The Lil' Boys Blue classic I'm Not There is regarded highly enough to be included on Back From The Grave Volume 1. The band, hailing
from Sunnyvale California, released only one single, but played throughout the Garden State and into Las Vegas. Considered among the
top three or four bands in the area, they unfortunately called it quits during a period when many bands were still just forming. Lead
guitarist Larry Diehl recently performed in public again for the "first time in ages." It's comforting to know that a part of the Lil'
Boys Blue lives on!
An Interview With Larry Diehl
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Larry Diehl (LD): My dad, Larry Sr., was a bay area musician through my early childhood years. He played guitar and double bass and sang with various country western and popular music bands, including a brief stint on Cottonseed Clark's local radio program. Dad would also play at home parties where everyone would sing along. At about three years old, dad would sit me on his knee and have me strum a song while he played the chords. At four, he introduced me to the ukulele by teaching me three chords (C, F and G7) and a song entitled Honey Dear. Like dad, I could always hear the changes and sing on key, so it was a short stretch from the uke to the guitar and to becoming one of the regular 'performers' at family get togethers. My first stage performance, came when I was four years old, where I played my uke and sang (Honey Dear) during an intermission at a local movie theater. Apparently, such talent contests where typical in the early '50's. I took first place that day, which I suppose could be counted as my first 'Battle of the Bands' win!
60s: Your first band, I believe, was the Ri-Tones formed in 1961. What was the impetus to form a group in those pre-Beatle days?
LD: I realize the liner notes on Back From the Grave Vol. 1 referred to my first group as the "Ri-Tones." The group was actually called The Tri-Tones, consisting of myself on guitar, a sax player and a drummer. You're right in that those were pre-Beatles and pre-surf days. My early influences were Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, and of course, Elvis. It was, however, Richie Valens who first captured my interest as someone around my age playing rock on an electric guitar, but mostly featuring his voice. I found that I could easily recreate most of his tunes and maybe even sound a little like him. Looking back, I suppose it was the combination of finding a contemporary I could relate to, and the reaction I got from audiences (okay, girls) that hooked me.
60s: After the Beatles "arrived", the band changed names to The Conquests...
LD: "For Top Show and Dance Entertainment: The Conquests." At least that's what the sky blue mosaic band cards read. It was more the emergence of surf music that drove the name change. We added/changed some players and began performing tunes like Pipeline and Perfidia at school functions. From there we began to play frat parties - mostly at San Jose State, where we, of course, expanded our set list to include Louie Louie and the like. From there, of all things, we began to perform at society functions in and around San Francisco. Our manager at the time was somehow connected to the social elite of the day, so we would find ourselves playing rock music for socialite functions where young debs would inevitably have too much to drink, get sick and find it mentioned in the society page on Monday morning, along with an occasional reference to the band.
The real story of The Conquests began with an out-of-the-blue phone call one day in 1962. All in one breath, this 15-year old voice on the other end said, "Hello my name is David Westberry and I just moved here (Sunnyvale, California) from Bellingham, Washington. I play guitar and I heard you do too. Do you wanna start a band?" Who could have resisted such a offer? We met the next day and The Conquests were born.
60s: What was the California music scene like both before and after The Beatles hit?
LD: Before the Beatles, playing in a 'rock' band was something of a rarity. It really wasn't until The Beach Boys and their contemporaries hit that you found guys bleaching the front of their hair and learning one-string solos on cheap electric guitars. My ax of choice (that would be whatever I could afford) was a solid body, double cutaway Sears Silvertone electric with a 6" speaker/amp installed in the guitar case. As cool as I thought I was with my Silvertone guitar, it was, again David who turned me on to quality guitars. Somewhere around my 15th birthday, David had his parents co-sign for my first fender electric and Gibson amplifier. It was a Fender Squire and I believe Gibson's first amp with reverb and tremolo on board. David bought a Fender Jaguar and a matching Gibson amp that same day. The deal was that we would pay off the equipment via gigs. Never mind the fact that we had none lined up!
This little drama was probably playing itself out across the nation with countless other burgeoning rockers, but again, it sure wasn't obvious to us at the time. There simply was no network of music or musicians available to us.
When The Beatles hit and later the British Invasion, life as we knew it changed completely and forever. We became huge Beatle fans, and later, even bigger Kinks and Yardbird followers. The Yardbirds, for example, taught us how to control feedback and make it yet another instrument or 'voice.' My hearing loss today from kneeling down in front of those Fender Bandmaster and Showman amps is significant - though I must admit I wouldn't have changed a thing. The British Invasion also brought with it slightly more complex arrangements requiring us to learn more changes than the standard three or four chord rock progressions. What we did not know, of course, was that they were merely applying the same chord arrangements that they grew up on in England...Till There Was You, for example.
