Northwest Music History: Artists/Bands

The Heats

It almost didn’t happen” Ken Deans, former drummer for The Heats tells me.  I’m on the phone with him as he’s perched in his office above the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio California; the site of the most important multi-day music festival in the United States; The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival…or simply “Coachella” as it’s commonly referred to.  Ken, who is now the “Logistics Manager” for Goldenvoice Entertainment  tells me he’s been up for about 90 days, but just as Coachella is being dismantled he’s still got w“The band almost didn’t happen” says Ken Deans, former drummer for Seattle band The Heaters (later shortened to “The Heats”).

I’m on the phone with Ken at his ork to do on The Bonnaroo Festival held in Manchester Tennessee and then  for the annual Stagecoach Festival, (back at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio)  which is becoming the largest gathering of C&W artists and fans in the country.  In fact, Ken and Goldenvoice works with almost every major outdoor music festival in the United States. They also book top-notch concerts and events.  I’m surprised he’s carved out time for me to talk with him, but he doesn’t rush, he’s full of anecdotes and stories that I don’t need to prompt him to answer.  He’s surprisingly relaxed for a man with  so much to do.

It’s been a long slog from The Heats to where he’s gotten, but he admits he wouldn’t have come so far except for starting out in The Heaters/The Heats a band that was once Seattle’s presumed contender for attaining fame and fortune.

“It was an accident” he says.  “Keith Lilly and I were scheming to put  a band together and find a female front singer to go to Alaska to make money.  That’s all we were thinking about.  So, it was Keith myself Steve Pearson, Gordon (“Rothberger…Rosman?… or maybe Craig Roper”) playing bass.  We asked this woman named Kim to come and jam.  It was awful. It was truly painful.  We were trying to be like Burgundy Express; complete lounge bullshit”.

The band at the time consisted of Deans on drums, Steve Pearson on guitar, Keith Lilly on guitar (he’d later become bassist)

Ken remembers;
“Steve Pearson says to me;
‘Hey!” I have no desire to do this but I like playing with you and I met this guy and we’ve been talking about jamming,   Maybe the four of us could jam some night”

The guy Steve was talking about was Don Short, who (with Steve) went on to be an integral part of the band as a writer, player and singer.

Erik Lacitis, was the Seattle Times feature writer who helped make The Heaters/The Heats  a household name. He wrote in one of his early articles championing the band that Don Short and Steve Pearson first met at a Jack-In-The-Box somewhere in the suburbs of Seattle in 1975.  It was late at night and only the drive-thru window was open so Don asked some kids in a car if he could join them to put in his order.  Steve Pearson was one of the passengers in the car.  Soon the chance meeting turned to a discussion on rock and roll between Short and Pearson…a subject both young men were drawn to.  Both Steve and Tom found out they’d been playing in garage bands and had favorite bands in common.

Lacitis wrote:
“The two exchanged  phone numbers and stayed in touch, even getting together a couple of times to jam. The young men found they had the same tastes in music,  They both looked for guidance to the back-to-basics just being released by British rockers. They both despised the bland, formula ‘album oriented’ pap and disco that dominated the airwaves at the time.”

A few days after talking to Ken I’m on the phone with Steve Pearson. He’s heard that some guy in Seattle has been trying to get in touch with him.  He tells me;
“I’m a luddite. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t do anything but our drummer does all the social media (for his band, British Racing Green).  I don’t know if we have a website or a facebook page. He’ll pass on “call this guy” or “this person said this” or whatever. He sent me a message and said “call this guy” So I called and originally when I called you I didn’t even know why I was calling….if you wanted me to work on your car or whatever (he laughs) I didn’t know”

“When I began playing it was all these “Glorious Seattle Bands”, from ‘Bighorn’ on down’ says Pearson. ‘They were cover bands, They had semi’s full of gear.  They had five road crew.  They pretended they were the bands they emulated. Some of the guys were really good players and wonderful people, but the bands themselves were the antithesis of what you’d think of a rock and roll band”  Ironically The Heats drummer Ken Deans had formerly played in one of the “Glorious Seattle Bands that both The Heaters and Pearson despised.

Deans good-naturedly admits before The Heaters he belonged to a group called Goliath.  

“I had come from being in a glam/metal band and playing the midwest circuit.  We had a Zeppelin tribute. We had a Jethro Tull tribute and we did a bunch of UFO, but at the core of it it was kinda fun because we would also do a bunch of Yardbirds stuff”.

Steve had played a bit with Jim Basnight, Keith Lilly had been in a band called The Daily Planet and Don had just returned from a year living in London. At one time Keith and Ken had been in a band together called ‘Money’.

Although the new band’s first jam was a total failure, their second session went far better.  On Thanksgiving Eve, 1978 Steve Pearson, Ken Deans, Keith Lilly and Don Short met at a rehearsal space below a convenience store in Kenmore called The Night And Day.  The band started to rehearse at 9 PM, playing everything from the Stones to Chuck Berry to what Ken calls “all the usual jam stuff and blues stuff”

After warming up with covers and jams someone said  ‘Hey! let’s learn a song!’ and all of a sudden Don said ‘I’ve got one, wanna fool around with it ?’  Before they knew it it was 10 AM the next morning and they’d come up with six or seven new songs. Deans also remembers all of them looking at each other and saying “Well, fuck, this is kinda weird”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything so natural before in my life” says Ken.“It seemed all of a sudden overnight we’d known each other forever.  In the case of Keith and Steve and I, we kinda had known each other, (they’d all gone to Inglemoor High School) but we didn’t know Don from anywhere before he came into the room that night.  It was really an amazing night so we decided to keep going.  We made a conscious effort to only play the songs we wanted to play,…no matter if it happened to be on KZAM or KCMU we’d do it because we liked the song.”

The rehearsal space also helped the band come up with a name.  Working overnight in a basement in late November made one thing almost more important than anything else; a heater.  The band dubbed themselves The Heaters

The band found gigs fairly soon,  Usually playing to small audiences; but it gave them a chance to work on their own material, and fill it out by playing songs by some of the then up-and-coming artists that had been coming out of England,.  Seattle fans weren’t familiar with most of these songs, and The Heaters never set out to fool their audience but it was clear the kinds of songs they were covering were exciting, took on a whole new approach and were extremely danceable.

“We were very young and very naive”, says Pearson, “but also highly opinionated as far as what we wanted; what we like and didn’t like I might say. And it was great! We followed the vision of Don Short and me. We had a very narrow-minded approach to what we liked,  and what we didn’t like. Anything that felt like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles from the 1960s we liked,  Anything that felt like ‘Arena Rock’ we hated.”

At the time The Heaters came on the scene it was bar bands and cover bands that ruled the clubs and taverns of the northwest.  Another new and alternative scene had begun to coalesce around bands like The Telepaths (later The Blackouts), Jim Basnight’s The Moberly’s and The Meyce, Student Nurse,The Look and scores of others writing their own material….some of whom fled to San Francisco or Los Angeles to be more appreciated and find labels (The Mentors, The Screamers,The Lewd and The Avengers all took this approach)  It was a phenomenon Neil Hubbard would call “The Seattle Syndrome” for his groundbreaking 1981 collection of Seattle’s alternative music bands; Become too big to stay in Seattle and move to another city in hopes of becoming bigger, but in fact becoming a small fish in a new pond. But these were bands had relatively small fan bases in Seattle and the rest of the country at the time.  It’s clear they would help inspire what became known as the Seattle Sound (or “grunge”) two decades later, but local radio and the majority of music fans at the time were ignoring them in favor of “good time” cover bands, industry-fed top 40 music and Heavy Metal.

It’s hard to say why Seattle suddenly burnt out as a hotbed for mainstream talent by the early 1970s.  Seattle and northwest in general had been a hotbed of talent in the late 50s until the mid 60s, Of course Jimi Hendrix had become a worldwide phenomenon, but he was dead by 1970;  but there was one band that would come to be a bigger success than all Seattle bands before it, excepting Jimi Hendrix,  Heart, a band that wasn’t even initially associated with Seattle. seemed explosive when they first hit the big time.  Ironically, on paper they were practically what the The Heaters despise most about “Arena Rock”.  But Heart was distinct in it’s two very talented sisters out front proving that they could do it just as well…and better…than the boys. Besides, as Pearson told me. “They were groundbreaking, Ann’s voice cannot be denied”. The Wilson sisters too, were trying to kick down some doors.

