An Introduction to Florida Garage Rock

An Introduction To Garage Rock Summer The American Garage Rock Road Trip

I didn’t plan on putting together two different features this week, but when assembling the initial list of tracks for the Deep South, I discovered that a disproportionate number of the contending songs were from Florida-based bands. Though the Sunshine State has (not totally undeservedly) become the target of a lot barbs in recent decades, it was a remarkably fertile ground for garage bands throughout the sixties – enough to justify giving the state a feature of its own.

And so, here were are, examining thirty different Florida groups: from Stones-aping blues rockers, to folk-influenced garage popsters, to snotty proto-punks, to full-blown acid psych fiends. Like the state itself, there’s no single dominant style or cultural influence that can allow the Florida musical scene to be typecasted, or defined in broad brushstrokes. Many of the same social factors that played into the garage rock of the Deep South can be found in Florida, but as most of the groups featured here came from the state’s abundant metropolitan areas, the trends of the rest of the United States were often reflected in the work of these bands.

Like the other Deep South states, Florida has often been curiously underrepresented on garage compilations – save for the numerous volumes that specifically focus on the state itself. While a few of these bands were featured on the expanded 1998 version of the Nuggets compilation, no Florida-based groups made it onto the original 1972 edition (The Mojo Men, who formed in Coral Gables, were identified as a San Francisco group in the liner notes). Similarly, despite a number of excellent contenders, few Florida bands made it onto the early volumes of the Pebbles or Back From the Grave series.

As a result, this is another feature in which the Spotify playlist below is nice for newcomers, but ultimately paints a woefully incomplete picture of what Florida garage bands had to offer. If you’re not a subscriber to YouTube Music, bear with the commercials, as you’re bound to find some previously-unknown gems among these thirty tracks. Enjoy!


The Montells

“You Can’t Make Me”

single A-side (1966)

Although they stood somewhere near the center of the Miami garage rock scene – and shared members with at least one other group on this list – The Montells only released one single during their five years as an active band. Their sole A-side, “You Can’t Make Me” is full of attitude and energy – even employing a brief rave-up in its explosive middle section – and it stands as one of the best examples of Florida proto-punk.

The Nightcrawlers

“The Little Black Egg”

single A-side (1965)

A garage classic that edges into straight-up pop territory, “The Little Black Egg” was a modest hit for Daytona Beach’s Nightcrawlers. Written by the band’s bassist Charlie Conlon, the song’s lyrics have been the subject of speculation, but its effortless hooks and charming arrangement have long made it a favorite of sixties pop enthusiasts.

Clefs of Lavender Hill

“Stop! Get a Ticket”

single A-side (1966)

Even further down the pop side of the spectrum, the signature track from Miami’s Clefs of Lavender Hill is downright giddy. Built around a solid hook and effective boy/girl harmonies, “Stop! Get a Ticket” may not exactly scream “garage rock,” but it was a solid addition to the expanded 1998 edition of the classic Nuggets compilation.

The Belles

“Melvin”

single A-side (1966)

One of the all-time garage classics, Them’s “Gloria” was essentially a required part of the repertoire for any aspiring rock band in the mid-sixties. The most interesting interpretation of the Van Morrison-penned song – at least until Patti Smith got ahold of it – came from a North Miami Beach all-girl band, whose name made a sly reference to the typical expectations of young southern women. Re-titled in honor of the lead vocalist from a competing band, The Vandals, “Melvin” is a gem.

The Deep Six

“Last Time Around”

single B-side (1966)

A Jacksonville quintet, The Deep Six recorded a pair of singles in 1966, the second of which harbors an excellent track on its flipside. “Last Time Around” is a chugging rocker, led by a great-sounding lead guitar part, and punctuated by solid group harmonies.

The Burgundy Blues

“I’ll Get You Back Again”

single B-side (1966)

Another Miami group, The Burgundy Blues were led by vocalist/guitarist Tim Yero. Yero wrote both sides of the group’s only single, the better half of which housed the spirited “I’ll Get You Back Again.” According to the band’s page on the excellent resource Garage Hangover, the quartet disbanded after Yero was drafted in 1967 – a common cause of many garage band breakups.

The Wave-Riders

“Ain’t It a Shame”

single B-side (1966)

True to their name, The Wave-Riders traded in a sound that was heavily inspired by surf rock. The B-side of the Florida group’s lone single features a brisk pace, diving guitar chords, and active fretwork throughout. Not much is known about the group, but “Ain’t It a Shame” shows that they were clearly a talented bunch.

