Northwest Music History: 1990s

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN
The Green Pajamas: Part One

In 2012 music critic Nathan Ford wrote: “It’s doubtful whether there are any other acts out there who have amassed as impressive a body of work while reaching so few as Seattle’s long-running Green Pajamas. This seems to be a common theme – you’ve either never heard of the Green Pajamas, or you’re an obsessive, devotional fan. Ford, who was writing for New Zealand’s web’zine The Active Listener concluded “They seem to be the type of band that brooks no middle ground.”

In theory, this might be true, but it also might be valid on a more pragmatic level. The Green Pajamas were active from 1984 until 2018, with a few hiatus along the way. It’s hard to imagine any other group of Seattle musicians putting out more recorded material, either as a band or in one of its many permutations. Since 1984 the band has released 22 albums (not including domestic and international re-issues) 15 singles and EPs, five compilations of their music, and included on another 40. Their music has appeared on labels as far-flung as Greece, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, The U.K., Germany, and at least a dozen U.S. Labels. None of this includes the solo or side projects recorded by band members.

It’s hard to imagine a more prolific songwriter than the band’s leader Jeff Kelly, or the consistent quality of his output. The other members that have come and gone over the years have also been exceptional, though not as prolific. One might have to be an obsessive, devotional fan to follow The Green Pajamas in places as diverse as New Zealand, Greece, or elsewhere. Still, over the course of 34 years, The Green Pajamas were practically ignored by all but the most obsessive, devotional fans in their hometown of Seattle. While many Seattle music fans followed, then moved on to newer trends, the Green Pajamas continued to do one thing; write, create and record music that holds together thematically and musically. The quality of their work has made many worldwide fans consider them reliably engaging, without treading the same waters. Each song is like a small, unique gift. Every album is a jewel to be examined over and over-each time with as much joy as the last.

THEY MET AT A PARTY

The band that would become The Green Pajamas formed on July 13th, 1983, when two young guys from West Seattle, Jeff Kelly, and Joe Ross, met at a party through a mutual friend. The friend was Kirsten Wilhelm, who Jeff was dating at the time. Joe Ross knew Kirsten from high school. “Joe and I had a mutual love of The Beatles, especially for their song “Rain,” Jeff says. “Joe had a rehearsal room upstairs in his parent’s house so the next evening, July 14th, Jeff, Joe, and drummer Karl Wilhelm (older brother of Kirsten, Jeff’s girlfriend) got together to jam. The following night, Friday, July 15th, the trio played at a party held by Nancy Thompson, an acquaintance of both Joe and Kirsten. The genesis of the band- from meeting to playing- had taken place within three days.

Illustration: Joe Ross

Jeff had a 4-track TEAC A-3340 reel-to-reel at the time. “I’d been recording stuff at home all my life, so this was a natural progression.” according to Jeff. “When I met Joe, we just started fooling around. We just got together and started jamming.” Jeff says most of the stuff was made up very spontaneously. “We’d think, “that section sounds good, so then we decided maybe we could make some songs out of that single part.” 

Both Jeff and Joe had been listening to the Rain Parade, the Three O’Clock, Green on Red, and other artists in the neo-psychedelic scene dubbed The Paisley Underground. “We just kind of liked that sound, I guess,” Jeff tells me. “It was kind of our psychedelic thing. We’d turn out the lights, light candles, burn incense and drink beer. Since it was at my parent’s house, they’d be in bed downstairs, so we’d turn the volume really low, make up songs, let the tapes roll while we noodled around, and then listen.” Two cassette tapes arose out of these jams that were designated Gothic Funk with Incense: One, and Gothic Funk with Incense: Two.

In the early days, Jeff and Joe relied on both Karl Wilhelm and Joe Bauer as drummers. Karl was the brother of Jeff’s girlfriend at the time. Joe Bauer was a drummer Joe Ross had been working with for about a year. In the end, it was Karl who became the drummer by default. “We never auditioned our drummer,” Joe Ross tells me. “It was really a matter of Joe Bauer becoming less available, and Karl getting divorced, leaving him much more time to devote to the band. ”

“I’m a self-taught drummer,” Karl says. “When I got out of high school, I jammed with friends. It was basically for fun. Usually, with a trio, but sometimes an extra person would come in. That’s where I got my start playing.

“Joe Bauer did some recording and gigging with Jeff and Joe Ross, but I ended up being the main drummer,” Wilhelm says. He also says he had to learn the parts Joe Bauer had laid down on previous recordings to play them live. “Jeff and Joe also had a number of people they knew that would sit in with them. There were different things that they were willing to play with us,” Karl continues. “One guy we worked with was an orchestral violinist. A lot of classically trained people can’t improvise, but he could, and he was good at it. We’d play a song, and he’d think something up. It was always a pleasure to work with him.”

“Jeff didn’t like to keep very many songs in the loop,” Karl says. “He was always creating new stuff. He’s such a consummate musician. If you write a song, it’s ingrained in your memory already, so he’d want to get it recorded almost immediately. The rest of us needed to practice it more so we could play a little better, but he was always rotating new songs into the setlist. That was a challenge, but it was also fun.” 

Both Jeff and Joe claim The Green Pajamas “weren’t a thing yet” when they started rehearsing, but by the spring of 1984, the trio of Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross, and Joe Bauer started playing casual gigs. They tried out several band names during this period.  A poster from March 2nd, 1984, shows they opened for The Eagertones at South Seattle Community College as Felix The Cat Explodes!

Their first gig-a house party at Nancy Thompson’s.
August 20, 1983. L to R: Joe Ross, Joe Bauer, Jeff Kelly

On April 20th, 1984 (Joe’s 20th birthday), the band played a party under the name Spanking Naughty Teens. The gig was taped and still exists, Joe says. He also explains that Spanking Naughty Teens was much more refined than Felix the Cat Explodes! Spanking Naughty Teens consisted of Jeff and Joe along with Joe Bauer on drums and Dan Gossard, an old friend of Jeff’s, on vocals. Even though Jeff and Joe were writing and rehearsing original material, Felix the Cat Explodes! was primarily a cover band.

Jeff and I put some thought into naming the band,” Joe tells me. “We’d considered The Flying Nun and The Pigeon-Toed Orange Peels but finally settled on The Green Pajamas.  The band name was based on a song that was already in our repertoire. We liked the idea that we would have a theme song.”

THANKS TO EVERYONE  WHO SANG AT THE PAJAMA PARTY

The song and band name were derived from the ‘Pajama Parties’ Joe and Jeff held in the summer of 1984- also known as ‘The Summer of Lust’ to band members for reasons that should be obvious. The ‘Pajama Parties’ were held in places like Seattle’s popular Alki Beach, Lincoln Park, or in Joe’s backyard where they held barbecues. Later in the evening, they brought out their guitars for sing-alongs. The credits of their debut album, Summer of Lust, include thanks to ‘All who participated in the Pajama Party’ In this case, the ‘Pajama Party’ referred to the last song recorded for their debut album, Summer of Lust. 

“We wanted a room full of voices for the chorus of the song “Green Pajamas”, so we had a party upstairs in my jam room,” Joe explains. “We got everyone there to participate in the live recording of the song.” One of the girls who had “participated in the Pajama Party” was Julie Lawrence. “She was always talking about her brother Steve,” Joe tells me.” She’d say ‘He’s coming out of the Army. You would love him so much. He’s a big fan of The Beatles and The Byrds.’ For months she kept telling us about him,” Joe says, “and she told him about us for months.”

Summer of Lust Poster, 1984. Illustration by Joe Ross

Basic tracks for Summer of Lust consisted of guitar, bass, and drums for eight songs that were recorded on Jeff’s TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel. Four were recorded in Joe’s attic with a single microphone hanging in the middle of the room. The other four songs had been recorded entirely at Jeff’s house. 

Jeff had written a new song called “I Feel Like A Murder.” It was about a recent experience he’d had on a date. He wanted to record the song right away, so he and Joe grabbed a boombox, an acoustic 12-string guitar, a snare drum, and Julie Lawrence and Nancy Thompson. On July 15th, 1984, they piled into Jeff’s champagne-colored mid-60s, Dodge Dart. He drove to a big amphitheater-shaped basin near Meyers Way in the Seattle neighborhood of White Center. “I think we assumed it would be a fun place to do a demo of the song, but it became the official version,” Joe says. “We never did make another recording of it. Just that one take. In the liner notes for Summer of Lust, it’s written’ “I Feel Like A Murder” was recorded ‘in a field featuring Julie on “wastebasket.” Julie confirms this by saying she picked up the tossed-away basket on their march from the car into the basin that day.

After recording the rest of the songs at Joe’s, the two took the basic tracks to Jeff’s house to do overdubs in his bedroom. The songs “Lost in a World” and “Anna Maria” had been recorded earlier but were included with the new recordings. Jeff and Joe spent a week mixing. The day after mixing was completed the two had 25 cassette tapes duplicated. As soon as the duplicates returned, Summer of Lust was in the Seattle record stores Cellophane Square and Fallout Records, the newly opened shop run by Russ Battaglia, his wife Janet, and Bruce Pavitt. Pavitt left the store about a year after its opening and went on to co-found SubPop Records in 1986. Fallout Records later became a large part of Seattle’s punk and skate culture.

Many discographies mistakenly state that Summer of Lust was first released by Tom Dyer’s Green Monkey Records. A few others claim the original cassette of Summer of Lust was self-released, and for the most part, it was- but Summer of Lust was also the first cassette released on Joe Ross’s label, Endgame Records. It would not be the only Green Pajamas record released on Joe’s label. Endgame would, in the future, release records by various other artists, including Jack Endino, Larry Wilhelm, Crypt Kicker 5, 64 Spiders, as well as Joe Ross’s solo output.

Summer of Lust cassette. One of the original Green Monkey releases.

Upon its release, Summer of Lust did not prove to be a milestone in Seattle music history. Only a few copies were made, and friends and family bought most of them. Like many other fantastic bands with fantastic songs, The Green Pajamas debut went mostly unnoticed, if for no other reason than a lack of proper distribution. The tape was released at what was probably the height of what was known as cassette culture.  This movement didn’t center around the commercial music scene, even though the major labels were pouring out more cassettes than the vinyl they’d produced in the past. The long-playing 12″ record hadn’t disappeared, but tapes were outselling them and it proved to be the beginning of vinyl’s demise.

The cassette was an inexpensive way for independent labels and artists to release or distribute their music affordably. Cassettes became the norm for soliciting labels, managers, or promoters who might be interested in any particular band’s music.  Tom Dyer relied exclusively on cassette tapes during the early years of Green Monkey Records. He admits he didn’t release them because they were trendy at the time. He relied on them because he could have small runs duplicated without laying out much cash. If any particular album sold out, he’d have more cassettes made. “I did it because it was cheap,” he says. Tom wasn’t alone, and neither was The Green Pajamas in copying and distributing tapes among family and friends…and sometimes even selling them,

The cassette tape became indispensable because for the first time individuals had both the hardware and software to control their music or even their favorite music by any other artist. It’s hard for people who weren’t there at the time to understand, but the cassette revolution was even more profound than the next two great leaps; when the CD overcame the cassette as the preferred format, and later when file-sharing online came into existence.

Green Monkey Logo                Design: Vicki Dyer.

On August 19th, 1984, the band played a show at Tonight’s The Night Discotheque on Mercer Island. Joe Ross says he remembers the date specifically because this was, again,  the eve of his 21st birthday. It was also the first gig which the band billed themselves as The Green Pajamas. Joe seems to have been a little disappointed because, for months, he’d imagined he would wait outside a bar to get “carded” at midnight to enter and have a drink. These hopes were dashed. “When the opportunity to play a gig came up, I had to take it, even though it meant wasting my 21st birthday in an all-ages club,” according to Joe.

“About four months after releasing Summer of Lust, I got a phone call from Tom Dyer,” Joe says. “He had just bought a copy of our tape and was writing a review of it for the influential alternative music magazine, Option. Tom admits it took a while to track the band down. Jeff and Joe had released the cassette without any contact information, and it was only by calling the company that had duplicated copies of the cassette that he was given a phone number for Joe. During their initial conversation, Tom mentioned to Joe that he ran Green Monkey Records and had an 8-track studio in his basement.” 

In 1983, Tom had set up Green Monkey Records in his apartment in Seattle’s Fremont District. His first studio consisted of a TEAC four-track reel-to-reel and a TAPCO 6200B mixer. According to Tom, he bought the equipment “from a guy in a parking garage downtown.” It was in 1983 Tom recorded and released his debut album, Truth or Consequences on Green Monkey Records, Later in 1983 Green Monkey released, the first of many compilations. This one was called Local Product

Tom says he knew the first time he heard Summer of Lust he wanted to work with the Green Pajamas. Once meeting them, and agreeing to re-release Summer of Lust on his label, Dyer says he “devised a master plan-how we were going to conquer the world.” The “master plan” ended up with Tom as the head of the band’s record label, their booking agent, manager, and producer, as well as shopping for licensing to labels outside the United States. Later Tom said he would never have guessed he and his label would be ‘pajamafied’.

Jeff had also given Tom cassettes tapes of songs that pre-dated Summer of Lust. He’d recorded them on his 4-track TEAC reel to reel. Tom says he picked out the songs he liked, and along with three additional Jeff Kelly songs, they created an album Jeff named  Baroquen Hearts. “Jeff has always thought some of this stuff was not up to snuff,” Tom says. In 1999, when  Melancholy Sun, a four-CD boxed set of Jeff’s home recordings was released it didn’t include a single song from Baroqen Hearts even though there is, as Tom Dyer claims, “a tremendous charm in the young Jeff Kelly’s work.”

Tom goes on to say that he had already assembled a press list, and Green Monkey Records was becoming more experienced at getting people to write about the label. “We sent Baroquen Hearts out to all the usual suspects,” he says. “Green Monkey then re-released Summer of Lust along with a couple of added songs. 

“I was amused by the fact that Jeff would write about people using their real names,” Tom tells me. One song was “Stephanie Barber,” and another was “Mike Brown”. The song “Mike Brown” was recorded during the Summer of Lust sessions but pulled from its original release. Mike Brown was the boyfriend of Kirsten Wilhelm. She had dumped Jeff for Mike. Jeff didn’t want to ruin the chance of a reconciliation with Kirsten. He thought he’d have better prospects by excluding the song on Summer of Lust.

“Anna Maria” was recorded in October of 1984, so it didn’t appear on the original version of Summer of Lust. It was added to the 1995 Green Monkey re-release of the album. Joe feels the song, “Stephanie Barber” didn’t fit with the rest of the songs on Summer of Lust. “Mike Brown” made it onto the 1989 vinyl version of Summer of Lust that was released by Ubik Records in England, but “Stephanie Barber” didn’t. Because of vinyl’s time constraints, “I Feel Like A Murder” was also cut from the Ubik Records release.

ANOTHER “ANOTHER PORKY PRIME CUT”

Summer of Lust. 1989 Ubik Records 12″ vinyl re-issue. Also used for all subsequent releases. Photo: Kari Dunn.

Ubik Records was an indie label in London run by Los Angeles transplant Greg Shaw, one of the co-founders of Bomp! magazine and later, Bomp! Records. Unfortunately, his British excursion ended when the Ubik label became defunct with the closing of the near-legendary distributor “the Cartel” One distinction of Ubik’s vinyl release of Summer of Lust is that it was re-mastered by George Peckham who also cut the lacquer. Peckham is one of the most exceptional mastering engineers and lacquer cutters in music history. He famously signed his projects with a number of clever monikers, his most famous being “Another Porky prime cut”. His “signature” in various forms is found in the runout of the records he cut. The mark of his mastering and lacquer cutting is found in one form or another on many of the most iconic albums begining in the late 60s into the early 2000’s. From John Lennon’s Imagine and Electric Warrior by T. Rex to Blondie’s Plastic Letters and almost everything ever released by The Buzzcocks and Cabaret Voltaire. Other albums as diverse as Paul McCartney and Wings’ Venus and Mars

George “Porky” Peckham in his studio.

to Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp! and Led Zeppelin’s Houses of The Holy. Peckham cut albums for Pink Floyd, Traffic, Joy Division, P.I.L., The Jam, Supergrass, Stone Roses, The Stranglers, Badfinger, Nurse With Wound, Colin Newman, The Beatles Happy Mondays, and literally thousands of other well-known albums by well-known artists. During the 1970s and ’80 having the words “Another Porky prime cut” etched into the dead wax of a record was a badge or honor and put any artist in some very heady company.badge of honor for any artist and put them into some

 

“WE ALWAYS HAD THIS JOKE…”

In October 1984, Steve Lawrence, the brother of Julie Lawrence, who felt he and the Green Pajamas would be an excellent fit, returned to Seattle. The band met Steve shortly after his arrival. They all seemed to get along well enough, and of course, Julie had been recommending him for months. When Steve went into the Army, he had a taste for hardcore punk rock. He developed a kinship with another soldier, Tim Canny, who, along with Steve, dreamed of starting a punk band after the military. The plan was to meet up in Tim’s hometown, Cincinnati, Ohio, and find others to fill out a group. Even after being assigned to different military facilities, Steve and Tim remained friends, but their plan never came to fruition, possibly because of a change in Steve’s musical interests. Steve had joined the Army with a love for punk rock, but by the time of his leaving the Army in 1983, Tim Canny says Steve’s real passion was rockabilly.  It’s possible this came about because of a short friendship and correspondence with Brian Setzer of the Stray Cats. After being discharged, Steve headed to Tim’s hometown, Cincinnati, and the two wrote a few songs together.  Nothing came of the writing partnership, save one song, “I Hate (Everything)”, that was recorded by Musical Suicide, a local Cincinnati band.

Steve played electric bass, double-bass, and tenor saxophone. While he was in Cincinnati, he briefly joined a few rockabilly bands. Then he began backing an old Jump R&B singer called Billy Nelson- also known as Billy “Turban” Nelson, because of his usual head attire. Nelson was a Cincinnati native that had made a favorable impression on the mighty Savoy Records in the 1950s.  Nelson and the three remaining members of the Five Wings recorded four songs for the label, but Savoy only released two of them as the1955 single “Pack, Shack And Stack Your Blues Away” b/w “Walk Along”. Later Billy Nelson became the featured vocalist with the Boots Johnson Combo who released 1968’s “Hold Me Baby” b /w “If I Had The Chance (To Love You)” on King Records. King was a prestigious label based in Cincinnati. It had been the home of James Brown, Ralph Stanley, Redd Foxx, Little Willie John, Hank Ballard Arthur Prysock, and a host of famous C&W and R&B artists-an odd pairing of genres and musicians that would become the founders of Soul music.

Steve Lawrence. Date unknown
Photo courtesy of Julie Lawrence.

Tim Skidmore, an important figure on the Cincinnati alternative scene, was trying to help Billy make a comeback as Billy Nelson and the Skid Row Blues Band.  Skidmore recruited Steve as a member of Billy Nelson’s band. Shortly afterward, Nelson unexpectedly died of a stomach ailment. Friends say Steve was devastated, and with no gig in sight, he followed his sister’s advice and returned to Seattle.

Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross, and Karl Wilhelm met with Steve, and according to Joe, “We had kind of an awkward audition with him.” But they got along well enough that Steve ended up playing a couple of shows with them. One at the West Seattle Golf Course and one at Seattle University. “He was doing shows with us at the time, but he didn’t participate in any recordings,” Joe says. “He immediately liked the whole vibe. Steve loved whatever was trendy at the moment. He’d been in a rockabilly band, and he was a pretty exceptional rock guitarist. Steve loved the idea we were doing this new kind of psychedelic revival thing. We loved him right away because he knew what to do; what kind of songs we wanted to play. He went out and bought paisley shirts. He had the same references”.

“We always had this joke,” Jeff Kelly says.” You can’t be in our band unless you know the song “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight?” by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart.”

Steve knew the song. It was a done deal. He was now a member of The Green Pajamas.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

In October of 1984, the band started recording a new project that would be called Happy Halloween! The album was a collection of eight songs Jeff and Joe recorded over a week. According to the credits, the basic tracks for six of the songs were recorded at the ‘Wilhelm Mansion Basement Studio.’ According to the cassette’s credits. Along with the songs recorded at Karl’s, two tracks previously recorded at Jeff Kelly’s house were added. Karl Wilhelm’s brother Larry had just bought a Casio MT-68 keyboard and it inspired Jeff and Joe to immediately buy one for use on their recordings. Larry Wilhelm is credited as playing guitar on two songs on Happy Halloween!,” Murder of Crows” and “Last Days Of Autumn”.  Julie Lawrence is credited as the drummer for the title track, “Happy Halloween!”. Jeff Kelly, an untrained cellist, had bought a used one earlier that fall. Despite not knowing how to play he added decent string parts to “All I Want To Do”,” Gothic Funk”, “Johnna Johnna”, “One Monday”, “Nearly Winter” and “Stephanie Barber”. The album was readied for a 1984 release. After copying only 10 cassettes, Jeff and Joe gave them to their closest friends and fans. The ten copies of the cassette of Happy Halloween were also initially released on Joe Ross’s Endgame Records.  

Happy Halloween! 1984.  One of the 10 original cassettes Design: Joe Ross

“Over the years people from England, Germany and all over the world would write to me asking me about Happy Halloween!,” Joe says. “I’ve made people copies on cassette, and later on CDRs. Happy Halloween! usually appears on Green Pajamas discographies even though virtually no one has heard it. Over the next 20 years, probably another ten copies were made and sent to inquisitive people around the world. This was in the pre-internet days,” Joe continues. “You know, it took a lot of energy for someone to write a letter from Germany and send it to a small label in 1984, but people did it. I always received stuff by letter. It was a great time for that kind of thing. It was really fun to exchange letters with people. It was fun to become pen pals. You would send a mix-tape of your rarest material just for being contacted. 

The Green Pajamas bio for the Happy Halloween! wider CD release in 2014 includes high praise from Paul Kerr of the webzine Americana U.K. Kerr called it “another welcome reissue from Seattle psych-popsters. If you dig the likes of Syd Barrett, The West Coast Experimental Pop Band, Robyn Hitchcock, Young Marble Giants, or The Bevis Frond then you might be well advised to check this out.”

THIS WINTER’S NIGHT

On December 19th,1984, The Green Pajamas recorded their first Christmas single, “This Winter’s Night”. “It was a big deal for us,” Joe says. “It was a big production-before we even knew Tom Dyer, so we recorded it at my house.” The song wasn’t released until 2009’s Green Monkey’s Christmas compilation Santa’s Not Dead; It’s a Green Monkey Christmas. The band also contributed “The Caroler’s Song” as well as their rendition of “O’Holy Night” to the 2009 Christmas album.

The 2010 Green Monkey Christmas album (with the less sinister title, It’s a Green Monkey Christmas) also included a version of “This Winter’s Night” recorded by a duo named ‘Ben and Kat,’ who were, in fact, Tom Dyer’s son and daughter. The Green Monkey Christmas albums have become an annual tradition with all proceeds going to charity. Both Tom Dyer and the Green Pajamas record songs for the albums in various permutations and plenty of other Northwest bands are always ready to offer something up.

“I remember for some reason Steve wasn’t there when we recorded “This Winter’s Night”. I‘m not sure why…it was just one of those things,” Joe says. “When we met Steve, he was into gigging with us but not doing recordings. Jeff and I recorded at the drop of a hat,” Joe continues,  but gigs were bigger deals. We’d have to make calls to get a gig. In the beginning, Steve didn’t record with us, but he always played live. I think the first live gig with Steve was at Seattle University.

New Year’s Eve 1984/1985. After-Show Party

The band played several shows in November and December of 1984. On New Year’s Eve of 1984/1985 Larry Reid, owner of Graven Image Gallery, held an event at Seattle’s notorious Meat Lockers. Reid had booked Henry Rollins (then of Black Flag) to perform. Seattle’s U-Men, who Larry was managing at the time played.  The line-up also included the bands Pop Defect and Baba Yaga. Tim Grimm, a magician who would later be a member of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow, performed. Verna Doherty, who was instrumental in getting Henry Rollins to do his spoken word performance, also read some of her work. The Green Pajamas played an after-show performance at Reid’s Graven Image Gallery, going onstage about 3 A.M.

Steve’s first recordings with the band were at Joe’s jam room in his parent’ house. In January 1985, the entire band recorded “Thinking Only Of You (Lust Don’t Last)” and “All I Want To Do” The songs were eventually released as a limited pressing of 300 singles on lime green vinyl by Germany’s GOAR Magazine. Like many other alternative ‘zines at the time, each issue of GOAR included a 7″ record. The Green Pajamas single came with 1993’s #8 issue of GOAR.

A HORSE IS A HORSE

The Green Pajamas’ most auspicious recording of their early career, “Kim the Waitress” was recorded in January of 1985 but not released until May 1986.  The b-side “Jennifer” was written by Steve Lawrence. The songs were from the same recording sessions as “Peppermint Stick”, which was included on the late 1995 Green Monkey compilation, Monkey Business. The single “Kim The Waitress” would be instrumental to the band’s success, but until its release, it sat in the can for over a year. The entire story begins in the summer of 1984.

Jeff and Joe had grown up in West Seattle. “There was a little all-night cafe called Mr. Ed’s,” Joe tells me. Jeff, Joe, and Karl spent a lot of time at Mr. Ed’s. They just sat around, sometimes into the middle of the night, drinking coffee and discussing whatever came into their heads.  

Joe had worked at Mr. Ed’s as a dishwasher in high school. Kim Chavey (now Kim Olson) was a young woman working the graveyard shift as a waitress. Jeff Kelly had a crush on Kim, and she became somewhat of a muse for him.

Kim Chavey, now Kim Olson.
The actual ‘Kim The Waitress’ at Mr. Ed’s 1984.

Jeff, Joe, Karl, and whoever was with them had a habit of writing dirty limericks on the coffee house placemats. Joe says he still has an original placemat on which they first wrote a poem about Kim Chavey “Me, Jeff, Karl and probably Julie Lawrence would be giggling, hiding, and bouncing around,” Joe remembers. “The poem about Kim was something along the lines of ‘I’m in love with Kim the waitress’. It was really juvenile. I remember rhyming ‘pert‘ with ‘a little squirt’.  We were giggling about it, but the rhyme later proved to be the basis of the lyrics for the song “Kim the Waitress” 

“We were getting very raunchy with these poems,” Joe says, but when it came to writing the lyrics to “Kim The Waitress” they took on a meaning of unrequited love. “The actual inspiration was juvenile…really juvenile…super juvenile, dirty lyrics,” Joe says. “Later, I got to know Kim on more of a social basis. In fact, a friend of mine and Kim were dating when the single “Kim The Waitress” came out. She really loved it. Her whole family knows all about it. Until a decade ago, I still got Christmas cards from her, and they were always signed: ‘from Kim the Waitress’ Kim even told me the song was played at her wedding.”

Joe says the origins of “Kim the Waitress’ are evident on the first of the two Gothic Funk with Incense tapesAfter writing “Kim The Waitress” Jeff and Joe knew the song was really good. “It came organically out of a jam session we did upstairs at my parents’ house,” Joe says. “Jeff was ad-libbing lyrics. I was playing guitar and noodling around. We did a few versions of “Kim the Waitress’ ‘with Jeff playing the bass drum with his right foot and high hat with his left. ‘Boom-boom-boom. Boom-boom-boom,” Joe recalls. “He was doing a simple drum part and playing bass at the same time he was singing. Then you’d hear the rhythm. When he was doing it, Jeff was inspired by Joy Division; not as intense, but with that repetitive beat and the bass. “A bunch of songs came out of those sessions,” Jeff says.

In early January 1985, The Green Pajamas went into Tom’s studio to record “Kim The Waitress”. A few days before the recording  Joe borrowed a sitar from the father of a  friend.  His friend’s father was a high school music teacher and Joe knew that he had played the sitar in the ’60s and early ’70s. Joe secured the use of the sitar just in time for the band to use it during the same session they recorded “Kim The Waitress.” Each band member had a go at playing it. “I thought I would be able to play it,” Joe says,” but Steve Lawrence was better at it so he played it on the record.  I played guitar and Jeff played bass with Karl Wilhelm on drums.”

We tuned the sitar to an A chord,” Joe recalls. “The sitar hadn’t been played in years.  When I got hold of the sitar there was no resemblance of proper tuning. (the band’s tuning it to an A chord is practically unheard of in classical Indian music).  “It was just a bunch of strings and the texture had little friction holes in it. There were no gears,” Joe tells me. “ I still have it.  I told the guy we used it in our recording and he asked ‘Do you wanna buy it?’ So I gave him 40 bucks.”

“Kim the Waitress” was recorded in January of 1985, but not released until May 1986 with the b-side “Jennifer” written by Steve Lawrence. The song “Kim The Waitress” would be instrumental to the band’s success, but until its release it sat in the can for over a year.

Tom Dyer did not press and release the single as soon as it was recorded. He wanted to give more time for his newly released compilation Monkey Business.  He intended proper promotion, distribution, and possibly sales for his latest compilation.   “Kim The Waitress” would have to wait.

The Green Pajamas The Vogue, Seattle, January 11, 1985.
L. to R. Joe Ross, Karl Wilhelm, Jeff Kelly

On January 23rd, 1985, The Green Pajamas played what they considered their “coming out gig” at Seattle nightclub The Vogue. It was one of the clubs that had was important during the era by providing a formal bar setting for the bands that would later become known as ‘grunge’ artists. The Vogue was one of the few small clubs in Seattle that consistently booked ‘alternative’ national acts as well as an eclectic mix of local musicians…most of them at the forefront of the music spectrum. The club had the same policy since 1979 when it opened as a punk club called WREX. That night The Green Pajamas played in front of a Paisley backdrop, and two dancers performed on either side of them- the dancers wouldn’t last more than a couple of gigs.

 

On February 2nd, 1985, The Green Pajamas were booked to play a frat party at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, about 270 miles east of Seattle on the hot and dry side of the state. Usually, the trip is about a 4½ hour drive from Seattle. The band hired David Cotrell, a roommate of Joe’s brother at the University of Washington to drive the group and their equipment to Walla Walla. The band piled into Cotrell’s Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon. It snowed all the way between Seattle and Walla Walla, so the trip was considerably longer than anticipated.

At one point, David and the band stopped for gas somewhere in Eastern Washington. At the time, the band was wearing full psychedelic regalia for their performances. During the stop, band members ran into the gas station’s coffee shop to gather up snacks and pay for them. Joe says they were all in paisley shirts, tight striped pants, and hippy-style leather jackets. A county Sheriff sat in the coffee shop and gave them a good looking over. The Sheriff ended up following the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon for about ten miles down the road before pulling them over.

“Fortunately our driver was a small-town boy from Grayland, Washington,” Joe says “He politely explained to the officer how he was driving this zany band from Seattle to a legitimate gig in Walla Walla, and he’d make sure we didn’t get into any trouble.” It’s unclear if there was any real reason to pull the Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon over,” but,” as Joe says, “We didn’t get a ticket.”

Green Pajamas. Rock Theater (Gorilla Gardens) Seattle
Joe’s last show

Tension had been growing between Jeff and Joe during the lead-up to a March 16th show at The Rock Theater, part of The Gorilla Gardens complex on the edge of Seattle’s International District.  Jeff had broken up with Kirsten Wilhelm, and Joe had secretly started dating her…at least secretly until Jeff found out. This arrangement complicated the friendship between the two, and Jeff felt that Joe should no longer be in the band. It was Tom Dyer’s unenviable task to tell Joe “his services were no longer needed” since Tom had recently become The Green Pajamas’ manager. After Joe was asked to leave, the band played the West Seattle Golf Course on April 6th, and at Seattle University, the first live gig Tom Dyer booked. Another gig took place at the Golden Crown on April 26th, which was the first Tom Dyer attended. The band played the Golden Crown once more on May 10th. It was also in May 1985 that Steve Lawrence made his first short departure.

Jeff and Joe didn’t speak to one another for the rest of 1985 and much of 1986. “We both care a lot for each other,” Joe says, “but I had stolen his love from him. It was weird because Jeff and I really wanted to work together, but we couldn’t and wouldn’t. It was the closest kind of feeling I’d had when you want to be with someone, but they don’t want to be with you. It was really emotional. It was a unique experience for me.” 

By the time Jeff had gotten over Kirsten Wilhelm, fallen in love again, and got married to Susanne Dailey on September 5th, 1986, Jeff and Joe had repaired their friendship. Joe attended the wedding. He continued to write and record as a solo artist and as the bassist for at least two other bands, but it seemed inevitable he would return to The Green Pajamas one day.

Earlier, in May of 1986 “Kim The Waitress” b/w “Jennifer” (written by Steve Lawrence) was finally released.  The single had faced a few glitches at the pressing plant in Vancouver, Canada, but had still arrived much earlier than May of ’86.  According to Tom, he kept the singles hidden in a closet and told everyone in the band except Jeff Kelly that the records had been held up in customs at the Canadian border. “I was trying to be strategic,” Tom tells me. “I wanted to release the compilation Monkey Business first and then allow enough time for the next Green Pajamas single to take over the attention.”

Jeff says that the band was performing at the time but wasn’t getting much radio support.  KCMU (predecessor of Seattle’s widely broadcast KEXP) would play a little Green Pajamas once in a while, but the band was kind of a novelty.  “We weren’t ‘grunge’ so our music didn’t fit into anything like that,” Jeff tells me. Jonathan Poneman, who co-founded the label Sub Pop later that year played the singe when he was a DJ at KCMU during a late-night spot.  “We got on there,” Jeff says, “but “Kim The Waitress”  never became any kind of a hit.”

Joe believes Jeff never fully embraced “Kim The Waitress” with the enthusiasm he could have. “I think Jeff could have ridden it to fame.” Although the song was a staple of the band’s performance during its early years, especially when Joe wasn’t in the band,  Jeff admits he lost interest over the last ten or fifteen years.  

In later years, as Joe says, “Everyone in the band said, ‘Yeah, let’s play “Kim The Waitress.”  We’d write it on the setlist,” Joe says, “But Jeff said ‘No. We’re skipping that.’ Joe tells me of one disgruntled couple approaching him after a show, saying, ‘We came to hear” Kim The Waitress,” and you didn’t even fucking play it!.’ ”

It’s hard to say what would have resulted if the song had become more popular at the time. It’s even harder to envision the path the band might have taken. They certainly never became stars in the conventional sense, but they were part of an underground music scene that held them in high regard. The critics were uniformly positive for almost every release they issued. They might not have found the independent licensing they treasured and the ability to write, record, and release what they chose. Having a hit with “Kim the Waitress” on a major label could have just as easily led them to be one-hit-wonders or derailing the creativity that would later be so obvious. It’s better not to deal with hypothetical could-have-beens.  One thing Jeff tells in an almost covert voice “Here’s a piece of trivia.  If you look at the run out of “Kim The Waitress” you can see we had “A horse is a horse”etched in there… like in the show Mr. Ed.  Unless you know we used to hang out at that coffee shop Mr. Ed’s you wouldn’t have a clue what it meant.

Jeff’s reluctance might have been seen as self-sabotage. On the other hand, his approach could have been responsible for worldwide recognition and a career that spanned 40 years without ever sounding old and never having to rest on former laurels. Or it could have been, as Karl Wilhelm pointed out, “Jeff didn’t like to keep very many songs in the loop.” Locally it was “Kim The Waitress” the band was most identified with.  Throughout the world, they were more well known for a parade of brilliant albums.

“Kim The Waitress” could have been a bigger record if I knew what I was doing,” Tom Dyer says, “…or if the band just got lucky. But that’s not how it went,” he says. Despite anyone’s feelings, “Kim The Waitress” went on to be covered by both Material Issue and Sister Psychic. Andy Davenhall (of Sister Psychic) even sat in with the Green Pajamas on the live version of “Kim The Waitress ” for the album Lust Never Sleeps. The song became known to a broader audience, but Jeff Kelly and the band were never defined by it.

TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD: 64 SPIDERS AND CAPPING DAY

In 1985, during what would turn out to be his hiatus from The Green Pajamas, Joe Ross joined James Burdyshaw’s band 64 Spiders.  Joe and Burdyshaw had known each other since high school in West Seattle ” Burdyshaw says he talked Joe into joining the band, but it’s clear Joe had been looking for a band to take part in.

64 Spiders. From top clockwise: Joe Ross, James Burdyshaw, Scott McCullum. Photo: Cam Garrett

Originally James Burdyshaw played guitar. When Joe Ross joined he played bass, Eric Walker was on drums having replaced the original drummer Brian Wright. David Lee sang vocals. Since it was Joe and James writing the lyrics and because of personal friction, David Lee was booted from the band in the summer of 1986.  James  Burdyshaw and Joe took over as lead vocalists for the songs each had individually written. Eric Walker was replaced by drummer Scott McCullum (now known as Norman Scott Rockwell). Later in the year, the band, now a trio, recorded an album with Jack Endino at Reciprocal Recording Studios.  This was the line-up and the era in which 64 Spiders really hit their stride.

“This was a whole new scene to me, Joe says. “It was the nascent ‘grunge’ scene. It was completely different than what I’d become used to. Everyone was so supportive of everyone else. I really loved it, but I missed the music of The Green Pajamas. James was a real taskmaster,” Joe adds with a laugh. “He’d say ‘You’re not going to play bass like you did in the Green Pajamas. I want you to listen to this Big Black record. Listen to this Butthole Surfers record. This is how you play bass now’. He was kind of funny, but he and I had known each other for many years. We’d always had a love/hate relationship,” Joe tells me.  “James forced me to change my whole musical sensibility. It’s what I needed to do, but I thought the Green Pajamas and Jeff were right on the cusp of something big, and I hadn’t wanted to leave.”

James Burdyshaw went on to help form Cat Butt while still playing with 64 Spiders. In March,  Scott McCullum left 64 Spiders for Skinyard, yet another of the best bands of the early ‘grunge’ scene. After McCullum’s departure, 64 Spiders tried out two new drummers but called it quits May of 1987.  At the time Jeff Kelly had asked Joe to re-join The Green Pajamas. Without McCullum and Joe, the band disintegrated.  Later Burdyshaw began a band called Yummy, with Tracy Simmons of Blood Circus on bass.  The band lasted for two years, and for about two months during it’s run Joe Ross filled-in for bassist Tracy Simmons as a favor to Burdyshaw.  Joe played on Yummy’s final single “Do Yer Fix” b/w”Candy Day” which was released in 1992  by Jimmy Stapleton’s Bag of Hammers label.

Burdyshw has started the band in 1984, but it was just over the last two years or so that 64 Spiders left an impression on many in the Seattle music scene.  One of their most loyal fans was Dawn Anderson, the editor/publisher of Backlash magazine. She took every chance she could to popularize the band.

Joe Ross released the Triangle sessions as a self-titled album on his  Endgame Records while he and McCullum were still playing with Burdyshaw.  Two of the tracks, “Bulimic Saturday”  and “There Ain’t” ended up on Daniel House’s 1989 C/Z Records compilation Another Pyrrhic Victory, subtitled ‘The Only Compilation Of Dead Seattle God Bands’ In the same year “Potty Swat” the short instrumental “Nope” along with “Rubber Room” was released as a 7″ on Michael Goodall’s Regal Select Records.

In 1987 Joe Ross and Scott McCullum saw a performance by Laura Weller playing guitar and singing alongside Bonnie Hammond playing keyboards and also singing. Joe and Scott were impressed with the duo but told Weller and Hammond they would be better with a backup band. Soon Joe and Scott became members of their group, Capping Day. Laura and Bonnie still remained at the helm, but when the quartet was filled-out, the band became popular with Seattle audiences. In 1988 they went into Reciprocal Recording to record “Mona Lisa” b/w “Slow Fade”. The single was co-produced by Jack Endino and Craig Montgomery, who (like Jack) went on to create a formidable career as a producer/engineer.  The single was initially released on Tom Dyer’s Green Monkey Records.

Almost as soon as it was released, “Mona Lisa” went into heavy rotation on Seattle’s college radio station KCMU. It was also among the top 10 songs of 1988 on the station’s yearly ‘best of’ list. The single got enough airplay that when EMI Records and Snickers Candy Bars launched a promo challenge in 1987 to find ‘The Best-Unsigned College Radio Band in the U.S.” KCMU entered the single. To everyone’s surprise (including the band’s), Capping Day won the challenge. The prize included a one-time recording deal with EMI records’ American affiliate Capitol Records.

Capping Day at the OK Hotel. Jan. 1990.
Top: Bonnie Hamilton, Scott McCullum.
Bottom: Laura Weller, Joe Ross.
Photo: Karen Moskowitz

Well-known Seattle promoter, festival organizer, and bassist Terry Morgan was Capping Day’s manager. He was also managing the Posies and had been responsible for getting the Posies their first major label deal with DGC records. Morgan says he saw Capping Day one night and liked what they were doing. “Bonnie and Laura were way ahead of their time and good at it,” Terry says, adding, “They had excellent tunes. It seemed like a natural as far as possibly getting them introduced to the masses that the label deal might have done. What they were able to do at that time-this was over 30 years ago, mind you-was pretty ground-breaking.

“When we got the paperwork for the record deal, it was totally one-sided and didn’t favor the band at all,” Terry tells me. He advised the band to refuse to sign the contract. “We retained Lori Salzarullo as our lawyer,” Morgan says. “She took us on pro bono and helped me negotiate a contract that was so totally in favor of the label, as most of these deals are. We were able to re-negotiate, so Capping Day was able to release something, but record and produce it themselves instead of risking having to go through Capitol Records,” Terry says.

“Once indentured to a major label, it could be several years that you couldn’t do anything outside that label,” Terry explains. When a young band signs with a major label, it’s common for the label to leave a band languishing for months or years. Often when the band presents a label with what they believe is a finished project, the label refuses it, sending the band back into the studio or back home. In the worst cases, band members become so disillusioned they break up. 

“If I remember correctly, the deal was for one record and either one or two first rights-of-approval options,” Terry says. “I don’t remember what the publishing deal was, but it was wrong for Capping Day at the time. We worked to negotiate out of the contract and get the band reimbursed the cost that Capitol would have spent on their ‘prize’. 

Capping Day took the money and chose to record their EP Post No Bills at Conrad Uno’s Egg Studios. By this time, Uno had made a name for himself through his work with The Young Fresh Fellows, The Presidents of the United States of America, The Fastbacks, and a parade of other nationally-known Seattle bands. Recording in a hometown studio with Jon Auer of the Posies as producer gave Capping Day a sense of independence. In 1990 the EP Post No Bills was released on Uno’s Popllama Records. A newly recorded version of “Mona Lisa” was included. 

 “Terry Morgan kept us from signing a terrible contract,” Laura Weller tells me. “He hooked us up with Conrad Uno. We had a fantastic experience with Terry! He got us some amazing shows. We opened up for Bob Weir of The Grateful Dead at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma. We opened for Robyn Hitchcock. We opened for Exene Cervenka. We got some outstanding gigs,” Laura says. “I love Terry. He’s still doing amazing things. He has a big place in my heart.”

LET’S REWIND A BIT

After Joe was dismissed from The Green Pajamas in 1985 the band put a “Musicians Wanted” ad in The Rocket-Seattle’s pre-eminent music journal at the time.  Bruce Haedt, who’d been doing collaborations with his wife and friends answered the ad.  “I’ve been composing music and performing music since my teens,” Bruce says,” I was enjoying the feeling of being with other musicians.” Bruce says he picked up a copy of The Rocket and found the ad placed by The Green Pajamas in search of a keyboard player.  It was one of the instruments Bruce played. He called the phone number in the ad and soon auditioned with the band.

Bruce hung out with the band and went to hear them rehearse at Jeff’s house in West Seattle to get an idea of what they were doing.  “We talked and jammed a bit,” Bruce says.  When Jeff and Bruce met they both were strongly influenced by  Leonard Cohen and ’60s folk-rock duo Richard & Mimi Fariña (Mimi who passed away in 2001 was the sister of Joan Baez). “They were one of my favorite acts,” Bruce tells me. “Crosby, Stills & Nash was also a cross-over influence between us.  Where Jeff and I met musically was in the Beatle-esque stuff and our shared feelings about Leonard Cohen.” 

Bruce Haedt.
Photo: Susanne Kelly

“It seemed like a good fit,”  Bruce tells me. “so I joined the band”. Soon afterward, the band started rehearsing in the basement of Bruce Haedt’s house at Whitman and 145th just north of Seattle in the suburb of Shoreline. “It was a big old room that was unused,” Bruce admits. “It was pretty rough, so it didn’t need to be protected, and it was easy to load equipment in and out. The Green Pajamas rehearsed there the whole time I was in the band,” Bruce tells me. “We started laying down tracks for what would become the album Book of Hours right away. It was full of Jeff Kelly’s new songs,” Bruce says. 

“I also write a lot of music,” according to Bruce. “I was curious if any of my songs would fit with what was being rehearsed, so I started bringing in my material.  My music was not as psychedelic as Jeff’s; it was more power-pop. A few of the songs ended up on Book of Hours

After Bruce started playing with the Green Pajamas Jeff taught him some basic keyboard parts for pieces he’d written. Bruce came up with the completed parts. The two also collaborated on some of the songs on Book of Hours.  Jeff and Bruce bounced ideas off each other then began developing them together. “One real collaboration I think of specifically“was “Big Surprise,”  Bruce says. “That was really a collaboration”. Two songs, “Higher Than I’ve Been“and “Stand to Reason”, written solely by Bruce were included on Book or Hours.  Bruce says “Stand To Reason” was his departure from psychedelia into an arty power-pop piece on the album.

Book of Hours, 1985.
Design: Ursula Bolimowski

The recording of Book of Hours was far more sophisticated and complicated than anything the Green Pajamas had done before. A brass section of Darrow Hunt on Baritone Saxophone, Eric Walton on Tenor Sax, Carl Miller on Trombone, and Al Paxton accompanied the band on the song “Paula”. The song “Time of Year” includes a chorus made up of Colleen Whorley, Joe Ross, Jordan Miller, Kelle Boyd, Kirsten Wilhelm, Lisa Witt, Nancy Whorley, as well as Susanne Kelly. and Highland bagpipes were supplied by Doug Maxwell. Steve Lawrence had another go at the sitar, and the album was topped off with a beautiful cover by  Ursula Bolimowski.

In 2010, when an expanded version of the album came out as The Complete Book of Hours, critic Tim Peacock reminded readers that 1987 was the year “grunge” began taking hold in Seattle.  He wrote about the original Book of Hours, commenting:  “The idea of a Seattle band laying down a fragrant, patchouli-tinged psychedelic pop masterpiece in such a climate was brave at best.”

Elsewhere Peacock wrote:
“While Book of Hours may superficially have been drenched in Eau de 1967, if you’re expecting an unfocused sprawl akin to The Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, then forget it, because there’s also a modern-day energy at work here, not to mention Jeff Kelly’s redoubtable brilliant song-writing skills, all of which conspire to ensure the ...Book of Hours is an inspired listen over two decades on”.

That’s three decades now.

Green Pajamas 1985. L to R. Jeff Kelly, Karl Wilhelm (above) Bruce Haedt, Steve Lawrence. Photo: Ursula Bolimowski

“We were playing plenty of live shows. The whole thing was over two years of intensity for me,” Bruce says. “I was a full-time college student at the University of Washington. I was a single dad with a daughter who went from age seven to nine years old during my time in the band. I also worked with my dad. It was a really busy time for me”.
“We had a lot of fun and plenty of good beer,” Bruce says. “We did everything on Tom Dyers’ eight-track at his place. It was all analog, of course. I liked working with Tom. I liked his production ideas. There was always a process of conveying weird rhythm Ideas to Karl, and Karl was an awesome.drummer. I liked working with him too.”

The band was bringing in more of my songs that we had played live, but hadn’t recorded,” Bruce says. “There were two different styles of music within the band. I think at a certain point I had ideas of pushing into the power-pop thing. I was enjoying the music Peter Gabriel was putting out at the time.” During his stint in The Green Pajamas, Bruce was also recording a lot of his solo work, he tells me.

“The things that were influencing me were different than what Steve Lawrence, and especially Jeff, were interested in doing.” Despite heading in different musical directions, Bruce tells me “Steve Lawrence was super high energy, funny, a really, really good guitarist and bass player. He had a passion for psychedelia. That was his love, musically. I always enjoyed hanging out with him and he was fun to work with, fun to be onstage with. He was very complimentary and supportive of the things I was doing with the band. I  never had any conflict with him.”

In 1987 Bruce recorded a solo album called Miss Lyons Looking Sideways. Tom Dyer mastered it and released it on Green Monkey Records. Bruce started a second project which he says he wanted to spend as much time and attention to. He’d spent about 2½ years with the band. Bruce decided it was time to move on.

Bruce announced his intention to leave The Green Pajamas after recording one final album with the band.  That album came to be titled November. Book of Hours had taken almost two years to record, mix, master, and release. It was a grueling experience. The thought of creating another album made the band decide this time they would  record “live-in-studio.” Joe Ross was instrumental in getting the album recorded at Jack Endino’s Reciprocal Recordings studio. One night in November 1987 Jeff Kelly, Bruce Haedt, Steve Lawrence, and Karl Wilhelm entered Endino’s studio. They brought about 20-25 friends with them-among them was Joe- so they could be surrounded by friends as an audience. Jeff Kelly says as Jack let the tape roll, “We thought ‘Let’s record and be done with it’ .”

 “Tom Dyer was there,” Jack Endino tells me. “That’s what I remember. They just wanted to catch the whole band with a minimum amount of hassle. Normally their recording process is considerably more laborious. I think it’s one of the few times that they ever did that sort of thing.

Endino goes on to say “They wanted to record a bunch of songs that likely were not going to get played much after Bruce left the band. Jeff confirms this in the album’s liner notes, writing: “(Recording), I theorized, would be a quick and cheap way of finding a home for some of the old songs that weren’t recorded in the studio and the ones that weren’t scheduled for recording in the near future.”

“There were a couple of Bruce’s songs recorded during the session,” Jack continues, “and a couple of slightly oddball songs of Jeff’s that he wanted to record just for the heck of it. The band came into Reciprocal Recording and set up live and banged out the songs.” Tom Dyer tells me “After tracking the tunes, we took the tape back to my place and recut the vocals and oboe and did the mix.”

November.  (2013 re-issue)
Cover illustration: Susanne Kelly

After listening to the recording several times, Jeff says he became apprehensive about releasing it. “I agreed on the condition we remix most of it,” Jeff wrote in the album’s liner notes.”We spent several hours one Saturday remixing and beautifying it with delays and such, only to find that we preferred the original, rougher version. Typical.” 

Jeff wrote that November was “a representative record of our live show circa 1987 (not including Book of Hours or Summer of Lust material). It’s raw, untampered with, and gets better with volume.”

Leaving the original mix also elicited more critical praise for the band.  Jack Endino has called November “Sort of the great lost Pajamas album”

A 2013 re-issue of November was mixed again, this time by Joe Ross and Jack Endino.  It was released as a CD with the newer mixes, but the original mixes were added as bonus tracks to the digital download.

After the 2013 re-issue, fanzine Americana UK  declared November “has a rawness and intensity that is one of the album’s strengths, and the album still manages to portray these feelings even after 20 odd years of obscurity” (again, it’s now more than 30 years!)

Mark Denning of All Music wrote: “November is a document of a very specific moment in time for the Green Pajamas; it finds them young, wiry, and enthusiastic…”

“I did another solo project I wanted Green Monkey Records to release,” Bruce Haedt says “…but Tom didn’t feel like putting it out. I felt a bit snubbed by that.” Bruce went on to play with the band Room 9 for a short period. “I was just a sideman keyboard player,” Bruce says, “but I was a neighbor of Ron Rudzitis (a.k.a. Ron Nine), so we hung out a lot.  I still have some tapes we did together that were really fun. Bruce remembers two of the shows he did with Room Nine were at the annual Bumbershoot Festival. “Then they broke up,” Bruce says succinctly.

Steve Lawrence unexpectedly quit shortly after Bruce Haedt ended his tenure. Almost as soon as November was recorded Joe returned as a member of the Green Pajamas.  With the departure of Steve and Bruce, Jeff Kelly, Joe Ross, and Karl Wilhelm were once again the trio The Green Pajamas had started out as, even though Joe Bauer had alternated places with Karl in the very early years.   “We started hanging out again, Jeff tells me.  “ I think we played some periodic shows with just the three of us.  We played in Tacoma at some hall and at Al Milman’s and Moshe Weinberg’s record store Bedazzled Discs when it was in downtown Seattle. I was doing periodic solo efforts that Tom Dyer was putting out on Green Monkey Records.”

The three played together and recorded for about a year. In 1989 Steve asked to rejoin the band. They happily welcomed him back.  “We definitely never asked Steve to quit the band,” Joe says. “He quit three times over his course with us, but always of his own volition… Anytime he asked, he was welcome to come back. He re-joined us for much of 1989 and 1990. 

THE PAJAMAS ALL BUT SELF-DESRUCTED

Ghosts of Love, 1990.
Design: L7 Graphics. Illustration: Susanne Kelly.

The band was gearing up for the album Ghosts Of Love to come out on Green Monkey as a co-release with Bomp! Records and Ubick which, by virtue of Greg Shaw’s involvement with both labels had become Bomp! Records’ British affiliate.  Joe reports that there was a flurry of activity at the time. Once again the band brought in back-up vocalists,  strings, bagpipes, and a host of instrumentalists. It was another huge project.

The band called it quits after Ghosts of Love was released on August 1st, 1990. The album had seen multiple delays and ultimately went nowhere.  During the recording of Ghosts of Love, the band entered into a period  that Joe Ross calls “a flurry of activity.” It may have been that  ‘flurry of activity’, the recording and releasing problems of Ghosts of Love that was the band’s undoing.  Despite the sluggish sales, it got the same kind of stellar reviews that Green Pajamas records always seemed to get. 

