The Banshees were students from Mills High School in Millbrae, a city in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. The band formed as early as 1962 as an instrumental group called The Black Knights, but changed name in 1964 when they added a vocalist. Their debut single was recorded in the recreation room of the local Presbyterian Church, and was produced by fellow high school-er Lou Dorren and issued on his fledgling Solo label in July 1965.
Presumably the inspiration for ‘They Prefer Blondes’, apart from the usual teen-beat band fixation with members of the opposite sex, was the 1953 film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell, even if it was just the title rather than the film itself. The song is a vibrant, infectious rocker given a strong frat feel by Chris Guiver’s sax playing – and indeed he leads the charge in exemplary fashion on the break.
‘They Prefer Blondes’
‘Take a Ride With Me’ is another frat thriller with a rhythm and bluesy feel and stinging guitar solo.
‘Take a Ride With Me’
The single was a local success but Dorren wasn’t happy with the quality of the recording and so the follow-up was cut at a proper studio, Coast Recorders in San Francisco, and issued on Solo in December 1965. ‘Never Said I Loved You’ has a Merseybeat / folk-rock sound with strong harmonica and harmony vocals; ‘So Hard To Bear’ is a moody mid-tempo offering with the sax back in full effect.
In 1966 The Banshees were offered a recording contract by Mainstream and a single was recorded in Los Angeles. This appeared on subsidiary label Brent in November 1966 and was credited to The Ariel. I haven’t heard ‘I Love You’ but ‘It Feels Like I’m Crying’ is an excellent up-beat, melodic folk-rocker.
After the band split, main songwriter Jack Walter again worked with Lou Dorren, this time in Kensington Forest. Lone 45 ‘Movin’ On / Bells’ appeared in May 1967 on Bay Sound Records. Though completely different to ‘They Prefer Blondes’-era Banshees, both sides are well worth tracking down as they are superb West Coast psychedelia with male and female vocals and fine guitar work.
Reissues: ‘They Prefer Blondes’ is on Back From the Grave Volume 1 (or vinyl Volume 2) or Boulders Volume 4 (vinyl); the flip is on Teenage Shutdown Volume 11.
- They Prefer Blondes / Take a Ride With Me (Solo, 1965)
- Never Said I Loved You / So Hard to Bear (Solo, 1965)
As The Ariel
- It Feels Like I’m Crying / I Love You (Brent, 1966)