The Band Battles
This is where the Nitecaps excelled: we won more band battles then any band could have expected to or even hoped to. We were the perfect group when it came to judges in band battles, and here are some of the reasons. Our appearance was always well thought out. We wore matching outfits. All of the guys on front stage were of equal heights and size, and all of guys were attractive. (I know, it sounds a little egotistical).
More importantly, our musicianship and music was very good. We choreographed our songs with dance routines and there was never lag time between songs. Something was always happening on stage to keep things interesting.
The very first battle we were ever in which was at Samuel Ayr High School. We won that battle. We didn’t win every battle we competed in, however; we played at the County Fair three or four years in a row, and the first couple of years we placed but we didn’t win.
The first year we took third place and the second year we took second place (both of those years, we were still a surf band), but by the time we had switched from surf to soul, we were winning just about everything. We were in our third soul lineup of the Nitecaps when we won three of the biggest battles we ever competed in. All three of those battles of the bands were all in the same year. It was great fun.
The County Fair Battle in 1966 was the beginning of that winning streak, and let me tell you, it was no small feat to win the Battle of the Bands at the county fair. There were always over two hundred bands (if not more) that all competed towards the finals.
The first place winners got to play as headliners on the big stage at the fair. Now, when I say, “big stage,” I really do mean “BIG stage”: they used to have a stage that was pulled out on the racetrack – they must’ve had to use trailers and trucks to do it.
It was gigantic: three stories high, and if you fell off of it, honestly, you probably would not survive. It had an amazingly professional lighting and sound system – absolutely fantastic – and it was the place where the most people could gather. I’m not sure how many people, but I’d guess 2,000 to 3,000.
We played in a big variety show with an MC and we were announced as the winners of the Battle of the Bands that year. It was really quite amazing. The spotlights and lighting on the stage were so bright you really couldn’t see out into the audience much, but you sure could hear them! Hearing so many people applaud all at the same time – well, it’s really something.
Playing in these types of shows really adds to your professionalism – we were becoming more and more professional with each show we did, and as we got better, we were having more and more fun.
I’m sure that a lot of the guys in the band might actually think of these as the most exciting of our battles that we won.
The Wutzit Club was our home turf; we had started playing there when we were too young to even be there on High School Night, and for a long time it was the biggest venue that we had played. The stage was fantastic, the dance floor was fantastic, and the audiences were large and made up mostly of kids our age.
Just like at the County Fair Battle we had competed at the year before, in 1965 we did not win. That year, The Jaguars won.
I have no doubt that if you’re a person reading this who grew up in the Bay Area in the 1960s, you also would remember the Jaguars. The Jaguars were a fantastic group made up of guys who were a little bit older than us and we definitely looked up to them. It was easy to see right from the beginning that they were extremely good guys, and they had many of the qualities that we were striving to develop – great showmanship, great musicianship, great appearance on stage. They were also serious about what they were doing, and their show was a whole lot of fun.
The leader of the Jaguars was Barry Weinroth. Both Barry and Gary Weinroth (brothers) would eventually play a big role in my life, as they are the owners of Guitar Showcase, a local music store with which I have been associated with for many, many years. But that was in the future – I certainly didn’t know all of that on Friday the 13th in 1966. That was the day that we took first place at the Wutzit Battle of the Bands, and yes, the finals were actually on a Friday the 13th. Since then, I’ve always thought of Friday the 13th as a lucky day.
Some history – The Wutzit Battle was another one of those battles that started months before the event. The bands would compete regularly each week for months and then, if they won that week, they would move on to semi-finals and then on to the finals.
Our competition that night were the Chosen Few and the Barons Of Soul.
I highly respected both bands. The Chosen Few were hands down the best harmony singers around at that time, and the Barons of Soul had a horn section that just wouldn’t quit. Add that to that the fact that their lead singer was of one of my local heroes, and you could see that they were a respected adversary in the battles. Tommy Sosa was also in that band – Tommy is a great drummer and became a lifelong friend.
I would also go on to have lifelong relationships with the lead singers of both bands. As of this writing, my singing partner with whom I go out and do a lot of shows with is Frank Vierra, who was the lead singer of The Chosen Few. Jimmie Bojorquez of the Barons is also still a good friend.
