Plamie Records: Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice, Hot Coffee, the Weathervane and Strange Laughter

The Los Angeles-based Plamie label released a handful of 45s in 1967-68. At least two of the bands on the label, Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice and Weathervane, were based in Santa Cruz, which makes these Plamie 45s important documents of the music scene along the California coast north of LA and south of the Bay Area.

Jason Sweitzer suggested we write about the Plamie label to compliment the previous article about other Santa Cruz-based bands the Cobras, Talon Wedge and Snail. Jason conducted the interviews with Ben Hudson and Steffen Presley, and wrote the text for the sections on Weathervane and Strange Laughter. Gray Newell provided some of the scans and transfers from original 45s.

Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice at the department store 'Disco' in Capitola, near Santa Cruz<br />l-r: Ben Hudson, Mike Gordon, and probably Ray Tuthill, or possibly Scott Pearson or Tony Hill on drums
Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice at the department store ‘Disco’ in Capitola, near Santa Cruz
l-r: Ben Hudson, Mike Gordon, and probably Ray Tuthill, or possibly Scott Pearson or Tony Hill on drums

Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice Plamie 45 SinnerUncle Ben and the Wild RiceUncle Ben and the Wild Rice were Ben Hudson guitar and vocals, his sister Sharron Bassano on vocals and organ, Mike Gordon bass, Willie Wahler guitar and vocals, and Tony Hill on drums. They played at the Grass Cookie in Santa Cruz, among other venues.

Jason spoke to Ben:

We were local to Santa Cruz, California in the 60’s. We played at the Boardwalk’s “Coconut Grove” frequently in the 66-68 years. We also played all of the area venues of the time [including the Grass Cookie]. I recall opening for Country Joe and the Fish in an airplane hangar in Watsonville and bumping into the Jefferson Airplane folks at the Coconut Grove.

We were just kids having a blast. I imagine the record doesn’t sound too hip, it was a Christmas release and didn’t really reflect the Rock ‘n Roll of our stage shows. The band members are still around the area, mostly retired. I started a new solo CD recently and still write and play a few gigs. We recorded a couple other songs at those early sessions, but nothing else was released to my knowledge until the reunion CD in 2003.

Sharron Bassano
Sharron Bassano

Sharron - Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice Plamie 45 A Tale Told “A Tale Told” is their first 45, one side featuring lead vocals by Sharron, the other Uncle Ben. With the dreamy quality to the vocals and keyboards you may not notice the lyrics are about Jesus!

Their second 45 leaves the folky sound of “A Tale Told” for a tougher, bluesy approach. “Sinner” features Ben’s bracing vocal and a sharp guitar solo. Sharron’s “Holdin Blues” is a wonderful song reminiscent of the Charlatans, with interesting guitar work and a great rave-up at the end.

The photos are from B. Robert Hudson’s (Uncle Ben) site [http://ubwr.broberthudson.com/ but defunct when I checked in 2016] with more cool pics of the band and info on his recent live shows. Their reunions in 2002-3 included all members but Sharron.

San Lorenzo Blues Rock Festival with the Stained Glass, Bogus Thunder, Snail, Moses February, Jaguars, Coffee, John Deacon Society, Tender Gender, Sabbathe Office and Aunt Millie's Blue
Hot Coffee

Hot Coffee Plamie 45 Some Day You Will DieAn almost unknown group, the only names we can associate with them are Linden Coffee, the leader of the group, and Dave Holt, writer of “Cheatin On Me”. This David Holt also wrote songs with Baker Knight, longtime singer and songwriter (garage fans may know him for “Hallucinations” on Reprise). However, I don’t know if he had any connection with the band at all.

Ben Hudson told Gray Newell, “We went to LA to record on a joint trip with Hot Coffee, because we had the same manager, Ben Lawson, a DJ on a local radio station at the time, KDON from Salinas, CA.”

There’s a good possibility that this is the same band listed as Coffee on the poster for the Santa Cruz Blues Rock Festival at San Lorenzo Park. The other acts listed on the poster are Jaguars, Snail, Stained Glass, Moses February, Bogus Thunder, the John Deacon Society, Tender Gender, Sabbathe Office, and Aunt Millie’s Blues.

Hot Coffee Plamie 45 Cheatin on Me

Weathervane, l-r: Ed Bowman, Mike O'Bryan, Steffen Presley and Kevin Beamish
Weathervane, l-r: Ed Bowman, Mike O’Bryan, Steffen Presley and Kevin Beamish

Weathervane

Weathervane Plamie 45 4-4,5-4From Modesto, California, The Weathervane only released this 45 on Plamie Records in 1968 — a euphoric, if not lyrically sardonic, slice of psychedelia.