The band that would become Heart was formed in the same suburbs as The Heaters; Kenmore and Bothell Washington, just a few miles north of Seattle. In 1967 bassist Steve Fossen. guitarist Roger Fisher, drummer Ray Schaefer and Don Wilhelm on guitar, keyboards and lead vocals formed a band the called The Army. The band would go through many various line-ups and different names over the years but were first re-named ‘White Hart’. The word ‘Hart’ is an old English term for what Americans call a ‘stag’; specifically a red deer stag more than five years old. The name of the book referenced Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Tales from the White Hart’, a collection of short stories named after a thinly veiled London pub called The White Horse.  During the 1950s the actual  White Horse (The White Hart in Clarke’s compendium)  was the center of the universe for British science-fiction writers and fans. The premise of the collection ‘Tales from the White Hart’ was that tellers of tall-tales met regularly at the fictional ‘White Hart’ pub, and the storied they spun were re-told for the reader by the fictional character Charles Willis, who is in reality Arthur C.Clarke himself.  The tales Charles Willis re-told were actually Clarke’s original stories.

The name White Hart was intended as the name for another local band, but The Army got permission from the band’s leader Toby Cyr, to use the name.  The band originally to be called White Hart became Raisin’Cain instead.  Having secured the name, the band previously called The Army decided to add an “e” making the name White Heart. By the early ‘70s more line-up changes would take place, one of which was the addition of Ann Wilson (the exact year is unclear) resulting in another name change to Hocus Pocus.  In 1973 Ann’s sister Nancy Wilson joined the band and after a few months the band reverted to the name White Heart and eventually to Heart.

Roger Fisher’s brother Mike was about to be drafted when he decided to flee to Canada.  On one of his trips sneaking back across the border to visit friends and family in Seattle, Mike attended a show featuring his brothers’ band Heart  It was here that Mike Fisher and Ann Wilson met and fell in love.  Ann was determined to follow Mike back to Canada so soon she joined him in Vancouver B.C.. Steve Fossen also decided to move to Canada in late 1972, and Roger soon followed. Shortly after the move both Brian Johnstone (keyboards) and John Hannah (drums) showed up in Canada. It was during this period that Roger Fisher and Nancy Wilson (while they were still in Seattle) became involved.  Roger and Nancy joined the rest of the band in Vancouver British Columbia.  When Nancy Wilson came on board as a guitarist the band was complete..,  Johnstone and Hannah would shortly return to the United States, but replacements would show up soon enough.

In 1975 Heart made demo’s with producer Mike Flicker-who would go on to be their long-time producer over the course of the 70s and early 80s.   Howard Leese was brought in as a session player, filling out the demo with guitar and keyboards formerly played by Johnstone and Hannah.  Leese soon became a full-time member of the band.   Producer Mike Flicker also brought in drummers Duris Maxwell, Dave Wilson, Kat Hendrikse as well as Mike Derosier. A host of session players became part of the album. By 1975 Mike Derosier had become Heart’s full-time drummer.

The band’s demo’s made the rounds but no major label was ready to bite.  Still determined to make a splash the band went into Can-Base Studios in Vancouver, again with producer Mike Flicker at the helm.  Without Heart having a label or distribution the Canadian investors who had backed Can-Base Studios decided to take on and release an album on their own independent Mushroom Records, then managed by Shelley Siegel. The album which became Dreamboat Annie was only released in Canada over its first few months,  It’s airplay and sales were helped along by a  particular Canadian law meant to protect Canadian television,the arts and musicians. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) controlled and enforced the Broadcasting Act of Canada. The Broadcasting Act (at the time) demanded at least 25% of Canadian content must be of Canadian origin. Regulations concerning broadcast quotas have become practically un-enforceable in the 21st century because of the advent of online content, cable networks and NAFTA  but at the time Dreamboat Annie was released it was a very important tool for Canadian artists of all sorts. The band and the band’s producer were not Canadian, but Mushroom Records was a Canadian label and the album was recorded in Canada, thus making it eligible for heightened airplay on Canadian radio.  This exposure initially caused the sale of  about 30,000 copies in Canada, Not numbers like major American acts, but more than many Canadian artists.  The music industry sat up and paid attention.

Many northwesterners knew a bit of the history of Heart as a local band, and sales of imports were fair in the region, but most Americans assumed Heart was a Canadian band because of their first brush with success was there.  After their Canadian success Mushroom Records opened a US subsidiary and originally released Dreamboat Annie in the Seattle area on February 14, (Valentine’s Day) 1976,  Dreamboat Annie sold approximately 25,000 more copies in the northwest alone.

Mushroom Records knew it had a potential hit on its hands and began a wide release in the U,S, with a successful city-by-city roll out.  It was time-consuming but Mushroom Records’ Shelley Siegal knew it was the right strategy. The album was propelled by two of the most iconic rock songs of the early 1970s. ‘Crazy on You’ and ‘Magic Man’. ‘Crazy on You’ made it number 35 on the US Billboard charts, and later ‘Magic Man’ made it to number nine.  The album Dreamboat Annie peaked at number seven on the Billboard charts, and eventually recieved platinum status in the United States (over one million units sold) in 1976, and double platinum (400,000 units total) in Canada in 1979.  It has been claimed by some that Heart’s initial success was that Mushroom Records head, Shelley Siegel ended up convincing “the guys that filled jukeboxes” to put ‘Magic Man’ into the slot that was meant for The Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar”.  It’s only rumor and speculation, but if it’s true it was one more fantastically successful move by Mushroom and Siegel

Inevitably success brings lawsuits.  Mushroom claimed they had a two-record deal and demanded another with the band instead of selling their contract on to a major label.   Mike Flicker, who had signed on to be the band’s designated producer quit the label leaving Heart without a contracted producer at Mushroom. This created a Catch 22; No producer, no record. Things were further inflamed when Mushroom released advertising suggesting the Wilson sisters were lesbian lovers. The members of Heart were furious and felt the label itself had broken the contract with them.

Mushroom then released a throwaway album called Magazine filled with unfinished tracks and a couple of live performances (recorded at The Aquarius in Seattle). The band distanced themselves from Magazine as being an unauthorized release.  Lawsuits were filed.  A court ordered Mushroom Records to pull the album from the racks and allow the band to remix it and add new vocals.  The revamped album was re-released in 1978 and made it to number 17 on the US Billboard charts, with a single, Heartless, that made it to number 24 on the US Billboard charts. Eventually Magazine went platinum in the US and Canada.  It’s not a very good album, but today it is somewhat of a collectible since the album was originally printed with a colored vinyl design. After the dust settled Heart signed a multi-album deal with Portrait Records, a sub-label of Epic Records, and later Columbia.

So what does all this have to do with The Heaters?  Well, both bands would soon share the same management, (Albatross) The Wilson sisters became vocal champions of the band.  Ann Wilson produced a demo and a video for them and was instrumental in the release of The Heats album ‘Have An Idea ’on their management’s Albatross Records. The album was produced by Heart’s Howard Leese. Members of the original band ‘The Army’ had also attended the same high school as Heaters members. The Heats would continue issuing singles on Albatross Records and tour with Heart. The Heaters involvement with Heart was unequivocal…and they had an additional tie-in…
Ken Deans says;   

I clearly remember the day I wanted to be a rock guy. The Army (pre-Heart) was playing down in the Kenmore shopping mall in front of Olsen’s drug store. This was probably 1967 and I said “that’s what I wanna do!”

Heart’s story also provided a cautionary tale to The Heaters, and foreshadowed in some ways the struggle The Heaters/Heats were about to wade into.
https://youtu.be/1pgGw1FY5fY

In 1979 The Heaters were playing the ‘Old Mill Tavern’, ‘The Town Pump’ and then got Doug Boad at Farwest Entertainment to book them into the ‘Central Tavern’,‘The Alki Tavern’ and ‘The Shire’-across from the Admiral Theater in West Seattle-the place the band later broke out of. Soon they were introduced to Norm Caldwell and his business partner Don Kellman who were running and managing The Edmonds Theater.  Their formula was to book up-and-coming bands with classic cult films.

In a September 1979 article, Seattle Times rock critic Patrick MacDonald asked the question;

“A movie theater with a dance floor? 

