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8 April 2012
West Coast Pop Art & California Spectrum enigma
Now Playing: Glimpses Vol 4 comp
Topic: Minor change or comment

A lot has been written about the great West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band over the past 10 years, yet there are still chunks of their story that are shrouded in mystery. This applies in no small part to the off-shoot California Spectrum, and a few obscure 45s connected to this franchise.

Reading the established storylines so far, it would appear that California Spectrum was a 1968 side-project led by Shaun Harris while his brother Dan was recuperating from a nervous breakdown, and the WCPAEB were on a hiatus. However, the California Spectrum project seems to have been both lengthier and different than what this implies.

Exhibit #1: as early as August 1967, before even the 2nd WCPAEB Reprise album had come out, Dan Harris, Shaun Harris, and "Jim" (possibly Jimmy Greenspoon) were playing live gigs in Illinois under the name California Spectrum. This is known for a fact, since they gave a lengthy interview to Chicago underground paper "The Seed" at the time. 'Dan' and 'Jim' talk about the band, their light show, and hint at their heavy music scene connections in San Francisco and LA. They claim that Grateful Dead stole one of their songs, and that Blues Magoos were always just a bit of hype! There are zero references to the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band; what is presented is the impression of a hip westcoast band called California Spectrum touring the Midwest. 'Shaun' (Harris) is not present for the interview,but is mentioned.

In other words, there was a lot more to the California Spectrum project than just some one-off thing from late '68 -- the band name was being promoted and supported by live gigs as early as August '67. A reasonable guess is that this was the Harris brothers' attempt to escape the strange golden cage that Bob Markley had built for them, and get something going for themselves. With their Midwestern roots, they knew their way around locally, and apparently didn't mind laying on a bit of westcoast showbiz hype in the process. There is good reason to believe that Michael Lloyd was involved with the California Spectrum trip too, although he may have remained stationed in LA.

Exhibit #2: the California Spectrum discography is restricted to two 45s, both with 'Harris' and 'Lloyd' all over the credits:

1. Sassafras / Obviously Bad (Rasberry Sawfly 9735)
2. She May Call You Up Tonight / Rainbo (Shana 7915)
-- The release dates for these 45s have elsewhere been given as 1967 and 1969, but this is inaccurate. In actual fact, they were released in short succession in early 1968; the matrix numbers show that they were pressed in early January and mid February, respectively. This is also borne out by...

Exhibit #3: The Rasberry Sawfly 45 charted, briefly yet most gloriously, on WKY in Oklahoma City, reaching #19 in February '68. No chart data has been found for the Left Banke cover on California Spectrum's second 45.

Note: "Sassafras" is the exact same recording that appears on the awe-inspiringly rare WCPAEB debut LP on Fifo, and it was also released as a Fifo 45 at the time (1966). "Obviously Bad" is a lightweight instro unique to the 45. The short studio experiment "Rainbo" on the Shana 45 appears to be one of the few songs in music history named after a pressing plant; at least Rainbo Records in LA is where all these obscure 45s were pressed! The intriguing background behind this atypical track, somewhat related to WCPAEB's famous "Leiyla", is detailed on the WCPAEB 'Companion' release on Sunbeam. 

Exhibit #4: as late as 1969, Shaun Harris was still touting the California Spectrum band via his Midwestern media connections; the group is promoted with a photo and phony member names in Tiger Beat, and according to the recent 'Companion' set, Harris had an office in Denver from which he handled his Midwestern music matters... far away from Markleyan intervention.

The point being? Well, the California Spectrum story is by no means the brief one-off trip that WCPAEB lore would have you believe. The band, or the idea of the band, was an active entity from at least mid-1967 to early 1969. They played live gigs in the Midwest, had their own light show, made a certain impression in Chicago, and released two records. There is little doubt that the Harris brothers were the main engine behind this outfit, but the view that it was just a studio concept is clearly incorrect. California Spectrum was a real '60s band and should be treated as such. Their activities, calendar-wise, can probably be mapped against corresponding inactivity within the WCPAEB domains.

