“Hair! I had hair! Whoa!”
So shrieked Dick Dodd at the Fountain Valley Hop last Wednesday, watching a recently unearthed videotape of himself singing “Dirty Water” as a member of the Standells some 24 years ago.
The 44-year-old singer/drummer’s hairline hasn’t especially taken a hike in the intervening years. But the ultra-Beatles length and style of his Standells’ hair bespoke another era, one when hair was a contentious matter.
“I remember getting kicked out of hotels because we had long hair,” Dodd recalled. “The manager would see us and just say: ‘You’re not staying here.’ People would go, ‘Is it a boy or a girl? Ah, it’s a boy. Gee, you can’t tell nowadays, can you, Martha?’ We got chased around a couple of times down south and shot at by Marines in North Carolina on a tour with Paul Revere and the Raiders. They were mad because their girlfriends had gone to our show. They blew up the pool at the hotel!
“I’d go out of my way back then to be extra-polite so people would go: ‘Just because he has long hair he’s not so bad.’ It’s hard to believe now that for a time you were seen as good or bad by the length of your hair.”
Those hairy times constitute only one aspect of the entertainment experience Dodd has logged. As American culture went through its changes in the ‘60s, Dodd was in situations which practically epitomized them.
In the innocent, squeaky-clean ‘50s, Dodd was one of the original Disney Mousketeers. When the California surfing culture swamped the nation in the early ‘60s, he was in two of the earliest and most influential surf bands, the Belairs and Eddie and the Showmen. When the friction between the emerging youth counterculture and “the establishment” erupted in riots on Sunset Strip in 1967, Dodd’s Standells provided a soundtrack for it (and for a swell American International exploitation flick) with their “Riot on the Sunset Strip.” And, come the ‘70s, Dodd, like so many other entertainers, had to adjust to a less kinetic life.
For the last six years he has led the Dodd Squad, a high-spirited oldies band that appears at the Hop every Wednesday this month. The seven-piece outfit includes Barry Rillera, guitarist with the Righteous Brothers since their first successes; bassist Jose Silva, another Righteous Brothers vet; singer Royce Jones, who has toured with Steely Dan, Ambrosia and the Doobie Brothers; trombonist Lorry Cole, trumpeter Brooks Greer and percussionist Richard Torres.
The gig might seem something of a demotion for someone who used to appear weekly on TV and who once shared a tour with the Stones. But Dodd gives every evidence of having a great time, on stage and off.
“It makes me so happy, just being able to do something like this and having friends,” he said. “Just people going, ‘Hey Dick, how are ya?’ I love that kind of stuff. And once I’m on stage with these people I work with, it just comes from my heart. To be doing that and getting paid to do it, when a lot of people out there can’t find a job doing anything, much less what they love to do, it’s just a great kick for me.”
Dodd, who grew up in Redondo Beach, was 6 when he decided to be an entertainer. Little League lost out “because all the cute girls were in tap-dancing class.” When he was 9, a Disney talent scout spotted him at a recital and told him to audition the next day for the Mousketeers. “I was curious. I had no idea what a Mousketeer was, because there weren’t any yet.”
He wound up auditioning several times, as Disney went through hundreds of children before settling on the final lineup. “It was the best training I ever could have had as a kid,” Dodd said, “listening to directors, lighting men, choreographers. You had to learn fast. You didn’t horse around. Even though you were a kid you had to hit your marks and know your parts.”
It was during his three years on the Mickey Mouse Club that Dodd became interested in drumming and bought a snare drum from Annette Funicello for $20 (“I still don’t know what she was doing with a snare drum”). He was taught to play by the father of the show’s Cubby O’Brien. Though Dodd did some film work, including a dancing role in “Bye Bye Birdie,” his main interest became music. In the early ‘60s he joined the Belairs, whose “Mr. Moto” is regarded by many as the first surf record release.
When one of the guitarists, Eddie Bertrand (also an active Orange County musician today), left to form the louder, more raucous Eddie and the Showmen, Dodd went with him. Soon they were a staple at Buena Park’s Retail Clerks Union Hall and other Southland teen-ager spots, playing their own music and backing up touring stars.
“We did the whole circuit from here almost down to San Diego. They used to have clubs all over the place that were always crowded with kids. The county may have been more conservative then but there wasn’t as much for authorities to get worried about. There wasn’t the drugs or even the drinking. Maybe you’d see two high school guys go out to the car and split a can of beer. That was big time then.”
