A psychedelic rock band from Los Angeles best known for their 1967 hit “Incense and Peppermints“. The group took its name as an homage to the Beatles‘ psychedelic hit “Strawberry Fields Forever“, reportedly, at the suggestion of their record company Uni Records.
The group, originally named Thee Sixpence, initially consisted of Ed King (lead guitar, vocals), Mark Weitz (keyboards, vocals), Lee Freeman (rhythm guitar, harmonica, vocals), Gary Lovetro (bass), and Gene Gunnels (drums). Randy Seol (drums, vibes, percussion, vocals) joined to replace the departing Gunnels just as the name change to SAC was occurring. It was Seol that would eventually bring in songwriters George Bunnell and Steve Bartek. On their first and most famous single, “Incense and Peppermints“(produced by Frank Slay and initially put out as a Thee Sixpence release on the “All American” label), none of the band were all that impressed by songwriter John Carter’s lyrics, so Slay chose Greg Munford, a 16-year-old friend of the band who was from another group called Shapes of Sound, to sing lead. The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100in late 1967. Mark Weitz and Ed King were denied songwriting credits by Slay because they did not write the melody line or the lyrics, though the song was built on an instrumental by Weitz with a bridge by King. This instrumental was originally intended as a B-side to “The Birdman of Alkatrash”, which ultimately became the B-side to “Incense and Peppermints.” The single stayed at #1 for one week with 16 weeks in total on the chart.A gold disc was awarded for one million sales by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on 19 December 1967.
Shortly after recording “Incense and Peppermints” the band added George Bunnell (bass and rhythm guitar, vocals) before making their first LP in 1967, also titled Incense and Peppermints, which hit #11 on the US album chart. Bunnell would also become their main songwriter. Some early Strawberry Alarm Clock songs were penned by Bunnell with Steve Bartek (who would much later join Oingo Boingo, as well as orchestrate Danny Elfman‘sfilm scores). Bartek played flute on the first two albums and would continue to be involved with SAC in its later incarnations.
During the band’s short life it saw many lineup changes. Since Bunnell had become the main writer, it was he that the band had play more and more of the bass parts since he already knew the songs. Gary Lovetro was gradually moved over to the road manager’s position leaving Bunnell as sole bassist. Lovetro was then bought out of the group after conflicts with the others before the second album, Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow, was released. The single “Tomorrow” from this album was a minor hit and their only other Top 40 appearance, reaching #23 in early 1968. “Sit with the Guru” charted at #65 and “Barefoot in Baltimore” peaked at #67, but both songs had lyrics that were written for them.
Bunnell and Seol left the band in late 1968 at the end of the sessions for the third album, The World in a Seashell, because of disagreements with the band over their manager Bill Holmes’ mishandling of their business affairs. Bunnell and Seol formed a new band, Buffington Roads, with Steve Bartek. Holmes was fired by the remaining band members and he angrily retaliated by putting together a fake SAC with Bunnell & Seol and sent them out on the road. The band countered with an injunction against Holmes but the damage was done when the lawsuits caused extreme confusion for promoters who became afraid to book either groups.
Drummer Marty Katin then came aboard along with new lead singer/guitarist Jim Pitman and there was a shift to a more blues rock style. Ed King moved over to bass, as he had been playing many of the bass parts in the studio anyway. In early 1969 Katin, whose drumming style never quite fit the band, left and original “Incense and Peppermints” drummer Gene Gunnels rejoined.
In July 1969, Pitman left after the Good Morning Starshine LP failed to sell and was succeeded by Paul Marshall, who would remain with the group until they disbanded in 1971. The title track, “Good Morning Starshine”, peaked at to #87 in 1969, but was beaten byOliver‘s version.
Weitz, discouraged over the band’s falling fortunes and the lawsuits leading to a sharp drop in demand for gigs, quit by December 1969 to spend more time with his family. The group continued on as a quartet; Ed King, Lee Freeman, Gene Gunnels and Paul Marshall.
