1968: How We Won The Entire United States Battle of the Bands
In Atlantic City, NJ At Age 15 With Our 9-Piece Rock n’ Soul Group
The Symbols Of Tyme…
...But Failed the Audition for Ed Sullivan Afterwards!
It was 1967 and young high school sophomore, drummer Fred Beato, had a vision to put a band together. Not just any band, but “his own” hand-chosen band. He was an un-stoppable force with that hot Cuban blood and eye-of-the-tiger hunger who followed his instincts and managed to corral a bunch of multi-ethnic local musicians to form what would become the hottest band in the South Bay of Los Angeles.
This was the era of “horn section bands” such as Blood Sweat and Tears, Chicago, Thee Midniters (local favorites), The Buckinghams, James Brown, and so on.
All of Fred’s band members attended Torrance High School, the alma mater of famed local hero Louis Zamperini (immortalized in the Angelina Jolie Film “Unbroken.”)
Fred, almost like a pied piper, would ask “So you play trumpet? Why don’t you join my band… you play bass, come to rehearsal next week and maybe you can join my band.” He wasted no time on small talk—if you could play, maybe you could join.
That original version of Symbols of Tyme started without Pack. They even had two male lead singers - a young mop-haired Davy Jones look alike- Bob James, and a handsome Cuban smooth operator- Tom Crucier.
There was beautiful ingenue Susie Allen rockin’ her Vox Continental keyboard and vocals, and just off stage was the band manager – Susie’s father Lee Allen, an aero-space technology expert who slightly resembled actor Eugene Levy with his bushy eye-brows, hairy arms and square military like persona. And his Polish wife Mrs. Allen was always by his side with a wide smile, perfectly coifed hair, and an instant laugh.
The key-man of the horn section was Tom Butterfield, a super multi-talented, rotund scene stealer, with the Seth Rogen-like laugh and endless supply of crude jokes; then you had curly-haired wild man Bill Koehler on sax, and the reserved, blonde, athletic and very Al Jardine-like Mike Denler on trumpet. And they did “steps” while they played, when they weren’t demonstrating other bodily functions!
On Bass with his highly styled, lacquered and perfectly hair-sprayed pompadour was the handsome Mexican-American Larry Herrera—the proud Latin-lover with dangerous overtones. Lastly there was the white-as-a ghost and big-toothed smile of Dave Baker on rhythm & lead guitar—everyone called him “Baker buns” for reasons unknown. He was Ohio white bread through and through.
The Symbols of Tyme were incredibly unique because not only did they appeal to the white rock and surf culture of the South Bay but also because of their multi-ethnicity they were accepted into Latino gang neighborhoods such as the notorious “La Rana” where white dudes wouldn’t dare enter. But also what set them miles apart from other local bands is the fact that Susie’s father managed the band like a well-oiled machine.
Every show Mr. Allen would state which color outfits they would be wearing, and which equipment crew A or B of the designated band members would be loading and unloading the matched set of all white Fender Dual showman amps and white sparkle Ludwig drums into their brown trailer with the Symbols of Tyme logo on the side, and what time each person would be dropped off by the Allens in their custom van.
David Pack says “the first time I saw them was at a Torrance High School Pep Rally during the afternoon. I heard this wonderful ‘roar’ of sound coming from the auditorium, and was very impressed when I walked in and heard this huge sound they made. I was also visually taken by their cream colored suits, their steps, Susie and the boys with their smooth moves and cool vibe... and then there was Fred, pounding on the drums with authority and passion like the Cuban Keith Moon—he was the real natural showman of the bunch.”
Pack goes on “When they broke into Knock On Wood with those horns blasting, and a young Beatle-like frontman singing soulfully, trading lines with the other frontman, then with Susie smiling and swaying while standing behind that Vox organ with her high leather boots, while the horn section did their own choreographed ‘steps,’ I was sold lock stock n’ barrel. Their collective charisma alone was overwhelming”.
David was in a rival band with future Ambrosia bassist Joe Puerta called The Sentrys. That band had done so well it had even won the Universal Studios battle of the bands, and got their photos in all the local newspapers. “We did a killer 9 minute version of Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’ that no one could believe, it was so good. But soon it became obvious that The Sentrys weren’t going anywhere as two of the members decided they didn’t even want to be in a band.”
But before they broke up, Pack asked Symbols of Tyme singer Bob James (the Beatle-like one) to join The Sentrys—which he did for about 3 months. But even bringing Bob in didn’t save the feeling that this was a band quickly going nowhere, says Pack.
It was around this time that Fred ran into David at Torrance High and asked if he wanted to come and jam at a Symbols of Tyme rehearsal. Pack accepted and there was a feeling of destiny in the air.
But what sealed the deal was band manager Lee Allen. He promptly took Pack out to dinner and pitched him hard to quit the Sentrys and Join S.O.T. Allen told Pack he could use their matching cream-colored Fender Dual Showman amps, and as the final enticing pitch told Pack he’d buy him a new Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar to welcome him to the band.
That did it! David decided on the spot and said yes to Mr. Allen, then the next day announced to the Sentry’s he was leaving to “give this new band a chance” and explained about the great future Mr. Allen had planned for the band. Pack said, “it was not easy for me, as I’m loyal to a fault. I’m usually the last man standing in any band, as I cannot stand for things to ‘break-up.’ But somehow I knew this was destiny for me and I seized it.”
