The Chocolate Watchband
By Alec Palao
In the roll call of 1960s garage band heroes, the Chocolate Watchband reside at the very top. Their notoriety derives from the handful of singles and LPs that they made, balanced between the Watchband’s own intense Anglophilic blues wailing, and mysterioso studio trickery on the half of producer Ed Cobb. Their best-known cut is probably ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’, which appeared on the seminal 1972 garage band sampler “Nuggets,”, but the Chocolate Watchband have many more such gems within their vintage catalogue, all of which is available to you in fully remastered sound on Big Beat Records.
The original Chocolate Watchband was formed in the autumn of 1965 at Foothill College on the San Francisco peninsula, with a six-man line-up that featured guitarist Mark Loomis and drummer Gary Andrijasevich. Playing the R&B and folk rock of the day, the outfit did some recording, but outside of their unusual name, made little impression beyond local gigs in the San Jose area. The draft and the departure of key personnel rent the group asunder late in the year, but Loomis determined to reassemble the band with a new line-up, including rhythm guitarist Sean Tolby, bass player Bill Flores and on lead vocals, San Jose State student David Aguilar.
Though it had been Loomis’ group up until this point, Aguilar was the spark that moved the Watchband to the top of the class. Within weeks of this line-up getting together, they took San Jose by storm, blasting their way to the top of the local circuit with a scintillating, mesmerizing set of Americanized Stones, Yardbirds and Animals covers. Aguilar in particular was a master of dynamics, and the singer directed his mod-togged combo through sets that made the new Watchband the talk of the local circuit. In the summer of 1966 the group signed with manager Ron Roupe, whose connections included Ed Cobb of Green Grass Productions, then riding high in the chart with the Standells. In quick succession Cobb inked the Watchband and ushered them to Los Angeles to record.
Technically, the first release was ‘Blues Theme,’ a pseudonymous instrumental cover credited to The Hogs, but the Watchband’s debut proper was the Cobb-penned ‘Sweet Young Thing’, perfectly suited to the group’s arrogant punk stance. It was released in December 1966 on Tower Records’ R&B imprint Uptown, an unusual choice of label which meant that the group was subsequently perceived by some agents as a black act. The single’s flip was an atmospheric reading of Dylan’s perennial ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’.
Moving into 1967, the Chocolate Watchband was constantly at work, either at the plethora of teen hotspots and psychedelic ballrooms in the Bay Area, or at clubs and ballrooms up and down the California coast, leaving a trail of ardent fans and wrecked cloakrooms in their wake. They continued to record with Cobb, and made a remarkable and unforgettable appearance in the classic teen rampage flick Riot On Sunset Strip. The upbeat, undeniably commercial ‘Misty Lane’ became the next single, coupled with an orchestrated ballad, ‘She Weaves A Tender Trap’, a choice the group openly questioned, and only recorded under duress. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Another exploitation movie, The Love-Ins provided the third Watchband single, ‘Are You Gonna Be There (At The Love-In)’, written and recorded in just one day in order to make the filming schedule. The freaky flip, ‘No Way Out’ was an equally off-the-cuff recording, evolving from a studio warm-up jam. Both sides of the single – this time on the Tower label proper - captured the Chocolate Watchband at the peak of their powers. Sadly, it was also to prove this line-up’s swansong, for shortly after the release of the single in June 1967, Aguilar, Loomis and Andrijasevich all suddenly quit the group, principally over musical direction. Flores and Tolby were left the lurch with a month’s worth of bookings, but the pair quickly assembled an interim Watchband, with personnel that included Tim Abbott on guitar. However, this line-up was to struggle through only until the end of 1967.
That September, shortly after the Loomis/Aguilar line-up had imploded, Tower Records had released the debut Chocolate Watchband album, “No Way Out”, following it swiftly in February 1968 with another long-player attributed to the combo, “The Inner Mystique”. The label had given both albums pop-art sleeves with little identification of the band or its members, while the contents of each mixed bona fide outtakes from the band’s sessions for Green Grass, with trippy instrumentals and overdubbed tracks, many of which did not feature the band at all. Most worryingly, in several places Aguilar’s original lead vocals had been replaced by those of a faceless sessioneer.
The group’s members were outraged, but despite, or perhaps because of, these disingenuous releases, interest in the Chocolate Watchband remained strong, prompting Green Grass to approach Tolby and Flores in the autumn of 1968 and induce them to reform the band for a third album. Loomis, Andrijasevich and erstwhile members Ned Torney and Danny Phay returned to the fold. The mostly original “One Step Beyond”, was the brief and somewhat diffuse result, with nary a trace of the Watchband of old. Some desultory tours followed in its wake, with Tolby the only visible original member of the group, and in 1970 the band finally split for good. In the late 1990s, the band reunited and have since intermittently returned to both the studio and the stage, thrilling fans both old and new.
Their live power brought them notoriety back in the day, but it was the band’s mysterious catalogue that spurred the growth of a posthumous cult reputation for the Chocolate Watchband as psychedelic punks par excellence. By the 1980s the group’s catalogue was getting regularly reissued and, with a degree of irony, the records were venerated as much for the duplicitous instrumentals and studio fill, as for the authentic snarl of David Aguilar. Big Beat is proud to be foremost amongst the champions of the Watchband, beginning with our original Best Of, “Forty Four”, followed by repackages of the band’s three vintage albums, and finally and most definitively with the “Melts In Your Brain . . . Not On Your Wrist” anthology. This double disc set not only contains their complete studio recordings, but also features demos, backing tracks and for the first time, Aguilar’s reclaimed vocals for ‘Let’s Talk About Girls’ and other tracks, along with detailed notes that explain which cuts are real Watchband and which are the fake.
Melts In Your Brain...Not On Your Wrist
Great rock'n'roll rarely translates properly to disc. The history of the genre is littered with literally thousands of acts that were blinding and transcendent on the bandstand, yet limp, ineffectual or misguided in the studio. And the opposite is just as true, though the art of the recording medium allows for a control and an innovation that usually isn't possible in a live context. When the two disciplines are matched, there is the potential for true greatness; yet for those involved, the realization of such may come only after years of frustrated disillusion with the initial outcome. Such is the case with the Chocolate Watchband.
The only compilation by the Chocolate Watchband to contain just material recorded by the band and not session guys.
The Inner Mystique/ One Step Beyond
Though these second & third albums from the Watchband include tracks reportedly not featuring the band, whoever did play on them still produced a real psychedelic experience and here it is, off master tape and on CD, for the first time
No Way Out
The greatest west coast garage band's debut LP augmented with non-album 45s and their first demo. Another riot going on.