Rhythm and Blues in Long Beach: The Early Cruising Days

Posted: January 27, 2011 in cruising

By Steve Propes

Some of us who recall the hard-to-believe pre-MP3 age still exist, but in dwindling numbers. Before the Internet and digital media of any sort, vinyl – and to a smaller extent, magnetic tape – ruled all the land.

It was two decades after shellac product and highly breakable 78s vanished in slow death throes and two years before the widespread introduction of CDs and the even slower death of vinyl, which continues to this moment. It was a neither-nor time.

For me, the story really began in about 1960 when my high school chum Bill Soon and I used to cruise Anaheim Street and Hody’s Drive-In in his ’56 Chevy two door, his in-car record player blasting songs like “Work With Me Annie” and “Sixty Minute Man”…and don’t forget “Church Key,” a blasting surf-styled instrumental with the sound effects of a beer can popping open in the intro. Not that we ever partook of alcoholic beverages…we were underage, mind you.

The story of cruising began much earlier than that, like 1954 or so, according to my friend Jim Lamarind, who was a Poly High student, class of ’53. Jim’s recollections of cruising were so much cooler than mine, because his normal route took him up and down Atlantic and across PCH to Alamitos where he passed Ray Robinson’s Record Rack, the owner/DJ Robinson broadcasting live on KFOX radio spinning R&B sounds from the store window, where he’d describe the passing cruisers, who was driving them and sending out dedications between the records he was probably paid to play, such was the custom of the time. At least that’s Lamarind’s recollection. Then the store became Conley’s Record Rack and Johnny Otis took over the show for a very short period.

It was a galaxy of ’57 canary yellow Chevies, ’54 primer gray Ford sedans, ’49 Mercs with blue tail lights, all sorts of GM and Ford products, mostly lowered, controlled by 16 and 17-year old males. Few if any Studebakers, Metropolitans, Ramblers, or anything foreign like the Peugot, the Citroen or the Bug.

Of course, there were other cruising routes. Many of them were anchored by a Clock or a Grisinger’s Drive-In. Bellflower Blvd., Lakewood Blvd. and various other important routes attracted cruisers. Car clubs like the Huns and Vandals of Lakewood, Outcasts and Townsmen of Long Beach, African American clubs out of Poly like the Rod Twisters which became the Dual Headers and the legendary Pharaohs out of Wilmington, who were reputed to have control of the cannon on the park near the Banning House aimed at Pacific Coast Highway that could blast out any out of town club car that would be foolish enough to pass their way traveling from South Bay to Long Beach.

Lamarind became a big jazz fan and ran the jazz department at Wallich’s Music City in Lakewood, where one day he helped Ray Charles on a surprise visit. That story shall be saved for a later column.

For now, it’s 1960 and being basically lazy, I had no job; no wheels; so depending on the kindness of others, the cruising part was left up to Bill. And his in-dash vinyl system, records that were different from music in any other car, “American Graffiti” without Wolfman Jack or even rock and roll radio (in those days the Mighty 690 from Rosarita Beach, KFWB, KRLA and KGFJ – later KTYM with Huggy Boy and Godfrey), including one memorable visit to the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa to see and hear Dick Dale, whose reputation had grown by legend. It was well worth the gas money.

Onward down the inexorable path of insane and reckless buying of out-of-print 45 rpm records.

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Comments
  1. mark goodale says:

    don’t forget cruising down “Whittier Blvd” from Whittier all the way through east L.A.

  2. Bob King says:

    Steve….nice piece, thanks. No “Memory Lane” on this piece for me……my “time frame” earlier than this one.

    But, basically, same stuff, only different vehicles and different cruising routes and different music and, perhaps, different beer. But maybe same Olympia, A1 and other similar stuff to be consumed at the east end of Second Street ……all tules and a great place for “submarine races” and “snipe hunting”. Ah yes.

    There were times we ended up on Signal Hill for the submarine races, too ……much better view.

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