Rhythm and Blues in Long Beach: The Early Cruising Days Pt. 2

Posted: January 28, 2011 in Bixby Knolls, records, roads and streets

To find an example of how not only music, but how the entire culture has changed in the past half century, one only has to consider changes in Long Beach and the entire Southern California landscape a mere fifty years ago. That’s when cruising Hodys, or the Clock or Grisinger‘s Drive-In Restaurants was at its zenith.

Jim Lamirand, Poly student body president in the early 1950s, recalled more of the cruising scene. “There was a Clock Drive-In, all around town. Car clubs cruised the most, Carson & Atlantic, if you had a club, you could mount your plaque, the Cutouts and the Renegades went to the Clock, then to Grisingers at Atlantic and San Antonio.”

Grisingers #3 was at 2955 Bellflower Blvd., the current location of Burger King at Spring Street. But the most popular drive-in, Hodys, owned by the Hodemaker family had locations in Lakewood near Wallich’s Music City and at PCH and Anaheim.

“We would cruise down Atlantic, then at 1200 E. PCH, we’d go east past Ray Robinson’s Record Rack. He had a radio show and would talk about the cruisers as we drove by.”

According to Bill Soon, Wilson class of 1960, “the Clock was on PCH right across the street from the Circle Inn Motel at the Traffic Circle, south of what was The La Ronde Rue restaurant that became the Cinamon Cinder.” In the same area was an Oscar’s Drive-In as well as one at Carson and Woodruff. Popular spots during the day, almost totally forgotten these days.

But all the eating wasn’t all high class. “There was a greasy spoon on 7th St. just across from Wilson, Robbie’s Steak House. Notably, no steak was ever served at Robbie’s. But you could get a basket of fries for a dime, and his jukebox was constantly kicking out the round sounds. ‘High Blood Pressure’ by Huey Smith & the Clowns was a big favorite there. A regular crowd hung out there daily, after school.”

“My memories of cruising are passing the hat to get .75 cents worth of gas so that we could cruise around for the weekend (at 30 cents a gallon or so),” Soon recalled.

Soon who drove a ’56 VW, then a ’56 Chevy, after he wrecked the VW, clearly
recalled “sitting in Hodys, watching guys you knew cruise by in a beautiful pearlescent white ’49 Olds fastback, except for the purplish streak down the rear window caused by the guy who had consumed too much sloe gin, his head hanging over the bottom of the window as they cruised through repeatedly.”

But best of all, Soon recalled “were the blended sounds of many car radios and car record players at Hody’s and other drive-ins belting out the good sounds in the summer night.”

And no self-respecting lowered cruiser behind the wheel of a ’49 Mercury with blue tail lights – now also an infraction – or ’55 Chevy – not to mention driver – would be caught listening to top 40 radio. No, man. Art LaBoe, Huggy Boy, Hunter Hancock or Ray Robinson on a low power station like KGFJ or Wolfman Jack on a border radio station or better yet, out of a customized in-dash record player – a Norelco or an ARC (RCA spelled sideways) spinning 45s, sometimes custom made 45s, which they’d gladly put on metal acetates at Wenzel’s Music in Downey, for a fee of course.

Popular cruising sides were “Rumble” by Link Wray; most anything by Dick Dale & the Deltones in the early 1960s and rare 45s by Little Julian Herrera, just to name a few. Main local cruising routes were Atlantic, PCH, Anaheim St. and even Lakewood and Bellflower Blvd.

Car culture began early in post-World War II popular music. The King Cole Trio’s “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” was a major hit in 1946. Felix Figueroa recorded the novelty, “Pico & Sepulveda,” not a hit at all in 1947, but huge when Dr.  Demento got a hold of it.

Then came records about popular locations, like jazz tenor sax player Jimmy Giuffre, who came up with “Big Boy” at the Lighthouse in honor of the new Bob’s Big Boy in 1952 and the Robins who sang about “Smokey Joe’s Café” in 1955, a song than became a popular stage play about the Coasters, but which ex-Robins member Grady Chapman complained he had to pay to get into.

In 1962, the Pastel Six sang about “Cinamon Cinder,” a teenage night club located at the Traffic Circle with another location in the Valley. The Starfires did the Long Beach-oriented “Jordan Stomp” in 1962.

The two cruising-est records of all time were “Whittier Blvd.” by Thee Midniters out of East L.A. in 1965 and the War’s #1 record of 1975, “Low Rider,” created by Long Beach musician and low rider Chuck Miller, whose ride was featured on the picture sleeve.

Such sums up the state of Long Beach and Southern California cruising culture between 1946 and 1975 – roughly.

  1. I was Wilson class 56-57 and once a OUTCAST’s car club member and cruised Hody’s many nights and there was another drive-in further up PCH … Also would run down to Laguna for a look and a coke at another one that slips my mind. Would try to get into the Alcopoco Inn in Belmont Shore for beer and made in once in a while… Remember the T Lords and Beachcomber… It was a different time and good West Coast Jazz like Chet Baker and Jerry Mulligan.. Howard Rumsy’s All Stars at the Lighthouse… Great memories.

    • Bob King says:

      Dennis….good stuff, thanks.

      How I remember the Acapulco Inn, especially T. Lord’s and the Beachcomber. Also recall the Tam O’Shanter Drive-in, The Ark, the Huntress and the Anchorage on 62nd Place.

      Knew Frank Rossolino very well. Also knew a couple of other Lighthouse Allstar dudes.

      Here’s an interesting, at least to me note, Howard Rumsey lives here at Baywood Apartments about six units from my place. I see him about twice a week at the patio by the main pool.

      Howard’s 94 and is a tad slow mentally……has a little trouble remembering some things (don’t we all?), but sharp as a tack in other things. We talk music, mostly. He has a caretaker, but is still ambulatory.

      I’m now 78 (my youngest daughter told me not to worry because “78 is the new 77” …..I feel sooooo much better) and, back in the day, was able to spend a lot of time on Pier Avenue at The Lighthouse. A different time, indeed……no more of the “coolest jazz”, West Coast stuff.

      No more Mulligan or Chet Baker (I have a VHS tape of his Tokyo concert [Let’s Get Lost]) that I watch on occasion….yeah, still have my VCR hooked up! If you’ve got one, I’ll loan you the Baker VHS for your viewing pleasure.

      So much talent around in those days who played the kind of music I like. Do you recall a gent by the name of Paul Smith? Had a trio (most of the time), but when he couldn’t get some of the cheapskate bar owners to pony up for the trio, played a one-man gig. Guy was phenomenal…..just never quite made it “over the hump” to a big-time career.

      I had a ’52 Plymouth convertible, leaded and lowered (of course) with the most bitchin’ Plymouth green paint job that I took to Biloxi, Mississippi when I was stationed at Keesler AFB in that lovely city in 1953-54 while in radio school. Had a 45 record player in glove box……45s with the Four Freshmen, Stan Kenton, Anita O’Day and bunches of others. Blew those Rednecks away!!

      Miss Rossolino, Giuffre, Rumsey, Bob Cooper, Barney Kessell, Shorty Rogers, Maynard Ferguson, Frank Patchen, Milt Bernhart, Shelley Mann and soooooo many other talented “real” musicians. Fortunately, they’ve all been immortalized on vinyl/tapes and CDs.

      Enough rambling.

      See you around campus.

      Bob King

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