In the late 1950s and early '60s, rock 'n' roll was really "happening," 30-year-old Carlsbad resident Domenic Priore said just the other day.
"It was simple, innocent, upbeat and made for dancing. "And you can't really do any better than that."
Priore's trying to bring some of the joyful sounds (and sights) of first-wave rockers back in the spotlight. He's producing a weekly television dance show modeled after such long-ago teen tube favorites as "Shindig" and "Hullabaloo."
The half-hour program with the '60s-style title "It's Happening" has aired on public-access cable TV stations in Los Angeles since last September and Austin, Tex. since April. "It's Happening" makes its San Diego debut tonight.
The show consists of Priore and his co-host, Audrey Moorehead, spinning classic rockabilly, Mod, surf-rock, soul, girl-group, and British Invasion discs; screenings of vintage music film clips like the Castaways doing "Liar Liar" and the Spencer Davis Group doing "I'm a Man," and live performances by a handful of house bands, including the Event and the Nashville Ramblers from San Diego, and Fresno's Quagmire.
Throughout the program, the makeshift dance floor inside the studios of Daniels Cablevision in Carlsbad, where the show is filmed, is abuzz with upward of 30 twisting and shouting teens dressed in period apparel: girls in go-go boots and mini-skirts, guys in tab-collar shirts and pegged pants.
Shows of this sort were generated after the Beatles' first appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964. That show "grabbed such a huge share of the television audience that every network, and many independent stations in cities all over America, launched their own shows devoted entirely to teen-age rock 'n' roll music," Priore said.
"By the late 1960s, however, everyone was getting into drugs and Vietnam, and that took away the original spirit of rock 'n' roll. The shows were canceled.
"Ever since, I've really missed them, and now I'm finally in a position to do something about it," Priore said. "'It's Happening' isn't just influenced by all those old shows, it's a direct take-off.
"We play only music from that time period, either on record, on film, or live, performed by bands--doing covers as well as their own '60s-style originals--that use all the original equipment and amps to get the right sound."
Priore was born in Pasadena and raised in nearby Monterey Park. As a child, he grew up listening to AM radio and watching teen dance shows on TV--and what he heard, and saw, made quite a formidable impression.
"Having heard the great sounds of original rock 'n' roll, the music that came out after about 1966 could never satisfy me," Priore said. "Rock was starting to mellow out and take on this pretentious idea of being serious; it was no longer simple, no longer upbeat, no longer fun. Rock 'n' roll had lost its original good feeling."
While studying broadcast journalism at Pasadena City College in 1985, Priore began to hang out at the Cavern Club in Los Angeles, an underground dance club that would have fit right in to the pop scene in Liverpool, circa 1962.
"Seeing there were young people into Mod and rockabilly and all these other sub-genres of the big rock picture excited me to the point where I felt I could find the right kind of audience, the right kind of music, and the right kind of bands to put together a TV dance show of my own," Priore said.
He promptly recruited Cavern Club deejay Audrey Moorehead to join him, and, by the end of the year, the two produced several prototypes in the college broadcast studio.
They continued to "film, improve, and stockpile," Priore said, for the ensuing four years, until they finally felt they had a professional product worthy of public broadcast.
In the meantime, Priore wrote a book, "Look! Listen! Vibrate! SMILE!", about the Beach Boys' landmark 1966 "Smile" sessions.
"It's Happening" made its official TV debut in September, 1989, on five different Los Angeles cable public-access channels. The program was picked up by Austin's citywide cable company the following April, and, beginning tonight, will be seen in San Diego as well.
Three local cable companies will air the program Friday nights, on their respective public-access stations: Cox Cable (Channel 24, 1 a.m.), Daniels Cablevision/Carlsbad (Channel 3, 7 p.m.), and North County's Dimension Cable (Channel 8, 8 p.m.).
The show will also be carried by Southwestern Cable (Channel 16, 6 p.m. Saturdays) and Daniels Cablevision/Del Mar (Channel 38, 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays).
Saturday night, to celebrate the local premiere of "It's Happening," the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach night will be hosting a concert featuring two of the program's regulars, the Event and Quagmire. Between sets, Priore and Moorehead will screen music film clips of bands like the Kinks, the Yardbirds, and the Rolling Stones. Eventually, Priore said, he'd like to see the program on commercial TV. But, before he begins pitching "It's Happening" to production companies in the hopes of landing a distribution deal, he said, he wants to get the show on as many public-access stations around the country as he can.
"I'm still sticking with my original plan, which is to air it everywhere and make it popular so that when I do pitch it to production companies, they won't try to ruin it, they'll keep it just the way it is, because it will already have proven itself," Priore said.
"That's really important to me: I don't want anyone to modernize it or change it in any way. I wouldn't want it to lose its impact, and besides, there's already much too much of that computerized-beat dance stuff out there, as it is."