We almost made it! What happened? More about that later.... Have you heard of us? Our 45's are collected around the world. Our songs, including "Acid Head", "The Velvet Illusions Theme Song", "Mini Shimmy" and "Hippie Girl", are found on the Pebbles CD series or other compilation disks. I've even heard a cover version of "Acid Head", from a CD released by the Austrian group Running Stream. We are discussed in at least one book, "Sixties Rock", published by Michael Hicks in 1999. Our "artifacts" are contained in the Experience Music Project archives. We're known to collectors as a "Lost California Psychedelic Band". In reality, we were from Yakima!
We were a "Vox Band". As you can glean from the photo, we had as much Vox equipment as any band could ever need, including three Super Beatle amps, a Continental organ, Vox P.A. speakers and various Vox guitars, including a Mando Guitar. We also used Mosrite guitars, including a beautiful double-neck model that our great lead guitarist, the late Dewayne Russel played. We recorded an album's worth of original songs in Seattle at Sound Recording, during 1966 and 1967. Our originals, including "Acid Head", "She Was The Only Girl", and "The Velvet Illusions Theme Song" received airplay throughout the West, as did our cover of a Jerry Merritt social protest song that I (Randy Bowles) sang, entitled "Town Of Fools". Jerry was our Music Adviser. Remember him? He was a member of Gene Vincent's famous Blue Caps. He showed us how to make our own sets of "slinky strings" for our guitars, before they were available in Yakima.
We were a versatile band. In addition to performing the psychedelic and social commentary songs we were known for, we also covered Blue-Eyed Soul, Teenie Bopper, and what has come to be known as the "Northwest Sound". And, we could play ballroom dance music (not that we wanted to). I remember playing an event held in honor of then-Governor Albert Rosellini at a Democratic convention in Yakima, watching from the stage as people in suits and gowns stared at us. I must say, we preferred playing rock music to our own age group!
We kept very busy playing or practicing, every day of the week. We often rented a hall and put on our own dances and battles of the bands. We made television appearances and did in-store performances. We even traveled to La Grande, OR to receive the Key to the City. We never appeared in the Seattle area, as we made the decision to go south, instead. Way south!
In June, 1967, after playing countless gigs throughout Eastern Washington and Oregon, the seven core members relocated to Hollywood, CA, with our manager, George Radford, Sr., George Jr.'s father. We moved into a nice neighborhood, into a spacious house with a beautiful meditation garden in back. We practiced all the time. The cops came over so many times to tell us to "turn it down" that we became friends with them.
We had a suite of offices in Hollywood, where we gathered daily to do mass-mailing of our 45's and publicity material. We employed Sophie Tucker's manager, Jack Olephant, as our Publicity Director (I hope I spelled his name correctly!). One of the musical Matolla family, Buddy, was another of our Music Consultants.
Due to a lot of hard promotional work put in by us, our songs became noticed. Cash Box Magazine, the juke box industry's house organ, listed "The Velvet Illusions Theme Song" as a Best Bet. The flip side of that record was a song I sang, written by Gene Vincent, another song of social commentary called "Born To Be A Rolling Stone." Our most notable song, the now classic psychedelic "Acid Head", was banned from airplay throughout the world. Our manager felt that this was great publicity. (Ironically, "Acid Head" was an anti-drug song. I think people had trouble getting past the title.)
We performed at L.A. International Airport as part of the welcoming entourage for The Queen of English Music Hall, Two Ton Tessie O'Shea, the singer who appears in that famous photo with the Beatles surrounding her. We, of course, had to have a similar photo taken with her! The famed New York newspaper columnist, Earl Wilson, wrote a story about this, saying Ms. O'Shea had a special connection to The Velvet Illusions, because our 15 year-old keyboardist, Steve Weed, "wrote her and asked for ukulele instructions". This story, of course, was fabricated by Jack Olephant, who just happened to be Tessie's manager.
Speaking of our 15-year-old genius songwriter/keyboardist/singer, Steve Weed: many websites hawking CD compilations containing our songs continue to perpetuate the myth that he married Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress who had been kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. -- Different Steve Weed. -- Anything to sell product, I guess....
Being kids from Yakima, we had some fun living in Hollywood during the "Summer Of Love". We used to dress up as "hippies" and walk down Hollywood Boulevard, waving at all the gawkers on the street and in passing cars. We thought this was so funny. We also enjoyed visiting the Stash Head Shop. We were totally straight-arrow kids, who didn't even drink, and this establishment really opened our eyes to what was currently happening. It was a great day when The Stash added our 45 to their juke box!
And now then: In the face of this success, why did we wind up moving back to Yakima and splitting up? Well, we were just kids. Our average age was just 17. We became homesick. And, several of us balked at continuing with our manager. I personally was resentful of the fact that my stage name was changed to Jimmie James. When I asked why, I was told, "There's a lot of money behind that name." Hmmm. I never saw any! Also, we did not appreciate having to play ballroom music, or teenie bopper music, at hippie dances. Slowly but surely, we each walked away from it all.
In the Fall of 1967, several of us reunited in Yakima as The Peppermint Tea, to perform as the half-time entertainment for the Harlem Clowns basketball show in Yakima. We played just what we wanted to play. It was the best gig we ever played, because we did exactly what we wanted.
After several of us core members left, two other boys joined the group in Hollywood. Special mention should be made of drummer Jon Juette, who, although not able to play in the original recording and touring group, put a lot of energy and conviction into the contribution he made to the group. Also, Bruce Kitt joined on rhythm guitar late in the game. After relocating to Yakima, Mr. Radford, George Jr., and some other boys started the New Velvet Illusions, but that group didn't last.
Sad to say, I haven't seen any of my former band mates in close to 40 years. Nor have I heard many of our recordings since 1967. Songs like "Hippie Girl", "Mini Shimmy", "Born To Be A Rolling Stone" and "Bigfoot" (written about the Sasquatch craze) are just titles to me -- I can hardly remember how they go.
If you know Steve Weed, please have him contact me! I'd give anything to reunite with him. I don't know about him, but I'm not too old to rock! (Ed Note: Steve was located on 7 May 2006)
by Randy Bowles
1. Acid Head - (Weed, Radford) - 3:04
2. She Was The Only Girl (Weed, Radford) - 2:36
3. I'm Coming Home Los Angeles (Bobby Worth, Henry Sanicola) - 2:07
4. Town Of Fools (Jerry Merritt) - 2:18
5. Velvet Illusions (Weed, Radford) - 2:03
6. Born To Be A Rolling Stone (Jerry Merritt) - 1:49
7. Lazy (Sandra Karr, George Radford, Buddy Motola) -2:08
8. The Stereo Song (Radford, Weed, Motola) - 1:51
9. Mini Shimmy (Weed, Radford, Motola) - 2:11
10.Hippy Town (Weed, Radford, Buddy Motola) - 2:10
The Velvet Illusions
*Randy Bowles “Jimmy James” - Guitar, Lead Vocals
*Steve Weed - Vox Organ, Vocals
*Danny Wohl - Guitar
*Dale Larrison - Bass, Vocals
*George Radford Jnr- Saxophone, Bass
*Dewayne Russel - Doubleneck Guitar
*Danny Wagner - Drums
[ Rip and Scans by MARIOS ]