Monday, October 27, 2014

THE MONTERAS: A TEENAGE COMBO


By Stuart Shea

Even before the Beatles’ international breakthrough, the band revolution had begun. In the U.S. and Canada, bands played rock and roll, R&B, instrumental music, and surf, often combined into a raw, early form of what would be soon called “garage” or “teenbeat” music. English kids, weaned on skiffle, R&B, and American 50s rock and roll, formed their own groups. Europe, Latin America, and Asia experienced the same phenomenon.

Once the Beatles broke out in North America in early 1964, the group movement exploded. Every neighborhood in the U.S. and Canada had its own bands or, as they were often known, combos. Some of them never left their own basements; some became locally famous; some even had national hits.

Somewhere near the middle of this scale existed the Monteras, pride of the Northwest side of Chicago. (The name is pronounced with the emphasis on the middle syllable, which rhymes with “care.”)

Just teenagers, playing in a basement and surrounded by supportive families and dreams of stardom, they used their classical training, youthful energy, and love of danceable rock and roll to create their own magic. Known in their community, playing teen dances and “talented teen” contests, the Monteras worked hard, entertained people, and had a lot of fun.

They even got to make a record. The Monteras won a battle-of-the-bands in late 1966 and, as their prize, were awarded a couple of hours of recording time at Recordings Unlimited, a mid-level studio in Chicago. Confirming that this process had elements of a scam, the youngsters were then offered the “opportunity” to buy the ensuing product: a box or two, or more, of their own songs pressed on a 45 RPM record bearing the Orlyn label. (Orlyn Records did no promotion and had no connections to radio or television. It was simply a company that pressed up discs to be sold.)

Despite the somewhat seedy nature of the enterprise, the Monteras were, through this process, captured forever—their place, time, and youth preserved on plastic.


The group’s 45 (“You’re a Tease” backed with “Cry Myself to Sleep”), pressed late in 1967 despite being recorded several months earlier, did not move far beyond the circle of their friends and relatives. The band vended copies of the record at their gigs, gave some away, and that was it. With no contacts in radio or TV, airplay was all but impossible, even at a time when Top 40 radio playlists were far more open to independent music than now.

(That the playlists were broader is reflected in the Billboard magazine chart of January 8, 1966, when the top 20 included songs by the Beatles, Stones, Lovin’ Spoonful, Four Seasons, James Brown, Roger Miller…and less “hip” acts such as Al Martino, the Statler Brothers, the Vogues, and Herman’s Hermits.)

Having said all this, it’s important to get some historical context in order to fully appreciate the time and place from which the Monteras (and other such groups) came.

THE LOCAL LANDSCAPE

In 1966, while the Beatles were beginning to relax and float downstream, the Stones serenaded “Lady Jane” with dulcimers, and the Byrds, Beach Boys, and Jefferson Airplane were expanding minds on the West Coast, a lot of kids just weren’t all that interested; they wanted to dance to “Devil With a Blue Dress” and “Good Lovin’” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Farmer John” and “Louie Louie.”

And rockin’ dance music is what local teen combos delivered. In general, these bands were hard-working, well-rehearsed, mostly white groups that rocked white and black dance music, thinking nothing strange of playing old 50s and early 60s numbers several years past their release.

And just because one of the guys in the band had one of those fancy new 12-string guitars didn’t mean they played only Byrds or Beatles songs. There was no irony in white Midwestern teenagers singing songs by the Four Tops or Dale Hawkins; it was all just rock and roll.

Sure, in 1967, the year the Monteras’ record was pressed, famous artists released acknowledged masterpieces such as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Younger Than Yesterday and “Respect” and “For What it’s Worth” and “Reflections” and “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

But it was also a year of music often viewed now as less “cool” or “enduring.” Groups like the Monkees and Rascals, and singles such as “Jimmy Mack,” “Get On Up,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” were just as popular at the time as the more “serious” songs; most stand up as well today as do their more critically revered counterparts.

Jann Wenner had not yet decided what music his just-born Rolling Stone magazine would canonize decades later in its foggy looks backward. There was no rock criticism as such and no critically-formed notion yet existed of the music that was important in 1967.

Teen music was not nearly as segmented back then as it is today. Rock, progressive pop, soul, adult pop, avant-garde weirdness, R&B, and jazzy Latin beats co-existed on radio stations, and the time seems all the more special for that.

Way Back In The 1960s, no one segment of the teen market was large enough to support a radio station that would only play one kind of rock and roll. The Top 40 was—for a glorious decade and a half—a great way to hear and learn about all kinds of different music. Housewives heard that new Beatles song; tough kids learned Petula Clark ballads; middle-class white teenagers got turned on to R&B.

The Monteras are products of that time, kids growing up in a major city made up of tightly-knit neighborhoods. Kids had favorite bands, just like now, but information and access were far more limited. With no Internet and no rock music press—only magazines on the level of 16, Tiger Beat, and Jet bothered to run articles about pop stars—kids got their music from the radio and, often, from the band down the street. Chicago groups such as the Buckinghams, New Colony Six, and Cryan’ Shames, supported by local radio, had national hits, inspiring hundreds of local kids to follow in their footsteps.

Mike, John, Lyn, Tony, and Joe: The Monteras.
In Chicago, the top 40 radio powerhouses were legendary rivals WLS and WCFL (and WVON for R&B, jazz, and soul). WNWC served the northwest suburbs with a “local band”-heavy mix of top 40, and Northwest Indiana had its own pop/rock and R&B stations as well.

A few television programs featured rock music, including the afternoon American Bandstand and Where the Action Is! and the prime-time Ed Sullivan Show, Hollywood Palace, and Smothers Brothers Hour. All these shows, however, came from the coasts. And with no VCRs around at the time, if you missed the show, you wouldn’t see it again.

Chicago’s local rock TV show, Kiddie-a-Go-Go, featured pre-teens imitating their brothers and sisters’ dance steps. Not exactly the equal of Bandstand.

But kids not in Manhattan or on the Sunset Strip had their own scenes. All over the continent rock and soul bands played dance halls; hundreds of them recorded great 45s. For many mid- and late-1960s groups such as the Monteras, playing teen clubs, school dances, or shopping mall openings was its own great reward. To be a local celebrity meant something, because it might be as far as most of them got in music.

But as many people around at the time have pointed out, things began to change during 1968, a year of street violence, assassination, social upheaval, and a new sense of youth engagement—and sometimes clash—with the greater political and social cultures. The music, attitude, equipment, issues, and drugs all got heavier, more intense.

Carl Giammarese of the Buckinghams has noted that his band—which had five top ten hits in 1967—went on tour early in 1968 and by the time they came back, they weren’t popular any more. By 1969, nothing was left of the commercial careers of the Cowsills, Gary Lewis, Herman’s Hermits, or the Monkees. Lighter, catchier pop became property of pre-teens, while their older siblings took up heavier rock.

By the middle 1970s, bands were playing with more amplification, more expensive instruments, and a much more serious vibe. Nobody thought much anymore about those 1960s garage bands. With memories of the mid-1960s eclipsed just a few years later by the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin, and the consolidation of radio and record companies by marketing “experts” who shrunk playlists and segmented markets, records like the Monteras’ sank deeper into the crevices of history.

And such records would have remained unknown if not for two things: record collectors and the Internet.

Only a few music fans actively seek out old, obscure records. Such people find certain discs fascinating because of their sounds, their labels, or their rarity. Luckily, for those fanatics, there is plenty of material to search through.

Hundreds of small, independent record labels existed all over the U.S. and Canada in the 1960s and 1970s. Anyone with a dream and a few dollars could press up recordings and sell them. Chicago boasted the legendary Chess and Mercury labels, and other smaller but also somewhat profitable local record companies such as USA, One-Derful, Windy C, and Cha Cha followed in their footsteps.

