Aug. 13, 1966
Santa Barbara, California
The capes. It’s the capes. The first thing that comes to mind about that day. We’d gotten there early, pulled into the sparsely occupied parking lot — which car would we have been in? The ’57 Mercury Monterrey with the push-button panel for the automatic transition on the dash to the left of the steering wheel? Probably. Or was it the still-new ’65 Chevy Impala wagon, white body with turquoise top and interior, the backward-facing seat in the way back folded down in wait for some special occasion?
We got out of the car, between the early-afternoon traffic buzzing lightly on Las Positas Rd. up at the top of the succulent strewn slope and the mild activity at the entry to the yellow-domed Orchid Show Hall here at the Earl Warren Showgrounds complex. I’d been here many times for said Orchid Show, for gem shows with Aunt Hester and Uncle Harold, I think for a car show once. We’d been to horse shows in the adjacent open-aired ring, though we’d come regularly in the next decade when Karen became a mainstay on the youth horse-show circuit here. We’d even come in a few years to see the L.A. T-Birds roller derby team making a road-trip appearance, Mom, Dad, Karen, Daniel and me the odd-fit upper-middle-class white family in the largely working class, largely Hispanic and wildly exuberant crowd.
But here, today, as we got out of the car and started toward the dome, were the capes, being carried on hangers, shrouded in flimsy clear dry-cleaner plastic, from a car a few slots away. Red with black trim. The capes. Or were they black with red trim? Whichever, I was excited just to see them. I probably said something to my dad.
“It’s what they wear! The Count Five!”
Or maybe I just thought it to myself. In any case, I was buzzing, bursting. It was great already. And we were still in the parking lot.
I don’t remember how I talked Dad into this. It wasn’t the kind of thing my parents had shown inclination to allow before. They weren’t nasty about it or anything. It’s not like a lot of 9-year-olds were going to rock concerts in those days.
I’d hear concerts promoted breathlessly on Santa Barbara’s KIST-AM and KACY-AM from just down the coast in Pt. Hueneme, by “Barron” Ron Harron and the other disc jockeys — I can still sing the jingles: “K-I-S-T… thirteen forty!” “Fifteen-twenty, K-A-C-Y” And there were the “Get KIST” bumper stickers around town. I was devoted to the stations, listening any chance I had on my little, black Sears Silvertone transistor radio my parents got for me the year before. Karen and I made signs to put in the car window in hopes we’d be spotted by the KIST Patrol and given whatever fabulous prized they had. Once I even sat in the front yard with a sign, thinking that maybe the Patrol would just happen by and see me. I tried to call in for giveaways, but never won:
“We’ve got something special for the sixth caller who can tell us the name of the group playing this new song. Here’s a hint… it rhymes with ‘Kind Fenders.’”
Busy signal. Busy signal. Busy signal. RINGING!
“The Mind Benders! The Mind Benders!”
“That’s right, but we already have a winner. Better luck next time….”
It was a world I wanted to be in, but could not. The shows advertised on the station, or on the marquee of the Earl Warren, seen from the school bus many morning as we passed along, were as distant as the moon. Once the Animals were going to be there. Eric Burdon! I wanted to go so badly. I asked my mom.
“You’re too young. They have an age limit.”
I called the station to find out. They would have to know, right? Who else could I call?
“It’s open to any age, we think,” I was told, and I told my mom that.
“They mean any age older. Not younger. You are not old enough. It’s too late. It wouldn’t be safe.”
But then came word of this Saturday matinee. I asked. They said yes. Here we were.
It must have been a 15 minute wait for the doors to open, though it likely felt much longer. When they let us in there couldn’t have been more than two dozen people there. Inside, straight ahead about three-quarters of the way across the plain concrete floor — no seats, just standing — was a stage, nothing fancy, just a platform with a curtain along the back and some instruments ready for the opening act, a group from Ventura (I think) called the Melody Men (I think). When they started playing there were maybe 60 people inside. They sounded, well, I don’t really have any memory of how they sounded.
When the second band came out, introduced by Harron, then of KACY but later to be on KIST, there were perhaps 150 people inside. And I remember how they sounded, as well I should. You may have heard of them. The Rascals. Though they were still the Young Rascals at that time.
But as soon as they started they had to stop. Felix Cavaliere’s B3 crapped out after just a few notes. It felt like it took half an hour to get it fixed. Given that this was all new to me, I’m sure I figured this kind of technical difficulty was business as usual for rock concerts. Fifty years and thousands of concerts later, I was right.
