VIP Treatment

A new CD tells how Valley teens in the '60s survived in a Beatle-less state

If you were a Phoenician and a Beatlemaniac between 1964 and 1966, you had your choice of venues to see the Fab Four: the Convention Center in Las Vegas, the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado, the Cow Palace in San Francisco, or the Hollywood Bowl. But John, Paul, George and Ringo's absence in the dry heat created a vacuum happily filled by homegrown Beatles cover bands, and none more popular than The Vibratos. Along with P-Nut Butter, another local favorite, the Vibratos occupy an important but lost chapter of Phoenix garage rock, now restored through the archival efforts of John P. Dixon.

Released to memorialize the recent passing of Vibratos lead guitarist Steve Dodge, The VIP Club Presents . . . Battle of the Bands: P-Nut Butter vs. the Vibratos features 10 never-released Vibratos tracks that Dixon uncovered from tapes left behind at Audio Recorders, some rough-sounding Vibratos live recordings, and P-Nut Butter's spread of sunny Bobby Fuller Four-esque singles, which made the band a clean-cut alternative to the embryonic Alice Cooper prototype, The Spiders.

Despite the title and cover art, the Vibratos and P-Nut Butter never faced off for real. Yet both bands recorded an infectious Mersey Beat knockoff, "I'm Glad I Knew You," both played the VIP Club at Seventh Street and Indian School, and both were pet projects of then "czar of Valley entertainment," Jack Curtis.

"Jack was an entertainment writer for the Arizona Republic while he was doing his club thing, and ran his Mascot record label, which released the Vibratos singles," says Dixon. Did the words "conflict of interest" mean nothing to these people? "Everybody had the entrepreneur thing going," allows Dixon.

Not surprisingly, local radio stations positioned P-Nut Butter and the Vibratos in hot rotation alongside The Beatles. In the Vibratos' case, they went head to head with the Fabs' late '64 chart-topper "I Feel Fine" by covering "I'll Be Back," a Beatles track that appeared on the UK Hard Day's Night album that July but didn't surface stateside until December. On the August 1964 VIP Club show excerpted here, the Vibratos made the most of showcasing "I'll Be Back" during that four-month window of opportunity.

"[Deejays] would get someone in England to send them import Beatles releases to play on the air, which pissed off Capitol Records [the Beatles' US label] to no end," recalls Dixon. "So if the deejays had a band they were working with, they would get them to record a sound-alike 45 and get it out before the real version reached here."

P-Nut Butter was especially adept at finding obscure songs by the likes of the Grass Roots, Cat Stevens, and a pre-Monkees Davy Jones -- anything that smelled like a hit. The group even scooped "Conquistador" on a single years before Procol Harum did.

By 1968, though, Jack Curtis was quickly losing money charging a buck at the door for teen shows and losing interest in the new heavy sounds coming out of England and San Francisco. This album captures that last blast of smart-slacked, turtlenecked rock 'n' roll before, as Dixon puts it, "the sweet, innocent '60s turned into the turbulent '60s."

 
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