For my dad. Happy Birthday!
It’s the familiar sound of those first chords that instantly catches our attention. The drum, the long drawn out note of the keyboard, the electric guitar and then the harmonizing of the 6 young sixties musicians. Alex and Gabby look up at me with big smiles and excitedly burst out, “It’s grandpa’s song!”. With their same excitement, I confirm they are right. Our grins never leave our faces as we wait, his song pipes through the speakers of our local Jamba Juice.
I’ve had this experience many times throughout my life. My father’s band, Strawberry Alarm Clock produced a hit “Incense and Peppermints” that continues to play as a ’60’s trademark song. It was the song that played in the 1997 Austin Power’s opening disco scene. It remains recognizable with just the first chord and leaves you “sha la la-ing” for the rest of the day.
In the mid sixties a few Glendale boys started playing music in the garage of my childhood home. At only 13, Gary Lovetro (my father), Ed King and Lee Freeman formed the band. They added a few more members and initially called themselves Thee Sixpense. Later they changed their name to Strawberry Alarm Clock. My dad explained that the name came about as a result of the strawberry being a very popular lyrical subject at that time. They even had a song called “Strawberries Mean Love”. Someone noticed an alarm clock in the room and the two were combined creating their unique name. “Incense and Peppermints” reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1967. A gold disc was awarded for one million sales by the Recording Industry Association of America in December 1967. They appeared on American Bandstand, The Steve Allen Show and the first episode of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. They also made movie appearances in Psych-Out and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Ed King left the band and joined the Lynyrd Skynyrd band. He met them when they opened up for Strawberry Alarm Clock on a few shows in early 1968. King co-wrote their hit song “Sweet Home Alabama”. He was not on the plane that crashed killing the members of the band on October 20, 1977.
I grew up hearing stories about different venues Strawberry Alarm Clock played and the bands they opened for. One of the more memorable stories was when Pete Townsend of The Who, accidentally smashed my dad’s bass guitar. Obviously it was replaced.
I had 45’s of “Incense and Peppermints” mixed in with my Cinderella and Mary Poppins records. Cheap gold Strawberry Alarm Clock necklaces and keychains lined the bottom of my toy box with Barbie shoes and brushes. A gold 45 hung on our wall.
My dad went on to have a successful career in the wine and liquor industry and his musical past was rarely discussed. The only time I recall him playing any instrument was when my piano teacher asked us to practice a duet. I didn’t go far with piano or any other instrument nor did my sister. As far as we knew, the musical gene stopped with us.
Or so we thought…
In 2009, 12 year old Alex picked up an old beat up guitar and with the help of YouTube, taught herself to play. She signed up to not only play, but sing a Taylor Swift song in her school’s talent show. She was in the sixth grade and we thought it was very brave of her to take on such a challenge. When she began to play and then sing, we were stunned. Not only was she good, but she was confident and had stage presence. Other parents commented that they had no idea she could play to which we responded…”neither did we!” Needless to say, Alex began guitar lessons and excelled.
A few years ago, she started inquiring about her grandfather’s bass guitar that she knew was stored away somewhere. My dad would brush off her questioning, not giving it much thought. However lately, he started sharing and reminiscing about it and the band.
Last summer he pulled me aside and asked if I thought Alex was serious about wanting his guitar and if she would be responsible with it. He made it clear that it was to always remain in the family. I assured him that if and when he chose to give it to her, she would take very good care of it understanding it’s significance.
The next afternoon, my dad walked in with a worn black guitar case which he placed before Alex on the floor. With a look of shock and disbelief her eyes said it all, “Is this what I think it is?” My dad nodded with a smile he could hardly contain. Together they opened the case and carefully removed the beautiful Italian made Eko Violin Bass Guitar. This was the very guitar that was played in his hit song when he was her same age. It was a touching moment to watch them bond over the beautiful instrument turning it so they could admire every inch. Occasionally she would glance over at me to confirm that it was really happening. I simply smiled assuring her that yes, it is really happening. Your grandfather is handing off his guitar to you.