By July 29, 2020 Read More →

The Seventies Music Scene in Modesto

The Seventies Music Scene in Modesto

By Willie Hines

   The 70’s, like any decade, didn’t really kick into gear until, say, 1973. Call it the hangover effect. Cultural changes, much like personal relationships, need a couple of years to shake off some of the old baggage and get into the new groove. Musically, the ’60s, after shedding its’ old folk and pop stylings, began experimenting in great earnest. Electricity offered a whole new language of expression, with distortion and feedback and the ability to bend the lighter gauged strings with vibrato and sustain the note indefinitely, and suddenly a new instrument was realized in the process: the recording studio itself, and the search for the sonic holy grail began and rock and roll took on a life of its’ own…

   California’s central valley has always had live venues. Always. All those Portuguese and Mexican dance halls that line the old highway 99 were homes to packed audiences craving big bands in the ’40s and western swing coming right behind(Bob Wills pretty much owned this valley in the late ’40s and well into the ’50s). The ’60s brought a “teen scene” and discotheques(Purple Turnip on 10th St., the Twilight Zone on Mchenry) and nightclubs.

   A flush season of entertainment in smaller towns depends upon the entrepreneurial spirit of the times and the mid-to-late ’70s saw Modesto flourishing with venues and bands due to the local promoters and their abilities to take a room and make it happen. Bill Barr’s Rocking Chair Productions led the way(Mountain Aire anyone?), followed by countless individual booking agents(Guiding Light, Scorpion and Lee Blevins Productions come to mind), all trying to make a buck and rock the house.

  Ahhh, the venues and a certain Bill Slayter was at every one of them. The Vintage and the Fable Room were literally next door to each other(one downstairs, both where 1010 10th St. is now), the California Ballroom down the street on 6th St.(still there), Carmens’ San Blas Room in McHenry Village, the Tree Frog Inn at the end of Orangeburg, Jack Phillips’ Sports Page(later Stage One, the Rock Shop, now Crocodiles) in the Prescott Shopping Center), the Lonesome Cowboy Saloon out on Sisk Rd. and The Club in Turlock. 
     It was all brand new, shiny and explosive and the possibilities were limitless. A time and a place full of awe and wonder and everybody wanted on board, before it all kind of got done to death over time: now there are game shows to compete for rock stardom, now the revolution is always being televised.  

   And the bands! On any given night(usually 5 nights a week, too) you could see the new wave stylings of Collage(Tim Lechuga, Mike Ferris), the slick dance party that was New York Connection(VMI’s Darin Morris), the Milkhouse Boys(Motown’s’ favorite at the time as Bruce Vella and company did both “Free Bird” and: The Devil Went Down To Georgia” flawlessly), Silvermoon formed in 1976 by Barry Day Drums and Vocals, Rick Barnes Guitar and Vocals Ken Daniel Bass/Vocals and Lori Salsa on Vocals, Raven(featuring the Grimaldi brothers), Buster Cherry(Mark Mascenti, Fred Eichel, Dan Rogers and Phil “Pops” Anderson) brought the swagger of the Stones while the Lights took their power pop all the way to the number one slot in the valley in 1980 due in no small part to the openness of radio at the time. Rock 104 ruled the commercial airwaves with DJs that took requests and answered the phones and promoted gigs and bands. If you could put your own record out chances were good somebody would play it(Tracy’s KSRT, KYOS in Merced, Rock 104, etc.) and you had the shot. Keep in mind that this is all before MTV, satellite technology, the internet, digital, etc..
   Since this is being written during a global pandemic in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, it offers us an opportunity to reflect on a time when political correctness hadn’t yet raised its’ ugly head, when a true sense of community was a given, right up there alongside common sense, where self-expression wasn’t about anger and entitlement but about love and peace. Naive to a fault to be sure, but still, a step away from the boundaries and cages we create for ourselves.

The Lights #1 on KYOS

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