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Pyramid Power : Pop music: Anaheim resident Will Glover, whose band had a hit with 'Penetration,' has tales to tell of surf music's heyday, though now his heart's in country.

March 31, 1995|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — By day, Will Glover runs his own construction/demolition business, tearing out kitchens and the like. By night, he's spending his day money recording an album of country songs. A couple of times a month, he hits the country bars to perform or compete in talent contests.

He's black and is trying to gain entry to a field that is almost exclusively white. That doesn't especially bother Glover. He's been there, done that.

Back in the early 1960s, there was exactly one black musician who made a mark in the swelling surf-music scene, and it was Glover. His band, the Pyramids, was one of the prime movers in Southern California music. Their tough-sounding instrumental, "Penetration," reached No. 18 on the national charts in early 1964 despite having to compete against the first wave of the British Invasion.

Glover will play that number and others Saturday at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach taking part in a surf guitar "Summit Meeting" that also features members of the Chantays, the Surfaris, Davie Allan & the Arrows, the Astronauts, the Lively Ones, the Challengers and the Belairs, whose guitarist, Paul Johnson, helped organize the event.

In the '60s, Glover's race was rarely an issue, he said. It was practically the least of things that set the Pyramids--whose other four members were white--apart from their contemporaries. The band was too busy getting attention for shaving their heads (in response to the Beatles), showing up at gigs riding elephants and other antics.

These were curious bits of showmanship, especially considering it was Glover's shyness that led to the band's formation.

He was a Navy kid whose family relocated frequently. In 1961 the family moved to Long Beach, where Glover started attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School.

"I was shy and kind of a loner, especially when it came to me and my guitar," Glover recalled. "I was probably one of the only kids back in that time period who carried his guitar to school. It happens now, but it was rare then. In fact, I used to get in trouble over it. But it was my security blanket.

"And that's really how the Pyramids started. Skip (Mercier), who became the lead guitar player, saw me walking across the quad and said, 'Hey, would you teach me how to play the guitar?' And I said, 'Yeah, sure , I don't know how to play it myself.'

"But we got together and figured out how to play a few Ventures tunes, and next thing you know, in two or three months, we had a band," he said. "A couple of months after that we were playing dances."

One day Glover came home to find his mother had bought him a new left-handed, custom burnt-orange-finish Fender Stratocaster. That guitar, now refinished blue, presently hangs in one of the Hard Rock Cafes--Glover doesn't know which one--in tribute to the Pyramids' contributions.

Mercier quickly surpassed Glover on the guitar, but he didn't mind, being the group's singer. Onstage, he found, he wasn't so shy. Not merely an instrumental band, but a surf-R&B-rock 'n' roll mixture, the Pyramids were soon winning battle-of-the-bands competitions and moving up from teen dances in Elks lodges to concert stages. (For a detailed history of the Pyramids, check out Robert J. Dalley's book "Surfin' Guitars.")

Pyramids' bassist Steve Leonard was an electronics whiz who took to building equipment for the group.

"Steve was a real intelligent guy, and he built FM transmitters in our guitars," Glover said. "They think it's a big deal to have that now. We were doing it way back in 1963. There were people who didn't think we were playing because we didn't have any cords coming out of our guitars. But without those cords, we were up there jumping up and down, doing flips. We really worked on being a show band."

They hooked up with a manager who had an even greater flair for showmanship.

"We used to upstage the Beach Boys all the time," Glover recalled. "They'd think they were really doing something to arrive at a show in a limousine. We'd wait until they got there, and then come in and land in a helicopter. One time we did a gig somewhere--it might have been the Azusa Teen Canteen--where, once again, they came in a limousine, and we came in on elephants . I don't know where our manager got all that stuff."

They played most of the Southern California spots the other surf bands did, including the Retail Clerks Union hall in Buena Park, the Pavalon Ballroom in Huntington Beach and the Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula.

After the Chantays' success with "Pipeline," the Pyramids tried for a similar sound in the recording studio on "Penetration," written by Leonard. If Glover reproduces his original contribution to the record at Saturday's show, the audience will be watching him eat.

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