In the mid-'60s, Orlando was a different world from the city we live in today. Eric T. Schabacker, who ran Bee Jay Booking and Recording and the Tener record label, remembers, "The streets were dead at 8 o'clock. In the spring, there was the wonderful scent of orange blossoms. It was a different Florida. The environment hadn't been raped."
While the landscape of Orlando has since been altered forever, somehow the music of that era has survived. Thanks to people like Roger Maglio and his Orlando-based Gear Fab Records, old recordings by such long-forgotten local bands as the Barons and the Rockin' Roadrunners are available on shiny, digitally remastered CD's (and vinyl records, too!).
Started in 1997, Gear Fab is now widely regarded as one of the best reissue labels in the world, thanks in large part to Maglio's ethical policy of finding and working with the original members of the bands he reissues.
Maglio, a manager for contracts and procurements at Lockheed-Martin, is currently overseeing the release of his latest project, a reissue of the ultra-obscure 1972 "Grey Wizard Am I" album by Gandalf the Grey (from New York), while also preparing for full-length CDs from The Hustlers (mid-'60s Miami garage) and Blue Max (Canadian prog rock from '75) later this fall. Through his garage rock compilation series "Psychedelic Crown Jewels" and "Psychedelic States" (which takes a more regional approach), Maglio has unearthed many a buried 45 from some of the thousands of bands who were active in the original garage era of 1965-68. The music ranges from the obligatory fuzzed-out stompers, to Byrdsian folk-rock, Beatlesque power pop, and post-Hendrix heaviness.
"The compilations are a lot of work," Maglio says, "but they're popular."
When the time comes to assemble another collection of garage nuggets, Maglio gets a little help from his friends. Collector/historian Jeff Lemlich has lent his time and his vinyl to many a Gear Fab project. "Roger got in touch with me [and] decided to get me involved. Besides, no one else had the Blues Messengers, Neighborhood of Love, or Echo 45s," says Lemlich.
Ray Ehman, owner of Rock & Roll Heaven, has also contributed information and potential tracks for the various anthologies. "You listen to hundreds of songs, trying to find the best of the best," Ehmen says. Marathon listening sessions involving beer and pizza engender lively debate over which tracks merit inclusion. Ultimately, it's Maglio's call.
"We all make suggestions," Lemlich says. "But in the end it's Roger who decides which records are included."
Judging by the three volumes of "Psychedelic States: Florida in the '60s," Maglio has chosen well. The uniformly high quality is uncommon in garage rock compilations. Featured are a few regional radio hits, some well-known "classics" (among garage-o-philes, that is), and many long-unheard nuggets given their first commercial release in over 30 years. Among the Orlando bands that make appearances in the series are the Mysteries, the Shy Guys, and Plant Life ("Flower Girl").
Although Gear Fab is known for its garage rock anthologies, the label's bread and butter continues to be full-length reissues of rare LPs from obscure '60s and '70s bands, bands with names like Lumbee, Stack, Froggie Beaver or Shadrack Chameleon. Which begs the question, where does he finds these guys?
"Sometimes I find them, sometimes they find me," says Maglio. "Some of them you can't find, because the fact is a lot of them are dead," he explains. "Musicians can be temperamental, a little on the unbalanced side. A lot of these guys did not die of natural causes, let me put it that way ... . Some of them died in Viet Nam. A lot of them go on to be very successful -- doctors, lawyers. One guy is a brain surgeon."
In a February 2000 interview with Billboard magazine, Maglio laid out the three essential ingredients required for any Gear Fab reissue: "First and foremost, it's gotta be a real obscure album or band, and the original LPs and 45s go for big thousands of dollars -- real rare... . They have to have been out on an independent label that's not affiliated with a conglomerate. [Major labels] don't have the time of day for licensing. Third is that I have to work with the guys in the band... . If I can't do all three of those, I can't put out the reissue I want to do.
"However," he qualifies, "if it's rare and it stinks, I'm not going to put it out."
While one might expect the audience for groups like Yancy Derringer or Sky Farmer to be the graying refugees of the love generation, the fanbase actually skews 20-something. "Half our customers are 30 or younger," claims Maglio. While acknowledging that the current garage revival via groups like The Hives has helped somewhat, he also contends that "a lot of it has to do with what's not happening today in music."
Gear Fab is a refreshing change from many other garage reissue labels, many of whom have developed reputations not far above being mere bootleggers that make no effort to compensate the groups on their compilation albums. "Labels such as Gear Fab reflect a new reality," says Lemlich. "In the early days of compilations, the [labels] didn't give a shit. They knew their product had a very limited market, and would not get any mainstream press or radio attention, so they felt there was little risk in putting out whatever they pleased. Now just about everybody is on the Internet, and let's face it -- everybody Googles their own name! What's to stop a guy from Googling his old band's name, and finding out the material has been reissued and someone is getting money off of it?"
Maglio speaks out against labels who "continue to release material illegally and unethically" in the liner notes to the second volume of the "Crown Jewels" series: "Too many labels, some clandestine, some well-known ... make no attempt to locate, solicit and involve the people who made this music. This is truly a travesty of justice," he writes. "Once again, the almighty dollar triumphs over a generation's music that spoke out so loudly against the establishment."
One form of piracy Maglio doesn't have to worry about is Internet file-sharing. Searches for Gear Fab artists such as "Majic Ship," "Merkin," and "Pugsley Munion" yielded no results on KaZaA. There were 67 matches for "Cannabis," but they were either hip-hop- or comedy-related, not the early-'70s hippie band from Rhode Island.
Having already rereleased the work of so many long-forgotten bands, Roger Maglio is confident that there are still more lost classics waiting to be discovered. "As much as all this stuff has been researched, I still think that for every one we've found, there could be five or ten we haven't found."
[The Gear Fab catalogue is available online at www.swiftsite.com/gearfab.]