The Sound Sandwich

The Chosen Few (pre-Sound Sandwich)

The Chosen Few (pre-Sound Sandwich)

From:  Los Angeles, CA, USA

Another in the long line of great groups that played the Sunset Strip during its 1966-1967 heyday, The Sound Sandwich are best remembered for two excellent singles on Viva Records. Although they later evolved into a horn band, their 45s are perfect examples of ‘60s Los Angeles pop/pysch. Drummer Les Hugie is well aware of the group’s abilities, but believes that the Sound Sandwich’s lack of greater success may have been a blessing in disguise

An Interview With Les Hugie

60s: The Sound Sandwich evolved from The Chosen Few. Do you recall where you found Sam Ferraro and Rusty Lee (Russ Gebhardt), neither who was a member of The Chosen Few?Les Hugie (LH): As I recall, Ron Smedley started things out with a surf band. I can’t remember who told me they were looking for a drummer, but I showed up at the audition, 15 years old and as naive as they come. This other guy was there as well and when I walked in, he was already demonstrating that he had some pretty solid chops on the drums. He also looked pretty cool. I think Happy Days got the character of Fonzie from him. His name was Russ Gebhardt. Russ heard that I had come to audition to play drums and this is when I learned what a cool and gracious guy Russ was. He told Ron that he could sing, and could he ever sing and dance. He had moves that James Brown would have envied. Fortunately for me, I was pretty good at keeping a beat and I was in my first band! The bass player I believe was George Carillo. Sam Ferraro was a friend of mine and I don’t exactly recall when he joined the band, but it was shortly after I joined.

60s: Where did the band typically play? What were some of your better gigs?
LH: We started out playing high schools, junior high and some fraternity gigs. As we honed our skills we started getting some better gigs. I loved playing the Cheetah (the old Avalon Ballroom) because as the drummer I sat about 12 feet above the floor of the auditorium. We played with Alex Cooper and I also recall playing with Jr. Walker and The All Stars. We also did some gigs at Gazzarri’s and a couple of other clubs whose names escape me. At some point we added horns. I don’t remember the horn players’ names but we had a good sound. Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago (CTA) were doing the Hollywood clubs at the time and we felt we had a similar sound.

60s: What were the circumstances leading to the band’s opportunity to record your 45s?
LH: We were playing at a club as I recall and Johnny Cole was impressed with our sound. He and Gil Garfield soon wanted to sign us to a recording contract and as young, stupid and naive kids, all we saw was fame and fortune ahead of us. They didn’t like the horns, claiming they had no place in rock & roll so they had to go. I look back now and wonder what might have happened had we continued down the road we had carved out for ourselves before we met Cole.

60s: Johnny Cole wrote all four songs that comprised the two Sound Sandwich 45s. Was he sort of a manager figure?
LH: Johnny was a good man as I recall and I believe that he wanted us to succeed. He and Russ became close friends. I guess you could consider him to be a manager figure to a degree, but I believe this was part of our problem; we didn’t have a good manager that knew how to lead and nurture a group of teenagers. Johnny was a good songwriter and producer but didn’t have good manager skills. He and Gil Garfield came up with the name Sound Sandwich. We all hated it! I used to say the name of our band under my breath when someone asked me. They’d say, “The Sound Machine?” and I’d say, “Yea, that’s it!”

60s: You recorded the first single at Goldstar Studios and the second at Amigo Studios. Do you have specific recollections about either recording session?
LH: This was just too much fun. Sonny Bono was recording and so were The Beach Boys at the same time, which was pretty cool. The crazy thing is that ‘Apothecary Dream’ was to be the A-side. We spent the better part of two weeks in the studio perfecting this song and I think ‘Zig Zag News’ was done in less than a day. ‘Apothecary Dream’ was supposed to be the “rate a record” on American Bandstand but was banned because it was about drugs—and ‘Zig Zag’ wasn’t? No airplay for ‘Apothecary Dream’ but our keyboard player, Val Tonione, had some connections with Charlie O’Donnell of KFWB. Russ and I were cruising down Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake in his dad’s T-Bird when all of a sudden…’Zig Zag News’ is on the radio. We both pointed at the radio, mouths wide open, and then started screaming to anyone within earshot that we were on the radio. I’m sure that those that witnessed these two long hairs carrying on must have thought too much pot smoking.

60s: Besides the two Viva 45s, are there any other Sound Sandwich recordings? Are there any vintage live recordings, or other unreleased tracks?
LH: Oh how I wished there were. As you may know, Sundazed Records put together a compilation CD a couple of years ago with ‘Tow Away’, ‘Zig Zag News’ and ‘Apothecary Dream’. I always liked ‘Sunshine Man’ (the fourth song, which was not included on Sundazed’s Ain’t It Hard! Garage & Psych From Viva Records CD). It showed our diversity. We had somewhere around 10 or 12 tracks that were recorded for an album. The only title I recall is, ‘The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon.’

60s: Do you recall anything in particular about your appearance on Boss City?
LH: Boss City, battle of the bands! Parents got in the way! We had an awesome rendition of ‘Good Lovin’ by The Rascals, but there was another group in the battle that Ron and Val’s Dads thought were really good with their fast song and we should slow it down. I believe we did ‘Orange Skies’ by Love, which was good but really didn’t show off our talents.

60s: What year and why did the band break up?
LH: Wow! You know…I’m not sure. I think it must have been ’68 or ’69. Scott Eggleton (spelling?) was our lead guitar player (at the time) and he was amazing. He was drafted and three weeks after arriving in Vietnam, he was killed. Russ had also been drafted and this was his cue to go AWOL and head for Canada. Me? I got a girl pregnant and that forced me to get a normal job. That didn’t work very well for me and the marriage was short lived. Little did I know that I was soon to be on an aircraft carrier heading for Vietnam. I joined the ship’s country band and proceeded to make it the funkiest country band you ever heard! Russ eventually returned and made a few attempts at getting a band together that would succeed but it never happened. Sadly we lost Russ three years ago. He was my oldest and dearest friend and it all began when this cool dude let the shy drummer play.

60s: How do you best summarize your experiences with The Sound Sandwich?
LH: I would say it was a growing period for me. It was lots of fun for such a young person and I did some growing up during this time. I still believe that we had a great band and I think we were very close at succeeding. That being said, I think it was a blessing that we didn’t succeed at that time. None of us were as responsible as we should have been and we didn’t have a mentor or a strong manager that would protect us. Val Tonione is doing well and just recently became a grandfather. Scott Luke, the keyboard player that took Val’s place, is living in the L.A. area as far as I know. Ron Smedley is also in the L.A. area and I believe he’s doing well. I don’t know what happened to Sammy. The last time I saw him was in the mid ’80s and he had just had a brain tumor removed and didn’t look well. Sammy was an amazing bass player and I pray that he is still alive and well.  ~

Tracks played on Psychedelicized…

From the 1967 single Viva V-615

  • Apothecary Dream
  • Zig Zag News

From the 1968 single Viva V-625

  • Tow Away