Let me back up for just a second. Let me tell ya how it came to me. Here's a quotation . . .
"So listen, man . . . Paul Johnson (who played his song "Mr. Moto" at the Rendezvous with his band, the Belairs) once told me this . . . are you ready? Paul Johnson said to me, 'You know Domenic, this whole California Myth thing . . . it's really neat and compelling and all. But the truth is always more bizarre and interesting.'"
Balboa Peninsula boardwalk and beach, featuring summer teen fashions from the mid-'60s — Balboa Pavilion in the background
Thus started the day I traveled with Domenic Priore through Orange County's Pacific Coast Highway selling new copies of Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long to stores in the region. We headed down there with the intent of reminding the natives of Balboa about their groovy, locally-derived music scene.
Bay Arcade photo booth. A perfect example of how sometimes, American "Mod" outstrips the British variety, as heard in those Garage 45s from '65/'66. (Photo by Brian Chidester)
The Wet Seal clothing boutique — mid-1960s
Before you, behold the locally-produced library of Balboa history and folklore we found when we got there:
Old Balboa Island Stories from 1907 to the Millenium by Jim Jennings (No Publisher)
- An old man's personal history of daily life in Balboa. However, he tells it with a sense of wisdom and inherent coolness from simply living through this quieter era, that it's to reading what listening to an Arthur Lyman album would be like.
- An encyclopedia of important people and places in Balboa's history, told by the town historian. Sort of a miniature version of Los Angeles A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the City and County (University of California Press)
- General Newport Beach, Balboa and Corona del Mar area map, including illustrations of key locations and a list of phone numbers for local businesses.
- Postcard shots of Newport/Balboa/Corona del Mar from 1900 on.
- Archival photo paste-up book about Newport and Balboa's history. Besides a host of deserted beach shots from the Victorian Era, there are four shots of the Rendezvous from Stan Kenton period through to Dick Dale, and ultimately when it burned down in 1966.
- A linear account of how the Newport/Balboa towns developed during the early 1920s. The best re-telling of the Rendezvous Ballroom origins, and an unseen photo of the structure to boot. I would consider this to be the most literary of all the Balboa books thus far.
The Wedge DVD
- Documentary of the 'Dirty ol' Wedge' . . . the spot with the most intense body-surfing experience in the Greater Los Angeles area.
- 1965 feature film about Balboa folk singer Tim Morgon, shot on location at the Prison of Socrates coffee-house. To watch this movie is to be transported to a way of life that no longer exists, with shots of Morgon's cool girlfriend Vicki passing out flyers to surf dwellers near the Balboa Pier, and rowdy folk music enthusiasts tearing up the joint by movie's end.
We are proud that Dumb Angel #4: All Summer Long has joined these fine books and films in the Balboa Pharmacy Library
Special thanks to Mike and Tom of the Balboa Pharmacy for keepin' it real.
Balboa Pharmacy and Balboa Pavillion, 1950s
Coppertone clock relief — Balboa Pharmacy. (Photo by Domenic Priore)
Rounding out the sphere . . .
The complete collection of albums and singles on the Fink Records label (all of which were local-artist albums released out of Balboa's Prison of Socrates coffee house).
- Artists include Tim Morgon ("Dirty Feet" b/w "Mike Fink") and Phil & the Flakes ("Chrome Reversed Rails" b/w "Blower Scoop," 1965).
By BRIAN CHIDESTER (with editing, ideas and lots of laughter from Domenic Priore)
More detail about Balboa can be viewed and discussed at Sponto Gallery, in Venice, on July 19, 2006. Dumb Angel will host a screening of the Dirty Feet film, plus Bob Denver's wild beatnik surf scene in For Those Who Think Young, Michael Dormer's painting during the opening credit sequence of Muscle Beach Party (soundtracked by Les Baxter) and a slide show of all the long-gone beach coffee-houses in the Greater L.A. area during the '50s and '60s (indeed, Sponto was one of them — The Venice West Café). Others featured will be the Insomniac Café in Hermosa Beach, Sid's Blue Beet in Newport Beach, Prison of Socrates in Balboa, and Café Frankenstein in Laguna Beach.
