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The Argons


The Argons -  Highland Fling article 196

     Shortly after the assembly show with The Dimensions, I heard through the grapevine that The Sultans, a band consisting of guys a half year behind me in school, was looking to find a new guitar player. They had three guitar players, and one guy looked like he was 10 years old. The big bodied F-hole he was playing didn’t help the image, and they wanted someone older-looking.

When I spoke to Rick Shoemaker, the drummer, on the phone, he said that they were planning to do some Beatles songs as well as the Surf music they were already playing, and we set up a time a couple of weeks out.

     At that time, I didn’t know even one chord. All of my playing was single notes, and I didn’t even have my guitar tuned properly, with high B & E strings tuned to C and F. The rhythm guitar player for The Original Continentals, Bob Moore showed me the proper tuning and a couple of chords. I went out and bought the Beatles song book, and learned the chords to the easiest Beatles songs, like “And I Love Her”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and “All My Lovin’”.

      I showed up at the rehearsal. It was at Louie LaPak’s house. Louie was a friend of the band members and wanted to try out and he was ahead of me. Louie dressed the part, wearing Surfer shorts and a T-shirt and no shoes. The floor was concrete, and back then, there were no grounded outlets. Louir plugs in his guitar and was

immediately zapped almost unconscious. I think his parents might have taken him to the hospital; don’t really remember.

      I was up and I think I really impressed the guys with my new knowledge of Beatles music, and I could out-play their reigning lead guitarist, Jim McDearmon. So, Bill Sharplin stayed at rhythm guitar, I became lead, and Jim became “back-up” guitarist, mostly playing 2nd line single-note guitar parts on the surf stuff.

      Ricky had a marching bass drum when we started, and because he was very small, was nearly invisible behind his kit. Bill Sharplin had a Gretch Tennessean guitar and I don’t remember what amp. Jim McDearmon had the top-of-the-line Fender Jaguar that was way to big for him, and I don’t remember his amp, either. When I joined, I still had my St. George electric guitar and my Silvertone 1X12” combo amp. Soon after, I bought the big Silvertone amp that had built-in reverb, but sounded “transistor-y”. Then the Fender Mustang came out, and with a rare signature of support from my mom, bought a baby blue Fender Mustang with white pearl pickguard, blonde Fender Bandmaster amp with matching reverb unit that I stacked on my skateboard and pushed to practice.

     We started out playing mostly Surf music. We rehearsed at Bill Sharplin’s house on Yosemite drive nearly every day during the summer. Bill had a reel-to-reel tape deck, and I became obsessed with recording. Ricky and I started going to Hollywood on the bus to shop our tape to record labels. We went to Monsour Publishing, Dick Dale’s outfit, and a short, balding older man told us we sounded too much like Dick Dale. “What? We’re The Argons! We’re better than Dick Dale!” was our response. A while later, we saw the same man waiting at a corner. Dick Dale (aka Richard Monsour) drives up in a turquoise convertible with white interior. “Hi, Dad”, he says “Where are we picking up mom for lunch?” Uh Oh! We encountered The Ventures in the parking lot behind Dolton Records. They were piling out of a dusty black Caddilac, looking wasted. They invited us inside. At first I said “No, that’s okay” with some weird sense of politeness, but we went in for a few minutes and saw the studio. It was a fairly large room with a carpeted stage across half of it,

bland colors. I don’t remember seeing the gear.

     Then, we went to Del-fi records, where we hooked up with Bob Keane. We knew of Bob Keane because he had produced The Challengers, one of the mainstream Surf bands in L.A. I was unaware that Bob Keane had also produced two of my favorite all-time artists Sam Cooke and Richie Valens. Bob listened to our tape. He took us into the control room of his studio and played a track he had just recorded with The Bobby Fuller Four called “Let Her Dance” which sounded more like “Letter Dance”. It sounded so deep and rich; lots of reverb. Bob asked us if we knew about the “Mersey” sound, and gave us two suggestions; one of us had to play bass (we had 3 guitars and drums), and he told us to learn how to sing in harmony and come back in a couple of years.

     We went back and rehearsed vocal songs. We learned Yardbirds, Stones, Beatles and Kinks songs, then wrote two original songs. One song “Talkin’ ‘Bout My Girl” was a group effort that came from jamming at practice. The other song, “Over You”, I wrote and brought it into the band. Many years later, Rick claimed co-ownership, but my recollection is that the band worked out a harmony part and a vocal harmony bridge, but that I wrote the song by myself. I borrowed a Fender Jazz bass from a guy I didn’t even really know, Jim moved back to lead  guitar because he was too small to play bass.

      We called Del-fi, trying to re-connect with Bob Keane, but couldn’t get through. We got a friend to drive us over to Del-fi during Bob’s lunch hour. We lied and told the receptionist that he had asked us to come in and set up. We put up our gear in the main studio room. We heard Bob come in “What? I didn’t tell anyone to come in!” He storms into the room. I count out “1,2,3,4” and he hit him with the song. He was impressed, and set up to record us right there and then. I remember he had a Telefunkin mic on a big stand.

      I wish I had a copy of that recording! For weeks or months, we thought we were going to get a record deal. We were playing lots of gigs, including a spot at The Pasadena Civic Auditorium, where there was a large crowd. The promoter was Gene DeWald, who had produced The Righteous Brothers and had given them their name. We had a good show at The Civic, and he booked us for some other shows around the L.A. area. We played lots of Battle of the Bands, and won a number of them in our area. We heard about a city-wide Battle of the Bands that was sponsored by the TV show Shindig, but it was already in the finals stage. We got in touch, made the case that we had won all the battles in our area, and they put us on the bill. We decided to play our original “Over You”, one Beatles song “Twist & Shout”, and what we thought of as an “oldie”, “Long Tall Texan”. All of these songs had vocal harmonies. 

