The sound was surf-rock, but the pedigree was pure Nashville. Ronny and the Daytonas burst onto the scene in 1964 with the rip-roaring California-style car tune “G.T.O.,” scoring a Top 5 hit on both the Billboard and Cash Box charts. The group – in actuality, singer-songwriter John “Buck” Wilkin and a rotating cast of Music City’s finest – recorded a couple of albums and notched other hits, most notably 1965’s dreamy “Sandy,” through 1966 on the Mala label before moving to RCA for a stint through 1968. Now, all of Ronny and the Daytonas’ Mala and RCA recordings, plus a rare one-off single for Mala sister label Amy, Wilkin’s solo RCA sides and four previously unissued tracks – have been collected on the new high-octane, double-disc anthology The Complete Recordings from Real Gone Music. It handily bests all previous reissues of this material including collections on both Arista and Sundazed.
The rocking, energetic “G.T.O.” kicks off The Complete Recordings, still likely the best Beach Boys/Jan and Dean-style pastiche to come out of Nashville. Writer Wilkin knew a thing or two about crafting a hit single; his mother Marijohn Wilkin was a veteran tunesmith with songs to her credit including “The Long Black Veil.” Wilkin’s early tracks as Ronny and the Daytonas stayed in the catchy cars-and-surf vein, both those songs which he wrote (“Little Rail Job,” “Surfin’ in the Summertime,” the minor hit “California Bound”) and which were written by others (Chuck Berry’s “Back in the U.S.A.,” Jan and Dean’s “Bucket T,” another small hit and coincidentally a favorite of The Who’s Keith Moon). With their simple, effective production by Bill Justis (famed for the 1957 hit “Raunchy”) emphasizing guitars, organ and percussion, bright melodies, and harmonies, the Daytonas’ tunes are still transporting to a particular time and place in teenage culture.
Justis and Wilkin together wrote “Hot Rod City,” and Wilkin teamed with singer-songwriter-producer Buzz Cason, perhaps best known for co-writing the oft-covered “Everlasting Love,” on numerous cuts. (Cason was also a participant at many of the Daytonas’ sessions.) Producers Gordon Anderson and Ed Osborne have included both sides of the Mala single written and performed by Cason and Wilkin, a.k.a. “Buzz and Bucky.” The upbeat A-side “Tiger A-Go-Go” bubbled under on Billboard with a No. 107 chart berth, but the surf-guitar instrumental flip “Bay City” is even stronger.
Early 1965’s swooning ballad “Teenage Years” points in the more mature direction of “Sandy.” Penned by Cason and Wilkin, the lushly romantic “Sandy” gave Ronny and the Daytonas a Top 30 hit later in the year. With strings enhancing its pensive and wistful, mood, it’s perhaps Wilkin’s finest hour as both a vocalist and songwriter. A unique instrumental version, the original single’s B-side, is also included. Wilkin and Cason continued to develop the group’s sound, adding horns and a more expansive arrangement on 1965’s splendidly melancholy “Somebody to Love Me” with its verses recalling Brian Wilson in Pet Sounds mode. The Sandy album (of course presented here in full, in its mono mix) is a highlight of this set, offering numerous hidden gems deviating from the surf and sand milieu including “Hold Me My Baby,” “Baby, Say No,” the hauntingly pretty “Come Into My Heart,” the yearning, string-drenched “So in Love,” and a pair of songs co-written by Bobby Russell in more of a throwback style, “Be Good to Your Baby” and “”If I Had My Way.”
The move to RCA Records in 1966 allowed Wilkin even more creative freedom to explore other avenues in music, as he assumed production duties from Bill Justis. Wilkin’s early sides for RCA (still recorded in Nashville) drew on the various styles he’d perfected at Mala, with the bright, peppy “All American Girl” joined on his debut 45 on the label by the warm “Dianne, Dianne” (co-written with country great Merle Kilgore). Buzz Cason’s “Young” was a breakneck, boisterous outing for Ronny and the Daytonas; Wilkin’s “Winter Weather” paints a sweetly bucolic picture. But tracks like Rex Griffin’s “The Last Letter,” however impeccably produced, arranged and sung, couldn’t help but feel out of date coming after some of the more forward-thinking productions in the late Mala period. Wilkin and Cason’s “Brand New World” in 1967, though, lived up to its title, with its garage rock-style guitars and trademark Daytonas harmonies; it compares favorably to some of Terry Melcher’s better productions for Paul Revere and the Raiders. In his entertaining new liner notes written for this project, Wilkin describes Mark Charron’s “The Girls and the Boys” as “probably the first psychedelic track to come out of Nashville.” Indeed, it’s an intricate production featuring the sounds of a calliope played by “Nashville” David Briggs alongside tremolo guitar and drums likely played by Kenny Buttrey.
RCA encouraged Wilkin to record some “cover” versions of the day’s popular hits; he turned in a solid performance of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s Oscar-nominated “Alfie” which found its way to the B-side of the “Girls and the Boys” single. (The twangy single “4-Cast She’ll Love Me Again” appeared around this time on the Bell/Mala-affiliated Show Biz label; it’s another welcome addition here.) RCA also released one solo single credited to Bucky Wilkin, “Delta Day (No Time to Cry)” b/w Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s anthem “I Wanna Be Free.” The A-side is a persuasive slice of folk-rock by Wilkin, his mother Marijohn and one Kris Kristofferson; the latter talent (described by Wilkin as “starstruck…mainly with himself” but also as having “the right stuff”) was discovered by and signed to Marijohn’s Buckhorn publishing company. The poignant “Delta Day,” written from the POV of a soldier in Vietnam, sounds like nothing else recorded by Wilkin; the artist was naturally disappointed that it failed to chart and recalls the lack of support he received from RCA brass. “I Wanna Be Free” is the more commercial side, but Wilkin gives it an equally impassioned reading.
A quartet of previously unreleased tracks round out the second disc here – three originals and a fine recording of Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spector’s famous “Chapel of Love.” The 1966 “Hey Little Girl” is a standout, a straight-ahead pop-rocker, and 1967’s “Angelina” by Wilkin and Wayne Usher is a baroque nugget.
All 48 tracks are presented in crisp original mono as terrifically remastered by Vic Anesini; all but two songs have been sourced from original master tapes. The RCA tracks, in particular, sound vibrant and pristine. This terrifically enjoyable set is rounded out by Wilkin’s own candid liner notes, plus credits with full discographical annotation. The Complete Recordings is truly one-stop shopping, collecting Ronny and the Daytonas’ diverse output across numerous labels for the first time on CD. (Note that the alternate version of “Bucket T” unearthed by Sundazed for its G.T.O. – Best of the Mala Recordings CD is not included here.) Fans of the surf sound or just of great sixties-vintage pop will want to rev up the G.T.O. now!