By this time the band’s audience had mostly disappeared. They kept performing for awhile and toured the South in 1970 and 1971 with Florida band Lynyrd Skynyrd opening for them. In the latter part of 1971, the group, now without a record label and in conflict over musical direction, opted to disband, with Ed King deciding to relocate to the South to fill the void after the death of Allman Brothers Bandguitarist Duane Allman. King was invited to join Lynyrd Skynyrd in November 1972.
In 1974-75 there was brief reunion of SAC with Bunnell, Seol and Steve Bartek(guitar, flute). The trio played some shows and contributed the theme song to ABC‘s In Concert. They also appeared at the first California Jam on April 6, 1974 on one of the smaller stages.
In 1982 Strawberry Alarm Clock reunited once again after guitarist Lee Freeman spotted a newspaper ad promoting an appearance by the group at a Los Angeles music club. Freeman knew nothing about this gig and went to the club to investigate. There he discovered that the advertisement had actually been a plot by the club’s owners to get the real band to reunite. At this point Freeman, Bunnell, Weitz and Gene Gunnells got back together as Strawberry Alarm Clock. They were joined in 1983 by singer Leo Gaffney and Lee’s brother, Doug, to work on new material.
Later in 1983, the SAC lineup became Freeman, Bunnell, Peter Wasner(kybds) and James Harrah(guitars) and there was a re-recording of “Incense & Peppermints” the same year with a line-up of Freeman, Bunnell, Harrah, Steve Bartek and Clay Bernard(keyboards), with Bob Caloca on lead vocals, that was produced by Dennis Dragon(brother of Daryl Dragon), who played percussion on the track.
After that, Freeman, Bunnell, Harrah and Bernard continued on with Randy Seol rejoining. In 1984 Seol left once again and Harrah and Bernard were replaced by actor/musician Jon Walmsley(guitars, keyboards, vocals). Bruce Hubbard, who’d earlier played with Bunnell in Buffington Roads, took over percussion duties at this point. By 1986, Walmsley was out and guitarist Howie Anderson was in. Anderson also handled keyboard parts via his synth guitar after Bernard left to relocate to New Mexico at the end of the 1980s.
During the 1980s the band began performing on oldies concert tours, usually alongside Moby Grape, The Seeds, and It’s a Beautiful Day. The Freeman, Bunnell, Hubbard, Anderson grouping was their longest, lasting from 1989-2001. During this time period the band became a part-time thing as the members continued to work on some new material and make occasional concert appearances, all the while pursuing their other individual careers.
On June 16, 2001 the group appeared in San Diego‘s Balboa Park with Jefferson Starship, Moby Grape, Iron Butterfly, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Country Joe McDonald. Randy Seol and Gene Gunnells joined Freeman and Bunnell for this show.
In December 2004 Mark Weitz and Ed King were slated to reunite with Seol, Freeman and Bunnell along with original “Incense” singer Greg Munford for a PBS special on 60s rock but Bunnell said in interviews that proper contracts via PBS were never sent to them.
By 2006 Weitz, Bartek, Bunnell, Seol and Howie Anderson were back playing shows with the group. They were joined by Ed King, Lee Freeman, Paul Marshall and Gene Gunnels to perform at the Virginia Theatre in Champaign, Illinois on April 29, 2007. The event was part of the last day of Roger Ebert‘s ninth annual Overlooked Film Festival and was preceded by a screening of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Freeman, Weitz, Bartek, Bunnell, Seol, Gunnels and Anderson then continued on that year making further concert appearances.
In 2008 an ill Freeman was sidelined and in 2010 Bartek began to cut back his appearances with the group.
In January 2010, the Strawberry Alarm Clock started recording new material for the StarTone Records inaugurated by Billy Corgan and Kerry Brown. SAC keyboardist Mark Weitz said, “We’re picking up where we left off, but with a modern sound.” The band also reworked some of its 1960s songs.