The Orlyn label, run by a man named Oren Stembel (who also ran Recordings Unlimited), was more of a bargain-basement concern, and it counted a high percentage of “talent-show scam” teen rock records among its exceedingly difficult-to-find releases.

Rock 45s on the Orlyn label are a perfect storm for collectors for several reasons: First, they were pressed in small quantities. In addition, they weren’t pressed on high-grade plastic, making them fragile and thus easier to break. Since they weren’t “hits,” they might be tossed out by many of their original (or later) owners. And finally, the sounds they contain are different than much of what is referred to now as 60s “garage band” music—at least that of the more popular bands such as The Electric Prunes, Seeds, or Shadows of Knight.

Every Orlyn rock 45 commands at least a few hundred bucks when offered for sale, with many valued much higher. The Outspoken Blues’ “Not Right Now,” of which only a handful of copies exist, went for $4,950 on EBay in 2007, while the Savoys’ “Work it Out” fetched more than $5,000 at auction the following year (though subsequent copies have sold for well under a fifth of that).

Are these records good? Some, including those by the Monteras, Graf Zepplin, Noblemen, and Try-Angle, among others, are excellent, up to the standards of what was on the radio at the time. Others are mediocre. Some are bad.

What they have in common is that they were made by real people largely untouched by meddling marketers, radio consultants, well-meaning producers, or larger commercial concerns. They’re songs done by people who could be your aunts or uncles or parents, people with a connection to their immediate environment, people making music of a particular moment with whatever equipment they had. It’s a world that doesn’t really exist any longer.

Once people found that some of these records on small labels were not only rare but good, videos began popping up on YouTube, albeit often in low-fidelity versions of recordings that were low-fidelity to begin with. Happily, the Monteras’ songs are available for all to hear. (And hearing them for free is certainly easier than doing so for $1,200, which is what an EBay bidder paid for an original copy of “You’re a Tease”/“Cry Myself to Sleep” in June 2014.)

OKAY, SO WHAT ABOUT THE MONTERAS? WHO WERE THEY?

JOE MALIN (born Malinowski): lead guitar, organ, lead and backing vocals
LYN MALIN (born Malinowski): organ, backing vocals
MIKE MELARKEY: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, lead and backing vocals
JOHN SCOVILLE: drums
TONY WINTER: bass, lead and backing vocals

Joe Malin originally had a band that he called the Monteras, which broke up. The group re-formed with all new personnel, and after a few personnel changes, the lineup noted just above had coalesced by late 1966. The next year they recorded their 45 for Orlyn Records.

The a-side is “You’re a Tease.” Joe, the group’s eldest member, wrote and sang it. “Tease” rocks in a muscular, American style reminiscent of the Rascals, Raiders, and Outsiders, and features a lyrical theme and ending similar to an early Beatles single. “Cry Myself to Sleep,” the flip, was written by Tony and Mike. Sung by Tony, it is anguished and haunting, with spectral organ fills. Both sides feature fine ensemble playing and three-part harmonies.

Theirs is the sound of a well-rehearsed band letting loose, their self-developed, heartfelt songs and sound unfiltered by commercial considerations, record industry “advice,” or self-consciousness. The sound quality on their songs is pretty good for the genre, but certainly not what you’d expect from, for example, the audio of a contemporary CD release—which, for some people, is a deal-breaker. (I’m sorry for those people.)

A few years ago, Lyn Amenitsch (nee Malin) was astonished to find, through a simple Internet search, that the record she had played on was not only known, but also valuable. “You’re a Tease” had also been included, without the band’s knowledge, on a compilation of obscure Midwestern 1960s “garage” (or, more accurately, “basement”) groups called Quagmire Vol. 1. This sparked the band to get in touch for a reunion; the five hadn’t been together since 1967.

Finding the members of the Monteras was not that easy. But a little digging, and a few emails later, I’d gotten in touch. That they all live around Chicago is fortunate; that they were all willing to be interviewed, nearly 50 years later, was even more so.

When I informed the members of the band about my desire to write this article, all five of them shared their memories and thoughts.

Just kids, all of 'em.
Rather than relate a simple linear narrative, I decided instead to incorporate the band’s own words, which could tell the story far better than anything else. Of course, as a writer, it’s impossible to completely step out of the way. Someone has to decide what to ask; interviews can’t be too long, or the subject will rightfully lose interest. So using the criterion, “If I were reading this, what would I want to know?”, I came up with questions for each band member.

After receiving the responses, I arranged them into a sort of chronological “dialogue.” My goal was to make it seem as if the band was sitting around a table having a conversation. Combining first-person recollection with perspective allowed me to capture the Monteras, and the feel of their time, as well as explain how history has treated them, and the culture from which they came.

One interesting point that came out in interviewing the Monteras: Three members of the band had differing memories of how many 45s were actually pressed. Also interesting is just how young these kids were, something confirmed by the wonderful photos included here.

What follows is a rough oral account of the band, the story delivered in the members’ own words. All five Monteras, generous with their thoughts, recalled their times in the band with humor and no little fondness.

THE BAND REVOLUTION

MIKE MELARKEY (guitar): There were a lot of “garage bands” back then. Not sure why they were called “garage bands,” as we always practiced in someone’s basement. In 1964-65, everyone wanted to be like the Beatles and being in a “band” was kind of a status symbol (not to mention the fact that the neighborhood girls would drop by and listen to the music…the better you sounded, the more they dropped by).

I went to Gordon Tech [High School] even though most of my friends from St. Priscilla’s [grammar school] went to either St. Pat’s or Holy Cross. I’d occasionally run into friends from grammar school on the bus or at the Friday night teen “sock hops” that St. Priscilla’s put on in the church’s basement. It was there that Father Dore announced a “Battle of the Bands” with a $100 first prize...I was approached by Steve Forester, a classmate of mine from eighth grade, in fall 1965. He had heard that I played. He played bass and was forming a band to compete in “The Battle.” He procured Tony Winter, whom he met at St. Pat’s High School for lead guitar, and needed me for rhythm guitar. A fellow named Mike D., one of the “neighborhood greasers,” was the drummer.

TONY WINTER (bass): My father played violin. Many family friends played a variety of instruments. Parties with family and friends often included music provided by the adults. Music was fun, family, and friends. Like most people my age, I decided to learn guitar when The Beatles arrived.

Mike Melarkey with 12-string and odd microphone cover.
MIKE: After many, many rehearsals for the competition, the big Friday night “Battle of the Bands” was upon us [in 1966]. We were allowed two songs. I remember they were “Gloria” by the Shadows of Knight and “Good Lovin’” by the Young Rascals. Unfortunately, every single band that competed that night (maybe five or six) had chosen those same songs.

We were the runner-up and were invited to play another tune for the audience before the evening came to a close. Not sure how it happened, but John Scoville sat in on drums for our version of “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. Tony and I looked at each other after the song started and without saying a word, we knew that we had to get John as a permanent member. He was light years ahead of anyone at the competition that night.

JOHN SCOVILLE (drums): I was knocked off my feet when The Beatles made their debut in the U.S. It was straight to the local music store to sign up for drum lessons.

My family moved to the Northwest side of Chicago from the Austin District when I was nine; there were no other musicians in my family so I was blazing a new trail. When me and a few neighborhood buddies decided that we wanted to take lessons and start a band we were walking to the local music school deciding who was going to play what and I just insisted that I going to be the drummer.

MIKE: No changes were made to the band, however, until the summer of 1966.

THE MALINS GET INVOLVED

MIKE: Tony Winter’s family was close friends of the Malin family. The Malins had a son, Joe, who was in college and a part time musician/guitar teacher.

