GARY USHER

NOTE: This page is devoted to the man who, out of all of the Beach Boys contemporaries, most closely matched Brian Wilson in style and output.  Gary Usher helped Brian Wilson shape the songs of much of the early Beach Boys albums, from the hot-rod craze of "Fun, Fun, Fun" to the deeply introspective "In My Room."  Usher's own recordings, most of which were released under pseudonyms, are archetypes of the California sound, closely hewing to the sound and style of early Beach Boys songs.  For much more information about this prolific artist, as well as a complete discography, check out GaryUsher.com

The Hondells Vol. 1 - 1964: You're Gonna Ride With Us 
ATM Records 3811 AH [CD Only]; 
Released 1995

The Hondells were the outlet for most of Gary Usher's early records.  Created during Usher's tenure as music director for the film The Girls On The Beach (which had cameo appearances by the Beach Boys), Gary heard one of Brian's new songs for the film "Little Honda" which he immediately thought was a hit record.  But Brian wasn't planning to issue it as a single, so Usher decided to record his own version with producer Nick Venet at Mercury Records.  He asked some professional studio musicians to cut the track, and released the single under the name The Hondells.  The song was indeed a hit, and Usher had several other tracks recorded, using sidemen like Glen Campbell and members of the vocal group The Castells to help out.  After the single hit the top 30 on the charts, other tracks were quickly cut for an album and the group The Hondells became a marketable name.  The studio and touring personnel shifted throughout the groups' history, but the sounds and  quality of The Hondells were consistantly high.  This disc, which chronicles The Hondells output for 1964, is great - a thick slice of car/motorcycle/drag music that sounds just as fun and vital today as when it was written.  Favorites of mine include "Little Honda," "Ridin' Trails," "The Wild One," "Black Denim" and "My Buddy Seat."  The sound is firmly in early Beach Boys mold, with songs sounding as if they could be b-sides or album tracks on Little Deuce Coupe or Shut Down Vol. 2.  Where the Hondells veered away from other, similar groups is in their use of vocals - unlike other surf/drag groups, the Hondells were primarilly a vocal group, and Usher had a great vocalist in Chuck Girard (sort of a less-nasal Mike Love), and backup vocals provided by Usher, Glen Campbell, Joe Kelly, Richard Burns, Usher himself, and others.  This fine compilation, available only as an import, sports a hefty thirty-six tracks (!) and excellent liner notes by Stephen J. McParland and is highly recommended.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Hondells Vol. 1


The Hondells Vol. 2 - 1965-1970: California Sunshine  
ATM Records 3814 AH [CD Only]; 
Released 1996

A strange thing happened after the Hondells had their early success - Gary Usher gave them up.  Having accepted a post at Decca Records, Usher handed the reigns of the Hondells over to producers Nick Venet and Mike Curb at Mercury, who continued to milk the Hondells' name and personnel, in the process turning away from the harder-edged sound that had defined them in their first recordings, and making them more "pop" oriented, with songs like "Ski Party" and "Winter A -Go-Go" trying to find a new sport for the Hondells to latch onto, and others like "You Meet The Nicest People On A Honda" (taken from a commerical jingle) or the bouncy "Follow Your Heart" showing off the slick, new sound that showed Curb trying to market the Hondells to the widest possible audience.  But instead of washing out with this sleeker, more commercial Hondells, some very interesting experiments occured, with a wall-of-sound-ish "Sea Of Love;" an up-tempo "Endless Sleep" or the poppy "Do As I Say" (which has no involvement from the Hondells touring or session players) being cut and released under the Hondells name.  Unfortunately, this caused Dick Burns, who was the only consistant member of the Hondells on the road, some tense moments, since he had no control over what the Hondells were singing or putting out on 45s.  This musical pillaging of the Hondells name and sound continued throughout the 1960s, with the occasional single or commerical being cut and released, and their sound constantly changing as the studio personnel came and went.  But the Hondells name continued to be used, and Gary Usher even returned for some sessions, cutting several tracks in 1966 and '67, with Randy Thomas on lead vocals, and pulling songs by Boyce & Hart ("Let's Dance On"), and John Sebastian ("Younger Girl") into the mix.  Volume 2 in the series contains a lighter sound, but is almost as enjoyable as the first volume.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Hondells Vol. 2


