By day, Will Glover runs his own construction/demolition business, tearing out kitchens and the like. By night, he's spending his day money recording an album of country songs. A couple of times a month, he hits the country bars to perform or compete in talent contests.
He's black and is trying to gain entry to a field that is almost exclusively white. That doesn't especially bother Glover. He's been there, done that.
Back in the early 1960s, there was exactly one black musician who made a mark in the swelling surf-music scene, and it was Glover. His band, the Pyramids, was one of the prime movers in Southern California music. Their tough-sounding instrumental, "Penetration," reached No. 18 on the national charts in early 1964 despite having to compete against the first wave of the British Invasion.
Glover will play that number and others Saturday at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach taking part in a surf guitar "Summit Meeting" that also features members of the Chantays, the Surfaris, Davie Allan & the Arrows, the Astronauts, the Lively Ones, the Challengers and the Belairs, whose guitarist, Paul Johnson, helped organize the event.
In the '60s, Glover's race was rarely an issue, he said. It was practically the least of things that set the Pyramids--whose other four members were white--apart from their contemporaries. The band was too busy getting attention for shaving their heads (in response to the Beatles), showing up at gigs riding elephants and other antics.
These were curious bits of showmanship, especially considering it was Glover's shyness that led to the band's formation.
He was a Navy kid whose family relocated frequently. In 1961 the family moved to Long Beach, where Glover started attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School.
"I was shy and kind of a loner, especially when it came to me and my guitar," Glover recalled. "I was probably one of the only kids back in that time period who carried his guitar to school. It happens now, but it was rare then. In fact, I used to get in trouble over it. But it was my security blanket.
"And that's really how the Pyramids started. Skip (Mercier), who became the lead guitar player, saw me walking across the quad and said, 'Hey, would you teach me how to play the guitar?' And I said, 'Yeah, sure , I don't know how to play it myself.'
"But we got together and figured out how to play a few Ventures tunes, and next thing you know, in two or three months, we had a band," he said. "A couple of months after that we were playing dances."
One day Glover came home to find his mother had bought him a new left-handed, custom burnt-orange-finish Fender Stratocaster. That guitar, now refinished blue, presently hangs in one of the Hard Rock Cafes--Glover doesn't know which one--in tribute to the Pyramids' contributions.
Mercier quickly surpassed Glover on the guitar, but he didn't mind, being the group's singer. Onstage, he found, he wasn't so shy. Not merely an instrumental band, but a surf-R&B-rock; 'n' roll mixture, the Pyramids were soon winning battle-of-the-bands competitions and moving up from teen dances in Elks lodges to concert stages. (For a detailed history of the Pyramids, check out Robert J. Dalley's book "Surfin' Guitars.")
Pyramids' bassist Steve Leonard was an electronics whiz who took to building equipment for the group.
"Steve was a real intelligent guy, and he built FM transmitters in our guitars," Glover said. "They think it's a big deal to have that now. We were doing it way back in 1963. There were people who didn't think we were playing because we didn't have any cords coming out of our guitars. But without those cords, we were up there jumping up and down, doing flips. We really worked on being a show band."
They hooked up with a manager who had an even greater flair for showmanship.
"We used to upstage the Beach Boys all the time," Glover recalled. "They'd think they were really doing something to arrive at a show in a limousine. We'd wait until they got there, and then come in and land in a helicopter. One time we did a gig somewhere--it might have been the Azusa Teen Canteen--where, once again, they came in a limousine, and we came in on elephants . I don't know where our manager got all that stuff."
They played most of the Southern California spots the other surf bands did, including the Retail Clerks Union hall in Buena Park, the Pavalon Ballroom in Huntington Beach and the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula.
After the Chantays' success with "Pipeline," the Pyramids tried for a similar sound in the recording studio on "Penetration," written by Leonard. If Glover reproduces his original contribution to the record at Saturday's show, the audience will be watching him eat.
"For some reason I wasn't feeling it in the studio, and I had a sugar rush. So I said, 'Hey, I'm getting out of here,' went across the street and had my typical meal in those days, which was Hostess cupcakes and a 7-Up. Then heading back I came across Brian Wilson and Mike Love--because the Beach Boys recorded in the same studio--and I started talking to them. And then I remembered 'Uh-oh, we're recording!' And when I got back in the studio, Skip had recorded my guitar part," he said.
Glover's chance to shine was on the flip side. His songwriting and falsetto vocal on "Here Comes Marsha" made it one of the most haunting, though little-known, ballad gems of its time, conjuring bittersweet memories of innocent times. There was certainly no great complexity to the song's origin.
"I wrote it for Steve's girlfriend, Marsha Young. Everybody loved that girl. Everybody wanted to go out with Marsha. So one day I'm out there on the lawn, and there she was, walking down the sidewalk with Steve, so," Glover sang, "here comes Marsha. "
"Penetration" became a Top 10 single locally and was on the charts nearly 20 weeks. (Deejays in Texas flipped the record over to make "Here Comes Marsha" a regional hit.) It did half that well nationally, lasting 10 weeks on the Billboard pop chart, where it peaked at No. 18.
