|One in a long line of great San Jose groups in the '60s, Teddy & His Patches are probably among the best remembered. Their classic song 'Suzy Creamcheese' has appeared on numerous '60's garage/psych compilations, most recently on Rhino's widely praised Love Is The Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets 1965-1970 set. In addition to writing 'Suzy,' Dave Conway had penned many songs prior to his stint with Teddy & His Patches.
|An Interview With Dave Conway
60sgaragebands.com (60s): Steve Urbani and Steve Marley both indicated that you were a classically trained musician. Was rock and roll always in your blood?
Dave Conway (DC): I’m guessing the Steves meant “classic” as in rock and roll from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Playing, singing, and arranging have always been a means to an end for me: creating and integrating lyrics and music via unique chords, memorable licks, and catchy rhythms. The advent of the electric bass and the Rolling Stones’ fuzz tone on ‘Satisfaction’ in the early ‘60s also opened my mind to the possibilities of novel sounds enhancing the musical / recording experience.
60s: Was Teddy & His Patches your first band? How did you become a member of the second group of "Patches"?
DC: At nine, I played an out of tune piano with my neighborhood band, Dick and The Gales (ala Johnny and The Hurricanes). Dick sang and Fred used the cellophane view panel on a costume box for drums. Since we recorded on my dad’s Dictaphone, quality instruments were not a requirement.
Two years later we cut our first demo at Associated Sounds in Santa Clara adding Danny on guitar, a new singer (Bob), and Fred on a real set of studio drums. The song was ‘Those Dreamy Eyes.’ It sounded a lot like a Paul Anka tune (I had been studying his writing style) and was the first of many sound and feel alike compositions that would become such an asset for me in later years.
At 13, I switched to guitar and joined The Epics (later renamed The Concepts). We had one TV appearance on KNTV in San Jose: Frank Darien’s Record Hop. During the middle of our live TV performance, the cameras cut away to cover a boiler explosion at the downtown J. C. Penney’s (unfortunately several people died).
After The Concepts, I hooked up with Steve Marley (drums), a bass player (Brian), and trumpet and trombone player (more Steves!), and went back to the piano. We mostly played instrumentals for dances and fun. I spent the next five years writing, recording, and following the studio as it moved from Santa Clara to Phelan Avenue (San Jose) then to 5th and Taylor. Because Steve Marley started to develop a keen interest in recording, I began taking him with me to the Julian Street studio under construction just about the time he introduced me to The Patches.
60s: Your connections to Gradie O'Neal led to Teddy & His Patches' opportunity to record for the Chance label. What was/is your relationship with Gradie?
DC: It was during my first demo session in Santa Clara that I met Gradie. He asked if I had other songs. I did—and that started a long relationship with a good natured, easy-going producer and engineer who was sometimes more father than mentor. From then on, writing, recording, and hanging out in the studio became my passion. Through high school and college, I spent many afternoons and late evenings recording.
My only regret was not providing Gradie with a smash hit. He invested a lot of time and faith in me, but sustained success was always just out of our reach. Gradie is still a good friend and one of the men I admire most.
60s: What were the circumstances leading to the recordings of the Chance 45s?
Gradie was always willing to let me explore to a point, then either declared my novel idea wasn’t “cutting it,” or tactfully asked, “Just what is it you are trying to do?” He always said he would know a hit when he heard it. He was constantly looking for a new sound, or gimmick as we called it. ‘Suzy’ probably wasn’t what he had in mind, but he was game.
I got involved with the actual composition of ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ when Teddy and promoter Jerry Ralston asked me to structure the song. Ralston had “borrowed” some poetry from Frank Zappa and they asked me to provide the music, rhythm, basic arrangement, and additional lyrics. (I had no idea who Frank Zappa or the Mothers of Invention were at the time.) I provided all that was requested the following practice and as sure as snow in January, Bernie, Steve, and Herbie (Steve Urbani) enhanced the arrangement with their memorable riffs, screams, and heavy breathing (intro).
One practice, while rehearsing ‘Suzy’ for the recording session, I noticed that when Bernie walked behind my Farfisa keyboard, his guitar pickups would cause an ethereal sound through his amp. I had him reproduce that sound for the opening passage of ‘Suzy.’ The “whoop” sound effect was Teddy’s innovation using speaker feedback and an echo loop. My favorite part has always been the ending – the driving energy building to a climax then bam! Pulsating drums followed by a serene, haunting organ and rhythmic bass.
We were still building the Julian Street Studio when we recorded ‘Suzy’ live on an Ampex two-channel. The building was a former bakery. Not only was flour everywhere in the rafters, the space where the baking equipment once stood was a dirt floor. Before the three-channel Ampex could be hooked up, there was cement to be poured, sound proofing baffles and booths to be built, and lots of soldering to be done. For a reason I can’t remember (probably over-anxious to record), we cut ‘Suzy’ as soon as the two-channel was hooked up and the plate glass windows of the control room were installed.
