Article found online about the group formed circa 1965 in San Diego and recorded "This Is The Day" on John B Kopit's" KOPIT label.
This is the Day: Breaking Out of Obscurity with THE INMATES
Jon Kanis sets the controls for San Diego, 1966.
The Inmates, 1966. L to R: John Poppe, Steve Phillips, Gale Kellogg, Jim Conder, Lloyd (Kenji) Kozuma, Tom Kruze.
[Photo: Cecil Caufield) Ugly Things
Have you heard the one about the garage band from Ocean Beach, California, who, after making one obscure 45 rpm record in 1966, disappeared off the face of the Earth, with their singular piece of plastic destined to become a prized collector's item, fetching hundreds of English pounds amongst the Northern Soul cognoscenti in Britain? No? Then it's high time to get hip to the Inmates, one of the great, lost bands of San Diego music lore.
The Roman candle trajectory of the Inmates is a classic American tale, paralleling thousands of fellow aspirants across the trashed-out teenscape of the post-apocalyptic early 1960s. After a futuristic-looking quartet from Liverpool, England, magically shifted the cultural paradigm overnight via mass televisual hypnosis, the resultant aftermath touched off the seismic perception that any four guys could stand on stage, make their own kind of rhythmic racket, shake their heads and hips in unison, and the girls would summarily fall at their feet. From San Bernardino to Boston, a significant number of baby boomers, overwhelmed by their suddenly surging hormones, flashed on the notion of exploring their own creative potential-which was no doubt inspired by the phenom of witnessing 300 pubescent girls shrieking in unison.
The Beatles provided proof positive that it was cool to be in a gang. And during their leather-jacketed, pill-popping, drunken apprenticeship in Hamburg, Germany, they were as "punk rock" as anyone-before or since. But by 1964, the media passed the rebellious aroma of "bad boys supreme" onto the Rolling Stones, whose contrived menace embodied the 'tude of "punk" until the entire idea was co-opted into some bastardized, fascist marketing campaign. The Beatles and the Stones: two sides of the same coin, establishing the contextual benchmark of "cool" for the ages.
And, really, who among us doesn't wish to strut their stuff and project an aura of "cool" to the world? Inspired by surf music, R&B, and the escalating wave of the British Invasion, a motley assortment of 18-year-olds, recently graduated from Point Loma High School, discovered exactly how "cool" it is to be in a band when they started informally jamming together. Their efforts eventually resulted in having their music played on the radio and performing to packed dance floors across San Diego County.
Gale Kellogg: "We were all surfers and that's how I met [guitarist] Steve Phillips. He lived at the end of  Pescadero Avenue, which was the surf spot down in OB. I've always liked music and I always wanted to play the drums, but in elementary school they told me I had no aptitude for it: 'Take this clarinet, boy.' So I played clarinet and in junior high I played some sax. I tried trumpet, I tried a bunch of instruments, but they didn't really blow up my skirt. I wanted to play the drums, but my family couldn't afford it.
"However, that all changed in June of '64 when we hosted a big graduation party at my house [4352 Niagara Avenue]. My dad had built a two-car garage and that's where we had this big bash, because my mom would buy the booze.'' When the Impalas were enlisted to provide entertainment, Kellogg suddenly found himself with a coveted set of skins. "The Impalas had been together for awhile," he explains. "They were already playing high school dances. And after our graduation party, Scott Beamer left his drums in the garage. And me being me, I went out there and played 'em for about 12 hours a day.
"Whenever the surf wasn't very good I would go down to Hazard Brick and Block in Mission Valley [now Hazard Construction
Company] and work as a yard boy loading cement bags and blocks for a buck and a quarter an hour, which was good money, and that enabled me to rent a set of drums at Dave's Music on Fifth Avenue.'' Almost immediately, Kellogg began performing with some of his neighborhood pals: lead guitarist and background vocalist Steve Phillips, bassist Tom Kruse, rhythm guitarist John Poppe, and saxophonist Lloyd (Kenji) Kozuma.
It's All in the Proximity
Tom Kruse: "The Inmates evolved from parties around OB where a few of us were learning to play guitar. Gale and I lived across the street from one another and he had a garage that he converted into his bedroom and a general hangout place for friends. We learned a lot about booze and girls there. The Kelloggs also had another garage in the back that we used for practice. My stepfather often called the police to complain about the noise: especially the bass. He was an asshole."
Steve Phillips: "I'm basically a long-time native of the beach area and when I was eight years-old my mother asked me 'How would you like to learn some music?' We had an accordion studio across the street and I said 'Sure, I'll give it try' and started taking lessons. And I loved the music, but I didn't particularIy love the accordion, so I made the switch to guitar a couple of years later. I think I got my first cheap electric guitar at age 12 and eventually picked up a Fender Mustang.
