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La Mirada Garage Band of the 1970’s Makes “Comeback”

Don opening for America this past February; America’s Gerry Beckley, left, and Dewey Bunnell with Don.

By Tony Aiello

The culture shock and tumulus times of the 1960’s and 70’s in our Nation, brought with it the rise and influence of rock and roll music in our society. Back then, garage bands were seemingly everywhere in La Mirada. Many of these performers, once kids growing up in La Mirada, now perform today as adults, mostly for the love of it. This is the story of one of those people:

When someone fulfills one of their lifelong dreams, it can’t help but a put a smile on your face.

That’s exactly what musician Don Brennan did this past February 24th, when he opened for his all-time favorite band America at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

“It was a dream come true, a huge thrill,” said Brennan, in a recent phone interview with the La Mirada Lamplightet.

Don Brennan was born and raised in La Mirada with his siblings Billy, Tom, Don, Edward and Jane.  His parents, watched the progress of their home being built on Rio Blanco Drive in 1955, and they still live there today.

Brennan reflected on being raised in La Mirada, “As a kid, I didn’t know any different at the time, but looking back, growing up in La Mirada was just great.  Back then it was a new suburban community, but still had rural areas and wide-open spaces. It was the perfect balance of family homes, parks, family run businesses, and open fields to play in.”

“The La Mirada Mall was great and is where I met my wife of almost 29 years now. I have so many good memories of La Mirada, like going on Saturdays to see the latest beach movie at the “Walk-In” as we called the theater back then. Also, we loved riding bikes to the La Mirada Bowling Alley, passing the construction site and anxiously awaiting for that new Love’s Restaurant to open, the smell of the “Karmel Korn”, watching Marlo Thomas light The Angel Tree, Engineer Bill at the Market Basket, and playing in Regional Park before it was a park,” he recalls.

He attended St. Paul of the Cross Catholic School for first through eighth grades, and, in 1970 attended Neff High School, graduating in 1974, “Going to Neff from St. Paul was definitely a culture shock,” he said.

He was saddened when Neff was shuttered in 1981 and ultimately demolished, “I rode my moped over and grabbed a brick of what was the left of the administration office. I still have it around here somewhere,” he said from his home.

Today, Don lives in Chino with his wife Pam-they met at the old Woolco department store in La Mirada.

Like many American children, he says his interest in music began September 4, 1964 when he saw The Beatles make their first US live appearance on television on The Ed Sullivan Show. After begging his parents for a guitar and getting extra support from his grandmother, he has been playing every since.

Don originally started off playing bass, often playing with his brothers Tom and Ed, but eventually evolved into a percussive-style acoustic guitarist. He touts singer-songwriter Michael Hedges, who died in 1997, as his major influence.

In 1972, Don borrowed an album from his next door neighbor by the group America, their self-titled debut recording.  It has been his favorite band every since then.

In the mid-70’s after high school, Brennan started playing bass guitar for a group called Audio. They played together until the early 80’s. They played at venues such as The Troubadour, Starwood, Cuckoo’s Nest and many others. The band members were Steve Gage, Scott Macedo, Steven Scharf and Don-all from La Mirada, except Scharf (Gage, who also attended Neff High, recently teamed up with another La Mirada rocker, Steve Bravin and formed a group called The Groovetones, performing at last Augusts’ La Mirada Blogfest).

Of course, it was around this time that Don started his “regular” job as a printer, a job he held over 30 years until he was laid off about nine months ago. Although he had the printing job, he was always playing music.

After Audio, Don mostly developed his skills as a songwriter and produced recordings in his home sound studio. He released his first solo acoustic instrumental CD entitled, “Well, to begin with…” in 2008.

Around 1997 he met up with Michele Barr, who also played guitar and sings. Michele, it turns out was a neighbor and Don’s little sister Jane’s best friend growing up in La Mirada! Together, Don and Michele formed The Naked Eye. They wrote and recorded songs together, have released 3 CD’s, and “still perform occasionally.”

They won Best Folk at the OC Music Awards in 2006 and have performed at The Coach House, BB Kings, The LA Music Awards, and local colleges. Don also won Best Acoustic at the Star Music Awards in 2008.

Brennan mentioned there is an impressive list of La Mirada garage rockers, many of who still perform, including: Kenny Metcalf (Don says he does the best Elton John tribute), Gage (Jimi Hendrix tribute band), Joe Alessandro (Bad Company tribute), Nick Sherwin, Paul Warner, Mark Servi, and Anthony Cortez among others.

Don and his wife Pam are also amateur winemakers and they enjoy traveling.

Of course, Don’s music career reached a new platform a few weeks ago when he opened for his all-time favorite band, “I tried to open for them five years ago when they were here and it didn’t happen. This was such a huge thrill.”

This horse definitely has a name.

When asked if his music will be enough to support him financially in the future, especially after being laid off, he said, “We’ll see, so far so good….”