Formed in 1966, the original group comprised of teens Steffen Presley on organ and lead vocals, Kevin Beamish on lead guitar, Ed Bowman on bass, and Mike O’Bryan on drums and lead vocals. Bob Wilson was an itinerant member on bass, rhythm guitar and lead vocals, having left the band for a time and then returned.

November 23, 1966 concert program at the Strand Theatre in Modesto with the Sir Douglas Quintet and Golliwogs
November 23, 1966 concert program at the Strand Theatre in Modesto with the Sir Douglas Quintet and Golliwogs

As a popular mainstay at the under-21 hangouts and nightclubs of the Central Valley, The Weathervane also performed regularly in Sonora and the San Francisco Bay Area, sharing bills with The Golliwogs, Sir Douglas Quintet, The Ratz, The Eisage, Mourning Edition, Meat and Cheese, Homegrown, and the all-girl outfit, Sometimes, among others.

During the summer of 1967, at the arrangement of their manager Gene Bastion, they temporarily relocated to Ben Lomond, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and performed at various venues along the coast. Of this time, Steffen Presley remembers:

Gene was a radio DJ who went under various aliases. In Modesto, he was known as Jerry Lang. We stayed in a big cabin in Ben Lomond, which was owned by a friend of his and they only used it part of the year. The idea was to gain us greater exposure. It was a great fun time!

Bob Burns review from Modesto station KFIV/136 Spotlight, Vol. 2 No. 18
Bob Burns review from Modesto station KFIV/136 Spotlight, Vol. 2 No. 18

Soon after returning from Santa Cruz, Bastion was able to negotiate a recording deal for the band with Plamie Records in Los Angeles. Presley, who wrote both original songs, recalls:

I was 17 at the time of the Plamie sessions. Although I did the lead vocal on “4-4, 5-4,” it was Mike O’Bryan doing the lead vocal on “My Original Blue Jeans.”

One of the things the producer did was to change the key of “My Original Blue Jeans,” which I felt was detrimental to Mike’s vocal, particularly as he was very used to the original key from live performances. Fortunately, “4-4, 5-4” was left fully intact and basically represented our true sound, sans the poor mix, where the vocal is fairly buried for the first half of the song.

My Vox Continental organ was a signature part of our sound, as you may have noticed. At that time, there was next to nothing available in portable keyboards, and I had no money to buy anything else. I did play piano at that time but was not interested in electric pianos, which barely existed, anyway. Of course moving real pianos around was not even a consideration. The studio had a Hammond organ, which I used on “My Original Blue Jeans.” I had actually written the song on piano. I don’t think the studio had a piano or I may have used it.

There had been talk of recording an album, but despite significant airplay the 45 was a complete dud in Modesto upon its release. We were even ridiculed by some. I could understand that, as the producer had completely changed (ruined- in not just my opinion) our sound on “My Original Blue Jeans,” and even back then I thought that the recording quality was quite poor. This is one reason why I later became a producer with my own studio.

Weathervane, 1967, l-r: Bob Wilson, Ed Bowman, Mike O'Bryan, Kevin Beamish and Steffen Presley
Weathervane, 1967, l-r: Bob Wilson, Ed Bowman, Mike O’Bryan, Kevin Beamish and Steffen Presley
 Strange Laughter, 1969
Strange Laughter, 1969

Strange Laughter

About a year after the Plamie release, the Weathervane split up over artistic and personnel conflicts. Soon thereafter, Steffen Presley formed a new band, Strange Laughter. When asked how The Weathervane transformed into Strange Laughter, Presley wrote:

Well, this is the most interesting question to me! As the Weathervane matured musically, Tom Aragon eventually replaced Kevin Beamish on guitar. The beginning of the split came about as Tom and I wanted to pursue all original material. The other members preferred that we did mostly cover tunes. Very soon thereafter, Tom and I decided to form a new (all original) band, which became Strange Laughter.

Beside myself on organ and lead vocals, Tom Aragon was the bass player. The guitarist, David Rose, is to this day the best guitarist I’ve ever heard, and was also a superb songwriter. The fourth member was an amazing drummer and lifelong friend of mine, Kimber Glendening.

Strange Laughter was a far better band musically and artistically than The Weathervane, in my opinion, and became even more popular than The Weathervane in the Modesto area. I would describe our music as “progressive rock”, but this was at least a couple of years before the Prog-rock movement, so we were ahead of our time, for sure.

Unfortunately, the band was able to last only one year. Just as we were starting to get offers to go on significant bills, we split up due to conflicting interests. I think that it’s a crime that no recordings were ever made.

I’d like to thank Steffen Presley for taking the time to write and for sharing his pictures and recollections. For more info on his recent work, visit www.song-haven.com.

