Chocolate Watch Band’s No Way Out

23rd February 2016

Year: 1967

Label: Tower

Sometimes classic records become classic in spite of themselves, the band and the people and events surrounding it. Such was No Way Out. The band itself played a cross between garage and psychedelic music and were created in 1965: they burned out during 1968. This short-lived outfit may have only been alive for three years but it seems that, with every passing year, their music becomes more relevant and more inspirational as successive new generations of fans become enamoured with their works.

Copies of the original No Way Out album fetch three figure sums while unofficial bootlegs are for sale all over the world. Hence, it was great to see an official vinyl and CD release by the US-based Sundazed record label that had been excellently mastered, providing analogue and digital fans with a quality reproduction that the bootlegs just cannot match. The Sundazed issue features extensive sleevenotes, rare photos plus promo label images.

Ace Records also has a CD version available with the addition of non-album 45s and their first demo (plus a 12-page booklet). The eight additions collect together the group’s non-LP Uptown and Tower singles sides plus two early demos and an alternate track .

The production of the original album was difficult and was based around the old story of exploitation. Basically, the Watch Band were a bunch of kids who knew no better, were enjoying themselves, their association with rock gods such as playing with Jefferson Airplane, Yarbirds and Grateful Dead and feeling the glow of (hopefully) nearby rock stardom while the guys behind the scenes cared little for them but used the band for their own ends.

Hence, the band’s first album featured just two of the 10 studio recordings intact. Lead singer, Dave Aguilar was rather surprised to hear that six of the tracks no longer featured his voice but session singer, Don Bennett while two other tracks were by a different band! Part of a studio group put together by the album’s engineer, Richie Podolor. This sort of thing happened all over again for the band’s second album , The Inner Mystique (which Sundazed has also issued and is also, for the record, excellently mastered and well worth grabbing).

Lead singer, Dave Aguilar, himself, attempts to convey the confusion of the time, “It caused a lot of problems, but then — I’ll try and explain where our heads were at the time. We were 16, 18, 19 years old. We’d been picked up by this producer. We were flown down to L.A. We were told, on a Thursday, that, on the Friday, a jet would pick you up and you would go down and record an album and spend a week in L.A. There would be a limo that would pick you up at the airport. Every meal that you ate was catered. We really had no virtual studio experience recording. So we weren’t prepared to go into the studio. We hadn’t been writing music. We were stage performers. That’s where our heads were. Going into a studio and everything that went in around it, that was fun. We were not crazy about the songs but then again we had no background preparation. We didn’t go in with songs of our own that we wanted to record. We didn’t know that he (Podolor) was changing them and adding people to it, and adding stuff to the album, ’til months after we’d been in the studio and we were gone.

The albums didn’t represent the original band fully but, despite all of that, both LPs are superb garage/psychedelic records. There’s a definite Rolling Stones-like theme running throughout the album. The blues-tinged rock on Let’s Talk About Girls features an airy, spacey production with plenty of energy, light secondary percussion and heavy duty vocals while the Wilson Pickett standard, Midnight Hour, like Girls has enough psychedelic infusion to lend it a slightly otherworldly presentation. When you get to their own penned material, such as Gone And Passes By, the psychedelic aspects flow into the soundstage combining eastern instrumentation, treated vocals and flower power accents. Expo 2000, which was written by the band’s engineer Richie Podolor, is a fuzz guitar-based instrumental with plenty of spaced out sound effects that gives it an almost Joe Meek flavour.

This is a manufactured album where, during its creation, young innocents were sacrificed to the gods of art and avarice. And yet Aguilar confirms that, in the very end, it didn’t really matter. At that precise moment, they were having a ball, “We felt that we had arrived, just on a different level. We weren’t selling records but that didn’t really matter to us at the time.