Pamela Miller was a boy-crazy teen from the San Fernando Valley whose head was permanently turned one summer day when a real live rock & roll band actually began to rehearse across the street. Like Sirens in reverse, she and a gaggle of her gal pals were lured by the sights of muscle cars and pompadoured black-haired boys and the sounds of guitars and drums. The band turned out to be a group of Dutch-Indonesians called the Rainbow Rockers. Miss Pamela’s life would never be the same, as she relates in the following, 56-year chronicle…
Perhaps you might be curious as to what caused pre-teen Pam Miller from Reseda, California, to turn to music as her savior. My parents didn’t play records on their moderne hi-fi in our living room very often, and it was usually 40s big band orchestras — Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, which floated around in the background like yesteryear’s flotsam while I played with my Barbies. Cruising along in our family Ford was when I became curious about the crooning that filled the smoky atmosphere while my parents puffed away on their cancer sticks. Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and especially smooth Dean Martin piqued my growing musical interest, and I’d gaze out the window, sighing heavily, imagining being a grown up in love.
When Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, wriggling so hard he was only shown from the waist up, it’s impossible to describe the shift inside me. Suddenly at ten years old, I could feel the blood burbling inside my body and the beats of my heart throbbing in sync with the shocking drumbeats. The little record player that had only played Disney tunes and kiddie ditties, was soon stacked with rock and roll, playing endlessly, mostly Elvis Presley, who still shakes me up to this day.
I was born at the perfect time to revel in the music that most thought would be a passing fad, and some believed was hand delivered by the devil himself. Long a television baby, I became obsessed with American Bandstand. At age thirteen, the stand-out pop god who captured my adoration was the dazzling Dion Di Mucci. He’d just made the jump to solo artist, leaving the Belmonts behind in the Bronx, bringing “Runaround Sue” and “The Wanderer” to legions of fans. I love his familiar voice so much that it has become a part of my DNA. When I’m driving, I have to pull my car to the side of the road when my favorite song of his, “Love Came to Me”, comes on Sirius XM’s ‘50s channel. The two and a half minutes of total unadulterated joy renders me incapable of paying attention to the road, and I silently thank Dion for being born into the same world I’m in. I have tickets to his show in Red Bank, New Jersey, July 31, but I just found out the damn virus will be keeping me out of that fifth row center seat until 2021. My heroes will always my heroes.
Back then, however, I couldn’t imagine seeing Elvis or Dion live and in-person. I was safely tucked into the Leave-it-to Beaver San Fernando Valley, and music was on the radio or inside the grooves of my growing record collection. That all changed when my parents took me to Las Vegas for my thirteenth birthday to see another fave of mine, Paul Anka. I’d imagined putting my head on his shoulder after meeting him briefly a couple years earlier, when he was shooting an oddball film about a peeping Tom, Look in Any Window, in my Reseda neighborhood. Along with a few girlfriends I’d wait for filming to end for the day, to see the peeping Lonely Boy, Paul, saunter down the driveway. I even got his autograph one afternoon, carrying in my wallet for years. It read “Paullaller,” but I didn’t care.
I was born at the perfect time to revel in the music that most thought would be a passing fad, and some believed was hand delivered by the devil himself.
Because it was my birthday, that swellegant night at the Sands in Vegas, Mr. Anka knelt down in front of me and sang a few lyrics while my parents beamed beside me. I still don’t know how they made that happen. The next evening, we saw Chubby Checker twist the night away – live and in-person while a topnotch band played behind him. I’d always been a happy girl, but this was something else. Live music made me feel tinglingly ALIVE. And I was a mean twister, baby.
The summer of ’62, live music came to Jamieson Avenue in Reseda, and at not quite fourteen, I was starting to bloom, ready to be plucked like a hothouse flower.
One bright July day, still drowsy after sleeping in, as I yawned and stretched, I heard an amplified voice from somewhere close by, “Testing, testing…one…two…three, testing…” Hmmmm. What the holy heck? I pulled on a pair of shorts and headed out the front door, jaw-dropped at the vision that greeted me. Parked in front of the house across the street, sat a gleaming candy apple green, lowered Pontiac Bonneville (still my favorite fantasy vehicle), a pompadour’d black-haired beauty boy pulling a shimmering hot red guitar from the the open trunk. Inside the garage, a magnificent hunk-of-stuff was standing at a microphone as a couple other fellows set up guitars, drums and amplifiers. Really? REALLY? A band playing LIVE Right here in Reseda? Directly across the street from ME?
