From Surf to Folk Rock: He's Done it All!
An Interview with SoCal's Craig Nuttycombe
Craig Nuttycombe has been a member of the surf band, the New Dimensions (check out their CD release on Sundazed), the Sunset Strip garage band known as the Eastside Kids, and the folk duo of Lambert and Nuttycombe. He recently took time to discuss his lengthy and varied career with The Lance Monthly. Special thanks to Craig for sharing his recollections. Lance Monthly (LM): How did you first get interested in music?
Craig Nuttycombe (CN): Mostly by listening to the radio. My father was a viola player in the LA Philharmonic Orchestra (classically trained and oriented). Needless to say, when I had the radio turned up loud to a rock and roll station, he would say "turn that crap down" or something similar. I remember asking and getting a guitar one Christmas, a Sears Harmony Acoustic. It came with a sheet of paper showing you how to play a few chords. I got so disgusted--because I couldn't make my fingers form the chords--that I put the guitar away for a few years. At some point I got a uke and found I could make a few chords (four strings instead of six) and started strumming on it and singing simple four chord songs. At some point I picked the guitar back up and started taking some lessons.
[Lance Monthly] Were the New Dimensions your first band?
[Craig Nuttycombe] The New Dimensions was indeed the first band I played with and I will never forget the thrill of that first rehearsal. I was working in the musical instrument concession of Wallich's Music City (on Sunset & Vine). The store was called Fife & Nichols and everybody used [to] buy their instruments there, be they jazz players or surf players. I met Michael Lloyd and Jimmy Greenspoon there and one day they said they were looking for a rhythm guitar player and asked if I would be interested. I went to my first rehearsal at Art Guy's house (he was the drummer) and that was where it started. Fortunately I knew how to make bar chords at this point so that helped out a lot. They showed me what chords to play, and what a thrill it was to be playing in a band. I was on top of the world. I would say that, with [or] without me, The New Dimensions were together about 3 years.
[LM] What year would this have been?
[CN] The New Dimensions were formed in 1962.
[LM] Please list the names of each member of the New Dimensions, as well as the instruments each played.
[CN] Michael Lloyd, lead guitar; Jimmy Greenspoon, piano; Art Guy, drums, Danny Belsky, saxes; David Doud, bass; and Craig Nuttycombe, rhythm guitar. Before I joined the group they had another rhythm player for a short time by the name of Howard Lane.
[LM] Where did the band typically rehearse?
[CN] In one of our parent's houses. I seem to remember a lot of practices at Art Guy's house.
[LM] Where did the band typically play?
[CN] The Santa Monica Surf Fair; The Teenage Fair in Burbank and then at the Hollywood Palladium; teen clubs all over Los Angeles; Hollywood High; Beverly Hills High; and frat parties at UCLA and USC.
[LM] Sundazed has released a New Dimensions album from '63. Did the band release any singles?
[CN] The band never had any singles released. We worked with these hustler types by the name of Robert Hafner and Tony Hilder. They had a deal with a tiny budget label called Sutton to issue the New Dimension albums as 'rack jobs.' Essentially that meant their records would be pressed on cheap vinyl normally reserved for placemats, packaged in fairly generic sleeves, and shipped directly to the cut out bins with no hope of promotion, airplay, or royalties. We had three studio albums, "Surf 'N Bongos," "Soul," and "Deuces & Eights." We were part of a live album from the Santa Monica surf fair titled "Shake! Shout and Soul!"
[LM] Where did the band record its tracks?
[CN] Mostly at a little studio called "Stereo Masters" owned by Hite and Dorinda Morgan, who recorded the early Beach Boy Demos. The engineering was done by their son Bruce who went on to engineer for Electra records. We also did a bit of recording in a garage studio owned by Armand Steiner and Ed Cobb.
[LM] Do you have any recollections of Ed Cobb? He later wrote for and produced, among others, the Standells and Chocolate Watchband.
[CN] I believe he (Ed Cobb) was part of a group like The Four Preps or one of those kind of groups. I don't remember him that well.
[LM] How popular locally did the New Dimensions become?
[CN] We were a fairly popular surf band in the Los Angeles area.
[LM] Did the New Dimensions open for any "national" acts? How far was the band's "touring" territory?
[CN] At the Santa Monica Surf Fair (that we played) The Beach Boys were the headliner. Also on the bill was The Crossfires, who later became The Turtles. The farthest we ever traveled out of the Los Angeles area was a gig at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo (about a four hour drive from LA). Little did I know at the time that San Luis Obispo would one day be my home. It's been 19 years now.
