‘Cruising With Ruben and the Jets’

Ray Collins’ best showcase was almost certainly the 1968 Mothers of Invention album “Cruising With Ruben and the Jets,” a silly but sweet tribute to doo-wop music and Mexican American culture on which the latter-day Claremont resident, who died Dec. 24, sings lead on every song, often in falsetto.

I had only owned the first three Mothers albums, which I appreciate more than actively like, but after Collins’ death, when I learned of his extensive involvement in “Ruben,” I bought a copy (at Rhino Records, natch). I like it.

A sort of concept album, the sleeve notes tell the “story of Ruben & the Jets,” as if they were a real but amateur band, one based in this area (as the Pomona-founded Mothers were).

One line: “There was already 11 other guys in the band so when he quit nobody missed him except for his car when they had to go to rehearsal or play for a battle of the bands at the American Legion Post in Chino.”

Band members are said to listen to oldies at Ruben’s house before going “to Burger Lane,” which in what may or may not have been a coincidence was the name of restaurants in both Ontario and Pomona.

The Wikipedia page for the album has interesting details on its recording and subsequent history. And here’s a link to a video of the Collins showcase “Anything” from that album, with a photo montage.

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Van Halen at Walter Mitty’s

I’ve heard over the years that the band Van Halen performed at the old Walter Mitty’s club out in Pomona’s Westmont area before they got famous. The topic resurfaced when I interviewed the couple at nearby Westmont Hardware last month.

A Google search brings up the online Van Halen Encyclopedia, which has an entry on the band’s club days.

Van Halen is said to have performed at Walter Mitty’s Rock & Roll Emporium on six occasions in 1976: March 24 and 25 and April 7 to 10.

The site says of those days: “Their sets consisted mostly of cover tunes at first and they would sneak in originals as often as they could.”

The Pomona club rates an entire paragraph: “At Walter Mitty’s in Pomona, CA, which had a capacity of 300 (Van Halen was said have squeezed 1000 people into the place on some nights), the band witnessed a man die from stab wounds during an argument between two bikers about whose bike was faster while the band played You Really Got Me. After this incident, the band decided to move their amplifiers roughly one-and-a-half feet away from the wall so they could hide behind them when fights broke out. The club was reportedly closed a short time later due to an increase in violence.”

Besides its many L.A. dates, the band is also known to have performed at the Bogart in San Bernardino on two occasions, Sept. 18 and 21, 1976.

A 2012 story on music.MSN.com about the band’s reunion drew a comment from Leslie Ward-Speers, the daughter of Walter Mitty’s owner:

“…For a couple of years, you played several times at my dad’s small bar in Pomona, CA.  My father’s name is Larry Ward and he owned Walter Mitty’s across from the General Dynamics Company on Mission Blvd. When ever you guys came to play a weekend gig at daddy’s bar, it was standing room only. The local college students from MT SAC and Cal Poly bombarded the bar to hear your outstanding and unique sound. All of the other bands that played in Daddy’s bar were playing what ever the current hits were on the radio. But not you guys. I knew then that you were good and that success was just around the corner for you.”

Did anyone happen to see them in Pomona, or remember Walter Mitty’s?

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Ray Collins (1937-2012)

The Claremont fixture and Pomona native was 75. In 1964 Collins invited Frank Zappa to join his Pomona R&B band, the Soul Giants, which became the Mothers of Invention, a ground-breaking avant-garde rock band.

I wrote his obituary today and my Friday column fleshes out the story. Collins was press-shy, but he granted me an interview in 2009 for a column. If you met him, knew him or otherwise wish to comment, please do. (Photo by Peter Barwick outside Claremont’s Pizza N Such from the Ray Collins Fan Page.)

* Obituaries have appeared in the New York Times and Rolling Stone.

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Donna Summer

Here are two videos of Donna Summer’s performance at the L.A. County Fair on Sept. 25, 2009. Above is “I’m a Fire”; below is “Could It Be Magic.” She also performed at the Fair in 2006. Summer died Thursday of cancer at age 63.

