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The Chocolate Watchband is an American garage rock band that was based in San Jose, California. The band, formed in 1965, went through several lineup changes during its existence, but developed a sound heavily influenced by The Rolling Stones. Combining typical psychedelic and garage rock components, the band's sound was marked by David Aguilar's lead vocals, and experimental intensity of an early protopunk band. The band's rebellious musical posture, combine with psychedelic-inspired guitar distortions and keyboards, made them one of the harder-edged groups of the period.
The band was signed to Tower Records in 1966 and released their first single, "Sweet Young Thing", in 1967. Later in the year, the band released their debut album, No Way Out. Though the album was nationally unsuccessful, the band became a frequent attraction in San Jose and the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1968, their second album, The Inner Mystique, was released and included the band's most popular song, a cover version of "I'm Not Like Everybody Else". By 1969, the band released their final album, One Step Beyond, however it was not as highly regarded as their past work, and the band broke up in 1970.
This band should not be confused with The Chocolate Watch Band, a London-based UK group that issued two singles on Decca Records in 1967.
Early line-up (1965):
The Chocolate Watchband was formed in the summer of 1965 by Ned Torney and Mark Loomis, who had previously played guitar together in a local band known as The Chaparrals in the previous year. The two were joined by other local collegies Rick Young (bass guitar), Pete Curry (drums), Jo Kemling (organ), and Danny Phay (lead vocals) to form the first version of the Chocolate Watchband, a name that was originally meant to be taken as a joke. All five musicians had a background rooted in rock and roll and blues, with each one having spent time on the local club circuit. The band was locally popular as they integrated cover versions of British Invasion groups, particularly The Who, into their live repertoire. Curry was soon replaced by Gary Andrijasevich, a jazz drummer from Cupertino High School. They never recorded any commercial releases, but rare demos by the group appeared in the 1990s. The band was gaining popularity until Torney and Phay accepted an offer from a rival band, The Outsiders, to join their group. Kemling followed soon after, effectively dismantling the first version of the band.
Loomis-Aguilar line-up (1966-1967):
With the first version of the Watchband disbanded, Mark Loomis moved on to join The Shandels. Quickly becoming disillusioned, he took the discarded name "Chocolate Watchband" and recruited The Shandels' bass player Bill 'Flo' Flores and former Watchband drummer, Gary Andrijasevich. Next he convinced former Topsiders guitarist Dave "Sean" Tolby to enlist. Lastly, after attending rock shows all over the Bay Area, David Aguilar, was added as frontman.
Thus the Watchband's new incarnation consisted of:
Mark Loomis - lead guitar, keyboards,
David Aguilar - lead vocals, harmonica, songwriting, arranging,
Gary Andrijasevich - drums, backing vocals,
Sean Tolby - rhythm guitar,
Bill 'Flo' Flores - bass, backing vocals,
Loomis naturally asserted the role of leader during this initial time period, although the band never acknowledged it had a designated leader. Songs to cover were presented, shows were talked about, the band voted together on all decisions. Sean Tolby obtained the latest in Vox equipment while Loomis provided the space for nightly rehearsals. Within a week, the band began performing at local teen-circuit hangouts in San Francisco's South Bay, playing a range of songs that included obscure British import tunes never released before in the States. One night at the Coconut Grove in Santa Cruz, "Season of the Witch" morphed into the Stones' "Going Home".
In a matter of weeks, the band was turning down shows. Unlike other local bands who were covering the latest hits from the top 10 on radio, the Watchband played songs few people had ever heard before. Thus, in many instances, these songs became associated with the Watchband and not the original artists. Growing numbers of fans followed their stars from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Tahoe. They appeared alongside the Dead, the Airplane, the Yardbirds, Santana, Big Brother, Lovin' Spoonful, Mothers of Invention, Mindbenders, the Seeds, the Syndicate of Sound, the Gollywogs (soon to be known as Creedence Clearwater), Jimi Hendrix, and the Doors.
