in the sixties meant one thing, a surf band in very garage. Most were peopled
by teens worshipping at the alter of the Church of the Deep Reverb
. Many never left the relative
comfort of the carport, some wandered the neighborhood, still others played the high school dance
circuit, a few threw their own events at rented halls, and even fewer played large venues to squirming
masses of emergent puberteens. While it's this latter category that gets most of the notice, some
of the choicest sounds were emitted by the garage and high school sock hop bands. Looking back on
a Johnny Barakat
or the Vibrants
is all that is required to understand this point. It's
sad that so few of these bands recorded.
Some time ago, I received a CD by Rake & the Surftones
. It turned out to be a teenage dream
come true, delayed thirty years plus by events and musical developments. Leader and visionary of the
project is lead guitarist Todd Labrea
aka Jay Graydon
. Jay is a studio musician extraordinaire,
and has worked on many projects including by major acts such as Toto
. Jay played and lived
surf music as a teen in Southern California during those innocent years of the early sixties.
I know what your thinking, what's Toto got to do with surf music? First, the shear playing talent
required to reach that level of commercial success can't be denied, no matter where your musical sensibilities
lie. Second, this "band" is populated almost entirely by first call studio players who cut
their teeth on surf as lads during the golden age. So, apply that talent to the pure teen surf sound
and that's what this is like.
This project was a studio thing Jay did with friends of similar backgrounds, all first call studio
musicians and/or successful artists in their own right. Jay wanted to have some fun with his friends
while recapturing their roots. They never intended to perform live. It wasn't even targeted to release.
It was a lark for personal pleasure and fulfillment. What they got was a CD that contains some really
nice surf instros.
So, Jay decided to have a party for the CD with the players on the album and a bunch of first-rate
players and friends. He invited me, and I couldn't resist what promised to be the only performance
of Rake & the Surftones
. Jay had warned of a brilliant but risky jam concept he was going
to try at the end. I won't spoil the surprise by spilling the beans now, but this was the intriguing
straw that broke the camel's back so to speak on my decision to go.
I drove down to Malibu
from my home in Felton
, just outside Santa Cruz
. It was
the usual 6-1/2 hours down 101
with the cruise control set at 66 to avoid an unplanned conversation
with Mr. CHiPs
. The party was to start at 7 PM, so I left before noon to allow plenty of time.
I rolled into Malibu at about 6 PM. It's a very narrow strip between the cliffs and the ocean, divided
(the Pacific Coast Highway
). The party was at a place called Marilyn's
It turned out to be a very nice restaurant right on the beach just south of the Malibu Pier
I parked my car and walked toward the front door. A cat in a colorful vest asks me if I'm there for
the party. I say "Yup!". Then he tells me I shouldn't have parked my car. Now, I'm just
a poor boy from the sticks. What do I know about valet parking? I said "I'll bring it up here,
and you can park it. He says "No, it's fine." I wonder, if it's fine, why is he telling
me this. It must be a hoi-palloi thing. I went inside.
As I entered, I heard a few notes of "Gettin' Air" and a bunch of talking among some guys
holding guitars and things. I looked around for a familiar face. I had seen Jay's mug shot on his
home page the night before while web surfing. There he was.
I went over, introduced myself, and got a surprising huge hug and welcome, and an immediate introduction
to Dean Parks
[guitar], Jim Cox
[keyboards], Kenji Sano
[bass], and Darryl
[drums]. It was as if I was Jay's best friend, and as I learned through the night, that's
Jay's way, it's no bull shit.
I had no idea what to expect from the evening. I'd traded email with Jay for several weeks about the
CD, and our mutual backgrounds growing up around radio. He seemed very intelligent, witty, and friendly.
I had no idea that he'd be the happiest guy I've ever encountered. He laughs all the time, pokes fun
at everything including himself, and is quite likable. Jay made me feel welcome immediately, and everyone
else followed his lead.
