Crystal Circus and Strawberry SAC: Strawberry Alarm Clock offshoots

The Akarma LP from 2001, credited to Crystal Circus instead of Strawberry SAC
The Akarma LP from 2001, credited to Crystal Circus instead of Strawberry SAC
In 1968, a band calling itself Strawberry SAC, featuring Greg Munford (who’d sung lead on Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s “Incense And Peppermints”) recorded twelve songs for a planned album on All-American. Two songs (“In Relation” and “Merry Go Round”) were pressed onto a rare promo DJ 7″, but the rest of the recordings were only released in 2001, on a vinyl LP from Akarma credited not to Strawberry SAC but to Crystal Circus, and titled after the a-side of that promo 45: In Relation To Our Times.

Greg Munford was never a member of Strawberry Alarm Clock, but had by chance sung lead on the track that would be a fluke hit, one totally unexpected by the band, and by far their biggest success. The band’s manager/producer Bill Holmes, always looking to exploit a situation, put Greg Munford in a new band, shamelessly dubbed “Strawberry SAC”.

Some sources (like the usually spot-on Richie Unterberger) mention how Strawberry SAC featured a bunch of the same members as Strawberry Alarm Clock, but this is untrue: only Greg Munford could be classified in this category, and even he was not technically in the Clock at any time.

Members of Crystal Circus

According to the rather mystifying liner notes on the Akarma release, the members of Strawberry SAC (well, Crystal Circus) were:

Greg Munford – Vocals, keyboards
Gary Solomon (a.k.a. Gary Solo) – Vocals, saxophone, flute, clarinet
Bob Feldman – Vocals
Jack Bielan – Keyboards
Nick Dunman – ?
Kaufman – ?


According to commenter Matthew David Hoffman, Nick Dunman didn’t really exist (but was based on Norma Dunman, a song writing friend of Gary’s) while ‘Kaufman’ refers to Rose Kaufman, Jack Bielan’s mother who wrote the lyric to “Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You”. Hoffman says the other two in the actual band (and the photo at top) were Bruce Turner and Terry Rae.

July 2015: A Terry Rae sent private feedback to us to verify that he did indeed play drums on these songs, but didn’t leave an email address so we couldn’t contact him to verify or ask any follow-up questions.

All-American AA-3333

The promo-only 45, rarely offered for sale to collectors now, featured “In Relation” b/w “Merry Go Round”. There are a few odd discrepancies between the label on this record and the liner notes of the 2001 album release:

• The 45 calls its a-side “In Relation”, while the album adds the parenthetical “(To Our Times)”.
• The 45 lists the song writers of “In Relation” as Feldman and Bielan; the album adds producer Holmes as a writer.
• The 45 lists the song writers of “Merry Go Round” as Solo, Bielan and Dunman; again the LP adds Holmes.

Not only did Holmes’ name get inserted as a song writer on some of the songs, but all the songs are published under “Alarm Clock Music” (as on the All-American single).

As for other releases, “In Relation”, credited to Strawberry SAC (not Crystal Circus), was released in 2004 on a Varese Fontana compilation called Garage Rock Classics. That compilation is not too hard to find, and the Akarma LP can be located by the dedicated collector with a little patience (and maybe a little extra cash). The original promo 7″ 45 will be much harder to come by, but again can be owned by the serious and committed hunter. (On March 16, 2010, a copy sold on eBay for $246.77 USD.)

The music

The music is often described as closely resembling Strawberry Alarm Clock’s, but I disagree. It’s good, and collects some often-fantastic and absorbing, varied psychedelia, but it doesn’t have the inspired snap or stately effortlessness of Strawberry Alarm Clock.

No matter though; Crystal Circus/Strawberry SAC is well worth picking up; it is true that Strawberry Alarm Clock fans are likely to find the shadowy band’s music highly enjoyable.

Track listing

Side A
“In Relation (To Our Times)” – 2:20
“Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You” – 2:27
“Girl Like You” – 2:10
“Sittin’ And Thinkin'” – 2:04
“Twisted Conversation” – 3:32
“Merry-Go-Round” – 3:21

Side B
“Circus And Zoo World” – 2:44
“Never Again” – 3:10
“Castles (In The Sand)” – 2:54
“Sweet High” – 2:45
“The Difference Between Us” – 2:20
“The World Of Seas And Rivers” – 4:28

Right now on eBay: Strawberry SAC/Crystal Circus vinyl

27 thoughts on “Crystal Circus and Strawberry SAC: Strawberry Alarm Clock offshoots

  1. A few years later it was discovered that there were actually stock copies… I was fortunate enough to come across one a few days ago.There also is one on eBay right now! A nice clean M- copy…for $250. The singles seem to be passed around a lot…maybe half of the eBay listings there were are just people reselling them after buying them.

