The Chocolate Watch Band
Liner notes to the Rhino Records compilation
The Best Of Chocolate Watch Band (R2 70108)
by Mike McDowell, 1983
Let's Talk About Girls / Sweet Young Thing / No Way Out / Baby Blue / Expo 2000 / In The Past / I'm Not Like Everybody Else / Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In) / Don't Need Your Lovin' / Misty Lane / She Weaves A Tender Trap / Sitting There Standing / Milkcow Blues / I Ain't No Miracle Worker / Gone And Passes By / Dark Side Of The Mushroom / Uncle Morris / Voyage Of The Trieste
There must be something unique about a band that can maintain a considerable following nearly 15 years after their demise, and without any hit records to their credit. Such a band is San Franciso's Chocolate Watch Band. Their 1966-1967 singles for the Uptown label exchange hands for anywhere from ten to fifteen dollars on the record collector's market, while their three long-deleted albums on the Tower label command prices as high as $ 100 in mint condition.
Like many of their contemporaries in the San Franciscan rock movement of the time, the Chocolate Watch Band was given to experimentation. What set them apart from most of those other bands was their respect for the pioneering artists of rock and roll. Though their recorded repertoire consisted largely of original songs, the band never hesitated to utilize worthwhile material from extraneous sources. Faithful covers of such classics as Hank Ballard's Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go, the Kinks' I'm Not Like Everybody Else, Ray Charles' I Don't Need No Doctor, Chuck Berry's Come On, Wilson Pickett's In The Midnight Hour and Bob Dylan's Baby Blue all made their way onto vinyl, fitting in comfortably alongside such unlikely group compositions as Devil's Motorcycle, Fireface and Uncle Morris.
Much of the Chocolate Watch Band's aesthetic success can be attributed to their producer, Ed Cobb. Having served as bass singer with the vastly underrated Four Preps from 1956 to 1965, Cobb fashioned a highly successful career for himself in the mid-1960s as a songwriter/producer/mentor for such garage bands as the Standells, the E-Types and Stark Naked And The Car Thieves. Cobb's experimental instincts (comibined with a penchant for the aesthetics of rock and roll's glorious founding days) inspired him to constantly be on the lookout for promising up-and-coming talent whose musical persuasions were not necessarily in step with the norm.
One such group was Chocolate Watch Band. Consisting of Sean Tolby, Mark Loomis, Danny Phay, Gary Andrijasevich and vocalist Gary Aquilar, the Chocolate Watch Band began in 1965 as a Rolling Stones copy band, playing at dances and on the local club circuit. Over the course of the coming year, the band indulged in the many extremities of the San Francisco rock and roll experience, developing a highly original sound in the process. The band was signed to Tower in 1966, though their debut single, Baby Blue/Sweet Young Thing (released in December of that year) was mysteriously assigned to Tower's subsidiary rhythm and blues label, Uptown.
In a 1980 interview, producer Ed Cobb recalled the circumstances thusly: "Tower also had Pink Floyd. And they didn't know what to do with Pink Floyd. Then along came the Chocolate Watch Band, which was further out than Pink Floyd at that point. Now Tower really didn't know what to do! They were afraid to put them out. They figured they would release the band's material on Uptown and see what happens. But the Chocolate Watch Band was too erratic in concept to be on the Uptown label."
And erratic they were. So erratic, in fact, that they broke up shortly after completing the recording sessions for their first album, No Way Out, released on Tower in September, 1967. Ed Cobb picks up the story: "The Chocolate Watch Band had broken up and come together many different times. I really enjoyed working with them, but they had no rules bound to themselves. Consequently they would break up. It did not matter if they were successful or not. Then I would talk to them, and they would agree to do something else."
Cobb's powers of persuasion were successful for getting band together again for three more albums, The Inner Mystique (released December, 1967) and One Step Beyond (released May, 1968), though the proceedings transpired about as smoothly as could be expected. Ed Cobb again explains: "They were very much wrapped up in the drug culture. A lot of strange things happened. Here's a classic example, and this is the truth: During the recording of Devil's Motorcycle on their third album, they walked into the studio and asked me where the box was. They couldn't start without the box. So they went out and found it. The box was an incredibly hand-tooled, hand-carved, inlaid wood box, like a giant fisherman's box. As you opened it up, all the drawers would fold out and raise up. In there were sticks of hashish close to a half-inch in diameter, LSD and all the pills you could imagine! I personally am not a smoker. But the smoke was so heavy coming underneath the door in the studio that I had a contact high for three days! The band played all the instruments. We liked to put the guitar on last, so the lead could stay out of the way while we were making tracks. But Mark Loomis was so wiped out that he couldn't play at all. We had to get the lead guitar player from the Grateful Dead to come down and finish off the solos!"
During all of this chaos, the Chocolate Watch band also managed to make a cameo appearance with the Standells in the classic motion picture, Riot On Sunset Strip. Therein, the band performed Dave Aguilar's Don't Need Your Lovin' and the group-penned Sitting There Standing. Though both of these pieces were unabashedly borrowed from the material of other artists (Rick Nelson's Milk Cow Blues and the Yardbirds' The Nazz Are Blue, respectively), the Chocolate Watch Band at that point had established themselves as one of the most original bands on the scene. Cobb: "The Chocolate Watch Band had a different type of groove. It was sloppy with intensity. All the beats didn't fall together at the same time, yet the overall beat fell as one beat. By the time of their third album, they had developed to the point where they were so strong together, that I would have been a fool to have my influence in there and screw up what they were trying to do. The Chocolate Watch Band was very extreme. If they had become as big as the Jefferson Airplane, then who is to say what is extreme?"
But commercial acclaim did elude the band, who splintered for good in 1968 to pursue academic careers (vocalist Aguilar is now a professor of astronomy at a Colorado university). Nonetheless, their influence on the new music movement remains strong. Rochester, New York's Chesterfield Kings covered the Chocolate Watch Band's I Ain't No Miracle Worker as their debut single in 1981. Los Angeles' Unclaimed includes Sweet Young Thing as a regular part of their live repertoire. And traces of the Chocolate Watch Band's distinctive style can be found in the original music of such diverse bands as the Three O'Clock, Psychedelic Furs and the Dream Syndicate.
After years of unforgivable obscurity, 18 of the Chocolate Watch Band's finest tracks are once again available in this Rhino compilation. Included is their best-known number, a cover of the Tongues Of Truth's Let's Talk About Girls, as well as all of their Uptown sides and many highlights from their Tower period. Like all great rock and roll, the material retains a timeless quality that makes it sound fresh to fans newcomers alike. Listen and learn.
P.O. Box 48124
Los Angeles, California 90048-0124 USA
The Chocolate Watch Band (official page) The Chocolate Watchband @ Wikipedia The Chocolate Watch Band @ pHinnWeb Blog The Chocolate Watch Band @ All-Music Guide
The Chocolate Watch Band @ The Rough Guide To Rock
The Chocolate Watch Band @ Tunes
The Chocolate Watch Band @ Webnoize DeadAir
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