Boss! When Californian group the Rumblers hit the American charts with their single ‘Boss’ in February 1963 the word, used locally by the surfing community to describe anything they regarded as cool, was adopted by teenagers across the nation. This word-association with surf culture, and the concurrent success of the group’s label-mates the Chantays with their Top 5 hit ‘Pipeline’, led to the Rumblers being classified by many as a surf group. But this was far from the truth. With Joe Houston’s ‘All Night Long’ as their theme song they were a sharp R&B band, described by their bass player Wayne Matteson as a black group with white skin: “We did a lot of James Brown tunes … We dressed well, and we had all of our songs choreographed.”
Naming themselves after Link Wray’s 1958 hit ‘Rumble’, the group’s first release paired the instrumentals ‘Stomping Time’ and ‘Intersection’ on the small Highland label which secured them sessions at the famed studio in Downey, California attached to Wenzel’s Music Town record store. Here, a take-off of the Strangers’ 1959 hit ‘Caterpillar Crawl’ evolved into the number they named ‘Boss’. And no wonder it became a hit, the opening bars carry one of the all-time catchiest intros. A frantically whammied low note from guitarist Mike Kelishes precedes a four-to-the-bar bass drum beat that is developed into a hypnotic riff by bass guitar, building in intensity as first guitars and then sax join in. Half a dozen bars of primal pounding and you’re hooked. Simple, but oh so effective.
A couple of early Rumblers compilation CDs have long since become sought after collector’s items, but “It’s A Gas!” surpasses them all by being a far more comprehensive selection. And in true Ace fashion it is taken direct from the best sources bringing vastly improved sound quality. The accompanying booklet features an informative essay from compiler Brian Nevill telling the full story of the group plus loads of never-before-seen pictures from the collections of the Rumblers themselves. In addition to the best of the group’s singles for Downey and Dot and selections from their “Boss” LP, there are CD debuts for both sides of the Highland single and a later 45 released under the name of the Interns. If that wasn’t enough there are no less than 10 tracks new to a Rumblers CD including four totally unreleased recordings in the shape of ‘Warhead’, ‘Why Did You Make Me Cry’, ‘Freight Train’ and ‘Strawboss’.
With all their best in one package, “It’s A Gas!” is the definitive collection of the Rumblers and is a compilation that surf and instrumental fans will find irresistible – it’s a boss gas, man!
By Alan Taylor and Dave Burke of Pipeline, the rock instrumental magazine