Two New Collections Unearth Arizona's Rock and Roll Past
Think back on a gig you saw six or seven years ago, and about how much the landscape in our fair city has physically changed since. Now try imagining a gig from 46 or 47 years ago, and how much history has been paved over--then you'll get some idea of the amount of digging Arizona music historian John P. Dixon has had to do to unearth the nuggets of Phoenix pop music that fill two brand-new CD releases he's just compiled.
Fans of Mike Condello's work on the Wallace and Ladmo show will be pleased to hear this unreleased 1968 Condello and Company comedy album, which also collects over a dozen rare singles and outtakes he recorded between 1962 and 1980. And The Mascot Records-Jack Curtis Story contains nearly every 45 the local music impresario released during the '60s, from the embryonic Alice Cooper band The Spiders to soul singer Roosevelt Nettles to the pop sheen of P-Nut Butter, the teen idolatry of Frank Farfara, and the heavy rock of George Washington Bridge.
We talked to Dixon about both of these releases, which will be marked by a CD Release/Listening Party at Zia Records Saturday afternoon. On hand will be Dixon, Jack Curtis, Mike Condello Jr., Dwayne Witten (Mascot owner, member of George Washington Bridge), Floyd Westfall (Floyd & Jerry) and producer Tony Bacak, and more special guests to be announced, to sign and discuss the releases. A limited edition psychedelic Condello lithograph will be available exclusively at this event with the purchase of both discs. The event is free to the public and will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
It's especially fun listening if you're a pop history buff. The Mike Condello record is packed with references that fall inside a distinct 1965 to 1968 period. Like on "Soggy Cereal," where he quotes a line from The Animals' "San Francisco Nights" and then lampoons Trini Lopez and Johnny Rivers and their fake live Whisky-A-Go-Go albums.
There was so much going on there with Mike; besides the downright parodies, like "Ladmo in the Sky with Almonds," he was doing for the Wallace and Ladmo show, he was recording all this other music. It was amazingly creative time for him.
Up on the Sun: That earlier Wallace and Ladmo compilation that came out on Epiphany contained a lot of parodies where Condello borrowed whole songs and melodies from The Beatles and The Bee Gees. Were there any latter-day licensing problems, what with the Beatles' and Apple being as litigious as they are?
In those days I don't think it was even a consideration. What (Zia and Epiphany Records founder) Brad Singer initially did was he paid for the song, because technically one would have to ask permission to change lyrics and all that, but since it was already out, he paid for the song as if it were the actual song, not a parody. Mike's band Hub Capp and the Wheels were Capitol artists, so I don't know if that had anything to do with not getting sued by the Beatles. Over the years, if someone wanted to raise a stink, I'm sure they would've. That first album sold about 6,000 units; there are plenty of them out there. In all the paperwork I've got, I've never seen anything from the publishing companies. I don't think you could get away with it today. That's the beauty of the '60s.
In the liner notes, you say this comedy album was recorded at the same time of the Condello Phase 1 album that came out in 1968. How close was the comedy album to ever coming out?
I don't know if these were ever pitched. Charlie Green and Brian Stone, who managed the Buffalo Springfield and Sonny and Cher, they had York-Pala Productions. They were pursuing Mike Condello at the same time they were managing the Buffalo Springfield. They were hustling deals.
They had a group called The Cake doing a lot of stuff; they were quite the movers and shakers in Hollywood, high-profile kind of guys. They hired Condello as an A&R guy for about a year. Green and Stone came out and just gobbled up everything Condello was doing at the time, close to thirty songs.
The more psychedelic pop stuff by Condello came out on the Phase 1 album and they have all this stuff just kind of sitting there. It's amazing that they would grab all of this stuff. As a sideline, Bill Spooner's album was also part of that deal. They purchased those masters and Condello wound up overdubbing the horns and stuff on the West Coast. That came out.
Was any of the comedy album ever used or intended for the Wallace and Ladmo show?
I thought Wallace and Pat McMahon had something to do with it, too, and they said no, it was all basically Condello's ideas. I don't know if those songs were ever performed on the show; Mike's son might know. I assume they were, because a lot of people were familiar with "Public School Lunch." They're aware of it.
The fact that it was never actually pressed or released makes me think they didn't, but it makes me think they could've performed them once or twice as a musical segment on Wallace and Ladmo. I'd heard these titles before, but [not] until I saw an actual acetate with all the songs lined up in order did I realize there was a reason behind them, that it wasn't just a bunch of one-off funny kind of songs.
Did he ever do jingles? "A Pimple is a Sometimes Thing" is like a Clearasil ad waiting to happen.
Not that I know of. He had a cable television show called Mike's Inferno where he would do crazy skits, but I don't think anything was ever done for commercials. He was working for an advertising agency for about 15 years that would represent actors for commercials. So he did that.
With the A&R job with Green and Stone, did he move to Los Angeles permanently?
Absolutely, they moved over there right after they finished the album, '68-69, '70. I don't think he ever came back after that.
Where did you locate the tapes for the instrumental Condello music you included here, by The Morgan-Condello Combo and Last Friday's Fire?
A lot of it is a dub straight off of records I have. The stereo master of the comedy album was off of acetate; I was hoping to find a tape of it but I never did. Mike's son had a lot; that's where I got the Takoma outtake. He had access to all the tapes he'd gotten from his dad's apartment after he died. I ended up with all the tapes from Audio Recorders so there were a few things in there, some outtakes of "Longer and Harder," but most of that stuff is off vinyl.