For a few stunned moments, I leaned against the chain-link fence my daddy had just put up, then dashed back into the house to call some local galpals to spread the remarkable news. Before long, me, Iva, Linda and Andy had inched ourselves across the street until we were on the sidewalk swooning to rock hits of the day (plenty of Elvis tunes) deftly recreated by a group of gorgeous Dutch-Indonesian boys we came to know as the Rainbow Rockers.
It turned out their bass player, Tony, lived in that house across the street with his grandmother, a smiling round-bellied lady he called “Moes” (pronounced Moose), which was Dutch for Grandma. It didn’t take long before the Reseda girls were front and center at every rehearsal, the band’s adoring groupies before the word existed. I got a crush on every member of the Rainbows, as we called them, except for the lead singer, Rinus, who at 20 years old, I considered too mature for me. He was a buff body builder, who usually sang shirtless, sweat sliding down his slippery bulging biceps, as my imagination went wild, despite my misgivings about his age. My friend Andy made googly eyes and snagged him early on, and they went on innocent walks in the dusk, finally holding hands to make it known they were an item. I focused on the guitarist, Robby, who cradled the huge red guitar in a way that made me weak-in-the-knobby-knees, and I was overjoyed when the band invited me to Pacific Ocean Park one sublime Saturday afternoon.
It turned out to be an all-for-one glittering, sunny day, a frolicksome, unforgettable pastiche of technicolor teenage magic. We entered through Neptune’s Kingdom, shrieked on the Magic Serpent roller coaster and the Mr. Dolphin rocketship ride, flew on a flying carpet into Tales of the Arabian Nights, and took a plunge deep under the ocean in a leaky diving bell. We shared cotton candy and slathered hotdogs with lots of mustard, and I felt like I was an inch or two off the ground all day long. Just being in that Bonneville, riding back home with the balmy night air wafting through the open windows, ensconced with a group of beautiful musicians would have been more than enough. But as everyone piled out of the car back on Jamieson Avenue, Robby stopped me from leaving, pulling me back down beside him in the backseat, and closed the car door. Before I could register surprise, he took my face in his hands, and kissed me – my very first kiss – a big, juicy, wet wide-open-mouthed smooch from an 18-year-old guitar player. Uh-oh. What did that portend, I wonder? Hahaha.
The summer of ’62, live music came to Jamieson Avenue in Reseda, and at not quite fourteen, I was starting to bloom, ready to be plucked like a hothouse flower.
I’m sure it was a perfectly delightful kiss, but like countless others, I was taken aback by the probing mouth invasion. My lips had no idea how to respond to the the largeness of Robby’s tongue and how it filled my mouth so completely spun me right round, baby, right round. As we grappled, I thought, “This must be what is called a FRENCH KISS.”
One smooch and it was done. My head was bursting apart and my babyheart thought I was in love. I ran back across the street, and since I told my mom just about everything at that point, I asked joyously, “Mama! Have you ever been French kissed?!?” When she forbade me to ever “be alone” with Robby again, I teened out, grabbed a huge knife from the kitchen, fell to the floor, promising to stab myself in the lovepump. Instead I wrote a song about my first kisser to the tune of Tell Laura I Love Her:
Tell Robby I love him/And I couldn’t go on
Knowing he’s across the street/That our love is gone
Tell Robby I miss him/tho’ he won’t miss me
The tears I cry each night/Just bring misery
My life will be ending now/I know it won’t be right
I am just a fool to him/I cry each day and night
The bottle that’s in my hand/will stop my hurting heart
From beating without use/Since we had to part
Tell Robby I love him/And I couldn’t go on
Knowing he’ll love someone else/That our love is gone
I wonder if there was a skull and crossbones on that bottle? Of course, no love was really lost, and I soon focused on a more appropriate lad, Rinus’ younger brother, Ronny, who had started playing drums with the Rainbow Rockers. Another raven-haired beauty, Ronny was amost a year older than me, tall and slim with dimples in both cheeks, and he seemed to like me back. We started a virtuous romance, and my first real date was another perfect trip to POP with the band. I can still see him coming up the walkway to pick me up. When I think back to that splendid day — the growl of the engine, the shimmering blue sky, the darkened trip through the Sepulveda tunnel as Ronny squeezed my hand — the spine-tingling possibilities were spread out in front me me like California gold dust.
