From Carmel Valley
Ben Culala - Vocals
Special thanks to Ben Culala, David Ataide and Leigh Frederick
Click on a song title below to hear that song!
Wednesday's Memory (With vocalist Nina Swan)
Ben Culala talks about the band below.
I was singing at a talent show at my high school, when in the side door walked 4 guys dressed like Paul Revere and the Raiders. I was distracted for a moment, but finished the set. After the program, they came up to me and asked to talk outside. One was my classmate, Ray Azevedo, the others were Billy Armstrong, David Ataide, and Larry Leslie from Carmel. I really wasn't sure what they wanted. Ray introduced them to me and said that he had brought them to hear me cuz they were looking for a "front man". At the time I was singing and playing bass for a folk group that had been formed by our choir director, Morris Dill. I enjoyed ballads and the songs of the early 60's, so I told them I would sit in on one of their practices. The practice was held in a tiny garage on Forrest Ave. We could hardly fit after the drums were set up, but I had fun listening and was really impressed with Billy, David and Ray. Larry was pretty good but his singing was a bit off. I found out that his dad owned a sports car dealship in Monterey and was a pro driver, had nothing to do with music. I explained that I was playing sports and they would have to work their scheule around my practice and school obligations. Practices were moved to Ray's house and David's in the valley. I didn't have a car so I had to bumb a ride about 3 nights a week. As the weeks went on we began to harmonize better and better. We would use a 45 record player to listen to songs over and over again to get the lyrics and music right. David, Billy and I could copy almost anyone of that era. Our Beatles and Byrds stuff was most excellent. We were lucky that there were three youth centers in the area cuz it gave us venues to play before live audiences and a chance to develop our look and sound. A special effort was made by Ruby at the PG Rec Club and Jack at the Carmel Youth Center to develope our following. They even started to pay us , which allowed us to buy equipment and pay for gas to get to practice.
As our sound evolved we added the Beau Brummels "Laugh Laugh" and "Still In Love With You Baby" to our set...sounded pretty good too. I don't remember what happened to Larry but there was some conflict and we started looking for a rhythm player. Thats where we found Leigh. He and Billy clicked and our sound again evolved. We added the Stones and Doors, Airplane, and some of the San Francisco sounds and we were off and running. Still without a name the guys came up with "The Street Walkers"(lol). Someone pointed out that that meant Hookers so we started to battle over a name. Ray worked at a grocery store in Seaside and we use to help him stock shelves. While pricing the stock we noticed that so much of it was 37 cents. One day after practice we all dug deep in our pockets and the 5 of us came up with $.37. Future Rock Stars? "37 Cents" made no sense, so we spelled it 37 Scence! Oh, and we gained a new member, Robbie Romas, organ and piano, the best around! And he could sing too!!! We played at the fairgrounds in a Paul Revere look-a-like gig and picked up a manager, Jim Monigold, who worked the heck out of us and at one time suggested that he play bass for us....nope, David was our man. And besides 25% of not much is....well not much. But with the addition of Robbie we could now sing 5 part harmony and we picked up a genius sound man named Louie Toepel. If he could make me sound good he could make anyone.
We had a chance to play with some "Front Line Bands" when we started. As I said before, we mostly
played Rec Center/club dances. We spent so much time "covering" the popular dance tunes of the day but
mixing what we hoped would evolve into our own harmonic sound. We developed a following of wealthy kids
from Robert Louis Stevenson and Catalina High Schools. These kids had the Quan to hire us for Deb
parties at their schools and in "Palaces" in Palo Alto and Berekely. One night we played at Stevenson
High and my favorite band, along with the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, was playing at Catalina. These kids
loved music. Oh, we played at the Pebble Beach Yacht Club for Clint Eastwood and ad-libed "Rawhide"
as he walked in.
We played at a place called Rose Court and when our hour was up, a second group called The Young
Bloods finished the night. We were right there with them. Well, they played mostly originals, we
played everyone's favorite.
Norm Flint, our manager, had us open for all kinds of hit bands like the Beau Brummels, Paul Revere and
the Raiders, Big Brother and the Holding Company, Eric Burdon and the Animals and The Strawberry Alarm
A typical short list of songs
My last show with the band was two days before I had to report to the Oakland Army Depo. I'd been drafted. It was at the Coconut Grove in Santa Cruz, opening for the Grass Roots. While we were setting up their manager talked to Norm. When he found out that I had been drafted, they asked if they could play first, that was a no brainer. What was so cool was that many of the 1000 people had come to say goodbye. It was our all-time best gig, and my last. Michelle and Alison drove me to the Depo and I went off to war "They heard the hum of our motors, they counted our rotors and waited for us to arrive, and we would go down together". When I got home three years later, my Mustang was gone and my station wagon had vanished! I went to college and became a teacher and coach.