Among those the Showmen worked with were the Righteous Brothers, and Dodd little suspected that a quarter-century later he’d be playing with their guitarist in a club owned by one of them, Bill Medley.
Another star they backed was Jackie DeShannon, who promptly spirited Dodd away to be her own drummer. Having him lead her band, she also helped groom him for a career as a studio musician. “But I was this teen-ager going, ‘This is no fun hanging around all these older guys.’ God, if I only knew about the people I was hanging around with! This was Glen Campbell, James Burton, Tommy Tedesco, Barney Kessell, Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, this incredible caliber of musician. These were the guys who played on practically every record that came out of L.A., the Beach Boys, everything.
“But I told her I wanted to be in a band situation, and Jackie was the one who got me into the Standells. At that time I just sang a little bit and she’d been coaching me on that. When I joined the Standells I was just their drummer, and then next thing I’m their lead singer. She made me have the confidence in myself. She was really wonderful. I also had a gigantic crush on her.”
With such marginally controversial hits as “Dirty Water,” “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and “Try It,” the Standells were known for a tough, bratty sound and image.
“That image I guess spun off from the way I was, because I was the youngest guy in the band. The rest of the guys were pretty well into their 20s. I was the one going ‘Hey, maaan.’ It sounded like I was always whining . That’s the way I sound on the records, too. It was an attitude I guess I had.”
One Standells album had a sticker reading “Banned” spread across its cover, capitalizing on their “Try It” single, which actually was banned in several U.S. radio markets. Some things never change:
“There was this guy who had a whole bunch of radio stations, and he decided he was going to clean up the record industry, telling parents and kids what they could and couldn’t listen to. The first thing he tried banning was a Stones song, then ‘Try It’ came out and he just jumped on that, because to him it was telling kids to go out and do everything bad, screw around, get high.
“At most it was a halfway kind of make-out song. It was just about trying to have a good time. Try falling in love, a little bit of this and that.”
Though the Standells immortalized the Sunset Strip riots, they appreciated them from a distance.
“We were playing on the Strip, so we were hanging in there with all those people. It was pretty radical seeing all that stuff. But we were never in the middle of it. We saw it happening but we kind of stayed away from it. We were behind them 100%, but we weren’t really at the front with our clenched fists raised high, yelling ‘charge.’ ”
In its heyday the group had its share of screaming fans, TV appearances and national tours, including that one wild jaunt with the Stones. But the Standells got lost in the psychedelic shuffle of the late ‘60s, and Dodd was without prospects when the group disbanded in 1973.
“Like 75% of the bands, management and record companies really ripped us off. They’d keep the boys happy, give them something they weren’t used to having like maybe $500 a week cash in their pocket, and they’d keep the rest. We’re still in a lawsuit with the guys that released ‘Dirty Water’ and all that stuff. We only got one royalty check from ‘Dirty Water,’ ever, and no royalties for most of the other stuff. We’ve been in litigation for almost 20 years.”
Also like a great many other performers, Dodd developed a substance abuse problem.
“You feel so depressed,” he said, “ ‘There’s Dick Dodd, he was in the Standells,’ and you have nothing to show for it. So you try to hide in something. I had a problem, and I could have become fried-over-easy like (a ‘60s L.A. rocker whose excesses were perhaps pushed too hard). That guy looked like somebody sprayed lacquer over his eyes.
“But it all turned around for me because the people around me really cared for me and made me want to care for myself, my family and friends. This was about 15 years ago, before the rehab centers and all that, before it was cool to say you had a problem. I just hung in there and quit what I was doing all by myself.” Dodd wound up selling cars and working a bank job. “I had to wear a suit every day, carry a beeper and have a phone in the car, that kind of stuff. It was good money, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. I like the people business. I’d rather be in a club or restaurant.”
And there he’s been with the Dodd Squad for the last six years. Rather than being a play on the ‘60s TV show “The Mod Squad,” the name is a takeoff on the “Black Sheep Squadron.”
“When we first started out,” Dodd said, “the musicians were rotating in and out all the time, because some of them would be going out on the road with the Righteous Brothers or whatever. So there was like a squadron of musicians we’d use. We met a lot of good friends and good musicians that way.
“Nothing really started moving around here until I met these guys. They are so good, so professional. Once they were in the band, it was like a magnet. We work really well together. I like them, they like me. So it’s not work, its fun every night.”
Dick Dodd and the Dodd Squad play Wednesdays through Aug. 29 from 8 p.m. to midnight at the Hop, 18774 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley. Admission: free. Information: (714) 963-2366.