Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Collection: The Piltdown Men Ride Again - The Capitol Instrumentalsdotdotdot
artworkThis CD couples most of the recorded output of studio band the Piltdown Men with selected tracks from the Ernie Fields Orchestra, Billy May's Orchestra, and Earl Palmer. At first glance, unless you're an instro fan regardless of genre, this seems like an odd grouping of artists, and an even odder choice to review here. However, the Piltdown Men did do a surf instro or two, and Earl Palmer has appeared on many a studio surf session as drummer.

It all begins in 1956 when Ed Cobb, Bruce Belland, Glen Larsen, and Marv Inabnett formed what later became the Four Preps at Hollywood High School. They debuted under that moniker at UCLA in '57. Through no fault of their own, they were brought to the attention of Capitol Records, where staff producer Voyle Gilmore's interest was peaked. Capitol signed them, and they had major hits with "26 Miles Across The Sea (Santa Catalina Is A Waitin' For Me)," "Down By The Station," and "Big Man." A major factor was the arranging power of their accompanist and future jazz heavy Lincoln Mayorga. His heavy handed electric piano style with the volume at 10 coupled with his childhood classical training were a force to be reckoned with.

Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga concocted the Piltdown Men to take advantage of the instro wave of the day. As producers, they recruited sax player Scott Gordon and session sax man Jackie Kelso. Their first session was May 11, 1960. Studio guitarist legend Tommy Tedesco and Bob Bain were drafted, and high school chum Alan Brenmanen was added on drums. "McDonald's Cave (Old McDonald Had A Farm)" c/w "Brontosaurus Stomp" was the first release. Naturally, the B-side was the hit. By the time they got to "Night Surfin', the personnel had changed to include Dave Burgess (Champs). After Voyle Gilmore signed Dick Dale to Capitol in February 1962, the label's need for the Piltdown Men ended. Many of the Piltdown Men sessions were licensed out to Reprise, who issued them as by the Link Eddy Combo (Lincoln Mayorga & Ed Cobb).

the Ernie Fields sessions are all post-hit tracks. The session included legends Plas Johnson - bass, Rene Hall, and Earl Palmer - drums (New Orleans). Palmer is also the drummer on the Billy May and Earl Palmer (natch') tracks here. Palmer and Johnson also appear on Marketts sessions, and many others.
Picks: Mac Donald's Cave, Brontosaurus Stomp, Piltdown Rides Again, Bubbles In The Tar, The Great Impostor, Goodnight Mrs. Flintstone, Gargantua, Fossil Rock, Gargantua, Agricultural Twist, A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, Big Lizard, Flint Stomp, Night Surfin', Tequila Bossa Nova, Sentimental Journey, Birmingham Jail, Adam's Rib, Green Green, Leap Frog, St. Louis Blues, Theme From "Lilies Of The Field", Swanee River, I'll Cry Instead, In The Mood, Chloe, Swingin' Drums, Drum Village [Part 1], Drum Village [Part 2]

Track by Track Review

Mac Donald's Cave dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This Thom Starr & the Galaxies tune is most familiar from the Challengers sessions. It's faster here, and more infectious, with an amply modernized Paul Johnson swirly guitar sound. Solid and fun.

Brontosaurus Stomp dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is an original tune, swimming in Spanish whammy, like Pintor with lake wake rippling at it's toes. Melodic, pretty, and very enjoyable. The imagery is quite strong, Castilian pictures of bulls and black lace, and sangria all around. Really nice, with ringing tones from the guitars.

Piltdown Rides Again dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Another original for the Nitros, this is fast and furious, sorta Mission Impossible-ish, with swank reverb. Chunky, thumpy, and shredding double picked leads in the break a la the Dickster.

Bubbles In The Tar dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This original is from the pen of guest guitarist Mike Sobieski. The style is quite Euro-instro, like a surfified Shadows. A melodic, twangy, and very enjoyable mid tempo number.

The Great Impostor dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a more guitar oriented track than most Piltdown Men sessions. It's also more melodic. The lead guitar employs a shimmering vibrato, and the rhythm is infectious. It's not very surfy, but would sandwich between a couple of surf tracks easily enough. It's relatively MOR, but good listening. Simple sax backing, and a fluid sound. This is a Henry Mancini tune.

Goodnight Mrs. Flintstone dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

A fast and pummellicious instro that reminds me of 409 melodically. The guitars are lock-syncked with the drums in a cool rolling cadence, with a restrained but effective energy. Really nice arrangement. Tribal toms, chunky delivery, and too much fun. The feet, they just keep a-moving.

Gargantua dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

A Billy Childish tune, churned out with ample grodie guitar tone. Mostly a progression, but interesting enough to hold your attention. Ample energy.

Fossil Rock dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

The Snow Men (a.k.a. The Sunrays) cut this as a single on Challenge a millennia ago. The Nitros have cleaned it up, and given it more power. I've always liked the original, and it's nice to see that it can be really pumped out. fast, precise, tribal, and very infectious.

Gargantua dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

A Mickey Baker tune, slurried out with a grodie fifties instro sound. Progression driven, and frat energized.

Agricultural Twist dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

The Fireballs' classic, reinvented with respect and delicate interplay. Energetic without losing the guitar magic of the melody or the lead-rhythm balance. Ringing, yet edgie.

