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30 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

From Billy Joel’s heavy-metal duo to Madonna’s post-punk act and Neil Young’s Motown outfit, these are the primordial groups that rock forgot

30 Fascinating Early Bands of Future Music Legends

Read about the obscure bands where future music legends from Led Zeppelin to Simon & Garfunkel and Debbie Harry got their start.

Even rock’s biggest names had to start somewhere. Flip through this (way) back catalog of stars’ early projects and you’ll find yourself in a topsy-turvy bizarro-world where Michael Bolton and Billy Joel fronted metal bands, Debbie Harry and the Cars were folked-up singer-songwriters, Madonna was a post-punk drummer and Ronnie James Dio was a Sixties teen idol. By the time you’re done there are more questions than answers. Did Neil Young and Rick James really play in a Motown band together? Did Lemmy really wear a priest’s collar onstage every night? Why were Radiohead so into saxes?

Read on to hear 30 fascinating early bands from future music legends. Brace yourself, because it might get weird. 

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Radiohead Members’ Sax-Driven Collective On a Friday

When the future members of Radiohead first came together as classmates at Oxfordshire’s Abingdon School in 1985, they were bonded by pure, unbridled musical passion rather than virtuosic ability. “We were people who picked up their respective instruments because we wanted to play music together, rather than just because we wanted to play that particular instrument,” Colin Greenwood told The Irish Times in 2001. “So it was more of a collective angle, and if you could contribute by having someone else play your instrument, then that was really cool.” They gathered to rehearse on Friday afternoons in the school’s music room, leading to the group’s de facto name: On a Friday.

Though gigs were few and far between during their time at Abingdon, several demos from the period survive. The earliest is a 4-track tape from 1986, reportedly predating the inclusion of Colin’s younger brother Jonny. Songs like “Fragile Friend,” “Girl (in the Purple Dress),” “Everybody Knows” and “Fat Girl” recall a diverse list of influences including the Smiths, Sonic Youth, the Pixies and also every Eighties English New Wave band with gratuitous saxophone solos. Even more bizarre for a band famous for their overcast ruminations, a 1988 demo includes the ludicrously upbeat “Happy Song,” which is given an extra dose of pep with the inclusion of a marimba.

After the members graduated from Abingdon in 1987, On a Friday was effectively put on hiatus while the group – minus the junior Greenwood – attended university. For nearly four years they only got together on rare weekends and holidays. In the summer of 1991, the friends reconvened and threw themselves into music on a full-time basis. They rented a house together in Oxford and perfected their new material at the nearby Jericho Tavern, which would become their local home base. “We all wore black and played very loud, because we thought that’s what you had to do,” Colin later said of these early gigs. It was at one of their Jericho performances that they first drew the attention of Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge. The management duo produced a professional demo tape – including future Radiohead songs “You,” “Thinking About You” and “Prove Yourself” – which earned them a six-album recording contract with EMI in 1992. At the label’s insistence, they dropped the On a Friday moniker, which Thom Yorke retrospectively called “the worst band name ever.” In its place, they took inspiration from an obscure 1986 song by the Talking Heads: “Radio Head.” 

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David Bowie’s Sixties Mod Group the Lower Third

The Lower Third, a mod combo hailing from the London suburb of Margate, was seeking a new frontman in the spring of 1965 when an 18-year-old Davy Jones came to audition. Having honed his stagecraft with primitive R&B bands like the Konrads, the King Bees, and the Mannish Boys during the previous year, the future David Bowie belted Little Richard standards, even blasting solos on a saxophone he helpfully brought along. He got the job, besting his friend – and future Small Faces shouter – Steve Marriott. “We liked the stuff he was doing,” the band’s guitarist Denis Taylor later told author Marc Spitz, “and he really started to develop an image for us, as well.”

Davy Jones and the Lower Third played their first gig together that April, and during the next few months they shuttled back and forth to gigs in an old diesel-fueled ambulance. Their music was potent and raw – sometimes too raw. “We were too loud onstage,” Bowie later reflected. “We used feedback and sounds and didn’t play any melodies. We just pulverized the sound, which was loosely based on Tamla Motown. We had an ardent following of about a hundred mods but when we played out of London we were booed right off the stage. We weren’t very good.” The group took the bulk of their inspiration from blues heroes like John Lee Hooker (“We tried to adapt his stuff to the big beat – never terribly successfully.”), but Bowie tried his best to inject some original material to the group. “I didn’t know how to write a song – I wasn’t particularly good at it. I had no natural talent whatsoever … and the only way I could learn was to see how other people did it. … I was stumbling around.”

He eventually delivered the dour “You’ve Got a Habit of Leaving Me,” featuring hissed lyrics underscored by an chaotic chord structure that borders on dissonance. Considering its enormous debt to early Who and Kinks, it’s fitting that the song was recorded with Shel Talmy, a producer who had previously worked with both bands, as well as Bowie during his tenure with the Mannish Boys. Talmy secured the band a distribution deal on Parlophone, the Beatles’ label, but the single failed to approach the magnitude of the Fab Four when it hit shops in August 1965. Neither did their follow up, “Can’t Help Thinking About Me,” released the following January and credited to David Bowie and the Lower Third – marking the first recorded appearance of that soon-to-be-famous moniker.

The union between Bowie and the rest for the Lower Third became uneasy after they took on a new manager whose interest in the frontman appeared more than strictly business. The resentment and rancor within the band was exacerbated by the lack of money and chart success, and they parted company that spring. 

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Chester Bennington’s Nineties Alt-Rock Crew Grey Daze

The late Linkin Park frontman nearly gave up on the music industry after the failure of his first serious band. Bennington began to take an active interest in music while a high school student in the Phoenix area. Initially he collaborated with his friend Sean Dowdell in the aptly named collective Sean Dowdell and His Friends in the early 1990s. “At the time we couldn’t think of a name so I shouted something stupid out and it we all laughed and used it for about a year or so as the name,” Dowdell later explained. They played upwards of 50 gigs around the Phoenix area, and even recorded a three-song demo before the band disintegrated.

In 1993 Dowdell formed a new band with bassist Jonathan Krause, and together they submitted an ad in the Phoenix New Times for a new guitarist and vocalist. They found the former in Steve Mitchell, but none of the singing hopefuls were a good match. Eventually they recruited Bennington back into the fold, calling themselves Lovelies Bleeding before settling on Grey Daze. They played their first gig in January 1994 at Thunder & Lightning Bar & Grill in Scottsdale, and within months they had recorded a professional demo at a local engineering school. By that October they entered the studio to record their first album, Wake Me, an independent release financed by their manager, which entered the rotation on local radio stations.

Grey Daze kept up a steady appearance at local clubs, restaurants, bars, warehouse, private parties and even the odd desert gig before returning to the studio to record a second album, 1997’s …No Sun Today. A third record was planned, but a discouraged Bennington, who worked at a digital services firm during the day to make ends meet, decided to leave the band in 1998. Resigned to a life of obscurity, he was approached by Jeff Blue, the Vice President of A&R at Zomba Music in Los Angeles. Blue suggested he audition for a group called Xero, who were looking for a replacement singer. Skipping his own birthday celebration, Bennington recorded an audition song and wound up getting the job in the spring of 1999 – taking his place alongside Mike Shinoda, Brad Delson, Rob Bourdon and Joe Hahn. Not long after, they took the name Linkin Park in honor of the Santa Monica greenery. 

