San Diego’s Rock and Roll History

I recently discovered this bit of treasure for anyone interested in the history of San Diego’s music scene. It’s a CD Compilation called Look Out! The San Diego Scene 1958 – 1973 Rock & Roll, Garage, Psych and Soul From America’s Finest City.

A treasure trove from the rock-era San Diego music scene

Released in October 2020, this is a top-notch assemblage, put together with respect and loving care by San Diego musician and local music historian Andy Rasmussen. The generous 33 cuts showcase a wide range of pop styles from the era. A 36 page booklet of liner notes by Mike Stax provides short histories on each of artists as well as a cornucopia of band photos, record labels and other promotional items.

Most of these bands remained local, though some members went on to bigger careers, most notably The Outcasts’ Gary Puckett who had several national hits in the 1960s when he formed Gary Puckett and the Union Gap. Jerry Raney, who later went on to success with another well known San Diego band, the Beat Farmers, is represented here with his songwriting, singing and lead guitar work for the band Glory. A band called The Survivors featured the mysteriously disappearing singer-songwriter Jim Sullivan, who released two well-received major label albums in the 1960s. Joel Scott Hill of The Strangers and The Invaders later played with both Canned Heat and The Flying Burrito Brothers. And I’m personally intrigued by Willie Kellogg, who seems to have been the most valuable drummer in town, showing up in many of the recordings.

Aside from the famous names, what’s really fun about the CD is learning more about the local music scene during this era, when Ozzie’s Music Store (which I do remember) used to hold a Battle of the Bands concert once a month in their parking lot. Clubs where bands played had names like Shangri-La, Cinnamon Cinder, Circe’s Cup, Funky Quarters, Halo Hop and the Candy Company, to name a few.

Much of the material here is of its time, but the performances are top-notch and, given the recording tech of the time, well recorded, all honorably restored and re-mastered by Mike Kamoo. Find Me a Moment by The Brain Police could easily have been a big pop hit in the psychedelic era. The Caterpillar Crawl by The Strangers is an aggresive Dick Dale/Ventures-style guitar instrumental. Ervin Rucker brings Stax Records soul to She’s Alright while Hootchie Part 1 from the Ray-Nears provides some nifty sax-fueled funkiness. And the doo-wop Unemployment from Steve and the Holidays is a real hoot. In short, the CD is a lot of fun and a great bit of San Diego musical history as well. Kudos to all involved.

You can purchase your own copy of the CD via BandCamp. All proceeds go to the San Diego Music Foundation with $1500 raised so far.

La Jolla Shores 1950s

I’m working on a new historical crime novel that takes place in La Jolla, CA in the mid-1950s. As part of my research, I’ve been going through some old family documents and photographs. I’ve always been fascinated by one photograph, in particular, that I’d found in my father’s collection. It’s the house my father lived in after he moved here from Kansas with his first wife, Ruth.

Looking back toward Shores Beach from the Coast Walk Trail circa 1955. The house in the foreground was owned by my father and his first wife, Ruth. Before my time.

This first book takes place in the mid-1950s. I’m planning two subsequent novels that will take place in the 1960s and 1970s respectively, following different members of one fictional family and their interactions with a number of real-life characters who either lived in or passed through La Jolla during that time. It is not autobiographical but some echoes of my family’s experiences will no doubt come through.

I was born in 1958 so by the time I was a kid riding my bicycle in and around the Shores Beach area, it had changed substantially. As you’ll see from the picture below, the La Jolla Beach & Tennis Club in the foreground and Scripps Institute and Pier were the only buildings there in the mid-fifties, though a few scattered houses had started to creep in.

Shores Beach from somewhere on Mount Soledad. Circa 1955

The two biggest changes that led to real estate development in the Shores neighborhood were the establishment of UCSD on the mesa above Scripps Institute and completion of the La Jolla Parkway (originally Ardath Road) cutover from Interstate 5, which allowed easy automobile access to town. But in the early 1950s, there was still plenty of room to park your boat on the beach.

Taken from Shores Beach, looking north toward Scripps pier and La Jolla Farms where UCSD would be built

Needless to say, it was a different world then. There were also stables nearby and folks could ride horses down to the beach. I’m trying to capture some of that atmosphere in the first book. More to come in future posts.

#1 Christmas Album

It’s that time of year again. When every pop star on the planet releases a Christmas Album. Artists from Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys, from Weezer to Snoop Dog, have all recorded Christmas albums. Some, like those from Nat King Cole and Mariah Carey, become perennial best sellers.

But my favorite Christmas album is hard to find on the streaming services. The CD’s out of print. Used copies will cost you $70 on Amazon. My number one Christmas album is The Spirit of Christmas by Ray Charles.

Ray and his sleigh

Recorded in the mid 1980s, when much of his recorded output was less than inspired, it’s one of the few Christmas albums I can listen to anytime, a veritable encyclopedia of Ray Charles’ musical expressions and history all rolled into one.