     The Shindig-sponsored Battle of the Bands took place in a small theater. We were all dressed in our blue sateen jackets with black velvet trim, Black A-1 Racer Slacks, black shirts and our shoes were so-called “fruit boots”. The Shindig Dancers were all beautiful and in their 20’s, dressed in tight white T-Shirts and short-shorts. They were seated in the center rows of the center section. We were, I think, second-to-last on the bill.

     Every other band played “I’m A Man”, I think, and was kind of ridiculous as all the bands were pretty young and hard to convince us they were “men”. We played near the end, and we knew we had it in the bag when the Shindig dancers, who were judging the event, got up and danced in their seats.

      It seemed like we were going to hit the big time, but we got two pieces of bad news; Shindig was cancelled because the network found the show too controversial, and Bob Keane had shopped our recording, and was told we were too young for the label to be interested because, at our ages, we would need special permits and a chapperone to promote the record.

      I took it in stride, but was obsessed with the idea of perfecting our material, and working even harder. One day, Ricky, Bill and Jim told me they wanted to skip rehearsal and go to the beach. They had been friends for many years, and were definately a faction at times. I laid down the gauntlet, and gave them an ultimatum;

show up for rehearsal or I’m out. It was kind of OCDC and stupid of me to make an ultimatum, but I did and then was too proud to back down. That was it for me and The Argons.

      Some recollections of the Argons: I remember borrowing an amp from Burlingame Music for a Battle of the bands in Eagle Rock at the Eagle Vista gymnasium. Burlingame’s said they couldn’t lend us the Fender Showman, but offered me their Gibson Titan amp. It was huge and it had built-in reverb. We didn’t have a chance to try it out at the show. Our main competition were The Wild Ones, with Robert Peal at lead guitar (younger brother of Eugene Peal from the Counts) and Gary Salerno on rhythm guitar. Salerno’s mom was a big deal TV

producer, and they had all of the killer gear, including a big boom stand for their microphone where the mic hangs down like in a recording studio. The  rhythm guitarist for the Counts, Russ, was there and we were hanging out with him (The Counts were about 3 years older than us). Someone from The Wild Ones’ crew had snipped off the plug to Jim McDearmon’s amp as a dirty trick. Russ helped us repair it and stood guard until we were up. The big Gibson amp had the wrong sound for Surf. It was all thick and muffled compared to the Fender amps that everyone was using, with hardly any high end. The gym was the worst sounding place imaginable, but I rolled it out on the stage (it was so big that it came with casters), and we played our set. This was before we had vocals, all

instrumental and some of it original.

     We also played several times at Yosemite Park for dances. That was where we  developed our singing chops and our band sound. It was a block away from our High School, and everyone there was someone we knew from school.

      When we played at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for Gene DeWald. I don’t remember who the headliner was, but an all-girl group, The Ladybugs, played right after us. They ranged in age from our age to early twenties, had several sisters in the band, and were super cute and talented. DeWald asked us to play a gig way out in the boonies for a private party and that was very cool. I think now that it was probably at DeWald’s house as I’ve read that he brought bands to his home to show them off and to audition.

     The Argons got to play The Teenage Fair which was a big deal. The only other band from Eagle Rock to play there was The Spyders that played all Stones songs. We played at the Fender booth, the Vox booth, the Fender stage, the Gibson booth, which were pre-arranged and we got talked into playing at the Eko booth with these strange guitars with violin heads and strings a half inch from the neck. We saw a band on the big stage in between performances. I think it was The Yardbirds. I remember looking for this little guy with a motorized wheelchair who had a Sandy Nelson (“Let There be Drums”) sticker. He had a portable tape recorder (both motorized wheelchair and portable tape recorder very advanced and unusual for the time) and was recording bands. I was hoping he’d come by and record us, but it never happened. The Fender stage outside (by the way, this was at The Palladium in Hollywood) was the best spot we played, using all the cool Fender gear. We asked about getting a Fender sponsorship, and they gave us a Fender catalog and a form to fill out asking for what equipment we wanted.

      We were stupid silly, and greedily pouring over the catalog, we requested so much stuff that it’s laughable now; I asked, just for me, a white Jaguar, a sunburst Stratocaster, a blonde Telecaster, Dual Showman AND new

Fender Twin Reverb combo amp, plus reverb unit, Fender echo unit, AND, just for the heck of it, a Fender Rhodes electric piano (88 key suitcase model, and a double-neck pedal steel guitar. I might have even asked for more,

and everyone did the same, amounting to probably $20-30,000. Strangely, we never heard back from Fender sponsorship.

      Another strange event; we had sent in a form to try out for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour, where they had a variety of acts by unknowns patterened after the Ed Sullivan Show. We got a ride to Hollywood with our stuff, and brought it into this big space (It might have been MGM sound stage). They had the room separated into sections where performers would set up, audition and then leave. We discussed ahead of time that we should keep our volume down, so we set our levels as low as we thought we could. The producer comes around and tells us to

start playing. We kick it off, and within a few seconds, he’s shouting “Turn it DOWN!” We looked at each other, said “screw this”, packed up and left. Fuck Ted Mack!

      I’ve recently re-connected with BILL SHARPLIN and found out he’s still playing and I hope we can do a recording together.

ArgonsBill Ricky & Jim Mc.jpg
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