I became bewitched by the Dutch Indonesian people, their glamorous burnished skin color, the exotic nature of the Dutch language, and learned how to say How Are you? and I love you in perfect Dutch. I can still say those phrases and will most likely remember them until I draw my last breath. Even their last name – Kakebeen – sounded so exotic and otherworldly. Moes’s Indonesian cooking permeated the neighborhood and I was soon tasting peculiar flavors I couldn’t have imagined in my wildest budding taste bud fantasies.
I invited Ronny and the Rainbows to dance with me at the local Teen Center, and they were soon playing regular gigs there, and changed their name to The Mysteries. Rinus became Dino, (good idea) and they were killing it while the kids twisted, frugged and bopped. I was in a rock and roll trance, especially when Ronny dimpled at me from behind the drum kit. During the break, we sipped punch from paper cups while I praised their stellar performance. Yes, dolls, I was with the band for the very first time and it felt like I’d dipped a pink-tipped toe into my future.
My birthday each year was always celebrated like Christmas, and I decided to turn my 14th into a Luau because my daddy had a real grass skirt from his WWII Navy days nestled in the cedar chest. Our patio became a Hawaiian paradise, and as my guests arrived I draped real flower leis around their necks. We danced to Don Ho and Elvis and I was burbling with delight inside because all the Mysteries had come to my birthday party. Luckily I was often captured on film by my devoted parents, and I treasure the shot of me grinning joyously, standing between Dino and Ronny. Oh so happy to be alive.
The newly-minted Mysteries lived way out in the depths of Los Angeles, at 828 South Burlington Avenue — (Also imprinted on my soul. I made pilgrimages there until it met the wrecking ball in the early 90s) — a huge, turn-of-the-century, three-story house with a wrap-around porch that seemed like a mansion to me. One of my dreamiest memories took place at Ronny’s 15th birthday party. Not only did I get my first womanly rush during a slow dance with my crush, but Dino swept me into his great big manly arms and we danced for three perfect minutes to one of those syrupy golden oldies. His dad was filming when Ronny’s mother brought out the birthday cake, and I kissed my favorite boy on the cheek for all to see, captured on film forever.
But way back in the olden days, South Burlington was way too many miles from 8031 Jamieson Avenue. When school started up again, Ronny and I communicated by letter (I still have them all), and the occasional titillating phone call, but despite that one thrilling visit downtown, those 18 miles became a vast chasm. It was October, 1963. Next up — the Beatles. And you probably know exactly what happened to Pam Miller.
Twenty-seven years later, after reading a rave review about rockabilly singer, James Intveld, in the LA Times, I arrived at the Palomino Club in the middle of his set and watched agog at the talent and beauty on display. I wondered why this dark-haired sensuous singer seemed so strangely familiar. I, of course, made his acquaintance after the set and became a constant member of his audience, and eventually a close friend. One evening he invited me to his place, and while he cooked us a yummy dinner, I explained how my live music obsession began with a Dutch Indonesian band that rehearsed across the street from me, called the Rainbow Rockers. Jimmie was momentarily stunned before announcing he was also Dutch Indonesian and was very aware of that long ago band. Aha! I now realized why his dark eyes and angular bone structure seemed so familiar to me.
The Tielman Brothers
The Dutch Indonesian music community sadly seems like a fading dream, and I recently asked Jimmie how it began. “When I was young I kept hearing about the bands, the Sukerlakis and the Crazy Rockers,” he said, “They were kind of legends over here. And then there were the Kakebeens. We knew them as the professional musicians, doing it for a living. When they moved to the States, they were keeping the torch burning for the Indo Rock scene. Very cool. They played gigs full time. To us they were the pros, and they all had this style — sharp dressers. In that scene, everybody knows everybody. I’m younger, so when I was coming up, I only went to those Indo events once a year or so. I was in the LA punk rock scene with the rockabilly bands, a whole different vibe. About 10 years ago, they would show up at my gigs, and it was, ‘Oh the Kakebeens are here,’ or ‘Hey Dino or Ronny is here.’”
