burnt!”).
The music from the two performance stages flowed nearly continuously, and there were only a few technical glitches - guitar sound problems for the Steely Damned and a dead amp which delayed the appearance of the David Nelson Band. The open air grounds had plenty of toilets, lots of vegetarian food kiosks and trailers (Wok And Roll, The Burrito People), and eclectic merchandise vendors (tie-dye, sarongs, crystals, artwork).
(Pics from my first gig as hired muscle at the Campland jam-band festivals – note the Grateful Dead comic book in my back pocket. All part o’ the undercover disguise…)
I kept a journal over the weekend. Here are some excerpts: The air is tinted with an aromatic potpourri which is equal parts incense, cooked food and pot smoke. Two concrete dance floors are constantly filled with smiling, colorfully clad dancers and “spinners,” jugglers and hackey-sack players.
Many are pleased with the Travel Agents’ set on day one, though not necessarily because of the group’s performance. To the cheers of pretty much everyone, including the band, a woman from the audience tosses off her clothes and dances alongside the band. She remains the focal point of the rest of the set, but afterwards the security guards try to gently talk her into putting her clothes back on if she wants to stay on the grounds.
By day two, sunburn is prevalent. I come across only a couple of black guys. I eventually asked one if he’d noticed his pigmental singularity. “Yeah,” he said, “but I loved this music in the sixties and always will.”
“By the way, I appreciate you calling me black,” he says. This made me feel as confused as I’m sure I looked, and he quickly elaborated. “I mean, I’ve had like fifty people walk up and talk to me about ‘African-American’ music or ‘African American’ art or whatever - I never want to hear ‘African-American’ again as long as I live, man!”
“I had my throat slit on Valentine’s Day,” says A.M. Vibe vocalist Lisah of the operation that resulted from an injury sustained while working with horses. “I was leading a young horse, he jerked back really hard, and I got yanked forward and to the side. I thought I had just hurt my shoulder.”
Her doctor ordered an immediate MRI, which revealed the extent of her injury. “My C4 and C5 discs were touching each other, and I had Spinal Stenosis, which means my spinal chord was being smashed. You couldn't even see the protective canal around my spinal cord.” She was told virtually any movement, at any moment, could cause crippling damage.
“The only option was spinal fusion surgery,” she says, “but I was very concerned about my vocals. My surgeon told me they’d be cutting through or very close to a nerve that affects my vocal chords and voicebox. He couldn't guarantee that my voice would go back to normal.” While awaiting her operation, she says “I lost all the strength in my arms and hands, and trying to play guitar was brutal.”
On February 14, “They [doctors] went in through my neck to my spine. Afterwards, I found out that they discovered a piece of my crushed disc lodged in my spinal chord, which could have paralyzed me for life just from turning around or bending over. Now I have a Titanium plate in my neck…I might be the only Bionic Woman playing in San Diego!”
Though Lisah is still in physical therapy, she appeared with A.M. Vibe November 10 at Hensley’s Flying Elephant Pub in Carlsbad, and more gigs are upcoming soon. “I’ll have a scar on my neck in the front,” says Lisah. “People are gonna think I’m still wearing Frankenstein makeup from a Halloween party.”
COLLECTING LOCAL MUSIC: W/THE BRAIN POLICE
The Brain Police were an early psychedelic garage band who, in the late sixties, 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 had also played with the Other Four. They became the Brain Police in 1968, with Rick'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," says 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."
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 thirty 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.”
My own favorite BP lyric is from "Train Of Love": “You don’t know where to run, you don’t know where to hide, why don’t you ride my train of love."
"The song is about as goofy as it gets," says Faville. Rockadelic has also released music by late sixties 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 locals the Orfuns playing onstage in the sixties, 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, twenty 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.
Some excerpts from ads placed in the San Diego Music section of www.craigslist.
“Heroine addicts need not apply.” (So no Supergirl collectors)
“Need female dancers…no flukes or groupiers please.” (We’re allergic to fish)
“Must be god centered and ready and willing to spread only positive massages.” (Yeah, negative massages never have a happy ending)
“CD artwork…can provide samples on speculum.” (Said the freelance gynecologist?)
“Every day that goes by without a gig, [I] get closer to killing everyone in my neighborhood.” (Another reason to avoid living next door to a drummer)
“Looking for female dancer who sings…vocal talent not necessary. Must weigh 9 or 10 on hottie scale.” (Pounds?)
“We are revalutionery street poets none for our acapollo freestile raps.” (Turn off Showtime At The Acapollo and go buy a dictionary)
“Heavy singer looking for heavy band to make heavy music.” (What, is Meat Loaf outta work again?)
“Bing Crosby needs Bob Hope. Singing comic or funny singer needed to put together variety act…don’t be stuck up.” (Unless you're El Vez)
“Tired of playing with yourself? Let me help.” (Groupies-R-Us?)
“Metal guitarist looking to form or join group…not into Cookie Monster sounding vocals.” (So forget about me playing that Dr. Teeth reunion)
“Funeral vocalist. Fill your loved one’s farewell with heavenly music....Classical, popular, traditional. Military burials (National Anthem). At chapel, funeral home, graveside, in-home.” (Can I get that to-go?)
Like this blog? Here are some related links:
OVERHEARD IN SAN DIEGO - Several years' worth of this comic strip, which debuted in the Reader in 1996: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/overheard-san-diego/
FAMOUS FORMER NEIGHBORS - Over 100 comic strips online, with mini-bios of famous San Diegans: http://www.sandiegoreader.com/photos/galleries/famous-former-neighbors/
SAN DIEGO READER MUSIC MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/sandiegoreadermusic
JAY ALLEN SANFORD MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/jayallensanford
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