Category Archives: Santa Cruz

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

The Vistells, The Cobras and the late ’60’s Santa Cruz music scene


The Vistells, 1963 at Fort Ord, from left to right, Johnny Mullins rhythm guitar, Mike Reesen drums, Dave Kibler lead guitar, and Mike Dokter bass

The Cobras were from Northern California, specifically Pacific Grove, which is right by Monterey. The band had started as an instrumental group called the Vistells, who recorded a few acetates.

The Cobras recorded just one 45, “If I Can’t Believe Her” b/w “I’m Hurtin'”. Dave’s guitar on “If I Can’t Believe Her” is original and fluid, with a nice touch of echo. Drummer Mike Reesen’s fills are much looser than is usual for garage recordings. “I’m Hurtin'” has more catchy guitar work and a plaintive vocal. Amazingly “I’m Hurtin'” has never been comped before to my knowledge.

In 1966, the draft claimed two members of the Cobras. Meanwhile rhythm guitarist Bob O’Neil formed Talon Wedge. When Dave Kibler returned, he and Bob formed Snail. Taken together, these groups show the evolution of ’60s music from surf to garage, to psychedelia and hard rock.

Dave Kibler wrote to me:

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’

Talon Wedge and Snail

In 1966, I was drafted into the Marines, and Mike was also drafted, which spelled the demise of the Cobras as a group. Two of the members went on to form the Talon Wedge in Santa Cruz, which ultimately evolved into a successful band called Snail. The Talon Wedge had a fluid band roster, but the first version had Bob O’Neill, Dick Tasano, and Terry Shehorn on guitars, Ron Fillmore on Drums, and Bob Caloca on Bass.

I have a demo tape that they made. I was uncertain of thet titles, so I used the lyrics as a possible reference. I don’t know where they were recorded, or who played on these songs, but I think Bob O’Neill, Ron Fillmore and bob Caloca were some of the musicians on them.

Talon Wedge – Two O’Clock in the Morning
Talon Wedge – Man with the Golden Ring
Talon Wedge – Instrumental
Talon Wedge – See the People


What a lineup!
Does anyone recall this show? Did it actually take place?
Let us know! – See Lost Live Dead for more info.

When I returned from the service, venues were more of a concert setting where people would sit and listen. At that time I joined Snail as the bass player. I was the one with real short hair! Snail was a Cream-style power trio with Bob O’Neill on guitar and Ron Fillmore on drums. [The three Snail songs here] were recorded at a live gig in San Lorenzo park in Santa Cruz. It was a big concert (the one on the pink flyer). You can hear a definite Cream influence. Sittin’ Gettin’ Stoned was a musical departure, but people liked it probably because of the not-so-subtle altered consciousness reference. The bass was a Hagstrom 8-string, which was set up similarly to a 12-string guitar except with four pairs of strings each tuned an octave apart in the bass register. When it was played it sounded like a bass and a guitar playing together.

Snail – Wading in Dirt
Snail – The Wrinkle
Snail – Sittin’ Gettin’ Stoned

I played with them for about 9 months, when they got a second guitar player named Ken Kraft. When I was with Snail in the late ‘60’s we opened for The People, H.P. Lovecraft, Clear Light, and Fritz Rabine Memorial Band. The latter boasted Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks in its roster.

In the late 60’s or early 70’s, Snail put out two albums featuring Bob and Ken fronting the group. The first record was named “Flow.” I don’t know if they are available anywhere, but they had a sound vaguely similar to the early Doobie Brothers.

And that’s the saga of the Cobras. We loved playing music and being a part of the scene at a time when it was fun and innocent compared to the way things are now.

Thank you Dave Kibler for bringing the story of the Cobras and the Santa Cruz scene to light, and for providing the excellent Vistells photo, Cobra cards, Snail posters, and the unreleased acetates and tapes of these bands. For more info on Dave’s current musical work, check out www.thesoundbytes.com

Also, I want to thank JG, who alerted me to the Soundbytes website after my initial post and encouraged me to ask about Talon Wedge.