Gary James' Interview With Don Baskin Of
Syndicate Of Sound
Syndicate Of Sound was formed in San Jose, California in 1964. Their claim to fame is a Top Ten hit in 1966 called "Little Girl". The group appeared on such popular TV shows of the time as American Bandstand and Where The Action Is. They opened for such acts as James Brown.
Syndicate Of Sound co-founder Don Baskin talked about the group's beginnings and the 1960s.
Q - Don, is it true, as one website has it, that Syndicate Of Sound was one of the forerunners of Psychedelic Rock?
A - Who knows? (laughs) I've heard that. I can only tell you that around the area we were growing up in, which was San Jose, California, there was an awful lot of stuff going on. An awful lot of young bands playing and coming up. Certainly we were influenced by certain bands like The Yardbirds for one...perhaps The Who. I think that kind of turned into Psychedelic, perhaps. Then of course, the advent of San Francisco and the drugs...the whole scene, things became psychedelic. Matter of fact, back in 1966, we were touring and we were some place in Alabama or Mississippi. We were standing by the stage, ready to go on and one of the guys just struck a match. There was a kid standing there and he said "Wow! Psychedelic!" We all turned to each other and said "What?" (laughs) I guess the press had as much to do with that as anybody else.
Q - Syndicate Of Sound recorded a single for the Scarlet label that went nowhere. Is that correct?
A - You know, I don't know where the Scarlet label thing came up. The first song we ever recorded was at a studio in Los Angeles. That was under the Dell-Fi label. I think they owned Scarlet, maybe. I don't know. We won a Battle Of The Bands in the San Francisco area, at a Teen Fair. I think there were a hundred bands. We came out in first place. We got from that, this recording session in Los Angeles with Robert Keane. He was the producer for Ritchie Valens, who had already passed away. The Bobby Fuller Four...and he had passed away.
Q - And don't forget Sam Cooke.
A - No kidding. I didn't know that. (laughs) We went down there one night and recorded a couple of tunes above a bank, right there on Hollywood and Vine. Pretty close to the Capitol studios. We did these two tunes that we had written and we didn't really know what was going on too much. He didn't like 'em very much. They weren't that good. They were something we needed for our own fans back home. Some kind of record to have on the radio. We had a following and it worked well for that. We made the charts locally. The Scarlet label keeps coming up, but, you know, I've never seen it.
Q - How about Hush Records, which you reportedly moved to in 1965? Have you heard of that label?
A - Oh, yes. Hush was the first label. We couldn't get "Little Girl" played anywhere. No one wanted it. Everyone turned down "Little Girl". So, we decided with our producer's label, Hush, which was a rhythm and blues label out of Richmond, California, the Oakland-Richmond area. Our producer's parents had owned that label. He decided, "let's put it out locally and see how it does", and we sold 5,000 copies in the first week. An incredible number for that day and time in and around the Northern California area. A big (radio) station in San Francisco really broke our first record - KYA. That's what really made us take off. That's what really made Bill decide to take us on. We had our first big, big break-out in Oklahoma City and it started from there.
Q - You co-wrote "Little Girl"?
A - Yes
Q - What happened to the band when that song became a hit?
A - As I said, we had a following. We toured as much as we could up in the Northwest. When that song hit, we had to immediately organize a tour. At that point, we had a personal manager and he pretty much became our road manager at the same time...a guy named Chuck Patty. Our producer, Gary Thompson was getting phone calls that should've been going to a manager and booking agency. We finally signed with Premier Talent out of New York.
Q - Did you open for The Beatles?
A - We never played with The Beatles. Thompson, (our record producer) was awakened around 3 in the morning with a gentleman on the phone and it was Brian Epstein, (The Beatles manager) asking how to get a hold of the band. He wanted to engage the band for the Beatles' '66 tour, opening for all these different venues. They weren't offering that much money from what I understand. We didn't know about it until after it had been turned down. Gary (Thompson) said, "I'm not the manager, but, I can get you to Chuck Patty". And Chuck Patty had a deal lined up in the Northwest for us. "Little Girl" had already hit by then. We were going on a tour with Paul Revere and The Raiders. He (Chuck) turned it (the Beatles tour) down 'cause the money wasn't there. He didn't get the concept that would've seen so many more people. That was one of the things you don't want to think about too much.
Q - I forgot to ask you...when you beat out 100 bands to win this record deal, did any of the bands go on to stardom?
A - Oh, yeah. (laughs) Well, they had different names at the time. There was The Golliwogs, which was Creedence Clearwater. There was Sly and The Family Stone, which was Joe And The Continentals. There's probably more than that. William Penn and his Pals was part of Santana.
Q - What name was your band using at the time?
A - Syndicate Of Sound.
Q - You must've been a hell of a band to beat out all those people.
A - Yeah, Well, we had been at it for quite awhile. We had been playing rhythm and blues originally. When The Beatles hit, I put down the saxophone and started playing bass. Then I eventually picked up the guitar. I was doing lead vocals then. I'd never sung before. Some say I never did. (laughs) But, in any case, we switched over and started doing Beatles stuff. We had a local following and I think it helped us a lot. We'd been doing shows for so long.
