In 1968, when Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple hit the world stage, there was a local group called Snail. Jamming at Harvey West Park, bandleader Bob O’Neill recalls not being the most hardened musicians: “We were like, ‘Would you like to use our equipment?’ We were very young and very nice.” Though not as renowned as their British brothers, Snail is infamous in Santa Cruz. “Our biggest influences were Jeff Beck, Jimi Page and Eric Clapton. We weren’t heavy metal exactly. We had the lyrical side of it with harmonies, so it was kind of a hybrid,” says guitarist Ken Kraft. With a division of harmonies and arrangements, Snail was more like Cream, rocking blues with a psychedelic twist. In 1970, Snail took out a loan, bought Marshall amplifiers and began playing major venues. Selling out the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium and Selland Arena in Fresno with Santana, Snail became an arena band, still true to their roots. “We played a concert on the beach in Capitola, thousands showed up, but the police never did,” says Kraft, crediting huge turnouts in the ’70s to lack of TiVo. “There weren’t as many distractions back then—there were only three TV stations.” Forty years later, Kraft and O’Neill remain bandmates and friends. As songwriters, the Lennon/McCartney of the band, it’s no surprise that Kraft is currently the White Album Ensemble guitarist, singer and musical director. Today, Snail reminisces about the glory days of playing the Carousel Ballroom, the Avalon and the Fillmore West, and touring with the Doobie Brothers and Styx. Feeling forever indebted to Catalyst owner Randall Kane, Snail will play the venue Friday, following the premiere of The Catalyst documentary. The two agree, “[Kane] was quite a character … even when he was 80 years old, he was easy to spot with his red suspenders and wild hair.”
INFO: 10 p.m. Friday, May 6, following the premiere of The Catalyst at 8:30 p.m. Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. $30/adv, $35/door. 423-1338.