NW Music Archive: 1980s

Bonnie Guitar

On March 25, 1923 Bonnie Buckingham was born in Seattle WA.  As a youn child she was raised in Redondo Beach,  a small community about 30 miles south of Seattle.  Her family were farmers who were able to weather the depression, unlike many of those in the Midwest who’s crops had been decimated by dustbowl storms and drought.  It was a bit later that the Buckingham family moved a short distance to Auburn WA and continued farming.  Growing up Bonnie had a fascination with the family guitar, and took every chance she could to take it from it’s hiding place to practice when her parents were away.  Her mother had told her that “guitars were for boys”.  But Bonnie persisted learning what she could. She recalls regularly climbing trees and pretending they were broadcast towers and she was sending out signals of her miusic  to the entire world.

Apparently her parent’s disapproval of girl’s playing guitars did not last long. By the age of 13 she had inherited her two older brothers’ flat top guitar and was appearing at talent shows throughout the Puget Sound region while gaining wider reception. During this period she took on her first stage name-Bonnie Lane.  She also began tutoring by local musicians.  At the age 16 she was allowed to tour the NW with a country revue and for the next several years she developed her skill at the guitar as well as finding her voice.

Eventually she began travelling to Seattle to be tutored by some of the best players in the city, including Paul Tutmarc. Not only did Bonnie receive lessons, she began to make recordings with Tutmarc in his primitive studio on Pine Street.  Tutmarc was 27 years older than Bonnie, but their work had brought them close together.  In 1943 Tutmarc divorced his first wife and married Bonnie the following year.  They juggled their married and professional lives, along with caring for their daughter Paula (born in 1950) for the next few years, doing Seattle gigs as a duo and finally joining a well-known NW country outfit called the K-6 Wranglers as with a local country outfit called but the couple divorced in 1955, before Bonnie’s wider success.

Around this time Bonnie took on the name she would always be known as- Bonnie Guitar. Bonnie recalls that one day a songwriter approached her with a few songs he wanted her … Read more›

Red Dress

Any live-music lover who’s lived in Seattle long enough has seen Red Dress. In fact, it’s likely their parents-or grandparents have seen the band play. Red Dress might be the longest-running show in the Northwest. Throughout their career they’ve attracted punk rockers, hippies, drunks, blues aficionados, art-rockers, probably a few metal heads and everyone in between. Despite their long-running history, the band are still one of the most creative and relevant bands working the clubs, bars and festivals in and around Seattle. They do what they do better than anyone else; they always have. Red Dress infuse absurdity with the pure joy of funk, jazz and R&B. The result is far from what one would expect from looking at it on paper. This isn’t a retread of the typical whitebread tribute to a style long out of date. This isn’t a goofy pastiche of kitsch and nostalgia. This is as real and original as things get. Producer Conrad Uno Producer Conrad Uno (Love Battery, Young Fresh Fellows, The Presidents of the United States of America, etc.) hit the nail on the head when he described Red Dress as “Captain Beefheart meets James Brown.”  Minkler himself confirms that when he heard Captain Beefheart’s seminal Trout Mask Replica everything changed

Red Dress has always been a band of solid, professional musicians. Orignally formed with Minkler’s high school friend Rich Riggins in 1976. The duo explored jazz, contemporary classical music, and of course the blossoming punk rock scene.  Eventually Riggins left the band-taking with him the poet/singer/performance artist Cynthia Genser.  Minkler would man the more and more funky and soulful Red Dress, while Riggins and Genser went on to found Chinas Comidas, a band that also found an important place within the city’s alternative music  community.  In fact, it wasn’t unusual to find Red Dress and Chinas Comidas on the same bills in the late 1970s and early 80s.  The stylistic, musical and lyrical content of those on the punk/alternative scene meant little in those days.  Seattle had a very tight-knit community that was too interested in innovation to face off in differing camps.

Over the years more than a few have wandered in and out of the band. But the songwriting has been consistently impeccable and the players pitch-perfect. But there’s no getting around it. This is a band dominated by the talent and presence of vocalist Gary Minkler, and … Read more›

The Spectators

The Spectators played fewer than 20 gigs. They performed only 15 songs live. But their reputation as one of the most original and accomplished bands of the early Seattle alternative scene continues to grow into the 21st century. Their first gig was December 8th 1980, the same day John Lennon was gunned down in New York City. It was just like most other nights at Seattle’s legendary Gorilla Room on Second Avenue; a handful of people showed up, and more free beer was drunk up by the bar staff and their under-aged buddies than was ever sold. But that night one of the finest Seattle bands of the era played to the nearly empty club. Over the next few months the band would be regulars at the Gorilla Room and WREX and end up on the stage of Seattle’s Showbox Theater at least twice, as co-headliners, and as openers for The Stranglers. Later, Bob Mould, having played three dates with The Spectators while on the first national tour by Hüsker Dü , called them “the greatest unsigned band in America“. Less than a yearlater The Spectators were gone.

