The Chocolate Watchband
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|The Chocolate Watchband|
|Also known as||The Hogs|
|Origin||San Jose, California|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, garage rock|
The Chocolate Watchband, was a psychedelic rock and garage rock band formed in San Jose, California in 1965. The band had finally broken up indefinitely by 1970 but then reunited in 1999 at a 66/99 show Mike Stax organized in San Diego. They continue to play today at garage rock shows in Europe as well as the States with Little Steven and the Electric Prunes. The band's music was largely described as a blend of 1960s-style garage rock and psychedelic rock that was influenced heavily by the Rolling Stones. The group's early music appeared to contain blues influences, and later it developed psychedelic elements through use of instrumental experimentation. Ed Cobb was well known as their producer. The band also appeared in the 1967 films Riot on Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins.
Early line-up (1965)
The Chocolate Watchband was formed in the summer of 1965 by Ned Torney and Mark Loomis, who had previously played guitar together in a local band known as The Chaparrals the previous year, 1964.
The Chocolate Watchband's founding line-up consisted of members:
- Ned Torney – guitar
- Mark Loomis – guitar
- Rich Young – bass
- Pete Curry – drums
- Jo Kemling – vox organ
- Danny Phay – vocals. Phay was well known for his on-stage presence as a charismatic frontman.
This line-up quickly dissolved: the draft claimed Rich Young, and their drummer, Pete Curry, left and was replaced by Gary Andrijasevich, a jazz drummer from Cupertino High School. The final blow came when a San Francisco-based combo known as The Topsiders offered Ned Torney a position as the band's guitarist. Torney's departure coincided with that of frontman Danny Phay and organist Jo Kemling, who also left the Watchband in order to join The Topsiders. As a result of their departure, Torney, Phay, Kemling, as well as Ken Matthew and Tom Antone (members of The Topsiders) formed a new band called The Other Side.
Instant success – Loomis–Aguilar line-up (1966–1967) With the first version of the Watchband disbanded, Mark Loomis moved on to join a popular young local band known as The Shandels. There, he quickly became bored playing at bowling alleys and drive-in movie theaters for pre-teen audiences. In his heart, he had a bigger dream. Besides acting revenge on the band that had dropped him, his desire, like every other young musician's at the time, was to be part a super-group like the Jefferson Airplane or Beatles. Assembling a band of accomplished and talented musicians was his new goal. The challenges of playing in bands that only knew three cords were over. He would take the discarded name "Chocolate Watchband" and turn it into something the world would never forget. He started with The Shandels' bass player Bill 'Flo' Flores. Billy was an inspired bass player originally from Hingham, a small town outside of Boston. Billy knew rhythm and blues backwards and forwards. His booming solid bass, combined with young, left behind, Watchband drummer, Gary Andrijasevich would become the signature center of the Watchband sound. Everything would radiate out from drums and bass. Next he convinced former Topsiders guitarist Dave "Sean" Tolby to enlist. An accomplished rhythm guitarist, Sean also had the uncanny looks of a British rock star. Lastly, after attending rock shows all over the Bay Area, David Aguilar, the young charismatic, audience engaging frontman of a local band known as The Early Morning Reign, became the crown that topped the new Watchband lineup.
The Watchband's new incarnation consisted of:
- Mark Loomis, lead guitarist and keyboardist.
- David Aguilar, lead singer, harmonica player, music arranger and songwriter.
- Gary Andrijasevich, drummer and backup singer.
- Sean Tolby, rhythm guitarist .
- Bill 'Flo' Flores, bassist and backup singer.
Loomis naturally asserted the role of leader during this initial time period, although the band never acknowledged it had designated leader. Songs to cover were presented, shows were talked about, the band voted together on all decisions. Sean Tolby (whose resemblance to Brian Jones was remarkable) obtained the latest in Vox equipment while Loomis provided the space for nightly rehearsals. Within a week, the band began performing at local teen-circuit hangouts in San Francisco's South Bay, playing a range of songs that included obscure British import tunes never released before in the states. The band earned a reputation for combining different songs instantly and seamlessly on stage in real time. One night at the Coconut Grove in Santa Cruz, "Season of the Witch" morphed into the Stones' "Going Home". The power of the band was their driving music and stage presence. Challenging and sometimes embarrassing headlining acts, this became a band you did not want to follow on stage.
