My relationship with Giant Crab began on the Internet—don’t they all these days? In what is essentially my standard mode of locomotion, I stumbled upon a blog post on the ‘Net, which I contend brings out the OCD in all its users. A search for a photo of Jeff Beck turned into seeking all available versions of “Hi Ho Silver Lining,” (an anomalous entry in Beck’s early catalog, by the way, one that almost certainly was recorded at the insistence of producer, Mickie Most, always hungry for a hit, however ill-suited it may have been for the artist).
In addition to a version of “Hi Ho Silver Lining” by The Attack, which barely predated Beck’s, there was a result that pointed to what seemed to be an l.p. called A Giant Crab Comes Forth, which sounded like the title of an American International monster film I’d somehow managed to overlook. Captivating and evocative, that title led me to a music blog entry with the album’s track list, band members, and cover art.
And, man, what an album cover. Muted shades of blue, a crab outline subsuming a disc of yellow and red rays, a circle within a circle, a blazing red crab within, and that title floating above it all. Imagine strolling into the heavily-patchoulied air of the record shop in November, 1968, to find this wonder staring you in the face:
What an experience it must have been, holding this album in your hands, shrink-wrapped, fresh from the UNI Records factory (which surely was adorned just as one of their record labels, in a vortex of bright yellow, pink, blue, and green bands that seemed to be disappearing down the spindle hole, a whirl of color that could induce vertigo even when it was at rest).
My imagination had to do a lot of heavy lifting when it came to Giant Crab. In the words of the blogger whose post originally hipped me to the album, “i got nothing on these guys.” The blogger’s comments about the album were so spirited, they could have been penned for the original l.p. jacket by some UNI PR flack: “… this recording is amazing … tons of fuzz & organ & some brass! … the drum sound on this is amazing , i love it … the vocals are really good, great harmonies … this has sunshine & shadows.”
All of which made me more intrigued about this “real trippy” obscurity made up of “sunshine and shadows.” The original blog post was already years old, though, dating back to 2006, and although I will admit to clicking the link, the download file was long gone. And so, despite all the vaunted accessibility of the Internet, the album proved as elusive as it was mysterious, and increasingly desirable.
What we always want most is that we can’t have, and if that isn’t the record collector’s mantra, what is? My quest for Giant Crab was long and, per my usual mode of progress, circuitous. The trail led to many dead ends before finally leading me back to the beginning.
The band itself can trace its origins back to the warship in the Pacific Ocean, which again conjures visions of an American International picture, (admittedly, not a difficult conjuring act for those of my pop-cultural background). Grainy (black and white, naturally) stock footage of a Navy destroyer steaming toward an unseen destination. Sailors on the bridge, passing a pair of binos between them. The captain (played by Paul Birch) squints into the distance and growls to his chief petty officer (Don Durant, or maybe “Touch” Connors, if the script calls for wisecracks), and growls, “I tried to tell ‘em this would happen if they detonated the bomb out here, but you can’t tell the brass nothin’!”
As the camera pans over along their line of sight, a tremendous crack of thunder, an otherworldly bestial howl, and the title explodes upon the screen:
Rather than rising up out of the irradiated waters of the Pacific, in reality, our Giant Crab eventually came forth from the experiences of a sailor (who was neither Paul Birch nor “Touch” Connors) during World War II.
In the estimation of his youngest son, Ray (now known as Brian), the band’s story began with Joseph Orosco stationed in the Pacific during the war. His guitar helped him pass the interminable hours at sea, “jamming with the other sailors on their ship during their free time,” between outbreaks of horrific combat. Ernie, his eldest, recalls their father’s description of looking down at “Marine bodies floating in the ocean” as he went ashore at Iwo Jima, and looking up to witness the famed raising of the American flag.
A number of his fellow sailors also enjoyed the diversion of making music, swapping songs from their home turf and backgrounds. Due to its immense popularity and adaptability to acoustic guitar, many of the songs Joe learned were country and western. Not that it’s at all evident in the music they would make, Brian cites the C&W that Joe learned in the Navy as an early influence on himself and his brothers.
