Ace Records has previously mined the eclectic catalogue of producer-impresario Gary S. Paxton, most notably on Hollywood Maverick: The Gary S. Paxton Story. That 2006 volume featured Paxton’s work with artists including The Hollywood Argyles (“Alley Oop”), Paul Revere and the Raiders (“Midnight Ride”) and Bobby “Boris” Pickett (“The Monster Mash”). Recently, Ace has returned to the archives of Paxton’s Garpax production company with the delicious Happy Lovin’ Time: Sunshine Pop from the Garpax Vaults on the Big Beat imprint. Though a couple of familiar names crop up – Curt Boettcher and The Four Freshmen, most prominently – most of the artists and songs here will only be known to the most diehard collectors; that said, they’ll likely be well-known by this splendid set’s conclusion.
Compiler/annotator Alec Palao admits in his detailed liner notes that “sunshine pop…does not fully describe this survey of the Garpax vaults.” That’s a truthful admission; this 24-track collection – with a full 13 previously unreleased tracks – also encompasses sounds like garage rock, psychedelia and what might be called California soul. But that should be no deterrent from exploring this treasure trove of fresh and utterly groovy sounds produced in richly-textured fashion by aural architect Paxton in his Hollywood and Bakersfield studios during the latter half of the 1960s.
Augie Moreno’s “Make Up Your Mind” and The Black Box’s title track “Happy Lovin’ Time,” both previously unreleased, are among the strongest, sunniest cuts here. Kenny Johnson, author of “Make Up Your Mind,” wrote or co-wrote a full eleven of the songs here. “Happy” was penned by singer-songwriter Dave Antrell, who also appears on the compilation as a performer. Like Antrell, Johnson can be heard as an artist, too, as he was heavily involved with the loose studio group The Bakersfield Poppy Pickers. That outfit first recorded “Happy Lovin’ Time” and is heard here with a pair of tunes including “Clean Up Your Own Backyard” and “It’s Written All Over My Face” with harmonies a bit redolent of early Harry Nilsson. Johnson also recorded for Paxton under a number of pseudonyms; he’s featured on the dark-tinged “Games” from The Bogart Cult. (Still darker is The New Wing’s “The Thinking Animal,” co-written by Johnson!)
Curt Boettcher’s pair of tracks are, naturally, among the most exciting finds here. Both of these release-quality publishing demos with his unmistakably ethereal vocals date to 1967: the beautifully languid “Christina, In My Dreams” and the pristine, delicate “Stay.” Boettcher also appears on the delightful harmonies of Dave Antrell’s “She Loves Me,” supporting Antrell’s assured lead; Pete Fountain contributes the track’s clarinet. Antrell’s “You Take Things Lightly, Babe” is equally strong jangly pop-rock and his “If I Can Help It” is enjoyable pop with bright bubblegum harmonies. Another singer-songwriter, Jim Gordon (not to be confused with the drummer of the same name), is heard on the pretty folk-rock of “How Many Times” arranged in Association style.
The distinctive harmonies of The Four Freshmen -the same sound that famously inspired Brian Wilson – are on full display on the driving, hip 1966 Decca side “Nowhere to Go.” The line-up at that time consisted of founders Ross Barbour and Bob Flanigan, plus Ken Albers and the composer of “Nowhere,” Bill Comstock. Disappointingly, the single failed to register with the record-buying public.
Paxton worked frequently with artists from America’s northern neighbor. Montreal band The Jaybees (actually just lead singer Alan Nicholls and Paxton’s session players) offer the brassy soul-pop of Johnson’s “Bad Sign” and “Who Do You Think You Are,” both initially released in 1967. Edmonton, Canada was home to another band featured here, The Lords. After the uptempo “Savin’ (Everything for You Girl),” a rocker with a psychedelic interlude, and the brash “Don’t Put Me Down,” The Lords morphed into The Privilege, represented by the quirky “The Highly Successful Young Rupert White.” (“Rupert” had first appeared as a B-side of the Pace single of “Savin'” by The Lords, but was reissued on Canadian Capitol by The Privilege in an alternate mix used here.) The lone female voice here also hailed from Canada. Mary Saxton’s “Is It Better to Live or Die” was given an appropriately haunting production by Paxton.
Paxton melds fuzz guitar and low brass on Johnny Apollo’s tough “Am I Wastin’ My Time.” Other far-out sounds can be heard on The Whatt Four’s trippy “Dandelion Wine” written by famed guitarist (and member of Paxton’s session crew) Jerry Scheff, with Ben Benay on prominent sitar. The Chocolate Tunnel’s “Ostrich People” is prime psych-pop.
Happy Lovin’ Time has been remastered by Nick Robbins and includes a full-color 16-page booklet with copious illustrations as well as Palao’s notes. You can order the set below!
- Make Up Your Mind – Augie Moreno
- Dandelion Wine – The Whatt Four (stereo mix of Mercury 72716, 1967)
- The Thinking Animal – The New Wing (Pentacle 101, 1967)
- Christina, In My Dreams – Curt Boettcher
- Happy Lovin’ Time – The Black Box
- Ostrich People – The Chocolate Tunnel (stereo mix of In-Sound 403/Era 3185, 1967)
- She Loves Me – Dave Antrell
- How Many Times – Jim Gordon
- Games – The Bogart Cult
- Bad Sign – The Jaybees (stereo mix of Columbia (Canada) 2750, 1967)
- Am I Wastin’ My Time – Johnny Apollo
- Clean Up Your Own Backyard – The Bakersfield Poppy Pickers (Alshire S-5153, 1969)
- Nowhere to Go – The Four Freshmen (stereo mix of Decca 32070, 1966)
- Is It Love – Willie and the Walkers
- Savin’ (Everything For You Girl) – The Lords (stereo mix of Pace (Canada) 16-867, 1967)
- Stay – Curt Boettcher
- You Take Things Lightly Babe – Dave Antrell
- The Highly Successful Young Rupert White – The Privilege (stereo mix of Capitol (Canada) 72530, 1968)
- Is It Better to Live or to Die – Mary Saxton (stereo mix of Pace (Canada) 18-1166, 1967)
- Don’t Put Me Down – The Lords
- It’s Written All Over My Face – The Bakersfield Poppy Pickers (Alshire S-5153, 1969)
- Who Do You Think You Are? – The Jaybees (stereo mix of Columbia (Canada) 2750, 1967)
- Dirt Beneath My Feet – Homogenized Dirt
- If I Can Help It – Dave Antrell
All tracks previously unreleased unless otherwise indicated.
All tracks stereo except Tracks 3. 5. 14 & 20 in mono