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The story of The Nitecaps in pictures, audio, text and newspaper clippings

Those that grew up in the San Jose/Santa Clara area in the 60s and were fortunate enough to spend some time at the Santa Clara Youth Village, better known as “Wutzit Club,” should find this site of interest and a lot of fun.

“The Nitecaps were part of the new music revolution in the 1960s in the San Jose/San Francisco Bay Area. Those were very exciting times. The group was very active in the local Bay Area music scene. There is a generation of kids who grew up with them and remember the band to this day. I find it pretty amazing that people still walk up to me and bring up that I was in The Nitecaps. If they grew up in the 60s, they all seem to remember the band.”
Jim (Jimmy Nite) Bruno

Who wrote the song about the Nitecaps on the homepage?

Surf Band Years

The Early Years of The Nitecaps

By Jim Bruno

The Nitecaps started off as a surf band. The very 1st lineup of that surf band was myself – Jim BrunoJohnny Diaz, Tony Coronado and Steve Cron.

There were all these great amazing instrumentals that were released in the early 1960s by groups like the Ventures (“Walk, Don’t Run” and “Pipeline”), The Rebels (“Wild Weekend”), and the Tornadoes (“Telstar”).

I was in a band where most of the other guys were older than me, but I listened well. Even though I was playing rhythm guitar, I was watching closely and figuring out how to play all the lead parts as well. When I got booted out of that band and Johnny Diaz and I decided to create our own group, it took me hardly any time to start playing all of those tunes as the lead guitar player.

The 3rd Surf Band Lineup – 1964

Steve Cron was a good friend of Johnny’s and in the same grade, so they were both a year older than me. Tony Coronado was my good friend at the time – he lived down the street from me – and I just started showing him guitar parts. We needed a bass player, so he switched to bass.

That band spent more time in my garage and Steve’s duplex than actually playing out much. We were just learning and we didn’t really care if we were playing anywhere; we were having fun playing the songs at practice.

Our very first live performance was for Tony’s sister, Paula, who was in a beauty pageant. We played for a little after party following the pageant, and I backed up Tony’s sister for her talent portion of the pageant. That was just her and I – I played guitar and she sang.

The song was “500 Miles Away From Home,” a very easy song to play but I was terrified, as it was my first time on stage. There were a lot of people there; the stage was dark except for a spotlight on Paula and myself sitting on a stool. Even with all the butterflies, stage terror, and dry throat, I still knew I really liked performing.

When we played the after party, we didn’t have a PA system and we only had two songs that had any vocals, so the rest of our set was instrumentals. For the two songs that had vocals, we all just sang as loud as we could…all at the same time. It was quite hilarious, but hey, you have to start somewhere, right?

The other venue we played at was called Alateen’s, run by an organization for teenagers with alcoholic parents. We loved playing that venue: there where a bunch of kids our age and lots of cute girls. What wasn’t to like? We were paid $25 to play one gig a month. Now, that wasn’t $25 per player, that was $25 for the whole band, but hey, as I said, we were learning and we were having a lot of fun.

Somewhere along that early timeline we added one more player – Larry Lunsford. Larry became our second rhythm guitar so we had three guitar players, a bass player and Johnny on drums. Tony left the group when he moved away, and Steve got bored and didn’t want to do it anymore. That’s when yet another one of my friends, Butch Martin, came in. That was when the surf group version of The Nitecaps started to really happen; we were doing a lot better.

During this time we met Jean Cory, who became our first manager. She was a booking agent and she handled booking all the talent for the Santa Clara County Fair. This put her in a pretty powerful position, so she had lots of contacts and clout when it came to getting a band booked.

I credit Jean with bringing Johnny Labum to the group. After Johnny’s band had broken up, he was looking for another group, and Mrs. Cory was positive he would be a good fit for us. She was right.