Phil McMullen of the British fan’zine Ptolemaic Terrascope wrote: 

“An astonishing album of such incandescent intensity that the Pajamas all but self-destructed during its making.”

McMullen was an English writer that had been following The Green Pajamas and had even covered them earlier in London-based music magazine Bucketfull of Brains. The band would go on to develop a strong relationship with McMullen.  But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.

The cassette release of Ghosts of Love included two extra tracks-“Ginny” and “Song For The Maid”.  When the CD was re-issued in 1991 by the Greek label Di Di Music it included the extra tracks as well as the 45” version of the song “Emily Grace”.

 In 1991 Ghosts of Love was released on vinyl by the Greek label, Di Di Music, and again in 2000 by Pittsburgh Pennsylvania label Get Hip Recordings.  Bothe contained the songs “Ginny” and “Song For The Maid” as well as the single version of “Emily Grace.  In 2011 Tom Dyer’s resurrected Green Monkey Records released a  digital-only download of Ghosts of Love.   The above songs-“Ginny”, “Song For The Madd and “Emily Grace” were also included. Clearly the band had been disillusioned enough to break up over the initial reception of Ghosts of Love, but in the end, it proved to be an important part of their catalog.   Jeff tells me after Ghosts of Love he had decided that he didn’t want to play rock and roll anymore, so he hibernated for a while.

In 1991 Tom Dyer began the process of shutting down Green Monkey Records. Joe bought Tom’s 8-track studio gear and set it up in his old jam room upstairs at his parent’s house. Jeff and Joe continued recording together, working on Jeff’s solo album, Private Electrical Storm, released in 1992. Steve Lawrence played bass guitar on “Find A Way” and contributed backing vocals, tabla, and bass guitar on “Lavender Field.” Jeff’s wife, Susanne Kelly, did backing vocals on “Dr. Diane,” “Heather,” and “All The Maids In France,” and Alicia Clemens provided the voice a the end of “All The Maids In France.” It became somewhat of a Wilhelm family affair with Karl playing drums on the songs “Find A Way” and “Lavender Field.” His wife, Barbara, and daughters Lindsay and Shannon Wilhelm sang backing vocals for two songs: “Dr. Diane” and “All The Maids In France.” 

Tom Dyer mixed the album at the Art Institute of Seattle, where he was teaching. Even while Green Monkey Records was ‘inactive’, Tom found time to master another Jeff Kelly solo effort, 1995’s Ash Wednesday Rain. The Green Pajamas Carolers Song EP was edited and mastered by Tom and later released on Urbana Illinois label, Hidden Agenda. Green Monkey Records would later re-release the EP after it’s resurrection.

Tom Dyer and assistant Keith Livingston in Tom’s studio. 1988

Tom tells me, “I was doing too many things, to put it mildly. I had started teaching in 1989. I had no degree of any sort. I decided that I liked teaching, and I said to myself, `Go back to school’. At that point, I shut down the label and did go back to school. It was a fairly large project.” Tom says his original intention was to attend the University of Washington to get a bachelor’s degree. He ended up getting both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. “Then I went out to Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island.” After receiving his doctorate in Educational Leadership, Tom became an Associate Professor. He specialized in teaching studio recording and ended up at the Art Institute of Seattle for ten years. He then taught Communications at Seattle’s Argosy University, where he also became a dean.

“In 1993, Jeff and I started recording with Karl again as The Green Pajamas,” Joe tells me. “We recorded “Song For Christina” and “I Have Touched Madness”. Steve Lawrence  came into Joe’s studio to play sax for “I Have Touched Madness.” “Steve was back!” Joe says enthusiastically. The songs were released as a single on Joe’s Endgame Records. “We played some good shows. We were featured on the cover of Backlash magazine.

“We started hanging out again, Jeff tells me.  “ I think we played some periodic shows. Just Joe, me and Karl.  We played in Tacoma at some hall and at Al Milman and Moshe Weinberg’s record store Bedazzled Discs when it was in downtown Seattle. “I was also doing periodic solo efforts that Tom Dyer was working on.

 PREPOSITIONS, COMMAS AND CANNIBALISM

Kim The Waitress by Material Issue. 1994.

In 1994 Chicago power-pop band Material Issue covered “Kim The Waitress” for the album Freak City Soundtrack-which was not actually a soundtrack. Jeff remembers Jim Ellison, Material Issue’s frontman, telling him about first hearing The Green Pajamas version of “Kim The Waitress”. “He told me, ‘I just couldn’t believe it. It came out, and it was so weird sounding’. He was saying this like it was a warm memory about the bass being a little out of tune. The whole thing was a little skewed and funny, and he said: ‘I just fell in love with that 45.’ “

Material Issue’s label, Polygram Records, brought in Australian/British producer Mike Chapman who was known for delivering hits. Despite Chapman’s involvement Freak City Soundtrack only sold about 50,000 units after it was released. In the face of disappointment, a video was made for Kim The Waitress”. The video caught the attention of viewers, industry insiders and went into rotation on MTV.

The Material Issue video was set in a darkish café, with a demented waitress (presumably Kim) presiding over a cartoonishly stereotyped family, two political operatives with Nixon/Agnew campaign buttons on their lapels, and a couple of other figures seated lazily throughout the café. Kim looks on with an evil smile and seems to be the protagonist of acts that include human butchery and cannibalism. A dubious-looking cook is seen in the kitchen grinding sausage-ostensibly of former customers. In case the video’s storyline is a bit too subtle, it ends with Kim unveiling a human head on a silver platter.

The video was shocking in a very juvenile way. Its storyline was incredulous and laughable. Most listeners and viewers assumed the song had been written by Material Issue’s  Jim Ellison. The assumption was misguided since we know “Kim The Waitress” had been recorded almost a decade earlier and released nine years before the Material Issue cover appeared. It was Jim Ellison’s admiration of the song, not his writing of it that caused “Kim The Waitress”to appear on Freak City Soundtrack. If nothing else, the cover by Material Issue might give Jeff and The Green Pajamas a higher profile.

Kim the Waitress as portrayed in the 1994 Material Issue video.

Dementia, human butchery, and cannibalism were the last things on Jeff Kelly’s mind when he wrote the song. The entire raison d’ être of the Material Issue song, and especially the video, hung on one tiny grammatical change. The chorus of the song Material Issue recorded changed the original preposition “but” to “from” for no real reason except maybe in the service of the song and a video’s attempt to be shocking. Jeff’s lyrics were written and sung as “No one can save us ‘but’ Kim the Waitress” The Material Issue version changed the tenor of the song by altering the preposition ‘but’ to ‘from’ as in: “No one can save us ‘from’ Kim the Waitress.” It seemed to be a poor attempt to dump a faux horror movie pall over what was meant to be a song about unrequited love and insecurity. It’s a mystery how anyone thought Material Issue’s version could reconcile the sinister video with Jeff’s original intent, especially with lines like:

“Writing poems in a corner booth
That I’d die if she read.”

That single lyric might be the most poignant message to any young, sensitive person who has loved someone from afar. It evokes one of the most à propos images of total humiliation that’s possible; accidentally allowing an unrequited longing for another person to be revealed to the subject of that longing. It’s a stomach-churning fear probably everyone reading this story has felt. Jeff and Joe had turned something absolutely ridiculous and crafted it into an incredibly poignant and meaningful song.

“Material Issue put out a video where Kim was a cannibal or something,” Jeff says.“It was a little annoying, but don’t get me wrong. I get the money (royalties). When they changed it, it didn’t really…well it became corporate rock. Material Issue was pretty small-time as far as the corporate rock machine…”  

On July 23rd, 1994, a capsule review of Material Issue’s version of Kim The Waitress” appeared in Billboard magazine. The unnamed reviewer touched on something that seemed to be lost on fans and everyone involved in the Material Issue’s version of the song.

“This guitar-driven song grapples with feelings of being lost and lovelorn in the twenty-something generation. As the object of desire, “Kim the Waitress” serves as a metaphor for that unattainable love that elludes (sic) the jaded and insecure among all of us…

It’s almost as if the reviewer had mistakenly put the Green Pajamas version on the turntable. Both Jeff and Joe admit Material Issue’s version was a decent piece of power pop, but it didn’t capture what Jeff and the Green Pajamas had sought to accomplish. Joe goes further and adds, “Material Issue just didn’t get it.”

The same year Material Issue’s cover of “Kim The Waitress” was released, Andy Davenhall’s Seattle/Los Angeles band Sister Psychic released its own version.  Joe says, “Andy captured it more honestly.” The Sister Psychic version is hard to find, but with some deep investigation, listeners will find it worthwhile.

I have to ask Jeff what it was that only Kim The Waitress could save us from. Even though we’re talking on the phone, I can ‘hear‘ a smile coming over Jeff’s face. “I was ending a relationship,” he tells me. “The lyrics are actually ‘No one can save us’ (in reference to the failing relationship with his then-girlfriend), ‘but Kim the waitress always turns me on.’ One entire sentence, rather than two. It suddenly dawns on me that I had misinterpreted the meaning of the song for years, and it was probable that many others had also mistaken that lyric. Material Issue and Jim Ellison were not the only ones that had played with grammar in the lyrics. Jeff had used his own sly grammatical trick.  A very sly one.

 By 1996 things were slowing down again,” Joe says. “Jeff and I were content to gig now and then. Steve, being very impatient, opted out of the band for the third time. I’m sure that he was disappointed and frustrated with The Green Pajamas’ lack of direction and ambition at the time. 

The band played a gig at Ballard’s Tractor Tavern in March of 1996. Eric Lichter, formerly of the band, The Life, played keyboards. Jeff had seen Lichter play drums in one of Lichter’s former bands. In 1997 The Green Pajamas asked Eric to join them officially. “By that time, Joe and I were working together again full-time,” Jeff says. 

 PEERING THROUGH THE PIN-HOLE OF A DARKENED ROOM

In 1986 an Australian, Tony Dale, contacted Jeff asking permission to release albums that had formerly appeared on Green Monkey Records. He explained that he ran an independent label called Camera Obscura out of Melbourne, Australia, and asked if he could release some of the older Green Pajamas recordings. Jeff thought about it and then asked Dale, “Why don’t we just make a new Green Pajama’s album?” Dale was ecstatic. 

Tony Dale started as a music writer. He was a dedicated fan of psychedelia, neo-psychedelia, dream-pop, space-rock, acid-folk, and an eclectic mix of the avant-garde, as well as pure pop music. His writing caught the attention of Perfect Sound Forever and Addicted to Sound-both of them among the earliest online web’zines. Through interviews and his writing, he created a network of fans musicians, and independent record labels. He gained a prominent place in a rabidly devoted niche group of lovers of the same sorts of music Tony loved.

In 1996 Tony Dale began his Camera Obscura label, and it developed the same kind of rabid fans that were part of an underground movement focused on little-known but worthy bands around the world with die-hard cult fans.

In 2003 Tony Dale told Dave Lang, writing for Perfect Sound Forever:

“(Camera Obscura) is really just a mirror of my own tastes, rather than being specifically designed as a psychedelic label in the retro sense of being a conduit for bands that conformed to a certain set of codes set down in the late ’60’s psychedelic music movement. That’s why there are releases on the label that don’t fall into the psychedelia domain directly, like the free noise of The Azusa Plane, and Our Glassie Azoth, the free jazz leanings of Rake, the dark folk of Sharron Kraus, or the alien singer-songwriter work of Marianne Nowottny. If it seems like it would be fun to do or unexpected, I try to fit it in to keep a sense of play going.”

The Green Pajamas fell squarely into what Tony Dale was seeking for Camera Obscura, and they rose to be one of his favorite bands. Dale was to become one of the most influential allies in creating a world-wide following for The Green Pajamas.

Joe admits putting their first album for Camera Obscura was put together over several months without many expectations. “We were recording the songs and put them in the order that we felt would make the best record we could,” Joe says the band quietly worked on the recording without anyone looking over their shoulders. It was probably that lack of expectations from others that allowed the band to escape any apprehension, thus allowing them to stretch out further than they had before.

Strung Behind The Sun, 1997. Painting: Suzanne Kelley

“When we finished, we said, ‘Hey, this is a pretty neat record!” Fans around the world agreed.  It was a revelation to those who listened as well as the musicians who created it. The album the band delivered to Dale turned out to be Strung Behind The Sun, thus launching the band into their most creative era

Strung Behind The Sun was well received, and the band felt that now EVERYONE was watching and anticipating them to produce a brilliant follow-up album. Their next record was All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed. The band had to make conscious decisions about which songs would be included and would not. Joe says while they were recording All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed, the band was acutely aware of the pressure that was put on them; by fans, not Tony Dale. “We weren’t aware of the weight of the final product until after All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed was done.” according to Jeff.

Upon its 1998 release, Tony Dale wrote: “Following on from their 1997 ‘back from the wilderness’ album Strung Behind the Sun, the Green Pajamas return with arguably their strongest album to date in All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed. If it wasn’t already self-evident from earlier releases, there should be no doubt after this one that Jeff Kelly is the finest practitioner of the mid-period Beatles influenced psychedelic pop song around today.”  

All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed. 1998.  Illustration: Susanne Kelly

The album found the same kind of critical response from every corner of the neo-psychedelic pop world. In 2019 the U.K. label Sugarbush Records re-released All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed as a limited double vinyl set that included bonus material and outtakes. Over two decades after its initial release, the album on Sugarbush Records found great critical success again.

Steve Lawrence didn’t take part in the recording of All Clues to Meagen’s bed, but he played occasional live gigs just before it’s recording. The band says he all but vanished, although Jeff mentions, “We both worked at Group Health Co-Operative (Now part of Kaiser Permanente). “I had seen him, but I never really talked to him. He seemed like a ghost,” Jeff adds.  “We never made contact with each other.

After he departed The Green Pajamas, Steve’s marriage had broken up, and he’d become involved with a woman many of Steve’s friends believe introduced to heroin.  Steve made a few unsuccessful attempts to quit and eventually went to stay with his sister Julie, who had moved to Los Angeles. He seemed to have gotten clean there. After a few months in Southern California, Steve returned to Seattle to visit his son and ex-wife.  There were no prior arrangements to meet with them, so Steve spent his first day searching for them. He was unsuccessful. Steve gave up for the day and returned to his room at a motel on Aurora Avenue. The first night he was back, Steve bought heroin.

The next morning, July 4, 1998, Steve Lawrence was found dead in his motel room from an overdose.

“It’s too bad he went that way,” Jeff says. “Steve was a really funny guy and a great musician.” Although Steve was no stranger to drugs, Joe tells me “Steve didn’t do heroin when he was in the Green Pajamas”. Steve’s family, his friends, and the members of The Green Pajamas were stunned.

The band’s output on Camera Obscura included Strung Behind the Sun, All Clues To Meagan’s Bed, Narcotic Kisses‎Hidden Minutes, Box Of Secrets: Northern Gothic 2, and an EP of outtakes known as Strung Out. The single “These Are The Best Times” b/w “Vampire Crush” was pressed as a limited edition 7″ single and a compilation of Jeff’s solo work, Melancholy Sun was released as four CDs in a special box that included a 24-page booklet. Camera Obscura also released Haunted by The Goblin Market, one of Jeff’s side projects.

THE TERRASTOCK NATION

In May of 1989, two Brits, music journalist Phil McMullen (referred to above) and Nick Saloman created the fan’zine Ptolemaic Terrascope. According to McMullen, ‘Ptolemy’ was the name of a tortoise who lived at ‘Terrascope Towers’. McMullen made up the name “because,” he says, “It matched the artwork by ‘Cyke’ Bancroft for the magazine’s first cover. McMullen was also a fan of Captain Beefheart, and he liked the song “Tarotplane.” Since McMullen was already a fan, The Green Pajamas was covered in the first issue of Ptolemaic Terrascope.

Phil McMullen (left) Bob (right)

Later McMullen became the instigator of seven international Terrastock music festivals directed toward fans, musicians, and media individuals with similar interests in music and ‘Psychedeliaon’ culture, which included Ptolemaic Terrascope and the music it covered. Eventually, this loose-knit group of fellow-travelers identified themselves collectively as the Terrastock Nation. The Green Pajamas became part of the Terrastock Nation and played at several of the Terrastock festivals. Tom Dyer called McMullen the Green Pajamas “most valuable English connection.” 

By 1995 Ptolemaic Terrascope was facing a financial crisis. The ‘zine put together a two-CD benefit album called Succour (The Terrascope Benefit Album). The compilation included a dizzying array of artists including Peter Buck & Scott McCaughey, Robyn Hitchcock, Coil, Bardo Pond, Flying Saucer Attack, The Bevis Frond, Jack Endino’s Endino’s Earthworm, Captain Sensible, Seattle super-group Wellwater Conspiracy, Nurse with Wound and, of course, The Green Pajamas. Overall, the collection includes 35 tracks-each by an individual artist, with an 8-page booklet and liner notes by Phil McMullen and Nick Saloman.

The following year a U.S. version of the compilation CD was released by Newport, Rhode Island’s Flydaddy Records, a label set up by two former SubPop vets, Kevin O’Leary and Adam Silverman.

In late 1996 Phil McMullen and Robert Jaz of Providence, Rhode Island band V. Majestic began organizing another Ptolemaic Terrascope benefit. This time they envisioned a one-night concert. Mark Stone of the Providence band Medicine Ball (not the Denny Martin band of the same name) joined the two in the organization of a concert. Kevin O’Leary and Adam Silverman of Flydaddy Records also offered their support. 

Terrastock 1. Providence RI
April 25 –27 1997
Poster: James Draper.

Although the benefit was initially envisioned as a one-night benefit concert for Ptolemaic Terrascope, it snowballed into a three-day music festival at poster artist James Draper’s Renegade Gallery and Rogue Lounge between April 25 and April 27, 1997. The venue was inside the old Atlantic Mills, a 19th-century factory that had produced woven cotton fabric and worsted yarns. The mill was closed down in 1953 but later re-purposed into an art-friendly industrial space. Today the old mill is home to working artists, performance spaces, community organizations, and a few commercial businesses. The music festival hosted 33 bands, among them The Bevis Frond, The Azusa Plane, Olivia Tremor Control, Medicine Ball, and V. Majestic. It was such a success that it got covered even in the mainstream media, and prompted a series of six other Terrastock music festivals, each held in a different city.

The Green Pajamas were invited to play the first Terrastock event, but Jeff says the cost of the band flying themselves and their equipment to the East Coast was prohibitive. He adds he also had to work that week.

The second Terrastock musical festival was held at San Francisco’s Custer Avenue Stages between April 17 and April 19, 1998. The official title of the event was ‘Terrastock West, the Left Coast Ptolemaic Perambulation’, but often referred to simply as ‘T 2’.

McMullen recruited Windy Chien, of Aquarius Records in San Francisco’s Mission District, and booking agent Kathy Harr to help organize the event. Originally the planned venue was The International Ballroom near San Francisco’s City Hall. Three days before the festival, the site was changed to the Custer Avenue Stages in the India Basin section of San Francisco. India Basin had once been the center of San Francisco’s bustling shipping trade, but in 1997 it was primarily abandoned or turned into a faceless industrial area far from the center of the city. India Basin was also home to three major San Francisco garbage dumps. 

Terrastock 2. San Francisco CA
April 17-19 1998

The venue was a better choice since it contained three separate rooms that isolated the sound within each one of them. Most festival-goers had booked hotel rooms near the city’s center, and India Basin was quite far away. To make the site more accessible, the organizers provided shuttle busses from central San Francisco directly to Custer Avenue Stages. India Basin allowed a sense of being outside the buzz of modern-day, commerce-driven San Francisco. In the end, many who attended ‘T2’ were pleased with the change of location. The event included performances by The Green Pajamas as well as Bardo Pond, The Bevis Frond, Damon and Naomi, Masaki Batoh and Michio Kurihara of Japanese band Ghost, Kendra Smith, formerly of The Dream Syndicate, Scott McCaughey, Mudhoney, Neutral Milk, The Olivia Tremor Control, The Silver Apples, The Young Fresh Fellows and another 30 bands.

Jack Endino joined Joe and Karl, driving the bands’ equipment from Seattle to San Francisco in Joe’s grandfather’s van. Karl took on the first third of the drive. He says that once he began driving, he was shocked to find that the universal joint was so bad that, according to him, “I had to rotate the steering wheel nearly 180 degrees just to turn.

Karl says Jack Endino’s portion of the drive began in Oregon. Jack was already familiar with the van since Joe had driven Jack’s band, Skinyard, on their first national tour. The group later referred to it as ‘The Tour From Hell.‘ Jack began driving faster and faster along I-5, eventually passing tractor-trailers and rolling along at over 70 mph. Karl says the roads were icy, especially around Grant’s Pass and along the winding and dangerous 50 miles through the Siskiyou mountains. It snowed nearly the entire way to San Francisco, and the van’s floorboards were so worn out there were holes. The roadway below was visible. The holes also provided a perfect way for ice and wind to be blown upward into the van. Jack and Joe seemed unfazed. On the other hand, Karl was terrified that the van would veer into one of the semi-trucks or tractor-trailers on the interstate alongside them. 

“The rest of the band flew to San Francisco,” Endino says. “I got to watch the Green Pajamas play at Terrastock. They tore it up. I’d never seen Jeff do guitar heroics like that before. I thought, ‘This guy’s like fucking Neil Young on the guitar!’ I had no idea. That was a very formidable Green Pajamas performance.”

Joe recalls playing in front of a large scrim on the main stage. The bands had obtained the services of one of the light show technicians from San Francisco’s psychedelic heyday. The Green Pajamas played in front of the scrim among strobes, lighting effects, and a full-on liquid light show behind them.

In the July 1987 issue of Aural Innovations, Steve Burton recalled the band at the San Francisco Terrastock saying: “The Green Pajamas demonstrated their mastery of the psychedelic pop-song. Spot-on performance and an excellent arena-sized sound system provided an all-too-rare demonstration of what this largely-unsung outfit is capable of. In an equitable world, these guys would be superstars!”

Terrastock 3. London England
August 27–29, 1999

The third Terrastock music festival was held in and around the University of London from August 27 through August 29, 1999. The Green Pajamas played at the Student Union Building. The line up that year included Lucky Bishops, Windy & Carl, The Azusa Plane, Green Ray. Bardo Pond, Man, Damon and Naomi, Air Traffic Controllers, The Bevis Frond, Tom Rapp, Spacious Mind, Bablicon, White Hotel, Arco, and 15 other bands including the Green Pajamas. Phil McMullen had paid to fly them from Seattle to London and back home. “It was such a fun weekend,” Joe tells me. “We made a pilgrimage to the Village Green that Ray Davies wrote about, to Muswell Hill and the Highgate cemetery. We went to the British War Museum, which is near Waterloo Bridge”.

I couldn’t help asking if they were there for the sunset. Joe says they weren’t (a shame for any fan of the Kinks). Joe tells me, “I don’t believe we played another gig in London or anywhere in Britain after our appearance at Terrastock 3”. It’s clear that if they had chosen to, they would have drawn fans up and down the U.K.

In 1999 Hidden Agenda Records began releasing The Green Pajamas’ records, which were also released by Sugarbush Records, based in Tunbridge Wells, England, about 48 miles southeast of London. Sugarbush is a brick and mortar shop with a large mail-order business and a mecca for deep vinyl, out of print cult-records, and obscure labels. Tom Dyer and The Green Pajamas (as well as Jeff Kelly, solo artist) have a long-time relationship with Sugarbush Records. The Green Pajamas, Green Monkey Records, and/or Jeff Kelly license their albums (old and new) to Sugarbush Records. Sugarbush normally presses a limited edition of 300 vinyl records packaged in their original cover art.  50 copies of each Green Pajamas albums make their way to Green Monkey Records for distribution in the United States. The special editions of Sugarbush Records are another reason for the band’s worldwide following.

In a June 12, 1999 interview on Hackettstown New Jersey radio station, WNTI-FM Jeff said, “The cool thing about Terrastock is that many of the bands that play there would normally play on tour to about 20-25 people in each town.” Joe piped in saying, “One of the reasons you don’t like to tour is that you don’t want to play before the same 20 or 25 people all the time. But when you get to Terrastock, there are maybe 20 people from every town all over the world there, making up about 1500 people who know who you are. Terrastock is not driven by money or by who’s selling records or who’s on the big tours like Lollapalooza or the Reading Festival. It’s just about the Terrascope magazine and what records they enjoy. They invite those people. Many people have only played a few shows in their whole lives or several little local shows. But here you are playing for something like a thousand people who love your records because they’re Terrascope readers, and they’ve bought the records because of the reviews.” 

1999 also marked the year Laura Weller became a member of the Green Pajamas. Laura was one of Joe’s former bandmates in Capping Day, which was mentioned above. Laura had appeared live with The Green Pajamas doing high harmonies with Jeff. She’d also contributed vocals on the albums Strung Behind the Sun, and All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed.  Joe says one day he asked her: “Hey Laura, do you want to join Green Pajamas?” She did. Laura says her only regret was not being recruited into the band before their trip to San Francisco.

Between November 3rd and 5th, 2000, Terrastock 4 was held at the Showbox in Seattle, The Green Pajamas’ hometown. In all, 32 bands played, along with The Green Pajamas and other Terrastock regulars, The Bevis Frond, Damon and Naomi, and Bardo Pond. The festival showcased several Northwest acts, including The Minus 5, Scott McCaughey of The Young Fresh Fellows’ band that included a revolving door of local and national artists. For their Terrastock 4 appearance, the Minus 5 included Scott McCaughey, former R.E.M. member Peter Buck, and Seattle’s own late Bill Rieflin, then of Ministry and, more recently, King Crimson. Other local acts billed were Kinski, Crome Syrcus (one of Seattle’s most prominent psychedelic bands of the 1960s), The Monkeywrench (Mark Arm and Steve Turner of Mudhoney, Kim Kerr of Poison 13, among numerous other groups. Tom Price, formerly of the U-Men, The Wellwater Conspiracy (including members Matt Cameron (Soundgarden/Pearl Jam) Monster Magnet guitarist John McBain, Martin Bland (Lubricated Goat/ Bloodloss / The Primevils) along with über-producer and Skinyard bassist Jack Endino. Other notable performers included the ex-Velvet Underground’s Moe Tucker and another V.U. alum, Doug Yule. One of the highlights was the appearance of ’60s icon, Country Joe McDonald. Country Joe was joined by The Bevis Frond’s Nick Saloman and Adrian Shaw to perform as ‘Country Joe and the Frond-Fish.’  The Green Pajamas played Saturday, November 4, the second night of Terrastock 4. Their set included older favorites and new material from All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed. Chris Nosal of the Philadelphia City Paper was in attendance. He noted that the band played “Emily Grace,” a song written for Phil McMullen’s daughter, who was 13 years old and at the event. Nosal also notes that the band played a song from Jeff Kelly and his partner Laura Weller’s duo, Goblin Market. The Green Pajamas garnered one of the best receptions of the festival. Hometown fans and those who had traveled to Seattle from around the world found the band in top psychedelic form. The Green Pajamas was the only group of the entire festival to get an enthusiastic call for “One more! One more! One More!”

THE GOTHIC, THE GOBLINS AND A GUY FROM BOSTON

The Goblin Market,
First Edition Frontispiece.
Design: Dante Gabriel Rosetti.

In 2000 Laura and Jeff Kelly formed a side project they called The Goblin Market. The duo named themselves after a poem written by Christina Rosetti, who’s brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, had co-founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in England. The Pre-Raphaelite movement consisted of painters, illustrators, and artisans dedicated to the detail, compositions, and vivid colors of Italy’s 15th-century painters. The most prominent of these being Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (known as Raphael in English). Their subjects ranged from British vernacular family life to the myths and legends of northern European literature to biblical tales. Although the Pre-Raphaelite movement consisted mostly of painters and illustrators, some literary practitioners sought to synthesize the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic with the Romantic and Gothic movements popular in Victorian Britain. Christina Rossetti was at the forefront of these writers.

Her poem, Goblin Market is, at first glance, a child’s tale. A closer look reveals what is actually a work of a psycho-sexual nature. In it, the poem’s protagonists, two young sisters, Laura and Lizzie, are tempted with fruit by goblin merchants selling their wares near their home. A great deal of sexual themes are thinly veiled based on this premise. Christina Rosetti herself admitted that even though the characters of her poem were young girls, and the story was fantastical, the poem itself was not meant for children.

Ghostland, Jeff and Laura’s first album as The Goblin Market was released on Camera Obsura in 2000. It was influenced by 19th-century poets and writers, including Christina Rossetti, Robert Browning, George Meredith, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and John Ruskin, the social and art critic. The 20th-century Gothic writings of Joyce Carol Oates were reflected in their next album, Haunted, which was released by Camera Obscura in 2005.

The Goblin Market.
Laura Weller and Jeff Kelly
Photo: Susanne Kelly

“I’d already been thinking about leaving the band,” Karl Wilhelm tells me. “We were playing out about twice a year at best, and Jeff was synthesizing so much stuff in his studio”  Karl adds that Jeff was incredibly talented at studio production, but he was doing little or no drumming on albums.

“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was when The Goblin Market, opened for Jonathan Richman at the Showbox.”  The date was April 5th, 2002. Nobody told me about it. I thought, ‘Thanks, you guys. You’re opening for Jonathan Richman, for God’s sake!’ My sister was the one who mentioned it to me. Jeff and Laura had neglected to tell me they were doing the show. I really don’t know why. No one has ever explained that to me. I thought, ‘Well, I gotta go check this out.’

“They were using my gear, my drums, and I thought, ‘Oh, I see how it is. You can use my equipment, but you’re not going to tell me.’ Karl laughs while re-telling the story but admits that his feelings were hurt more than anything else at the time.  “I wondered what was going through their minds, Karl says. “I wouldn’t have been concerned about not playing with The Goblin Market because that was Jeff’s baby. He had rotated musicians that had played at various times with The Goblin Market. I didn’t play every time. I couldn’t figure out what it was all about. It wasn’t even a nasty situation. I was just confused more than anything else, but I thought, ‘Well, it’s drifted this far, I might as well call it quits. I still stayed in touch with everybody. Not so much with Jeff for a little while. Since then, Jeff and I have patched things up,” Karl says. “Before leaving The Green Pajamas, I played at three of the Terrastock festivals; San Francisco, London, and Seattle. They were very memorable events in my life. Being in The Green Pajamas was a great ride.” Karl adds. “I enjoyed every minute I played with the band. It was fascinating to go from being a fledgling drummer to honing how to play the drums in action. We got in front of people almost immediately. I had to figure out how to be in front of people and not be terrified. It was a real expansive experience for me, and I’ll never forget any of it. I don’t regret any of the things that we did. It sparked my creativity and inspiration.”

“I was there the night The Goblin Market played with Jonathan Richman,” says Scott Vanderpool, Laura Weller’s husband since February 1993. “They had me get up for one song to bang the tambourine,” Scott says. “I still get shit to this day from Jason Finn, the drummer for The Presidents of the United States of America. He says to me, ‘Oh, that was a GOOD tambourine performance! Boy, you were SMOKIN’ on that thing!’ “

“That show was amusing,” Scott adds. “I got to watch Jonathan Richman give a little lecture to Jeff and Laura. ‘You really should work on your microphone technique,’ Scott says, imitating Richman. Scott tells me Richman went on to say, ‘I did enjoy the performance of the last set, so I had the sound man turn your volume down 20% because I will NOT be upstaged.’

“So here’s this Boston guy who sings happy little songs about chewing gum wrappers and the corner store.” Scott tells me. “but he’s actually a shrewd businessman.”

THE REVOLVING DRUMMER SYNDROME: TWO-MAYBE THREE-IN 35 YEARS

Scott Vanderpool

Scott moves on to his joining The Green Pajamas. “It was a natural thing,” he says. “After Karl quit over The Goblin Market incident, Laura came home and announced that I was now the new drummer for The Green Pajamas”.

“I was just a drummer in The Green Pajamas, but I sing, and I do a lot of other things,” Scott tells me. Scott has done stints with The Chemistry Set, the King Country Queens, Noxious Fumes, Down With People, and has done some production work with the U-Men. “I still play in The Young Pioneers,” Scott says. “The band started at The Evergreen State College in October 1982. We’ve been playing gigs again for the last couple of years. In 2017 The Young Pioneers recorded an album called High Again for Calvin Johnson’s K Records. “It didn’t sound that great,” Scott admits. “We haven’t been playing live because we’re taking time to come up with new stuff”.

“The highlight for me with The Green Pajamas was going to Providence Rhode Island to play Terrastock 6”, Scott says. “Terrastock 6 was the only one of the seven Terrastock festivals to be held in the same city twice.” (Providence, Rhode Island).

Terrastock 6. Providence RI
April 21- 23 2006

The festival was held April 21st through April 23rd, 2006 at AS220, a community artists’ studio space and the Pell Chafee Performance Center. That year the Green Pajamas were joined by other Terrastock stand-bys The Bardo Pond, David and Naomi, and Seattle’s Kinski along with another 30 bands.

“After Providence, we did a little thing on WMBR, the M.I.T. radio station in Boston.” Scott continues. “We also played at a basement club called T. T. The Bear’s Place in Cambridge. Despite the club’s too-cute name, it was a hotbed of the emerging local, national and international punk and alt-rock scene beginning in 1984 until its closing in July of 2015.

By the time the albums Seven Fathoms Down and Falling (1999) and This Is Where We Disappear (2002) Jeff was doing most of the writing and recording. He was not only a prolific writer, but he was also excellent in the studio. Jeff had the opportunity to record in his basement where he’d amassed some very high-end recording equipment and kept it well-stocked. By that point in the band’s life, Jeff wrote spongs and recorded all the instrumentation, including drums, bass, guitars, and vocals. When he needed Laura to sing harmony, he’d bring her into the studio, and sometimes add a little percussion. “The band wasn’t playing more than two or three gigs per year, which was the only time we actually played together,” Joe says. “The Green Pajamas had become Jeff’s solo project more or less, and the rest were playing the parts Jeff had written in a live setting and coming in and out of the studio.”  Jeff says that during those years, Eric contributed five or six of his best songs. He also says Laura’s song “Landslide” from This Is Where We Disappear was significant enough that the band members played it at almost every live gig after the album came out, even up to their last show.

Both Seven Fathoms Down and Falling and This is Where We Disappear were released on Waroznow Records. Nick Saloman of The Bevis Frond who had started the Terrastock festivals with Phil Mcmullen founded the label in 1984 as a vehicle to release his music and the music of like-minded, totally original, and somewhat out-there music (‘out-there’ being in it’s best sense). Saloman is the only consistent member of The Bevis Frond, and since 1984 he has released 26 albums, 19 singles, and at least 16 collaborations or under pseudonyms. 

A GUITAR GENIUS, A HIDDEN AGENDA  AND A SCARLET SONG

The Bevis Frond sound is hard to pigeonhole since there are so many influences and so many fundamental approaches by Saloman. Some hear Hendrix; others hear the best of what Americans call “pop”. The addition of grunge, space-rock, grizzled folk, and all-out psychedelia makes Saloman one of a kind. Saloman’s recorded output is not only prodigious, but he’s also done an astounding amount of live appearances. Although practically unknown in the U.S., the fans he has are profoundly dedicated to his music. Nick’s work has been released by his own Waronzow Records, Reckless, Flydaddy, Fire, Funhouse, Bongo Beat. Fruits de Mer, Kasumuen Records, Damaged Goods, Cherry Red, and at least a dozen other independent labels. Brandon Stosey of Pitchfork magazine has written, “Nick Saloman is my choice for king of the ’60s psychedelic revival when it finally comes back around.”

Nick Saloman: The Bevis Frond.

Nick Saloman has been one of the guiding lights of the Terrastock music festivals, performing at five of the seven festivals. He’s a long-time friend of both Phil McMullen and the members of The Green Pajamas.

In 2002 The Green Pajama released the album Northern Gothic. The record is the first of a trilogy that includes Box of Secrets: Northern Gothic Season 2, released in 2007 on Urbana Illinois’s Hidden Agenda Records, and Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3, in 2018, after having once again moved back to Tom Dyer’s resurrected Green Monkey Records. The thread that ties the three albums together is their literal gothic themes-not “gothic” as in a contemporary musical genre but gothic as in the mid to late 19th-century movement that The Green Pajamas (particularly Jeff Kelly) has taken much of their inspiration. The albums in this trilogy are drenched in the kind of rainy, forested distance of a dark winter day in the Northwest. Many songs in this cycle, as Tom Dyer evokes, are “The grey skies, the endless evergreens, the ‘black and blue moon’ and ‘a thousand crows’ which hang over small lakeside West Coast towns populated by the lonesome, the unlucky-in-love and even a few slightly eerie children.”

The first of these three albums, Northern Gothic, was the last Green Pajamas album on the Camera Obscura label until 2009. The relationship between the band and Dale had been fruitful, and the pairing produced many of the band’s most beautiful moments, but The Green Pajamas then released seven albums and an EP on Urbana Illinois label Hidden Agenda.

The Caroler’s Song EP a and  In A Glass Darkly were both released in 2001, followed by Through Glass Covered Roses,(2003), Ten White Stones (2004) 21st Century Séance (2005), The Night Races Into Anna,(2006), Box of Secrets: Northern Gothic Season 2 (2007), and Poison in The Russian Room (2009). The label also released two solo albums by Jeff Kelly (Indiscretion in 2001 and  For The Swans In The Hallway in 2004).  Hidden Agenda also released  Palm Wine Sunday Blue by Eric Lichter in 2002. “Wildly Polite”, a song from Lichter’s solo album also appears on a 2002 compilation released on Hidden Agenda’s parent company, Parasol Records called  Parasol’s Sweet Sixteen, Volume Five.

“There was no falling out or hurt feelings with Tony Dale or Camera Obscura,” Jeff says. “Hidden Agenda had been interested in releasing Green Pajamas stuff and offered me nice advances for each album I gave them, including my two solo records. I was making so much music at that time that it was some very nice and much-needed income; not that Tony didn’t pay me,” Jeff is quick to point out. “On the contrary, he was always fair about that. It was just nice getting a big chunk of money all at once!” That was something Hidden Agenda could do. The Green Pajamas he no releases on Camera Obscura between 2002 and 2009, but Jeff reminds me that Camera Obscura had released Haunted, by The Goblin Market in 2005.

Tony Dale started Camera Obscura in 1996. During its existence, the label released 86 albums, at least five limited-edition, signed runs of lathe discs, and ten EPs on Camera Obscura’s sister label, Camera Lucida. During the latter half of the 2000s, Tony’s output became less regular, and in 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer. He continued to do what he could to keep the label going, which included releasing records, operating a digital download site, and a substantial mail-order business. The Green Pajamas’ last album on Camera Obscura was Hidden Minutes, released on March 24, 2009. It would be the second to the last of the label’s releases. In August of the same year, Camera Obscura released Incoherent Lullabies by the Denver, Colorado musician Josh Wambeke, working under the name Fell. After the last release on Camera Obscura, Tony Dale started sorting out all of his business having to do with the label. He intended to save his family from being left with unfinished deals with artists, his distributors, and tax authorities after he had gone. Dale concluded all of his dealings by June 30 of 2010, the end of Australia’s tax year.  At that point, Tony shut his label, distribution and mail order down.

During his last summer, Tony Dale sent Jeff and Susanne Kelly round-trip tickets to visit him in Australia. Jeff says Tony tried to be a cheerful and accommodating host.  Jeff says “He was such a good person, and even while he was dying he wanted to show us a good time.  We look back on our trip to see him and his wife Carol with very mixed emotions – sadness but fond memories as well… We miss him very much.” Two weeks after Jeff and Susanne returning to Seattle, on August 2010, Tony Dale died.  His loss reverberated around the world among the friends and fellow-fans he’d met around the world.

Upon his passing, Dave Lang of the web’zine Lexicon Devil wrote: “The music biz is littered w/ the kinds of jerk-offs you’d probably never really want to know on a personal level, and to state the obvious, Tony Dale was not one of them. He was a fan first and foremost and ran his label to spread the gospel.

Jeff Kelly wrote: “If he believed in something, he would find a way to do it. Sometimes I would write to him with some crazy idea, and he would come back and top it with an even crazier idea. No thought as to how many we’d sell; this was about art and beauty and the proper representation of the music he loved.”

Most fitting was a photo of Tony Dale run on several online memorial tributes, showing Tony’s name with the years of his birth and death underneath  and an inscription reading “We will miss you so very much.” Above Dales photo is a lyric from the Green Pajamas’ “Scarlet Song” (written by Eric Lichter)

“...I wonder how the angels look
All strung behind the sun.”

 

 

 

Author –  Dennis R. White.
Special thanks to Kim “Kim The Waitress” Olsen. Jeff Kelly “interview with the author” (September 25, 2019 & November 12, 2019). Tom Dyer “Interview with the author” (September 28, 2019). Eric Lichter, ‘Interview with the author’ (October 1, 2019). Joe Ross “interview with the author” (October 3, 2019 & November 14, 2019). Scott Vanderpool “interview with the author” (October 7, 2019). Jack Endino, ‘Interview with the author’ (February 2, 2020). Laura Weller, Interview with the author’ (October 11, 2020). Bruce Haedt ‘interview with the author’ (December 7. 2019). Eric Lichter ‘interview with the author’ (October 30, 2019) Eric Lichter (correspondence with the author’ November 20, 2019). ‘The Story of Kim The Waitress’ https://tinyurl.com/rj76bfy, retrieved September 10, 2019). Gil Kaufman. “Terrastock Psychedelic Music Fest Heads West” (MTV News, January 21, 1998). “The Paisley Underground: Los Angeles’s 1980s psychedelic explosion” (The Guardian, US edition (May 16, 2016).“The Green Pajamas Website” (https://thegreenpajamas.net/retrieved September 2, 2019) “Green Monkey Records” (https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/ Retrieved September 20, 2019). Michael Nelson “The Green Pajamas – Kim The Waitress – Forgotten Song” (f-Measure, September 27, 2013). Jeff Ankeny, “The Green Pajamas” ( All Music,https://www.allmusic.com/artist/the-green-pajamas-mn0000155068/biography, retrieved October 10, 2019). Jud Cost “Q&A with The Green Pajamas” (Magnet Magazine, June 6, 2012). Jud Cost “The Green Pajamas: Something a Little More Comfortable” (Magnet Magazine, October 10, 2012). Sonic Mosquito“The Green Pajamas-Kim The Waitress [1986]” (The Sonic Mosquito Soup, January 29, 2019). “The Green Pajamas Interviewed” (Worship Guitars, http://www.worshipguitars.org/Interviews/greenpajamas/index.html, retrieved October 11, 2019). Larry Flick[Editor] “Kim The Waitress-Material Issue” (Billboard Magazine, July 23, 1994). John M. Borack/Jem Aswad “Material Issue” (http://www.trouserpress.com/entry.php?a=material_issue, retrieved October 10. 2019). Erik 4A “Green Pajamas” Tape Op, September/October 2019). SF Weekly Staff “Woodstick” (San Francisco Weekly, April 15, 1998). “The Green Pajama Party” (Interview originally broadcast on White Noise,91.9WNTI, Hackettstown NJ, June 12, 1999. Ptolemaic Terrascope #25, 1998 [date of publication and date of original interview do not comport]. Jack Endino “Terrastock ’98: San Francisco, Ca., 5/17-5/19″ (endino.com, retrieved October 12, 2019). Green Pajamas and Grip Weeds: classic albums, vinyl reissues from Sugarbush Records‘ (Bucketfull of Brains, Jeff Kelly’s Beneath The Stars Above The River and Green Pajamas’ Poison In The Russian Room; limited vinyl release on Sugarbush” (Bucketfull of Brains, September 12, 2019). Art Chantry “Grunge: Just More Snotty Bratty Punk Rock” (Madame Pickwick Art Blog, September 15, 2011). Tom Dyer correspondence with the author ( September 16-October 20, 2019). “‘Top Modern Music Tracks” Billboard Magazine July 23, 1994). William Yardley “Seattle Bids Tuba Man a Sad Goodbye” The New York Times (November 13, 2008). Lord Rutledge “Retro Reviews: Material Issue – Freak City Soundtrack” (Faster & Louder, Wednesday, May 2014). Branfionn NicGrioghair, ‘ Myths & Legends : Brigid, Bright Goddess of The Gael’  (Mythical Ireland,  © 1997, NicGrioghar, branfionn@mindspring.com. Retrieved  November 17, 2019). The Green Pajamas ‘Tony Dale 1958-2010’ (Secret Day: The Official Website of The Green Pajamas, August 15, 2010). Tim Canny, Correspondence with the author (December 23, December 24, 2019). Joe Ross. The Green Pajamas ‘Summer of Lust (Forced Exposure, June 3, 2014). Rhode Island Art In Ruins, ‘Atlantic Mills’ (www.artinruins.com/arch/?id=stillinuse&pr=atlantic retrieved February 22, 2020). Steve Burton, “Terrastock II: San Francisco, CA, April 17-19, 1998’ (Aural Innovations #3, July 1988). Gil Kaufman ‘Terrastock Psychedelic Music Fest Heads West’ (MTV News, January 21, 1998. http://www.mtv.com/news/2758/terrastock-psychedelic-music-fest-heads-west/  Retrieved January 21, 2020). Jack Endino ‘Terrastock ‘98: San Francisco Ca. 5/17-5/19’ (www.endino.com/archive/terrastock98.html retrieved January 20, 2020). MC Tom, ‘64 Spiders: What Life Was Like Before Cat Butt’ (Lamestain, lamestainnorthwest.blogspot.com/2006/11/64-spiders-what-life-was-like-before.html, retrieved January 22, 2020). Chris Nosal ” Puget Sounds: Psychedelicists, Experimentalists and Indie Rockers gather at Seattle’s Terrastock IV’ (Philadelphia City Paper, November 16–23, 2000. [ Archived at My City Paper, New York City, https://mycitypaper.com/articles/111600/mus.terrastock.shtml ].Retrieved April 3, 2020). John Davis “Phantom Lake: Northern Gothic 3” (exposé  [Canada] October 25, 2019). George Peckham “Porky’s Prime Cuts” (abcor publishing, 2018 [retrieved from Mersey blog, June 2, 2020]). Nick Talevski “Rock Obituaries: Knocking On Heavens’ Door” (Omnibus, 2004).

 

 

 

 

 

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN
Tom Dyer & Green Monkey Records

It’s September 15, 2019.  I’m on the phone with Tom Dyer from his home in Olympia Washington.  Tom tells me he was born in Des Moines Iowa, although his family moved to Olympia when he was five years old. Tom relocated back to Olympia in 2016 after decades of living elsewhere…mostly Seattle.  It seems fitting that he would have moved back to Olympia…he’s spent so many of his years dedicated to music that Olympia must be a very comfortable place for him. It’s certainly a completely different town than the one he grew up in. The low-key but world-renowned Oly scene has been the birthplace of some of the nation’s best indie labels, among them K, and Kill Rock Stars.  Nowadays Tom Dyer’s label, Green Monkey Records, stands alongside them.

Olympia has had an over-sized influence on pop music from the late 1950s trio The Fleetwoods, through the riot grrrl movement that unleashed  Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Sleater-Kinney to today’s Hounds or David Petty. For decades The Evergreen State College (TESC) has churned out rafts of musicians, artists, authors, and educators that have shaped pop and alternative culture.  A smattering of those include illustrator Charles Burns, musician/producer Steve Fisk, John Foster author and founder of OP magazine, author/professor Mark H. Smith, illustrator and author Lynda Barry, DJ and radio host Steve Rabow, K Records founder Calvin Johnson, Benjamin Hammond Haggerty (a.k.a. Macklemore), actor Michael Richards(Cosmo Kramer of Seinfeld), Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening, professor, author, activist, and journalist Robert McChesney, comedian and advocate for the differently-abled Josh Blue, Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, former ‘This Old House’ host Steve Thomas, and SubPop founder Bruce Pavitt.  The list goes on and on.

Tom Dyer in his studio. 2009

The college is also home to KAOS radio-one of the perennially finest college radio stations in the country.  KAOS hosts Tom Dyer’s weekly Freeform NW show (1-3 PM every Wednesday, streaming at www.kaosradio.org/listen). His dedication to the pop/garage format that has long been a staple of northwest music makes him a great candidate for the show’s host.

“I get to choose ‘northwest’ as I define it. If someone says ‘Hey! You can’t include those guys from Montana!” I’m not bothered”.  Tom explains that he plays music of all genres and doesn’t follow themes “There’s really no theme to that show at all, Tom says. “It’s just a grab-bag of shit” His tone is obviously more in jest than sincere.

“The fun thing with KAOS is that I get total control of what I play, Tom tells me.  Although Tom has just told me ‘there’s really no theme, he says “Three weeks ago I did an Amy Denio show. It was two hours of the 8000 bands that Amy has been in.” He also tells me that two weeks prior to our conversation he did a show built around the seminal ‘Life Elsewhere‘ EP released in 1980 by Olympia’s Mr. Brown Records.  The record jump-started the careers of Steve Fisk, John Foster and the band ‘The Beakers’. “So I played a bunch of stuff off ‘Life Elsewhere’, a bunch of K Records and Engram stuff…basically from 1979 to 1984.

I also play ‘John Coltrane-Live In Seattle‘ It’s a great record!.” Tom says with enthusiasm.

Although almost universally known as ‘John Coltrane: Live in Seattle’ the record’s official name is ‘John Coltrane Featuring Pharaoh Sanders Live in Seattle’. Perhaps the ‘Featuring Pharaoh Sanders’ part is dropped because the entire band recorded that night were not as well known at the time, but have since become far more famous and well respected.  Just a guess.  The live recording was thought to be lost, but in 1971,  six years after it was recorded Impulse! Records found the tapes and released them as a double album.

‘OM’. Recorded October 1, 1965 at Camelot Studios in Lynnwood WA . Cover Design: Robert & Barbara Flynn

For those that don’t know, Coltrane’s ‘Live in Seattle’ was one of the earliest live experiments showing the public his transition from  Bebop to his more atonal and avant-garde period. Pharaoh Sanders had been a practitioner of this sound, and it was Sanders who especially brought his more experimental nature into Coltrane’s band. The performance was recorded on September 30, 1965, at Seattle’s long-gone jazz club The Penthouse. The band consisted of Coltrane and a stellar line-up that featured Pharoah Sanders on sax, McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on double bass and Elvis Jones on drums. 

The next day, October 1, 1965,  the band set out from Seattle to Jan Kurtis (Skugstad)’s Camelot Sound Studios in Lynnwood; a town a few miles north of Seattle.  It was there they recorded the album ‘Om’  As the title suggests Coltrane was familiar with the Hindu Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita by then. The title ‘Om‘  refers to the sacred syllable in Hinduism that denotes the Infinite or the entire Universe.  Although Coltrane never called himself a Hindu (or any other faith) he was deeply interested in Vedic music and religion, and philosophy beginning in the mid-’50s.  It coincided with his recovery from heroin in 1957 which he attributed to a general spiritual awakening. In 1964 he had the chance to study with Ravi Shankar, the maestro of the sitar, and of raga.  He had also become familiar with the works of th yogi and philosopher Krishnamurti.  It’s thought Coltrane was on LSD for this recording session, but it’s never been confirmed.

The band was the same as the previous nights’ appearance at The Penthouse along with noted Seattle multi-instrumentalist jazz musician Joe Brazil on flute.  It’s said that Brazil had jammed with Coltrane and company live the night before. The session at Camelot was produced by the near-legendary Bob Theile.   Although recorded in 1965, the recordings were released on Impulse! Records January 1968, about six months after Coltrane died of July 17, 1967, of liver cancer. At the time of its release critics and fans savaged it, even calling it Coltrane’s “worst album”.  Eventually, most of those critics and fans would come to think much better of the album, and in some cases were heavily influenced by it. By the release of ‘The Major Works of John Coltrane’ in 1992 the 29:07 track ‘Om’ was included alongside ‘Selflessness’, ‘Kulu Sé Mama’ and ‘Ascension Edition I, and ‘ Ascension Edition II’

Life Elsewhere. Steve Fisk. The Beakers. John Foster. 1980

Back to Tom:  “My show on KAOS is pretty borderless although it needs whatever northwest connection I put on it. That shit doesn’t sound near as crazy as it did 40 years ago. When I got ‘Life Elsewhere‘ in 1980  I thought ‘this is just fucking cool!’…and it was pretty cool…I loved ‘The Beakers‘!”

“When I was in high school there was Captain Beefheart…that was crazy as shit, but it’s not so crazy anymore; now there’s a bunch of that sort of thing.  I get to play Zoot Horn Rollo,” (a.k.a. Bill Harkleroad, formerly of Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band). “He was my guitar teacher (via Skype).  He lives in Eugene Oregon.   Occasionally I play something from his solo album ‘We Saw A Bozo Under The Sea’.  I get to make up the rules.!

Tom has some other experience in radio.  In the ’80s he was host of the show Audioasis on the U of W’s alternative station, KCMU.  “That’s where I first met Jonathan Poneman”. (before SubPop).  Jon referred to me as a ‘Record Mogul’ back then.  I guess we know how that turned out!” Tom says, with a chuckle. “I don’t begrudge them their success. They occasionally put stuff I like besides Mudhoney, who I usually like anyway. I think they did a lot of clever label stuff when they started, and for better or worse, they got lucky. They got ‘hold of the magic ring. Who doesn’t want that?  I think it is great they’ve kept it going so long”.

