In 1966, a new Los Angeles band called The Association, made up of refugees from folk quartets and Frank Zappa funk bands, released a song called “Along Comes Mary,” written by the enigmatic Tandyn Almer who also wrote “Sail on Sailor” for the Beach Boys. It was to be the band’s breakout hit, a cryptic tone poem to marijuana that users understood had to be coded since possession was still a felony crime. “And when the morning of the warning’s passed the gassed/And flaccid kids are flung across the stars,” went the lyrics to the extremely pretty song, that also featured a recorder solo and rich harmonies from the four front men of the five man band. Almer went on to invent a perfect bong called the Master/Slave Pipe; The Association went on to open the seminal Monterey Pop Festival—kicking off an era of sex drugs and rock yet to be paralleled.
“We did a lot of other songs, too,” laughed Jim Yester, who is still playing with the great underappreciated band. “In fact we still get standing o’s for “Cherish” and “Never My Love.” It’s great. Yester, who began playing with the band just a few days after it changed its name to The Association, seems nonplussed that their role in rock history has been somewhat neglected. “I guess we used to worry about tit a long time ago, but nowadays it’s straight ahead and strive for the tone. You know during the years we’ve had great jazz musicians in the band and they all used to say that phrase. I like it.”
You might imagine that the same songs get tiresome after a while and that the bands would play around with them. “Never,” said Yester emphatically. “You know “Cherish” is hard. There are about a thousand chords in it. We just try to the best version of a song that we can every night. I heard other bands mess around, well I should say I went and saw the Everly Brothers once and they changed and moved things around. It was terrible. We try to make the audiences happy,” he said.
Yester is particularly happy about plying Santa Ynez because he has family up here. (My uncle’s name is Bob Rohrbough and he’s a big part of that community up there,” he said.) When he was younger, Yester was a falconer in these parts, too. “There’s a valley that runs from the 154 and when I was younger there was a pair of peregrines up there.”
But Yester, who has been performing off and on for just shy of 50 years, from the days when the band did “skits and bits,” human pyramids, and songs that encoded an entire subculture’s act of smokeable rebellion, likes performing for the rush he gets. “When those first chords dum dum dum dum dum of “Never My Love” start playing the whole room goes quiet. Everybody loves that song. It was their song. They played it a their wedding. Probably it got played at more weddings than any other song, I don’t know. It’s great.”
And do people light up joints when the band breaks into “Along Comes Mary?” He laughed and cleared his throat, “Uh, I wouldn’t know. I have no idea what that stuff smells like.”
The Association plays as part of the Happy Together tour, Thursday, July 23, at the Chumash Casino, 3400 Hwy. 246, Santa Ynez. For tickets, call (805) 686-0855.