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It Came From The Suburbs: Rare Teen Rock From The Kennedy Era, CD (£11.50)
Ace Records continue to exploit the fascinatingly quirky Downey Records catalogue. This is the second in a series presenting the Southern Californian label’s output. While the much-lauded first comp was an instrumental collection, “Intoxica!”, this new one is a rock‘n’roll collection that refuses to draw any genre lines, as long as it all fits within the context of the Big Beat. IT CAME FROM THE SUBURBS started with the working title of “Downey Teens”, and although not as evocative, that working title said it all. This collection brings us doo wop (including some unreleased rareties), quasi-rockabilly, teen ballads, honking R&B strollers, novelty pop and more, creating a patchwork of teen music from the Kennedy era, the strange years leading up to the Beatles and the British Invasion. All that’s missing is Wolfman Jack and a cheeseburger with large fries and a vanilla malt. We have resurrected American Grafitti, but without the Golden Oldies! It’s the right timeframe, but in time-honoured Ace style, this comp brings you the best (and sometimes weirdest) in oddities. The Downey vaults excavation continues in order to bring straight-from-the-masters quality, and in the doing of it, we keep discovering that the released sides (and the two or three hits on the label) were only a small part of the Downey story!
Where were you in ‘62? That was the question posed by the posters for American Grafitti, and if you, like the teenagers in that movie, lived in Southern California, you were most likely to have spent your free time digging Hunter Hancock on KGFJ; Huggy Boy broadcasting from the window at Joe Dolphin’s record shop on LA’s Central Avenue; or tuning in to the ubiquitous Wolfman Jack howling from across the Mexican border. You’d have an incorrigible desire to own a ‘57 Chevy and date that Sandra Dee or Tuesday Weld look-alike. If you happened to be cruising past La Brea on Sunset in Hollywood you would pull in to Tiny Naylor’s, that futuristic drive-in where the car hops hung your tray at your window. While you were there you would be a peel-out away from some of the busiest recording studios in town, like Western and United, but you wouldn’t know that. And a short drive away on Vine Street stood Wallach’s Music City, the record store for the hip teen, and this you would know about.
Music on the radio at this time was caught somewhere between Brian Wilson’s beach and the hip teen doings up on Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Somewhere between rock ‘n’ roll’s earliest surrender to Tin Pan Alley in 1958 and the British Invasion of 1964 that brought it all back home.
Bill Wenzel, together with his oldest son, Jack, opened Wenzel’s Music Town in 1958, and having started to record local groups and singers that same year at the studio they had installed in back of the store, began the Jack Bee record label in the summer of ‘59. Starting a new imprint, Downey, in 1962, the Wenzels hit paydirt first with the Rumblers’ Boss, and then with the Chantays’ Pipeline.
On this collection we present the quasi-rockabilly of Jimmie Hombs and Mickey Bowman sitting right next to the doo wop of the Invictas and the Debonaires. All the tracks have previously only been available on lo-fi bootlegs (with the exception of the Debonaires, whose tracks are entirely unreleased up till now). The New Orleans R&B of Jessie Hill meets the honking West Coast R&B of Paul Clifton. Oh yes, and the Astro-Romeo meets the Dragon while Betty Boop Hoo Doo’s The Voodoo! You may well ask, What?, but you’d need to grab a copy of IT CAME FROM THE SUBURBS to find the answer.
On a final note, and as he gets a mention earlier in this piece, as well as in my sleeve notes to this release, may I add my personal respects to the great Dick Huggy Boy Hugg, who died at the end of August in Long Beach, after a life dedicated to rock‘n’roll.