Dirty Feet Soundtrack — Tim Morgon, Susan Renaker, John & the Bazooki Band (Fink Records LP 1007)
Never has one album so summed up the general feeling of Balboa during the early '60s than this 1965 soundtrack to the rare indie film Dirty Feet, starring folk singer Tim Morgon and his sidekick Vicki Arthur. Morgon contributes two vocal numbers, the anthemic "Dirty Feet" and the hootenanny sing-a-long "Mike Fink." What lies between these captures faithfully that rare environment between Balboa's Island, Pavilion and Pier. The "Prison of Socrates" instrumental cut is traditional Greek folk music, and sets the stage for musical references that informed the Middle Eastern exoticism of many surf instrumentals. The moody "Gamblin' Man" breaks stride with what is, otherwise, essentially a folk album . . . this being a breezy surf instrumental inflection of the night-time moon and tides. "Camping Song" sounds like surfboards sliding through the pilings . . . it works as happy music for anywhere. The Grecian formula-flavored "Odessey" rolls along with its combination of Amerian rock 'n' roll and European flair, and can be DJ'd along with any other Bosstella numbers you may prefer (not as frantic as the soundtrack to The Day the Fish Came Out, but on the way there). Next up, the instrumental backing track to Tim's vocal number "Dirty Feet" works as somber 12-string guitar "walking music." Susan Renaker's "Summertime Wine" sounds like an ode to Joan Baez, with a strong falsetto vocal landing somewhere between "Kum-Baya" and an exotica siren. (NOTE: "Summertime Wine" is the title of a book that Tim Morgon is reading during the opening credits of Dirty Feet, his feet set on a bamboo table with empty bottles.) "Angel's Camp" could refer to the Sunset Strip-esque Pop and Op shop, at 614 N. Doheny Drive back then, or, someplace in the San Gabriel mountains. Either way, it's killer surf. "Cotton Candy" mind checks the prime dietary capital of the Balboa Fun Zone, and is a romatic surfer's mood number. It's followed by a slowed-down version of "Odessey" and a chugging Folk instrumental rendering of "Mike Fink." The "Dirty Feet" theme is reprised vocally by Morgon in a profound, slowed-down version, and the LP closes. Generally speaking, the Dirty Feet soundtrack employs the same placid moodiness found in the Mar-Kets' "Balboa Blue" single, only spread across an entire album. Though the whole affair might seem like a mind-altering trip to some lost astral plane, when you watch the film and walk around the town of Balboa, you get a sense that it is all really real, and that this type of music poured into the streets on any given 1964 night.
BRIAN CHIDESTER / DOMENIC PRIORE
The Prison of Socrates Building Today. (Photo by Domenic Priore)
DIRTY FEET — LYRICS
Dirty feet, dirty feet . . .
Say that youth and life are much too sweet,
To be bound or confined.
Shoes are things that steal my peace of mind.
I want to feel the good earth under me,
The warmth of the sand beneath my toes.
Even mud squish when it rains,
It's my life and I don't care who knows.
Let me be foot loose and free,
Then with music every step will sound . . .
Though I walk with my head in the clouds,
My feet will be on solid ground.
Dirty feet, dirty feet . . .
Tell of summertime that was too fleet.
Soon enough, I will be,
Saying 'fare thee well' to liberty.
But now I must run barefoot through grass,
And find what waits over the hill.
Skipping puddles in the rain,
There's part of me that's a kid still.
I am sure as can be,
Lots of folks would find life more complete . . .
If they took off their shoes for a while,
And ran around in dirty feet.
Happy dirty feet!
— "Dirty Feet," by Tim Morgon, 1964
Barefoot Action — '50s Balboa Fun Zone — You can almost hear 'Surf Beat' just by looking at this shot!
Sublime, early Psychedelic Surf Pastiche Washout disc, 1965
THE BEST OF FINK . . .
From Christopher Peake's column "Take a Walk on the WARPED side," in his 1984-1986 'zine 45-45
Phil & the Flakes "Chrome Reversed Rails" b/w "Blower Scoop" (Fink 1010)
A long-time favorite, it's the label copy that gets your attention right off (see photo copy). This demented surfer (P. Pearlman is the writer's name for both sides) is putting on a joke; it can only be. Top side starts out with what gives the listener the impression is going to be a good Surf instrumental tune, but then we get a two-part vocal group coming in and adding more to the intro, and then Phil comes on with his opening line; "When I go surfin', my baby loves me so, she loves my chrome rails, how they gleam and they glow; . . . It's my chrome reverse rails, woe-oh, that stuck my baby on me; . . . shoo-be-do-wah-pa-do-wah" (it's just gotta be heard)!! All this is going on with the two-part female "vocal backup" now doing it up to a true "warp level 13," with one part singing in unison with Phil on his lines, and one part which resembles (for lack of better likeness coming to mind), doing some Turkish harem-trip kind of high warbling part!? The lyrics remain just as cool throughout, until the mid-break, which sports some of the hottest Surf-guitar playing ever laid down!! "Blower Scoop" is right in the same groove (with another super Surf-guitar break), but the lyrics maybe get evermore far out there (if that's possible). We know you don't believe us . . . (editor's note: . . . so check out the incredible Surf comp Wax 'Em Down for a good repress of the flip).
