Sunday, July 24, 2011

Clap Meets The (Future) Imperial Dogs!

New York City-based Sing Sing Records just reissued Clap's semi-legendary 1973 album Have You Reached Yet?, featuring authoritative "I was there" liner notes from Back Door Man magazine founder "Phast Phreddie" Patterson, who recounts witnessing the infamous December 18, 1972 gig at the Shamrock Roller Arena in downtown Torrance where Sugar Boy (four-fifths of whom would become the Imperial Dogs) opened for Clap. You can see the flyer promoting the show here.

Clap are often mistakenly thought of as being from Manhattan Beach 'cause that's where the Nova Sol studio in which they recorded the LP and the similarly named label that originally issued the disc were based.

In truth, Clap singer Steve Morrison and his younger brother/bassist Jim, lead guitarist Dave Aurit, and rhythm guitarist Keith Till were all classmates of Sugar Boy/Imperial Dogs members Don Waller, Paul Therrio, and Tim Hilger at North Torrance high school.

The way we remember it, Clap started in 1965 as one of the 5,283 bands that called themselves the Chosen Few, which they shortened to the Few prior to adopting the nom de rock Clap. These early lineups included fellow North Torrance alumni guitarist Donnie Blair and first Ric Crist, then Lester Hurst on drums. While Hurst appears on some of the album's tracks, it's his replacement, Scott Murcier, who's pictured on the LP cover.

By the time that Don, Paul, and Tim, augmented by North Torrance classmate/rhythm guitarist Ron Vaselenko and drummer Bill Willett (who came from nearby Carson) formed Sugar Boy in 1972, Clap were the most popular local rock band around. Don and Paul vividly remember going to see Clap play a hall party somewhere in Gardena where they opened with a driving cover of the Kinks' "Victoria" (which was almost a revolutionary act for the time), but the rest of Clap's set was mostly Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper covers.

Not long after this, Clap invited Sugar Boy to open that show at the Shamrock Roller Arena. The gig was memorable for several reasons:

Once we got inside the building, we discovered there wasn't a stage, just a bunch of wooden pallets stacked on top of each other about three or four feet high, then covered with large sheets of plywood. When we took the "stage" -- all decked out in various shades of crushed velvet suits, scarves, brightly colored floral shirts, etc. -- and started jumping around, it was like playing in a rowboat!

And … the guitar and mike cords kept getting caught between the sheets of plywood, which were slipping around like tectonic plates and we were constantly distracted with trying -- not always successfully -- to keep everything plugged in. You can read a brief history of the Shamrock Roller Arena here.

Nevertheless, there were about 200 people there and considering that Sugar Boy's set was half original material, including "Contradictions" and "Needle And Spoon" -- which would later appear on the Imperial Dogs' Live! In Long Beach (October 30, 1974) DVD and their Unchained Maladies: Live! 1974-75 album, respectively -- and half covers that almost no one in the audience knew (everything from the Move's "Hello Suzie," the Blue Oyster Cult's "Cities On Flame With Rock And Roll," and Black Pearl by way of the Sandpebbles' "Forget It" to the Climax Blues Band's "Reap What I've Sowed," Crazy Horse by way of Randy Newman's "Gone Dead Train," the Faces' "Had Me A Real Good Time," and Eddie Cochran's "C'mon Everybody") we went down well.

Didn't get paid a penny out of the $1.25 that Clap charged everyone to get in, but then they'd booked the gig, they were the bigger draw, and we really just wanted the opportunity to play for their audience. (We'd only been playing shows for six months and this was our twelfth gig. It was also our last under the Sugar Boy name and lineup.)

Within weeks, we'd jettisoned Vaselenko as well as all the blues-based material -- we'd also been playing everything from Z.Z. Top's "Bedroom Thang," Free's I'll Be Creepin'," Fleetwood Mac's "Black Magic Woman," and Savoy Brown's "Tell Mama" to Willie Dixon's "Don't Go No Further," Earl King's "Come On," and Chuck Berry's "Down The Road Apiece," Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," the Small Faces' "Afterglow," the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter," and the Who's "Baba O'Riley -- and changed our name to White Light.

A couple months later, Phast Phreddie -- who Don first encountered when he found Phast pulling on his trouser leg at the Shamrock gig, asking, "Are you gonna play that Eddie Cochran song?" (Phast had seen Sugar Boy play El Camino Junior College about a month earlier) -- dropped by the house in Hermosa Beach that Don and Paul were now renting with Paul's older sister and our high school pal, Mike Utley, with the Clap album under his arm.

We were surprised. Nobody -- let alone a local band that we all knew -- released records on indie labels back then. We were also surprised that the album was all original material. Well, sort of. (Most of the songs shared far too much DNA with their obvious inspirations: then-current Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper hits, for openers.)