JOE MALIN (guitar): Before the Monteras, I was in several other bands that had broken up, including a band called the Contrasts. Playing with the Contrasts was my first experience of performing at the Illinois State Fair battle of the bands. We didn’t win anything, but we did get to meet and play on the same stage with Del Shannon. I have his autograph on an envelope from the State Fair.

MIKE: Joe came to one of our practices just to give us some pointers and direction. He had previously been in a band and had much more experience than us. He was four years older than us and had given his old band up because of his demanding college schedule. He got the itch back that night and we formed the Monteras. Joe switched Tony to bass guitar, kept me on rhythm guitar, and said he would handle lead guitar. Mike D. stayed on drums.

JOE: I was 18 and was not playing with any other band at the time. Some friends of our family had a son, Tony Winter, who was 13 or 14 and trying to form a band with two other guys. They asked me to come over and help them get started. After going to a few of their practices to give them some direction, they asked if I wanted to be part of the group. I agreed…I was in college and the others were in high school.

Joe Malin at his parents' 25th anniversary gig, the Monteras' first show.
The name came from my previous band. We had changed our name from the Contrasts to the Monteras after we added some new members. Some bands at the time used car models as names. Mercury had a model called The Monterey. I think another band had that name so we decided to change it slightly and become the Monteras.

I loved doo-wop music and soul music but listened to all types of music. The others listened to the music that was popular at the time and the groups that played it—the Rascals, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Temptations, Four Tops, Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Dave Clark Five, Vanilla Fudge, Buckinghams, etc.

TONY: Someone had to play bass when Joe asked us to reform The Monteras. Joe suggested I switch. I gave it a try and decided it was the instrument for me. [At the time, I listened to] a combination of British invasion and doo-wop. My tastes certainly evolved as the music did.

JOE: After a short while, I asked my sister Lyn, who was 14, to buy a Farfisa organ and join the group.

LYN MALIN (organ): Joe had been in a band with some friends for a number of years that I guess was suffering from different “ego” issues, so they broke up. I really don’t remember the conversations that brought the Monteras together, but I was about 15 years old and I used my entire savings—about $1,200—to purchase a Farfisa Combo Compact organ and amp in order to have the equipment to play in the band.

Lyn Malin at her first gig with the band.
MIKE: A new trend at the time was to have a female as part of the group, either as a lead singer or keyboard player. Joe’s sister Linda was the perfect fit. She was cute, a year younger than us, and loved to tease us to get attention. We kept this format for quite a while, played a few jobs, made a few bucks and slowly got better.

LYN: I grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago, attended the local public grade school and an all-girls Catholic high school (Joe and the rest of the guys attended all-boys Catholic high schools). My parents owned a two-flat building with my maternal grandparents, so family was always close at hand. Both my parents worked full time. The neighborhood was comprised primarily of Polish, German, and Italian families, as far as I remember…

My mom played accordion, as did Joe before he took up the guitar, so I was exposed to music from the time I was small. I took organ lessons from about 7 years old until I was about 15. I traveled to a private instructor in downtown Chicago—Mrs. Edith Dobson—whose studios were above the Hammond Organ showroom where my spinet organ was purchased. I went once a week on Wednesday evenings with my dad. I did this for about seven years until Mrs. Dobson passed away. I was taught to play both classical and popular music—not rock and roll though! I also played organ in church for about two years, accompanying the congregation in hymns on Sunday mornings.

I was basically a homebody, not much of an adventurer at all and didn’t like to stray far from the hearth—didn’t run with the “in-crowd” at school at all.

Tony Winter at the Malins' parents party.
I personally loved Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Buckinghams, and the Young Rascals—mostly because of the keyboards—as well as the Kingsmen, Turtles, Neil Diamond, Elvis, the Beach Boys, Chicago, etc…Joe liked to watch American Bandstand (I think he even was on it once), and I watched Where the Action Is! after school every day. I wasn’t much of a Beatles fan and didn’t like the Rolling Stones either—not at all a fan of the “British Invasion.”

I think our initial “performance” as a band was at my parents’ 25th Wedding Anniversary. We basically just emulated what we heard on the radio and what the “public” wanted—tried to play whatever was popular on the radio at that time.

MIKE: We kept this format for quite a while, played a few jobs, made a few bucks and slowly got better. Very slowly.

LYN: Did I sing? Yes. Did I sing well? No. Mostly backup—my one attempt at lead was a disaster! We won’t even talk about it!!

TONY: I sang some lead, though have always preferred backup. I think I enjoyed my singing more than some in the audience. Not that I held back.

THE FINAL PIECE—A GREAT DRUMMER

MIKE: We had to put the band’s ability to improve ahead of the friendship with Mike D., the drummer. It was especially difficult for me since Mike and I had become so close. I was selected as the one to break the news. I was hoping that the friendship with Mike and his family would overcome the disappointment of letting him go. Nothing could have been further from what transpired. I can honestly say that I never was with Mike socially again after that day.

JOHN: When they joined up with Joe Malin they asked me to join and seeing that Joe was a little older than us and had played out a lot more, it was a no-brainer. I think I was 15 when I joined.

The Monteras, with new drummer John Scoville, at Falconer School, 1967.

I listened to Ringo [Starr] at first but then as I studied more I started to listen to the jazz greats—Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Louis Bellson, and Joe Morello. I liked Dino Danelli from the Rascals. [I dug] British invasion and Motown and, as I said, as I studied more got way into jazz. I was probably one of the few 17-year-olds that joined the Columbia Record Club and got a new jazz LP every month.

From the time I started taking lessons in 1965 I was begging my dad to buy me a drum set. He finally caved in and bought me a new Ludwig Downbeat set, Pink Champagne Sparkle. As the years progressed and I had my own money I added on to it. I still have that set today, which I have completely reconditioned and use it to gig.

MIKE: The transition from Mike D. on drums to John on drums was too easy. We carried our equipment from Mike’s basement across the alley to John’s basement, albeit discreetly. We got good in a hurry.

John’s parents welcomed us with open arms. We had full run of the basement. John’s father was almost deaf, so we could play as loud as we wanted. We had many practices in a short time to prepare for gigs that Joe procured. Joe had come from the surfer era, so Beach Boys music was his thing. Songs like “Johnny B. Goode” sounded better than you could imagine with Joe on lead guitar.

LYN: At that time, Joe was the only one who was able to drive, and he owned a small Pontiac Tempest convertible that we loaded with the organ, amps, and guitar to get to our “gigs.” I don’t remember how the other guys got around; their parents or other family members probably brought them to wherever we played.


Joe, John, Lyn, Mike, and Tony goofing in Joe's Pontiac Tempest.
MIKE: We blended a lot of Motown with some hard-driving rock. Joe also was a big fan of the Young Rascals. We wound up doing just about every tune they ever released. I will say that we did them fairly well.

JOHN: The Monteras did a lot of Rascals covers.

LYN: At the time, the Monteras were the only band with “a girl” that I knew of, so it was a little weird in that respect, but at 15, if I was not out with the band, I didn’t go out, as I was too young to get into dances/sock-hops on my own.

Being in the band did give me more freedom that I think I ever would have had at that age because I was out under the “watchful eye” of my brother, so my parents allowed much more than they might have otherwise. It was OK with them as long as I maintained my grades in school; they supported us 100%. Tony was also like a family member too, as I had basically grown up with him.

JOHN: We got a lot of support from our parents at the time. When we entered the Illinois State Fair Battle of the Bands, all of the parents made a road trip to Springfield. It was cool.

TONY: Parents provided practice space and transportation until we purchased an old van to carry our gear. Not to mention helping fund equipment purchases. Friends would come to hear us when possible.

JOE: All of our parents and friends were very supportive. They helped haul our equipment to gigs, helped get us gigs, came to as many of our appearances as possible, and seemed to be proud of our accomplishments. They came to spread the word.

LYN: All our parents backed us 100% and did whatever they could to support the group. As far as my personal friends, most of them were more “straight-laced” than I was so they did not attend the dances, etc. that we played.