"The band came together as a typical garage band: we were all friends in the neighborhood. And Gale's mother would bring us beer when we practiced. We loved her, Ma Kellogg, as if she were our own mom. Her rules were: as long as you're in the back yard in the garage you can drink the beer-you're not taking it with you. And if you're too drunk to drive you sleep on the couch. And she'd set us up with cold ones.
'As we started getting better, the next thing you know we were hiring out. As part of the City of San Diego's recreation program there were weekly community dances at various rec centers, and we played at every one. And they were always packed. This was before drugs, with everyone just having a great time naturally. Or they were slugging down a half-pint of vodka in the parking lot, and then walking inside, and as soon as the music hit 'em they'd get that rush, and whoosh, away they went. In the early days at least one fight would break out at every gig. But it wasn't like today: people fought and then it was over. A guy didn't go out to his car, grab a gun, and kill somebody.
"The odd thing about those days: San Diego was a much smaller place. There were very few places to play and there were very few bands. There was a whole youth scene that doesn't exist anymore and it hasn't for years. Remember, this was the leading edge of the baby boom, so there was a Jot of kids, and they all loved music. We were doing two, often three gigs a week, playing for enormous audiences, and we were getting paid very well. The going rate for a three-to-four hour dance gig would be between 350 and 500 dollars-in 1965-66 money."
What's In a Name?
Kruse: "The fact that many of the guys in the band had been detained at one point or another by the local police led to the name the Inmates. To the best of my knowledge no one had ever served time. But in those days, that would have been a badge of honor.
"We started off playing instrumentals like 64 'Perfidia' and 'Wipe Out,' since none of us could sing. Lloyd's younger sister Gerry sang a few slow numbers like Angel Baby' for us, but that was about it. Our first gig was an adult social for Sacred Heart Church on a harbor tour boat. We played for free but took donations and were surprised when people actually put cash into the kitty. Then we got a few gigs with middle school dances. I remember one in Chula Vista where the kids wouldn't dance at first, which is real scary when you're playing and everyone stares at you in silence. Eventually a teacher got a few students to dance and then everyone got into it. By the time we finished, they were asking for our autographs."
"But we needed a singer, and finally found one in Jim Conder [Point Loma High School, class of '63]. That enabled us to expand our song list, and we played a lot of Rolling Stones (but not Beatles) songs. Jim considered himself the reincarnation of Mick Jagger-even down to copying his mannerisms."
Phillips: "Oh, I really loved the Beatles, but to us they were kind of a candy pop group. We were huge Stones fans and we were more like them. We were grubby-counterculture-street kids. The Beatles were clean, the vocals were pretty, their lyrics were outstanding and I loved them-I think we all loved them. But we never played their music. We were into a grittier sound.
"There was really only one person in the group who was a 'stand above' incredible talent and whom I had dealings with later on in music after the Inmates and that's Jim Conder. He was also a very gifted keyboardist, but he did not play keyboards in our group. He was the front man."
Jerry Herrera's Battle of the Bands
If ever there was a notorious figure within the San Diego music scene, it is club owner and promoter Jerry Herrera. Known primarily for operating the Spirit Club from 1975 to 1995 (now occupied by Brick-by-Brick), Herrera also ran three other significant San Diego nightspots before that: the Palace, JJs, and the Powerhouse in El Cajon, where the Inmates performed frequently. Phillips: "Jerry Herrera runs all through our history. He was the first one to go out and start up these teen nightclubs, and a big thing back in those days was the Battle of the Bands. We competed, and lost, to their house band who were called the Impulses." Kellogg: "That was where Herrera snaked us. We thought we should have won." Phillips adds that "Jerry had some detractors, but I would have much rather hitched my wagon to his bumper than the other guy, but that's the way it goes."
The Inmates land in Jail
After establishing themselves on the San Diego music scene for nearly a year, Phillips was approached by a young entrepreneur by the name of John Kopit. Inspired by Herrera's success, Kopit convinced the Inmates that he could take the band to a higher level of success, and commenced with building his own youth club in Encinitas, 25 miles to the north of San Diego.
Phillips: "I was the bandleader, but my work was with the guys, and that took up all my time. Although we had more jobs than we could handle due to word of mouth, I didn't have any energy left to do additional promotion and Kopit sold himself to me-he was a very energetic businessman, a Jewish lad from St Louis who had already established and lost a newspaper before he was 26." The first thing Kopit did was rent a building next door to the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas, where the Inmates were installed as the house band. In a punning masterstroke of branding, Kopit christened the place the Jail.