Part of the record's longevity was due to another manager-inspired publicity stunt that got national attention. As an answer to the Beatle haircut, the Pyramids shaved their heads.
"The Beatles were killing everybody then. So he decided: 'Let's go opposite to the Beatles.' I didn't want to go along with it because my hair was pretty long then, and it took forever to get it that long," Glover said.
Onstage, the group would begin its act wearing Beatle wigs and then shake them off to reveal their bald pates. Though Glover shaved his head to go along with the rest of the band, he often kept his wig on.
"Shaved, I felt I was a walking football, so I rarely took the wig off and offstage usually wore hats. We kept it shaved for about a year. And then the Army took it off again as soon as I got it grown back.
"But it did get us a write-up in Look, it made the record take off again and it got us into the movie 'Bikini Beach,' " he said. The band and their bald heads had a prominent place in the 1964 Frankie and Annette flick, which also was Boris Karloff's last film.
Though they got their fame as a surf band, they were still chiefly a vocal act. Only four of the songs on an album that followed the "Penetration" single were instrumentals. Two of these weren't even by the Pyramids but were tracks by others that the producers stuck on the disc.
"There's a version of 'Telstar' on there, and we couldn't even play 'Telstar,' " Glover said with a laugh. "Of course we had to learn it then, because audiences expected us to play it."
Playing bigger concert venues--including one show in front of 18,000 people on a multi-act bill at San Francisco's Cow Palace--the band still got up to pranks. At one where they were slated to open for Ray Charles, the headliner didn't show up.
"So we put glasses and a plaid shirt on me and I went out there sat at the piano and started playing duh dunh dunh dunh, a duh dunh dunh dunh " he said, humming the famous intro to Charles' "What'd I Say."
"We'd been doing that song in our set anyway. As soon as I opened my mouth, they knew I wasn't Ray Charles. They booed us at first, but once we started rocking out, we had them," he said.
Within the band, his race was never an issue. Indeed, "Skip and I were like brothers," Glover said. "If you looked around and saw Skip, you'd know Will was going to be there. You see Will, Skip would be there too. We were together all the time."
He never had any problems locally, though they had some brushes with racism when touring. Restaurants in New Mexico didn't want to serve him, and in Denver, he said, "we had been having a blast just walking around looking at the town. We came back to the hotel and were walking up the stairs when this guy singles me out and goes, 'Hey, porter! Come here.'
"So I carried this guy's bags up the stairs, and the band guys just cracked up," he said. "I just made a joke out of most of that stuff. Mostly we had a lot of fun. I met far more nice people than jerks out there."
Like so many acts at the time, the Pyramids say they made a lot of money they never saw. Glover says they were never paid recording royalties and that any money they did make came from their live performances. At those, he says, they would be delighted to get $500--a hundred apiece for a 45-minute show--only to be shocked later to find that they'd been paid $2,000 and that $1,500 had found its way into other pockets.
The biggest disappointment came when the band was expecting $40,000 from sales of its "Penetration" album. Glover says each band member was to have received $8,000, only to be told the money had all been spent.
"Our bass player and I had our whole futures planned out. He was going to buy a Taco Bell franchise. I was going to buy a McDonald's one--which was $3,500 back then--and put a down payment on a house for my mom and buy myself a cheap car that ran well. I figured I could make money with my hamburgers while I played my music and I'd be set for life."
Instead, he and Skip went into the Army Reserve for a time in the mid-'60s, and when they came out they started a club band called the Family Cat that worked Orange County nightclubs until 1973, when Glover got married and became tired of elusive paydays of the musical life.
He moved from his home in Anaheim--"This one woman had refused to sell me her home because she said I'd ruin the neighborhood, so I bought a house around the corner instead," he said, laughing--to a ranch in Riverside. When his mother became ill, he moved back to Anaheim in the late-'80s to be near her, and old friends encouraged him to take up music again.
"I've always written songs, and I find that some of them fit right in there in country. I didn't know I was a country writer all this time," he said.
The album he's recording will feature local country luminaries including Browne and members of Boy Howdy. He expects the venture to cost him well over $10,000, and he hopes to have it ready to try shopping it to music-industry folks at the country Fanfest in Pomona in May.
"I want someone to hear about me after I've spent all my money doing this," he said. "I feel it is going to be hard. There are only a couple of black people in country music now, but I don't hear any big noise about them, so maybe they're just typical country players.
"I don't want to be just a typical country player," he said. "I want to make a mark. I don't want to just go in there and say, 'I'm a black guy doing country.' I want to go in there and kick some butt."
* The Legendary Heroes of the Surf Guitar Summit Meeting play Saturday at the Lighthouse, 30 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach. 4 to 8 p.m. $6 . (310) 376-9833.