Crazy Rockers – The Third Man Theme
I don’t expect a history lesson, but how did this luscious mixture of humanity come to be?
“There were 300 years of the Dutch people in Indonesia, because of business. Coffee, rubber, tea, various exports — the soil in Indonesia was perfect for growing things. A lot of Dutch people made a good living there. That’s where our ancestors are from. After WWII, the U.S. government asked the Indonesians ‘Do you want your land back? The Dutch are running the show.’ So the Indos had to leave – my parents, Dino and Ronny’s parents. You had to become an Indonesian with an Indonesian passport, or immigrate back to Holland, and when they went back they didn’t like being there. But when they lived in Indonesia in the Fifties, they met a lot of sailors, and people from the import-export business, and they’d come back with records from the United States. Hank Snow, Hank Williams, Fats Domino, so those records were suddenly available. Some of them were exposed to early rock and roll, R&B and country before they even moved to Holland. It caught on really quick because they didn’t have rock music over there yet. For Indonesians, music is their thing. I’ve had a guitar since I was 8, and everybody came over to my house and played music. All the Dutch Indo guys play guitar. They’re really talented. The Tielman Bros and the Crazy Rockers started playing around Europe. People were going crazy for their sound. Andy Tielman. He was the cat. They were wild. There’s a documentary about the Indo music scene, Sounds of Origin.”
Sounds of Origin Trailer
Does he think the Dutch-Indo music scene will continue?
“It’s a generational thing, it won’t be around in 20 years. All these people seeking refuge after the war had to immigrate to Holland, and a lot came to America. They clung together because they had a lot in common and married into their community, but not so much anymore. Now these guys have had kids who’ve married Americans, so the tradition is being broken. My parents are Dutch Indonesian, so my sister and I are kinda like purebreds. In the documentary it comes full circle. I’m the last musician they talk to, the last of the generation of Indo rockers. I’m interested in my heritage and I’ve brought the tradition to some of the younger people. I was really surprised and flattered when I went to Holland and a bunch of Dutch-Indo bands were playing my original songs. I sing songs in Indonesian and in Dutch. I’m 60 years old now. Nobody is doing that at my age.”
I’ve often thought about the boys in the band that set me on my wild path to groupiedom, so when Jimmie invited me to his New Year’s Eve gig last year and told me the Rainbows would be there, I knew where I’d be sipping vodka on December 31. You never know if the people who literally changed your life will remember the past in the same way, or even at all. The joint was rockin’ when I made my way to Dino and Ronny’s table where they were watching Jimmie with their wives. I would have known them anywhere, even after 56 years. FIFTY-SIX FREAKING YEARS. Ronny nodded a twinkly Hello and when I asked Dino to dance, he swept me into his still great big manly arms and suddenly I was transported back to 1963. Jimmie invited them up on stage and I was once again front and center for the Rainbow Rockers. At the stroke of midnight, Ronny gave me a Happy New Year hug and we all rocked into the year 2020. (Yes, It’s been pretty rough so far, but it started off perfectly divine for me).
How could I connect with them again, I wondered? Ahhhhh… what if I wrote my Please Kill Me column about the band that started it all? Maybe I could even catch up with Dino and Ronny, and interview them? Yeah! That’s it!
I’m thrilled to tell you, that Jimmie recently put me in touch with the Kakebeen brothers, and when I saw Dino’s name displayed on my phone, I did triple take and squealed out loud. We met up at a bakery in La Crescenta, where Ronny lives, on the patio of course, where the breeze wafted away any lurking Covid droplets.
WOW! They both look fit and healthy and happy to see Pam Miller from Reseda sashaying to their table, wielding her snazzy, itty bitty, new Sony recorder. Dino at 78 is still heavily muscled with a quiff of auburn hair, and Ronny’s dimples are entirely intact. Good looking fellows indeed. They tell me what happened to different members of the band, and we talk about the dreamboat candy-apple Bonneville, which Dino refers to as his ‘Baby.’ and I swoon. After the copious pleasantries I ask if any memories had surfaced from those long ago years.
