Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Has anybody seen Betty lately?

OK, I have to make a confession of sorts. I collect a lot of music. All kinds of music. It is a lifelong passion, and one that I continue to enjoy today. And did you know that in the small world of similarly afflicted persons known as "record collectors," there is a big music mystery that actually involves the quaint foothill city of Sierra Madre?

In 1971 a band from our little burgh named Betty recorded an album called "Handful." Nothing much happened with it, no radio stations played their songs, no big record labels came calling, they probably didn't party with Jim Morrison, and they apparently didn't play many shows. And, having failed to get any of the commercial notice a rock n' roll outfit needs to survive, they broke up and disappeared into the ether for nearly 4 decades.

So now its 2009, and suddenly people are talking about Betty? Here's what Amazon.com has to say:

"Betty, 'Handful,' 1971. Sierra Madre, California, USA. Hard psychedelic boogie biker rock; not just another hard psych CD full of unknowns. This record beats most others in the genre with amazing heavy fuzz guitar, great vocals, organs, the whole thing."

A pretty nice review. And here they evoke some of the mystery that surrounds this band:

"Hideously rare hard-rocker. Try to imagine Dragonfly merging with Canned Heat and you'll be close. Only 200 copies were pressed as original LPs and sold by the band at gigs, so this record is incredibly rare."

So what happened to get our long departed Betty this kind of notice on the mighty Amazon? A record label in Germany called Shadocks Music had somehow obtained the tapes to Betty's "Handful" album, and then reissued it. In that murky collector's world I spoke of earlier, American rock rarities from the late '60s and early 70s are a particularly sought after commodity these days. So when Shadocks reintroduced this long forgotten band to the world, the interest was almost immediate. The CD became of interest to a far larger audience than the band had ever enjoyed when they were together. And it wasn't just the band's obscurity that appealed to these folks, they loved the music as well. Here's how the rock critic John Bullabaugh puts it:

"There are moments when 'Handful' brings to mind an assortment of bands. Steppenwolf, Moby Grape, James Gang, Edgar Broughton Band, a grittier, bluer (maz azul) Procol Harum, Lee Michaels - yet they manage to be simultaneously more fuzz-drenched and more melodic over the span of this, their sole release, than most of these could muster. This is the sort of thing that baffles me. Why was Betty not only doomed to utter obscurity, but also why were they not permitted at least a moment in the full glare/blare of the sun?"

So here we have a band that pressed only 200 copies of their album, probably played to empty clubs opening for bands far less worthy than themselves, and broke up believing that nobody would ever care to hear from them again. And 38 years later? They're the darlings of the international rock collector's world.

The members of Betty were Al Rodriguez (drums), Mike McMahon (guitar), Kerry Kanbara (bass), Tom Jordan (keyboards), and Anthon Davis (lead vocals and guitar). Their label was called Thin Man Records, also based here in Sierra Madre. So does anybody know these guys? Because there are people looking for them. And who knows, they might not even be aware that their album was re-issued, or that the fame that so eluded this band in 1971 now belongs to them in 2009. Stranger things have happened in the music world.

Prefix Magazine sums it up best: "There is a huge opportunity here to track down the members of the band for interviews and have them put 'Handful' into both an artistic and historic context. It's nearly impossible not to wonder what became of Betty."

(A great place to buy Betty's CD is an on-line music site called Forced Exposure. When you get there click on 'search engine' and type in 'Betty + Handful.')


  1. Been a round forever and I've mever heard of these guys. It will be interesting if they turn up though. Be nice to get their take on Sierra Madre in the early 1970s. I'd like to hear some Sierra Madre history that doesn't have anything to do with frilly hats for a change.

  2. Ken: Interesting point. Sierra Madre has a rich countercultural past, and yet whenever histories about this town are issued that aspect pretty much gets airbrushed out.

    Going to have to work on this ..

  3. Betty? My mother was named that, there was a dessert my high school lunch palace served that was alleged to be of the brown variety, I once had a boss by that name, but never heard of this group. Rather a dumb name for a band. One expects a Leslie Gore look alike spewing out young teen anguish about pimples and motorcycle crashes. Nonetheless the era spawned tons of bands that never gained notoriety but were worthy of a listen. This could well be one of them. Such discoveries should be served up on some sort of budget line for those adventurous souls who would like to explore, but would like to diminish the risk factor on the cash end. Maybe Forced Exposure is selling the disk on that basis? I'll bet not. Good to know about though. Thanks.

  4. I think the cost has something to do with it being a German import. But is $14.50 really all that much to pay for a slice of local history?

  5. Huh, no, not if it's good music. It's funny how one's home turf gives significance to whatever happened in a timeframe past. And when it's music, especially the good variety, it brings the history of that place right into your present--like right into your living room. So I guess I should fork over the $14.50 and get the hippie vibes back into the space again.

  6. I am Kerry Kanbara, the bass player and band member. We all went our separate ways after we did the album. Life was waiting for us. We are all successful people.

    The band was a blast and the album a lark. We had some free studio time and did the album in one night.

    We had no intention of becoming a recording band, just wanted something to remember those good times.

    BTW you can contact me at kkanbara@aol.com