The instrumental group The Piltdown Men was the brainchild of Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga. Both men were affiliated with the vocal group The Four Preps (who will get their own TIMS later in the year) : Cobb as a founding member and Mayorga ("the Fifth Prep") as their pianist/arranger. Together they aimed to take a shot at the growing market for rock 'n' roll instrumentals and they succeeded in persuading their producer, Voyle Gilmore, to allocate them some studio time at Capitol, the label to which the Four Preps were contracted.

The name "Piltdown Men" comes of course from the Piltdown Man, one of the most famous frauds (1912) in the history of science. If you're not familiar with this amazing archaeological scam, take a look at:

Cobb and Mayorga were aiming for a "dirty" sax sound (which was somewhat at odds with the clean-cut image of the Four Preps) and found the meanest, nastiest sounding sax player on the West Coast in the shape of Scott Gordon. On 11 May 1960, Gordon found himself sharing tenor sax duties with seasoned session man Jackie Kelso on the very first Piltdown Men recordings. Alan Brenmanen, an old school buddy of Cobb, was brought in to play drums, Tommy Tedesco played six-string bass, Bob Bain guitar, there was a timpani player from the L.A. Philharmonic, whilst Lincoln Mayorga himself opted to play piano and conduct the session. He had imaginatively arranged the old nursery rhyme "Old MacDonald", with the twin saxes out front and a liberal use of the Capitol reverb facilities. For the flip of "McDonald's Cave", the Cobb-Mayorga team came up with an equally wacky creation they called "Brontosaurus Stomp". Voyle Gilmore was less than impressed, though, and said he wouldn't release the record, but fellow Capitol producer Dave Cavanaugh was totally convinced it was a hit and told Gilmore to put it out. "Brontosaurus Stomp" made it to # 75 on the Billboard charts, helped - and this was sheer luck - by the launching (by the ABC network) of a new cartoon series called the Flintstones, which suddenly made Stone Age terminology the hippest thing around. In the UK, "McDonald's Cave" was plugged as the A-side, and peaked at # 14. Ironically, just at the same time, a second version of "Old MacDonald", also on Capitol, hit the British Top 20. A greater contrast was hardly possible, as this other version of the farmyard ditty was by none other than Frank Sinatra! The follow-up was an ambitious choice : Rossini's "William Tell Overture" became the source for "Piltdown Rides Again", complete with a full horn section, sequestered from the L.A. Philharmonic. The B-side, "Bubbles in the Tar" was an adaptation of the piano intro from Fats Domino's "The Fat Man". Released in mid-October 1960, this excellent second single failed to find its way to the US charts, but in the UK it peaked at # 14 (again). The third single coupled a Henry Mancini composition, "The Great Impostor" (with guitarist Bob Bain in the spotlight) with another Cobb-Mayorga tune, "Goodnight Mrs. Flintstone", the Piltdown's ode to Wilma in the prehistoric town of Bedrock. EMI in the UK chose the latter as the A-side and by March 1961, the record sat comfortably in the Top 20, reaching # 18.

For the next session, Cobb and Mayorga again came up with two originals. "Gargantua" started out as a romp-stomping variation on the sax riff from "Bony Moronie", with powerful piano work from Mayorga and some of the loudest kettle drums you ever heard. A superb piece of instrumental R&R, but the powers that be at Capitol thought otherwise and the track had to be totally revamped at the next session. This slower and far less exciting "Gargantua" became the fourth single, coupled with "Fossil Rock", the intro of which was copied from "Poor Boy" by the Royaltones. Unfortunately, this time there was no chart action on either side of the Atlantic. Single # 5, "A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody"/"Big Lizzard" came out in March 1962, but by that time the focus of Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga's attention had shifted to Ketty Lester, whose big hit "Love Letters" they had arranged and produced. One final Piltdown single was released in late 1962, "Night Surfin'"/"Tequila Bossa Nova", but both the producer (Nick Venet) and the session men (which included Leon Russell and Dave Burgess) had nothing in common with the crew from the earlier singles. The single wasn't even released in the UK and did nothing in the US. Nick Venet went on to produce Bobby Darin and the Beach Boys at Capitol and that was the end of the Piltdown Men.

The second (or rather, first) version of "Gargantua" was finally released in 1998, on the CD "The Piltdown Men Ride Again" (Ace 681), which encompasses the complete recordings by the Piltdown Men (including two other unreleased items, "Agricultural Twist" and "Flint Stomp"), along with eleven Capitol recordings by the Ernie Fields Orchestra and three tracks by Earl Palmer. The excellent liner notes are by Stuart Colman, from whose story I have borrowed liberally.

More info:

P.S.: On his website ( Plas Johnson claims that he plays on "MacDonald's Cave", "Piltdown Rides Again" and "The Great Impostor". With all due respect for my favourite sax player, I think that Mr. Johnson's memory fails him here. When I asked him (by e-mail, in August 2002) if it was him on "Live Like A King" by the Twilighters, he replied that it was possible, but that he couldn't remember. (Not surprising if you've played on thousands of sessions.) He referred me to ... Stuart Colman ("the expert on rock & roll discography", according to the Plas), the same person who does NOT mention Plas Johnson in his Piltdown Men sleeve notes.

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
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