“I can still see that captured image of you four girls together coming across the street, and feel that enthusiasm,” Dino says, his accent still noticeable. Yes, we were enthused alright. I recall that Ronny arrived on the scene a little later, the youngest at 14. “Robby was meticulous about copying things to the tee. He’s the one who taught me my first chord on guitar, Ronny recalls. “I was fiddling around, and he goes, “you put your finger here, that’s a C.” I mention that Robby taught me my first chord too, (haha!) and Dino says he read the Rainbow pages in I’m With the Band over and over, “I could just see Robby with his infamous waterfall hair. It was so vivid, the way you described us all.” Then with a faraway look, he asks if I’m still in touch with Andy, the girl he held hands with on Jamieson Avenue, but alas, she moved away soon after that glorious summer.
Dino and Ronny were both drafted into army, but before Ronny did his American duty, he carried on with the Mysteries. “We took over the Indo parties,” he says, “We’ve always been close, so when Dino was drafted it broke my heart. I was on drums then, and one night some guy wanted to dance with my girlfriend at the time and he said ‘If you don’t dance with me, I’m going to kick his ass.’ So he dragged me off the drums and kicked my ass. I recorded everything in those days, I had a reel-to-reel. You can hear the scuffle and my drumsticks falling, click, click, click. Boom! People yelling, where’s he gone? I was out cold for a few seconds.”
After their army stints, Dino and Ronny performed in various bands with all kinds of names — the Warriors, the Satellites, Jawbone, Soul Desires, Only Once, the Entertainers — all very successful in the Indo scene. Jawbone even had a record out, and Ronny heard it played on the radio in Reno where they were performing. “Our agent said he could get us more work if we did an oldies type thing, so the newly minted Ronny and the Classics opened for a group called Captain Cardiac and the Coronaries playing oldies. We swung the first night at the Palomino and started getting gigs at casinos.”
I made my way to Dino and Ronny’s table where they were watching Jimmie with their wives. I would have known them anywhere, even after 56 years. FIFTY-SIX FREAKING YEARS.
I ask Dino when he last performed, and Ronny laughs, “It was just last night, in your garage with your horn, right? (he still plays the sax). “Onstage it was with the Warriors. I produced a couple of their cds, and Dino took the Warriors to Holland, he was the Indo Elvis! The Rainbows reunited briefly, and we even picked up tunes from James Intveld. Music is in my blood. When it’s my time to leave here, I hope I’ll have my guitar in my hand. I’ll keep doing it until I can’t do it.”
I pull out my precious old photos and we all gaze at the past reflectively. The picture of Dino staring into my camera, arms crossed in front of him is mesmerizing, and the shot of him with Robby holding a photo of his latest girlfriend over his face cracks us up. Apparently the meticulous guitar player wasn’t a big fan of being captured on film. Behind them in the picture are rows of cardboard rectangles that were tacked to all four walls, featuring the titles of the songs they played. I actually called my little music den, ‘The Rainbow Room,’ and the day they came over to marvel at my obsessive fandom was special indeed. They even rehearsed on my back patio a couple of times, and I couldn’t imagine that life could get any better. When I take out the luau picture, Ronny thinks he looks geeky, but I think he’s cuteness personified. When I show him my prized teen possession, a Christmas card from him that says “Hello Honey” on the cover, he reads the little note inside, slightly embarrassed. “We were so young,” I say, “We never even got into any hanky-panky. Maybe just a little kiss on the cheek.”
As we finish up our deli bakery noshes, Ronny tells me he has a surprise for me. “My father filmed my 15th birthday party, and you’re featured.” He takes out his phone and shows me images from the Super 8 footage, and sure enough there’s a shot of me, barely 14, grinning happily, and in the next photo, I’m next to Ronny as his mom brings out the cake — kissing him on the cheek.
I often have music gigs in my backyard, and when this damnable virus splits the scene, my dream is to have a Rainbow Rockers reunion right here in Reseda, where it all started. Hey! maybe I’ll turn my patio into a Hawaiian paradise, dig out Daddy’s grass skirt from the cedar chest and grin joyously standing between Ronny and Dino.
Oh so happy to be alive.
MORE FROM PKM:
DANCING WITH THE GHOST OF JAMES DEAN
MISS PAMELA: MEETING YOUR HEROES