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, Steppenwolf, Buffalo Springfield, and locals Strawberry Alarm Clock.
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."
The Man-Dells/Other Four became the Brain Police in 1967/1968, with Rick Randle's younger brother David Randle joining on guitar, and earned a large local following with their Beatlesque harmonies and satirical lyrics. David Randle recalls "Rick and Norm were amazing at doing the Beatle type harmonies, and that was certainly a part of our style [since] they had been in the Other Four together."
The Man-Dells, the Other Four, and the Brain Police were all part of the same local scene that included groups like Framework. "Dan Orlando's band name before Framework was Linda and the Centaurs," recalls David Randle, "and I dated Linda, so we were all really pretty connected...we were playing four times per week, so the main bands I actually heard were the ones we got a chance to play with, like Framework, Glory, Marsha and the Esquires, and also the Cascades." For awhile, the Brain Police were managed by KB Artists, which also handled Framework.
Local concert promoter Carey Driscoll, who later ran the Acoustic Music San Diego concert series (aka AMSDconcerts), remembers "The Brain Police were one of my favorite local bands of the late '60s. Rick 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."
1968 full album
"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 called the Soul Patrol, with whom the repertoire expanded to include a lot of great soul and R&B stuff." The first Brain Police/Soul Patrol show was at the Shangrila in Chula Vista.
The Brain Police landed high profile gigs like opening for Jefferson Airplane, as well as for Buffalo Springfield at downtown’s Community Concourse in December 1967. "That was the last show we did with the Soul Patrol as part of the Brain Police," recalls David Randle, "and it was the last time we played much of anything other than our original songs...'Conquistador' was an amazing Procol Harum song. We didn't play a cover unless there was something we really liked about it."
It was also the Community Concourse where they opened for the Who on August 27, 1968, backed by a light show created by Liquid Spectrum. "The Who demolished part of our P.A. system," recalls David Randle.
"It was hard to hear on the stage because, back then, a good monitor system was an afterthought," he says. "But I know the Who was loud, and I do believe we were loud as well. It's so fun to imagine all the great people that were at our various shows. Musicians from other bands, friends and even strangers that I've gone through life getting to know after the fact."
They also warmed up for Eric Clapton's new supergroup. "There were two Cream shows. It was a matinee, afternoon show, then they cleared out the place and a new audience came in for an evening show. Both shows were different, because we each played a bunch of different songs than we did in the previous show."
Brain Police, Beyond the Wasteland
However, the album they recorded failed to land a major-label contract. "The original release, which was only intended to send out to record labels so that we could get a recording contract, was in a plain white jacket," recalls David Randle. "My brother Rick, who was a pretty phenomenal cartoon artist, created that album cover which was used on the re-issue. I can only imagine how good the record might have sounded if we had gone into a real L.A. or New York studio to record it."
Things within the band got rocky, with Sid Smith departing and being replaced by Nate Rubin, at least for one nearly-final show. According to David Randle, "When Sid left to tour with Roy Head, Norm decided to move to San Francisco and Rick followed him. I was the only one left."
Nate Rubin recalls "As I remember, I was on for the County Fair in El Centro, and then they rejoined for the next date in Yuma. We did all covers. Would have loved to have done some original material. We performed as a power trio."
"Yeah," says Dave Randle, "things were really in flux while Sid and Norm were deciding what they were going to do with their musical lives."
After a local show opening for Steppenwolf, who they were on a short tour with, the Brain Police split in December 1968.
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.”