In a matter of a few short weeks, the band was turning down shows. From the moment they came together, magic happened. Unlike other local bands who were covering the latest hits from the top 10 on radio, the Watchband played songs few people had ever heard before. Thus, in many instances, these songs became associated with the Watchband and not the original artists. One of the best examples was "I'm Not Like Everybody Else". Appearing on the B-side of a Kinks British release, the Watchband got their hands on it and suddenly owned it! Played back to back, many rock critics feel the Kinks version pales to the energy of the Watchband's recording. And the growing numbers of admiring fans grew as they now followed their new young stars from San Francisco to Los Angeles to even Tahoe. To the Watchband, the stage performance was everything! Appearing alongside the Dead, the Airplane, the Yardbirds, Santana, Big Brother, Lovin' Spoonful, Mothers of Invention, Mindbenders, the Seeds, the Syndicate of Sound, the Gollywogs soon to be known as Creedence Clearwater, Jimmy Hendrix, and the Doors, the sky was the limit.
Six months into their new rock adventures, the Chocolate Watchband's stage conquests took an abrupt turn when Hollywood record producers discovered them. In a strange turn of fate, after opening for the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore Auditorium, Bill Graham charged in their dressing room excitedly urging them to sign a management contract with him. He was opening up a new Fillmore East in New York City and wanted to shuttle the Watchband, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane back and forth from coast to coast as his personal house bands. However, having signed a management contract with local promoter Ron Roupe a week earlier, their future followed a different road. Roupe, having secured a recording deal with Green Grass Productions in Los Angeles, introduced the band to producers Ed Cobb and Ray Harris. Whisked to Hollywood and into the recording studio, as a warm-up to show Cobb what the band could do, they quickly put down tracks for "Come On" - a Chuck Berry tune that had also been the first tune recorded by the young Rolling Stones. Now, with a clearer sense of the band's sound and energy level, Cobb introduced the band to a song he had written a week earlier named "Sweet Young Thing". Incidentally, the song Cobb had written a few weeks before that was "Dirty Water" which he had given to the Standells, another band under contract to Greengrass Productions. Years later, according to interviews with Cobb, he lamented that the Watchband never had the opportunity to record "Dirty Water". Released in December 1966 by Tower Records , the B-side featured the group's eclectic cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", another stage song the band regularly played. However, unknown to the Watchband, Tower Records farmed the distribution of their recordings out to Uptown Records - a black rhythm and blues label- because someone at Tower Records had thought the "Chocolate" Watchband were a "black" rock and roll band from the Bay area. Imagine the surprises on the faces of the band when they showed up for their first Uptown Records booked concert one Sunday afternoon at the Oakland Colosseum. On the bill with them was Chuck Berry, the Coasters, Little Wayne, and ten other black rhythm and blues acts!