I am not sure some of my friends in high school even believed that I was in the band, as they were not yet allowed to go to the dances or sock-hops that we played at, and it wasn’t something that the nuns at my school would condone, so it was kind of low-profile there.

We were all pretty straight-laced—even our attire! The guys wore maroon suit jackets that they bought at Smokey Joe’s on Maxwell Street, white shirts, and ties to perform, and I had a maroon and white dress.

JOE: Duane Wilke was the saxophone player in my old band, the Contrasts, and from the early version of the Monteras. When the newer Monteras got a job playing in the schoolyard at Falconer School [near Belmont and Cicero in Chicago], I asked Duane if he would like to sit in. His sports coat was burgundy, but differently styled than ours. I think that is the only gig he played with us.

The Monteras, in matching burgundy jackets and ascots, sign autographs following their show at Falconer School.
TONY: We dressed alike most of the time. First in black slacks, burgundy dinner jacket, white shirt with an ascot. Then, black slacks, blue blazer, white turtleneck. We went the Nehru jacket route for a short time. We stopped dressing alike as we moved from school venues to the teen venues.

JOHN: We had outfits—matching coats and shirts. It was Joe Malin’s influence that got us to dress alike. It was the thing to do at the time.

TONY: We played the usual circuit of high school sock hops, grade school teen clubs, and a variety of teen venues that existed throughout the Chicago area. Teen venues included The Deep End, The Hut, The Daisy Patch, and The Holiday Ballroom, to name a few. I played a Fender Precision Bass through a Fender Bassman amp and a Dual Showman cabinet. Wish I still had the P-Bass.

MIKE: I had a Dan Electro “Bellzouki” guitar [model 7020]. An interesting instrument.  Actually had a nice sound; however, you had to have hands like a blacksmith to play it.  The action was so hard that it inhibited my ability to learn and had to go back to the conventional six-string.  My fingers literally would bleed. After playing that, everything else was a piece of cake.  I probably wished I had kept it, but really don’t remember what became of it.

LYN: We often played at the 4th Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago. Joe was our leader and “manager,” and was the main one who sought out gigs.
The Monteras pose with the trophy they won at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, August 1967.

JOE: There were a number of teen clubs like The Holiday Ballroom on Milwaukee Avenue, Dex Card’s Wild Goose, The Daisy Patch, and others at that time that we played at regularly. Battles of the Bands, high school dances, outdoor festivals, church halls, parties, picnics, store openings, and most anywhere we could. For about a year we played almost every Friday at the 4th Presbyterian Church teen club dance. We loved Chicago groups like the Buckinghams and in many ways tried to duplicate what they did.

Memorabilia from a hard-working band.
MIKE: The local scene was alive. Many clubs had live music. This meant you had places to play, money to make, and a live audience to perform in front of. Sadly, the fire that burned inside of us can never be experienced by any of today’s musicians—there is no live music, no chance to earn a few bucks to keep you going, and no chance to feel what it’s like to have a sea of heads boppin’ up and down to the music you’re playing.

LYN: We did have one issue when we were asked to play a church carnival in a mostly Latino area of the city. We believe that the young men in the audience took issue with the girls in the audience “making eyes” at our guys, and when we took a break, they started an altercation as we exited the stage. Both Mike and Tony were hurt—thankfully not seriously—but we did pack up ASAP and had a police escort out of the neighborhood.

MAKING A RECORD

MIKE: We entered a band contest at the Teenage Fair in Itasca, which we won. I think it was January 1967. We were disqualified from the prize money because Joe had turned 20 years old and was no longer a teenager. But we still got the recording deal with Orlyn Records and I would say it was in March or April when we went to the studio. This was probably just a “pseudo” prize that enabled them to sell us 300 copies of our recordings at $1 each.

JOE: The first prize was a recording session at Recordings Unlimited for either an hour or two.

LYN: I know we had to record our own material—couldn’t do a song owned by another band—but I don’t remember if Joe and Tony had already written the songs or wrote them because of the recording session. We practiced those songs until we thought they were perfect, and then made the appointment for the recording. I remember that the people from the studio—unsure if it was Oren Stembel—were impressed with how well prepared we were with our songs.

They did comment that most groups who showed up for the session basically goofed around and wasted everyone’s time. I think it took us a little over our allotted time to record the songs and again, don’t remember whether we were “gifted” the extra time or paid for it. The recording entitled us to, I believe, 100 copies of the record. Perhaps if we wouldn’t have been so clueless as to how to push our recording out to the public, rock music history would have been different!

JOHN: We had the two originals so we went there on a Saturday and did the recording. Oren was the producer of our recording session at his studio in downtown Chicago.

TONY: We had already written the two songs, so we decided to record those rather than covers. It was hot at Orlyn Studios, so Oren opened a window. We’ve always joked that if you listen closely to “You’re a Tease” you can hear the ‘L’ go by.

JOHN: I don’t think any of us had a minute of studio experience at the time.

As leader, Joe Malin was "awarded" the "Talented Teen" scholarship, but was not eligible since he had turned 20.
LYN: We only had to do a couple of takes before we got it “right,” and as I said, they seemed pretty impressed that we had it all together for the session. I know we were excited to be making a record, and probably had high expectations that we were on our way to stardom. After the session we even did some “publicity shots”; a friend of ours, with probably a Brownie camera, took pictures of the group outside of our home in the snow!

JOE: The entire session took about three hours using our own instruments and amplifiers. We did the music for “You’re a Tease” first and then the vocals. Then music for “Cry Myself to Sleep” and then vocals. It was very spontaneous and not much multi-track recording took place. I still can hear little mistakes in the recording that could have been fixed with more takes. We had to pay for the extra studio time ourselves, but it was worth it!

LYN: I just played the notes—nothing compared to what Felix Caviliere [of the Rascals] does on the keyboard! I don’t think I was very good at improvisation; did a pretty good job playing written music, but didn’t go much above and beyond that.

TONY: I enjoy songwriting, but you have to devote a lot of time to the effort. I wrote nothing for the band beyond the collaboration with Mike on “Cry Myself to Sleep.” We were primarily a cover band. I write, but I’m not as prolific today as I once was. I hope that is mostly due to time constraints.

The copyright application for Joe Malin's "You're a Tease."
JOE: I wrote “You’re a Tease” on my own. My ideas for songs came from other groups that influenced me. I guess I borrowed ideas from what they were doing instrumentally and wrote words about things I felt. Mike and Tony wrote some songs together but I am not sure how they worked together.

I always wondered if Billy Joel got the idea for “Only the Good Die Young” after he heard “You’re a Tease.” :) The story is pretty much the same. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school, so most of the girls that I met at school dances and parties were like Virginia, really good girls from all-girl Catholic high schools. I didn’t have any particular girl in mind when I wrote the song, but I guess you might say that all those Virginias inspired me to write “You’re a Tease.” 

Promotional photo taken at the Malins' home after recording the single.
LYN: I never thought about the lyrics at the time. I just thought it was cool to be playing a song unique to our band. I really don’t think any real meaning was behind it—never thought that he meant any particular girl. I was a pretty clueless 15/16 year old…not “worldly” in any sense of the word.    

TONY: My initial response about “Cry Myself to Sleep” is that Mike is mostly responsible for the music and I did most of the lyrics.  However, I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.  We most likely wrote it together. Don’t recall the lyrics being based on a personal experience, but who can remember that far back?

JOE: I found that song writing wasn't an easy thing. Getting ideas for good songs was difficult. I had to discipline myself, but it gave me a great feeling of accomplishment when I finished a song.

After the recording session, it seemed like it took forever to get the 45 rpm records.