Six months later, after opening for the Mothers of Invention at the Fillmore Auditorium, Hollywood music producer Bill Graham urged the Chocolate Watchband to sign a management contract with him. He was opening up a new Fillmore East in New York City and wanted to shuttle the Watchband, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane back and forth from coast to coast as his personal house bands. However, having signed a management contract with local promoter Ron Roupe a week earlier, their future followed a different path. Roupe, having secured a recording deal with Green Grass Productions in Los Angeles, introduced the band to producers Ed Cobb and Ray Harris. Whisked to Hollywood and into the recording studio, as a warm-up to show Cobb what the band could do, they quickly put down tracks for "Come On" - a Chuck Berry tune that had also been the first tune recorded by the Rolling Stones. Cobb introduced the band to a song he had written a week earlier named "Sweet Young Thing". Released in December 1966 by Tower Records, the B-side featured the group's cover of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue", another stage song the band regularly played. However, unknown to the Watchband, Tower Records farmed the distribution of their recordings out to Uptown Records - a black rhythm and blues label. They showed up for their first Uptown Records booked concert one Sunday afternoon at the Oakland Colosseum, and on the bill with them were Chuck Berry, the Coasters, Little Wayne, and ten other black rhythm and blues acts.
Even during their early stage, the Watchband had begun writing their own material with Dave Aguilar penning originals like "Right By My Side", "Gone & Passes By", "Don't Need Your Lovin' Anymore", "No Way Out" and "Sitting There Standing." Cobb had other songs in mind for the Watchband to cover. Instead, they insisted on recording "I'm Not Like Everybody Else", "Midnight Hour", and "Baby Blue" - songs they were playing every night at their concerts. Although "Sweet Young Thing" received airplay around the Bay Area during 1967, poor distribution and lack of publicity by Uptown Records doomed it. Decades later, re-recorded by Jet in 2012, "Sweet Young Thing" revealed how circumstances beyond their control held the Watchband back. The Watchband's second single was the commercial-sounding "Misty Lane", released with a sweet orchestrated ballad, "She Weaves a Tender Trap", as its B-side. As the band's popularity grew, Loomis' influence begun to wane, and the stronger personalities of Dave Aguilar and Sean Tolby were taking it in a different direction. Danny Phay who had joined and now left the defunct Other Side, began meeting with Mark Loomis whose feelings of not being the leader of the band were growing and becoming difficult for him. Eventually, these feelings led to the breakup of the Watchband. Discouraged by poor management, poor record distribution, lack of national tours, and lack of income, the band fell into a dark mood. Conversations among band members were obsessed with breaking recording contracts and finding new management. When there were no hit records or tours awaiting them, Loomis announced he was leaving to form a new band, The Tingle Guild.
During this period The Watchband were featured in two Sam Katzman films: Riot on Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins. The latter film inspired The Watchband's next single; "Are You Gonna Be There At The Love-In", which was written and recorded in one day. The single was released with the B-side "No Way Out", an instrumental spawned from a studio warm-up with spontaneous Aguilar vocals that Cobb later took credit for. With Loomis gone, the band drifted apart in late-1967, shortly after the release of their first album, No Way Out. A new Watchband with Sean Tolby, Billy Flores, Gary Andrijasevich, Tim Abbott and Mark Flinders came together to finish outstanding contracts. The third Watchband was now a hard blues band, but lasted merely weeks. Shortly following the break-up of this version of the Watchband, Cobb sent word he wanted the band back in the studio to record a final album. Phone calls went out, the original Chocolate Watchband was going back into the studio to record a third album. However, upon meeting at Sean Tolby's house in the Santa Cruz mountains, it was revealed Danny Phay would also be singing lead on some of the songs in the album. Never entering the house, Aguilar turned around saying the band was fucking nuts, and left, never to play with the original members together again. ( In later years he would direct marketing at an aerospace company in Boulder ending up directing a department at Harvard and writing books for National Geographic and Smithsonian.) On the first two albums Cobb and Harris had hedged their bets by not identifying who was in the band. On the third album, Cobb did not contribute a song. The seven songs that resulted from this recording session had a softer, folksier type of approach. In later years, it was revealed Ed Cobb had a contractual agreement to fulfill with no promotion money to back it.
Continuation - Tolby-Abbott line-up (1967):
After the departure of Loomis, Andrijasevich and Aguilar, Tolby and Flores were left with the duty of fulfilling a month's worth of bookings. They decided to enlist the services of Tim Abbott, Mark Whittaker and Chris Flinders, members of the San Francisco Bay Blues Band.