**END OF PART ONE**
Part 2 coming soon
Symbols of Tyme Recollections - by Tom Croucier (Lead Singer)
It was a hot summer day and the beach was crowded with pretty Torrance High School California girls. I knew I would be performing that night and was already getting exited bout it. I was anticipating hearing the crisp horn sounds of our brass section and the back beat of our drummer with a solid bass guitar playing some soulful R&B music. We did not care that it was so hot inside the old Torrance "Grand" theater, located in old Downtown Torrance CA, or the fact that we were wearing 3 piece suits. We were "The Symbols of Tyme" and the girls would be dancing and sweating to our soulful sound.
I had met Freddy "Boy" Beato, my Cuban brother, in the 8th grade, a couple of years after arriving to the U.S. from Cuba. I remember Fred knocking on my window late at night, ohh say 10 pm, which was pretty late on a school night at 14 years old, on his way back home from his girlfriends house. We would talk about our dream of being in a band together. I played guitar and sang and told Freddy that "I know how to play La Bamba." They were the same chords as "Twist and Shout" and many of the 60's songs.
Fred seemed to be very impressed and especially when he came by one night and I showed him a brand new copy of the latest Beatle record that I had gotten for my birthday, "Rubber Soul." We were both enthralled with the music and the magic the Beatles, and other bands of that era, had created and felt so fortunate to be part of that era. Freddy had an aura about him and the foresight and imagination to form a band that would be the best in our area; a band that consisted of players from 3 or 4 different bands of Torrance High School at that time in 1966-67. He formed the band and we called it "The Symbols of Tyme." He was able to talk to Mr. Allen who allowed his daughter, Susie, to play Keyboard on our band if he would "chaperone" or manage our band.
Slowly, we became a band with 2 guitar players, a bass player, 3 horn players an organ player and Freddy Boy on the drums and myself fronting the band. Yes, I did get a lot of attention during those days and had a few fans of my own. Freddy would help me out when there were more than one girl who wanted to party together. And yes, we were "The Symbols of Tyme," a 9 piece band who took up a lot of room on all the stages around Los Angeles and everywhere we played. We made a lot of other bands angry with all the space that we needed. However, we all got along pretty good.
I remember many nights, our manager, Mr. Allen, telling me what and what not to do, with the sequence of songs or our "steps" as we called our crude choreographed moves on stage; all this while I was looking at and thinking about the pretty brunette in the front row.
We did not have any original songs but we sure played some great covers, i.e., Express Way to Your Heart, by the Soul Survivors, some of the Rascals songs: Groovin, Good Lovin, Lonely too Long, Mustang Sally, Land of a Thousand Dances, and of course The Midnighters songs, an L.A. based soul band who also had a horn section; we covered their songs, "Love Special Delivery, Whittier Blvd, That's All," and some other's from their local hits. We also performed Sam and Dave songs and of course James Brown songs. We were fortunate enough to open up for some great bands from the 60's, e.g., Strawberry Alarm Clock, Buffalo Springfield, ID (Indescribably Delicious) to name a few. Most of the time we preformed 2 sets. In between sets, of course, we would each have our girlfriends and other's, and our families who were very involved in our affairs as we were in our teens, from 15 to 17 years old.
I remember many times going to out to eat after a show and have many of our friends and fans follow us there. An article on our local newspaper, "The Daily Breeze," mentioned the SOT van followed by a wooden trailer with the name "Symbols of Tyme" written on the sides. And of course Mr. Allen would park right in from of the restaurant, trying to make as much noise as possible.
During the hight of our short lived popularity, we entered various "battle of the bands" competitions around the Los Angeles area. We actually did very well and entered a competition that had the potential of taking the band to the next level. We won the CA State championship, and traveled to New Jersey where we were to perform at The Steel Pier with all the bands, one from each state.
We actually won the national title!!! It was an experience I'll always remember. At 16-17 year old, an amazing chance to audition for various T.V. shows at Radio City Music Hall. I remember that day when we traveled from New Jersey to NY City. On the way to New York to the audition we traveled in 2 taxi cabs. A few of the band members traveled to NY in a different taxi cab without our managers and our chaperones. It was the taxi cab driver who offered us "a smoke," and for the first time all of us in the cab experienced the euphoria of a marijuana high. I did not think it would affect me as it did. However, we were very naive and in the moment.
By the time that we got to NY, the buildings seemed to be leaning towards each other and towards me. Needless to say, our audition did not go so well. However, I have never, since that time, ever performed in a small completely dead recording studio with no effects and not even reverb in the PA. When we arrived back home we were greeted by a big crowd at the airport gate followed by a welcome home party at our home, "The Grand Theatre."
We continued to play our shows and hoping something would materialize out of our success in Atlantic City. However, nothing really became of it except we did finally receive some Vox Amps that were part of our winnings, and some other accolades that I have forgotten about. It was a magical time for all of us... The band eventually lost it's momentum and members went their own ways. However, that period of time was not only magical to our band members, but also to many fans form our High School and other schools in the South Bay Area who still to this day talk about "The Symbols of Tyme."
**More from Tom Coming Soon! **
Dave Baker David Pack Fred Beato Susie Allen Tom Butterfield Tom Croucier Bill Koehler
Larry Herrera Mike Denler
Homecoming at the airport for Symbols of Tyme after winning National Battle of the Bands.