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!

Steve Bartek

Steve: ‘I was asked to join the band. My mom said no.’

Guitarist Steve Bartek onstageI grew up next to George Bunnell, the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s bass player. Began flute lessons at 8 and then took up guitar at the ripe old age of 11 — because of schoolyard humiliation and the inspiration of the Beatles, Yardbirds, Gerry and the Pacemakers and so on.

Also, I could sneak into my brother Jim’s room when he was gone and play his guitar. George and I would write songs in our bedrooms, taking titles from books and using whatever chord progressions we happened to have under our fingers.

When George’s onetime bandmate Randy needed songs for a band that he’d auditioned for — the Strawberry Alarm Clock — we had the opportunity to have our songs played by the group. We got to sit around for a whole day at Original Sound studios and watch them record. I was given a take or two for my little flute parts.

It was inspirational to see the band work and be part of a recording. That was the late ’60s, as you probably know.

I was then graciously asked to join the band because of our songs and the flattering thought that a 14-year-old flutist/guitarist could be of use to a rock band.

But my mom refused to let me join.

At the time it was devastating, but undoubtedly I was way too young to handle it well. So with the success of the Alarm Clock, my parents loosened the reins enough to condone my studies changing from pre-med to music. I do thank the Alarm Clock income for that!

bartek brothers playing guitars mid 60s(Photo: Jim Bartek, left, and Steve)

I went to UCLA studying composition and became involved with the Ethnomusicology department there. I studied the Chinese pipa and di, some African percussion and played in a Bulgarian ensemble. Mostly, though, I spent long evenings in a Javanese Gamelan ensemble, intoxicated with the trancelike melodies and the clove cigarette smell.

College also introduced me to Messiaen, Harry Partch and his microtonal ensembles, Stravinsky and a year or two of classical guitar music. It was also the time that Django Reinhardt became an obsession.

After college I played in a big band, performing at a Holiday inn, proms, bar mitzvhas and the like, as many musicians do, until was asked by the brother (Josh) of a dear high school friend (Peter Gordon) to audition for a theater ensemble in which he was playing. I saw a video and immediately wanted in!!!

The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo had just lost their guitarist, who specialized in Django, so part of my audition involved showing I knew the style. Danny Elfman, the leader of the band, had been in a Balinese ensemble at Cal Arts for a bit so we also connected on Indonesian music styles.

Danny was trying to whip what was an interesting street-theater group into a musically tight theatrical ensemble much like the Grand Magic Circus that he had played with in France. I was damn happy to get involved, not very rock and roll but I liked it. We did Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington in addition to homemade Balinese Gamelan and African balafon ensembles.

ad for carvin guitars with steve bartekThe group came to a crisis point in the early ’80s as its street-theatrical nature started to be at odds with the venues offered. Danny, meanwhile, had taken a turn in starting to write more songs. After a few forays into pop hybrids his writing became more rock oriented and so did the Oingo Boingo personnel. We somehow made the transition from theater act to rock band, eschewing most of the theatrics, for a while.

(Photo: Steve in a Carvin guitar ad.)

In the mid-’80s, Danny sought an opportunity to write music for a film, both of us having enjoyed a taste of it when he wrote music for his brother Richard’s film “The Forbidden Zone.” The opportunity came in a much bigger way than expected, with “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” Danny dragged me along as an “arranger.” Since the movie became a hit, the opportunity to learn as we earned became apparent — and I have been his orchestrator ever since.

During that time Oingo Boingo slowly became ignored by radio stations and it became harder to play live except for California and a few other places. Danny decided to end it in 1995 with a farewell concert and video. Good fun to say goodbye.

I am leaving out lots of things all along the way here that can be found elsewhere on the Internet if anyone is so interested.

Since then I have been mostly orchestrating for Danny, Jon Brion and Stephen Trask. I’ve written the occasional film score — “Carolina,” “Cabin Boy, ” “Novocaine,” “The Art of Travel.”

I’ve been playing guitar thanks to the support of Bear McCreary. I worked as his guitarist on “Battlestar Galactica” and shared guitar duties with Ira Ingber, Brendan McCreary and Ed Trybek on many of Bear’s projects. I thank him for resurrecting my playing career. I had the opportunity to produce his wife’s album a couple years ago and played on both Brendan’s and Ira’s new albums (2011).

A few years ago, George enticed me into playing with the Strawberry Alarm Clock again because of a concert that sounded fun but fell through. Since we had rehearsed we kept going and started recording stuff in my home studio — just for documentation at first, but then we also did some of the guys’ original material.