TONY: Our family and friends treated us like minor celebrities at the time, but I think we kept it in perspective. We didn’t have any expectations beyond enjoying our prize. We gave some away and sold most of them at our shows. I think there were 300 pressed.

JOE: We had 500 records pressed, gave some to our friends and families and sold the rest for $1 each at our gigs. We each have one or two copies left and I have the master tape of the recording session.

JOHN: I thought it was pretty cool to be selling our 45’s at our gigs. It never went past that.

LYN: At the time, we probably thought we were the next group that was going to rise to stardom! I think our song was competitive at the time with what was being played on the radio.

TONY: Here’s a funny story. We asked if we could put our record in a jukebox at the local hot dog joint. The owner agreed and put it in. When we came back a few days later to play it, the heat from the box had warped the record and made it unplayable. Apparently the pressing wasn’t up to jukebox standards.

DOWN TO A FOUR-PIECE

MIKE: I think it was toward the end of ‘67 that the band became just four members with Linda’s exit. No bitter parting of the ways here—just a young girl with a boyfriend and not a lot of time left over when you consider school and the occasional part-time job.

LYN: Shortly after I started playing with the band—in fact, at our debut performance at my parents’ anniversary—I met a guy who went to high school with Tony. He was a server at the banquet hall where the celebration was held. We started dating and he was not happy with me being on stage at all. Ultimately, I left the band because of him, or at least 90% because of him.

When I left the band, I was just about ready to graduate from high school and enter college. The music was also changing—going more psychedelic, which I didn’t especially like. I think even the bands that we liked and emulated seemed to change their musical focus or just faded away for a while. School dances/sock-hops also changed and we were too young to play clubs and bars, so our venues shrunk.

Looking back, I really had a good time and did a lot of things that other girls my age weren’t able to do. The enormity of making a record probably didn’t register with me at the time; I realize now that I was pretty clueless! We played the music because it was a fun thing to do, and although I am sure we would have been happy if fame and fortune would have come our way, I think that the satisfaction of doing something and doing it well was important to us.

I majored in Biology and Chemistry in college and I was a R&D chemist for Baxter-Travenol before I had children. Now I work in IT as a desktop analyst, basically troubleshooting computer issues.

A flyer promoting a show the Monteras played in 1968.
By this time, Lyn may have already left the band.





















































































JOE: We continued to play together with four members for about two more years.

MIKE: Joe switched to keyboards and I was ready to assume lead (and only) guitar. Everyone was very supportive and pushed me out of my shell. I needed to sing more and take charge up front now that Joe was in the back on the organ.

And what a sound we put out when Joe bought a Leslie speaker that enabled the Farfisa electric organ to sound like a full-blown Hammond! The end of ‘67 and into ‘68 was when we were at our best. We still wore matching sport coats until we finally got Joe to agree to a Nehru jacket as times changed. We had set choreography for many tunes and played many sock hops that had probably had 2,000-plus kids in attendance.

TONY: We started adding basic choreography when Linda left and we went from five to four members. We kept it basic so all four of us could participate. We wanted to be fun and entertaining.

JOHN: Linda left the band and we were working as a four-piece. We played at a shopping center and at that time the guys in front had worked out choreographed moves and I thought we were awesome. A lot of my high school and neighborhood buddies were there and they talked about it for years and still bring it up today. The band really got tight.

MIKE: We took on a professional manager that worked us to death in 1968. Joe Thomas, who was the manager of Crown Music (on Chicago Ave near Laramie), had previously managed groups and had a lot of ties in the business. He brought out the best in us and we practiced until our fingers bled (literally).

Our repertoire now included tunes from Vanilla Fudge and Deep Purple. A-1 versions…not the crap you’d hear in clubs. When we performed “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” the room shook. The applause always followed.

The Monteras, as a four-piece, at the Illinois State Fair in 1968. Joe (organ), Mike (guitar), John (drums), and Tony (bass).
JOE: Joe Thomas took us under his wing and pushed us hard to be a show-type band. I think that I, more than the others in the band, hoped to make a career out of music.

TONY: It seems that the gigs that are the most clear [in memory] are the ones that had an unusual occurrence. I recall when we scheduled our breaks around The Beatles performing “Hey Jude” on the Ed Sullivan show. There was a TV in the place so all could watch. Talk about a tough act to follow.

There are many other gigs that are crystal clear, but it would take way too long to explain why. I know that I can ask Mike, Joe, or John, “Do you remember the night …?” and everyone would laugh and say “yes.”

JOE: The Monteras played at the State Fair in Springfield twice, once with Lyn and once without.

MIKE: We competed in the “Battle of the Bands” competition at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield. We thought we were destined to finally win it in 1968.

One thing happened along the way, however: Music changed quickly. The appearance of musicians on stage changed quickly. Suddenly, mainstream anything was looked down on. Again, we went on stage at the “Battle of the Bands” and played the same popular tune that everyone else played. Only this time it wasn’t “Good Lovin”—it was the Vanilla Fudge’s version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

The song had been shrunken from the album's eight-minute version to a single's three-minute version and was number one on the pop charts.

Nobody in the audience knew that we had started featuring that song many months prior to that time, well before it was even on the charts. Nobody in the audience cared about the choreography or the uniform dress—we looked just like “city boys” in their fancy jackets. Nobody in the audience understood the complexity of the arrangement or that we hit every change on the money.

The group that won the competition was a local favorite that did a version of “Brown-Eyed-Girl” by Van Morrison that wasn’t too bad. Were they better than us? Nope. They were just different and new. Their stage layout and clothes looked just like the performers at Woodstock. They were a little ahead of us in that respect. 45 years later, I still remember the name of the group: “Hot Ice.”

I think it was probably early in 1969 that we played our last gig, but we never officially broke up. We just started to drift apart. Three of us were seniors in high school, while Joe was getting ready to graduate from college. He had gotten married a couple of years earlier and was wrapping up a degree in Math. Everyone had steady girlfriends…and you know the rest of the story. It’s sad, but I think we all realized that our time had come and gone. We just couldn’t keep the fire burning. Who knows what would have happened if we actually won in Springfield? It wasn’t about money or anything like that—it was the “win” that we needed to make the bleeding fingers a little less painful.

JOHN: We were a pretty good band for the time and place and I thought we may have had a shot at getting bigger, but that never panned out. We had a lot of fun, and got along great, so that was what it was.

TONY: We played a lot and had a decent run. It feels like it lasted longer than it did. It was just time to move on. Joe was married. Mike, John, and I were about to enter college. Music had evolved, and it was time. No animosity at all.

Oh, the glory of vintage instruments...Joe Malin behind the
Farfisa at the opening of a Zayre Department store at
Belmont & Cumberland on the northwest side of Chicago.

JOE: I enjoyed every gig throughout the entire time we were together. I wish we had recorded more.

JOHN: Joe and I hung together for a while. The bands that we put together after The Monteras were horn bands and we were doing Blood, Sweat, & Tears and Chicago tunes and R&B.

TONY: After the Monteras, Joe and John immediately formed another band. I don’t remember the name but they were very good.

JOE: The band had about eight members in it.

TONY: I joined up with a trio at school and started writing. We were an interesting mix of originals and covers. We had flute, acoustic guitar, and bass. That lasted a few years. The guitarist from the trio and I joined up with John in the ‘70s and had a short run as a power trio. There was another band in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that also played out quite a bit.

MIKE: I tried to personally keep the fire burning by going back to study voice when I was in my 20’s, but marriages and work always got in the way. I will say, though, that I’ve won some money singing in Karaoke bars. Not being afraid to perform in front of people is great. It has also served me well in business. Today, I’m a general contractor. I own a small company called American Deck Builders.

JOE: I am still performing as a solo act playing with background music recorded by me or with another guitarist as a duo. The drummer, John, is also still gigging. The others have “retired” from the music business.

