Jim talks about his days with the Harbinger Complex
One of the most cherished 45s in my record collection is ’I Think I’m Down’ by The Harbinger Complex. It’s an inspired piece of mid 60s rock and roll. For me, this song has all the thrilling elements I crave when I listen to American garage rock.
Just listen to that immense fuzz guitar riff. It still sends shivers down my spine after all these years of playing it. I wrote about the song months ago. Feel free to check out the blog entry in the archives.
It was absolutely delighted that lead singer from The Harbinger Complex, Jim Hockstaff happened upon my blog and actually sent me an email thanking me for his bands exposure. Wow! this group from Freemont, California could, and in an ideal world should have been contenders. They most definitely had the talent to release more records than they did.
Of course I emailed Jim back with a few questions he replied back and with his permission I’ve posted details here.
Q1. The Harbinger Complex sound is a potent mix of Rolling Stones raunch and Byrdsian jangle. It’s a heady brew that I really dig. Was your ’sound’ intended or did it just come out like it did in the ’mix’ as it were. I’ve read an online interview you did with Mike Dugo that the British Invasion bands inspired you. But were you ’influenced’ by any American bands? How about the folk rock edginess of The Beau Brummels?
I wasn’t aware at all of the interest in the work of our band and the many others of the San Francisco East Bay and elsewhere of that period until relatively recently. It has been a delightful surprise.
As you observed, we were huge fans of the Byrds, Dylan, Van Morrison, Eric Burdon and the Animals as well as the Beatles and Stones and covered many of their songs in our live performances.
We worked constantly on weekends at schools, dance halls clubs and arenas. We opened for many now legendary acts such as Them, The Yardbirds, Big Brother, Neil Diamond and many more.
We were aware of the Beau Brummels, Association, Seeds, Moby Grape, and a host of others but we definitely eschewed the pretty sounds for something angrier and more rebellious.
We played the Byrds constantly and the power of the twelve string was awesome. Yes there was an intentional effort to duplicate or build on the edgy punch of Dylan, the Byrds and the Stones.
With the power of our Fender double fifteen inch “Dual Showman” amplifiers we could overwhelm the largest of venues at that time. It’s a wonder I have my hearing intact.
Q2. I first became aware of the Harbinger Complex via The Chesterfield Kings when they covered your song ’Time To Kill’ on their debut LP from 1982. It’s very faithful to the original. Are you aware of this?
I recently heard the clip from the Chesterfield Kings and loved it! What a compliment to our homely little tune.
Q3. How did the record deals with Brent and Amber come about? Were they just one off single deals?
I’m a little hazy about the record deals. I think it just sort of happened. We were naïve kids and it all just took us by surprise. We did have a strong reputation in the East Bay and had a lot of exposure.
Q4. All Harbinger Complex songs are Hockstaff-Hoyle compositions. Was your songwriting partnership similar to the Lennon-McCartney one, in that it didn’t matter who actually wrote the song, it would still be credited jointly? Or did one person come up with the music while the other wrote the lyrics?
Bob had just returned from Nam and he possessed a smouldering fire that reflected in the lyrics (“Time to Kill”). Yes we collaborated together and separately, giving each other equal credit as the songs emerged. The energy of our group was never captured on the records we made with the possible exception of ’I Think I’m Down’.
Lysergic Acid played a role as well in our thinking and playing!!!
Q5. I’ve read online a few times that the ’Pot of Flowers’ LP could get an official release on Big Beat. Are there any ’unknown’ Harbinger Complex songs in the vaults they could perhaps include as well? Either way, it would be amazing to get to hear those songs from the master tapes.
I’ll have to dig a little to answer the questions about other cuts. We did a number of recording sessions that never went anywhere, such as Fantasy Records, notorious for exploiting groups at that time. I hope this was helpful.
Thanks again for your interest. If there is anything else I can do to support your efforts let me know…it has been a long time ago…All the best to you Colin.
The Harbinger Complex – “I Think I’m Down” / “My Dear And Kind Sir” (Brent 7056) August 1966
A garage band from Fremont, CA, The Harbinger Complex are best remembered for their 1966 fuzz-punk classic ”I Think I’m Down” (Brent 7056). The quintet centred on lead vocalist Jim Hockstaff and his songwriting partner B. Hoyle III. Hockstaff’s Dionysian exploits — the siring of several love children — got him banned from Fremont’s Washington High, yet his musicianship inspired student Jim Sawyers (later of the Topsiders, Other Side, Vejtables and The Syndicate of Sound — to hone his own nascent guitar skills.
The Baytovens and The Harbinger Complex backed Paul Revere And The Raiders at an Oakland Auditorium concert in April 1966, and both headlined again at a KRFC-sponsored gig at the College of San Mateo on October 15th.
The Hockstaff/Hoyle composition ”I Think I’m Down” is kick-ass proto-punk at its finest. Its folksy flip side, ”My Dear and Kind Sir” is a genteel slice of 19th century Americana — the Harbinger Complex equivalent of the Byrds’ ”Oh! Susannah.”
Another 1966 single effort by the group, ”Sometimes I Wonder” b/w ”Tomorrow’s Soul Sound” (Amber 8999), lacked the confident punch of the Brent 45’s A-side. In 1967, Mainstream Records (which owned subsidiary Brent) released a various artists compilation album titled A Pot of Flowers which featured both sides of the Brent single and two new Hockstaff-Hoyle tunes (”Time to Kill” and ”When You Know You’re In Love”). ”Kill,” with its Vietnam double entendre, is somewhat pedestrian, while ”Love” is sparkling, syncopated, and snappy.
A Pot of Flowers (Mainstream S-6100) was reissued in the 1980s as part of Mindrocker Volume 10. ”I Think I’m Down” has also appeared on the compilations Nuggets, Volume 12: Punk, Part 3, Sound of the Sixties: San Francisco, Part 2 (with its flip side, ”My Dear and Kind Sir”), and Rhino’s four-CD box set: Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968. ~ Stansted Montfichet, All Music Guide
OK, I got lazy just like the majority of bloggers and pinched the above entry from All Music Guide. Here’s where the Expo takes over.
’I Think I’m Down’ is one of the most fabulous slices of Rolling Stones inspired 45s you’ll EVER hear. It’s a complete Jagger and Co rip from start to finish with a fuzztoned punkadelic riff that will eat it’s way into your Sandoz LSD 25 induced mind. Could this song be any better? The answer is NO!!!
’My Dear And Kind Sir’ is a slow paced folk tune and is the perfect flip after the rush of 60s punk of the A-side. Classy acoustic guitar chords with sweet Byrdsian harmonies deliver another winner. Hey man, just get this 45…it kills!
By the way, both sides of The Harbinger Complex’s 45 on Amber have been mastered perfectly onto CD on my favourite commercially released comp of 2007…Big Beat’s ’You Got Yours!’
Originally posted on ’Flower Bomb Songs’ July 2008
Re: Harbinger Complex:
They did continue into the 70s with some new members eventually changing their name to Helix.
Anyone with information on the Complex or other bands that played the Bay Area in the 60s: please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
hey everyone this is heather scheid-hoyle im bobs daughter i just thought id check out the page! hey if u like the harbinger complex then join the group harbinger complex tribute on facebook:) (Anon)
Classic stuff….Jim is my father, and we haven’t spoken in 20 years but it’s awesome to read about his band etc. Thanks for sharing! (ty)
they were a a great band of the 60s. I actually auditioned with a band called of an ugly nature to be their opening band back in the mid 60s (Daniel)