Rock ’n’ roll history turns up in the most unexpected places — for instance, a few suburban blocks from San Marcos High School, in a comfy home with a backyard studio where Katy Perry cut her first record. Living in that tract home and responsible for putting her on wax (as they used to say) are the brothers Orosco: Ernie, Brian (now Brian Faith) and Cody (born Raymond), who also constitute the personnel of the first S.B. rock band to make the charts — long before Perry, Toad, and Dishwalla.
“I guess you could say David Crosby made it, too,” said Brian, leaning forward on the living room couch on a recent gray day, “but that was with a bunch of people not from here. I never heard anybody challenge the claim,” he smiled.
The year was 1965, Vietnam was heating up, the Beatles released Rubber Soul, and the Orosco brothers, who called themselves Ernie and the Emperors at the time, had been spotted during an opening set at Earl Warren Showgrounds. It was there where they served as the house band, playing with everybody from the Isley Brothers to Bobby Vinton, and where they got themselves signed to Reprise, Frank Sinatra’s label. (They were its first rock band, said Ernie.) Their song was called “Meet Me at the Corner,” and it made the mighty Los Angeles’ KRLA charts and went to number one at our own KIST, thanks to a Mersey sound similar to The Hollies. The bros’ harmonies were natural but took a lot of work. Since their father wouldn’t let them tour, the brothers (plus junior high pal and musician extraordinaire Randy Busby) had time to work. Ernie, whose first gig was playing “Hound Dog” in front of Brownie’s Market on Haley and De la Vina streets in 1956, said that the Beach Boys, a band of brothers with great melding vocals, became their role models.
The Oroscos began a correspondence with the Boys’ father, Murry Wilson, who would listen to their records and offer up helpful critiques. They also got a lot of help from area musicians. As surf music morphed into the Beatles’ psychedelic 1960s, the brothers got drafted, returned, and were reborn in the spirit of the times as Giant Crab, a band that toured with Strawberry Alarm Clock and still gets sampled today.
“That’s pretty cool,” said Brian, whose guitar licks found their way into DJ Shadow’s “The Answer Is No.”
But even those entrenched in rock history are subject to the laws of mortality. Earlier this year, Cory Orosco, the youngest brother, was diagnosed with stage-four lymphoma, after doctors initially misdiagnosed his run of fevers and skin eruptions. Next week, September 13, his Santa Barbara rock family will get together at the Elks Hall and celebrate the band that began as the Emperors and still plays gigs today as the Brian Faith band. A sit-down dinner, silent auction, and musical journey through the past will culminate in performances by local denizens of the still-thriving world of garage rock: Soul City Survivors, Night Train, FOG, and, with some coaxing, the Orosco brothers themselves will play, though Cory, who gets tired now very easily, is not likely to meet his brothers at this corner.
Set up in a nice bed in the isolation booth of their backyard recording studio — it was shut down by the county and now functions as a rehearsal space and jam headquarters — Cory is surrounded by echo chambers and amps. The guitar his brother played at Brownie’s 60 years ago hangs across from him on the bed.
“I’d like to point out that my brother was the first person who ever recorded Katy Perry,” said Brian, and the brothers took me to a picture of the young Katy, who was still singing about Jesus back then, posed with a picture of Jewel behind her.
“My brother said she was good,” said Ernie. “And she asked him if she would be as good as Jewel. He said she was going to be a much bigger star.”
“And he was right,” said Brian.
FOG, Night Train, Soul City Survivors, and Ernie and the Emperors will play a benefit concert for Cory Orosco on Saturday, September 13, at the Santa Barbara Elks Lodge (150 N. Kellogg Ave.) from 6-11 p.m. Call (805) 895-6040 or visit benefit4cory.myevent.com for tickets and info.