Unfortunately my responsibilities with Danny and other work overtook my time for staying active with the band this past year or so. But I try to be of assistance whenever I can and was very glad they just decided to put out the recordings we had made.

Mark Weitz

Mark: ‘We had no idea what we were in for’

mark weitz of strawberry alarm clockI was born in Brooklyn on Nov. 18, 1945. We soon moved to North Hollywood, Calif.

I was about 7 years old, watching Liberace on one of those 10-inch 1950s TVs. I told my mom I wanted to do what he was doing.

My folks bought a used piano and I started taking lessons at age 8. Years later, I wrote “Incense and Peppermints,” “Tomorrow,” “Sit With the Guru” and “Barefoot in Baltimore” on that old piano. It’s in my living room to this day.

I learned by playing classical music, but later got into songs by Jerry Lee Lewis such as “Great Balls of Fire.” I liked that walking-bass, boogie-woogie piano stuff. I was influenced by the doo wop sound, too.

About age 16, I stopped playing and got into cars, hung out at drag strips and took a break from the piano.

When I went back to music two years later, I was in college. I started a little band to perform at fraternity and sorority parties. For some reason I played drums (always wanted to, I guess). Soon figured out that was not my instrument. I bought a Hohner electric piano and played it in two or three local rock bands.

mark weitz as a childOne day I was in Adler’s Music Store and saw an ad for an organ player. Set up an audition, drove out to Glendale and met with the guys in Thee Sixpence — Ed King, Lee Freeman, Gene Gunnels, Steve Rabe and Gary Lovetro.

Mike Luciano, their lead singer, was leaving the group. I auditioned by playing my Farfisa combo compact organ and singing the Stones’ version of “Route 66” along with the band. I was hired on the spot, to my surprise.

Wrote my first original song around then, “Heart Full of Rain.” The band manager, Bill Holmes, took the credit and put his name on the 45 rpm record. Welcome to the music business.

We played a lot in Santa Barbara, mainly because our manager was friends with a DJ up there, Johnny Fairchild at radio station KIST. He was responsible for local SB airplay on some of our early records. We played Dino’s Pizza, private school parties and teen clubs. Then we started performing farther up the coast.

The band came to the realization that the way to make it was to not do cover songs. I had “Heart Full of Rain” and the beginnings of “Incense and Peppermints.” It didn’t have a title, but the manager dubbed it “The Happy Whistler” for some ungodly reason!

I worked up the music for “Incense and Peppermints” with guitarist Ed King. We were on the same page when it came to writing music. I was in a quandary on how to create a “bridge” for the tune, called him up and 45 minutes later we had the music completed. He contributed the bridge, the guitar parts and helped with the arrangement. Same routine pretty much went for “Tomorrow,” “Sit With the Guru” and “Barefoot in Baltimore.”

Ed was really great at taking direction on ideas that I wanted him to play on guitar, and I didn’t even play guitar.

Thee Sixpence went into the studio with producer Frank Slay Jr. (He co-wrote with Bob Crew, produced Freddy Cannon, Billie & Lillie and the Four Seasons). Slay made a tape recording and sent it off to Tim Gilbert of the band Rainy Daze in Colorado Springs. A co-writer of Tim’s, John Carter, wrote the lyrics and sent it back to Slay.

mark weitz in thee sixpence bandBack in the studio, we went around the room and everybody tried to sing the lead to “Incense and Peppermints.” No one sounded right for the part. There was a 15-year-old kid friend of our manager sitting on the floor watching the session, Greg Munford. He got in front of the mic and started singing in a nasally sort-of-English voice. He sounded the best, and ironically he wasn’t in the band. And that was lead vocal we used on the record. Came back to haunt us later.

When I hear “Incense and Peppermints” playing on the radio today, it’s a bittersweet reaction, even after all this time. Ed and I didn’t make any money; not a cent since our names were left off as the songwriters! Why? As I heard it: An argument between Holmes and Slay.

Holmes wanted nine names on the record. Slay said that’s silly, pick four. They couldn’t come to terms, and ultimately Slay chose to send the label to printing with only the lyricists Gilbert and Carter as the songwriters. They shared 100% of the royalties! A lawsuit was in the making against Holmes, our manager, but was dropped shortly afterward.