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Neil Young and Rick James’ Motown Pop Band the Mynah Birds

Desperate to avoid the draft, a teenaged Rick James – born James Johnson – fled to Canada as soon as he was called up in August 1964. Adopting the name “Ricky James Matthews” to avoid the authorities, he arrived in Toronto, where he was almost immediately set upon by a gang of drunks. “A trio of three other white guys saw what was happening and came running to my aid,” he wrote in his autobiography, Glow. Two of them were Garth Hudson and Levon Helm, future members of the Band, then playing backup for Ronnie Hawkins. The men helped introduce their new friend to the local music scene, and soon he had joined a group called (appropriately enough) the Sailorboys. Eventually, they changed their name to the Mynah Birds, playing an unusual fusion of soul and folk-rock. Their distinct sound earned them a brief stint on the Canadian division of Columbia Records, but their solitary single, “The Mynah Birds Hop,” disappeared without a trace in early 1965.

Bassist Nick St. Nicholas (later of Steppenwolf) left the group soon after and was replaced by future Buffalo Springfield member Bruce Palmer. Looking for a new guitarist, Palmer spotted a local scenester named Neil Young strolling down Yorkville Avenue clutching a 12-string guitar. Young’s attempts to establish himself as a solo artist had met with limited success, and he was happy to accept steady work in a gigging band. “I wasn’t a driving force behind the Mynah Birds – I was the lead guitar player, Ricky was the front man,” Young admitted to biographer Jimmy McDonough. “He’s out there doin’ all that shit and I was back there playin’ a little rhythm, a little lead, groovin’ along with my bro Bruce. We were having a good time.”

Young and James hit it off and soon became roommates, living together in a bombed-out musicians’ crash pad and surviving on the baked goods that James stole off of early morning delivery trucks. “Neil was cool. He had a quirky sense of humor and a quick mind,” James wrote in his memoir. “His singing was a little strange, but his facility on the guitar was crazy.” Young had similarly warm memories decades later. “Ricky was great. He was a little bit touchy, dominating – but a good guy. Had a lot of talent. Really wanted to make it bad,” he told McDonough.

In early 1966 they were signed to Motown and invited to record at the famous Hitsville Studio in Detroit. As part of the induction the band were enrolled in the label’s legendary finishing school. “We didn’t to too well in etiquette and chorography – how to be cool, how to move,” Young recalled. “I thought we fit in pretty good, considering.” In addition to recording four tracks – “It’s My Time,” “I Got You (in My Soul),” “I’ll Wait Forever” and “Little Girl Go,” the experience brought James face to face with his hero, Stevie Wonder, who took exception to his lengthy “Ricky James Matthews” stage name. “That’s too long,” said Wonder. “Ricky James sounds more like it.”

“It’s My Time” was poised for release, and a full Mynah Birds album was planned, but James’ past caught up with him. The band had fired their manager amid accusations of financial improprieties, and he informed Motown of James’ status as a military deserter. The singer was taken to prison, album plans were scrapped, and the single was withdrawn – destined to remain unreleased for decades. Young and Palmer bought a hearse and drove down to Los Angeles, where they eventually formed Buffalo Springfield. James was released after five months, but he would have to wait significantly longer for his second chance at Motown fame.  

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Steven Tyler’s Sixties Pop Group the Chain Reaction

“English Sounds, American R&B”: thus read the business cards dispensed by the Strangeurs, the first group fronted by Steven Tyler. Then known by his family surname Tallarico, the teenage mod wannabe led the band from behind the drum kit on stages throughout Long Island, Greenwich Village and rural New Hampshire, sometimes performing entire sets with a faux British accent. It was a rock star act he perfected while still a student in Yonkers, New York, in the mid-Sixties. “My way of avoiding being beaten up at school was to play drums in a band,” he wrote in his memoir, Does the Sound in My Head Bother You. “We would set up in the cafeteria and do a mixer after school. I played ‘Wipeout’ and sang ‘In My Room.’ I was skinny and big-lipped and pinheaded. I grew my hair and played the drums in a band, and that was my key to acceptance.”

The band originally called themselves the Strangers, but the existence of another New York group with that name forced them to get creative with the spelling. After gigging around the area, they signed with a manager who booked them as openers for acts like the Byrds and the Kingsmen. Their support set at a Beach Boys show in July 1966 earned them an audition at CBS. “We got into some guy’s office and he says, ‘OK, boys, you can set up in the corner.’ So we set up the drums and I sat down and this guy’s sitting at his desk, talking calls. He finally looked up and said, ‘All right, play,'” Tyler wrote. “He stopped us halfway through and said, ‘I’ll sign you up for six grand. How about it?’ Me, I’m just this stupid, defective kid from Yonkers. I go, ‘All right, uh-huh.’ And we had a record deal just like that.”

The CBS legal team felt their name was still too close to the Strangers, so they opted for Tyler’s latest brainwave: the Chain Reaction. “Steven told me that ‘chain reaction’ meant a continuous flow of high energy, and that’s what they were all about,” recalled Peter Agosta, the band’s early manager in Aerosmith’s autobiography. In August they entered the studio to record their first single, “The Sun.” At the controls was journeyman producer Richie Gottehrer, who had previously scaled the charts with “My Boyfriend’s Back” by the Angels and “Hang on Sloopy” by the McCoys. “How excited I was about being in an actual recording band,” recalled Tyler. “It was a total dream come true. The other side of it is that it’s a pretty lame song. I never got a cent.” According to Acosta, the fastidious Tyler significantly delayed the sessions: “‘The Sun’ took three weeks to record because Steven was a perfectionist and drove everybody crazy. He demanded his own mic, which no had heard of before.”

The song, backed by another original called “When I Needed You,” failed to trouble the charts. Neither did their follow-up, recorded a month later, “You Should Have Been Here Yesterday.” They played a few high-profile gigs, including a spot opening for the Yardbirds at a Connecticut high school, but by June 1967 the Chain Reaction had fizzled out. However, the band’s repeated trips to Sunapee, New Hampshire, brought Tyler in contact with a young, long-haired dishwasher working at a local ice cream shop: Joe Perry. 