Carrying on as Strawberry Alarm Clock are Mark Weitz, Randy Seol, George Bunnell, Gene Gunnels and Howie Anderson.
Television and films
Among the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s television appearances were American Bandstand, Happening ’68, The Steve Allen Show, and the first episode of Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. Drummer Randy Seol made an appearance as one of three eligible bachelors on The Dating Game and was chosen by the girl. SAC also made two notable appearances in films; firstly in the 1968 Jack Nicholson movie Psych-Out, where they played several songs, including “Incense and Peppermints”, “Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow” and “The World’s on Fire”. “The Pretty Song From Psych-Out” was re-recorded by a San Fernando Valley garage band, The Storybook, for the soundtrack album, but it is the SAC’s version that is in the film. That song is also on SAC’s 1968 “Wake Up It’s Tomorrow” LP. The band’s second movie appearance was in 1970’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, where they played “Incense and Peppermints”, “I’m Comin’ Home”, and “Girl From The City”. The latter two songs were written by Paul Marshall.
- Incense and Peppermints (1967) #11 U.S.
- Wake Up…It’s Tomorrow (1968)
- The World In A Sea Shell (1968)
- Good Morning Starshine (1969)
- Me and the Township (Jim Pitman)
- Off Ramp Road Tramp (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- Small Package (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/ed King/Mark Weitz)
- Hog Child (Gene Gunnels,/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- Miss Attraction (LP version) (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- Good Morning, Starshine (Galt MacDermot/James Rado/Jerome Ragni)
- Miss Attraction (single version) (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- Write Your Name in Gold (Jim Pitman)
- (You Put Me On) Standby (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- Dear Joy (Jim Pitman)
- Changes (Gene Gunnels/Lee Freeman/Ed King/Jim Pitman/Mark Weitz)
- The Best of the Strawberry Alarm Clock (1970) (including two new tracks)
- Changes (1971)
- Incense and Peppermints (1990)
- Strawberries Mean Love (1992)
- The Strawberry Alarm Clock Anthology (1993)
Their music also appeared on the soundtracks of Psych-Out and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the latter featuring two songs not on any previous albums and new lead singer Paul Marshall. The group also appears on a rare Decca Records LP with one side of songs by The Strawberry Alarm Clock and one side of songs by The Who.
- “Incense and Peppermints” b/w “The Birdman of Alkatrash” (1967) #1 U.S.
- “Tomorrow” b/w “Birds in My Tree” (1968) #23 U.S.
- “Sit with the Guru” b/w “Pretty Song from Psych-Out” (1968) #65 U.S.
- “Barefoot in Baltimore” b/w “An Angry Young Man” (1968) #67 U.S.
- “Sea Shell” b/w “Paxton’s Back Street Carnival” (1968)
- “Stand By” b/w “Miss Attraction” (1969)
- “Good Morning Starshine” b/w “Me and the Township” (1969) #87 U.S.
- “Desiree” b/w “Changes” (1969)
- “Small Package” b/w “Starting Out the Day” (1969)
- “I Climbed the Mountain” b/w “Three” (1969)
- “California Day” b/w “Three” (1970)
- “Girl from the City” b/w “Three” (1970)
- ^ a b c Strawberry Alarm Clock. Rhapsody. Accessed March 19, 2009.
- ^ a b Strawberry Alarm Clock Allmusic.com.
- ^ www.edking.net
- ^ www.billboard.com
- ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 231. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- ^ www.psychedelicsight.com
- ^ R.I.P. Lee Freeman www.unwindwithsac.com
- ^ Double Star Series www.unwindwithsac.com
- Official Site
- www.classicbands.com – Interview with George Bunnell
- Band details at livemusicmagazine.com
- Full discography – Illustrated Thee Sixpence/Strawberry Alarm Clock discography
- Unwind With SAC – Extensive reviews of all Strawberry Alarm Clock songs and albums