I was told a melody line was crucial in proving a case like this. The melody line was lifted from what I played in the chord progression, and I’m told, you can’t copyright chords. That’s why I never pursued it. They said the case would never hold up, and if I did pursue the lawsuit, it would be the demise of the band. And we just signed a contract with William Morris Agency for a $180,000 tour!

We knew “Incense and Peppermints” was a hit when we heard it on L.A. radio. A DJ named Dave Diamond started playing it on an underground AM radio station, KBLA. We had all our friends call up and ask for the record. And it went from there all the way to No. 1 with a lot of hard work. It took six months to climb the charts to No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 100. Our first and last gold record!

* * * * *

mark of the strawberry alarm clock in the studioThe band was now called the Strawberry Alarm Clock. Randy Seol and George Bunnell came aboard, bringing their songs.

We were really rolling. Started on our manager’s All American label, but we were now signed to Uni Records, where Russ Regan took the chance on us and almost got fired for doing so. The band was under contract to the William Morris Agency.

We had no idea what we were in for.

We just showed up and tried to meet the obligations. We were given about 10 days to make the first album, with everyone writing and trying to get their songs onto the LP.

It was pretty whirlwind. We did a bunch of TV shows — the Smothers Brothers, Joey Bishop, Jonathan Winters, “Laugh-In,” “Hullabaloo,” “American Bandstand” and Lloyd Thaxton.

I lived out of a suitcase for more than two years.

The first time we played the East Coast, our manager said a girl was waiting to meet me. A fan who thought I was cute. She grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go. Wanted to go back to my room. I said to myself, “Oh my god, we’re rock stars.”

There was definitely some sex appeal in the band. Girls would go screaming and crying over Randy and George with their blond hair. It was the Beatlemania thing. If you had a No. 1 record that’s just what the girls would do.

One day Mike Love of the Beach Boys asked us to go on two tours with them and the Buffalo Springfield band. One tour for a couple of weeks and another for six weeks. Everyone traveled on the Beach Boys’ private plane. It was an amazing time.

We played colleges, giant county fairs, all over the South. 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.

The Beach Boys were into transcendental meditation. It seemed the cool thing to do. We were indoctrinated into TM (after each of us paid a $500 donation!) and received our mantras from a Mother Olson, who flew in from California. So before each concert we always meditated for 10 minutes sitting Indian-style doing our mantras.

I felt respect from some of these great musicians we traveled with because they knew the Strawberry Alarm Clock had something special going — something different than most bands back then. We had a “sound” unlike any other band of that period.

Still, everyone around us seemed bigger than us — Hendrix, Cream, the Jefferson Airplane, Love, the Doors (not to mention the Beatles and the Stones). Guess I was a bit of a pessimist, because I felt one No. 1 hit couldn’t keep us on top for long. All I know is that things always seemed to move too fast back then.

* * * * *

mark weitz with 63 porscheOur manager issued us payroll checks of $500 checks weekly at our peak … and we shut up and ran to the bank. There were a lot of hands in the pie — our attorneys, business managers, etc., all wanting a piece of the action.

Everybody bought new cars. I blew 3 grand on a sweet ’66 Camaro and bought a house with some of the royalty money.

A lot of the times we had fun musically. Like when we recorded our second album, “Wake Up, It’s Tomorrow,” at the state-of-the-art high fidelity TTG studios in Hollywood, and with artistic control! Some great songs on that album. We were in our prime.

By the third LP, however, we were pretty much told what to do. The label, Uni Records, tried to commercialize everything. It just got ugly. They brought in outside writers like Carol King! And complex string and horn arrangements by George Tipton.

Randy and George split after that record. We fired manager Bill Holmes for incompetence and over-booking us and other issues. We were on our own along with the help of Peter Schrader as road manager.

We added a new singer, Jimmy Pittman, who brought in a Southern bluesy sound. He was a good guitarist and lead vocalist. I wrote with Jimmy and we worked well together as writers. His style, however, steered us away from our psychedelic roots. We were losing our fan base. When Uni heard the new material we recorded, they turned cold on us.

After that fourth and final album release (“Good Morning Starshine”) in mid-1969, I saw the handwriting on the wall. It was clear that the band had peaked and tanked and it was time to get out while I still had the shirt on my back. You see, there were these lawsuits coming at me like crazy. From our attorneys, ex-band member Gary Lovetro, travel agencies and more. The band couldn’t pay these people and they wanted their money! Bankruptcy ensued as no other option was left.

I wanted to produce records after helping engineer the last album, but couldn’t get a break. I couldn’t use “Incense and Peppermints” as my calling card because my name wasn’t on the record.