The Rockin’ Roadrunners

“Go Away”

single A-side (1966)

The Orlando-based quintet The Rockin’ Roadrunners would release three singles during their time together – the most impressive of which was their 1966 debut. “Go Away” displays the band’s two-guitar approach to strong effect, and its melodic qualities reveal more and more with each successive listen.

Dave and The Wanderers

“My Heart Is in Pain”

unreleased (recorded 1966)

Led by Dave Fern├índez, Miami’s Dave and The Wanderers recorded a single for the Criteria label in 1966, but it would go unissued for over four decades – before being released on the 2009 compilation Train to Nowhere. The planned A-side, “My Heart is in Pain” showcases Fern├índez’s plaintive lead vocals, and a solid ensemble performance from the group.

The Berkley Five

“You’re Gonna Cry”

single A-side (1966)

From the small town of Umatilla, The Berkley Five were yet another Florida garage band with just a single release to their name. Its moody A-side, “You’re Gonna Cry” begins as a relatively measured performance, before breaking through to a cathartic close that seems designed to evoke the song’s title.

The Evil

“I’m Movin’ On”

unreleased (recorded 1966)

A Miami band with ties to The Montells, The Evil released one single on the local Living Legend imprint in 1967, which was subsequently picked up by Capitol Records. When it failed to make much of an impact, the group went their separate ways; however, they had left an even better track on the cutting room floor. Recorded in 1966, “I’m Movin’ On” would eventually see release decades later, and the explosive song is one of the finest to emerge from the Florida garage scene.

The Cave Men

“It’s Trash”

single B-side (1966)

Leaping out of the gates with a scream of the title, “It’s Trash” only ramps up the fury from there. The primal power of The Cave Men – particularly the absolutely unhinged vocals of Andy Johnson – upped the ante for every other punk-inclined group on the Florida scene, and though it was the Key West group’s only release, “It’s Trash” constitutes quite a legacy on its own.

The Shades Inc.

“Who Loved Her”

single A-side (1966)

For lack of a better term, it’s a very cool riff that introduces “Who Loved Her” – a 1966 A-side from Miami’s The Shades Inc. Fittingly, the rest of the track carries on in a similarly stylish and laid-back fashion – far more reserved than the typical garage fare, and reminiscent of the more polished sounds that would dominate British rock in the mid-sixties.

The Outsiders

“She’s Coming on Stronger”

single B-side (1966)

Counting our recent feature on the Nederbeat scene, this is now the third band called The Outsiders that we’ve covered during Garage Rock Summer. Far more obscure than the Ohio band of “Time Won’t Let Me” fame, or the Dutch group behind 1968’s outstanding CQ, Tampa’s Outsiders would release just two singles. The B-side of their first, “She’s Coming on Stronger” is the sharpest track in the group’s catalog: surfy and benefitting from an appealing group-chant vocal.

The Ravens

“Reaching for the Sun”

single A-side (1966)

Another band with a common name, The Ravens – more commonly credited as The Raven – came from St. Petersburg, and released their debut single on Tampa’s Boss label. “Reaching for the Sun” was its dynamic A-side: carried by a jangly guitar riff, buoyant bass, and effective group harmonies.

The Lost Generation

“I’d Gladly Pay”

single A-side (1967)

Tampa’s The Lost Generation does relatively little to distinguish itself during the first half of their lone A-side, but once the song switches into a full-speed rave-up at its midpoint, “I’d Gladly Pay” becomes an entirely different beast. Returning for another pair of verses, the track stays in a higher gear, and remains all the better because of it.

We the People

“Mirror of Your Mind”

single A-side (1966)

One of the more successful garage bands on the Florida scene, Orlando’s We the People would release a stretch of impressive singles between 1966-68. While several of these would eventually become compilation mainstays, it’s 1966’s stirring “Mirror of Your Mind” which stands as the best of the bunch. A pulsating, Stones-esque stomper, “Mirror” is an electrifying track.

The Tropics

“Black Jacket Woman”

single B-side (1966)

Taking things down a considerable notch, this 1966 B-side from Tampa’s The Tropics showcases a more contemplative side of Florida garage rock. “Black Jacket Woman” is a moody, minor-key track that features excellent group harmonies and vividly melancholic imagery. The atmosphere from its homespun production only amplifies an already palpable despondency.

The Non-Pareils

“Willow Tree”

single B-side (1967)

Another downcast winner, “Willow Tree” was the B-side to the lone single from Madeira Beach’s The Non-Pareils. The song’s sad sack lyrics mesh well with the sparse arrangement and bare bones production, and though they’re a bit melodramatic, the song never descends into triteness.