If The Beatles wore a particular jacket, hat, pants, or even belt buckle, so too did we. If The Beatles began to play certain acoustic and electric guitars, so too did we. We would, in fact, sell our current equipment and go into hock for the balance just to buy the same guitars. I even knew guys who would fake an English accent to impress girls, or to give them a leg-up in joining a band. I simply can't imagine how music would have evolved without The Beatles.
60s: Where was The Lil' Boys Blue formed, what year, and by whom? Again, why the name change?
LD: The name Lil' Boys Blue was also a direct response to the British Invasion. It simply had a more European feel to it than The Conquests. I think it was our keyboard player, Ed Willis, who actually came up with the name. We were rehearsing at our apartment in Santa Clara at the time. Ed and Rick Puncoshire, our drummer, were both attending San Jose State at the time, so I think the rest of us looked to them to provide business leadership and direction. My role was more one of musical director. I would work out the tunes and teach them to the rest; usually playing and singing lead. The funny thing is, I never really considered myself a lead guitarist. I played mostly by feel and rarely sat down and tried to lean a particular lead lick by lick - turns out David was much better at that than I. David, however, became our rhythm guitarist and back up vocalist. Much later, in the early '80's, David converted to drums and joined an incarnation of The Syndicate of Sound but that's another story.
So when did the name change occur? I'm going to guess between '64 and '65. There was to be yet one more name change to The Hilton Trolley (catch The Jefferson Airplane cop?) as more psychedelic music began to take over the scene in '65 and '66. To be honest, I never much cared for either The Hilton Trolley or Lil' Boys Blue as a band's name - but then, I suppose, in the end, it's the band that makes the name and not vice versa. We later opened for The Dave Clark Five at the San Jose Civic Auditorium and had some friends (groupies?) built us a replica of the front of a trolley car that we sat behind the band. We also threw out little plastic eyeballs that blinked when you tilted them which read "Keep you eye on The Hilton Trolley." What were we thinking?!
60s: Did The Lil' Boys Blue have a manager? If so, how instrumental was he/she in promoting the band?
LD: We had a few managers over the years, and no, I don't think any really knew how to promote bands. They probably just had a good line to sell fame-seeking musicians. A 'Jerry' and a 'Richard' come to mind when I think of The Lil Boys Blue years. Richard came first; a recent drop out from a seminary in San Francisco. Richard was apparently trying to make up for lost time, as he dove into managing bands and dating women. He was actually a very nice guy, he just lacked the confidence and drive we were looking for at the time. At the other end of the scale was Jerry - the quintessential fast talking, high energy promoter, who knew every one in town and told us so at every opportunity. Jerry was known for taking his fork and swirling everything on his dinner plate into one big brown casserole before he would eat a bite. His logic: "It's all going to end up that way anyway." We avoided eating with Jerry whenever possible.
60s: Where did the band typically play?
LD: We played fairly consistently, especially after releasing I'm Not There. Our local bookings were often at skate arenas where promoters could book the entire arena for the evening; erect stages at both ends of the floor, hire a couple of bands and the requisite rent-a-cops, hand out mimeographed flyers to anyone and everyone, and you had yourself a concert.
We also played frequently at teen centers such as Lacy's in Los Altos and the Whatzit Club in San Jose. The latter was also a favorite hall to hold Battle of the Band competitions in which we played many an evening. Our main competition, if you will, in those days was The Jaguars and The Night Riders. Both groups, as you probably already know, featured horn sections and produced very full, and soulful arrangements. I think The Jaguars' lead singer was one Kathy Mattis. We loved to hear Kathy belt out a James Brown tunes while we were backstage awaiting our turn. If memory serves, I believe we won most of the competitions we entered. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that we played the more popular "English Sound" of the day. Said another way, The Night Riders and The Jaguars were probably better musicians than we were, but they may have been just a bit dated for their audience at that time. They were both, however, outstanding groups.
In promoting I'm Not There, we played often at some hall (?) in Monterey. The record had, for whatever mysterious reasons, taken off in that market, so we were know before we got there. We also played a stint at the Teen Beat Club in Las Vegas and at the Carrousel on Fremont Street. It was at the Teen Beat Club where we were asked to front a local talent. We were told every band that played there was obligated to allow this person (Charlie White Eagle) perform a few numbers with them. As it turned out it was really only a cruel joke on this poor mentally challenged local guy who fancied himself a singer. These days it would be considered really poor taste, but I'm sure we all had a good laugh at his expense. Hopefully, Charlie got something good out of the deal.
60s: How far did the band's touring territory extend?
LD: Mostly the San Francisco Bay Area, but really throughout the state and into Las Vegas, Nevada.
60s: How did you land the Teen Beat Club booking out in Vegas?