I was tired of traveling, had married and started a family. I took a job in the tropical fish business (a hobby of mine when I was young).

* * * * *

mark weitz of the strawberry alarm clock at microphoneFifteen years later, in 1985, Lee Freeman reunited the band. I came on as a sideman, wanting nothing to do with the business side of things. We worked up 25 new songs and played a couple of sold-out gigs in L.A. They wanted to go on the road; I wanted to record. I opted out.

The group disbanded and I went back to my business

Through the ’90s, there were various resurrections of the SAC by George Bunnell and Lee Freeman that brought in several new members. I did not participate. My reason? If Ed King was in, I was in. And Ed had no interest in moving back to L.A. ever again. In fact, Ed king does not fly in airplanes anymore.

In early 2007, George told me that Steve Bartek was joining another reunited Strawberry Alarm Clock. I immediately signed on. Didn’t hesitate for a heartbeat. Steve had played with us as teens and on the first album. He was (in my mind), a musical genius and a very respected musician. Plus, he was a member of the band Oingo Boingo, which was wildly popular with a big fan base.

Right about that time, we were offered a 40th-year reunion gig by Roger Ebert to play at his annual Ebertfest (in Champaign, Ill.), which was a five-day film festival. The last day honored “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” a movie that featured the Strawberry Alarm Clock and was co-written by Roger. A reunion of old and new SAC members on stage for one night!

Then we were asked to participate in Adams Entertainment’s retro “Love-In: A Musical Celebration” festival video shoot in San Diego with Peter and Gordon, Jesse Colin Young, Buddy Miles, Eric Johnson, Vince Martel and many more, hosted by Ben Vereen.

Today, Steve is no longer in the band due to pressure from his real job as orchestrator and arranger for Danny Elfman, but he produced a CD’s worth of recordings for us over the past few years and we owe him a lot of credit for doing so.

The band is now composed of Howie Anderson on guitar, Randy Seol on drums, Gene Gunnels on percussion, George Bunnell on bass and myself on keys. We are thinking of adding an additional guitar player.

When we play together live these days, we feel like we’re doing what we were doing when we were young. The chemistry magically returns. But now, I think, the maturity comes through in our music, the seasoning that makes it even better.

So now we’re ready to test the waters with a CD we put together. We revisited some of our old songs, primarily as a test to see if we could work together as a band again. We were pleased with the results.

The band has an awesome following, so let’s give them something to listen to. They deserve it for hanging in there all these years … waiting.

You never know. Album 2 may be just around the corner. New songs, new Alarm Clock. Dig it!

Randy Seol

Randy: ‘The audience always lit up when we played’

Randy Seol drummer Strawberry Alarm ClockThe Strawberry Alarm Clock turned out to be one of those magical bands, thanks to the chemistry of the players and the music it produced. The audience always lit up when we played.

I’ve had great and wonderful times getting back with the group, feeling the same chemistry and excitement from our audiences.

Here’s the story of how I got my start and joined the band:

At the age of 5, I used my folk’s furniture as drums. It wasn’t long after that my Dad got me a practice-pad drum set and private lessons.

I knew I liked playing and it was in kindergarten that I learned the power and communication of drums. I was given a drum during our group exercise to keep the beat while my fellow classmates walked in line. I soon found I could make everybody run or come to a slow crawl depending on the speed I played.

Growing up in Riverside, Calif., I loved listening to Gene Krupa and Sandy Nelson. At 8 years old, I joined my first band, a trio called the Goldtones with Glenn Campbell, a steel guitar player who later went onto play with the Misunderstood and Joe Cocker. After we won my first talent show, I graduated from a two-piece Slingerland set to a four-piece Gretch.

Buddy MIles with Strawberry Alarm Clock drummer Randy Seol(Photo, right: Randy backstage with Buddy Miles.)

Winning that contest got us noticed and we started playing live on a country radio station every Sunday. When I was 10, we went on a tour of bowling alleys in California, playing backing up for Kirby Grant of the TV show “Sky King” and performing our first single “Strike” along with the B-side “Gutterball.”

The Goldtones grew to a six-piece band. I started singing, playing vibes, marimbas and bongos.

I started getting into Louis Belson and other double bass drum players. I added a tom-tom and bass drum to my set making it a six-piece. I then set out to learn all percussion instruments.

