Review: SAC’s ‘fantastical wonderland vibe’

Linda Rapka’s review of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s show of April 25 first appeared on L.A. Record’s web site and is reposted here with permission.

george bunnell of strawberry alarm clockThough they weren’t delivered to the stage upon mystical Persian rugs, as was their usual mode of transport in the late 1960s thanks to some hulky roadies, Strawberry Alarm Clock did conjure plenty of magic at its show at the Satellite.

The vintage psychedelic rockers, best known for their 1967 gold hit “Incense and Peppermints,” which saw newfound revival thanks to the stellar musical taste of Austin Powers, performed a rare live show at the popular Silver Lake club in support of its first album of new material in 42 years.

“Wake Up Where You Are,” released in March, keeps in the vein of guitar-fuzzy peace and love pop and sounded pleasingly fitting alongside the band’s classic ’60s gems like “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow” and “Sit With the Guru.”

gene gunnells of strawberry alarm clockWith a live lava-lamp light show appropriately flooding the stage, drummer/percussionist Gene Gunnels (the only remaining member of the band’s earliest incarnation when it was known as Thee Sixpence) donned his signature magician’s top hat, further adding to the fantastical wonderland vibe.

Accompanying Gunnels was madman percussionist Randy Seol and a wall of junkyard metal drums so high it all but obscured him from view — because the only thing groovier than one drummer on stage is two drummers on stage.

mark weitz of strawberry alarm clockHowie Anderson, who joined as lead guitarist in the 1980s, played alongside SAC mainstays Mark Weitz on keys and bassist George Bunnell. Sitting in on flute and guitar was Steve Bartek, formerly of Oingo Boingo and Danny Elfman’s current orchestrator, who began writing songs and playing with SAC in his early teens.

The band made touching remarks on friends gone but not forgotten: former SAC frontman Lee Freeman, who died in 2010, and dear friend Mark Tulin, bassist of the the Electric Prunes, who died early last year.

It may have just been the special “incense,” but as they sang “There’s no place that can be better, when you’re up in clouds forever,” a certain presence filled the room, and the band’s pure magic was fully realized.

Photos by Linda Rapka

Strawberry Alarm Clock rocks Silver Lake

strawberry alarm clock in concertThe Strawberry Alarm Clock will ring in another era with a rare L.A. show on April 25.

“We are gonna kick some psychedelic ass,” keyboardist Mark Weitz vows.

The concert is in support of the iconic rock band’s new album, “Wake Up Where You Are,” released in March.

(Update: Read a review of the Strawberry Alarm Clock show in L.A.)

The band last performed publicly in November 2010.

(Update: The group played the show before a youthful and appreciative audience, with Steve Bartek sitting in.)

The Strawberry Alarm Clock are Mark Weitz, George Bunnell, Randy Seol, Howie Anderson and Gene Gunnels.

The concert will be at the Satellite Club, in the Silver Lake area. The venue used to be known as Spaceland. Show time is 9 p.m. with support from Swedish psych-rockers La Fleur Fatale.

Get tickets for the Strawberry Alarm Clock concert. Get directions to venue.

1960s concert dates

strawberry alarm clock concert posters

Some of the key shows played by the Strawberry Alarm Clock in the late 1960s:

July 1, 1967: With the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Country Joe and the Fish, and Captain Speed. Earl Warren Fairgrounds, Santa Barbara, Calif.

July 22, 1967: With the Yardbirds, Moby Grape, West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and the Stone Ponys (Linda Ronstadt). Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Sept. 8, 1967: With the Who, Herman’s Hermits and the Sundowners. Anaheim Convention Center.

Sept. 29, 1967: With Spirit and Linda Ronstadt (Love canceled). Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

Oct. 15, 1967: With Jefferson Airplane, Spirit, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Hour Glass, Sunshine Company, Hamilton Streetcar, New Breed. Sacramento Pop Festival at Hughes Stadium.

Nov. 17-26, 1968: With the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and (some shows) the Soul Survivors. Beach Boys’ Fifth Thanksgiving Tour, various venues primarily in Northeast.

April 6-24, 1968: With the Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield and Bobby Goldsboro (some shows). Various venues, primarily in the South and Texas.

April 1968: With the Animals, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. Honolulu International Center.

July 22, 1968: With the Seeds. Melodyland Theater, Anaheim.

View list of recent concerts (2007-12) by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Thinking of a Strawberry Alarm Clock concert you attended in the ’60s? Feel free to add to the list via the comments section below!

On the road: Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield

on the beach boys tour plane 1967 1968In the later part of 1967 and the spring of 1968, the Strawberry Alarm Clock toured the country with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield.