The Spectators combination of surf, metal, jazz and punk predates most alt bands with similar influences by a full decade. They were a power-trio, but one that dealt their deadly blows with intricate and subtle precision rather than blind swings. This was a band that had brains as well as brawn. By using a limited amount ofeffects, guitarist Byron Duff and bass player Stanford “Stan” Filarca created a sound so tightly woven that it was hard totell who was playing lead, where the rhythm was coming from and how they could possibly sound so big and layered at the same time. Add to the mix the powerful, inventive and perfect tempo of drummer Jeff Farrand and it’s hard to think of any finer trio in rock, signed or unsigned, even today.

During their short life The Spectators recorded very little of their output in the studio-about six studio tracks still exist. Unfortunately most of it has been lost or the tapes have degraded so badly they’re practically unlistenable.  Fortunately there still are some fairly high quality mono recording caught on a cassette player using a condenser mike! Some of these cassettes and board mixes have been discovered, including this recording of Call It Chaos. One-time Seattle promoter and indie label … Read more›

The Refuzors

During the early to mid 1980s The Refuzors were A-list Seattle punk rockers. They were one of the best live bands around. Uncompromising, edgy and raw. They could have been lumped in with alot of hardcore bands from that era but for one thing. The songwriting, mostly by guitarist and vocalist Mike Refuzor set them far ahead of other great hardcore Seattle bands.  And they were always unexpectedly fun.  The Refuzors started out as a trio, and it’s probably their original line-up or Mike Refuzor (Mike Lambert) Bass and Vocals, Danny Refuzor (Danny Barton) on guitar and Roach Refuzor Dan Bradshaw) on drums Other incarnations included Ward Refuzor (Ward Nelson) on guitar, Al Dams, Mike Purdon on bass  and Renee Refuzor (Renee Vazquez) doing some of the vocal.

The Refuzors were good at creating controversy-but some of it was also the cause of the press.  In a revew of the band local rock critic (at the time) printed her views of The Refuzors (and Mike specifically) of being neo-Nazi, white supremecists and fascists.  The comments were made in the widely read but now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer.  Her pronouncement wasn’t based on the lyrics or outward signs of Nazism.  The Refuzors never associated themselves with the neo-Nazi or white supremacist movements.  Hackett based her opinon on their dress; the all black, all leather uniform that many punks adhered to in the early 1980s.  The result of the public accusation led Mike to write one of his best songs, “White Power”.  And of course, once more the media went wild.  How could any major band write such a song?
The fact is the song’s lyrics make clear that they did NOT support white supremacy.  The lyrics start:

People may say things about me.
Some of them things are true, some are lies
With the power of the press you labeled me a Nazi
I bet you can’t even look me in the eyes

Later in the chorus Mike sings;

I never said White Power
I never said White Power to you
White Power
I’m sayin’ it now
You put those words in my mouth…

A studio version of the song was included on the near-legendary “Seattle Syndrome” compilation, but it seems as of this writing there are only very poorly recorded live versions of the song available on the internet.  Aside from the inclusion on The Seattle Syndrome The Refuzors released a … Read more›

The Visible Targets

The Visible Targets, with the frontline of sisters Pamela Golden, Laura Keane and Rebecca Hamilton could have dressed up as babes.  They could have played covers for frat parties.  They could have been a “novelty band”.  Instead they chose to work within Seattle’s alternative scene, playing alongside art bands, punks and “loser” bands as well as the innovators.  It’s no wonder that the band was often scoffed at by the supposedly hip, more cynical and “serious bands.   The irony is those “hipper” more cynical audiences always showed-up at their shows.  The truth is The Visible Targets were original, musically talented and…fun.  They were secure in their musical talent and determination.  It’s fair to say they were the forerunners of the riot grrl movement that wouldn’t flourish for another decade.  The sisters, originally from Yakima WA had paid their dues in cover bands and had even spent time in England trying to jump-start their career.  But it wasn’t until they returned to the US and recruited Ron Simmons as drummer.  Ron was an old friend of theirs from school, and he fit in perfectly.  With the sisters in front and Simmons in the back providing an excellent behind them the band (then known as Wreckless) set out to conquer Seattle-and further.  With their name change to The Visible Targets, and their musical and lyrical dexterity popularity was to come quickly with a dedicated fan base who loved their approach, their look, and most of all their musical and lyrical talent.