We coasted along for a while with that lineup. Bob Martin, brother of band member Butch, was the youngest of all of us and was always with us everywhere we went. Bob and Butch were very close, and Bob was definitely interested in what we were doing and wanted to be part of it. He joined the group, and we now had Johnny on sax and Bob on trumpet. We were still a surf band, but not long after that we went to spent a now famous night at a James Brown concert. From that moment on, we quickly started transforming into a soul band.

The 1st Surf Band Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Tony Coronado – Bass guitar
Steve Cron – Rhythm Guitar
Jim Bruno – Lead Guitar

The 2nd Surf Band Lineup

Johnny Diaz – drums
Tony Coronado – Bass guitar
Steve Cron – Rhythm Guitar
John Labum – Saxophone
Jim Bruno – Lead Guitar

The 3rd Surf Band Lineup

Johnny Diaz – drums
Tony Coronado – Bass guitar
Steve Cron – Rhythm Guitar
Larry Lunsford – Rhythm Guitar
John Labum – Saxophone
Jim Bruno – Lead Guitar

The Final Surf Band Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Butch Martin – Bass guitar
Bob Martin – Trumpet
Larry Lunsford – Rhythm Guitar
John Labum – Saxophone
Tony Cirillo – Keyboard
Jim Bruno – Lead Guitar

Soul Sound

From Surf to Soul

The 1st Nitecaps

We went from a surf band to a soul band right after we all went and saw James Brown. Phil Salgado was also at that concert, and that was the first night we met him. He joined the band shortly after that.

Another member of The Nitecaps was our first keyboard player, Tony Cirillo. Tony was in the band for a while, starting the surf band era. (Tony’s the keyboard player on the audio track “Chaos”). Tony was around during the James Brown concert, but didn’t attend that night with the rest of us, so Tony was the only Nitecaps member Phil didn’t meet at the show. When Phil joined the group, Tony was already in the band, so he was there as we began our surf-to-soul transition. Tony was a good keyboard player, and it was a surprise when he left us to move on to another well-known group called the “Soul Seekers.”

During that time we played many fun gigs. The band was growing in popularity and experience, and we were the band that was destined to win many Band Battles.

I’ve listed all the different combinations of the group throughout the time period, but the super group of our history was the third soul lineup. We were a little older, and we really settled into the lineup. It was a perfect group for that time in musical history in the Bay Area, when there were all these incredible Battles of the Bands.

Every one of the guys in this group was extremely dedicated to the band, and we would work out shows specifically for Band Battles. Although we would write down a song list that we would put on the stage somewhere, the guys had to have every single song and every single transition memorized. We would practice things like asking a particular member to recite the whole show from beginning to end. It was almost like being in the Army and having a drill sergeant tell you to do something – that was the kind of serious approach we took to what we were doing.

We had it down – every move, every drum fill from instrumental to up-tempo hot tunes – and it was a really great balance of songs. In one year we won the County Fair Battle, the Wutzit Battle and the Teenage World’s Fair. I thought it would be impossible to win the Teenage World’s Fair, but in the end we won even that (Details here).

Everything was going along just wonderfully until we lost Butch as our bass player due to circumstances beyond our control, but we managed to replace Butch with an amazingly great bass player named Chip Benson.

Chip is another one of those amazingly talented people who has his own story and he went on to become somewhat of a local legend in relationship to his abilities on the bass.

Chip was with us for a while but really didn’t stay too long. We continue to be friends to this day, but Chip was only in the group for short period of time, and after he left, we held auditions until we finally settled on a bass player by the name of Jim Morgan.

Jim Morgan was in the group for a while but moved on to be the bass player of a group called “The Midnight Haze,” the band that spelled the end of an era for The Nitecaps and the creation of The Nitecaps 2.0.