My dad and I walked around the inside of the hall a little in that time. All those people there looked so…. mature! Teenagers! Some of them must have been at least 16! Guys in slacks, ironed Oxford shirts, black-rimmed glasses, hair just slightly out of trim. Girls in skirts or summer dresses. So this is what a rock crowd looked like, though I already knew that from watching the afternoon dance shows we got on the L.A. stations: Lloyd Thaxton’s “Dance Party” on Channel 13, “Boss City” on KHJ, and of course the weekend national “American Bandstand,” which I’d probably watched that morning.
The organ finally fixed, the Young Rascals resumed, Cavaliere coaxing those cool soul sounds from the keys, Eddie Brigati in a sporty cap, shaking maracas as he sang, and making the biggest impression, Dino Danelli at the drums, twilling his sticks like a baton, bouncing them on the drums and letting go so they flung 20 feet into the air, catching them as they came back down without missing a beat. (Poor guitarist Gene Cornish. I can’t recall a single thing about him.)
They played “In the Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally.” They played “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” and, my favorite of theirs at the time, “Good Lovin’,” both songs having been and national hits, the latter hitting No. 1 earlier in the year. They played “You Better Run,” which had made it to No. 20 nationally that spring. And I think they played “Groovin’.” though that may be a faulty memory, as the song wasn’t even released until the next March.
And then…. what I was there for. San Jose’s Count Five. The capes. The hit. Destined to be their only hit, though we didn’t know that at the time. Harron even came back on stage to introduce their “new single,” a song called “Double Decker Bus.” I remember later hearing it on the radio…. never. Not once. Zippo. One hit and Count Five was down for the count.
But that day? Excitement! Elation! Funny thing, what I remember being most interested in from their performance was to see just how they made that chicka-chicka-chicka sound during the frantic instrumental rave-ups in the middle and at the end of “Psychotic Reaction.” I perked up every time the song came on the radio, lived everything about it, the bluesy twang of the electric guitar lick, the thumping drums, the what-the-hell-does-that-mean words …. and those rave-ups — blasting into high gear, verging on total chaos, and then stepping down back into the song proper. Whew! What a ride! Did I get at the time how much it was all a Yardbirds cop? Not sure. Maybe. Doesn’t really matter.
Oh, that sound. The rhythm guitarist damped the strings way up by the pickups with his left hand while strumming rapidly with his right. Genius! Well, no. Pretty simple and hardly original. But I was 9. It was an epiphany, first of its kind in a series of…. any counting. Count Five.
And it was over. No memory of exiting the hall. No memory of the drive home (about a mile). No memory of asking my dad what he thought, or of him volunteering same. We must have talked. He must have said something about it being loud. But I know with absolute certainty that he had a big smile, as big as mine, sharing my joy. He loved music. He didn’t love my music (though over the years our tastes intersected, with some delight). But he loved that I loved music, that I shared a passion he had for it, even if it manifest in different tastes.
I wonder if he ever thought back to that day, if when he watched my life as a professional concert-goer develop he connected it, saw his part in it. I hope he did. I think of it often, and more than anything else about it, I cherish the mental picture of being in that parking lot, seeing the capes, Dad at my side.
Many, many years later I was visiting my friend Tony Berg at the Beverly Hills offices of the Virgin Records label, where he was then the head of A&R. He introduced me to his new assistant, Brandon, and quickly I noticed a poster at the assistant’s desk, a classic ‘60s style advertising a Doors concert at, of all places, Earl Warren Showgrounds.
“Where’d you get that?” I asked.
He said, “Oh, my dad was the promoter for that show.”
I said, “Your dad is Jim Salzer?”
Indeed he was. Jim Salzer Presents was the name attached to all those shows I wanted to see, the name on the radio ads of as mythic proportions as the names of the artists. I told Brandon about that ’66 afternoon of my first concert and he was thrilled. The next day he emailed me and asked if I had a fax number. Within an hour the fax spat out a treat from him, a copy of the Rascals’ contract from that date, though it was for the evening show at the same locale, in which they were headlining. At some point over the years I think I figured out that the show I saw was just a little KIST-sponsored event, but the “real” concert had been that night. And of course the Rascals, with multiple hits, had the top billing over the new kids.
I’m sure that was great too. There were probably kids there attending their first rock concert. I hope their memories are as good as mine of the afternoon show. I hope that started something big for them too. But for me, Aug. 13, 1966 is all about Count Five — now plus five decades, with thousands of concerts. And counting.