Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie
Looking back at Sacto’s 1970s underground scene
From an outsider’s perspective in the 1970s, Sacramento seemed to have more than its share of mutant noisemakers. Around the time punk and new wave hit in the latter half of that decade, a band’s options were either to play Top 40 covers or try to make it as an original act in a genre whose aesthetic parameters were being narrowed daily by radio consultants into the satin-jacketed sonic Velveeta of Journey and Starship. Or else it could risk complete obscurity by opting for resolute originality. Fortunately, a handful of now largely forgotten local bands eschewed the first two options for the third.
One was Ozzie, who surfaced around 1975, after having flailed about previously as the Reds, Whites and Blues; then Girl Fight; then, briefly, Mailbox. In his liner notes to the S.S. Records two-LP vinyl compilation The Parabolic Rock 1975-1982, label head Scott Soriano details how the band’s origins dated back to an impromptu Santa Cruz County beach-jam session in 1971, when Bill Fuller was entertaining visiting friends Jack Hastings and Spencer Sparrow, who’d all met and palled around at Sacramento State University. Fueled by cheap wine and a Captain Beefheart album, the three figured they could do no worse, and their late-night noisemaking soon morphed into what eventually became Ozzie.
There really isn’t anything on Parabolic Rock that sounds overtly Beefhearty, though, although Beefheart benefactor Frank Zappa’s influences can be felt. Even stronger are nods to early Blue Oyster Cult, specifically the post-Nuggets psychedelia of its early work, and the theatrical rock of the San Francisco-based Tubes.
Unlike the latter band, Ozzie’s trajectory didn’t attract the aegis of Bill Graham—whose imprimatur you needed if you were going to make it big as a live rock act in 1970s Northern California—and a resulting major-label deal. Fortunately, an underground was developing that would mushroom into punk and the more-pop new wave, with venues like San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens supporting those bands Graham wouldn’t touch.
Given Ozzie’s penchant for material like “Child of the Reich,” there’s little wonder the band didn’t compete with Journey for Oakland Coliseum gigs. Beginning with a piano intro worthy of Spinal Tap’s “Lick My Love Pump,” the song lurches into the kind of bong-hit glam rock one might come up with after an evening spent watching Hogan’s Heroes reruns while severely buzzed: “Teenage Nazi child of the Reich,” the singer intones, sketching a love song from a soldier freezing on the Russian front to his squeeze back home in Berlin. It’s brittle and theatrical, with multiple tempo changes before it decomposes at song’s end into a Fraternity of Man-style rant in a laughable German accent.
That tune was recorded by David Houston in 1977 at Moon Studios behind his mom’s house, as was “Android Love,” Ozzie’s first single, which morphed a Golden Earring “Radar Love” groove into something from the Elroy and Judy Jetson playlist, such BOC-meets-Bonzo Dog Band fare as “Old Fart From Arcturus,” and four more. They’re all on the compilation, as are 10 other studio tracks, six of them recorded in Los Angeles after the band relocated there in the early ’80s; the latter songs are decidedly more pop, which means they abandon the stoner magic of the earlier stuff for more calculated A&R bait like “Beach Girls.” Side four contains six live tracks, three cut in 1975 at the state fair, and three from a 1981 L.A. club gig.
I knew Fuller and Hastings in the early ’90s as part of the artsy combo Draw Pinky when it played Café Montreal, and had no idea they were in Ozzie, which formed an underground connection between rock’s free-form ’60s aesthetic to the late-’70s upswell of punk. Bo Richards was an early member, too, as well as band manager. Soriano has done local rock fans a major service by documenting this stuff. Kudos.