Tom tells me that during his years at Olympia High School he was the singer in several cover bands. “I didn’t know many of the words, so I just made them up,” he admits. “One of the band’s name was Sahara Pack Frame. We played almost the entire ‘The Family that Plays Together’ album by Spirit. We also played my so-called composition Black Death.”

“After I graduated in 1970 I couldn’t get the fuck out of Olympia fast enough.  It was like ‘LET ME OUT!!! Tom bummed around the northwest between Alaska and Oregon for a few years before landing in Seattle in 1975. ’. “In my 20’s I took up guitar and sax,” Tom says. “My first Seattle band was The Adults.”

In 1979 Tom met Harvey and Deanne Tawney who, along with Tom, shared an appreciation of Ornette Coleman, Captain Beefheart, free jazz…and The Dave Clark Five.  In the beginning, they experimented with improvisation, going by the name The Pigments.  In early 1980 The Pigments changed its name to The Adults and mostly gave up improvisation in favor of straight-ahead rock. During their stint as The Adults, Tom, Harvey, and Deanne were joined by bass players first the author Adam Woof and later Howie Wahlen. Somewhere along the way Bob Blackburn would become their single bassist as well as doing some vocals and writing some of the band’s songs.

Poster by Tom Dyer & The Adults

t wasn’t long until another new name and a new format came about; The Adults became The Colorplates.  By returning to some experimentation the band was afraid of being pigeonholed into the cringe-worthy, catch-all lump of bands meaninglessly designated as ‘art-rock’The Colorplates ran like hell from that cursed label, and one of the best ways to do it was to dive deeply into another ill-defined genre called either punk-rock; or worse…post-punk. Later, in a partially tongue-in-cheek bio for The Colorplates Tom wrote:

“They mainly played punk joints like the Gorilla Room and the UCT Hall with bands like Student Nurse, The Pudz and Pell Mell. Mostly for friends, but occasionally for sailors. They managed to do a bit of recording…none of it made it to vinyl, which was the punk rock mark of success back then.”

Tom’s next move was to form The Icons, a band which lasted roughly between 1981 and 1985. The band included Tom on guitar vocals and keyboards, Steve Trettevick on keyboards and vocals,  Rick Yust on bass and back-up vocals, and Tim Nelson on drums…as well as back-up vocals on one song. The Icons recorded one album, ‘Masters of Disaster’ and a live album recorded at The Hall of Fame, a nightclub in Seattle’s University District.  The album is known simply as ‘The Icons at the Hall of Fame’ and according to some accounts, captured their final performance.  Recording at The Hall of Fame took place either on April 17 and 18 (according to the cassette’s cover) or January 3 and 4, 1986 (according to the cassette’s flip side j-card notes).

The Icons. Appointment with Destiny. 2010.  Cover Art by Martin Cannon

The Icons wouldn’t play again until 2010 when Green Monkey Records released a new album called ‘Appointment with Destiny‘.  It was a collection of about half of The Icons earlier songs they’d never recorded and half all-new materiel.  The Icons played one show for the album at the time.   After playing a show for the unveiling of ‘It Crawled From The Basement’ “The fellows had so much fun,” Tom tells me, “that they wanted to play more”  Tom tells me he wasn’t interested in gigging, but he was on board with making a second album.

At the time of its release, Tom wrote ” ‘Appointment with Destiny’ is the Sgt. Pepper’s of the 21st Century. They are the walrus.”

The Icons were Tom Dyer’s Seattle rock band in the ’80s,”  a thinly disguised entry posted by ‘anonymous’ on discogs.com says:  “They liked to rock, but were not very popular…” The ‘anonymous’ in this case seems to have been Tom himself. The giveaway is that Tom Dyer’s press releases, bios and just about anything else he writes is self-deprecating, includes a dry sense of humor and off-kilter observations.

Tom tells me that one night when The Icons were booked to rehearse their drummer failed to show up.  The remaining members chose to get drunk and make things up. Tom says it was “Fooking Brilliant.”  This configuration would become Me-Three, a band that never gigged, but released an album in 1983 called ‘No Money…No Fun’. By this time Tom was clearly was well-established in the early alternative Seattle music community.  In 1982 Tom was ready to record his own solo album.

Truth or Consequences. 1982. Cover Art Vicki Dyer.

The resulting was ‘Truth or Consequences’.  It included an impressive list of local guest musicians, including the late Eric Erickson (The Fishsticks, The Squirrels), Kurt Bloch (The Fastbacks), Kurt’s brother Al Bloch (The Cheaters), Pat Hewitt (of the ’60s band The Disciples, and later of the Range Hoods),  Peter Barnes (The Enemy and one of Seattle’s most in-demand producer/engineers), and Steve Trettevik former keyboard player for The Icons.   Dian Wells and Dick Manley did some of the backing vocals. Tom’s wife Vicki did the artwork, which would set a precedent for her doing covers for subsequent albums.  After completing the album in 1983 Tom intended to sell it through the new label he’d formed, the aforementioned Green Monkey Records.

In the late ’70s and the ’80s starting an independent label was a common pursuit among bands and their friends. Very few of those labels lasted longer than two or three singles. Tops. Tom’s Green Monkey Records managed to keep afloat during its initial run from 1982 until 1991. The label’s output in 1990 included  The Hitmen, Swelter Caccklebush, Mad Man Nomad and another highwater mark for The Green Pajamas, Ghosts of Love.  1991 saw the releases by The Life, Charlie & The Tunas,  Joe Leonard, and anther by Mad Mad Nomad. The Green Monkeys’ cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Story of Issac’ was included on the compilation The 4th Adventure released by the Danish label Guiding Light Records.  Green Monkey put out its own fantastic compilation in 1991 called  ‘The Young and The Restless’.  It included Black Happy, The Mono Men, Slam Suzanne, Bam Bam, Dr. Unknown, Blind Horse, Red Skeleton as well as 13 other artists.  Oddly enough, the album’s last two tracks ‘Non-stop Pokin’ Action’ by Slobberpocket and ‘Heavin’ Tiny Sandwiches Over The Side’ by B.L.O.G. are two separate recordings by two separate bands that segue into each other and are listed as “18a” and “18b” respectively.

Running an independent label must be, above all, a labor of love.  Returns on investment are rare and Tom resolved himself to that decades earlier. I ask Tom why he started his own label and got a patently obvious answer. One that was familiar to any person who’s started a small independent label-including me.

“It was to put out my music and my friends’ music. No one else was doing it. The first two cassette releases were my own album, ‘Truth or Consequences’ in 1982 and ‘Local Product’ in 1983…and so the die was cast.” 

Local Product (Compilation) 1982. Cover Art by Tom Dyer.

 

‘Local Product’ was a compilation of bands as diverse as Mr. Epp and The Calculations, The Fastbacks, Al Bloch, The Queen Annes, Eric Erickson, along with 10 other artists. “I recorded most of it on my 4 Track,” Tom tells me. “The cover was the UPC from a twelve pack of the old (generic) Beer Beer.” Tom says he took a half-rack to Kinko’s Copiers (Now Fed Ex Office) and made a copy…” so,” he says, “that was the cover.”

The bands on ‘Local Product’ were largely unknown-and some were created as impromptu get-togethers by musicians and friends. Dawn Anderson of the local music magazine Backfire ignored the compilation when it was first released. Later she listened and practically gushed over it.

“I considered myself warned when I noticed the same names over and over for various bands (Dyer himself appears with eight of the fifteen acts featured).  Inbreeding tends to lead to tunnel vision, as well as the worst form of “us against them” snobbery-always, of course, at the expense of the music. Well, apparently not always. To my surprise and delight, I found this tape was not made up of the pretentious spazz-art I was expecting–most of this is honest-to-God pop music!  Garage pop, perhaps, but definitely pop, the kind with guts as well as hooks.”

I ask Tom another question I’d wanted to know the answer to for years.

“Why the name Green Monkey Records?

I’d done some homework, so I knew the Green Monkey (Chlorocebus sabaeus) is a social, vocal and generally territorial inhabitant of West Africa. Some also made their way to the islands of the Caribean during the time of the slave trade.  The Green Monkey’s fur does have a greenish-yellow appearance. The most dangerous (and impolite) acts they commit are males seeking dominance by fighting and showing their blue scrotums and bright red penises in order to attract females.  Researchers have studied the Green Monkey extensively because the majority of the African population carry the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), similar to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)… but the SIV in the Green Monkey is not as virulent as the human form, and Green Monkeys who carry SIV do not progress to having  Simian Auto Immunodeficiency Syndrome. (SAIDS) , the equivalent of AIDS in humans.  

Research suggests African Green Monkeys’ SIV may have lost its virulence millions of years ago and Green Monkeys almost never get sick from SIV.  If SIV/SAIDS was once a monkey killer, the change in its virulence may shed light on the future course and timing of the evolution of HIV. Although it was once thought the Green Monkey had infected humans with SIV which became HIV/AIDS, it’s clear many more Green Monkeys have been infected with HIV/AIDS through research by humans than the Green Monkey passing off the virus to humans.  To paraphrase Peter Gabriel ‘Shock The Monkey, Indeed!’

Thankfully, Tom naming his label Green Monkey Records has nothing to do with showing off genitals or animal research.  In fact, it’s difficult to look at the Green Monkey logo without seeing a happy green fellow with arms raised in the air as if it’s lumbering toward the viewer to give them a big hug…sans the naughty bits.

Tom tells me that when he was a kid, his grandmother had an actual “stuffed but wise” Green Monkey in her attic. He says he acquired it around the time he launched his label.  “I had to call the label something,” he says, “so there it was. It wasn’t  particularly thought out.” He also notes that it is the very same “stuffed but wise” monkey that is pictured on the cover of the Green Monkey’s 2009 compilation ‘It Crawled From The Basement’.

“George Romansic thought it scary!” he adds.

“I used to lose money on the label every year, but the amount I lost was tolerable,” according to Tom. “Over a year I’d lose about a thousand or two thousand dollars,”  He says that loss was low enough that he was willing to fund the label. “I set very low expectations for people from the gitgo. I’ll do some stuff and presume this is just not going to be any big seller.  If I’m wrong, I’ll be happy.” 

 Those low expectations were one of the things Tom says he started anticipating from the beginning of Green Monkey.  “ I really didn’t want to have to deal with people that thought I was an asshole when I was trying to help them,” Tom tells me.  I’ve always set the expectations really appropriately. At the end of the day they may still think I’m an asshole, because I am, probably…or I could have done more, but I make it clear from the beginning what I’m going to do.” 

“Most bands want indie labels to do extra things for them,” Tom bemoans. “They want you to be their manager, their booking agent or errand-runner,” Tom says “That’s all the shit I don’t want to do. It’s way too much. I managed The Green Pajamas way back when, but I haven’t done it in a long time.  Jeff has wanted me to manage The Green Pajamas again.  I have no problem telling him “No, I don’t’ want to do that.’  I say ‘I’ll put your records out…I’m happy to put your records out.’  Management is just doing all the shit that’s no fun. If you’re doing it, and it’s a job you’re making money, maybe it’s OK, but it’s such a pain in the ass.  Who needs it?

DJ Steve Rabow. 1982

Tom found more allies in 1982 when Seattle radio station KZAM played punk, new wave and post-punk under the moniker ‘Rock of The ‘80s’.  Steve Rabow, a DJ at the station, promised to play one song from any cassette sent to him by a separate band on-air for what would become his first ‘Local Tape Extravaganza’.  The Rocket magazine (Seattle’s premiere music journal)  hopped on-board, providing free promotion for Steve’s project. With the wider promotion, hundreds of tapes got sent Rabow’s way. He played a song from each one of the tapes, as promised, in a four-hour marathon. In 2009 Green Monkey Records released a ‘Best of The 1982 Local Tape Extravaganza’.

One of those tapes was sent by Mr. Epp and The Calculations, an as-yet theoretical band named after their math teacher at Bellevue Christian High School, Mr. Larry Epp, The ‘cassette’ sent to Rabow was (like others)  presumably taped on a consumer cassette player with a condenser microphone.  Rabow did indeed play the ‘song’ on-air and then pronounced Mr. Epp and The Calculations to be “the worst band in the world”. 

Despite the title-or probably because of it-Mr Epp began to play live gigs in all-ages clubs and halls, partly because they were all minors, but also because they knew who their natural audience was.

Mr. Epp. Pravda Records. 1982 Cover by Todd Why & Mark Arm

In February 1982 John Rogers of the band Student Nurse produced the first and only vinyl single by Mr. Epp and The Calculations’.  The result was a 7” EP called ‘Of Course I’m Happy. Why? released on Seattle’s Pravda Records. The lead song from the EP, ‘Mohawk Man’.unexpectedly rose to number one on Rodney Bingenheimer’s influential ‘Rodney on The ROQ’ show out of Los Angeles station KROQ.  College radio around the country followed Bingenheimer’s lead. Despite being truly devoid of musicality the band created enough excitement and chaos to make up for their lack of mastery.  Within a year they became one of alternative Seattle’s biggest draws, especially among under-aged kids. The Eppsters knew who their natural audience was, and their audience loved them for it.

Musically they had nothing to do with what would eventually become known as “grunge” despite the insistence of clueless writers, historians, and even some fans to name Mr. Epp as Seattle’s first “grunge” band. It’s well-known lore that the term “grunge“ as applied to Seattle bands, came from simple self-mockery by one of Mr. Epp’s members.  A letter published in the July 22, 1981 issue of Seattle alternative journal Desperate Times called Mr. Epp “Pure grunge! Pure noise! Pure Shit!” 

It was Mark Arm (Mark Thomas McLaughlin) of Mr. Epp that wrote the sarcastic letter before the band had even played live. Ironically, Mark later became a member of Green River and Mudhoney, both of whom were two of the earliest ‘legitimate’ ‘grunge’ bands…inasmuch as the term “grunge” really means anything.  A few years after the letter to Desperate Times Bruce Pavitt and Megan Jasper of Sub-Pop Records used the term jokingly to writers who were noticing the rise of Seattle’s music scene. It was an inside joke, but it stuck.

In 1983 Tom produced Mr. Epp’s song ‘Out of Control’ at Jack Weaver’s Triangle Studios-later to become Jack Endino’s Reciprocal Recording. The track was slated for inclusion on the Engram Records compilation Seattle Syndrome II before the track was even recorded.  Tom says “That’s when the Mr. Epp guys were ‘Bellevue Brats’, Bellevue being an upscale suburb of Seattle.   I offer no objections because it is, for the most part, true.

Mr. Epp. The Metropolis Feb. 3, 1994

The band members had the kind of smarmy disrespect and distrust of all the ‘adults’ surrounding them that most teenage boys have. Their attitude at the time didn’t reflect teenage rebellion as much as it did smart-ass teenage sarcasm.  It didn’t seem to occur to them that all the ‘adults’ they were working with were only 6-7 years older and had created the template from which they would benefit.  This had been the attitude of those same ‘adults’ 6-7 years older..Later, they came to see that more clearly.

“I didn’t get credited as the producer on ‘Out of Control’…but no big deal,” Tom says. “The Mr. Epp guys hated that track,” Tom says. “They hated Jack Weaver,” Triangle’s Studios‘ owner who engineered the song. “They stayed back in the recording room while Jack gave the instructions, Tom recalls.  “I went back and forth and conveyed messages. It was pretty funny. Jack had a high opinion of himself.”

Aside from the John Rogers produced 7” EP and the later fiasco with Jack Weaver, Tom tells me “I recorded everything else Mr. Epp did. “I recorded most of the stuff on Four-Track.”  The irony is that Tom knew how to record Mr. Epp but none of their tracks were initially released on Green Monkey Records aside from ‘Falling‘ on the ‘Local Product’ compilation. Most of what Tom recorded for them was released on various members’ own small labels. Tom would later release their music on compilations or as re-issues.

Recently Joe Smitty (Jeff Smith) of Mr. Epp said:
“Tom Dyer is great.  He was a wonderful producer for Mr. Epp. He listened and helped us do what we wanted to do which was super rare in the 80s. Most tech folks wished they were working for Van Halen, not us!

Green Monkey was slowly building its early catalog. 1983 saw another solo release by Tom Dyer called ‘I Lived Three Lives”,  the previously unreleased recording of Me Three called ‘No Money…No Fun’ ‘and ‘Fight Back’ by the Bombardiers; a band led by one of Tom’s old friends, Al Bloch. 1984 saw releases by Prudence Dredge, Liquid Generation, The Elements and what would become Green Monkey Records’ flagship artist, The Green Pajamas.

In the summer of 1984, Tom discovered a self-released cassette at one of the many record stores that once were scattered along Seattle’s University Way (commonly known as ‘The Ave.’). The tape was ‘Summer of Lust’ by Seattle trio Joe Ross on bass, Jeff Kelly as the guitarist and lead singer, and Karl Wilhelm on drums.  They called themselves The Green Pajamas.

Summer of Lust. Cassette 1984. Cover Art by Joe Ross

On a whim, Tom bought the tape, brought it home and had a listen. He liked the cassette so much that he wrote a review of it for OP Magazine, then published by John Foster (another TESC alum) and the Lost Music Network out of Olympia. OP had become an internationally-known journal dedicated to alternative music and cassette culture. Later the magazine was sold to Scott Becker and well-known music and pop culture author Richie Unterberger. After relocating to Los Angeles OP relaunched itself as Option magazine and despite being a meticulously-designed glossy magazine it kept its credibility among readers.  A mention in OP or Option assured exposure to a very wide audience of independent music insiders, College DJ’s and forward-looking music fans.  The review was a great move for The Green Pajamas, for Dyer, and for Green Monkey Records.

Tom says he wanted to work with The Green Pajamas from the moment he heard their tape, but no contact information was on the cassette or its cover. He was finally was able to track them down through the shop that duplicated the tape.  They put him in touch with band-member Joe Ross. This connection would lead to the association of The Green Pajamas, it’s members, Tom Dyer and Green Monkey Records for 35 years and counting.

After connecting with the band’s members Tom invited them to come over and look at his studio. “Years later,” Jeff Kelly says, “Tom told me he said to himself, ‘I don’t know about this Jeff guy.’ He thought I didn’t seem very friendly when we came over and looked at the studio. I don’t know… I was slightly apprehensive because it was just such a little space and I’d already been in a bigger studio. Maybe I was a little…well, maybe he thought I was aloof, but I probably was just being kind of shy and a little guarded. We ended up recording and it and it was really fun.”

Summer of Lust LP. Ubik Records 1989 Cover Photo: Kari Dunn

Tom’s first move was to re-release ‘Summer of Lust’ on the Green Monkey label with a couple of additional songs-’Stephanie Barber’ and ‘Mike Brown’. “I was amused by the fact that Jeff Kelly would write songs about people using their real names,” Tom says. “When we licensed ‘Summer of Lust’ to the British label Ubik Records in 1989 and the Spanish label ViNiLiSSSiMO in 2014 ‘Mike Brown’ made it to the vinyl versions but ‘Stephanie Barber’ didn’t.

On other occasions, Tom and the band had their own fun preparing albums for overseas release. Tracks were changed around, sometimes there were additions and other times they included alternate takes of the version that appeared on the Green Monkey version.  Whether this was a conscious effort to make certain releases more ‘collectible’ there are plenty of Green Pajamas completist collectors who will track down even the most obscure variation. Although Green Monkey has always been a modest operation, the label and The Green Pajamas who practically never played outside Seattle both have a very dedicated worldwide cult following.

In the liner notes for the 2009 compilation ‘It Crawled From The Basement’  Tom wrote about the shift the entire label experienced once The Green Pajamas climbed on board:

The Green Pajamas. L.to R. Laura Weller Eric Lichter, Jeff Kelly, Scott Vanderpool, Joe Ross

I didn’t know my life was about to become Pajama-fied. Of the label’s remaining thirty-five releases (between 1982 and 1999)  fifteen of them would be by The Green Pajamas or one of their members; usually the brilliant Jeff Kelly. The Pajamas were one of only two bands I ever had a real contract with (The Life was the other). The Pajamas deal was that I paid for everything. I was going to be a real record company, just like Warner Brothers or CBS, honestly! Besides that, I was managing them, I was their producer, their recording engineer, I was booking their shows, I was their publisher.  It was fundamentally a conflict of interest situation, but no one else wanted to do it and it needed to be done. I was even Jeff’s best man at his wedding. Green Monkey to a large extent shifted from being the “Tom label” and became the “Jeff label”.

“When Green Monkey started we were releasing cassettes only. It wasn’t just because they were trendy. We just didn’t have the money,” Tom tells me. This was at the height of ‘cassette culture’-the first time in history artists had the ability to record themselves, then copy and distribute their work at an affordable price.  Major labels were releasing far more cassettes than LP’s at the time, and small labels and consumers relied on the cassette to get the music they liked spread more widely.

It was the golden age of the ‘mixtape’-a collection of people’s favorite songs, recorded from the original source that was kept for later play, given as gifts, or traded among friends. The wide availability of the cassette tape also freed up artists and small labels from having to manufacture large, set quantities of vinyl records that must be produced and most of them sold to break even.  If a person or label had the right equipment, cassettes could be released in modest or relatively large numbers. If the label copied either 30 or 300 cassettes, and they sold out, the label could go back and make more copies. There was a lot less risk of sitting on unsold merchandise.  Rapid cassette duplicating shops, who could copy dozens of tapes at a time, popped up all over the nation.

“I think the first 7” vinyl single Green Monkey released was ‘I Love You’ b/w ‘1/4 To Zen‘ by Liquid Generation in 1985. The first 12” vinyl release was another Green Monkey compilation called ‘Monkey Business’ that was released in 1986,” Tom says. “The Fastbacks, The Green Pajamas, Prudence Dredge, The Walkabouts, The Icons, Al Bloch and Arms Akimbo were among the contributors to the album.”

Monkey Business (Compilation) 1986

“The ‘Monkey Business’ compilation, which was actually released on the cusp of 1986, took everything up another notch,” Tom says. “My non-music life had been problematic, to say the least. I had a little construction business with a partner that I did not know was a cocaine freak. ‘Whoops! There went the money!’ I spent six months completing people’s kitchen remodels on my own. As I was getting to the end of all that bad voodoo, I wanted to bust out. ‘Monkey Business’ was the way I did it,” Tom tells me, adding “It was a serious piece of work to show what I could do. Unlike ‘Local Product’, this was mostly bands you could go somewhere and see”.

“It’s the compilation of emerging grunge bands called ‘Deep Six’ that everybody remembers from 1986,” Tom tells me… “but The Rocket gaveMonkey Business’ the prize for the best compilation that year. It did even better than those shitty old ‘Deep Six’ and Pop Llama Records12” Combo Deluxe’ compilations,” Tom says with a good-natured laugh. ‘Deep Six’ had included Green River, Malfunkshun, Mudhoney, The Melvins, Soundgarden, The U-Men and Skinyard -bands that would emerge during Seattle’s “grunge” era. Pop Llama Records’ ‘12” Combo Deluxe’ featured The Young Fresh Fellows, Red Dress, The Fastbacks, Moving Parts. Rob Morgan’s New Age Urban Squirrels and Jimmy Silva among others.

“Back in 1986, when ‘Monkey Business’, ‘Deep Six and ’12” Combo Deluxe’ were released, Seattle was Compilation City,” Tom says.

Green Monkey Records upped its pace in 1985 by releasing The Queen Annes, The Fall-Outs, Keith Livingston and both Icons albums ‘Masters of Disaster’ and ‘Live At The Hall of Fame’.

Although The Green Pajamas recorded a new single in 1985 it’s release was put on hold until May 1986. According to Tom, he kept the singles hidden in a closet and told everyone in the band except Jeff Kelly that the records had been held up in customs at the Canadian border. We were trying to be strategic,” Tom tells me. “We wanted to release ‘Monkey Business’ first and then allow enough time for the next Green Pajamas single to take over the attention.”

Kim The Waitress. 1986

The single included a song that is probably the most important release that Green Monkey has ever put out: ‘Kim The Waitress’. It turned the fortunes of The Green Pajamas and made Green Monkey Records a player on the local label scene. The song was a modest regional hit, and was played on college stations around the country…but it would find a bigger audience later.

In ‘Loser‘, Clark Humphry excellent book about Seattle alternative music culture he notes: “(The Green Pajamas) scored a regional hit in 1986 with the dreamy love-ode ‘Kim The Waitress‘, clocking in at over six minutes of ethereal innocence.  Dyer mixed a shorter version for airplay on (radio station) KJET, whose automation equipment couldn’t play tapes longer than five minutes.”  Tom tells me he made the shorter version simply by speeding up the tape a little and editing out parts, mostly during the song’ latter portions.

According to Jeff Kelly;
“We were performing at the time, but we weren’t getting much radio support.  KCMU (predecessor of KEXP) would play a little Green Pajamas once in a while, but we were still kind of a novelty. We weren’t ‘grunge’ so our music didn’t fit into anything like that…but Jonathan Poneman (later of SubPop) would play it when he was a DJ at KCMU on one of those late-night shows. We got on there, but never became any kind of a hit. I think in that sense local radio playing our version. The 1994 Sister Psychic version got played a lot locally.

Joe Ross also tells me  ‘Kim The Waitress’ was published by Tom’s ‘Half the World Publishing’  but Tom didn’t have the publishing machine to get the song out there. “One thing Tom made sure to do was to promote the single by sending it to almost every college radio station in the U.S.  “I wasn’t in the band at the time the record came out,” Joe tells me, “I was working as the activities co-ordinator at South Seattle Community College. We got a promo copy of it. Tom sent out about hundreds of copies. Anyone involved in Material Issue (who later covered ‘Kim The Waitress’ ) was probably in college in Chicago or somewhere else at the time. College radio around the nation received it, so there was some play outside of the Seattle area.”

Material Issue covered ‘Kim The Waitress’  for their 1996 album ‘Freak City Soundtrack,’  L to R: Jim Ells, Mike Zelenko, Ted Ansari

“I thought ‘Kim The Waitress’ could have been-and should have been- a  bigger record if I’d known what I was doing… or we just got lucky, but that’s how it went,” Tom says. “Kim The Waitress’ was covered by both power-pop trio Material Issue on their ‘Freak City Soundtrack’ and a notable video was created for it. Seattle’s Sister Psychic covered it for their album ‘Surrender, You Freak.  Ironically both covers were released in the same year-1994.  Andy Davenhall of Sister Psychic even sat in with the Pajamas on the live version of ‘Kim The Waitress’ that appears on the ‘Lust Never Sleeps’ album. “It was nice getting covered but I still like the original Green Pajamas version the best,” Tom says. He’s not alone in that regard.

In retrospect, Tom may not have had a huge publishing machine, but he was doing one of the most important jobs of a publisher-to get a song heard by as many people as possible and hope someone likes it enough to cover it or use it in TV, radio or film.  It’s a tried and true formula that is even more widely used today in the world of digital music. The only real difference is that small labels and unknown bands can do their own footwork without the expense of paying someone with PR connections, the costs of the physical product and postage costs that sending those copies to labels and publishers like Tom’s had to rely on. In the end, Tom’s strategy worked.

He then gives me some of the technical details that went into the recording of ‘Kim The Waitress’:
“The song was recorded on a Tascam 38-8 8-track in my tiny basement studio, with a Soundcraft 16 channel board with an assortment of inexpensive mics – SM-57, Sennheiser MD-421, etc. I think we tracked it with drums, bass, and 2 electric guitars. Vocals were overdubbed as was the sitar, played by the late Steve Lawrence. Mixing was done with minimal outboard gear – a couple of EQs, an Ibanez AD202 Analog delay. I think some kind of reverb but I don’t remember what. I did not own any compressors or other fancy outboard processing gear.”

1986 would also see another watershed moment for both Green Monkey and The Green Pajamas.with the release of The Green Pajamas’ second album, ‘Book of Hours’.  It had been two years since ‘Summer of Lust’ and the band had taken on keyboardist Bruce Haedt and Steve Lawrence on guitar. There had been considerable expectation that this album would be as good as ‘Summer of Lust’, or the single ‘Kim The Waitress’.

Book of Hours. 1986. Cover Art by: Ursula Bolimowski

‘Book of Hours’ was practically epic in its use musicians, including a choir, a horn section as well as Carla Torgeson of The Walkabouts playing the cello.  In 2010, critic Tim Peacock reminded readers that 1987 was the year “grunge” began taking hold in Seattle.  He wrote about ‘Book of Hours’  saying, “The idea of a Seattle band laying down a fragrant, patchouli-tinged psychedelic pop masterpiece in such a climate was brave at best.”

Elsewhere Peacock wrote:
“While ‘Book of Hours’ may superficially have been drenched in  Eau de 1967, if you’re expecting an unfocused sprawl akin to The Stones’ ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ then forget it because there’s also a modern-day energy at work here, not to mention Jeff Kelly’s redoubtable brilliant song-writing skills, all of which conspire to ensure the ...’ Book of Hours’ is an inspired listen over two decades on”.

It’s been three decades now, Tim.

Book of Hours’  set the stage for an even closer relationship between The Green Pajamas and Tom Dyer.It also became the first Green Monkey album to find labels and distribution outside the United States. The Bouncing Corporation in Germany released ‘Book of Hours’ in 1988, and Melbourne Australia’s Au-Go-Go Records released the album in 1989. Green Monkey and The Green Pajamas would continue to have albums licensed and released on labels across the world. Later releases would be picked up by Sugarbush Records in Britain, and Camera Obscura in Australia.

Between 1982  and 1991 the Green Monkey catalog grew to include more releases by The Green Pajamas, its primary songwriter, Jeff Kelly, Capping Day, The Life, The Purdins, Slam Suzanne, Goblin Market, and The Hitmen among others. By the end of 1991 Green Monkey Records had released  43 cassettes, 7” singles, and LPs.  Tom had either produced or engineered most of them. He decided it was time to shut the operation down…at least for the time being.

It Crawled From The Basement. 2009 Cover Art: Concept, Art Chantry. Photo: Tom Dyer

“What really happened.” Tom tells me, “was that I was doing too many things, to put it mildly.  I started teaching at the Art Institute of Seattle in 1989. I had no degree of any sort.  I decided that I liked teaching and I said to myself, ‘go back to school’.  At that point, I basically shut down the label and did go back to school. When I began I had no degree at all and ended up with a doctorate.  It was a fairly large project. I went to the University of Washington for a couple of degrees then I went out to Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island and got my doctorate…I’m not the kind of doctor you’d want operating on your leg,” Tom says jokingly.  “ I got my doctorate, headed back to Seattle and started up Green Monkey again. I’ve put out way more stuff now than I did the first time.”
Even while Green Monkey Records was ‘inactive’ the label still managed to release two solo albums by Jeff Kelly, Private Electrical Storm, mixed by Tom in 1992, and 1995’s Ash Wednesday Rain that Tom found time to master. Tom even edited and mastered The Green Pajamas ‘Carolers Song EP’ for its 2001 release on Urbana Illinois label  Hidden Agenda.  The EP would later be re-released by Green Monkey.

In 2009, after a 14-year ‘hiatus’ Green Monkey Records was relaunched with ‘It Crawled From The Basement’, a 47 song, two-CD set that included a 28-page booklet.  Tom says: It was a compilation that summarized the ‘80’s stuff. The CD was Green Monkey’s first release since Jeff Kelly’s ‘Ash Wednesday Rain’ in 1995.  It was a retrospective that marked the beginning of a new era. When ‘It Crawled From The Basement’ was released, Tom wrote: “This CD is the first of many new releases for the label, with re-releases of back catalog, various historical oddities and all-new material by GMR superstars on the way!”

Tom has kept his promise.

“Most indie labels never recoup the investment that they’ve put into their projects. That’s alright,” Tom says.  “I wanted to do ‘It Crawled From The Basement’  just so. I didn’t care how much it cost. I just wanted to make it how I wanted to make it. I spent $4000 putting out the compilation.  So I said ‘you know what? That’s really a lot of money to toss down the tube. You should recoup it’…but I didn’t come close to it”.  Tom says he didn’t really care about the loss.  He figured someone would come along and license the compilation.  Tom’s had a lot of luck licensing and distribution of his albums in the past.  He tells me he figured out how to make his product cheaply early on, and even makes a little money off his releases nowadays.  “My hourly wage is probably about 25 cents an hour,” Tom says, That’s a common wage modestly successful indie record owners usually make. “But I don’t lose money on it anymore”.

During our conversation, Tom tells me “I also do some publishing now.  I do it to help bands out but it’s really a question of what you’re going to do with it.  Most of the stuff we just get it played by people….we don’t get it covered. It’s just whatever royalties we can get from the internet.  You don’t get rich doing that! If you want to make some dough, you’ve got to get somebody famous to cover your shit. Jeff always wants people to cover shit, but I just don’t want to work that hard at it.” I say: ‘Jeff, that sounds like a fucking job to me.  I’m old now. I’m retired. I’ve worked hard.’ 

Since Green Monkey’s rise from the ashes in 2009 Tom’s friend and former bandmate Howie Wahlen has taken some of the burden off Tom’s go-it-alone work ethic.  I give Howie a call to get the lowdown:  He tells me:

“Tom and I met in the mid-‘70s. We kept in touch over the years.  He convinced me to join his band The Adults in 1980. I played with them for about six months. About two years later Tom ended up forming Green Monkey Records. After I left Peaches (the one-time national record retailer) he talked me into doing sales for Green Monkey. In about 1989 or 1990 I used to do record and tape consignments with all the record stores around Seattle. I also had my own small label at the time called ‘Other River Music. We put out two CDs; ‘Lightning Waltz’ by Like Rain in 1991 and ‘Bad Acid Comedy’ by The Malchicks in 1992.

Howie Wahlen.    Selfie by Howie Wahlen

Howie tells me he was booking some shows for The Green Pajamas around the time the ‘Ghosts of Love’ album came out in September of 1990. Besides doing consignment as well as managing the band Like Rain and his label, he says ”it was all kind of pulled together.”  He says he was also working with Terry Morgan, one of the most important independent promoters in Seattle.  “I took on booking at the New Melody Tavern in Ballard, which is now the Tractor Tavern,” Howie tells me. Terry had started an ‘unplugged’ event every Wednesday night.  I did that for a year.”

“Then I got a real job….one with a regular paycheck,“ Howie says. “That pretty much ended the consignment thing with Green Monkey. Tom shut the label down so he could study and eventually go off to Rhode Island.  When he came back to Seattle, I was a truck driver. Tom took a position as President of Argosy University, a small institution in Seattle that gives out master’s degrees.

Howie tells me that Tom called him one day after Green Monkey had been re-launched.  He says Tom asked him ‘Hey! You wanna do some stuff?’.  Howie says he was reluctant at first.  His truck driving job was really good, but it didn’t afford him a lot of time and the hours were horrendous.  “Tom asked me what I’d like to do.”  Howie says that he finally told Tom, yes, but this time he’d like to get involved in a more creative way. “I wasn’t really interested in doing sales. I didn’t I have the time or the desire to do it”

The two hashed it out and came up with Howie being in charge of video. “ It was a learning process, Howie says. “I was shooting, directing, editing, working as the videographer and doing all the production,” according to Howie.  “I happened to have archives from the late 1980s when myself and a friend had videotaped quite a few local bands. I’d forgotten about some of that stuff!” Howie tells me, he recently put together a video for the August 2019 release of  ‘The Incomplete Fabulous Stinking’ retrospective by The Chemistry Set.

“I happened to have a videotape of a show that the Chemistry Set played at The Backstage nightclub in Ballard years ago,” Howie says. “ I also had videotaped  The Life at The Backstage on a Green Monkey Night.  I’ve scaled back from the videos quite a bit, but I still help… What I do mostly is to allow Tom to pick my brain.  I’ve spent a lot of time in retail and working in warehouses, as well as booking shows.  He runs things by me and I give him my opinion. He bounces ideas off me and occasionally he’ll grab something from me and run with it.” Howie doesn’t mention that he also does a fair amount of writing both for Green Monkey and the press.  Besides video Howie was doing most of the updating of the original Green Monkey Records website and keeping content current. He usually set up the Album of the Month page with templates that Tom had already had set up.

I ask Howie how he would define his position at Green Monkey Records.  He laughs and says:
“One time Tom asked me that same question. I said ‘Gosh Tom, I’ve never been a Vice President of anything. You’re obviously the President, so can I be your Vice President?’  He said, ‘Sure! Why not?’ ”

Monkey Business III. (compilation) 2016

Since it’s relaunch Green Monkey Records has continued to release albums that had sat in the can for years.  The label has also re-released previously cassette-only tapes and long out-of-print albums. During the past decade, the label has released albums by Tom Dyer and the different configurations of bands he’s been in, The Green Pajamas, The Life, The Icons. The Goblin Market, Jim of Seattle, The Colorplates, Liquid Generation, The Queen Annes, Gary Minkler, Slam Suzanne, the late and sorely missed George Romansic,  Fur For Fairies, The Freewheelin’ Joe Ross, The Dehumanizers, AAIIEE. Amy Denio, The Chemistry Set…and that’s barely scratching the surface. Tom’s label has continued to release a total of three Monkey Business compilations, the second being in 2006 although one’s title is actually Monkey Business: Mach II released in January of 2016. It was made up of selections chosen by Howie, as was 2017’s Monkey Business III

This was obviously a great move because so many of the albums were initially put out on cassette tapes.  A newly mastered CD or a digital copy of an old tape is always attractive to fans of the original. Many of them were destroyed, lost or forgotten over the years. “I was worried about some of the older releases. I wanted them to have a public life again, Tom tells me.  I wanted to make them available so someone could find them if they wanted some really weird, obscure shit.”

“I  wrapped most of that up a couple of years ago.  There’s still a couple of little things, but I’m not much I’m worried about putting out old stuff.  I’m focusing on the new releases at this point.”

Tom Dyer at Easy St. Records with The New Pagan Gods.  Photo: Howie Wahlen

 

“I currently have a studio in my house,” Tom tells me. “I have a nice pro-tools rig but I don’t record whole bands that often. They usually don’t want to work that hard.  My own current band is ‘Tom Dyer and the True Olympians. (Tom Dyer, vocals and guitar, Joe Cason, keyboards and vocals, Gene Tveden, bass and vocals, and Tom Shoblom, drums, and percussion)  The band has been together since 2017 and has released two singles and one album and done two gigs.  “We’re working on our next album right now,” Tom tells me.
Tom’s been involved with other bands in the past couple of decades. Obviously The Icons were together when he first started Green Monkey and they held a reunion show and recorded an album in 2009 for the relaunch of the label. “
There was a 2 gig band of all improvised rock songs in 86 or 87 – New Pagan Gods – with a bunch of guys on the label, Tom says, adding “It was pretty fun”. In 1992 I put together a short-lived band called Beautimus, Tom says. They recorded 8 songs and did one gig In 2015 a different line up of New Pagan Gods recorded ‘History of NW Rock: Volume 1‘ and played two shows.  Tom adds “those shows were ‘so fun’.

I mention to Tom that I think Green Monkey Records has a very strong presence on the web.  The actual Green Monkey site is comprehensive and easy to navigate.  Aside from Green Monkey having a page for each of its bands, comments, albums of the month, direct downloads and a sales point the site also links to the websites that individual artists have put up themselves.  There are pages filled with what Tom calls his “rants” news and video. There is also a particularly fine hand-in-glove site at Bandcamp. 

 “I have fun doing it.  I do the parts that I like and if some magic thing happens and one of them gets picked up great!  If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. I like to make music that I like”.

Maggie Teachout

Tom gives it some thought and then says; “There’s stuff that I like better than others. Not every band that releases on the label are my favorite records, and I’ve put out a lot of them, you know? But I like all of them to different degrees.  I’ve been putting stuff out lately by kids. I put this record out by this 18-year-old girl from Olympia named Maggie Teachout. Tom tells me “Maggie has super-catchy pop songs. We haven’t done anything yet; I think only three shows in Olympia to promote the album. She didn’t care.  She just wanted to make a record, so I said ‘Let’s make a record!’ “It was really fun to do” Her first album, ‘Maybe I’m Still Peter’ was released on Green Monkey Records in August of 2019.”

Later I do a bit of research on Maggie and find out she grew up in Olympia around traditional American music. She was somewhat of a child prodigy who first started playing music when she was four years old and has been a songwriter since she was 13. According to her official bio “she is known in Olympia music circles for her powerful voice and moving lyrics,”  The bio also mentions Maggie’s passion for social justice, in several of her songs including ‘Waltz for my Daughter’ which features both Maggie and her younger sister, Ruby of The Bow Weevils...a teen band that plays old-time music, traditional music, fiddle tunes, and ballads. Maggie’s bio describes her first album as a mix of traditional American music with indie-pop.  That’s a near-perfect combination.

Mike Refuzor 1953-2017

Tom says he’s also got Al Bloch to record a new CD which he thinks is a great accomplishment. “I love Al Bloch’s stuff, Tom tells me,” He hadn’t done anything for ages. He’s writing new material again”.  Al played at the Crocodile Cafe on March 3, 2018, with his old band The Cheaters (more or less) for the 40th reunion of Seattle’s first punk rock club ‘The Bird’.  Along with The Cheaters, Penelope Houston of The Avengers, The Enemy and Shagnasty, “The official Ken Trader tribute band” played.  The show was fantastic but somewhat of a damper was put on it shortly after it took place.

Local punk rock legend Mike Refuzor who had started his career at ‘The Bird’ attended the reunion that night.  It was his last public outing. Three days later he was found passed out on a neighborhood sidewalk.  He was taken to Harborview Hospital and found to have had a stroke. Mike had suffered a stroke several years earlier that left him partly disabled. He was also in very poor health. Mike never regained consciousness and his family had life support removed after realizing he was not going to make it.   As Tom put it “None of us get to stay alive, so…”

Since I’m talking to Tom in mid-September he whispers and tells me in his most covert voice: “I’ve just taken over the most important job in the northwest small label-dom. I’ll be releasing the new Richard Peterson album on October 18. “Popllama producer Conrad Uno threw in the towel so Peter Barnes called me up and asked if I’d do it.  I said “Sure! Why not?!!”

Now it’s late October and Richard’s new album ‘Seven’ has indeed been released.

For those not familiar with Richard there is little more to say than ‘Richard Peterson is a Seattle legend’.  For decades Richard has been a fixture on the street and at sporting events busking by playing his trumpet (NO CANADIAN COINS!).  He is a savant who not only plays the trumpet…he’s quite a pianist as well.  Aside from the streets and sports events, Richard can be found playing at galas, parties or even on stage opening for his friend Jeff Bridges’ band, The Abiders (yes, that Jeff Bridges).

Richard Peterson. Seven. 2019 Cover Photo: Eric Johnson

Richard Peterson’s new album. ‘Seven’, is credited to ‘The Richard Peterson Orchestra, but in fact, every note on the album is his own. For decades Richard has been fascinated with the music for Lloyd Bridges’ role from 1958 to 1961 in the television drama Sea Hunt, hence his becoming friends with Lloyd Bridges’ son Jeff.  Music for Sea Hunt was credited to ZIV, en entity that was actually a production company named after Frederik Ziv.  Frederik Ziv was a radio and television producer who worked from the 1930s up until the late 1950s.  The composer of Sea Hunt’s mysterious underwater music was actually the work of David Rose along with stock music created by other composers.  Richard aspires to the same themes and moods used in the old series.  Tom tells me that the entire Richard Peterson catalog is now available as digital downloads.

A fantastic documentary about Richard Peterson called ‘Big City Dick’ is must-see watching for Seattleites as well as those not familiar with the city. It was shot in 2004 and won The Slamdance Film Festival’s ‘Sparky Award for Best Documentary Film’ that year.  It’s a touching look at Richard and his quest for fame and acceptance.  It’s even more poignant knowing that Richard is now 15 years older than he was during filming, and though he does well-enough financially, he is, as he always says “still on the streets”.  The documentary is available to watch free at the Green Monkey website….jut look for the ‘videos’ section.

Directed by Ken Harder & Scott Milam. 2004

There are few if any eccentrics left in Seattle that rise to Richard’s status. Richard’s albums have never sold well, but he has a leg up on most other musicians.  Richard is happy to stand on downtown Seattle street corners hawking his records to strangers and passers-by. The volatile but talented poet and performance artist Jesse Bernstein is gone. The Doghouse is gone. Dark fantasy author Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire (perhaps Seattle’s oldest punk)  is gone.  Pre-grunge hangouts like WREX and The Gorilla Room, and the straight-friendly Tugs, Belltown are loooooong gone.  Upchuck in his punk-dandy outfits that he wore day and night is gone. The Comet Tavern is still there, but it’s not really ‘The Comet’. Dee Dee Rainbow, who dressed just as you’d imagine is gone. So is the unfathomable painter Jay Steensma and the cheap warehouse’s artists used to rent that have been torn down to make way for a new skyscraper district in South Lake Union. The Green Pajamas, who Tom and Green Monkey Records had been so inextricably tied to has more or less disbanded, although various combinations of the members still record. 

But there are a few pockets of Seattle’s past culture that remains.  The welcoming neon and flashing-bulbed Elephant Car Wash sign still stands at Denny Way and Wall Street. Improbably in the digital age, the ‘Read All About It’ magazine and newspaper stand at First and Pike is still there. The mighty art maven/provocateur Larry Reid keeps things alive at Fantagraphics Books in Georgetown. Tom Dyer (who’s been around Seattle since 1975) is still here and so is his pre-grunge label…and no Christmas party at Peter Barnes’ Clatter and Din studios would be a real event without Richard Peterson at the ivories.

Let’s back-up a minute to Peter Barnes’ Christmas parties, and Christmas in general.  Since 2009 Green Monkey Records has released 9 charity Christmas albums (one year a charity event was held instead of releasing an album).  Each year the label puts out a Christmas download featuring Tom, his friends, his label-mates, and in some cases artists who no one seems to know anything about.  The collections are fun and as Tom wrote in 2016:

OKAY, YOU JOLLY CHRISTMATOLOGISTS!

“Welcome to another non-denominational Green Monkey Christmas!  Here at GMR, we welcome everyone who likes a little Christmas music, regardless of race, creed, color, gender identity, religion, preferred football team and/or voting record.”

Green Monkey on My Back.
GMR Christmas 6. 2015

Each year the entire proceeds from the albums go to MusicCares. 501(c)(3) organization that assists musicians in need, whether it’s chemical dependency rehab or day-to-day need for elderly and abandoned musicians. Charity Navigator has given MusicCares five stars (their highest rating).  According to the MusicCares mission statement:

MusiCares provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need. MusiCares’ services and resources cover a wide range of financial, medical and personal emergencies, and each case is treated with integrity and confidentiality. MusiCares also focuses the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly influence the health and welfare of the music community.”

This year Green Monkey will be releasing two Christmas albums.  The first is  ‘Hail the Jolly Christmas Monkey: GMR #10’. It will include Tom-n-Joe’s Holiday Agnostics (Tom & Joe from the True Olympians), Olivia Bloch (featuring Kurt and Al Bloch), Utterance Tongue, Wendy Dunlap, Rendition, Levi Fuller; Jeff Kelly & Ed Portnow, Duane Hibbard, Joe Ross, Steve Trettevik, Richard Stuverude, and Cabeza. More artists will possibly be included, among them Richard Peterson. Ben London & Stagg, Steve Fisk, and Toiling Midgets.  Tom says there will be a limited run of 100 of Hail the Jolly Christmas Monkey on vinyl this year.

The second is: ‘The Best of Christmas Boogie Woogie – 10 Years of GMR Xmas’,  Tom says “Howie is picking the “best of” songs.  So far he’s not telling.  Both albums will be available on December 1, 2019.

Nowadays Tom’s life seems more relaxed.  “I’m coming to Seattle less since I moved to Olympia,” Tom tells me. “I’ve been down here in Olympia a little over three years.  The traffic between Olympia and Seattle has gotten so fucking horrible. I still come up to see a show when the traffic isn’t so bad because it’s not so crowded when you’re driving home… but you’ve got to avoid the drunks on the way. My mom lives near Seattle’s Green Lake in a senior home so I get up to Seattle at least once a month. It just depends.  I don’t hang out in Seattle like I used to, that’s for sure,” he says.  

Green Monkey still doesn’t follow trends. It seems that Tom and Green Monkey Records will continue to release solid, unpretentious rock and pop music…just as it always has.  Some people may constantly be in search of the newest, the biggest, the most transformative thing.  At the same time, there is time to take in a bit of ‘comfort food for the ears’. Not bland, but tasty, fulfilling and made with love. Green Monkey Records delivers that ‘comfort food’.

Green Monkey‘s pace may seem to have lessened a bit lately, but since the revival of the label in 2009 Tom’s released an additional  59 CDs, 1 LP, 10 Christmas albums, 14 digital singles, 2 digital compilations, 2 digital-only album:  The Heats ‘Live at The Showbox 1979’ and ‘November’ by  The Green Pajamas. ‘November’.  In 2013 it was released as a CD.

“That comes to 131 releases by my count,” Tom says. “Today I do the parts I like. That’s the way it is.  My plan is to just keep putting music out until I’m dead.”

So, some things remain the same-like that happy “stuffed but wise” monkey with arms raised in the air as it’s lumbering towards us to give us a big hug…sans the naughty bits.

NEXT. EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN PART TWO: THE GREEN PAJAMAS.

 

Author-Dennis R. White

Tom Dyer “interview with the author” (September 15, 2019). Howie Wahlen “interview with the author”  (September  28, 2019). Joe Ross “interview with the author” (October 3, 2019). Jeff Kelly “interview with the author” (August 30, 2019).  Eric Lichter “Interview with the author” (September 1. 2019).  Phil Hirschi “Interview with the author” (October 28, 2019) Laura Weller Vanderpool “interview with the author” (October 10, 2019).   Joe Ross “The Story of Kim The Waitress” ( https://tinyurl.com/rj76bfy  retrieved September 10, 2019). “The Green Pajamas Website” (https://thegreenpajamas.net/retrieved September 2, 2019) “Green Monkey Records” (https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/ Retrieved September 20, 2019). Michael Nelson&  Jud Cost “Q&A with The Green Pajamas” (Magnet Magazine, June 6, 2012). Art Chantry “Grunge: Just More Snotty Bratty Punk Rock” (Madame Pickwick Art Blog, September 15, 2011). Tom Dyer correspondence with the author ( September 20- October 24, 2019). Laura Weller “Laura Weller” (These Streets, June 13, 2011). Tom Dyer “Tom Dyer Artist (Tom Dyer Sound, https://tomdyersound.com/ retrieved October 3, 2019). Michael Sutton. “Capping Day Biography” (AllMusic.com,https://www.allmusic.com/artist/capping-day-mn0000539656/credits, retrieved October 12, 2019). Tom Dyer “Album of the Month: Richard Peterson and His Orchestra: Seven” (Green Monkey Records, https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/oct-2019-richard-peterson-seven/, retrieved October 10, 2019). Slim HineyTom Dyer’s New Pagan Gods- History of Northwest Rock, Volume 1” (Daggerzine, October 2019). Stephen Howell “Mr. Epp and The Calculations” (Mudhoney blog,  https://tinyurl.com/y4pbeqjz retrieved October 12, 2019).  GMR staff “The Colorplates” Green Monkey Records). GMR staff “The Colorplates”. (Green Monkey Records,  https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/artist-the-colorplates/ retrieved October 21, 2019). GMR Staff “The Icons” https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/july-2010-the-icons-masters-of-disaster/  retrieved October 20. 2019). https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/aprilmay-2011-the-icons-appointment-with-destiny/ Retrieved October 21, 2019). Lee Somerstein Recalling the Heady Days of Progressive Station KZAM  (The Seattle Times, April 1, 2005). Matthew Keller “Chlorocebus sabaeus:green monkey” (Animal Diversity Web, The University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Chlorocebus_sabaeus/retrieved October 19, 2019). Tom Dyer & Michael Cox “August 2009: “It Crawled From The Basement-The Green Monkey Records Anthology” (Green Monkey Records, December 2008, https://greenmonkeyrecords.com/aug-2009-it-crawled-from-the-basement-the-green-monkey-records-anthology/ (retrieved September 29, 2019). AllMusic“Green Monkey Credits” “https://www.allmusic.com/artist/green-monkey-records-mn0001085822). Steven Tow “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011). Howie Whalen “Interviews Tom Dyer For 1+1=?” (Green Monkey Records.com, May 30, 2019).  John Sharify “Seattle Construction Boom Bittersweet for Street Musician” (KING5 News, November 16, 2017). Peter Blecha “The Legend of Camelot Records” (Northwest Music Archives: Discography and Labelography, 2019). Clark Humphrey “Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story” [Updated Second Edition] (Misc Media, December 17, 1999).   Richard Cook & Brian Morton ‘The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings’ [9th Edition] Penguin Books, 2008). Jacob McMurray “The Metropolis: Birthplace of Grunge?” ( The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 19, 2009). The Newt ‘Seattle Sister Psychic Goes Against The Grain of Grunge’ ( Ear Of Newt, April 28, 2014). 1+1=? Cover Art by Tom Dyer. Jason Parham “What Haunted John Coltrane?” The Fader, Fall 2019).

PENTA LESLEE SWANSON

Penta Leslee Swanson in the kitchen. Paris 1996

“I should have been born in Seattle” Penta Leslee Swanson tells me. “Instead I was born in Wenatchee Washington on September 14, 1962, though I never lived there. My parents were visiting my grandmother in Moses Lake. At the time there was no hospital in Moses Lake so they had to drive almost 70 miles to Wenatchee.  That was the closest hospital…That’s where  I was born. The Deaconess Hospital in Wenatchee Washington

That first long trip was a prologue to the peripatetic life of the girl born Leslee Swanson.  Although she went by the name Leslee growing up and in the early stages of career, let’s dispense with the earlier name and use ‘Penta’ just to keep things clear.