I decide to run out to find a room to stay in. As it turns out, there are only 2 motels and one hotel
in Malibu, and they were all full. I decided to not worry about it. I'd find a place after the party
on my way back into LA. I changed into a comfortable pair of Levi
's and a new Halibuts
and returned to Marilyn's.
I'm hangin' out, watching and listening to the chit-chat of "rehearsal". Jay is leading
them through a reading of the sheet music, directing the players what to do and where. They had only
played these songs once, maybe twice when they recorded, and that was almost a year earlier. It was
amazing to watch how quickly seasoned first call session guys can pick this up, even play with such
feeling while reading the sheet music. I was dumbfounded by that.
It was also quickly becoming apparent that these guys all genuinely liked each other. They were joking,
cutting back and forth, and generally having fun. Every time one of Jay's friends would walk in, they
would stop and Jay would call out some greeting, usually accompanied by a humorous jab.
There's a guy loitering in the back, much as I'm doing. He keeps looking at me, and he has a familiar
look about him. I meandered over, succumbed to my better judgment by refraining from mocking a "Hi
ya big boy", and said "You look familiar". He said "So do you". I asked "What's
your name?" to which he replied "Jim West
." I said "I'm Phil Dirt." Each
of us issued that who-the-hell-are-you look, then admitted not having ever met before.
As it turns out, Jim had been in surf bands as a mere teenybopper himself, and still played guitar
for sanity. He had grown up (unlike me) and started a business. Jim owns and operates West Precision
La Mirada Drive, Vista, CA 92083), a precision machining business. I still wondered who he knew that
I knew, since he looked so familiar. He hadn't been at the Surfers Paradise
show, or any surf
show except Dick Dale
in decades. He then asked if I knew Paul Johnson
. I thought "Bingo!" Jim
had jammed with Paul a few times, but nothing more. So, as it turned out, we had never met before.
I discovered that Jim knew Jay via his web page and mutual email harassment, much the same as me.
We watched Jay and Dean trade instructions and nods with very little playing.
After considerable time passed, Jason Scheff
[vocals] walked in, was ushered up to the mic,
voiced a few lines, and went to the bar. These guys just turn it on like switch and it's note perfect.
They could just talk through it, then play like they'd just come off a six month tour. They only played
a couple of songs in their rehearsal, doing mostly the discussion and reading thing. That was all
As rehearsal ended and people started flowing in, the mixing and matching began. The band merged with
their friends and strangers were introduced all 'round. There were many familiar names attached to
the regular and irregular folks mingling there. What I've always found fascinating is just how regular
luminaries are when their among their peers, or for that matter, just treated like regular folks instead
The look of the mob at in attendance was regular...Levi's, tee shirts, surf wear, working clothes,
etc. The only noticeable variant to that were the women, who were dressed up a bit, some being in
rock 'n roll stage clothes, some gorgeously showy, and a few down right glossy. They seemed more conscious
of appearance, where the males seemed more musical buddy oriented. None of that affected the friendliness
of the women. They were just as warm and wiggly as the guys. A nice bunch.
I was ready for a starter brew. I found to my surprise that the bar was free. I had expected to pay
my own way, but Jay had bought the house for the night, drinks, appetizers, and dinner. It was a nice
touch. Very big hearted. I think Jay truly wanted exactly what he said...an evening with his friends
to celebrate a CD that marked their mutual adolescences.
Dinner time arrived, and none to soon for me. The quick stop in King City
at their bets restaurant
) many hours earlier had long since worn off. I got in line, an soon arrived at
a buffet table with abundant good food and helpful friendly servers. While in line, I could help asking
to myself "Doesn't Jay know any schmucks? Even the restaurant staff are top notch warm and friendly!" As
I passed each server in succession, they applied the choices I'd made to my waiting plate. Soon, I
was faced with finding a place to park my carcass and eat. Finding a likely spot, I sat down and proceeded
to munch the nutritional booty.
