'60s band Afterglow finally getting a spotlight
10/30/2012 12:00 AM
10/29/2012 3:43 PM
It didn't work out the way they had planned. Either time.
But the members of Afterglow, who in 2007 discovered that their unsuccessful 1968 pop/psychedelic album had been rediscovered, are just glad something sparked their musical ambitions and friendships again.
The rediscovery was not the boost it could have been, but after more than 35 years apart, they have gotten the old band back together.
"Oh, man, it's fantastic," bass player Ron George, 64, said of reviving his musical career, long on the back burner. "I am so excited because I still see the possibilities."
The story of Afterglow, with its abundant talent, false starts and broken business partnerships, is more common than rare in the music industry. But unlike most stories of bands that didn't make it, this one comes with a postscript – and a documentary chronicling it that will air on "Viewfinder" (Channel 6, KVIE) at 7 p.m. Wednesday and two other times.
The documentary charts the group's origins, its practically "lost" 1968 album and the album's resurgence, unknown to the band members, via the Internet and psychedelic-music aficionados.
Afterglow, made up mostly of College of the Siskiyous students, formed in the mid-1960s. Harmony-rich in the vein of the Byrds and the Association, the band became popular in Siskiyou County and in Chico.
In 1967, the young men George describes as "trusting, small-town kids" made trips to San Francisco to record an album at Golden State Recorders, a studio where the Grateful Dead and other well-known Bay Area bands had cut records.
New York record company MTA said it would give the finished album – with a trippy orange-and-green cover – national release.
"National" and "release" apparently were loose terms.
"The record didn't go anywhere – it wasn't promoted," George said.
The band received a single box of albums. Friends in Chico who wanted to buy it couldn't find it. Semiannual reports on the album's progress were promised but never materialized, the band members said.
"We had all this big hope, so we went out to do our own promotion for it," said lead singer Gene Resler, who joined George last week in George's airy Elk Grove home. "(But) it fell on its face."
Their dreams became smaller. Keyboard player Roger Swanson and guitarist and primary songwriter Tony Tecumseh opted out of the band. George, Resler and Alexander performed as a lounge act, playing venues such as Harvey's Lake Tahoe. They split up after a few years.
"We had graduated from college and had families," Alexander, 66, said by phone from Siskiyou County. "It was time to get a real job."
Memories were bittersweet. The band members rarely talked to each other, or talked to anyone about Afterglow. George stopped playing.
"I gave it up because it just hurt," said George, who became a successful mechanical engineer. "I started doing engineering, and I would talk about (the music), and people would go, 'Oh yeah, but what did you do for a living?' But that was our living."
Alexander now owns a natural resources consulting company. He kept his copy of the 1968 album in an out-of-the-way spot in the office. In 2007, its distinctive orange cover caught the eye of Alexander's employee, Pat Desmond.
"I had been working for him for two or three years, and I had no idea" Alexander was in a band, Desmond said.
Alexander and Desmond did an Internet search one Friday after work. Alexander found, to his "total, complete surprise," that the album was for sale all over the place, and that Afterglow was a favorite among psychedelic-music fans.
The original album was going for $300 on eBay and Amazon. A female Japanese group had recorded a version of "Susie's Gone," the album's most psychedelic track.
Best of all, the album had been reissued by New York nostalgia label Sundazed Music, which put it out on CD in 1995 and vinyl in 2001.
Alexander tracked down the other band members. They contacted Sundazed.
"They said, 'We have been looking for you for 15 years,' " Desmond said. Sundazed sent a representative to a band reunion included in the documentary.
It was shaping up to be a story akin to that of "Searching for Sugar Man," the current documentary about obscure 1970s singer-songwriter Rodriguez, who in absentia became a legend in South Africa.
But Afterglow's feeling of triumph had to wait on a few things. Like sales figures. But requests for tallies were not answered, Desmond said, and no one from Afterglow has received royalties.
The band's attorneys and Sundazed's attorneys still are in talks, Alexander said. Desmond said Afterglow owns the rights to its music, and now sells the CD itself.
Sundazed representative Tim Livingston, responding to The Bee's email request for an interview about the reissue, responded: "That release is out of print from us, and has been gone for a couple of years now."
"I was so disheartened," Resler said of the band's interaction with the label. "We thought we were going to be doing great things, and we had a record label behind us, and it felt really good for a while."
The rediscovery process, though, had brought, in Desmond, the band's first dedicated outside advocate. A former event coordinator at San Francisco's Cow Palace, Desmond, 48, tapped his Bay Area media contacts to get the band's story told. Former Bay Area news and sports producer Tim Sotter directed the 30-minute documentary, which Desmond produced.
KVIE was on board with the documentary early, said Michael Sanford, the station's vice president of content development. Sanford offered Desmond feedback on an early cut.
"It is such a poignant story – guys from a small town with real musical talent, but then they disappeared and went about their lives, and unbeknownst to them discovered a cult following," Sanford said.
Sanford said he knew the story would appeal to Northern California viewers. But he had not expected so many other public television stations to air it. Since first airing locally in April, "Afterglow" has aired in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Austin, Texas and several other cities.
Desmond has given Afterglow a marketing push unprecedented in the band's career.
"I wanted justice for the guys," he said.
In 2007, Desmond arranged a band reunion at College of the Siskiyous in Weed. The reunion was so successful that Afterglow later got hired to play the college's alumni day, where "there were autograph seekers," Desmond said.
After being out of touch for years, the band members were rehearsing and performing together again.
"It was kind of a healing," Alexander said. "It came full circle. We were able to take (the music) off the shelf, and have it be something to be proud of. Back in the day, we were all very good friends, and this brought us back together."
Those friends included the reclusive Tecumseh, who died of cancer early this year. The guitarist and songwriter who Alexander called "the spiritual heart" of the band did not perform at the reunion gigs but participated in the documentary.
"He was my mentor in terms of learning to play guitar – he was a real artist, and so smooth," Resler said of Tecumseh's playing. "His writing is so profound because he used a lot of major sevenths and chords that weren't popular during (the '60s). It helps make our music not sound dated."
Part of Desmond's and Alexander's motivation in telling the Afterglow story was to get royalties and recognition for Tecumseh, who Desmond believes was one of the first American Indian rock composers. In 2011, Tecumseh received the Native American Music Awards' Lifetime Achievement Award.
"It turned out to be gratifying for him," Alexander said of Tecumseh and the renewed spotlight on the band. "He experienced that feeling it wasn't just for nothing, that time we had been together."
The reunited Afterglow put out a second album, "Unearthed," written mostly by Resler, who has continued performing at restaurants and other small venues since the first edition of Afterglow broke up. By day, he's a real estate broker. From 2006 to 2010, he was the mayor of Isleton.
The far-flung band members cannot always get together, but Resler and George stay vocally limber via a semiregular gig, alongside new Afterglow keyboard player Stefan Barboza, at Fuso, an Italian restaurant in Vacaville.
Because diners enjoy familiar songs, this Afterglow offshoot plays cover tunes. But it also sprinkles in originals.
It is probably not what they envisioned when schlepping from Siskiyou County to San Francisco to cut an album all those years ago. But they are still playing music, and getting paid for it.
"You never give up the dream," Resler said.
"You never get rid of it," George agreed. "You just suppress it."
The documentary "Afterglow" airs on Channel 6's (KVIE) "Viewfinder" program at 7 p.m. Wednesday, 4 p.m. Friday and 6 p.m. Sunday. The band's debut album "Afterglow" and its follow-up, "Unearthed," are available through the band's website, www.afterglow1968.com.
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