Leigh Frederick shares his memories:
The first time the band played at the fairgrounds I was there. David and I had met (still can't remember how) he invited me to one of the band practices, at Ray's house. I attended a 2nd practice and local DJ Norm Flint showed up...it was maybe a Tuesday. He gave you guys the first fairgrounds gig as the side band. Then Larry decided to elope with his sweetheart in his Toyota hot rod (they got to Nova Scotia)... that's when I was asked to fill-in. We had a practice May 2. We ended up on the main stage at the fairgrounds, shit equipment, mics thru our guitar amps... before the end of the 2nd song, somebody pulled our plug, kaput! This is where Jim Monigold entered the picture. He said "I see something in you guys" and he became our manager, I became a member of the band, and we started rehearsals under Jim's guidance. I still had my apartment on the beach in Carmel. I moved home when school was out and we rehearsed for the summer in my parents garage in Pebble Beach. Jim put us in the trademark outfits, and crafted us into a band. We did all the shows before The Animals tour without Rob. It was some time later that we decided to bring him in. He did not come on board the first time it was discussed. I left the band after learning of a secret meeting planned to talk with my parents about my pot smoking. I showed up to everyone's surprise. I can't remember who was there, but the secret part with parents' put me off, and I left the band. I was off to new adventures. Going back through this period of my life is wonderful, but towards my leaving I was in a different place. The SF scene, pot, acid etc. Yet I was never high in any way at any rehearsal or gig. It was always a straight ahead, practice hard and sound as good as we could 'JOB'. I had a great time, loved every minute of it and sing and play today. That's my memory of events.
David Ataide fills in some details.
Larry Leslie and I started the 37 Scence band. We lived near each other in Carmel Valley and spent hours after school playing along to our favorite records....Larry on guitar and me on bass. Once we decided to try and put a band together it took a couple of months to recruit the other members: Bill Armstrong on lead guitar, Ray Azevedo on drums and Benny Culala as lead singer. The majority of our practice sessions were spent in my father's Carmel Valley studio (he was a painter). After building a pretty decent playbook we began to take on local gigs. We became regulars at the Carmel and PG Youth Centers. We also did school events like junior and senior proms and played at venues like RLS, the Beach Club and Mission Ranch. I recall my father signed a loan for the band to purchase new amps, mics and speakers. The amps were Vox, like the ones used by the Beatles...really huge! He also bought us an enclosed trailer to haul our stuff in, and painted it to look like our stage outfits...a big belt around the middle, stripped pants on the bottom and a paisley shirt finish on the top. It was quite a sight. We also took on an equipment and sound guy, Lou Toepel. Lou was invaluable. He kept everything working, directed setup and tear down and mixed the sound. So on most occasions "our sound" was well balanced. Our first so-called break outside the high school scene was at the Monterey Fair Grounds, where we were one of many opening acts for a Paul Revere and the Raiders concert. I remember having to pick Bill Armstrong up because he wasn't old enough to drive! A few weeks before the Fair Grounds event Larry secretly ran off to Canada with his girlfriend to get married (never actually happened). We were so angry we kicked him out of the band and invited Leigh Frederick to join on rhythm guitar. It was at about this time that we came to the attention of our manager, Jim Monigold of JM & The Mersey Men from Salinas. His band had just broken up. Jim was what we needed to inject more discipline into our approach and importantly to secure bookings. Norm Flint, a local DJ at KMBY also became a bit of a patron, frequently promoting the band on the air. The final addition to the band was Rob Ramos on keyboard. Rob was an incredible talent. He grew up playing classical piano and gave us a complete and polished sound.
My specific memories of the band after so many years are a bit cloudy ("If you remember the 60's you
weren't there"). That said, a few things stick out in my mind
About our recordings, we had bought and paid for a recording session at Tiki studios in San Jose in anticipation of cutting a record. However, shortly after the money was committed Benny got drafted and was on his way to basic training. Without a lead singer we were more-or-less dead in the water. That's when Bill introduced us to Nina Swan, who made kind of a "guest appearance" on what was the B-side of our 45, singing a song Rob wrote for her. Bill performed "Finale", which was originally intended for Benny. Listening to the two songs today it's obvious the lyrics were certainly immature, reflecting our ages (16 to 18) and inexperience writing, but the musical arrangement...they were solid! There are two other recordings, "Laugh Laugh" & "What it Takes to Earn a Boy". Both were recorded live by Lou in my Dad's studio on a reel-to-reel tape deck. Lou sent each of us a copy about three years ago. We had no idea they existed! Unfortunately, the tape had been damaged and part of a track lost, so the quality suffered. But turning up the recordings after more than 40 years was more fun than listening to our 45...and more reflective of what we really sounded like.
The band pretty much split up once Benny got drafted. Without a lead voice, and in particular his voice, it just wasn't the same. Two of our band members went on to bigger and better things. Rob Ramos joined It's a Beautiful Day, and later played with Maria Muldaur and Harvey Mandel. Bill Armstrong became a professional jazz trumpet performer and studio musician. He joined up with Glenn Frey when Glen was out on his own, and later joined the Eagles as part of their studio and touring band. Bill passed away a couple of years ago but can be seen and heard on the Eagles last three albums and DVD's.
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