The Hondells Vol. 3 - Aliases And Alternatives 
ATM Records 3824-AH [CD Only]; 
Released 1998

By the time ATM Records got to Volume 3 of their massive Hondells release program, the law of diminishing returns was beginning to take effect.  Since The Hondells were essentially only session musicians and singers, all under the auspices of producers Gary Usher and Mike Curb, the same players showed up not only as the Hondells, but in different guises as well.  So on this third volume you not only have "The Hondells" - you also have The Sunsets, The Four Speeds, Gary Usher and The Usherettes (who are better known to Beach Boys fans as The Honeys), The Competitors, The Go-Go's, The Devons, and some guy named Don Brandon.  And while the producers are able to create a different sound for each group, the songs (nearly all bearing the producing/writing stamp of Gary Usher) quickly begin to sound the same, song after song after song.  Granted, the music is supposed to be juvenile, lightweight fun, but I got tired of listening to the same rev-ving car sounds, with the same basic rhythm tracks over lyrics that don't dig very deep: "The Chug-A-Lug," "Playmate Of The Year," "My Little Beach Bunny," "Doin' The Swim" (a lame stab at creating a new dance craze) and (my personal favorite title) "Bustin' Buns." Or hearing car song after car song with no development of the genre: "R.P.M.," "My Sting Ray," "Four On The Floor," "Cheater Slicks," ""Wide Track," "Little Stick Nomad" and "The Ballad of Bonneville" are all pretty generic entries in the car/drag canon - but then many of them are simply re-recordings of earlier Super Stocks records; Usher had no compulsion against recycling old songs over and over again, but after a while it gets monotonous.  But there are some good songs as well: I especially liked the songs by the Go-Go's, which have a nice bright sound compared to "The Competitors" who have a thicker production sound.  And the opening tracks by the Hondells are fine, with alternate takes of "Sea Cruise," "Follow Your Heart," "Endless Sleep," "Let's Dance On," "Yes To You," and "Another Woman".  This release, like all the others have exhaustive liner notes by Gary Usher biographer Stephen McParland, as well as pertinent discography, photographs and production notes.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Hondells Vol. 3


The Hondells Vol. 4 - More Aliases And Early Recordings  
ATM Records 3829-AH [CD Only]; 
Released 2000

Astoundingly, there were still LOADS of stuff in the vaults to put out on yet one more 32-track collection of Hondells material.  To be fair, most of the tracks on this CD are not credited to "The Hondells" as such, but to the many permeations of the session players who revolved in and out of the group.  The first twelve tracks on volume 4 are all credited to "The Ghouls" with Dick Burns doing most of the Boris Karloff impersonations, and a Beach Boys rip-offs present in the form of "Be True To Your Ghoul" and a Jan & Dean parody on "Little Old Lady From Transylvania."  It's amusing once, and generally well-produced (I especially like the dreamy, unsettling instrumental "Dracula's Theme") but the album as a whole fits firmly into the "novelty" bin.  Also included on this CD are a couple of takes of "School Is A Drag" from the Super Stocks (more on them later), several cuts from a solo Gary Usher, including his most famous song "Sacramento," but also several rarities: "The Beetle," "(That's) Just The Way I Feel," "It's A Lie" and "Rave On."  Usher usually took backing vocal duties on his productions, and for good reason: his voice just isn't up to par with other vocalists.  The Indigos also show up on a couple of tracks - The Indigos were the original "touring" band for the Hondells, but these tracks are pre-Hondells outings, with "Get Up And Go" and "Inspiration" which are good for comparison with the early Hondells recordings; and even earlier Indigos tracks show up in the three Dick Burns and Bobby Fry numbers: "Daddy's Dice," "(Big) Molly," and "Crazy Blues" (credited only to Burns).  The Hondells show up in only five tracks: instrumental versions of "Younger Girl," "All-American Girl," "My Little Bike," and "The Pack" and then in a live reunion which took place in 1981, and features an interview with Gary Usher and Roger Christian, and a ragged performance of "Younger Girl."  A satisfying end to an illuminating series.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Hondells Vol. 4


Hot Rod City  
Vault VS-104 [LP],
Sundazed SC 11025  [CD]; 
Released 1964, CD Release September 29, 1995