Even during meteoric early stage, the Watchband had began writing their own material with Dave Aguilar penning originals like "Right By My Side", "Gone & Passes By", "Don't Need Your Lovin' Anymore", "No Way Out" and "Sitting There Standing." Being an excellent songwriter himself, Ed Cobb had other songs in mind for the Watchband to cover. His goal was to shape the image of the band into some mystical and drug influenced - a Bay Area version of Pink Floyd. What he had on his hands, however, was a powerhouse rock band that could easily challenge the Stones. Many songs presented to the Watchband to record were immediately dismissed. There was no way the band was going to do a cover of "Hot Dusty Roads" or "Good Guys Sometimes Don't Wear White". They simply said, "NO" to Cobb's chagrin. Instead, they insisted on recording "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", "Midnight Hour", and "Baby Blue" - songs they were playing every night at their concerts. Although "Sweet Young Thing" enjoyed airplay around the Bay Area during the Spring of 1967, poor distribution and lack of publicity by Uptown Records doomed it. Decades later - re-recorded by Jet in 2012, "Sweet Young Thing" revealed how circumstances beyond their control held the Watchband back. The Watchband's second single was the commercial-sounding "Misty Lane", released with a sweet orchestrated ballad, "She Weaves a Tender Trap", as its B-side. At the time, the band hated "She Weaves A Tender Trap". It wasn't their sound or energy level. It sounded like a tired country western tune they were forced to record. However, in the months to follow, this was exactly the kind of music Mark Loomis hoped the Watchband might start writing and playing. As the band's popularity grew, Mark's influence begun to wane. This was devastating to him. In his mind, he had put the band together. He was the reason it existed. And, he was right. But now, the stronger personalities of Dave Aguilar and Sean Tolby were taking it in a different direction... a direction he had no control over. His still close friend and lead singer Danny Phay who had joined and now left the defunct Other Side, had a quieter more melodic voice. He and Mark got along well together and Danny was willing to let Mark take the lead. These feelings of not being the leader of the band eventually led to the break up of the Watchband. Discouraged by poor management, poor record distribution, lack of national tours, lack of income, the band fell into a dark mood. Conversations among band members were obsessed with breaking recording contracts and finding new management. Now, with some of the members heavily into acid and other drugs, music wasn't fun anymore. They had conquered the Bay Area. They had been shut out from playing with their peers the Dead and Airplane across the country. There were no hit records or tours awaiting them. And that's when Mark announced he was leaving to form a new band, "The Tingle Guild". The final blow had been struck. The magic was over. The Chocolate Watchband had burnt out. It was time to move on to other things. Decades later upon reflection, Mark would lament - this was the biggest mistake of his life. But maybe it wasn't. He had sensed the futility that had engulfed this quixotic group and the no-win situation they were in. He was simply the first to launch a lifeboat....
During this period The Watchband were featured in two Sam Katzman films: Riot on Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins. The latter film inspired The Watchband's next single; "Are You Gonna Be There At The Love-In", which was written and recorded in one day. The single was released with the B-side "No Way Out", an instrumental spawned from a studio warm-up with spontaneous Aguilar vocals that Ed Cobb later took credit for. However bad these B-Movies were, they did something that revealed to the rock world just who the Watchband really were. In "Riot on Sunset Strip", critics claim the Watchband appearance steals the movie. In one short song staged in Pandora's Box in LA, the Watchband demonstrates who they really were ....a powerhouse, charismatic rock band headed for stardom.
With Loomis gone, the band drifted apart in late-1967 shortly after the release of their second album "No Way Out". A new Watchband with Sean Tolby, Billy Flores, Gary Andrijasevich, Tim Abbott and Mark Flinders quickly came together to finish outstanding contracts the remained. The third Watchband was now a hard blues band. It only lasted a few weeks. Shortly following the breakup of this version of the Watchband, Ed Cobb sent word he wanted the band back in the studio to record a final album. This album turned out to be a needed tax write-off for Greengrass Productions. They didn't care who appeared as the Watchband. On the first two albums Cobb and Harris had hedged their bets by not identifying who was in the band. On the third album, Ed Cobb did not contribute a song. He had moved on. The seven songs that resulted from this recording session lived up to all the expectations Mark had for a softer, folksier type of Chocolate Watchband. To local fans and listeners of the first two albums, it was a disappointing adventure. It wasn't the same Chocolate Watchband that could send concert goers through the roof in ecstasy. To many it was a tired plodding album that lacked spark. And to the world, it was the last of the Chocolate Watchband they thought they would ever hear.
Continuation – Tolby–Abbott line-up (1967)
After the departure of Loomis, Andrijasevich and Aguilar, Tolby and Flores were left with the duty of fulfilling a month's worth of bookings. They decided to enlist the services of Tim Abbott, Mark Whittaker and Chris Flinders, members of the San Francisco Bay Blues Band.