[LM] The New Dimensions were primarily a surf band. Do you have any recollections of the first time you heard the Beatles? What effect if any did it have on the band?
[CN] We were primarily an instrumental band and, yes indeed, the Beatles had a strong effect on us as well as the world. I will never forget first hearing the Beatles like I will never forget the first time I played with a band. I could not believe the sound I was hearing from the radio: the instrumentation with the voices, and the lyrics all forming to make this beautiful noise that took my soul, mind, and body somewhere it had never been before. The New Dimensions started learning some Beatles songs and incorporating them into the sets.
[LM] Why did the new sound the Beatles ushered in help lead to the break up of the New Dimensions?
[CN] After the Beatles hit big, people just started to drift other places. I was actually fired from the band by Michael's mother. It's funny in retrospect. Michael's mother (whom I liked very much) was sort of the manager of the band and used to drive us to most of the gigs in her station wagon. As I said earlier, a lot of our parties were frat parties and they would always have a keg or two and it was at these functions I started experimenting with beer. I don't really remember getting out of control, but Michael's mother thought it was a problem and I was asked to leave. The New Dimensions went on for awhile as The Alley Kats before everybody went their own ways.
[LM] The New Dimensions were obviously a very talented band with Jimmy moving on to Three Dog Night, Michael to West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and the Smoke, and you to Lambert & Nuttycombe. Did you sense at the time that bigger and better things could lay ahead?
[CN] You have to remember that at the time we were all very young. Most of the group was like 14 or 15 years old. I was the oldest (16). I remember that because I was the only one with a driver's license. I really don't believe that I thought about bigger/better things lying ahead at the time. I think I pretty much just lived for the moment. I don't know about the other guys.
[LM] Were the Eastside Kids your next band after the New Dimensions?
[CN] After The New Dimensions, I spent a couple of years acting as manager and arranger for an all girls band called The Ladybirds. My girlfriend at the time, Carole Johnson, was the rhythm guitar player for that band. They actually played quite a lot around Hollywood and even went (after my time with them) on a tour for the armed forces in Thailand. The first incarnation of The Eastside Kids was formed by Jimmy Greenspoon, Danny Belsky, and David Doud--all left over from the Alley Kats. Danny Belsky put down his sax and played drums in The Eastside Kids, and David Doud traded his bass for lead guitar. David had a brother named Michael who played bass. They had a lead singer to front the band named Joe Madrid. At some point Jimmy left to form Three Dog Night with Danny Hutton and a gentleman named Gary Bucosta took over on keyboards. I would say the band was together from around 1965 or 1966 to sometime in l968.
[LM] How would you describe the Eastside Kids' sound? Was it primarily a cover band, or an originals band?
[CN] It was mostly a cover band with a few originals thrown in. Most of the focus was on the lead singer, Joe Madrid, as that was the way Jerry Lambert wanted it.
[LM] Why was that?
[CN] He was sort of a pretty boy that the teenage girls liked to google over. His voice was okay. He was good at prancing around the stage and Jerry felt that he was the main attraction of the band. I always thought the band was best when Denis and then myself were part of it. There was more concentration on the music, as opposed to the theatrics, and I don't believe Jerry liked that.
[LM] The Eastside Kids became somewhat popular on the Sunset Strip. Which clubs did the band usually play?
[CN] So many: The Trip, The Sea Witch, Gazzari's, Avon on Stratford, The Hullabaloo, and Pandora's Box to name a few.
[LM] With what other Sunset Strip bands did the Eastside Kids socialize?
[CN] After the clubs closed at night a lot of different band members would meet at either The International House of Pancakes on Sunset (across from Hollywood High, where I went to school by the way) or at Canter's Delicatessen down on Fairfax. Members of various bands would hang out and chew the fat: Arthur Lee from Love, Michael Clarke from The Byrds, people from bands that were known and people from bands not so known. It was just hanging out.
[LM] Did the Eastside Kids ever record during your tenure with them?
[CN] They recorded lots of demos and always seemed to have some iron in the fire with this person and that person, but I don't believe they ever actually recorded an album that was officially released.
[LM] Did you quit the Eastside Kids, or did the band break up? Please elaborate the reasons for splitting with the band.
