George Bunnell

George: ‘We even learned songs — surf songs. It was 1961.’

I was born June 9th, 1949 in Lawrence, Mass.

We lived in North Andover with my maternal grandparents, the Giarrussos, until my folks got their own place. Shortly thereafter, my dad, who was in the Navy, shipped off to Korea.

My mom’s early influence on me was through art. She was, and is, a talented artist.

Then my dad was stationed in Norfolk, Va. The place we stayed in had a piano. I was only 2 or 3 but they couldn’t keep me away from it.

At that point (1952) my parents and my grandparents all decided to move together to California.

We drove our 1947 Chevy Coupe. It was a wild ride. We had a place to stay as my grandfather’s brother Pete had an Italian deli and café in North Hollywood. They lived behind it and were happy to have us move in until we could find a place of our own.

My grandaunt and uncle had two of their four kids still at home. Gino and Raymond. They had a band! In the living room was an organ, an electric guitar and a drum set. I was in awe!

I was only 3 but it made a tremendous impression on me.

Then to top it off, my grandaunt was a showbiz mom. She had the boys’ days occupied with dance, music and acting lessons.

My cousin Raymond was about 11 years old and was getting some starring roles. He was on “Lassie” and was in the movie “East of Eden” and bunch of others.

Childhood pic of george bunnell of Strawberry Alarm ClockMy parents took jobs at Lockheed Aircraft and my grandparents opened a 5 and 10 cent store next door to Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. I hadn’t started school yet so I was taken care of by my grandaunt and grandmother.

My grandaunt took me to all the auditions and dance and music lessons, and to the Nudie’s store, which provided plenty of entertainment. Their clientele were the who’s who of country & western music, TV shows and Western movies. Nudie had a daughter who was about my age so I had a playmate. We bounced back and forth between the two stores all day. Nudie played mandolin and many of the other pickers would come by and jam — and drink!

They all loved my grandparents and loved my grandma’s lasagna. It was legendary.

All this was crucial because as we moved forward I was compelled to play music. I first wanted to play fiddle. But, in school that meant violin and the Christmas show, the Easter show — no fun. Then I tried the accordion like my cousin Gino. The walk to school proved to be torturous, so that was the end of that. At first I resigned myself to the idea that I would just sing instead of play an instrument. I joined the chorus, the glee club and the choir. That was OK but not too fulfilling.

Strawberry Alarm Clock bassist George Bunnell '53When I was 12 I started tinkering around with the neighborhood guitar. We even learned songs — surf songs. It was 1961.

It wasn’t till 1963 — when we moved to Woodland Hills, right next door to the Bartek family — that my true musical ambitions came to fruition.

Steve Bartek was 2 1/2 years my junior but already was an accomplished flute player. His brother Jim and I were the same age.

Eventually I discovered that I liked playing bass parts. My parents got me lessons at Wallach’s Music City.

Jim started taking guitar lessons. Another neighbor, Ron, took drum lessons. We had our first band. We played old jazz standards, no vocals.

After a while Steve and I began to write songs — “make them up” as we called it.

Soon our friends heard some of them and reacted favorably. Very encouraging!

Not long after that, Randy Seol was asked to do some background vocals for a band called Thee Sixpence. I can remember the day he brought me the All American Records 45 of “Incense and Peppermints.” Randy had a portable record player and we sat at Don’s Royal Pup eating hot dogs while he played the band’s song.

I thought the record sounded kind of tinny. I was totally into the Who and the Yardbirds at the time and liked a more bombastic sound. My friends and I were probably a bit envious. Nevertheless, we congratulated Randy on his work. Good thing because not long after that the song started to get a bunch of airplay, which led to a record deal on a major label … UNI Records.

Shortly thereafter the album deal came, and Steve and I were asked by Randy to come to a band rehearsal and play them all our songs. We did and the rest is history!

Comments

  1. George, what email should I direct my request for an interview, please send me your email contact information as per your answer a few days ago, thanks…

    Kevin Anthony
    please send your contact information (email address) to:

    kevin@psychedelicjukebox.com

  2. Frankie A. says:

    George, nice tasteful and melodic bass lines on the Tomorrow album . . it was very inspirational to me back then and actually still is ! All the best, Frank

  3. Ron Giarrusso says:

    Love the bio, you talking about Grandma, dad and Uncle Ray. Im Ginos son. Please contact me via e-mail or you can check out my wife’s Facebook page for recent pics of dad. ( Susan Giarrusso) Would you happen to be doing a tour in the future in Florida?

  4. Stephen Bunnell says:

    I use to tell people you were my cousin. We were the only Bunnell family in Fayetteville, NC.

    • george bunnell says:

      HA! People always ask me if I’m related to Dewey Bunnell…not that I’m aware of, but my Grandfather was Canadian…born in Saint Johns New Brunswick, Nova Scotia.

