Diana De Rose (spelled Di Rose on the album and De Rose on “Flower Town”) - lead vocals, acoustic guitar
John Noreen - lead 12-string guitar, vocals
James Groshong - lead vocals, guitar
William Fleming - bass
Bruce Bowdin (spelled Boudin on the album) - drums
Sunshine pop was a distinctive Southern California musical style popular from 1966 to 1968, with a 1970 Beach Boys album, Sunflower, tossed in for good measure. A sweetened, smiley-faced offshoot of Los Angeles folk rock, sunshine pop was characterized by cheerful lyrics, jangling 12-string guitars and shiny vocal harmonies. Among the genre’s artists were the Mamas & the Papas, Yellow Balloon, the Parade, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, the Sunshine Company, the Giant Sunflower, and the Rose Garden, who for a time toured as stand-ins for the Giant Sunflower (which, like many of these groups, didn’t exist outside the studio). The Rose Garden were, in many ways, the most interesting of the sunshine pop groups, and their only hit, a cloudy-and-overcast ballad called “Next Plane to London,” remains a favorite today on oldies radio.
The Rose Garden story begins in Los Angeles in 1964, when teenage guitarists John Noreen and Jim Groshong got together with drummer Bruce Bowdin and bass player Bill Fleming to form a group called the Blokes, in hopes of capitalizing on the popularity of the Beatles and other British rock bands. But in 1965 they changed their musical allegiance to L.A.’s burgeoning folk-rock revolution led by the Byrds. In fact, the Blokes practically became a Byrds tribute band. “The 12-string really is as much a part of that [folk rock] sound as the songs themselves are,” says Noreen, an accomplished 12-string guitar player. “We used to learn Byrd songs right down to the very kick drum patterns. I learned [Roger] McGuinn's parts verbatim. We even learned ‘8 Miles High,’ which no other band I ever heard of would even dare take on. We played it everywhere we had a gig.”
In late 1966 or early '67, singer Diana De Rose joined the group. Though she claimed to be a native of Blackpool, England, De Rose had actually come from Parkersburg, West Virginia, an Ohio River factory town where she’d graduated from high school in 1964 and sung in local clubs. With dark eyes, flaming red lips and wide-hips draped in short black dresses, she had been Parkersburg’s answer to Joan Baez until she left town in 1966 and headed west.
Diana De Rose
Parkersburg High School
The Suns of Thunder - Diana De Rose, Lillian Sams and John Swales - in 1964.
Noreen recalls, “She met Jim somewhere in Hollywood and wanted him to join her band or start a [new] band. But Jim wanted to stay where he was, and we did need another vocalist, so we all thought it would be best if she came to our band.”
De Rose brought along a friend named David Hanson, who arranged for the group to record a couple of demos at a Hollywood studio. Noreen doesn’t remember what the songs were, but says that Hanson put the tapes into the hands of Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, two young record hustlers who were already legends around Los Angeles. Engineer Stan Ross, who owned Hollywood’s fabled Gold Star Recording Studio, remembers them as “big promoters and shuck artists who liked to call themselves producers.” Having breezed into town from New York City a few years earlier, Greene & Stone had climbed over the fence at Universal Studios, moved into an empty office and acted like they belonged there. The ruse worked for a few weeks until they tried to use the secretarial pool, whereupon the studio guards escorted them to the front gates. By then, Greene & Stone had begun managing Sonny & Cher and, through their publishing contacts in New York, convinced Atco Records, an Atlantic Records subsidiary, to sign the husband-and-wife duo. A couple of Sonny & Cher hits later, Greene & Stone became Atco’s de facto west coast A&R men.