[CN] This takes a bit of explaining: The band's manager was a man named Jerry Lambert. An odd sort - more of a guy looking to make a buck then someone with true talent and business skills. He had a nephew named Denis Lambert, and Denis, me, and many others used to gather at the Doud's house for [an] all night [of] mischief. I had gone to junior and high school with David Doud and it was I who brought him to The New Dimensions. Anyway, Doud's parents had died and left them the house so there was no restrictions on carrying on at all hours. We would all meet there and carry on all night. Somehow it came to pass that Denis was asked to play rhythm guitar in The Eastside Kids. This lasted a few months and his uncle Jerry, the manager, thought he did not fit in with the band and fired him. A few months later they thought I should play in the band and again the same thing. I played for a few months and Jerry thought I did not fit in and I was fired. I always thought the band sounded best when Denis and I were with them. After nothing ever happened with them recording-wise, the band just sort of fell apart. I think drugs had a lot to do with them falling apart as well. Dark days (daze) looking back on it all and as everyone knows not all of us are alive to try and remember the tales.
[LM] After the Eastside Kids, you and Denis joined together to form Lambert & Nuttycombe. What year would this have been in?
[CN] This goes back to when I was fired from The Eastside Kids. I remember, shortly after I was canned, going over to Denis's house one day and asking him if he wanted to start a band together. He said, "there are so many bands, why don't we start a duo?," and hence, Lambert & Nuttycombe was born. This would have been late '67 I believe.
[LM] How would you describe the type of music that Lambert & Nuttycombe played? Did you write your own material?
[CN] I guess you would call it folk but not in the true Woody Guthrie sense of the word. We were very influenced by everything going on around us at the time. I remember Denis was very influenced by Donovan and a lot of Denis's early writing is very Donaovanisque. Yes, we wrote our own material. Denis was much more prolific then I was.
[LM] Did Lambert & Nuttycombe ever record?
[CN] Oh yes. In l969 our manager got us a deal with a new company named A&M records. We moved to Sausalito, California and recorded our first album "At Home" in December of that year and released it in l970. It was called "At Home" because that is where it was recorded. A mobile recording truck was hired from Wally Heider's in San Francisco and parked outside our home for a week. This album was produced by Glyn Johns (The Who, Beatles, Eagles, Joan Armatrading, Nanci Griffith, John Hiatt, and on and on), David Anderle ( a well-known producer of the '70s), and Chad Stuart (Chad &Jeremy). Chad Stuart was brought in to do arrangements but as the sessions progressed everybody agreed the album should just be our two voices and guitars. The album was well received and is still considered a special album by those who remember it. It was around this time that Denis was getting into heroin and though it is hard to talk about, it is a fact. We did a European tour opening for The Canned Heat and we were supposed to start a second album in England. After a few sessions it became apparent that it just wasn't happening. After we got back home Denis's problem became obvious to all and A&M let us go. We stayed together and Denis tried to get himself back in shape. In l972 our manager got us a deal with 20th Century Records and we recorded our second album. This time with band and with Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac) producing. The album featured a new kid in town on guitar by the name of Waddy Wachtel and an appearance by Lindsey Buckingham. This album was also well received but 20th Century went under not long after its release. Denis's addiction became too much, and we went our separate ways. After kicking around a few years, Glyn Johns was nice enough to get me another deal on A&M Records and brought me to London to record my first solo album, "It's Just a Lifetime," released in l978. This album featured some wonderful players: Andy Fairweather Low, Georgie Fame, David Pegg, and Bernie Leadon. It still stands up as a good album. I made some bad decisions back then about management so it did not really go anywhere. I ended up in San Luis Obispo in the early '80s and have recorded and released three CD's on my own.
[LM] Please tell me about the Lambert & Nuttycombe demos that you recently discovered.
[CN] Thanks to my old girlfriend, Carole Johnson of The Ladybirds (she kept copies of everything I ever recorded), I have tapes of demo sessions of songs Lambert & Nuttycombe recorded that were never released. There's about forty songs. The studio where I record here (Sutton Sound) has cleaned them up and put them on CD. There is a company in Japan that wants to license and release them there in the spring or summer of this year. There is also talk that Universal Music Group (they own all the old A&M and 20th Century catalog) may release the Lambert & Nuttycombe and my solo albums.
[LM] Did you join any bands after Lambert & Nuttycombe?
[CN] After Lambert & Nuttycombe, I really did not play with any other bands. I pretty much concentrated on my writing and recording. I took a few years to live and work on a ranch in Carmel Valley, California.
[LM] Please tell me about your career today. Do you still perform at all?
[CN] I perform locally every chance I have and may go to Japan if there is enough interest when all this old material is released.
[LM] What are your plans musically for 2001 and beyond?
[CN] I'm hoping to get this music released in Japan, and writing, playing locally, and working on another CD.