Today we’re mourning the loss of the great and wonderful David Roback who sadly passed away yesterday. In remembrance of the musician who was so integral to the Los Angeles music scene with Rain Parade and later Mazzy Star, we’re looking back at this rarely seen footage of Roback shredding with his band between these two projects, Opal.
The band may not have been Roback’s crowning achievement, with Mazzy Star always being the cultural touchpoint so many are familiar with, but in the video below you can see how important Opal was to, not only the evolution of Mazzy Star, but the entire bubbling Paisley Underground scene.
Paisley Underground is a musical genre that originated in California and was particularly popular in Los Angeles, reaching a peak in the mid-eighties. The sub-genre featured bands who incorporated kaleidoscopic psychedelia, richly textured vocal harmonies and dazzling guitar interplay. The scene was born out of the garage rock revival that was surfacing across the state and saw bands pay homage to groups such as Love and the Byrds who had come before them. It was here that David Roback made his home.
Introducing not one but three bands to the scene (and many would argue constructing the scene largely by himself) Roback’s pre-Mazzy Star outfit, Opal, may not have gathered the fame he and Hope Sandoval garnered later with the group—but they certainly saw Roback enact his vision and stamp his authority on the underground movement that was continuing to gather pace and with Kendra Smith he knew he could bring Opal to the masses.
After starting out with the band being called Clay Allison, the group soon took their new name from a Syd Barrett song, ‘Opel’ and began channelling the late, great Pink Floyd man’s work, as they layered noodling guitars and ethereal vocals with wrenching organs and a tie-dye charm. Comprised of Roback on guitar, bassist Kendra Smith (from Dream Syndicate) and drummer Keith Mitchell, the group were stripped back and ready to go.
The band released a few EPs under differing names but their big breakthrough came with the full-length Happy Nightmare Baby which was released in 1987. This is where we find the band below. The debut LP is out, but we’re a few weeks away from Kendra Smith leaving the band mid-tour and retiring to the woods of Northern California—subsequently being replaced by Hope Sandoval—and with the band at the peak of their powers.
Before this event took place, SST records had scheduled a festival in the L.A. area with the gigantic Sonic Youth headlining but it fell through, so instead, they held this festival on the steps of the main gym at UC San Diego, with Opal headlining. It makes for a moment of stunned silence as the audience looks on at one of the most influential guitarists the world has seen in recent years.
David Roback was certainly not a flashy player, he wasn’t even the most technical of players, but what he did with a guitar was turn swathes of a generation back on to rock and roll. The band may have laid the foundations of grunge in these very moments, but they were never interested in becoming superstars. David Roback was a guitarist, a musician, and an artist. Being a rock star never entered the equation.
Watch below as we remember David Roback was this rare footage of his pre-Mazzy Star band Opal headlining at UC San Diego in 1987.