Phillips: "John's first move was to find a place where we could play, and since he lived in Del Mar, the location was convenient for him. He utilized our young backs to help build the Jail: in other words we were free labor. We tore out the counter, built a huge dance floor and a professional stage with the help of some craftsmen." The finishing touch to the overall theme was to take faux-black wooden dowel bars and stick them in the windows: the perfect pleasure prison for teenagers.
"It was what you would call a youth club," says Phillips. "No alcohol, just food and soda pop: real wholesome. On opening night, you could see the lights going by on the 101, because the Interstate 5 hadn't been built yet. We're on the main route, the onlyroute between San Diego and LA. We're sitting there looking outside and as the headlights went by we can see all these people gathering: there must have been 500 kids out there, going in both directions. The place reached the fire marshal's limit and we had to cut 'em off.
"We lit off on our sets and we're seeing a sea of heads dancing [laughs], with silhouettes
"The last night The Jail was open we were there playing on stage and all of a sudden they shut off the power.
The door fly open and in come the pf, putting everybody up against the wall."
in the window, and an equal number of heads bopping up and down and dancing on the sidewalk. That attracted attention, and not good attention. Encinitas is kind of a hip place now. Back then it was a Cowtown, and the locals were frightened of us. But we just went ahead packing the place."
When asked what the locals were so concerned about, Phillips lets out a deep sigh. "I think they were afraid that we were going to have sex with their daughters: which we certainly wanted to do. [laughs] And we were going to corrupt the kids, playing 'the devil's music.'
"When Elvis would come to town, all the local churches would have alternative events to keep the kids away from seeing him bring his 'black' music and his thrusting hips to town-it was that kind of thing. It's hard to believe that I'm old enough to remember that mentality. In fact, they were so eager to shut us down, that one of the angles they came at us with was an old statute prohibiting Asians from participating in mass gatherings that had been on the books since the railroads had finished and North County was hit by a big influx of Chinese immigrants. And we had a Japanese sax player. This is how ugly it got. It was not the pretext for shutting us down, but it was mentioned. Unbelievable, huh?"
After three months of packing in the audiences and raising the ire of the local authorities, the doors to the Jail were suddenly slammed shut.
Phillips: "The last night the Jail was open we were there playing on stage and all of a sudden 'booodoop'-the whole stage goes dead: they had shut off the power. The doors fly open and in come the cops, putting everybody up against the wall. They ushered all the kids outside, all the patrons. They took us off stage and separated us, asking us questions about everything: 'What drugs had we taken?' 'What type of stuff were we on?' They didn't have breathalyzers yet, but they were looking to see if maybe we were drunk, because we were all under 21. They didn't arrest anybody, but they taped the door shut and closed the place down-the long story short is that Ko pit lost the Jail. The locals were honest about it from the very start: the public sentiment was that we weren't welcome in Encinitas. So we left."
This Is the Day: enter June Jackson
Phillips: "Somewhere along the line Kopit became convinced that we should make a record, because we were getting to be a pretty damn good band. Even though we were all intermediates at our instruments, you get to the point where you just know what each other is thinking, by virtue of growing up together. Our sound was seamless, tighter than a gnat's ass, and that really came across. But for some reason Kopit decided it would be best not to record any of the original material that the group had worked up, which was a big mistake. We had a couple of originals, but Kopit hired songwriter June Jackson, who was out of the Motown school, and it was totally wrong for the Inmates.
"Then June insisted on bringing in his singers, Rita and Cathy, who called themselves the Crispy Twins. And the three of them lived and performed together, which was unusual in those days, because June was black and the girls were white. And I liked them as people, they were great, but the material was just totally wrong. I would have loved to hear us lay into something like "Sweet Little Lisa" or one of the old Chuck Berry songs. But just the same, the record became very popular locally."
According to Kellogg, it was Jackson who was responsible for setting up the Inmates one and only recording session. "June Jackson was as big a hype-crook as John Kopit: they were two peas in a pod. And they were trying to outdo each other. Kopit didn't have that kind of money to pay for studio time and June Jackson just wanted to record, so he could then take that product to Capitol or A&M or whoever and use it to sell his songs."
Whoever arranged for the studio, all six of the Inmates piled into Phillips' Plymouth Valiant station wagon in January of '66 and headed north to Johnny Otis' El Dorado Studios in Burbank to record two of Jackson's compositions: "This Is the Day" and "Gypsy Heart."