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Alice Cooper’s High-School Beatles Parody Act

In 1964, a 16-year-old named Vincent Furnier – later known as Alice Cooper – was hard up trying to book acts for the talent show at his Phoenix-area high school. “Nobody had any talent,” he said later in his memoir, Me, Alice. “Nobody even deluded themselves.” Instead, he recruited fellow members of the cross-country team to form a fake group spoofing the Beatles, who were still dominating the charts in the wake of their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show earlier that year. Donning Beatle wigs, they took to the stage in the cafeteria-cum-auditorium as “the Earwigs.” Only one member of the group – Glen Buxton – could actually play an instrument, so the others merely mimed to Beatles songs, rewritten as paeans to track-and-field. One of the better examples, “Please, Please Me,” opened with the line: “Last night, I ran four laps for my coach.” The rapturous response from the crowd propelled them into first place, persuading the “band” to seriously consider dumping their track cleats for guitars. “People complimented me the next day for having the guts to do it,” Cooper wrote in his memoir, “and girls started talking to me who never before would have anything to do with the skinny guy with the big nose from the track team. It stimulated my entertaining chemicals like never before. I got hooked on the limelight.”

Having purchased cheap instruments from a local pawnshop, the band changed their name to a different kind of insect – the Spiders. Over the next year they performed at small clubs around Phoenix, toting an enormous black spider web backdrop. Although the Fab Four had provided inspiration, their musical influences lay in the grittier, blues-oriented sounds of bands like the Yardbirds. “We weren’t interested that much in the Beatles, but we were more interested in Jeff Beck’s guitar sound like on ‘Happenings Ten Years Time Ago’ or the Pretty Things doing ‘I’m a Roadrunner,'” Cooper told Sounds magazine. “All those early, really rotten, raunchy things. [Like] the early Kinks when they sounded like they were gonna break your eardrums.”

By 1965 they had recorded their first single, “Why Don’t You Love Me” (originally done by an obscure English group called the Blackwells), backed with a cover of the Marvin Gaye hit, “Hitch Hike.” After graduating high school the following year, they released an additional song, an original called “Don’t Blow Your Mind,” which became a local hit. Emboldened by the success, they moved to Los Angeles in 1967 in pursuit of fame, renaming themselves the Nazz after the Yardbirds’ song, “The Nazz Are Blue.” Once they discovered that Todd Rundgren already had a band by that name, they chose a new name: Alice Cooper. 

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Grace Slick’s Sly Stone–Produced Experimental Rock Band the Great Society

The privileged daughter of an investment banker and descendant of Mayflower settlers, Grace Slick spent the early Sixties earning a living as a model at San Francisco’s I. Magin department store. “I was on the third floor, the couture department, wearing $10,000 dresses,” she recalled in a 2015 interview with Forbes. “You wear one, wander around. All the rich people come up and feel the material, ask how much it is, and then you go change.” The job brought in money while her husband, Gerald “Jerry” Slick, an aspiring filmmaker, studied at San Francisco State, but she found the work dull and uninspired. “Modeling is something you can do if you don’t know how to do anything else,” she drolly noted of her early career.

Jerry’s short films provided an outlet for some of Slick’s first songs, but she never seriously considered pursuing music until she saw the newly-formed Jefferson Airplane – then featuring vocalist Signe Toly Anderson – performing at the Matrix, a creative hive for the nascent psychedelic scene. “I went to see Jefferson Airplane play and I thought, ‘Gee, that’s way better. I could do that,'” she recalled. “My mom was a singer. They only have to work a couple of hours a night, can drink and hang out and hustle people. So I stopped modeling and formed a group with my husband and his brother [Darby] called the Great Society.” Their name was a sarcastic nod to President Johnson’s sweeping plans for liberal social reform, signaling their high-minded ideals. “It was way more interesting to sing rock & roll than to wander around changing clothes every 10 minutes.”

The band rehearsed throughout the early fall and developed a distinctive sound, fusing Indian modes and free-jazz experimentation with straight-ahead garage rock. Slick contributed a song called “White Rabbit,” owning debts to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and jazz pianist Gil Evans – plus LSD. “I took acid and listened to Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain album for 24 hours straight until it burned into my brain,” she once said of its genesis.

Following the Great Society’s debut at a North Beach coffee house that October, they scored a deal with a small independent label, Autumn Records. For their first single they were paired with a young producer named Sly Stewart (later known as Sly Stone) who rapidly grew frustrated by the 53 takes it required to complete the recording. The result, 1966’s “Someone to Love” backed by “Free Advice” was ignored outside of San Francisco. Despite their loyal local following Slick started to feel constrained by the group’s limitations. “She wanted to sing with a tighter band and better musicians,” Jerry said in Barbara Rowes’ Grace Slick: The Biography. “She wanted to work with other vocalists to weave intricate harmonies into the fabric of the songs.” Specifically, she wanted to work with Jefferson Airplane, which had evolved into the chief San Francisco group.

The feeling was mutual. Jefferson Airplane often shared a bill with the Great Society, and its members were aware of Slick’s immense talent. When Anderson opted to retire from performing in September 1966 to care for her newborn child, Airplane bassist Jack Casady approached Slick to see if she wanted to be their new singer. Intrigued by their major label deal with RCA, it didn’t take long for her to decide. Slick brought her operatic contralto, elegant good looks and forceful charisma to Jefferson Airplane, as well as two songs from her Great Society days. “Someone to Love” (retitled “Somebody to Love”) and “White Rabbit” would become the band’s first Top 10 hits on the national charts. 

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Michael Bolton’s Hard-Rocking Hair Band Black Jack

Though Michael Bolton began his recording career in 1968 at the age of 15 when his band, the Nomads, were signed to Epic Records, their singles stiffed and he spent most of the Seventies trying (and failing) to make it as a solo singer under his real name, Michael Bolotin. Encouraged by Steve Weiss, a legendary attorney who worked with Led Zeppelin and Bad Company, he set about putting together a new group. “Steve thought my new band should follow the pop-rock track taken by Foreigner and Journey,” Bolton wrote in his 2013 memoir, The Soul of It All. In 1978 he tapped Bruce Kulick, a guitarist who had just completed a recent tour with Meat Loaf promoting Bat Out of Hell. The pair began writing songs together, and recruited drummer Sandy Gennaro and bassist Jimmy Haslip. With Weiss as their manager, they signed to Polydor Records under the name Blackjack.

Impressed by their hard-driving songs and Bolton’s rock-radio–friendly rasp, the label had high hopes for the outfit and paired them with super-producer Tom Dowd (who had worked with Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Rod Stewart, the Eagles, Diana Ross and Otis Redding, among many others) at Miami’s Criteria Studios. Despite his astonishing track record, Dowd didn’t exactly see eye to eye with the band, and asked them to “take a little edge” off their sound. “He wanted us to turn down Bruce’s amp, declaring, ‘What do you think this is, Kiss?'” Bolton wrote in his memoir. “That was the sound Bruce was looking for and would fully realize several years later, when he became the lead guitarist for Kiss.”

The union was not a fruitful one. Blackjack’s self-titled 1979 debut only reached Number 127 on Billboard. Lead single “Without Your Love” floundered at Number 62, despite the help of an early music video showing a permed Bolton & Co. lip-syncing atop a skyscraper. Lackluster sales compelled the label to put their resources elsewhere, and the band spent much of the next year earning money by opening for other artists, including Peter Frampton and the Marshall Tucker Band. Reviewers (including one in Florida’s Lakeville Ledger) praised “the torchy vocals of frizzy-headed Michael Bolotin,” but the band never caught on. When their sophomore album, 1980’s Worlds Apart, was met with nearly total indifference, Blackjack folded.

