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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Combinations: Good Clean Fun with a Garage Band

"I've recorded songs in my garage. Am I a 'garage band'?" - Bob Dylan, Theme Time Radio Hour Friends & Neighbors

I get asked what I'm going to do now that Theme Time Radio Hour has wound up with Season 3. I'm not worried. There are 8 million stories in the Big City still to tell before I'm done. Here's another one of them...

Last Friday the pop culture site, BoingBoing, posted an article about a weird find on a San Francisco street, a "Bump Ball," in its original packaging. Released in 19 and 68, the Milton-Bradley Bump Ball was kind of a sexier variation on the Twister game.

"Once upon a time in the way out kingdom of contemporary America," the liner notes of the Official Bump Ball L.P. tells us, "a ball was invented. No ordinary ball this one. A big, soft, spongy ball with crazy bumps all over it. The cats at Milton Bradley threw the Bump Ball into the teen scene - and a whole new bag was born."

According to its instructions, the idea of the whole new bag was to take the Bump Ball and "squeeze it between you and a partner," going on to provide a three-part example where you...

  1. Start by holding the ball between you and your partner's foreheads.

  2. Using NO HANDS - Drop the Bump Ball and catch it between your TUMMIES.

  3. Using NO HANDS - Twirl all the way around keeping the Bump Ball between you and partner.

Good clean fun in `60s America. Included with every Bump Ball was the "Bump Ball" record - an RCA Victor 45, label number 47-9482.

And that's where I come in. I came across the BoingBoing article on a sleepy Sunday Memorial Day afternoon, and having nothing to do for a couple of hours, decided to see if I could track down the Bump Ball music.

I found a lot more than just a novelty song.

The Combinations were formed around 19 and 65 by two cousins from Easton, Pennsylvania, Sammy Losagio and Frank Gaulano. The early line-up changed a few times, but by late 1966 the band had crystallized around Sammy Losagio on drums, Bobby Scammell on bass, Marty Freifeld on guitar, Neil Wellen on the Mighty Hammond organ, and George Ross on vocals.

George Ross was black, while the other Combinations were white, making them an unusual teen-age group for the early `60s, and giving them an eclectic sound. Bobby Scammell remembered a typical Combinations set-list included the title theme from the movie "Exodus," Karen Chandler's pop standard, "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me" followed by The Animals "It's My Life," followed by Otis Redding's "I've Been Lovin' You Too Long," followed by anything from "Satin Doll" to"Ebb Tide".

A garage band that could play just about anything had no problems finding places to play: junior high school dances, college campuses, teen clubs and nightclubs, and lots and lots of frat house parties, maybe as many as 200 during the band's short career, where The Combinations usually closed - shades of "Animal House" - with the crowd-pleasing "Shout." The Combinations also played a few private parties, including one in 19 and 66 where they shared the bill with Sonny & Cher.

In August of 19 and 67, The Combinations took 2nd place in a Battle of the Bands, winning a set of Ampeg amplifiers, guitars, and a PA system. More importantly, the group came to the attention of the Milton-Bradley Company, whose P.R. people were looking to recruit a band to promote a new dance game toy they had under development... the Bump Ball.

"Bump Ball" would be the second single The Combinations would record. Band members Marty Freifeld and Bobby Scammell wrote the tune and the band laid down the track at the RCA Studios in New York City. Even though he was the co-author of "Bump Ball," Scammell remembered the B-side session more fondly, the band recording Teddy Randazzo's "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)".

"If you want to hear the five of us as close to live as possible then that's the cut to play," bassist Bobby Scammell said of this song. Here's The Combinations with the Little Anthony and The Imperials classic and the B-side of "Bump Ball," "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)."

While no Hula-Hoop, the $2.99 Bump Ball package - complete with 45 record featuring The Combinations "Bump Ball" song - would become a minor craze in the Summer of 19 and 68, especially on the Florida beaches, where thousands of Bump Balls were given away to college Spring Breakers. "Killer Joe" Piro, the New York dance instructor who had popularized The Frug, came up with a Bump Ball dance step, which was featured on The Mike Douglas Show.

The Combinations participated in some of the Bump Ball promotions but were more interested in using the publicity to push their straight music. The B-side of "Bump Ball," "I'm On the Outside (Looking In)," was turning into an audience favorite during their live shows, and the song was beginning to pick up some local radio airplay. It looked like they had a shot at jumping out of the regional market and into the Big Show. All they needed was one more break

But then George Ross was drafted in 19 and 68, and that was the end of the unique sound of The Combinations. In an interview published in 2006, Bobby Scammell noted, "...In the years after returning from Viet Nam George ran into some trouble with the law. He did his time but came out and made the same mistake again. His release date is 2021." A short 2007 interview with George Ross simply notes he is "retired from music."

"... in that rehearsal garage…over on the south side of Easton…there was no manager. We pushed ourselves to learn and improve. It was just the five of us - and the neighborhood kids that gathered and danced in the alley." ~ Bobby Scammell on The Combinations


The Combinations - An Interview with Bobby Scammell

Wayback Warp: The Combinations

BoingBoing on The Bump Ball

An mp3 of "Bump Ball" by The Combinations can be heard/downloaded at/from Amazon, a song whose funkiness ultimately overwhelms its silliness. The song was re-released on the 2005 compilation CD "Absolutely Allentown." Two early cuts by The Combinations, when they were using their alternate name of "Combenashuns" for legal reasons, can be found on a sister compilation, "Absolutely Another Allentown Anglophile Again"

1 comment:

Dreamtime Fan said...

Great post Fred!

I've been listening to my legally obtained copy of the Friends & Neighbors Show and in the "Garage Rock" email the guy mentions The Swinging Medallions played his prom instead of Billy Stewart. I tried to do a little research of my own, cause this sounds like a real email to me, but came up cold.

What do you think?

Dreamtime Fan