Born into garages
Three decades later, missing links in Chico music resurface
Documentation of music in Chico typically begins in the 1970s with the early incarnations of what would become the jam-happy, flower-powered institution that is Spark ’n’ Cinder. Anything that came before has lain beneath a perpetual blanket of purple haze. But there are people who live for discovering those obscure oddities. In fact, if it weren’t for these types, the music might be lost forever in dilapidated boxes inside dark, musty attics.
A couple of obsessed record collectors named Joey D and Alec Palao began seeking out the music of some of Northern California’s most well-known, now-unknown rock bands. And it turns out, in the ’60s, there was a thriving scene of long-haired miscreants tapping into some hellacious fuzz-tones inside their parents’ garages in Chico.
After years of scouring the far corners of the United States for recordings, faded and brittle fliers and photos, the two collectors were recently able to put together Up From the Grave, a 30-song collection of garage-rock records released between 1965 and 1968 by bands from the North State.
“This stuff is so rare,” declares Joey D, owner of Frantic Records, the label that put out the compilation, “I’m 99 percent sure that young collectors have no clue about these records.”
In fact, he says the first track—“Marble Orchard,” recorded in 1967 by Clear Lake’s The Graveyard Five—is one of the rarest garage records in the world, with only three known original copies in existence. Price for a mint copy: $8,000 to $10,000.
The comp has stirred up enough excitement to get a handful of bands—including four from Chico—to take the stage for the first time in more than three decades (all day Sunday, April 26, at Nick’s Night Club).
Up From the Grave took nearly 12 years to put together, and features bands from towns including Chico, Redding, Yuba City and Marysville. Three bands—Psycho, The Boy Blues and Gunge—were part of a Chico music scene in the late ’60s fueled by buckets of youthful impetuosity (and perhaps trace amounts of THC and LSD).
The Boy Blues were the biggest band north of Sacramento. Kurt Kearnes remembers watching the band perform in front of about 1,000 kids at the Fabric Center in downtown Chico (now Bird In Hand).
“Watching The Boy Blues was like going to see The Who in Sacramento,” said Kearnes, who now lives in Paradise. “The Boy Blues set the tone for what was going on. There were bands that were technically better, but nothing as exciting.”
Kearnes, who was the singer for another Chico band called The Souls, would eventually join The Boy Blues in late 1967. The Boy Blues pressed a couple of 45s and played tons of shows, including one with The Kinks, and endured an infamous drug bust. The band’s run would eventually end, and members moved to the Bay Area and reformed as Colours (and, later on, Christian).
If The Boy Blues were the most popular, Gunge may have been the loudest. The band formed in 1967 from the ashes of Midnight Reign. Gunge’s Feel It! album is a psychedelic trip through lo-fi sludgy blues riffs, punctuated by Martin Taylor’s soulful, cigarette-kissed vocals.
“Even though we were spaced out, we would practice every Friday and Saturday,” explained Gunge guitarist Steve Cooley from his home in Tacoma, Wash. “We had a routine, and every Monday we would record on reel-to-reel to remember [the riffs].”
The Cream-influenced Gunge opened for the Grateful Dead at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in November of 1968, the year they recorded Feel It! at Chico State—and, incidentally, the same year the band called it quits.
In addition to Up From theGrave, Frantic Records has also re-released Colours’ Voluptuous Doom and Christian’s Good Vs. Evil as well as the seven-song recording from Gunge.
Joey D says putting it all together was a long process of making hundreds of phone calls and stumbling upon someone who knew a guy who was friends with the drummer who had the original tape packed away in an old drawer.
Some tracks on Up From the Grave—such as “Love Will Begin” from Redding’s Bob Smith & the Foundations—are more of your typical ’60s psych-pop whose surf and British Invasion influences are written all over the reverbed guitars and squiggly organ.
Others are a little darker. Marysville’s Drusalee & the Dead, with the song “Lily” (after Lily Munster), drove around in an old hearse, and singer R. Drew Sallee often emerged from a coffin during shows. Another band from Marysville—The Next Step—was also a bit more voluminous, taking a cue from bands like the Sonics.
Some of the songs on Up From the Grave are likely more sought after for their scarcity and the lore surrounding them than actual quality. But Joey D—who is also responsible for putting out a collection of Sacramento garage rock called So Cold!!! as well as the excellent double-disc release from Sacto proto-punks Public Nuisance in 2002—claims that it’s a singular element that gets music geeks frothing at the mouth: “Anything with fuzz. That’s what collectors are into.”