The two hotshots immediately got the Blokes their first major gig - but not as the Blokes. Thanks to the Mamas and the Papas, sunflower pop was the hottest thing in Los Angeles, and several knock-off groups copping their happy-harmony style were getting heavy airplay on KFWB and other top stations around town. In early 1967 an A&M Records studio group billed as the Parade had a national hit called “Sunshine Girl,” which in turn inspired two local musicians, Pat Vegas and Val Garay, to write a song called “February Sunshine” and record it with professional musicians for their own one-off Take 6 label. They named their non-existent aggregation the Giant Sunflower. The recording was immediately snapped up by Lou Adler’s Ode label, an A&M subsidiary, and might have done very well if Ode hadn’t released it at the same time as Scott McKenzie’s sunny “San Francisco,” which absorbed the company’s promotional energies on its way into the Top 5. Still, “February Sunshine” became popular enough around Los Angeles to bubble under Billboard’s Top 100. “With all the airplay it was getting, they needed a band to go with the record,” says Noreen, “so we became the Giant Sunflower for a few weeks.”
Greene & Stone also took the Blokes into Gold Star to cut a cover version of “February Sunshine.” The group duplicated the original guitar and vocal arrangements, but created a much cleaner, more immediate sound. The other song they recorded that day was “Flower Town” - but more on that later. While they were in the studio, Greene announced that the group needed a more up-to-date name. A year earlier, when he and Stone signed a fledgling folk rock group called the Herd, Greene had renamed them the Buffalo Springfield on the spot, reportedly after seeing the name logoed on a piece of heavy machinery rolling by. This time Greene had to look no further for inspiration than the striking looking Diana De Rose. “We were looking for a good name,” says Noreen. “Everything was ‘flower power’ at that time, so the Rose Garden made sense.”
Greene & Stone immediately signed the group to Atco and began giving them demos of whatever songs they could get hold of, saying, “Here, work on these, let’s see what they sound like.” Their first source of material was “February Sunshine” writer Pat Vegas, né Vasquez, a Mexican-American Yaqui Indian session guitarist best known for his work with the Marketts of “Out of Limits” fame. Vegas contributed two more songs: “I’m Only Second” (which De Rose sang solo) and a Byrds-like “Coins of Fun” (featuring Groshong and De Rose in a tantalizing duet that hinted at greater possibilities had the band been more cohesive).
One of the Byrds’ principal songwriters, Gene Clark, who had recently left that group, also contributed two numbers: “Till Today” and “Long Time.” Noreen remembers Clark fondly. “He sat in with us once at the Ash Grove and we did a bunch of Byrd songs together. He later laughed and said, ‘Hey, you guys do the Byrds better than the Byrds do the Byrds.’ Well, I don't know about that, but it sure made us feel pretty good. At one point Gene Clark wanted to manage us and get us some sort of deal. But he eventually figured it was going to take too much of his time, so he decided not to do that.”
Noreen says Clark personally delivered “Till Today” to the group. “He came over to my house, where we usually rehearsed. We all sat around while he taught it to us. He also came in the studio while we were recording the album to help us out any way he could. He was a great guy.” Not long before his 1991 death, Clark told writer Domenic Priore that he’d originally written the two songs for his second Columbia solo album, but when the label suddenly dumped him and killed the project, he gave them to the Rose Garden. Neither one, unfortunately, was as good as his Byrds material.
As an album project began to coalesce from their demos, the group also copied the Byrds’ habit of featuring a Bob Dylan tune on their early LPs. Groshong sang “She Belongs to Me” from Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home album, the source of the Byrds' biggest hit, “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Another song they recorded was the Pozo Seco Singers’ “Look What You’ve Done,” which had been a Top 40 hit earlier in the year.
Still, nothing they were doing looked very promising until Greene & Stone’s promotion man, Pat Pipolo, put them in touch with his cousin, a songwriter named Kenny Gist, Jr., who happened to be working on something new and quirky that bore no resemblance to a sunshine pop song. “That’s how we got [Gist’s] “Next Plane to London,” says Noreen.
They went into Nashville West Studios on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and recorded the song on such short notice that Noreen was unable to come up with a good guitar solo. Either Greene or Stone solved the problem with an on-the-spot decision that gave the song its most unique element: an “airport voice” announcing the plane’s departure at gate 5. “Don Elliot was the program director for KBLA, which was near the studio,” Noreen says. “So someone called him to do [the voice]. We were not real thrilled with this, but G&S wanted it to stay, so it stayed. By the time I had a guitar part ready it was too late.” The moment Greene & Stone got their hands on a test pressing of “Next Plane to London,” they took it directly to Elliot - and the single instantly went on the air.
