It's A 1960s Garage Rock Rave Up: Alec Palao On 'Double Whammy' For RSD


Musician and music historian Alec Palao has a wealth of experience bringing classic Rock and Pop music to the world in new editions, and he's back with a new released from Craft Recordings with Double Whammy: A 1960s Garage Rock Rave Up! which arrived this October 24th for Record Store Day.

On this wonderfully mastered release, we encounter many of the band who were working in the mid-1960s during what Palao calls "the last innocent burst of American pop culture" following exposure to the phenomenon that was The Beatles.

For Palao, this has been a busy time for back catalog work with labels, as more and more music from the 60s and 70s, and even earlier, is in demand for film, TV, and commercial work well beyond acting as the soundtrack to period films or shows. With a re-evaluation of the undervalued field of "Garage Rock" on the rise, school yourself on what we've been missing out on in this interview with Alec Palao by Tower's PULSE! below.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Can we start by talking about the idea of “Garage Rock”?

Alex Palao: Garage Rock is a term that’s hard to define and pretty amorphous to most people. As I mention in the liner notes, it can mean anything now.

HMS: It’s such a vague term now. I read your essay in the liner notes and I totally agreed. I don’t necessarily mean this in a critical way, but many younger band describe the term “garage” to describe their sound and it’s hard to decide how to interpret that. I think I choose to interpret that as “DIY” in some aspects, with maybe a rougher mix, but it’s so open to interpretation.

AP: It’s funny because if you look at it in terms of popularity, it’s kind of been a step-child of genres, as opposed to Rockabilly or Surf Music, which definitely have passionate adherent. Those tributaries of American music have always had support, but if you mention Garage Rock, people say, “Oh, yes, one hit wonders.”

If they have any kind of knowledge, they’ll say, “Nuggets”. If it’s an appellation for a modern band, it blows my mind when people use the term, and then they just sound like generic Rock, not necessarily even amateur. It’s worth trying to put it in perspective, and that’s what I was trying to do with that collection based on what I had access to in the Concord vault.

I’ve done a number of these types of collections over the years, including the big Rhino vault Nuggets Box Set. I’ve done a lot of stuff for the British label Ace Records. I’m one of the few people in the back catalog area who actually takes Garage Rock seriously. I’ve always had a tremendous love of it because I’m a child of Punk Rock. I was full of that when I first heard the Nuggets album in 1977, and I could hear the correspondence with The Pistols and The Clash. Being age 13 or 14, I was already primed with The Beatles and The Stones.

I became very passionate about it, collecting records, but really after I moved to the USA, I started doing even more research and really delving into that side of things. When I hear it, I hear all the excitement that I hear in other forms of music I love, like 60s Soul and R&B, Blues, and Rockabilly. Those are other types of music that are beloved of that era, and Garage Rock is right in there.

But no one played a “Garage” song back at that time. They would have said they were doing R&B or Surf, for instance.

HMS: Something that’s absolutely important about this release is that that this stuff sounds fantastic, though. The mastering and presentation sound so good. When I put on the tracks, I thought I was going to get something that sounded like an artefact that had been cleaned up as best as possible, probably a little bit warned, a little bit stepped on. Instead, I thought, “Holy cow! I feel like I’m at an early Beatles gig!”

AP: Thank you for saying that. I don’t mind taking a bit of credit for that because I’m a little unusual in the reissue world because as well as writing the notes and researching it all, I do all the audio part of it too. Pretty much everything on there is from tapes that I found and prepared. The final squeeze before it goes onto the lacquer is not me. But the rest of it is. I’ve always been really into fidelity and I’ve been appalled by the standard of some rereleases, especially onto vinyl.

HMS: Oh, yes, there have been some really terrible vinyl remasters, unfortunately.

AP: It’s a difficult situation now because over the past five to ten years with the resurgence of vinyl is that a lot of manufacturers are maxed out beyond belief, which means a certain amount of shoddiness sometimes comes into it. I’ve had to send stuff back before due to obvious mistakes to be fixed. It’s especially unfortunate if the audience is willing to accept substandard stuff. Sometimes it’s not going to sound good on vinyl because you’re just getting the CD sound on vinyl.

