Most listeners who remember them think of Earth Quake as a mid-'70s band, but the group's roots go back a decade earlier. Indeed, the band started out as part of the mid-'60s band scene in San Francisco, where -- originally known as Purple Earthquake -- they were more than a little bit unusual. The most visible groups working in the city at the time tended to put a combined druggy/folkie spin on electric music, but Earth Quake, consisting of John Doukas (vocals), Robbie Dunbar (guitar, piano, vocals), Stan Miller (bass, vocals), and Steve Nelson (percussion, vocals), were more of a power-pop-cum-hard-rock outfit. They were much closer in spirit to the Flamin' Groovies or the Chocolate Watchband than, say, to the Grateful Dead. They were good enough to attract the attention of Matthew King Kaufman, an aspiring manager who hoped to carry them to national fame and, toward that end, landed them a contract with A&M Records in 1970. At the time, A&M, which had specialized mostly in MOR pop and light jazz releases, was signing some acts with harder and more diverse sounds (it was around the same time that Tarantula was added to their roster), and Earth Quake was among the first hard rock bands on the label. Unfortunately, the label never knew how to market them, and a pair of albums -- a self-titled debut and Why Don't You Try Me? -- failed to ignite any interest from the public. They left the label in 1972, frustrated with their lack of success, though there was one fortuitous event during this period that enabled both the band and their manager to move past this experience in short order -- for reasons that are not exactly clear, the makers of the movie [RoviLink="VW"]The Getaway (1972), a high-profile, big-budget (and highly successful) thriller starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, used some of the band's music without getting all of the necessary clearances from the parties involved. When the smoke cleared, this accident proved profitable for the band and, even more so, for their manager.
Kaufman used a portion of the settlement money to set up his own record label, Beserkley Records, in 1973. And Earth Quake, along with Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, the Rubinos, and Greg Kihn, comprised the core of the company's roster. Their debut album for the new label, Rockin' the World, was assembled from live performances and captured the group -- now a five-piece with the addition of Gary Phillips (late of Copperhead) on guitar and vocals -- in some pretty inspired moments, and got them more notice than either of their A&M LPs had. They became something of the house band at Beserkley, playing behind Richman on his signature tune, "Roadrunner" (a song that, as much as any other, defined what he and the label were about). Their later records for the label also included backing vocals by Greg Kihn. The group's final album, Two Years in a Padded Cell, showed up in 1979, and the band finally called it quits a couple of years later. In 2003, two decades after that breakup, a pair of compilations -- Purple: The A&M Recordings (Acadia), assembling their two A&M albums, and Sittin' in the Middle of Madness (Castle), covering the Beserkley recordings -- were released, showcasing the two halves of their history. ~ Bruce Eder
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