“I knew from the time I was a child that I was a singer. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I always knew that was what I wanted to do. I grew up in a household with a sister who was 11 years older and she was a big Beatles fan. So I grew up listening to popular music… especially the Beatles. It was just something that I loved all my life. My mom raised me and two of my brothers as a single parent.  We grew up all over in Seattle. We moved all the time. We moved every six months to a year. It was nuts”.

 “I started in my first band when I was 13” says Penta, who was still known as Leslee to her friends and family. “We did cover songs. I don’t even remember the name of the band, but I was hooked. That was it. I got asked to be in other bands over the next few years, and sang in a couple of them. One of the bands I played in was with Richard Stuverud. He played with The Fastbacks for awhile in the 1980s. When Richard was in my band we used to call him ‘Dickie’.

“When I was 15 I had a boyfriend named Jeff Gilbert. He was really cute back then, and quite a bit older than me. He and I wrote songs together and I did my first recording with him when I was just barely 16  at a studio on Queen Anne Hill called ‘Big and Famous Studio’ We recorded about 6 or 7 songs. I actually have cassette copies of the tapes. The songs were super-pop. I think Jeff was trying to go for a Beatle-esque kind of thing. even though he was a big Rolling Stones fan. It was really cute, really sweet music Jeff Humphrey from the Seattle band The Moving Parts drummed with us sometimes.  John Nay who’d go on to play in The Lewd and The Frazz also recorded with us.

As improbable as it may seem the Jeff Gilbert that Penta mentions is the same Jeff Gilbert of Seattle heavy-metal fame. Jeff wrote about metal bands for The Rocket, Playboy, Spin, Britain’s Kerrang! and as a contributing editor for Guitar World. He was manager of  Seattle’s Mansplat Record Store and managing editor of their magazine, Mansplat! He compiled a series of ‘fanboy’ movie reviews from Mansplat! Magazine called ‘Drinkin’ & Drive-in: Horror, Sci-Fi, Beer Vol. 1.’  According to Viral Recordings blog ‘...the reviews are offbeat, darkly humorous and wickedly insightful”.

Jeff Gilbert outside The Feedback Lounge in West Seattle.

 Jeff is also the author of ‘Trick or Shriek’ and ‘Camp Vampires’ two schlocky booksfull of horror movie clichés and teen-age terror…on purpose.  In fact, Gilbert  has plenty of serious journalism under his belt.  He was a long-time disc jockey for Seattle’s KZOK radio and  introduced his listeners to unknown metal bands that would go on to be stars. He also gave the local guys airplay. He was one of the co-owners of Seattle’s rock hangout/bar The Feedback Lounge. The bar lasted from 2009 to 2015 and was a “must visit” for music fans, and tourists taking in the Seattle music scene.  Jeff might be best known for the ongoing appearance on the ‘Lame List’, self-deprecating sketches on Almost Live!,a local show that aired between 1984 and 1999 on Seattle’s KING TV.

Local comedian John Keister’s hosted the show from 1988 to 1999, which is the era the show is best known for.  Almost Live!  was later re-edited to remove ‘local place-names, and broadcast on Comedy Central. It should be noted that Almost Live! also launched the career of Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

In short, Jeff has more Heavy Metal cred than many of the musicians he writes about.  He also has a wicked sense of humor.  He once said;

“Grunge isn’t a music style. It’s complaining set to a drop D tuning”.

Back let’s return to Penta’s story;
“One day Jeff Humphrey, the drummer from The Moving Parts came in while we were recording and said ‘You guys should hear this single that just came out, because you guys sound a lot like this! It was The Pretenders‘Kid’. So of course I fell in love with The Pretenders right then and there.

“I was working at Tower Records by then” says Penta. (Jeff Gilbert had worked there previously). “I was the youngest employee there. They put me in the back room re-sealing records that customers had returned.That was my job because nobody else wanted to do it”. Bill Larsen, who worked with Penta explains that Tower Records used to say ‘if you don’t like it, just bring it back‘.  When records got returned by customers we’d just send the returns down to the basement where there was a re-sealer.  So the records got re-sealed and we put them back on the racks” he says while laughing”.

“Bill Rieflin was also working in the back room at the time” Penta tells me. “He was the shipping and receiving guy.  That’s how I met him.. “Now he’s one of my best friends.  He never talked about being in a band or anything.  When I went to see Iggy Pop at the Showbox in Seattle, Bill’s band opened for Iggy…and there was Bill up on the drums. I thought ‘what are you doing up there?‘ (she laughs).  I had no idea. The band turned out to be The Blackouts. It was their first show”.

“So that’s how I got started” says Penta”.

While she was still in high school she started going to more shows.  Penta says she learned a lot more about music by expanding her experience of new music.  She also admits getting into bars and other places that she wasn’t supposed to get into because she was underage.  Later Penta moved into a house with some of The Blackouts and others who were or had been Seattle’s earliest practitioners of new, alternative and highly original music. It was during the time she lived with them that she started The Dynette Set.

TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER The Pudz.
Rob Morgan, Mark Halterlein,
Dave Drewry, Dave Locksley

“Around this time I saw Rob Morgan’s group The Pudz” Penta says. “I just flipped. I just loved The Pudz. Then I thought ‘this would be so great, but with chicks” she says with a laugh. “So that’s how I got the idea for The Dynette Set. I thought ‘there’s this whole genre of music; this ‘girl group’ thing that nobody ever thinks about’. So I just put my ideas together and started talking to different people”.

There was lots to love about Rob Morgan and The Pudz as well as his later band, the long-running (now re-united) band The Squirrels. Over the years Rob has been backed by some of Seattle’s best musicians while he weaves in and out of pop songs and mashes them up at a dizzying speed.  It’s both comic and jaw-dropping in it’s expansive brilliance. Morgan careens onstage, makes his way into the audience, sometimes leading conga lines out the door, then back to the stage…all the while singing.

“One day at Tower Records Penta was re-sealing records” Bill Larsen tells me. “We started talking and asking ‘What kind of music are you into?‘ She said, ‘Well I’m really into the Beatles and Ronnie Spector,The Ronettes, and Darlene Love’ and I said, ‘Shit! this is what I’m into’.  Then she says ‘I want to start a band‘ and I told her ‘well count me in’.  It was kind of funny because I’d just met Dave Drewry a couple of weeks before that.  She told me “I have a drummer named Dave Drewry, so I told her ‘Yeah, I know Dave. I just met him.  He’s a great guy!’”

“Dave Drewry was the first person I talked to about it” according to Penta. “I said ‘I really want to put this band together and do something like you’re doing in The Pudz, but with women, doing ‘girl group’ stuff’. He loved that kind of music and he said ‘yeah, yeah, sure‘ just brushing me off.  Finally I made a demo tape at a studio that was then in Pioneer Square. I sang vocals over the top of Ronnie Spector and all those people. I played it over the phone for Dave.  He got excited and he said ‘Oh wow! These sound really great with you singing’. Dave said ‘You should talk to this person and to that person’ so I approached Bill Larsen, a guitarist that played in The Loud Ties. Then I talked to Riki Mafune. She was also someone that Dave recommended. I called her and immediately fell in love with her.

Riki Mafune remembers meeting Leslee the first time.  Riki now refers the young woman she met as Penta. the She says “I knew a lot of the people…Bill Larsen and Penta worked together at Tower Records at the Mercer Avenue store.  Before that Penta had worked at Budget Tapes and Records on ‘The Ave’ (the nickname for University Way near The University of Washington).  I knew Bill and I knew Brent Pennington because Brent and I were dating.  At the time Brent was in one of Seattle’s early punk-power pop bands The Girls. I was hanging out on The Ave a lot.  Bill and Brent already knew each other. Bill, Brent and Dave were walking musical encyclopaedias.. They had this musical bromance going on, which was cool. That’s how I met Penta.  Bill Larsen had heard Penta sing, but he hadn’t heard me. Rumor got around that I was a singer, songwriter and guitar player. Penta and I met at the frickin’ Frankfurter hot dog stand on University Way of all places.  We talked over Penta’s concept.  I knew The Girls were kind of on their last legs for a lot of different reasons.  Brent was looking for a gig and Dave was playing with just about every band in town.  He was heavily invested in Jim Basnights band The Moberlys and The Pudz. I’d known Rob Morgan of The Pudz forever!!!. I’ve known him longer than I’ve known Penta.

“Penta and I said ‘let’s put our heads together’. Dave Drewry was in.  Brent was in.  So  Dave and I went to talk to Penta,  Dave wanted to find a little bit more about what we wanted, so, Penta and I started talking about songs and looking into how to fill out the band, because we wanted that ‘girl group‘ format”.

It was 1980. Scott McCaughey was working at Cellophane Square Records in the University District. His girlfriend was Christy Wilson (later known as Christy McWilson after Scott and Christy married)  They had recently moved to Seattle from San Francisco.  Christy was working at The Deluxe Bar and Grill on Capitol Hill Broadway Avenue. Dave Drewry suggested her to Penta and Riki.  Dave only knew she was Scott’s girlfriend and that she sang.

“It all came together organically”. Says Riki.“Bill Larsen was already on board because he was totally into that genre and Dave Drewry was there..  Of course Penta and I were committed.

“Riki had done some songwriting”. Says Penta. “She was even younger than I was. After we met she said, ‘well I have this boyfriend and he’s played in a band’. It turned out to be Brent Pennington, who had been in The Girls, so he ended up being the guitar player. We did a whole lot of auditions for another vocalist, but nothing worked. People couldn’t sing; they thought they could, but they couldn’t. It was then that Dave said ‘there’s this woman that just moved here from San Francisco with her boyfriend. You should see about her. I heard that she sings’. Then we found out she was the same woman who was with Scott McCaughey.  Riki and I went over to her house to see her audition.

“Scott and Christy were living right off the freeway just south of 45th street. We were sitting there on their porch waiting for her”recalls Riki.. “I was the baby at 17 at the time all this was going down.  Penta was a little bit older than me. Christy said that when she walked up and saw us sitting on her porch she thought….well she later referred to us in a letter as  ‘teen queens’.  She thought we were chewing bubble gum, but I corrected her recently and said ‘No! We were eating Starbursts!‘ There I was  on her porch with my candy and my Marlboro Lights”

The three of them went inside and Christy put on a Connie Francis record and sang into an empty wine bottle, and danced around the room singing.

“We were like ‘who cares if she can sing? she’s hilarious!’. Penta says. “We thought she was great. Then she said ‘I have this boyfriend, and he plays the bass, if you need a bass player’. Of course that was Scott McCaughey. So that’s how The Dynette Set got put together. That was a really wonderful experience”

Their first gig was at The UCT Hall (United Commercial Travellers Hall) on lower Queen Anne Hill. It was Penta’s birthday, but she was still going by Lesslee back then” says Riki Mafune. “We literally took off from there. It was like a rocket! We opened for The Fastbacks.  Duff McKagan was drumming for them. We were nobody.  It was our first gig. It was a pretty good show, even though the crowd leaned a little more to the punk side than the pop side. But everybody seemed to dig us”.

It was probably this show and the nexus that would develop with Kurt Bloch and Scott McCaughey that led to The Dynette Set’s Christy McWilson, Riki Mafune and Leslee Swanson to provide back-up on two of The Fastback’s earliest recordings, ‘In America’ and ‘Whenever I’m Walking.

“I lived at Chez Macabre during this period” Penta says. Chez Macabre was a communal house that saw many of the early Seattle alternative scene had paraded through…too many to name here.

“Mike Davidson had just moved out and I took his room.  Roland Barker and Giselle Spence across the hall from me. Neil Hubbard and Mary Moyer were living in the basement.  Homer Spence was living on the main floor.  Mike Davidson and Roland Barker were in The Blackouts at the time. Roland became part of the band Ministry along with former members Bill Rieflin and Paul Barker. Neil went on to release the seminal album “The Seattle Syndrome” Volumes One and Two. He also released the first Blackouts album Men in Motion  on his Engram label. Giselle Spence would move to Hollywood and become a seamstress and costume designer for the film industry. Homer Spence was a former teacher who gave it up to become a member of the Telepaths and later a sort-of philosopher who drove cab and became one of Seattle’s most loved and respected bartender.  He was also a baseball fanatic who brought his television into the bar to watch every World Series.

Homer Spence. After work at The Virginia Inn.

According to Jeff Stevens of the City of Anxiety blog;

“Homer Spence deserves more than mere passing mention here, since he remains today a genuine legend within Seattle’s countercultural community. A native son of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Spence came to Seattle to teach (economics) at the University of Washington, but quit that gig to play music instead. He would then also work various common jobs to support himself, including cab driving and bartending at Belltown’s Virginia Inn. Spence died tragically of a heart attack on January 18, 1991. Homer is sorely missed to this day.

Kurt Werner had been a member of Seattle’s now-legendary band The Telepaths. His brother Erich Werner was a founding member of The Blackouts. Three of The Blackouts members, Bill Rieflin, Roland Barker and Paul Barker would later join Al Jourgensen to transform his synth-pop band Ministry, who had toured with new wave acts like The Police Culture Club, A Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode and Culture Club.  The four of them, with a bit of outside help from Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc turned Jourgensen’s original new wave band  into a caustic, severe,speed-dirge powerhouse. Ministry went on to be one of the most popular of the so-called industrial bands of the ‘80s and 90s.  Roland Barker was part of Ministry in 1986, but returned to the band in 1992 and 1993.  Rieflin left the band in 1994… midway during the recording of Filth Pig. Paul “Ion” Barker (a.k.a. Hermes Pan) remained in Ministry 27 years, when he finally broke ties with Al Jourgensen.  It’s said that neither will talk to the other since the band’s break-up.

Penta tells me about first meeting Paul “Ion”Barker, “I met Ion who was playing with The Blackouts the first show after bassist Mike Davidson had left the band in 1981. His brother, Roland Barker was already a member of the band.

Penta and Paul Barker
Seattle 1981

“Ion was an important influence in my life. A true artist. I had never been with anyone who had lived in Europe before.” He was so sophisticated to me, highly intelligent.” Penta tells me.  “He was real intellectual – the first I had ever met; not to mention him being extraordinarily beautiful and a brilliant musician.  We spoke,” says Penta,” and I told him he was a perfect addition to the band.”

That was all it took. I didn’t see him for the rest of the summer, but in September I went to Gigi’s Spence’s birthday party.  Homer Spence was my date. I saw Ion there. We began to talk to one another. “He asked me if I wanted to take a walk and I agreed. Then he asked me if I would go home with him.  I didn’t say good-bye to Homer…later I apologized to Homer for leaving him at the party but he understood when he saw Ion and I had fallen for each other.  Ion lived in a loft Belltown just above the Blackouts’ rehearsal space.. I believe that was a space rented to him by Danny Eskenazi (of the vintage store Dreamland). I had never been in a loft space before and I was struck by Ion’s style and the way he furnished his space. He told me he was a minimalist. He had purchased Homer’s vintage 1960s Dodge Dart with the push button controls on the dash. I was very smitten and impressed by him.  Ion had just returned from living in Germany for several years and spoke fluent German”.

“Ion used to buy me clothes and things that HE liked to see me in.” Penta tells me.  “He influenced my style a great deal. I would say that being with him is what inspired me to move to NYC and pursue a more artistic path than the one I was on in Seattle. I had been in The Dynette Set when we were together and he came to most of our shows. He was so unique looking that he really stood out in the crowd..” “After The Dynette Set shows were finished we would head over to a Blackouts show together. They usually played very late. It was a crazy combination. The Blackouts were always my favorite local band; all of them were extraordinary people.

I stayed with Ion until I moved to New York City. Shortly after I left, Ion moved to Somerville, Massachusetts with the Blackouts. I saw him in New York City several times after that . After he joined the band Ministry I got invited to their shows whenever they played in a city I was living in. We’re still in touch to this day. What a lovely man he is.”

“I stayed with The Dynette Set less than a year” Penta says. “I left Seattle in late 1982. I wanted to go to the big city and be in the arts community. I chose New York and just decided to go”. When I first got to New York I was just getting oriented, and getting over my culture shock.

According to Riki Mafune;

“After Penta left The Dynette Set, all we knew was that we were being offered gigs, so we did some auditions for a new singer which was really hard because the original line-up, as I said before, happened organically. We had all just really jibed. So in finding a third voice, a third front person we just lucked-out. We found Shelley Stockstill and she just stepped right in. She was there for the main run of The Dynette Set. She was such a workhorse…we all were, but she was totally invested, never missed a gig.  We were really lucky to find her because if we hadn’t found her I’m not real sure we would have continued”.

The change from Penta to Shelley seems to have gone unnoticed by some.  Shelley and Penta had similar looks and the same colored hair. “Well.she is taller than me and she’s younger..by nine years” Shelley says. “One night out when we were out in Belltown we found out we were both born in the same hospital; The Deaconess in Wenatchee.  They only had one birthing room!”

Sometime in the early 1980s Penta recorded a version of a song written by Jackie DeShannon called Each Time.  It had  been a 1965 hit for The Searchers.  Penta’s recording includes  Phil Motlet on bass, Dave Drewry on drums, Robert T. Dale on guitar, Bill Larsen on guitar and percussion and  Leslee Swanson on vocals. Engineer and co-producer with Steve Larsen was Terry Date. 

“That was kind of cool. We recorded it in a day”says Penta.”But it deserved more time. We recorded it at Steve Lawson’s studio with Terry Date.  Terry was the in-house producer at Lawson’s studio at the time. He went on to become a big local metal producer. Metal wasn’t really his thing but he knew how to get the sound. He was a really nice guy to us. Considering the time we had to do it in I thought he did a pretty good job.  We sent the demo to Gary Stewart at Rhino Records and he said ‘Yeah we’re gonna get it done.  We’re gonna put this track on one of our records’, so we said ‘OK! Great!!!”

The song Each Time appeared on the Rhino Records compilation The Girls Can’t Help It released in 1984. The date of the recording is unclear but it’s clearly after Penta left The Dynette Set.  There is also have a track on  The Girls Can’t Help It by The Dynette Set. The song is Seed of Love was written by Penta’s replacement Shelley Stockstill.  The band is the rest of the classic Dynette Set line up.  The track was produced by Jim Wolfe.  Both songs are as much fun as you’d expect coming from the young Leslee Swanson and from The Dynette Set. Although the album was deleted from the Rhino catalogue years ago, it’s still fairly easy to find through collectors on vinyl.

 

 

Penta continues her story by explaining how her name came about.

Penta and Eliot Crimson

“I was born Leslee Swanson, but now I go by Penta Leslee Swanson. Penta was just a word that came to me that I really liked. When I went to New York City, Kurt Werner came to pick me up at the airport. I knew who he was, but I had never met him before. I was going to stay at Jim Basnight’s place and Kurt was already living there.  At least  I thought his name was “Kurt so that’s what I called him.  The first time I did he said ‘my name is Eliot Crimson!’  I said ‘OH! excuse me’  I thought to myself  ‘well, where did that come from?’. Then he told me a little about the back-story which I don’t remember. I do remember him telling me how he re-named all of his friends in a book he’d written.  He changed the names of his friends into all these crazy names”

“I told him if I was ever going to change my name it would be to Penta. He said ‘PENTA??? Oh my god that’s Fantastic!’ He flipped over it. Jim Basnight was in Seattle at the time so Eliot took me out to see New York that night. We hit it off right away. I was crazy about him and vice-versa. Everywhere we went that night he introduced me as Penta and I really liked it. So I just kept the name and I’ve used it ever since.  I was 19 at the time. Later I figured out things about the name. In Greek it means five and I’m the fifth of five children and five is my birth path number in numerology.  When you add up all the numbers of my birthdate it becomes a five. My mother was an astrologer. She was quite a remarkable woman.  I grew up surrounded by psychics and numerologists and astrologers and palm readers and all that.

In 1983 Eliot and Penta  moved back to Seattle and spent a year living on Capitol Hill. “I wasn’t doing anything except being Eliot’s girlfriend”  Penta says. I was just dealing with Eliot because he was a handful! We’d sit around and play music together but we never did any shows. I did work with The Moving Parts for a bit. Damon Titus and I got together and started talking about possibilities, but we didn’t do anything.

“I went back to New York City in 1984, and right away I got involved in a cabaret group called Mader and his Biarritz Orchestra” Penta recalls. Mader (born in 1958 as Thierry Schollhammer in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France)  was the leader of a 13 piece band. “He played guitar and accordion and sang” says Penta. “I also sang and we had three violins, contrabass, woodwinds and horns, a flute and a clarinet …it was a wonderful band. It was really my dream. We were doing stuff from Brecht/Weill, and Edith Piaf, so I was singing in French and German, and of course some English. That was a really great experience. I’d been learning Piaf songs on my own for years. I just loved her work. I wasn’t taught French. I just sang it phonetically. Now I speak fluent French because I lived in France so long but I didn’t know any of it back then.

In the early 1980s Mader was playing clubs around New York City that included trendy hotspots like Danceteria, The Limelight and The Pyramid Club.  In 1984 he released a solo album based on his cabaret performances called Tangobidet.  It was voted best album of 1984 by the then-influential Details magazine.  According Mader’s official biography ‘He became an overnight cult sensation.  Somewhere between Yves Montand and Lou Reed, well out of the pop mainstream. Mader’s bold performances of Tangobidet in New York City’s main clubs fascinated audiences because of it’s timeless originality in stark contrast to the New Wave trends of the time’.”

Mader and Penta New York City’s cutest couple ,1984

At that time Details magazine also called Mader and Penta ‘New York’s cutest couple’.

After success in New York, Mader and Penta moved to Strasbourg, France. Mader had gotten a job offer to be be a producer at a recording studio there. “It turned out to be a total disaster” says Penta. “We hated Strasbourg. We only stayed there two months. Then we went down to his parent’s place in Marseilles and then to Paris. In fact we were travelling between Marseilles and Paris the entire time we were in Marseilles. That’s when I met Hector Zazou in Paris.

Zazou is a legendary figure in contemporary French music. He is adored in France and internationally recognized for his work that combined the work of popular western musicians with folk musicians from Africa, Asia and Europe.  He was a skilled musician and avant-gardiste with a cult following around the world.  Zazou was born Pierre Job on July 11,1948 in the town of Sidi Bel Abbès in Algeria while it was still a French colony. His father was French and his mother Spanish. After the Algerian war of independence his family was part of the 900,000 Pieds-noir (Algerian-born Europeans) that fled to France in 1962.  Many of the Pieds-noir settled in and around Marseille.  The French government was not prepared for the chaos such a large number of refugees that were a sudden influx to France.

Hector Zazou

There are many theories how the term Pieds-noir came about. The term literally means ‘Black Feet’ According to Le Dictionnaire Robert one possible establishment of the term Pieds-noir dates back 1901 to describe sailors working barefoot in the coal rooms of ships.  These sailors’ feet would be dirtied by the soot and dust of the coal they used to power the vessel.. Around the Mediterranean this often referred to Algerians working on ships. It was a pejorative label for Algerians until around the middle of the 20th century, when it began refer to the French born in Algeria. It slowly went from a racial epithet (used against native-African Algerians) to become synonymous for the French people who had colonized Algeria.

In the mid 1960s, after Pierre Job’s family having been evacuated from Algeria, Pierre re-named himself to Hector Zazou and founded an artists’ commune that occupied a ruined castle near Marseille. He had chosen the name Zazou’ to refer to a non-conformist youth movement during the Nazi occupation of France.  The Zazou’s were similar to the Zoot Suit culture of the United States, but they had a political bent, and were defiant (as much as they could be) toward their German occupiers.  It was a way for the former Pierre Job to show his defiance to the norms of music and culture.

Mader had been part of Zazou’s commune in the 1970s before striking out on his own, but he and Zazou had remained friends since then.

 “Zazou heard me sing, and he loved my voice” says Penta. “Right away asked me if I would sing in his band. I said ‘Yes! of course!’ and I ended up doing a little tour with them in Europe during 1986. The band was fronted by the well-known Congolese singer Bony Bikaye.

Bony Bikaye and Hector Zazou

Bikaye was not what one would think of as a typical, traditional African artist.  His musical interests included  Krautrock and Karlheinz Stockhausen. He was also an early advocate of using synth-loops, sequencing. the latest electronic studio techmiques and wild avant-garde musical themes.

Later Pitchfork magazine said of his collaboration with Hector Zazou on the 1983 album ‘Noir et Blanc’ (Black and White) ‘The electronic musicians Guillaume Loizillon and Claude Micheli (collectively known as the duo CY1), laid down knotty sequences and gurgling metallic textures while Bikaye multi-tracked his voice in warm, woozy layers…They sound wonderfully alien: weird, vine-like tangles of arpeggiated synthesizer and sweetly harmonized vocals, robotic and ghostly all at once’.”

During the European Hector Zazou/Bony Bikaye tour that included  Penta, Bikaye left most of the studio effects and electronica behind in favor of a more Afrocentric approach to music. Instead of the “weird, vine like tangles” he favored African Pop infused with European overtones.

“There were two African backup singers touring with Bikaye who had really great voices” Penta says. “We sang in Congolese dialects, Lingala, Kikongo, Swahili and in French.  I had no idea what the hell I was singing.  It turns out it was very heavy political stuff.  It was really great and a really fantastic experience”.

Meanwhile Mader had returned to the United States where he began building a career as a respected soundtrack composer for film and television.  He combined his fascination with the music of Ennio Morricone, Henry Mancini, Nino Rota, Maurice Ravel and French popular music of the 1920s that he’d heard as a child from his grandparents collection of of old 78rpm records.  He infused these influences with his own unique musical sensibilities.  It wasn’t long before he started scoring for important indie films by respected directors.  Starting with Ang Lee’s films ‘The Wedding Banquet’ and ‘Eat Drink, Man Woman’. He went on to score Robert Greenwald’s ‘Steal This Movie’ (based on the life of Abbie Hoffman), Duane Baughman and Johnny O’Hara’s documentary Bhutto, about the life and assassination of the late Pakistani leader Benazir Bhutto, Alexandre Rockwell’s In The Soup, and Lisa Sprecher’s Clockwatchers among scores of other television and film projects.  He even found time to record and release a second solo album 5 Legged Fish in 2013.

Back in France Penta, as well as other Seattle-based musicians Bill Rieflin and Fred Chalenor continued to work with Hector Zazou. Bieflin and Chalenor worked with  Robert Fripp, Matt Chamberlain, Hector Zazou and Pete Buck as part of the Slow Music Project in 2005 and 2006. Sadly, Chalenor passed away June 23, 2018 of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.  Chalenor had collaborated with Wayne Horowitz and ex-Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper as well as being a member of the band  known best known by Seattleites, 3 Swimmers

Shortly after her tour with Zazou and Bikaye Penta returned to New York City where she met her first husband Carlo Altomare.

 “I met Carlo through a friend of mine that I was living with on Manhattan’s Lower East Side” Penta recalls. “Her name was Karey Degnan but she used to call herself Cruella De Ville. She had her hair like that and it was awesome”.

Cruella DeVille was well- known throughout the Lower East Side for years.

“We were high on mushrooms and we were crossing the street at Avenue A and 8th Street” Penta tells me. “Carlo was walking in the opposite direction and we met in the middle of the street. Later he came over to Karey’s and when I moved he kept following me wherever I went. So we got together pretty quickly”.

“We lived at the Alchemical Theater space. We were squatting at the Alchemical Theater space for three years. We built the theater at this squat and it was really fantastic. It was harsh, but it was awesome. Later we lived at The Living Theater’ Penta says laughingly. ‘We even lived with Gordon Raphael and Josie Lazo for awhile!”.

Penta and Carlo Altomare Photo: Ira Cohen

“Carlo had been the musical director and the one who did the music for The Living Theater.  “He and I also worked with Tim Wright of Pere Ubu. We had a trio at the time and collaborated together for the live for the music accompanying for The Living Theatre’s production of ‘The Tablets” Penta says.’The Tablets is amazing. It was such a new thing at the time…that would have been around 1986. Anyway, Tim Wright played the bass, I played all kinds of crazy percussive instruments and did my magic with sounds and voices. Carlo played piano which is his specialty. Carlo is amazing. He composed the music for The Living Theater for many years. He’s also a modern classical composer and pianist”

“The guy who wrote The Tablets is Armand Schwerner” Penta tells me. “He was the cousin of Michael r.”

Michael Schwerner, along with Andrew Goodman and James Cheney were abducted and murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in June of 1964. The three of them were involved in the civil rights ‘Freedom Summer’ and on their way to an event in Meridian MS. They were pulled over for speeding outside Philadelphia Mississippi. The three were taken to the local jail, where they spent several hours. After being released the trio were followed by the police and a group of angry racists and Klansmen. The three were stopped again, but this time they were taken to a remote location and murdered. Schwerner and Goodman were shot in the heart and Cheney ( black man) was severely beaten and castrated before being killed by three shots. Their bodies were then shoved back into the Ford Station Wagon they had been driving and taken by the mob where they buried the men within an earthen dam that was then under construction. The car was later located in another location where it had been set ablaze.  The whole affair and original acquittal of many who took place was one of the most profound incentives for all Americans to come to believe Equal Rights were also the natural rights of minorities.

Penta as Mother Courage
Mother Courage and Her Children
U of O Robinson Theater March. 2018

The Living Theater is still going, even though Judith Malina who co-founded The Living Theater passed away in April of 2015.

Malina and her husband Julian Beck had started the theater company in 1947.  The first piece they did was written by Pablo Picasso.  They were a radical political theatre troupe that rose to prominence in New York City and Paris during the 1950s and 60s. The Living Theatre was originally established as an alternative to New York’s commercial theater and pioneered the unconventional staging of poetic drama. They produced plays by William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, John Ashbery, Paul Goodman and Kenneth Rexroth among others.  They also presented plays by Europeans whose works were rarely seen in the United States. These included Jean Cocteau, Bertolt Brecht, Luigi Pirandello and Federico García Lorca.  Julian Beck died in 1985, leaving his wife to capably run the theater for the next 30 years. In1983 The Living Theatre and its founders were the subject of the 1983 documentary Signals Through The Flames.

The Alchemical Theater has also come into prominence.  Aside from their own company they offer space at the re-named Alchemical Studio for several other theater companies to rehearse and perform.  Besides being it’s founder, Carlo Altomare, Penta’s former husband, is now it’s Artistic Director

.I was doing theater for quite awhile in the late 80s, but then I started writing songs” Penta says. “Jeff Cerar had moved to New York City and I played with him for awhile.  We did my songs and he accompanied me on guitar.  We’d do bar gigs around the East Village. That was really fun. It was kind of a weird fluke that we happened to find out we were both in New York at the same time.I don’t remember how that came about.  Somebody must have told me. After a short period performing with Jeff Cerar, Penta set her sights on the theater again.

“I did a show in New York City with Sharon Gannon, David Life and Kathleen Hunt at The Limbo Lounge in the East Village” Penta says. “I was working with Sharon at the time at David Life’s Life Café. “I performed in the nude and sang accapella..just making noises and sounds and sang doing all sorts of crazy stuff with my voice. It was really wild. Sharon and Kathleen danced. I had painted all my body white and did accents on my breasts and accents on my pubic area. It was funny because Eliot had come to see that show and he brought Larry Reid and John Bigley with him.The U-Men were in town playing. They opened for Nick Cave at Danceteria.

Penta then began a collaboration with Tuxedomoon bassist Peter Principle (born Peter Dachert, in 1954 in Queens, New York).

“Peter produced a bunch of demos for me when I was in New York, right before Carlo and I moved to Prague. He was an amazing guy and a great musician. I had a bunch of songs and went to his place.  He had a recording set up; a reel to reel,  so we recorded six of my songs. I played accoustic guitar and sang.  Peter played all the other instruments”.

Unfortunately Peter died July 17, 2017.  His friend and bandmate Blaine Reininger, posted a message on facebook that said Peter ;was found in his room at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels, where Tuxedomoon has been preparing a new tour and new music. He was the apparent victim of a heart attack or stroke’.

In 1990 Penta made another trip to Seattle.  Carlo followed her and in that year, where their daughter Casimira was born.  Soon Penta was back to work, While Carlo played briefly with the band Sky Cries Mary, alongside  Ivan Král .  Penta says she remembers Ivan used to call Carlo ‘New York; He’d call out to Carlo by saying ‘Hey!.New York!”

“In 1991 when I was in Seattle, I went into the studio with Bill Reiflin, Mike Davidson and Ivan Král. We did three of my songs and a couple of Ivan’s songs. I remember one of his songs was called ‘Cry For More’  (the song Bill Rieflin mentions) and Ivan had me sing lead vocals on it.  Ironically I saw Ivan Král again in Prague because after they’d opened the borders he went back there to play music.  A good friend of mine in Prague played with him, so I saw Ivan again”.

“We did a live gig together in Seattle” continues Penta.  “Ivan Král played guitar.  I don’t remember who played drums.  Mike Davidson played bass.  Bill Rieflin was kind of upset when I told him we did the gig.  He asked ‘Why didn’t you ask me to play drums?’  I said  ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t think you’d want to’.  It was for the ‘Alternative to Loud Boats’ event  that is held every summer when the Hydroplane races take place in Seattle.  It was held over by Seattle Central Community College on Capitol Hill.  I did that show a couple of times; once with Jesse Bernstein.  That was really fun. Another year we held it down by the railroad tracks somewhere, and the trains kept passing by (laughs) It was terrible.

In 1992 Penta and Carlo and moved to Prague.  Carlo had been offered a job as a Theater Professor at The University of Prague.  Penta  convinced Mike Davidson to move there with then. Mike was a ‘super-good friend’  according to Penta. He lived with Penta and Carlo when they moved there. He and Penta did  a lot of shows together in Prague…just the two of them on their own.

“Oh my god, it was totally wild in Prague!!” Penta tells me while laughing. It was right after The Velvet Revolution that freed the country from Communist rule.  “Some people told me it was like Amsterdam in 1968. We rented a place that cost us about  $42 a month. Prague is a great city, but I was really glad to get out too.  While I was living there I was going to Paris and working with Hector Zazou on a regular basis.  I ended up doing an album that he produced in Paris while I was travelling back and forth from Prague.  It was about half my own songs and half covers.  His treatment of the music was really interesting.  The album was called ‘Sorrow and Solitude‘. Zazou did a really fantastic job on it, but it really wasn’t me”  Penta says.  “It was very different than what I probably would have done myself, but it’s a beautiful record. Zazou had his own studio in Paris during the early 1992, but it wasn’t released until 1993 on the German label, Erdenklang.

Penta may be understating what she and Zazou came up with in recording ‘Sorrow and Solitude’ 

Ira Cohen (February 3, 1935 – April 25, 2011) was an American poet, publisher, photographer and filmmaker. He spent the 1960s living between in Morocco and in New York City.  Penta met Ira through her husband,Carlo Altomare in New York City during the mid 80s.  Later Penta  introduced Ira Cohen to Zazou.  She also introduced Bill Rieflin to Zazou.  Ira took the cover photo for ‘Sorrow and Solitude’ and wrote some of the notes for the album. including;

“Imagine whatever you will, but know that it is not imagination but experience which makes poetry, and that behind every image, behind every word there is something I am trying to tell you, something that really happened.” -Ira Cohen”.

“Ira wasn’t a musician” says Penta but I used his poem Annapurna Moon for my song on Return to Alpha.

“On Sorrow and Solitude, Penta Leslee Swanson bares her sole with her voice” reviewer Lynn Freedman wrote in 2006. “Picture a dimly lit alley way in Paris on a warm summer night. A haunting sax leads you into a small, unpretentious bar. Just you, the bartender and the jazz combo. On the stage a sultry singer is at the mike. She sings slowly and deeply, with eyes cast down.
Sorrow and Solitude
is bluesy, moody, and unlike anything you’ve probably heard. Music for times of deep reflection, or deep relationships.”

I’m not sure if she’s being tongue-in-cheek or serious when Penta tells me “I missed  the whole “grunge” thing that was happening in Seattle. but  I do remember seeing Nirvana all over on European television.

“After we moved to Prague with our daughter we had a friend there named Vladimir Penta says. “One day Vladimir asked (here Penta goes into a fake Russian/Slavic voice). ‘Why are you naming your daughter Cazz-ee-meer-a?’ We said ‘Because it means ‘the bringer of peace’ which is what I thought. Vladimir said ‘no,no,no. Vlad-ee-meer is bringer of peace. Cazz-ee-meer-a  is ‘BREAKER of peace.  Penta says they all had a good laugh, since they’d chosen Casimira because to Carlo, as an Italian-American thought that it sounded more Italian than Slavik”.

“By that time I was really just doing my own stuff. I had a band in Paris simply called Penta at the time and I went through different band members over the next few years.  Hector Zazou did a couple of shows playing in my band. I also did some recordings that were possibly going to be on one of his albums, Chansons des mers froides (Songs from the Cold Seas). He record three songs with me, but none of them came out on the album. I have the demos I did with him.

James Trussart with his Rust-O-Matic Fleur de Lys SteelCaster guitar.    2013

“In 1994 I split up with my first husband Carlo.  I went to Berlin to think about the path I was going to take” Penta says.  “I had a German boyfriend in Berlin named Tenta. Really. It was Penta and Tenta! No one believed it!  Then I relocated to Paris full time. In 1994.  I met James Trussart, who became my second husband. Our first date was on my 32nd birthday, September 14th 1994.  James is a world-renowned guitar maker- a Luthier who has become much like the 1960’s British Luthier named Tony Zemaitis. James makes amazingly beautiful guitars. I think he’s the greatest guitar maker in the world. I’m slightly biased but I do think he’s the greatest. They sound fantastic!”

Zemaitis was born Antanas Kazimieras Žemaitis in London in 1935.  His family was Lithuanian was of Lithuanian descent. He started making and selling his guitars in 1960, but in 1961, he came to the attention of many (mostly acoustic) stars of the day.  After experimentation he began making innovative electric guitars  started to be approached by famous players who wanted to use his guitars. In the 60’s and 70’s he was building custom guitars for the likes of Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood (Then of The Faces), Keith Richards, and George Harrison.  Zemaitis became even more famous after 1971, when asked a well-known gun engraver by the name of Danny O’Brien to do beautiful engravings on the metal-bodied guitars he was becoming known for. He was working for so many famous musicians that it’s said that George Harrison called him one day to ask about making him a new guitar.  The phone was answered by Mrs. Zemaitis, who told Harrison, ‘Oh, no no no! He’s far to busy!’

 Trussart followed in Zemaitis’s footstep, but taking it a few steps further.  His metal bodied guitars are sometimes engraved, but he also creates designs that include unusual materials and oftentimes guitars that are rusted, or meant to rust over time. Above all, his guitars, like those of Zemaitis’s produced beautiful tones…after all, anyone can paint or jazz up a guitar, but it’s proof is in the quality of it’s sound.  Penta calls James Trussart the greatest living guitar maker.  This opinion is held by many many guitar players.

James put a studio together in our house” Penta recalls. “It was a  beautiful five storey house in Barbes-Rochechuart  just off rue de la Goutte D’or. (Street of the Chest of Gold)  near Montmartre.  It was closed off to the public in a place called Villa Poissonnière (Villa Fishwife). We lived at nombre 3,Villa Poissonnière. We sent my daughter to l’École Foyatier, a school near the the foot of the funicular line that runs from the bottom of the La Butte Montmartre (The Montmartre Butte) near rue Foyatier to La Basilique du Sacré Cœur (The Basilica of The Sacred Heart, often shortened to Sacré Cœur-pronounced somewhat like sack-Ray Coor in English) at the top of  Montmartre  Mike Davidson had moved from Prague to Paris along with Penta. He worked, recorded, engineered and played in Penta and James’s home studio.

Bill Larsen and his wife visited Penta and James at Villa Poissonnière. He recalls;

“James Trussart is a good guy; a real interesting guy.  We stayed at their place a couple of nights. James, of course, is a guitar builder…he builds incredible guitars.  He also refurbished the house they lived in.  It was like a row house; all brick and probably 150 or 200 years old. There was a facade and everybody had their separate key to their houses. James bought one of those places and totally gutted it. It was literally five storeys tall with a sub-basement. He totally gutted it to a shell, then rebuilt the whole thing. He’s really talented. He was buying a lot of the materials at flea markets (le marché aux puces) around Paris. He’d find an old pile full of interesting things. He put a spiral staircase in the center of the house toward the back.  It was funny because one step was concrete and he said ‘I only had one mold that I bought at a flea market, so I had to mold one stair at a time’’. It was pretty cool”.

 “It was like a fairy tale for me” says Penta.  “I did a whole bunch of recordings over a period of seven years in the studio  that we had built in the house..  It was a 16 track Fostex tape machine and a Mackie board. It was really ,but it sounded  great.  I had all kinds of incredible musicians passing through that were playing in Paris that I or play with. The results of seven years recording led to Penta’s unrecognized masterpiece, Return to Alpha.

James and I used to get invited to all the shows, and get invited backstage, so I met all these incredible people over the years” Penta tells me. “I met David Bowie. I met Bryan Ferry. I met Marianne Faithfull. I met The Black Crows.  I met Bob Dylan’s band-but not Bob.  One  of the guys in Paul McCartney’s band is a friend of mine.  I’ve been backstage and meet all of those guys (except for Paul and Bob).  ZZ Top.  I met Elvis Costello (‘a real gentleman’ according to Penta), Nick Cave, James Burton and dozens of other well-known musicians.  I also met Radiohead when they came through Paris. They played a TV show that James had all-access to.  I got to watch them rehearse for the show! they were really people. Thom Yorke actually came up to me and introduced himself – very sweet”

Penta says she also met Elliot Murphy in Paris and became good friends. She calls him ‘a super-great guy’.  Murphy came to prominence about the same time Bruce Springsteen was starting to get attention. Murphy’s debut album Aquashow got phenomenal reviews from rock music critics as well as reviews in Rolling Stone, The New Yorker and Newsweek.  He too was set to be the “next big thing” but Elliot just didn’t get the fame and fortune that Springsteen got. Perhaps his songwriting was a bit too subtle, but he’s had a sizeable following over the decades, and was the subject of Jorge Arenillas documentary film The Second Act of Elliot Murphy. In 1990 Murphy moved to Europe and has based himself in Paris since then.

Chris Spedding and Penta

“I met Chris Spedding when he was doing the same TV show as I was” says Penta. “He was playing guitar with an early French Rock and roller named Dick Rivers ((born on April 24 1945 as Hervé Forneri). His name was pronounced Deek Rivers, after the character Deke Rivers that  Elvis Presley had played in the 1957 film ‘Loving You’.The French Dick Rivers had been an early French Rock and roller who modeled his persona and singing career on Elvis. The French Dick Rivers had started as the lead singer of the band Les Chats Sauvages (The Wild Cats) and singing on his first record in 1961 on his fifteenth birthday. The band became such a sensation in France, they even caused riots at their shows.  Rivers let the band in 1962, and set out on his very long, successful career over which he’s released  58 albums and 168  singles and EP’s

I think the show-but I’m not certain- was Poum Poum Tchak! (roughly translated as the sound of beating on a drum). I’d heard that Chris Spedding was there. Somebody said ‘yeah, you can go back and talk to him. He’s just in the back room over there’ I went in and he was sitting there by himself, kind of dozing off in his chair. I said ‘Hi!’ I didn’t say ‘I worship you‘, but I came close. I introduced myself and said ‘Would you play guitar with me?’ (Penta laughs). I just asked him if he would do it, and we became friends…and he did play on my album Return to Alpha! I also had some really great people on that recording. Alex Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten played on the album. He was friends with some people that we knew in Paris. I think we must have gone to an Einstürzende Neubauten show and met him. Other players were Ira Cohen, Mike Davidson, Bill Rieflin, Warren Ellis, Marc Upson, Larry Mullins, James Trussart, as well as about another dozen musicians.

les Rita Mitsouko.
Catherine Ringer and Fred Chichin

James had made a couple of guitars for Fred Chichin of Les Ritas Mitsouko. Chichin’s wife and co-founder of the band was Catherine Ringer. In the 1980s and 90s they were pop superstars in France and had success worldwide. We went over to their house a few times and they came over to ours. They were very nice. Catherine was very funny. She told us that when she got bored with Fred she’d send him off to a brothel to get rid of him for awhile. They were awesome”

When Fred Chichin died of  heart failure from cancer on November 28 2007 the whole of France was shocked and treated his death as seriously as the French have always done for artists like Edith Piaf, Collette or Maurice Ravel.  Sadly, Chichin died two months after his first diagnosis of cancer.

Penta picks up by telling me “The group Pink Martini came for dinner one night.  Another night all of Iggy Pop’s guys came over.  Iggy’s drummer, Larry Mullins played drums on my CD. Larry is fantastic”.

Coincidently, Larry Mullins also played live behind the duo Such in New York City. One half of the duo was Seattle’s own Upchuck.

“Chuck was amazing” Penta remarks a bit sadly.

 Another coincidence;

“Warren Ellis from The Bad Seeds and Dirty Three also played on Return To Alpha. He played violin on a cover of Jacques Brel’s ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’. (Don’t Leave Me) We had just finished recording Warren’s part on violin and we went upstairs and his wife Delphine was there.  She had also been in my band, Penta.  They were both there and we turned the television on, and there was Jacques Brel singing ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’.  It was insane!”

 “I have to say that Alex Hacke had a lot to do with the production of that album, as well as this other fellow, David Husser. He’s a French guy who helped me out a lot.  Bill Rieflin contributed a lot to  the song ‘Humans‘.  I was visiting Seattle from Paris and I told Bill I wanted to do something with him. He said ‘OK, throw a couple of things at me and we’ll see what happens’  I just had the bass line and the lyrics and melody for the song. He did a whole entire production around it that was awesome.  We ended up basically trying our best to copy what he did on Return to Alpha and we kept his rhythm tracks.  David Husser did the guitars and Alexander Hacke played bass on that, but Bill had come up with the arrangement. I have a recording of Bill’s original somewhere…just me and Bill, which I’d really like to have now.  Bill is amazing…just incredible.  One of the nicest people.  A really good guy too. Bill says:

Penta with Bill Rieflin. Eugene Oregon, July 2013

“My memory is a little hazy, but I recall working with Penta on at least two occasions: one was on the song Humans from her record Return to Alpha; the other was a demo for Ivan Kraal on his song Cry For Love. The thing these sessions have in common was how effortless they were. In both cases, everything came together really quickly with no futzing about.  Penta was very open and the overall flow of things was good.  And, great results!!  What more can you ask for?”

 Return to Alpha was a big birthing process and it took seven years to make” Penta tells me. “Like I said it was all those musicians who came through the studio in Paris. Nobody got paid. It was all done through the kindness of their hearts.  They were all incredible. Mike Davidson also played on Return to Alpha. Mike was a super-good friend of mine. He worked with me in our home studio.  He did some engineering and played bass.

“Unfortunately we had a falling-out, but I really love him and I still really care about him” says Penta.  “I would love to see him again. During a recent trip to Seattle I thought I was going to get to see him because I did some recording with Paul Hood of the Toiling Midgets.  Paul asked me to sing some French for him on one song they were recording.  Mike was supposed to be there and help us engineer it.  We couldn’t figure out how to do it and were having a hell of a time.  I ended up doing just the one song in French.  Paul Hood is somebody I played with when I lived in Seattle briefly for a year. Paul’s a dear friend too”.

“Charlie Sexton is a friend of James’ and James has made guitars for Charlie over the years. One night he came to our house in Los Angeles to see James about a guitar, and as he was leaving James gave him a copy of Return to Alpha He told Charlie it was mine. The CD had just come out at that time (2002). So, later that night around midnight I get a phone call from Charlie Sexton! He says to me, ‘Who are you and where did you come from? I’m listening to your CD in the car and I’m on the fourth song and it just keeps getting better and better!’ That was an unreal moment for me! Bob Dylan’s guitar player was not supposed to be calling me and telling me how much he liked my music!  Charlie still puts me on the list every time Dylan is playing somewhere near me. I’ve been backstage at Dylan shows so many times, but I have still never met him. I LOVE Bob Dylan; but I’ve had the privilege of watching Dylan and his band rehearsing!”

Penta and James Trussart, Paris

In fact the music on Return to Alpha defies genre.  In fact it may be an entire genre of it’s own.  One reviewer wrote ‘This music is incredible and her voice is mesmerizing.  Return to Alpha  can only be described as sultry and bohemian.

James Trussart who co-produced the album says  “I think it was a great project. I think it’s fantastic too. Sometimes when people ask me what kind of music it is I like I try to explain depending who’s asking me. What’s great about Penta is she’s very cultured. She’s a really fantastic singer.  I think she’s also a great songwriter.  I’m still happy that we made something like Return to Alpha together. It was a great experience.  It was a challenging experience for me, but I like that. It was also a chance to share the project with great people”

“The album was recorded in Paris” James continues. “We recorded it off and on at our house.  At the time I also had access to a great studio, kind of a jazz studio with a great collection of microphones. Most of her vocals were  recorded with a Neumann U87.  I was trying to capture a Julie London kind of recording. We had a chance to work with a few great guys.  They were all excited by the project. It translates to the audience.  There’s a  great version of ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ . At that time in France it would have been a really great chance to promote that at the time. But we were in the process of moving from Paris to Los Angeles. I gave a copy of Return to Alpha to this guy who was signing bands for Virgin Records but he didn’t ‘get it’” James then talks about his guitars;

‘It’s the same as kind of thing as fashion; the music and the instruments. I collect instruments. Not really to collect them but to use them in musical projects….like cooking.  Early on I put a guitar repair with some friends for three or four years.  I left but kept doing guitar repair by myself with a team.  I did that for ten or fifteen years. Then I moved to Los Angeles and I decided just to do my guitars. That’s what I’ve been doing since 2000.  I repaired and, tweaked a guitar that I made in 1992. It was The original SteelDeVille I made for Willy DeVille when he recorded  Backstreet of Desire.  He was a friend, and I was a fan of his. It’s funny to see what you did 30 years ago.  It all comes back and you. I look at it and it’s still great. It was a good choice of parts,of pick-ups and this and that’.

‘Lisa Johnson is going to take a few photos of my guitars to put in a book to be called Rock Star Guitars”. Says James. “Anyway, I do whatever crosses my mind. Sometimes I’m thinking about a particular guitar player and what he’s going to do with it..  It’s a way to put art into the accidents. The muse is just the art of it.

When I started making guitars I thought ‘You never totally reinvent the wheel’.  You take elements and things that have come before.  For instance I like classic contours.  It’s easy to re-design a personal contour but it’s always going to be around a classic contour no matter what. I think I add a bunch of new elements, not only for the  look, but for the sonic approach”.

Mike Davidson was also on Return to Alpha” Penta says. When I was re-located to Paris, Mike came along. He worked with me in our studio.  He did some engineering and played bass.  Unfortunately We had a falling-out, but I really love him and I still really care about him and would love to see him. When I was in Seattle the last time I thought I was going to get to see Mike because I did some recording with Paul Hood of the Toiling Midgets.  Paul asked me to do some French for him for one song they were recording.  Mike was supposed to be there and help us engineer it but he didn’t make it.  We couldn’t figure out how to do it and were having a hell of a time.  I ended up doing just the one song in French.  Paul Hood is somebody I played with when I lived in Seattle briefly. for a year. Paul’s a dear friend too.

“James and I permanently moved from Paris to Los Angeles in December of 2001. It was a better home base for his guitar business. All the guitar players lived there. He’s still there. We bought a 4,000 square foot Craftsman house in Echo Park when we were there. It was drop-dead gorgeous. Stained glass windows, all original woodwork, original light fixtures,  Everything just beautiful.  It was my dream house.  I just cried when I saw that house.

“While in Paris we had been dealing with a guy who lived in L.A.called Chris Romano” Penta tells me. “He was distributing James’s guitars, but he ripped us off really badly. We had been travelling a lot from Paris to Los Angeles and back to deal with the guitars. James had his guitars at Guitar Center and places like that. We got really screwed over by this Chris Romano guy. He kept telling us that we owed him money. Once he sent us a letter that said that he’d itemized everything and we owed him $97,000. I said to James ‘This isn’t right. What’s going on here?’ So I did all the math and found out that he owed us about $100,000. It was really fucked up. He and his wife both were really fucked-up. I won’t say her name but she used to be in the band The American Music Club”.

“We had to take Chris Romano to court.  He had to pay us back. and pay for the court costs and all of that.”

“I stayed with James for another three and a half years in L.A. and then we got divorced.  It wasn’t too horrible. We had a mediator. It was a very copacetic and fair settlement. I bought a little bungalow across the park from him. My daughter was  going to a private school..a bilingual school called Lycée LILA (Lycée International de Los Angeles). It was really scary where we lived and I was afraid to send her to public school in Los Angeles.  I thought ‘I’m just going to move‘ so I ended up moving to Bend, Oregon because some of my family lived. I hated it. It’s a beautiful landscape, but there’ nothing in Bend. It’s really conservative and just awful”.

“I ended up moving to Eugene Oregon and I’ve been there a long time, and I’m really tired of being in Eugene” Penta says. “I’m moving back to Seattle; that’s my plan. There’s a lot of theater in Seattle now…that’s what I do mostly these days. I’m with a theater company in Eugene, and I do a lot of shows.  I just did  Mother Courage and Her Children. I played Mother Courage. It was unbelievable.  I’ll probably be acting when I get back to Seattle, because I just love it.  I’ll still keep singing though.