We made our first album at the Teen Beat Club in Las Vegas and it featured my first original, “Midnight in Vegas.” My Dad told me that a new English act playing a concert at the Convention Center needed a drummer. The act was Peter and Gordon.

Strawberry Alarm Clock drumsThe audition consisted of my Dad playing them a demo tape and I was hired on spot. The show went great and at 14 years old I had performed in my first major concert. I knew then that was what I wanted to do.

During my Junior High School years, I was in the marching and jazz bands. In 9th grade, our jazz band won a local competition, which entitled us to play for and be critiqued by Stan Kenton. I learned so much that day, what a great memory!

Soon after that my father felt my musical advancement was limited in Riverside so our family moved to the San Fernando Valley. Check out this Inland Empire radio station writeup: (PDF). That’s when I left the Goldtones to become a rock star in Los Angeles.

I started taking singing, acting and dancing lessons. It was after I joined Act III that I learned music theory for harmonizing. During this time I was making good money playing drums in the college pub scene.

At the same time L.A. music and psychedelic rock were taking off. Almost in the same month I auditioned for Sky Saxon and the Seeds, the Electric Prunes and the new and upcoming Sixpence, which later became the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

I was hired by the Strawberry Alarm Clock to create harmony and sing second lead on “Incense and Peppermints.” When their drummer quit, I was hired as a drummer, writer and lead singer. The Strawberry Alarm Clock gained its fame from the single “Incense and Peppermints” off the gold album of the same name.

Howie Anderson

Howie: Still the band’s ‘new kid’ after 25 years

“In a field known for its egocentric prima donnas, Howie Anderson is one of those rare virtuosos who comes off more like Clark Kent than the stereotypical self-absorbed guitar hero.”David Brighton

Howie Anderson still is known to the other members of the Strawberry Alarm Clock as “the new kid.” He joined the psychedelic band in 1986.

Howie has written, recorded and/or performed with an impressive variety of artists. The “short list” includes icons such as Arthur Lee (Love), Robbie Krieger (the Doors), Stephen Bishop, Ivan Neville and Spencer Davis.

As a performer, Howie worked on the same bill with Eric Burdon (the Animals), Ben Vereen (“All That Jazz”), Buddy Miles, (drummer with Jimi Hendrix), Jesse Colin Young, (the Youngbloods), Peter Asher & Gordon Waller (Peter & Gordon), Moby Grape, Eric Johnson (Grammy Award-winning guitarist), the Electric Prunes and the Seeds.

The guitarist is well versed in rock, jazz, classical, blues and many ethnic styles of music. He is known as a composer, performer, music director and teacher.

Howie majored in music in college and studied with musicians such as Joe Diorio, Howard Roberts, Ted Greene and Ron Anthony.

Howie’s experience as a stage performer, teacher, and his world-class musicianship carries over into the business end of the music industry.

Gene Gunnels

Gene: I heard the band’s new name and thought, ‘What’s up with that?’

I was born in Anderson, S.C. on July 4, 1949. My twin sister, Jan, passed away in 1994; my older brother is Ken and my younger brother is Steve.

I lived in South Carolina for 12 years, then moved to the Glendale/Burbank area, near Los Angeles.

In the early ’60s my brother Ken played guitar in his surf band. I picked up coronet in junior high. But when I watched my brother’s band rehearse I was intrigued by his drummer, and said to myself, “I can do that! That’s what I want to do!”

My Dad bought me a set of Gretsch drums for my birthday. After school I would sit at the drums with a stack of 45rpm records on the player, and learn all the drum parts of all the popular songs of that time.

For a while, Ken and I had a band called the Ravens. Then I joined a country & western band, Lonnie and the Legends.

At Hoover High School in Glendale, I formed a band with Gary Lovetro, Steve Rabe and Mike Luciano. Steve left and Ed King joined. For whatever reason, Mike left the band and Lee Freeman of Burbank High joined. I was the leader but when Ed decided at one point to leave, we offered him the position of “leader” of the band if he would stay. He did.

The band decided it needed a keyboard player. So Mark Weitz joined.

The name of the original band was the Quaker Oats. But we realized we couldn’t keep that name for very long (due to the cereal company). The British invasion was in full swing, so we changed our name to Thee Sixpence. Pinstripe suits, Beatle boots and all. The band played extensively in Santa Barbara, in pizza joints and such, covering songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Animals, the Standells, the Music Machine and so on.

