Album cover

Bailey's Nervous Kats

The Nervous Kats

Isolated at the rural fringe of Northern California, Bailey’s Nervous Kats took Shasta County by storm in the late 1950s. “Back then Redding had the energy of Los Angeles, even though the population was only twelve thousand,” guitarist Bob Smith told Alec Palao in 2000. “Every time we’d play against a visiting act like Duane Eddy or Fats Domino, they’d go broke, because the kids would come to see us instead. They’d save their nickels and dimes all week long so they could go to a Bailey’s dance. They’d come down with all the souped up cars, these beautiful hot rods, girls on rollerskates, all that stuff; that’s how it was. This town was alive.”

Formed from of the remnants of guitarist Norman Bailey and Smith’s primitive country combo Bailey’s Comets in 1957, the Nervous Kats were rounded out by Herb Kliebe on bass and James Mills on drums. Their unique stage plot had Mills pushed to the front, with the rest of the band buried behind their Magnatone amplifiers. “It was to drive the sound, “ explained Bailey. “So it wouldn’t drive us off the stage.” Like a true rock n’ roll band of the era, their teen-friendly set was primarily cover songs by Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and Elvis, but according to Smith, “We had our crowd so well trained to our sound that we could play all of our original stuff live to test it. If a tune got a good reaction from the kids, then that was one we were gonna do.” One of those was originals was the James Mills-led, Middle Eastern-inspired “Cobra.”

The Nervous Kats were managed by local music retailer Orville Simmons, who, in 1959 ushered the Kats into Brandt Studios in Sacramento to cut their original repertoire. Four sides were ultimately issued in early and mid-1960 on Charlie Brandt’s custom imprint Camelia Records, which boasted “Records of Richness” on their red and silver labels. “We all had high hopes,” Smith said. “‘Cobra’ would have gone the distance if we had been able to pick some distribution.” The single was ultimately leased to Jay Colonna’s Magnet label, arranged by Sacramento music publishing impresario Orlin Hammitt. “They had a show named Disc Date, the local version of Bandstand,” Mills said. “We were a permanent fixture on that, and eventually we got our own show on Thursdays on Channel 7. We used to try and do choreography, I’d get out from behind the drums and roll around or play with my feet!”

Following an October 1960 tour of Oregon and Nevada with the Fendermen and Dorsey Burnette, Bailey and his Nervous Kats took a major leap and left Redding. Relocating to the burgeoning South Bay city San Jose, the band soon realized they were tiny fish in a much bigger pond. “We found out they didn’t like rock n’ roll,” Smith said. Returning to Shasta County, the band experimented with dual drummers and a sax player, rebuilding their following while a quartet of Liverpudlians honed their sound in Hamburg nightclubs half a world a way. And yet, the Nervous Kats evolved, dropping the Bailey’s from their name and adding Invasion-style numbers to their setlist while the continued to write and record their own material. Their final record was a compilation album of re-recorded Camelia-era sides, released on Orville Simmons’ own Emma label in 1965. By then, the band was on fumes. “The kids would come and watch me play, because I was pretty hot stuff,” Smith said. “The next thing I know these kids are going by me like I’m sitting still. Then it went a little farther and the crowd started splitting. So we got together and said ‘Why don’t we stop while we’re still on top, just let it go.’”

Track List

  1. The Nervous Kats Surf Express
  2. The Nervous Kats Cobra
  3. The Nervous Kats First Love
  4. The Nervous Kats Five Fingers Of Scotch
  5. The Nervous Kats Chong
  6. The Nervous Kats Pandora
  7. The Nervous Kats Simba
  8. The Nervous Kats Traveling Sam
  9. The Nervous Kats I Don't Know
  10. The Nervous Kats Prophecy Of Love
  11. The Nervous Kats Devil's Run
  12. The Nervous Kats Northwind