Before embarking on his second, and far more successful, venture as a solo artist, Bolton may have attempted to join another band: Black Sabbath. According to Tony Iommi’s memoir, Bolton auditioned to fill the role recently vacated by Ronnie James Dio: “We had a million tapes sent in from different singers and most of them were horrible. One of them was from Michael Bolton. I didn’t know him at the time. We had Michael come in and we had him sing ‘Heaven and Hell,’ ‘War Pigs,’ and ‘Neon Knights.’ He was quite good, but he wasn’t exactly what we were looking for then.” Bolton, however, insists that this was just a rock myth. “We opened up for Ozzy Osbourne and really hard bands. But that rumor about me auditioning for Black Sabbath was only a rumor,” he said in 2014. “I don’t know how on earth it started.”

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Iggy Pop’s High-School Garage Band the Iguanas

Long before he was known as Iggy Pop, Jim Osterberg took his first musical steps as a teenager, taking up the drums after his friend Jim McLaughlin got a guitar. Together the two jammed informally on 12-bar blues and R&B hits of the day. “We practiced playing ‘What’d I Say’ by Ray Charles and something called ‘Let There Be Drums’ by Sandy Nelson, which was my idea because it was a drum solo,” Pop told Rolling Stone in 2016. In March 1962 they entered a talent show at the Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, performing as a proto–White Stripes drum-and-guitar duo that Pop dubbed “the Megaton Two.” Their two-song set – “Let There Be Drums” and a self-penned Duane Eddy–Chuck Berry amalgam – brought the young audience out of the seats and dancing in the aisles. This earned them the contempt of the teachers, but utmost admiration from the student body. “Immediately, y’know, I took a level up socially in my encounters in the hallways,” Pop later explained with a laugh. “The chicks were a little nicer and the guys were – ‘Hey, that was pretty cool, Osterberg.'”

After entering high school the following year, the pair augmented the group with sax player Sam Swisher, guitarist Nick Kolokithas, and bassist Don Swickerath. No longer a duo, the expanded band called themselves the Iguanas, named by Pop after “the coolest animal.” Landing gigs at school dances, frat parties and clubs around Ann Arbor, they climbed the ladder of local fame with a steady diet of British Invasion stompers. In 1965 they made the trip to Detroit’s United Sound Record Studio to record their only single, a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Mona.” The band clashed over the B side, opting for Kolokithas’ “I Don’t Know Why” over “Again and Again,” one first songs Pop ever wrote. A thousand copies were printed up on the band’s own label, Forte Records, and sold on the door at their gigs.

That summer the Iguanas were hired as the house band at Club Ponytail, a venue in the nearby resort of Harbor Springs, earning the princely sum of $55 each to open for headliners like the Four Tops, the Shangri-Las and the Kingsmen. However, according to Pop, their tenure came to an ignoble (and premature) end: “[I] started getting wild, grew my hair to my shoulders and dyed it platinum, got arrested and took my first mug shot. Got fired from the Ponytail.” He left the band the following year – joining the Prime Movers before eventually settling in the Stooges – but the Iguanas provided crucial part of Pop’s legacy: the nickname Iggy.  

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Duane and Gregg Allman’s Ill-Fated Psychedelic Soul Outfit the Hour Glass

Thirteen-year-old Gregg Allman spent the summer of 1960 working as a paperboy, using the $21 he saved to purchase his first guitar, a Silvertone from Sears. Before long he had “proceeded to wear that son of a bitch out. I wouldn’t eat or sleep or drink or anything. Just play that damn guitar.” His older brother Duane also became fascinated with the instrument, leading to some tension in their Daytona, Florida, household. “Pretty soon we had fights over the damn thing,” Gregg told Rolling Stone in 1973. “So when it came around to our birthdays – mine was in December and his was in November – we both got one.” Duane dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and music became his all consuming passion. Together they spent the early Sixties playing in local groups with names like the Shufflers and the Y-Teens. Their first proper band, the Escorts, played Top 40 hits and R&B at local clubs – even opening for the Beach Boys – and recorded a demo in the back of an old cottage on Ormond Beach.

Following Gregg’s high school graduation in 1965, the group changed their name to the Allman Joys and hit the road, playing six straight sets, seven nights a week throughout the Southeast. “We had our own sound system, amps and a fucking station wagon,” Gregg recalled. “Big time. Our first gig was in Mobile, at a place called the Stork Club. Boy, it was a nasty fucking place. I was homesick and the band had broken up about 14 times before we got there.” After their multi-week residency, they moved on to Pensacola, Florida; Nashville; St. Louis; and beyond. According to Gregg, “We would rehearse every day in the club, go have lunch, rehearse some more, go home and take a shower, then go to the gig. Sometimes we would rehearse after we got home from the gig too, just get out the acoustics and play. The next day, we’d go have breakfast, go rehearse, and do it all over again. We rehearsed constantly.”

Their gigging earned them label attention, and in 1966 the Allman Joys recorded material for Dial Records, including a single, which Gregg later described as a “terrible psychedelic” version of Willie Dixon’s “Spoonful.” Despite the song’s dismal chart performance, the band was persuaded to travel to Los Angeles the following year to chase national stardom. Signed to Liberty Records, the label rebranded them as the Hour Glass – “a pendulum of psychedelic and soul” according to the liner notes of their debut – and cherry-picked songs for them to record. While these included tracks by the likes of Carole King and Jackson Browne, the commercial pop makeover didn’t suit the Allmans. “We were misled,” Duane later said. They released a pair of albums, which Gregg later referred to as “a shit sandwich.”

Effectively broke after the records didn’t sell, the Allmans were despondent. “Duane got fed up and when my brother got fed up, he got fed up,” remembered Gregg. “‘Fuck this,’ he kept yelling. ‘Fuck this whole thing. Fuck wearing these weird clothes. Fuck playing this goddamn ‘In a Gadda-da-Vida’ shit. Fuck it all!'” By 1968 the elder Allman left town, venturing to the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to try his hand as a session man. While Gregg remained out west to fulfill contractual obligations to Liberty, Duane set about sowing the seeds of what became the Allman Brothers Band. In March of 1969, Gregg drove east to rejoin his brother in this new venture, remembering it as “one of the finer days in my life. I was starting to feel like I belonged to something again.”

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Brian May and Roger Taylor’s Sixties Power Trio Smile

In the fall of 1968, Imperial College classmates Brian May and Tim Staffell placed an ad on the student notice board looking for a “Ginger Baker–type” drummer to join a new group, formed from the ashes May’s previous endeavor, 1984. Roger Taylor, freshly arrived in London to study dentistry, answered the call. The former leader of an R&B combo called the Reaction in his native Cornwall, he immediately impressed the pair. “We thought he was the best drummer we had ever seen,” May later said. “I watched him tuning a snare – something I’d never seen done before – and I remember thinking how professional he looked.”