The Visible Targets first came to light via Bruce Pavitt’s 1980 ‘cassettezine’ Sub Pop 5. The band then caught the attention of Bob Jenniker, a successful record store owner in Portland and Seattle that had begun the Park Avenue Records label. Bob had released the The Wipers’ Alien Boy, Youth of America and Is This Real, all of them seminal recordings from the American underground. Jenniker was scouting for new talent for his label, and when he found The Visible Targets. He was so impressed he not only signed them; he became the band’s manager and dedicated friend.

The band reflected everything good about the ‘power pop” and new wave” music of the 1980’s. They had an incredible pop sensibility, a talented line-up with enough edge to satisfy serious musicians while appealing to fans that were more interested in being entertained than any of the complexities of what they were … Read more›

WREX

WREX was established in Belltown, Seattle by Michael Clay, Wes Bradley, and Aaron McKiernan in the early Fall of 1979.  The venue, at 2018 First Avenue, was formerly a leather gay bar called Johnny’s Handlebar, located on the ground floor of a former brothel. Johnny’s Handlebar, at the time it closed was said to be the oldest, continuously open gay bar on the West Coast.  For the first few months of it’s life WREX remained a typical 70s/80s gay bar, catering to local gay men.  The unique décor inside WREX included old car seats in the back, old airplane seats in the side area, and Seattle’s first music video system curated by Ted Ladd.  A DJ spun the popular music found in thousands of gay discos around the nation (and in Seattle) which also included a handful of the poppier “new wave” hits that most gay bars also included among their playlists. As the novelty of the new gay bar wore off the gay clientele retreated to many of their previous haunts around town.  The Brass Door, Neighbors, The Park Avenue, and a plethora of other LGBT venues that  were popping up with regularity.  WREX was still viable as a business, but they needed something more to bring in customers.  One of the targets WREX had not yet tapped into was the growing popularity of punk in the LGBT community  Many who came of age during the punk era rejected the “clone” culture that pervaded the  gay scene at the time.  Not only that, alot of younger straight adults interested in punk barely regarded a difference between themselves and their queer friends. They all gravitated  toward punk as an alternative, so they were all one tribe. It’s not surprising that gays bars were regularly part of the punk scene of the late 70’s and early 80’s.  They were always ready to allow punk rock in their midst because it represented the same kind of outsidership, and it’s no wonder so many gay youth were willing to embrace more outré artists that had emerged from gay disco-artists like Sylvester and the iconic Grace Jones.

Seattle’s punk and gay communities have often mingled together, and the subcultural mise-en-scène at WREX was no exception to that general rule. Occasionally, former Johnny’s Handlebar clientele would drop in after WREX’s opening, not yet knowing about the change in management … Read more›

Student Nurse

By the early 1980s Student Nurse was a mainstay of the alternative Seattle music scene.  Their angular. slightly dissonant and dance-driven sound set them apart from the darker, punkier and heavier bands they shared bills with.  Bands like Audio Leter, The Fags, Red Dress, and The Refuzors.  Like the best of their contemporaries they honed-in on their particular, unique sound and the band expanded outward, sending them on a trajectory somewhere between subversion and art-damage.

Student Nurse started as the brainchild of married couple John Rogers (drums) Helena Rogers (guitar and vocals) along with bassist Joe Harris and rhythm guitarist Al Davis.  In 1979 the band self-released their first single, (“Disco Dog b/w Lies).  The songs stood perilously between weirdness and pop-exactly as the band had anticipated.  One other song from this line-up was included on the ground-breaking “Seattle Syndrome” compilation released on Engram Records in 1981. By that time Harris and Davis had left the band and the jittery guitar leads of Helena Rogers were accompanied by new members guitarist Tom Boetcher and bassist Eric Muhs.  Helena’s vocals were disjointed, pointalist and determined. John’s jazz-influenced drumming and rhythms were the perfect foil to the rest of the band which left the impression the music had fallen on it’s face-in the best possible way.

Their next vinyl outing was the one-sided 12″ “As Seen On TV” with individually hand-screened artwork by Helena on the cover-as had been the case with the first single.  This is the kind of stuff collectors drool over nowadays, but Helena and the rest of the band weren’t interested in collectors of the growing market for oddball packaging that would later cater to a pre-manufactured market for Seattle music, and the rest of the alternative/independent scene.  For Student Nurse it was all about the aesthetics and ethics they held.