He went on to say “That’s the Edmonds, probably the only one of it’s kind in the world.  For the past few months the old but handsomely refurbished neighborhood theater on Main Street in downtown Edmonds (about 15 miles north of Seattle) has been featuring rock ‘n roll movies with live bands as a second feature,  The concept has been so successful that the theater has been racking up record days at the ticket booth”.

MacDonald pointed out that several of the northwest’s best new rock bands-including The Heaters, The Moberlys, The Cowboys, Red Dress, The Girls, The Jitters and others-had their popularity  boosted by appearances at the Edmonds Theater.

The Heaters first performance at The Edmonds Theater shared billing with the the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield in a va-va-va-voom, over the top performance and a soundtrack featuring Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Teddy Randazzo and Fats Domino among others,  The film was and still is a high point in bringing rock and roll to a mass theater audience, as well as being terrifically funny in it’s own right.

“That’s where everything started for us” says Steve Pearson. Ken Deans agrees, adding That’s probably the best gig we ever did in our lives”

Norm Caldwell who was doing the bookings at The Edmonds Theater told MacDonald:

“The bands love to play here as an alternative to playing the bar circuit.  They get to play on a stage to a younger audience that pays attention to them.  Bands turn down higher paying jobs to play here because they like it so much”.

MacDonald, who could sometimes fall into the trap of hyperbole, was spot-on in his assessment of the Edmonds Theater, and Norm Caldwell was not simply saying whatever he could in order to bring in warm bodies.  What both of them claimed was absolutely true.  Kids from all over the region (including Seattle) would make the trek to Edmonds to see these shows.

The Edmonds Theater 415 Main St, Edmonds, WA

According to Caldwell at the time some of the other upcoming pairings would included Nicholas Rogue’s Performance (starring Mick Jagger) with Red Dress, and the film Stardust (starring David Essex) would be paired with the band Citizen Sane.  Later The Heaters would have another prime gig at The Edmonds Theater, playing for the NW premier of The Ramones’ Rock and Roll High School.  

There’s no doubt the Edmonds Theater’s brief period of pairing new music with cult classics helped develop the latest northwest “scene” that was rising in the region’ but sadly very little of what happened at the Edmonds Theater was documented.  Very few photos and no videos of the performances have come to light.  The Edmonds Theater is now The Edmonds Center for the Arts, and hosts a great line-up of exhibits, music and dance.  It also shows first run films at reasonable prices….perhaps the only small, independent theater to do so left in the state.

Soon after The Heaters performance there Ken Deans remembers;
“We were doing this gig playing at ‘The Shire’ in West Seattle.  Wednesday through Saturday for $400 and there were usually twelve people in the room. We were making $100 each a week. So, (after their appearance at The Edmonds Theater) we’re sitting down with northwest rock writers and all of a sudden these guys start deciding what they’re going to do. I thought “this is weird, we’ve got the guy from the Seattle P-I, The guy from the Seattle Times and we’re discussing columnist Erik Lacitis who wanted to do a series, so they said “Erik you do the series”  Erik says ‘I’m gonna need a photographer, we’re gonna shoot some pictures.  Be here tomorrow at 3:00’. So we were “uh..uh..OK” 

Lacitis says he doesn’t remember this meeting with the other writers,  He says only he and his good friend George Arthur (another columnist) saw The Heaters at The Edmonds Theater the night in question.  He says he was inspired to write about The Heaters on his own because “they blew me away”,  There was no convening between writers, although it’s possible they did gather among themselves later and talked about the band.

Nonetheless. Deans recalls the unquestioned truth;

“So we go down there and sit around and talk with Erik for awhile, and the photographer had brought in ladders.  He’s climbing up ladders and taking these shots and doing all sorts of stuff and we’re going ‘yeah, OK’.  Then Erik says ‘I think it’s going to run in Saturday’s paper’.  We’re thinking  ‘Wow.Cool’ but we really didn’t know what that meant at the time. 

“Quite frankly we didn’t know who Erik Lacitis was because we weren’t a bunch of front section newspaper reading people yet.  Then the next Saturday night Keith and I were driving home pretty early in the morning.  We were still living with our parents at the time; over in ‘Arrowhead’ in Kenmore.  So Keith says ‘Hey!  I bet the Saturday morning paper is out.  Let’s stop by the 7-11 and see if it’s there yet’. So I run in and grab a paper, I threw the first two sections away and start going through the entertainment section, and I go ‘Ha! there’s nothing,  I think we got cut’. And then Keith looks at me and goes ‘y’know I think Erik Lacitis wrties ‘real’ articles.  He might even be in the front section’.  I look at Keith and said ‘OH YEAH?’

“So I start flipping the pages.  At the time ‘The Seattle Times’ had a section  called ‘The Page’. I flip the paper over and above the fold is all picture of ‘The Heaters’ and below the fold it’s all an article on us.  Nothing else.  I thought ‘Holy Fuck! How did this happen?’ So we went back to the store and bought every copy we could. Then I called Steve and Don and said ‘Hey guys, have you seen the paper?’ All we knew at that time was that this was amazing”.

“Everybody in Seattle’s going to see this because back then newspapers were still NEWSPAPERS. So the next night Keith and I got back in our car and drove back to West Seattle, to ‘The Shire’ We pulled into the back parking lot. There was only one space open so we thought ‘maybe it’s going to be a good night’. When we opened the back door of the club and it was packed. We walked in and people started cheering  and outside there was a line down the street”.

Steve Pearson remembers something similar.  He says;
“We played at this club down in West Seattle called ‘The Shire’, and nobody came in. We would play to an empty house.and gradually the local musicians started coming in. Then Erik Lacitis, (because of the Edmonds Theater gig) came out and took some pictures of us and wrote an article about us in ‘The Seattle Times’. The next night I was walking in the back door of ‘The Shire’ and people started applauding. I turned around to see what famous person they might be applauding for. I’m not making this up. This is as factual as anything in my life. I had no idea…the club was jam-packed with musicians…people…everybody from Seattle wanted to see this new band called ‘The Heats’ or ‘The Heaters’ back then. And we tore it up. You would think we’d be awed by that-and in a way I was awed by it-but we saw that as our chance to kill. And we did. We were absolutely seize-the-moment teenagers and we never even had to talk about it. We just walked out and said to ourselves “this is gonna happen” and then made it happen.

Around this time The Heaters became acquainted with Buck Ormsby, one of the original Fabulous Wailers.  Buck was a producer and worked occasionally with the reformed Sonics as well as The Wailers.   He had co-founded and run the local label Etiquette that had released The Sonics, The Galaxies, Gail Harris, Rockin’ Robin Roberts, and The Wailers themselves. Ormsby became a mentor to The Heaters, a friend and their first de facto manager/producer.  At the time Ormsby’s label  Etiquette was in hiatus, but Ormsby would go on to revive the label around 1980. It’s no surprise that most of his life Buck spent in the northwest music scene in one capacity or another.  He was also one of its’ biggest and most revered figures.

Steve Pearson tells me his thoughts on Buck;
“Buck Ormsby was great. But most of the the biggest thing we got from Buck Ormsby is that he was basically an overgrown teenager that had picked up an instrument and went out and rocked, just like us. He didn’t go to Berklee School of Music. He didn’t have pretentions. He wasn’t anything more than a cool northwest rock and roll guy.  He thought we were that, and we thought he was that. It’s pretty much as simple as that”.

Ken Deans says;

“You know Buck Ormsby’s ‘Etiquette’ was a label for 60 years, Buck was smart from the beginning,  He started a revolution. He reminded me of the days of The Wailers and The Sonics, Don and The Good Times The Washingtons and the whole slew of  bands that came out of the northwest. We were emulating those guys.  We used to go to ‘Bandstand Music’ in Bellevue just because guys from The Sonics worked there.  I was buying drum sticks from the guy who wrote “The Witch” (Gerry Roslie)  Author Charles R. Cross had called Roslie ‘the Howard Hughes of punk rock’ because of his reticence in speaking to the press.

