Has anyone ever stepped up to you and asked something like “what’s with the rock and roll history of Long Beach?”  Next time that happens, the response could be along the lines of “it’s still being created,” a generic “now more than ever,” the old reliable “leave me alone” or the snappiest of all responses, “in five or ten years we’ll all know the answer.”

Did I mention there is prologue?  Which roughly began the same time as did the original Great Depression when Spike Jones attended Poly High (about 60 years before Snoop Dog attended Poly) and had a show on KFOX radio at the same time, Spike, not Snoop, not that Spike’s specialty was rock and roll.  What Spike became famous for was more like a variation of jazz with a novelty twist, not to be confused with the early 1960s dance sensation.  

Ultimately, while the world fell under the spell of rock and roll that coincided with the “Rock Around the Clock” juvenile delinquency opening of “Blackboard Jungle” (West Coast Theater; 1955 – I was there – it changed my life), Long Beach was the ensconced West Coast ground zero of country music thanks to the presence of the U.S. Navy.

At the time (1958), Hollywood at the Pike country and western entertainer Danny Flores co-created the Champs to record the #1 riff, “Tequila” while Scatman Crothers was performing across the midway.  KFOX Radio was famed country king in the 1960s, just as Pure Rock KNAC was heavy metal king in the 1980s and 90s.  

All sorts of music were marketed in Long Beach and environs.  Wallich’s Music City in Lakewood attracted the likes of Ray Charles, who gave an impromptu concert at that store’s musical instrument room on his way to cutting an acclaimed organ-based LP.  Wenzel’s in Downey was where cruisers went to get 45s for their car record players as they trolled drive-ins like Hody’s on PCH and the Clock on Atlantic.  Record shops like Ray Robinson’s (later Conley’s) on PCH near the current VIP location and about four venues downtown met the needs of vinyl addicts – who still live and thrive, believe it or not.

Speaking of record shops, Long Beach was also ground zero for hip hop (VIP), folk (McCabe’s) and alternative (Zed’s) and nearby Paramount for country (Nashville West).  I don’t recall a jazz shop, but I have no doubt one existed.  You might know.  And clubs.  The Hillside and Hilltop in Signal Hill were where to go for country and rockabilly; the Cinamon Cinder on the Traffic Circle was one of the first teen clubs, supplementing the Lido on the Pike.

Don’t think local press was supportive of our rock and roll edge in the past century.  They weren’t.  They patronized teens when Elvis came to town in the 50s; they trotted out a professor to explain why rock and roll wasn’t good music in the 60s and gloated when rock shows were banned from the arena in the 70s and 80s.  For the press, the pro-rock revolution began when younger writers showed up during the post-Rolling Stone 1970s.

The Long Beach Blues Festival, which began at Vet’s Stadium in 1980, was somehow tied in with CSULB’s acquisition of sleepy FM signal KLON from City College – or was it the board of education, which became a jazz and blues powerhouse in 1981, though hardly overnight.  There are also thriving jazz, Cajun and reggae festivals here, as well as the active club scene.  Bands like the Pyramids (surf) and War (funk) emerged out of Poly; the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band came out of the unexpected merging of Jordan and Millikan talent, whence came the Emperors and Fred Richards recorded one great instrumental jam out of Lakewood – you have to be a collector to get that reference.  Hint:  there was no Fred Richards.

Paul Williams came out of Wilson; the Carpenters came out of Downey via CSULB, as did Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Bros. from Anaheim (well known for the ever-popular wet-T shirt events at the Bayou in Seal Beach – I was there also) and as did Steve Martin, who was part of the hootenanny scene big in the early 60s and at Disneyland.  And Stan Kenton lived in Lakewood Village as he was creating a new kind of jazz in the 40s, as you’d discover if only you belonged to the Jazz Institute at CSULB.

Publications like Record Convention News, created by my late friend Jim Philbrook came seemingly out of nowhere, like the Holiday Inn Record Show he briefly and successfully promoted near the 405 and Lakewood.  

These days, Long Beach guys and gals are busier than ever on Internet radio Bernie Peal represents the blues; Robbie Russell promotes garage rock and Mike Stark deals with Black Sabbath and the KNAC sound on WPMD.org where I still spin vintage 45s most Saturday mornings, just like Bernie and I used to do on KLON in the 1980s.  Internet radio is now a fact of life; just add listeners and hope big broadcasters don’t get congress to slap on industry-killing royalty requirements.

And those are a few examples that come to mind at one sitting.  I’ll be back with specifics.  Drop me a note; let me know what areas you’d like me to explore, but be nice about it.