The 1st Soul Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass guitar
Tony Cirillo – Keyboards
John Labum – Saxophone
Bob Martin – Trumpet
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The 2nd Soul Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass guitar
Tony Cirillo – Keyboards
John Labum – Saxophone
Bob Martin – Trumpet / Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The 3rd Soul Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass guitar
Robert Vallelunga – Organ
John Labum – Saxophone
Bob Martin – Trumpet / Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The 4th Soul Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Chip Benson – Bass Guitar
Robert Vallelunga – Organ
John Labum – Saxophone
Bob Martin – Trumpet / Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The 5th Soul Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Jim Morgan – Bass Guitar
Robert Vallelunga – Organ
John Labum – Saxophone
Bob Martin – Trumpet / Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The Nitecaps 2.0

The Story of The Nitecaps Renaissance

The 2nd Nitecaps - 2nd Lineup

The 2nd Nitecaps – 2nd Lineup

In the summer of 1967, I attended the University of Nevada’s Summer Jazz Camp.

One of the things we were asked to do during that summer camp was to write a big-band arrangement that would be performed the last night of the concert. Everybody was asked to do it; it was part of our lessons and was part of our theory classes. The purpose, of course, was to teach everybody more about arranging and writing out charts. I wrote out a tune that was played the last night, and while it was fun, it was also a great experience to write and arrange for a band that size.

I was very excited from all the wonderful things I had learned at the camp, but everything always revolved around the band, and I couldn’t wait to start to apply some of these new skills I had gained.

Unfortunately, when I got back from that camp I got a pretty big surprise, and not one I was happy to receive. Gene Lunsford told me that both Johnny and I needed to come over to his house for a meeting.

When I got to Gene’s house, it really wasn’t a meeting because the whole group was not there. Gene, Johnny and I sat down in his living room, and what Gene shared was that half the guys in the group had decided that they wanted to move on and create a new band.

Although I didn’t know what the name would be at the time, the new band would be called “The Midnight Haze.” Of course, the name “Nitecaps” would be kept by both Johnny and myself since we started the band and named it originally. Let’s face it – I was Jimmy Nite so keeping the name was pretty much a given.

It was interesting, because just like when I got booted out of my first band, it was just Johnny and me again, feeling like we had to start all over. Well, almost – luckily, not all of the guys wanted to strike out in a new direction.

The new band consisted of myself, Johnny, Butch, and Bob. Yep, that was it – the rest of the guys from the original group moved on to the Midnight Haze. We had the rhythm section minus the keyboard player but we lost the horns.

I knew of an organist who was friends with Bob; he was the brother of Chip Benson. His name was Eric Benson, and I contacted him. He joined the band, and he had a friend by the name of Tim Smith who played saxophone. But we still needed a trumpet player.

That’s when this guy I’d met at summer camp popped into my head. He was a great trumpet player and he could play these amazing screaming high notes. It was fun meeting him, and when I left that summer camp I thought that was that  – until suddenly I found myself in need of a trumpet player. All I knew about him was that his name was Kevin, that he lived in San Jose and that he went to Campbell High School, which didn’t help because it was still summer break. Fortunately, I did remember that he told me he was going to a music camp in Lake Tahoe and from there back to San Jose State to go to the Stan Kenton Summer Camp.

I  jumped in my car and drove to San Jose State to visit the music department. I walked into the cafeteria and started asking around if anybody knew of a trumpet player by the name of Kevin, but it turned out there was more than one person who played the trumpet named Kevin at the music camp, so one of the guys in the cafeteria told me to go over to the dorms and ask around.

I did exactly that. I started knocking on doors, asking everybody if they knew a trumpet player by the name of Kevin. Three doors in, I knocked on a door and before it was opened, I heard a voice say, “That would be me.” There he was, the same guy I’d met three weeks prior in Reno. Kevin Marcy the Trumpet Player – the rest is history.

We put together the new band with the new lineup; Tim and Eric stayed with us for about 4 months, I think, before they got a better offer and they moved on.

