Beach Time: In 1964….
….Colorado’s Astronauts were beckoned to Hollywood to appear in the first of four motion pictures in which they would perform. Drummer Jim Gallagher recently related their first movie experience to me while enjoying a lunch at “The Sink” on “The Hill” adjacent to the University of Colorado campus.
The movie was “Surf Party” and the script called for the Astronauts to appear and perform literally “on-the-beach”. Jim recalls that their big day on the set started off at the crack of dawn. Their beach scene required the band to actually set up their instruments on the sand. Gallagher recounts, “Since we were not actually playing our instruments, the set-up was easy for the other guys. They just toted their guitars out onto the sand and they were ready to go.” But for Jim, this meant hauling his entire drum kit across the beach. His first challenge was anchoring his drum kit. “I immediately ran intro trouble when I realized that my drum kit was sinking into the sand.”
Beyond not wanting to destroy his kit, Jim needed a more solid surface. He came up with the idea to insert a piece of carpeting beneath his drum kit. When he made his request, the all-union crew passed him off to the decorator’s union, something I can relate to through years of setting up trade show displays for my company. The carpet did the trick but then along came his second challenge. The group played along to their song “Firewater”. Jim had to devise a method of making it appear that his drum bit was live, which translates to striking the cymbals, the most obvious “moving parts” for a drummer doing “drum sync”.
“I devised a way to extend my forefinger slightly out and away from my drum stick, then I would touch the cymbals with my finger only, providing the needed movement. ”
The Astronauts also provided the title song “Surf Party” played over the opening and closing titles. The track appeared on the flip side of their RCA single “Competition Coupe”.
“Surf Party” also starred Jackie DeShannon, Bobby Vinton and the Routers. The Astronauts didn’t come into contact with other performers, other than Bobby Vinton, who Gallagher recalls was not a real joy to be around. The Astronauts soon returned to Boulder, Colorado where, Jim recalls, they were soon each to receive a check in the mail from Hollywood. Apparently the group did not know the terms of payment for their performance/appearance, but they were also pleasantly surprise to each find a four-figure check tucked comfortably into an envelope. Gallagher relates, “The first thing we did was call our agent and tell him, “Get us more movie roles!” Which he did. The boys would next appear in “Wild on the Beach” where there weren’t any beach scenes, then “Out of Sight” and finally “Wild, Wild Winter”.
The Astronauts forged a relationship with music composers and producers, Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. I was reading back through Doc Kriger’s excellent article covering the Astronauts career. I thought I would share part of it here but first a few preliminaries:
In early September of 1965 the following ad ran in “The Hollywood Reporter”:
Folk and Roll Musicians-Singers for acting roles in new TV series
Running parts for 4 insane boys, Age 17-21
Want Spirited Ben Frank’s Types
Have Courage to Work
Must Come Down for an Interview”
According to Bobby Hart in his biography, “packed into this short cattle-call was a wealth of secret meaning that might not have been obvious to the casual observer.” Hart goes on to explain that “Ben Frank’s types” translated to hippie types as “Ben Franks” was a hip and popular all-night diner on Hollywood’s “Strip”. “Running parts” was a literal reference to the “running” the performers would constantly be engaged in on-set. “Must come down for an interview” meant don’t come to auditions on a drug induced high. The ad was answered by more than 400 hopefuls, including the Astronauts, Paul Williams, Danny Hutton (Three Dog Night), Steven Stills, Harry Nilsson and others.
“One of the most interesting ‘might-have-beens’ for the band occurred in 1965 when the band interviewed to play a group on a new TV show to be called The Monkees. It’s legend that there was a huge casting call for this show, but Patterson felt that at one time the Astronauts had the inside track to be this group for the show. The guys had gotten impatient while waiting in the office for their interview and had not only re-arranged all the furniture, but had then stripped down to their skivvies to greet their interviewer. After making a favorable impression, they were told that the main impediment to their getting the part was that they were a five piece band and that the show called for a four piece. It was felt that the shows could be re-written, but Patterson feels that the thing that scotched the deal was RCA not letting them out of their contract. Whether this would have happened is hard to say, but it’s interesting to speculate what might have happened if the guys would have gotten the clout of TV exposure and all the production and songwriting talent later used for the Monkees.”