“When Buck first  came and sat  down with us” Deans says “ he really worked with us. He introduced us to George Peckham from who we took lessons, and Buck spent time with us in rehearsals,  It was at Bob Lang’s studiom before it was famous.  Lang’s studio was a subterranean garage built into a hillside..,”

At the time The Heaters rehearsed there, the studio was notorious because both bands and their equipment had to enter the recording studio by crawling under the control panel.  Since The Heaters practiced theren  Since then Lang’s studio has had clients ranging from Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and The Foo Fighters to Peter Frampton. It should be noted by the time big acts began recording at Bob Lang Studios they no longer had to crawl under the counsel!

“At the time we were there, Lang had was still excavating the garage/studio.  It’s a mystery how he got the city to sign off on his project, It was crazy” says Ken Deans “but he had the money-Bob has never had to worry about money-but you had to crawl under that counsel to get in. It was like a barn red garage.  But you know it was pretty amazing, and it was as garageband as you got”.

Deans recalls that he started playing drums  to become a rock star from an early age;
“My parents were friends with the mother of ‘The Sonics’ drummer” says Ken (it’s unclear if he means Bob Bennett or Dusty Wilson who replaced Bennett in 1972). “They bought me a Premiere drum set…the drum set Rob Van den Akker bought from my drum teacher Bruce Ford who had it given to him by Buddy Rich years before,  Of course I traded it in for a new lovely set But the point of it was Buck came out and saw us at the ‘Central Tavern and I think we were as enamoured of him as he was with us because we weren’t looking up to ‘Bighorn’ we were looking up to ‘The Sonics’ and ‘The Wailers’ and all those bands, The original northwest punk bands”.

“I went and saw ‘The Sonics’ at The Roxy in Los Angeles a couple of years ago (Says Deans who lives in southern California these days), Freddie Dennis has done an incredible job in carrying that torch”. In 1992 Freddie Dennis (formerly of Freddie and the Screamers and The Kingsmen) joined the Sonics as bassist and vocalist.  He had a series of strokes in 2017, sidelining him from the Sonics, but he says he’s recovering quite nicely at this time.

Ken says:

“It was nice because Buck was there and he was putting out a new ‘Sonics’ record.  Buck and I had a very nice conversation.  Buck had wanted to sign ‘The Heaters’ to ‘Etiquette’ but we had higher hopes, although they never really came to fruition.

Buck Ormsby died on Oct. 29, 2016 (his 75th birthday) from complications of lung cancer,  He was in Tepic, Mexico, where he was seeking alternative treatment, The Heats wrote on their facebook page;

“37 years ago we met our first mentor in Buck Ormsby. He believed in us, practiced with us, took us to vocal lessons with George Peckham, and when he thought we were ready took us into the garage, literally, at Lang Studios. It was a one car garage built into the hillside at Bob Lang’s house. You had to crawl under the desk to get into the recording room. We spent a week there working on how to arrange, record, get the basics right and finally mix what became our first record. We owe a lot to Buck as does almost the entire Northwest music scene. His contributions are innumerable and his legacy will be forever embossed in all musicians, whether they know of him or not. We Thank you Buck. Our hearts and Thoughts go out to all your family and friends. Godspeed and may your next tour be one of the best ever”.

When it came time for The Heaters to find management they were torn between Ivy Bauer at Concerts West and Ken Kinnear at Albatross. They even spoke to Erik Lacitis, telling him they were conflicted about who should represent them. Lacitis told them; “it’s not about who you like the most, it’s who you think that will do a better job. Today Ken Deans says ‘hindsight is always 20/20’ but in retrospect I think we went with Albatross because of Heart more than anything else.  Steve Fossen and Roger Fisher were still in the band at the time and they were Kenmore musicians.

After The Heaters signed onto the Albatross roster, most of the day to day duties were handed over to Jon Kertzer.  Kertzer had formerly worked in several radio and promotions capacities including being a music director for Seattle’s KZAM radio and as a promotions manager for CBS Records. Jon admits people are often surprised to hear he was involved in rock and roll during the 1970s.  Today he’s known as a teacher, speaker and explorer in the world of ethnomusicology. From 1984 until 1998  he hosted a radio program on radio station KCMU and it’s later incarnation KEXP, called The Best Ambiance.  Note the spelling here.  Ambience (with an e) has more to do with environment, and Ambiance (with an a) is usually-but not always-descriptive of art, culture or design skill.  Jon didn’t and still doesn’t present the popular “world music” that popular jazz and pop artists have been interested in for the past two or three decades.  He’s  more interested in presenting authentic examples of traditional music, especially that of Africa and Asia, and the organic rise of modern music among artists in those geographic areas.

From 1979 until 1981 Jon handled the day to day operations of keeping The Heaters afloat.  He acted as a tour manager, sold their merchandise at gigs and sometimes ran the lights or sound. He set up small tours, and showcase events.  He was also the one who initially went from one major label to another trying to get enough interest to get the band signed. Jon helped set up a west coast tour with The Knack, and The Heaters (under various names) played the southwest and west coast with them.  The Heaters.Heats also did thirty dates opening for Heart.  Kertzer tells me that although the Heats were able to play New York’s Radio City Music Hall twice with Heart, many of the dates with Heart and The Knack didn’t always present the band at their best due to problems with sound and staging.  He adds that the band was far too pop with some audiences and not pop enough for others.  He remembers the tour with The Knack as being terrible, and uncharacteristically calls  Doug Fieger (the lead singer and guitarist for The Knack) “an asshole”.  He (and The Heats) have much kinder words for Heart, who truly wanted them to succeed, and did their best to help them; but ultimately, as Kertzer observes “The Heats were a much better bar band than a touring one”. Kertzer means it as a compliment.

Just as they were becoming to be called Seattle’s “Next Big Thing” The Heaters faced a couple of missteps in being paired with two bands at two different shows at The Paramount Theater.  One was opening for Alvin Lee, the former leader of Ten Years After on June 27, 1979,  Lee and his band had been totally dedicated to the electric blues and were one of the biggest hits at Woodstock a decade earlier.  Alvin Lee was known as one of the best blues/rock players to come out of an abundance of incredible British blues guitarists in 1960s Britain.  In the early ‘70s Alvin Lee and Ten Years After had found commercial success worldwide through two much more mainstream albums; A Space in Time in 1971 and Rock & Roll Music To The World in 1972.  By 1973 Alvin Lee had disbanded Ten Years After because their American label  (Columbia) had tried to push the band into even more commercial pop territory.  Both A Space In Time and Rock and Roll Music to The World are excellent albums, but the were only meant as diversions from Lee’s ultimate goal of playing pure electric blues.  Alvin Lee ended up working solo, later putting together a highly respected group of blues musicians to record a live album at The Rainbow in London (the double record In Flight) and took part in numerous solo projects and collaborations.  By the time The Heaters opened for Lee he had reverted to his former shred-based blues with the band Ten Years Later.  Most of his fans were keen followers, so The Heaters was not a good choice to warm up for Lee and the crowd responded in kind. They booed them mercilessly.  The Heaters considered it the most difficult show they’d ever done.

They told rock music critic Pat MacDonald;
“After that nothing can faze us”

The band (and their fans) showed themselves in a much better light when they opened for The Kinks at Seattle’s  Paramount Theater on October 29, 1979.  This pairing made far more sense than the Alvin Lee show.

Seattle Times music critic Pat MacDonald wrote:
“The Heaters’ redeemed themselves. This time they were cheered, and for good reason. The sound was much better, the set was tighter, the tunes were well-chosen and well played and the guys were a lot more animated.”

And why shouldn’t they have done better?  The Kinks crowd were exactly the kind of fans that The Heaters could connect with.  The Kinks were also the kind of 1960s band that would be among their influences.

Another less than admirable pairing took place on February 7, 1981 when a local radio station tried to boost The Heats profile just after the release of their album Have an Idea.  They shared a bill with Alberta Canada’s Loverboy.  By this time radio programmers were trying to attract more interest in Loverboy who had recently been signed to Columbia Records and were pushing their latest single ‘Turn Me Loose’ from their debut album. Later that year Loverboy would have their biggest hit from the band’s follow-up album, Get Lucky, released in October 1981 when they were on tour with Journey. The song was Working For The Weekend and it became a huge radio hit.  Loverboy was getting a great deal of international attention at this point in their career. The Heaters were finding less attention, although still a huge local draw on the Seattle club scene. The Loverboy crowd simply weren’t The Heaters natural crowd.  Loverboy was more in the mold of bands The Heats had disliked so much at the beginning of their career.  And in fact Loverboy did become a major arena draw on the same tour The Heaters played with them on.