The Chocolate Watchband's resurrected line-up (after their breakup in mid-1967) was:
Sean Tolby - lead guitar,
Bill 'Flo' Flores - bass,
Tim Abbott - rhyhtm guitar,
Mark Whittaker - drums,
Chris Flinders - vocals,
The band still maintained a level of success, but the sound and style differed somewhat from the original band. They managed to secure a place as the opening act for The Doors and also performed at the KFRC Magic Mountain Festival. In late 1967, Abbott and Flinders had a disagreement with Tolby and manager Ron Roupe over financial matters, which ensured the indefinite break-up of the Watchband in December 1967.
Reformation and break-up (1968-1969):
The Chocolate Watchband was reformed in late 1968; its line-up consisted of:
Sean Tolby - guitar,
Bill "Flo" Flores - bass,
Mark Loomis - guitar,
Gary Andrijasevich - drums,
Ned Torney - guitar,
Danny Phay - vocals,
The band worked with Cobb to produce their third album, One Step Beyond. They began to chafe at Cobb's influence because they believed he presented them as being more instrumental on record than they were live. Cobb also used session musicians, sometimes entire ghost bands, to record portions of Chocolate Watchband albums. Less than half of The Inner Mystique, for example, featured the actual Watchband. One Step Beyond was a commercial failure except for the songs written and sung by David Aguilar that were put in on the album from past recording sessions, but on other tracks session players - including Moby Grape guitarist Jerry Miller (who played on "Devil's Motorcycle") - were used. The Chocolate Watchband recorded a Cobb tune already done by The Standells, "Medication" (on The Inner Mystique).
The band may have ended with their final break-up in 1970, but when a revival of psychedelic music and garage-band punk picked up steam by the 1980s, the Chocolate Watchband's original albums began swapping, reportedly, for as much as $100 per copy, according to Allmusic. Rhino Records issued a best-of in 1982; Sundazed and other labels re-issued the original albums on compact discs, including bonus tracks.
By the middle of the 1990s, the former band members began thinking about a reunion, and it finally took place in 1999. Dave Aguilar, Tim Abbott (replacing Mark Loomis, who backed out of the reunion), Bill Flores, and Gary Andrijasevich reunited, adding Michael Reese in Sean Tolby's place. The Watchband began gigging that year, culminating in a show at New York's Cavestomp and a live album, At the Love-In Live! in 2001. They also issued a studio album,Get Away, in between the Cavestomp show and the live album. The group has since gigged in Europe and America. Allmusic stated they finally got "the worldwide recognition and fan adoration that should have been theirs in 1967."
In 2005, Melts in Your Brain . . . Not on Your Wrist, a two-CD compilation of the Chocolate Watchband's complete Tower/Uptown recordings, was released.
In June, 2013, the Watchband made it back to a recording studio in their hometown San Jose, to begin a new album. The band now is Timmy Abbott, lead guitar, engineer, producer and vocals; Gary Andrijasevich on drums and percussion; Albert Alicia on rhythm guitar; David Aguilar - vocals, keyboards, guitars, percussion, harmonica; Alec Palao - bass, acoustic guitar, vocals; plus the British born music critic/writer of 1960s garage rock music, original member of The Seeds and newest edition, Daryl Hooper - keyboards, guitars. The band had new songs and new takes on several covers. The first song recorded was a tribute to Sky Saxon who had recently died. The Watchband recorded "I Can't Seem To Make You Mine" followed by Frank Zappa's, "Trouble Every Day", and more tracks.
Former member Mark Loomis died on September 26, 2014, in Hawaii.
From David Aguilar:
This is a sad moment for all of us in the band. I never quite understood Mark's withdrawal and leaving, but in later years he expressed deep regret in breaking up the band. However, at that point in time there was no way to revive that magical moment in time. I always marveled at his guitar work and as time passed, my admiration for his musical abilities and unique guitar playing grew like the expanding universe. I can't express how sad I feel knowing all that is now permanently behind us. In my heart all I can say is thank you Mark for making the Watchband happen. And thank you for selecting me as your lead singer. With our fans - your musical notes will always play on.
Chocolate Watch Band