Don Elliot remembers the day fondly. "I knew Charlie Underwood, the engineer at Nashville West, so I was just hanging out at the session when they asked me to be the airport announcer. Apparently Greene and Stone had originally wanted Sam Riddle, who was a boss jock next door at KHJ, but he wasn't available, so I did it instead. I wrote something quickly on a napkin. They were working on an old 4-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, so they had a track left over for me. The reverb in the studio wasn't working, so I suggested they hang the Tele—the Neumann/Telefunken—microphone in the men’s room of the studio to get the reverb effect naturally. Charlie went for it, and the rest is history. I’m pretty sure we [played] it first on KBLA, which was one of the early FM rock stations. The first guy to play it was our morning deejay, Charlie Tuna."
For the flipside Greene & Stone picked “Flower Town,” recorded at the “February Sunshine” session. The song - one of those “Where Have All the Flowers Gone”-style anti-war sing-alongs - was credited on the 45 to all five members of the group, even though it was a remake of Derroll Adams’ “Portland Town,” which Joan Baez had recorded in the early 1960s. The only lyric change was from “Portland” to “flower.” The song’s publisher on the 45 was Kim Fowley, who today remembers meeting the Rose Garden only once, when they showed up unannounced at his popular studio and rehearsal hall on LaCienega Boulevard, “looking like a [Club] Gazzarri’s version of Gracie Slick fronting the Byrds,” and played him a few things. “They had a good sound but no songs,” says Fowley. “Nothing with a good hook. So I played them a song I wrote called ‘Flower Town.’ They jammed on it all afternoon, and I never saw them again.”
A few months later Fowley was riding into Los Angeles from a music festival when he heard “Flower Town” playing on the radio and exclaimed, “That’s my song!” When he tracked down the single, he was shocked to find that he wasn’t listed as a songwriter. “I got on the phone to [music publisher] Aaron Schroeder. That’s why I’m listed as one of the songwriters on the album.” When asked about Derroll Adams’ earlier “Portland Town,” Fowley’s response was, “Derroll who?” He says the song was simply an “air” - folk music that’s “just around, and nobody knows where it comes from,” and he’s still miffed 35 years later that he never made a dime from it. Noreen, who remembers Fowley giving them “Flower Town,” claims, “If it’ll make Kim feel better, we never saw any money from it either.”
Left to right: Jim, Diana, Bruce, Bill and John perform on TV. Diana and Bill Diana Bruce and Diana John Diana Diana Left to right: Jim, Bruce, Diana, Bill and John. Diana, Bill and John
“Next Plane to London,” featuring De Rose backed by Groshong and Noreen’s tight harmonies, is a lament about a frustrated singer ready to leave Los Angeles in search of greener pastures in England, even though it means leaving her boyfriend behind. “Maybe over there I can be a star,” she hopes. The record entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at #91 on October 21, 1967 and topped out at #17 two months later, on December 30, which happened to be the day they lip-synched both “Next Plane to London” and “Flower Town” on American Bandstand. (During her interview with Dick Clark, De Rose - looking like Cher’s bad-girl sister and sounding like a Parkersburg barmaid - maintained her British ruse despite Clark’s pointed comment that she’d lost her accent.) Songwriter Kenny Gist, recording under the name Kenny O’Dell, followed “Next Plane to London” into the Top 40 with his own sunshine pop-flavored single, “Beautiful People.”
When asked about the Rose Garden's take on his song in late 1967, O'Dell told KRLA's Beat magazine (January 13, 1968), "I like their recording of it, and I'm glad that it's so successful. But, interestingly, it's quite different from the way I recorded it, the sound I had in mind." O'Dell, who had originally written the song for himself, was looking for something a little gentler.
Billboard ad, November 25, 1967.
Left to right:
Bruce Bowdin, Diana De Rose,
Jim Groshong, Bill Fleming
and John Noreen.