Gary Usher and Richard Delvy, flush from their success with the top-ten album Shut Down (which they produced), was asked by Vault Records to try and duplicate that success on their label. Vault had already contracted surf-rock band The Challengers to play on the tracks, but never having written car tunes before, Usher was brought in to lend an authentic touch. Given three fictional group names to work with - The Customs, The Quads, The Grand Prix, and the aforementioned backing group, The Challengers, Usher also brought in friends Dick Burns (The Hondells), Paul Johnson, Bobby Hart, Paul Johnson, Dennis McCarthy and others to quickly shape an album of hot rod tunes in order to strike while the iron was hot. The resulting album, Hot Rod City, while no masterpiece, captures the raw energy of the drag-racing circuit, and includes several songs of interest to Beach Boys fans. Included are the previous Usher compositions "RPM", a cover of Chuck Berry's "Maybelline," and three Beach Boys songs, "Little Deuce Coupe," "Shut Down," and "409."  In comparison with the originals by the Beach Boys, these covers are pretty weak, with the vocalists unable to match the harmonies and vocal prowess of Brian Wilson, and Co., but otherwise are competently played.  Other songs, like "Competition Coupe" with a miscast lead vocal by keyboardist Dennis McCarthy, fail completely, but other songs, namely "Nifty '50" and "'54 Corvette," are fun slices of mid-sixties Americana.  Sundazed Records has added eight bonus tracks to the original LP, using the same session musicians as the album, and there are several tracks here which are better than what was released on the album, with the "Fun, Fun, Fun" clone "The Blonde in the 406" which is a great story-song, and also a rare Brian Wilson song which was originally written for teen-idol Paul Petersen "She Rides With Me," which receives a faithful reading here.  But overall, this album will sound like Beach Boys cast-offs from their early days, with little here that matches the artistry or performance chops of The Beach Boys.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: Hot Rod City


The Super Stocks (Featuring Gary Usher): The Complete Recordings
One Way Records S22-18680 [CD Only]; 
Released 1964, CD Release December 1, 1995

The Super Stocks were the fictional group which Gary Usher used (along with Hondells) to release his material. So prolific was the producer, that all three Super Stocks LPs were released within the space of a year! This double-CD, now out of print and commanding outrageous prices, collects not only the contents of the three records the Super Stocks released, but also sundry tracks which appeared on various Surf/Drag compilations like Shut Down, Hot Rod Rally, and Big Hot Rod Hits as well as a dozen unreleased and alternate tracks.  The core members of the Super Stocks were Glen Campbell, Richie Podolor, and Paul Johnson on guitars; Hal Blaine on drums; and Steve Douglas on sax. Usher sang some of the early vocals, with Chuck Girard, Ritchie Burns, and Joe Kelly also singing; but Girard eventually took over most of the vocal duties. The Super Stocks intially had a tougher sound than the Hondells, with strong garage-rock/surf-rock roots in their playing, and while their first LP, Thunder Road, is a routine entry in the car/drag genre, with lots of reverb guitar, sax breaks, and drum breaks, a few of the songs stand out - especially the last three, "Draggin' Deuce," "Hot To Trot" (with a vocal reminiscent of Dennis Wilson's early singing), and "Custom Caravan" closing out the album with a nice hook. The second album, Surf Route 101 has a richer sound to the production and sweeter harmony vocals which stands up well with the Beach Boys efforts at this time.  The songs run the gamut from straight ahead Surf-Rock ("Ventura," "Oceanside" and a ticking "Midnight Run") to a thinly-disguised rewrite of Brian Wilson's "Pamela Jean" (here called "Muscle Beach Party") to a subtly-flavored "Balboa Island."  As an album, Surf Route 101 is far more enjoyable than its predecessor, and shows a real increase in songwriting and production skills by Usher.  The final album, School Is A Drag, leans even more strongly in the Beach Boys direction, with the addition of falsetto vocals, and several songs all patterned after the rah-rah attitude of "Be True To Your School."  Besides the title song, you'll also find "School Bus Blues," "Let Freedom Ring" (about waiting for the school bell to ring) "Hot Rod High," "Class Day," and "Gridiorn Goodie."   Side B of the album reverts back to drag-racing and cars as it's theme, with the songs "Saturday's Hero," "Readin' Ridin' and Racin'," "A Guy Without Wheels," "Wild One," "Little Honda," and "The Last Walk" finishing the long-play careers of The Super Stocks.  Finishing out the set are several unreleased tracks, including "Surfer's Holiday," "This Bike Of Mine" (a remake of the Beach Boys "This Car Of Mine" with a faster take), "Coffin Nails," "Beat '65," "Free Fall" and several untitled instrumentals.  The quality of the songs and production rises noticably with each album, and this collection is a fascinating foray into how Gary Usher grew as a producer and artist.  Unfortunately the slim fold-out booklet which reproduces the three album covers contains no other notes on the group or recordings, and although I was album to purchase it for under $15, this set is getting hard to find at reasonable prices.



Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos: The Rat Fink Collection
LP Releases: Hot Rod Hootenanny - Capitol ST-2010 [LP] (1963);
Rods and Ratfinks - Capitol ST-2057 [LP] (1964);
Surfink! - Capitol ST-2114 [LP] (1964);
CD Release: One-Way Records 18319 [CD]; Released May 30, 1995

Disc: 1
1. Hot Rod Hootenanny
2. Fastest Shift Alive
3. You Ain't Nothing But A Honda
4. Mr. Gasser
5. Mad'Vette
6. Termites In My Woody
7. Eefen It Don't Go Chrome It
8. 1320
9. Weirdo Wiggle
10. Dragnutz

11. Chopped Mash
12. My Coupe Eefen Talks
13. Three Kats In A Tub
14. T.J.T.
15. Hey, Ratfink 
16. 1947 Avanti 
17. Cherry-Top Charlie 
18. Lonely Stocker

Disc: 2   
1. Ballad Of Eefin Fink
2. Cool, Cool Rod
3. Hearse With A Curse
4. Waltz Of The Ratfinks
5. Fink Rod 409
6. Surfink
7. Well, I'm Goin'
8. Surfer Ghoul
9. Doin' The Surfink
10. Little Fink Surfs Again
11. Ratfink High
12. Phantom Surfer
13. There's A Dog-Gone Ding In My Ding-Dong Board
14. Big Bad Surfink
15. Surfink Blues
16. Finksville U.S.A.
17. Santa Barbara
18. Midnight Run


REVIEW:  Whereas Brian Wilson was struggling to break out of the artistic confines of the surf and drag music scene, becoming more musically adventurous with every album, Gary Usher remained firmly in the genre which he had gained the most success.  In 1964, he left producing the studio bands that had gained him notoriety and jumped on the commercial bandwagon with this triple-LP collection of songs which were tied into the creations of illustrator Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, whose warped characters were all the rage during the mid-1960s, gracing decals, posters, t-shirts, and eventually were made into a very popular series of plastic models.  In the best traditions of corporate greed, it was decided to expand the characters into the music market, and this trio of albums was quickly made, and Gary Usher, Columbia Records local hod-rod music impresario, was tapped to help write, produce, and sing on these hot-rod themed platters.  While not breaking any new ground musically, the albums definitely have a sense of fun, with the first album Hod Rod Hootenanny sporting a redneck aura and songs like "Termites in My Woody" and "Eefen It Don't Go, Chrome It" which have a sly humor tied to groovy surf 'n' drag music which ranks among the best of the era.  Unfortunately, the albums themselves have no information on who sings or plays on these tracks, and unless you want to spend hundreds of dollars for Stephen MacParland's excellent series of musical biographies on Gary Usher, you're left like me to simply sit back and enjoy the music.  The songs are generally bright invocations of car worship, with the unique addition of prominent female vocalists in the backing vocals.  Songs I especially like are the fun "Cool, Cool Rod" which is about a supercharged ice-cream truck, the frenetic instrumental "Surfink," the very funny Beach Boys parody "Surfer Ghoul" and the rocking "Ratfink High."  One-Way Records released all three LPs on a double CD set in 1995, which has since gone out of print, and is ridiculously over-priced, but unlike the later "Big Daddy" Roth tie-ins below, this set is actually worth checking out.