The Spyd’elles.
Steve Larsen, Jeff Simmons, Penta Leslee Swanson

After moving to Oregon Penta and Bill Larsen (still in Seattle) hooked up with Jeff Simmons to form The Spyd’elles.  Jeff was a veteran of Seattle’s psychedelic era band Easy Chair. After playing The Seattle Pop Festival and opening for The Chambers Brothers, Cream, Blue Cheer and Led Zeppelin and hundreds of gigs throughout the Northwest Easy Chair were ‘discovered’ by Frank Zappa and his manager Herb Cohen during their sound check before they were slated to open for The Mothers of Invention at the Seattle Center Arena on August 24, 1968. They were impressed enough to fly Easy Chair to Los Angeles and a contract with one of two new labels Zappa had created, Bizarre Records.  After a few high-profile showcases studio sessions never materialized and the band broke up.  Simmons stayed in Los Angeles and ended up being signed to Bizarre Records as a solo artist and delivering two very fine albums.  The first was an incredibly innovative soundtrack to Naked Angels a biker/sexploitation film.  His second album ‘Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up’ included a host of Zappa regulars-and Frank Zappa himself.  Soon Jeff was touring and recording with The Mothers of Invention from 1970 through 1974, with a brief hiatus during the filming of Zappa’s film 200 Motels

Penta says; “Jeff Simmons. I love that guy. He is such an incredible musician.  He’s possibly the most incredible musician I’ve worked with besides Bill Rieflin. Jeff is just so amazing and I learned so much from him. He taught me a lot about singing. He taught me that I could do things with my voice that I didn’t know I could do. He encouraged me and pushed me and got me to sing songs that I never would have even thought that I could sing. Things like Etta James and Dusty Springfield .

“That’s pretty lofty praise”Jeff tells me

.“I’m good friends with Bill Larsen who was in ‘The Dynette Set’ says Jeff. “The thing is, I grew up in the ‘girl group’ era; pre-Beatles, so I have a special affinity for that music.  Bill and Penta would come out to my place, they’d spend some time at Taco Time to get some tater-tots or whatever and then we’d rehearse the group. I actually have two songs recorded, and a live recording. Our repertoire was pretty eclectic.  I had been in a band called the Del Psychics a little while before that and we had a singer who was my girlfriend at the time.  That was one of my first chances to bring my sensibility of the girl groups into the Fender Rhodes, Clavinet, modern kind of deal.”

“We cut Nitty Gritty by Shirley Ellis and tackled some interesting tunes. Me, Bill and Penta would harmonize together on If You Think You Can You Can by Marcia Clark. I also played piano with Penta” Jeff tells me. “Penta would also come around a  little gig I had playing grand piano with bass player Billy McPherson. Billy had been in Ballin’Jack and The Regents out of Tacoma.  He had been a child-prodigy that ended up in The Air Force Band.  Then he played with Buddy Miles and Albert Collins  He’s passed on now” Jeff says. “He and I and Bill Larsen and a various assortment of players would show up at The Pig and Whistle, a little joint on Greenwood Avenue in Seattle. Penta would sing. We did some continental-type jazzier stuff that was really esoteric and off the beaten path”.

“Penta is a tremendous singer and stage presence” Jeff continues.  We only played a modicum of gigs as The Spyd’elles. Two or three live gigs because she was living in Oregon at the time and would come up and sing with us. All I can add is that Penta’s’ a fantastic talent, a beautiful woman and I really enjoyed my time with her and Bill.  Like I said there’s a couple of recordings extant.  Maybe I can dig them up someday”

I worked with Ben Ireland during the same time I was working with Jeff Simmons” Penta tells me. “I was doing a jazz thing with The Pete Leinonen Band . We’d played little lounge gigs. I got to choose my own material. Barb Ireland filmed us once, so there’s some footage of us somewhere in her collection. I sang, Ben was on drums and Pete was on bass. We also had horn players. It was low-key fun.

“After I moved from Bend to Eugene I started going to Massage therapy school. Penta tells me.  “I wasn’t doing music at all, l just started back going to school.  Then in I fell in love with my massage therapy program director.  His name is Cliff Stenquist. We met in 2005. We’re still together”.

“I’m licensed to be a masage therapist. I also did a teacher training class with Sharon Gannon and David Life in 2008  at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck New York. I’m also a certified yoga teacher.  Sharon and David are the creators of the Jivamukti Yoga method. She’s created quite an empire” says Penta. It’s world renowned”.

Sharon Gannon and David Life

Sharon has always been a caring, creative and spiritual person.  It’s nice to see how far she’s come her days  helping Student Nurse guitarist and graphic artist Helena Rogers pull her beautiful silk-screened posters of the 1980s. It’s also somewhat of a validation in her early association and dancing for Sue Ann Harkey and Audio Leter, a band so ahead of it’s time that it was once scorned even by Seattle’s alternative music community. It’s only recently that folks have looked back and seen how the avant-garde quality of what they were doing permeates much of what we hear today.

“I haven’t really written songs for awhile, but I’m still singing. We did a Dynette Set reunion shows in 2013 and 2015 at the High Dive in Seattle.  That was pretty amazing to get everyone back together except Scott McCaughey. We also did a show at The Tractor Tavern which made reunions three years in a row.  We also did a show at the EMP (Experience Music Project) in 2014. It’s now called MoPop (Museum Of Pop Culture).  I just come up from Eugene and do shows in Seattle then go back.  One time I’m going to come to Seattle and stay!”

The 79’ers also got together in 2012.  It was a whole mess of people.  All the guys from The Dynette Set. Me and Riki Mifune.  Rob Morgan. The guys from The Enemy. We had three different drummers; Dave Drewry, Marty Waychoff of The Girls and Peter Barnes of The Enemy.  Rick Smith, also of The Girls was part of it. Henry Boy Jenkins was there. Too many people to name” Penta says. “It was supposed to be a one-off show, but  a year later we did a show with The Dynette Set. It was basically the same line up for that show. I’m not sure if Rick Smith was there that year. The 79’ers opened for The Dynette Set 30th year reunion. at The High Dive. The 79’ers only did two shows and both were at High Dive.

Then Dave Drewry got really sick and died of cancer. It was horrible.  I went down to L.A. at the very end of his life.  It was so sad.  He was such a good guy.”

Dave Drewry died on November 2, 2016. He was 57 years old.

Dave Drewry and Penta

I absolutely adored Dave” Penta says. “He was a dear, dear friend. A fucking awesome drummer. He played that girl group music like nobody’s business. He could do that Hal Blaine thing like WOW!  He was such a great drummer he was mind-blowing. A powerhouse. He held The Dynette Set rehearsals together. He was like a conductor during rehearsals. He kept everybody on track. Now it’s a little bit wonky in rehearsals. We’re all trying to be the boss, but we’re all over the place. Dave was really good at keeping everything together. He was funny as hell and he told great stories. He’d tell hilarious stories during rehearsals and keep us entertained”.

“We have a band now called The Mrs. Bill Larsens” Penta tells me.”  She may not know I already know this, but Bill Larsen has already told me in a tongue-in-cheek manner that he objected to the name at first, but was out-voted.

“We do kind of girl group music, but not exactly” Penta tells me. “It’s kind of women’s music of the 1960s but not necessarily of the girl group genre. There’s a couple of girl group song in there.  It’s really fun. Half of the members of the Dynette Set are involved  Me and Shelly Stockstill will be singing together, which is interesting because we were never in the Dynette Set at the same time. She took my place when I left the band. So we’re having lots of fun with that.  I’m going to be in Seattle because we have a show on the 9th of November at Slim’s Last Chance Saloon (5606  1st Ave, South in Georgetown) with Shagnasty and Shelley and I are also Shagnasty’s back-up singers The Shagri-las”.  (like Shangrillas, geddit?)

The Mrs. Bill Larsens are Damon Titus, John Nay who used to drum for The Frazz and The Lewd, Brent Pennington, Shelly Stockstill, Penta and Damon Titus who’ve all been in The Dynette Set. Kevin Crosby is also in the band. He’s a Berklee School of Music graduate who’s really ino Frank Zappa. He had a Frank Zappa cover band called Zero that actually had Ike Willis in it, which was kind of cool. Ike Willis is a guitarist who was part of Frank Zappa’s studio and touring band from 1978 until Zappa’s final tour in 1988.

The Mrs. Bill Larsens tell me they absolutely LOVE Jackie DeShannon, so they’ll be doing some of her songs, including Each Time that Leslee Swanson sang on The Girls Can’t Help It compilation.  For that matter they’ll probably do The Dynette Set song from the compilation. I’d even like to do more French pop music and add that kind of stuff to the repertoire we do with The Mrs. Bill Larsens”.

Bill tells me “We’re still trying to shake things out.  Penta lives down in Oregon and it’s hard for us, because we don’t have any rehearsal space.  We get space here and there when we can.  So we pulled out some of the old  Dynette Set songs that Shelley wanted to sing like ‘I Know A Place’ and ‘It’s Too Far’ and a handful of Jackie DeShannon songs…like ‘Put A Little Love In Your Heart’ and ‘What The World Needs Now’.  All kinds of songs in that genre.  Some of them are pretty tough songs to play. Everybody knows ‘Love Sweet Love’ but when you’ve just played three chord rock for a long time and then you come up to major 7, minor 9 chords it’s a chore. hat song; but it sounds great and Penta sings it great!  We’ve only played two gigs so far. It seems that every stage we play on gets progressively smaller. We had to fit our band into the  Lucky Liquor and then Tim’s Tavern. It’s even smaller.  Our upcoming gig at Slims will have a bigger stage.  That will be an interesting show because it’s going to be us, Shagnasty, Swedish Finnish and The Maywood Mailmen which is a John Prine cover band.  I play banjo in The Maywood Mailmen.  Bill says he didn’t understand the significance of the name of the Prine cover band until it was explained to him. There should be a few fans there that already know it.

Shagnasty do a Mike Refuzor song” says Penta. “We love Mike. I’m so glad I got to hang out with him a little bit during the last year before he died.  I saw him, and we danced together and he said ‘ I had such a good time’.

“We love Damon Titus too. He’s someone we’ve been trying to work together with for many many years. Finally it’s happening!”

AND WE LOVE THE BEATLES!!!

 

 

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources: Penta Leslee Swanson “Interviews with the author” (October 20, 2018 & October 25, 2018). Riki Mafune “Interview with the author” October 19, 2018).  Bill Larsen “Interview with the author” (October 21, 2018). Jeff Simmons “Interview with the author” (October 30, 2018). James Trussart “Interview with the author” (October 30, 2018). Tessa Jeffers “Builder Profile: James Trussart Guitars” Premier Guitar, January 9, 2013). Bill Scheppler “The Mississippi Burning Trial: A Primary Source Account” (Rosen Publishing Group, 2003). “A Brief History of The Regents of Tacoma (pnwbands.com retrieved October 29, 2018). “Mader: About” (http://madermusic.com/mader, retrieved October 29, 2018). “The Living Theater” (https://www.livingtheatre.org/home, retrieved October 29, 2018). Olivier Lamm “Light and Shadow: The Story of Hector Zazou” (November 5, 2015, Red Bull Music Academy Daily).  Garth Cartwright “Obituary: Hector Zazou” (The Guardian, September 23, 2008). “Alchemical Studios” (https://www.thealchemical.com, retrieved October 20, 2018). “Elliott Murphy: Biography” (http://www.elliottmurphy.com/bio.html, retrieved October 23, 2018). Derek Power “Mader: Biography” (IMDb.com. retrieved October 19, 2018). Pierre Job “Zazou/Bikaye/CY1: Noir et Blanc” (Pitchfork Magazine, November 8, 2017). Sid Smith “So Long Fred Chalenor” (DGM Live, July 4, 2018). Michael Sutton “Scott McCaughey Biography” (allmusic.com, retrieved October 30, 2018). Jeff Stevens “Seattle’s Flaming Telepaths” (City of Anxiety, January 9, 2017).

BEDAZZLED!
An Interview with Al Milman and Moshe Weinberg

            Bedazzled Discs Grand Opening
 Al Milman, John Keister, Moshe Weinberg

I’m sitting in Chuck’s Hop Shop on Seattle’s East Union St.  The huge variety of bottled beers lining the walls is overwhelming.  I don’t drink, but I’m fascinated by the colors of the labels. The evening is warm and the doors of the bar are open.  It appears Chuck’s Hop Shop used to be a large garage of some sort.  Did this place used to be a garage I ask myself?  I get a Coke from a vending machine. I’m expecting to meet Al Milman and Moshe Weinberg.  They’re the former proprietors of Bedazzled Discs.  They stuck it out through the 90s while the record business was crumbling around them up to the point that digital downloads were on the brink of overtaking every other form of music. Their store was geared toward imports, garage and pop classics and a bit of the more esoteric music that collectors are always seeking out. In the end the survived into the 21st century.  Despite an uphill battle they made it from 1991 ‘til 2003.

I’ve never met Moshe, but I know Al a bit. Al went out of his way to make sure we scheduled this meeting at a time Moshe was available. It seems he’s a very busy guy.  Al is a man obsessed by music.  He’s been that way since he was a kid growing up in New York City. Along the way he’s managed to rub a lot of shoulders with punk, garage, psychedelic and jazz artists…hell…all kinds of artists.  I also know he and his band The Alan Milman Sect were there at the beginning of the downtown punk explosion in the NYC during the 1970s.  His music and/or Bedazzled Discs have been covered in magazines from Trouser Press to  the NME and the BBC’s music sites to Billboard.  His music also the subject of a multitude of bloggers who are interested in anything punk…or anything off-beat..  The website Killed By Death once wrote ‘Hell, not even Poison Idea does it as good as Alan Milman Sect’. His song ‘Stitches in My Head’ was covered by Urge Overkill.  He has a visible presence on facebook, and he’s not afraid to tell anyone what he thinks online or in person.

Al’s recorded with his own band, The Alan Milman Sect, and managed and produced The Boss Martians.  He’s DJ’d at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco in Los Angeles and graced the stage of CBGB’s in New York.  Eventually he’d find his way to Seattle and co-own one of the cities’ first stores to cater to those taking part in the record renaissance from the early 90’s and beyond.

Al arrives and we chit chat while we wait for Moshe to arrive.  Al and I are a bit early. Moshe arrives on schedule as planned. He appears much younger than I’d expected…but it must be attributed to good genes.  I know he’s not as young as he looks.  After I get the recorder set up and Moshe grabs a falafel from the food truck outside it’s time to begin.

I hate doing interviews.  I sound so vapid, and there’s only a limited supply of stupid questions to ask, I’m gonna leave this one to the two of them, I think to myself.

“So what was the genesis of your store?”  I blurt out.  Oh god…that sounds ridiculous.

“Al and I met in New York” says Moshe. We have a couple of common friends. I’d heard about Al but I think I met him about 1985 or 1986 for the first time. I was going to college and Al was good friends with my best friend and roommate Danny Israel who lives here in Seattle. I think it was either  Danny Israel, Gary Schrank, or Vinny Hayes; I’m not sure which one. Anyhow, we went to a couple of shows…I think The Lyres (from Boston) a couple of times, but we weren’t close friends at that point.  Later in the 80s I got to know Al better. I was going to college.  I would spend time making tape collections of other people’s record and CD collections. Al had a really cool record and CD collection he was just starting.  I thought it was great that he introduced people to a lot of stuff.  I was mostly aware of it-he thinks I wasn’t- but anyway I would go to his apartment and record a lot of his CDs and records and I think at the end of my time in New York we just ran into each other at random concerts”.  Al later tells me ‘We saw The Fleshtones and Chesterfield Kings (also from Boston) a lot”

Bedazzled Discs owners Al Milman and Moshe Weinberg

“I mentioned I was moving back to Seattle and that I used to work for a record store”. Moshe continues.  “Al’s response was “You’re never going to make money at record store, you have to own one.”  It was an off-hand comment…I think maybe he asked me what I was going to do in Seattle.  I don’t recall exactly why I said it, but for some reason I mentioned that when I got back to Seattle I’d like to work at a record store again.  Once again he threw out the idea that if you really want to make money you have to own a record store as opposed to working in one.  Now I know better. You don’t make money either way but I guess that was the start of “well, let’s look into that” and we decided to pursue it”.

“I moved back to Seattle.  Al was still in New York.  I started looking for a storefront property in different neighborhoods. Then he came out to visit. I think it was around Thanksgiving weekend of 1990. There was a big storm that week and Al  got to know Seattle. I took him around to a few neighborhoods and eventually we found this little spot in Pioneer Square and we went for it.  It was at 101 Cherry Street. It’s a barber shop now.  So Al moved to Seattle”.

I was living in what was my grandmothers house. She had recently been moved to an old age home so the house was vacant. In fact there was someone else living there part time.  Al came to town and stayed at my grandmother’s house for a month or two before he found a job.  We started planning opening the store. The grand opening was June 5, 1991. I think initially our focus was import CDs. Stuff that was not out in the US; mostly ‘60s or Garage or things like The Yardbirds. We didn’t have much vinyl at that point, so later we had to build up our record collection”.

“John Keister was at our opening by the way”. Al points out.

Keister was probably at the height of his celebrity at the time.  His local sketch show ‘Almost Live’ was airing each Saturday night locally, and had been syndicated nationally.  He’s remained on the Seattle comedy and cultural scene for years…as close as Seattle gets to conferring ‘icon‘ status.  Finally, last year Jon performed what he claimed would be his last stand-up comedy schtick at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall.  The show was called “Living and Dying in Seattle” It both lamented and celebrated Seattle’s one-time dowdy and beloved small-town atmosphere into becoming a major American city full of high-tech transplants, bursting with high rise buildings and a much more business-like approach. His show was held on September 9, 2017.  At the time Keister said “It’s a brand new city out there. Natives, Newcomers and anyone else trying to make sense of this town are welcome. Let’s have a party!”

Since then John has now settled into a life of writing and teaching script-writing at the Art Institute of Seattle.  But he says he’ll perform at corporate events and ‘wave from convertibles at whatever parades that will have me”’.

“Do you remember the SoundWaves store in Burien?” Al asks.

I have to admit I’m not familiar with the place because I’ve been to Burien fewer times than I have unbroken fingers on my right hand. That would make it twice.

“I wouldn’t say they were the prototype” Al says  “but they were one of the influences of ours.  Stores in New York like Bleeker Bob’s and those sort of stores”

Now, Bleecker Bob’s is a place I’m quite familiar with.  The online journal Dangerous Minds once called it ‘The most loved and most hated record store in New York City.’ I fall into the former category.  Over the years it was the nexus for oldies fans, proto-punks, punk rockers, psychedelic fans, garage and import enthusiasts, classic rockers, ‘60s folkies and post-punk affecianados.  You name it. Anything and every kind of music seemed to be available, and it became a great place to mix and hang out. Some folks would even trek to New York City just to visit this mecca of music.  Conversely “Bleecker Bob” would make trips elsewhere to find new and used stock to fill the store.  In the 1970’s he went to London regularly, buying crates and crates of British punk rock that wouldn’t otherwise have been available in any American record store.

I used to pass by Bleecker Bob’s about two times a week looking covetously into it’s windows because buying records was a luxury for me back in my NYC days.  I’d go in the store from time to time simply to browse the racks.  But it was hard enough to pay the rent and have extra money to get drunk on.  For a couple of years I had to curtail my obsession with obscure and/or import 7″ singles.

Robert “Bleecker Bob” Plotnik

The “Bob” in “Bleecker Bob’s” was Robert Plotnik who ran the store in it’s several iterations in New York’s Greenwich Village for almost 50 years.  Plotnik was a former lawyer who worked with the New York District Attorney.  In 1967 Robert Plotnik teamed up with  Al Trommers, a  Doo-wop enthusiast who referred to himself as “Broadway Al.”  The two opened a store originally called Village Oldies at 149 Bleecker Street. Because of the store’s location “Broadway Al” suggested Plotnik should take on the name “Bleecker Bob” It stuck. The location would change twice over the decades, eventually ending up at 118 West 3rd Street in 1981.

By this time Trommers had split from Plotnik.  Trommers says his reason for leaving the partnership was due to Plotnik’s abrasive character. Plotnik was often cranky and notoriously abrupt with his customers whether they were kids from the Village (East or West) or one of the many celebrity musicians who frequented his store. He had a sharp tongue and did not suffer fools-many of which were potential customers.  A 1993 episode of Seinfeld called ‘The Old Man’, features a character obviously based on Bleecker Bob, and part of the episode was actually shot in the store.

In 2012 Hazel Sheffield and Emily Judem’s documentary on Bob and the store For The Records. a conversation is captured between Bob and his girlfriend.

She asks him how they can keep the store operational when people weren’t buying records like they used to.

“They’ll buy them if I tell them to buy them,” Bob said.

Behind his temperamental facade Plotnik was well-versed in just about any pop music genre you could throw at him. and when he wasn’t showing his expertise, he was often curt and abrupt. Overall Bleeker Bob’s was a messy playground for music collectors, music stars, and off-the-steet music fans alike.  Bob was at the center of it all.  And as is true with all curmudgeons, there was kind heart at the center of his character.

In the mid-80s Plotnik opened “Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies Record Shop” at 7454 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.  Shortly after the L.A. store’s opening Plotnik suffered a brain aneurysm.  He’s now semi-paralyzed and lives in a nursing home on the Upper West Side.  Chris Weidner took over the day-to-day operations of the New York store and the Los Angeles store didn’t last long.  Weidner was almost as curt and temperamental as Plotnik, but he kept the store open until rising New York rents forced Bleecker Bob’s to throw in the towel. The storefront stayed vacant for a few months, then became the location of a national chain of frozen yogurt stores, Yogo. It went on to have several other tenants, and  today the space is the site of the Miyabi Sushi Bar.

It and much of the rest of old rock, jazz, folk.punk and the other trappings of the vibrant Village scene are gone, and not for the better.  The East and West Villages are now practically as touristy as Times Square and most artists and mucisians have been forced out of the neighborhood because of market prices.

It’s almost apparent that Milman takes on some of the characteristics of Bob Plotnik.  His entire approach to selling records seems similar. Dismissive when asked questions he finds stupid; invested in helping others with recommendations and spinning tales about just about everyone he’s met in the music business or talking about  fantastic bands and artists as well as rarities and obscure recordings.  When a customer is a serious collector or knowledgeable or an honestly interested  in exploring new music, he loves talking music with those who listen.

Returning to Al and Moshe’s story;

Al tells me “SoundWaves was the the closest store like Bleecker Bob’s and other New York record stores near Seattle, and they were stocking import CDs. They had a lot of Japanese imports, but they were out in Burien so we felt that Seattle could use a store like that, with maybe even a wider selection”

Moshe says “We opened our store and it was kind of a shoestring budget”I had to get my dad to co-sign a loan from the bank and Al borrowed money from his dad. There wasn’t a lot of money. We were really restricted so that’s how we started.”

“But we didn’t carry Genesis.” Al says.

Now Al is ribbing me about my first dumb question.  Nothing gets by this guy.

He says “We would have if it was with Peter Gabriel,  but by then it was Phil Collins.  We would laugh at people like Phil Collins because that was sort of the antithesis of what we are doing, Moshe would laugh if somebody asked for “I Just Called To Say I Love You” by Stevie Wonder, and I would laugh at almost anything.  Laugh at them or tell them “Get the hell out of my store!

“Get the hell out of my store!” would be a response to asking for some horrible commercial thing.

They both laugh.

“Gillian Gaar (author of She’s a Rebel and former writer and associate editor at The Rocket) was our  first customer.” Al tells me. “She bought The Chiffons”

“….and I think Little Richard too” adds Moshe.

I ask Moshe who he thinks their average customer was at the time they opened Bedazzled Discs in downtown Seattle.

“I would say the customers were those who wanted to pay $25 for a Japanese CD that was not out in the US.” he answers.

“What was the name of the guy who came and ordered a lot of Zappa stuff?” Asks Al “He was a short guy, really friendly. He was a very big customer. Our customers like that were completists. This guy wanted to order every Zappa CD he could get”.

“I’ve seen him recently, I mean in the last few years. But people like that, who were rabid collectors, they would be repeat customers, There were friends of ours like Shaun Lee or David Hersh, or guys that came in and bought the new “whatever” album, The new Ween album, the new Oasis album or whatever.”

“Were you selling mostly imports?” I ask

“We started transitioning pretty early” says Moshe. “I would say we started off concentrating mostly on imports from Japan and  England. Then I think we realized we were missing out on the Sub Pop thing or whatever you want to call alternative; the people who wanted to buy The Smashing Pumpkins.  Then there was K Records and C/Z and Estrus and all the other local bands and labels. Then we came in contact with the two owners of Sub Pop” (Jon Poneman and Bruce Pavitt)

“I still see Bruce Pavitt on the Hill. I still run into him at the grocery store” Al tells me. “I’ve known him forever and he’s a great guy and probably doesn’t live here anymore, but when they signed Nirvana they took us in the back of our store and told us the whole deal-how it happened which was very very interesting, How many record stores got that directly from the horse’s mouth?

I tell them  I also know Jon and Bruce and that Bruce still comes to Seattle, but spends most of his time at the home and property he bought on Orcas Island several years ago. I’m not a

bsolutely sure if that’s still true  because the fact is I haven’t seen Bruce in many years.

In 1984 Bruce Pavitt worked at store called Bombshelter Records, tucked away on the mezzanine of a small group of shops along Broadway Avenue in Seattle.  Russ Battaglia was working there at the same time.  Bruce and Russ decided to form a partnership and go into the record retail business on their own.  The intention was to present as many bands on indie labels from around the country and overseas as possible. They were also committed to selling local artists and serving skate culture. They named the store Fallout Records and the long-running store was opened in July of 1984.  It was in a tiny space at 1506 E. Olive Way on Seattle’s lower Capitol Hill and remained there until 2003.

The Official Fallout Skate Team

Russ Battaglia amicably split with Bruce about 18 months after the store opened.  Bruce left to pursue different aspects of his Sub Pop brand which included a fanzine, a regular monthly column in The Rocket magazine and his new start-up label Sub Pop. Russ brought his wife Janet on board to help him run the store. They introduced comics and the “illustrated novels’ that were beginning to become popular at the time. It was an important place for both the punk and the skate scene for years.  Fallout actively supported and sponsored their own travelling skate team and put on local skate competitions. although Russ and Janet culled their skateboard business along the way. In 1987 Russ and Janet, along with Larry Reid started their own indie label, Black Label Records.  They went on to release records by The U-Men, Gashuffer, The Hell Cows from Portland, Christ on a Crutch and a video of Big Black’s penultimate show at the Georgetown Steamplant on August 7, 1987.  Black Label later went dormant and Russ and Janet closed Fallout in 1999.  Tim Hayes, who’d been a friend and former employee of the Battaglia’s thought he could revive the business.  Since leaving Fallout for a few years Tim had worked at Seattle’s Fantagraphics Books.  In 1999 he set out to put Fallout back in business.  Russ and Janet gave him their blessing, saying

We worked really hard to provide an antidote to mall culture.  Tim intends to do the same, so we say ‘help him keep our community!’

At the time Tim Hayes told Cynthia Rose of The Seattle Times;

“There will be a lot more of everything. More CDs, more records and additional musical genres. I especially want to help support the local jazz scene. I love jazz, and I know the Seattle scene is really swinging right now.”

Tim did indeed expand the store and was able to keep it afloat until February of 2003.  Digital music was killing record and CD stores across the country.

My discussion with Al and Moshe then turns to the 20th anniversary showing of Robert Pray’s film Hype! The documentary covers the early ‘90s Seattle music scene.

“All the people we know are in Hype! “It’s the best local movie” Al declares. “Hype! nailed it, you know. Jack Endino. Megan Jasper making fun of ‘grunge‘ it’s wonderful”.

This is a statement not even worthy of debate.  Hype! IS a fantastic snapshot of an era.  It is without a doubt the best documentary of any moment in Seattle’s music history.

The 20th anniversary showing was September 25, 2017 at the Egyptian Theater, usually a Seattle International Film Festival venue (SIFF). The Hype! showing was sponsored by the Northwest Film Forum (NWFF) Their own space would have been far too small.

The anniversary screening included a panel discussion featuring Seattle music luminaries like Lulu Gargiulo and Kurt Bloch of The Fastbacks, Producer Jack Endino, Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Green River and Mr. Epp.  A proto-grunge spoof band The Schmitheads (a spin-off of legendary ‘80s bands, The Thrown Ups and Mr. Epp) did a pre-screening set. The Schmidtheads featured Leighton Beezer, Ed Fotheringham, Scott Schickler and Jo Smitty, who co-founded the band Mr. Epp with Mark Arm. The term ‘grunge’ famously stems from a self-deprecating, joke letter written by Mark Arm to Desperate Times magazine in 1981.  The panel was led by former KNDD music director Marco Collins.  Marco was an advocate for local Seattle music after arriving from San Diego and a stint as an intern and DJ at the Mexican-owned, influential  XTRA-FM (91X).  The station had so much power that it could often be heard over large areas of Northern Mexico and the American southwest.  It was also the  inspiration for Wall of Voodoo’sMexican Radio’.

Back in Seattle KNDD (also known as 107.7, The End) was reluctant  to play anything even remotely alternative unless it had already made a national splash (in other words Pearl Jam, Nirvana. Soundgarden. et al.)  The station seemed indifferent to local music.  In spite of this Collins was able to help many now well-known indie artists like Beck and Garbage, and spun records by Death Cab For Cutie, The Presidents of the United States of America, Foo Fighters, Harvey Danger and Sunny Day Real Estate on his all-local Sunday night show ‘The Young and The Restless’  

Marco left KNDD IN 1998 but still spends time in Seattle.  In 2015 Collins, who is openly gay, was the subject of the documentary ‘The Glamour and The Squalor’, directed by Marq Evans…and yes, the spelling’s right.  The film follows his early life and on to his wild success in radio even while dealing with addiction, and his eventual sobriety.  Mike McCready (of Pearl Jam) supplied the score for the the film.  It won the Audience Award for Best Documentary at Outfest in Los Angeles, Audience Favorite at The Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival,  Best Documentary at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham, Alabama, Best Local Feature at The Tacoma Film Festival and it was the runner-up for Best Documentary at the Seattle International Film Festival.  ‘The Glamour and the Squalor’ has also garnered nominations and awards from both LGBT and mainstream festivals world-wide.  Next to Hype!  it may be the second best film based on a musical figure and movement out of Seattle.

Back to Moshe.  He tells me that while the store in Pioneer Square was getting off the ground he was listening to a lot of things Al was listening to…and many other things that Al didn’t listen to like The Jerky Boys.

For the uninitiated, The Jerky Boys were a juvenile and stoopid comedy outfit from Queens, New York. In other words they were hysterically funny.  Especially when stoned.  Johnny Brennan and Kamal Ahmed were childhood friends. In 1989 the pair created a cast of fictitious characters that would make prank calls, record them and release them as tapes.  Their work was somewhat in the vein of Cookie Puss, the first indie 12” by The Beastie Boys but without the beats. The Jerky Boys were much, much more over-the-top in portraying a bevvy of voice characters.  Their tapes found their way to New York DJ and radio host Howard Stern.  His playing them on the air broke the Jerky Boys who went on to have phenomenal success.  Despite their success Kamal left Brennan and The Jerky Boys after a dispute.  Brennan continued producing Jerky Boys material on a solo basis.  Kamal released his own solo album, Once a Jerk, Always a Jerk, in 2000 and in 2001 Brennan put out The Jerky Tapes. It was the last album by Brennan.  He set The Jerky Boys aside after it’s release

Aside from The Jerky Boys Moshe says;

“I was listening to a lot of 60s Garage, a lot of great punk,  and after the store opened I got more into a lot of the indie rock thing. I learned a lot more about it. As we started carrying more and more labels we’d get promos and I could check out more stuff and expand more.”

“The core of our business” says Al “was like Matador and Touch and Go and all the related labels We would try to figure out the new releases but also try to figure out which catalog releases we should have.  We got some help sometimes. We’d have younger customers help us order stuff, to be perfectly frank, because we weren’t really experts on that

Billboard magazine says they were also getting new product through indie distributors like Abbey Road, run by Sam Ginsburg in Los Angeles, and Dutch East India Trading who was carrying Homestead Records, Giant Records, Grass Records and Rockville Records at the time.

I’m an expert on many different kinds of music but certainly not independent music. I mean, I’ve learned about it.  Most people really delve into it pretty heavily. I had some interest in it if I liked the band. I like Sonic Youth and I like Ween, but that doesn’t mean I like 100 other indie bands, I would gravitate toward things that I really liked, but that didn’t necessarily kill our inventory or what our selection had to be. Moshe made a lot of suggestions because he was listening to it much more closely than I was, I think”.

“Wouldn’t you say that was true?” he asks Moshe.

“Some bands, yeah, And some bigger names” Moshe replies.

“You know we were working with with majors too-like Sony” Al tells me. “We also worked with Universal. They were going through different periods and there was stuff we would promote very heavily.  I worked very heavily with those companies. Capitol was a very strange case because there was a woman-I’m not going to even say who she was-but she was a very uncooperative promotional woman who was going out with somebody very well-known in Seattle.  She made a point not to be cooperative with our store so I contacted Donna Ross from Capitol Records in Hollywood (Ross was then national director of alternative sales at) and from then on we got the best service directly from Capitol in Hollywood because the original promo woman was not cooperative.”
“And then there was ‘Grand Royal’ (a vanity label set up by the Beastie Boys after they left Def Jam Records), They had this magazine and these guys were super into ‘The Beastie Boys’. I ran into ‘The Beastie Boys’ subsequently. I still listen to them-especially ‘Paul’s Boutique’ which is one of my favorite albums, But these guys would listen to The Jerky Boys and ‘The Beastie Boys’ night and day,  So did Moshe and his brother Mordy.  It was unbelievable. We even hung out with The Beastie Boys once”.

Moshe tells the story.  Actually what happened was, I think it was Grand Royal that got us into ‘Lollapalooza’ but they forgot to put our names on the guest list.   Al talked our way in…Mordy and Al combined…and we went backstage and Al didn’t recognize any of them.  Al went up to Mike D. and asked him where the food was. I said, ‘Do you realize he’s going on in half an hour or 45 minutes? He’s one of the Beastie Boys! You just asked one of the Beastie Boys where the food was!’

They both break into laughter.
Later Al tells me about smoking pot with them and having a generally bust-up time.

Al admits “I didn’t know what they looked like. When Urge Overkill came here-Urge Overkill recorded one of my songs called ‘Stitches In My Head’  (It was shortened to ‘Stitches’ on the band’s  EP, ‘Stull’).  Eddie Vedder was in the middle of the room when we went back to the motel. All these girls were clustered around this really diminutive guy. I didn’t know what Eddie Vedder looked like because Pearl Jam didn’t put their pictures on album covers. So I just asked Nash Kato from Urge Overkill ‘Who’s that diminutive guy attracting all the chicks in the middle of the room?  He said ‘That’s Eddie Vedder’…I didn’t know….and I’m from Seattle….but he’s not really from Seattle-he’s from California- so I don’t really feel that bad about not recognizing him”.

“We were at 101 Cherry from 1991 through June of 1996 and then we moved to Capitol Hill” Moshe tells me. “Actually we made two moves. To Capitol Hill in 1996 and another move to the University District in 1998.  On Capitol Hill we were next to The Oddfellows Hall. There wasn’t all that stuff that’s there is now, but the Molly Moon store was right by there. I think there’s an ‘H&R Block’ there now. Our store was in the Oddfellows Hall building on the ground floor.  There’s several stores there The address is 911 East Pine which was odd because it was like 9-11, Kind of spooky.

“I think people who live in Seattle, even people who live in the neighborhood always mix up Pike and Pine Streets” says Al. “I do myself-except when our store was there.  Obviously I knew which one I was on because we were on Pine, but now it’s: “Pine?…Pike?…whatever…”  Al goes on to say “The Pine store was a lot larger than the Pioneer Square store, but a little too large. It was HUGE.

Moshe agrees. “Yeah it was much too large. Because there was more space the rent was higher.  It was larger than we needed so it was a little bit of an uphill battle for us. That place only lasted a couple of years, but it had  a good stage if we wanted to have in-stores and bands play there. We had The Wailers play but the space itself just wasn’t great, In the other two locations the customers came in, and they could talk to you right away, so the interaction was better; but the Capitol Hill store was harder  because we were all the way in the back there. The interaction wasn’t great, plus theft was easier because you’re not going to run all the way across the store to catch somebody stealing CDs. The move never really justified itself in sales. Now we did carry a lot of great records there and that’s when our record thing really started to expand, so it was good for that, But we decided to move.”

“We decided that the University District was gonna be the best and probably only reasonable location to move to” Moshe says. “We talked about…it was a different time frame..we talked about the Pike Place Market and all these other locations.. We did find a place in the University District. We moved there in 1998. The first two locations had put us in a bit of a situation…I would say, without getting into too many specifics about the finances, where it was a make or break thing.  We could have easily closed up the shops at either earlier locations because we had debts and all this stuff, but we were both kind of stubborn and decided we wanted to keep this going. You know, find the best way with how to deal with it.

In a 1998 article Billboard magazinefocused on Bedazzled Discs, and it’s impending move from 911 East Pine. They wrote;

    Bedazzled Discs Capitol Hill location

“With more than 5,000 titles the mix of the Capitol Hill store was approximately 50% CD and 50% vinyl.  The music runs the gamut with modern jazz, Jamaican, reggae, ska, psychedelic, garage, grunge, surf, rockabilly, hip-hop, soul, funk, comedy, vintage country and vintage rock and roll.  The store also carries a large number of indie releases, including the entire catalogs of K Records in Olympia, Trojan Records from Jamaica on LP and CD  (Trojan is British, actually) and Blue Note Records on LP and CD.

‘We try to carry real roots music’ Milman says.  ‘Anything with a lot of energy and passion.  The move to our new location in the University District, although slightly smaller with about 1,200 square feet gives us the opportunity to showcase more inventory with a much better lay-out”.

Al says “At one point Moshe tried to buy me out but he didn’t have any money”  I can’t tell if this is tongue-in-cheek or not.

“But you know, I was a pain” Moshe says “because Al did have a lot of knowledge of records so we looked for spaces that were ideal locations…in-between the pursuit of chasing the right size. We needed something bigger than the store in Pioneer Square but smaller than Capitol Hill location.  We didn’t need the extra space and as far as space goes the University District store was perfect, plus the bathroom was another good selling point”

“A good place for people to shoot-up in!” Al says in mock joy.

“We couldn’t fit so many records in the Pioneer Square store” Says Moshe. “We could on Capitol Hill, but as I said the customer interaction was really awkward there.  So the U-District was good, and we moved there in 1998.  Business did actually improve for awhile. quite a bit. The store was on University and 43rd Street, across from Rudy’s Barber Shop.  We were at  4742 University Way, also across the street from the 7-11.  So we were in the U-District, and it took a couple of years for Al to alienate the customers”.

“I did pretty well with alienating customers” says Al.

“So the location was great’ Moshe tells me. ‘The size was good,  the layout of the records was really good and we were big enough that we could have in-stores. There was a bit of an issue with theft, like there was in the other two locations.

“It was generally bad in that neighborhood” says Al. “But both of us were very good at catching shoplifters. Mostly because I was a very good shoplifter when I was younger, so I knew what they were doing.  I use to steal from our shoplifters, I was picking their pockets while they were stealing our CDs. Seriously, we’re both very good at stopping the attrition rate from shoplifting. We would catch people and we only had to have one guy arrested because he stole the whole Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop sections. I won’t say his name even though I can because he was convicted-but I won’t. This guy shoplifted at every record store in Seattle that had something he wanted. He was a bad shoplifter, though, and we had to press charges”.

“At the third store in the University District-that’s when we were selling the entire Trojan record label”. Al tells me. “We had every record that was in print on Trojan at the time and that was a large part of our business, Also we bought Adam Bratman’s Sub Pop collection, which was another big part of that location. It greatly expanded our market for records”.

Seattle music fans obviously know the Sub Pop label but fewer people are familiar with Trojan Records.

Trojan was originally set up in 1968 by music retailer Lee Gopthal and ‘Island Records’ founder Chris Blackwell in London.  Trojan’s initial output consisted of 7”Jamaican singles released in Britain by artists like Jimmy Cliff, Dave and Ansel Collins, Lee “Scratch”Perry, Desmond Dekker, Toots and The Maytals and many more artists we now consider classic Jamaican stars. In 1972 Chris Blackwell decided to give up his interest in Trojan and by 1975, without Island Records’ resources and overspending Trojan went broke.  At the time they had been trying to re-mix, provide new arrangements and re-master former Reggae recordings for a wider British market. The assets that remained were bought up by Marcel Rodd and his label ‘Saga Records’.  Rodd didn’t have a particular interest in the music of Jamaica, but the company wasn’t an expensive buy and Saga dealt in discounted records. At the time no one knew the Trojan catalog would become a cash cow. There were some thin times financially under Rodd, but Trojan was a source for the many British Skinheads who listened to and danced to the music of Jamaica.  It was also a source for former Carribeans to find and enjoy the music they’d left behind.  Still, this wasn’t a large market. Trojan ultimately succeeded on the strength of the “Ska Revival” of the late 70s and early ‘80s, sparked on by bands like The Specials, The Selecter and Madness. Rodd and his Saga Records then sold Trojan believing that the ‘Ska Revival’ was a fad that would soon implode.  It was later sold to a rabid fan of Jamaican music, Colin Newman (not that Colin Newman) He would be the first of a few that would know how to exploit the label and bring it back to it’s then-fabled history. Newman also knew more than anyone how valuable the Trojan back catalog would become.

One very smart move Trojan had made from the start was gathering up licensing deals for many lesser-known artists and with many smaller labels.  They often released these artists locally on their smaller licensed labels to the Jamaican market rather than internationally. Their catalog included ‘reggae’, ‘rude boy’, ‘ska’ and ‘rock steady’ artists.  A lot of these were deep tracks that would later become essential.  Suddenly Trojan became the label to find these artists on as re-releases, and their original pressings became highly prized by collectors. In 1998 Trojan started compiling that would be a series of 69 boxed sets (so far) each made up of 50 tracks on 3 CD’s.  They’ve also put out three similar box sets that are only available in Japan or as Japanese imports.  Since 2000 the label has changed hands several times, but has made millions of dollars (or more?) off it’s extensive back-catalogue.  Trojan remains one of the most profitable and respected small labels in the world, even though it is now part of the EMI group.  2018 marks its 50th year in business.  Pretty good for a label that started out as labor of love, and a good label to carry for any struggling record store.

“We also bought out ‘Backtrack Video’s’ inventory” Moshe says. “We were undecided whether to rent or to sell them so we ended up doing a little bit of both. We tried to do a rental thing but it really didn’t work out too well. We weren’t really set up to be a rental business so we sold some,  It didn’t make us much money but it was kind of a cool.  I kept some for myself, like a bunch of Russ Meyer movies.  They were on VHS though”.

Several bands played at The University District store.  Moshe tells me. “The Boss Martians and the Alan Milman Sect (‘never heard of ’em’ says Al”) They played at the last store…Pop Slavery and  I think the Fixx played there too when they were in town.  The Makers played in the third store too”
In 1998 Billboard reported that other in-store’s at the Capitol Hill location included Dub Narcotic, Truly, and The Rob Clark Five.

“We had our ups and downs there like we did at all the locations” Moshe admits. “During that time personally…I’d gotten married in ‘95 and I wasn’t making enough money to pay for both of us so I worked at my father’s company. I didn’t so much the first few months in the Pioneer Square days.  Neither my father nor the company are around anymore.  It was a dry cleaning and laundry supply company.  Depending what year you’re talking about I worked 20 to 30 hours a week.  Maybe even sometimes 40 hours so I was struggling with that job, the store and I’d gotten married in 1995 and became a father in 1999. So by the time ‘99 came around we had been one year at the U-District store. It was a struggle for me to find time to really work and do stuff at the store. I was at home a lot because I was with the baby. He’s 18 years old now.”

“Well you brought him to the store a lot” Al says sympathetically.

Moshe continues by saying “I was working at another job, and trying to deal with a marriage that ended up failing around the same time the store failed. There was a lot going on for me personally. It was hard to find a lot of time to be at the store and do a lot of things that when I look back on, maybe I would have done differently, but you know…”

“What killed off the store?”  I ask them.

“The truth is there was debt that was accumulating from day one, and the reasons are numerous. I would say our first location choice, while there were some good parts about it, maybe it was a little bit pricey for us. We had started on a shoestring budget and when we moved to Capitol Hill we took out more loans and put more on credit cards, I feel we kind of put ourselves in a situation where we were, from a business standpoint…well there was a lot to manage.”

Al Milman & Moshe Weinberg

“For instance I was doing a lot of the accounting”. Says Moshe. “So who do I pay?” I’d ask myself. “You have to pay the rent. And the suppliers-you don’t want to hold them up.  It was a struggle to pay our bank loans every month and you have to put people off and people got angry. As I said we could have easily closed after the Pioneer Square store, or after the Capitol Hill store but we had an emotional attachment to the store and we decided to find that ideal location, so when we got to the University District it got better for a couple of years and I felt that even though it would take us years and years to pay-off all our loans we at least had hope. There were a few things like 9-11 that played a part in this, There was some construction project on the Ave”.

“That was the biggest thing…the renovation of the Ave.” says Al.

I should explain here to non-Seattlites although the main street in the University District (or U-District) is ‘University Way’ For some obscure reason the street has been known for decades as ‘The Ave’ short for ‘Avenue’.  It’s a Seattle-thing not even the natives understand.  We just accept it at face value.

“I’m not going to get into personal things” says Moshe “but I think at times Al’s customer service, depending on the type of customer, they could be put off by his approach. Some customers stopped coming to the store-I think in each location- so I think all those things played a factor and then there was the general economy. I could list ten or twelve things. But I think both of us going into it lacked business experience; and this says a little bit about myself.  My dad had a business, but I didn’t have any experience running a business and I think when Al and I both look back on it we would have done a few things differently.  Maybe partly in locations or partly in…who knows?  But I would have done certain things differently. I have a lot more experience now-I learned a lot-but at the time it put us in a bit of a hole”

“It’s a struggle, vinyl is very popular now, but it’s had its ups and downs” says Moshe

“Records are popular too” Al chirps in.  I know he’s being sarcastic.  This is a sore point for him; calling records ‘vinyl’ or ‘vinyls’ drives him nuts. Maybe this has gone over Moshe’s head I think to myself.

“They were very popular at the store when we were in the U-District” Moshe continues.

“I think we helped bring records back into prominence” Al says.

“I think the real major issue” says Moshe “was that we weren’t able to turn our inventory over enough because of our cash flow issues; to keep some of the regular customers. They would come one day and then come a week later (and that wasn’t always the case) we had some weekly customers but it wasn’t on a consistent basis”.

“Al and I had these monthly meetings where we both got really stoned” Moshe tells me. “I had to tell Al that unfortunately we had a budget, because we had to pay the rent and we had to do this and that. So I put a budget on Al for what we could buy, and that was a struggle because we couldn’t get everything we wanted and we were buying things coming in off the street”.

“We should have bought more used records” Al admits. “ I used to go out-of-state and buy records. That’s one of the things that kept the store going for years because we had vinyl that other people didn’t have.  I hate to use the word vinyl, it’s RECORDS. You know what I really hate? The word ‘vinyls’ People who say ‘vinyls‘ are morons” Al says with conviction.  “Ask Mike Nipper about that. He has an epileptic seizure if he hears that word  ‘vinyls’. Millennials use that expression.  Millennials are morons anyway.”

I tell them that once in an article I referred to ‘a chunk of polychloride vinyl on a press’.

That’s a record!” snaps Al

“No I didn’t call it a record because it was a glob pressed into a record.

Moshe says “In my previous job I was with a company that was making equipment and I bought a lot of vinyl. But that was actual vinyl. I tried to put it on my record player but nothing played!”

“I just want to say a couple of things” Al announces.  “We sold more copies of The Small Faces compilation The Darlings of Wapping Wharf Launderette.  We sold 400 copies of that double CD compilation. We sold more in Seattle than any English record store. That compilation sold like Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’. It was over a period of years, but that was incredible. It’s because there were three or four bands in Seattle that covered The Small Faces. The Small Faces are extremely popular in Seattle and that’s very unusual in any city.  It was mostly The Faces, but people who like The Small Faces are more specialists and this is an area (the northwest) where they apparently had a large fan base, It was part of the zeitgeist and it’s unbelievable. When you talk about The Faces ‘ehhhhh’  but when you talk about The Small Faces. ‘Brilliant! Genius!’

.”Moshe talked to Steve Marriott once” Al says.

“Yeah, I talked to Marriott” Moshe says, adding “it was terrible. He was at the end of his life. He was really wasted”There’s a slight pause here because I know how big fans Al and I are of The Small Faces.  I assume Moshe is as well. It’s a bit unsettling thinking about his demise.

We move back to Al and Moshe’s story;

“People like Peter Buck would shop at the last store. We had a Garage and Psychedelic section that was all like Sundazed (a great reissue imprint) and other related labels. That stuff would fly out of there, because nobody had a garage/psych section. Maybe Satellite Records did”.

“Oh, they weren’t around then” Moshe reminds us.

“I know” Al says. But they were the only ones that would have anything comparable. They wound up in a whole different place. I don’t even want to talk about Scott. I actually got to know him later. He was really cool, He burned me a Tony Joe White box that I really treasure”

“We had the largest James Brown section that I’ve ever seen. We had every James Brown we could order. We’d order 36 of them at a time. We had 80 Johnny Cash albums at one time. That’s what made the store different.”

“What was that MTV show? The Real World? Al asks. “They came and filmed in our store. They filmed in our store because they heard we had all these James Brown records and a lot of other great records. They came and shot and they said if they wanted to use it  they’d let us know, but they didn’t. They promised us they’d send us the video but they never did.  So “Fuck You Real World! Fuck You MTV!  I Hate My MTV! 

I tell them occasionally late at night I will watch a bit of I Want My ‘80s

“I HATE THE 80s!” Al tells me abruptly. “I love The Jesus and Mary Chain. I love Echo and The Bunnymen and I love specific groups. But people used to come in the store-and this is where I used to get riled up- people would come in the store and ask ‘Where’s your 80s section?’ and I’d say ‘We file by category and music by genre’.

“That was the thing” says Moshe. “The way Al is talking now. Sometimes that could put people off”.

“But some people were down with that” says Al.  “I had a conversation with somebody the other day; that people have to pick one album by an artist that precludes the rest of the artists’ output. There are certain artists like The Kinks or Pink Floyd or The Beach Boys or Lou Reed or whoever…artists who’ve made multiple great albums, and you don’t have to pick one album. It’s so lazy-minded…like ‘what’s their greatest album?‘ Top 10 lists. Top 40 lists. Bullshit!

“But” says Moshe “Other record stores would tolerate opinions and…”

“But should the come to the store to buy one record?” Al counters.

Moshe responds by saying “Well if they’re giving me money to buy that one record…”

“But I sold a lot of those ‘one records‘ Al says.  “Obviously if it was Love it would be Forever Changes, but that doesn’t negate Love’s self titled album and and Da Capo and Four Sail. We had that conversation”

“Well one time we had a customer come in and say Love Lost is my favorite Love album” Moshe looks at Al “and you’re response was

“Well I’ve heard that cliche before” and I was like ‘Al why are you…”

Al tells me “Moshe’s absolutely right about that. I disagree with it philosophically, but he’s right because there’s no point because favorites are legitimate…

“Moshe looks at Al and says “But this was a guy that has similar tastes in music as you”

“No, no you’re right because favorite is legitimate” Al repeats. “Best is not legitimate. I go off on people on facebook all day when they say“best”. I just had a thing on a facebook thread about T.Rex. Some critics there are are lovely and very nice to me and I like the guys and everything.  I respect them. But this guy didn’t really have any reason to be hostile…he said ‘T.Rex didn’t make any good records after ‘Tanx’…and I said ‘I’m sorry…records YOU didn’t like after ‘Tanx’ didn’t mean they didn’t make any other good records’. That’s the distinction I make between the subjective and the objective. I could go on and on and on; I’m verbose…”

“That’s part of my ethos” says Al.“I bought those albums when they came out. I was one of the three people in America that actually bought The Velvet Underground. I actually went back to The Velvet Underground and started with ‘Loaded’ but I always bought The Small Faces when they came out; The Kinks-I bought them all when they came out. I bought Pink Floyd when they came out.  We had all these people at the shop that would buy all these records and they’d keep coming back to the store and they wanted the next record…they basically wanted something else. They wanted ‘The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society’ and then they wanted ‘Arthur’.

Moshe turns to me and says “This is what the store was like. Al would be like an Al Milman Stage and Word Show.

“I’m not involved in music except listening to it” Moshe says “Once the store closed…I’m not really a musician so there’s no avenue.

“Well you’re a collector” Al tells him.

“I wouldn’t define myself as a collector” Moshe responds “because to me a collector is an obsessive person. I’m a buyer of records”.

“Eventually we’ll call you an obsessive person with a lot of records. It’s all the same.” Al tells Moshe.

“None of my kids understand” Moshe says. “I have four kids now but they don’t understand the mentality; but there are people, and you always know who they are, who are collectors, but I’m not a collector.”

“Oh no no no” Al says as he laughs “You’re not ready for a psychiatrist, but you’re an avid fan and you are a collector on some level.”

   Al Milman sockin’ it to Moshe Weinberg

I admit to them I have a distaste for the collectors market after spending so much time around indie artists and financing indie artists’ projects…and having run three independent record labels. I tell him I’m always disappointed to see collectors make more money off the sale of one record than the band ever made off an entire run of a thousand records. Of course this is kind of a dumb thing to say to someone who has made a living off selling collectible records.

