The Electric Prunes / Strangers in a Strange Land

The Electric Prunes, Strangers in a Strange Land with DJ, Cyril Jordan
The Chapel
San Francisco, California
Victoria Joyce
Photography by Greg Gutbezhal

Our first rock and roll show of the New Year took us to The Chapel in The Mission in the beloved and bedraggled San Francisco.  Freezing cold rain and downed trees was no obstacle. Annoying, but not an obstacle.

The Chapel is a gothic and groovy live-music club on Valencia Street in the heart of the way-to-trendy Mission District that bravely features a rainbow of diverse musical artists, local and global. Eighty-something music master and father to Sheila E – Pete Escovedo will be there next week. Also SF’s famous and funny Sketchfest has a weekend’s worth of comedy showcases booked. It’s a very happening place. The Chapel is exactly that, a rehabilitated mini-cathedral with a mighty, mighty divine presence.

The headliners tonight – and their first SF show in twenty something years –  60s Psychedelic Rock Trailblazers – The Electric Prunes – formed in LA in 1965. Still rocking with their signature and immortal radio hits “I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night” and “Get Me to the World On Time” reflecting a perfect statement for the times – those being 1967 Los Angeles – the famous “Summer of Love.” This is when Rock and Roll really started to grow up and take on controversial topics and challenge the establishment. Radio stations could and did get in trouble for playing songs like this.

For the record: San Francisco had the “Human Be-In” (Timothy Leary opened for the Grateful Dead) in January of 1967 in Golden Gate Park but it was LA had the first “Love-In” March 1967, at Elysian Fields.  These gatherings taking their “-In” names from the Civil Rights Demonstrations in the American South that MLK and the last survivor Congressman John Lewis made famous. OK, history lesson over.

Back to the club: Cyril Jordan, founding member of SF’s pioneering Pop Punk band, The Flamin’ Groovies, was spinning the vinyl, seriously real 45s and playing some nice things. Vintage rock that sounded fresh as a daisy. Timeless cuts like: Paul Revere and the Raiders, Beatles, The Seeds, etc.

The opening band was Strangers in a Strange Land featuring Paul Kopf on lead vocals and Alex Palao on bass guitar. These two are Cyril’s former band mates in Magic Christian.  That is how we heard about this show – being a fan and a friend. Two new sidemen were Craig Heitkam on drums and Derek See on lead guitar.

We knew this was going to be an amazing night.  First blush was a blast from the past. Quite literally. The light show was magnificent and mesmerizing. About a half dozen old grammar school type overhead projectors with shallow dishes of water, oil and food coloring sending bubbling, swirling bright beautiful colors swimming across the walls of the club.   Mad Alchemy Lights did the deed.

The rain did not keep the rockers at home and the club quickly filled up for the Strangers in a Strange Land’s opening set. We were clued into the set would include an obscure song penned by original Byrd, Gene Clarke and many cuts from their brand new self-titled release. The band brought the enthusiasm of a first release and the energy was giddy and contagious.

Paul Kopf was in fine voice and Derek See’s guitar was transcendent with swirling, churning solos that worked nicely with Heitkam’s choppy poppy drumming. Break out songs for us were: “Half Century,” “It’s Her World,” and “Shadow on the Wall.” Another founding Flamin’ Groovie, Roy Loney showed up to say hello to band mate Cyril J and Paul Kopf was giggling like a teenager at a Herman’s Hermits concert. “He’s a legend!!”

The next day Mr. Kopf was all over his Facebook page with great quotes under fab pictures from Greg Gutbezahl:

“We LOVE the stage!! Where the boys and I feel MOST at home!! ROCK N’ ROLL LIVES!!!”

“A ROCK show to me is about engaging with an audience…building a bond between the audience and you the performer…sharing some of your innermost feelings in a room in front of a group of people is THERAPY for me!! You know, just like what Pete Townsend says!! “Listening to you I hear the music.”

Here’s the set list:

Paul to his bandmates: “My partners in arms…Strangers In a Strange Land’s FAB Derek See and Craig Heitkam. These two have been a God Send for Alec and me! Professional in every way! Blown away by them!! LOVE these cats and their attitudes about music, life…really everything. And these two are READY to ROCK with us and most importantly, to get out and PLAY! !!!! More news to follow soon. Things are moving SO FAST these days!! Ready or not – Here we come!!”

Strangers in a Strange Land with Cyril Jordan and their new self-titled CD, out now.  Left to right: Cyril Jordan, Craig Heitkam, Alec Palao, Paul Kopf and Derek See backstage at The Chapel.

Paul continues, “Even the LEGENDARY Cyril Jordan of The Flamin’ Groovies recommends our brand new record and endorse us. Ha ha ha!! Cyril is the GREATEST!! He was just SO cool last night!! The guys and I cherish are relationship with him and support. We are all Groovies fanatics and are HONORED! So cool hanging out with him and for him to be part of our first show. He is family!”

Kopf could not hold back from commenting on the Electric Prunes stage set up – “The pedal boards…. a few too many fuzzboxes there?” In fairness it was pretty tricked out.

“James Lowe, besides being a SUPER COOL guy and FANTASTIC musician. I am proud to say he is a friend of mine. James ROCKS!! Love his stories too. Quite the storyteller! Could listen to him all night telling his stories about The Nazz and Todd Rundgren sessions he did back in the day. Also Grapefruit!!!  The GREAT Terry Melcher set it up for him with Apple. The guy is MUSIC HISTORY!!”

The Electric Prunes hit the stage with, well, electricity! Silver-haired and serious, they rocked it out for new fans and old friends. Lot of love and a lot of back and forth. We ran into a young lady near the stage taking pictures and said – “That’s my dad up there! He doesn’t know I’m here.” It’s a family affair.

Kopf again went to FB: “Just wanted to give a BIG Thank You to everybody who made out it the other night to The Chapel to the show and for making it such a SUCCESSFUL night!! What a BLAST!! One show I’ll NEVER forget!! All the bands…DJ (Cyril Jordan), light crew, staff etc….had a WONDERFUL time!! We had such a FANTASTIC night and the response since has been just REMARKABLE!! MORE shows in the works as we speak. But we all are SO glad everyone had fun!! We all appreciate your continued support and this is just the start!! MANY things to share in the coming days regarding the band including the OFFICIAL announcement regarding our newest band member to Strangers lineup and SOME NEW MUSIC for you to hear SOON. So be on the lookout here. Don’t want to spoil who is the new guy till later. But in the meantime. THANKS guys for supporting us!! Alec Derek and I appreciate it!! Also the new guy!! ROCK it! : ) : )”

And finally a day or two later another FB post from Proud Paul:

“Ok. Here we go… EXCITING news!!! You Guys… Meet Craig … our new drummer! Strangers Welcome Craig!! We are SO STOKED to have Him in the band!! Strangers In A Strange Land welcomes Craig Heitkam to the drummer’s throne. Craig is a consummate PRO (and a great guy to boot!) who began playing with Derek See a dozen years ago in the COOL and well loved San Jose roots rock band Careless Hearts. His SUPER steady but propulsive drumming (thanks to a punk rock background) is the PERFECT match for The Strangers EXPLOSIVE Rock N Roll!! Ladies and gentlemen meet Craig!”

The term “Mindblowing” originated in 1966 because of bands like this.