“Everyone traveled on the Beach Boys’ private plane,” SAC keyboardist Mark Weitz says. “It was an amazing time.” Then-SAC guitarist Ed King recalls: “The tours with the Beach Boys in ’67 and ’68 outshine any other period in my life.”

The talent assembled on that tour still boggles the mind: Carl Wilson, Neil Young, Steven Stills, Jim Messina, Richie Furray, Mike Love and of course the guys in the Alarm Clock.

(Photo, top left: Dennis Wilson learning the flute intro to “Sloop John B.” To his right are SAC bassist George Bunnell and Carl Wilson.)

“We played colleges, giant county fairs, all over the South,” Weitz says. “Often we did two shows the same day. I remember driving around in a car in New Orleans with Stephen Stills next to me in the back seat and Neil Young up front.”

SAC guitarist King, who would go on to more rock stardom in Lynyrd Skynyrd, recalls one amazing moment on the tour: “(Beach Boy) Carl Wilson coming over to my room to show me the chords to ‘God Only Knows.’ The memory “far outweighs any Skynyrd experience,” King says.

The April tour with the Beach Boys and Buffalo Springfield came to a halt, briefly, when news came of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis. About a half dozen tour dates were cancelled in the ensuing national emergency. George Bunnell says the band was in Alabama or Atlanta at the time: “We were told to stay in the hotel and not to step foot outside.”

Incredibly, during the tour’s swing through Florida, the SAC was booked for Miami and Honolulu on the same day.

“The Beach Boys let us leave their tour and fly to Hawaii for the day,” Bunnell says. “We played at the (then) Honolulu International Center on a Dick Clark show with the Animals, the Rascals, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. We flew straight back to Florida after our performance and from the airport were driven straight to the Beach Boys show. Insane!”

Shortly thereafter, the Strawberry Alarm Clock fired their manager.

The Beach Boys were still playing surf music and their monster hits, but the band was in transition, with leader Brian Wilson back home in L.A., trying to counter the Beatles’ next masterful recording with one of their own — following up on the transcendent “Pet Sounds” and “Good Vibrations. (Singer Mike Love wasn’t thrilled with the new music, preferring the “Fun, Fun, Fun” formula.) The band sought a place with the hipster elite that dug the Buffalo Springfield, no easy turnaround for the gents from “Surf City.”

beach boys tour with neil youngBuffalo Springfield performed the same songs they played on the 2011 reunion tour, many classics of country/alt rock. The band was nearing the end of its two-year lifespan, with Neil Young (pictured on the plane, right) in hurry to exit in favor of a solo career. “The band was not a group in 1968,” the liner notes from the Buffalo Springfield box read. One fan who took a photo of the band on the tour recalls Young walking away from his camera, not wanting to be pictured with the others. Buffalo Springfield played its last concert on May 5, 1968.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock enjoyed chart success with the single “Tomorrow” during this period and reconnected with their audience with the classic album “Wake Up … It’s Tomorrow.” The group had just recorded many of its best songs, including “Sit with the Guru” and “Barefoot in Baltimore.” This was primetime for the SAC (but bassist George Bunnell and singer/drummer Randy Seol would leave the band months after the second Beach Boys tour).

Fans, no doubt, were amazed by the tour’s trifecta of now-legendary bands.

“It was a great night of music for me, and a night that remains burned in my heart and my head forever,” recalls Tim Pollard, a fan who posted recently about his experiences at the April tour stop in Charleston, S.C.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock were inspired by the Beach Boys’ experiments with transcendental meditation. “It seemed the cool thing to do,” Weitz says. “So before each concert we always meditated for 10 minutes sitting Indian-style doing our mantras.”

Here are some of the key stops on the Beach Boys’ fifth annual Thanksgiving tour of 1967 with the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Buffalo Springfield:

Nov. 17-26: Detroit, Syracuse, Buffalo, Richmond, Washington D.C., Hartford and Fairfield (Ct.), White Plains, Pittsburgh, Boston, Providence, West Point, Jamaica (N.Y.), South Orange (N.J.), Baltimore.

(The Soul Survivors played some of the tour stops. The Pickle Brothers also found their way onto the bill.)

Here are some key cities played on the April tour with the Beach Boys and and Buffalo Springfield:

April 6-24: Clemson (S.C.), Orlando, Daytona Beach, Gainesville, Jacksonville, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma City, Baton Rouge and New Orleans (La.), Birmingham and Montgomery (Ala.), Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, Dallas and Houston (Texas), Little Rock (Ark.) and Memphis.

(Bobby Goldsboro was an added act on some Florida dates.)

View list of 1960s concerts by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Live appearances, 2007-2012

strawberry alarm clock reunion in April 2007

April 29, 2007: Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival (aka Ebertfest) in Champagne, Ill. For screening of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (group reunion picture above).

electric prunes and sacAug. 18, 2007: Fuzzfest Northwest at the Mount Tabor Legacy theater in Portland, Oregon. With the Electric Prunes and the Chocolate Watch Band.

