#444: California Girl by Chilliwack

Peak Month: December 1976
12 weeks on Vancouver’s CKLG chart
Peak Position #6
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube.com: “California Girl
Lyrics: “California Girl

Bill Henderson was born in Vancouver in 1944. He learned guitar and became the guitarist for the Panarama Trio that performed at the Panarama Roof dance club on the 15th Floor of the Hotel Vancouver. He formed the psychedelic pop-rock Vancouver band, The Collectors, in 1966.

The Vancouver rock band The Collectors, was formerly named The Classics who were a Vancouver group led by Howie Vickers in the mid-60s who often appeared on CFUN. The Classics were part of the regular line-up on Let’s Go, a show on CBC TV. Though the Classics released several singles the group needed room to grow and reformed as The Collectors. They would become one of the most innovative of Vancouver’s recording acts through the rest 60s. In the spring of 1967, Vickers was asked to put together a house band at the Torch Cabaret in Vancouver. Along with Claire Lawrence on horns, they recruited guitarist Terry Frewer, drummer Ross Turney and Brian Newcombe on bass. Within a couple of months, fellow Classics member Glenn Miller replaced Newcombe on bass and Bill Henderson, a student at UBC, replaced Frewer on guitars. With Vickers now handling vocals, their sound changed from doing covers of R&B tunes to psychedelic rock. This led them to gigs along the Canadian and US west coast. Their strongest fan base in America was in California.

The Collectors released over a half dozen local hits between 1967 and 1970 – including “Looking At A Baby“, “Fisherwoman”, “Lydia Purple”, and “I Must Have Been Blind“. Bill Henderson (vocals, guitar), Claire Lawrence (saxophone, keyboards), Ross Turney (drums) and Glenn Miller (bass) were all Collectors bandmates. After Howie Vickers left The Collectors, they changed their name to Chilliwack. The name was a Salish First Nations name that means “going back up” and is the name of a city in the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

Chilliwack had their first Top Ten hit in Vancouver with “Lonesome Mary” in 1971. They released other singles across the decade including “Crazy Talk” in 1975.  After the disappointment of their album, Rockerbox, the band went back to the recording studio and released Dreams, Dreams, Dreams. The debut single from the album was “California Girl”, written by Bill Henderson.

California Girl by Chilliwack

“California Girl” is a song about musicians trying to sell their songs to record labels in California and “getting refused everywhere.” However, the musician meets a girl in a California town and suddenly the magic in her smile, and her beauty, makes being in California all “bright and blue.” The horizon is wide open now that he is in love with someone who he understands. “California Girl” peaked at #6 in Vancouver (BC) and #10 in Ottawa (ON).

California is due south of Vancouver, British Columbia, and a popular destination for holidays. When “California Girl” was on the pop charts there were multiple flights each day from Vancouver to San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and Palm Springs. Vacationers could also take Amtrak from the train station in Vancouver and enjoy the scenic route on the Coast Starlight train to destinations in the Golden State. For radio listeners in Vancouver, California was a place many had firsthand experiences. These included trips to Disneyland, Joshua Tree State Park, Yosemite National Park, the Golden Gate Bridge, Death Valley National Park, the scenic route from Monterey to southern California past Big Sur, Lake Tahoe, the Sequoia State Park and Redwoods State Parks in northern California, Universal Studios in Hollywood, the Hearst Castle, Santa Catalina Island, the Queen Mary in Long Beach, the Napa Valley, Santa Monica, Malibu, riding cable cars in San Francisco and many other possibilities.

At the time they released “California Girl”, Chilliwack’s band members were all Scientologists, according to Bill Henderson’s liner notes on a 2013 reissue of the album. And in 1977 there was a dedication to the founder of the Church of Scientology, Ron L. Hubbard, on the back of Dreams, Dreams, Dreams. By 1977 the bands musicians consisted of Henderson, Turney, Miller and Howard Froese on guitar, vocals, solina and piano. The album contained more successful singles after the release of “California Girl”. These were “Baby Blue“, “Something Better” and “Fly At Night”. At the end of 1978 the band cracked the Top 20 in Vancouver with “Never Be The Same“.

Chilliwack continued to release albums and singles over the next few years. But it was their ninth album, Wanna Be A Star, that definitely made them stars. They charted their only two Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 with “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone)” and “I Believe”. In 1982 Bill Henderson won the Juno Award for Producer of the Year for the Chilliwack album Opus X. The band’s third single release from Opus X was “Secret Information”. In the summer of 1982 Chilliwack had another Top 20 single from Wanna Be A Star in Vancouver titled “(Don’t Wanna) Live For A Living“.

By the time the Opus X album was recorded, Chilliwack was now a trio of Ab Bryant, Bill Henderson and Brian MacLeod. Henderson wrote “Secret Information” and has continued to play in concert. Brian MacLeod died in 1992 of cancer. Chilliwack is playing at the Rock The River Festival in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, the weekend of August 16-18, 2019. Other performers on stage include Blue Oyster Cult, Colin James, Loverboy, Quiet Riot, Streetheart, the Headpins, the Romantics and Honeymoon Suite.

May 25, 2020
Ray McGinnis

References:
Bill Henderson, The Collectors, Canadian Bands.com.
Chilliwack bio ~ thecanadianencyclopedia.ca.
Bill Henderson biogonegonegone.com.
Claire Lawrence bio, Rate Your Music.com
Bill Henderson bio ~ gonegonegone.com
Dylan S. Keating, Chilliwack, BeatRoute Magazine, November 3, 2013.
CKLG Top 30,” CKLG 730 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 14, 1976.

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