Strawberry Alarm Clock drummer and guitaristAfter Thee Sixpence signed a contract with All American Records and recorded a mix of cover songs and some original songs with no success, I became a bit discouraged. We had good singers but I thought we needed a “recognizable” voice — a lead singer — in order to be a success.

(Photo: Gene, left, and Lee Freeman in 1969)

In early 1967, Mark wrote a tune. He asked Ed to help him finish it. But the song had neither lyrics nor melody. Just a “basic track.” We went into the studio and recorded it. We also recorded “Birdman of Alkatrash” with Mark’s signature vocals. “Birdman of Alkatrash” was going to be the “A” side of the single, and the song with no lyrics nor melody was going to be the B side.

Then my jealous girlfriend convinced me to “get a real job,” one with a future and income. So I quit the group and got a job at McDonald’s.

Meanwhile, the partial song developed, lyrics were written and that was “Incense and Peppermints.” A friend from another band, Greg Munford, ended up doing lead vocals. I thought, “Here’s a song, with another band’s singer singing it.” Thee Sixpence still was in need of a lead singer. And, to top it off, the band changed their name to the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I thought, “What’s up with that?”

After a while, Ed King called and asked that I reconsider leaving the band. He said, “I’ve got a different feeling about this song.” I was hard-headed and in love. I declined to rejoin the band. Randy Seol replaced me.

In a relatively short period of time, “Incense and Peppermints” became No. 1 in America for a solid record-breaking eight weeks. I was pissed at myself for making such a bad decision. And I never married that girlfriend.

I found another band, Hunger. Recorded an album with them, played various venues around Southern California, including the Whiskey A Go Go. Then our truck with all our equipment — including my original set of Gretsch drums — was stolen. Hunger stuck together for another year hoping to strike a record deal and get new equipment. That never happened.

Two years after leaving Thee Sixpence/Strawberry Alarm Clock, while I was still playing drums in Hunger, Ed King told me that Randy had left the group and asked that I rejoin the Strawberry Alarm Clock. I asked Ed if the plan was to be a rock ‘n’ roll band and he said yes. I happily rejoined in 1969. Jimmy Pitman (of the Nightcrawlers) was the new lead singer. I thought Jimmy’s voice was great. We struck a deal with the Ludwig Drum Company and I got a new set with red-sparkled double bass drums.

Strawberry Alarm Clock drummer GeneAs the band struggled again to regain its success, Jimmy left and was replaced by Paul Marshall. Mark Weitz eventually exited as well. The band was in the movie “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” That group was Lee Freeman on bass and vocals, Ed King on lead guitar and backup vocals, Paul Marshall on guitar and vocals, and me on drums.

In February 1971, the band broke up with the help of an earthquake in Sylmar, near Burbank. Ed and I lived in the same apartment complex. We looked at each other and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.” We got in a car and headed to Las Vegas for a few days. Ed decided to move to Jacksonville, Fla., to join an little-known band that opened for us during a tour though the South. That band was Lynyrd Skynyrd.

I was ready to leave California as well, move back home to South Carolina, but was sidetracked when the road manager for the Everly Brothers asked that I audition for their band, two weeks before a European tour. I tried out along with guitarist Waddy Wachtel and we were welcomed into the band by their keyboardist/band director, Warren Zevon.

I was with the Everly Brothers band for two years until they broke up in 1973. I married a short time later and we had two children.

During the next few years of rehearsing and playing with the Waddy Wachtel Band and Warren Zevon, discouragement and lack of money forced me to look elsewhere for work.

Then, while still living in Burbank, I joined a Christian rock group, A Band Called David, as backup for the well-known group the 2nd Chapter of Acts along with Barry McQuire (“Eve of Destruction.”).

In 1980, due to a divorce and remarriage (and eventually two more kids), I left the Christian group and began playing local clubs with a country & western band. I also joined a cover band called The Rockin’ Jimmies. With manager and producer Roy Marinell (co-writer of Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”) at the helm, we rehearsed original songs with no success. I also had a brief reunion with the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

Meanwhile, I’d started a company that specialized in decorating special events and parties. Eventually, working both jobs became too much. Although music was my first love, my decision to be a responsible husband and father forced me to pick the job that was paying the most money, event decorating. So I left music for many years. Eventually, after a second divorce, I moved to Las Vegas in 2000, continuing to decorate events.

