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“I carried my own drum set into the studio at Capitol Records in Hollywood. I was told where to set up by producer, Gary Usher. Once I was ready, I looked around and saw the other top-notch musicians around me. My first thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ My second thought, ‘I better not blow this!’”
Wayne Edwards, drummer for The Hondells on the recording of Little Honda.
Wayne was just a tyke when his family moved from Rocky Ford, Colorado to Sun Valley, California. One of his fondest memories growing up in Southern California was taking drum lessons from a man named Haskell (Hack) O’Brien, a well-known drummer for a number of big band era groups. “He owned a candy store across from my grammer school and taught drum lessons on site. I heard him giving lessons so I asked my Mother about drum lessons. She found a way to make it happen.” Hack was also the father of Mousketeer, Cubby O’Brien. Drumming became Wayne's passion. With the elder O’Brien at the helm, young Wayne was introduced to a number of different styles including Dixieland and Jazz. “He played records and we followed the beat on pads.” This lasted for seven years which covered late grade school and high school.”
When Wayne graduated from Sun Valley Polytechnic High School in 1960, his father took him to that proverbial fork in the road. “I’m not going to put you through college because I don’t think you’re ready for it,” his father told him. “Joining the military service was out because I don’t think you’d make a good soldier. But you can work for a living.” So, Wayne took his first job for a company that produced precast concrete for construction work. “Dad was the general superintendent for the company so it was nepotism at work.”
With his day job covering five days a week, Wayne, along with Larry Tamblyn, joined a group called The Emeralds. On weekends, the group was a cover band that would play for local high school dances. “We worked primarily in the LA area…the area covered by KRLA radio.” Of course, with bands being fluid, a singer or musician would cover for a member of another band if need be. “When the Emeralds weren’t working and I had an offer to play for another group, I would do it. I enjoyed working.”
That led Wayne to a gig for an ethnic-laced group known as The Mixtures. “ I earned more money with the Mixtures working on Fridays at Rainbow Gardens in San Bernardino and Saturdays at El Monte Legion Stadium. They also appeared on a Sunday TV show sponsored by White Front Discount Department Stores. The El Monte shows were fun because we backed up national groups such as the Olympics, the Righteous Brothers and many black groups from the Los Angeles area.”
Wayne Edwards with the Mixtures around November, 1962.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Edwards.
It was during this time that Wayne met Dick Burns, a musician who worked in a number of the same bands as Wayne. It was Burns who introduced Edwards to Gary Usher, a Massachusetts transplant and musician in a number of 50s bands around Southern California who eventually migrated to writing surf songs in the early 60s. It was Usher who co-wrote with Brian Wilson, In My Room, 409 and The Lonely Sea for the Beach Boys.
To feed the insatiable demand for surf music emanating from Southern California, Usher created a number of fictitious surf groups (Four Speeds, Sunsets, and the Super Stocks, to name a few) and using studio musicians, he created a number of albums in the surf genre. None sold that well and a record-buying public was ready for the next big thing, a Japanese-made motorbike.
Honda motorbikes were marketed as a motorcycle for everybody, erasing the negative stereotype as the transportation mode chosen by tough, antisocial rebels. The campaign (You meet the nicest people on a Honda) was quite successful, as Honda became a sales force in the motorcycle industry. Those sales were only helped when Beach Boys members Brian Wilson and Mike Love were inspired to write a song about the groovy, little motorbike.
Little Honda was recorded by the Beach Boys in early April of 1964 and released in July 1964 on their All Summer Long LP. With I Get Around, the first track on the LP reaching #1, the flip side Don’t Worry Baby from the album Shut Down, Volume 2 landing at #24 and When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) waiting in the wings, the Beach Boys had no intention of releasing Little Honda as a single. (1)
When Usher learned of the Beach Boys plans not to release Little Honda, he sprung into action. Wanting to stay ahead of the curve on a new genre of pop music, he teamed with producer, Nick Venet and chose a studio group to record an album of motorcycle related songs for Mercury Records. Usher had a go-to group that he used for recordings. He handed singers Chuck Girard and Joe Kelly (both were singers with The Castells who had hits with Sacred in 1961 and So This Is Love in 1962) the All Summer Long album and told them to learn Little Honda. Usher also hired Dick Burns to play bass and Edwards as his drummer. The rest of the cast included Wrecking Crew members Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Richie Podolor, Bill Cooper and Usher (guitar) and Al De Lory (piano). “I worked for Gary in the studio for a group called the Super Stocks. There was no hesitation on my part as I was making $15 a gig locally. In the studio, the session amount was over $100!” Wayne mentioned with a laugh.
