Andy Rasmussen describes the effort to compile a 33-song collection of San Diego music as “a true labor of love.”
“It was years in the making, a true labor of love,” says Andy Rasmussen of the new compilation CD he curated, Look Out! The San Diego Scene 1958-1973 – Rock & Roll, Garage, Psych, and Soul From America’s Finest City. The 33 tracks represent as many musical styles as any city has ever produced. “This part of San Diego's music history is incredibly vital,” says Rasmussen. “Never in the shadows of Los Angeles or San Francisco, the San Diego scene was doing its own thing.”
“San Diego was not as well-known, but very diverse musically. We had so many cultures and backgrounds crisscrossing, with the military and large manufacturing components in play. San Diego bands combined those elements and made it work.” Rasmussen — who fronts Action Andy & the Hi-Tones — is a music historian who worked closely with many of the performers on the compilation. Much time and effort was spent securing rights, data, photos, and rare recordings representing both important and nearly forgotten local artists, with research tactics that included combing high school yearbooks and visiting area cemeteries in search of family leads connected to deceased performers.
Among the featured locals are pianist, arranger, and composer Ervin Groves Jr., aka Big Boy Groves, a black entrepreneur who attended the La Jolla Art Institute and San Diego City College. In the ’60s, he started his own Musette label, as well as GME (Groves Music Enterprises) Records, with both based in the Groves’ home at 4675 Logan Avenue, where recording sessions took place in a back room.
Groves became known as Big Boy when he scored a hit record in 1955 with "I Gotta New Car" b/w "Midnight Special" on the Spark label, for which he was backed up by fellow Spark signees the Robins. It was as Big Boy Groves that he scored again in 1956 with "You Can't Beat The Horses," on the Vita label.
“When he had a hit with ‘Gotta New Car,’" says Rasmussen, "Spark Records actually bought him a new car. Ervin was also a painter by trade and did artwork, doing the logo for both GME and Musette, drawing the globe and the arrow.”
The 1962 track featured on Look Out, “Bucket O’ Blood,” is one of Groves’ partly spoken-word songs. “I think 'Bucket O’ Blood' is pure beat poetry, and a precursor to rap. There's a great lyrical cadence to it, and the imagery is fantastic. 'Big Bad John walks in and tries to flirt, with a chick in the corner wearing a tight tailed skirt, a left to the body and a hard right cross, she shows Big John who's the boss,' and so it goes in this violence prone establishment. If you listen to the rest of the song, you could imagine a movie unfolding before your eyes.”
The Nomads began as a late ’50s/early ’60s doo-wop and dance band playing every summer Wednesday night at the La Mesa Youth Center, featuring multiple singers and a full horn section doing choreographed stage moves. Known mostly for their single “Ooh Poo Pah Doo,” they released several other 45s on small labels like Prelude Records, including their own songs like “Icky Poo,” “Last Summer Day” (considered an early psychedelic gem with spacey sax played by Lew Fay), and the somewhat lesser known 1963 track featured on Look Out, “Let’s Do the Freeze.”
“I was looking for something a little more obscure. The Nomads were known as San Diego's Longest Running Band, and I wanted to dig deeper into their catalog. 'Let's Do the Freeze' is such a pounding R&B stomper, I mean you can't do anything but get up and dance when you hear it, it's so in-your-face cool. This one was sung by vocalist Mac Staten, and in the record collecting world goes into the thousands of dollars for a clean copy.” Lew Fay (a 1959 Lincoln High grad) recently released his own CD, a concert recording of the Nomads’ 1998 Old Mission Bay Athletic Club Coming Out Party, mostly featuring vintage covers alongside four original Nomad songs.
Nomads horn player Doug Meyers later left the band and joined the Accents, soon to become Sandi & the Accents, a group without which no San Diego musical overview would be complete. Fronted by former Valiants vocalist Sandi Rouse, the band traveled to a top L.A. studio to record their first single, “Better Watch Out Boy,” which climbed to the top 10 in San Diego and top 20 in L.A. and other major cities. They followed with “I’ve Got Better Things To Do” in 1964, written for Accents by the team of PF Sloan and Steve Barri, the composers of “Eve of Destruction” and “Secret Agent Man.” Singles such as “What Do You Want to Do” and “On the Run” charted among the top 20 singles in Southern California. The compilation includes their 1964 track “Tell Me (What's On Your Mind).”
