Last week, I picked up a wonderful publication entitled “Dumb Angel Gazette#4- All Summer Long” published by Neptune’s Kingdom Press. Like previous issues of the Dumb Gazzette, this is a wonderful celebration of Los Angeles surf music, written mostly by Domenic Priore, who’s best known for an extensive documentation of SMILE, the once-lost album by Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, Dominique’s rather excellent publication on this project may have been the one single thing that helped elevate public consciousness of this project to the point where Brian Wilson actually felt comfortable enough to return to his creation. At least, that’s my theory, and I applaud Domenic for keeping the fires of interest alive.
Anyways, this latest Dumb Angel is another great labor of love, this time focusing on, but not limited to other great purveyors of Los Angeles surf music as Dick Dale, Jan Berry, and the late Steve Douglas. This entire publication is really a treat for the eyes, as something of a full-color scrapbook of memorabilia, showcasing a lot of beautiful archival photos of the bands, original handbills, album covers, lovely tiki girls, and really fun vintage advertising. Brian Chidester serves as editor-in-chief/publisher of Dumb Angel, while the magazine’s original founder, Domenic Priore, continues as co-editor. You can find more information about this publication by going to the official Dumb Angel Magazine website.
The one thing that really caught my eye in this publication was a prominent mention of the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim, California. Just a few miles from Disneyland, this once popular nightclub was the site for a lot of amazing musical history. The Dumb Angel Gazzette mentions that this club was one of the two main spots in the greater Los Angeles area in the early 1960’s where Dick Dale held court with an ongoing rivalry with Eddie Bertrand, who used the Retail Clerks Hall as his headquarters in the quest for regional music domination.
The Harmony Park Ballroom also happened to be the site where Richard Berry wrote “LOUIE LOUIE” in 1955. Within 2 years, this song would be released on the FLIP record label, and just down the street, Disneyland would open it’s doors for the public, changing the world itself in a very bold manner. Even though Richard Berry and Dick Dale had very different styles of music, the Rillera Brothers’ Rhythm Rockers provided back-up music for both musicians as the house band for the Harmony Park Ballroom. Sometime between 1965 and 1990, the club shut down, and the building became an area for antique dealers to sell their wares.
As I don’t live in the Los Angeles area, it was hard to keep up with all the developments in the region. At one point during production in the early-mid 1990’s, I tried to talk Richard Berry into walking around the building that used to be the Harmony Park Ballroom, but it was difficult to coordinate our schedules during my visits to the area. We came very close to shooting a segment around the time when I was in Anaheim to see the “Rock Bottom Remainders” (Stephen King, Dave Marsh, Amy Tan, Matt Groening, Dave Berry, Kathy Kamen Goldmark, etc) do their show at the big ABA convention, but we never quite got it together.
During the summer of 1995, I figured it would be a perfect time to do that segment with Richard Berry at the Harmony Park Ballroom location. I had just finished a segment with Dick Dale at his 29 Palms ranch, thanks to my friend James MacLeod who arranged something in conjunction with his own documentary. I figured it would be a perfect time to pull all the pieces together for what would probably be a great segment. Then, I discovered the sad news….. the Harmony Park Ballroom had been bulldozed.
Despite all efforts to save this building, it fell victim to urban re-development. Not even a prominent mention in a book on musical landmarks by Art Fein could stop the destruction of this neglected icon. 1514 Broadway had become a vacant lot. I have no idea what it is in the 10 years since I was last there, as I never bothered to return to the site. For all I know, it may even be just another faceless strip mall…
Over the years, there have been some interesting points where LOUIE LOUIE and surf music have merged into some entertaining unions. There have been surf versions of the song by the Beach Boys, the Ventures, the Surfaris, and the Challengers, to name but a few, but none had the unique background as the band from San Jose, California known as The Shockwaves.
Jeff “Stretch” Riedle, the original drummer for the Shockwaves, was the man responsible for inspiring the LOUIE LOUIE marathon that was heard arround the world. It was a late night shift at college radio station KFJC in Los Altos Hills, CA that led to a one and a half hour chunk of music of nothing but “LOUIE LOUIE.” As I mentioned in a previous posting, Stretch linked up with fellow disc jockey Phil Dirt to create the world’s ambitious LOUIE LOUIE radio marathon.
Not long after this marathon, Stretch linked up with some musicians to form a surf band that would be known as The Shockwaves. His friend Phil Dirt, who regularly played surf music as part of his Saturday night radio shift, became the manager of the band. When Rhino Records decided to release a second volume of “The Best of LOUIE LOUIE,” the Shockwaves provided their own version of the song, entitled “Surfing Louie.”
The big event for the band was backing up Richard Berry when he was the guest of honor at the first LOUIE LOUIE parade of San Francisco on May 2, 1988, sponsored by the Leukemia Society of America and KFOG Radio. For the first time ever, Richard Berry was backed by a surf band, bringing the marriage of LOUIE LOUIE and surf music to full consummation.
In the years since this event, the Shockwaves broke up, Stretch and Phil had a falling out, and Richard Berry passed away in 1997.
Luckily, there are such things as a happy ending. While we cannot bring Richard Berry back to the land of the living, and the Harmony Park Ballroom no longer exists, I’m pleased to announce that the Shockwaves will be reuniting onstage tomorrow night for a special event commemorating Phil Dirt’s retirement from KFJC radio. The original members of the Shockwaves- Jeff Riedle, Randy Hyden, Joe Kelly and Jon Kohlman will be getting together one more time to celebrate their old friend Phil Dirt.
The Brookdale Lodge on Saturday, October 22nd will be the site for an amazing show with a lot of great bands. Be there, or read about it later….
Get more information about this show at the Pollo Del Mar page, the Brookdale Lodge page, or Phil Dirt’s own ReverbCentral page.