There are times when ideas and words effortlessly flow out of me, and there are times when they don’t. While some may consider it a challenge, I prefer to view it as an opportunity. I have an arsenal of books, magazines, websites, and my music collection to rummage through when I need inspiration. And, should that fail, there’s always a few topics I keep on the shelf for moments such as these.
Back in 1964, there were some kids from the Bronx who had a band called The Trenchcoats, and they played at clubs down in Greenwich Village. Riding the post-British-Invasion first wave of American rock bands, after a few false starts with a couple of labels, they landed on Mercury Records with a new name: The Blues Magoos. Released in 1966, their debut album Psychedelic Lollipop was a great album of the times, with a hot single titled “We Ain’t Got Nothing Yet” that still resonates today with a memorable bass line, Farfisa organ riff, and killer guitar run.
In Philadelphia’s suburban Greater Northeast, there was a discount retailer out of New York by the unusual name of S. Klein on the Square. It was a department store with clothes, shoes, accessories, appliances, furniture, and a record department in the basement. While I didn’t often shop there, my friend David and I got busted one Saturday afternoon in early 1967 for attempting to shoplift an Animals’ single and were “banned for life.” Two weeks later, it was advertised that the Blues Magoos would be making a personal appearance, and there was no way we were going to miss it.
I was a fat teenager with a Beatles bowl cut, striped bell bottoms, and black boots. David was skinny and had a ponytail. As we kept an eye out for the security people, I couldn’t believe the crowd. Instead of people who looked like me and him, almost all of the guys wore ties and jackets. And they were from Father Judge High School, known for being tough and always ready to fight. While there were maybe a couple of dozen girls in their school uniforms standing on the outside, the 50 or so guys were all up close and gathered around a foot-high platform where the band was going to perform.
When the Magoos came out, I remember thinking that they had great hair and I noted that one of the guys wore a lace or ruffled shirt beneath a velvet jacket. As soon as they began to play, the crowd began to edge closer and closer. I’m not sure how far into the set the band got before the kids pushed forward and began throwing punches. I scrambled up the escalator as fast as my feet would move, and looking back I saw that the musicians were on the run too. When we were all outside, I remember the guy in velvet getting swarmed and taking a few hard hits before they got into a van and left. It was a total protopunk moment.
I finally got to hear the band at Convention Hall a few months later on a hot July night. They opened for Moby Grape, Scott McKenzie, and the Mamas and Papas.
From 1965 to 1968 the core band stayed together and released three albums. Peppy Castro (guitar and vocals) put another group together using the same band name for two more releases before they spilt up and he joined the cast of Hair. In July 2008, the Blues Magoos with original members Ralph Scala, Castro, and Geoff Daking reunited for two concerts, including one with The Zombies at the Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza. In December 2009 they traveled to Spain for the Purple Weekend festival.
This past week, well over 40 years since their last release, the Blues Magoos performed three sold-out shows at the Bowery Electric in NYC. They have a new album, available on CD Baby, titled Psychedelic Resurrection and a Facebook page with over 1700 followers. Peppy is doing interviews and talking about the Village scene, partying with Keith Moon, and how he taught Ace Frehley from KISS how to play the guitar.
They ain’t kids no more, and the boys are back.