  2. Just wanted to let you know about the release of the Holllywood Stars album recorded in 1973, not long after the Strawberry SAC was done. This album will be a gatefold vinyl release. Its called , “Shine Like a Radio”. Check it out…Terry

  3. Hi,

    I’m the former drummer of the band Minutemen mentioned above, later to become the drummer for Smokestack Lightnin’. I would like to reconnect with my fellow band member Bob Feldman. If anyone has info on how I might go about contacting Bob, it would be greatly appreciated.

    My best,

    Art Guy

  4. Ohh far out that’s lucky. I’ve been searching on the internet and checking ebay for ages trying to find it on CD. You got it at a great time, it’s usually really hard to get.

  5. I just ordered it off of this site when one came up. They showed just one copy available. it’s in a carboard case, not your standard plastc style. Pretty wierd !

  6. Woah Terry!!! Where did you get the Crystal Circus album on CD? I’ve been looking for AGES for it, but it’s always unavailable.

  7. Bob,

    I just got my copy of Crystal Circus cd. Pretty cool to here the finished production,Didn\\\’t anyone remember that Bruce and I played on it ? Everyone else is mentioned 20 times! Im not bitter, just curious…

    Terry

  8. Who are those members of Crystal Circus listed above on this page ? Is the Crystal Circus basically Strawberry Sac ?

  9. …and I assume you aren’t getting anything from recent sales of the album, or the MP3 downloads from Amazon?

    Whenever I think of the music business, which I have no direct experience with, I always think of Roger Waters’ mid-70s diatribes. Seems like it really is that cutthroat, if you can play drums on an album and not get paid for it…

    So Terry is there some satisfaction in just knowing you’re on this great music? 😀

  10. Hey Jack, thanks for adding the extra information. Just out of curiosity, did Holmes give you any specific reason to deny you money?

    Interesting experience for you, and an interesting look into the weird history of the ersatz Strawberry Alarm Clock. As you say, it is a fantastic record, whatever its ignoble beginnings!

  11. Thanks for the information, Matthew! That fills in a lot of gaps. If you don’t mind me asking, how do you know all this inside info?

  12. I seriously love this album so much, it’s one of my favourite albums. Does anyone know if it’s still available on CD, because apparently it used to be but then got removed or something, i’ve been looking on Google but i can’t find it.

  13. Hey Matt,

    Just been woking and enjoying life. I don’t do the internet thing for the most part.I like my privacy.

    I’m glad you liked the CD. Thanks for the good words.

    Terry

  14. Where ya been Terry? I’m excited about the new Jamme CD reissue…. and Paul tells me there may even be some live dates ahead.

    Highly recommend the album to everyone, personal fave track is “Strawberry Jam Man”, the very first tune Strawberry Jam (as they were still known at the time) recorded.

    http://www.cherryred.co.uk/nowsounds/artists/jamme.php

    Nice hearing from you too Jack. Wonder if Solo is still with us, he’s the only member still MIA….

  15. Jeremy,

    No..No money. Just the fun of looking back at those days and listening to the tracks from from tme to time.

    Terry

  16. Jeremy,

    After the SAC broke up I went to the local 47 to ask for fees due to us for the session.They stated the studio never reported the event so no money was due.

    Funny how that works huh?

    Terry

  17. Check out Hollywood a go go web site for info on many of the bands that played the strip in the 60’s.

  18. Nicely done, guys. A couple things to add:

    1) Bill Holmes never wrote anything on that album – not a word, not a note.

    2) With regard to “In Relation”, Bob & I wrote it directly as a sound-alike follow-up to “Incense And Peppermints”, because Holmes asked for it, and it was the first time Greg’s vocal talent was available. (By the way, Greg was – and remains to this day – a lovely man.). I deliberately used the same Farfissa organ sound and guitar sounds as on “Incense” (plus Hammond B-3, which is my first love). I also remember that there was a legitimate vocal coach on the project who knew his stuff and arranged a lot of the harmonies for us. I have a feeling he probably worked with the original group as well.

