Chocolate Watchband founder and lead guitarist Mark Loomis passed away in Hawaii on September 26. His friend Alec Palao pays tribute.
Mark Loomis plays a key role in the history of garage rock heroes the Chocolate Watchband. He was the appointed leader of the group, in both its brief first incarnation, and the classic 1966-1967 lineup responsible for such cherished garage punk moments as ‘Sweet Young Thing’ and ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’. Instrumentally, Loomis was also the driving force behind the tight Stones/Yardbirds-derived format that wowed audiences the length and breadth of California and got the Watchband signed to record and movie deals. As the act’s charismatic frontman David Aguilar admits, “Mark most definitely had the idea of putting the group together, and I guess I kind of supplied the spark to it.”
Mark cut his rock’n’roll teeth in the Chapparals in 1964, based in the San Jose suburb of Cupertino, at the base of the San Francisco peninsula. The following year he and fellow Chapparal Ned Torney assembled the first Chocolate Watchband at Foothill College in Los Altos, which lasted just a few months before imploding at the end of 1965. While the members of the group that hadn’t been drafted became the Otherside, Loomis and drummer Gary Andrijasevich decided to form a new Watchband, with a decidedly more professional, British mod-rock flavour. Gathering able cohorts in the shape of singer Aguilar, rhythm guitarist Sean Tolby and bass player Bill Flores, the new look Watchband burst on to the South Bay scene in the spring of 1966 and quickly took over the town.
His fiery prowess as a lead guitarist matched the powerful stage presence of Aguilar, and with the capable rhythm section of Tolby, Flores and Andrijasevich behind them, Chocolate Watchband Mk 2 was an unbeatable combination. While the records the group made hide a convoluted tale of surreptitious overdubs and impostor sessionmen, Mark’s talents come through quite demonstrably on most Chocolate Watchband tracks. Check his chaotic fusillades on the powerful soundtrack cuts ‘Sitting There Standing’ and ‘Don’t Need Your Lovin’,’ or the sinuous psychedelic leads that snake through ‘Are You Gonna Be There’ and ‘No Way Out.’ While they only recorded a couple of originals, it was Mark who came up with the hypnotic chord pattern for ‘Loose Lip Sync Ship,’ later purloined by the band’s producer Ed Cobb to create the bizarre album cut ‘Gossamer Wings.’
Loomis had his own take on both the kinetic style of a Beck or Dave Davies, and the enveloping sound of Jorma Kaukonen and the emergent San Francisco players. He blended both with a unique flair that ratcheted up the excitement level of every Watchband performance to the maximum. Strange then that Mark would suddenly do an about-turn in June of 1967 and decamp with Andrijasevich to form the folk-rock Tingle Guild, leaving the remaining Watchband members high and dry. Loomis returned to the group in time for their third and final album “One Step Beyond” in 1969, but for various reasons his contribution at this later stage would be limited.
I first met Mark back in 1991, when I interviewed him and all the other Watchband members for Cream Puff War magazine. I understood then how important his role was, but his affable manner and willingness to share memories and memorabilia was touching. After the article was published and I compiled the first of a series of Watchband reissues for Big Beat, I would hear from him regularly and see him and his girlfriend Geri from time to time. And in 2004 I had the great pleasure of performing with him at several shows on the bands old stomping grounds. While Mark admitted he was a little out of shape, it was thrill to be on stage with him and the other members of the Watchband, playing to an appreciative hometown crowd at a 4th July event in San Jose. Not long thereafter, he and Geri moved to Hawaii, but it was always a pleasure to hear from them both whenever they called for a chat.
Mark expressed to me on many occasions how proud he was of the Chocolate Watchband, and as well he should have been. As the instigator of this quintessential outfit, and the axe-slinger behind their memorable records, his rock’n’roll legacy is assured. We will all miss him.