JOHN: I got into the jazz thing after the band with Joe and was doing piano-trio gigs in Old Town and Rush Street for a few years. To keep it brief: Wedding bands in the 70’s, rock bands in the 80’s, jobbing gigs in the 90’s (but not that much because I was raising a family) then around 2000 back to the jazz thing with trios and larger bands. Right now I am in a five-piece jazz/bebop group, work with a trio/quartet doing jobbing gigs, and play in a six-piece blues/rock band. I also frequent some of the jazz jam sessions in town.

TONY: I still play today. It’s been some time since I played in public but I’m thinking about it. I think Mike has since picked up the guitar again.

LYN: I haven’t played for a long time. I married and had children so there wasn’t a lot of time, plus I didn’t have a keyboard available for quite a while, except in my parents’ home; I gave my Farfisa to Joe. Only one of my sons is musical—he plays guitar and has a bunch of guys that he jams with.

I really admire the guys like [the late] Paul Revere and Felix [Caviliere] who are still out there rockin’; they are fantastic showmen and you can see that they truly enjoy doing what they do. I don’t think I ever had that type of personality or drive as far as music was concerned. I like to play for my own enjoyment, but I am not a “public”-type person.

Both my brother and I have suffered hearing loss which I attribute to our years playing in a band. Not sure about the other guys. Sitting in front of amplifiers was not the best thing for our ears.

REDISCOVERY OF SOMETHING NEVER DISCOVERED

JOE: Years later my sister discovered the “value” of the record. She was having a slow day at work and Googled “The Monteras” and “You’re a Tease” and was surprised at what she’d found. Copies of our record were selling for thousands of dollars and my song had been placed on a CD compilation.

LYN: The biggest thrill came when I found out that it was part of the compilation on the Quagmire CD and that the record had sold for about $1,500 on eBay. I happened to notice one of the records on eBay and followed as the bidding war commenced; we were in total shock at the value of the record. I kind of stumbled into that information when in a moment of boredom at work I found the G45 [Garage 45 legends] site. I shared my find with Joe and he contacted the rest of the guys and we had a reunion after 40+ years.

Tony, Joe, Lyn, Mike, and John. Same trophy, but a couple of years later.
I understand that it was the rarity of the label more than the content that was important to the collectors. [But] Joe and I joked a lot about finally getting our 15 minutes of fame!

JOHN: I couldn’t believe it. I think the attention is driven by the obscure label that we were on. The tunes do have the garage band sound of the 60’s cause that’s what it is.

MIKE: Many years later, I get calls from collectors looking for copies of the record (I have two in mint condition). This is kind of cool. It’s nice to be reminded of that time and that the era isn’t forgotten.

TONY: I understand that the driver is the record label more so than the songs. But I appreciate the positive comments I’ve read when people listen to the music. I was floored when “You’re a Tease” appeared on the Quagmire CD. We also pop up on college playlists from time to time. A lot of people seem to like The Monteras. That’s nice. Perhaps we should consider a reunion. Just kidding.

JOE: About 11 years ago I received a phone call from a gentleman in Macomb, Illinois, whose name was Robert, asking if I was the Joe Malin who wrote “You’re a Tease.”

I said, “yes,” and he asked if I had any copies of the record left, because the record was quite popular in his area. I said I had 17 left. He offered to buy 15 of them at $10 apiece. They were up in a closet collecting dust. I found that I only had 11, so when he sent me a box in the mail that was just the right size for the records with $150 cash in the box, I sent him back 10 records and $50.

His note said he would be in touch, but I never heard back from him. After I found out that the records were selling for so much and the song was on the CD, I tried to contact him but did not have any luck reaching him. I guess the rest is history!

EPILOGUE

So why did I feel it was important to interview people who played in a band 50 years ago?

First off, for those of us who care about pop music history, such stories are critical to understanding music’s impact on the greater population. The greater trends of 60s rock—the British Invasion, long hair, bright clothes, Eastern instrumentation and thought, social engagement, psychedelics, racial integration, youth festivals—impacted every community in the U.S. and Canada well into the mid 1970s, both musically and sociologically. The youth culture of the 1960s literally changed the world, and those changes weren’t limited to the rich and powerful of Los Angeles or London.

Just as it is important to look at the lives of individuals during the revolutionary war, the industrial revolution, or the Middle Ages, it is also important to trace the progress of “ordinary” life during one of the most explosive and creative times in modern history.

The Beatles, the artists of Motown, and the singers and groups on the West Coast of the U.S. proved that markets existed in America for culture not driven by businessmen but rather by the artists themselves. Singing songwriters such as Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson, Brian Wilson, Jackie DeShannon, and others showed that you didn’t have to work in the established New York music factories to make good records, and for a few very special years, the fallout from that was that everyone wanted to make music.

Every neighborhood, every suburb, every small town had its R&B vocal group or its rocking dance band or its bunch of Yardbirds-loving, blues-influenced young punks. And recording studios sprung up or reconfigured their mission specifically to record these groups. The amount of “obscure” rock and R&B discovered from those times is staggering; people are still finding great records that have fallen through the cracks of time.

The story of 60s rock is usually told through the prism of the “big” groups. But much of the changes to society played out on a local level, with entertainment provided by the band at the high school gym or the shopping center. These neighborhood teen bands, though generally obscure today, were vitally important in their areas—a microcosm of the growth of youth culture. The map is incomplete without them.

On a personal level, I have always been fascinated with untold stories of people doing interesting things. Given that mid and late-60s pop/rock is my favorite music, I thought this was an important story, and at some point, the folks who played music in the 1960s won’t be able to tell us those stories.

For those who do history, perspective and analysis are constantly renewable gifts. Looking back on events is generally easier than figuring things out at the time. People in a situation rarely have the time or opportunity to step back and see the bigger picture or analyze the way in which they fit in. (Ever ask a tree what a forest looks like? Even if trees could talk, they can only accurately describe a forest from the inside, because they’re in it, rather than outside it.)

But, somewhat paradoxically, for historians, there is no substitute for “original” material—which in this case is the reflections of those who were there. Sometimes, memories fail and details can be forgotten, but the people who were part of a time remember what the time felt like and what it was like to live in it. You can always get facts, but you can’t always get feelings.

It is amazing indeed that a bunch of kids who did a record could end up remembered years later for that thing they did so long ago. I feel blessed to be able to tell that story.

In sum, I have only one argument with the band about their 45: for many of us, it is the quality of the record—rather than its label or rarity—that matters. It’s a damn good record, and a damn good legacy.

Band members were generous enough to dredge their memory banks and recall many (or most) of the songs they would play at shows. Lyn Amenitsch and Joe Malin scanned and shared photographs, memorabilia, and the like, and gave kind permission for them to be reproduced here.

Thank you, Monteras, for your music and for your willingness to go down memory lane. Thank you, Crotchbat, for posting the song link. And to my dear Cecilia Garibay, thank you so much for your careful reading of this article and your suggestions on discussing methodology and my personal connections to this music.

And thanks, everyone, for reading. If you like, leave some comments--the Monteras would love to hear from you!

The back line always gets screwed in band pictures...note Duane Wilke, the Monteras' sax player for one gig, behind Joe Malin on the right.


