The Crawdaddys have been called one of the most influential bands ever to come out of San Diego. When one looks at the groups its members have spawned, as well as the recurring popularity of ‘60s-style punk and rhythm and blues over the past 30 years, it’s hard to dispute that assertion. Armed with an encyclopedic knowledge of music history, an uncompromising commitment to artistic integrity, and a roster of musicians with unparalleled talents and distinct individual styles, the Crawdaddys single-handedly gave birth to the revival of garage music in the late 1970s in the United States. The reverberations of the first few chords they played are still being felt today.
The Crawdaddys’ story begins and ends with lifelong Beatles fanatic Ron Silva, who grew up on Del Monte Avenue in Point Loma. He and his neighbor Steve Potterf started listening to records together in the ninth grade, and while Silva would barely tolerate Potterf’s love for Kiss, Aerosmith, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin, he gradually convinced his friend to appreciate his own tastes. “After a while Steve started getting into the music I liked — Beatles, early Stones. I remember sitting in his room playing guitars along to my dad’s Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley 45s,” says Silva.
Throughout high school, Silva, Potterf and Ron’s brother Russell spent many hours playing rock and roll in the Silva family garage, and it was during this period that Ron began his obsession with historical accuracy in clothing, shoes and hair, and in justifying what was considered cool as evidenced by a photograph in an album cover, an old magazine or book. He scoured his favorite albums for details, looking in thrift stores for similar clothing and traveling to Tijuana to purchase pointy-toed boots. He also developed a reputation as a bit of an oddball in high school for wearing Beatle suits and speaking in a Liverpudlian accent.
“In the final weeks of my last year at Point Loma High School, I knew that more than anything I wanted to get in a ‘real’ band,” Silva remembers. “I put an ad in the San Diego Reader that said that I was into the Kinks and Blondie!” The ad was answered by singer Jeff Scott (who had recently left the Dils) and drummer Josef Marc. “I’d intended to start my own group but ended up joining Jeff’s and Josef’s newly named Hitmakers. Jeff had a few originals, but when we started playing together we mostly covered songs by the Kinks, Beatles and early Stones.” The Hitmakers became part of a growing DIY scene in San Diego that included the Zeros and the Dils. It was reaching a zenith in 1977, when the three groups played a show at the Adams Avenue Theater in October. “I guess that was the first big ‘punk’ show in San Diego,” Silva says. “Unfortunately it wasn’t a particularly majestic experience for me. I borrowed somebody’s black Les Paul Gibson that night. A Les Paul is a pretty heavy guitar, and I’d never played one before. On our first song, I did one of my Pete Townsend jumps, and the strap broke, dropping the guitar like a ton of bricks!”
The Hitmakers eventually replaced their drummer with Joel Kmak, and Potterf joined the band on guitar. Their popularity grew — not just locally, but in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Francisco, where the band planned to relocate at the end of the summer of 1978. On the eve of their departure, however, the Hitmakers decided to fire Potterf because they “didn’t care much for his attitude,” according to Silva. “It probably took me about two days to decide that I would quit and start my own group. That was the Crawdaddys.”
Birth of the Crawdaddys
The Crawdaddys came together quickly as Silva met Mark Zadarnowski through Tim LaMadrid, a fellow Beatles enthusiast who had been organizing home showings of rare Beatles films. “I was just beginning to try and learn how to play bass, and Ron was looking for something more authentically ‘60s than the Hitmakers,” recalls Zadarnowski. “Ron brought up the idea of starting the Crawdaddys. We knew [drummer] Dan [McLain] from his record store, Monty Rockers, and asked him to play drums.”
The first gig was at Abbey Road in September, 1978 and featured Ron’s brother Russell (affectionately known as “Scuzz”) on drums. Local musician and eventual Crawdaddy guitarist Joe Piper remembers the Crawdaddys’ second show at Glorietta Bay Hall in Coronado: “One day Dan McLain told me he’d joined an R&B band. My first thought was that he meant something along the lines of Jackie Wilson/Ike & Tina Turner Revue … Shit! I don’t know what I thought! But he was really excited about this band, ‘The Crawdaddys.’ And they blew my mind! I was amazed! There they were: this brave, beautiful, perfectly realized anachronism! In my own backyard! Who knew there was anyone in the world, much less San Diego, hip enough to do what they were doing!” The lineup of Silva, Potterf, Zadarnowski and McLain was in place by their third gig at the Lions Club in North Park in January 1979.
The Crawdaddys had now fully begun their assault on the eyes and ears of San Diego. Their next stroke of luck was aided by an unlikely source. “I got a call from Jeff Scott, who by then had forgiven me for quitting the Hitmakers,” recalls Silva. “He said he was going up to L.A. in a few days to play the Hitmakers’ new demo for this guy Greg Shaw and if the Crawdaddys could put a few songs on tape he’d take me and Potterf along.” The band quickly assembled in the Silva garage and recorded Chuck Berry’s “Oh Baby Doll,” Bo Diddley’s “Tiger in Your Tank” and a couple of originals on a two-track machine. “In my opinion it would be fairly safe to say that Potterf and I blew Shaw’s mind that day,” says Silva. “We walked in, and Potterf had this absolutely devout Brian Jones thing going with the hair, and we both had the complete Downliners Sect ’64 look from head to toe. It was totally ridiculous and great at the same time. Shaw said, ‘Go back to San Diego and make an album, preferably for next to nothing, if you don’t mind.’ We didn’t.”
Watch the Crawdaddys play Bo Diddley’s “Cadillac”:
Tags: Abbey Road, Adams Avenue Theater, Bomp Records, Dan McLain, Greg Shaw, Jeff Scott, Joe Piper, Josef Marc, Mark Zadarnowski, Monty Rockers, North Park Lions Club, Point Loma, Ron Silva, San Diego music, Steve Potterf, the Crawdaddys, the Dils, the Hitmakers, the Zeros, Tim LaMadrid