Finding Love, Losing Hate: The Marina Palace, Seal Beach

Hello, and welcome all denizens of ’66 Sunset Strip – or those who would have really appreciated to have been there; I wasn’t. The only time I got to see the Sunset Strip freedom movement in its mid-’60s prime, was one summer night in 1966, when a relative from New York came out and wanted to see “77 Sunset Strip”… the location of the TV show, that is. On a westbound curve at La Cienega, looking over the incline, we spotted Mecca… Dino’s Lodge. “There it is!” he proclaimed, and indeed, the shot of Dean Martin’s lackadaisical mug in neon cartoon form did have some sort of mystical appeal, a nexus, a center, because… what is often forgotten about Sunset Strip during its most creative time, is that Dino’s Lodge did just happen to sit at the center of the action. Surrounding it was The Sea Witch, The Fred C. Dobbs Coffeehouse, Ben Frank’s, The Playboy Club and The Trip. Only a few doors down was Wil Wright’s Ice Cream Parlor and Mod fashion boutique deVoss. So approaching Dino’s Lodge, just after passing It’s Boss and Stratford on Sunset, did have this centrifugal force feeling about it. I was six years old, well aware of the television shows Hollywood a Go Go, Shebang, Hullabaloo, Shivaree, The Lloyd Thaxton Show, Boss City, 9th Street West,Shindig! and all the cool artists that were appearing on those shows regularly, so I wasn’t in the dark about the kind of thing, and the music, that was happening in this very intense space I was inhabiting. My parents were New Yorkers, and I was not sheltered. That was enough, early in life, to inspire my later writing the book Riot on Sunset Strip: Rock ‘n’ Roll’s Last Stand in Hollywood (Jawbone Press, London, 2007, foreword by Arthur Lee of Love).

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To open my writing endeavour for Hollywood Hangover (not really a fan of the “b” word), I’d like to put some focus on things that may be somewhat overlooked, forgotten, but are just as much a part of this Greater Los Angeles area music scene, which I feel was centered on Sunset Strip, but came from all over “town.”  “Town” being, as newscaster Jerry Dunphy described it “from the desert to the sea, to all of Southern California.”  Sunset Strip was a magnet for anyone in the general vicinity.  The Lollipop Shoppe (earlier, The Weeds) made it here from Las Vegas.  The Strawberry Alarm Clock (earlier, Thee Sixpence) made it here from Santa Barbara.  Ken Johnson (The Avengers, and other very cool groups) made it down from Bakersfield, constantly.  And many moved here: The Bobby Fuller Four, from El Paso, Texas, Paul Revere & the Raiders from the Pacific Northwest, The Hard Times, from San Diego, The Dillards, from Missouri, and both The Knickerbockers, and The Mamas & The Papas, from New York.  Buffalo Springfield seemed to have come from everywhere.  All became a part of the L.A. scene.

scan0002-lgChris Hillman of the Byrds at The Marina Palace, Seal Beach, early 1967

Seal Beach, in fact, was home to one of L.A.’s coolest night clubs, originally The Airport Club, but known during the mid-’60s as The Marina Palace. R&B historian Steve Propes lets on that both The Airport Club and The Marina Palace were misleading names: locals knew it as the Quonset Hut, a corrugated, curved metal building near a military base that was eventually painted Psychedelic in full.  In its earliest days, it was a gambling hall, known during prohibition as a place where illegal hootch was available.  In the early ’60s, local Long Beach-area surf instrumental groups The Pyramids (“Penetration”) and The Illusions (“Jezebel”) performed wild shows there.

scan0003-lgRoger McGuinn & David Crosby of The Byrds at The Marina Palace,  early 1967

Included on this page are a few examples of the kind of action you might catch in this venue during the mid-’60s, situated directly across from the San Gabriel River.  In early 1967, The Byrds headlined a series of shows with The Doors, somewhat of a double-bill, with The Byrds the more established group, and coming off their great Younger Than Yesterday album.  The Doors had just released their debut LP, “Break On Through” was going around on 45 r.p.m. and “Light My Fire” was in the process of being played… from its long LP version… then edited down to a 45 mix by the DJ who was breaking the song, Dave Diamond of KBLA.  Also pictured at The Marina Palace are The Seeds, at a time when lead singer Sky Saxon WAS Mick Jagger… in town… for about six months.  “Pushin’ Too Hard,” “Can’t Seem To Make You Mine,” “Mr.. Farmer” and several others were all playing on A.M. radio in L.A., and again, Dave Diamond would play the 14-minute trance “Up In Her Room” on the boundary-pushing KBLA.

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The house band at The Marina Palace were The Things to Come, who just happened to make one of the best records from that period, “Sweetgina” b/w “Speak of the Devil” (Starfire Records).  The disc features a downhearted, writhing-on-the-floor lead vocal by keyboardist Steve Runolfsson. The pain was accentuated with groaning, pinched lead guitar by Lyn Rominger, and tough rhythm from guitarist Larry Robinson, bassist Bryan Garofolo and drummer Russ Kunkel.

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From Long Beach, they rehearsed in a lanai behind the family pool, with early gigs taking place in their hometown, Huntington Beach and out in San Bernardino. In Riverside they played a teen club called the Mystic Eye, which is fitting because “Sweetgina” was nothing more than a charged extension of Them’s “Gloria”. Recently-discovered tapes reveal the Things to Come’s depth (released on the incredible Sundazed CD I Want Out). Some tracks are cave-dwelling Folk-Rock (“Character of Caruso”), while others bring Garage Punk to a Pop art Psych-Mod Freakbeat level (“Tomorrow,”) with backward tapes and echo-drenched guitar. The Things to Come played the Cheetah in Venice Beach during ’67, and appeared on bills with a diverse array of talent: Dick Dale, Ike & Tina Turner, the Strawberry Alarm Clock.  For a while The Things To Come were a house band at Whisky a Go Go, opening for Cream and Jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela during their Sunset Strip engagements in 1967. Unfortunately, by the time The Things to Come hit Hollywood, the club scene that had previously fostered new bands was in the process of dying out.  Many of the clubs had already closed down, their dancing licenses revoked after the November, 1966 Sunset Strip “riots”… which those of us who know, realize were actually CAFF sit-in demonstrations that turned into a police riot.

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The opportunity of L.A. ’65/’66 would diminish greatly, but The Marina Palace was, like The Cheetah, The Kaleidoscope, The Bank and Thee Experience, one of the few psychedelic clubs in town that existed during 1967-1969.

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