Strawberry Alarm Clock rings out at the San Diego County Fair
Last updated 4/2/2019 at 10:03am
Psychedelic. That word, with connotations of colorful swirls, bubbles and wild, repeated patterns, defines a counterculture of the sixties. Strawberry Alarm Clock – a rock band formed in 1967 – played music that was billed as psychedelic. Their unique sound swirled through many a discotheque and school dance.
In 1967 I was a ninth grader sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor of my bedroom playing records on a small red and white record player. When I popped the round plastic insert into my 45 RPM copy of "Incense and Peppermints," then played it on the turntable, the song mesmerized me.
I didn't know that the song climbed to #1 on the charts. I just knew that it spoke to me. The cleverly blended instrumental sounds and the poetical quality of the lyrics drew me – it was unlike any other rock song I had heard – its slight eerie quality was stirring.
It was a thrill for me to be able to attend a concert of the rock band who made "Incense and Peppermints" famous. Strawberry Alarm Clock is not just a rock band with drums, bass and a few electric guitars. A flute, bongo drums, and an amazing instrument called a vibraphone, are part of the collection of instruments adeptly played by the remaining members.
The band that played at the San Diego County Fair July 2 is not a "tribute" band. The members have taken various paths to Strawberry Alarm Clock, but have been together for a very long time, and it shows. The band, with remaining members Mark Weitz, George Bunnell, Randy Seol, Howie Anderson, Steve Bartek and Gene Gunnels, has endured – and their music has endured – for 51 years.
Weitz, who was given his first piano at age eight, wrote "Incense and Peppermints," as well as other songs, using that same piano. In fact, he still owns it. "Incense and Peppermints" was not only a #1 song, but was featured in the film Psych-Out, along with other Strawberry Alarm Clock songs.
At the San Diego County Fair, strains of Strawberry Alarm Clock's psychedelic past soared from the Paddock Stage – delighting the audience, and sparking memories for the many who sang along with familiar tunes. As a rainbow of lights flashed onstage, members of the energetic band seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Throughout the evening a screen in the background flashed photos of the sixties – concerts, film clips, and vintage videos of American Bandstand. During a Bandstand clip Dick Clark told the audience, "This is the band to watch this year...they are very talented."
The vibraphone's mellow tone complemented the harsher sound of the drums and blended well with the other instruments. "Pretty Song" from the film Psych-Out (1968) was a mellow tune. "Sitting on a Star" and "Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow" had unusual beats, but were also mellow. Several of the songs were loud, which proved to me that even though Strawberry Alarm Clock has been together for 51 years – they can still "rock on!"
The "piece de resistance" was "Incense and Peppermints," which spurred a bit of dancing and a lot of singing from the audience. When that song rang out from the stage – I was astounded – it was as if my vinyl 45 had suddenly come to life. When the last note was sung I thought to myself, "Dick Clark was right – 'they are very talented.'"
This story was published on July 19, 2018.