“I don’t mind the collectors market on some level” Al tells me. “I don’t necessarily have a problem if they make money selling it if they like the music. If they don’t have any interest in the music, that’s when I take offense. But I can’t begrudge if they like it, and they’re actual, genuine fans that bought it when it came out and sell it for market value later.  I can’t begrudge them at all because if they sell it cheaply the guy they’re selling it to is going to turn around and sell it for $200. If they just buy it and they don’t have any respect for what it is, that’s another story”.

“It’s just supply and demand. In other words, if you don’t like indicting the whole of capitalism- and capitalism has its drawbacks-but it’s all one whole, and we’re all within that system. So I’m not going to hold it against just one guy. I’m not going to point the finger at one guy because he’s not going to sell it cheap, and get ripped off by some other guy who’s playing for himself. I grew up in New York. We’re wary of things like that. I hope the guys got a good game.  If he couldn’t sell it for that price and they try to talk him down so they can do to sell it at a good price. “I’m not going to fall for that. I don’t fall for any scam”

I tell Al I know artists who have re-pressed their own records if they become valuable much later after their first release. They make them look just like the originals and sell them on the collectors market. They only put out a few at a time so they don’t ruin the price.  I tell him these are not bootleggers.  These are artists who actually own the material.

“Actually it’s diabolical” he says. “I don’t respect it, but these are not stupid people. I’ll tell you what. If they’re getting luxuries from it than I think it’s scummy. If they’re surviving and eating and paying rent from it I think it’s alright. If they’re surviving from it that’s OK.”

“You know what Yoko Ono said about the Beatles and the John Lennon records? She doesn’t care about bootlegs if people are just paying their rent from it. If they’re making millions she’s going to go after them, but she doesn’t go after the small guys that are just eating and paying their rent from it. Paul McCartney does…well he did at one time. I read a story that he allegedly went to a stake-out of a bootlegger and hung out in a surveillance truck. It was in Japan and that’s crazy-obsessive. He seems like a nice guy but that’s nuts.”

Al tells me “We’d like a chapter of your Northwest book if you’re game for that. We know Gillian Gaar and Clark Humphrey. They have great books.”

I don’t have the heart to tell them that I am, in fact, writing a book…but it’s a completely different subject than music.  Then I tell them that recently I saw something about  the 20th Anniversary Edition ‘Loser’ the excellent chronicle of the Seattle music scene written by Clark Humphrey. In the ad the cover of the book’s new edition is shown and beside it copy announcing the release of ‘Loser’ by “Clark Humphries”

“Unbelievable!” I tell Al and he agrees. Clark’s proper name is clearly spelled on the book’s cover in the ad but no one took the time to look at the cover, then the ad copy and back to the cover a few times, and try to figure it out.  A misspelling of the authors name, when the cover of the book clearly shows the authors name?  Anyway, I pray Clark never saw it.  He’s a really good guy and might let it go…but on the other hand if it was me…but then, it is kind of funny knowing what a huge mistake was made.

“My friend had a power pop group in New York called Radio City” Al tells meThey were included in a Power-Pop book and the authors got all the information wrong. In fact I helped them correct it.  One of our friends would have been very insulted; that guy was omitted. I made sure he got reinstated. The other main guy in the group got reinstated too. They (music writers) do this all the time”.

“I’ll tell you what. If you have a chance to proofread when people are doing these things and they don’t proofread than it’s your own fault”.

I have to agree, but somewhat sheepishly, because I’m not able to rely on a proofreader and I make plenty of mistakes that I ask my readers to point out. I’m not above mistakes.

“I proofread a Zappa book with a guy I’m not talking to anymore” says Al “It was translated from French, but because I was  friends with Zappa I did it as a favor. We proofed for accuracy. We corrected all the mistakes.”

We begin to wrap things up.  All of us have more things to do.

“I just wanted to make sure I didn’t talk over any of Moshe’s stuff” Al tells me. “I don’t even know I’m doing that half the time. It’s not like it’s a malicious thing.”

Moshe admits “There were some conflicts with us at the store, but we’ve cleared it up. No one can put up with Al for more than ten minutes!”

“It was a miracle” according to Al. “There’s two different kinds of people. With some people it’s unconditional. I think our friendship is pretty unconditional, but I understand what you’re talking about. With some people it doesn’t rub, but with some people it does rub. I want so say most of the people I know that have had record stores together busted up and wanted to kill each other and I’m not going to mention any names. Moshe knows exactly who I’m talking about.”

“But I did want to chill out at some point” Moshe says. “It wasn’t necessarily before the store busted up. It was a long time before that.”

“I understand that” Al says to Moshe “Usually in a record store there’s one guy like me and one guy like you. It’s not abnormal. And most of these guys never speak to each other again. I think it’s really attributed to dishonesty more than anything else. We never had a dishonesty issue.”

“No” Moshe replies.

Al tells me “I’ve worked with people that run the gamut. People that had your job and people that were very technical. Music is at its freshest no matter how you do that whether it’s primitive or really technical.”

Al stops for a moment and says “I just want to mention people who worked for us before I forget about it. Robert Roth, Matt Sullivan from Atlantic Records and Brandon Pitts, a very good friend of ours.  Another personal friend of ours, Adam Bratman.  Todd Kluger and Rob Gardner.  No offense guys, I don’t remember everybody. I remember a guy named Eric and Gabe and Tom Brady-we have to mention him-not the asshole football player…that guy’s really an asshole, but I don’t have to tell you guys. I’m not a football fan but I can’t stand his politics.

We finish.  Al’s parting words of wisdom?  “We don’t look for trouble. It finds us.”

 

The new Alan Milman Sect record will be out at the end of this year. The Alan Milman with Evan Foster of The Boss Martians will be appearing at Darrell’s Tavern in Shoreline on August 25th. The Alan Milman Sect hasn’t done a show in 20 years so this is a golden opportunity!

Darrell’s Tavern is at 18041 Aurora Ave. North, Seattle, WA, 98133.  If you get lost on your way there, call (206) 542-6688.  Maybe they’ll answer.  Maybe you’ll get a recording of upcoming shows!

 

 

 

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources;  Al Milman and Moshe Weinberg (interview with the author); Jonny Zchivago ” The Alan Milman Sect-Stitches (1977-1988) Bedazzled BCD007″ (DIE OR DIY, April 18, 2014); Fallout Records (www.falloutrecords.com, retirieved July 6, 2018); Cynthia Rose “Legend Of Fallout Records, Books & Comics Evolves As Energetic New Owner Takes Over Capitol Hill Store” (The Seattle Times, August 27, 1999); Kory Grow ” Broken Records: The Final Days of Bleecker Bob’s Golden Oldies” (Spin Magazine, April 24, 2013); Nicole Brodeur “John Keister’s last stand: ‘Almost Live!’ Star Straddles Old and New Seattle” (The Seattle Times, August 25, 2017); Sarah Ravits ” Meet The Man Who Discovered All Your Favorite ’90s Music” (UPROXX, 1October 15, 2015); Zach “Remembering One of Seattle’s Greats on the Eve Of Record Store Day: Fallout Records 1984-2003” 107.7 The End, April 15, 2016); Sean Nelson “Seattle Music Vets Gathered to Revisit Hype! 20 Years Later and It Was Kind of Intense” (The Stranger, September 27, 2017); Michael Canter ” Bleecker Bob’s & The Demise Of The Independent Record Store” (The JiveWired Journal, October 15, 2012); Ira Robbins “The Alan Milman Sect” (Trouser Press, http://www.trouserpress.com/entry.php?a=alan_milman_sect retrieved July 6, 2018); The Alan Milman Sect-Punk Rock Christmas EP” (Old, Weak, But Always A Wanker-The Punk Years, April 21, 2017-retrived July 5, 2018); Rachel Belle”Legendary Seattle DJ Marco Collins is the Subject of the new SIFF film ‘The Glamour and The Squalor” (MyNorthwest.com, January 25,2018); “The Trojan Records Story” (www.trojanrecords.com/the-trojan-records-story-retriveved July 6, 2018); Tony Sokol “Rudeboy: The Story Of Trojan Records:Boogie on Reggae Women and Men, Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records breaks down ska beats” (Den of Geek, June 6, 2018); Steve Traiman “Bedazzled Discs Makes A Mark On Seattle Scene” (Billboard, Oct 10, 1998); Chris Morris “Abbey Road’s Inspiring Altruism” (Billboard, Apr 27, 1996).

LeROY BELL

LeRoy Bell made his first appearance on Fox network’s talent show The X Factor in September 2011  He appeared on the show for five consecutive weeks eventually ended up being chosen for the final 16 and went on to the live X-Factor shows. He was eliminated after the fifth live show finishing 8th overall in the inaugural season of the American version of the show. bottom three Although he did not win LeRoy’s profile was sent into the stratosphere (by the way…whatever happened to season one’s winner Melanie Ann Amaro?).

Although LeRoy had captured the imagination of many viewers via The X-Factor, and the show had kick-started his career rather than launched it, Bell had already had a brush with fame.  In fact he’d had several…first with the 70’s chart topping duo Bell and James and their hit “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)” The song ended up at number 15 in the Billboard Charts. He was also  a co-author of Elton John’s hit “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” (a world-wide hit which became a top-ten hit in the US) Three Way Love Affair” and “Are You Ready For Love”  He’d also co-written songs for The O’Jays, Rita Marley, The Temptations, The Spinners, Freda Payne The Three Degrees, and a host of others.

LeRoy didn’t become an overnight success because of his X-Factor appearance…but it was a chance for him to perform in front of a massive audience.. He’d spent much of the 2000s touring with the likes of BB King Etta James, Sheryl Crow, Leon Russell, Joan Osborne, B.B King, Etta James, Al Green, Joe Cocker, Michael McDonald, Van Morrison, Mavis Staples, The Temptations, The O’jays and more.  Whether he’d won or lost The X-Factor made little difference, but he seems grateful and it managed to get a whole new audience. The US version of The X-Factor lasted only two seasons, but he may be the most memorable artist of either one of them.

“It turned out to be a good thing in many ways.  It was definitley an eye-opener and interesting to see how TV is totally different than the side of music that I’d grown up with.  It was nerve-wracking. I was the oldest guy on the show”.

“The unique thing about the X-Factor is they have no age limit.  Most of these things like American Idol are all centered on age people  I think you couldn’t  be over 30 years old,  So here was a show that you didn’t have to be a certain age, so it opened up a lot of things. It was fun in that way”

Much was made at the time that LeRoy was 59 years old, even though he looked half that age; not in a baby-faced way, but as a confident, soft-spoken man who’d also seen a lot of what the world was about.  It seems to have been both a curse and a boon to him.  Constantly being reminded of his looks must have reinforced our reliance and the importance of youth-culture.  Even today at 66 and with the look of a man half his age it’s hard not to notice that LeRoy Bell must have been blessed with good genes…and those genes didn’t seem to reflect only his looks.

One drawback of appearing on the show was he was forced to sing familiar songs by other artists rather than the U.K. show.  LeRoy’s voice got him attention and his presentation was great but his real strength was in his  songwriting. Unfortunately he had to perform songs by more familiar figures like  Bill Withers (Lean on Me), U2 (I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For), Sarah McLachlan ‘Angel’).and a knock-em-dead performance of the Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down”

But let’s go back to the beginning.

Leroy Bell was born on born August 8,1951 in Pensacola Florida, but found himself living in Germany the first few years of his life.  His father was in the US Army, and he admits he was an “army brat”

“I got my first guitar when I was 13”. He says “ I thought I was going to play guitar, but ended up playing drums. Back in those days we didn’t have amplifiers but we had tape recorders that we used to use as amplifiers. I played with German guys because I went to a German school.  My dad wanted me to learn a language, so I didn’t go to the base school..  At the time we were at the US base in Darmstadt,Germany, but we moved around a lot”

In 1966 LeRoy’s father retired from the Army, and settled in the Northwest. It wasn’t until he was a teenager in Seattle that his grandfather told LeRoy his uncle was Thom Bell, one of the most prominent producers, arrangers and songwriters of the wildly popular “Philly Sound”. Thom Bell. along with producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff created a sound that blended soulful harmonies, lush arrangements, passionate vocals and heavy doses of funk,  In fact Paul Zollo reports in his great book “More Songwriters on Songwriting”  that Fred Wesley, trombonist for the James Brown band and George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic, called The Philly sound  “putting the bow tie on funk.”

Aside from his friendship with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Thom Bell found his first success as an arranger and session man for Cameo-Parkway Records.In 1966, he was introduced to a local group then called The Orphonics; the band soon changed their name to The Delfonics and Thom Bell produced and arranged their first two singles, both of which got local Philly attention.

In 1967, with Cameo Records on its last legs, Thom Bell once again took The Delfonics into the studio to produce and arrange a song written by lead singer William Hart.The result was “La-La Means I Love You”  By now Cameo no longer existed as a label so the single, and it’s follow-up “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) were released on the Philly Groove label set up by The Delfonics manager, Stan Watson.  After securing national distribution the label became a viable player. In 1968  and The Delfonics became one of the mainstays of the Philly Sound. In 1970 The Thom Bell/William Hart penned “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), won a Grammy ;

Thom Bell  went on to work for Gamble and Huff’s label, Philadelphia International  Records before creating his own production company. He also founded his own publishing company BellBoy Music and later joined forces with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff to create Mighty Three Music (a totally apt name for the trio’s publishing house).


The music the three were creating almost defined a generation of black artists that found an audience with people of all races and all ages; The O’Jays, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes (and later Teddy Pendergrass), The Three Degrees, MFSB, The Stylistics  and dozens more became the soundtrack of the early to mid-’70s

In 1972 Thom Bell was signed to produce a struggling band that had just been dropped from Motown.  The band was The Spinners.  Bell created a stronger Philly influence for their music and they became one of the most successful groups of the early 1970s, pumping out hits like “Ghetto Child”, “I’ll Be Around”, “The Rubberband Man”, “Mighty Love” and what may be their signature song,”Could it Be I’m Falling in Love.

It was from this pedigree that LeRoy Bell had come from, and soon he’d be part of it. LeRoy tells how his career began;

“My uncle, (Thom Bell) came out here to visit and loved it out here  My grandfather told him I was playing in bands and interested in writing, so I ended up going back to Philly with him.  I just hung out with him in the studio while he was producing The Spinners and The O’Jays.  So I was emerged into that whole scene, and soaked it up like a sponge.  Then he moved back out here (to Seattle) in the early 70s.  I started songwriting and he had a little publishing company called Mighty Three Music at the time and I started writing under his wing and he showed me the ropes and how to write a song. I got to see him work; I was spoiled that way. It was a unique “one-of-those-things”.  I owe alot to him-I owe my basically my whole career to him really. I think if he wouldn’t have been there, who knows?  I think I still would have been in music because I loved it,  but I don’t know I would have achieved as much without his help and his guidance”.  That’s how I really got started. I owe alot to him.  I mean I’d been playing music but I got real serious about it at that point…about the early to middle 70s”

Leroy continues the story

“Then I got hooked up with my friend and partner, one of the guys I played in the band with (the short-lived Special Blend) named Casey James.  We were good friends because we were in the same band and then we started writing together.  We became staff writers for ‘Mighty Three Music’, so whenever a project came up we’d have a shot at it.  We could submit some songs”.

“In 1977 we landed a couple of songs on a little-known project (at the time); Elton John’s “Thom Bell Sessions”.  It was done at Kaye-Smith Studios in Seattle (over-dubs were done at Sigma Sounds in Philadelphia) Thom had moved into Kaye-Smith Studio and become friends with Lester Smith (co-owner with Danny Kaye).  Bill Smith wanted Thom to run the studio.  Thom didn’t really want to run the studio per se, but he didn’t mind having offices there.  Anyway we had offices there writing.  We’d go in every day just like a job.

“Elton John had contacted Thom about doing something. So Thom flew to London and hung out with Elton for awhile and they talked and came back and told Casey and I were going to do something  Elton John.  He told us to see what we could come up with. We ended up writing three songs: we got lucky and got all three songs on the record.  It’s got  “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” on it, a song we co-wrote with Thom “Are You Ready For Love” and “Three Way Love Affair”  

The album was left unfinished, but released by MCA in 1979  with the inclusions of “Nice and Slow”, “Country Love Song” and “Shine On Through”
One of the original recordings, “Mama Can’t Buy You Love” became a hit in 1979. It was a top 10 record in the US.and spent one week at the top of the UK charts, even though it remained on the charts there for 25 weeks.

LeRoy tells me “I think they really didn’t know what to do with it (the album) so nothing really happened after that but Elton got nominated for a grammy for “Mama Can’t Buy You Love”

In 2002 ”Are You Ready For Love” got re-mixed by DJ Ashley Beadle and made the rounds of London clubs. Meanwhile Justin Robertson was playing it around Manchester.  Eventually there would be re-mixes by DJ’s Linus Love, Freedom Five and Mylo  Soon afterwards it was picked up as music for a Sky Football TV advertisement that was so popular it was released on Fatboy Slim’s Southern Fried label.  The remixes also catapulted “The Thom Bell Sessions” into the U.K charts (now called “The Complete Thom Bell Sessions)”

“It became a huge hit in Europe because it became a soccer theme” says LeRoy “then it just blew up there and became a way bigger hit than when it had originally come out in ‘79”,

In fact it became a number one UK hit for Elton John; this time selling even more than the original. 1979 release.

Around the time Elton was recording “The Thom Bell Sessions”, LeRoy Bell and Casey James began their own recordings as Bell and James

“We were staff writers and of course we secretly wanted to be a band so we ended up doing a duo thing”

The pair, Bell and James was signed by in 1978 by A&M records based on the previous songs they’d written for Elton John, The O’Jays, Freda Payne, MFSB,The Three Degrees, and others.  Bell and James had a hit right out of the box with  “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)” from their debut album.  The song made it to #15 in the Billboard charts.
.
“That was the height of disco”, says LeRoy, “but we never wrote the song as a disco hit…but it was a dance hit so we got swept up into that whole genre”

They followed up their debut album with “Only Make Believe (1979) and “In Black and White” (1980), but never found the same kind of success as they had with “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night)”  By 1982 their record deal with A&M fizzled out.

“We did a few more projects with Thom”. LeRoy tells me. “In 1984 he produced a project with the ‘I Threes’ (Bob Marley’s widow Rita Marley, Marcia GriffIths and Judy Mowatt).)  The song, “Calling Out Around The World” was written by Thom Bell along with LeRoy and his writing partner Casey James.   “

“We didn’t do anything for awhile” says LeRoy, adding “ I was a little bit down because of the record deal and didn’t feel like creating music for awhile.  I gave up on writing and went back to playing drums.  I played in a cover bands.  One of them called ‘The Lost Vuarnets’ for quite a few years”

The Lost Vuarnets featured Gary Smith on vocals, LeRoy on drums and vocals, guitarist Al Katz also adding vocals, horn man Craig Flory and bassist Keith Bakke).  The band’s name was a tip of the hat to the popular Vuarnet sunglasses that were ”must-haves” in the 1980’s.  In 1993, Smith,who founded the band told journalist Tom Phalen

“It really was a stupid name but after 10 years we’re stuck with it.  If I’d known we would have lasted this long I’d have come up with something better he would have come up with a different name if I’d known we were going to last so long

Leroy Bell & His Only Friends
Leroy Bell-Guitar, Vocals, Daniel Walker-Keyboards, Terry Morgan-Bass, Davis Martin-Drums,

 

After years of cover bands, and picking up day jobs Bell says “around 2000 I’d started getting itchy to sing and write again.  I wanted to do my own thing again”.

LeRoy began doing solo dates and eventually contacted Terry Morgan for some assistance.

“I’d met Terry before.  I didn’t know much about him, but I knew he booked groups, did productions and that kind of thing” Bell says, “so I contacted him and said ‘hey, would you be interested in booking me as a singer/songwriter?’ Then I sent him a demo tape and when I hear back from him he said yeah I’d be interested, but I’d want to play in the band”

During the 1980’s Terry Morgan, had been one of the original members of Modern Productions and had opened up the downtown Showbox to present some of the best punk/alternative shows Seattle had ever seen.  When the original members of Modern Productions went their separate ways Morgan went on to book shows at the Paramount Theater the Showbox and other venues around town under the name Modern Enterprises, He also worked in band management, booked talent for Festival Sundiata, the Out-To-Lunch series of concerts and the Stillaguamish Festival of the River.

“Everybody in Seattle knows Terry”, LeRoy said…and it’s pretty close to the truth.

Terry remembers hearing from LeRoy around 2000;

“He was looking for some personal gigs, so I said ‘send me a demo’.  We’d known each other since back in the ‘Bell and James’ days, but never really connected to do anything with him.  it was just peripheral. I would go down and hang out at ‘Mighty Three Music’s’ office and was once at Kaye-Smith Studios during the Elton John recordings”.

“So LeRoy sent me a cassette” says Morgan”  and I liked it-I really liked it!  So I said look, ‘I really don’t want to manage any more bands after managing everybody in town”. I said ‘I’ll work with you under one condition, and that’s if I can play in the band.  I just don’t want to be a hired-gun that gets tossed aside once you decide everything is good’.

“So we started playing together and I took over management”. Morgan says “Just putting things together”.“The first act I had him open for was Sergio Mendes at the Moore Theater.”  That was about 17 years ago….2000 or 2001 at the latest”.  Terry and LeRoy have worked together ever since.  After his solo work, the band LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends was formed.  With LeRoy at the center, surrounded by Terry Morgan on bass Davis Martin on drums, and Daniel Walker on keyboards. Later Davis Martin was replaced by Bill Ray on drums.

“From the beginning we started booking ourselves and played wherever we could” says Terry.  “ “We had already been out touring with B.B. King, Etta James, Al Green and a number of other acts before LeRoy did X-Factor. We’d also been out with Leon Russell LeAnn Rimes, Los Lobos, Mavis Staples, The Temptations, The O’Jays, Roberta Flack, Idina Mendel, Bare Naked Ladies, India.Aire, Erykah Badu and Jonny Lang’.

I was aware of the British X-Factor”, Terry says  “and over there you could be any age and you could do your own material. So I said “why not? What have we got to lose? The worst that could happen is you’d get on TV and seen by six million people”.

“So we did the auditions in Seattle, and then  just waited and waited and waited and waited.  Eventually he got the call. Then he went to L.A. for a week and they said ‘OK, we’ll call you back’ Then he got the third call and that was the beginning of it all.  We did all the paperwork and legal stuff. 

By the time LeRoy did his last appearance on the show he ended up in eighth place. He’d also found TV was a whole different thing than the music business he’d been working in for so long “but it turned out to be a good thing in some ways”  he says.

One disappointment of appearing on the show was, unlike the British program, he was forced to sing familiar songs by other artists rather than show his skill as a songwriter. His voice caught the judges and audiences’ attention, but his real strength is in songwriting.  In fact he’d already made a living through writing…and most of the audience weren’t even aware of the songs he’d written.

“After the show became really popular we got a request to go to South Africa” says LeRoy.  “We played there as well.  Terry and I made the trip.  There’s a girl who’s really huge over there-Zahara-we did a live DVD with her, which was really really cool-and we ended up co-writing a song or two. It was kind of odd to be in such a different culture and walk down the street and have someone recognize you.  That’s the magic of TV”

LeRoy and Terry did two shows with Zahara on June 8 and 9, 2012.  The concert also included the Soweto Gospel Choir. When LeRoy, who was already well-known in South Africa, walked out on the stage the crowd went crazy.  The concert was packaged as a DVD called ‘Zahara: The Beginning Live’ and it shipped double platinum. In 2013 it was nominated for a South African Grammy (SAMA) for “Best DVD, Live.

Bell admits he had to google her when he was first approached to work with Zahara. He told The Daily Sowetan

“She is an amazing singer who achieved success within a short space of time, a great singer and an accomplished songwriter. I got hold of her music, and simply fell in love with her voice”.

Zahara responded by admitting  initially she nervous about the prospect of working with Bell as he is the same person who has written songs for music greats Michael Bolton, Elton John and the O’Jays, among other big international names.

“But since his arrival, the chemistry between us has been great” she said. “We connected easily when we were introduced.  Now is the time to work, and I know that we will perhaps fight, as this is inevitable in a creative space, and as long as the fight will be for the improvement of the DVD that is fine with me.  I just love this man’s voice and the fact that I titled a song on my album’ Brand New Day’ just like he has done on his, this is simply an incredible coincidence,”

“Since then we were doing a lot of touring but the past two years we haven’t been touring as much”.  Says LeRoy.  “We’re playing much more regional.  We haven’t been out with as many big names as we were for awhile.  Many of them have passed away.  We did a few dates with Steve Miller and quite a few dates with Huey Lewis.  He’s still around and he has a great band.  I don’t have anything against doing national tours, but it has to be the right kind of thing.  We played the house of blues in Chicago.  It was fun. We used to play with all the older guys, but it’s not the same”.

After so many years in the music business LeRoy is aware how much it has changed.

“It’s a completely different scene than it was.  Some things stay the same but whole marketing is completely different now. Streaming and online and videos.  When I was a kid it didn’t matter what a band looked like.  Now it’s more what they look like than what they sound like.You can create any sound on your computer or your laptop.  Then you get a check for 1000 plays for $2.”

It’s something young bands have come to accept.

“We’ve done about six albums and they do pretty well” He says “We sell them at the shows.  We sell a lot better when we tour with the bigger acts, because you’re kind of co-opting their audiences.  They’re used to buying the main acts merchandise or they may already have it. But we have our own label  There are no middle men. You can really enhance your sales that way”.

“We’ve got some shows coming up and I’ve been writing for a new record.  I’ve also been doing some online digital stuff, releasing directly to streaming services.  I have a tiny studio at my house, so I can program and release “stuff,  so I keep writing all the time”.

“I have a couple of songs streaming right now.  One is ‘Who am I to U’,  The other is ‘Stay Together’  Both are available at ‘Spotify’ and ‘i-tunes’  You can also find ‘Jaded’ off our last album, ‘When That Fire Rolls Around’.

After so many years in the business it’s clear LeRoy Bell and his Only Friends are in it for the long haul…maybe another 17 years.  Meanwhile, they continue to work and though their gigs are regional right now, they’ll probably be out touring again when the situation is right.  LeRoy admits that as he gets older he likes his comfort.  It’s probably true of the rest of his crew.  Every one of them are consummate musicians with decades of work behind them….so while they continue to play the Northwest, you might want to get out and see them soon.

LeRoy and His Only Friends will be appearing at:

Saturday April 14, 7:30 PM,The Marysville Opera House, Marysville WA

Saturday April 21 8:00 PM, Jazzbones, Tacoma WA

Saturday April 28, 9:00 PM, The Tractor Tavern, Seattle WA

Friday May 4, 7:00, Hillside House Concerts, Leavenworth WA

Saturday May 19, 10:00 PM, Sunbanks Festival at Sunbanks Resort, Electric City WA

Advance tickets are available at:  http://leroybell.com/   




-Dennis R. White. Sources: Dave Beck “Singer-Songwriter LeRoy Bell:The Rise, Fall And Rise Again KUOW.org,Mar 21, 2013); Tom Fitzgerald “A Hall of Fame hitmaker finds happiness and harmony in Bellingham”(Seattle Times, February 15, 2018); “LeRoy Bell and His Only Friends” leroybell.com, retrieved April 4, 2018); LeRoy Bell (X-Factor US Wiki, retrieved April 4, 2018); Erin K. Thompson “LeRoy Bell’s Breakout Year.  And he’s only…60?” (The Seattle Weekly, December 6, 2011); Dennis R. White “LeRoy Bell Interview” (April 3, 2018); Eric Cerna “LeRoy Bell (Conversations At KCTS 9,Season 5 Episode 508, retrieved, April 3, 2018); Allison Corneau “5 Things You Don’t Know About 59-Year-Old X Factor Standout LeRoy Bell” (Us Weekly, October 7. 2011); Dennis R. White “Terry Morgan Interview” (April 6, 2018); Ed Hogan “Bell and James” (allmusic.com, retrieved April 6, 2018, retrieved April 4, 2018); Edward Tsumele and Patience Bambalel  “Brand new day for Zahara and Leroy Bell” (Sowetan Live [ South Africa}, June 06, 2012); Paul Zollo “More Songwriters on Songwriting” De Capo Publishing, November 8, 2016); “How Thom Bell Rang Up The Hits For Philly International” (Billboard Magazine, June 16, 2006): Tom Phalen “ Lost Vuarnets Find Success Without Even Practicing” (The Seattle Times, October 8, 1993); Michael Paoletta and Lars Brandle “After U.K. Hit is U.S. Ready for Elton?” (Billboard, September 20, 2003)

 

 

RED KELLY

In an obituary after Red Kelly’s death on June 9, 2004  Mike Lewis of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote

“Red Kelly was “known as a comedian with a jazz problem”

It’s a line Red would probably have used as a self-deprecating joke; but the truth is that Red Kelly was an accomplished jazz bassist first, and secondly known to use comedy onstage and throughout his career as a host in his clubs.  It’s one of the things that brought patrons into his jazz venues both in Tumwater WA and in Tacoma WA.  But a “jazz problem”?  Not in the least!  Red Kelly had spent nearly three decades performing with with jazz and Swing luminaries including  Woody Herman, Red Norvo, Buddy Rich Harry James, Maynard Ferguson, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett, Charlie Barnet, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton and a host of others.  His career spanned the Big Band era to Bebop and on to the “Cool Jazz” of the early ‘60s  In all, Red Kelly took part in the recording of over 100 albums, all of them with top-notch, bona fide jazz greats.  He’d even played with and developed a friendship with jazz icon Charle “The Bird” Parker. In 2003 Red recounted some of his favorite tales of an adventurous life in jazz to the Tacoma’ News Tribune.

They included a story about Charlie Parker stealing a policeman’s horse and riding it into a club in New York City. The audience (and presumably the policeman) were so amused that Parker wasn’t charged for his theft of the horse.  Red spoke about his friendship with Betty Grable, who, he said “liked the dirtiest jokes” and claimed that Count Basie had died owing him $3 on a 1959 World Series bet.

Another of his favorite stories was about  the time local Tacoma mobsters tried to make one of their rival’s death look like an accident.  They had put their already-dead victim behind the wheel of his car and pushed it into Commencement Bay…but unfortunately had  left his car keys in his pocket.

Two of the bandleaders Kelly worked for, Woody Herman and Stan Kenton were notorious musical foes.  According to Kelly “Woody didn’t trust anything that didn’t swing. Stan didn’t trust anything that did,”  Red was full of tales about the people he’d worked with over the decades, a few imaginary ones, sometimes corny jokes, but more often than not extremely quick with unexpected punchlines..  He punctuated his comedic stories between (and during) the music he led after opening his own jazz clubs. His fans loved him for it.

Thomas Raymond Kelly was born August 29, 1927 in Shelby, Montana to a family too poor to raise him. He was shuffled between orphanages from the time he was a toddler until age 16, There’s not much documentation of his early childhood but we know at two years old Red was stricken by polio. Up to the end of his life Red would rely on a cane due to Post-polio syndrome.  This would also make it difficult when he later decided to take lessons to play the drums-his first instrumental choice.  He and his tutors found out he wasn’t able to play adequately because his polio had made it difficult to use his feet well enough to work the hi-hat pedal. But we also know he became a member of a fife-and-drum corps organized by the St. Thomas Orphanage in Great Falls Montana-a town very near Red’s birthplace in Shelby.  The drum was most probably a snare.

“My childhood was like a Dickens situation,” Kelly once said, referring to being raised in orphanages in Missoula and Great Falls Montana.  “It was rough being a Depression baby,” Various chroniclers point out that Red grew up in Montana orphanages, and was reunited with his family at age 16.  Others claim that at age 16 he dropped out of school, ran away (either from an orphanage or his family) to become a professional bass player.  No matter what the case was, there was a silver lining at the end of his struggles.  One day when Red was a freshman at Seattle Prep high school he came across an old discarded, stand-up double-bass stored away in a closet.  Red took it home and worked hard to become proficient on the instrument.  One of his mentors was Johnny Wittwer, the bandleader at Tacoma’s China Pheasant in Tacoma. Wittwer told him;

“You got a great tone kid, but you don’t know what you’re doing. Follow the pinky on my left hand and you got a job.”

Not long after he mastered that, drummer and bandleader Tiny Hill (born Harry Lawrence Hill and weighing over 365 pounds) was coming through Seattle looking for a bassist. The next night Red was onstage, beginning a touring career that would last three decades.

“I picked the brains of the best players” Red later said. “Ted Fio Rito, Curt Sykes, Randy Brooks, Sam Donahue, Chubby Jackson,Herbie Fields, Charlie Barnet, Red Norvo Stan Kenton,and Les Brown.  “We both hated each otherKelly said of Brown.  Red would eventually work with Woody Herman’s band for 14 years.

In 1949 Red began playing bass in “Chubby” Jackson’s Big Band.  “Chubby’” real name was Greig Stewart Jackson and weighed over 365 pounds when Red met him.  It was through Chubby’s band that Red entered the rarified company of national stars.

Chubby’s band was unique in that it included three bassists, Red Kelly, Curly Russell and Chubby Jackson himself, who fronted the band, sang and provided wild antics and enthusiasm.  The band did a short  stint at one of  New York City’s finest clubs The Royal Roost. The Royal Roost had originally opened as a restaurant called Topsy’s Chicken Shack.  When the failing restaurant became available, jazz entrepreneur Ralph Watkins and his partner, Morris Levy bought the place from a “Boston businessman”  Watkins had strong ties within the jazz community having presented and produced jazz concerts during the 40’s. Levy had the kind of mob connections that could make a lot of unreported  money through the club’s coat check and photography franchises. The restaurant-turned club was renamed The Royal Chicken Roost (eventually the “Chicken” part of the name was dropped).  The venue was not successful at first, but at the urging of jazz disc jockey Sid Torin ( aka D.J. Symphony Sid) co-owners Watkins and Levy agreed to present a Bebop show at the club.

According to Levy “Such a crowd showed up that we had to call the cops. It turned the spot into a progressive jazz joint.  There was a line up the block. We had Dexter Gordon or Charlie Parker or Miles Davis. They did two nights a week, and then it grew to three nights a week, then six and seven nights a week…. It was really fabulous. We became the first Bebop club in the city.”

After that success The Royal Roost began to present the latest jazz performers like, Max Roach, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Tadd Dameron and many more of the pioneers of the new style of jazz. Booking so many Bebop artists led to the Royal Roost becoming known as “The Birthplace of Bop” and “The Metropolitan Bopera House,”  a pun referring to the Royal Room’s proximity to New York’s Old Metropolitan Opera House, then at 1411 Broadway.  By 1948 the club was the place to be for the jazz  cognoscenti and began a decades-long, innovative place for jazz musicians to stretch their chops. It was these players that Red would find himself with.

Although “Chubby’s” band would not last long, he continued to work as  a well-respected side man and even ended up hosting some local (NYC) children’s show on television;  Chubby Jackson’s Little Rascals from 1959 until March 1961, The Chubby Jackson Show during the summer of 1961 (both on WABC TV) and Space Station Nine in 1962 and finally a short stint as host of the  Looney Tunes Show. (the latter two on WOR TV).  Chubby’s son, Duffy Jackson, has gone on to have his own distinguished jazz career.  He worked with Count Basie and Lionel Hampton, as both a swing drummer and a bassist.  He’s often delighted audiences by combining his drum solos with bass interludes.

During the early ‘50s Red toured with Herbie Fields, Charlie Barnet, Red Norvo, and Claude Thornhill. During his first outing with Norvo he took on the nickname Kelly and “Red” Mitchell (both bass players) were living in the same apartment in New York City.  Another “Red”-Red Norvo called Red Mitchell to invite him to tour but it was actually Kelly who Norvo was talking to. No matter, though; both Kelly and Mitchell would go on to have successful careers.  Both Red Kelly and Red Mitchell eventually worked with Norvo, and Kelly and Mitchell would find several future chances to play together.

By 1954 Red Kelly found himself touring Europe with Woody Herman’s band.  He recorded and toured with Herman throughout the 50’s, but also took on studio projects with Dick Collins among others. He then returned briefly to Seattle and then on to Los Angeles where he worked with Stan Kenton, Med Flory, Maynard Ferguson and Lennie Niehaus as well as a valued session man for other jazz artists. Red Kelly had spent much of his life as an in-demand Bebop player, but by the late 50’s he began experimenting with “cool jazz”  Today we think of “cool jazz” as a popular, lighter, more melodic and listener-friendly form of jazz.  Hundreds of artists have made and maintained their success by playing this genre over the past few decades.

The truth is that the term “cool jazz” was originally meant as a derisive term describing what many older jazz players thought was an aberration, and the total opposite of “hot jazz” which included experimental, traditional and the prevailing genre of the day- Bebop.  Cool jazz depended on arrangements rather than improvised solos.  The tempo was more relaxed and the palette much softer. It would take several years for the term to lose it’s spike, but the work of many jazz greats like The Modern Jazz Quartet, Gerry Mulligan,Chet Baker,.Stan Getz and most importantly Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool helped the genre become more in vogue.

Although Red Kelly never abandoned Bebop, his involvement in The Modest Jazz Trio saw him move away from the harsher tones and frantic sounds of his earlier work with players like Red Norvo, Dizzy Gillespie and Maynard Ferguson.  The Modest Jazz Trio included Red Kelly on bass, renowned guitarist Jim Hall and Kelly’s old friend and fellow bassist Red Mitchell.  However Mitchell would forego bass with The Modest Trio and provide piano instead.  The trio recorded one great album, “Good Friday Blues”

Down Beat magazine’s gave the album five stars, and critic Ira Gitler wrote:

“In this day of trends and fads, where the jazz we hear is contrived in many instances, this is a revelation. Perhaps it is all the more warming because it is accomplished within the context of a trio. Here, the music just flows out a stream of genuine emotion from three artists who obviously enjoy playing for the sake of playing. This surrounds the album with a feeling that defies rating by stars. It exemplifies the best kind of honest jazz expression.”

There have been several re-issues of the album, most notably in 1979 (which includes a 12 page booklet) and 2011 when 101 distribution re-issued  “Good  Friday Blues” under the artist name “Jim Hall and his Modest Trio”.  It included three bonus tracks featuring Chico Hamilton on drums and George Divivier on bass (recorded February 8, 1956)
Another five of the bonus tracks were recorded on January 10 & 24,1957.  These tracks include Jim Hall on guitar, Red Kelly on bass and Carl Perkins on piano (NOT the Rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins that first comes to mind)

Ironically Perkins had also been stricken with polio as a child. He was unable to play piano without his left hand being parallel to the keyboard and used his elbow to hit the deeper bass keys.  This earned him the nickname “the crab” Perkins had found fame working with the Curtis Counce Quintet, alongside Harold Land, Jack Sheldon and drummer Frank Butler. He also performed with Big Jay McNeely, Tiny Bradshaw, Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Dexter Gordon among dozens of others.   After time in the US Army Perkins recorded with The Oscar Moore Trio, the Clifford Brown–Max Roach Group and with Frank Morgan.

Eventually Perkins founded his own trio along with bassist Leroy Vinnegar and Lawrence Marable on drums.  Perkins is practically forgotten these days but during his short life he was considered one of Bebop’s greatest players and writers. Perkins died from a drug overdose on March 17, 1958; he was only 29 years old. He’d only  recorded one album under his own name (“Introducing Carl Perkins”) but he also left the song “Groove Yard” first made famous by The Montgomery Brothers (Wes Montgomery on guitar,and his brothers  Buddy on piano & vibraphone and Monk on bass).  Groove Yard” remains one of the most covered songs from 1950’s jazz.

Red Kelly worked with Harry James for most of the 1960s,  It was during his time with James that Red struck what would be a life-long friendship with drummer Buddy Rich.  The two collaborated on several projects during the late-60’s but by the early 1970s Red’s career was slowing down as he became more reluctant to constantly tour and had quit the double-bass for the much lighter and easier to handle electric bass guitar.  All those years of toting around a double-bass in it’s case had taken a toll on Red-who had Post-polio syndrome almost his entire life.  

Harvey Siders in “Jazz Times” wrote of Red:  

“If ever a musician was made for the road, Red Kelly was the living template: a hard-swinging, hard-drinking, easy-going, what-town-are-we-in-now guy”.

In 1973 Red married Donna Griswold and they settled down near the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. In 1974 they opened their own jazz club in adjacent Tumwater Washington.  The Tumwater Conservatory, as they called it, was just around the corner from the old Olympia Brewery, and barely a stone’s throw from the state Capitol building.  Naturally the club attracted political types as well as local jazz lovers, state workers reporters the occasional oddball looking for a place fit in;.  Red regaled his audience with both his music and his humor six nights a week along with his trio of himself on bass (and comedy), Don Ober on Guitar and Jack Percival on drums.

Another NW jazz great, Ernestine Anderson recalled Red as “one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He was so witty and so quick. To be around Red you were laughing all of the time.”

Anderson also credits Kelly in reviving her career. In the 60’s jazz had fallen out of favor as more and more rock and roll hit popular culture.  In 1964 Ernestine fled to Europe .where it was easier for American jazz musicians and singers to make a living.

“I don’t think jazz ever died” She said. “It suffered a setback during the sixties. I had to move to London in order to work because a jazz person couldn’t work in the United States when rock ‘n’ roll became the music. I didn’t think it would last  long, and I don’t think the rock ‘n’ roll people thought it would last  long…”

Shortly after her returning to the US in the late 60’s Ernestine decided to retire, and she spent several years doing menial labor; but her friends and family that she re-establish her jazz career  By the time Red and his wife Donna opened The Tumwater Conservatory, Anderson says she began sitting in on weekends,

“I worked there for about a year every weekend to get my chops back” she told Mike Lewis of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “ Kelly was phenomenal,  He used to call me his daughter”.

By 1976 The Tumwater Conservatory had become a favorite watering hole for state legislators and all sorts of politicos. One night (after closing time) Red and some of his buddies from the state capitol sat around talking and drinking.  Someone brought up the subject of Kelly running for a state office in the upcoming election.  It was nothing but idle, back-slapping humor, but John White, State Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press happened to be in the after-hours crowd.  By morning he’d sent a piece to the wire service proclaiming that Red Kelly, prominent jazz musician would be running for Washington State Governor.  Within hours print and television media were on his doorstep wanting to know more about his candidacy and under which party he planned to run, all of them not understanding it had been a joke.  At the time Washington law only required 100 signatures backing a candidate, and a nominating convention. Red was game as long as it wasn’t serious. The 100 signatures were no problem at all and the convention was held Tumwater Conservatory.  Red famously said:

”I went to bed a drunken musician and woke up a drunken gubernatorial candidate.”

Red wasn’t about to let his campaign be anything less than absurd.  He and his wife decided to create the OWL Party under which to run.  The acronym was meant to stand for “Out With Logic” or “On With Lunacy”.  In their view, either of them worked. The OWL  party slogan was “We don’t give a hoot” and “Unemployment isn’t working.” Their platform supported being “for everything and against everything else.” It also promised to “call in all the state’s negotiable assets and convert them to cash just to see what all that money looks like.”

In Washington State’s Official Voters Pamphlet Kelly wrote;

“The importance of this election to the citizens of our fair state cannot be underestimated. These issues are broad, high, wide and handsome is as handsome does. I have found, however, that the issues are not the issues for once an issue is made of the issues and the issues are responded to, they no longer are issues but become answers.

“Because of the above mentioned dialectical problem I am responding to some of the more pressing non-issues facing this state.

“1) It has become apparent that unemployment isn’t working but…

“2) Inflation is. I feel we have done a good job of getting inflation off of dead center and back on the move again.

“3) We must get the girls out of those sweaty saunas and back on the streets again. This is gradually being done and I can see the red light at the end of the tunnel on this program.

“4) Because of the energy crisis and potential oil spill non-issues, we have been asked to think tanker. What I propose is the importation of Irish tinkers to fix leaking tankers. In this way, instead of thinking tankers we can think tinkers, thereby solving two problems with the single stroke of a ball-peen hammer: (a) we reduce oil spills and (b) we help wind down the war in Ireland. It is imperative that the other candidates grasp the bull by the tail and face the situation squarely on this issue.

“It will always be my contention that the buck starts here, so remember, a vote for Red Kelly is like taking two giant steps backward so if you believe in my programs say “Mother-may-I” and throw the rascals out.”

1976 was hard economic times for the country and Washington State in particular because of layoffs by the state’s biggest employer, Boeing.  This was the era of stagflation, the gasoline shortage and the state nearly bankrupt.  People were ready for a little fun at the expense of the two major political parties.  In those days conventional wisdom was that both the Democrats and the Republicans were pretty much the same, and the public didn’t think highly of either of them.  Red Kelly took advantage of this and peppered his entire campaign with humor.

With Red in the race for governor it was decided that the OWL party should also field other candidates in several races.  The candidates took on nicknames to make the entire OWL platform even funnier.  Kelly’s running mates included Jack “The Ripoff” Lemon for Lieutenant Governor, “Fast” Lucie Griswold (Donna’s mother) for Secretary of State, Ruthie “Boom Boom” McInnis for State Auditor, “Bunco” Bob Kelly for Attorney General, Archie “Whiplash” Breslin for Insurance Commissioner, and Bob “Earthquake” Ober for Commissioner of Public Lands who  pledged to “go forth and gently commission the land.”  “Fast Lucie” Griswold (Red’s mother-in-law).wrote in the official voters’ pamphlet that:

“It has come to my attention while campaigning across the width and breadth of Tumwater that no Secretary of State has been able to take shorthand or do typing. It is my intention, therefore, when elected to take a correspondence course in typing and shorthand hereby giving this state something it has never had or wanted. Furthermore, I am taking unequivocal stands against the following: (1) The heartbreak of psoriasis; (2) Bed wetting; (3) The big ‘O’; (4) Post nasal drip”

After the election Red later pointed out that “Everyone we ran came in third” The OWL party had won about 250,000 votes statewide.  They still hold the record for the most successful third party run in Washington state history. In fact, the OWL party received approximately 8% of the total state’s votes.  They’d had fun and so had many Washingtonians. The exercise may have found it’s beginnings among politicos at the Tumwater Conservatory, but the legislature in general was not amused.  According to William Bryk, who had followed and reported on the OWL party

The OWL Party on the campaign trail 1976

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The ease with which this frivolous party gained a place on the ballot and polled fairly well apparently embarrassed the professional politicians”

According to the King County (WA) Bar Association:

”The Legislature responded in 1977 by passing a law that made it more difficult for minor parties to place candidates on the ballot. Ten years after the heyday of the OWL party, the law was declared constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in Munro v. Socialist Worker’s Party.”  The new law required  each third party obtain one percent of the vote at the primary before going on to the general election. The number of signatures required was increased to 1000. Minor parties described as more serious than the OWL Party, such as the Socialist Workers Party, unsuccessfully challenged the new law, and lost. None of this should be particularly surprising.  Career politicians don’t like their hold on power threatened or to be made fun of.

And so, Red returned to his focus onstage, playing jazz with his trio and spending about half the evening making wisecracks and telling jokes.  Back in the kitchen Donna continued making large vats of her popular Red Beans and Rice-she said Louis Armstrong had given her his secret recipe.

In 1978 Kelly closed the Tumwater Conservatory and did a bit of local gigging as well as a tour with Jimmy Dorsey’s “ghost band” led by Lee Castle. (“Ghost Bands” are those legacy bands that continue after their leader and prime artists have died. They play the original music of the bands and seem to be more common in jazz). At the time Red signed on quite a few of the original members were part of the band, but as years go on most players aren’t alumni of the original bands.  Most of the players  weren’t even born, or maybe were toddlers, when Jimmy Dorsey died.  Jimmy Dorsey’s “ghost band” continues to tour even to this day.

Eventually Red was bitten by the jazz club idea again. Red and Donna scouted for a new location, and found one in Tacoma. The Roberts-Parker Building, built in 1887 was a three-story edifice directly across from the Tacoma and Thurston County’s City/County Building.  It’s said the top floor was once a brothel…not improbable at all.  The club was built and the couple christened the first floor “Kelly’s” Red and his trio began entertaining once again with the same schtick; part music, part comedy…and the comedy was nearly always “bawdy”.  Donna continued to serve up her famous Red Beans and Rice and the jazz crowd made their pathway to Kelly’s.  Some of Red’s old pals showed up occasionally and joined him onstage.  Tony Bennett would ramble in on several times and the entire Count Basie Orchestra graced the stage-twice.  Local jazz celebrities including Tacoma-native Diane Schuur visited and did impromptu performances.  Touring musicians that were playing the nearby (re-modeled) Pantages Theatre wandered in.  If there was a place to be in Tacoma it was Kelly’s.  Eventually Red cut his performances to weekends only, but the commotion and jazz filled the club almost every night. Saxophonist and bandleader Bill Ramsay called it his second home.

Red Sider in Jazz Times recalls a usual weekend night at Kelly’s

“The music and the chatter continue until the typical Saturday night comes to another typical ending: a tiny, dainty, 97-year-old “chanteuse” named Lucie Griswold (former candidate for the OWL party) gingerly approaches the stage on Red’s cue to “close” her son-in-law’s smoke-filled jazz emporium with the anthem she lives for, “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” She attacks it with such gusto, you’d swear she’s still waiting for someone to book her on American Idol. Bless her soul, “Fast Lucie”, as everyone calls her, has certainly never heard of American Idol. Actually, she doesn’t hear much: she’s not merely stone deaf; she’s tone deaf. Peggy (the pianist) is the only one who can accompany Fast Lucie because Peggy has solved the mysteries of comping in quarter tones by playing in the cracks’.

At the time Kelly’s opened Tacoma was still largely untouched-in fact it was still dilapidated, but there was optimism in the air.  It seemed Tacoma was about to make a turnaround from the gritty, crime-ridden town it had been known for for decades.  More people were moving in.  More of the grand old houses were being renovated.  The downtown core was slowly becoming more tolerable (slowly being the operative word).  Union Station had been renovated and the idea of Tacoma’s Museum of Glass was in its infancy. A Farmers Market opened in 1990 as part of the revitalization of downtown.  Restoration of the magnificent Pantages had already taken places and the Rialto Theater andThe Broadway Performing Arts Center were being eyed for renovation. Things were beginning to make Tacoma a more livable and more cultural city; and there’s no doubt that Red Kelly was early on the bandwagon, and he got to see many of those efforts come to fruition.  In 1989 he threw his hat in the political ring for a second go at it.  This time he was running for Mayor of Tacoma.  In his only public speech he advocated for the return of cable cars and riverboat gambling. He came in fourth place.

Unfortunately Donna Kelly died in 1999. Red took it very hard. They had been practically joined at the hip since they married in 1973. According to Red:

“Donna was irreplaceable. When they made her, they threw away the shovel.”

In 2003 Don Siders also wrote;

“Kelly lost interest in the business at a time when Tacoma lost interest in jazz. In September 2003, Kelly donated his vast collection of priceless photographs of the good old days to the Tacoma Public Library and closed his storehouse of memories. Tacoma’s Official Living Legend/Raconteur still makes guest appearances, still shocks audiences and still waits for American Idol to discover him.

Of course the “American Idol discovering him” part was something Red would have said in jest..  It’s clear he’d had a long and distinguished career as a sideman, a performer in his own right.  He was one of the great bassists of Swing and the Bebop eras who was able to transition to Cool Jazz. He kept generations of jazz fans amused.  He’d lived life on his own terms, had created a political party that unfortunately sealed the fate for other third parties to take part in democracy and ran two well respected hang-outs for jazz enthusiasts…in fact maybe the most respected jazz hangouts between San Francisco and Vancouver BC.

Red died on Wednesday June 9, 2004.  

His New York Times obituary included the line:
The cause was complications of cancer and other ailments, friends and relatives said”

Red’s friend, trumpeter Lance Buller was a bit more forthcoming;

“He burned the candles at every possible end and had a good time. He had a sparkle in his eye. He was very supportive. He lived life to its fullest. It almost seemed like he had nine lives.”

According to writer William Bryk

“He had composed a song, “You and I and George,” which he performed with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in 1959. There’s an LP, Kenton at the Tropicana. Kelly speaks in a doleful voice at the mike: the song had been written by somebody else as it was so lousy. Kelly described the song as the product of a hung-over songwriter who’d finally realized that people didn’t care about lyrics. It was just one sad verse: a trio walks along a brook, George falls in and drowns himself, and the girl ends up with the singer, who’s obviously her second-best choice”.

“David Bowie loved it and performed it during his “Sound and Vision Tour.” He sang it while playing at the Tacoma Dome in 1990. Probably only a few persons in the audience at the time knew that he was paying homage to a local hero”

Hopefully more people today recognize Red Kelly as a local hero, a Northwest jazz pioneer, a somewhat bizarre politician a cut-up and an icon….and that mayoral promise to make riverboat gambling legal in Tacoma?  It came true eventually, didn’t it?

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources:  “Obituaries, Red Kelly Jazz Bassist” (The Independent, Thursday June 10, 2004);Jason Andkeny “Red Kelly Biography” (AllMusic.com, retrieved March 22, 2018); Washington State Voting Pamphlet, 1976, retrieved March 22, 2018); Various Contributors “R.I.P. Red Kelly” (TalkBass.com, retrieved March 26, 2018); John Goldsby “The Jazz Bass Book; Technique and Traditon” (BackBeatBooks, 2002); Jason Ankeny “Red Kelly” (allmusic.com, retrieved March 24, 2018): Harvey Siders “Old-School Jazzman” (Jazz Times, April 1,2004) Washington State Official Voters Pamphlet, 1976)

 

 

 

NW SONGWRITERS: A STRAW POLL

James Marshall Hendrix, Paratrooper, 101st Airborne Division 1960-1961

Recently I took a straw poll of friends asking:

Who do you think is the most important songwriter to come out of the Northwest? This is not a quiz and there are no wrong answers.