In a few minutes, Jim West joins my table. Chit-chat ensues, personal and musical. We are both a bit
in awe of the names we can identify. That's when I Jim pointed out Tommy Tedesco
and his wife. Tommy
Wow. This guy has played on everything! Well, that's a bit of an overstatement, but Tommy
is like the king of the studio guitarists. He played on a huge number of surf sessions if the sixties
"Out Of Limits
Dinner eventually gives way to more mingleage, and then a call to arms to the players from Jay. The
moment of truth has arrived. I'm stoked. With what I've seen so far, it's gotta be good. From the
first pick, the performance was note perfect. Their sound was pure, clean, and very infectious. How
can anyone play with such energy, emit such joy through their instruments, and be so tight without
a bunch of rehearsals at least?
"Gotta Woodie Today
" was stellar, as were "Run, Don't Walk
" and "Gettin'
." I'm no trad vocal surf fan, as you know, but when Jason Scheff
and Craig Copeland
up to the mic for the vocal numbers, it was astonishing. I had seen the Beach Boys
a few months back, and they were really sad. The vocals were not very good, and the falsetto was carried
by a youngster. Jason and Craig were right on without monitors or pretensions, and it was really sweat.
It almost made me wanna rethink my vocal stance. Fortunately, I realized that they were the exception,
not the rule. They were incredibly good.
What strikes me looking back now is that they all had the same matter-of-fact humility about their
talent that I had witnessed many times with Ashwin Batish
[virtuosos sitar player] in his Santa
Cruz home. Ashwin comes from a long line of musicians in India
. He grew up surrounded by the
best and it rubbed off. He's the nicest guy you'd wanna know. And so it is with Jay and the guys in
his band. They were all equals in their own eyes. As you'll see, this is an attitude, not a talent
judgment on their part.
For forty five minutes, Rake & the Surftones
held the rest of us captive. They played with
unbelievable precision which coexisted with a genuine musical warmth.
They also traded jabs between songs, looks during songs, and told funny stories about each other and
their friends in the audience. Truly magical.
As the "planned" set came to an end, I was eager to see/hear what would happen when Jay
coerced the players into following his twisted dream jam concept. In fairness, the idea was given
to Jay by John Kurnick
, who showed up real late after a gig. He joined the jam line up on guitar
[he is one of the soloists on the "Surfers Toe Jam
" track on the CD]. The idea? Jay
called for every guitar in the house to join in. The folks on stage included Surftones Dean Parks
, Kenji Sano
, and Darryl Voss
, plus Steve Lukather
, Tim May
, Teddy Castalucci
, Sterling "Biff" Ball
and Jim West
there, the concept was sprung on them.
Jay would lead them through a chromatic
reading of the Surfaris
' classic "Wipe
", and not one player at a time, but all at once. So a half dozen guitarists would be
playing together simultaneously, each in a different key. The grins were everywhere among the players
as Jay made key assignments. Even the keyboard and bass were assigned keys. The plan was to rotate
through the line-up around the stage to take leads as well. Now, this might be hard to imagine. It
is even harder to do, since it requires the players to ignore what their ears are telling them about
key on the one hand, and listening to stay tight on the other. It took about ten minutes to get everyone
assigned, and to actually get up the guts to do it. Then it began.
The sound was simply the most amazing thing I've ever heard. It violated all the rules. It was both
horrid and totally magnetic at the same time. It was a monster sound, never before heard. The leads
were traded, and the rounds were made, and the whole house roared their approval when it was over.
Unbelievable! I wish I'd been able to record that! The chromatic jam could not have happened except
among friends such as were gathered here. In Jay's words, "This gig was not 'Hollywood' meaning
I only invited people that would appreciate the serious humor without any business attachments. I
could have turned this into a record company showcase but this would have been a 'groove killer' meaning
the performance would be too thought out and safe. This was a night of total musical fun, good food
and drink in the perfect environment. This party was not supposed to be a Hollywood star fest but
was meant to be a free for all in musical fun land."
It was precisely that environment, of
friends and family, that would tolerate...no welcome such a risky performance idea.