After ‘Suzy’ made it to the top of the Central Coast charts, a major distributor (Circa) wanted to pick it up. They thought the song could be #1 in the world—if only the voice could be re-recorded and understood. That, of course, would mean re-cutting the entire song since the voice was mixed into the two tracks. But fresh with local success, there was no way any of the Patches were willing to do that. After all, on our own we had made it to #1—and sometimes the magic of the moment can’t be recaptured in later sessions, even by the same musicians. Makes me wonder what could have been if we had waited to make the original recording on the Ampex three-channel with a separate voice track…
Because it is difficult to understand some of the lyrics Teddy sang, I’ve provided the lyrics as originally written below. It may surprise some fans that ‘Suzy’ was actually an anti-drug song packaged in psychedelic music. I never saw anyone in the group take drugs, smoke, or drink. Experimenting with music was our addiction.
Suzy… Suzy Creamcheese,,, This is the voice of your subconscious mind speaking.
Suzy – What’s got into you?
You say you see the face of fear projected on the wall.
And voices out of nowhere are answering your call.
You turn around and see the sights but watching is a bore.
And comes vacation time again, the same kicks are in store.
Hey, Suzy Creamcheese. What’s got into to you?
Hey, Suzy Creamcheese. What’s got into to you?
When you see the strobelight flashing,
And you hear the music clashing,
And you experience a whole new dimension in sound,
Just open up your closed mind,
And take a trip on mine,
And you’ll never want to touch the ground.
I am probably the only one who remembers that there would be no ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ if wasn’t for my dad who loaned me the money to press the 45s. KMBY set up a connection with the local record shops in Monterey and I became – for the first and last time – a record distributor. Within a few weeks, I was able to repay the loan from the sales of the records. That was a relief to me, because a thousand records cost about $250 dollars – a lot of money in 1967 – and my family couldn’t afford to lose it.
60s: What other bands did the Patches perform with?
DC: We often opened for artists with hit records or a large local following: The Doors, The Animals, The Electric Prunes, The Syndicate of Sound, The Beau Brummels, Moby Grape, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Count 5, Roy Head (‘Treat Her Right’), etc. According to a KMBY news article about The Patches, “Nat Hentoff, of Downbeat Magazine, who saw the group last March at the Animals show, said that Teddy and His Patches are one of the few truly musical rock and roll groups he has ever heard.”
For one Monterey appearance, when ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ hit #1 on the charts, we were the featured group with Strawberry Alarm Clock opening for us. About a month later, ‘Incense and Peppermints’ became a classic hit and ‘Suzy Creamcheese’ began its journey as a frequently pirated recording for the next four decades. I understand the Alarm Clock is still performing.
60s: You were the band's primary songwriter. What was your main inspiration?
DC: A good writer can be inspired by almost anything, just like a good comic can make the most mundane events humorous. The greatest influence on my preferred writing and arranging style were Buck Ram of The Platters (‘Twilight Time’ and ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes’); Gary Paxton (‘Alley Oop’ and ‘Monster Mash’); The Coasters (‘Poison Ivy’ and ‘Little Egypt’); Jimmy Webb (‘MacArthur’s Park’ and ‘Didn’t We Girl’); the ‘50s American rockers (Chuck Berry, Elvis, and Little Richard); and the English ‘60s rockers (Cream, The Zombies and The Moody Blues).
Eventually, I had the privilege of recording with Gary Paxton; reminiscing about the Platters’ music with Buck Ram; working with one of the last living Coasters (Leon Hughes) on a Coaster’s comeback album; and receiving a Christmas postcard from Elvis.
60s: You apparently had written hundreds of songs prior to joining Teddy & His Patches. How prolific of a writer were you? Were any of the songs recorded?
DC: Hundreds of songs written for sure; a few likely hits if the timing and marketing had clicked. I mostly created and sang my own demos to attract other artists. Gradie would pitch his favorites (or ask me to write new ones with a certain lyrical or musical style) for just about any artist who walked through the studio doors. I estimate I had 35 of my songs recorded by local artists by the time I joined The Patches (about 20 of them released on 45s) and two traveling artists: The Chantels (‘Keep Away’) and Canadian Jerry Palmer (‘Don’t Ever Leave Me’).
When I was about 16, Gradie introduced me to country music by playing some of the South Bay composers and artists he had recorded: Sonny Throckmorton (later wrote many of the Judds’ hits), Bobby and Larry Black (Bobby played with Commander Cody and became a Country Music Hall of Fame Steel Guitar Player), and Ben Catello (Freddie Hart: ‘Hands of the Man’). Gradie wanted me to play country piano for him, so I became a Floyd Cramer quick study and fan.
60s: In addition to recording your 45s with O'Neal, the Patches also served as somewhat of a houseband for other musicians that recorded for him. Do you recall any of the bands you backed, or any of the recordings you might have performed on? Do you recall any of the jingles that Teddy & His Patches reportedly recorded, also for O'Neal?