Record World ad, September 2, 1967.
The Rose Garden went on the road with several package tours around the South and Southwest, playing with Neil Diamond, Glen Campbell, Canned Heat, the Stone Poneys (with lead singer Linda Ronstadt), Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Meanwhile, Atco released their 10-song LP, The Rose Garden, in both mono and stereo versions. By 1967 standards it was an uneven album, despite some very good performances. Greene & Stone had merely compiled a group of demos of outside songs, without any theme in mind. A further problem, commercially, was that the group's Byrds vibe was passé. Also, casual buyers looking for the distinctive sound of the hit single were probably disappointed because De Rose’s husky alto was featured on only half the songs.
The group’s split personality became especially evident on the Rose Garden’s follow-up single, recorded at Gold Star in January 1968 after they came off their tour. Though the label on both sides touted “Featuring Diana De Rose,” she sang only on the A-side, “If My World Falls Through,” another Kenny Gist Jr. song, but this time written under his Kenny O’Dell persona. The sole voice on “Here’s Today,” Noreen’s B-side homage to both George Harrison and the Byrds, was Groshong’s.
“There is also a version of ‘If My World Falls Through’ with Jim singing lead,” Noreen recalls, but it was never released. “That’s why Diana’s voice sounds so low, because we recorded it in Jim’s key. He was supposed to do the song. As I recall, Diana never even showed up for most of the rehearsals for those two songs, so we proceeded as if she was not going to be on them. We were done with the song when she came in and put a vocal on it. And at that point there was a lot of discussion about it. I was pissed because she wasn't even involved in the song hardly at all in putting it together or anything else except a background vocal. In she comes, hanging on [Atco president] Ahmet Ertegun. That was the end of our objections. That was also the beginning of the end for me. I didn't like the politics.”
But Diana De Rose Cross recently said she remembers those days a little differently. "I never missed any rehearsals...I guess John was a little off in his recollection," she said in early 2005. "And I only met Ahmet once, when Charlie [Greene] brought him to a recording session. I don't think I would have waltzed in on his arm when I hardly knew him."
The Rose Garden’s heavy touring had made them “a lot tighter,” says Noreen. “I think at that time we were just starting to find our groove.” But internal pressures - “I felt that the band was watching out for the band and Diana was watching out for Diana” - were causing problems. “We got great reviews in all the record mags, all of them predicting great success for the second single. But I think the girl-versus-the-guys thing was wearing thin on [Atco]. Also about that time, Jim and Bruce were starting to get hassled by the draft board. So maybe the powers-that-be saw the writing on the wall. We were still functioning, but between the fighting and Jim and Bruce about to be drafted, I lost it and my health suffered. Somewhere around May or April I left the band. They got a sub for me but I never came back, and soon Jim and Bruce were off to the service anyway. So that was the end of that.” Greene & Stone by now had moved on to a new group, the Iron Butterfly.
The Rose Garden today.
Left to right:
Bowdin, Fleming, Groshong and Noreen.
These days the four original group members remain in touch and have been talking about a Rose Garden reunion. Noreen, who toured extensively as a steel guitarist with Highway 101 in the 1980s, works as a computer tech for his wife's Nashville real estate business, and as a session guitarist on the side. Groshong owns a construction company in the San Fernando Valley, Fleming is a retired Los Angeles police officer living in Orange County, and Bowdin is a buyer with the Dallas, Texas, transit system. De Rose briefly replaced lead vocalist Gayle McCormick in A Group Called Smith (known for their 1969 hit, “Baby, It’s You”), but eventually left music altogether because life on the road had become too “stressful and draining.” She earned a degree in computer programing and worked as a graphic artist for Hughes Aircraft in the 1970s. She later married a doctor from San Antonio, Texas, where she lives today. Kenny Gist moved to Nashville in 1969, wrote a slew of songs (including Charlie Rich’s 1973 No. 1 country smash, “Behind Closed Doors”) and successfully revived his Kenny O’Dell persona for the country charts. Pat Vegas and his brother Lolly founded Redbone, a 1970s rock band best known for their Top 5 hit, “Come and Get Your Love.” Gene Clark died in 1991. Greene & Stone returned to New York City and eventually abandoned the music business.
