Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Mystery Of The Frogmen

I was lucky enough to grow up in a very entertainment friendly household. My dad was a movie buff who educated me on the art and history of cinema, and my mom was a music junkie who introduced me to the world of vinyl records and cassette tapes. She had every Beach Boys album that existed at the time (including a bootleg of Brian Wilson's masterpiece Smile) but one of her records intrigued me more than any. It was a compilation of some of The Beach Boys early material:
At the time I was completely enamored by The Beach Boys' instrumental tracks (especially "Fall Breaks And Back To Winter") and this generic 20 hits collection contained four awesome songs that stood out above the rest: "Tioga" "Underwater" "Beware Below" and "Karate"



                                    




When the Beach Boys' entire back catalog was being released on CD and "Karate" (aka "Stomp") showed up on a few of them, I couldn't understand why these other three amazing instrumentals were being ignored. Then I found a revealing clue:
This German import CD had "Beware Below" "Tioga" and "Underwater" on it and the credit was given to a group called The Frogmen. Now, after many years, I knew that The Beach Boys 20 Hits LP had been  mislabeled, and I began my quest to find an album by this amazing group known only as The Frogmen. Years of searching Ebay, record stores, and the internet brought me nothing new, and I still only had those three songs. Just when I was about to give up hope, I finally found a fourth track entitled "Seahorse Flats" on this Surf Creature compilation record:

It was another great song by this mysterious band, yet still I could find no further information about them or a full-length album. In 1994, Rhino Records remastered and re-released "Underwater" on this surf compilation CD:
In the linear notes, it mentioned how The Frogmen became the first surf rock band to crack the billboard charts with their single "Underwater." In a 1992 interview, Jack Andrews, the writer of the song, said that The Frogmen were a four-piece band from Culver City and that he took them into American Recording and cut "Underwater." Andrews also said that after shopping the record around without much luck, his friend Joe Saraceno told him to add something to it to give it more of a punch. So Engineer Frank DeLuna picked up a guiro (a Spanish percussion instrument that makes "croaking" sounds)) and Andrews added it to the song. Saraceno worked for Candix Records and also helped get the track released on that label. According to Andrews, Saraceno came up with the name Frogmen.

I knew "Underwater" must have had some kind of a cult following, since it's heard on the soundtrack to the John Water's film Female Trouble after the Dawn Davenport wedding sequence.


So with the advent of Facebook, I started a Frogmen fan page, hoping that I would connect with some fans of this obscure group and maybe get some more tracks. What I didn't anticipate was that the drummer of the group, Mike Anderson, would contact me and provide me with information and photos of the band.
 
Later, guitarist Jim Young also joined and gave me more info. Basically they were a high school band that recorded a few singles and then disbanded shortly after. Mystery solved. They were quite popular after "Underwater" became a hit and even appeared on Wink Martindale's Show in 1961:


It really is a shame that the group didn't stay together longer and record a full length album. They were a great surf rock band (especially for high school kids), and had a truly original sound. Jim Young seemed shocked that I even had a copy of "Seahorse Flats" which he claimed was never officially released. Thank God for bootlegs! Later on I came across a mystery 45, "Sea Haunt/Diamond Black" by the Frogmen:


Could it be their long lost single? Both Mike Anderson and Jim Young assured me that this was a different group with the same name. The b-side to "Underwater" contains a song called "The Mad Rush" which is a weird little waltz number credited to the Frogmen, but recorded by another band as well. I also found a 45 at an auction entitled "Hop-Toad" by  Don Costa with the Frogmen, and this jazz influenced single released in 1955 also has no relation to the group. So, after two decades of searching for clues, the mystery of the Frogmen comes to an end. Although they only recorded four songs in their short musical career, they're four PERFECT songs...
Official Frogmen Discovery:
1961 : Underwater / The Mad Rush
- Candix 314 / Astra 1009 - Simple
(Underwater)

1961 : Beware Below / Tioga
- Candix 326 / Astra 1010 - Simple
(Beware Below, Tioga)

1961 : Seahorse Flats / Tioga
- Scott 101 - Simple
(Seahorse Flats, Tioga)

1961 : Underwater / Beware Below
- Scott 102 - Simple
(Underwater, Beware Below)


Unofficial Frogmen 45's:

1955 : Hop-Toad/Prince of Wails
-Essex 387 (Don Costa with the Frogmen)
(Hop-Toad, Prince of Wails)


1964 : Sea Haunt / Diamond Black
- Tee Jay 131 - Simple
(Sea Haunt) 




7 comments:

  1. I'm Larry (Laurence) Bartone, the tenor sax of the Frogmen. Jack Andrews was not the writer - but took credit for it. I'd say Dennis and Jim were, but we all had a hand in it. Not that it was a complex piece...

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    2. Hi Larry, My name is Rick Scott / Geertsema, I played lead guitar for The Royal Impalas,{1959-1963} In December of 1960 we signed with Candix Records & they gave us a demo of The tune "Underwater" which we were supposed to learn & record for them. We dawdled too long & so they released the demo which {as you know} became a big hit. Did you guys record that demo ?? We toured as The Frogmen "61-62" mostly through the southwest, CA,AZ,NM. Candix sent four of us to Philadelphia & Baltimore in April of 61 & we appeared on American Bandstand & The Buddy Deane Show on the 19th. & 20th. I just saw the pic of you guys for the first time today after all these years. Soooo, if your still kickin, it would be fun to make contact. My e-mail is rickatac@msn.com or by phone 415-269-5483 Regards Rick

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  2. I am Laurence Bartone's friend and we were room mates in the early 70's. He thought the record was lost and I was disappointed not to be able to hear it. Bartone showed me the moves he made blowing an air sax. It is great that the story is presented here. Perhaps a reunion tour?

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  3. I'm just a fan...since 1961. Best dance music I've heard to this day. Thanks for researching and posting this. And thanks to The Frogmen for producing four, as you say, PERFECT rock instrumentals. It's a shame these guys didn't become REALLY BIG. Just didn't have the right promoter, I'd say. Their sound is still unique and timeless...far better than the crap being done today.

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  4. Hey Chris - Kudos on the research of The Frogmen. I heard this on Bill Kelly's (WHMU) Aug 14, 2016 show and had to find out more about it. Your weblog post provided great details. I posted Underwater as one of eight songs tonight on the fan page for Little Stevens Underground Garage. Thanks, Mike

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  5. Always loved Underwater.
    Here's some info from an Amazon customer reviewer. How does this jibe with everything?
    https://www.amazon.com/Underwater-Frogmen/dp/B00A76HR12/ref=pd_ybh_a_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=BZ6TBW9PHFW25DF4A2KD

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