There are many stories of those who, amidst the unfathomable horrors of war, have made pleas to their Maker to come out of the experience in one piece. As Brian recounts, Joe “asked the Lord to give him three sons, if he came back alive.” Joe wanted a family, and having found so much joy and welcome distraction from the war through his music, he wanted those boys to be musicians. “That,” says Brian, “is where our story began.”
Joseph Orosco did survive the war, and returned home to Santa Barbara. There he met Esther De Luna at a party, and the two hit it off. The two somehow found themselves singing together and, as Brian puts it, “they harmonized together … and it went on for a lifetime.” Like a scene from a post-war Hollywood romance, in a time-lapse dissolve, the couple went from singing cheek to cheek to “You may now kiss the bride.”
In fulfillment of his wartime plea, Joe and Esther had three sons, Ernest (aka Ernie), Ruben (known as Cory), and Ray (known as Brian). The Oroscos also had a girl, Elaine, ten years after Ray’s birth, who has not been part of the brothers’ musical pursuits.
Photos from that time show an attractive couple, always beaming, with the magnetism of born entertainers. Even with four kids to corral, Esther and Joe found time to assemble and lead a band, she as lead vocalist, he on guitar, with both of them harmonizing, of course. They played at parties and elsewhere around the Santa Barbara area, their sets made up of popular standards, Jazz, Latin and, drawing on Joe’s extensive shipboard repertoire, country and western selections.
When the brothers talk of this time, it is with wistfulness, and about their parents, with love and respect. These were days spent fishing off the Santa Barbara pier and, following big brother Ernie’s lead, engaging in daredevil stunts, like the pier-diving that led to stitches in Brian’s knee.
It was the “I Like Ike” era, seen in retrospect as less complex and more innocent, an age of “easy living … that it’s hard for people [today] to related to.” It was that short breather after the Korean War, before Vietnam, before JFK, before The Beatles. The times, their upbringing, and especially their parents’ values, the brothers reckon, prepared them to embark on lives as entertainers, on their own terms.
And the three recognize how fortunate they were to have grown up in a household where their musical ambitions were enabled and encouraged, with parents who clearly wanted them to pursue careers in music, but didn’t force it on them. Brian calls their parents “more than influential,” showing them by example how personally fulfilling, if not necessarily financially rewarding, music-centered lives could be. While Joe and Esther never supported the family as entertainers (and there is no indication that they tried), the joy they derived from playing and performing seemed to be reason enough to do it.
After rehearsals of Joe and Esther’s combo, young Ernie, Cory, and Brian would pick up the adults’ instruments and mimic their folks as their own make-believe band. Along with their parents’ musical influence, the boys would sneak down to the Timos Club, near downtown Santa Barbara on Anacapa Street, to soak up the R&B played by such seminal acts as the smoking-hot Johnny Otis Show. The Orosco boys, all under ten years old, would slip their ears through the door and soak up inspiration, until somebody would say, “Hey kids, get outta here!”
Before long, Ernie gave up the air guitar for the real thing, a ¾-scale, sunburst Stella acoustic the boys had long admired in the window of Bennett’s Music, which turned up under the Christmas tree. All of nine years old, he overcame his shyness to make his public debut as a musician, singing Elvis’ “Hound Dog” outside Brownie’s neighborhood market on De La Vina Street. Shy as he was, Ernie had a confident Elvis stance down cold. He not only became a performer at that tender age, Ernie immediately turned pro, the market’s owners paying him in a currency any nine year old would appreciate, popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.
Ernie Orosco [center] with his first axe, a ¾-scale Stella acoustic he got for Christmas. Younger brother, Brian [r.], appears amused, while friend Bobby Brown [l.] seems intent on picking up some technique.
[c. 2013, James A. Gardner]