The New Sounds of The Weird-Ohs 
Hairy Records/Mercury 60977 [LP];
Released May 1964

1. Huey's Hut Rod   
2. Leaky Boat Louie  
3. Daddy the Swingin' Suburbanite  
4. Francis the Foul  
5. Drag Hag  
6. Flame Out Freddie  
7. Sling Rave Corvette  
8. Killer Mcbash  
9. Davey the Psycho Cyclist  
10. Wade a Minute  
11. Digger  
12. Endsville Eddie


The Sounds of The Silly Surfers 
Hairy Records/
Mercury 20977 [LP];
Released November, 1965

1.  Hearse on a Surfari  
2.  Gremmie Out of Control  
3.  Hot Dogger and Surf Bunny Ridin' Tandem  
4.  Hot Dogger Hangin' Ten  
5.  Wave Hog  
6.  Hodad Makin' the Scene With a Six Pack  
7.  Monster Surfer Hangin' Six
8.  Woodie on a Surfari
9.  Gremmie Scared Plenty Hangin' Twenty
10.  Beach Bunnie Catchin' Rays
11.  Hot Dogger Ridin' the Wake
12.  Cowabunga Surf's Up

REVIEW:  This fifth (!) collection of songs which were tied in to the creations of illustrator Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and the commercial tie-in plastic models is a pretty weak affair, with songs that sound derivative of everything from the Beach Boys first album (which it most strongly resembles), to every other surf and drag record which Gary Usher was involved with.  A collection of songs tied around the two-dimensional stereotypes of surfer guys and gals, the music is strictly fourth-tier stuff, with clunky melody lines tied to lyrics that are grade-school level, at best:

There's a real cool head who makin' the scene
with a six-pack in hand, he's a cola fiend
with dirty hair and greasy fingernails
you can follow him by his messy trails.
["Hodad Making The Scene With A Six-Pack"]

Roger Christian, Nick Venet, Jimmie Haskell, David Weiss, Gary Usher and producer Reuben Klamer fill the grooves with as many sound-effects and topical references as they can, but for an album that's aimed mostly at young teenagers, the songs are sorely lacking in humor and are bereft of catchy hooks.  Exceptions include the melodic drive of "A Woodie On A Surfari" and the ultra-sexist "Beach Bunny Catchin' Rays."  For some strange reason, the writers also include several "monster" references in their songs, with "Monster Surfer Hangin' Six," and "Hearse On A Surfari" all employing "Monster Mash" rip-offs which quickly grow old.  For a collection of songs which are demanding $300 on collector's circuits, I'd expect more quality from the artists involved, but The Silly Surfers sound more like Gremmies than Hot-Doggers.  About half of the songs are this album were later merged with half from the Weird-Ohs album above to create a dual platter of both artists, Music to Make Models By.

The Revells: The GO Sound Of The Slots!  
Reprise Records RC-6160 [LP],
 
Sundazed Records SC 6067 [CD]; 
Released 1965, CD Release September 29, 1995

This has to be one of the goofiest ideas for an album that I've ever come across.  Gary Usher was tapped by then-current Reprise/Warner exec Jimmy Bowen to capitalize on what he perceived was the next "big thing" among teen males: Slot Car Racing.  Today, I imagine it would be an album devoted to the X-Box, but hey, this was 1965...  Gary Usher used many of the same personnel from the Hondells at a December 1964 recording session including Glen Campbell, Richie Podolor, Bill Cooper and Jerry LeMire on Guitars, Dick Burns on bass, Randy Thomas on Keyboards and Hal Blaine on drums.  The rushed nature of the project for the fictional Revells was evidenced in the song selection, most of which were quick rewrites of earlier Usher releases: The Hondells "My Little Bike" became "My Ferrari GTO"; The Super Stocks "The Wild One" morphed into "Wait 'Til Next Time"; "Two Wheel Show Stopper" showed up as "Little Stockers" and "School Is A Drag" was recast as "School Is A/Gas."   Despite the inherent goofiness of an album devoted to a slot car racing, The Go Sound Of The Slots! is actually a fair album, with professional playing, bright vocals and songs that only ocassionally embarrass themselves: "Slot City?" "My Baby Digs Slot Car Racing?" - it's more than made up for by the cool chorus on "Fastest Little Racer" or the bluesy-Righteous Brothers-like take on "My Little Slot Coupe," or the sidewinding feel of "Wait 'Til Next Time".  Sure, it still sounds like second-rate Beach Boys, but even that's better than most.