SONGS THE MONTERAS REMEMBER PLAYING

A Beautiful Morning—The Rascals
A Girl Like You—The Rascals
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg—The Temptations
All the Day and All of the Night—The Kinks
As Tears Go By—The Rolling Stones
Baby I Need Your Lovin’—The Four Tops
Come on Up—The Rascals
Cry Myself to Sleep—The Monteras
Funky Broadway—Wilson Pickett
Get Ready—Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Gimme Some Lovin’—The Spencer Davis Group
Gloria—The Shadows of Knight
Good Lovin’—The Rascals
Groovin’—The Rascals
Hang on Sloopy—The McCoys
Hold On, I’m Comin’—Sam & Dave
House of the Rising Sun—The Animals
Hungry—Paul Revere & the Raiders
Hush—Billy Joe Royal/Deep Purple
I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore—The Rascals
I Can’t Help Myself—The Four Tops
I’ve Been Lonely Too Long—The Rascals 
I’m a Man—The Spencer Davis Group
I’m Losing You—The Four Tops
In the Midnight Hour—Wilson Pickett
Johnny B. Goode—Chuck Berry
Just Like Me—Paul Revere & the Raiders
Kicks—Paul Revere & the Raiders
Kind of a Drag—The Buckinghams
Louie, Louie—The Kingsmen
Magic Carpet Ride—Steppenwolf 
Mercy, Mercy, Mercy—The Buckinghams
Mickey’s Monkey—Smokey Robinson & the Miracles
Mustang Sally—The Rascals
My Generation—The Who
My Girl—The Temptations
One—Three Dog Night
People Get Ready—The Impressions
People Got to be Free—The Rascals
Reach Out, I’ll Be There—The Four Tops
Runaround Sue—Dion
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—The Beatles
She’s Not There—The Zombies (via The Vanilla Fudge)
Shout!—The Isley Brothers
Steppin’ Out—Paul Revere & the Raiders
Summer in the City—The Lovin’ Spoonful
The Letter—The Box Tops
Ticket to Ride—The Beatles 
We Gotta Get Outta This Place—The Animals
Wild Thing—The Troggs
Wipe Out—The Surfaris
With a Little Help From My Friends—The Beatles
You Better Run—The Rascals
You Keep Me Hanging On—The Supremes
You Really Got Me—The Kinks
You’re a Tease—The Monteras

Here are links to hear the Monteras' songs.

"You're a Tease"
"Cry Myself to Sleep
 http://youtu.be/Uytv8TA_OvQ

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Instant Orange...Sweet and a Little Acidic





Instant Orange, of San Bernadino, California, were certainly in the right spot to play sprightly, chiming folk-rock…but perhaps were in the wrong time.

Essentially a group of friends playing music they liked, Instant Orange had discipline and ambition but little chance at the opportunities that flashier or more well-connected bands might have had. So Instant Orange played dances, bars, restaurants, parties, live gigs at radio stations, and county fairs, and every so often put out a record when they could afford to make one.

By the time the band released its first recording, a 45 containing “You I’ll Be Following” (an original, not the song by Love) and “Reflecting Emotions” on its own Margacado label in 1968, the original California folk-rock style was long gone.

The Byrds had re-emerged with a weird take on traditional C&W, Love had moved to heavy rock, the Beau Brummels had run through country and baroque styles without regaining chart success, and the Turtles had become one of the land's best straight pop groups. Even Bob Dylan’s bootheels had wandered to Nashville.

But in spite of car trouble, mediocre equipment, day jobs, draft worries, and the like, Instant Orange—usually, but not always, a trio—kept at it. Their approach could be haphazard, but effective; prior to their first gig, at the March 1968 San Bernadino Orange Festival, the group realized it needed a name...instantly. And so it was.

The group eventually issued an album, Five Year Premiere, on Margacado Media in 1973. With no ideas of how to distribute the record to a greater audience, the band simply had local stores stock them, or vended them at gigs, or handed them out to local radio stations or friends. The initial pressing of 100 copies has been whittled by time and inattention to probably fewer than ten. Those who have them want them badly, so they rarely come up for sale.

Many of the album’s songs are arresting in their directness and fragility. While nobody in the band was a virtuoso, each member had a homegrown approach and they played pretty well together. The overall sound transcends the easy characterization of them as simple copyists of well-known acts.

This is the album’s opening track, “The Visionary (Reactive)”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fFp866WsSkA

Their record was re-discovered in the 1990s by a collector in New Orleans named Scott Bubrig, who after some effort was able to contact members of the band—by then scattered to the winds—and with their permission and cooperation re-released almost the entire Instant Orange catalog (which included several EPs and singles besides the album) on CD and vinyl. In particular, the two-record set on the Shadoks label is gorgeous, with photos, a band history, and full discographical information. The remastering also gives the songs more punch than is heard on the original vinyl.

Not all of the IO output is great, but all of it is interesting, running the gamut from pop, garage rock, folk, and country and even working in some jazzy excursions. Some of it is as good as hit music on major labels.

Terry Walters, IO’s chief songwriter (the band’s other songwriter, Randy Lanier, sadly passed away after a series of physical problems in the 1990s), was kind enough to answer some questions on Instant Orange’s history. Thanks, Terry, and I hope we hear from you again…

Q.What got you into playing guitar?
Initially, I was going to play trumpet, but that didn’t last too long. My brother, who is older than me, convinced my Mom that guitar may be the way to go. This was 1963, and I was drawn to surf music. In the beginning, I had a Stella acoustic guitar, and I was playing melodies. Eventually, I went electric and graduated to a Fender Mustang. A few lessons and learning bar chords, I was working songs off the radio.

Q. Were the fellows in IO friends before being bandmates?
It was friends first. The fact that we had music as a common bond was almost coincidental. If we had friends who wanted to do music, we’d teach them enough to get started. Being friends first probably kept the tensions to a minimum and the egos in check.

Q. What were some of the bands you enjoyed as a young musician?
I was listening to the Beau Brummels in ’64, and eventually, it was Love, the Byrds, Lovin’ Spoonful, Moody Blues, and Procol Harum, all of whom played a part in my writing and playing style. I was fortunate in that Randy Lanier had the same basic musical tastes. That was what got us going; we started as a duo and later as a band.

Q. Instant Orange went on a long time with different memberships. What was it that made you want to continue with the IO concept?
Randy came from a folk music background [and was] an acoustic guitar player. I was on the electric side. We fused the two. We decided to approach the music as a hobby. We were doing folk-rock, a style whose shelf life had already elapsed. We continued with the style, almost as a folk-rock preservation society, as a core, while exploring other styles.

Q. How did songs get written and fleshed out for Instant Orange?
Randy and I wrote most of the material for the band. Joe Bianchi, our keyboard player, came up with ideas for instrumentals and we did have guys like Bryon PrudHomme and Jim Brown who had contributions. Usually, Randy and I would get together and bring ideas to the table for material. Sometimes we would co-write a song and other times we would bring in something we had done individually. We would work the vocal and guitar arrangements and then take them to band practice. We had an agreement that whoever wrote the song would be the one to have the final say for the song, but guys like Joe and Lynn volunteered ideas that worked well for us.

Q. Is there something about San Bernardino that contributed to Instant Orange’s sound?
San Bernardino was considered by most to be part of the Los Angeles market, but there was a lot of local talent. Several bands charted locally with records that were well produced: The Light, The Good Feelings, The Bush, The Caretakers, [and] The Torquays were the some of the local groups. Groups like Touch were great in live shows, but made no records. It seems as though there was a band on every block. We didn’t sign with any of the major labels—we simply did our own—but we managed airplay through student stations like KVCR and KSDS in San Diego.

Q. Were timely concerns—the War, drugs, political protest, the sexual revolution, etc.—a part of the scene surrounding the band?
The war was a major concern as we had the draft hovering over us. Some of our friends were wondering what to pack for the Canadian winters. I can speak for myself and say that I didn’t get into the drug thing, but there were friends and band members, some of whom were in transition, who were into it. Oddly enough, it was probably the music that kept me away from the stuff, which worked to my advantage career-wise in the long run. We had opportunities with the sexual aspects, but Randy and Lynn were married and I was looking for something a little more long-term. My Christian value system was at work, sometimes to my irritation.

