Even though they never sought out the image, the Standells are listed in most Rock history books as the God Fathers of Punk Rock. Perhaps it was because of their snarly, moody look or their vicious, burning sound. Perhaps it was the us - against - them lyrics found in their songs. Regardless, it's a label that they've learned to live with.
The Standells were formed in 1962 by Los Angeles area musicians Larry Tamblyn and Tony Valentino. Larry, brother of Russ Tamblyn (star of West Side Story) and uncle of Amber Tamblyn (star of Joan of Arcadia and Grudge 2), was already a recording veteran, having previously made three solo 45s. Valentino was originally from Sicily, moving to Los Angeles in 1961. The name Standells was actually derived by Larry Tamblyn from standing around agents' offices, pleading for work. Fortunately, one agent decided to try them and they landed a three-month gig at the Oasis Club in Hawaii.
The group eventually broke up and reformed with two new musicians, bassist Gary Lane and drummer Gary Leeds. During the next several years they performed in nightclubs throughout California. Before taking the job as house band at PJ's in Hollywood, the band members was forced to cut their hair. In fact, they found they could not work in any club with long hair. During their stay at PJ's, Gary Leeds left the group, but would later find success with the Walker Brothers. This put the Standells in a bind because they were about to record their first album, "Standells In Person At PJ's" on Liberty Records. Fortunately, they were introduced to young Dick Dodd who had his own claim to fame as one of Walt Disney's original Mousketeers.
Until now, Tamblyn did most of the lead singing, but Dodd was not to be denied. On the PJ's album, he sang "Help Yourself", which became a local hit in Los Angeles (He went on to sing lead on all of their hits). Although they had yet to have a major hit record, the group managed to garner a large following. They received their biggest notoriety guest starring on The Munsters (playing themselves) and Bing Crosby TV shows, as well as appearing in the movie Get Yourself a College Girl.
It wasn't until they signed with producer Ed Cobb that The Standells finally achieved success. Cobb presented them with a song he had written called "Dirty Water". The group was not overly excited about the tune, but agreed to record it if they could rearrange it. So Tony created the famous guitar lick, Dick made up the beginning chant "I'm gonna tell you a story" and adlibs like "Ah but they're cool people" and Larry Tamblyn created a slight alteration on the chord structure. The recording went on to reach number 11 on the Billboard charts and number 1 on the Record World charts. Now in high demand for personal appearances, The Standells had two more Top 40 records, "Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White" and "Why Pick On Me". However, neither achieved the success of "Dirty Water". They were also featured in the motion picture Riot On Sunset Strip, in which they performed the hard driving theme song of the same name. Over the years, the band's relationship with Ed Cobb began to become more-and-more dictatorial, allowing them less and less input into their music. Cobb attempted to change their sound into Blue-eyed soul, with such songs as "Can't Help But Love You" and "Ninety Nine and a Half".
The band recorded a total of five albums, including "Standells in Person at PJ's", "Dirty Water", "Why Pick on Me - Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White", "The Hot Ones", and "Try It". The latter contained the song of the same name which embroiled them in controversy and perhaps solidified their punk image, while at the same time aiding in their demise. "Try It" exhibited a return to the group's raw and raunchy sound. It was considered by many to be the group's comeback hit record. However, it was banned by reactionary Texan radio chain mogul Gordon McLendon, a Christian fundamentalist, who considered the song's lyrics to be obscene. Actually the lyrics by today's standards were pretty tame. Even though the record was the number one seller in many markets, including Los Angeles, most of the radio stations followed McLendon's lead and refused to play it. The group even debated the Texan on Art Linkletter's Let's Talk TV show, and by most accounts defeated him handily by pointing out his hypocrisy. But it was all to no avail. The song died and so did the group's popularity and hopes of another hit record. The band didn't help their own cause when they issued an awful vaudeville-rock single, "Don't Tell Me What to Do", under the transparent pseudonym of the Sllednats (Standells spelled backwards). It would be their last recording during their heyday.
By 1968, with their popularity waning, Gary Lane left the group during a tour of Florida and Dick Dodd quit for a solo career. Unfashionable in the face of San Francisco's acid-rock, the band's career was soon confined to the cabaret circuit. Lowell George, later of Frank Zappa's Mothers Of Invention and Little Feat, briefly joined their ranks, but by 1970 the Standells had become an oldies attraction and faded away for good in the early '70s. Several members re-formed in 1999 for a live show at the Cavestomp festival, and later released as an album called "Ban This!"
In 2004, Dick Dodd, Gary Lane, Larry Tamblyn and Tony Valentino reunited to perform at Game 2 of the 2004 World Series before 50,000 wildly enthusiastic Boston fans and at the Red Sox home opener against the Yankees in 2005. Previous to that, The Standells' only performance in Boston was when they were part of the Rolling Stones tour in 1967. Since the early 1990s "Dirty Water" has been the Red Sox unofficial anthem and is listed in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped Rock and Roll.
In 2009, Tony, Dick and Gary left the band because they were no longer able to actively be involved. Bassist John Fleck, who joined the Standells in 1967, rejoined the group. Having left the band Love, John was a major creative force in The Standells. They also added two new members; Greg (Scorch) Burnham and Adam Marsland and continued to perform.
In the summer of 2010, The Standells rocked Madrid, Bordeaux, Rennes, Paris, London, Oslo, Berlin, Athens and Frankfurt, playing to enthusiastic crowds of all ages. Their single "Riot On Sunset Strip" was the lead-off selection on the Grammy nominated compilation album, "Where The Action Is". By the Spring of 2011 the group was busy recording a new album which came to fruition in 2013 as "Bump". Sadly, Dick Dodd died on November 29, of that same year. The band completed an extensive national tour in the Spring of 2014, their first major U.S. tour since the 1960s. Former band member, Gary Lane (Gary McMillan) died on November 5, 2014, from lung cancer at the age of 76.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' interview with Larry Tamblyn
Thanks to Larry Tamblyn for his kind assistance with this biography