But The Heaters also made some clever moves.  They did a free concert at Golden Gardens on Sunday July 8, 1979 and later at the Seattle Center.They broadcast a live concert from the Showbox Theater on Thanksgiving Day 1979; exactly one year from the day of their first rehearsal.  The performance went out over the airwaves and was captured on tape but not released until June 26, 2011 by Tom Dyer’s Green Monkey Records. Tom has spent a lot of time researching, compiling, tracking down and releasing a steady mix of CD’s and digital downloads of past regional underground bands. Green Monkey has done a better job than any other to carry the torch of Seattle’s music of the 1980s,  The Heats and Tom agreed that all proceeds from the recording of the 1979 live performance go to Ronald McDonald House, the fast food giant’s charity devoted to (in their own words) “Keeping families with sick children together and near the care and resources they need”.  Ronald McDonald House has been hailed as on the nations best charities.  Even people who would not patronize the fast food chain recognize this. This act of charity by Green Monkey Records and The Heats is admirable and in keeping with the generosity of both parties.

Shortly before their tour with The Knack, The Heaters became aware of a better-known Los Angeles band using the same name; The Heaters.  The band scrambled at the last minute for a different name to tour under, and ended up calling themselves The Gears.  During tour the newly-christened band,The Gears, found out that that name was also being used.  They re-named themselves The Torpedoes, and just as before, found the name had already been taken. In the meantime Albatross had bought an expensive ad explaining the change in name. The confusion of a series of names could not have helped establish their career in the power-pop world; and it must have been a thankless job opening for The Knack. The Heaters/Gears/Torpedo’s  played their set while fans of The Knack waited impatiently to hear the latest HUGE hit, My Sharona”, must have been excruciating.  It’s unclear if The Heaters evengained fans during these tours.  Some crowds found them a nuisance between themselves and hearing one of the biggest international hits of the 70s and 80s.  During the tour The Heaters should have been the height of their career when they opened  for The Knack at the Seattle Center Coliseum.  Local fans loved them, but how far they’d strayed from the original intentions  The Knack may have been labelled power-pop, but they were actually not much more than a bombastic outfit with mediocre (but catchy) songs.  Their follow-up single follow-up single “Good Girls Don’t” peaked at No. 11 in the US, and reached No. 1 in Canada’s chart but it was not nearly the international hit their debut single was. .It’s no wonder they faded from view just as quickly as they’d made a dent in the billboard and radio charts; especially since The Knack were doing a very distinct American version of power-pop that soon fell out of favor.  It should be noted here that American power-pop bands (like Cheap Trick) have continued to be popular so many years after their founding simply because their songs were better played, do not rely on enforced happiness and they have continuously put out a repertoire of well-written songs that are/were far more entertaining and clever than anything The Knack or The Romantics ever released. It seems the staying power was with bands like The Ramones or Blondie rather than flavor-of-the-moment phenoms.  It’s sad that the Heats were unable to be identified more as a smart power-pop band than simply another clone of what was then in favor.

Finally, the band that had started out as The Heaters chose what should have been obvious to them and their management from the beginning.  They simply dropped the last syllable of their original name and called themselves The Heats.  That’s the name that the band was  referred to from that time until now.  

In 1980 The Heats recorded their first single at Kaye-Smith Studios in Seattle.  The  record was “I Don’t Like Your Face b/w “Ordinary Girls”  Buck Ormsby produced. Steve Boyce was listed as “Associate Producer’ and the engineer for the project was Roger Fisher of Heart, The single was released on the bands own HRRR label and ended up selling between 14,000 and 18,000 copies depending who you ask.. It only got modest airplay on the big Seattle radio stations, It was too “pop” for KCMU, the reigning college radio station in the area, but they did not ignore it altogether.  The single found much better reception at KJET who was making a concerted effort to become Seattle’s “new wave” station.

This was The Heats beginning to reach their high point.  The were constantly gigging at local taverns and clubs, and hundreds of fans would show up every time.  Now more than ever they became Seattle’s presumed “Next Big Thing”.  The word kept spreading.
Steve Pearson says;   I think our audience liked us first off because they were ‘told’ that they should like us. Somehow the word got passed down ‘this is a cool band’ and they would go out and see us and the guys would see the girls and the girls would see the guys and everybody would seem to be having fun. Then maybe they thought about other things, I don’t really know, Over the years alot of people have told what they got from us, almost with this juvenile honesty, about how we loved rock and roll.  We loooved the music we were playing, We loooved performing that music for people, and I think they responded to it”

The Heats fans weren’t exclusively “the guys who would see the girls, and the girls would see the guys”
“The Heaters was playing a big club in Vancouver B.C.” Ken Deans tells me. “Joey Shithead came backstage and said ‘I love your fucking band”. Ken says to him “You’re in D.O.A. and you LIKE US?”  Joey replied  ‘I think you guys are awesome, can I jam?’ So the band did the next set with Joey,  Then there was The Dils. Steve got to be friends with them when they became Rank and File. He also got to be friends with Dave Alvin who founded The Blasters and went on to do time in X and The Knitters. Steve had been going to Los Angeles and jamming from time to time.
It seems there were other fans among the hardcore punk scene.  The late Mike Refuzor was a fan and spent time talking to Ken Deans about the state of popular music, it’s direction toward the new, rather than relying on the tried and true. Deans says he always enjoyed talking with Mike and saw The Refuzors on a couple of occasions.

Finally things had started to open up”. Says Ken. “When you go back and listen to those D.O.A., Rank and File and The Dils records the musicianship is really fucking good. A Lot of people told me ‘yeah, those are punk guys.  They’re people that play what they play  because they’re not any better’. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had with music snobs who say things like ‘Keith Richards is a crappy guitar player’ and they’re like, from ‘Julliard’.  They say ‘I can play that stuff in my sleep’. And I tell them ‘yeah but you didn’t invent it, and no you can’t play it in your sleep”.

“They tell me ‘I know how to dial all those tones into my XV-15’.  I tell them ‘Richards plugs into a fucking  AV30 and turns all the knobs up…and good fucking  luck finding out all his tunings’. Then they tell me, ‘that’s just because he’s not a good guitar player’

It’s clearly an attitude Deans despises after years of being surrounded by musicians of all sorts and all genres.

In early 1981 Jon Kertzer abruptly left Albatross (and his duties with The Heats).  He tells me a story that he says The Heats themselves probably have never known;

Each year the Seattle music industry holds a holiday party where people from all walks of life in the northwest music business gather, share stories, and generally network and talk about new artists. In 1980 the party was held on December 8, the same day John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside Lennon’s  NYC home.

Kertzer says he was deeply affected by Lennon’s death.  He was shocked that the holiday party was not cancelled or postponed.  He remembers he couldn’t believe the nonchalant attitude the music industry took.  He says the attendees “acted like they were shoe sales people”. Obviously Lennon’s murder was on everyone’s mind, but still schmoozing was the primary goal of the event.   It completely soured Kertzer to his involvement in rock music, and he soon left Albatross to continue his interest in ethnomusicology.  In 1984 he became station director for KCMU radio.  Since then he’s also been Audio Manager for Microsoft, Director of Social Media and Special Projects for The Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle, Director of Smithsonian Global Sounds, Head of Microsoft’s Zune project, Moved from radio KCMU to KEXP as the producer and host of The Best Ambiance (which lasted 24 years on-air) and partnered with Sub Pop records as the A&R director of their “Best Ambiance” imprint that handles “ethnic” rather than rock music.  

In 1997 and 1998 Kertzer attended the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS ) at the University of London and received his Masters degree in Ethnomusicology.  In short, he’s done much better after moving on from the world of rock and roll.

.In 1981 Seattle Times critic Pat MacDonald opined on what he believed made The Heats so popular by explaining;
“Coming after the dark days of punk rock movement-which took itself terribly seriously-the Heats were a breath of fresh air. They brought fun back into Seattle rock and the fans loved it”
.

Perhaps Pat never got the memo;  Punk rock enthusiasts were in a distinct minority among music fans both in Seattle and across the nation.  Punk rock was not played on local radio except maybe the occasional spin on college station.  Most venue owners across the country would simply not allow punk bands to play in their premises. Many punk bands had to rent halls and self-promote their own shows where 100 people would have been seen as a great success.  The only punk club that had ever opened in Seattle before 1980 was the all-ages The Bird and even that lasted only about three months.