Some of the responses were obvious, many were downright baffling and others were very close to what my personal belief of what a songwriter truly is.  I left my question open-ended as an experiment to find out what others might give their explanation of what and whom constitutes an important songwriter.  I made sure to tell those I polled  there were no wrong answers, allowing them to offer up names without spending too much time or offering up suggestions simply because they thought the person they chose was based on others’ (especially critics’) dubbing that artist as “most important”  Several people went on to ask what I defined as “important”.  My reply was that I did not want to define the term.  Everyone uses different criteria of what is “important”; besides I was more interested in others’ opinions, than my own.  I asked people to decide what was important to them because this was also an exercise was for me to understand what other people considered worthy.  I wanted to learn about how others saw things and challenge myself a bit in what I personally feel is important in a songwriting. I saw this as just as much a lesson for me.  It was by no means a popularity contest.

So here I’ll take my natural tendency to digress.

I am a fan of good songwriting.  I cannot put my finger on what it is exactly but I have certain criteria.  I think when a song’s lyric is written in a way that it may be interpreted universally by listeners is a good start. This is probably why so many songs deal in lyrics about the many states of love; from it’s stirrings, it’s longings, it’s attainment and it’s loss. I believe original, creative lyrics are important, but I know they are not always crucial to good songwriting.  They don’t need to be about love…but they usually speak to the human condition.  Beyond the universality of lyrics, the actual music is just as important.  I think sometimes people put more emphasis on lyrics rather than their combination with melody or arrangement. In my opinion all good songs are founded in the music.  I suppose most people at least subconsciously know that, despite the overemphasis of  lyrics alone.  But there’s no doubt a lyric can as easily set the mood as a melody.

Anyone who’s listened to the work of Frank Zappa might  point to “Peaches En Regalia”  (among others) as an example of brilliant songwriting  without the use of lyrics.  None of us can say what the song is actually about (except peaches dressed in the signs of their royal or noble status?) but there’s no doubt this song-among many other instrumentals-has been crafted, and composed in a way that each and every note seems to belongs exactly where it lies. It seems unlikely that anyone else would compose this particular song other than Frank Zappa. It contains a mix of elaborate musicianship, purposely-cheesy sounding orchestration and themes and a distinct left-of-center pop sensibility, although it’s highly influenced by jazz. For all it’s grandiosity of Peaches en Regalia uses an economy of tones and instrumentation.  It relies more on the unusual juxtaposition of sounds and an exceptional thematic device. More precisely; it’s fun to listen to.

On the other hand sometimes lyrics carry the day…a witty, unusual, or unexpected lyric might save an otherwise mediocre melody, but good songwriting rarely relies on the melody alone  The truth, to me, is that good songwriting is the result of craftspeople who devote their lives to songwriting, with little regard to who records their material….even  themselves.  This is what makes Leiber and Stoller, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Lennon and McCartney (together or separately) soar above the rest.  Songwriting is a craft unto itself to these writers  It goes beyond the performance of others, though there certainly are a large number of songwriters that are best suited to record their own material.  All of this congealed during the mid-19th century “Tin Pan Alley” an actual place in Manhattan on West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues,  “Tin Pan Alley” later became a collective term for the musicians, songwritersand publishers who dominated New Yorks’ popular music up until the mid-20th century.   If you ever visit New York City you will find a  comerrative plaque on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Sixth St. and Broadway.  Later, as songwriters drifted into the early days of rock and pop The Brill Building (1619 Broadway)  was considered their spiritual home.  The building had previously been a hotbed of activity for songwriting and publishing of music for the “big bands” like those of Benny Goodman or  The Dorsey brothers.  In the 1950s and the early 1960s  songwriters like Neil Diamond, Ellie Greenwich, Johnny Mercer, Billy Rose, Bobby Darin and Neil Sedaka Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller emerged from The Brill building.  It proved to be a very successful time for songwriters pumping out well-crafted songs for teen idols, budding pop-stars and “girl groups”.  During the mid-60s “Tin Pan Alley” and The Brill Building became somewhat outdated.  By this time bands, individuals and those who would become singer/songwriters emerged, as well as the pop music charts becoming extremely influenced by “The British Invasion” The British had styled their s roots in the American blues rather than American popular music in general.  Soon the center of the music world shifted to the west coast even though many New York City-based songwriters were still able to create a hit or two.

 

In many cases the craftsmanship of songwriting is enhanced by the writers’ own renditions of their work..  This is the case with the aforementioned Elvis Costello or the collective work of a band like XTC.  Although I’d say there have been successful interpretations of Elvis Costello songs, it’s Elvis that usually supplies the definitive version.  In the case of XTC, it’s hard to imagine anyone else properly interpreting their work.

Other times we can actually hear and imagine the songwriter’s “voice” when a particular song is covered.  A case in point is The Monkee’s version of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”…really, who else could have written this song besides Neil?  Even though Diamond released his own version of it (about a year after The Monkee’s hit version) The song attributed to The Monkees is the one that counts and it should be!  The performance was actually recorded by guitarists Al Gorgoni and Sal Ditroia, Buddy Saltzman on drums, Carol Kaye on bass,  Artie Butler on the Vox Continental organ and the song’s producer, Jeff Barry, adding piano and tambourine.

It is Micky Dolenz’ vocals that add the typical Monkees sound, but the craftsmanship of Neil Diamond is the real star, no matter who played on the recording.  Aside from being a huge hit for The Monkees, Diamond once again shows his prowess as a songwriter because the song has also successfully interpreted by other artists-from The Four Tops to Robert Wyatt (his first recording after the June 1973 accident that left him a paraplegic).  It’s also famously been recorded by Smash Mouth for the film Shrek in 2001 but not quite as inventive or successful as other versions.

Another case may be made for the song “Theme from The Valley of The Dolls” as interpreted by Dionne Warwick.  The song itself was written by André and Dory Previn, instead of Dionne’s usual writers throughout her career, Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  Despite the mighty trio of Warwick, David and Bacharach, The Theme From The Valley of The Dolls remains as powerful an interpretation as anything else she has sung.  Of course it is Dionne’s incredible reading of the song that makes it so heart-tugging and melancholy as well as hopeful.  Another example of an interpretation of brilliant songwriting by another artist is Elvis Costello’s rendition of  “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace Love and Understanding?”  I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but I’d say Costello’s rendition of an excellent song written by the gifted Nick Lowe is the definitive version of the song.  I believe this not only a sign of a great interpreter of another’s song, but also the sign of Lowe’s ability to write a near-perfect, unforgettable anthem.

My point (and I know I’ve been exhaustive about it) is that there is an animal called “the songwriter” whose first duty is to write solid, universal themes that combine well thought out lyrics and original, innovative  musical themes. This is a craft that takes hard work….much harder than merely performing the song, although a good song always deserves a good interpreter..  A good songwriter sculpts the song like Michelangelo, who claimed the end product was already within the stone.  It was his job to chip away enough to reveal what was already there.

Getting back to my straw poll, none of the writers’ work included writers included in the “Great American Songbook”. Although Spokane’s Al and Charles Rinker are considered among the talents of the era,  The more famous can be said to emerge out of the Northwest from that era is not someone we’d think or as a songwriter; it is the singer; Bing Crosby. In the late 1920s Bing  joined his Spokane friend Al Rinker  and pianist/singer Harry Barris to form The Rhythm Boys, who were featured as part of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. They had phenomenal success with both Rinker and Harris’s compositions as well as others’ writing.  The song below was written by Bing Crosby and Harry Barris. The song isn’t the most memorable of their output, but I’ve included it as an example of Bing Crosby’s early crack as a writer.

Al Rinker’s  brother Charles  wrote twenty-seven songs with Gene de Paul (who’d also written with Johnny Mercer) including “Your Name is Love”, which has been recorded by George Shearing and Nancy Wilson as well as other songs written by himself that have been recorded  by Frankie Lane, Red McKenzie, Shearing, Nancy Wilson, and Alan Dawson. Although both Al and Charles Rinker were capable songwriters who  crafted their music it’s hard to think of them as “important” since they are all but forgotten today.

I admit (once again) that I believe one of the hallmarks of an important songwriter is their ability to affect interpretations and long-term influence.  This can be somewhat confounding, because a composer’s work may be forgotten today, but at some time in the future re-discovered and influence unborn generations.  For my purposes I will only reflect on writers that we consider estimable from any time in the past up to the current era.  We cannot look into the future, nor can we anticipate a great songwriter’s work ever coming to light.

So let’s return to the original question:

Who do you think is the most important songwriter to come out of the Northwest?  

This was the question I asked in my straw poll, but I also invite YOU to ponder this messy question.  After all, the Northwest has a history of producing “important” songwriters, keeping in mind that the question in itself is based not only opinion, but personal taste and perhaps even a history of songwriting on your own part; and as I pointed out, there are no wrong answers

It shouldn’t come as a prize that the most often songwriter mentioned (according to my unscientific poll). was Kurt Cobain.  There’s absolutely no doubt he could write an excellent pop song, and partially wrap it up as something that could be defined loosely as “punk”.  I will refrain from the title “grunge” because I find it a useless and intellectually lazy…Any group of artists who’s output includes songs as diverse as Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow”, Seven Year Bitch’s M.I.A. or Nirvana’s cover of  David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” does not define a genre.  It might mark a period of successful Northwest bands, but the term itself denies the individuality of the bands who fall under this nonsensical term.  We can’t even compare it to the thread that ran through the 1960’s “San Francisco Sound” which largely relied on one similar electric guitar sound.

So, we know the place Kurt Cobain many people attribute to him. I believe most of Kurt’s talent was in listening intently to what had come before him, whether it was The Beatles or one of his particular favorites, Sonic Youth. He was able to distill everything from metal to punk to Americana and pop in crafting his songs.  The only question we can ask is, had he lived longer would his output have been as high-quality as what he left us?  We’ll never know.

The second most mentioned songwriter was Jimi Hendrix.  This seemed perplexing to me since I have always considered him an innovator and a performer rather than a songwriter; but looking a bit closer I can see brilliance in his writing, even though his output is far less than I’d have liked to see. I’d always seen his real strength as innovating the sound of the electric guitar and his incredible showmanship.   It was possible for him to “ramble” along a riff, playing guitar, with no discernable song structure, and still overwhelm and amaze his listeners.  I will admit I thought  that the core of his guitar pyrotechnics was strong, but were birthed by somewhat derivative standard blues riffs. Looking back this was a common practice among his contemporaries, especially among the British where he spent a lot of his later years.

His strong suit was exploding and expanding from his riff.  Even though I am a huge fan of his playing and performance I consider a handful of his songs contain signs of great songwriting in them.  For instance“The Wind Cries Mary”, “If Six Were Nine” and my personal favorite “Angel”. It’s fairly well-known that “Amgel” was written about a dream Jimi had of his mother coming to him after her death.  The song is considered by many (myself included) as the best song Jimi Hendrix ever wrote.  Again, I understand I may be walking on thin ice here; but the theme, it’s lyrics and it’s lovely melody is so universal that it can mean something special, for many reasons to its listeners.  It’s also telling that Hendrix spent about two years perfecting the song and how he wanted to record it. One other aspect we might consider is near the time of his death, Jimi was contemplating an entirely different approach to his music.

Some folk writers were mentioned, but to be fair I think some of the best folk writers near the Pacific Northwest happen to be Canadian. If Ian Tyson (of “Ian and Sylvia” and “The Great Speckled Bird”) had been born 20 miles south of his hometown of Victoria B.C. he’d  be one of my top candidates for important Norhtwest songwriters.  However, due to the constraints placed on my own choice of covering only the history of NW music of the U.S. I thought it unfair to include anything outside Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  Ian Tyson has written an incredible song book including “Someday Soon” and “Four Strong Winds” His songs have been covered by Neil Young,  Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Bob Dylan,The Kingston Trio  Marianne Faithfull, John Denver, Trini Lopez, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Glen Yarborough, Bobby Bare, Harry Belafonte, Tanya Tucker, Suzy Bogguss, Lynn Anderson and countless others.  Although Canadians could reasonably disagree, perhaps the most popular (and most definitive version outside of Tyson’s) is “Someday Soon”sung by the Seattle-born Judy Collins. But Tyson is a near-mythic figure in Canada, and will always be considered as one of the most important songwriters in Canadian history no matter if we include British Columbia as part of the Pacific Northwest or not.  He is identified and rightly claimed as a purely Canadian artist.

Loretta Lynn was mentioned; an excellent choice.  But Loretta will always be “A Coal Miner’s Daughter” and though she lived in Washington, and her career was kickstarted here with the help of Buck Owens, Kentucky has always been her real home in her heart, and it’s there and Nashville that she’s written the bulk of her output.

Local heroes like Scott MacCaughey, Rusty Willoughby. Alice Stewart, Gary Minkler, Pete Pendras, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow, Eric Apoe and Ben Gibbard were were all mentioned as “important” songwriters..  There’s no doubt these artists deserve respect for their work…I’d only add that Gary Minkler, over the past five decades,  is also one of the most dynamic performers the Northwest has ever produced.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart got lots of recognition.  Although Heart put out some spectacular music, not all of it was written by the Wilson sisters collectively or apart.  Very early on the two of them brought in the very talented songwriter abnd collaborator, Sue Ennis, to work with them.  Sue would eventually go on to be one of the members of the Wilson’s post-Heart projects; The Love Mongers. We can’t dismiss the Wilson sisters’ work, but Sue Ennis may be the least-known of great Northwest songwriters.  Her work  with the Wilsons helped mere rock songs and ballads become great songs and ballads.

Quincy Jones is another good example of a writer whose output will always be considered genius even though his writing seems secondary to other facets of his career. He isn’t particularly known for his songwriting simply because it is overshadowed by his career as an excellent jazz performer, and later as one of the world’s most renowned producers and arrangers.

Ray Charles was mentioned several times for his R&B contributions.  Although there’s no doubt he was a dedicated and talented performer, he’s often assumed to have written many songs he did not actually write.  The best examples of this are the songs “Georgia On My Mind”, his definitive version of a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930. Another of Ray Charles’ signature tunes is “Hit The Road Jack”. The song was written by a friend of Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield. Mayfield initially recorded a demo of the song for Art Rupe, a producer and one of the most influential figures in the US music industry at the time.  Rupe was running  Specialty Records, and “Hit The Road Jack” found it’s way to Ray Charles rather than be fully recorded by Percy Mayfield.  This may be evidence that Charles himself was not as important a songwriter as others, but there’s little doubt he is one of the most influential artists in American music. No legitmate list of the most imortant American artists would be complete without him.

Mia Zapata was also mentioned by many people; a songwriter that left us too early to provide the much larger body of work she otherwise might have given us; still  she certainly inspired one of the most powerful, angry and cathartic songs of 90s Seattle music- M.I.A – a song by Seven Year Bitch that I’ve already mentioned.

It had to be pointed out more than once that there were actual women songwriters who need to be mentioned.  Perhaps it is the male domination of rock fans that prevents more talented women their due.  Aside from the aforementioned Wilson sisters, Mia Zapata and Alice Stewart there is a plethora of women writers that deserve to be mentioned: Carrie Acre, Amy Denio Kathleen Hanna, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, Jean Grey, Kimya Dawson, Neko Case all deserve recognition, and I’m certain there are far more that I’m failing to mention.  What’s more, these women should not be consigned to a ghetto of being “women” or “girls”  Their output is just as important-sometimes more important-than their male counterparts and a good songwriter does not rely on sex

Surprisingly it also had to be pointed out that Portland and the rest of Oregon are part of the Northwest too.  The prolific Chris Newman, Fred Cole, Greg Sage among others got mention.  Eastern Washington seemed to be under-represented too.  Folk singer and songwriter Danny O’Keefe (Wenatchee) got a single mention.  The late jazz great Larry Coryell, who learned his guitar chops in Richland, Washington before moving to Seattle and then on to jazz fusion history around the world only got a single mention.  Jazz players and writers did not make much impact on the list…surprisingly Chehalis, Washington born Ralph Towner (of both the bands Oregon and The Paul Winter Consort) wasn’t  mentioned at all.  Nor was

I had promised not to mention names but I’m going to make an exception.  Penelope Houston (who is a Northwesterner despite being mostly associated with San Francisco). Replied to my question with  a simple “phew”; I assume because it’s so hard to begin listing the “important” songwriters that have come out of the Northwest.  Of course she was too modest to name herself among those important songwriters. Houston’s writing in general deserves mention since her importance can never be overestimated.  But it would be important based simply as a co-author of what may be the single greatest American punk anthem of all time: “The American In Me”  The rest of her output stands above most others during the first wave of west coast punk as well.

As I’ve said there were a few artists named that baffled me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with their work or that they are in fact not from the Northwest.  One of the artists named in this category was Bruce Hornsby.  I agree that Hornsby is a terriffic songwriter but his bio states he was born in Williamsburg Virginia, and I could find no Northwest ties.  If he does have ties in the Northwest, please contact me with the information.  Another mention was of the Canadian musician and social justice activist Bill Bourne. Bill was closely associated with Scottish traditionalists The Tannahill Weavers during the 1980s.  They were originally based in Paisley Scotland, but considered a world-renowned ensemble. Bill has also worked with various other world-roots and traditionalist artists including ex-Tannahill Weaver Alan MacLeodm, Shannon Johnson, Lester Quitzau,, Aysha Wills, Eivør Pálsdóttir, Wyckham Porteous, Madagascar Slim and Jasmine Ohlhauser. Bill was born in Red Deer Alberta, and grew up in   Besides Alberta, Bill also spent time on the road worldwide, and for a short time in TorontoBill Bourne is certainly worthy of mention, as he’s won the Canadian Juno award several times.  But I know of no Northwest connection outside of  recording with vocalist Hans Stamer and Vancouver, B.C. guitarist Andreas Schuld on the album No Special Rider, released in 1997.  Once again, if you know of ties to the Northwest, please leave them in the comments section.

A less baffling recommendation was  saxophone great Skerik.  I personally am not familiar with Skerik’s output as a songwriter, but definitely familiar with his (often improvised) brilliant performances. Perhaps I am underestimating his output, but I am certainly not underestimating his importance as a player or as an innovator.  Please set the record straight as far as Skerik as a songwriter.  He’s consistently been one of my favorite Northwest artists.

I suspect others were mentioned because they are important figures that deserves all of our respect.  The most notable of these songwriters is Richard Peterson, who is practically a living treasure of Seattle. I was happy to see Anthony Ray (Sir-Mix-a-Lot) mentioned.  The submitter rightly pointed out that Mix-a-Lot has undoubtedly influenced and outsold many of the indie and/or famous Seattle bands of the 1990s.  So often people of color are left out of anything to do with “rock” no matter how much pull they have. Besides Mix-a-Lot, Ishmael Butler and Thee Satisfaction were mentioned because they are probably better known nationally and world-wide than many of the others on this list.

Finally we reach what I consider the pinnacle of “songwriters’ songwriters”  These are the best of the best in my opinion.  I know I have overlooked many great NW songwriters; but I consider these craftsmen to represent the high-water mark (so far) of not only Northwest writers, but among the entirety of ALL American songwriters.  This  list includes Ellensburg, Washington-born Mark Lanegan, Ellliott Smith (who was born in Texas but grew up and first found fame in Portland Oregon), Eugene Oregon native Tim Hardin, and a guy from Shreveport Louisiana who moved to Bremerton, Washington at an early age, the late Ron Davies.  It was satisfying to see each ot these get multiple mentions.

I recognize that everyone has their favorite songwriter, and usually that person writes within at least one of the individual’s musical tastes.  Keep in mind  I said there are no wrong answers in this unscientific quiz or its overview. In fact I hate the Rolling Stone type lists of “bests”.  Many of us know they are B.S. and some publications concoct these kinds of lists to drive circulation and advertising sales.  If that’s not the case they’re often put together by elitist critics and celebrities.  I believe everyone has a right to their personal favorites.  I admit at one time I too was a snotty elitist who looked down on other people’s choices…but for many years now I have looked at music in a far more ecumenical way, and my musical horizons have expanded because of it.

If you have a favorite Northwest artist that you believe deserves recognition as an important songwriter post it in the comments section below. Your opinion is always valid no matter what others think and any additions to this list may well open whole new musical worlds to other people.  I’ve also made a list of every songwriter submitted, since I have left so many talented people out of this story..  You may or may not agree if they’re worthy-but someone else does.

In the sidebar is a list of everyone voted for that I left out in the above article. It’s in no particular order of importance:  Feel free to add your choice in the comments section below.

 

-Dennis R. White

JIMMIE ROGERS

 It sounds like the plot of a 1950’s film noir movie.  It’s December 1st, 1967.  A man leaves a party.  As he drives down the San Diego Freeway in the San Fernando Valley he sees a bright light in his rear view mirror.  The light gets brighter so he pulls over on a side road.  He thinks maybe it’s a friend who’s also left the same party.  The  man in the car following him walks toward the driver’s car and the driver  rolls down his  window.  As soon as he does, the man in the following car begins to beat him with something hard-probably a tire iron. He is left unconscious with a broken arm and a severely fractured skull.  But the story isn’t the plot of a movie. The man who was beaten was Jimmie Rodgers, a fading star from the early days of rock and roll. A man that was one of the pioneers of early pop, rockabilly and electric folk music.

A few days later the attacker comes forward.  He’is an off-duty policeman named Michael Duffy.  Later Duffy would claim he pulled Rodgers over for “erratic driving”.  Rodgers remembers the light was “real bright. Like a train light. I pulled over to stop. I thought it was Eddie Samuels who was my conductor. He was staying at my house at the time. Rodgers says that once he rolled down the window he was struck by a tire iron.  “He hit me in the side of the head so hard, the left side of the skull, that it split the skull on the right side”.

The off-duty policeman says once Rodgers pulled over he got out of the car and during his arrest, Rodgers fell over (backward) resulting in a fractured skull and a badly broken arm and knocking him out.   Duffy says he then drove to the nearest telephone and called two of his LAPD friends that were on duty, Raymond Whisman and Ronald Wagner.

Duffy says they all converged on Rodgers’ car and his unconscious body laying on the side of the road rather than inside. They decide to pull Rodgers’ body back into his Cadillac,and take off.  No calls for medical assistance.  No report of the incident.  No mention  in any of their daily log reports. No test for intoxication. No record of Duffy attempting to book Rodgers for a crime.

It was Eddie Samuels who was staying with Jimmie at the time found Rodgers bleeding in his car that night.  When Rodgers didn’t arrive home as expected, Samuels went looking for him, retracing the route he knew Jimmie would have taken.

“He’d driven to my home says Rodgers. “I didn’t show up. He knew the road that I always came home on. He found me in the car. Just as he was pulling up, he saw a police car pull away. He also saw a white Volkswagen pull away behind the police car. Then he found me lying face down in the front seat of the car. He was the one that saw the police car. The guy in the Volkswagen was an off duty policeman who had stopped me, for whatever reason”.

Whisman and Wagner were charged with failing to make an arrest on arriving at the scene, and falsifying police logs. Whisman claimed that Rodgers had been gone by the time he and his partner arrived.  Wagner made the same false statement in his daily field activities report. Nonetheless, Los Angeles Police Chief Thomas Reddin claimed that “investigators had been unable to establish any criminal act by the off-duty policeman (Duffy) or that he had any personal involvement with the supposed assault on Rodgers or the fractures Rodgers had sustained. Reddin added “these officers  had failed to follow through with proper procedures.  They know that they did wrong and admitted it”

He suspended Duffy, Whisman and Wagner for 15 days  Rodgers was never formally charged for driving while intoxicated because, as Reddin said “it would not serve the causes of justice to so charge him now”.  Oddly enough this incident caused the third suspension of Officer Duffy within only three years of being hired by the LAPD.  He had been suspended for “ unnecessary use of force” when he’d used a blackjack on a juvenile suspect.  His third was  a “driving while intoxicated” conviction.

It’s clear the LAPD wanted to cover up this story and allow it fall out of the public’s consciousness as soon as possible; but it wasn’t going away so easily.  Rodgers spent the next year in the hospital, went through three brain surgeries, lost his ability to talk and walk and was incapable of caring for himself, even after he was released. His convalescence took decades.  While Rodgers lie in a hospital bed his lawyer filed an $11 million lawsuit against the LAPD and the City of Los Angeles for his beating by officers of the LAPD. Doctors treating Rodgers had at first concluded that his injuries were the result of a beating, but by late December had changed their opinion and that Rodger’s fractured skull to be the result of a fall…just as the three policemen (who’d falsified documents) had claimed. Clearly someone or something aside from medicine had changed their minds.

Amazingly the three officers involved in the incident and the LA Fire and Police Protective League filed a $13 million slander suit against Rodgers for his public statements accusing the three policeman  of brutality.  This suit never came to court, but Rodger’s case was settled with an out of court settlement years later (in 1973) for $200,000.  Los Angeles County and the LAPD knew that to continue to fight Rodger’s charge would end up costing millions and Rodgers graciously accepted the meager amount of money, because he too had already spent so much pursuing  his case and would probably go broke in a battle with the city of Los Angeles.

“In those days you could not sue the police department and be successful. No attorney would take the case. They just would not take a police case like that”  In this case it may have been even more difficult, since the assault could have been a message from mobsters by way of the LAPD.

The entire incident-the beating and the ensuing court battles had taken a tragic toll on Rodgers physically and emotionally.   Although he started to work again after two years of recuperation, it actually took about 20 years for him to completely heal. “I was lost. I was taken away from the business because I couldn’t sing anymore.  It took me years to relearn to walk and talk”.  At one point Jimmie’s weight had gone down to 118 pounds.

Jimmie has said that for years it was hard for him to explain what had happened to him, but eventually became able to talk about it.  He mentions his faith and the determination he’d inherited from his father as crucial to his recovery.  He also mentions that his Chrisianity allows him to forgive what was done to him even though he is mystified why he was attacked so brutally.

Others are not so forgiving, and not so mystified why an attempt on Rodger’s life happened.  In his 2011 autobiography .Me, the Mob, and the Music Tommy James (of Crimson and Clover fame) confidently states that the attack was a mob hit choreographed by Morris Levy, the president of Roulette Records It also included corrupt officials in the LAPD and The Medical Examiner’s Office.  Jimmie Rodgers had recorded with Roulette  between 1957 and 1960.  James also recorded for Roulette and claims that Rodgers had been seeking to recoup royalties from the millions of records he’d sold-and never been paid for.  It’s said by the time Rodgers left Roulette he was owed about $1.5 million.  That would be $12.405 million in today’s money.  At the time of Rodger’s leaving Roulette, their books claimed they had spent $26,000 on him and paid him $20,000….leaving Rodgers owing Roulette $6000.  This was the kind of outrageous way Levy ran Roulette Records.  It was almost wholly a criminal enterprise. This was the mileu Jimmie Rodgers had unknowingly gotten himself into..

James Frederick Rodgers  was born on September 18, 1933 in Camas Washington, a small town just north of Portland Oregon on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  Both of James’ parents worked for the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill that at the time dominated the working-class community.  James too would work there in order to pay for his time in college. Jimmie has said that he had never taken a music lesson in his life, but if that’s so, his mother would have been a very strong influence on his abilities.  Aside from work at the pulp mill Jimmie’s mother was an accomplished guitarist and piano player who did ocasional tutoring.  She also had played organ and piano to accompany silent movies as a young woman.  His mother was a devout Christian, a faith she instilled in her children.  It was this faith that Jimme later said pulled him through the darkest days after his 1967 beating.

James was brought up in a typical mid-century household that seems to have been fairly happy, but one thing he lovingly remembers his father, saying;

“My dad was a tough guy, They called him “Tuffy”…he was a little Irish guy.  He would never let my brothers or I complain about anything. If we went fishing and we said we were cold he wouldn’t take us fishing anymore. One time I had a big decision to go on a television show or something.  My dad never gave me any instruction at all.  When I asked my father about what I should do in that situation, him being a fighter said keep your right hand high and your ass off the floor”. He laughs. “That’s the only thing my father ever told me to do”

It’s been speculated that Jimmie’s name became spelled with an “ie” rather than the more common “y” by his mother. Their last name was spelled as the lesser-used “Rodgers”….like Jimmie Rodgers the father of country music.  Jimmie’s mother was a fan of the “Yodelling Brakeman, who had died the same year her son was born. Rather than calling him the more formal “James” the family used the more easy-going “Jimmy”  It’s also thought that she chose the spelling “Jimmie”-after Jimmie Rodgers.

In 1951 Jimmie graduated from Camas High School and went on to spend a year studying engineering at Clark College in nearby Vancouver Washington. In 1952  Jimmie put college aside  and joined the United States Air Force.  Since he had been taught how to use a rifle growing up, and was fairly proficient he ended up training other recruits in shooting.

In a 2015 interview with Dr. Roman Franklin (a/k/a Doctor Doo-Wop) Jimmie talked about his time in Korea.

“I was in Korea teaching weapons just off the front line so it was pretty rough. Back in the Quonset hut at night we’d sing and drink beer because there was nothing else to do. There was a couple of kids that could sing pretty good and they’d and sing from the behind me and they really had that black rhythm feel. I wrote a song “The Woman From Liberia” from the Bible-the story about the woman at the well, but I didn’t want to name it after a story in the Bible.  I wrote the song and I started playing it sitting on the foot locker, playing it alone with an open chord strum on my guitar and playing it at that tempo, and they’d back me.that could sing pretty good and they’ sing behind me and they really had that black rhythm feel. I started playing it sitting on the foot locker, playing it alone with an open chord strum on my guitar and playing it at that tempo, and that’s tough-every time you change keys it’s really tough.  By the time you hit that high note at the end your tired.

“So these kids would sit with me  and sing.  I didn’t have a recorder or anything and when I finally got back to America I lost track of them.  I didn’t even know their real names-just their first names, but later I recorded that song because I felt like doing it.  It’s a cool song.  It’s really fun to listen to.

As an aside; Jimmie refers to his black co-airmen as “kids” not out of disrespect, since he always referred himself and his fans as “kids”  He still uses the term  occasionally as a term of inclusion rather than as a veiled epithet.

Jimmie may not have ever seen his singing buddies from Korea again, but there was at least one incident of meeting a fellow black servicemen when he got back stateside. He was assigned to Sewart Air Force base at Smyrna Tennessee, Rodgers had a chance meeting with one of his black wartime buddies in the mess hall. They hugged, laughed and pounded each others backs.  A Staff Sergeant snarled aloud at seeing this white airman “hugging a nigger,” Rodgers pounced on him, beating  the larger man into submission.  Several other  soldiers pulled him off the Staff Sergeant Airman 2nd Class Rodgers pulled extra duty for a month “I never did learn how to handle prejudice,” he admitted to biographer Will Ruha.

Skin-based hatred made no sense to him. Ruha explains; “Such stupidity was anathema and intolerable, even if defending a friend meant month-long military reprisal. Even among the staunchest of southern racists, Rodgers signaled a message of moral courage and egalitarian defiance: beneath the skin we all bleed red. The kid with the guitar had guts”.

Rodgers’ reaction to discrimination fell squarely within the lessons he’d learned from his mother and the church.  It also fell squarely into the ideals of the folk music he loved so much.  Folk music was blind to color or ethnicity.  It’s roots lie in traditions from all cultures, all around the world.

While stationed at Sewart AFB he began singing in  Nashville.  In 2015 he said;
“I was working in bars-playing and singing in Nashville Tennessee. I was working in a little place in Printers Alley called “Club Unique”. I’d work about six hours a night…ten dollars a night and free drinks.  Then I’d play guitar and sing.  When I was working there the people that owned the place (Bob and Bobbi Green)  said ‘there’s a song we’d like you to hear’  They had it at home so I went over there and  I listened to it.  It  had been recorded by Georgie Shaw in 1954 and they taught me how to play it. I sat on the floor and learned it right there, and then in that little nightclub I’d play it every Friday or Saturday night during prime time…probably a dozen times and people liked it”

Although Georgie Shaw’s version of “Honeycomb”, the song the Greens had recommended, was largely ignored when it was released it had a good pedigree.  It was written by George Merrill.  Merrill wrote songs as diverse as “How Much is That Doggie in The Window” for Patti Page to “People” for.Barbra Streisand.  Merrill went on to write and produce some of the most popular musicals and songs of the 1960s and ‘70s and garnered eight Tony Award nominations.

After being discharged from the Air Force in 1956  Jimmie returned home to Camas Washington.  He found work  in small clubs around his hometown, in Portland and throughout the Northwest. For awhile he was living out his 1948 Buick.  Then he began to seek work up and down the west coast and eventually ended up in Los Angeles where he auditioned and appeared on CBS’s Art Linkletter’s House Party show in 1956. Once back home he began playing at The Fort Café in Vancouver Washington  One night Chuck Miller-who’d had a big hit with Mercury Records called “The House Of Blue Lights” walked into the club. He listened to Jimmie and encouraged him to set up an audition with Roulette Records in New York City.  At the time Roulette was an affiliate of Mercury. Much to Jimmie’s surprise, Miller was actually able to put in a good word for him.

“When I got out of the service me and my wife drove my old car to New York thinking ‘I’m gonna make it big’ and of course no one in any night club would listen to me. So I went to Roulette Records, which was then a little place on 10th Avenue.  I was trying to get enough money to get out of the hotel I was in, I didn’t have the money to pay them” he laughs” I played that song (Honeycomb) and the Roulette guy says to me ‘where did you get that song?’ I told him

They had already taken notice of Jimmie, both from Chuck Miller, but also from an appearance as a contestant on The Arthur Godfrey Show in a talent contest on the radio. Jimmie won $700 by performing “The Fox and the Go

They signed him on the spot.

“I went into a studio a couple of days later called Bell Sound”   In those days Bell Sound was a small two track-four track studio, which at the time was state-of-the-art and used by many successful singers.

“I did that song in an hour and they had three or four people I didn’t know.  I had no manager there.  My wife was sort of sick back at the hotel and she couldn’t come over.  After I finished I went outside to smoke a cigarette and they closed the closed the door and I couldn’t get back in.  So I was knocking on the door out there and the red light was on.  They thought I had gone home because I was so shy. I didn’t have any money because I’d taken a cab over there, so I had to walk several miles back to the hotel at night with my guitar and little amplifier.  I wanna tell you” he adds “ I didn’t know what I had done, but when I got to the hotel I told my wife “I did something pretty good”.

“So to make a long story short we had the money to go home really soon because I’d made some money in New York. We drove my old Buick all the way back to Washington State.  One day I’m outside washing the car and they played “Honeycomb” on the radio”. Jimmie recalls.

It became the first of a run of hits Jimmie Rodger’s cut for Roulette between 1957 and 1960. His debut single would become his biggest hit, charting at number one for seven weeks on the Billboard Top 100 in 1957. “Honeycomb” also reached number one on the R&B Best Sellers chart and number seven on the Country & Western chart. It was followed by a succession of hits. Those included “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”, “Bimbombey” and “Are You Really Mine?” Jimmies’ career eventually included more than 450 songs-40 of them being top ten hits.  He made hundreds of television appearances, had his own TV show and sang the theme song for 1958’s “The Long Hot Summer” starring Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles and Paul Newman. Angela Lansbury and Lee Remick were also featured.  The film was a huge success and garnered Paul Newman a Best Actor Oscar.  Jimmie played his song from the film at that year’s Academy Awards.  He admits he “was scared to death”

Jimmie Rodgers with The Crystals at Mascot Airport, Sydney Australia during their 1964 tour Down Under.

Jimmie’s screen debut as an actor came in 1961 with “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come’  His next role was in 1964 in “Back Door To Hell” co-starring  a young Jack Nicholson. Neither did very well at the box office, but today “Back Door To Hell” is considered a classic of it’s genre-the WWII action drama.

He was also part of several Allen Freed’s and Dick Clark’s all-star touring shows with The Everly Brothers, LaVern Baker, Chuck Berry, Bobby Darin, Buddy Holly and others.  He became good friends with Buddy Holly since they usually roomed together while on tour.  Jimmie was not used to live performance and the audience reaction of screaming above his voice irritated him. He told Buddy how unhappy he was with the tours and had decided to quit.  Holly told him how important it was to continue, He was persuaded by Holly to remain.  After his good friend died, Jimmie committed himself to performing live in Buddy’s honor.

Despite his success with fans across the world, he had to work hard selling himself to promoters.

“I was never recognized as a “pop” singer….I was a folk singer…But they (the promoters) didn’t want that. I worked with Johnny Cash and people like that, but I wasn’t country. It wasn’t really pop so much.  Dick Clark didn’t know what to do with me because I really wasn’t rock and roll.  He really didn’t like it that much”

When Jimmie signed with Roulette Records the label gave their artists a great deal of creative control.  The downside was that the label hardly ever paid them.  The company was run by Morris Levy who had known ties to organized crime and Roulette was a money-laundering front for the Genovese family; one of the five mobs that ran of New York’s crime syndicates..  Despite the “downsides” Jimmie speaks fondly about his time in the studio while at Roulette

“Roulette Records was very smart. They had good producers (Hugo Peretti and Luigi Creatore) and knew how to work in the studio.  They let me just sing. I’d have a small glass of black brandy to clear my throat. I never warmed up my throat.  I didn’t do hours of warm-up.  I never had to”

“The technology then wasn’t like it is now.  We used to mix a little on the edge of the recording so it stayed on the edge of the vinyl.  When you do that the sound comes out a little more on the top edge instead of the bass.  Of course that vinyl would wear out more quickly, but now that you digitize it It’ll come back with that sound.  I would listen to the mix as much as I could and I would sit-in on the mix as much as I could”.  

“I would take a little tiny four-inch speaker and maybe a six inch speaker and set it on each side while we were working and bring the level down and put it right against your chest, right off the board so it would hit you right in the chest like your driving a car. I would mix on little car speakers and nowadays they mix on these huge speakers and I think it’s wrong because you get the normal sound’

Listening to mixes on crummy speakers is a trick that’s been used by producers, engineers and artists for a few decades.  During the golden age of Top-10 Radio it was presumed most hits would be heard on car radios or poor quality consumer audio (hi-fi) players.  It seems that Jimmie and his producers Hugo and Luigi had caught onto this technique earlier than most. These were singles created for fans, not audiophiles.

As for Morris Levy; Steve Kurutz of allmusic.com reports a contemporaneous record executive calling Morris “a notorious crook who swindled artists out of their owed royalties.” Levy’s birth name was Moishe and members of the record business called him that name.  In a  jazz-themed issue of Playboy it was written that “He is called Moishe by friends – and other one-syllable names by enemies.“. Levy was both respected for his business acumen and feared because it was no secret his success was the result of working with mobsters.

Levy had been born in The Bronx but moved to Brooklyn shortly after his father Simon died of pneumonia. He quit  school at the age of 13 after assaulting a teacher over what he considered an unjust order to re-do a math test that most of the class had failed-Morris himself had passed the test, but was also expected to take it again.  He later said:

“She looks at me and says ‘Levy, you’re a troublemaker.  I’m gonna get you out of this classroom if I have to take your family off home relief’  And I got up-I was a big kid-and took her wig off her head, pouted and inkwell on her bald head and put her wig back on her fucking head. Walked out of school and said ‘Fuck school.’  Never really went back to school after that.  I was sentenced to eight years to  reform school by the children’s court…The bitch had no fucking humanity” .

Levy says that after the incident he ran away to Florida to avoid a sentence in Juvenile detention. He ended up working in mob-owned clubs first as a hatcheck boy  and later as an assistant, developing photos for professional photographers who took pictures of customers in the clubs, developed them and sold them back to the customers before they left.  Both were lucrative jobs that could be done while skimming undocumented cash off the top.

After spending five months in the Navy Morris received an honorable  discharge based on his mother’s failing health.  He returned to Miami and  became more involved in the hatcheck rig which was a favorite of crime families to enter their ranks.  Skimming the proceeds from jukeboxes was also popular.

Levy convinced some of his “bosses” to buy a jazz club in New York City called “Topsy’s Chicken Roost”’ at 1580 Broadway.  It was a prime location for what he had in mind.  Levy would manage the club for a “finders fee” which included a piece of the club itself as well as a cut of the lucrative hatcheck proceeds.  He  partnered  up with a man named  Ralph Watkins. Watkins had been a jazz promoter since the 1930s and had ties to a myriad of jazz artists and their managers. So Levy and Watkins changed the name to “The Royal Chicken Roost” and later dropped the “chicken” altogether.  Levy took care of “business” and Watkins did the booking and promotion.

Soon the club was hosting be-bop greats such as Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.  The Royal Roost became so closely associated with bop that it became known as “The Metropolitan Bopera House” and “The House that Bop Built.“.

In his 2016 essay “The Royal Room; The Birthplace of Bop”. Richard Carlin writes;

Things were going very well at the Royal Roost by 1949:  so well that Levy and Watkin’s apparently started to look for a larger space. According to Levy, Watkins failed to cut him into the new deal which involved opening a lavish new restaurant/night club on the second floor of The Brill Building at 48th and Broadway, to be called Bop City. Although significantly larger and more expensive to operate (rent alone was quoted as being $35,000 a year), Bop City mirrored the unusual admission policies and seating arrangements of the original club”.

This left Morris Levy to manage the Royal Roost, but he had bigger ambitions.  In 1949 he found a small space on Broadway named The Clique.  Levy rebranded it  “Birdland” in honor of Charlie Parker whose nickname was “The Yardbird”.  Eventually Parker became known simply as “The Bird”.  Although the club only held about 400 patrons, it went on to become the most important jazz venues of all time. Birdland was known for astonishing performances by the word;s best jazz players. This did not mean Birdland was above open mob violence.  In 1958, a man was gored to death with a piece of broken glass in the Birdland doorway. The crime went unsolved. Two weeks later Morris’s older brother, Irving, was killed at Birdland while Morris was off-duty.. The murder was said to be prompted by Morris Levy’s “business” connections. According to news reports, the suspects were described as a balding former convict and his wife, who has been convicted of prostitution.. The two were held without bail Saturday in the slaying of an assistant manager at Broadway’s Birdland. They were charged with the knife death of Zacariah (Irving) Levy, 36, at the Birdland club last Monday night.”

Kliph Nesteroff, wrote an essay on the WFMU blog called “Mobsters, Scoundrels, Comedians and Rat Finks”  In it he reports

“A few years later during a heated argument with a client, Morris intimidated his opponent, lecturing, ‘Do you know what I did to the bum who killed my brother? I fucking took a knife and stuck it in his fucking stomach – and I twisted it. I stuck it in his fucking stomach until his guts fell out.”

Author Steve Kurutz wrote about Levy being approached by a representative of ASCAP and told he must pay the publishing company a monthly stipend for the privilege of booking live music.’

Levy himself said
“A guy comes in from ASCAP and said he wanted money every month. I thought it was a racket guy trying to shake me down. I wanted to throw him out. And then he came back again and said he’s going to sue. I said, ‘Get the fuck outta here.’ I went to my lawyer and I says, ‘What is this guy? He keeps coming down, he wants money.’ My lawyer says, ‘He’s entitled to it. By act of Congress, you have to pay to play music.’ I said, ‘Everybody in the world’s gotta pay? That’s a hell of a business. I’m gonna open up a publishing company”.

Levy may not have known about publishing at the time, but he saw it as a way to increase his profit, so soon he’d set up his own publishing business. Patricia Publishing, with a view to acquire as many copyrights as possible. It wasn’t long before Levy learned how to manipulate the business to his own favor. Nesteroff adds that Levy demanded the rights to “all songs first performed in Birdland, including the venue’s soon-to-be-famous Lullaby of Birdland.  Morris amassed his royalty money and received a substantial loan from Thomas Eboli of the Genovese crime family. He had used the money to open Birdland.  Always the confidence man, Levy’s publishing company had a propensity for ludicrous claims. When Roulette artist Jimmie Rodgers recorded an album of Christmas songs, Morris Levy was listed as the composer of Silent Night.”

Levy was also engaged in adding his name (or a pseudonym) as a writer’s credit in order to collect some of the royalties for himself.  He hung onto his false songwriting royalties while refusing to hand out what was rightly due writers and artists, and often bragged how successful he’d become because of the practice.

Since the music business was essentially run by the mob, and Roulette having direct ties it’s not surprising that the label was a success out of the box.  One of its first signings was Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers, in 1956. In 1955, The Teenagers (at that time calling themselves The Premiers) auditioned “Why do Birds Sing So Gay?” for  producer and owner of Gee Records, George Goldner. The group’s tenor, Herman Santiago, had written the song. He’d come across a letter that featured the words “Why do birds sing so gay?,” which fit in with the lyrics he’d been writing.  It became the working title of the song.

The harmonies were tweaked to take advantage of Frankie Lymon’s high tenor/soprano voice. During the audition for Goldner, Frankie’s voice stood out, so Goldner advised the band to give Frankie all lead vocals. Frankie did some of his own tweaking of the melody of Why do Birds Sing So Gay?” to match his voice and delivery.. According to Jimmy Merchant, “what happened at the recording session was a combination of Frankie’s singing ability coupled with George Goldner’s special ability to bring out the best in Frankie”.

Although “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” original release on Gee Records credited Frankie Lymon, Herman Santiago, and George Goldner as co-writers  later releases and cover versions were attributed only to Lymon and Goldner. Morris Levy dropped Golder’s credit and added his own name as a co-writer when he bought out Gee Records and re-released The Teenagers song on Roulette Records. It  reached Number one on the R&B chart, Number six on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart, and number one on the UK Singles Chart..  Levy made sure he controlled the publishing and himself as one of the songs writers.

Later, in 1981, after  Diana Ross had a top ten hit with “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” a major controversy concerning Lymon’s estate ensued. Zola Taylor, Elizabeth Waters and Emira Eagle each approached Levy as being the wife of Lymon, although Taylor had not divorced her previous husband before marrying Lymon. Lymon then married  Waters, but neglected to divorce her before marrying Eagle.  The saddest part of course was that Lymon had famously been found dead on the floor of his grandmother’s bathroom after a heroin overdose in 1968.. He was only 25 at the time.

A lengthy court battle ensued and  songwriting credits were awarded to Teenagers members Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant in December 1992. In 1996, the  ruling was overturned by the Court of Appeals  because the and authorship had run out due to the Statute of Limitations.  Santiago and Merchant had not brought the case to court earlier This decision gave the song rights back to Lymon (who had famously died in in 1968 of a heroin overdose) and Morris Levy  Since Lymon left no legal  heirs 100% of the copyright reverted to Levy.

Jimmie Rodgers would also find that the royalties illegally withheld from him for his years at Roulette would also fall outside the Statute of Limitations when he sought to recover them…  even though it was charged that Levy had engaged in fraud, and had even gone so far as to re-release and license Rodgers’ music even after Rodgers had left the label.

After Jimmie Rodger’s beating his career seemed to have ended. He went from one of the most visible people in the US to obscurity.  He’d had several modest hits since leaving Roulette-most of them were for Dot Records, where he also wore the hat of producer, head of A&R and director of Folk Music Dept. He remained at Dot until the mid to late 60’s.  Shortly before his assault he’d signed with A&M Records and seemed to be headed toward a come-back with the release of “Child of Clay” which became his last charting hit, peaking at number 31 on Billboard’s Top 100.

He’d also written the song “It’s Over” in 1966.  It would prove to be his most covered song, with renditions by Glen Campbell, Dusty Springfield (both in 1967),  Elvis Presley (1973), The Sweet Inspirations (2006) as well as a multitude of other notable stars.  In fact many of his compositions have become standards that have been recorded by many artists in many diverse genres.  One presumes that he receives his songwriters’ royalties from these recordings.

Eventually it was fans that would come to him rather than the other way around.  He began to show up on television, do live performances. The audiences weren’t as large as the 84,000 he’d played for at Chicago’s Soldier Field in April of 1958. They had not forgotten all of his hits, his appearances on Dick Clark’s Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show (three times), Perry Como, His poignant version of “Waltzing Matilda” used in the classic film “On the Beach” his playing the theme from “Long Hot Summer” at the 1958 Academy Awards,  the all-star tours and his personal appearances.  So Jimmie began touring again.  Because of the change in tasts of music by the mid-60s Jimmie Rodgers became less of a “pioneer of rock and roll” and thought more of an “adult-contemporary” artist-nearly a death sentence for most artists-but he continued and eventually was able to put together world-wide tours in sold-out venues.  Even though he tried to avoid the “oldies circuit” claiming he didn’t want audiences to think he hadn’t done anything after 1960, he finally relented. It was during this period that Jimmie would face the second greatest blow to his career.Spasmodic Dysphonia, a vocal ailment that affects the nerves and muscles that control the larynx.

During a tour of Australia and New Zealand he started having difficulties with his voice. The day of his opening night in Aukland he told his wife Mary that he was having problems wheezing and coughing.  He went on stage anyway.  Jimmie recalls he tried to sing “Honeycomb”

“At first air would come out and then the voice would catch.  I worked for an hour with that voice and I struggled all the way through.  When I came off I said “I don’t know what’s wrong”.  I got up the next day and it started again. I finished the tour but it was very difficult and by the time I got home I couldn’t even talk”

Though he’d  completely lost his voice, but he sought an answer and went through several voice instructors.  Eventually he was diagnosed, even though it was unclear what had caused it.  At one time doctors and researchers thought it may have been caused by a virus.  Some think it’s the result of an injury.  It’s hard to wonder if his beating was the cause of his Spasmodic Dysphonia, but the truth is, it could have been caused by a number of things.  Medicine has never found it’s cause nor it’s cure. Over the course of years of practice, determination and faith his voice partially returned.  It ended his career as a singer, but not as a performer. In 2010 he said:

“Before I talk on the phone I have to clear my voice. If I go to talk to somebody in a crowd they can’t hear me. I can’t do it. I can’t go to dinner and sit and carry on a conversation.  I’ve had it ( Spasmodic Dysphonia) now for 40 years and there’s no cure for it.  There’s a lot of people working on it now, but nobody really knows what it is or what causes it so I’ve had to live with that.  Like I said for awhile nobody would book me.  They think this guy can’t sing anymore but he can perform.Well that’s not true.  I’m doing a great show and there’s people out here who want to hear Jimmie Rodgers, and people who want to book Jimmie Rodgers.  I want to work and this is the time in my life that I think I sing better than I ever have”

Now in his later years (he’s 85) he still performs from time to time.  He uses a twist on a  technique that’s become all too common in today’s music business.  He does a great performance but uses tapes of his voice and sings over them.  The difference is that Jimmie is open about it with his audience.  He tells him what he’s doing, about his ailment and invites them to join in.

In many ways Jimmie Rodgers is a Renaissance Man.  In his Dr. Doo-Wop interview he said

“I’m writing every day.  I get up 6:30 every day and I’m writing to noon at at least to noon.  I’ve written three animated features.  I’m also writing screenplays.  I read a lot..I’m really kind of a hermit.  I’ve been married 35 years.  My wife is a retired  ballerina and dance instructor, and I teach golf.  I’m a certified golf teacher on the side”. He says in his 70s he was running 10 kilometers a day.  Now he only does it every other day. Jimmie has also written his autobiography, ‘Dancing On The Moon’ and a screenplay for its motion picture adaptation.  It’s been described as

“ a highly charged emotional autobiography, detailing the savagery of the recording business, his brutal beating by an off-duty Los Angeles policemen and many other answers to “What Ever Happened To Jimmie Rodgers?

Jimmie’s bio calls ‘Dancing On The Moon “’A true story that is uplifting and yet tragic as it describes his journey through the Mafia power of some of the music business to the high road of success that can changes lives”.

For the time being Jimmie and his wife Mary stay busy around their Palm Springs home, and make regular trips back to Camas as well as Seattle where he maintains his management. In 2013 he made one of his trips to his hometown to have a street named after him. On September 13th NW 10th Avenue became Jimmie Rodgers Avenue.  His hometown paper, The Columbian reported that as a kid Jimmie would take his soapbox racer to the top of the hill and zoom down it like hell on four wheels. Even as a youngster, Rodgers knew there’d be one of two outcomes on that street.

“I’d either get killed on this street,” Rodgers said with a chuckle, “or I’d have my name on it.”

Morris Levy’s life did not end on such a high note.  After a 3 ½ year investigation by the FBI a case was levelled against Levy for the extortion of John LaMonte, a record wholesaler from Darby, Pennsylvania. LaMonte had agreed to purchase records valued at $1.25 million in a 1984 deal.   He subsequently refused to pay the full price, claiming that the best titles had been removed from a 60-truck delivery. It was claimed that Levy extorted the money from him and LaMonte received a fractured eye socket along with the deal.  Levy had sold Roulette Records and his publishing rights for $55 million during the investigation.  The FBI knew Levy had long used Roulette Records as a front for Vincent Gigante and the Genovese family.  Now they were able to prove it through covertly recorded conversations and wiretaps of Levy and of Gaetano Vastola,  part owner of Roulette.

During its investigation, the FBI determined  that Levy had used the Roulette as a front for the mob.  Much of the trial evidence came from covertly recorded conversations taken from wiretaps and listening devices planted in the phones and business offices of Levy and Gaetano Vastola. After Gaetano’s conviction for his part in the extortion of John LaMonte he became a cellmate of another notorious criminal, John Gotti.  Gotti was convinced that Gaetano would turn state’s witness in the case and he would be caught up in it. When Gotti was released, he pressured New Jersey’s DeCavalcante family boss John Riggi to murder Gaetano. The FBI were able to catch wind of the plot.. In the end Gotti and the DeCavalcante leadership, including Riggi and Stefano Vitabile (another mobster) were  tried and convicted of conspiracy to murder Vastola.

