Sounds from California
By Jimmy Kelly
As a boy growing up in Buffalo, NY, I watched on TV as the Buffalo Bills played the San Diego Chargers in a very sunny place called Balboa Stadium (in January!). With four feet of snow outside, I wondered, “Where is that place?” The first time I heard “California Dreamin’,” I was going to college in Vermont. I finally realized the Beach Boys were right - California was this magical place where people wore t-shirts in winter; lived under sunny blue skies all the time; everyone had blond hair; summer was endless; and everybody surfed instead of going to high school. It may have taken me a while to get to California but that music sure kept me on the border.
Oh that music. Songs about beaches. The Pacific Ocean. Girls. Hot rods, woodies and Cadillacs. Beach parties. The sun and fun. What freezing red blooded American kid worth his weight in sand could miss that calling? California was no Fantasyland. It was the real deal. Teenagers never died there. The California sound kept ‘em surfing, smiling, singing along, and not worrying, baby. Taking it easy. Forever tan. Victims of Love, Mike.
But my life changed and so did the sounds coming from California. I was drafted into the Army and Vietnam was calling. An invasion was underway. The California Sound never liked Vietnam. It did not like soldiers dying. It did not know what we were fighting for. It did not like politics or politicians who wanted us there. Ask Joan Baez. And it wanted us to wear flowers in our hair. California Sound became free speech with harmony. Peaceful and easy. It was a revolution of music, culture and minds. All were taken to a new and altered state.
Once out of the Army, and living life in the 70’s, California Sound got serious. Creedence. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Eagles. Jackson Browne. Grateful Dead. This was not for adolescents. This was adult stuff. Life in the fast lane. Or was it still peaceful and easy? I could not keep up. But thank God our favorite old troubadours kept troubadouring. California was keeping its promises.
Then, the 80’s rolled into town like thunder, and the times, they were a changin’ again. Sure, some of our heroes stuck around – but it was slim pickin’ on the branches of the California Sound tree. So we reached out to Jimmy Buffett, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Carol King and Bruce Springsteen to stay alive. Where did all those flowers, acoustic guitars and protest lyrics go? And why were boys and girls wearing spandex trousers up on those same stages? I sure can’t tell you why.
Then in the 90’s the worst thing of all happened. I turned into my father. Here is the proof. I uttered the following statements: “When did music get so loud?” “I can’t understand a word of that song.” “Can’t they turn down the bass?” My father used to say those same things about…California Sound. This couldn’t be happening. Music requires an open mind. But disco, rap and lip sync at the beach? C’mon man. Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, what happened?
Then I finally landed on the sea shores of old San Diego. Any my first discovery? California Sound. Any evening or weekend, you could travel to bars in the Gaslamp, North Park, East Village, OB, PB, IB, and Chula Vista or take a trip out to the Casinos, and there it was. I’m talking Gary Seiler, Jerry Gontang, Joe Rathburn, Taylor Harvey, Rob Mehl, Eve Selis, and John Bowe. Buffed Out, Coco Loco, Stars on the Water, and Coast Riders. Occasional visits from Jim Morris, Sunny Jim, Mark Mulligan, and Hugo Duarte. Add Tim Flannery to the list. Even the great architect of California Sound, Jack Tempchin, was living in America’s Finest City. Ladies and gentlemen, we were right back where we started from. Eagles. CSN&Y, and…drum roll please…Beach Boys. Even some Buffett, Beatles, Alan Jackson, Don McLean, Mamas & Papas, CCR, and Billy Joel. Hey it’s good to be back home again.
I’m older than that now. No longer the new kid in town. I still hear Elvis, Ricky, Janis, Jimi, and Mama Cass in the background. The hotel is still here, but Glenn Frey is not. Uncle John’s band misses its leader. Balboa Stadium is now a high school track. America’s oldest teenager passed on. Prince is gone. David Bowie is gone. I just don’t know about Brian Wilson anymore. Some of the mothers and fathers who invented the California Sound have sailed on. But I still head for the Southern California beach bars to hear them all again. And again.
And, dear friends and neighbors I have more good news. Every song ever recorded has been “digitized.” Our creators, makers and synthesizers have rightly, some wrongly, preserved forever California music. Just a few strokes away on the keyboards of our devices. And our devices are many. So whenever the urge to hear All Summer Long, Cherish, Young Girl, or Happy Together strikes – just drop out with wireless headphones, tune in to Pandora, and turn on the Eagles channel. Still the same old girls, flowers and songs they used to be. Rock on. (Gently.)
If you want to dive in and explore more about San Diego’s musical past and present, contact Marc and Darlynne at Where You Want To Be. It is all happening in sunny San Diego. You’ll be glad all over. I wish you peace.
Editors Note- Jim Kelly lives in Florida with his wife Val.
(Some information for this article provided by Gary Seiler.)