Rockin‘ Back the Clock
By Waleed Rashidi
Join us for a stroll down memory lane, tracing the IE’s musical history
For this year’s installment of the Weekly’s annual local music issue, we opted to turn the clock back a solid half-century to explore some of the notable rock artists hailing from our region. We’ve highlighted a few that signified each decade’s music in some manner, all the while recognizing their IE roots. Now, the caveat holds here: We’re totally aware that there are hundreds more artists that we could’ve featured but didn’t, so if your favorite local rock band of the era isn’t listed, there’s no need to engage in some massive letter-writing campaign, just know that we ran out of room. (And sorry to our country, rap and reggae artists . . . maybe next time?) So, save your postage and take a gander at our choices, which were selected with the helpful assistance and input of Artifix Records’ Greg McWhorter and Studio’s Maria Baglien.
Though much of Zappa’s popularity ballooned starting in latter half of the ’60s, his formidable days earlier in the decade were spent in Rancho Cucamonga, as he pumped out tracks at his Archibald Avenue recording haven Studio Z—and it’s around when learned to play the bicycle as a musical instrument (which he skillfully demonstrated in a hilarious segment on The Steve Allen Show). Guitar legend Zappa also took up residence in local spots including Claremont (where he was a DJ on Pomona College’s KSPC 88.7 FM) and Montclair, though he’d end up moving further west to Laurel Canyon during his more popular Freak Out! days.
Southern California is a land crammed with endless beaches and surf—that’s what you’re thinking, if you’re from flyover country. But the irony is in full force for those from our turf, who know that the nearest beach from The Tornadoes’ hometown of Redlands is probably Newport, which is over 60 miles away. Still, the outfit—featuring members of the Sanders family—scored a top 10 instrumental hit in August 1962 with its vibey, reverberating guitar riffs on “Bustin‘ Surfboards,” which re-appeared in a 1994 big screen hit, Pulp Fiction. (Fun fact: The Tornadoes actually had some tracks engineered by the aforementioned Zappa.)
From a Riverside garage in the early ’60s hailed The Misunderstood, which were quite well understood by the time it made its move to London and had released a couple noteworthy singles, “Children of the Sun” and “I Can Take You To The Sun.” The group’s presence was bolstered by British DJ John Peel, who’d moved from San Bernardino back to his home in England to become one of the country’s most respected radio personalities. The Misunderstood’s relocation across the pond was initially understandable, in that it would find itself in closer proximity to its sonic likeness, but reports note that the band ran out steam near the turn of the decade.
Okay, so he ain’t exactly known for cranking out straight rock tuneage, but blues harmonica player and Riverside native Rod Piazza deserves a mention for his extraordinary coolness in blowing a mean boogie, whether its his pre-Mighty Flyers years (the ’60s and ’70s are a part of that period) or after the Flyers debuted with their LP in 1980. Piazza is a veritable local treasure (and nationally-recognized) and still performs regularly here in the Inland Empire (not to mention overseas). Whether it’s downtown Riverside or in the town of Mentone, a local gig with Piazza at the helm is one blues set you won’t forget.
Kenny Loggins might’ve made movie soundtracks in the ’80s by flying into the “Danger Zone” and slippin‘ on his dancing shoes via Footloose. But in the decade prior, Loggins had a very important musical partner, Jim Messina (who had clocked time in the legendary Buffalo Springfield, Poco and his first band, surf-rockers Jim Messina and the Jesters), who helped him along as a producer and bandmate in Loggins and Messina. Messina, who originally hails from Colton, sold several million albums with Loggins, and continues to perform nationally as a solo artist, mixing his rock ’n‘ roll upbringing with many other music styles.
The eastern edge of the IE is best represented by one of the most recorded drummers in rock history, Palm Desert’s Hal Blaine, who is the heartbeat of countless rock radio hits of the ’60s and well into the ’70s. He was also the backbone in a sought after rhythm section known as “The Wrecking Crew.” The Weekly had the great fortune of interviewing the Grammy-winning Blaine a few years ago, whose ’70s hits include Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and The Carpenters’ “Close To You,” and who told us that he built his chops by playing locally in good ol‘ San Berdoo.
CAMPER VAN BEETHOVEN/CRACKER
It takes true talent for a band to take one of Black Flag’s greatest hits and tweak it to the point where it hardly resembles the original, yet is just as engaging. Enter Camper Van Beethoven. A couple years after CVB members moved from their Redlands home up north to Santa Cruz, the alternative rock (for lack of a better catch-all descriptor) group released its debut, Telephone Landslide Victory, featuring the jangly sing-along “Take the Skinheads Bowling.” Cracker, sharing some CVB members, formed in the ’90s after CVB’s several-year hiatus—both bands are now active entities and CVB will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2013.
