Downey is in Los Angeles County, ten miles from Downtown Los Angeles, and is famous for three things. One is the oldest existing standard McDonald’s. The second would have to be the Carpenters. The singing stars who appealed to the silent majority with the ordinary taste. The third is Wenzel’s Music Town. Downey Records was in the back of Wenzel’s Music Town, a record store serving Southern California's music lovers for 40 years. Downey Records achieved notoriety with recordings like the Chantays’ ‘Pipeline’ and the Rumblers’ ‘Boss.’ Since the Wenzels retired in 2002, only the McDonalds is still open for business.
Wenzel’s Music Town sat at 13117 Lakewood Blvd., just inside the Downey city line, and was one of the best collector’s record stores in Southern California. Tom and Maxine Wenzel ran Wenzel’s as an “oldies” store from 1972, until they retired, but it was at this location that Tom’s father, Bill, and his older brother, Jack, ran the Downey studio and record label from 1959 until the late 60s.
The store was divided in two halves, with the more interesting stuff through to the left, through a doorway with a velvet rope across it. Permission was needed to pass the rope, and when I visited in 1978 I was surrounded by four walls racked out with 45s, and was unsupervised. I didn’t know it then but this was the actual room that the recordings had been held in. A collector who knew the store had told me to go to the bathroom, and look up above my head. There, on a rickety old shelf piled high, were the original master tapes from the Downey studio and label. It became part of the experience of visiting Wenzels. The last time I saw those tapes was in 1991, when I interviewed Tom Wenzel for Goldmine Magazine, and the masters remained there in the dark, protected from the California sun, until the store closed. Now, after all these years, we are presenting these wonderful recordings in this series. Very many have never been heard before.
INTOXICA! is the first in a series presenting the Downey output by genre. Even more interestingly, the first comp out of the gate is an instrumental collection, but not a surf comp. No Pipeline here. The Downey vaults have been trawled thoroughly in order to bring straight-from-the-masters quality (and in the doing of it, discovering that the released sides were only the tip of an iceberg!). This collection features instrumentals from the gamut of young bands from the California beach communities and as far east as Las Vegas; cabaret acts from the lounges of Lake Tahoe and Palm Springs; mixed in with some great R&B names who used Downey’s studio and cut some fine instros of their own. The theme that links them all together is a quirky sense of cinematic drama and fun, a certain sleaziness, a love of analogue tape echo, and all recorded in an experimental fashion the equal of Joe Meek, who was working contemporaneously in London.
This collection will appeal to the instrumental collector, and the lover of lounge-sleaze. This comp has oodles of rare sides and seven unreleased gems. Familiar names likes the Revels, Rumblers, Nevegans and Hustlers rub shoulders with the R&B of Chuck Higgins and Little Caesar. A treat for connoisseurs of the strange!
Brian Nevill 2006