Sept. 15. 2007: Malibu (California) Inn.

September 2007: Love-In: A Musical Celebration festival at Birch North Park Theater in San Diego. With Peter & Gordon, Buddy Miles, Jessie Colin Young.

October 2007: The Pig and Whistle in Hollywood, Calif.

Nov. 3, 2007: Cavestomp. Brooklyn, N.Y. With the New Colony Six.

December 2007: Disneyland on the Tomorrowland stage (K-Earth event). Anaheim, Calif.

Dec. 28, 2007: The Knitting Factory in Hollywood.

March 2008: Susan G. Komen for the Cure concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

Jan. 23, 2011: The Actors Gang Theater in Culver City, Calif.

TV and radio: Live on “The Gary Bryant Show” (K-Earth) and on the KUSI morning TV show (San Diego).

View list of 1960s performances by the Strawberry Alarm Clock

Review: ‘Get me to tomorrow on time’

By Michael McDowell
For a veteran band to survive for four decades with a reasonable percentage of their original lineup intact is remarkable. For such a band to flourish and maintain a high level of creativity at that stage of their career is a rarity. And for two such bands to occupy the same stage on a given night is nothing short of a miracle.

Lee Freeman, George Bunnell, Howie Anderson of SACA miracle is exactly what transpired on the evening of Dec. 28, 2007, at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood, Calif., as a capacity crowd joined the Strawberry Alarm Clock and Electric Prunes in celebrating the 40th anniversary of the year that brought them their greatest chart successes, 1967.

As expected, both bands did so with the passion and verve that endeared them to their audience from the beginning.

(Pictured: Lee Freeman, left, George Bunnell and Howie Anderson of the Strawberry Alarm Clock.)

“This is the last chapter”, explained Electric Prunes cofounder and front man, James Lowe. “So we choose our way.”

Although Lowe’s oblique reference to mortality will hopefully not manifest for some time to come, to be certain, the high death rate in recent years amongst veteran artists has not gone unnoticed by either band. Yet with seemingly little to prove (in light of the astoundingly high quality of both band’s recorded legacies), each not only revisited key components of their respective catalogs with undiminished optimism, but (especially in the Electric Prunes’ case) introduced new material into the set that more than holds its own against their earlier triumphs.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock took to the stage with an undeclared but obvious mission statement: Great music is timeless. The band’s three-guitar and dual-percussionist approach enables them to not only add a Spector-esque depth to their live performances, but it also frees each member to improvise and/or solo, as needed.

In their endeavors to articulate and underscore their mission statement, the Strawberry Alarm Clock most assuredly did not disappoint. The band drew extensively from not only their earlier incarnation as Thee Sixpence, but from their vast album catalog, as well. This of course meant that not only were such career highlights as “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow,” “Birds in My Tree,” “Barefoot in Baltimore” and “Theme From Psych-Out” showcased in all of their rich and intricate glory, but that the band as instrumentalists also were able to shine.

Of particular interest was the nearly 20-minute drum solo by Randy Seol, who more than reiterated his ability to execute with the pure passion and intensity of such percussion greats as Micky Dolenz, Keith Moon and the late Dennis Wilson. Likewise, George Bunnell and Lee Freeman remain charismatic front men. Although each shared the spotlight through the majority of the band’s set, Bunnell and Freeman are able to instinctively discern each another’s strengths, which in turn enables them to effortlessly default to one another’s abilities as needed on given selections.

electric prunes - strawberry alarm clock poster 2007This tag team approached served the Strawberry Alarm Clock particularly well for not only a spirited cover of the Skip James/Scot Richard Case classic, “I’m So Glad,” but for the animated and exuberant run-throughs of their career highlights. Those included the lush and irresistible December 1967 hit single, “Tomorrow” (complete with Harpers Bizarre-inspired vocals and inventive use of minors), plus the much-loved “The Birdman of Alkatrash” and their inevitable (and most assuredly welcome) monster hit, “Incense and Peppermints.”

The latter cuts were particularly ideal for showcasing the versatility of keyboardsman Mark Weitz, who is also the band’s principal tunesmith, having composed “Incense and Peppermints,” “The Birdman of Alkatrash,” “Tomorrow,” “Barefoot in Baltimore” and “Sit With the Guru,” amongst others.

The Rolling Stones observed James Brown and the Famous Flames with considerable apprehension from backstage at the landmark 1964 TAMI Concert in Santa Monica, Calif., knowing that they had the dubious honor of attempting to follow Brown’s larger-than-life set. Likewise, following the Strawberry Alarm Clock after a performance of that caliber would have been a next to impossible task for all but the most capable of artists. Only a seasoned band like the Electric Prunes would have been able to rise to the occasion, which they did so in abundance.