DC: I did record in the studio for others while I was in the Patches, but I only thought of myself as a studio musician with an opportunity to write, play, or sing. Steve Marley was often generous with his time and may have gotten together with the other Patches to assist local groups but it didn’t include me. Jingles? I played mostly on commercials for car lots, local entertainment productions, fair promos, etc., but only as an individual contributor.
60s: Teddy & His Patches recorded enough tunes for an album that was never released. Were most of the songs written by you? Do you recall titles?
DC: We had enough tunes to do the album, because we played many of them live and I had many more in the wings. However, I only recall five Patches recordings. I co-wrote ‘Suzy’; Teddy composed ‘Haight Ashbury’; I wrote the two “B” sides (‘From Day to Day’ and ‘It Ain’t Nothing’). I have a cassette tape of the only other song I remember finishing: ‘Just Like the Night Before’ (one of mine). Gradie has the masters for the first four. I talked to him recently – he had forgotten about ‘Just like the Night Before.’ He’s going to look for the master. The interesting thing to me is that all five songs were significantly different styles and sounds. That was the Patches for you – it was hard to pin us down to a specific trademark sound.
60s: You and Steve Marley produced another 45 single under the Chance label, 'Time Traveler' and the B-side 'Things Aren't What They Seem To Be' using the band name The Change. Did you write these songs as well?
DC: I wrote the songs. I really did want a change by experimenting with different instruments (oboe and glockenspiel in this case) and putting together some Beach Boys harmonies. Steve had a friend of his (another Steve!) who had a wonderful falsetto. We had a problem with the pressing (the glockenspiel caused the phonograph needle to jump and skip ahead), and though we had some stations saying they’d play it, well…
Steve Marley was on drums; me on keyboards, glockenspiel, and lead voice; the "other" Steve (Marley's friend) sang falsetto while Steve M. harmonized; jazz musician Chip Benson was on bass with (probably) country guitarist Bill Hullett and Steve Wartinger on trumpet.
60s: Did you form or join any bands after The Change?
DC: I tried my hand at producing some local gospel, country, and folk artists. I became part of a duo in the ‘70s with Darrell Sullivan. I played keyboard bass and organ; Darrell played guitar, hi-hat, and bass drum (at the same time). We both harmonized (a combo of The Righteous / Everly Brothers). Mostly we played classic pop and country interspersed with comedy. Darrell and I also wrote and sometimes recorded together. We had four Billboard four star picks in the ‘70s, the most popular recording, ‘Hot Wheels’ (Stan Farlow, Checker Records), rising to about #50 on the Billboard Top 100. Gary Paxton was the engineer on ‘Hot Wheels.’
In the late '70s, Darrell and I arranged and produced the campaign song for the Jarvis / Gann Prop 13 campaign – the California property tax initiative (more like public revolt!) that quickly spread to all 50 states. The song, sung and written by Bob Deisenroth to the tune of 'Battle Hymn of the Republic,' was premiered nationally on TV’s 20/20.
60s: How long did you record music?
DC: I kept doing studio work after hours even after I changed careers to entertainment manufacturing (Memorex and Atari) but abandoned studio recording when I moved out of the area in late 1989. In the ‘70s, I wrote two Northern California top ten country recordings. I sang: ‘Cash is King’ under the pseudonym of Calvin Coolidge; local country singer Warren Johnson sang ‘God Made Mamas That Way,’ a song that was covered by MGM’s Walt Conklin. I also did some projects with Nashville guitarist/producer Gene Breeden; I wrote a theme song (‘Super Rufus’) for a Charles Schultz’ Peanuts special that didn’t happen (Charlie Brown and the Chocolate Mountain); and composed a couple of comeback singles for Country Hall of Famer Rose Maddox (‘I Hate to See Me Go’ and ‘The Hand That Rocks the Cradle’).
In the early ‘80s, I did a project for a client that resurrected the picture disc industry, eventually leading to Michael Jackson’s Thriller picture disc album. My post-‘Creamcheese’ favorite recording was the comedy Christmas album I wrote and sang as a fundraiser for the Santa Clara County Food Bank: Get Your Reindeer Off My Roof. It was the #3 best selling Christmas album in the South Bay for two years behind the traditional Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby albums. Gradie engineered, and his wife Jeannine, arranged, sang, and played on all 20 album cuts.
60s: What keeps you busy today?
DC: For the last 20 years, I have been employed by manufacturing companies that have built submarines, satellites, the International Space Station, and Mars and Pluto launch vehicles. Currently (2010) I am the Enterprise Records Manager for a Space and Defense Company. Over the last ten years, my hobby has been writing musical stage productions and original songs and arrangements for children and choirs. In that capacity, I have received several recognitions and awards.
60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with Teddy & His Patches?
DC: Magical. Surrealistic. Fun. A once in a lifetime experience with a great group of down-to-earth guys exploring the new frontiers of music and sound. It was a short journey, but a memorable one that never fails to make me smile.
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