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The California Music Hall of Fame Awards: The stars were out and rockin' in Temecula!

Steven Schindler

Special to the Village News

A Temecula high school auditorium was the center of the rock and roll universe on a recent Saturday night. The California Music Hall of Fame Awards (CMHOF) had the walls shaking from some of rock’s most legendary stars.

If your musical tastes are more in tune with Elvis Presley, it was hosted by one of Elvis’s lifelong best friends, the one and only Wink Martindale. When Wink was working in Memphis radio in the late 1950s he was instrumental in Elvis Presley gaining notoriety locally and nationally.

You say you favor The Beatles era? Well there was Liverpudlian Joey Molland of Badfinger who has played with George Harrison and John Lennon. Plus Londoner Laurence Juber who was in Paul McCartney’s band, Wings. And how about a band that opened for The Beatles at Dodger Stadium, Southern California’s own Cannibal and the Headhunters! The current line-up of the Headhunters were the backing band for all of the evening’s stars.

These rock greats and many more appeared and performed at Temecula Valley High School auditorium on Saturday, Sept. 23 in a spectacular display of musical legends, and some heartfelt emotions as a full house of fans from 9 to 90 sat for nearly four hours of entertainment and rock and roll history.

The CMHOF has been holding these award shows for about 10 years and according to their website (californiamusichalloffame.com) the purpose is to “Establish a center to display memorabilia, photos, instruments and sound recordings. And to promote the importance of music education in high schools.”

The magical evening kicked off with the induction of Bobby Kimball of Toto into the CMHOF. Kimball couldn’t attend due to illness but provided a moving video acceptance speech. Cannibal and the Headhunters then performed a stunning live version of the Toto hit, “Hold the Line.”

The all-star night had everything from raucous rock and roll performances with people dancing in their seats, to emotional tributes to artists who have passed away. Gloria Thomas, reminisced about her late husband, B.J. Thomas, who died in 2021. She presented the “Raindrops” award in his honor to Wink Martindale and “Shotgun” Tom Kelly. Of course, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” was B.J.’s biggest hit.

One of the original Coasters, Leon Hughes, who passed away only a few months before the induction ceremony, was given a lovely tribute by his niece with many family members in attendance.

There were also many lighter moments during the program. Terry Sylvester of The Hollies auditioned his stand-up routine with a few “dad jokes.” And after Laurie Beebe-Lewis, formerly of The Mamas and The Papas, inducted Merrilee Rush for her hit single, “Angel of the Morning,” Rush proudly proclaimed that by recording that song she, “wanted to tell all the ladies that it was okay to have a one night stand!” Which prompted much laughter and applause.

But live music was the order of the evening and what a show it was. It would be hard to estimate how many millions of records were sold by the CMHOF inductees performing on this one stage, but they regaled the capacity crowd with their mega-hits, superbly backed by Cannibal and the Headhunters.

Highlights included “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Cannibal and the Headhunters; Dennis Stefano of The Buckinghams sang “Kind of a Drag;” Joey Molland of Badfinger performed “Baby Blue;” The Sanford-Townsend Band did “Smoke From a Distant Fire;” Rush sang her hit, “Angel of the Morning,” Ron Dante of The Archies performed “Sugar Sugar;” Mike Pinera of Blues Image rocked “Ride Captain Ride;” Terry Sylvester of The Hollies with the very cool “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress;” Larry Tamblyn of The Standells sang “Dirty Water” and Rick Derringer of The McCoys performed his #1 hit, “Hang on Sloopy.”

Robert Zapata has been the drummer for CMOF inductees Cannibal and the Headhunters for 47 years. The group was founded in 1964 by Frankie Garcia. Although all of the original members are now deceased, Zapata continues to lead the band, carrying on their legacy.

“Not only did the original Headhunters open for The Beatles at Dodger Stadium and the Hollywood Bowl,” Zapata recalled, “they also opened for the Rolling Stones in 1965. And we’re still going strong! Next year, we’ll be celebrating our 60th anniversary at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts.”

Guitarist, producer and composer Laurence Juber was presented with the CMHOF Spirit Award. Born in London, he was just a kid when the Beatles burst onto the London scene in 1963 with Beatlemania, but it wasn’t the Beatles that turned him onto guitar. It was a lucky accident.

“My dad wanted me to study music from a young age, so in school he steered me towards the clarinet to begin my studies. But they ran out of clarinets, so the guitar it was!” Juber was soon a music professional in his teen years, and started gaining a reputation as one of the top London studio guitarists, playing for bands and big budget film scores.

Then in 1978 Paul McCartney called. “He knew of me and asked me to join his band, Wings. I played on ‘Back to the Egg’ which had the #1 hit, ‘Coming Up.’ We toured the U.K. and were going to tour the U.S., but Paul got busted for pot in Japan, and that put an end to that. Paul broke up Wings in 1981.”

Juber and his wife, Hope, have lived in California since the early 80s and he’s still a top level studio guitarist in all musical genres, including jazz, rock, and ragtime. He also composed film scores and musicals and continues to record and perform as a solo artist.

When The Beatles were making a name for themselves in Liverpool in 1961 and ’62, another local lad had his ears wide open on the Mersey music scene – Joey Molland. He remembers, “When I heard Elvis do ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ I knew that was for me!” Molland played around Liverpool and began making a name for himself.

In fact, in the late 60s, when the Beatles were looking for new talent to sign to their fledgling record label, Apple, one of the first acts they signed was The Ivys. “I signed up to be a member of the Ivys, and the next day we became Badfinger,” Molland recalled.

Under the tutelage of Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Badfinger became an instant international hit. They performed on stage with Harrison at the Concert for Bangladesh, and recorded on Harrison’s seminal album, “All things Must Pass.”

Sadly, Molland is the only surviving member of Badfinger, but he continues to perform under the Badfinger banner and was thrilled upon learning he was being inducted into the CMHOF. “I was stunned when they called me! To be here tonight with all these great stars is hard to rationalize. It’s remarkable!” he said with his lilting Liverpool accent.

Through it all, Wink Martindale was the glue that held the evening together not only with his informative introductions and witty ad libs, he even performed his own huge hit.

“In 1959 I was requested to perform on a spoken word single,” Wink recalls fondly. “It was a blistering hot day in Los Angeles, and I wasn’t thrilled to be on what we called a ‘talking record’.” Little did he know that the short recording session on a sweltering afternoon would be a landmark poetic presentation that has sold over three million copies, and has been a global sensation for over 60 years!

Wink performed “Deck of Cards” live for the CMHOF crowd, and suddenly there was a hush over the rock and roll revelers. “I was well aware that you could hear a pin drop in the theatre as I recited those words.”

“Deck of Cards” is a religious ode to a lonely soldier who used a deck of cards as a substitute for a bible. And this reporter can attest that there was hardly a dry eye in the house at the dramatic conclusion of Wink’s riveting reading of that classic tale.

Other CMHOF inductees included “Wrecking Crew” bass player legend Carol Kaye, drummer Ron Whitaker, The Catz in The Hatz, Three Dog Night’s Chuck Negron, Gary Puckett, Chris Montez, and B.J. Thomas.

Of course, there was a grand finale performance to the night’s gala event, which was a posthumous tribute to CMHOF inductee Jimy Sohns for his classic rocker, “Gloria.” The stage was teeming from end to end with the stars from the evening, rocking out to “Gloria,” the song that defined the rough garage band sound of the late 60s and was recorded by everyone from Van Morrison to The Doors, to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was a fitting tribute to all those lucky enough to have been there and those who have gone on to rock and roll heaven.

Steven Schindler’s latest novel is “Fallout Shelter.”

 

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