Country Weather, Strange Laughter, Elastik Band and Rest Meat Cheese at the California Ballroom in Modesto on June 19, lights by Keeper of the Night. Poster by Tom Morris
Country Weather, Strange Laughter, Elastik Band and Rest Meat Cheese at the California Ballroom in Modesto on June 19, lights by Keeper of the Night. Poster by Tom Morris

Strange Laughter updates:

Sept. 2008: Steffen writes, “I have just released a new album, along with the first of two video releases. The band is called “3 Legs On Wheels” and the album titled “in Our Time Machine” on Terraform Records. All the info can be found on the official web-site: www.3legsonwheels.com.

Feb. 2009:

My dear friend, Kimber Glendening passed away on January 18, 2009. As the best drummer California’s Central Valley has seen for the last 50 years (at least), he was a major factor in the still legendary (in that small part of the world) “Strange Laughter” sound. He played in many other bands in the Modesto area throughout his life. A memorial was held in his honor on February 8th at the Eagle Lodge in Modesto, California. The event was attended by several hundred people, including myself. There were many people there that I hadn’t seen for forty years! Teaming with remaining members from Strange Laughter, we played a tribute set in Kimber’s honor. Different combinations of musicians jammed into the night with myself sitting in with most of them on keys and sax.

Steffen Presley

Strange Laughter, Burnt Sunnyland Canyon at the California Ballroom, September 26, 1969, lights by Bayshore Fruit Co.
Strange Laughter, Burnt Sunnyland Canyon at the California Ballroom, September 26, 1969, lights by Bayshore Fruit Co.
“The California Ballroom regularly brought in about a thousand people and often had name SF bands headlining.” – Steffen Presley

14 thoughts on “Plamie Records: Uncle Ben and the Wild Rice, Hot Coffee, the Weathervane and Strange Laughter”

  1. As A Teenager growing up in Modesto Ca. I lived next door to Steffen Presley we were and still are good friends. During those years I used to hang out with Steffen and the many bands he was in. I was fortunate to have gone with The Weathervane to the Ben Lomond cabin for the weekend during their stay there. I felt like a king hanging around such talented people. They played at The Coconut Grove in Santa Cruz Ca. that weekend, what a weekend to remember.

    Recently, I had the wonderful experience to record in Steffen’s Song-Haven Studio in Tajunga Ca. the finished product was beyond my dreams. Steffen is not only a great musician he also knows his way around the studio very well too. We had a chance to reminisce about the old times as well as put down some great recordings.
    Thanks For The Memories…

  2. Thanks to Steffen for his input on two of my favorite bands!
    Weather Vane was the first band I saw in Modesto, at the Purple Turnip,on 10th Street. 10th Street in Modesto,was made famous by George Lucas in the movie “American Graffiti”. And once the California Ballroom started up I never missed a gig and no matter who the headliner was I was there to see Strange Laughter! I still have two handbills from those gigs, one that I saved and one that Steffen gave me in the ’80’s.

    My favorite night at the Ballroom was on the 4th of July. The electricity kept going out because the wiring was old and couldn’t keep up with the bands demands on it which left us all sitting on the floor, in the dark. Earlier that night I had met a group of people who had heard about the great music going on twice a week at the Ballroom so they had driven 100 miles from San Francisco to see what was going on. I felt a little embarrassed since nothing was going on due to the lack of electricity. But Nancy Delgado turned the dark into a fireworks display by running through the crowd, in the dark, carrying a sparkler, which made the crowd go wild! The electricity finally came back on and Strange Laughter started to play again. The next thing we know huge sparks flew out of the electrical panel on stage but Mike Kearney saved the day by grabbing two wires and connecting them, fusing them into submission…and as they say “the band played on”.

    I met the bass player Tom Aragon through Steffen in the 60’s and we were married in 2003, so thanks to you, Steffen!

    Tom’s mother gave us a picture she had taken of the band playing at the Ballroom and I still laugh when I see myself sitting in the front row, grooving to these guys. This picture hangs on our wall and every time I look at it I feel like a kid again!

    Wouldn’t it be great to hold a re-union of all the old bands?

    This is a great site! Thanks to those who make it happen.

    Paulie Aragon

  3. woops, in my earlier post i noted the appearance of label shot for the afforementioned (non existent?) Hunted 45; i checked again, and there was no label shot, but still, the It’s Finking Time record credits The Hunted and not Uncle Ben for ‘Sinner’….

  4. I don’t have Finking Time, but in the uglythings database for that comp it’s listed as Uncle Ben so I guess the Hunted was a mistake all along.

  5. ‘Sinner’ is, in my humble opinion, the best punk track from california EVER, and after listening to the other Uncle Ben tracks i think they may be among my fave California bands ever too. Thanks for putting this and all the other great Plamie sides up here; the Santa Cruz scene must’ve been aces all around

    one question: ‘Sinner’ appears on a vinly only comp album called It’s Finking Time which came out in the 90’s; for some reason instead of being credited correctly as Uncle Ben & The Wild Rice, the track is listed as being by THE HUNTED, and there is even an actual LABEL SHOT of the ‘Sinner’ 45 on the back of the comp that shows this band name….

    so was this a doctored label shot or was ‘Sinner’ released by Uncle Ben under the alias The Hunted?