The Heaters were formed just at the time punk and new wave were establishing roots in the United States.  In 1978 most Americans were still listening to top 40 radio on stations that wouldn’t even play Nick Lowe. They also tended to favor bland AOR (Album Oriented Rock) or Heavy Metal blather instead of the healthy barrage of singles US and UK power pop/punk-pop rock singles that were independently released-or the few on larger labels that were often sold-out within a week.

Pat must not have realized that The Ramones, Blondie, Television and The Talking Heads came directly out of the same branch of the new D.I.Y. movement as The Heaters.  The Heaters  had found success almost from the beginning.  They were born into an era that had never been eclipsed by the“deep dark days of punk” in the first place…and those “deep dark days” never existed in the first place.

In fact the same winds that blew The Heaters in had also blown in other power-pop bands that had a desire to get back to basic rock and “fun” music.  The Jam, XTC, The Plimsouls, The Ramones, Blondie, The Records, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Devo and The Modern Lovers;   None of these bands were “deep dark punk” but all of them rose from the genre, not as antidotes to it but as artists that shared the same rejection of Arena Oriented Rock (AOR) and FM radio excess.  In many ways what became “new wave” or “power-pop” or “punk” had the same affinity for tearing down walls and kicking doors open as The Heats. It’s absurd that the “deep dark days of punk” had resulted in bands that “took themselves terribly seriously” It was the AOR bands with massive audiences that were so self-important.

It was not “the dark days of punk” that had darkened the doors of Seattle music fans. It wasn’t punk music that “took itself terribly seriously” and killed any fun left in local music.  It was the taverns and dancehall that would only hire cover bands playing the same songs over and over to keep people dancing and buying beer. It was the radio stations that stuck to tight genres and programmers too afraid to let anything new and exciting on their playlists.  It was the music industry as a whole prohibiting individuality and their turning their backs on anything that wasn’t already tried and true.

Mostly It was the incessant background sounds of Foreigner, Supertramp, Boston, Styx, Kansas, and their ilk that killed all the fun. They squeezed every bit of the joy out of music and served up music“which took itself terribly seriously” The music had nothing to do with basic three-chord rock and roll that was not only fun,but danceable. The sounds they made were pseudo-intellectual ballads and milquetoast arrangements rather than the booty-shaking abandon of “the devil’s music”.

It’s ridiculous to claim bands like Devo, Blondie,The B-52’s or The Ramones took themselves “terribly seriously”  Even Iggy Pop-often referred to as the “godfather of punk”- didn’t take himself “terribly seriously”,  He’s admitted time and time again that his primary goal has always been to entertain audiences.  If anyone took themselves “terribly seriously” it was the arena bands of the day were AOR bands and those The Heats rejected.

All of this is especially ironic knowing that 10-15 years before The Heats came together the northwest had been a hotbed of regional talent.  The Wailers.The Frantics. Dave Lewis. The Ventures. Little Bill and The Bluenotes.  All of them reigned in the early 1960s…and they weren’t alone. There were literally scores of bands that could fill teen dance halls. By the mid-60s musicians from some of those bands morphed into psychedelic bands like The Daily Flash, Crome Syrcus, Springfield Rifle, Magic Fern or Moby Grape as well as more mainstream hitmakers like Bonnie Guitar, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Gary Puckett and Merrilee Rush.

The Heats had been dubbed Seattle’s best chance of breaking out as a power-pop band….but maybe it would be more appropriate to name them as beneficiaries of Britain’s pub rock movement; another back-to-basics attempt to return to the roots of rock, rockabilly and cleverly written pop…which unashamedly included power pop, but not the overblown flavor the Americans were serving up. Members of the movement included Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker. Wreckless Eric, Kilbourne and the High Roads (who became Ian Dury and the Blockheads) Dave Edmunds, Eddie and the Hotrods, the 101’ers  (an early band of Joe Strummer’s) as well as a slew of others.  These were all artists who relied on carefully crafted songs rather than carefully crafted images….or at least images that didn’t make them seem distant from their audiences. They were also accessible even to the point of attending each others small gigs, rubbing shoulders with fans.  Most of the venues they favored were in and around London. The Elgin in Ladbroke Grove, The Nashville in West Kensington and probably the most well-known pub rock venue in the world, The Hope and Anchor at  207 Upper St. in Islington. These bands’ attitude fit hand in glove with The Heats.  They were well-respected but not deemed “commercial” enough by the record industry.  Because of that they relied on small venues (hence the label pub rock) and turned to independent labels like Chiswick, Albion or the best of all the then-current indie labels, Stiff Records who’s early motto was “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck” These were the bands The Heaters would have fallen in with.

Even The Sex Pistols had started out in the pubs. It could be argued that behind the cynical but clever lyrics of The Sex Pistols lay one of England’s most potent power-pop bands; at least during Glen Matlock’s involvement as a member and player on the only actual studio album the band ever released, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’.  The band would have denied it at the time but remove vocals of “Pretty Vacant” or “God Save The Queen” and what you’ll find is tight, well crafted power-pop created by three accomplished musicians that happened to have an anti-hero out front.  Glen Matlock had written or co-written all but one of the original songs on Never Mind The Bollocks…” Later a sad, messed-up Sid Vicious replaced Matlock and provided a musically inept freak show.  Sid’s encouragement by fans and music industry-types who encouraged his own self-destruction is something John Lydon still resents to this day.  It’s almost unbelievable that an album that affected so many people in the U.S.,Never Mind The Bollocks… it did not reach Gold Record status (500,000 units sold) until December of 1987…over ten years since it’s initial release on on 28 October 1977.  If less than expected sales figures means anything than The Heats were in good company.

Many talented punk bands would fully develop into power pop-based outfits…some even began as power-pop disguised as punk bands.  In Britain Siouxsie and The Banshees, X-Ray Spex, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Rezillos, Bram Tchaikovsky,The Records all had strong power-pop threads running through them.  Listen to Siouxsie and the Banshees  first single -Hong Kong Garden-then explain why it shouldn’t be considered “power-pop.

The British pub rock  aspect of The Heaters becomes even more evident knowing that just before joining the band, Don Short and his girlfriend Caroline had spent a year living in London,  They came back after being exposed to Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Dr. Feelgood,  Elvis Costello, and Rockpile etc.  These were artists that the majority of Seattle music fans had never heard of. The Heaters started including many of their songs into their set.

“In the beginning audiences thought those were our songs”. says Steve Pearson “We’d intersperse our original songs and the unknown covers in between a Dave Clark Five or a Who or Chris Spedding song.  We really worked  to make those songs fit so people would ask “what’s that weird song?” We’d say “Oh! It’s not a weird song, it’s cool!” and that was a natural thing that happened.

“We were the quintessential ‘get-together-in-a-basement-write-some-songs band.  We’d play to our limitations, go out and shove it down people’s throats, And that’s what I believe rock and roll is all about. In that respect we were absolutely that band that every teenage boy says “I’m gonna grow up and be in a band like that. We were that band”.

Finally The Heats went back into Kaye-Smith studios to record their debut album Have an Idea.  This time Howard Leese of Heart produced and The Heats were given a co-producing credit as well.  The album was released on their management’s Albatross Records which was largely due to Heart’s Ann Wilson’s support for the band and their bad luck finding a major label deal.

“We were already at the point where we didn’t want to be known just as the novelty band that did ‘I Don’t Like Your Face’ says Ken Deans. “We wanted to be more known for ‘Ordinary Girls’ and ‘Remember Me’ and ‘When You’re Mine’ and some of the other songs that were-I don’t want to say ‘better crafted’– but less tongue-in-cheek.  And then we did ‘Have An Idea’ and they said ‘you’re going to come out with the same kind of thing we said NO and that’s when we did ‘When You’re Mine’ and ‘Sorry Girls’

They did, in fact, re-record ‘I Don’t Like Your Face’  and it’s original flipside ‘Ordinary Girls’ but most of the album was filled with newer, well-written and captivating pop songs.  In 1981 the songs Ken mentions (‘When You’re Mine’ and ‘Sorry Girls’) were released as a single, but as with all of The Heats releases radio mostly ignored both the album and the single.  Have An Idea was a commendable effort that probably gets as much love today as it did when it was released, even though it’s said to have initially sold only 15,000 copies…but it’s probable most of those sales were strictly regional. In 1996 John Borack compiled a list for Goldmine magazine calling ‘Have An Idea’ as ‘one of the most essential US Power-Pop albums’ of all time.  On a side note Jim Basnight’s 1993 cassette-only release of ‘Retro’ was also included on the list.

