Sunday, 14 April 2024

CyberSoulMan: Funky forestage

T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.



Some of you know that my pre-formative years were spent growing up in a mildly astonishing suburban enclave known as Kelly Hill, nestled then in an unincorporated portion of Hayward in southern Alameda County.

There were a couple of venues in the vicinity of my neighborhood that were actually teenager friendly. One was the I.D.E.S. Hall in downtown Hayward. Amazingly, promoters were able to book some fairly big names for our teenaged concert going pleasure. The house band at the I.D.E.S. Hall was a very funky assemblage of cats who called themselves the Spyders.

The cool thing about them was, if the radio played a new James Brown release on Tuesday, the Spyders had it down by the I.D.E.S. Hall gig on Saturday. They were that good. My memory tells me that somehow they evolved into Tower Of Power. Actually they were a prime influence on Tower Of Power as evidenced by a lingering Internet page devoted to the memory of the Spyders which is referenced here:

The "Spyders"

Bill Oxford, Vance Johnson's uncle, brought the "Spyders" to the Bay Area all the way from Harrison, Ark., early in 1964. Vance joined the band as their first Bay Area drummer, and later, lead singer and front man. The "Spyders" were at first a top 40 cover band during the "British Invasion," and later became a pure "Soul" band, gaining some recognition as a "Tower of Power" influence

Both Vance and his uncle left the "Spyders" late in 1965, and moved to Spokane, Wash., where they started new musical pursuits. The "Spyders" quickly replaced them and got very "funky." The band went on to record and tour successfully for another three years, until the draft decimated the group, and they dissolved late in 1968. (End of reference).

My fellowettes, fellows and I saw and even met some cool folks at the I.D.E.S. I remember a handbill that advertised “Bob & Earl.” They were an R&B duo that had a smash dance hit entitled Harlem Shuffle. Also on the bill was another dance groover, one Jackie Lee who had a hit dance single called The Duck. In the week before the concert, we were like, wow, two acts for the price of one. I think the price of admission was somewhere around three or four bucks. Imagine our chagrin when we found out that Earl and Jackie Lee were the same guy performing under two different names since he was contracted to two different record labels. Do the math. It was one and a half for the price of two!

It was still exciting. We saw Bob fall off the stage during the performance of Harlem Shuffle. In my first witnessing of the age old adage, the show must go on, the valiant Spyders kept on jammin’, didn’t miss a beat. Earl (or Jackie Lee as it were) was heard to implore to Bob, “Come on Bobby, get up!” Get up he did, they performance was completed, musicians, singers and crowd nonplussed.

Afterwards, somehow a few of us ended up being invited backstage to meet Bob, Earl and Jackie. They were nice guys. I was privileged also to peer into Jackie’s travel kit. I was proud to learn that we both used the same stiff pomade which for noncommercial purposes will not be revealed here. (Begins with an M).

The legendary Mississippi born bluesman Muddy Waters also appeared at the I.D.E.S hall. Didn’t get to meet him, but I do remember he let a pre-hippy harmonica player from my high school sit in with the band, thus cementing for all time evidence that the blues was all right.

One of my homeys from Kelly Hill was/is a handsome fellow who was always high on the chicks' to do list. We called him JB. His popularity even extended into the show biz realm.

I remember when the legendary Shirelles came to the I.D.E.S. Hall, somebody smuggled him backstage and a kiss was stolen. Either he stole a kiss from a Shirelle or vice versa. I was so envious. The first record I ever bought was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, written by Carole King.

Another artist named Little Helen (who was to eventually evolve into the Gospel artist Helen Baylor), had a hit entitled “The Richest Girl In The World,” also played the I.D.E.S. Hall. Again JB busted slob with a star. He still holds the Kelly Hill record. Scratch that, now that I think about it, the Kelly Hill record holder is Larry Graham of Sly & The Family Stone and Graham Central Station!

Bumping up a notch on the concert Richter scale was the legendary night club, Frenchy’s. It stayed open until 6 a.m.

Through some weird loophole in the law, it was actually legal for 16-year-olds to attend. Something to do with the fact that they served free breakfast from 2 a.m. until 6 a.m.

We saw many great acts there as well B.B. King, Tower Of Power, Cold Blood, Leon’s Creation, The Loading Zone. Sly & The Family Stone played there many weekends on end. This was when Sly was razor-sharp hungry, melding sanctified elements from the Church Of God In Christ with funky Jazz and Pop stylings. Pure genius.

Some of you may remember a hit song by the Soul Survivors entitled Expressway To Your Heart. The song started out with the sounds of real car horns. Something like, “bahh bah bah bah bah, daww daw daw daw daw.” Well, Sly recreated those car horns with his horn section of Cynthia Robinson and Jerry Martini.

Just to give you an idea of how sharp that was, I recently read a review of a reformed Soul Survivors show, written by my colleague Bob Davis of . Bob Gave the Soul Survivors a superior review. I couldn’t resist emailing him the trick question, “So did they use real horns for the car horn part on 'Expressway To Your Heart'?”

His response was, “what are you talking about? They used real car horns on the original record.” I then told him, “yeah, but 40 years ago Sly took that song to another level!”

Well my CyberSoulFolks, the clock on the wall tells me that the deadline approacheth. Join me in a later excursion where I promise to reveal more excursions of the CyberSoulKind.

Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at .


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