HMS: Yes, when it hasn’t been mastered specifically for vinyl. I’ve been hearing a lot of discussion about that.

AP: One thing I will say is that Craft is great and really understand all that. It’s been easy to work with them because they let me put it together, and I know they are going to cut it right. I definitely wanted the package to stand out, too. You need some zip to your presentation. A CD is a wonderful presentation for telling a story, but I’ve always really loved vinyl.

Going back to your point about the sound, I still feel like I’m in the entertainment business, not in the archival business. I still want for people to turn it on, turn it up, and have a great day. That’s how that music still affects me. It’s the equivalent of a cup of espresso.

HMS: A couple espressos, maybe! The title is very energetic and cool and helps capture the mood, too.

This is being released digitally as well as on vinyl, I believe. How does that affect your job going in?

AP: This is part of a trio of albums that I’ve put together for Craft. The first one came out last year, called Poppies, which is more psychedelic stuff. They ended up putting it out on CD but I didn’t know that ahead of time. I always assume things will be put out digitally, too. But for CDs, I like to make the program length longer and put some extras in there.

But as 35 minutes of anyone’s time, I think it works well as a straight download or streaming. I think the people who are really into this stuff will probably want the vinyl. But it enables people to hear this stuff before purchase to have it available as digital offering.

HMS: I guess from an academic standpoint, it’s also good to have it in that digitally available format for future use and study.

AP: I’m very cognizant of all of that. Because I do a lot of the tape research myself, I have a basement full of material. This enforced confinement has probably been good in that respect, that I’ve had time to go through stuff. It didn’t look that sexy before! Tapes were out of their boxes or unmarked. I’ve been finding some gems because of this.

HMS: Does this material come from 45s?

AP: There’s a mixture on Double Whammy. Some of it comes from 45s. There’s one album track, “Circus Maximus” and then there are several things on there which haven’t been released, or it’s a different version. “Psychotic Reaction”, for example, is the way it was originally run down at the studio before the Producer decided to take the middle section and paste it on the end. One of the reasons I found those is that I listened to every single thing from that catalog and by that group some years ago, and sometimes you find things on the session reels like different endings or different parts. Some are from rare 45s, like the Joey Paige track, which has an intro by Bill Wyman. That’s only on a rare promo 45 with only a hand full of copies.

HMS: Wow! I heard that one, yes.

AP: It’s interesting. It’s one of the earliest American covers of a Stones song, the beginning of 65, ahead even of Mick Jagger. Wyman couldn’t get the Stones to take his songs seriously, and Joey Paige had ingratiated himself to the Stones previously when he travelled in England. So it’s a mixture of rarities, alternate versions, and completely unreleased things which I’m always happy to share with the world. Even the old sea salts in the psychedelic world won’t have all of this.

HMS: Sure, it has something for every level of interest in that way. Earlier, you said rightly that people think Garage Rock is made up of one-hit wonder. Something that’s special about this release is that you seem to have bands from three different levels of success. You’ve got the legendary and known people, then the lesser known but quite solid groups, and then some who were fairly obscure. Was that intention to hit the different strata?

AP: Oh, yes. It was intentional to present that. It’s also to correct the often-repeated thing that a Garage band was made of amateurs who couldn’t play, or a bunch of teens in a garage who screwed around and made a record, then went off to Vietnam, or got a regular gig. That’s not the case. The highest regarded people in the Garage Rock pantheon were consummate professionals who considered themselves real musicians. To be called a Garage Band back then was kind of an insult. But all bands have been tarred with the same brush. There’s a broad range, and many groups had incredible songs.

Finding stuff at the ends of reels and sharing it with fans is a tremendous thrill. If I can share that with people by putting these gems into packages like Double Whammy, that’s the payoff. Because this music hasn’t become mainstream in its appeal, instead becoming diluted by the term.

HMS: Do you have any suggestions for people who want to know still more about this period and area in music, or is it still fairly undocumented? Are there any books or blogs that might help?

AP: There are some books out there, but this is something that’s very frustrating for me: I’m one of those people who, when I watch a biopic on streaming, I go crazy saying, “That’s wrong!” It’s sort of like that with these books, because a couple of them are just basically peoples’ theses on Garage Rock from a university. There hasn’t been a definitive book about the genre. You’d need to have a tremendous objectivity about it. The people who do actually write about it in a serious way are still really focused on the one hit wonder aspect of it, what made it into the top 40.