The morning session on July 27, 1964 produced four songs – Little Honda, Hot Rod High, Wild One and Ridin’ Trails – all songs that graced the premier album, Go Little Honda. (5) “We had an afternoon session that same day that produced seven more songs. We just did the basic tracks and by later in the day, they were all sounding much the same to me.”
Once the vocals were added and Little Honda was released as a single, the song entered the Billboard chart at #84 on September 12, 1964. Once Venet saw the weekly, upward climb to #60 and then #42, he decided he wanted to release an album. (2)
Burns received the call from Usher about the release of an album and was asked to pose with the group for the LP cover…only there was no group! “Burns was working at a Bank of America branch at the time (his day job) and asked a co-worker (Terry Davis) if he wanted to be on an album cover. Burns needed two more guys for the photo shoot so he called me at work (painting cars at this time) and told me about the LP. He invited me and a friend (Dave Haglan) of mine to join him,” recalled Edwards.
If a label produces an album, they wanted the artist(s) to promote it. So a touring group had to be chosen. “Usher told Burns to put a group together and go on tour. Dick asked me if I wanted to join and the next thing I know, the Hondells were on one of the Dick Clark tours.
One version of the Hondells touring group from 1964. Standing from L-R: Andy Anderson, Wayne Edwards and Dick Burns. Kneeling is Randy Thomas.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Edwards.
“Those tours were tough as we traveled up to 800 miles a trip by bus. If there was time when we arrived at our destination, we checked into a hotel (two to a room), changed clothes and headed to the venue. The format was for every artist or group to perform two songs and give way to the next act. Then back to the hotel, sleep and repeat the process the next day,” remembered Edwards. “The tour was tough but the experience was invaluable. For a few weeks, we travelled with the hottest stars in the business — Bobby Vee, Freddy Cannon, The Supremes, The Drifters, The Crystals, Lou Christie, Dee Dee Sharp and Herman’s Hermits — to name a few.”
Little Honda reached its Billboard peak at #9 on Halloween night of 1964. (2) Capitol Records took notice of the hit that got away and relented on their plans for the Beach Boys version. The effort was too little too late. The Beach Boys single reached the chart on October 17 and peaked at #44. (1)
Promoting a hit record was one thing. Keeping the momentum going for the follow-up release was something else. My Buddy Seat, the follow-up to Little Honda, was released in December of 1964 to a lukewarm spot on the charts at #87. Four single releases, Little Sidewalk Surfer Girl, Sea Of Love, Sea Cruise and Endless Sleep failed to chart in 1965.
In 1966, the Hondells version of a John Sebastian-penned, Younger Girl, put the group back in the limelight and more importantly, back on the chart. The song was recorded on Valentine’s Day of 1966 with many of the same players from the Little Honda sessions. (6) Unfortunately, The Critters released their version on the same May 28 date and split the song’s popularity — #42 for the Critters and #52 for the Hondells. (3) (4)
Six more singles from late 1965-1970 were largely unnoticed by the record-buying public. The Hondells split in 1970. “I was married with kids and didn’t see a future with this life,” Edwards said. “I returned to Southern California and the precast business and stayed there until I retired.”
Still, it was a good run for the band. They appeared in three 1965 movies — Beach Blanket Bingo starring Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, Ski Party with Avalon and Dwayne Hickman and Beach Ball with Edd Byrnes. The band also appeared in TV commercials for Pepsi and Coty Cosmetics.
I send special thanks to Wayne Edwards and his wife Jackie for their help with this piece. It was my pleasure from start to finish.
THe Hondells perform Little Honda on The Dick Clark Show on October 17, 1964.
Younger Girl was The Hondells last charted hit in 1966.
We'll step aside for a commercial message by THe Hondells!
1) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Pages 43-44.
2) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Hot 100 Charts The Sixties
3) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 160.
4) Whitburn, Joel, Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 320.
5) American Federation of Musicians contract # 75554.
6) American Federation of Musicians contract # 243571.
Jackie and Wayne Edwards in July of 2018.
Photo courtesy of Jackie and Wayne Edwards.
© 2018 Jerry Reuss