To their credit, both the Strawberry Alarm Clock and the Electric Prunes view their respective collaborations not so much as competition, rather as a joint effort by two groups of long-term allies and colleagues with like minded, yet clearly defined individual mission statements. And to their considerable credit, the Electric Prunes have underscored the ongoing validity of their legacy by not only touring regularly during the current decade, but also by recording prolifically.

At the Knitting Factory, the Electric Prunes took to the stage with co-founders Lowe and bassist Mark Tulin at the helm. However, conspicuous in his absence was original Prunes guitarist Ken Williams. Accordingly to Lowe, Williams is still recovering from neck surgery. In Williams’ place is lead guitarist Steve Kara. Drummer Walter Garces and rhythm guitarist Jay Dean round out the band’s current lineup.

“Except for the first two gigs, there has never been any attempt to reconstruct the band as it was in 1967.” Lowe explained. “We look for the best presentation of the music, both yesterday’s and today’s.”

To that effect, the Electric Prunes opened with perennial favorite “Long Day’s Flight.” Rather than merely replicate the recording, Lowe, Tulin and their colleagues utilized their extensive experience to embellish that and other Prunes fare with deviations from the conventional arrangements that in some respects enhance and/or complete the earlier renditions.

“We let everyone contribute to make the show pleasant and the songs playable,” explained Lowe. “It comes out different every time. That’s what makes it fun!”

The fun to which Lowe referred was demonstrated in large measure at the Knitting Factory, as the Electric Prunes soared magnificently through a set that meshed such hardcore devotee favorites as “The Great Banana Hoax” (from their “Underground” album), “I Happen to Love You,” “Hideaway,” “Lost Dreams” and early single sides “Ain’t It Hard” and “Little Olive” with such recent triumphs as “Circus Freak” and the highly spirited “I’ll Give You Feedback,” both from their 2006 “Feedback” album.

With the latter cut, the band took considerable artistic license from the recorded version.

“Yes, it was artistic license”, said Lowe. “(‘I’ll Give You Feedback’) on record depends on organ for balls and grind. (But on stage), there is no organ. We don’t own one! All bands convert things a little to make a live presentation that works for them.”

Given the late great Del Shannon’s infamous analogy about the tedium of having to play the same set on stage night after night, it would seem logical that for the sake of keeping the proceedings fresh, that the Electric Prunes would likewise approach their two most noteworthy hit singles with some degree of the aforementioned artistic license.

But in the case of their January 1967 “I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” Reprise label single, the band not only confounded expectations by offhandedly defaulting to it during mid-set, they in turn also underscored the fact that Lowe’s maxim with respect to artistic license would not necessarily be anathema to whatever purist element may have infiltrated the audience.

With only modest deference to that demographic, the band instead opted to close with what many regard as their definitive track, the intense and ferocious April 1967 smash, “Get Me to the World On Time.” And although the various players indeed took a considerable degree of liberty with its familiar arrangement, in no way was any of the extreme intensity of the original version sacrificed.

“By that time (in the set), I’m always thrashed!” said Lowe.

To be sure, the Electric Prunes are far too visionary in their perspective to not endeavor to exceed expectations with each live performance. Lowe’s well-known disenfranchisement with the purist element has indeed driven both him and Tulin to consistently seek higher musical ground.

“Some people keep up their chops,” Lowe explained. “Some don’t want to learn anything new and choose to rely on what (already) went on. In other words, they can’t get into reality. They want to live in the past”.

To be sure, it is Lowe’s forward thinking approach that has kept the creative juices flowing for the band, and has also enabled them to not fall prey to Del Shannon’s aforementioned maxim. Now at peace with their legacy, the Electric Prunes also remain in the coveted position of being a vital source of musical innovation.

Nonetheless, the ongoing support of the purist element is not lost on Lowe.

“I went to Amoeba and bought one of our vinyls,” he said, in reference to the gargantuan Amoeba Records Store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. “That’s pretty cool for 2008, just having some in there.”

And that the Electric Prunes and Strawberry Alarm Clock not only have a huge recorded legacy from which to draw and expand upon, but that both bands continue to remain vital contributors and innovators at this juncture is something for which we can all be thankful. Or as James Lowe succinctly put it, “That’s what makes it fun!”

Michael McDowell is the editor and publisher of Blitz Magazine. Review used with permission.

Photo credit: Aaron Feliciano/C&P Blitz Magazine 2007. All rights reserved.

SAC at the Malibu Inn

The Strawberry Alarm Clock played the Malibu Inn on Sept. 15. 2007. Personnel: Howie Anderson, Steve Barktek, George Bunnell, Lee Freeman, Gene Gunnels, Mark Weitz.