DJ JONATHAN TOUBIN’S 10 FAVORITE THEE MIDNITERS 45s!
(Thee Midniters—one of L.A. RECORD‘s favorite bands, and one of L.A.’s best bands!—will be performing an all-rockers set at Jonathan Toubin’s Soul Clap and Dance Off at the Regent Theater downtown this Saturday, June 18, with support from fellow 60s monsters the Premiers and right-now’s ripping Thee Commons. Since it’s obviously an honor to get to DJ with this band, Toubin sent us this ode-slash-guide to Thee Midniters. Check out our archival interview with Thee Midniters here and enter to win tickets here right after you take this trip down Whittier Boulevard …)
Over the last half-century, Thee Midniters have remained legends in their hometown East L.A.—they were one of the tightest and most versatile local show bands, dependably turning out burning ballads and dance party hits decade after decade and playing everywhere from weddings to auditoriums. But for many contemporary fans—some thousands of miles from southern California—Thee Midniters are one of the most wildly unique, musical, and heaviest rock ’n’ roll outfits of the 1960s. Like a number of American garage bands, their faster sides were played hard, recorded raw, and inspired by both British Invasion and American rhythm and blues. But Thee Midniters stand out from the rest in that they wrote so many exceptional tracks and executed them with emotional fire, taste, stunning dynamics, and elaborate arrangements. They possessed one of the tightest, grooviest, and most interesting rhythm sections, a harmonically sophisticated horn section, fuzzed-out guitars, swirling organ, and the tuneful and soulful vox of Little Willie G.
To put it simply: I don’t hesitate to say that Thee Midniters are easily one of the best rock ’n’ roll bands to ever walk this earth.
Saturday’s Midniters’ set at the Soul Clap and Dance-Off at the Regent Theater—featuring the talents of longtime vocalist Greg Esparza—will focus on their roaring killer dillers. What follows are eleven of the stellar Midniters sides I regularly turn at my parties. Though I ripped all of these from my personal copies of the original singles, you can find these tracks still in print on Norton Records’ rock-solid In Thee Midnite Hour LP compilation and some of the label’s two-sided hit 45 reissues. Make Thee Midniters your new favorite band! And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hear some of these live this weekend…
“Whittier Blvd” (Chattahoochee, 1965)
Let’s take a trip down Whittier Boulevard! The Midniters’ anthem is an instrumental with added sound effects evoking a cruise down East L.A.’s iconic main drag: ground zero to zoot suits in the 1940s, low riders from the 1950s on, and the swingin’ youth culture in the 1960s … You’re hearing The Rolling Stones’ “2120 South Michigan Avenue” given a full Midniters makeover!
“Jump, Jive And Harmonize” (Whittier, 1967)
My favorite Midniters track! Their punkest number is also their most soulful. With a mammoth riff, one of Little Willie G’s most exciting vocal performances, breathtaking dynamics and a killer drum break, this is one of the most action-packed workouts ever committed to wax! You got the soul, baby!
“Everybody Needs Somebody” (Whittier, 1967)
Originally a Solomon Burke / Bert Berns 1964 Atlantic soul hit, and further popularized by the Rolling Stones in 1965 and Wilson Pickett in 1966—and made even more famous by The Blues Brothers in 1980—Thee Midniters’ “Everybody Needs Somebody” is by far the most rocking version—all decked out in fuzz and urgency and Thee Midnite Feeling!
“Never Knew I Had It So Bad” (Whittier, 1967)
Of all of Thee Midniters’ recordings, this is their most straight-forward garage rock and the band proves that they can effortlessly deliver a snarly fuzzbox pounder with the best of ‘em.
“Love Special Delivery” (Whittier, 1966)
“Hawaii Five-O” takes a trip to the garage and gets its groove on! The horn arrangement, the propulsive dance beat, and the raw screamin’ rock ’n’ roll vocals combine to make this one of thee coolest and most distinctive jams of its time. It remains a sure thing on dance floors everywhere!
“Land Of A Thousand Dances Part 1” (Chattahoochee, 1965)
Thee Midniters’ stunning debut was their biggest national hit, peaking at #67 on the Billboard charts. This one was recorded live at a high school gig when (legend has it) Thee Midniters’ original singer Little Ray Jimenez didn’t turn up to the gig and Willie Garcia filled in, killed it, and became the band’s new lead vocalist! Little Ray went on to do all kinds of cool records of his own and become a teen idol in the process. “Land of a Thousand Dances,” originally a New Orleans Chris Kenner twist-era jam, was a huge hit for East L.A. gods Cannibal and the Headhunters, but then this wild bunch hijacked it and upped the ante! Their next release was a condensed studio version of “Land of a Thousand Dances.” Both were a year before Wilson Pickett’s version propelled the “na … na na na na na … na na na na … na na na na na na” to the Top 10!
“I Found A Peanut” (Chattahoochee, 1966)
Howie Pyro says Thee Midniters made up his favorite track in the studio as a B-Side to “Are You Angry” and didn’t play it again until the DJ legend convinced them to revisit it at the 2013’s Norton Records benefit. Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds took a righteous stab at “I Found A Peanut” on their 2009 In The Red LP Dracula Boots and keep this oddity alive as a staple of their blazing live sets.
“Empty Heart” (Chattahoochee, 1965)
Like “Whittier Blvd” (”2120 South Michigan Avenue”), Thee Midniters found this one on the Rolling Stones’ game changing 12 X 5 LP! Once again East L.A.’s finest pick up the pace, translate the guitar riff into an imaginative horn arrangement, and throw some splashy Farfisa into the mix. Little Willie G’s vocal performance is more soul-inflected than Jagger’s and is enhanced by some very cool harmonies.
“Dragon-Fly” (Whittier, 1967)
Thee Midniters blow thee summer of love open with this cool and crazy surrealist cartoonish instrumental masterpiece that is beyond category and description. Their “Dragon-Fly” is of the “Flight of the Bumble Bee” and “Green Hornet” species, buzzing around the cut-and-paste aesthetic of Love’s “Revelation” and briefly landing a couple of times on a bizarro early Sun Ra horn arrangement before flying off into the smoggy dayglow horizon. Weird, wild and wonderful!
“Looking Out A Window: (Whittier, 1967)
The B-Side to “Jump, Jive, and Harmonize” is one the heaviest dirges of its time. Feel it pound into the swirl of dark descending horn and organ harmony as it winds up! Another supreme and unusual Midniters original composition that looks forward!
Godfrey “Down Whittier Blvd” (Whittier, 1967)
Owner of the Kay-Gee, Gee-Kay, and Flashback record labels, radio DJ, and host of many East L.A. dances and review shows, Godfrey Kerr was one of the biggest proponents of Chicano rock and soul music in the mid-to-late 1960s. His recording of Kim Fowley’s “The Trip” backed by The Challengers is now canonical via Pebbles and other compilations. “Down Whittier Blvd” is yet another dose of his excellent outsider boho proto-rap poetry backed by Thee Midniters. It’s also the closer of his East L.A.-centric compilation Godfrey Presents: 16 Successful Sounds. If anybody out there knows Godfrey, please let him know we want to hear him do this one!
THEE MIDNITERS WITH THE PREMIERS AND THEE COMMONS PLUS DJ JONATHAN TOUBIN AT THE SOUL CLAP AND DANCE OFF ON SAT., JUNE 18, AT THE REGENT THEATER, 448 S. MAIN ST., DOWNTOWN. 8:30 PM / $10-$15.50 / 18+. GET TICKETS HERE!