The Chocolate Watchband's resurrected line-up (after their breakup in mid-1967) were:
- Sean Tolby, as a guitarist (handling lead guitar).
- Bill 'Flo' Flores, as a bassist.
- Tim Abbott, serving as a guitarist.
- Mark Whittaker, as the group's new drummer.
- Chris Flinders, a "Paul Butterfield disciple", served as the group's new frontman.
The band still maintained a level of success, but the sound and style differed somewhat from the original band. They managed to secure a place as the opening act for The Doors and also performed at the KFRC Magic Mountain Festival. In late Autumn of 1967, Abbott and Flinders had a disagreement with Tolby and manager Ron Roupe over financial matters, which ensured the indefinite break-up of the Watchband in December 1967.
Reformation - Break-Up (1968-1969)
The Chocolate Watchband was reformed in Autumn 1968; its line-up consisted of:
- Sean Tolby, as a guitarist.
- Bill "Flo" Flores, as a bassist.
- Mark Loomis, as a guitarist.
- Gary Andrijasevich, as a drummer.
- Ned Torney, as a guitarist.
- Danny Phay, as the frontman and singer.
The band worked with Cobb to produce their third album, the relatively original One Step Beyond. They began to chafe at Cobb's influence because they believed he presented them as being more instrumental on record than they were live. Cobb in later life would be quoted as saying he lamented his lack of curiosity---while often seeming to hold the band in contempt, going far enough to suggest they couldn't work in the studio without consuming copious amounts of drugs, a suggestion debunked by other historians of the band. Thankfully Cobb also used session musicians, sometimes entire ghost bands, to record portions of Chocolate Watchband albums. Less than half of The Inner Mystique, for example, featured the actual Watchband. One Step Beyond was a commercial failure except for the songs written and sung by David Aguilar that were put in on the album from past recording sessions, but on other tracks session players---including Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller (who played on "Devil's Motorcycle")---were used.
The Chocolate Watchband recorded a Cobb tune already done by The Standells, "Medication" (on The Inner Mystique).
The band's story might have ended with their final breakup in 1970, but when a revival of psychedelic music and garage-band punk picked up steam by the 1980s, the Chocolate Watchband's original albums began swapping, reportedly, for as much as $100 per copy, according to allmusic.com. Rhino Records issued a best-of in 1982; Sundazed and other labels re-issued the original albums on compact discs, including bonus tracks.
By the middle of the 1990s, the former band members began thinking about a reunion, and it finally took place in 1999. Dave Aguilar, Tim Abbott (replacing Mark Loomis, who backed out of the reunion), Bill Flores, and Gary Andrijasevich reunited, adding Michael Reese in Sean Tolby's place. The Watchband began gigging that year, culminating in a well-received show at New York's Cavestomp and a live album, At the Love-In Live! in 2001. They also issued a studio album,Get Away, in between the Cavestomp show and the live album. The group has since gigged heavily in Europe and America; allmusic.com says they finally got "the worldwide recognition and fan adoration that should have been theirs in 1967."
In 2005, Melts in Your Brain . . . Not on Your Wrist, a two-CD compilation of the Chocolate Watchband's complete Tower/Uptown recordings, was released.
- "Sweet Young Thing" / "Baby Blue" : Uptown 740 (1966)
- "Misty Lane" / "She Weaves a Tender Trap" : Uptown 749 (1967)
- "Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)" / "No Way Out" : Tower 373 (1967)
- No Way Out: Tower ST 5096 (1967)
- The Inner Mystique: Tower ST 5106 (1968)
- One Step Beyond: Tower ST 5153 (1969) (as The Chocolate Watchband)
- Get Away: Orchard 3716 (2000)
- At the Love-In Live!: Roir 8272 (2001)
- The Best of the Chocolate Watchband: Rhino RNLP-108 (1983)
- Forty Four: Big Beat WIKA 25 (1984)
- Melts In Your Brain... Not On Your Wrist!: Big Beat CDWIK2 249 (2005)
- David Aguilar. "It's ALIVE! - History Part 1".