The Cobras was a Pacific Grove, California group that evolved in 1963 from two friends who played guitar in different bands. Dave Kibler played lead guitar [in the Vistells] and Bob O’Neill played rhythm guitar. They quit their groups and recruited bassist Mike Dokter of Salinas, and Mike Reesen of Seaside to play drums to form a new combo.
The Vistells recorded in what may have been the only recording studio in Monterey, Meagher Electronics. They made some 78 rpm Audiodisc acetates for us and we were thrilled. The Vistells were Johnny Mullins on rhythm guitar, Mike Reesen on drums, Mike Dokter on bass, and Dave Kibler on lead guitar. On Night Train you can hear what an accomplished drummer Mike was. He started when he was really young, and he knew all the drum rudiments. This is the genesis of the Cobras sound, since this is the same lineup, without Bob O’Neill.
The Vistells – Night Train
The Vistells – Mr. Moto
The Vistells – Summertime
The Vistells – Let’s Go Trippin’
Lots of groups were naming themselves after cars, and the Cobra was a fast and sleek car that everybody liked so it seemed like a natural choice. The Cobras started out as a surf music/Ventures instrumental band, but with the advent of the British Invasion, they started adding vocals to their repertoire.
An early photo of the Cobras.
left-right: Mike Reesen, Bob O’Neill, Mike Dokter, and Dave Kibler
Eventually the group was based in Santa Cruz, California and played venues from Sacramento to Carmel. The Santa Cruz music scene was pretty active, mostly because of the Cocoanut Grove Ballroom and the Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk. It was originally made in the ‘20’s and it had that old-time boardwalk feel to it. It had real atmosphere. An organization called Neighbors of Woodcraft held dances on the weekends during the summer and everyone in town would attend. They had groups from all over California play there.
Ssome of the groups that the Cobras played with were the Syndicate of Sound, the E-Types, the West Coast Five (they were from Monterey and they had a record. I think it was a cover of the Beau Brummels’ “Still In Love With You Baby”, they were more of a garage band), The Tikis, The New Breed from Sacramento, William Penn and his Pals, and Corny and the Corvettes (this was a fantastic soul music show band ala James Brown on a scaled down version. Corny Bumpus played with the Doobie Brothers in a later incarnation. They may have made some records.)
When we played, it was mainly covers that were popular at the time. I don’t think that many of the groups did originals during that period, because we were playing for dances and people wanted to hear familiar tunes.
At that point a producer in Monterey wanted to team the Cobras with a singer/keyboardist named Gary Thomas of Watsonville, who played piano with a popular local group called the Modestics to record some originals that he had written. Nothing came of those sessions, but Gary was invited to join the group so he bought a Farfisa which gave the group a completely new sound. As a result the Cobras started writing and performing originals in their sets.
I don’t think the Modestics ever made a record, but they were a great show band. They had a couple of sax players and everyone had matching blue brocade dinner jackets. They did steps when they played and they looked and sounded impressive. They eventually fell apart after Gary left.
The Cobras, just before Gary Thomas joined.
One night, my dad met a man in a bar who said he was a record producer for a subsidiary of Moonglow Records called Scoop Records. He came to listen to us and decided that he wanted to take us into a small studio in Berkeley to record four original sides.
I can’t recall the name of the studio, but it seemed to be under construction at the time we recorded. I think we recorded on a 2-track Ampex, because we recorded the instrumental tracks first and then overdubbed the vocals. I was used to recording on an old Wolensak mono recorder and being in a real studio was an overwhelming experience. We did all of the tracks in the afternoon and evening.
The result was the “I’m Hurtin’”/”If I Can’t Believe Her” single. There was no promotion or distribution deal and of course sales of the record were limited to copies that people bought directly from the band or in local record stores. There are no known examples of the other two songs recorded at the session, but they were the similar in style to the two that were released. I think we made 500 copies of the record.
When Gary and I were writing I’m Hurtin’ it was during a period when Bob Dylan was very influential in the Folk Rock genre. There were a lot of “wannabes” who mangled his poetic approach and we used to make fun some of the lame lyrics that were a standard on many records. One day I was goofing around with the lyrics and I decided to put in every cliché I could think of just for the fun of it. I showed it to Gary and he thought it was pretty funny and he said we should use that set of lyrics. I was reluctant at first, but when he started singing it, it sounded pretty good. I had a friend who let me borrow his Rickenbacker 360-12 like Roger (Jim) McGuinn played in the Byrds and voila; instant Folk Rock!
The Cobras – If I Can’t Believe Her
The Cobras – I’m Hurtin’