The Syndicate of Sound, a garage-rock band from San Jose, California, was best known for their No. 8 1966 hit “Little Girl.” They also charted with “Rumors” (No. 55 in 1966) and with “Brown Paper Bag” (No. 73 in 1970) before initially breaking up.
Their influence, however, continued — through the looming psychedelic rock era, and into the next one: Dwight Yoakam covered “Little Girl” in 1977, followed by the Divinyls in 1988. R.E.M. also covered the song in some of its earliest concerts.
By 1990, “Little Girl” has been recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, in its one hit wonder exhibit and original members Don Baskin and Bob Gonzalez had reformed the Syndicate of Sound. In 2006, the group was among the initial class of inductees into the new San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame.
Steve Elliott talked to Baskin and Gonzalez about the band’s initial 1964-70 era, and its more recent reformation …
STEVE ELLIOTT: Bob, did the band actually start up in 1964 in San Jose, California? I hear you all were an R&B influenced band. Did you try out various members before arriving with the final line-up?
BOB GONZALEZ: Yes, SOS was conceived of and began rehearsals in the summer of ’64. We did not have tryouts. Don and I called our friends from a band we had played in called the Pharaohs. We were as influenced by R&B as most bands of the day were. Listen to Meet The Beatles, the Rolling Stones’ first few albums, the Who’s first album. We all did those early R&B covers.
STEVE ELLIOTT: I know you’ve been asked this before about the mysterious Scarlet Records release, but where the heck did this story come from? Supposedly, this label released a Syndicate of Sound single that sort of disappeared — or maybe was never officially released? Can you tell us more about it, Bob?
BOB GONZALEZ: We won the Bay Area Vox Battle of the Bands in 1965. The prize was a recording session with Bob Keane at Del-Fi Records. We recorded a 45 and came home with a “box of records.” It was half-heartedly released and got some local air play. But, it did what we needed: We could then be booked as “recording artists.”
STEVE ELLIOTT: What was it like for the Syndicate Of Sound to record at Golden State Recorders back in 1966? What do you remember from those recording sessions?
BOB GONZALES: Recording at Golden State was great; it was where real records were recorded. I can remember recording there, but just bits and pieces. What I tell people is: “If I had known ‘Little Girl’ was going to be such a big hit, I would have paid closer attention.”
STEVE ELLIOTT: Was Hush Records actually your producer’s own label, and at that point in time was it the only label interested in releasing “Little Girl”? How’d Bell Records come into the picture eventually?
BOB GONZALEZ: Yes, Hush was and is still owned by Garrie Thompson, our producer. We were very fortunate to be associated with Garrie. After a while, he realized he had a hit that he could not handle and made the deal with Bell Records. They had the resources to take the record nationally.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Of course, anyone who knows and loves rock ‘n’ roll recognizes that the Syndicate of Sound’s “Little Girl” is a garage rock classic — as well as a timeless rocking No. 8 hit single from 1966. How did you guys come to write and record this tune? It’s an unstoppable, amazing record — one of my all time favorites. I never get tired of it.
BOB GONZALEZ: Late in the fall of ’65, we were introduced to Garrie Thompson. He wanted to record us and, through a friend of his, introduced us to a fast-driving sound that was beginning in L.A. We liked the Bobby Fuller Four’s “I Fought The Law,” and interpreted all of this as a high energy, in-your-face style. I started the song with the “Hey, Little Girl” line, a couple of verses and the main block of chords. Don worked on more verses and, of course, the all-important attitude. We brought it to the rest of the band, and (lead guitarist) Larry (Ray) developed the 12-string intro, and John (Duckworth) tied it all up with his amazing drum work. So, we all had a part in the studio even Garrie added a line or two of verse.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Also, how and when did the record take off on radio, and in record stores?
BOB GONZALEZ: The record was broken on KLIV, our local AM station here in San Jose by our friend, Mikel Harrington — aka “Captain Mikey.” The record took off in our home market right away. Garrie spread the word, backed up by Mikel’s success with the record, and it began to spread to other major markets. It was at that point that Bell took over, and the song was promoted nationally. The growth of the record was very organic; it took almost six months to run — never getting higher than No. 8 on Billboard, but reaching No. 1 in a number of major markets, just not at the same time.
STEVE ELLIOTT: How did your band’s booker Frank Barcelona work out for the band?