    3) Re “Merry Go Round”, Gary had a chorus which I liked a lot. I think Norma Dunman (whom I never actually met) may have contributed to it. I wrote the rest of the words and music. Always liked that song – got a kick out of using calliope on it and the filtered sound of a carnival barker.

    The band, which was called “Strawberry Alarm Clock”, “Strawberry S.A.C.” and “S.A.C” – depending on the time of day and the legal status of whatever bout was being waged regarding the Alarm Clock name, did some memorable t.v. shots – local L.A. shows of the time like “Groovy” and “9th Street West”. Also did some shows where we got to know Wolfman Jack – what a hoot!

    Looking back all those years on the whole project, especially given that we were all kids, I realize there was some wonderful musicianship in that thrown-together band. Bruce was a terrific guitar player and Terry was a great drummer. Greg was a wonderful writer and his voice on “Incense” was obviously just one of music’s magical moments.

    A few years ago I had occasion to see the real Alarm Clock band in a reunion concert of sorts in Malibu. They did a great job. Afterwards I felt motivated to write them an email via their website, which I did, apologizing for my role in the whole knock-off band debacle. Of course I had no idea at the time what was really going on, but I’m glad I let them know.

    FYI, I found out about the whole Crystal Circus thing by accident on the web. No one ever contacted me, never asked my permission for anything. I tracked Holmes down and asked for some kind of remuneration, and was refused.

    Finally, despite never having significantly profited financially, I regard the whole experience as a valuable one, and I’m grateful for it.

    I learned a lot about the dark side of the music industry, and how young musicians can be exploited. But more importantly, at 18 I learned a whole lot about the process of recording and working in studios. The engineer was a brilliant guy named Paul Buff, and I was lucky to learn whatever I could from him.

    And I did crack-up when I saw my Mom’s name listed as a band member on the Crystal Circus credits. She was a wonderful writer in her day, but I doubt she’d have liked wearing psychedelic dresses.

    Again guys, nice job on straightening things out. Best of luck to you.

  19. The album contains some fantastic, creative music. Too bad it wasn’t released at the time. the Crystal Circus moniker was conjured up solely for the album. A much better band name than the derivative Strawberry SAC, which the “In Relation” 45 was released under in 1968.

    Band Members (Left to Right) are:

    Gary Solomon – flute/sax/vocals

    Stage name Gary Solo. Member of The Marauders prior to Strawberry SAC. Also managed Indescribably Delicious and played on sessions which comprise their album. Had an independently released Solo album out in the early 1980’s.

    Greg Munford – rhythm guitar/vocals

    Formerly with Shapes Of Sound, who released a single on All-American in ’67. Sang lead on SAC’s megahit “Incense & Peppermints”.

    Bob Feldman – bass/vocals

    Previously a member of The Minutemen, who had a residency at Pandora’s Box. Hosted the TV special Ripoff. Later ran a talent agency for child actors. Bob’s son Corey achieved fame as an actor in films such as The Goonies & Stand By Me.

    Jack Bielan – keyboards/vibes/vocals

    Own group The InMates at the age of 15. Went on to receive a gold record for his arrangements on James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” LP. Became a staff writer for Motown in the 70’s. Toured with Bobby Vinton as keyboardist & conductor, eventually becoming Bobby’s producer.

    Bruce Turner – lead guitar/vocals

    Ex-member of Torrance-based Indescribably Delicious, who released a single (“Brother, Where Are You?”) on All-American in 1967. Went on to tour with Wolfman Jack, Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers and soul singer Carla Thomas.

    Terry Rae – drums/vocals

    A mainstay of Hollywood bands for over 2 decades. Some of the groups he has played with are The Driftones (pre-Yellow Payges), The Palace Guard (house band at the Hullabaloo), Sweet Wine, Space, The Flamin’ Groovies, Blue Cheer & The Hollywood Stars. After the Strawberry SAC project, formed Strawberry Jam(!) who changed their name to Jamme – check out their excellent album produced by John Phillips.

    “Don’t Say I Didn’t Warn You” was based on a lyric of Jack Bielan’s mother, Rose Kaufman…. hence the co-writing credit. Needless to say, Mrs. Kaufman was not a member of the band!

    Norma Dunman was a co-writer of Gary Solo’s. Nick is a figment of Holmes’ imagination, as are all of his writing credits on the album.

Comments are closed.