They tapped an Ealing Art School student named Chris Smith to play keyboards, and in the peaceful and loving spirit of the times they dubbed themselves Smile. “Smile was really a semi-professional outfit. We had not made the big jump to go professional. I guess we couldn’t because we were all still at college,” May reflected in the documentary, Champions of the World. They made their debut on October 26th opening for Pink Floyd (or the Troggs, in Smith’s recollection) at Imperial College, and soon became the unofficial support act for visiting headliners. “Mostly we were playing adaptations of other people’s material,” said May. “We did a heavy version of ‘If I Were a Carpenter’ and a lot of more or less pure jamming where we’d start off with a riff and build on that. I think we did a couple of adaptations of Motown things, and we did a couple of Cream songs like ‘N.S.U.'”

Smith was displeased by the band’s song choice, which veered too far from the purity of American blues for his tastes, and by February 1969 they had agreed to part company. They remained friendly enough for Smith to bring along his art-school friend, Freddie Bulsara, to watch the newly minted power trio. Bulsara was immediately smitten with the group and desperately wanted to join. He took to offering his unprompted, and often very strong, opinions. “In my mind’s eye I remember him very much dressed like a rock star,” May says of his first impression of the future Freddie Mercury. “But the kind of rock star you hadn’t seen before – really androgynous. He was flicking a pompom around and being very flippant, saying, ‘Yes, it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, but … why don’t you present the show better? Why don’t you dress like this?’ He was very full-on from the beginning.” Instead, Bulsara bided his time in short-lived bands like Ibex (later called Wreckage) and Sour Milk Sea.

Smile rose through London’s rock ranks, playing at the exclusive Speakeasy club, and even a fundraising gig at the Royal Albert Hall (where Queen’s post-Mercury vocalist Paul Rodgers opened with a nascent Free). Eventually they were given a one-off recording contract with Mercury Records, affording them a chance to record three songs at SoHo’s Trident Studios that June. Staffell’s “Earth,” a folky sci-fi rock song distantly related to David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” was marked for release as a single, while “Step on Me,” an old one of May’s from his time in 1984, was the flip. Issued only in the United States, it sank without a trace. Though it would surface in a reworked form on Queen’s debut album, the third song from the Trident sessions, a May/Staffell collaboration called “Doin’ Alright” was due to remain in the vault. So were three additional songs recorded that September at De Lane Lea Studios.

Staffell left the band in the summer of 1970, and Smile began to circle the drain. May and Taylor welcomed the newly renamed Mercury into the group and on July 18th, 1970, at Imperial College, they played for the first time as Queen. 

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Future Doors Members’ Surf-Rock Band Rick and the Ravens

The otherworldly jazz-rock of the Doors had significantly more earthbound beginnings in Rick and the Ravens, a Santa Monica bar band specializing in surf and blues. The group was fronted by Ray Manczarek (as he spelled it then), who assumed the persona of “Screamin’ Ray Daniels, the Bearded Blues Shouter.” Together with brothers Rick on guitar and Jim on organ and harmonica, as well as other assorted school friends, he spent early 1965 playing regular weekend gigs at the Turkey Joint West, a dive for “swingin’ young people” located just blocks from the beach. “We didn’t know what we were doing. We were just having fun,” Manzarek recalled later.

Rick and the Ravens were often visited at the Turkey Joint by Manzarek’s UCLA film school classmates, including a young Jim Morrison – who was already displaying a penchant for booze. “When Jim got loose he would shout out song titles at the band, mainly ‘Louie Louie,'” Manzarek wrote in his memoir, Light My Fire. “We could always hear him barking from the back of the room.” One night Manzarek decided to teach his drunken friend a lesson. Leaning into the mic, “Screamin’ Ray” invited Morrison onto the stage to help him sing a “special version” of the Kingsmen classic. Though he’d never sung for an audience, Morrison wasn’t one to back down from a challenge. “Jim let out a blood-curdling war whoop, and the Turkey Joint West went Dionysian,” he continued. “The fucking place exploded! He was good. And he loved it. He hopped around and sang himself hoarse.”

For a time, Morrison’s drunken stint as a frontman seemed destined to be a one-off event. Upon graduating UCLA in May 1965, he planned to move to New York, leaving Manzarek to seek his fortune as an aspiring filmmaker when he wasn’t playing the Bearded Soul Shouter. Ultimately the future Lizard King decided to stay on the West Coast, and one day that July he bumped into Manzarek while strolling Venice Beach. It was a meeting that would change both their lives forever. “I said, ‘Well, what have you been up to?'” Manzarek told NPR’s Fresh Air in 1998. “And he said, ‘Well, I’ve been living up on Dennis Jacobs’ rooftop, consuming a bit of LSD and writing songs.'” After some convincing, he persuaded the shy Morrison to sing him one. “He began to sing ‘Moonlight Drive,’ and when I heard that first stanza – ‘Let’s swim to the moon, let’s climb through the tide, penetrate the evening that the city sleeps to hide’ – I thought, ‘Ooh, spooky and cool, man.'” Then and there, they decided to start a band.

With their passé name and tired sound, Rick and Ravens were far from the ideal vehicle for Morrison’s far-out lyrics, but Manzarek was in no position to be picky. The group had previously released three promo singles – “Soul Train,” “Henrietta,” and “Big Bucket T” – on Aura Records, a subsidiary label of World Pacific. The tunes had tanked and by the late summer the group were, in Manzarek’s estimation, “going nowhere. Nothing was happening. No record sales, no gigs. Dissent descended on the Ravens.” The rhythm section had departed and the remaining members were not especially receptive to Morrison’s mysterious poetry, which they viewed as the height of pretension.

Sensing Manzarek’s existential malaise, the label’s ultra-hip chief, Dick Bock, suggested he take a class on transcendental meditation. It was there that Manzarek first crossed paths with a drummer named John Densmore, who was welcomed into the fold. Though they owed Aura Records one more single, Manzarek convinced Bock to let the newly outfitted Rick and the Ravens cut a demo disc instead. On September 2nd, Morrison, Densmore, Manzarek, his brothers and a bassist named Patricia “Pat” Hansen spent three hours cutting six original tracks: “Moonlight Drive, “My Eyes Have Seen You,” “Summer’s Almost Gone,” “Hello I Love You,” “Go Insane” and “End of the Night.” While the compositions were undoubtedly strong, the execution felt lackluster, weak, almost timid. Record execs agreed, and a discouraged Rick and Jim Manzarek quit both the band and the music business that autumn. In their place Manzarek recruited another acquaintance from meditation class, a guitarist named Robbie Krieger. He had briefly played with Densmore in a band called the Psychedelic Rangers, and this new group would also draw inspiration from mind expansion. Taking a cue from a William Blake line (by way of Aldous Huxley) they called themselves the Doors. 

