Originally known as the Prophets, the Hard Times was a slightly psychedelic 1960s folk rock band named after a blues song by Josh White. Their music was heavily influenced by acts like Bob Dylan, Buffalo Springfield, and especially the Byrds (whose manager/producer Jim Dickson would produce them), although they never seemed to settle on one consistent sound.
They especially found themselves out in left field with offbeat covers of tunes by artists as diverse as Donovan, Al Kooper, Allen Toussaint, and even Fred Neil's "Candy Man." The use of session players on some (but not all) of their records further diluted their ability to develop a distinct and recognizable sound, but that didn't keep them from reaching at least the precipice of success.
The group originally featured singer Rudy Romero, singer-guitarist-percussionist and avid surfer Lee Kiefer (misspelled Keifer in the liner notes of their debut album), lead guitarist Bill Richardson, bassist Bob Morris, and drummer Paul Wheatbread. Wheatbread was a student at Clairemont High while drumming with a rhythm-and-blues band called the Ravens, fronted by a singer named Gary Puckett. Romero was already playing in a group called Rudy and the Rolans in 1964, when he was among the first graduates of then-new Madison High. Even after Romero formed Hard Times with Wheatbread and both had graduated high school, they continued to occasionally play at Madison High and Clairemont High, including at dances and football games.
While working with Los Angeles manager Florence Stanley, the Hard Times were booked at a Sunset Strip club called the Sea Witch, where they were spotted by Dick Clark. At the time, Clark was hosting an L.A. TV show called Where the Action Is, which aired five days a week on ABC-TV from 1965 to 1967. He booked the Hard Times to appear on the show, where they performed on several episodes alongside acts like Paul Revere & the Raiders, Herman's Hermits, and the Dave Clark 5. For a time, they were the house band at the Whisky A Go-Go, where they opened for everyone from the Doors to Spirit, the Byrds, and Buffalo Springfield.
After being seen playing the Whiskey by an impressed talent scout, the band was signed to World Pacific Records (a division of Liberty Records) in 1966. They released three singles that year: "They'll Be A Time" b/w "You're Bound To Cry," a cover of Bob Lind's "Come to Your Window" b/w "That's All I'll Do," and their only charting song, a cover of Allen Toussaint's "Fortune Teller" b/w "Goodbye," which reached number 97 on the U.S. charts.
"Now I´m a happy fellow
I'm married to the fortune teller
We're happy as we can be
And now I get my fortune told for free"
"Fortune Teller" had been recorded in 1962 by New Orleans singer Benny Spellman, and it was later covered by the Hollies, the Rolling Stones (a fake "live" version recorded in 1963 and later tacked onto Got Live If You Want It), the Iguanas, and an Australian band named the Throb, who took it to the upper slots of the Aussie charts around the same time that the Hard Times version came out.
The Hard Times, "Fortune Teller"
Clip from Dick Clark's L.A. TV show Where The Action Is
Lee Kiefer departed for a solo career and bassist Bob Morris was replaced by Larry Byrom before the debut (and only) album by the Hard Times, Blew Mind, was released by World Pacific in 1967 (for some reason minus singles tracks "They'll Be A Time," "You're Bound To Cry," "That's All I'll Do," and "Come to Your Window").
Hard Times, Blew Mind (complete album)
Another single was released in 1967, featuring Al Kooper's "Sad, Sad Sunshine" b/w "They Said No" (another non-album song). They also recorded a cover of Donovan's "Colours," and their version of Paul McCartney's "Here, There, and Everywhere" was taped while the song's original appearance on the Beatles' Revolver album was still relatively new to record store racks.
Bill Richardson and Larry Byrom quit Hard Times to form a psychedelic rock band named T.I.M.E. (Trust In Men Everywhere) , alongside former Sparrows bassist (and future original Steppenwolf member) Nick St. Nicholas and drummer Steve Rumph. Signed to the Hard Times' old label World Pacific Records, T.I.M.E. released a debut self-titled full-length in 1968, promoted with singles for "Make It Alright" and the non-album track "What Would Life Be Without It." After its release, St. Nicholas quit to rejoin the Sparrow (by then renamed Steppenwolf) and was replaced by Richard Tepp (Richard and the Young Lions), while Steve Rumph was replaced by Pat Couchois. A sophomore T.I.M.E. album recorded with producer Al Schmidt, Smooth Ball, was released by Liberty Records in 1969. More psychedelic and hard rock than their debut effort, the album is highlighted by the ten-minute jam track "Morning Come."
With Hard Times now reduced to singer Rudy Romero and drummer Paul Wheatbread, guitarist Lee Kiefer was talked into returning and the group released a single under the name the New Phoenix, featuring Romero's paisley psychedelic song "Give To Me Your Love" b/w an instrumental version of the same tune renamed "Thanks" (World Pacific, 1968). The tracks were produced by none other than Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas, who was dating Lee Kiefer during 1967 and 1968. (Rumors that Kiefer fathered a daughter with Cass appear unfounded)
The New Phoenix, "Give To Me Your Love"
(World Pacific 77884)
The New Phoenix ended when Rudy Romero left to launch his own solo career, as well as dating a 1971 Playboy centerfold. Signed to the Colorado-based Tumbleweed Records label, Romero's 1972 solo album To the World featured original Hard Times guitarist-singer Lee Kiefer guesting on vocals and percussion, as well as keyboardist Ralph Schuckett (Clear Light), bassist Bryan Garofalo (Things to Come), drummer Warren Pemerton (Undertakers), and - according to some, anyway - George Harrison on four tracks, although he's not listed in the credits. Romero was only 34 when he died in an L.A. car accident in July 1982. He's buried at El Camino Mortuary in San Diego next to his parents.
Rudy Romero, "Love Comes When It Wants To Anyway" (1972)
Lee Kiefer sang and played on Romero singles like the title track of To the World and "If I Find the Time," as well as singing on Tommy Bolin's Teaser album, producing bands like Black Pearl and Attitudes, and working as a producer and technician on records by the J. Geils Band, Roger McGuinn of the Byrds, Buddy Miles, BB King, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and Keith Moon.
Drummer Paul Wheatbread, whose mom taught in local schools, rejoined the old singer from his Clairemont High School band the Ravens, Gary Puckett, to become a founding member of Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, who scored five Top 10 singles during his tenure. After Puckett broke up the band around 1970, Wheatbread joined ex-Union Gap saxophonist Dwight Bement to fill out a revised version of Flash Cadillac & the Continental Kids in the mid-1970s. Having been around since the late '60s, Flash Cadillac's music was heard on the soundtrack album for American Graffiti (two covers and an original called "She's So Fine"), in which they played the fictional band Herby & the Heartbeats. Their music also appeared in the Apocalypse Now soundtrack, and Wheatbread went on to play with Neil Diamond, as well as acts like Steer Crazy, CoastRiders, and Fabulous Pelicans. By the late 1980s, he was living in Santee, playing in nightclubs and running a band booking agency called Music For All. After the turn of the 21st century, he was drumming with local country band Crosswinds.
The sole Hard Times album Blew Mind was reissued in 2003 by Rev-Ola Records, along with all the non-album singles and both of the New Phoenix tracks recorded with Mama Cass.