LD: One other, unmentioned and brief manager, Steve. Not sure how he got the gig - we just went where we were told. We all rode there in his Toyota Land Cruiser (MUCH smaller than today's models) with our eqipment on top and in a small trailer, while listening to Wolfman Jack - "strap on sweathog" - through the desert night. We played there a few weeks as I recall, maybe even a return trip - sorry, memory fails.
60s: How would you best describe the band's sound?
LD: I mentioned TheYardbirds and The Kinks, but there were many others (that influenced us). Oddly enough, we also liked James Brown and His Famous Flames. At one gig, I even recall adding a blues harp lead to Out of Sight. Go figure. Locally, our heroes were The Syndicate of Sound of Hey Little Girl fame. Their manager, Fred Brooks, formed them and held them back from performing until they were stage ready and note perfect. We idolized the way they seemed to be able to play new songs, sometimes the same day they hit the radio. They would come on stage and say something to the effect of, "Here's something we learned in the van on the way here tonight, and then launch into perfect rendition of The Beatles' Drive My Car. Later, we got to know the guys when we would appear on the same bill. I can still hear their powerful opening number by The Yardbirds: I'm Not Talkin'.
60s: Do you have any recollections of other local bands of the time?
LD: A quick laundry list would have to include: The Syndicate of Sound, The People, The Jaguars, Fugitives 2x2, Chocolate Watchband, Harbinger Complex, E-Types, Night Riders, Count Five, Trolls, The Dutch Masters, and of course, The Golliwogs.
Recollections are many, though some will stay on the road, as the saying goes. I do, however, recall an engagement at a local strip club of all places where one of the acts came on stage wearing shades...at night. We hadn't really seen much of that up until then, so we were easily impressed. The singer had a cocky way about him and a really strong rock voice. When hadn't heard of The Golliwogs before, but with their release of Suzie Q and a name change, we soon began telling everyone that we knew Credence and John Fogerty, when.
60s: How popular locally did The Lil Boys Blue become?
LD: I suppose we were known as one of the top three or four groups of the day.
60s: Where was your single, Take You Away b/w I'm Not There, recorded?
LD: It was recorded at Golden State Studios in San Francisco. Our then socialite manager, Mike, set it up such that we were sandwiched between vocal groups recording jingles for local TV spots. I couldn't even tell you how may tracks they had, though I do recall being miked in directly and not playing "live" as it were. All in all, it was a heady experience and one that I would get to do more of in various capacities through the years. The Lil' Boys Blue, however, only recorded two other tracks, Just For Laughs and Reason Why.
60s: Who wrote the songs?
LD: I don't remember having much of a hand in the writing those days. To give credit where it's due, I think that was more David and Alan's purview.
60s: The single was released on Batwing Records, the band's own label. Who's idea was it to create a label?
LD: The label came out of a failed attempt to have Epic pick us up. I seem to recall an association with Epic or Epic producers to form the semi-independent off-shoot label called Batwing. You need to keep in mind that the Batman television series was the hottest thing going at the time..hence the now strange name of the label.
60s: Did any other bands record on the label, or was it a one-shot for The Lil' Boys Blue?
LD: I'm not aware of any other Batwing releases.
60s: What about other Lil' Boys Blue releases/recordings? Are there any vintage live recordings or existing unreleased songs?
LD: Just the two I mentioned earlier, Just For Laughs and Reason Why. As far as I know, these were never released and remain on some, probably brittle large studio tape somewhere? There are no other live recordings that I'm aware of.
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
LD: None that I know of.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
LD: It had a lot to do with our goals around "making it." Our keyboard player, Ed, had promised his wife Carol, that if the band was not picked up by a major label by 1966, he would leave music and devote full time to his academic pursuits. We tried to go it without him but when David left, we all knew we had run our course, and simply stopped performing at some point in 1966. Disallusioned, we all just went our own ways. David got married and went into the Army, Ed graduated and later became a professor at at college in Iowa, Rick focused on school and later became a born again Christain, and we lost Alan to lung cancer a few years later. I began a career at Hewlett Packard which spaned 35 years.
60s: What about today? What keeps you busy?
LD: I am now pursuing a career in writing books. Coincidentally, for the first time in ages, I recently sat in with a band at a party at a friend's winery in Loomis, California. We billed ourselves as The Grinding Rock All Stars - Platinum Edition. It was great to feel the heft of a Stratocater over my shoulder again. With a little coaxing, I may even return for an encore performance next year. Beyond that, I remain quite happy in my life here in Northern California with my wife of 37 years, a dog and a cat and a 32-year old son who is engaged to marry a wonderful woman next year. A pretty sweet life, all in all.
Larry Diehl - Lead guitar and lead vocal
David Westberry - Rhythm guitar and background vocal
Alan Ramsey - Bass Guitar and background vocal
Ed Willis - Keyboards
Rick Puncoshire - Drums
Jim Bolton - Sax (We also had a sax player for some time but found less need for such an instrument as we evolved the sound from rhythm and blues or surf to the English sound)
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