Morris Levy was convicted in December 1988 by a Federal jury of two counts of conspiring to extort the money from LaMonte. Others were convicted, along with Roulette’s controller Howard Fisher and Dominick Canterino who was part of the Genovese crime family.  The FBI also testified that Levy had also been a major supplier of heroin for a Philadelphia drug dealer, Roland Bartlett. Levy was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1988 and fined $200,000.  Levy appealed his conviction. Canterino was sentenced to 12 years in prison, and Lamonte did indeed testify for the state.  He then entered the federal witness protection program.

While he was awaiting his appeal Morris Levy was free on bail, obviously through money he’d stolen from many of the Roulette artists. In October of 1989 Levy’s conviction was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. In January 1990, Levy’s lawyers petitioned to have his sentence eliminated because of his failing health. It was rejected, but he was granted a 90-day stay.  He was scheduled to report to prison on July 16, 1990 but died on May 20, 1990 after a long, painful battle with cancer.


For all the ups and downs in Jimmie Rodger’s life there has been  poetic justice.  He’s lived through corrupt cops, dishonest business dealings, beatings, mobsters, lean times and ill health yet it could not stop him. Instead he has lived a long life, found success, lost it, then regained it.  He has worked despite the Spasmodic Dysphonia that took his voice from him. He loves his wife dearly and enjoys his life far more than he could ever have imagined as a kid in Camas Washington.   It’s hard to look at his life without considering the advice his father had given him years earlier:  

“Keep your right hand high and your ass off the floor” his father Tuffy told him. “I don’t quit”says Jimmie.  “I don’t know how to quit. Nobody ever told me how to quit”

 

 

-Dennis R. White; Sources-Gary James “Interview with Jimmie Rodgers (www.classicbands.com, retrieved January 6, 2018); Dr. Doo-Wop “Jimmie Rodgers Interview” (June 4, 2014); Troy Lennon “The Mystery of Jimmie Rodgers’ Bashing” (The Daily Telegraph

ROB MORGAN & THE SQUIRRELS

On September 21 2017 Iggy Pop was hosting his “Iggy Confidential” show that’s become  semi-regular Friday night fare on the UKs BBC 6.  About three quarters through his show he dropped the needle on a song almost everyone familiar with the early 80’s Seattle music scene.  It was The Pudz doing “Take Me To Your (Leader)”.  More than a few Seattle listeners ears pricked up immediately and hopefully a few others’ around the world.  After the song finished Iggy related what a horrible year 1981 was-the year The Pudz single was releasedIggy  mentioned pooping out” Zombie Birdhouse and how he’d been relegated to opening for A Flock of Seagulls at New York’s Peppermint Lounge; he was so humiliated he built himself a cross to drag onto stage with him.  Then he went on to tell his audience what a great little band out of Seattle The Pudz were, and that they were a high point for him during that awful year.  One person who heard the broadcast (via the quick thinking of a friend who was streaming it.) was Rob Morgan… the genius behind The Pudz, and for the last four decades one of most visible guys on Seattle’s music scene…25 of which were spent leading The Squirrels-or one of the many iterations of the band. First he tells me about Iggy  playing one of his Pudz records;

“That was mind-blowing”says Rob. “Being a bright shining spot for him in a shitty year. I just about had a heart attack, then when he actually starts singing R.B Greaves’ ‘Take A Letter, Maria’ (the flip side of Take Me To Your ( Leader) and cracking himself up I felt like ‘that kind of validates my entire career; of all the people who  gave me shit for being a quote-unquote “cover band”-which we’re not.  If we were a cover band we’d be doing songs people actually wanted to hear, and playing in Holiday Inns for real money.  We wouldn’t be taking Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun and speeding it up faster and faster before it becomes Van McCoys’ Do The Hustle.

What Rob didn’t mention is that he has at least one other important and influential fan; or he did have until he died in 2004: The great British DJ, John Peel.  Peel kept a box of records near his door, which has become known as The John Peel Record Box.  Peel claimed if there was ever a fire in his house the box was next to the door because it was filled with 147 singles of his favorite records of all-time.  The box contained everything from Anne Peeble’s ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ and Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ to much rarer fare like Medicine Head’s ‘Coast To Coast (And Shore To Shore)’ The box is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock, psychedelia and indie-pop.  One of those rare 45’s included is ‘Oz On 45’a record by the band Morgan is more well-known for; The Squirrels.  ‘Oz on 45’ is a piss-take on the once popular output of producers stringing one hit after another, sometimes speeding songs up to segue into the next- and sometimes slowing them down for the same reason.  Most of the time the gimmick was to keep the same pitch and the same beat of top-40 songs.  The best that can be said about the “Stars on 45” records was they keep people dancing (or listening) to some of the most egregious songs of the ‘70s…a pretty egregious decade in it’s own right.

“So you wanna know how we all got to this?” Rob offers in a more and more enthusiastic coffee buzz

Rob grew up in one of Seattle’s bedroom communities, Edmonds, Washington.  He says he ‘There was nothing’ adding I was”a weirdo kid from the get-go” like a lot of the thousands and thousands of other suburban misfits  biding their time before breaking out of the mold to become weirdo artists.  Rob says that during his teens he was listening to people like Jethro Tull and Leon Russell and the Winter’s Brothers.  He points to the Beatles as his earliest love.  He also talks about his sister giving him a copy of The Mothers of Invention’s “Absolutely Free” while he was in the fifth grade. He didn’t know it then but he’d just set out on a journey that what would be Seattle’s next great era in music. He remembers a girl in school noticing Rob had a picture of Ziggy Stardust in his locker.  Rob was being hassled by the jocks who were listening to Elton John “I find that really funny” he says.  Then one day someone gave him a copy of the Seattle fanzine Chatterrbox. The fanzine was put out by Lee Lumsden and Jim Basnight. The cover was a photo of Lou Reed.

“By that time I was doing the back pages of Hit Parader so I was already familiar with the underground thing, but nobody I knew out in Edmonds even knew about that, so I called up Lee Lumsted on the phone because his number was in Chatterbox and we just started  yackin’ back and forth.  Then they invited me to a party so I went down there (to Seattle) and met those kids and the next thing you know I was hanging out with that crowd but I’m still living at my folks.  I’d pack a sack of clothes and a can of soup and hitchhike the 20 miles to the University District and I’d be there two or three days-staying on Jeff Cades’ floor.  Eventually my folks are like “you gotta go” so me and my other buddy from Edmonds fished around and found this place on 55th and University and rented it.  It was $210 a month, all utilities  paid and furnished, so we got me and my other buddy, Gary Womack, and the late Gregor Gayden and whoever. Everybody living in there paying fifty buck a guy.  Eventually the U-Men moved in there…or Tom and Charlie moved in there, and the U-Men were formed in the basement.  Anyway, we were in that house six or seven years. We got up the first time some guy knocked on the door, and went to bed after we threw the last guy out.

Those were the days before the U-District’s main thoroughfare became a dangerous place. In the late 80s University Avenue became a more depressing place full of drugs, runaways and homelessness.  The scene before that it was vibrant, and a great place to hook up wth the altenative music scene.  It was also before there was any social media to bond with other musicians, artists and fans.  There were similar stirrings coming out of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, and by some sort of cultural osmosis among a large crowd of kids coming out of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School.  In the end many of them would meet up, resulting in a city-wide movement. Lee Lumsden would go on to be a multi-talented presence in Seattle, Jim Basnight founded the power-pop band The Moberlys, Rich Riggins and Gary Minkler would found Red Dress, and Rich would later go on to co-found Chinas Comidas. The kid who seemed to be everywhere in the early to mid-80s’ Duff McKagen, also went to Roosevelt High School, though a bit later. Two other important alumni are Tom Price, one of the founding members of The U-Men and Bill Reiflin who played drums with The Telepaths, then went on to The Blackouts, Pigface, Ministry and R.E.M. Now Bill plays in the re-constituted King Crimson.

By 1979 Rob was also ready to jump into the fray.  Since he’d been a kid he’d been a huge fan of just about anything great in pop music. He’d collected a large amount of promo and fan memorabilia (a collection that continues to grow even now) and the sly ability to combine pop music genres and show a great deal of wit in executing it.

“I just started playing. Me and Eric Erickson (who’s passed on) who was my buddy from High School..we were hanging out with this other friend of ours from High School named Kevin played at a party The Enemy were having and we called ourselves The Fishsticks. The Enemy and everybody thought that we were super-funny.  We did “Herman’s HermitsI’m Into Something Good” and “Do You Believe in Magic’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful and a bunch of 60s covers that no one was doing at that time, because they were only about five years old or something.  Later we got asked to do another gig with The Girls, The Radios and Little Magnets at IOGG Hall.  We pretty much stole the whole show and pissed everybody off”.

The band was also asked to play a couple of house parties and they went over well, but it wasn’t ‘til one night during a party at the “Madhouse” (an infamous party house near University Ave.) that The Pudz were actually born and christened.  The entire process was witnessed by about 300 music weirdos, punks, artists and fans.  Everyone went bananas and then ran all over town and told everybody there was this new band called The Pudz so we said “oh well, I guess we’re called The Pudz”. The next day hundred of people were running around talking about The Pudz.   I guess I was a rock singer guy cuz I’d go out there and jump around and have a good time…it just kind of happened.”

“How I wound up in The Pudz, was kind of an accident. Dave Locksley, the guitarist, was trying to start a band with Dave Drewry the drummer (who’s also passed on now) and they would practice in my friend Bill Larsen’s basement.  I was hanging out over there so I’d go down there and we’d start doing some dumb covers just for the hell of it.

After The Pudz were formed they had a successful career as one of Seattle’s favorite bands.

“In 1982 when The Pudz fell apart I did a fanzine called “Pop Lust” for a couple of years”, Rob tells me. “Then I got sick of doing that and I said I want to get back into playing. So I went and saw one of the Young Fresh Fellows first shows and I cornered Scott and said you guys have got the kind of 60s garage-y thing I’m kinda looking for so why not let me be your front man?  And he said “well, I’m gonna be a front man because I’m writing all the songs, but how about if we back you up under a different name doing covers? And I said “GOLDEN!” So the first year The Squirrels was essentially me fronting The Young Fresh Fellows, except Scott would play bass and Jim would play guitar”.

“So they go up to Bellingham and play a show at The 3B’s and they take me with them. Then they put on wigs qnd basically open for themselves and half the time the audience wouldn’t even figure out it was the same band cuz the guy from The Pudz was jumpin’ around. So that’s how we did it first, and it was a bit straighter then, as far as the magic-y kind of thing.  But then they started taking off and they were too busy to keep doing it, but Tad (the drummer) being a wierdo, he wanted to keep doing it.

In 1985 me and Tad brought Eric Erickson back in, got Craig Ferguson on bass (a buddy from Tower Records where I worked), and drafted Joey Kline on a recomendation after checking him out in Boy Toast. He was really funny and talented.  Thats when it really started rolling..  Jimmy Thomas (JT) came into the  band in 1989 and Joey has been my co-pilot 23 out of the 25 years The Squirrels (or one of their pseudonyms) have been together. The name eventually ended up simply as The Squirrels, but any term with the word “squirrel” in it has probably been linked to them.

“So how did we get to this point?” he asks himself again.

“He begins to answer himself.  “Like I said I remember The Beatles…and that prime-era stuff that was on the radio.  This was where I got all my information.  I was just some lonely kid living out in Edmonds, growing up. What the hell?  And then I find Aladdin Sane or something, and I’m like, whoa! there’s a whole world out there that seems to be interesting”.

“It made me realize that either they’re lying to us…all kinds of music is the same and it doesn’t matter and you can smash through rock into jazz into that and the other thing, and it doesn’t freaking matter. This world of ours tried it ourselves and that; along with NRBQ and other things, and there’s so many bands that think that way.  I don’t mean to offend Country people but I just don’t understand why you would say “I do this and paint myself into this little box. I can’t step outside of this box…and it makes me a thousand times more authentic’. That makes no sense to me”.

“The whole tribute band thing also cracks me up cuz in 1986 on our first album one entire side was Johnny Kidd and The Pirates songs (an early British R&R band known for “Shakin’ All Over”-a song not included on their first record).  The other Everybody thought that was completely stupid and that we were insane, and now if you have an original band you can’t get a show, but if you have a band where you dress up and pretend you were Guns N’ Roses you could play every day.  So for our next show since we’re going to do a lot of covers and we’re just going to say “For this next song we are a tribute band to (whatever band we’re supposed to do)” and then we will become a tribute band for whatever the next song is, and then people will like it better”.

“Like I said” says Rob  “The Squirrels just kept going and going and going and by 2009 we couldn’t do it any more” says Rob. “I looked at the calendar one day and said “if I make it to the next Christmas show that will be twenty Christmas shows and twenty-five years under the name of The Squirrels, so that was a good time to just step away”.  I made a bunch of t-shirts with Death With Dignity Retirement Tour on ‘em and that was that.  Until recently we hadn’t done a show since that “farewell tour” that ended Christmas Eve 2009. I mean we kinda did a one-off for a friend of mine’s 60th birthday in his living room. I kinda jumped up with the fellas and did a Mighty Squirrels set, but we haven’t done a fully authorized, sanctioned Squirrels show until last year (2017) and nobody thought it would happen. The first show was in April and then in May and then in September”.

‘Last year”, says Rob, “we brought The Squirrels back together. We had to cheer people up cuz of the whole Trump thing and I had to find something different to do”. He adds “I swore for years and years and years and years there’s no way we would ever do that. It sounds ridiculous but one of the main reasons we did that was because of Cheeto-face and everybody I know is losing their minds and just not having any fun…just losing their minds. I thought to myself It’s ‘boots on the ground time’ and it’s us against them and everybody has to do what they can do.  I’m too old and physically beat-up to go on a march and too broke to give money that would be worth it to anybody, but I can sure as hell go out there and entertain people and distract them and make fun of this freaking idiot (Trump). So I called up the rest of the band and they just said yuh-huh.

The first two shows we railed heavily.  We did “Lump” by The Presidents of The United State, but we changed it to “Trump”. We did “Draggin’ The Line”. We changed it to “Drainin’ The Swamp”.  We did “Carrie Anne” by The Hollies and changed it to “Kellyanne”.  People were peein’ their pants laughing, but by the time we got to the third show we said “You know, we don’t wanna talk about it anymore’.  People know why we came back, and it’s getting to the point that it isn’t funny anymore, so we dumped all the Trump stuff.  Now we’re playing sporadically…I’m not actively trying to get out there and compete and get rollin’ again, but we’re doing  a show every few months.  We have the best band now that we have EVER had.  It’s ridiculous.

We’ve got me and Joey back in, who as I said was in The Squirrels for 23 of the 25 years we’ve been together.  J.T. is back on lead guitar. who was in the band for 15 years at least. Bruce Laven is back in on keyboards who did it for eight or nine years. Then, we’ve got an all-new rhythm section.  We got this guy named Bill Ray on drums who recently moved to town who’s fantastic.  He also works with Leroy Bell right now, but he used to play with Ike Turner for years.  He’s a technical monster, but he just happens to be a big goofball who “gets it”.  Then we brought in Keith Lowe on bass.  He’s another monster who’s been just kinda laying in wait. Certain people we just consider members of The Squirrels whether they’ve ever played with us or not.  Basically Keith Lowe has been in The Squirrels for 20 years but only played the last three shows. Keith plays with everybody.  He even plays with Wayne Horvitz.  Keith’s a world-class bass player, so we’ve got a world-class rhythm section and all the best loved guys we ever had…that’s what the current line-up is. It’s pretty ferocious.

“We could have spun the next show as our fifth one, but it’s really our fourth and a half show.  There was just me and Joey and a drummer from 20 years ago playin’ in a pot store for their third anniversary, so that was kind of The Squirrels.  But we were thrilled to death because we had no idea…well we knew people would remember us, but we had no idea what would happen.  Our first show back, last April, we had more people in Darells Tavern by 9:00 than any other band who’s played there. The door guy was “what the hell is going on?”  They came from miles around and went freakin’ bananas, We couldn’t believe it.  We were totally touched. And we went down to Tacoma a month later and it happened again. Then we played at The High Dive and it pretty much happened again, except the crowd was a little lighter that time cuz it was Labor Day Weekend and Bumbershoot was going on, but we held our own, even against that.  It’s been going really good and people seem genuinely happy and genuinely grateful.  It’s a kick in the pants to look out there and just see a room full of people with shit-eatin’ grins on their face”

The Squirrels have been through about 35 guys. We were the aforementioned Mighty Squirrels for about a year, and then everybody quit except Tad…they just couldn’t do it anymore. Then me and Tad got  guys together as The New Age Urban Squirrels (also mentioned before) and that’s what we were for a couple of years. Then the first album was two split EPs “Five Virgins” by  and The New Age Urban Squirrels and Ernest Anyway and The Mighty Mighty Squirrels doing “Sings The Hits of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates.  Then Tad quit and we got another drummer, and when Craig quit and we got Kevin Crosby on bass and changed the name to Crosby, Squirrels and Nay because we had brought in Jon Nay who used to be in The Frazz.  Nay quit, and then we brought in Nate Johnson from the fastbacks on drums…so we just changed our name to Crosby,  Squirrels and Nate.

“Anyway we’d get into the gradual process of replacing people as they dropped out; and the style would kind of change depending on who else was in it. Now when Eric Erickson was with us he could play anything. When I was about 16 years old in High School I remember him playing the entire The Who Live at Leeds album on his SGN…like OK!  So that’s when we started getting a little all over the map stylistically because we could take on anything. We were doing what they call mash-ups now decades ago.  We called them Mudleys cuz a Medley is a whole bunch of songs in a row.  We figured a Mudley was a whole bunch of songs stacked up. We’d have one bit where half of the band was doing a country version of “Ben” by Michael Jackson and the other half were playing “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.  Five musicians would be laughing while everyone else scratched their heads. We had another thing “Hawaii Take Five-O”…stuff like that”.

I ask him why people believe The Squirrels are a cover band.  He nearly bristles at the question, so I ask him how he would describe the band.

“The Squirrels were never really a cover band.  They took multiple hooks and melodies  from one band and mooshed them up with another unlikely band or two…or three, etc. The formula was exactly what made The Squirrels shows fun and entertaining.   Then he enigmatically says

“Well we’re not a cover band but we are a cover band”.

“I would call us “the great rock and roll equalizers” he says.  We take really shitty songs and we elevate them.  Then we take really great songs and we grind them through the skewer and we pound it all together into a dough.  Basically we take the entire history of pop music, smash it together into a ball and throw it back in your face..  Some people understand it, and some people don’t. There’s not a lot of middle ground. There’s the people who generally like The Squirrels .  They say “They’re genuine and I love that band” or “I don’t understand what’s going on, make them stop”. You don’t meet somebody who says “oh I have one of their albums…they’re pretty good”.  They’re either in or their out”.

“As far as CDs go, Popllama Products recently went out of business and it’s owner, Conrad Uno retired.  He sold his house and he’s moving away.  He’s done more than enough.  So when he was clearing out his basement he found a few boxes of CD’s he didn’t know he still had.  He found copies of one of our CDs ‘Harsh Toke of Reality’ from 1993.  The band also have a bunch of copies of ‘The Not So Bright Side of The Moon’.  Those two are available at our shows and at our next show we’re hopefully going to be putting in two or three more of the Pink Floyd covers into the live showssays Rob.

“Harsh Toke of Reality” is probably representative of what we do; about a third originals and the rest random covers.  And then, “The Not so Bright Side of The Moon”- it’s our undisputed masterpiece.

“There’s actually an entire album that is unreleased”. he tells me “It was the follow-up to “The Not So Bright Side of The Moon”. We recorded it in 2002 and called it “Rock Polisher”. It’s the mother of ALL Squirrels albums, but we have never found a label to release it cuz rather than doing it at Uno’s studio (where we had to pay for the studio time) we did it at J.T.’s on his computer. We could spend as much time as we wanted  The Not So Bright Side of The Moon” took us ten days total, mixed and everything.  For this album (“Rock Polisher”) we got together every Wednesday for a year, and by the time we made it, it took “Let’s Dance” three days to mix because it had 50 tracks on it. We did “Let’s Dance” and Wish You Were Here” at the same time.  Anyway, all the Squirrels fans wanted it because it has all the medleys, It has the Mandy medley on it and all that stuff that was never on any other album because we didn’t have time to do it right. But by doing what we did on Rock Polisher no one could pay the royalties for it.  They’d have to pay for 27 songs for a half hour album and every single song is like five songs at the same time.  So we sent it to all these labels and they said
“That is the greatest thing you’ve ever made. But I gotta hire a team of scientists to figure out how to pay for it. Good luck”.

Rob ends up with a final message:

“I’d also like to say that we’re super-excited that in 2034 the comprehensive boxed set called Fart Party is gonna come out. However, we have no idea what label it’s going to come out on because the kid who’s going to re-discover us in a pile of crap isn’t even born yet. But this stuff’s all gonna happen. We’ve left a big enough pile of weird crap laying around for somebody to find in 20 years and say “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! If there is someone out there who wants to release it we have all the master tapes.

 

THE SQUIRRELS WILL BE DOING A MATINEE SHOW, SUNDAY JANUARY 7, 2018

DARRELLS TAVERN

18041 AURORA AVE. NORTH, SEATTLE, WA, 98133

DOORS OPEN AT 2:00 PM

SHOWTIME 2:30 PM

TWO SETS

$10

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources; Rob Morgan interview with the author (November 25, 2017); Stephen Tow; “Addendum: Pop Lust For Life, Rob Morgan and The Squirrels” (The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge, Sasquatch Books, 2011); Rich Webb “The Greatest Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Outsider, January 20, 1999); Ned Raggett “The Squirrels: USA (O Canadarm-Fine Musical Trash from Canada and Beyond, September 5, 2009); Michael Krugman “Capt. Morgan’s revenge: In a scene that takes itself too seriously, The Squirrels lighten the Mood” (The Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006); Scott Schinder / Ira Robbins “The Young Fresh Fellows [The Squirrels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STAN BORESON


“Zero dacus, mucho cracus hallaballu-za bub That’s the secret password that we use down at the club Zero-dacus, mucho-cracus hallaballu-za fan Means now you are a member of: KING’s TV club with Stan.”

Every baby-boomer who grew up within the broadcast signal of Seattle’s KING-TV knows the song.  From 1954 until 1967, it was the theme for “King’s TV Club With Stan Boreson” and later simply “The Stan Boreson Show“.  Boreson was only one of many kid-show hosts in the early days of Northwest. television.  Others included the Ivar Haglund inspired “Captain Puget” (Don McCune), the railwayman “Brakeman Bill”( Bill McLain), Wunda Wunda-a sort-of Pixie Harlequin played by Ruth Prins and of course the most beloved of all; J.P. Patches played by the incredibly resourceful and hilarious Chris Wedes.

Although all local kids show hosts played a character, and focused on their kiddie audience in 1998  Boreson told April Chandler of the Kitsap Sun;

“We used to joke that the reason we’re not on (television) anymore is we were entertaining the parents instead of the kids,” he said. “I never talked down to the kids; we were just carrying on a normal conversation.”

The statement about the adults is probably true.  Even though Boreson ran a cartoon or two during his daily broadcast,the bulk of his unscripted routine was a series of subtle “Scandahoovian” jokes and characters that were sure to go over the heads of most kids-especially the majority of his audience who had no first or second generation familiarity with the Scandinavian experience back home, or in the immigrant community. Not only that, Boreson was the master of cornball parodies of popular songs, sung in an addled English-Scandinavian dialect.  The dialect itself was a large part of the joke, and even the parody must have seemed a bit too dense for small children.

This was the early days of television and cheap broadcasts of local artists allowed broadcasters across the country to fill time. In fact, it’s probable that not a single broadcaster across the nation didn’t have a kiddie show to fill in an afternoon  time slot, or at least a comedy show that could please both the stay-at-home mom and her rowdy kids just home from school. Unlike most kiddie program hosts who had come from radio as announcers, weatherpeople or disc jockeys, Boreson had a leg up on all of them.  He’d started his career as an entertainer and by the time he was hired he’d already performed his corny take on Scandanavian life and his accordian playing in front of  thousands upon thousands of audience members.  The start of his career goes back to his early days in Everett WA.

Boreson was born into a second generation family. His grandfather-a carpenter- had jumped ship from a Norwegian lumber hauler near Utsalady on Camano Island.  After hiding out for several days the angry captian and crew of the gave up looking for him, he made his way out of the forest and eventually filed a land claim on Camano Island.  Next he sent word to his wife to join him.  By 1925, when Stan was born, his mother and father had settled in Everett WA, where a large Scandanavian population had congregated. It’s unclear if his grandparents remained on Camano Island, although later it would be a welcome destination for Stan and his wife to re-charge their batteries.

Stan grew up around first and second generation Norwegian immigrants who were stuck somewhere between stubbornly holding onto the ways of “the old country” and being bemused and a bit confused by the new American culture they’d found themselves in.  In fact Boreson would use a running joke throughout his life that “this is a song my uncle Torvald taught me” before launching into one of his thick-accented parodies.  It was both humorous to Scandinavian audience, but it also showed a sign of Stan’s well-meaning, genial attitude toward his audience and their backgrounds.  Scandinavians who had immigrated were no less frowned-upon and subject to bias than any other ethnic group that has come to America in large numbers.

In the 2010 documentary “”Off The Air But Still In Our Hearts” Boreson recounted a story that’s become familiar with almost every one of his fans.  He remembered that at age 12 his mother had decided it was time for Stan to start music lessons.  The instrument originally assigned to him was the guitar.  She sent him to a tutor, Mel Odegard who worked out of Buell’s Music on Hewitt Avenue in Everett. Odegard told him Stan “I’ll teach you some chords on the guitar and then you can sing the melody.’  Stan was too shy to sing at the time and objected.  ” I was very bashful, so I sez ‘No way am I going to sing.’ So he said: ‘Well, then why don’t you trade-in the guitar on an accordion? — you play the melody on one side and chord on the other.  That’s how I became an accordian player” Stan recalls.

He also recalls the accordion being so heavy that he hauled it from home to Beull’s and back in his wagon. Of course Stan often repeated this story and each time he was sure to insert the names and addresses-including his home address in Everett at the time.  Even though he repeated the story often each time it sounded like the first time he’d told it. Apparently Stan was fighting his reluctance to sing when a cousin, Myrtle Lee, dared him to take part in a skit at one of Everett High School’s pep rallies.  Stan would play accordion and sing the lyrics to the song “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh”, an old, somewhat hackneyed standard written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose in 1917.  The idea was for Stan to play and sing the song’s lyrics as written in English and Myrtle would “translate” the lyrics in an over-the-top, Norwegian display of comedic melodrama.  The performance was a hit, and Boreson-and presumably his cousin Myrtle-would never be stage-shy again.  In fact, Boreson clearly reveled in his ability to perform and entertain audiences.  This revelry would continue throughout his entire life.

When US involvement in the Pacific and Europe broke out into war h tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because of an arm injury that had kept him hospitalized for a year as a child.  So having been turned down by the Army he chose to do his service by joining the USO.  His USO deployment led him to Italy, where he sang on makeshift stages with musical greats The Andrews Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Allan Jones and more. This experience would lead Boreson to gain even more confidence performing in front of audiences. After the war ended Boreson returned to Everett and enrolled as a student Everett Community College…in those days “community” colleges were known as “junior colleges”, so Stan spent two years at Everett “Junior” College, before transferring to the University of Washington.  His studies included  accounting and personnel management.  But study seemed to come second to his aspirations of becoming a comedian and porodist.   It was at the University of Washington that his true ambitions as a performer blossomed.  Boreson started out with amateur student comedy troupes, mostly among the  University’s  student entertainment groups.   It was here that he honed his “Scandahoovian” persona.

In 1948 Dorothy Bullit purchased  KRSC-TV , which had been the first television station to broadcast in the Northwest.  The station was re-branded to KING TV shortly afterward to match the call letters of it’s sister station KING Radio.  Bullit who was President of KING at the time hired Lee Schulman-a former NBC program director-to  look for talent to fill the airwaves of KING TV.  One of the targets of Schulman’s search for talent was the University of Washington.  It was there that Schulman first saw Boreson and soon afterward he offered Stan a role co-starring with fellow U of W student Art Barduhn.  The  show debuted as a 15 minute slot each Thursday called “Campus Capers”   Later, when the show found a sponsor-Clipper Oil-and the name of the program was changed to “Clipper Capers”.The show included music, comedy skits and occasional interviews. Still later Boreson and Burduhn were offered a half-hour show called “Two B’s at the Keys” (Boreson and Barduhn being the two “B’s. the keys being Stan’s accordion and Burrdun’s piano.)  The show, like the previous “Clipper Capers” included comedy sletches, but Stan went even further into Scandanavian parodies of popular songs.  It is on “Two B’s at the Keys” that Boreson debuted what would become one of his most beloved parodies “Valkin’ In My Vinter Undervear” set to the tune “Walking In a Winter Wonderland”.   The show was a hit with the audiences as well as the sponsors. Boreson and Barduhn did their television show as well as work as featured and opening acts around the Puget Sound region.

Boreson also had a personal connection to band leader Lawrence Welk, another immigrant who’s accent was shaped by the adults he grew up around. Although Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota.  His family were of German Catholic descent who’d fled Odessa, a city in what was at the time The Russian Empire. (Odessa is now  in Ukraine)..  Although they did not share a Scandinavian background it’s clear that Boreson had a special place in his heart for Welk and his orchestra throughout his life.  Another tie was that Welk’s family had stubbornly held onto their traditions and accents during Welk’s early life.  Welk’s accent became as much a part of his persona as the “Champagne Music” he conducted.

“When my cousin and I ran the 7 Cedars Dance Hall in Mount Vernon, we were able to hire him, his whole 16-piece band, and even the Champagne Lady for $750. And his wife sent us baked cookies. He wasn’t famous then, but I knew of him because he’d made some polka records. Later, when he got famous, he had me on his show (in 1957) in Los Angeles. I could never hire him again, though. His price had gone up to $30,000. Same band!”

During the early 1950’s Stan also became aware of comedian/singer/parodist  from Tacoma, Harry Edward Skarbo (aka by his adopted name, Harry Stewart) and his alter-ego Yogi Yorgesson. Boreson had been doing his Scandinavian schtick for years, but Skarbo/Stewart/Yogi was far more successful.  Boreson’s musical act emphasized comic Scandinavian dialect parodies.  Skarbo/Stewart had created a somewhat dim-witted character (Yogi Yorgesson) portraying a naïve Swedish “Hindu yogi” who handed out absurd advice and divination in a thick Swedish accent.  Aside form a successful nightclub act, Skarbo/Stewart (as Yogi Yorgesson) had charmed audiences across the country with his own parodies of the ever-confused Scandanavian immigrant and his somewhat backward ways.  His first recording  “My Clam Digger Sweetheart”b/w”I Don’t Give a Hoot had proved popular enough to land him a contract with Columbia Records.  According to his bio Skarbo/Stewart/Yorgesson’s second recording (the first that debuted on Capitol)  “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” backed by The Johnny Duffy Trio) was promoted as a special  Christmas release.  Advance orders came from all around the country, and sales soared.

Capitol realized they had a bona fide hit . The song debuted on the Billboard charts at number 24 on December 10th, 1949 , and by the next week, both “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, and it’s B-side “Yingle Bells” were both in the Top Twenty.  By Christmas that year both were top ten hits. The song “I Yust Go Nuts” proved it’s legs at Christmas” and even reached number five even after the holiday. The single became one of Capitol’s permanent hits—being reissued virtually every year in one form or another since it’s debut in 1949.. Right after Christmas, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” reached number five, and the single became one of Capitol’s permanent hits—being reissued or covered by other artists since it’s debut. It remains a seasonal hit on the Dr. Dememto show. As the 1950’s continued along Skarbo/Yorgesson  continued to perform  under his stage name, but largely abandoned his “Hindu mystic” character in favor of his act as a Swedish-American parodist and comedian taking advantage of an exaggerated accent.  Sadly Skarbo died in an automobile accident in 1956 near Tonapah NV, on his way from a gig in Ely Nevada to his home in Los Angeles.

Between 1956 and 1979 Stan and his musical collaborator Doug Setterberg would record and release 18 songs that had been written by Skarbo/Stewart.  In 1980 Stan recorded another 11 of his songs on the tribute album “Yust ‘Tinkin’ of Yogi” .  Before. during and after Stan’s television career Boreson had worked closely with his collaborator Doug Setterberg writing and performing  parodies together.  They appeared onstage as a duo and recorded albums under the name and “Stan and Doug”, although it’s clear that it was Stan who held the spotlight.  In all. Boreson (either as a solo artist or alongside Setterberg) recorded 16 albums during his career.  Setterberg also collaborated on Boreson’s television show as characters “Foghorn Peterson”, “Phineus The Frog” and various sketch characters.  Aside from Setterberg regulars included the voice of Mike Rhodes as the heard but never seen “Old Timer”, Boreson as “Grandma Torvald (his drag persona) a 1962 World’s Fair visitor from outer space, Space-Nick, played by Jerry Sando.  The menagerie of animals (real and imagined) scattered the set that included Victor Rola, Pepita the Flea, Phineas the Frog , and  “The Swedish Answerman” but none so predominant as the perpertually inert Basset Hound, No-Mo-shun, often shortened to simply “No-Mo”  The name stems from a contest to name the mascot of Boreson’s  show.  The name is a pun on speed record holder (at the time) of“ Slo-Mo-Shun” a local favorite in hydroplane-mad Seattle.  Later No-Mo-Shun would be paired with the equally immovable Basset Hound, Talulah Blankhead. I n 1967 Stan Boreson’s show became victim of changes in children’s afternoon programing and an emphasis of afternoon news, talk shows, syndicated sit-coms and soap operas.  In fact Boreson’s show was replaced by the gothic themed “Dark Shadows”  Sadly, Stan’s sidekick and  collaborator, Doug Setterberg died shortly after the show’s cancellation. Still this didn’t keep Boreson from travelling the country or appearing locally to his fans and admirers who had dubbed him “The King of Scandanavian Humor”.  His fame was so widespread among pockets of Scandinavians across the country, in Canada, and in Scandinavia itself that his albums, especially his Christmas albums, are regularly pulled out and listened to at large gatherings of Scandinavian friends and family.  As corny as they are, they still bring a laugh, and maybe a cringe at their corniness.

Stan continued to record and tour during the 1960s and 1970s and continued to appear on television in the form of “The Stan Boreson Christmas Reunion” that ran every Christmas from 1991 to 2003.  He also continued to work live all over the country as well as in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.  In 2006 Rick Anderson of the Seattle Weekly wrote:

“Boreson has been on an accordion world tour since, from the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, N.D., to the Little Norway Festival in Petersburg, Alaska, and every lutefisk fight in between. He appears regularly at local events; he’s also done six gigs on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Wherever he goes, they ache to hear the Klubhouse theme song, “Zero Dacus” (“mucho cracus, hullaballoozabub “

While Stan kept performing the honors and accolades started to pile up.  He was summoned by King Olav V of Norway to perform for him and hundreds of guests.  In 2005 Olav V’s successor King Harald V awarded Boreson  the St. Olav Medal of Honor, an award Boreson shares with only eight others.  The Ballard Chamber of Commerce began giving out annual Stan Boreson Awards to various esteemed members of the community, and in 2007, Boreson was honored with two of the first Distinguished Alumni awards ever offered by Everett Community College. He also was dubbed the “Prime Minister of Sea-Fair” Seattle’s annual festival of concerts, parades and special events culminating in the anuual hydroplane races.  The largest honor, of course, is the place in the hearts of his fans.  Although his TV shows are long gone he’ll always be remembered for his genial mood and gentle humor.  It’s important to remember that Stan spent more than 20 on television (12 of them as the host of “KING’s Klubhouse” and “The Stan Boreson Show)  But the bulk of his nearly 70 year career was as a live performer, a recording artist and comic. was as a recording artist and live entertainer.  Videos from the early days of television broadcasts video was re-used, so  very little footage of the Stan Boreson Show, KING Klubhouse, Campus Capers amd Clipper Capers are left, but most folks outaside the Northwest know Stan through his revcordings and live routines.  Consequently, there is a great deal of recorded music available.

In 2007 Boreson and his wife formed “Stan Boreson and Barbara Tours”.  They took tourists across the US, Canada and Europe for several years by bus; Barbara was the gracious host and Stan, always with his accordian on hand, worked as the commentor, tour guide, and musical  entertainment.  Always self-deprecated and kind though extremely funny in his trademarked cornball  banter.  It was clear Stan had no desire to continue being the cut-up he’d been for decades. Stan and Barbara’s tour business lasted 25 years, and each tour provided an captive (but willing) audience for Stan to charm.

Stan’s final foray into recorded music came in 2007 with a cover of Sheb Wooley’s “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore” A self-deprecating, corny video of the song is available on you tube.

On January 27th 2017 Stan Boreson suffered a massive stroke in the presence of Barbara, his wife of over six decades.  His obituary in the Seattle Times wrapped up his career and status as a Northwest icon.  The obituary then goes on to say:

“In true Stan Boreson style, he would have wanted to end with a joke…so here goes”.

Lena calls the newspaper and asked to speak to the obituaries.
“This is the obituaries, what can I do for you?”
“I would like to put an ad in your obituaries.”
“What would you like to say?” ”
I’d like to say, “Ole died.”
“Just two words… “Ole died?”
“Yeah, well he did.”

“We have a special this week…five words for a dollar. For the same amount you can have three more words. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
“In that case,” Lena said, “I would like to say, “Ole died boat for sale.”

Years ago Barbara Boreson said that she and Stan had made a pact that when one of them died the other would go on with life and promised to remarry. Sadly Barbara Boreson never got the change. She died August 20, 2017 just six days short of her 86th birthday.  Although both Stan and Barbara and Doug Setterberg are no longer with us, it’s certain that Stan’s corny “Scandahoovian” comedy will last for generations.


 

-Dennis R; White.  Sources; Peter Blecha “Borsen, Stan (1925-2017)”  (HistoryLink.org Essay 8553); Barbara Boreson “Stan Boreson. The King of Scandinavian Humor” (http://www.stanboreson.com/index.htm); By Kaitlin Manry “Stan Boreson Can’t Stop Singing” (Everett Herald, December 23 2007); Rick Anderson “Most Resistant to Makeovers” (Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006); Roger George “My Memoir of Growing Up in Seattle With Television” (Images of Television, September 3, 2014); “Stan Boreson 1925-2017” (Seattle Times Obituaries, January 27, 2017); “78’s fRom HeLL – – Listening in on Phone Chatter: Janette Davis – Hold The Phone, (and on line two) Stan Boreson & Doug Setterberg – The Telephone” (I’m Learning To Share, May 26, 2007); April Chandler “Stan Boreson: Fans Still Going Nuts Over Funny Norwegian” (The Kitsap Sun, January 7, 1998); Dawn Broughton “Remembering Stan Boreson of KING’s Klubhouse” (King TV, February 1, 2017); “How Was He Different?” Seattle Television History); Sherry Strickling “Yust the two of us: Stan and Barbara Boreson Have Kept Each Other Laughing For Nearly 50 Years” (The Seattle Times, July 15, 2001); Kari Bray “Stan Boreson, ‘King of Scandinavian Humor Dies at 91 (The Everett Herald, February 1, 2017); Melinda Bargreen “The Klubhouse Is Open Again” (The Seattle Times, December 15, 1991); “Barbara Jean Boreson” (Obituary, The Seattle Times, August 20, 2017); John Louis Anderson “Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths” Nordbook, 1986); Will Jones “Yorgesson? Yust A Phoney” (‘After The Last Night’ The Minneapolis Tribune, April 18, 1950); Will Jones “Smart Swede Fails To Click” (‘After Last Night’,  The Minneapolis Tribune, June 22, 1950); ” ‘Yogi Yorgesson Killed In Car Crash” (The Minneapolis Star, May 21, 1956); Susan Paynter “Boreson’s Living Proof That Silliness is Good For Your Health” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 5, 2005

 

EDMONIA JARRETT

The Northwest has been the cradle of many more jazz artists than you might imagine.  Certainly not as many as New York or Chicago or LA. but it certainly seems a haven from those scenes.  Who can say why this little corner of the world has both attracted and spawned so many jazz careers? From Larry Coryell to Don Lamphere and Jeff Lorber.  From Dianne Schurr to Ernestine Anderson to Ray Charles and a very young Quincy Jones.   Even the self-proclaimed “inventor of Jazz” Jelly Roll Morton spent time in the Northwest; first in Tacoma, then in Seattle, and later in Vancouver.  Since there are only a handful of Jelly Roll’s documented gigs in the area it’s thought that Morton was spending more time running his “West Coast Line” (a series of bordellos) and gambling. Although he spent less than two years in the areain 1929 he wrote a song called “The Seattle Hunch”.

However, none of these artists’ stories are as interesting or unusual as that of singer Edmonia Jarett.

Edmonia was born in South Carolina on March 11, 1933.  Like most of the jazz and soul greats she grew up in the church. singing in the choir and spreading “the Lord’s word” through music.  At the same time Edmonia’s parents pushed her to make something of herself.  She chose the field of education.  Her path would first lead her to work at The Pentagon, and eventually to Seattle and a job at Boeing. Then she was hired by the Seattle School District, first as a teacher (African-American History and  Physical Education) and eventually as principal of Wilson Middle School and Cleveland High School.  Finally, after 23 years with the Seattle School District she retired.
After retiring Edmonia then made a move that few would even attempt.  She decided she would become a professional jazz singer.  She was 55 years old…much older than anyone else would have dared to begin a musical profession. But Edmonia had kept up her singing in church and to herself for decades.   She had never had a singing lesson in her like.   Edmonia was known for her “grit and determination”.  It was having these qualities that would make her name regionally-and even gain a loyal fan base around the world. As a performer she was even sought out for various international jazz festivals.  Sue Jackson, a former choir mate at St. Therese Church in Madrona. said:

“When she decides she wants to do something, she does it, to heck with everybody.”

Edmonia took her faith seriously.  In the early 90s she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Instead of relying on doctors, chemotherapy or any of the usual routes cancer patients take, she chose to set all of those aside in order to be healed by the Lord.  Either by determination or divine intervention, Edmonia was cured of her breast cancer.

In 1991 she had her first big break.  She was chosen to play the part of Bessie Smith in an original play called “Janis” starring local R&B singer Duffy Bishop.  The play followed the life of Janis Joplin, and included a series of scenes in which Joplin spoke with and about some of people that had inspired her career.   During the play’s run Edmonia was spotted by a booking agent who helped amp up Jarrett’s jazz career by getting her into several jazz clubs in the Seattle area.

Her turn as Bessie Smith was not her only acting role.  She also appeared in a made-for-TV movie, “Face of a Stranger” that starred Gena Rowlands, Tyne Daly and Cynthia Nixon, Kevin Tighe and Jeff Probst.  Edmonia had a small role (unfortunately) as a maid.  In 1994 she lent her talents as the character Poika, in the video game The Vortex: Quantum Gate II, and in 1995 she was included in the soundtrack (along with Gas Huffer) of Maria Garguilo’s film “The Year of My Japanese Cousin”.  The film was a local production that took advantage of several locally known actors, technicians and musicians.  Lulu Garguilo of The Fastbacks, and sister of Maria is credited as cinematographer.

Meanwhile Jarrett’s singing career was gently taking off.  Many of her friends and fellow musicians have mentioned her generosity and the warmth that she infused with her singing.  By the mid-90’s she was Seattle’s favorite live jazz vocalist.  In 1998 The Seattle Times wrote:

“If thick, cloudy ribbons of cedar smoke could talk, their voices would sound a lot like Edmonia Jarrett.”

She was singing more and more alongide well-known and well-respected jazz musicians.  Fellow performer Greta Matassa said of her voice:

“It’s not terribly flowery. It’s a very forthright, direct way of delivery.”

This may have sounded like an underhanded comment, but with even a cursory listen you can tell how effectively Edmonia used this style.

When Edmonia Jarrett was ready to record her first album she was surrounded by a wealth of local and national talent to help her.  She entered the studio alongside Barney McClure, Bill Ramsay, Billy Wallace and fellow Northwest legends Floyd Standifer and  Clarence Acox.  The result was the album “Live, Live, Live!”.  It should be noted that although a live performance would have resulted in a great album the title “Live, Live, Live!”  actually refers to life, not to  live performance. The songs recorded for the album were Jarrett’s interpretations of jazz standards, with a few lesser-known songs thrown in.  The fact that these are interpretations doesn’t detract from the album at all.  Jim Wilke of Public Radio International’s “Jazz After Hours”  said of the album:

“Onstage she’s gracious and commanding with a tough-love, no-nonsense approach…with warm arrangements and hot players it’s a life-affirming celebration that shouts “Live, Live, Live!”

As her local star was ascending she also became noticed by American and international audiences.  During the mid-90s she began appearing at regional and international Jazz Festivals, including the Mile High Festival in Carson City NV, Victoria’s British Columbia Jazz Festival and “Blues Al Femminile” (“women in Blues”) in Torino, Italy.  She also became a member of Seattle’s Northwest Women in Rhythm and Blues, a loose-knit group of women that over the years has included Katie Hart, Nancy Claire and Edmonia’s friend and mentor Duffy Bishop.

In 1998 Edmonia entered the studio again, this time with Larry Fuller, Joshua Wolff, Buddy Catlett, Geoff Cooke,  Larry Jones, Brian Kirk, Susan Pascal, Ernesto Pediangco, Jim Sisko and Floyd Standifer and the estimable bassist Andy Simpkins. Simpkins had played with jazz artists as diverse as Carmen McRae. Anita O’Day, instrumentalists  Monty Alexander and Stéphane Grappelli as well as other top-notch artists.  The result was the album  Legal at Any Age”.  It also includes two duets with Freddy Cole, “Too Good To Be True” and “East Of The Sun (And West Of The Moon)”  Edmonia had developed a working relationship with Freddy Cole and was also featured in Cole’s band in Atlanta GA.  Freddy had to live in the shadows of his late, older brother, Nat “King” Cole and niece Natalie Cole. despite being a respected and well known musician in his own right.   Freddy’s career has spanned over 60 years and he has recorded at least 33 albums.  Freddy Cole was also the subject of the 2006 documentary The Cole Nobody Knows, which covers his career as an impeccable jazz pianist and vocalist.

This album was also full of standards and other songs that Jarrett had been inspired by.  “Legal at Any Age” also garnered rave reviews.  John Gilbreath of Earshot Jazz said the album is “brimming with soul and spirit.  Her singing is a celebration of life.”

Jack Bowers of  All About Jazz wrote:
“On ‘Legal at Any Age’ she meshes wonderfully (on “Too Good to Be True” and “East of the Sun”) with another survivor, Freddy Cole, who has spent years calmly building a solid reputation as someone other than Nat’s brother. She also duets (on “Come Rain or Come Shine”) with virtuosic bassist Andy Simpkins. On both recordings, Jarrett shows that she can swing, sing the blues or caress a ballad about as well as anyone. While the wellspring from which her abundant talent flows is a mystery, we should be thankful that it’s there for everyone to hear and appreciate. Her choice of material, by the way, is exemplary, and her sidemen are outstanding”.

Throughout the late 90s and early 2000s  Edmonia Jarrett was a fixture on the Northwest jazz circuit and audiences never tired of her performances.  Unfortunately cancer reared it head again in 2001.  This time it was lung cancer that had metastasized to her brain.  Once more she put her trust in her faith, but this time she was not able to overcome the disease.  Edmonia Jarrett died on March 16, 2002.  Earlier in March she had shared her birthday with over 150 friends and family members.  Just three days before he death Edmonia gave her last performance: a tribute to singer Carmen McRae at the Seattle Art Museum.  According to her obituary “Though she looked frail, with short hair and dark glasses, Ms. Jarrett wore a stunning, long, silver-blue satin gown and she sang her heart out.”

Edmonia had only had her time in the spotlight for a decade….but she made every moment of it memorable.  Instead of mourning her passing (which couldn’t be helped coming from friends and family) Edmonia should prove to the rest of us the power of “grit and determination”.

-Dennis R. White.  Sources:  Phil Pastras :Dead Man Blues:Jelly Morton Way Out West” University of California Press, 2003); Kurt E. Armbruster “Before Seattle Rocked: A City And It’s Music” (University of Washington Press,2011); “James Bush “Encyclopedia of Northwest Music” (Sasquatch Books, 1999); Dave Nathan “Edmonia Jarrett” (allmusic.com); Janet L. Tu, “Jazz scene loses a fixture as ebullient Edmonia Jarrett dies” ( The Seattle Times,arch 17, 2002); Jack Bowers “Edmonia Jarrett: Live, Live, Live! / Legal at Any Age ” (All About Jazz, March 1, 1999); Edmonia Jarrett (Pony Boy Records); “Edmonia Jarrett (IMDb.com); Timothy Egan “Estate Loses Suit to Control Plays on Janis Joplin (The New York Times, December 18, 1991)


THE F-HOLES

The F-Holes formed out of a jam session on Nov 21, 1984 at The Central Tavern near Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The original members were “Lucky” Tony Mathews, Douglas “Stringtie” Creson and John “Moondog” Mooney. The jam consisted of three songs. The booker was impressed enough to ask them to open for his band, The Alleged Perpetrators on Dec 14, 1984, and a band was born. Since that night The F-Holes have consistently been part of the Seattle music scene.

One night while Stringtie was playing pinball at a tavern with Kevin Heaven (a local musician and well-known scenester)’ Kevin said;“You gotta check out my new f-hole guitar!” Stringtie went home that night and made a poster. He brought it to rehearsal the next day. “We are the F-Holes” he told them.  The newly-named outfit’s drummer, John “Moondog” Mooney asked;“What am I gonna tell my Mom?”

1985 brought a solid stream of bookings.  The bookings continued.  The first few years The F-holes played more shows than they rehearsed. Doug Creson recalls;

“We’d rehearse on Wednesdays and play shows Thursday , Friday and Saturday”.

Things changed in 1986 when the F=Holes added Otis P. Otis on lead guitar. He was a huge Johnny Thunders fan and brought a heavier sound that lead the band into the pre-grunge era. The original F-holes sound included generous heaps of Psychobilly, Cowpunk, Garage Rock, Punk, Acid Blues and 60s Psychedelia. They add they also play Country music, though they add

“we’re not sure which country“.

Along with Otis  came a sound that brought the band to a new level and wider audience. They still played the same music as before-only heavier.  Their look was still psychobilly with the big pompadours and cowboy boots and bolo ties.  That would change in later years, but for the earlier part of their career the band was known for their appearance as much as their music.  Both were fun, over the edge and a little bit retro as far as their dedication to punk.

“Promoters always had a hard time pegging our sound but we played with all kinds of bands. Punk, Alt Country, Grunge, Power Pop” says Creson.

The biggest misconception may be that the F-Holes are a rockabilly band.  It’s a claim the band adamantly deny.  Since the beginning they’ve always played a few rockabilly-tinged numbers, and they often dressed in a style associated with rockabilly.  Still, it’s hard to listen to them without thinking they’re nothing less than a great punk-pop band with the talent to pull off just about anything they throw out to their audience.

Th band is also known for wicked sense of humor.  In 2011 when the magazine Seattle Sinner asked them what their fondest Christmas memory was Creson told the interviewer;

“We played a Buzz Scooter Club party in an abandoned building with 64 Spiders. On the way to the gig we bought a sheet of windowpane acid, 100 hits. At the party we dissolved the acid into the punch bowl. People were drinking kegger cups full of this shit. By the time we finished our set everyone was just flying, wandering around lost on the upper floors like wide eyed zombies. I wonder how many bodies they found when they tore that place down. This was in 1984, back when you hipsters were still crappin’ in your diapers and sucking breakfast out of your mama’s knockers”.
True story.

By the mid ‘90s band members drifted into other bands, failed marriages, rehab and dead-end corporate jobs. They played a few uninspired shows, now and again…not really breaking up, just not playing with the same passion and frequency as before.

In 2006 The F-Holes were invited to play Geezerfest at Seattle’s legendary Crocodile Cafe. It was a
showcase of bands that helped create the alternative sound and so-called “grunge” Seattle had become known for in the 1990’s.   These were long-time workhorse bands that had actually developed the sound, others had built their success on, but despite their talent were overlooked getting signed to a big record deals. Along with The F-Holes, the line up included bands like Catbutt, Coffin Break, Swallow, Snow Bud and The Flower People,  Blood Circus, Love Battery, and  other worthy bands.

The F-Holes showcase was so well-received that it led to their playing steady ever since. Now in their 33rd year of rocking their fans remain rabidly loyal, and friends are bringing their kids (and grandkids?) to their shows.

The F-Holes recorded output over the years has been sporadic…in fact there’s been only a few recordings available; but the good news is that they’ll be entering into the studio with Jack Endino in 2018. They’ve also found a newer and younger audience while keeping the old-timers.  An Endino-produced album looks promising.

The Stranger magazine’s Mike Nipper observed that after so many years;

“The F-Holes are, dare I say, a smart and (ahem) “songwriterly,” kickass punk group, and live they’re driving as a mofo”.

Even more fitting, on their website the F-Holes simply say “Totally Skankin’ since 1984”.

 

-Dennis R. White-Sources; Doug “Stringtie” Creason;  The F-Holes (home page, http://fholesrock-blog.tumblr.com); Mike Nipper (The Stranger, February 23, 2016); The F-Holes (thatsdadastic.com, 2010); Chuck Foster (“The F-Holes Unmasked: F-Holes Celebrate 28 Years of Being Misunderstood”  Seattle Sinner, December 2011)