Q - Did you pretty much stick to the Northwest?
A - Before we had a record, yeah. We stuck in the Northwest pretty much because our manager had a lot of contacts through his job as a Recreation Director for the city of San Jose. So, he knew all the other guys all the way up the coast, and all the way up into Seattle.
Q - Besides Paul Revere, who else did you tour with?
A - Oh, The Rascals, The Yardbirds, Neil Diamond, Sam The Sham, Tommy James, The Stones.
Q - Where'd you open for them?
A - At the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, back in...it may have been in early '65 or '66. I can't remember which one. Who else? The Animals. We did a lot of stuff with Barcelona's (Premier Talent) groups, because the venues we played were mostly on the East coast, not on the West coast. There weren't that many at the time, large places to play or places that were right and there were so many on the East coast. We did an awful lot of playing. We were on the road for maybe 30 days at a time and we'd be maybe off for a week. During that time, we were supposed to be writing and recording new stuff, which we were trying to do. Someone like Paul Revere was smart enough to find other writers. We thought, if you don't write your own songs, you're not real or something like that. (laughs)
We found out much later that wasn't the truth. Many, many bands were playing other people's tunes. As I recall, we had about two weeks and $1,500 to do our first album, which is still available by the way. It just came out in CD a couple of years ago, on the Sundazed label. You can buy that online at www.sundazed.com
Q - Are you guys still getting royalties off your work?
A - Yes, regularly. For how long now? Thirty something years. It's very nice. We just got a movie this year and that was good. The amount of royalties you're able to get these days is so much more than you were able to get before, because they're collecting from everywhere...supermarkets, jukebox places, the internet, Muzak... lot of things that weren't playing that music before. Elevator music now. (laughs)
Q - Was there a follow-up to "Little Girl"?
A - Oh, yeah. We wrote something called "Get Out Of My Life", which they refused to release because, back in those days, the words, to them, were risqué. Funny thing is, we had cut the thing out in California and just left for the road immediately. We were in Frank Barcelona's office and we played the acetate of it and he goes "Oh, I hate that! (laughs) The words are so bad. That's such a bad image." I thought to myself, is he listening to all the other stuff there's on the radio. (laughs) Some of the stuff we did there were answers for "Little Girl" and written by the same guys...Bob and myself. It was never let out of the can until 20 years later...
Q - I can understand playing an acetate for the record company and for the manager, but, for your agency? Frank Barcelona must've yielded a lot of power.
A - Well, yes, because they were taking an active role. They looked over what was going on with their acts. I think they understand more of what the audience wanted out there than the record companies did. They understood that doing things onstage and having a good stage act meant a lot, to selling what you had to sell. In those days, if you weren't writing the stuff yourself, the only place you made your revenues was playing live...and, not only that but, we did that for him because we wanted to get his support against the record company, who refused to release it because they said it was to risqué and he agreed. You listen to it now and it's not at all. It's very teenage, but, it's certainly not offensive.
Q - You and Bob Gonzalez recorded an album for Capitol Records in 1970. Does that mean there was no Syndicate Of Sound by 1970?
A - No. We didn't record an album. That's incorrect. Bob was out of the band in 1967. I carried on 'til 1970. The last two releases we had on Buddah Records. One was "Brown Paper Bag", which hit the Top 100 in '74 or '75, something like that. Then a tune called "Mexico", which came right after that on Buddah. I went on to live in Los Angeles and do other things in music. But, after those Buddah releases, we disbanded the band in mid 1970.
Q - What other musical things were you doing?
A - I worked as a studio musician in Los Angeles for about two years. I did all kinds of things. I worked for Bill Graham Presents when Bill Graham started doing things, as a band leader for different bands, and as a player / leader and a kind of a road manager combination at the same time. I'd been out there and I had a lot of experience. I worked with a country artist, a guy named Bobby Bare for a couple of years. I started playing country in '75, because disco started really pressing hard at the door and I just couldn't do it.
Q - I don't understand how you could play country.
A - The thing was, I had a rock background. When I did country, it didn't sound exactly like country. The only reason it worked for me is it got me in the largest nightclubs in California, then the largest one in the world at the time, which was Gilley's in Texas. I was in the house band there right at the time people were coming in writing "Urban Cowboy". The reason it worked so well is, we were a rock band pretending to be country. If you took it from that angle, you could see that. That was where rock 'n roll actually hid when disco came out.
Q - Is there still a Syndicate Of Sound?
A - Oh, yes. Three of us are original players. Two aren't, but they are from the same era. The keyboard player played in the sessions with us in the 60s. So, he was more or less a studio part of the group. And, the guitar player was with a group out of Salinas (California). They had a big following, but never had a record. So, we play. We were going to play with The Yardbirds. We played up in San Jose a couple of years ago for our own tri-year high school reunion. If you don't think that was something. (laughs) We just signed with a booker to start getting around and playing some more.