BOB GONZALEZ: Great. His company Premier Talent was recommended to us by Bell Records. They got us a lot of work, we toured regularly, and with some great acts like the Yardbirds, the Young Rascals, Mitch Ryder, Neil Diamond, the Left Banke, Tommy James and the Shondells, and others. I can’t say enough about how good they were for us and to us.
STEVE ELLIOTT: If I am not mistaken, you guys were the first band ever to cover the Sonics’ “The Witch.” Very unusual, but very cool, considering how unknown they were nationally back then.
BOB GONZALEZ: We always liked the music that was coming out of the Northwest. The line up of SOS was patterned after those great bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Wailers — R&B inspired, and hard hitting with drums, bass, guitar, keyboard and a sax. So, doing a high energy song from the Sonics was our cup of tea.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Could you tell us about the first tour in the Northwest, with Paul Revere and the Raiders?
BOB GONZALEZ: Our first show with the Raiders was here in San Jose, at the Civic Auditorium. We hit it off well and their manager liked us so, it was a natural for him to recommend us for some of their tours. It worked out great for us because we looked up to them, and they taught us how to tour. We even went out and bought an equipment van just like theirs. That connection helped us with Dick Clark, getting us a number of spots on “Where The Action Is” and “American Bandstand.”
STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s this story about a possible tour opening for the Beatles back in 1966? Now, that would’ve been a cool, double-billed tour!
BOB GONZALEZ: This just came to light leading up to our induction into the San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame in 2006, during some interviews. At the time, we did not know that there was even an inquiry from Brian Epstein about that opportunity. As the story goes, Brian Epstein contacted Garrie Thompson, our record producer, about our band in general. Asking if we would be could and would be willing to work with him. One of the opportunities would have been to open for the Beatles on their ’66 tour. Garrie referred Brian Epstein to our then-manager, and he never followed up. He was obviously threatened and did not want to lose us. You can only imagine what a difference that tour, and the support and contacts would have made in the success of SOS.
STEVE ELLIOTT: On a similar note, what other bands and artists did you all tour with back the in the ’60s?
BOB GONZALEZ: They were numerous, as it was very popular to book cavalcade styled tours then. We appeared with Golliwogs/CCR, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Lovin’ Spoonful, Count V, People, ? and the Mysterians, Mitch Ryder, Yardbirds, James Brown, Young Rascals, Cyrkle, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, the Association, Tommy James and the Shondells, Left Banke, the Mindbenders, Bobby “Blue” Bland, the Wailers, Neil Diamond, Wilson Pickett and others.
STEVE ELLIOTT: What national and local TV shows did the Syndicate of Sound appear on, and for what songs? You guys looked like you were having the time of your lives on “Where The Action is” while performing “Little Girl.”
BOB GONZALEZ: On “Where The Action Is,” we did a number of songs including: “You,” “Little Girl,” “Almost Grown” and “Rumors.” We also did a couple of “American Bandstand” shows, performing “Little Girl” and and “That Kind of a Man.” Those were the two big national shows.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Don and Bob, one non-album single of yours that seemed to me to have hit single written all it over was “Mary.” I think this catchy single should’ve been the follow-up single to your hit “Little Girl.”
BOB GONZALEZ: “Mary” was indeed a follow up to “Little Girl,” and it did chart, but nothing like “Little Girl.”
DON BASKIN: Bell Record kept turning down songs we recorded — “Games,” “Get Out of My Life,” etc. — that reflected the band and what was happening on the West Coast. To this day, they are considered some of our best work. Garrie Thompson finally convinced me to write a “Little Girl” follow up, which is what I was doing, I thought. We went back to Golden State Recorders in San Francisco and recorded “Mary,” originally called “Marrie.”
STEVE ELLIOTT: Do you think there are some psychedelic sounds happening in the song “Rumors,” even though you guys didn’t actually do psychedelic music?
BOB GONZALEZ: Yes, there is. You are right, we did not do what is now referred to as psychedelia. However, we were influenced by what was happening, and from time to time would fold in “rave ups.”
STEVE ELLIOTT: What did you think of Sundazed Music’s reissue of your Little Girl album on CD and LP, as well as the live non-album 7” vinyl single of “Who’ll Be The Next In Line.” Before that, I was not aware that there were any Syndicate Of Sound live recordings from the ’60s.
BOB GONZALEZ: Our relationship with Sundazed has been a good one. The “live” recordings you speak of came from some tapes that I have of SOS in the very early days. Sundazed wanted to release something that was previously unavailable and special, so they asked if they could release a couple of the songs that are on these tapes.