“Lead vocalist Sandi Rouse could sing the most tender and sexy ballads, imagine a more refined Ronnie Spector with the same gritty edge. Yet she can let it all out with faster numbers and get the crowd really going. That said, their sets also included songs by vocalist Gabe Lapano who added variety. 'Tell Me (What's on Your Mind)' I think is a great representation of their sound, with both Sandi and Gabe trading off some soulful vocals.”
The Orfuns played garage punk in the mid-’60s, with original songs inspired by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The South Bay-based members were between 16 and 18 when they signed a management deal with Chula Vista’s Patty Doig label, with early performances at the Catamaran and the San Diego Teenage Fair, as well as the Chula Vista High Howdy Dance (where guitarist Skip Rudolph was still a student at the time). They recorded the first of at least four demos in L.A. for Liberty Records in 1965 and scored an option contract with L.A.’s White Whale Records. However, the demos were rejected, their contract option dropped, and the band split in 1967 with only one single to their name, “Getting’ It On” b/w “Put You Down.” The compilation includes their recently rediscovered unreleased single “The Animal In Me” (1965).
“Being from Chula Vista, this single was spoken as if it was hushed ancient Grecian rock lore. It wasn't until I met singer/guitarist Jerry McCann [also of Framework] that he told me about how the song came about. And what a cool raucous garage rocker it is. Talk about pure teen-driven, pre-punk angst! As I compiled songs for this project, it was naturally the first song I wanted on it. I'm still astounded as to why it was never released at the time.”
The endeavor was full of revelations, even for someone who has long studied and archived local music history, as well as contributing to the Reader's comprehensive Local Music Database of over 5000 performers. “Just as the CD was almost completed, I came across a single by the Survivors, whose membership included the celebrated and mysterious singer-songwriter Jim 'UFO' Sullivan. He was believed to have been abducted by aliens, or at least under mysterious circumstances, after disappearing in the New Mexican desert in 1975. He released two fantastic folk rock albums, including his debut effort UFO on Monnie Records in 1969. However, I never realized he did a single with his first band, the ironically named Survivors. That discovery was a stop the presses moment, and we had to add their song 'Midnight Mines' onto the CD.”
Look Out! The San Diego Scene 1958-1973 also features tracks from the Cascades (famed for 1963's "Rhythm of the Rain"), Gene Lamarr & His Blue Flames (best known for his 1958 cult rockabilly classic “That Crazy Little House on the Hill”), the Imperialites (featuring George Semper of the Chessmen and the Kingsmen, a partner in downtown's Jazzville nightclub circa 1966), Joel Scott Hill & the Invaders, the Lyrics, the Inmates, the Outcasts, the Contrasts, Five Pound Grin, the Brain Police, Glory, Jamul, and the original Misfits, who opened for the Rolling Stones at Balboa Park Bowl in November 1964, as did Joel Scott Hill and the Invaders and fellow locals Rosie & the Originals.
Rasmussen says there's plenty of material remaining for more volumes. “I'd have to say the hardest tracks to obtain were the ones I couldn't get. Namely, Iron Butterfly and Rosie & the Originals. With the Iron Butterfly, I reached out to Sony Music, who seemed primarily concerned with units and mass distribution. After I told them that my CD run was limited to 1,000 copies, and profits will be donated, then I got no further reply from them. If a volume two ever comes out, hopefully I'll be able to get them on the CD, even if it's something rare or live. With Rosie Hamlin of the Originals, I tried reaching out but she passed away in 2017. Publishing was still uncertain, and I wanted to work with her directly. Again, another for volume two.”
“So long as the interest in San Diego's musical history remains strong, I'd be honored to continue. I've loved San Diego music ever since I heard those few guitar lines of 'Angel Baby' by Rosie and the Originals, it still sends shivers down my spine.”