— CHRISTOPHER PEAKE, 1985
Listen to "Chrome Reversed Rails" at Pegg Records.
For the full story of Phil & the Flakes, plus other related projects from this artist, checkout The Beat of the Earth.
Photo by Brian Chidester
LEFT: The Original Rendezvous Ballroom / RIGHT: The Rendezvous building today. (New photo by Domenic Priore)
The Kenton Era — Stan Kenton (Capitol EOX 569). The opening eight numbers from this definitive early-'50s release were recorded live at the Rendezvous from July through September of 1941. The selections include "Artistry In Rhythm," "Two Moods," "I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good," "Lamento Gitano," "Reed Rapture," "La Cumparsita," "St. James Infirmary" and "Arkansas Traveler". "With the college and high school crowd that colonized the little resort town on weekends, holidays and vacations," wrote Bud Freeman, "the young Kenton was an immediate success. Red Dorris, tenor saxist and vocalist, became a local idol within a few weeks. Howard Rumsey, who played amplified bass with spastic abandon, was known by his first name to every Jazz enthusiast in the area." Rumsey later held sway with his Lighthouse All-Stars at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. The Kenton band would nourish, through the '40s and '50s, the school of musicians later referred to in Jazz circles as West Coast Cool.
Surfer's Choice — Dick Dale & his Del-Tones. Released in early 1963, this collection is crucial to any Surf music collection. Most, if not all of the tracks were recorded live at the Rendezvous, including the insane "Surf Beat" (lots of great audience noise that pushes the actual content of the record), "Sloop John B.," "Let's Go Trippin'," "Surfin' Drums" (a takeoff on Bo Diddley's "Hush Your Mouth"), "Mr. Peppermint Man" and the expanded guitar workout "Miserlou Twist". Some of the Del-Tone 45s ("Jungle Fever," notably) also feature the Rendezvous in rapture.
The Stuft Shirt Resaurant
Balboa Blues — A lounge piano album featuring the bar room keyboard masters from the Stuft Shirt, Berkshire’s and the Reuben E. Lee restaurants. Side one opens with a cool cocktail take on “Satin Doll,” and ends with a night/tide version of “Girl from Ipanema.” Side two starts out with some standard Broadway fare, including “Hello Dolly,” sprung from the Reuben E. Lee (a riverboat/restaurant out to sea). Best of all, the piano lounge players are boarded on Balboa’s Ferry Boat (with a grand piano) for the album cover. — BRIAN CHIDESTER
Reuben E. Lee Matchbook
"Those Memories of You" by the Bobby Fuller 4
Dumb Angel Readers,
I thought I should share this with you. Brian Chidester and I went to Orange County on a Monday afternoon in January, and it was just empty . . . "off season" for these beach towns. We did our sales thing, but the sky had this forever sunset that was just amazing . . . Catalina fully visible over the Dana Point/Laguna Beach area . . . and while the sun was dipping outta sight, we crossed from Balboa Island to Balboa on the Ferry, looking West . . . Without cueing it, we just happened to be listening to "Busy Doin' Nothin'"and "Diamond Head" from the Beach Boys 1968 Friends (!) album while on the Ferry boat, floating on the water, in the car. Outtasight!!! . . . to hear those steel guitars and percussion emulating volcanoes . . . true Brian Wilson Exotica music on a slow boat. Here's Chidester's e-mail to me the day after. I think you'll appreciate the sentiment in it.
— DOMENIC PRIORE
I'm still riding high from that trip yesterday. I was just so sad and overwhelmed by how amazing Southern California once was. But zoning in on just the cool elements and having that music in the background, it melted my heart and made me long so hard for the days when beach houses and mini-yachts looked the way "Let Him Run Wild" sounded. Crossing that empty street on Balboa Blvd. to walk into the pharmacy . . . I had the most odd feeling. It was as though the wind was whipping some salt-air comfort over me, whistling the tunes of Tim Morgon out of the Prison of Socrates and Dick Dale playing "Greenback Dollar" from the Rendezvous. I felt so at home talking to that local in the Pharmacy and looking at the books and the homemade documentary about the Wedge. How could I get that sense? I never lived through 1963. I felt the way a scientist must feel when he makes a discovery that he knows is so profound, yet is going to be impossible to explain to the outside world. It was really heavy. Hard to even put into words. If we would have heard Jill Gibson's "Easy As 1, 2, 3" last night after eating at Woody's Wharf, I would have cried. Seriously. I would have balled my eyes out. I felt so emotional about SoCal last night . . . it was ridiculous. Such a cool day.
— BRIAN CHIDESTER