A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

When the Lively Ones did this, they titled it Hotdoggen. They made it ring and roll. The Nitros keep the ringing tone, but add chunk. Clean, and very reverent.

Big Lizard dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This country classic has been garaged into submission, twanged into twilight. Wish I could place the name of it, but it escapes me now. Anyway, it's a fun party kinda hoedown.

Flint Stomp dotdotdotdot
Polynesian Euro Surf (Instrumental)

What a pretty track. The Hawaiian steel second guitar sets the ambiance against which this fine melody is displayed. The melody hints of a haole on big island... splendid. Great tone and a catchy melody, and pristine performance and sound.

Night Surfin' dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This band has grown a lot. Their early few-and-far-between tracks were unmelodic and mere progressions, but this has a nice surf feel, a simple but effective melody, and twangy thin surf guitar sound. This is a moody track, a little brittle sounding, but entertaining and solid.

Tequila Bossa Nova dotdotdotdotdot
King Of Hawaii Surf (Instrumental)

High spirited, almost King of Hawaii like in melody structure and pacing. This is a spectacular track. It is infectious, pristine, melodic, and very fun. It has a kinder-gentler Cruel Sea break, a divine friendliness, and a full round sound. The whammy dips are cool, and any would proud to have created this. Absolutely great!

Sentimental Journey dotdotdotdot
Euro Surf (Instrumental)

As one would expect from the title, it's in the grand tradition of the early Shadows, both in tone and melody style. It lies between Slaughter On Tenth Avenue sowed down, and Adventures In Paradise. Beautiful, and swimmingly liquid.

Birmingham Jail dotdotdotdot
Euro Surf (Instrumental)

Fine acoustically second guitar supports a slow country two-step sensibility and a Shadows soul. Like formal country, if there can be such an oxymoronic genre. Very pretty.

Adam's Rib dotdotdotdotdot
Cowboy Surf (Instrumental)

Cowboys ridin' with chaps flapping and scarves flying in the breeze. This is just so wonderful. Is this in the Mermen's set these days? I think so. Rhythmic, infectious, brilliantly structured, playful, and artful. , Instantly creates a bond with your inner cowboy (or cowgirl). Yee-ha!

Green Green dotdotdotdot
Tuxedo Surf (Instrumental)

This is a mighty pretty tune, with haunted keys, and a formal air, like a sophisticated upper crust afternooner on the South lawn, a minuet for the great outdoors. Very visual, and very pretty.

Leap Frog dotdotdotdot
Bubbly Euro Surf (Instrumental)

Effervescent, slightly hokey, Shadows tonality, and croissants all around. Like a sophisticated line dance, it giggles under the black-and-white garb. Very cool.

St. Louis Blues dotdotdotdot
Mystical Surf (Instrumental)

Slow and sinewy, reminding me of Jade Warrior's "Snow Queen," with it's metered artful melody line and oriental flair. It has a quiet drama, and a sense of well being slightly overshadowed by a passing sadness. This is simply stunning.

Theme From "Lilies Of The Field" dotdotdotdot
Euro Country Surf (Instrumental)

Precisely delicate, countrified classical, twangoed western adventures in the saddle. It has fifties samba break that is too fun, and makes you move your body. Very nice track.

Swanee River dotdotdotdot
Euro Surf (Instrumental)

Wow, this is nice. It's sad, but optimistic, and like a post mortem on Slaughter On Tenth Avenue. Similar structure, hints of the melody, but not at all derivative. The string bending is so smooth, it runs off the guitar like water off of a duck's back. Fine performance.

I'll Cry Instead dotdotdotdot
Euro Surf (Instrumental)

Chunk and chomp, cowboy twang, Shadows tone, and a playful melody combine to create a vision of kids at the museum, more interested in climbing in the Tyrannosaurus' mouth than listening to the lecture on antediluvian transitions. Too good to be rock and roll, too real to be anything else.

In The Mood dotdotdot
Jungle Exotica (Instrumental)

Fluted whistling desert riffs, cool middle eastern scenery, but then this dreadful Korla Pandit organ (you know the kind, you've heard it in the mall piano and organ stores, a former shoe salesman in a tie sequencing notes with faux drama and too much Leslie). The line that comes to mind is from Jagger-Richard, "Give me shelter."

Chloe dotdotdotdot
Jungle Exotica (Instrumental)

Bass thunder, sax growls, cool guitar chords, and a damn nifty melody-riff. Exotic, surf aimed, evil tropical sway, and no room for the faint-hearted. This should be a part of some enterprising surf band's set.

Swingin' Drums dotdotdot
Jungle Exotica (Instrumental)

Horses whinny, and the thin guitar cries out for the waves, but finds only the cliffs overlooking the breakwater. "Indians" chant while dogs howl... weirdly odd.

Drum Village [Part 1] dotdotdot
Drumbo Rock (Instrumental)

A cool pumping piano fifties rag with a bunch of dynamic drum fills... this is why great players shouldn't do solo projects. The drumming is great, but the track doesn't work. At least the drums are much more present than in most other Palmer sessions.

Drum Village [Part 2] dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

George Tomsco's ultra cool "Bulldog" is rhythmic and infectious. These guys add a bunch of reverb, giving it a thicker more watery sound. Otherwise, precision is the order of the day.