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Davy Jones and ‘Daydream Believer’

I loved “The Monkees,” which I watched as a boy in reruns in the early to mid 1970s. Robert Lloyd of the LA Times has a thoughtful piece on Davy Jones’ passing that to my mind hits all the right notes on the show’s appeal (“the self-aware naturalism of its leads”) and the false arguments about the made-for-TV band’s authenticity.

Reader Bob Terry reminded me that one of Jones’ signature vocals, “Daydream Believer,” was written by Pomona native John Stewart. I wrote a column in 2007 about the song’s 40th anniversary that included an interview with Stewart, who died unexpectedly three months later.

That column appears in full below. And here’s a YouTube video of the song with a nice selection of familiar vignettes from the show.
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Remembering Hunter Hancock


After his Aug. 22 death, obituaries for songwriter Jerry Lieber (“Poison Ivy,” “Hound Dog,” “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” dozens more) noted that his fascination with rhythm and blues music began when he heard L.A. disc jockey Hunter Hancock.

Hancock, described as the West Coast’s Alan Freed for his influence at bringing black music to white teens, lived in L.A., but he closed out his life at Claremont Manor, where he died in 2004.

A revered music figure, he was revered at Claremont Manor too, where his photographs still adorn the walls and where his irrepressible good spirits enlivened the halls.
Hancock appeared in ads for the retirement home in which he declared cheerfully, “It would take three diesel train engines to pull me out of here.”

Almost sounds like a rhythm and blues song.

I met Hancock in late 2002 at Claremont Manor and published this feature story about him in the Daily Bulletin on Jan. 16, 2003. The full text is below.

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Sammy Hagar, the early years


What you might call before-and-after photos of rock singer Sammy Hagar, above, were set to run with Sunday’s column but didn’t (the vagaries of the newspaper biz being what they are). But then another photo surfaced, courtesy of reader Sheree Vath.

54195-Sam Hagar.jpg

“I read your article on Sammy Hagar’s book and his Fontana years. He apparently spent some time at Alta Loma High School too. Attached is his senior picture which appears in the 1966 Sisunga (yearbook),” Vath writes.

That picture appears at right.

“We’ve had some debates about this subject in our Alta Cucawanda Facebook group,” Vath continues. “Some of the people who grew up in Etiwanda say they remember him. Others say it isn’t true because they researched online and couldn’t find any information about it. I believe he spent some time at Alta Loma High School even if he was just there on picture day. Please take a look at the picture. It sure looks like him even if the hairdo is very different. We have the book to prove it!”

Looks like Sammy Hagar to me, Sheree. His memoir, “Red,” doesn’t name any of the schools he went to, although he talks about wanting to get out of Fontana after high school and he’s known to be a Fontana High alumnus.

Hagar writes that his mom married again when he was growing up and that her new husband was a man from Cucamonga who was a chef at “Chafee” College. (They met at a polka dance.) So it makes sense that Hagar would attend Alta Loma High, even if only briefly.

At lunch Monday at Nancy’s Cafe in Rancho Cucamonga I ran into a regular, Darlene Scalf, who saw me reading Hagar’s memoir and said: “I went to high school with that guy.” In Fontana, she confirmed. She added: “A friend of mine dated him. She had to break it off. Her parents said, ‘He’ll never amount to anything.’ “

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You know the 1964 song “GTO” by Ronny and the Daytonas? The one with the lyric about how Ronny is going to buy a Pontiac GTO, “take it out to Pomona and let ’em know that I’m the coolest thing around”?

I was walking along Canal Street in New Orleans one evening of my visit, passing by Harrah’s Casino, which was on the other side of the street, as its sound system blasted “GTO.”

My ears perked up and I paused on the sidewalk a moment, waiting for the Pomona line. Once it came, I resumed walking, a smile on my face, feeling a little closer to home.

You can watch a video here with the complete song plus photos of vintage GTOs.

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