HMS: They go for more of the prevailing narrative or stereotype?

AP: Yes. A lot of this has to do with the way the music has been treated over the years by the holier than thou Rock literati. If they mention it at all, it’s always derogatory. Those sorts of people will rave about an obscure Rockabilly figure but dismiss the mid-60s Rock ‘n Roll analog of some kids in a suburban setting. That’s a disservice because it was the last really great, innocent burst of American Popular culture.

All of the sudden you had a generation that was ready to do this, with the relative economic wealth, the inspiration from The Beatles, and an audience in the large swathe of people coming into their teens. Not that it’s changed, but you had a record industry that was very much an exploitation model, so they were hustlers ready to take these long-haired kids into the studio and squeeze what they could out of them.

But it was then derided by the adult-oriented Rock of the time, complaining that “crap” was in the top of the charts. I’ve always seen it as a classic of Rock minimalism.

Even playing with The Seeds recently, they asked me to do some bio stuff, and I mentioned that The Seeds kind of boiled down the Rock ‘n Roll impetus to the very nub, with the fuzz and the organ, and the attitude. But they didn’t want to be called “minimalist”. But in my book, that’s an attribute to champion!

HMS: It sounds like those bands might still be carrying emotional baggage from the derogatory attitudes back in the day.

AP: They are. A lot of the other musicians of their generation who I talk to are like that also. If you get to play with any of these guys and do any of their old material, they ask, “What do you want me to lose all the technique that I’ve gained over the years and sound like I’m 19 again??” And I say, “Absolutely.”

HMS: Yes, that’s exactly what you should say! And what they should do.

AP: Any musician is going to look back and say they were terrible back then. I do have a problem quite often when I speak to musicians that they are derogatory about their own performances back then. They are sometimes even condescending to me because of my interest!

HMS: Oh my God, that’s hilarious! And very emotive.

AP: They say, “Listen to what I’m doing now.” I say, “Whatever you are doing now is fine and dandy, but don’t dismiss what you were doing when you were 19 with all that energy and enthusiasm.” The fact that I’m coming to talk to them 50 years later must have some meaning.

HMS: It sounds like an uphill battle for you.

AP: Actually, the bigger the group, the less they are like that. One of the things I’m better known for is working with the British group, The Zombies, doing a box set and other things over the years with them. And they are very enthusiastic about me being enthusiastic about them.

I am very careful when I approach guys about this because they might not have heard about this work in 50 years and they are distrustful. They ask, “Is there a market for this?”

HMS: You probably remember that the motto for Tower Records is “No Music, No Life”, also written, “Know Music, Know Life”.

AP: I’ve had the opportunity over the years doing all this to hang out with many of my heroes, and one of those was Sly Stone. I spent a week in a hotel room, hanging out with him every day. But he told me on at least one occasion, “Man, you could take drugs away from me, and I’d be okay. But if you took music away from me, I’d be dead.”

HMS: That is a great story. What about you? What does that phrase mean to you in your life?

AP: Music is the one art form that’s instantaneous. Even movies and television are not as instantaneous in hitting the synapses of your brain. A vintage Garage 45, or a Soul 45, for that matter, thrown on the record player and played at the loudest volume your speakers can handle, that’s the best anti-depressant money can buy. If you listen to music, you’ll feel a hell of a lot better. I’m a lifer. I still get as much of a thrill listening to “Psychotic Reaction” now as I did when I first heard it on Nuggets, back in 1977. It’s still got this power, as simple as it is. It hits you.

HMS: These things really stand up, but especially when people like you bring them to a high fidelity so we can experience them so directly. Thank you.


  • Richard Salazar

    As the lead guitarist and one of the singers for The Tears on Scorpio and Onyx, hats off to Alec Paleo for sharing all these great artist of the era.

  • Stephen Marley

    Thanks for all you’ve done to preserve a musical time capsule of the late 1960’s rock explosion. I was the drummer for Teddy & His Patches (Suzy Creamcheese) and now as a 70+ year old California retiree, I’m simply amazed by the continued interest, documentation and myth making about this era.

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