The Chocolate Watchband
|The Chocolate Watchband|
|Also known as||The Hogs|
|Origin||San Jose, California, United States|
|Genres||Psychedelic rock, garage rock|
The Chocolate Watchband was an American psychedelic rock and garage rock band formed in San Jose, California, United States, in 1965. The band had broken up indefinitely by 1970 but then reunited in 1999 at a 66/99 show organized by Mike Stax in San Diego. They continue to play today at garage rock shows in Europe as well as the United 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 their producer. The band 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 The Shandels. Quickly becoming disillusioned, he took the discarded name "Chocolate Watchband" and recruited The Shandels' bass player Bill 'Flo' Flores and former Watchband drummer, Gary Andrijasevich. Next he convinced former Topsiders guitarist Dave "Sean" Tolby to enlist. Lastly, after attending rock shows all over the Bay Area, David Aguilar, was added as frontman.
Thus 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 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. One night at the Coconut Grove in Santa Cruz, "Season of the Witch" morphed into the Stones' "Going Home".
In a matter of weeks, the band was turning down shows. 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. Growing numbers of fans followed their stars from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Tahoe. They appeared 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.
Six months into their new adventure, the Chocolate Watchband took an abrupt turn when Hollywood record producers discovered them. In a turn of fate, after opening for the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore Auditorium, Bill Graham urged 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 path. 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 Rolling Stones. Cobb introduced the band to a song he had written a week earlier named "Sweet Young Thing". Released in December 1966 by Tower Records, the B-side featured the group's 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. They showed up for their first Uptown Records booked concert one Sunday afternoon at the Oakland Colosseum, and on the bill with them were Chuck Berry, the Coasters, Little Wayne, and ten other black rhythm and blues acts.
Even during meteoric early stage, the Watchband had begun 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." Cobb had other songs in mind for the Watchband to cover. 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 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. As the band's popularity grew, Loomis' influence begun to wane, and the stronger personalities of Dave Aguilar and Sean Tolby were taking it in a different direction. Danny Phay who had joined and now left the defunct Other Side, began meeting with Mark Loomis whose feelings of not being the leader of the band were growing and becoming difficult for him. Eventually, these feelings led to the break up of the Watchband. Discouraged by poor management, poor record distribution, lack of national tours, and lack of income, the band fell into a dark mood. Conversations among band members were obsessed with breaking recording contracts and finding new management. When there were no hit records or tours awaiting them, Loomis announced he was leaving to form a new band, The Tingle Guild.
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 Cobb later took credit for. 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 came together to finish outstanding contracts. The third Watchband was now a hard blues band, but lasted merely weeks. Shortly following the break-up of this version of the Watchband, Cobb sent word he wanted the band back in the studio to record a final album. Phone calls went out, the original Chocolate Watchband was going back into the studio to record a third album. However, upon meeting at Sean Tolby's house in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was revealed Danny Phay would also be singing lead on some of the songs in the album. Never entering the house, Aguilar turned around mentioning the band was fu*%!n nuts, and left, never to play with the original members together again. ( In later years he would direct marketing at an aerospace company in Boulder ending up directing a department at Harvard and writing books for National Geographic and Smithsonian.) On the first two albums Cobb and Harris had hedged their bets by not identifying who was in the band. On the third album, Cobb did not contribute a song. The seven songs that resulted from this recording session had a softer, folksier type of approach. In later years, it was revealed Ed Cobb had a contractual agreement to fulfill with no promotion money to back it. He really didn't care who or what was recorded on this album. It was a throwaway.
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) was:
- Sean Tolby, lead guitar.
- Bill 'Flo' Flores, bassist.
- Tim Abbott, guitarist.
- Mark Whittaker, the group's new drummer.
- Chris Flinders, 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 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 late 1968; its line-up consisted of:
- Sean Tolby, guitarist.
- Bill "Flo" Flores, bassist.
- Mark Loomis, guitarist.
- Gary Andrijasevich, drummer.
- Ned Torney, guitarist.
- Danny Phay, frontman and singer.
The band worked with Cobb to produce their third album, 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 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 break-up 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. 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 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 in Europe and America. Allmusic stated 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.
In June, 2013, the Watchband made it back to a recording studio in their hometown San Jose, to begin a new album. The band now is Timmy Abbott, lead guitar, engineer, producer and vocals; Gary Andrijasevich on drums and percussion; Albert Alicia on rhythm guitar; David Aguilar - vocals, keyboards, guitars, percussion, harmonica; Alec Palao - bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; plus the British born music critic/writer of 1960s garage rock music, and newest edition, Daryl Hooper - keyboards, guitars. The band had new songs and new takes on a few covers. The first song recorded was a tribute to Sky Saxon who had recently died. The Watchband recorded "I Can't Seem To Make You Mine" followed by Frank Zappa's, "Trouble Every Day", and more tracks.
From David Aguilar: This is a sad moment for all of us in the band. I never quite understood Mark's withdrawal and leaving, but in later years he expressed deep regret in breaking up the band. However, at that point in time there was no way to revive that magical moment in time. I always marveled at his guitar work and as time passed, my admiration for his musical abilities and unique guitar playing grew like the expanding universe. I can't express how sad I feel knowing all that is now permanently behind us. In my heart all I can say is thank you Mark for making the Watchband happen. And thank you for selecting me as your lead singer. With our fans - your musical notes will always play on.
- "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)