Today sees the release of an incredibly important document of the Los Angeles rock scene: Where the Action Is! LA Nuggets 1965-1968. Put out by Rhino Records, the four CD package is way more than just 101 songs — and it is that, too. It's an historical artifact that captures a memorable three year period in which Los Angeles was discovering its own rock & roll voice. Released as a book/disc combination, the research and information contained in the book present a portrait of mid-1960s that includes tidbits on radio, club life, the recording studio scene, labels, backbiting (the classic letter from the Byrds to the Rising Sons), gossip, production notes and loads of essential history of an era oft-overlooked in the pantheon of great rock scenes.
Andrew Sandoval co-produced the LA Nuggets box set, a project that he says he essentially started working on when he was first hired by Rhino at age 17 (his first gig was writing liner notes to a Monkees reissue). Sandoval is a fount of information on Los Angeles music, and in the wide-ranging interview below, he talks not only Nuggets and Los Angeles rock, but of the reissue and back catalog world, and the future (or end?) of the box set era. LA Weekly will be publishing a longer feature on the glory that is Where the Action Is! in our October 8 issue, but with today's official release we thought it essential to publish this now.
Today at 6 p.m. at Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Sandoval and Rhino will celebrate the release of Where the Action Is! with an in-store featuring bands included in the box: Jackie DeShannon, Keith Allison, Danny Hutton, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, The Standells, and P.F. Sloan. Andrew Sandoval will also do a DJ set of tracks from the box set.
West Coast Sound: How long have you been working on this compilation?
Andrew Sandoval: Almost three years. I started working for Rhino, my first compilation I worked for them in 1989, and I feel like that's when I started working on this. It's a combination of all of that.
On the compilation, a lot of the bands you can hear whether they were a Stones band or a Beatles band. You can hear it in the riffs. It's interesting to contemplate how some of the R&B riffs of Chicago and the American south had to travel across the ocean to England before making their way to the west coast.
Right. That's an interesting thing for me, too, to find out how these people came to be doing what they did. There's a picture in the box set of a place called Record Paradise, and that little music center was the first place in LA where you could buy import records. This was the place where, if you wanted the Beatles records – Beatles for Sale, or the UK Revolver or Rubber Soul – that's where you went. And legend has it that Jeff Beck, after he left the Yardbirds, was a resident of LA for a few months, actually got a job working there for a few weeks.
Where was it?
It was right on Hollywood Boulevard. 6507 Hollywood Boulevard. And that was apparently a hotbed of bootlegs at the beginning of the bootleg era with [Bob Dylan's] Great White Wonder and that 1969-era. So it's fun learning about that stuff, and also, how it ties in with, where did these people come upon this music? I enjoyed your first look at the box, because I think that you sort of got it, as far as, a lot of the older people that I talk to ask, 'Why would you have that band on here? They mean nothing.' And that's the thing: it's not about who was the most popular or whatever else. It was about opening up the camera to see the widest angle possible.
And, with so many different bands, it gives you a better idea of what LA was like during that three year period.
Definitely. I mean, there are a lot of bands that should be on here that we had licensing problems with. Frank Zappa is probably the most prominent one, who we wanted very badly. There are some funnier ones, too, like Bobby Jameson, who I really wanted to include because he's so legendary, but in the end he didn't want to be on it because he was convinced we were going to rip him off somehow. Johnny Rivers told us that compilations kill his music, kill his catalog. We said, 'We want to introduce your music to a new audience.' I think a lot of people feel like they've got this one audience, and I wanted to break out of not only the 60s ghetto, and the compilation ghetto of what people were expecting to be on here, and sort of have some real real discoveries, and go back to what Nuggets was in the first place, which was, stuff you may have passed up the first time around.
But getting back to bands that could have been on here but aren't, there were a lot of bands playing clubs, but they were just doing covers. And although you pointed out that some of these songs may as well have been covers because they're so close to other songs by British groups, or whatever else, but what I really wanted to focus on was bands and their original material. A band like the Rising Sons were an amazing folk blues group, legendary, but if you go through their material, now you listen to it, you go, wow, this is sort of run-of-the-mill blues. I've heard a lot of this sort of stuff before. If you hadn't walked into the Ash Grove and seen them in person doing their rootsy blues things, where you get to see Taj Mahal or Ry Cooder and get blown away, I think, out of that, on a piece of tape, it sometimes doesn't resonate. A lot of choices that I made were based on those sorts of things – not only being historic, but being entertaining. I wanted to have a record where you weren't constantly hitting skip because it was weighed down with all these things that should be on here, rather than stuff that was really good.
