Harry Manaka was in one of the premier bands of the Sansei Dance Party era. Chronicles of a Sansei Rocker detail his experiences as the keyboardist with Somethin' Else from the early days playing at places like Parkview Women's Club and the Rodger Young Auditorium. Harry and fellow musician, David Jingu were also the owners of the popular Baby Lion Supper Club. David was tragically killed at the business in 1978.
Let Harry's Chronicles provide you with a unique insiders view of the bands that played during this era, how they came together, and how they chose their names. Get a close view of the individual musicians that comprised these bands and some of the interesting things they have to say about their experiences.
From the mid ’60s to the late ’70s in the Los Angeles area, a generation of Sansei knew exactly what they would be doing on weekend nights. They would be attending a dance party at places like the Parkview Women’s Club, the Rodger Young Auditorium, or the Aeronautical Institute. In the beginning, they would be listening to groups like the Ambertones, the Blue Satins, the Emeralds, or Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. This would evolve into the formation of Asian American bands such as Thee Chozen Few, The Prophets, Carry On, Long Time Comin’, and Somethin’ Else.
It is difficult to pinpoint exactly how these dance parties got started, but my first experience came shortly after I enrolled at UCLA in 1964. Until then, at dances and church socials, musical entertainment was provided by a disc jockey or someone playing 45-rpm records or albums on a turntable. The Beatles had only recently made their presence felt in the United States, but many people of my generation gravitated toward R&B, (rhythm & blues,) and Motown artists. It’s not that we didn’t like the Beatles, because most of us did. But many of us were heavily influenced by the R&B sound, having grown up and attended school with black friends.
In the early days, many of the dance parties were sponsored by the Asian sororities and fraternities from UCLA, USC, and Cal State University Los Angeles (CSULA). Some of the primarily Asian high-school social clubs also frequently hosted dance parties and social events. The Chanels, Anjeulés, Jeunes and Novelles come to mind. The tickets to these events were known as “bids.” In researching the term, I ran across its use as far back as the Japanese internment camps during World War II. The exact origin was never explained, but the terminology carried over to the Sansei dance era of the ’60’s. Some bids were simple in nature, but many groups hosting these events designed and printed fancy bids. There were bids made into the shape of an origami square, with the event information on the inside of the cube. Others were printed as part of a book of matches. Some were elaborate multi-part works of art. Bids were most often sold in advance as well as at the door on the night of the event.
Each dance was like a carefully choreographed extravaganza. I’ll refer to this as, “The Show.” The driveway and parking lot were our version of arriving at the red carpet for the Oscars! There were Pontiac GTOs, Chevelle SS 396s, Dodge 442s, hemis and other muscle cars. Most were equipped with glass-pack mufflers, lift kits, and American Mag wheels. This was the place to be seen before and after the dance. Gas was cheap in those days, and it had to be! These souped-up monster vehicles got less than ten miles per gallon. It wasn’t strictly a “guy thing,” either. Although many won’t admit it now, the girls also liked to be seen arriving in these behemoths.
I can still remember as if it were yesterday, driving down Don Felipe Drive and turning into the driveway leading to the Parkview parking lot. There usually were several people waiting at the back-door entrance to “help” the bands with their equipment. They didn’t ask, they usually just picked stuff up and disappeared into the main hall. We all knew that they were doing this to avoid buying a bid to the event. It’s funny that they were never around at the conclusion of the evening to help load and pack the equipment up!
The evening was usually split into two, sometimes three segments. The first band would play from nine p.m. until eleven p.m. There would be an intermission during which the closing band would set up and play the remainder of the night, usually terminating at one-thirty in the morning. Air conditioning was poor to nonexistent, and wearing that dressy clothing didn’t help!
Although the British Invasion had influenced the rest of the country, the Sansei dance scene was still dominated by the dress and hairstyles of the early ’60s. The girls would go shopping during the week for the latest short-hemmed stylish dresses. Ratted-up “big hair,” false eye-lashes, and heavy black eyeliner was the preferred style. The guys were decked out in creased shirts with narrow black ties under their thin-lapeled coats and pencil-legged slacks. Ducktails and pompadours were still the prevalent hairstyle for the dudes. The look was heavy on the hairspray and pomade.
As the music began, watching the dudes circle the dance floor was like observing some long-lost mating ritual. They would edge closer to their partner of choice to make sure they were close enough to ask her to dance when the band broke into a slow song. It was interesting to see the sudden scramble for partners when the first strains of “Sad Girl” reverberated over the dance floor.
In addition to the slow dances, other popular dances were, the cha-cha, the Mashed Potato, the Pony, the Twist, and the Hully Gully. I thought the most ridiculous one was the Jerk, popularized by Don Julian and the Meadowlarks. Dancers would raise both arms over their heads, then thrust them out in a spasmodic motion away from their bodies. A person looking out over the dance floor might think that everybody was experiencing synchronized rhythmic convulsions.
“This Old Heart of Mine… been broke a thousand times.”
That song always takes me back to the instantly recognizable sound of Royce “the Voice” Jones and the signature song of Somethin’ Else. Royce was, and still is, a unique talent. From the time I first heard him sing at Washington High School, I knew that he had a unique gift. Once we were teamed together in Somethin’ Else, I knew that we had something special. People would approach us after hearing us play and say, “You cats are Somethin’ Else!” Oh yes, we were!
- I received your package, unwrapped your book, cried when I saw the cover and sat down to read. I am an avid reader and consider your book an easy read (a very good thing). I did not put your book down until I finished. I loved your book, Harry. It reads like you just sat down to tell me your story. -CF
- I'm kind of of speechless and overwhelmed right now. Those of us who grew up in that era will love your book! I did. Not being an avid or even average reader (more like Xbox games and netflix for me), I've never read a book from cover to cover in one sitting until now. -JL
- Loved the book Harry..so much detail! Sad re: David though..I never knew the whole story. What a tragedy. I’m going to read it again this weekend just in case I missed anything. -GN
- Thank you so much for sending the copy of your new book -my wife and I both read it over the weekend and loved it!! -MS
- I have read through most of it laughing and crying but mostly smiling. The pictures are great as well. It’s amazing how many pictures you were able to gather from everyone. -MN