The Mascot [collection] seems to fill a lot of missing holes. You never think of Phoenix as having a teen idol scene in the late '50s, early '60s, but of course there must've been one.
You had Arizona Bandstand, Pat McMahon's show on Saturdays. There was a lot of that teen idol pop. Tony Castle, he looked just like Fabian; young Frank Farfara... it was a pretty strong scene. Obviously you had Jack Curtis; there were a lot of promotional opportunities for these young singers locally.
But a lot of people wouldn't be aware of that scene unless you lived here and went to a lot of the shows. A lot of them charted, got lower 20s, 30s airplay on local radio, so they managed to get some buzz going.
Was Jack Curtis or anyone else trying to break these acts nationally?
For most of these producers the idea was that they'd get the ball rolling and then RCA or someone would come along occasionally and put it out and take it to another level. It would happen occasionally. Some people were more into the production side for Jack Curtis; he put records out more as a promotional item to give out to kids at his shows.
He really wasn't as serious about getting releases on anything on a national label, but occasionally he would license a Roosevelt Nettles record to Chess, Decca or Capitol. Things did happen but as Jack has said, his records were mostly to promote his shows. Jack, he seemed to be content with just making 300 or 500 records of P-Nut Butter or the Spiders to get KRUX to play and hand out to kids when they came to the shows.
Do you know what Mascot records he pressed the most copies of?
As far as Jack Curtis, it would've been P-Nut Butter, "What Am I Doing Here With You." He actually did a second pressing of it, which was kind of rare. P-Nut Butter, because they got a lot of local airplay and they were popular, did lots of local shows. I think there are five Mascot singles just by them alone.
It was kind of shrewd of them to cover a 1965 Davy Jones single and then put it out at the height of Monkeemania in 1967.
Bands would do that, or get an album and pick a song that wasn't a single, because they could get a regional single [released] before the original band put it out. Jack, with his radio contacts, was aware of Sloan and Barri--there were a lot of west coast songwriters that P-Nut Butter and Motion would cover.
I heard an interview with Alice Cooper recently where he said that The Spiders used to sound a lot like The Yardbirds, but their first single, "Why Don't You Love Me," sounds strictly Merseybeat.
The Spiders were one group that Jack didn't seem to know what to do with. At least he didn't try and glom onto them after the first records, which were both cover songs. He sent them down to Tucson to another producer who played them the Who album and produced them a little different on "Don't Blow Your Mind," which was an original song, so they'd finally written a song.
But I've got to hand it to Jack; unlike P-Nut Butter, which was more pop and where Jack's ears were, The Spiders, with the hair growing long and all that, were the complete opposite. But he still put up money for the initial recoding, he came up with the spider web made out of rope at Stage 7, and he was there for those early things. He bought a car for John Tatum, the band's rhythm guitarist, because he thought John was the most serious of the group at the time. So Jack worked with them as far as club gigs and recording for a spell, gave them their start, and they all kind of went on.
After George Washington Bridge, the steady stream of Mascot releases stop, around 1968...
He became kind of disillusioned.
After the jump: "He wanted to provide a good, safe place for kids to dance... but kids started to change, too."
A guy named Earl Jarred of P-Nut Butter was helping him out. Earl actually produced The George Washington Bridge, and had a publishing company, and became more involved in the latter days. As kids' tastes changed, Jack couldn't understand the music and a lot of what they wanted to hear. The Yardbirds and The Animals were replacing those pop bands, and he could see he couldn't keep the trend going. When you look at Mascot's recording output, there really were no hits there.
Obviously some labels leased the masters, I'm sure that money went into paying for the next recording session. He used Audio Recorders; he didn't skimp on studios, so there was a lot of investment on his part.
Did he just concentrate on his clubs or entertainment writing after the GWB?
No, after he had that club on Van Buren, the Beau Brume, he had that incident where some members of an out-of -town band called The American Standard labeled Jack's club the "Beau Bummer" after they were refused admission at the door because of their hippie garb.
I forget whom they were opening up for at the Coliseum, but when they called it the Beau Bummer from the stage, it just got such bad press. Jack was always a pretty optimistic guy; he was really always doing it for the kids. That was his initial involvement. He wanted to provide a good, safe place for kids to dance.
Kids started to change, too. Drinking, smoking, beer cans, trash; the same thing happened to The Fifth Estate over in Tempe, where the neighbors finally closed it down because the kids were making a mess. People got fed up with dealing with these kids, so they put pressure on the city council to close these clubs. For Jack it was a financial consideration, too, because he had to spend some money to get it fixed up for zoning laws, so the city would give him a license for dances.
And after getting weeks of bad press he decided to give up the ghost. For a while Stage 7 and the V.I.P. Club were the only places, but by 1968 there were a lot more clubs, a lot more competition. Before 1962, it was all DJs; the current DJs would come with a box of records to your high school. But man, The Beatles hit, and nobody wanted DJs anymore because they could get bands who would play for next to nothing to play Beatles and Stones songs.
Are the buildings where Stage 7 and The V.I.P. Club were housed still standing?
Last time I looked it was the Chamber of Commerce clubhouse on 7th Street and Indian School, across from the V.A. It might still be there. They had a fence around the lot, but the physical building was still sitting there. Four buildings north of Indian School, on the east side of the street.
I think there was some strip club and a Jack in the Box just south of it.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.