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Revells


The Kickstands: Black Boots and Bikes
Capitol Records ST-2078 [LP]; 

Released 1964

The Kickstands

Or purchase from Amazon.co.uk: The Kickstands
1. Death Valley Run
2. Hill Climb
3. Mean Streak
4. Side Car
5. Two Wheel Show Stopper
6. Haulin’ Honda
7. Devil on Wheels
8. Ridin’ Trails
9. Slow Ride South
10. Johnny Take Care
11. Scrambler

REVIEW: The Kickstands and The Knights were two more pseudonyms for Gary Usher's usual group of studio musicians and singers who had been working for him as the Hondells, The Super Stocks, and countless other incarnations of hot rod/surf groups.  They were essentially Capitol Records "house band" and the first album here by The Kickstands, Black Boots & Bikes, was released in 1964, and has recently been remastered and released by pop label Sundazed, and contained several of Usher's compositions which had seen release under other guises, including "Death Valley Run," "Mean Streak," "Devil On Wheels," and "Ridin' Trails".  Other cuts on the album include the competent instrumentals "Hill Climb," "Haulin' Honda," "Side Car," "Slow Ride South," and "Scrambler" making this a fairly routine collection of vocal/instrumental garage rock.  Both Usher and Dick Burns take lead vocal duties, while Jerry Cole, Glen Cass are on guitar, William A. Oden and Steve Douglas blow saxophones (which gives the album a grittier brass sound than other, similar albums), with Earl Palmer on drums, and Stephen LaFever on bass.  It's a good, vibrant slice of mid-sixties hot-rod music.


The Knights: Hot Rod High
Capitol ST-2189 [Hot Rod High] [LP];
Released 1964

hot rod high

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1. Hot Rod High
2. Midnight Auto
3. Lonely Little Stocker
4. School Days
5. Three Wheeler
6. Be True to Your School
7. Hot Rod, U.S.A.
8. I Get Around
9. Ditch Day
10. Rock Around the Clock
11. Theme for Teen Love
12. Skippin’ School

REVIEW: The Knights album (also available separately through Sundazed), taking the title Hot Rod High from the Usher/Christian song, is a slicker piece of work, with smooth vocals, stinging guitar work (thanks to Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco) and a couple of Beach Boys cover songs ("Be True To Your School" and "I Get Around" - as well as a cover of Chuck Berry's "School Days" (Ring Ring Goes The Bell), which the Beach Boys would get around to covering themselves in 1979).  Also found is a fine cover of The Rip Chords "Hot Rod U.S.A."  There are also some real groaners of songs included here, from the embarassing "Lonely Little Stocker" (with a plaintive vocal provided by Gary Usher) and the icky "Theme For Teen Love" which was penned by album producer Jim Economides.  The Knights are given a teeny-bopper sound with high, sweet harmonies that are given a big boost by the engaging vocals of former Castells member Chuck Girard, but otherwise car-music fans might be put off by the almost too-clean approach taken here.  These majority of songs here were recorded in a single days' session on July 23rd, 1964 at Capitol Studios, but nothing here sounds rushed or sloppy - it's all very slick and professional.  Closing out the album are the original "Happy Days" theme - "Rock Around The Clock" and the campy "Skippin' School" which has the virtue of some goofy horn-honking sounds and "Ooo-Ooh!" backing vocals that make it a fun closer.  


Gary Usher: Hot Rod U.S.A.
Usher 201
[CD]; 
Released 1994

A quasi-legitimate release that collects 30 rare tracks by various groups, all overseen by Gary Usher, including The Timers, The Sunsets, Dave Myers & his Surftones, The Pendletons, The Wheel Men, The Pyramids, The Silly Surfers, The Wierd-Ohs, The Neptunes, The Marketts, The Go-Go's, Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos, Rachel & The Revolvers, The Road Runners, Gary Usher himself, and The Super Stocks.  Although many of these tracks can be found on the exhaustive Hondells discs listed above, many have never seen the light of day on CD before, and with excellent sound and track-by-track liner notes, this rare release is worth seeking out for fans of the genre.  The majority of tracks here are penned by Usher, from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" rip-off "Lonely Surfer Boy", to two 1960 singles released under Gary Usher's own name: "You're The Girl" (which was his first 45, released on the Titan label) and its b-side "Driven Insane" which has backing vocals by future Honeys member Ginger Blake; solo compositions like The Wheel Men's "School Is A Gas," the instrumental "Gear!" and The Pyramids "Custom Caravan."  An unusual chord structure and prominent piano solo distinguish The Pendletons "Barefoot Adventure" and the ultra-rare comedy track "Wave Hog" which is sung by Gary Usher - is credited to the Silly Surfers and was commissioned for a model-kit building company!  Following this is two follow-up tracks: "Francis The Foul" (which is about a cheating football player) and "Leaky Boat Louie", both taken from a 1965 comedy album by the Weird-Ohs.  Other highlights are the Four Seasons-inspired "Shame Girl" b/w "I've Got Plans" by the Neptunes and what is credited as "the only enjoyable cut" from the comedy album Rod's N' Ratfink by Mr. Gasser & The Weirdos: "The Lonely Stocker" - which was strangely enough the weakest track on the Knights album above.  Also found are a Gary Usher vocal on the Wilson-Usher collaboration "Shut Down" which was released under the name The Road Runners.  The CD is a real grab bag of songs, but all of them are worth hearing - unfortunately, again this CD is floating around on the fringes, but can be found at used CD shops and rare record dealers.