Clap themselves were reportedly extremely unhappy with the album's couldn't-be-less-sympathetic production and broke up shortly after its release. So did White Light, but the four of us soon reunited as the Imperial Dogs. And we remember that former Clap guitarist Dave Aurit came to see us play that Cal State Long Beach gig 'cause he handed Tim Hilger one of the "barf bags" that we passed out at the door, upon which he'd scribbled "bloody good show!" (A reference to Don's using a combination of stage blood and foaming capsules to simulate a puking O.D. in the middle of "This Ain't The Summer Of Love.")

Not long after this, Phast Phreddie wrote a letter to the now-late Greg Shaw's Bomp! magazine, talking about Clap's Have You Reached Yet? LP as well as the Imperial Dogs, which turned the album into a serious collector's item. Once copies of the original Clap LP began selling for north of $500, various bootleggers got into the act and that's what's been available until the fine folks at Sing Sing produced the legal reissue that can be found here.

Having now heard the album for the first time in 38 years, we can see why "garage-rock" and "proto-punk" aficionados have got their knickers in a twist. Yeah, the production is "low-fi," but the overall effect is closer to a great lost Shadows Of Knight album than just about anything else in recent memory. But don't take our word for it, check out this pair of links to YouTube clips for Clap's "Have You Reached Yet?" and "Out Of The Shadows" here and here.

And, of course, it's good to see our North Torrance homeboys get their however-belated due.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Imperial Dogs Vs. 'Babylon's Burning: From Punk To Grunge'

When Clinton Heylin wrote Babylon's Burning: From Punk To Grunge back in 2007, this is how he described the rockin' role played by the Back Door Man fanzine, the Back Door Man Records label, and the Imperial Dogs:

"However the story of L.A. punk starts with an earlier rock zine, Back Door Man, which propounded a punk aesthetic as far back as 1975, before there were any bands prepared to live up to such an ideal. As editor 'Phast Phreddie' Patterson points out, 'We had Ted Nugent and Blue Oyster Cult on the cover -- (at least) it wasn't the Eagles or Elton John! The image was very important to (Slash), (but) to us, it was (about) rock & roll.'

"Back Door Man was obligated to admit very little was happening out west in the mid-seventies -- especially after Patterson started receiving early singles by Television, Pere Ubu, the Damned and the Sex Pistols -- so the magazine attempted to start its own indie record label, much like Greg Shaw's Bomp.

"Unfortunately, they took the garageband aesthetic a little too far with their first single, issuing an a actual garage rehearsal of the Imperial Dogs, an L.A. Dolls with all of the slop, but none of the chops.

"After that disaster, they decided to recoup some money before any further 'new' releases, issuing a bootleg EP of Velvet Underground demos. The coffers refilled, they proceeded to issue a Zippers single, but it got caught in Glam's tail-light, even though it came out a year after Phast Phreddie sensed the new vibe emanating from the east, reaching all the way to la-la land, via Seattle."

Trouble is, there are so many errors in these four paragraphs that we really don't know where to start or where to begin. For openers:

1) The Imperial Dogs were still playing shows when the first issue of Back Door Man hit the streets -- the band's break-up is mentioned in the second issue -- so there was at least one L.A. band living up to the ideal of a punk aesthetic.

2) The first two singles on Back Door Man Records were by the Pop! ("Hit And Run Lover" b/w "Break The Chain" and "Down On The Boulevard" b/w "Easy Action" and "I Need You"). Both were issued in 1976. Both were released before the Imperial Dogs single ("This Ain't The Summer Of Love" b/w "I'm Waiting For The Man."), which came out in 1977.

3) That bootleg EP by the Velvet Underground was never issued on Back Door Man Records, but was issued solely by Gregg Turner -- who was one of the three principals in BDM Records along with Tom Gardner and Don Waller -- on a white label disc that bears neither a mention of nor the logo of Back Door Man Records.

4) Turner, Gardner and Waller each put up $100 to issue the first Pop! 45, then rolled that investment over into the second Pop! 45, then the Imperial Dogs 45, then the Zippers 45 ("You're So Strange" b/w "He's A Rebel"). They never lost money on any of these. After the Zippers 45, they all decided to go their separate ways, so they each took their original investment of $100 back, and that was that.

5) The only reason the Imperial Dogs 45 was ever released was because the Blue Oyster Cult had re-worked and recorded the Imperial Dogs' original version of "This Ain't The Summer Of Love" on their platinum-selling 1976 Agents Of Fortune LP, and the BDM Records principals thought the public should know the origins of the song.

As for "all of the slop, but none of the chops," here are both sides of the Imperial Dogs 45, so you can be the judge of that …

This Ain't The Summer Of Love (Original Version)/the Imperial Dogs

I'm Waiting For The Man/the Imperial Dogs

But as James "The Hound" Marshall has written on his thehoundblog here: "Bands in the years 1972-74 that were precursors to the punk explosion are a subject that really deserves a book, by anyone but Clinton Heylin, who couldn't find CBGB on the map. I stopped reading his book when he put it on 'the corner of Bowery and 2nd Ave.,' two avenues that run parallel and never meet, although I had a feeling I wasn't going to finish it when he called Raw Power -- mellow, I think was the term."