get back to being in the band for a moment, as this was all part of what I
did and used it with some of my acting, as it was a big love of my life. I
liked every type of music and gathered up a lot of Chet Atkins guitar records.
I copied his style and pretty much learned to play like him by teaching myself.
He could play jazz, classical, rock or anything. I figured if I could do all
this in a short period of time, I’d be way ahead of the other lead guitarists
in Bakersfield. I did just that and created my own style. I bought a reverb
and a delay unit for the ‘echo’ effect and used it a lot in our
songs. No one else had that sound and I was way ahead of my time with it.
Soon other guitarists were copying me and wanted to know how I learned these licks. I just said by listening to a lot of different artists and picking it up. Soon I gathered up a rhythm guitar player from my high school, by the name of Denny Phillips. We hit it off right away and started learning current songs in order to establish a list to go by. We took a few gigs playing for club dinners just to get seen and noticed. It was just Denny and me doing guitar songs, probably pretty similar to Les Paul and Chet Atkins duos. We had a good sound and brought in a drummer and a bass player. Our band was good, and we were getting gigs all over town for the schools and YMCA. It was a milestone for the city, as they never used ‘live’ bands for school dances. We were a hit immediately and played steadily at every school in town on the weekends. The band was called The Epics and we kept busy for a few years to follow. I never had a free weekend as we also booked all the proms and Christmas formals. Dating was no problem even on the weekends when I played. There is something to be said about a guitar player and women. He always has his ‘pick’. Get it?
Our popularity rose to the point where we were asked to be featured at the Hollywood Bowl on YMCA day along with some film stars.
We drove down, set up in the Bowl, and I couldn’t believe that we had gone this far in such a short period. We had reorganized and added a few members and dropped one or two, but took on a different sound and added four-part harmony vocals. Yes, I sang too! We had a great blend and were right along with the music trend at that time. Well, out of the Hollywood Bowl we were invited to enter the ‘Battle of the Bands’ at the Hollywood Palladium about three months down the road. We worked hard to tighten up our sound, and then the day came to go to the show. Upon arrival, I saw booths, bands, people, and all kinds of activities going on. Wow, here we are in Hollywood about to enter the biggest event of our time. We stayed two days and played during different intervals as we were judged on our sound and performance.
The decision came in and we placed 2nd out of 200 groups. For that we received a recording contract with Capitol Records and a night playing at Gazzari’s on Sunset Strip.
Gazzari’s had its own crowd, a really fast-paced young group. This was much different from what we were used to in Bakersfield, which is a laid back redneck community. I wasn’t used to this sort of group, and you could feel the energy off of them. We got up and performed and were widely accepted by everyone and even signed autographs. This was a big rush as it was the first time to be able to perform in such a famous nightspot.
Later on we were asked to come into Capitol Records and do a 45-rpm record with two songs. I remember that most recording takes place late at night or early in the morning, and this wasn’t much different. I think we worked until 4 am. We cut two songs, "When Johnnie Came Slidin' Home" and "Crusin’." The changed our name to The Hollywood Vines. I wasn’t pleased with that as it’s two cross streets in Hollywood, but they were paying us and I had no choice. The record did ok for about a year, and I received some royalties, but not much after that. I think my fellow musicians didn’t have any interest in taking it farther and were satisfied with their jobs in Bakersfield. I wanted more, but at that point couldn’t do it alone. I needed to find another way.