Thursday, December 21, 2017

Hi-Fi Baby: The Floyd and Jerry Story


The first time I heard of Floyd and Jerry, I was thinking the duo were along the lines of a Peter and Gordon or Chad & Jeremy act for Phoenix.  However, that preconception was shattered when I heard the hopped up and potent rock 'n' roll of their first band the Door Nobs and their signature song “Hi-Fi Baby” (that would be subsequently covered by the Barbary Coasters in 2005). Like so many other combos of the era, the lingua franca of the Beatles can be clearly detected, but the Westfall brothers were also deeply steeped in the twangy and indigenous country, folk and rockabilly influences & inflections which reverberated across the Southwest at the time. (Someone on Youtube aptly described them as kind of a garage version of the Everly Brothers.)  In 1966, KRIZ radio published an in-house newspaper Boss-Line that aligned the duo to the Phoenix-area parade of stars who reached prominence on the national level: Duane Eddy, Marty Robbins, Buck Owens, Wayne Newton and Waylon Jennings. They did indeed bring elements of the pre-British Invasion sound so deep into the ‘60s, it will have one double checking the mostly 1966 release dates of these records. While their work with the Door Knobs led off 2001’s essential Legend City compilation, I had not previously heard the bulk of their recorded output until this ambitious career-spanning retrospective.  This disc, action packed with 27 cuts of local color, presents the Viv & Presta singles of Floyd & Jerry along with unreleased demos, masters and a handful of gems they wrote for other performers.

A Double Shot from Phoenix to the
Philippines
The songs which immediately leaped off the disc were actually the ones which dashed up to the top of the local charts. "Believe in Things," which reached #1 in Phoenix in spring of 1966 features hooks galore and lyrics that could have floated directly out of the Dunhill Records cubicle of P.F. Sloan & Steve Barri.  The follow-up "Summertime Kisses," appropriately released in summer 1966, sounds like a missing link for the Monkees. The previously unissued Door Knobs master, "Summertime Breeze" is especially strong with its washes of steel guitar-ish drop-offs-evoking the spare beauty of the surrounding Sonoran Desert.  An obscure country group the Maveriks recorded  the duo's "Wonder Why," but it is brushed off by Floyd in a recent interview as pretty much a stupid novelty.  However, it works in a brilliantly absurd way that may make one reconsider their flat earth surface conceptions.  They even wore their hearts on their mod sleeves with the soulful sounds of "If You Want Me."  In 1967, Double Shot Records (home to Brenton Wood, SeƱor Soul and the Count Five) signed the duo. Two singles were released by the Hollywood independent, but unfortunately could not be be included on this collection due to the fact that the song rights are currently in the hands of a major music conglomerate.  Their first Double Shot single, "Love Me Girl" charted in Orlando and was soon covered by the Pinoy pop group Orly Ilacad and the Ramrods.
Nothing is Ever Easy
As with other musicians ranging from Gary Lewis to countless members of local garage bands, their musical dreams were essentially shattered when Selective Services came calling for Jerry.  Fortunately the Vietnam War did not mean the end of the Floyd & Jerry Story, as the duo resurfaced in that brief 1979-1981 moment when countrypolitan acts (e.g., Juice Newton, Eddie Rabbit) crossed over to the pop charts. While commercial success continued to elude them, the material from this phase is a strong last crack at the big leagues and thankfully included. It actually sounds like wind down music for The Fall Guy! The verses of "It's So Easy" (not the Buddy Holly song/Ronstadt cover of the same title) remind me of Robert Knight's "Everlasting Love." "Finger Touchin'" is a delightful country instrumental and testament to their guitar finesse which runs throughout their work.  I'm still trying to discern if "Northridge South" is a reference to Northridge and the California country scene just down south at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood.

While never truly breaking through to the national level, they were huge on the local scene which included the steep competition of acts like the Vibratos, Phil & the Frantics, P-Nut Butter and eventually Alice Cooper’s Spiders. They were also said to receive major airplay and acclaim in the medium markets of Bakersfield, Lubbock and Oklahoma City.  All and all, how many Arizona bands can proclaim opening for the Beau Brummels, the Yardbirds, the Dave Clark Five and also for James Brown in Tucson?
Japanese picture sleeve courtesy of John P. Dixon
Their overall sound may have sounded slightly dated in the context of the seismic shifts in sounds transpiring in 1966/67, but with time this disc now places Floyd & Jerry in the regional rock 'n' roll pantheon alongside the likes of the Gestures, the Gants, the Rockin' Ramrods and the Bobby Fuller Four. Furthermore, listeners can now hear their enduring pop sensibilities along with those clear and bold Western intonations still attuned and stretching out into the vastness of the desert.

Credit must be given to Mascot Records for making this music accessible to the world outside of collector circles and shoddy smartphone Youtube videos.  The stellar sound, exciting design and insightful liner notes by Dan Nowicki all converge to make this one of the top archival releases of 2017
Presta Record ad courtesy of Mascot Records

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