STEVE ELLIOTT: What was the band’s connection with James Brown?
BOB GONZALEZ: That is a great question; you have done your homework. Don and I played in a “horn band” through most of the time we were in high school, The Nightmen. This was after the Pharaohs. Don played tenor sax and I played alto. In this band, we did a lot of James Brown material, and learned about showmanship from watching his shows and trying to emulate his great style. That background has never left us; it was that showmanship that placed us first at the Bay Area Battle of the Bands in 1965. During the taping of “American Bandstand,” we found out that James Brown was also going to be taping the same day, and asked if we could meet him. He realized that we were very familiar with his music and gave us quite a bit of time. I think we were with him for almost an hour. The next week, our booking agent got a call from his production company offering us a slot on his upcoming “Cow Palace” show in San Francisco. We couldn’t have been happier.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Have you heard any of the “Little Girl” cover versions, and what do you think of them? For example, there were the Chesterfield Kings, Dwight Yoakam and The Divinyls’ slightly retitled version done as ‘Hey Little Boy.”
BOB GONZALEZ: Yes, we have heard them all — even a live bootleg of he Knack doing “Little Girl.” I like them all, especially when an artist puts their stamp on the song like the Divinyls.
STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s your opinion of the garage rock revival that started back in the early 1980s, and is still going on strong these days? Are there any garage- or ’60s-influenced bands that you like in particular from the past 20 years?
BOB GONZALEZ: It’s that interest in garage rock that brings many people to the SOS. We can get into the whole issue about what garage rock really is, but that would take a lot more space. I view it as valid popular music that came from the very grass roots of rock. That would be bands that started together when they were young and struggling for equipment and support, and often rehearsed in one of their parent’s garages. That’s as opposed to the more professional groups that may have been put together by a management entity, very experienced, and with a great deal of backing. When bands put the feel and message of their music in front of the presentation and polish, they are garage influenced. It is hard form me to single out any. I like most of the present indie bands.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Tell us about playing with the Yardbirds, whom I understand were big heroes of yours?
BOB GONZALEZ: We toured with the Yardbirds quite a bit. We were both booked by Premier Talent so, we were often on the same tours. In fact, we shared a tour bus during a couple of those tours. It was great for us to get to know them. This was right when Jimmy Page started to play for them. I often think of some of the times we had, traveling to and from some of those shows.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Buddah Records released your last couple of singles (“First To Love You” b/w “Mexico,” “Brown Paper Bag,” b/w “Reverb Beat”). Can you tell us a little more about them, Don?
DON BASKIN: “Brown Paper Bag” was written by Steve Jenkins, the Syndicate’s lead guitar player from about 1968 to 1970. Bob was gone then, and Duckworth had come back to play drums with Wayne Paulson on bass. Steve and I worked the song out for Garrie Thompson. Garrie submitted it to Buddah and they took a two-record deal based upon that song. It was recorded at Sierra Sound in Berkeley, along with the B-side “Reverb Beat.” Everyone thought we had a hit, and Buddah started spending promotion money on things like paper bags that DJs would blow up then record the noise of impact with their hand — with the best noise receiving cash. Payola? At the very same time, “Little Green Bag” was up the charts about two week before us and, according to the promotion guys, caused all sorts of problems and confusion as to what was being played. The song got a lot of airplay, even at KYA but, only made it to the 70s in the Hot 100. “Mexico” and “First to Love You” were written by me and Steve on a promotion trip that ended in Mexico, then recorded at Wally Heiders Studio C using the same room and engineer Creedence was using then.
STEVE ELLIOTT: Steve Elliott: The band lasted until about 1970, but Bob was out of it already by then. What about the other original members?
DON BASKIN: At the end, mid 1970, the line up was myself, Steve Jenkins, John Duckworth and Wayne Paulson. Half the members being original.
STEVE ELLIOTT: The Syndicate Of Sound memorably reunited for a show at New York City’s Cavestomp in 2000, with what I understand was the complete original line-up. How were the audiences there? Any differences between the concerts in the ’60s and now?
BOB GONZALEZ: We had a great time doing the Cavestomp show. We always did well with New York audiences; that night was no exception. Our line up was the following original members: Don, John Duckworth, and myself Bob Gonzalez. On keyboard we had Ned Tourney; he did all of our keyboard work in the studio after John Sharkey left in 1967. So we count Ned as almost original. On lead guitar, we had Terry Shehorn. Terry played with The “E Types” during the day and was a natural for us.