I didn’t know about those future friendships back then, but I’m happy that things worked out the way that they did. Life has lots of pleasant twists and turns and surprises for all of us, but of course, it’s not too hard to figure that guys that share the same interests would be future friends. For me, it’s all part of the magic of the wonderful teenage years I spent in the Nitecaps.
Nitecaps Interview – Teenage World’s Fair
The Teenage World’s Fair definitely was, in my mind, the biggest and best of all the battles of the bands that we participated in.
Like the other two big battles, the competition started months before the event and culminated on the last day of the fair.
It took a lot to get there. Bands had to audition just to be able to play at the fair; multiple bands would compete every day for a week, and one winner would be picked each day to compete in the final.
Now, because this battle was so important to us, we really worked hard on it. We practiced a lot, and as there would be no song list on stage, everybody had to have every nuance and dance step and knowledge of what drum fills or announcing was going to happen in between each song committed to memory.
By the time we made it to the finals, we were the only band from the South Bay. All the rest of the bands were from San Francisco.
I take a moment to recount the most memorable thing about this particular battle – two of our very rehearsed members didn’t show up.
I can’t tell you how nerve-racking that was, but we were saved by the fact that we had brought all of the band equipment and our uniforms up in our trailer and van, and thank goodness for that, because if we hadn’t, we probably would not have been able go on and play.
Butch and Bob Martin had gone on a camping weekend with their dad. They were avid water skiers, and their boat broke down that day, so they were stranded on an island. It took them hours to get the boat working so they could get back to shore and head to the Cow Palace, where the event was held. They actually heard that we had won on the radio as they were driving to try to make it to the battle.
Dave Daly had come to see us perform, and as the day went on, and Bob and Butch never showed up, we had no choice but to talk Dave into going on stage with us or we would not been able to perform.
We had to go on one horn player short, which would screw up our choreography within the horn section. One of our moves with the horn section was when John Labum was taking a sax solo, he would do some steps while the other two horn players did steps around him. Those steps were not going to work with Bob being gone.
Usually, during that solo, I would just do my Jimmy Nite singing and dance creatively in a James Brown style, but this time I took over Bob’s steps whenever Johnny was taking solos and did the steps with Phil. That part worked out fine.
I think Dave Daly did only one one step if that, but knew enough about bass and our songs to pull things off musically, but the choreography that Larry and the horn section would usually do was a little messed up as well.
Nevertheless, we got on with our show; the music was fine, but in my mind it wasn’t nearly the show that we had rehearsed, and I thought that there was no chance that we could possibly win the battle.
When they announce the standings, they always read them in reverse order: third place winner, second place winner, and then first place winner. As the announcer rattled off the names of the third and second place winners, I was thinking, “Oh my God, we didn’t even place.”
And then, just like in a movie, they said our name. I absolutely could not believe it! To hear our name as the winners of the Teenage World’s Fair – I was never more surprised about anything!
One thing I haven’t mentioned was that another one of the spectators there that day was Tony Coronado, who was in the original Nitecaps when it was just four of us in the original band. I think that Tony had moved somewhere close to San Francisco, which what is why he to came to see us in the battle that day. You’d think we would have asked Tony to play with us that day instead of Dave, but remember – Tony was in the surf band very early on, and there was no way he would have known all of those soul tunes. Dave was the better choice.
When the announcer announced our name, Tony literally grabbed a hold of me, picked me up and threw me on the stage like I was a basketball. There was so much energy running through all of us, and if you listen to the audio when I’m being interviewed (yes, my voice is pretty high – hey, I was a sophomore in high school), I was in so much shock when he asked the questions that I barely knew what to say. I was so amazed we won and so stressed out that Butch and Bob hadn’t made it.
So that’s the story of the Teenage World’s Fair, and after winning that battle, the gigs really came in. We got to do concerts with the 13th floor Elevator, a group called The Generation who later would change their name to Cold Blood and many others. There were so many different wonderful performances and venues that we got to play just because we won the Teenage World’s Fair.
My calendar that I used to keep track of our performances was full every Friday and Saturday night a year out (there were probably some Thursdays in there as well) and to be a sophomore in high school with that many accolades under my belt already really was an incredible experience and blessing.
Music and my experiences in the Nitecaps have always been wonderful and magical, but that day was a standout, and will always remain one of my very fondest of memories.