SAFARIS

Image of a Girl

The vocal group from Los Angeles founded by Marvin Rosenberg and Richard Clasky never stayed with the same name or lineup for very long, so it was a five-in-one shot at best that Safaris would be the artist name slapped on the label of their 1960 hit "Image of a Girl." The group began in '59 as a teenage trio when Marv (attending Fairfax High School) and Richard (of Hamilton High) joined with lead singer Sandy Weisman, calling themselves The Mystics. They were basically imitating the two-guys-and-a-girl gimmick of another Fairfax trio, The Teddy Bears, who had infamously introduced Phil Spector to the world and taken "To Know Him, is To Love Him" to number one on the charts in December 1958.

Fate altered their course almost immediately when a Brooklyn group called the Mystics emerged around the end of the school year with a nationwide hit, "Hushabye," so Rosenberg and company never recorded under that name. Still, being in close proximity to the hitmaking Spector act opened doors at some of the smaller labels, and under their new name The Enchanters the three recorded a song Clasky had written, "Touch of Love," so close in sound and style to the Teddy Bears record that it was doomed to disappear (though the flip side of the Orbit Records single, "Cafe Bohemian," was far more clever, a hep bongo-guitar-sax instrumental with haunting coloratura-style vocals by Sandy). Soon after they were joined by Sheldon "Shelly" Briar and the foursome headed over to the Dore label offices (they of the number one Teddy Bears hit) and became The Dories for one single, "I Loved Him So"...and again (and enough already) with an all-too-close-to-the-Teddy Bears soundalike (probably insisted upon by Dore staffers in a desperate attempt to fill the void left by Spector, Marshall Leib and Annette Kleinbard when the Bears left after two singles and signed with Imperial).

Sandy opted for an early marriage in place of a struggling music career and that left the three guys looking for another record label (and feeling quite confident, as there seemed to be plenty of small companies along Melrose or Vine or some other Hollywood location chomping at the bit to discover a young act that might put them in the money). Since a lead singer was needed to replace Miss (soon to have a new last name) Weisman, they called upon Jim Stephens from Van Nuys High School and changed their name once again to The Angels. Lou Adler and Herb Alpert had been affiliated with Dore and were interested in the group, which resulted in the gimmicky spoken word "A Lover's Poem (To Her)" backed with "A Lover's Poem (To Him)." The Angels name was abandoned after a short time (but of course was too good to lie dormant forever, finding use of an iconic sort among Major League Baseball's 1961 expansion beginnings and, later in the year, as a girl group who enjoyed several hits including the chart-topping "My Boyfriend's Back").

The guys were appearing at record hops in the San Bernardino area, still as the Angels, when the new decade began. Promotion man Hal Zeiger caught wind of the act and signed them to Eldo Records, a new label he had started with legendary bandleader Johnny Otis. "Image of a Girl," written by Clasky and Rosenberg, the group's original members in those formative times of some 16 months earlier, was the ballad that clicked for them, with its attention-grabbing "ticking clock" intro accomplished by knocking two blocks of wood together and adding reverb. Someone came up with the name Safaris and it was as good as any. The label also identified The Phantom's Band as backup, not a real band per se, but studio musicians hired for the session, which could have consisted of any of the dozens, or hundreds, of musicians earning a living by making the rounds as L.A. session players...hence the cleverly evasive "Phantom" name. The record was Eldo's first release and biggest hit, going top ten nationally in July 1960 (the second single on Eldo, by the way, was a Phantom's Band instrumental recording, "Phantom Bug").

Safaris

Success at last! Pay dirt! Or so you would think, yet none of the group members seemed to be lining their pockets with much cash from the near-million-selling Safaris hit. Follow-up single "The Girl With the Story in Her Eyes" was a midtempo offering, and a very good one, worthy of more than its few weeks spent near the bottom of the charts that fall. An extensive tour opening for bigger acts was planned, but financial details were vague; Richard, Marv, Shelly and Jim were all still waiting for some sort of payoff on "Image" and the tour was seen as more of a promotional freebie than an actual paying gig, so all but Jim Stephens departed. He got a few new singers together and two more singles came out under the Safaris name, a remake of The Five Satins' "In the Still of the Night" and, in early '61, "Garden of Love." Rosenberg, Clasky and Briar, meanwhile, added Lee Forester as a new fourth member and ventured out under yet another name, The Suddens, releasing "China Girl," another ballad written by Richard and Marv, on the possibly one-shot Sudden label later in the year. After a year or so during which all involved seemingly dropped out of sight, Jim popped up in 1963 as Jimmy Stevens with a single on the Valiant label, "A Funny Thing Happened."

Then things really got weird. A new Safaris single, "Kick Out," sounding suspiciously like the current instrumental monster "Wipe Out" by Glendora band The Surfaris, was released on Valiant in the summer, vastly different in every way from all the group's other records, save perhaps the imitative ploy of that first Teddy Bears clone by the Enchanters. Label credits showed Eldorado as the music publisher (the same as "Image of a Girl" had been) and the tune was an "Eldo-Gallese Production" indicating some sort of connection to Hal Zeiger's still-active record company. But the record was surf all the way, obviously made to fool record buyers who weren't very good spellers into thinking it was a new Surfaris single. It's unlikely any of the original Safaris members were involved, except possibly Stephens. Then again it could have been The Phantom's Band making another mysterious move to further confuse while giving music fans a topic of conversation to hash over for hundreds of years to come.

- Michael Jack Kirby





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Image of a Girl