At the height of The Unforgiven’s success, Sunset Boulevard glam metal was all the rage. And that’s what immediately set The Unforgiven apart. Rather than aim for a Poison-pretty look and follow trends dictated via heavy rotation on MTV, the Pomona-based group donned attire that would’ve been in heavy rotation on The History Channel, signed major, hit the road with acts like ZZ Top and Willie Nelson, played Farm Aid and had its hit “I Hear The Call” blasting on radios across the Southland. The fun ride came to a halt for over 20 years, until this past spring, when the group reunited at the Stagecoach festival.
Pull up White Flag’s Wikipedia page, zoom down and you’ll quickly notice some lists. There are rosters of current and former members, the latter of which includes popular names like Greg Hetson (Bad Religion/Circle Jerks), Kim Shattuck (The Muffs), Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies). Another lists the Moreno Valley (ahem, Sunnymead) band’s impressive discography of consistent releases, which dates back some 30 incredible years. Now, the naming similarity to South Bay’s Black Flag isn’t a total coincidence, nor are the names of some of its founders, like Pat Fear or Jello B. Afro. Hey, you’ve gotta have some classic punk rock humor!
FACE TO FACE
Probably one of the most famous rock groups to hail from the Inland Empire in recent memory (OK, so Slayer has members living in the IE, but they’re originally from South Gate), the melodic punk act from Victorville has oscillated between trio and quartet status, not to mention between inactivity and active (which is its current state). But all along, the band’s sound has remained true to form, and has garnered well-deserved national attention in the process. Face to Face frontman/founder Trever Keith has since relocated from the IE, but the band’s impressionable upbringing in the area’s clubs and punk scene is hard to forget, especially when radios are tuned into KROQ.
It’s now been over a quarter-century since the formation of Riverside’s Skeletones, though the 10-piece outfit bounces around on stage with the hyperactive, youthful exuberance of a group that just escaped the confines of its scorching suburban garage mere days earlier. A true pile-up of all things ska, reggae, rock, soul and, well, much more, the Skeletones have never left a listener behind with its variety of material. The group has shared bills with No Doubt, 311 and Incubus, and though it never reached the level of national household infiltration like the aforementioned bands, the Skeletones’ regional success has kept it fueled up for every impressive show.
VOODOO GLOW SKULLS
Ska-punks Voodoo Glow Skulls hit its stride in the ’90s, but the Riverside band’s success lingered into subsequent decades, steadily releasing full-lengths and in demand across the country as a touring unit. The group, based around the core of the Casillas brothers, broke independent scene ground with 1994’s Who Is This Is? on Alta Loma-based Dr. Strange Records and recorded two versions of its subsequent Epitaph debut, Firme, in both English and Spanish. Three more albums on Epitaph would be released before VGS signed with Victory Records for another trio of long-players. And VGS are long-players themselves, now on their 24th year together.
It’s easy to throw a nod to Riverside’s BellRays, especially after it so deservingly graced our cover earlier this year. Yes, two decades in the biz hasn’t fazed this punk-soul hybrid that’s as unique as they come, headed by the husband-wife team of Bob Vennum and Lisa Kekaula. The band has eluded the corporate rock game, instead playing by its own fiercely independent rules, which has reaped rewards and serious respect, both at home and abroad. Plus, its catalog of consistently solid albums is testament to such tenacity and spirit. And for those who’ve lost faith in rock’s future, one BellRays gig will turn you back into a believer.
The fact that Ben Harper’s grandparents founded the Folk Music Center in Claremont Village, and it’s a place where he’s spent much time, doesn’t mean that Harper isn’t a rock musician. But that’s the thing—he isn’t just a rock musician, either. Take a spin of nearly anything Harper’s recorded and you’ll quickly hear an amazingly diverse palette of genres (including folk, soul and blues) of which Harper uses to sonically paint with his guitars (which, themselves, are quite diverse) and voice. The critically acclaimed musician has earned a pair of well-deserved Grammys and has remained an international household name.
ALIEN ANT FARM
The Riverside/Corona-based Alien Ant Farm made unintentional international waves by recording its own updated version of the King of Pop’s “Smooth Criminal.” But the sad part is that the truly excellent single from its 2001 album ANThology, “Movies,” never received a fair shake, instead being quickly overshadowed by the Jackson attraction. Fortunately, the talented foursome was able to prove its original songwriting knack two years later with the follow-up LP, TruANT. After a few less active periods in the latter part of the decade, the band’s now back in the saddle, including performing live dates and getting songs ready for a new album.
OK, so we’re only two years into the current decade. However, know that there are many great artists to keep your eyes and ears open for, including Hobo Jazz (rewriting the rules of modern music with a throwback twist), The Paper Crowns (a sweetly sung and strummed duet), Alf Alpha (DJ cuts on the cutting edge of the desert), The Mighty Grasshoppers (featuring a host of IE rock veterans) and just about anything released on Shrimper Records (over 20 years of documenting excellent music from our stomping grounds). So, support your local scene and help continue to write future volumes of the Inland Empire’s rock music history.