But that's not all. In 2009, an online auction website called "eBay" listed an intriguing disc credited to California Spectrum, a 10" studio test pressing or acetate (by the look of it) featuring the two tracks "Transparent Day" and "High Coin". These two numbers appear, as you know, on the band's first Reprise LP, and a tentative interpretation of this test disc is that the Harris & Lloyd trifecta were considering with-holding the two numbers from Markley, and possibly try to sneak them out on their own, credited to California Spectrum. The tracks remain unheard so far, and may or may not be identical recordings to the Reprise LP. Assuming they do date from this early era, it would push the birth of the 'California Spectrum' concept back yet another 6 months, to early '67. The test disc ended up selling for $750+, unsurprisingly.

But even that's not all. Curiously missing from the 'Companion' sampler, and almost all things you read about the WCPAEB, is the best thing they ever recorded under pseudonym; the Fabulous Apostles 45. The familiar pattern is there, with two 'Lloyd-Harris' credits on the label and released via the Shana imprint (almost certainly Shaun Harris' own creation).

Dark Horse Blues / You Don't Know Like I Know (Shana 097)
-- the release date can be pinpointed to May 1968, which would make this the third effort in the flurry of non-WCPAEB releases from Harris & Lloyd in early '68

If the story behind the California Spectrum 45s is odd, then this one is outright bizarre. To begin with, there really was a Fabulous Apostles band; a regional Midwestern outfit in the Kansas show-band tradition. Some might assume this to be a coincidence, but not so! The connection between the WCPAEB guys and the Kansas show-band appears to have been the latter band's manager, who arranged for a 45 to be recorded (in LA) and pressed up in the Fabulous Apostles' name, even though they didn't appear on it. Who did appear on it is not known, but an educated guess suggests the usual crew of Harris, Lloyd, Greenspoon, maybe Ron Morgan. The B-side soul cover is the one suited for the Kansas band's needs, and upon receiving the 45 they let it be understood among their fans that they had gone to Los Angeles to record this disc, althought they had never left Kansas. The Lloyd-Harris axis, for their part, probably saw this as a chance to throw a cash-in exploitation 45 on the wall and see if it would stick; the "Dark Horse Blues" bears all the classic hallmarks of '68 psych-fuzz exploitation. It's pretty damn good too, and can be heard on Glimpses Vol 4 if you find the original 45 elusive.

Exhibit #5: the Fabulous Apostles band -- the real one in Kansas -- have a website where they include one side from the Shana 45, along with a vague reference to recording it in LA. However, a band member I talked with admitted right away that it wasn't them on the rekkid, but a studio recording with their name attached. He also told me of being familiar with Lloyd and Harris, and it seems that he relocated to LA in the late '60s for a pro musician career, and that this 1968 single played a part in making his business connections. In any event, the Fabulous Apostles never released any 'real' records on their own, but have only this WCPAEB curio in their back catalog.

Note: as far as I know, "Dark Horse Blues" has only ever been reissued on the Glimpses vol 4 comp, while the flipside "You Don't Know Like I Know" (an uptempo, organ-led teen version of this popular tune) has never been reissued. Most would probably agree that this clandestine Lloyd-Harris effort surpasses both California Spectrum 45s.

Finally: there is at least one more known 45 on Shaun Harris' Shana label, released by Kansas pop group the Jerms, whose earliest sides have a certain cachet with garage fans. This outing from 1968 appears to be less scintillating, but the producer credit and use of his label imprint offers further proof of Harris' Midwestern activities at the time.

Not At All / Who's (Shana 7195) 1968


Surely not THE END, but for now this will have to suffice. Thanks to Erik Bluhm for the release details and Moptop Mike for the matrix number analysis.

Posted by Patrick at Lysergia at 21:06 MEST
Updated: 12 May 2012 00:02 MEST
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