Q. It appears from photos that a lot of your equipment wasn’t name-brand. Was money a concern?
None of us came from money. Randy and I were in college and working menial stuff on the side. Joe toured with the U.S. Army for a couple of years, so he was doing alright. Lynn worked nights doing mobile fuel delivery. When we started, Lynn had a no-name drum set. Randy’s bass was made by Liro and an acoustic guitar made by Orlando, a Japanese copier of fine instruments. In fact, I had a Rickenbacker copy by the same manufacturer. One day, Lynn decided we needed better stuff. We emerged from the music store with a double-bass Slingerland acrylic drum set, two Aims amplifiers and an Aims P.A. system. (Aims was a company founded by a former Fender employee who sold a product guaranteed for life. Randy’s amp had to take the train ride from San Bernardino to Arizona three times, which probably helped destroy the company.)

Q. When you released Five Year Premiere, did you think it had resonance with what was happening in America during 1973?
Other than the Vietnam War, which ended in ’73, I recall all of us being somewhat politically apathetic. We had probed in different directions, including country and, to a degree, jazz, but we remained committed to our core musically. We released “Genesis II” and “Same Old Thing” in January. By springtime, two of the members had left—Dennis Hoff on guitar and Bryan McDonough on vocals, harmonica, and piano. We were more electronically oriented than we had been, meaning recording and effects, but incorporating our original style.

Q. Atypically for the hard-rock era, you continued to plumb a sort of folk-rock sound. Was that decision conscious?
Yes. Hey, I was still making payments on the Rickenbacker. I recall when Thomas Hartlage called from [his label] Shadoks Records in 2007. At first, he said the album sounded like nothing more than a spin on the Byrds, but then he realized that the Rickenbacker gave it that flavor and decided that we were more than a tribute item…not that the Byrds were a bad thing at all, but just because someone played acoustic guitar didn’t make every song a campfire sing-a-long.

Q. The live recordings on Five Year Premiere are especially good. Were you generally a hot live band?
We played a wide variety of venues. There were private parties, dances, the county fair circuit, the battle-of-the-bands gigs and even an occasional bar or frat-party gig. Bob recorded several of our live performances which Lynn had put on an 8-track tape. He found this tape in a horse trailer years later, which we had restored at a lab in Orlando, FL. In listening to it, I would have to say we were not all that bad. We were able to get the crowd moving. And Bob knew how to capture an audio moment.

Q. What would a typical Instant Orange practice session be like? Did you have a discrete space?
Although we began in our garages, we were rehearsing in a house in Crestline, which is a mountain resort community. Lynn lived in a house that was occupied by three drummers, each in a band. Oddly enough, we never had a conflict of schedule for practice, but these were some strange times. Later, Lynn moved to Cedar Pines, another mountain cabin, where we began work on our last two records.

Q. When IO recorded, was any one band member in charge? How did recording generally proceed?
We used studios for everything other than Five Year Premiere. Randy and I were telecommunications majors, so we already had an idea as to how things worked. When we arrived at the studio, I would go to the engineers and explain our setup, microphone needs, song order, and logistical aspects. The guys in the booth always commented on our preparation and execution of material, but we were limited in time and money and we knew what needed to happen. Randy would coordinate the floor plan.

For the album, Bob conned his parents into letting us use their home as a recording studio. We were crammed into corners and Bob was buried with his gear somewhere up against a wall. Bryan McDonough played piano on a cut, and had a song he had written recorded: however, his cut was somehow erased, and he had to leave to go to work. Lynn was irate, as he felt this song was the best thing on the album. Randy and I were somewhat elated, as the song didn’t fit well with the flow. So Lynn took Bryan to work and Randy and I did multi-tracking on the cuts until Lynn got back.

The album music was done in less than eight hours. The following day, we returned to listen to it. Only one cut had an intro by design, “Silent Green,” but then we started getting other segue ideas. By the end of the day, every cut had something.

Q. It seems that IO had its share of car trouble. Were you guys sort of perpetually trying to make ends meet?
Joe has this ’57 Chevy, which he maintained. He was actually pretty handy with that stuff. I was driving a ’58 Chevy, a far cry from my first car, which was an Austin Healy Sprite. I didn’t do a whole lot of maintenance on mine. Maybe that’s why it fell apart? He was still driving that car the last time I saw him. Yep, cash was tight.

Q. What led to the decision to dissolve Instant Orange?
What became our last project was initially was slated as an acoustic project. We met at Bob’s apartment for a pre-production meeting. We brought Jim Brown (formerly of TNF) in and decided that we would have Bob do a synthesized string section. We were operating a six-man line-up. So, Jim, Randy, and I were meeting at Jim’s place, but then the cracks started happening. By this time, Jim was engaged, and there were time conflicts and the chemistry was getting acidic. So, Jim left, and we began thinking this was it. Jim, I believe, was thinking Air Force. We eventually recorded the Ghirardelli EP, and I was now thinking Florida. I told Randy that we could keep this thing going as a recording band, but he wasn’t interested.

Q. Do you still talk to any of the other living members of the band?
We were reunited via e-mail and phone for a period of time when the album was released in 2007. Once in a while, I hear from Lynn. We actually had a reunion album planned, but interest waned. But things were always on friendly terms.

Q. You wrote a bit about how you were involved in other music projects during IO’s time. What were they?
When Instant Orange was going, I was with a hard-rock band called Moon Grass, but that was done by the end of the summer of ’68. From ’68 until ’72, when we brought the band back, Randy and I formed the Walters-Lanier Folk Experiment. This was an acoustic approach. Then there was TNF, which was an acoustic trio. Jim Brown was a high-harmony singer-guitar player. I believe we had our best vocal approach during this time, actually doing three parts.

Q. What are you doing now?
I retired from careers in law enforcement and the military reserves. These days, my wife and I live near Weeki Wachee, Florida. I still do music. I’ve done some CDs and distributed them through thrift shops. My theory is that if they sell it, at least they can keep the lights on for a few more minutes. I play the clarinet for house concerts and in performances here in our community. I’ve done some Praise Team efforts, starting from my days in southern Florida. I’m a Church elder and I somehow ended up on the board of directors where I live. I have a list of hobbies and activities that are physical, mental, spiritual, and hopefully creative. I keep busy, thank you.

Q. When you think back on the days of IO, is there anything you wish had gone differently?
Considering what we had available to us, meaning finances, equipment, and talent, overall, no. I believe we did the best we could with what we had, and we managed to exploit our means overall. It would have been nice had the acoustic approach to the final album come to fruition, but I believe we managed to accomplish what we set out to do. I did do a CD which added instruments to the initial tracks, such as strings, but I never released it.

Q. How would you describe Instant Orange to someone who had never heard the band?
We were your typical Southern California band whose hobby extended to the studio, had a great time “doing our thing,” and lived to tell about it.

Q. When you wrote about having put out other recording projects, I was wondering whether these were post-Instant Orange projects. I'd love to hear about them.
The idea behind the solo projects came when my wife bought me of the first generation multi-track cassette recorders. This was January, 1999. I took ten tunes—two of which were old Instant Orange songs, all of which were instrumental—and went at it.

Since then, I've completed five other projects that I've done the same with. They vary in style from ambience to light jazz to clarinet versions of Tin Pan Alley tunes as well as hymns. Thanks to friends that travel, copies have made it to Massachusetts, Maine, Alabama, and California, as well as England, Japan, and Ireland, all to thrift shops. It's fun.

The Instant Orange material I had done in '99 I shelved, because at the time, the equipment was really ultra-lo-fi, both from the recording side and the keyboard standpoint. That could be a future project.

There was also material recorded for an Instant Orange reunion album. There were some song fragments that Randy and I had worked on, some of which was for the acoustic album that never quite happened. I recorded beds for nine songs and sent them out to the guys. The production style was what Randy and I had planned for the album, but apparently the rest didn't like it too much. Oh, well. That may be issued some day with a different group. I have people here that I deal with that liked it, so…