29 June 2009

La Vida Mineral Springs Music History

Throughout La Vida Mineral Springs' seventy-five year history, music played a part in probably much of the operation of the resort. Oral history reminiscences, for example, of residents of the Olinda oil district included some recollection of live music being played there in those earliest days of the 1920s and 1930s.

Whether there were performances by bands in forthcoming decades is uncertain, but in the 1970s there were some periods when live concerts at La Vida were frequent and well-attended. Sometime in the earlier or mid part of the decade, there appears to have been shows by such groups as the Flying Burrito Brothers, a county-rock group that had been led by Gram Parsons, a cult figure of greater notoriety now than in his lifetime, although it was the post-Parsons FBB that evidently played at La Vida.

Then late in the Seventies came a brief but notable burst of live performance at the Springs, when in 1979 and 1980, punk rock was in full swing in the greater Los Angeles area. Bands like X, Circle Jerks, Fear, Black Flag, the Germs, Bad Religion and Minutemen were the more high-profile groups of that time or slightly later and there were a few bands from the OC, notably Social Distorion and TSOL, Agent Orange, and the Adolescents, that approached or reached the upper echelon of punk in those years.

For a short while, La Vida Mineral Springs was the site of several punk concerts featuring some of the better, as well as the lesser, known groups in the genre.

For example, In July 1979, Eddie and the Subtitles, an OC group of some renown (a single and two albums were issued at the time) performed at La Vida supported by Big Wow. The headliner was best known for its song "F*&k You Eddie," a particularly apt punk song title.

In September of the same year, there was a concert headlined by one of the very few Latino punk bands of the era, the Plugz, which released its debut album that year. Later, the group feaured saxophonist Steve Berlin of Los Lobos fame and it also had the distinction of backing Bob Dylan, of all people, on a 1984 performance on David Letterman's show. At this show, support acts included Flyboys and Smart Pills.

In November, there was a performance by The Weirdos, one of the earliest (1976) of the LA-area punk bands, supported by Suburban Lawns (which had a rare female band member as a vocalist, was known for their song "Gidget Goes to Hell", and which soon morphed into a "New Wave" act) and the Idle Rich.

It has also been said that top-shelf groups Fear ("I Love Livin' in the City," "Let's Start a War," "I Don't Care About You," and the immortal "F$@k Christmas") and Black Flag played 1979 shows at La Vida, the latter of which seeming to have included the almost obligatory riot. According to one person who said he was there: "I never so [saw] so many cops in riot gear as that night."

In 1980, there were performances by local groups The Mechanics and Common Ground, but the pinnacle of the punk performance at La Vida was undoubtedly "Cal Slam Zero," an attempt to play off the huge arena rock festival "Cal Jam" (I in 1974 and II in 1978) held in Ontario.

This 6 September 1980 punk festival extravaganza featured a ton of local bands, including (in order on the flyer): Middle Class; Geza X (better known as a producer of pioneering punk records by Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, the Germs and others) and the Mommymen; Eddie and the Subtitles; Ironlung; Adolescents; Agent Orange; Der Stab; China White; Sexually Frustrated; Dead Skin; Negatives; Social Distortion (way down on the bill, but eventually far better known than them all); Ruins; Assassins; Birth Defects; Rayons; and Dead End Kids.

The marathon went from Noon to about Midnight, all for $3.50 for a discount ticket and $5 at the door and beer and food were available (almost certainly in prodigious and cheap quantity and quality.) According to some, Cal Slam Zero was the OCs last punk festival and it may also have marked the end (or, perhaps, the beginning of the end) or La Vida's short-lived venture in punk rock concert promotion.

Notably, there is a 22 October 1980 edition of the Daily Titan, the California State University, Fullerton school newspaper that featured an article headlined "Students make success of concert promotion company."

Here we learn that students Modell McEntire and Larry Dusatko formed "Sun/Western Productions" in the summer of 1980. Within the few months until the article appeared, the two had promoted 20 concerts and made money on them all at La Vida. The two were quoted about the fact that previous concert promotion at the Springs had been unsuccessful (in fact, an October 1978 issue of the Daily Titan had a La Vida ad that made reference to "Live Bands on the Weekends" but seemed more interested in drawing all possible attention of male Titans to the photo of two comely, buxom coeds with their tight [wet?] T-shirts instead), and their DIY approach, fitting, of course, given the genre of the music, to concert promotion. At the time, Sun/Western was preparing to put on a show at a 1,000-seat venue in Pismo Beach, a huge leap in the size of locale compared to La Vida. Though the two stated that "eventually we want to go national," that obviously didn't happen. But, for a brief time, Sun/Western made its mark on local punk music history with their shows at La Vida Mineral Springs.

These doesn't seem to be any record of punk shows or any other for that matter at the venue after 1980, until the reinvented La Vida Cantina began featuring blues and rockabilly shows there in the 1990s and into the very early 2000s, with regular concerts and occasional festivals. In these later years, La Vida was known far and wide as a biker hangout with the cantina being at the west end of the parking area and the outdoor stage over on the east side. After the death of the restaurant's owner, maybe around 2001, the place closed and was soon after razed.

Now, there is no physical reminder of the resort, but, through oral histories and Internet blogs and thread posts, the memories of music of all different kinds (whether swing, jazz, punk, or blues) resonates still in the minds of those who headed off to Carbon Canyon, in the proverbial "middle of nowhere" for the excitement of live music.

A person who posted some great concert flyers on the Web (see link below) also had the following to say about La Vida and the bands featured in these flyers:

La Vida Hot Springs was a fading health spa located out in the foothills at the edge of Orange County. The bands were usually set up in front of a huge, plate glass window on one side of the bar. This resulted in a tinny, echoing sound that made even the best sound annoying. I can't remember a thing about Smart Pills, except they were from LA. Flyboys were a talented bunch who seemed to appeal to both punks and neo-wavers. Unfortunately, their lead singer died in a car wreck before they could leave an impression. The Plugz were the first latino punk band, they covered pop-songs like "La Bamba" at break neck speed and also wrote a pile of great original material. They later morphed into "Los Cruzados" and their lead singer, Tito now has a band named Tarantula.

11/21/79The Weirdos, Suburban Lawns, The Idle Rich, La Vida Hot Springs, Brea, $4. I can't remember The Idle Rich, maybe I got there late. Suburban Lawns had a goofy looking girl vocalist and a hit song on LA radio "My Janitor", where they deftly alternated the lyrics between "My Janitor" and "My Genitals". They looked like they were destined for big things, but they released a couple of singles and then vanished into thin air. I've always been a big fan of The Weirdos since their early singles "We Got the Neutron Bomb" and "Life of Crime". They put on another great show, in spite of La Vida's infamous plate glass window echo effect.

For a look at those La Vida punk concert posters, click on:

http://weirdotronix.tripod.com/ and search under "Flyers" for Eddie and the Subtitles; Cal Slam Zero, and The Plugz.

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