  6. Steffen Presley sent Jason another photo of Weathervane. Steffen writes “I just got this photo from Tom Aragon. It is from August 1968 (after Kevin was replaced with Tom and shortly after the Plamie release) and was probably one of the last Weathervane gigs. I believe this was at the Turlock Fairgrounds.”


    Left to right: Steffen Presley (Vox Continental organ), Ed Bowman (bass), Mike O’Bryan (drums) and Tom Aragon (guitar). To the right of the stage is our second manager, Paul Carlson.

  7. I went to Davis High School in the 60s, and fondly remember Kimber, a lanky tall guy with what seemed to be a sort of trick eye, or perhaps a bad eye, always wore cool shoes, and always very nice.
    A terrific drummer, as I was (as most everyone!) in a band, Black Wax, Home Town Snatch, etc. I heard Strange Laughter play a few times, and they always blew me away. I remember David Rose’s girlfriend at the time told me that David often spoke by posing riddles–a very smart guy, witty, and extremely talented guitarist. They were the one band we figured would make it out of Motown (Modesto), had a unique blend of psychedelic, circus-bizarre sounds. Remember David, sort of short jumping around, stomping on this wah-wah pedal. They were way ahead of their time, I’d say, looking back. A lot of kids didn’t understand them–in the middle of a song, the organ player (forgot his name) would pull out a clarinet and play some sort of whimsical funny tune–, but a small crowd really dug them a lot. I always wanted to play drums like Kimber. He did borrow my drums for awhile. He was smooth.

    Peace, David Waterman

  8. Wow! I didn’t thing anyone remembered the Purple Turnip. I was with a band in Modesto (63-65) the Vagabond’s. We were auditioned by a group playing at the purple turnip that had released the La La five times song, I forget their name. They came to one of our garage sessions (how embarrassing) we had 2 guitar players playing out of a wooden tube amp with 8″ speakers & a drummer. These were great times in Modesto up and down 10th & llth, great bands and a lot of talant. I graduated from Modesto High in 65.

  9. I just had to ask Steffen about any additional background on the ispiration for the great tune “4-4 5-4″…I’ve been transfixed by this song about a girl who can’t dance…. I love it!…”Funniest thing I’ve seen……”

  10. I REMENBER AND USED TO GO TO THE PURPLE TURNIP SAW THE RATZ THERE PLENTY OF TIMES .GREAT NIGHTCLUB. IT WAS CALLED WILLIES PURPLE TURNIP

  11. Well 4-4 5-4 was the first song I ever wrote. I was seventeen and hadn’t really learned the craft yet. The inspiration was strictly musical, being based on that silly alternating time signature riff. The first set of lyrics I wrote said nothing and so I decided to scratch them and start over. I realized I had to paint lyrics which had something to do with the feel of the music and that is why I came up with the “girl can’t dance” thing. There was not an actual personal experience or anything like that, although I certainly can’t dance worth a darn myself (I preferred being the guy on stage). My biggest regret (besides the poor production quality, which at the time was beyond my control) was not coming up with a better title. Thanks for your interest, and I’m amazed that there still is any!

  12. There guys were all my music heroes back in those days (1960s), what they wrote, how they played was 1st rate, there music was as complex as the band YES from south Africa and as good, Every song they wrote “a musical journey” for me. I went to every concert I could get into to see them , most with by brother Frank, he loved them also, did sound fro them too I believe, I became a competent guitar player myself years later but when these guys were together in Strange Laughter I barely knew anything about guitar and I marveled at Dave Rose’s ability to create music on that instrument, a very intelligent man , completely trained in classical guitar and music in general besides his exceptional talent on electric guitar! Many of us would sit in the Quad at MJC and listen to Dave Rose play acoustic guitar, he would play for what seem like hours, I would fall asleep to it. Never new anybody else like him in all these years, he had a great sense of humor, made up funny stories, he read two dictionaries on a camping trip I went along with him, my brother and Late Great Kimber Glendening, Strange Laughter’s drummer, a good man on or off the stage. There is so much more I could say about those guys and those days. Steffen P. and Tom A. – top quality musicians and writers and good people also. I never knew how good it all was until I lived the rest my life, compared it to the rest of my experiences and those days made many more good memories I’ll remember then many other things that went on or that I was involved in when I was young making my own original Gospel music from 1970 to 1976 full time, on the road, rehearsing at home 35 hours a week between touring out from California to New York, mostly New Mexico, Arizona and local stuff in Southern Cal. To see or just hear an old recording of Strange Laughter would be quite a treat for my ears once again!

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