So three years ago you pitched this to Rhino, or how did that work? It seems like a no-brainer, to a certain degree.
Yeah, I'd been hoping to do this for a long time, and the San Francisco box that we did three or so years ago opened up the door for us to start doing regional volumes of Nuggets. I was actually in Memphis when the LA Nuggets box was conceptualized, I was working on the Big Star box, which comes out at the same time. I was sitting in a car with Al Palao, who's the co-producer, and we were discussing, 'How would we do this?' And we came to the agreement that it should not touch on canyon rock. Laurel Canyon is whole other box set. Nor did I want to have the surf culture, which predated the Byrds. That probably wasn't going to fit in there.
So we conceptualized the four different discs that we would do, and then we all made lists of groups. And we had this long list of groups. Then I basically started picking the songs for each group, and I had other people contribute, and give me their mix CDs of stuff they thought should be on it, and whittled it down. Then it went to licensing, and licensing took a long time. Because a lot of these labels, especially Universal, which owns the biggest amount of old labels, they couldn't find any paperwork related to records that they owned. For instance, the Modern Folk Quartet, as their best known, we requested “Night Time Girl.” They couldn't find anything, wouldn't claim ownership. And, I was looking at my single, and I said, 'On this one record, they were called the Modern Folk Quintet. Would you try again?' And they were like, 'Oh yeah. Your license is approved.' That's all it took.
A lot of time these days, people don't worry about licensing so much on that old stuff. They just wait for the lawyers to come after them. But we're a reputable company, so we have to do all this due diligence. Like, I was going to have a track by the Fifth Dimension on here, and they're in a lawsuit with Sony, so that couldn't be included.
That sounds like a dream job, doing the detective work on that stuff.
It was, it was the funnest thing probably in the past few years that I've worked on, especially in doing the liner notes. I felt like, time is really marching on, and some of these people are past on who were involved in making these records. I really should try and contact as many of these people as possible to see if they would have some sort of quote to put into the box, so I tried to integrate as much of that as possible, and it was really fun getting back in touch with a lot of these people, and that's where the idea sprang up to do the Amoeba in store, because I realized we could have a revue of a whole gang of these people, and they could do their thing and it would be a really cool moment. Because a lot of these people never performed these songs live.
You know, my fantasy about getting into a time machine and going back to Los Angeles and I would go the the Trip or the Whisky or whatever, and maybe I'd get to see the Byrds or Love. They might have just played a bunch of covers as much as they'd play their album tracks, because really it was about dancing and other stuff. It wasn't about original material at that point. So with a lot of these artists, they rarely ever played the songs on this box. So it's an interesting thing that they're going to come out and do.
Every generation thinks it's the first one to begin experimenting, to have this amazing “scene” that deserves attention. Most of what is known about Los Angeles in the sixties is the go-go stuff, and I never thought as much about the 60s LA scene as being as hard and vibrant as, say, the LA punk scene of the late 1970s or the Smell scene of today.
There were venues all over the place, and that was important to let people know that it wasn't just the Sunset Strip, and it wasn't just white guys playing Beatle-type music.
Yeah, that ad for the Glendale club.
Yeah, and the Inland Empire, there were tons of band. Riverside – tons of bands from that area. And Thee Midniters are amazing, and there are a number of Latino rock bands on disc two. And the coolest thing was, it wasn't just, 'Well, Latino rock must be represented because this is LA,' but it was, 'These songs are so incredible, and they've only been exposed on some of these “East Side Sound” compilations.' A lot of white pop fans haven't heard these tracks, and they're just as heavy and fuzzy as the most well known run-of-the-mill garage things that have been out before. It's really cool to have some exposure to that.
Do you get a sense of a regional LA sound as compared to, say, the San Francisco scene of the same time?
It's very different. And the other aspect of it is that there's much more of an above-ground cult for the music of San Francisco and also the music of, say, New York City. As cities, they've sort of blown their own horn for so many years, New York being the punk/CBGBs capitol, and those bands.There's a consensus that, say, New York was fantastic in 1977 because we had Patti Smith, Talking Heads and the Ramones. There's a consensus that San Francisco was fantastic in the summer of love. They had the Grateful Dead and Santana and all these other bands. In LA, there's no consensus. There's a consensus that, yes, the Byrds, and Love, and Captain Beefhheart, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, were famous, but those bands are somewhat known as mainstream bands.