In 2007, I got an email from Paul Marshall saying that the Strawberry Alarm Clock was reuniting for a film festival and Roger Ebert had asked the band to perform after the showing of “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” I learned that Mark Weitz was aboard. I knew that since Mark was joining there had to be “something special” about this particular incarnation of the group. Since I was the drummer at the time the movie was released, it was only fair that I be a part of the band. Also, learning that Steve Bartek was in the band, I felt there was an added ingredient for a solid foundation for the group.

So, finally, both Randy Seol and I became permanent drummers in the band, both of us switching between percussion and the drum kit.

Lee Freeman

Lee: ‘a gentle soul and free spirit’

Lee Freeman, our bandmate and brother, passed away in early 2010.

The L.A. Times asked SAC bassist George Bunnell about Freeman, whom he called “a gentle soul and free spirit — you can hear it in his songs.”

Bunnell told this story about guitarist Freeman:

“We were asked by Dick Clark to take part in his movie ‘Psych-Out.’ He asked us not only to appear in it as ourselves, but to provide several songs as the landscape.

“More importantly he asked us to write the theme song. He had been using Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’ as the temporary theme. He wanted something along those lines as the central character played by the late Susan Strasberg was deaf and blind.

“Lee immediately had an idea for the lyrics and along with our guitarist Ed King they wrote and sang one of the most gorgeous pieces of psych pop ever recorded, ‘Pretty Song From Psych-Out.’ Not the title they had intended the song to have … but, oh well.”

Like most of the longterm band members, Freeman was in and out of the band a few times over its history. He was an original member of Thee Sixpence in 1966 and remained as the band gained new members and morphed into the Strawberry Alarm Clock.

The garage band rocker “Lose to Live,” which he wrote with keyboardist Mark Weitz, was a highlight of the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s first album.

In the B-movie “Psych-Out,” Freeman was seen playing drums because drummer Randy Seol was up front, playing bongos and singing.

He was key in reuniting the band in 1982. The story goes that he saw an ad for the Strawberry Alarm Clock playing a club. Suspecting yet another group was living off his famous band’s name, Freeman attended and found out the ad was a ploy by the club owner to reunite the original Strawberry Alarm Clock. He succeeded.

Freeman continued to play with the band in the reunions of recent decades and participated in some of the group’s recordings in the new century.

His “Love Story” rocker of 1995 was the band’s contribution to the sprawling various-artists compilation “World Jam,” which raised funds to fight hunger. (Video below. Also, hear “Love Story” on MP3. It was produced by Steve Bartek. Aside from its residency as a Freeman memorial on YouTube, “Love Story” remains an SAC rareity.

Freeman’s participation with the band faded over the next several years, as he became increasingly frail and sidelined by illness.

Freeman was born Nov. 8, 1949, in Burbank, and died of cancer Feb. 14, 2010, at his home in the Bay Area.

Ed King

Ed: Touring in ’68 & ’69 was a highlight of my life

Ed King ex-Strawberry Alarm Clock“I am the luckiest guitar player on Earth,” Ed King declares.

King caught lightning in a bottle twice: First as a co-founder of the hitmaking Strawberry Alarm Clock and then as a member of the Southern rock giants Lynyrd Skynyrd.

As a teenager, King was a founding member of Thee Sixpence, the high school group that transformed itself into the Strawberry Alarm Clock. (Read King’s fan forum thread about the psychedelic group.)

He and keyboardist Mark Weitz wrote the music for the smash hit “Incense and Peppermints,” starting with a memorable riff dreamed up by Weitz. King contributed the bridge to the then-instrumental.

Weitz tells the story: “I couldn’t figure out a bridge for the song. Ed King lived pretty close. I called him and told him I need a bridge for this new song idea I’m working on. He drove over, and about 45 minutes later we had it.”

The single’s songwriting credits notoriously failed to note their role in creating the song, but “Incense and Peppermints” hit No. 1 in 1967 and remains a rock-pop radio staple to this day.

Credit for “Incense and Peppermints” went to a songwriting team that worked with the publisher. “We were told that was the price we had to pay to get started in the business,” King recalled in an interview with Classic Rock Revival a few years back.

He and Weitz collaborated again on “Tomorrow,” which charted at No. 23 in early 1968. Once again, King came to the rescue with a bridge.

Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1969King continued to write songs with Weitz as well as guitarist Lee Freeman. SAC songs that King co-wrote include “Sit With the Guru,” “The Black Butter Trilogy,” “Pretty Song From Psych-Out” and “Soft Skies, No Lies.”

King says, “The (SAC) tours with the Beach Boys in ’67 and ’68 outshine any other period in my life. Carl Wilson coming over to my room to show me the chords to ‘God Only Knows’ far outweighs any Skynyrd experience.”