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Debbie Harry’s Sixties Psych-Folk Group the Wind in the Willows

The future Blondie frontwoman doesn’t exactly think highly of her earliest recording efforts with the spaced-out, folky collective named for Kenneth Grahame’s 1908 children’s classic. Reexamining kid-lit through an acid-tinged lens may have been a crucial pillar of English psychedelia, but such preciousness was doomed to fail in 1967 New York City. “It was pretty awful. That was baroque folk-rock,” Harry later said. “I didn’t have anything to do with the music then. I was just a back-up singer.”

The Wind in the Willows was largely the vision of singer Paul Klein, who was married to one of Harry’s school friends. Klein happened to live on the same 7th Street block as music journalist (and future “Dean of Rock Critics”) Robert Christgau, who helped introduce them to a manager, which led to a recording contract with Capitol Records. Their self-titled debut was released to little fanfare in 1968. “A sweet, saccharine kind of thing,” Harry described in the book Blondie: Parallel Lives. “I wasn’t really a writer on that. That record is very childlike to me. I didn’t have a great deal of input. I was a backup singer doing high harmonies with the lead singer. It was his trip. He envisioned himself as this folk guy with a teddy bear aspect.” When asked a decade later if the record could be classified as “easy listening,” she offered a different term: “depressing listening.”

The public agreed, and the album failed to manager more than a feeble Number 195 on the Billboard charts. While their producer, Artie Kornfeld, met with greater success the following year when he co-organized a festival in upstate New York that would become known as Woodstock, the Wind in the Willows were dead on arrival. A second album was recorded, which reportedly featured more of Harry’s vocals, but the tapes went missing and it has yet to surface. Harry made her exit from the band soon after. “I wasn’t turned by the music anymore. I thought we should make certain changes, but Paul didn’t agree, so I told them I was leaving,” she recalled.

In the early Seventies she joined a group called the Stilettoes with guitarist Chris Stein. Within a few years she and Stein departed to form a new band, Angel and the Snake, which later became known as Blondie. 

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Ronnie James Dio’s Dreamy Fifties Pop Group the Vegas Kings

As a high school student in Cortland, New York, Ronnie James Dio (then still known as Ronald James Padavona) formed his first band, the Vegas Kings, in 1957, featuring himself on bass and trumpet. “I started playing the trumpet when I was five years old, which was great training for me as a singer,” he explained to Extreme magazine. “It taught me the correct way to do it, because I’ve not taken singing lessons from anyone.” For strictly practical reasons, he quickly assumed the bulk of the group’s vocal duties. “No one else wanted the job,” he later admitted. “It wasn’t my plan at all to lead the band.”

After a spell as the Vegas Kings, the friends changed their name to Ronnie and the Rumblers – named after their favorite Duane Eddy song, “Rumble,” which became their theme tune. They filled weekends performing at local dances and American Legion Halls, but in 1958 they had the chance to play a much larger hall in nearby Johnson City. However, organizers were nervous about their name. “Rumbling” in the Fifties was slang for fighting, so the group quickly transformed into Ronnie and the Red Caps. It was this name that appeared on their debut single that year, a Ventures-style instrumental called “Conquest.” They followed it up with “An Angel is Missing,” backed with a cover of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say.” It was this record that first bore the surname “Dio,” though how he came to chose it remains the source of speculation. Some believe that it was a nod to his Italian grandmother, who always said he was a gift from the heavens (“Dio” being Italian for God), but Dio’s widow has disputed this. Others have theorized that it was a tribute to infamous mobster Johnny Dio.

Throughout the early sixties the group released a string of singles as Ronnie Dio and the Prophets, and even a live album purportedly recorded at a pizza shop called as Dio at Domino’s – featuring covers ranging from “Great Balls of Fire” to Tony Bennett’s “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” In addition to the his work with the band, Dio released a number of extracurricular singles in a baffling array of styles, trying to see which musical mask might launch his career as a solo artist. “Mr. Misery,” a heavenly 1963 tune complete with angelic choir, is a gentle teen lover’s lament that would have done Ricky Nelson proud. Two years later, “Smiling by Day (Crying by Night)” sees Dio doing a killer John Lennon impression with a hard driving garage stomper, whereas the B side – “Dear Darlin’ (I Won’t Be Coming Home)” is a less convincing pastiche of Nashville shuffles, punctuated by Floyd Cramer–style honky tonk fills. “[We] tried everything with Ronnie,” his manager at the time, Jim Pantas, later said. “However we tried to position him, it didn’t come off.”

By 1967, the Prophets had morphed into a group called the Electric Elves, later shortened to just Elf, which would see Dio jettison his teen idol ambitions in favor of heavy-metal immortality. 

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Dusty Springfield’s Early-Sixties “Family” Folk Trio the Springfields

A teenage Dusty Springfield – then known as Mary O’Brien – began her musical career alongside her older brother Dion in the family’s garage before graduating to the London supper club circuit. In 1958 she answered a classified ad in a trade paper for an “established sister act” seeking another singer. Having passed her audition, she became the newest member of the Lana Sisters – not actually related – a sugary pop vocal trio in the mold of the Andrews Sisters. They released a string of middling singles, but television appearances and stints as openers for artists like Nat “King” Cole, Guy Mitchell, and Cliff Richard brought them notoriety. By 1960 the Lana Sisters earned the dubious honor of being named the “Seventh Favorite Female Vocal Group” in Melody Maker, but O’Brien was becoming disenchanted by their outdated act. She left the group later that year, straining relationships with her ex-bandmates in the process. “I hated it when they implied that I was letting them down, but I had to move on,” she later explained. “Sometimes you have to let people down in order to get on, particularly in show business.”

She rejoined her brother Dion and his friend Tim Feild, who had been performing as a duo called the Kensington Squares. Taking inspiration from folk groups like the Weavers, and Peter, Paul and Mary, they incorporated Dion’s skills as a writer/arranger, O’Brien’s powerful voice, and their shared love of world music. An alfresco rehearsal in a Somerset field one spring day inspired the trio’s name: the Springfields. To complete the transformation into this fictitious family, Dion became Tom and O’Brien became Dusty.

Striking the right balance of acoustic folk and cheery pop, the group quickly became one of the best-selling acts in the U.K., scoring chart entries with “Breakaway” and “Bambino.” Even after Feild’s departure in 1962 (Mike Hurst would take his place) their run of hits continued with “Island of Dreams” and “Say I Won’t Be There,” in addition to their own BBC TV music series. “The Springfields happened at the right time,” Dusty Springfield told Rolling Stone in 1973. “We were an extraordinary mixture of pseudo-country, folk … indescribable, I would put it. There were two guitars and me, in the middle, trying to find room to move my arms. I felt like I was directing traffic.”

Their version of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” cracked the Top 20 in the United States, becoming the first single by a British group to ever do so. The achievement earned them an invitation to travel to Nashville to record an album with veteran producer Shelby Singleton. It was while passing through New York City in 1962 that O’Brien first became exposed to the sound of American R&B groups. “I was deeply influenced by black singers from the early Sixties,” she recalled. “I liked everybody at Motown and most of the Stax artists. I really wanted to be Mavis Staples. What they shared in common was a kind of strength I didn’t hear on English radio.”