People said to me, why would you include those on Nuggets? But they're just as important. They're all part of it. I wanted LA to actually, at last, to have some respect. I don't know if it's been the overall attitude of indifference here, or usual LA aloofness, but we've never had a pride in our own musical heritage, and we've got a rich, rich musical heritage, going back to jazz and blues and everything else. This is just one little chunk of it.
My feeling was, it all really started when the Byrds opened at Ciro's on the Sunset Strip, and it all came to an end, sort of naturally, in 1968, when that whole club scene died out because of all the licenses and all the things that are covered in the timeline. It's interesting. It seems that people weren't just upset about teenagers hanging around there and getting drunk or doing whatever they were doing, just loitering. It was that the other businesses, not just upscale clothing stores but strip joints and other merchants, were more in bed with the politicians.
I'm curious about the reissue world in general right now. When people talk about the troubles of the major labels, they fail to take into consideration the volumes of music that they own the rights to. They, almost quite literally, have vaults of property at their disposal to make money on.
Well, the issue is that, there was this big boom in CDs, and everybody got greedy. And not just the labels. I think that artists got a little greedy, and I think that record buyers got greedy. And I say that as a record buyer. I go to two or three different record stores every week. I'm a consumer. I don't just get product sent to me. I put out my own records, and sold them and played them around LA, and I work for a record company. And I think on all levels, everyone's become just a little bit comfortable with everything. For instance, 'The destruction of the music business and all the fat cats is the best thing that's ever happened. It's going to go back to the streets and everybody's going to be great.'
But, on the other hand, with that dismantling, you're also dismantling a lot of history. And the history is what I'm really interested in. When people say the music industry is challenged, that's kind of like the manager from Spinal Tap saying, 'Our appeal is becoming more selective.' We're more than challenged. I mean, things are just falling about because not only is there not enough money to keep things going, but people are saying, why should we even put out old catalog? It's not going to do X amount of dollars.
You mean on CD?
Yeah, or even online. There's this long-tail theory that everything will find it's audience, which may be true, but, then again, in order to have everything up online, you'd have to employ people, and the amount of money that comes in to do all that is not enough to employ somebody.
And the reality is that a lot of music obsessives these days are also bit torrent obsessives.
Artists feel like it's time for them to get their due, and it is, but if you're selling your CD at a gig, you still need to draw people to that gig, and you still need to find the buyers for it, and without the promotional machine, the publicists and a buzz in LA, you're really not going to draw any people. There has to be a structure.
Extended side conversation about bit torrents and the loss of mystique about “finding” a record.
I love disc four, New Directions. It suggests the direction that LA was headed from 1969 to 1975. The Jackie DeShannon with the Byrds track is unbelievable.
The Peter Fonda song. I see him on those informercials now hawking those 60s compilations. Danny Hutton – I'm not a huge Three Dog Night fan, but he had all these great records prior to that, and being a big Beach Boys nut, I always read about him being involved with the Beach Boys. Finding the right cut for him was really cool. Nino & April, their bagpipe-meets-the-Byrds version of “I Love How You Love Me” is fantastic. It's really great to have Van Dyke Parks, the Beach Boys, Randy Newman, Nilsson and those people all together on one CD. In my mind they're so entwined in some way.
Disc four seems to almost open the door for the inevitable late 60s/early 70s LA, like, 'What happens next?” Are there conversations about that?
We've talked about it, but it might take us as long as this one did. Certainly not just for the sheer amount of work it would take, but for the fact that the record business is in such transition. Maybe if this does really well we'll immediately be following it up, but right now we're sort of keeping our fingers crossed that this record finds its audience. But for me, if it finds its audience or doesn't find its audience, I'm just glad that I did it, especially because I feel like Los Angeles needs an identity for its music scene, and if you think about what happened here as far as all the great punk groups we had here in the late 70s and early 80s, that's a whole other chapter, maybe not of Nuggets, but a history that should get chronicled, too.
Do you feel like we're nearing the end of the box set era?
We really could be, because it seems like people have tuned out to buying music at retail. I mean, if you go into Amoeba, you'd probably think otherwise because there are so many people there and it's such a destination. But when you think that LA used to have a ton of record stores, and now it's down to, really, just one major one. It's hard to say. If the sales slide off. I like the idea of this because there's so much value to it that is beyond just the music, so people can't just say, well, I've got all of those songs, or I could download this or that. There's a value in having the book with it. You try and do that.
But my biggest worry is that, I know how many stores have taken this, and I can see it sitting there in its shrink-wrap with its price tag, and it's not free. If nobody ever gets to crack one of these open and see what's inside, that's the nightmare. That it just sits there like a book at the library that never gets read. I want people to know about this music and these groups.