Regular readers of this column know I have a soft spot for local music and love compilation albums.
So, the recently released "California Nuggets" interests me in a big way. It came out Tuesday on Valley Grown Records and features 25 tracks from unknown fuzz, mod rock and R&B bands that played in the San Joaquin Valley during the 1960s.
This is just volume one.
Produced by Dick Lee, the album is a tribute to the obscure "Valley Grown" cassette tapes that were distributed to disc jockeys and program directors around the country in the 1970s. Lee has been amassing an online archive of bands and venues that were operating at that time, along with pictures and stories (including some of his own. He played drums in the Lemoore band The Brymers).
For those looking for history, it's here.
"California Nuggets" features musicians who later made names for themselves in other bands. Pat Vegas — listed on the album as Pat and Lolly Vegas — went on to form the band Redbone, and Bruce Conte played with the Road Runners before playing with Tower of Power.
Mostly, these artists (and their songs) fell into obscurity.
Commercial radio has a habit of reworking our collective history to overshadow the local community of bands playing in any city at any given time. The radio plays The Rolling Stones so often, we think that's all there was. No one remembers that Fresno had The Road Runners and Merced had The Brogues, and both played solid Stones-style blues rock. They also have the compilation album's most rocking tracks.
Of course, some bands get forgotten for good reason, and not all the songs work.
The Avengers' "Be a Caveman," is a misogynistic novelty track suggesting you drag your women by the hair and has the lyrics: "Show a woman that you're a man ... Be a caveman ... Keep her in line."
"Two Wheels are Better than Four," is an ode to motorcycles that is a fun enough, but it plays out like a total Beach Boys rip-off to modern ears (or is it Jan and Dean?)
The album does have its gems.
"Have You Been Alive," by Kingsburg's Sedate Sunshine Colony, is a beautiful bit of pre-progressive glam-rock that brings to mind "Space-Oddity"-period David Bowie, while the psychedelic "Kill the Cobra," by Kingsburg's Bently Road makes you wonder what was in the city's water back then.
Taken in pieces, the album is a great listen with big appeal for fans of the era, especially those looking for music passed over by mainstream radio.
Thrown together, it feels overloaded.
By their nature, these kinds of albums can easily fall into tedium, and focusing on a particular genre (the R&B bands for example) would have helped with the album's flow. As it is, the songs move from garage-rock to psychedelia to doo-wop with no sense of reason.
Bottom line: "California Nuggets" is a nice history lesson, but not something you'll keep on repeat.
"California Nuggets: Fuzz, Mod Rock and R&B Unknowns Vol. 1" was released Tuesday on Valley Grown Records. It is available on cdbaby.com.
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