VIEWPOINT: The treasury of Claremont music

by John Neiuber

The year was 1967, I had just graduated from high school at the ripe age of 17 and I, along with three friends, jumped into a broken-down ’57 Ford Fairlane and drove to San Francisco, headed for the Haight-Ashbury District to take in the sights and sounds of the Summer of Love. 

We “crashed” at a house where the brother of a girl we knew from Claremont was living with his band. It was on Ashbury, a few houses from the corner of Haight. 

Everywhere we went there was music. Music at The Fillmore, in coffee shops and clubs, The Avalon, on street corners, wafting from open windows and in Golden Gate Park. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” had just been released on June 1, so we got “by with a little help from [our] friends.” And we got….but that is another story altogether.

1967 was a seminal year for rock music. The Rolling Stones released “Let’s Spend the Night Together,” but then had to change the lyrics to “Let’s spend some time together” for their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.  They released “Between the Buttons” that year, and The Beatles released “Magical Mystery Tour.” Jimi Hendrix gave us “Are You Experienced?” and Jefferson Airplane released “Surrealistic Pillow.”

Bob Dylan, The Kinks, The Who, Cream, The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Procol Harum and LA bands like the Buffalo Springfield, The Mothers of Invention, Kaleidoscope and The Byrds all released albums that year, to only name a few.

So, what does that have to do with Claremont?  Longtime resident Ray Collins was a band member of The Mothers. Claremonter John York was a member of The Byrds, and local musician and onetime resident of Claremont John Harrelson, who fronted the band Hard Luck Boy, opened for acts like Procol Harum and Jefferson Airplane. Claremont residents Chris Darrow and David Lindley were in Kaleidoscope, who released their debut album “Side Trips” in 1967.

Tom Skelly, artist, musician, radio personality at KSPC and 40-year Claremont resident, has been working on a project for the last three years called?“The Treasury of Claremont Music.” He began researching Claremont musicians, putting together bios, securing photographs of each artist and gaining permission for a sampling of their music. This anthology of Claremont music is intended as a primer for people who wish to dig deeper into the subject. His vision was that the Treasury would be an online resource.

“I am archiving the city’s rich and varied musical culture,” Mr. Skelly said, “so that much of the past, present and future musical accomplishments will not be forgotten. It is my intention to put the vast array of genres under one easily accessible roof, to honor those music people and their achievements and to share these accomplishments for personal and educational enjoyment.”

His intention is for the anthology to grow and be added to over time as others step forward and suggest individual musicians or bands for inclusion.

As Mr. Skelly got further and further into the endeavor, and was faced with an imminent move out of state, he approached Claremont Heritage for assistance to ensure that his vision came to fruition. Executive Director David Shearer and archivist Sean Stanley have been assisting Mr. Skelly with completing the task. It has been daunting to collect photos, biographies and music.  The end product will be a website hosted by Claremont Heritage, where each personality or group will have a page. A photo exhibition of musicians’ portraits with biographies is being planned at Claremont Heritage.

The beginning of this column focuses on rock music, however, the anthology is much more eclectic and includes many more genres. Its aim is to include people who have demonstrated a longterm vision, commitment, creativity and skill toward the practice and dissemination of their music. Currently, the collaborators are working on securing information for nearly 70 musicians, bands and disc-jockeys. Here is a sampling from the Treasury so far:

Ray Collins (1936—2012)

Ray Collins was the son of a policeman, born in Pomona and went to high school there when he dropped out before he graduated to marry his sweetheart after she became pregnant. They divorced, and their daughter died in an airplane crash in the early 1980s. In the mid-1960s, Mr. Collins was the lead singer in a local R&B cover band called The Soul Giants.  He fired the group’s guitarist and invited a musical collaborator from Rancho Cucamonga to take his place. His name was Frank Zappa. He had first heard Zappa in 1962, at The Sportsman in Pomona. The two guys hit it off during that time and quickly changed the name of the band to The Mothers. When they added, “of Invention,” the band became known for its avant-novelty antics, imbued with iconoclastic parodies.


Bobby Bradford (1934—)

Jazz cornet and trumpet player Bobby Bradford’s music is deeply rooted in the South. He was born in Cleveland, Mississippi in 1934. His family moved to Dallas, Texas in 1946 and in 1953 he moved to Los Angeles and became one the best trumpeters to emerge from the avant-garde. He was a first-generation source for how to approach the new music. 

Upon moving to Los Angeles in 1953, Mr. Bradford reunited with fellow Texan Ornette Coleman. He joined Mr. Coleman again in New York in 1961, replacing Don Cherry. Together they worked out some freethinking notions for a new jazz music. Mr. Bradford can be heard on Coleman’s 1971 masterpiece, Science Fiction, most notably on the aggressive “The Jungle is a Skyscraper,” where his raspy, slurry playing is full of fire. Mr. Bradford has been a vital catalyst of adventurous music on the West Coast for more than 50 years and is a local treasure at Pomona College, where he teaches jazz history and has directed jazz ensembles since 1975.

Just like the incredible creative output of artists that Claremont has enjoyed over the years, the contributions of Claremont musicians have been no less impactful.  Watch for more on this endeavor from Claremont Heritage.


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