Barefoot Adventure: The Four Star Sessions 1962-1966
Sundazed Music, Inc [LP, CD];
Released August 19, 2008

Barefoot adventure
Purchase CD from Amazon.com
Purchase Vinyl LP from Amazon.com
Disc: 1
1. R.P.M. (The Four Speeds)
2. My Little Surfin' Woodie (The Sunsets)*
3. Barefoot Adventure (The Four Speeds)*
4. Four On the Floor (The Four Speeds)
5. Cheater Slicks (The Four Speeds)
6. C.C. Cinder (The Sunsets)
7. The Chug-A-Lug (The Sunsets)
8. Gary Usher Interview Part 1*
9. My Little Beach Bunny (The Sunsets)
10. Playmate of the Year (The Sunsets)
11. Lonely Surfer Boy (The Sunsets)
12. Soul Stompin'*
13. Nifty '50*
14. Power Shift
15. Mag Wheels
16. Gary Usher I nterview Part 2*
17. My Sting Ray (The Four Speeds)
18. 426 Super Stock (The Competitors)

Disc: 2
1. Wax, Board and Woodie*
2. Draggin' Deuce*
3. '54 Corvette*
4. My Little Surfin' Woodie (The Sunsets)
5. Gary Usher Interview Part 3*
6. R.P.M.*
7. Barefoot Adventure (The Four Speeds)
8. Cactus Juice*
9. Coney Island Wild Child*
10. Sugar and Spice*
11. Twins*
12. Milky Way
13. Quicksand*
14. Gary Usher Interview Part 4*
15. You Made a Believer Out of Me (with The Honeys)*
16. Waiting for t he Day (with The Honeys)*
17. Tied Down*
18. Harder and Harder*

REVIEW:  Gary Usher has never had the critical respect of some of his starrier peers, such as, say, Brian Wilson, although that's not entirely fair.  In the beginning of his career as a writer/producer, he was hired to duplicate the surf and hot rod sounds that were being pushed to the teenagers of the time, and he did so with an uncanny ear; hiring top session players and performers, and releasing the songs under a variety of monikers: The Four Speeds, The Sunsets, The Knights, The Kickstands, The Hondells, and others.  And when, in the mid-1960s, the music began to change and become more introspective, more adventurous, Gary Usher's music followed along, with often stunning results, when he paired with artists most notably, Curt Boettcher.  This double-disc retrospective from Sundazed is an ideal introduction to Usher's output - although necessarily brief, Barefoot Adventure is an blast-from-the-past time-capsule of California sounds which will send the listener straight back to Southern California, circa 1962.  From fuzzy, reverb-drenched race songs like "R.P.M." and "Four on the Floor" to girl and boy surfer odes "My Little Beach Bunny" and "Lonely Surfer Boy", Usher was consistently able to tap into the SoCal zeitgeist much like The Wilsons and their contemporaries did so successfully.  For collector's, this set is filled out with a bunch of bonus tracks, many of which are making their CD debut here, including two rarities from The Honeys, which should light up the eyes of Beach Boys fans.  And sprinkled among the rarities are several snippets of interviews with Gary Usher, where he talks about the songs, the times, and the people involved.  A great double CD, with a fabulous booklet (notes by music historian Stephen McParland), fantastic sound, and enough gems to rate a high recommendation.


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