The Rare Breed

“I Talk to the Sun”

single A-side (1967)

The Rare Breed made an impressive debut with 1967’s “I Talk to the Sun.” Dominated by a watery Hammond organ and a fuzzy bass part that acts as the lead instrument for much of the song, it’s an intriguing track that stands as the pinnacle of the Gainsville group’s limited catalog.

The Group

“Land of Lakes”

single A-side (1967)

One of a number of sixties garage bands to go by the indistinctive moniker The Group, this Cocoa Beach outfit (also known by the slightly-easier-to-Google The Fantastic Group) would release just one single before dissolving into a sea of similarly-named bands. That single housed an excellent A-side in “Land of Lakes” – a track that balances carefully on the line between garage and psych.

Tasmanians

“Baby”

single B-side (1967)

Though it begins sounding like a simple folk track, “Baby” quickly finds West Palm Beach’s Tasmanians erupting into a rocking blast of proto-punk. The B-side to the band’s debut single for the local Conda Records imprint, “Baby” is a rager that has featured on a number of Florida-centric garage compilations.

The Painted Faces

“Anxious Color”

single A-side (1967)

On title and band name alone, you can tell that we’re entering the psychedelic portion of our program. “Anxious Color” is dopey in the endearing way that psych often pulls off, and even if it leans a little too heavily on “Paint It Black” for its inspiration, it’s still an impressive showing from this Fort Myers group.

Noah’s Ark

“Love In”

single A-side (1967)

Released in the middle of the so-called Summer of Love, the debut single from Tampa’s Noah’s Ark threatens to go far beyond the aforementioned “endearing dopiness,” and into full-blown ridiculousness. Depending on your tolerance for watered-down appropriations of Indian classical scales, Cossack dance parodies, and Fugs rip-offs, “Love In” may in fact go way too far. Either way, it’s a pretty fascinating track.

The Inner Thoughts

“1,000 Miles (Cheating On Me)”

single B-side (1967)

More psych, this time from Clearwater. One of a handful of groups on this list to be associated with the Tampa-based Paris Tower label, The Inner Thoughts made their lone A-side count with “1,000 Miles.” Oh wait, they actually put this on the flip in favor of yet another cover of “Smokestack Lightning”? Yeah, that was probably a mistake.

Cosmic Camel

“The Suzanne Love Mirage”

single B-side (1968)

You can’t help but root for a band named Cosmic Camel. However, this Gainesville group didn’t make much of an impact beyond their local scene. Regardless, “The Suzanne Love Mirage” is a fascinating, shape-shifting psych epic. Featuring several different sections, and the alternating vocals of Bill Thacker and Liz Green, “Mirage” packs a lot into its compact run-time.

The Split Ends

“Rich With Nothin'”

single B-side (1967)

While “Rich With Nothin'” was an original composition from Tampa’s The Split Ends, the song revisits a well-worn theme in garage tracks: disdain of materialistic ex-love interests. There’s not a lot to the song from a compositional standpoint, but it’s delivered with a confident swagger that can’t help but grab the listener’s attention.

The Echo

“Young People”

single B-side (1967)

The B-side to the second of three singles from Miami’s The Echo (also credited in other places as The Echoes), “Young People” is a brisk track that recalls the contemporaneous work of British bands like The Who and The Move. It’s a surprisingly full-sounding recording, and one that demonstrates a musical proficiency that many other area garage bands lacked.

The Purple Underground

“Count Back”

single A-side (1967)

Another group whose entire catalog appeared on the Boss label, Winter Haven’s The Purple Underground released two singles shortly after their 1967 formation, but apparently never returned to the studio before disbanding in 1971. “Count Back” captures the spirit of ’67 on an effect-heavy blast of psychedelia, and it stands as the peak of the group’s limited discography.

The Shy Guys

“Goodbye to You”

single A-side (1968)

A favorite of those good folks at Numero Group, The Shy Guys first appeared on 2017’s excellent psych rock compilation Warfaring Strangers: Acid Nightmares. A complete one-eighty from that track, the dreamy “Goodbye to You” closed out 2020’s inventive Louis Wayne Moody High. Both tracks are solid, but it’s the latter that fits more firmly in my wheelhouse, and gets the call to close out this examination of the Florida rock underground.

Author

  • Matt Ryan

    Matt Ryan founded Strange Currencies Music in January 2020, and remains the site's editor-in-chief. The creator of the "A Century of Song" project and co-host of the "Strange Currencies Podcast," Matt enjoys a wide variety of genres, but has a particular affinity for 60s pop, 90s indie rock, and post-bop jazz. He is an avid collector of vinyl, and a multi-instrumentalist who has played/recorded with several different bands and projects.

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