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The Chocolate Watchband “The Best of the Chocolate Watchband” 1983: The Chocolate Watchband is one of a number of highly influential bands that were both short-lived and practically unknown at the time, but over the years has become a frequently mentioned influence. Plagued by personnel changes, tinkering by management and label incompetence, they are now regarded as one of the earliest punk bands and one of the best bands of the late ’60s Bay Area psychedelic scene……The original Chocolate Watchband was formed in 1965 by guitarists Mark Loomis and Ned Torney, who had worked with each other in a band called the Chaparrals. The band gained some attention, but quickly fell apart due to a number of different situations. Bassist Rich Young was drafted, while vocalist Danny Phay, drummer Pete Curry and organist Jo Kemling were all poached by a San Francisco folk outfit called the Topsiders, which itself soon collapsed. Most of the former members of the Watchband that had left for the Topsiders then from the Other Side, which would become a rival group to Loomis’s reformed version of the Watchband.
After performing for a time in a surf band called the Shandels, he and that group’s bassist Bill “Flo” Flores gave the Chocolate Watchband another go in 1966. Adding Gary Andrijasevich, who had briefly taken over drums for the first version of the band, they also grabbed Topsiders guitarist Sean Tolby and vocalist David Aguilar, who was currently with a band called the Mourning Reign.
The new band patterned themselves loosely after the Rolling Stones, with a strong R&B influence to their music. In their live shows, they were known to seamlessly blend a number of different songs, both originals and covers, creating a song all their own. A performance at the Fillmore in San Francisco so impressed promoter Bill Graham that he offered to manage them and include them on the roster of bands performing both at the Fillmore and Fillmore East, but, having signed to Ed Cobb’s Green Grass Productions, declined.
The Watchband were getting regional airplay with a cover of Davie Allan and the Arrows’ “Blues Theme”, but the original version was having difficulty finding a label for distribution. Cobb quickly renamed the Chocolate Watchband “The Hogs” to cash in on the biker movie tie-in and the sound of Harley Davidsons in the recording, and had the single released on HBR, a music label subsidiary of Hanna-Barbara, known largely for releasing children’s music.
Despite the strange setback, the band continued to perform under its real name, and landed itself a spot in the movie Riot on Sunset Strip, contributing two songs and a performance. The continued exposure got them signed to Tower Records, a subsidiary of Capitol Records. Confusion over the race of the band, however, resulted in Tower releasing the band’s first single under their true name, “Sweet Young Thing”, on the Uptown label, which was their R&B imprint. The confusion stemmed from the band’s name, with the label thinking that “Chocolate” referred to the band being black – leading to them being booked to perform at a soul festival in 1967.
Following that debacle, the next single, “Misty Lane”, featured a b-side called “She Weaves a Tender Trap”. Written by Cobb, lead singer David Aguilar was put in the unusual position of singing a bland pop song, with later orchestral overdubs added. The band hated the single so much that they took turns using the 45′s for skeet shooting practice. However, it was a sign of things to come, as future recordings, particularly on their full-length albums, would be tinkered with by Cobb.
This was not the case, however, with their next release, “Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In)”. Written for inclusion in the 1967 tribute to Haight-Ashbury, The Love-Ins, the song became one of the Watchband’s signature tracks, and the first to be properly released on Tower. It also turned out to be the closest they ever got to a true hit record.
1967 also saw the release of the band’s first full-length album, No Way Out. However, very little of the Chocolate Watchband was featured. David Aguilar’s vocals were largely wiped and replaced by those of Don Bennett, and two of the tracks being performed by an unrelated group of musicians. Frustration with the album and the band’s direction lead to Loomis and Andrijasevich’s departure to form the Tingle Guild. Their departure lead to Aguilar also quitting.
Tolby and Flores decided to continue with the band, bringing in members from the San Francisco Bay Blues Band as replacements. Chris Flinders became the new vocalist, with Tim Abbott and Mark Whittaker on guitar and drums, respectively. Flinders and Abbott soon left, with Aguilar rejoining briefly, but the band as a performing unit broke up by the end of the year.
The band’s breakup did not prevent their management from putting out another album, The Inner Mystique, in 1968. Don Bennett was again put on vocals, fronting a group of studio musicians reworking studio demos and half-completed songs by the proper band, and a couple of finished songs by the original group. Despite using very little original group material (or the group at all), the albums became highly regarded relics of the psychedelic era.
Despite marginal sales, Tower decided to go with a third Chocolate Watchband album. Tolby and Flores recruited Loomis and Andrijasevich as well as as original vocalist Danny Phay, who was currently working with the latter two in the Tingle Brigade. Completing the line-up was another original member, guitarist Ned Torney. The resulting album was One Step Beyond, which saw the band performing in a folk-rock vein. Loomis left again in 1969 due to health reasons, and was replaced by Hydraulic Banana guitarist Phil Scoma. The band limped along, breaking up in 1970.
The cult status of Riot on Sunset Strip and the appearance of Chocolate Watchband singles on Nuggets and other garage and psychedelic compilations renewed interest in the band, with their albums and singles becoming highly sought-after collectors items in the 1980s. Rhino released two compilations, while Sundazed re-released their original albums.
The renewed interest led to the band deciding to reform for live shows. In 1999, David Aguilar, Bill Flores, Gary Andrijasevich, Tim Abbott and Michael Reese (replacing Sean Tolby, who passed away in 1990) performed for the 66/99 festival in San Diego, and have been frequently touring and doing festival concerts since. The band also released an album of new material, Get Away, in 2000.trax:
01 Let’s Talk About Girls 02 Sweet Young Thing 03 No Way Out 04 Baby Blue 05 Expo 2000 06 In the Past 07 I’m Not Like Everybody Else 08 Are You Gonna Be There (At the Love-In) 09 Don’t Need Your Lovin’ 10 Misty Lane 11 She Weaves a Tender Trap 12 Sitting There Standing 13 Milk Cow Blues 14 I Ain’t No Miracle Worker
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