The Rose Garden album was reissued on CD in 2003, but neither their second single nor any of the half dozen unreleased tracks Noreen remembers recording, including a theme song for a proposed TV show called Groovy, were added. “Some of [the songs] were unfinished and I don't even remember what they were, but I remember some had horns and other instruments on them.”
Looking back today, Noreen wishes he had done things differently. “Our sound was evolving till we broke up. We were always concerned with arrangements and vocals and spent a lot of time on each. We always wanted more vocal parts and we probably would've hired another vocalist if we had kept going. Now, I would have stayed and fought for what I believed in.” But despite the group’s heartaches and lost opportunities, he holds no grudges. “We were all young and had a lot to learn.”
Thanks to John Noreen, Diana De Rose Cross, Paul LaPann, Kim Fowley, Domenic Priore, Vernon Joynson and Don Elliot for their help.
An abridged version of this article ran in the November 25, 2005, issue of Goldmine.
||“Next Plane To London”/“Flower Town”||1967|
(white promo copy)
|“Next Plane To London”/“Flower Town”||1967|
|Atco 6564||“If My World Falls Through”/“Here's Today”||1968|
(white promo copy)
|“If My World Falls Through”/“Here's Today”||1968|
|Atlantic H 251
|“Next Plane To London”/“Flower Town”||1967|
|“Next Plane To London”/“Flower Town”||1967|
|"Next Plane to London"/"Flower Town"||1967|
|"Flower Town"/"Next Plane to London"||1967|
|Atlantic Oldies OS 13113||"Next Plane to London"/(not on flipside)||1980s|
|Atco EP-C-4522||The Rose Garden (For Disc Jockeys Only) (mono)
(Contains "Rider," "Long Time," "February Sunshine" and
"I'm Only Second." Promo only; never formally released.)
|Atco 33-255*||The Rose Garden (mono)||1968|
|Atco SD33-255*||The Rose Garden (stereo)||1968|
|Bell Song SWL-1132
|The Rose Garden (stereo)||1968|
|Atlantic 932807||The Rose Garden (stereo)||1968|
(4-track tape cartridge)
|The Rose Garden (stereo)||1968|
|Collectors Choice 359-2*||The Rose Garden (stereo)||2003|
*The 10 songs on the album/CD are “Next Plane to London” (Kenny Gist, Jr), “I’m Only Second” (Pat Vegas-Charles W. Higgins), “February Sunshine” (Pat Vegas-Val Geary), “Coins of Fun” (Pat Vegas-Leonard A. Metzger), “Rider” (Traditional, arranged by Diana Di Rose [sic],-Bruce Bowdin-John Noreen-James Groshong-William Fleming), “She Belongs to Me” (Bob Dylan), “Flower Town” (Di Rose-Bowdin-Noreen-Groshong-Fleming), “Till Today” (Gene Clark), “Look What You’ve Done” (Bob Johnston-Wes Farrell), “Long Time” (Gene Clark).
The group’s December 30, 1967, appearance on American Bandstand, lip-synching with “Next Plane to London” and “Flower Town,” is available from various sources.
|"Next Plane To London" was issued in Spain by ATCO's parent label.||The Spanish release of "Next Plane to London" had a picture sleeve with the same design and photo as the American LP. The American singles did not have picture sleeves.|
|New Zealand/Australia single||The Atlantic New Zealand/Australia
LP, with added pink
|Oldies reissue||Red vinyl Japanese album|
|Promo album||British single|
|French picture sleeve||For the single's French release,
"Flower Town" was the A-side.
American Atco C-4522 EP picture sleeve
(DJ copy, never commercially released)
|EP (DJ copy)|
OFFICIAL ROSE GARDEN WEBSITE
The Rose Garden - "Next Plane To London" [YouTube]
Kenny O'Dell - "Next Plane To London" [YouTube]
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