Swinging big band arrangements mix with What’d I Say electric piano fills, tempo changes and beboppin’ instrumental breaks (Freddie Hubbard plays trumpet on a couple of tunes). The Raelettes backing vocals are there, but so is Nashville-styled schmaltz in the string and chorus arrangements. There’s even a synthesizer solo on one track.

And of course there’s Ray’s incredible singing, never dull, never over-the-top, supporting the original melodies while adding soulful twists and syncopations.

The tempo changes of What Child is This, the walking bass on Santa Claus is Coming to Town and the dueling sax and trumpet solos on All I Want for Christmas are highlights for me, but everything here has an expressive musicality. Baby, It’s Cold Outside (with Betty Carter) avoids the usual winky sleaze. Even a deadbeat tune like The Little Drummer Boy gets turned into something special with bluesy electric piano, pedal steel guitar, and nifty brass arrangements leading the way. You’ll never hear those ba rum pa pum pums the same after you hear Ray sing them.

Christmas don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. And Ray Charles swings it like nobody else.

P.S. After some mucking about, I was finally able to find a version of the album on Spotify.

Morning Becomes Eclectic

I’m officially a morning person now. I get up at 5:00 am. I start writing at 6:00. I finish around 10:00 am (most days).

I don’t read the news before I start work. I don’t watch TV. No Facebook or social media. I rarely check email. I get a cup of coffee and sit on the balcony of our condominium, overlooking the street and the park across the way. My wife joins me most days. Sometimes we talk. Many days we don’t. We watch and listen, waiting for our morning friends to make their appearance.

A red-haired man, dressed in black, zips down the street on his rollerblades, free from the hazards of daytime traffic.

A Marine, dressed in camouflage uniform, takes his two German shepherds out for a walk.

A Lyft, purple light glowing from behind the car’s front windshield, pulls up to the light. It’s not the same car everyday, but there’s always a first Lyft going somewhere. Perhaps to pick up the same person.

A beefy fellow rumbles down the highway on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. We always know when he’s coming. The roar starts a quarter-mile away.

A bird chirrups at the same time every morning, but it only calls once, a set of slow, staccato tweets followed by a faster, rhythmic glissando. A morning announcement. The new day is here.

Can any readers identify what bird this is? Let me know in the comments.

Sometimes a full moon sits on the horizon. With each passing day it moves higher. After five days, it’s gone from view, glowing somewhere behind us.

A stink greets me one day when I open the door. At first I assume a skunk had been hit by a car, but the smell soon drifts away and I realize this clever fellow has survived another day in the urban jungle. We’ll sniff his aroma again, but I doubt we’ll ever see the animal attached to it.

One morning an older model Ford Bronco tears through the intersection like in a movie chase, bouncing off a dip in the road, sending sparks from the undercarriage and launching into the air. The Bronco continues down the street at breakneck speed, turning onto a side street and vanishing into the night. We wait for whoever might be chasing him. No one appears.

Time passes. We drink our coffee. We sit a while longer. Then it’s time go in.

Cranberry Grumble

What’s a blog without an occasional recipe? Herewith, kind of in time for the holidays, is my recipe for Cranberry Grumble. What’s a Grumble you may ask? Basically it’s a biscuit-topping over cooked fruit, similar to a cobbler, but more of a breakfast than a dessert.

Why is it called a Grumble? Well, I improvised the first time I made it. I doubted my choices. I muttered a lot under my breath. I called it a Crumble. My wife misheard me. She laughed. And the Grumble was born.

Heat oven to 350 degrees
8 – 9 inch casserole/cobbler dish

12 oz bag fresh cranberries
1 ½ – 2 cups sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
½ cup plus 2 Tablespoons water

2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup Crisco
3 tablespoons brown sugar
½ cup rolled oats
⅔ cup milk

Cranberry Filling

  1. Heat cranberries, ½ cup water in pot on high heat. Bring to low heat once the water starts boiling.
  2. Stir in sugar
  3. Cook until most of the cranberries have popped and mixture has a soupy jammy texture.
  4. Optional – for a thicker filling, mix cornstarch and remaining water together. Turn heat up to medium and stir into mixture until it boils and starts to thicken.Cut heat. Pour cranberry mixture into casserole dish and let cool

Grumble Crust

  1. Combine flour, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Cut in Crisco shortening until flour is crumbly and Crisco is fully incorporated (no big lumps)
  2. Mix in rolled oats and brown sugar.
  3. Add milk and mix until it forms a soft dough
  4. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead into smooth ball.
  5. Roll dough into circle approximately ¾ inch thick. Thickness is optional depending on your tastes, but circle should be at least 9 inches in diameter to fit your casserole dish.
  6. Cut dough into checkerboard pieces, approximately 2 inches square
  7. Arrange cut dough on top of cranberry mixture so pieces just touch (You may end up with more dough than you need. Save it and bake biscuits of of the rest).
  8. Place in 350 degree oven. Cook until cranberry mixture is bubbling and biscuit topping has turned light brown (20 – 30 minutes).
  9. Remove from oven and cool. I like to make mine at night and leave out for the next morning’s breakfast. Keep in the refrigerator if there’s any left after the first round.

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