"California sun": A classic from the west coast of South Bend, Indiana

November 13, 2021 0 Comments

The Beach Boys’ surf music made California a youth dream destination in the 1960s. But not all music was produced on the West Coast. One of the most iconic songs of the time, “California Sun”, was first recorded in 1961 by New Orleans R&B singer Joe Jones, known for his Top Ten hit, “You Talk Too Much.”

Written by Henry Glover (with Roulette Records president Morris Levy as co-writer), “California Sun” was recorded by Jones in a New Orleans R&B style backed by a horn section. “California Sun” was not successful as a follow-up to “You Talk Too Much”, only reaching number 89 on the charts. But the song achieved some popularity in South Bend, Indiana, where high school classmates performed it with their group, the Playmates.

Playmates included bassist Doug Gean, singer / guitarist Marty “Bo” Fortson, guitarist Joe Pennell, drummer Paul Dennert, and Otto Nuss on organ. When they learned that the name of Playmates had already been taken by a group of 50 who had had a success with “Beep Beep”, they became the Rivieras. Instead of the French coast, they got their name from the stylish Buick Riviera.

The Rivieras entered Chicago’s Columbia recording studios in 1963 and cut “California Sun” into three takes, replacing Jones’ trumpet section with a guitar and organ swap riffs. The track was supposed to be the B-side of “Played On”, which was also recorded in the session.

But WLS DJ Art Roberts recognized the potential of “California Sun” and became the A side. Roberts’ exposure of the song gained national attention, peaking at number 5 on the Billboard graphics in 1964.

However, Fortson and Pennell never enjoyed the fruits of the song’s success; they left the group to join the Marine Corps shortly after the recording session.

The song was rarely out of the public consciousness; An old radio staple, it was used in California tourism commercials and movies like good morning Vietnam and Oliver Stone The doors.

But in the mid-1970s, the song took on new life. Enter the Ramones, the group considered by many to be the first punk rock group. The group would record surf rock songs like “Surfin ‘Bird” and “Rockaway Beach” and in 1977 made a cover of “California Sun” for their LP. Leaving home.

The Ramones took “California Sun” to another dimension; although the lyrics stayed the same, distortion was added and the song’s rhythm sped up to warp drive. As exciting as punk rockers made the track, Rivieras’s version remains the best known and most loved.

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