  5. mark earle says:

    I always wondered about this Dewey Bunnell of America thing myself.So you’re not related but did you ever meet Dewey Bunnell or see him and Gerry Beckley perform as America?

    • Hi Mark…no I have not met Dewey or seen America.
      I’ll have to delve into our family tree…my cousin Paul Bunnell is a genealogist.

  6. mark earle says:

    How exactly did you wind up at the left coast from the easten seaboard?

    • george bunnell says:

      I was moved to the West Coast by my parents and grandparents…my dad wanted to move to California…he had seen it briefly while in the navy. I was only three!
      That was in 1952. It was right about the time the San Fernando Valley was changing from rural orange groves to suburbia. We saw the last of the dirt roads and the last of the old west.

  7. Hi! I’m having to do a project in Music Class about a band from the Sixtys. I choose Strawberry Alarm Clock. Then I had to choose someone who helped them become a success. So I choose you! I love the song Incense and Peppermints!

  8. Lynn Haws says:

    Years ago we attended a charity auction sponsored by KLSX. One of the pieces of art my friend bid on and won was yours and it is proudly displayed in the living room. Thanks for keeping the memories alive of the grat days of rock and roll.

    • george bunnell says:

      Hi Lynn…

      Wow!

      How cool is that….That was really a fun charity to be part of….most of the artwork is in a book called Musicians As Artists.

      Which be piece do you have?

      Thanks for posting!

      George

  9. jeff davidson says:

    Dear George,
    You probably do not remember me, but I remember you. I was on the Little League Giants of the Canoga Winnetka National Little League. I played with you on the same team when we were nine, but then I moved to the majors.
    My guess is that Little League was very painful for you which brings me to why I have chosen to email you after all of these years.
    Mu best friend was Bob Howe, whose dad was the Manager of the Major Giants. My dad was the coach. Bob and I noticed that you were not very good, but, obviously because of pressure, played every year. Bob and I decided when we were 11 or 12 that you were very brave to keep playing despite hating it. We decided that rather than ridicule a poor player the way that most boys that age did, we would treat you well. You may have not noticed, but even though we were all stars at the Major level, we made a point of always smiling when we saw you and being nice.
    Later, when I was at UCLA I attended a dance on the top of Lot 8 and there you were. I talked to Bob and we were both pleased that you had succeeded.
    Regards,
    Jeff Davidson

  10. steve zertuche says:

    what’s up George? how’s retirement? I was reading about the co founder of the doors passing and i know they meet on Venice beach; cool. Are you guys still jamming and what’s the web sight for greydog?

  11. HI George!
    What year did you make the trek all the way to the left coast from Massachusetts?Do take interest in any of the sports out there?GO BRUINS!!

    • george bunnell says:

      My parents dragged me out of Mass. at the ripe old age of 3!

      We have The Bruins out here too….go UCLA!

  12. Bob Romano says:

    Hi George…
    I have a copy of a tape of you and Steve Bartek and several others from a show you did at the Troubadour (April 15, 1979). I got it from Jon Taffer and he asked that I clean it up a bit (very rough recording). I would love to get a bit more info if you can remember anything about it. I would also be glad to pass along a copy if you don’t already have one (or want one for nostalgia sake). I’m thinking I even have a picture of you with Steve Bartek and JT as well.

  13. Greetings. Just curious… I recently met someone who’s dad was in the Strawberry Alarm Clock. He was born in 1969 and said all of the band members died early due to drugs. His dad lived the longest before he OD-ed using Heroine. Researching the band I discover you guys are not only alive but it seems you are all very accomplished… Congrats but needless to say I’m a little confused. You see he’s a dead ringer for one of the band members(not you btw) but his dad is deceased. He seems to be an honest guy with no reason to tell tales. Can you shed any light on this?

  14. Hey George!
    I was just listening to my SAC “best of” vinyl called “Strawberries Mean Love”, paying particular attention to your bass playing. I’m really fascinated by your style with “Incense” and “Tomorrow” in particular. As I was listening,I attempted to conjure up exactly how I might go about duplicate your bass parts on “Incense” and decided you quite successfully pulled off some rather intricate bass passages. Was it difficult to find something to fit the melody lines of this or “Tomorrow”. Once again, I really appreciate your imagination and creativity with your instrument on these particular tracks. You were a true profesional even at 18 an 19 years old. Any particular bass influences? Many bass men from the 60’s and 70’s cite Charles Mingus, including Jack Bruce of Cream and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones. High praise indeed…

  15. Steve Aubin says:

    Back in the 90’s I bought one of your pieces of artwork at a KLSX/AMFAR charity silent auction. I got it because I thought it was a really cool looking piece. As far as a title I think it could be best described as “Strawberry Alarm Clocks”. I would send you a picture of it but I don’t know how to send it through this comment section. Send me an email and I will send a picture.

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