(Photo: Ed King, center, with the band in 1969.)

King stayed with the band until 1972, when he took a flyer and joined a Southern rock band that had opened for the Strawberry Alarm Clock on a regional tour. That band was Lynyrd Skynyrd, which was heading into the studio to record its first album with producer Al Kooper.

King started out playing bass and then switched to guitar.

He formed a songwriting partnership with singer Ronnie Van Zant, which produced “Poison Whisky” on that album and then later “Sweet Home Alabama,” one of the band’s two signature songs.

Other Skynyrd songs co-written by King include “Saturday Night Special,” “Swamp Music,” “I Need You,” “Workin’ for MCA” and “Railroad Song.”

King left Skynyrd after three albums. That was two years before the fatal plane crash that claimed the life of Ronnie Van Zant and other two other members of the band.

In 1987, King joined the Lynyrd Skynyrd survivors reunion tour and played with the band until health problems forced him out in 1996.

In 2006, King entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd.

He has retired from the music business, but wishes he played on the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s new album, the band’s first in more than 40 years:

“The album is a labor of love,” King said in May 2012. “I wish I lived closer so I could take part. The guys play better than ever and the addition of Steve Bartek makes it now the way it should’ve been. I think his parents wouldn’t let him join the band! ‘Mr. Farmer’ is my favorite track. Mark Weitz NAILED it.”

* Top left photo by Janine Goulet (2005)

Marty Katon

ex-strawberry alarm clock drummer marty katonI was hired by the Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1968-69 to cover drums on band tours to Chicago and Lubbock, Texas.

I was from the backwoods of Michigan, having been a drummer in blues bars and honkytonks.

Regardless of my naivety, they treated me very well and paid me well. Jim Pitman from the Nightcrawlers was on guitar. They were all well mannered and very modest.

Standing in the William Morris Agency with them and being treated as an equal, gave me confidence and experience that I continued to use in my ventures into the art world.

I went on to be in American Artist Magazine and work for famous galleries.

Jimmy Pitman

Strawberry Alarm Clock veteran Jimmy PitmanJimmy Pitman joined the Strawberry Alarm Clock for the recording of “Good Morning Starshine,” a star-crossed album in several respects.

“I engulfed myself in a bit of rock ‘n’ roll fame,” Pitman said today, using a most appropriate verb. He joined a famous band that was beset by legal and personnel problems — one that had just about run its course.

Pitman was best known as a member of the Nightcrawlers, a Florida band that had recorded the 1965 garage band classic “My Little Black Egg.” He joined the classic version of the Daytona Beach band just before it broke up.

Jimmy Pitman came to L.A. with the help of Murray Wilson, father of three of the Beach Boys. He brought to town a Southern twang and a love of the blues.

Hanging out on the Sunset Strip in its glory days, Pitman says, “I met and became friends with the likes of Clapton, Morrison, Hendrix, Buddy Miles, the boys from Iron Butterfly and many more.”

In Hollywood, he hooked up with his Florida pals Gregg and Duane Allman, jamming with their short-lived group the Hour Glass.

He joined the Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1969, after it had lost several key members.

Remaining SAC guitarist-bassist Ed King and keyboardist Mark Weitz both appreciated Pitman’s talents, if not the direction the band took as a result of his hiring.

“I considered Pitman to be a very strong songwriter, though his songs didn’t exactly fit our band’s reputation and style,” King has said.

Weitz recalls of Pitman: “He was a good guitarist and lead vocalist. I wrote with Jimmy and we worked well together as writers.

“We put a lot of faith in him (since) he was our lead vocalist. But his style steered us away from our psychedelic roots. We were losing our fan base. When (record label) Uni heard the new material we recorded, they turned cold on us.”

“Good Morning Starshine” and its singles failed to light up the charts. It proved to be the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s final album.

Pitman left in mid-1969, replaced by Paul Marshall (currently of I See Hawks in L.A.).

After his exit from the Strawberry Alarm Clock, Pitman continued with his bluesy musical sound as the frontman in Jumbo, a band signed to Lou Adler’s label. He also produced and promoted other rock acts.

Pitman has lived in Jacksonville, Fla., since the mid-90s, mostly keeping a low profile. He never stopped writing songs, though, and in 2007 he started Big Bad Wolf, which plays “originals and classics” for the Baby Boomer crowd. (Listen to three BBW tracks.)