Phillips: "El Dorado was an enormous place-every instrument that you could think of was in this room. It took us a while to get the instrumental tracks down so that they were pretty much error-free. We were well rehearsed, but we had never worked with a sound engineer before, so he had to take 20-30 minutes with each person, getting their tone and levels-a lot of stuff before you even start tracking. We recorded on a two-track machine: first we recorded the instrumental tracks and then the vocals, all live in one take, mixed down to mono.
"It was a long day. I still remember coming down the 101 and on the radio was Lou Christie's 'Lightning Strikes.' And we're all cracking up 'cause we thought it was such shit. If that stuff's making it, maybe there's hope for us after all!"
In retrospect it is easy to understand how "This Is the Day" became a later-day Northern Soul favorite: the record has an irresistible beat and grooves with the best of the dance floor favorites then coming out of Motown. But once the record was pressed up on the generic looking KOPIT label (which was distributed by CIRCA: the Consolidated International Record Company of America based out of Hollywood), the real challenge began of how to get their music played on the radio.
Phillips: "I didn't know how the recording industry worked in those days, because it was very, very hard to get into the main markets. But we did get some airplay. One of the biggest kicks of my life was hearing that the record had cracked the Top 20 in Escondido. And here kicking-ass again this week from San Diego, California: the Inmates!' Some of the outlying stations would play the record in Oceanside, El Centro. We ended up with a following of likeminded people and having a little brush with fame. We signed autographs-I had girls coming up to me crying, offering me their skirts to sign. In El Centro we played a teen nightclub called Poncho's. We were in the Top 10 out there and we were well known in that little community: Brawley, Calexico, El Centro. Once again, blacks were not allowed in the club: they had to enjoy the music outside in a similar situation to the Jail. There's just a sea of these kids pressed up against the stage, and it's like 'Wow, my little taste of what it's like to be a star.' But the big thing again was through the window, these silhouettes; I could see all these black kids just rocking out on the sidewalk. [laughs] And there was no trouble at all, it was such a nice night, everybody was really cool.
"But nowadays, I'm so glad that we have those recordings, because otherwise we'd have nothing."
I Ain't A-Marching Anymore
After recording their debut single, the Inmates believed it was the beginning of a prolonged recording career. But all that changed on February 8, 1966, when Kellogg was absconded by the US Army. "I was the first one to get drafted out of the band," says Kellogg. 'And Paul Bleifuss took my place [Point Loma High School, class of '65]. Paul was an excellent drummer and actually became quite famous as an innovative drum maker." Bliefuss had a distinguished career as an artesian before succumbing to cancer on September 5, 2007.
"There was all this talk about our 'next record,' that this was just the beginning for the Inmates," says Phillips. "It turned out not to be the case. By this time we were really feeling our oats, I think the biggest gig we ever played was at the Balboa Park Organ Pavilion in the first part of '67-the year that Vietnam wiped us out and we were all in uniform. Kenji and Poppe were drafted at the same time. Tom Kruse saw it coming, got in the Peace Corp and went to Venezuela. I was able to hold off with a hardship deferment until they got me. Jim Conder was the lucky one: he had been a member of the National Guard Unit before Vietnam got really hot. The most dangerous thing he did was put on a uniform and go to the '65 Watts riots." He pauses and laughs: 'A lot of history there."
"Let me tell you about the breakup with Kopit, because that's pretty important. We were decimated by the Vietnam draft: we just couldn't go on. Kopit and I had a meeting and he saw the end coming. And he basically said, 'I spent a lot of money on you guys, you guys are letting me down through no fault of your own, but I need to be repaid for my investment.' And I said, 'We're poor kids, we don't have any money.' And he said, 'Well, I want your equipment.' And I said, 'Fuck, no.' So we got into a bit of a 'toe-to-toe.' And I came back and said, 'No, John, no. We're keeping our gear. I'm sorry you lost money, but that's it, it's over.' But he still had all those records ...
"I wish we could have met the right person, because we were very young and unsophisticated. We didn't know anything about the business; we were just playing our music. We needed someone to handle us properly." The Inmates tale smacks of familiarity, with more than a passing resemblance to the film That Thing You Do. 'Actually,'' says Kruse, "I think the movie The Commitments is the best story of a band coming together, having a few brief moments of fame, and then falling apart. I see a lot of similarities with our band in it.'' Regarding Kopit, Kruse remembers him being "an asshole, and a creepy one at that: the perfect personality for a manager. I never liked him personally but he did force us to become more professional."
