By Simone Goldstone | NB Indy Soundcheck Columnist
Elvis Presley learning karate. Jim Morrison’s muse Pamel Curson. The 1960s hit song “Louie, Louie.”
What do these seemingly random placards of music history all have in common? The OC.
Elvis learned karate in Westminster from resident Mike Stone. Pamela Curson, the heir to Jim Morrison’s estate, grew up in Orange and is buried in Santa Ana. “Louie, Louie” was composed in Anaheim.
These are just some of the often-overlooked gems of Orange County’s music history that local author Chris Epting brings to light in his book “Rock N Roll in Orange County: Music, Madness and Memories.”
Epting will be discussing his book on Thursday, Sept. 16 at a special evening event at the Balboa Island Museum.
Epting is the expert of the hallowed halls of concert venues that once brought music’s greatest legends to the OC. His book is the first of its kind to solely examine the rich musical history of Orange County.
The book recounts rare and nostalgic stories of the vanguards who saw punk rock take root in basement parties, Meatloaf’s first time on stage, and Jane’s Addiction’s very first show at a small club that mixed literature readings with heavy rock.
Those of us who missed out on the pre-SoundCloud golden years of Orange County can relive the past through wistful recollections from Peter Gabriel, stories about the Golden Bear (the once beloved, now defunct Huntington Beach venue on Coast Highway that brought names like Janis Joplin to the coastal town), and discover musical relics right in our very own backyard.
Mentored under author John Cheever and having interned for Todd Rundgren, Epting has lived a life many people dream of. Known for co-writing books such as John Oat’s Memoir “A Change of Season” and Def Leopard’s Phil Collen’s autobiography “Adrenalized,” Epting was a columnist for the L.A. Times and has penned over 30 books, including “James Dean Died Here.”
Currently, he is working on books with the Doobie Brothers and Traffic. An aficionado of the crossroads between history and music, Epting has travelled the country to write about markers of pop culture.
In “Rock N Roll in Orange County,” Epting pays tribute to the electric guitars produced exclusively in Orange County: Fender and Rickenbacker.
The Rickenbacker is known for being the sound of 1963. George Harrison’ opening chords of “A Hard Day’s Night” are strummed on the Rickenbacker 12 string, signaling the start of a new era. Few people know Rickenbackers are manufactured exclusively in Orange County.
Fullerton was also the birthplace of the most famous guitars in history: the Fender. The book traces Leo Fender’s childhood from his start with building sound systems and transitioning to the legendary guitars that made rock music possible. The invention of the solid body electric guitar put Fullerton on the world map.
Similarly, the tune “Louie, Louie” was written by Richard Berry in Anaheim while he visited a local band called the Rhythm Rockers. With no marker on the building that was once Anaheim’s Harmony Park Ballroom, few would know such a seminal song was composed within its walls.
One might find bricks belonging to the historic venue the Golden Bear in a family home’s fireplace, or carefully kept in a closet keepsake, as the original grounds where the club once stood are no-more. Fans and concertgoers grabbed the stones that once built the venue to keep as sentimental mementos.
“Times change, tastes change, and real estate becomes more valuable over time. Culture changes, and things run their course. It’s the times we live in,” Epting says of the loss of these monumental clubs that were the launching board of punk bands and where legendary stars could be treated as locals.
The Golden Bear, once located at 306 Pacific Coast Highway, was a favorite venue of the Byrds, although you’ll have to read the book to find out the first hand story why.
Eventually, Epting would love to have the county place placards on the historic plots of land that helped make modern music what it is.
“It just takes passionate people to go and create awareness,” Epting says of his future goals.
What makes this book so special are the first person retellings of events from artists such as Peter Gabriel.
“Selfishly, I wanted to learn more about it,” Epting jokes. “People are happy to tell their stories, and they love talking about their personal experiences.”
A peek into famed artists’ memories of their defining times in the Orange County music scene make this book memorable. The pages are colored with personal stories, such as the Newport Pop Festival’s organizer Gary Schmidt recounting his tale of flying Jefferson Airplane in a helicopter above the Fairgrounds.
Other gems include Led Zeppelin playing a 1969 show at U.C. Irvine in the band’s early days, and British artist Donovan recording his first live album “Donovan in Concert” in Anaheim’s Convention Center in 1967. Who knew that the audience’s voices in “Mellow Yellow” comes from our very own county?
Furthermore, Orange County is the birthplace of folk singers Jackson Brown, Steve Noonan, and Tim Buckley. A couple decades later, Black Flag and Social Distortion would eat up the punk scene and catapult the O.C. into the limelight again.
Perhaps this is because, as Epting explores in his book, Orange County is primary made up of families. Parents are able to provide their kids with music lessons and instruments. Each band came with a built-in support system of family and friends to ensure there was never a lack of audience.
This sense of community allowed bands to take off. Even in suburban America, and even in the shadow of L.A., bands further south down the I5 freeway thrived.
Chris Epting will be at the Balboa Island Museum on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. to discuss his book and tell tales of the Rock and Roll history of Orange County.
The event is free for members, $20 for nonmembers. To reserve a spot, call (949) 675-3952 or visit https://www.balboaislandmuseum.org/events.