Jay left the stage to hang with the punters, and the jamsters continued for quite a while, playing
an incredible "Pipeline
" for a good ten minutes with everyone taking a lead for a
while. It's not enough to imagine just the talent displayed on this surf archetype that impressed
me, not that it was in any way unimpressive. What I was struck by was Jim West probably living the
dream of a lifetime. Here's a guy who plays his guitar for personal pleasure only. A guy who grew
up in a teen surf band as a kid. Here he is on stage on equal terms totally accepted by such an amazing
line up. It was very emotional to watch. He was in heaven. When his leads came, he was right in there.
Jim's a good player. For me, that was the defining moment of the show as far as attitude is concerned.
There were no egos or boundaries, only musicians having a really fun time playing with and for each
other. Amazing. After that, they meandered through a number of other standards, and digressed into
blues jams and the like. Players came and went. It was all too surreal.
If Rake & the Surftones
only performance followed by "Chromatic Wipe Out
an all-star "Pipeline
" with a human side bar weren't enough, the other warning Jay
had issued came to pass at about 11 PM. The jam had died down for a while, and the place was quiet.
Suddenly, briskly entering through the front door was a young man in shades who proceeds to the stage
which is now vacant. As he gets there, Jay excitedly shouts out "Watch this!"
special guest on the bill was about to slaughter us. He fumbled around for a keyboard that was turned
on while he extolled the virtues of his talent, which is a knack for impersonating a lounge musician
/ singer a la Holiday Inn
style. Bill Cantos
presented himself as Bobby Barton
master of the lounge. Totally funny. He was laughing with us on the inside while we howled on the
Bill/Bobby made up lyrics about the people at the event over sappy organ beds perfectly designed to
make your need to laugh greater than your need to puke. As horrid as that kind of lounge is, Bobby
Barton makes you love it through his mastery of spontaneous lyric creation and smarmy lounge keyboard
wizardry. This man, with his sharkskin personality and I'm-too-cool-shades, slithered through piano
bar stereotypes with the grace of a Southern lady. From his well primed pump of sleaze, Bobby evoked
a plethora of reactions like grab your wallet [used car salesman alert], where's the bar ['cuz maybe
a drink will make the singer sound good], where's the bathroom [I never thought I'd hear "Kashmir
" played THAT
, I'm gonna be sick], dumb-struck fascination [watching Newt talk about morality and wondering
why HE isn't as embarrassed as you are for him], and acquiescence [I'm from the government and I'm
here to help you - you're too stupid to think for yourself and I'm gonna make you pay for it]. Bobby
Barton was brilliant. Never have I enjoyed a parody so much. Gee, I hope it was a parody. What if
he meant it?
Time to excuse myself and figure out where to sleep. I bid farewell to the party, and slithered out
to my self parked car. As I was getting in, I noticed the manicured attendant shaking his head. Was
I supposed to let him get my car for me? I mean, it's only 50 feet from the door, the lot is half
empty, and I can walk twice that far, and... I'm just a simple boy from Santa Cruz. What do I know
about the up side of the inconvenience of well heeled niceties?
I drove back down PCH
until I found the 10
which gets me to the 405
eventually back onto 101
. Somewhere along that path, I found a motel with a desk clerk who
looked like he thought I was gonna rob him. After a reasonable sleep, I trudged up the coast the 460
plus miles back to Felton. Home at last. I can still hear that glorious chromatic "Wipe Out!"
Players & Punters
Rake & the Surftones
, guitar. Jim Cox
, keyboards. Kenji Sano
, bass. Darryl Voss
drums. Jason Scheff
, vocals. Craig Copeland
, vocals (and guitar in jam land). Additional "jam" guitar
players: Steve Lukather
, Tim May
, Bobby Cochran
, Teddy Castalucci, Sterling "Biff" Ball
Later open stage players included a female guitar player, whose name I didn't get [Deans girlfriend], Bill
[organ], Tamara Champlin
[vocals], and Tris Imbodin
[drums]. Also in attendance
but not playing were Tommy Tedesco
, Ned Doheny
, Bill Cantos
, and Tommy Funderburk