Steve Pearson remembers someone from Goldmine looking for a comment about ‘Have An Idea’ being listed among The 50 most essential US power pop albums.

“He called me and asked me if I would give him a quote. He said ‘think it over and call me back’. I said ‘I don’t have to think it over, here it is; “The Heats got to live every high school boy’s dream. But the best part is we never got so famous that we had to see our pictures in the check-out line as we were buying groceries”.

Ken Deans says a stranger approached him a few years ago at a Phish Festival;

“Some gal came up to my desk and said ‘Your Kenny Deans. THE Kenny Deans, OMG!  Your record is me and my boyfriend’s favorite record of all time!”

She was 23 years old.
“Funny how things went through a time-warp in Seattle. The Cowboys and half a dozen other bands were part of it; we just happen to be the ones that got the most notoriety.  I don’t mean to be egotistical-but I think rightfully so.”

In 1998 Mike Stein and his Chuckie Boy Records re-released ‘Have an Idea’ on CD with several bonus tracks under the title “Smoke”,  It sold another 10,000 copies.  Erik Lacitis tells me he’s not surprised.  He believes there are still plenty of followers of The Heats out there.

“I think some of the people who originally saw them STILL follow them. When Steve Pearson is playing (in his band British Racing Green) I think Heats fans show up and I think Steve might even do one or two of The Heats songs”.

Pearson readily admits to having The Heats songs in the repertoire of his band ‘British Racing Green’.  Pearson says he doesn’t play them for any nostalgic value.  He plays them simply because they’re great songs.

For a couple of years The Heats had definitely been over-exposed in Seattle. They had done as many local live gigs as they could fit in.  There were ongoing updates from writer Erik Lacitis and reviews from Pat MacDonald in The Seattle Times, as well as occasional reviews and mentions by local music critics in various other journals. They’d opened high-profile concerts, toured and released their album and three singles in less than three years….perhaps not as much exposure a better known band could expect, but for a small back-to-basics rock band from Seattle, all of it was a big deal. They had also garnered two covers on The Rocket magazine-the most important regional music magazine of it’s day in the northwest.  Both covers of the Rocket featured major stories, one of which was written by Ann Powers who is now a music critic for NPR radio.  She’s also a contributor to both The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Ken Deans remembers her article, and in a self-deprecating way says;
I think she called us “consistent” I think the reference was “you always know that you get a cheeseburger at McDonalds and you always know exactly what it is”.

Soon after the release of ‘Have An Idea’ bassist Keith Lilly left the band.  The parting was said to have been “less than amicable” at the time, but that rift seems to have been repaired long ago, since Keith takes part in The Heats reunions. In 1981 The Heats released the single Count On Me b/w Rivals that featured Wayne Clacker-the bassist that had replaced Keith Lilly.  The single was produced by northwest music veteran Pat Hewitt at Triangle Studios in Seattle.  Later, in 1986 Triangle Studios would change hands from producer/engineers Jack Weaver and Bill Stuber to Chris Hanzsek and Jack Endino. Endino acted as in-house producer. It was here that Nirvana’s album Bleach as well as Green River’s Dry as a Bone, Soundgarden’s Screaming Life, Mark Lanegan’s The Winding Sheet and dozens of other ‘grunge’ recordings that the studio and Jack Endino would become famous for.

Eventually graffiti was spotted around town saying “Kill The Heats” partially because of their high profile, but also because there had always been a sense of unease between those following local alternative music and those following local pop or cover bands. Of course there were a few exceptions, but The Heats had wrongly become associated with only the successful cover bands that played a particular circuit of clubs around Seattle.  Alternative music fans had their own original scene and it was rare when any member of one group stepped onto the others’ turf.  The fans of alternative music despised the patrons of certain clubs and the band’s they supported because they believed they were arrogant fraternity boys looking to pick up drunk sorority girls (in some cases that was true).  The patrons of the more mainstream clubs were suspicious of the alternative crowd that hung out in their own clubs because it was assumed they were all punks looking for trouble….or worse, out and out queers (in fact many were!).  It sounds amazing today that such a wide and profound gulf existed between these groups, but it seemed to be the natural order of things in early 1980s Seattle.  A punk was just as unlikely and unwelcome to step into a bar like Pioneer Square’s Hibble and Hyde’s as it was unlikely and unwelcome for a Hibble and Hyde’s patron to enter a place like WREX  or The Gorilla Room only two or three blocks away.

After Lilly’s departure Ken Deans was also getting antsy.  Although his relationship with the other band members had not broken down, it became frustrating to be part of “The Next Big Thing” when nothing was actually happening.  When Ken finally left the group it was for better prospects in management, promotions and productions and booking.  He was replaced by Rick Bourgoin.

In July of 2016 Deans told Seattle journalist Feliks Banel he “felt really bad leaving The Heats”.  He added that “It was one of those experiences in life where you had just spent the last three years of your life pouring your blood and guts out on the floor with these guys, and then you weren’t…That was the hardest point in my life because it was like, ‘Wow, I got to be part of this experience that I know was amazing, but we couldn’t quite grasp the brass ring”.

Bourgoin says he hadn’t really seen or heard The Heats music while he was playing in a band called The Impacts;

“We were a little punk power-pop band” says Bourgoin” We did things like ‘The Ramones’…you know, super fast, We were playing a lot of gigs. So one night ‘The Impacts’ were set to open for ‘The Heats’ at ‘Astor Park’ (a club on 5th Avenue uptown). ‘The Heats’ planned go onstage to do their soundcheck and then we’d put ourselves on the stage and do our soundcheck, so everybody was ready to play…this was probably in late summer of 1981.  Everybody was waiting around for Ken who wasn’t there. We’re waiting and waiting and my band was getting frustrated because we were running out of time to get our sound check. I said ‘I’ll just get up and play the drums so you can go through your soundcheck and then we can get our stuff up there’. So they said ‘OK’ and I did it.  I’d heard enough about some of their tunes so I just plowed through their stuff and then got my band’s stuff up onstage did our soundcheck and we played the the gig that night”

“A couple of months later I got a call from Don who told me they were maybe going to look for another drummer. We talked on the phone for quite awhile and then he got back in touch with me a little bit after that, and asked if I wanted to come out and sit in and play some songs at a rehearsal place…kind of an audition. I said ‘sure’ so I listened to their record a little bit to familiarize myself with the songsm and then went and played with them and had a great time. I think Wayne Clack had a drummer buddy from San Francisco…I think he came up, and they listened to him, and I’m not sure how many else, but I ended up getting the gig from the beginning of 1982 to the end of 1983”

Bourgoin remembers Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting in on at least one of his own auditions.

After Jon Kertzer had left Albatross in 1981 Jeff Trisler (now of ‘Live Nation’) became responsible for The Heats day to day management.  The band became less and less involved with Ken Kinnear because of Kinnear’s frustration that the band hadn’t been signed and a slight rift was developing between Don and Steve about staying in Seattle or moving to Los Angeles.

Ann Wilson tried to get major label interest in the band but had little success.  She finally got a chance with David Geffen at his namesake Geffen Records. Geffen paid for a three song demo that Ann produced at Kaye Smith Studios.  The sessions included participation from other Heart members. Afterward Ann provided Geffen with the demo but never heard back.

One of the demo songs ended up being shot as a video-again, produced by Ann Wilson-intended for broadcast on MTV.  The video of “In Your Town” got a bit of airplay, but not enough to create much interest beyond The Heats own fan base.

The band continued to play gig after gig and recorded what would be their second album, a live performance they did at Astor Park  entitled ‘The Heats: Burnin’ Live.  It was released in 1983 on Sushi Records. It was released in an edition of 1000 vinyl copies.  Reports are that the pressing was very poor,  but later when it was re-mastered for CD it proved to sound much better.
But even a new album couldn’t help the band from an eventual crisis.