From there I decided to ask one of the sax players that I knew from my high school jazz band. He was first chair alto and his name was Vince Lopez. Vince became the new saxophone player for us, and at that point we just decided to keep it a two-piece horn section instead of three. Later, we replaced Eric with Rick Pennell.

The Midnight Haze stayed together for a while but then they split up, and at that juncture Phil came back, making our two-piece horn section three again. Phil came back as both trumpet and trombone player and that was the band that stayed together until we still disbanded in 1969.

So there you have it – the true story and the reason there was a second version of the Nitecaps.

2nd Nitecaps – 1st Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Bob Martin – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass Guitar
Eric Benson – Organ
Tim Smith – Saxophone
Kevin Marcy – Trumpet
Vince Lopez – Saxophone
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

2nd Nitecaps – 2nd Lineup

Johnny Diaz – Drums
Bob Martin – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass Guitar
Rick Panell – Keyboards
Kevin Marcy – Trumpet
Vince Lopez – Saxophone
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

2nd Nitecaps – Final Lineup

Richard Alves – Drums
Bob Martin – Lead Guitar
Butch Martin – Bass Guitar
Rick Panell – Keyboards
Kevin Marcy – Trumpet
Vince Lopez – Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet & Trombone
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

The Reunions

The Return of the Nitecaps: 1983 and 1988

The Nitecaps Reunion

Back Row: Bob Martin, Phil Salgado, Larry Lunsford Kevin Marcy, Tommy Sosa
Middle Row: Jimmie Bojorquez, Tim Smith, Eric Benson, Robert Vallelunga, Chip Benson
Front Row (kneeling): Jim Bruno, Johnny Diaz

The Nitecaps run lasted throughout my high school years and then it was over. Well, almost – in the 1980s we got to relive the glory days twice. The Nitecaps played two reunion shows: one in 1983 for our 15-year high school reunion, and one in 1988 for our 20-year high school reunion.

Those were a lot of fun and more than just for the band, they were like an eclectic  band far larger than the actual eight piece group that The Nitecaps was back in the day. All of the members that were around, some friends and some female background singers that were students of mine all participated, and Jimmie Bojorquez, lead singer of the Dynamics and the Barons of Soul was a guest singer. They were great nights full of memories and fun-filled music.

The band definitely grew quite a bit for those shows: at one of the reunions we had a 6-piece horn section, four female backup singers, two guitar players, two keyboard players, a drummer and myself as lead singer.

We started rehearsing about a month before the actual performance, and the rehearsals were just as much fun as the show itself. We were all full of smiles, laughter, and memories of all the music, performances and venues that we had played. Everybody was sharing their own little stories about songs and the gigs, and each had different fun memories to share.

As for me, it was never lost on me how lucky I was to see all of my high school friends, and even better, to get to perform for them. Both events were double reunions for me: reunions with the guys in the band and reunions with my high school graduating class.

How lucky and fortunate we all feel that we all got to participate. Whether it was the original run in the 60s or when we had the reunions in the 80s, the memories of The Nitecaps always were and always will be fun and magical.

Reunion Lineup –  1983

Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Bob Martin – Lead Guitar
Chip Benson – Bass
Sam Johnson – Trombone
Kevin Marcy – Trumpet
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Tim Smith – Saxophone
Johnny Labum – Saxophone
Johnny Diaz – Drums
Robert Vallelunga – Organ
Eric Benson – Organ
Jimmie Bojorquez – Lead Singer
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

Reunion Lineup – 1988

Larry Lunsford – Lead Guitar
Bob Martin – Lead Guitar
Chip Benson – Bass
Johnny Diaz – Drums
Tim Smith – Saxophone
Tommy Sosa – Baritone Saxophone
Phil Salgado – Trumpet
Kevin Marcy – Trumpet
Eric Benson – Organ
Robert Vallelunga – Organ
Jimmie Bojorquez – Lead Singer
Jim Bruno – Lead Singer

Reunion Video

Jim Bruno talks about the Nitecaps reunions.