In 1981 Student Nurse entered Triangle Studios-later to be renamed as the famous “Triad Studios” where so many other successful bands would record.  The choice of the material for their next single  may have seemed odd, as they chose two of their more accessible songs, the Dutch-lyriced “Recht Op Staan” (“Stand Up Straight” in English-a song referring to the importance of good posture).  The B-side was an instrumental called “Electronic Pop Smash”.  Both choices were designed to catch listeners and fans off-guard.  Maire Masco, one of the heads of Pravda, the label that released “Recht Op Staan” … Read more›

Gary Heffern

Gary Heffern began his career the late 70’s singing with San Diego punk band The Penetrators alongside Country Dick Montana. Heffern’s done poetry readings with everyone from John Doe, to Nina Hagen, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Henry Rollins. His first two solo albums ‘Bald Tires in the Rain’ and ‘Painful Days’ have featured some of the incredible cadre of his admirers. John Doe, Mojo Nixon, Country Dick Montana, The Walkabouts, Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam and Mark Arm of Mudhoney.

Heffern spent a good part of his career as part of the Seattle music scene, but his muse has taken him to Finland, living near the Arctic Circle where an incredible video of his song ‘La La Land’ was shot in 2008. It’s an epic, sad, beautiful, and reflective observation of the fading away of a parent…It’s touching without ever slipping into the sentimentality one would expect.

His album “Consolation” featured a who’s who of American roots music; Steve Berlin of Los Lobos, Alejandro Escovedo, Peter Case, Mark Lanegan, Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows/R.E.M.) Chris and Carla of The Walkabouts, Jim Roth from ‘Built to Spill‘, and on and on. The depth and breadth of Heffern’s friends and admirers who join him on Consolation and currently as “Gary Heffern And The Beautiful People” and is a continuing testament to his position as an important songwriter whose work rises to the top of the heap.

Seattle rock critic and well-known author Charles R. Cross writes:”In Heffern’s own songs there is a constant struggle between darkness and light, between failed dreams and reckless prayer, between a world where all hope is lost and one where a consoling friend offers a sliver of deliverance. Even on a song as haunting as “(I Am Your) Destroyer” from the album “Consulation” sounds like Iggy Pop could have written it. There is still a core of sweetness among the ruins. “That’s the Beauty (Of the Little Things in Life)” truly rings with a ghost: It was written in Seattle’s Comet Tavern on the very night that Gits’ singer Mia Zapata went missing (and later turned up murdered). Not only a remarkable timepiece, “That’s the Beauty” demonstrates Heffern’s skill at creating a story arc that celebrates the fragility of life at the same time it bemoans it. It’s the kind of re-framing that is uniquely Gary Heffern”.
Aside from his songwriting, albums. online music and … Read more›

Idiot Culture

Idiot Culture was the last project by reclusive Seattle guitarist Byron Duff. Byron began to make his mark in the 1980’s with the trio The Spectators. The band were known for jaw-dropping, tight performances in the underground clubs that spawned the emergence of what would later be the 1990’s Seattle Scene. Bob Mould (Husker Du, Sugar) once called The Spectators “the best unreleased band in America”. Although the band lasted no more than a year they saw opening and touring spots with the Husker Du, The Dead Kennedys and The Stranglers among others. Although Mould’s comment was prescient, the band never landed a major record deal. In 1986 Duff formed ’Dive’ with bassist TJ West and drummer Steve Dodge, a band that helped define the new sound and attitude coming out of the Northwest United States. Dive continued into the late 1980’s and after calling it quits Duff reformed with West on drums, emerging as ’Moth’. Eventually the three original Dive members were reconstituted and spent several years out of the limelight due to Duff’s ongoing health problems. It was during these years that Duff first showed the signs of Multiple Sclerosis that would later end his career as a performer. It’s this trio of Duff, West and Dodge that emerged as “Idiot Culture”. Because Byron Duff had been missing from the Seattle music scene for a number of years, his reemergence and his last album was highly anticipated. Though the album had been recorded in the late 1980s and remained unreleased, it was mixed by the renowned producer Jack Endino almost two decades after it’s recording, and released on dadastic! sounds records. Endino’s deft hand took care not to detract from the original intention of the recordings, leaving it full of trance-like riffs and hypnotic hooks. This was proto-grunge that stood alongside the best recordings of the 90s, and is still relevant. Idiot Culture and Dive’s sound was heavy, but their music was still a hybrid of seemingly contradictory styles.

One minute the sound may seem metallic or punkish. A few bars later the melody is overtaken by jazz chords. At times the prog rock guitar suddenly transforms a surf riff. Although the band did not shy away from other musical infuences, it’s clear the band was pioneers among those who would later be christened “grunge”. Noted critic Everett True wrote “(they) make ‘grunge’ sound like pasty-waste.” The band … Read more›