Breaking Up That 0Id Gang of Mine
Phillips: 'After the Inmates broke up we all went our separate ways and then came back and settled down after the war. I went to school and became an urban planner, engineer, and architect. So that took me away from music for a spell. I had just finished college when I was approached by Jim Conder in 1979 about representing a group that he had called the Roosters, and I managed them for a couple of years. They were a three-piece and they were freakin' awesome.'' (For the record, an entirely different San Diego Roosters recorded a single for A&M in 1967: "Shake a Tail Feather" b/w "Rooster Walk.") These days Phillips can be heard performing with his group the Pescadero Pickers and has this to say about his music: 'As long as I've said my piece the way I want it said, the people who are tuned into my approximate frequency will find it. And that's what's rewarding for me. It could be one person or it could be a thousand, but to make that connection is a real turn-on for those of us who create music like this. I could write the best song in the world, and there's still going to be people that would rather go down and stand in line and get Taylor Swift's latest album,'' he says laughing. 'And there's nothing I can do about that.''
After getting out of the army in '68, Gale Kellogg spent several years gigging with bassist Greg Willis (Iron Butterfly, Glory) and guitarist Dave Dorn. It was during this period that he claims psychedelics taught him how to play music. "It opened my mind up," he says. "I'm not the world's best drummer-I'm not a technician. I play from the seat of my pants and the music tells me what to play; that's the best way I can put it.'' After touring for almost a decade, including a stint backing up Al Wilson ("Show and Tell"), he found himself living on the street for 15 years. Eventually, he cleaned up his act and worked for a dozen years for the Veterans Administration until his retirement a few years ago. These days, Kellogg is back behind the drums, playing several times a week all over town. "Music is my life right now, this is what I live for,'' he says. "This is what's keeping me going. And that's why I play every chance I get.''
Phillips: "I heard through a mutual acquaintance that Jim Conder died in Florida (on June 19, 2014) due to cirrhosis of the liver. And none of us know what became of John Poppe.''
As for the other Inmates, saxophonist Lloyd Kozuma owned and operated a successful dental laboratory until his retirement a decade ago. He still lives in San Diego. After finishing college in 1969, and joining the Peace Corps in Venezuela, bassist Tom Kruse enjoyed a career for over 20 years as a corporate executive at Reynolds Metals Company in Richmond, Virginia, until a buyout from Alcoa caused his early retirement in 2000. He explains via email: "My wife retired in 2011, and all seven of our children were grown up, so we sold our house and most of our belongings and set off to see the world. What we do is rent an apartment somewhere for 3-12 months and just live there. So far we have done this in La Paz, Mexico; Monterey, California; Salem, Oregon; Plymouth, Massachusetts; St Augustine, Florida; Valencia, Spain; and now Bordeaux, France. The next stop is unknown but we are checking into Italy and Portugal. We feel it is a more interesting way of spending our retirement years than sitting on the stoop watching your neighbor water his lawn.
"Today my wife was doing some checking on Google. Apparently this group of collectors in Northern England is still going strong and an original copy of "This Is the Day" by the Inmates can fetch very high prices. A few years ago I saw one cited on eBay for 1,500 English pounds! Another entry lists it for £400.I did get a thrill when my son found it on the Internet about three years ago, because I had told my kids about my band days and they didn't believe me. So the hype is not fictional.
"Not bad for a garage band from O.B.''
Copyright (c) 2016 by Jon Kanis. Reprinted here on Soul Source with authors permission
"This Is the Day: Breaking Out of Obscurity with the Inmates" by Jon Kanis first appeared in Ugly Things issue #43, Winter, 2016/2017.
"This Is the Day" is now available on the compact disc Look Out! The San Diego Scene 1958–1973, which is available through Relampago-go Records, out of National City, California. That is Andy Rasmussen's label, who produced the compilation. The liner notes are written by Mike Stax, the publisher of Ugly Things.
Guitarist Steve Phillips grew up in Ocean Beach, and entered the local music scene in the mid-1960s with his group the Inmates, one of a handful of bands that played San Diego’s large dance venues popular at that time; the War Memorial Building in Balboa Park, San Diego State College, UCSD Elliot, OB and Santa Clara Rec. Centers, and others. The band also included drummer Gale Kellogg (later of Useless Rhetoric) and bassist Tom Kruse.
Often considered a Northern Soul group, the Inmates teamed with songwriter June Jackson and recorded at Johnny Otis' studio in Burbank, CA in 1967-68. Their single “This is the Day” (written by Jackson) on the Kopit label made local top-40 charts in many outlying markets. The Vietnam draft effectively put an end to the Inmates in 1968-69. All members of the band survived the war, but never played together again.
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YESTERDAY AND TODAY
This Is the Day: Breaking Out of Obscurity with the Inmates
By Jon Kanis, October 2016