Feeling hemmed in by their folky good-time image, O’Brien decided to go solo as Dusty Springfield, and the group split in late 1963. For all the stardom and heartache that was to follow in her tumultuous life, she always maintained uncharacteristically fond memories of her time in the trio: “We’d had such fun being the Springfields, ever since that idyllic sunny day when it all began.”  

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Peter Frampton’s Teen-Idol Pop Group the Herd

Somewhat of a rock prodigy, Frampton got his start at age 12 in the early Sixties playing in a band called the Little Ravens at Bromley Technical School, where his father taught art to fellow student David Bowie. After a brief stint in a group called the Trubeats, he played in a band called the Preachers, produced and managed by Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman. But by 1965 he set his sights on a local group called the Herd, who had a large local fan base and a handful of unsuccessful Parlophone singles under their belt. “I used to come see them play when I was aged 15, way before I joined,” Frampton said in a 2006 interview. “They were the number one beat group in West Wickham and I got to know them by being the precocious pest that hung around saying, ‘I can play guitar.'” When vocalist Terry Clark left the following year, they invited him to join. Frampton eagerly accepted, much to the chagrin of his parents, who, in a tale as old as time, urged him to pursue his college studies.

Early in Frampton’s tenure, the band hired the songwriting partnership Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley, who had penned a succession of hits for the British pop collective Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. The duo provided the Herd with a selection of heavily orchestrated, high concept singles steeped in sanitized flower power. In August 1967, the band scored a hit with “From the Underworld,” perhaps the first chart entry inspired by the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.

The song’s commercial success was a mixed blessing, publically casting them as a bubblegum band unworthy of serious consideration in rock’s coterie of cool. “Ken and Alan were wonderful songwriters. They helped us get a record deal and we weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. But it wasn’t everything that we wished for,” Frampton said. “We were a much more musical outfit and yet we were becoming a pop group.” Frampton’s status as “The Face of ’68” in the trade rag Disc rankled many in the band, who resented that the singer’s good looks were eclipsing the music. They continued to release a string of singles – including 1968’s excellent uptempo gem “I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die” – and a full-length album, but the failure of the self-penned “Sunshine Cottage” further soured Frampton on the group. Frustrated by his unwanted journey into teen-idol–dom, he left the band by the end of 1968 to form an altogether harder outfit, Humble Pie, with Steve Marriott. 

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Lemmy’s Costumed Sixties Band the Rockin’ Vickers

Lemmy Kilmister may not seem like man of the cloth, but the Motörhead frontman spent much of the Sixties donning a priest’s collar as a member of the Rockin’ Vickers. “My old man would have hated it, seeing me in a band that – shock, horror – took the piss out of being a vicar,” he later told author Mick Wall. “At the same time he’d probably have loved seeing me having to wear a fucking vicar’s dog collar onstage.” His interest in rock & roll began young – he once hitchhiked to Liverpool at age 16 to catch one of the Beatles’ Cavern sets – and his tenure in low-profile Manchester bands like the Rainmakers and then the Motown Sect prepared him well for his invitation to join the comparatively professional Vickers in 1965. Initially a covers band working the cabaret circuit along the Blackpool pier, they had released a single, “I Go Ape,” which met with scattershot success on the European mainland.

“He was a fan of our band before joining forces with our two road managers and setting our gear up for us,” bandmate Harry Feeney told Wall. “We didn’t pay him a wage, we just fed him and kept him. Then the band had a big bust-up and we were left with only three of us. Lemmy turned round and said, ‘I can do this,’ and he got onstage and he was brilliant.” The group played to 10,000-seat arenas in Finland and, according the legend, were the first rock band to break through the Iron Curtain following an offer to play Yugoslavia as part of a cultural exchange program.

The band secured a recording contract with producer Shel Talmy, famous for working with the Who and the Kinks (plus a young David Bowie). Perhaps because of this, the Rockin’ Vickers’ next two singles owed a serious debt to the two bands. “It’s Alright” was such a blatant steal of the Who’s “The Kids Are Alright” that Pete Townshend apparently threatened to sue (though Lemmy says the Who became “great mates” during his Motörhead days), and their follow up single was a cover of Ray Davies’ “Dandy.” It didn’t chart in their native country, but Lemmy insisted they were living large from live bookings. “We didn’t have hit records but you didn’t need ’em. We were making, in those days, quite a lot of money. We had this big house we lived in and three fucking Jaguars and a speedboat on Lake Windermere. We used to go water-skiing. That was the heyday, if you ask me.”

By 1967 Lemmy decided wanted to get a piece of the London action and subsequently quit the band. He shared a room with Noel Redding, and briefly served as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, but within a few years he’d be topping the bill himself – first in the psych rock band Sam Gopal, then Hawkwind and finally Motörhead. 

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Bon Scott’s Australian Teen-Pop Band the Valentines

AC/DC’s manager Michael Browning once described the Valentines as “a satin-clad, bell-bottom–wearing teeny-bop band.” In other words, not the kind of group in which you’d expect to find Bon Scott. But the future metal god spent the late Sixties as a co-frontman of the Perth-based pop group, sharing the spotlight with singer Vince Lovegrove. Formed in 1966, the Valentines were a fusion of Scott’s first band, the Spektors, and Lovegrove’s the Winstons. Scoring their first local chart entry with a cover of Arthur Alexander’s “Every Day I Have to Cry,” the band capitalized on their success by recording a number of songs co-written by George Young and Henry Vanda – previously members of the Aussie rock outfit the Easybeats and future AC/DC producers.

Moving to Melbourne by the end of 1967 to pursue national fame, the group became an in-demand act on the touring circuit, drawing hoards of teenage girls eager to get a look at the twin heartthrobs out front. Even at this early stage, Scott was not suited to the life of a teen idol. His friend, former AC/DC bassist Mark Evans, recalled seeing the uneasy truce between Bon Scott the Rock Outlaw and Bon Scott the Pop Star in his book, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside AC/DC. “I was sitting in front of the PA on the side of the stage and I could see him disappear into the wings during solos and after songs to slug from a bottle of Johnnie Walker,” he writes. “As the set progressed he built up a descent sweat and I could see something strange going on under the sheer chiffon sleeves. Tattoos were starting to appear – he had tried to hide them with makeup but the sweat was making it run. The guy was turning into Bon Scott before my eyes.”

As tastes shifted from lightweight pop towards heavier rock cuts by the end of the decade, the Valentines struggled to shed their image and their popularity waned. They promoted their 1968 single “Peculiar Hole in the Sky” with an advertisement bearing the comically desperate copy: “Please buy a copy – we’re starving.” It was barely a joke, as the group had taken to sneaking bites in the middle of supermarket aisles while on tour. “We were very poor, almost starving, driving down the highways, absorbed with rock ‘n’ roll, stealing people’s front door milk money … living on boiled potatoes, the dreams of success our mantra,” Lovegrove later wrote of those difficult days. “[But] when he sang, Bon took off into charisma-land.”

Their circumstances deteriorated further on September 20th, 1969, when authorities raided the group’s lodgings at the Jan Juc Surf Life Saving Club and discovered marijuana. The legal repercussions of this, the first major rock & roll drug bust in Australian history, exacerbated personality clashes within the band. “Bon and I have often come really close to punching the shit out of each other,” Lovegrove told Go-Set that same year. Even worse, the music wasn’t selling. The failure of their February 1970 single, “Juliette,” sealed the band’s fate. 

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Carole King’s Progressive Folk Trio the City

Though Carole King’s status as one of pop’s premier melodists was still strong, by 1967 her marriage to songwriting partner Gerry Goffin was in a state of collapse. Desperate to start over, she took her two daughters and went West – trading New York City’s industrial-style songwriting factories for the comparatively laid-back and groovy Los Angeles clique. “Southern California was the center of everything fresh, young, and current,” King recalled in her memoir, A Natural Woman. “The beautiful people, the gorgeous weather, the burgeoning music scene, and the free and easy lifestyle were a siren call.” She settled in Laurel Canyon, a bucolic artists’ enclave inhabited by the hippest musicians in town, and soon fell in with two other NYC transplants: bassist Charles Larkey and guitarist Danny Kortchmar.

Larkey, who would later become King’s second husband, had been a member of a pop-rock group called the Myddle Class, which were signed to Goffin and King’s label imprint, Tomorrow Records. Following the dissolution of the band, he joined Kortchmar in the provocative proto-punk collective known as the Fugs. Kortchmar, known far and wide as “Kootch,” was also a veteran of the Flying Machine, fronted by a talented singer named James Taylor. Both Larkey and Kortchmar had migrated to Los Angeles to seek their fortune, but so far fame proved elusive. To stay sharp they practiced at King’s Wonderland Avenue home, running through old Goffin-King numbers in addition to fresh compositions she had written with new collaborators, Toni Stern and David Palmer. For King, whose confidence as a performer lagged far behind her confidence as a songwriter, these loose sessions were a revelation. “Playing with Charlie and Danny was not only fun, it greatly enhanced my jamming skills,” she later wrote. “As the number of licks in my kit bag went up, so did my confidence and understanding of jazz. And Kootch had a gift for exhorting other musicians to play, write and sing beyond what they believed was the edge of their ability.”

King’s track record as a recording artist in her own right was sparse, but Kortchmar and Larkey persuaded her to venture into the studio and cut an album of these new songs. As a nod to their shared East Coast heritage, the trio decided to call themselves the City. “Even though we had a group name, this was Carole’s record all the way,” Kortchmar wrote in 1999. “She would sing or play parts to Charlie and me, and once we got it right, we could hear how great this record was going to be.” For a producer King approached her friend Lou Adler, a onetime songwriter who had graduated into full-blown impresario by producing hits for the Mamas and the Papas, Scott McKenzie, and Barry McGuire on his own labels, Dunhill and, later, Ode Records. With Adler on board, they augmented their lineup with pro session drummer Jim Gordon, later to serve Eric Clapton in Derek & the Dominos.

The 12-tracks that make up Now That Everything’s Been Said, the City’s sole release, are a bridge between the precision pop assembly line that King was leaving behind, and the highly personal singer-songwriter era she would define in the early Seventies with her seminal 1971 LP Tapestry. The centerpiece is the ethereal “Snow Queen,” coupling King’s earthy voice with spacey instrumental arrangements and Gordon’s jazz rhythms. But changing times didn’t diminish her skill at crafting hits; the jaunty gospel of “That Old Sweet Roll (Hi-De-Ho)” would reach the Top 20 in 1970 with Blood Sweat and Tears, the Byrds’ version of “Wasn’t Born to Follow” was a highlight of the soundtrack to the film Easy Rider, and the Monkees later delivered a stirring cover of “A Man Without a Dream.”

Despite the strength of the songs, and significant industry attention, the album didn’t sell. “I was 26 when Now That Everything’s Been Said was released in 1968,” King wrote in A Natural Woman. “[We] expected it to zoom to the top of the charts within, at most, a few weeks. Individually and together, we optimistically imagined the album’s success as if it had already happened. Danny and Charlie kept telling each other, ‘It’s a great album. The City is gonna be Number 1 with a bullet!’ The album didn’t get above 500 with an anchor. It never even charted.” King has since admitted that her reluctance to tour due to extreme stage fright may have doomed the record, although label distribution snafus likely didn’t help matters. For decades the disc remained out of print, largely at King’s request. The City would not issue another album, but the project would embolden her confidence and cement the creative relationships that helped pave the way for her reinvention as a solo artist. 

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Sammy Hagar’s Sunshine-Pop Duo Samson & Hagar

Little appears to be known about this unusual early chapter in the Red Rocker’s history. After fronting a Southern California band called the Fabulous Castilles (not to be confused with the similarly named group featuring a young Bruce Springsteen), Hagar joined forces with fellow vocalist Pete Samson in 1967. Together they recorded the self-penned song, “Reach Out to Find Me” (backed by Samson’s “Read My Thoughts”) for Ranwood Records. For a backing band, producer Dan Dalton called in the Peppermint Trolley Company, thus melding the future Van Halen shouter with the voices behind the Brady Bunch theme song.The single’s chart failure later that year spelled the end for the short-lived duo. Hagar continued performing in a pack of other SoCal groups – the Johnny Fortune Band and also the Justice Brothers among them – before achieving mainstream recognition in the hard-rocking early Seventies outfit Montrose. 

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The Cars’ Ric Ocasek and Benjamin Orr’s Mellow Early-Seventies Trio Milkwood

The future brain trust behind 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Cars first crossed paths in Cleveland back in the mid-Sixties, after Ocasek saw Orr performing with his group, the Grasshoppers, on a local television program. They soon became close, playing both as a duo and in bands at local venues across Columbia, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, before winding up in Boston. While there they teamed up with guitarist Jas Goodkind to form Milkwood, a laid-back vocal trio in the Crosby, Stills and Nash mold. The group’s honey-soaked harmonies and gentle acoustic picking caught the attention of audiences throughout the Cambridge club circuit. “We were playing around town and somebody asked us if we wanted to make a record,” Ocasek told Rolling Stone in 1979. “In two weeks we recorded that Milkwood thing.”

Work on what would prove to be the band’s one and only album took place at Aengus Studios in Fayville, Massachusetts. The sessions marked the first collaboration with future Car Greg Hawkes, who played saxophone and provided brass arrangements. “He had the simplicity concept,” Ocasek later said, “but he wasn’t afraid to do interesting things. I knew he’d be the keyboard player I wanted.”

Ten original songs by Ocasek and Orr (credited to their real names, Otcasek and Orzechowski) were released on Paramount Records in 1973 as How’s the Weather. The comically banal title gives some impression of the overall sound of the album, which is mellow to the point of narcolepsy. The wistful, confessional singer-songwriter material, flecked with the occasional “jazz-odyssey” breakdown, is light years away from the robotic New Wave anthems that would make the Cars famous later in the decade. The record-buying public, presumably believing that one CSN was enough, stayed away and the album sank without a trace. 

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