‘It was Don’s decision to leave the band” Rick Bourgoin says,” In fact now that I think about it ‘The Heats’ were doing a gig in Vancouver BC…I think the club was called “Outlaws”,  it might have been the New Years Eve  prior to the one when we broke up.  Steve and I had gotten into a little heated discussion about something up in the dressing room between sets and I think some words flew as they do. I went back up to the stage and was standing on the side of the stage,  grumbling. Don came up and at that point he said “If I wanted to leave and start something different would you come and be my drummer? And I said “sure”, That was a year before it actually happened so I think he probably had thought about it a long time before he came to the band and said “I’m gonna go”


In the fall of 1983 Don Short did tell the rest of the band it was time for him to move on. Short told the band he would finish out the rest of their booked performances which included a final New Year’s Eve appearance at Astor Park. Pearson felt shocked and betrayed, vowing to never speak to Don Short again. At the time he said;
“I would think after five years-after our careers being so tied together for five years-that I would be entitled to something more than just walking in and saying ‘I’m leaving”

Don Short told Erik Lacitis;
“I agonized over the decision. The last thing I wanted to do was to have it become personal.  It was a musical decision.  All I want to do in these last shows is go out with a bang.  I don’t want to sound patronizing but I want to say thanks to all the fans because you made us. I don’t want to dwell on all the other crap. I want people to remember we were a good rocking club band.  We wrote and played good tunes”

A few years later Steve Pearson told Lacitis;
“I don’t expect anything I ever do to be as big a thing in Seattle as The Heats were. The Heats was perfect. We were a unique group.  We were honest.  People could see that rock and roll spirit in us.

During my phone call with Steve he says;
“For all our naïveté we were very ballsy and confident. Part of that is that we admired the other members of the band. For instance I would look over at Ken and say to myself (if not to him) “Wow! Ken is great, Ken is really really a good drummer and he really is in tune with these songs”. Then I’d look over at Don Short and I’d say “I can count on Don every single night to play his parts and be right there and he will sing in tune, He’ll play his bits. He’ll play them better than I will cuz I was always the flakey crazy guy in the band. We all knew that we respected and counted on each other….We believed in each other and we believed in the concept of the band.

Then he adds:

The other factor, the one that is integral is you gotta have songs. You can be the greatest band in the world but if you don’t have songs no one will respond. (Before The Heaters)  I had been writing songs for a year and a half, two years maybe, and Don had some songs. I brought my songs to practice and said this is what we’re going to base the band around. Songs. Original songs. I don’t want to do a really good version of “Carry On My Wayward Son”. I don’t give a fuck about Kansas. To this day I believe that if you want to make your mark in the world you’ve got to do it by writing a song. That is the advantage we had over most (local) bands”

After the disintegration of The Heats Pearson joined up with Pat Hewitt, Tony Lease and Don Kammerer (The Pins) to form The Rangehoods.  The Rangehoods turned out to be a decent draw around Seattle, and in 1985 put out one of the era’s best EPs, titled Rough Town.  In 1991 they released the album, Long Way Home.  Michael Wansley played bass and sang with the band from 1985 onward.  Today most people know Wansley as “The Wanz’ who’s featured in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s  number one hit Thrift Shop.  Pearson also appeared in various outfits over the years, but now shares guitar and vocal duties with his wife Lucette, Frank Johnson on Bass and Jon Newton on drums and vocals.Steve Pearson Guitar and Vocals.  They’re based in Cashmere Washington, but do shows in the Seattle area as well as Eastern Washington. You can find more information at https://britishracinggreen.weebly.com/

Keith Lilly eventually went on to form The Elementaries.  Sadly his wife, Krys died of cancer August 16, 2014.  Keith plays with The Heats when they do occassional reunions. He can be found on facebook.


Wayne Clack joined Maurice and The Clichés, a synth-pop band originally from Vancouver BC.  Before Clack joining they’d had a minor hit with a song called Softcore and one album, C’est la Vie.  Although they never charted after Clack joined they are said to have put on interesting performances and had enough popularity to have a compilation of their recordings re-released in 2007 as ‘Flogging A Dead Horse”  Wayne has returned to his home state, California.  He’s also on facebook.

Don Short and Rick Bourgoin spent about two years rehearsing and writing for their band Avalon.  Rick says they were trying to take a direction similar to The Fix or Simple Minds.  Atlantic Records took an interest in the band and paid for 18 songs recorded at London Bridge
Studios.  “But then….crickets” says Rick.  A couple of years later the band was pared down and became ‘Luna Park’.  In 1991 Bourgoin left for Los Angeles and Don continued under the name ‘Living Out Loud’.  That incarnation only lasted a couple of gigs and Don Short removed himself, mostly, from the music business.

In 2006 Mark Mosholder (who had been in Avalon and Luna Park) convinced Don to start playing again.  Rick, Mark and Don got together and formed the band Random Manors.  The band released a self-titled EP in 2008 and began work on a full length album. The trio’s friend, Tom Pfaeffle, who was their engineer and owner of The Tank where they had been finishing up basic tracks was shot and killed in July 2009. ‘It took us two years to finish the tracks at our rehearsal studio at Don’s’ says Rick Bourgoin.  We played our last gig (although we didn’t know it at the time) at St. Michelle Winery in September 2014, opening for Boston. There are videos on YouTube”.

Rick Bourgoin still plays around the northwest.  One of his projects is Two Sheds Jackson (named after an old Monty Python skit) The band includes Charlie Morgan, Steve Boyce and Pat Gossan.  They play occasional gigs around the northwest.

Don Short now works at an Eastside lumber store.  He gets recognized by old friends and fans from time to time… say hello if you see him.

Jon Kertzer-who was so critical to The Heats early success, has just started a new show on the low-powered KVRU radio station in Rainier Valley. He’s interviewing and playing the music of many of the bands covered here.  Jon’s currently working on number 17 and 18 of his series, but since the station is still new, his program has only been on the air for a short time, so he has a backlog of shows taped.
He tells me;
“I’m covering everything pre-1985 basically. It’s not focused on any one genre, Yesterday I interviewed Jim Valley. I was at his house all day. I’ve done shows on ‘60s rock and I did shows recently on ‘The Visible Targets’ and ‘The Crazy Eights’ from Portland. The first show I did was on ‘The Daily Flash’ and Jerry Miller from ‘Moby Grape’. The furthest I’ve gone back to the 1940s, I did a show about the Al Smith photo exhibit at MOHAI.

I also interviewed Pat Wright, the gospel singer who did a show with Overton Barry, She just did a show with LeRoy Bell from Bell and James (The thread here is that LeRoy Bell’s bass player/manager Terry Morgan was the long-time bass player for Pat Wright’s ‘Total Experience Gospel Choir’.

“My interviews contain a lot of music” Kertzer tells me. “I mean it’s a two hour show.  I play about an hour that is interview and an hour that is music”.

Jon’s show is on Saturdays and Sundays at 6pm on KVRU at 105.7 but the signal is very weak. This upcoming September the station intends to start streaming online

So do we need a post-mortem?  Probably not, but I’ll include a few opinions anyway.  

What made The Heats “The Next Big Thing” into “Could Have Beens”?

In 2016 Jon Kertzer was asked what went wrong by Feliks Banel.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Kertzer said. “I mean, I worked really hard to try to make that happen. That was my job as manager to try and get them national attention and we did have several national tours. When we went to places like New York, I would take their music around to all the record labels, and talk to them about getting signed. And they came pretty close.

Our timing was a bit off,” he continued. “By the time we were talking seriously to labels, it was just a little late, and the rage for power pop sound had passed.”

In a letter former Rocket owner/editor (and now a three time NYT best seller list alumni) Charles R. Cross says;

“At The Rocket, we were boosters, but our coverage only helped them become the biggest local band. In the end the Heats had poor timing — they were too late for the era when a regional band could break out a top 40 hit without a major label behind them, and too early for the Seattle wave that would come a few years later. Seattle was just too far away from the center of culture in that day for them to find a wider audience than our tavern circuit. But that was true for every band from the northwest in that period. The next Seattle act to make it big was, surprisingly from an entirely different genre: Kenny G.”.

Erik Lacitis tells me:

“I still listen to the music, I’ve done a number of rock and roll groups and I remember talking to one guy…it could have been one of the Wailers..one of the early ‘60s northwest groups that had regional success but not national, and he explained to me ‘You know…you can have great music but you’re on a merry-go-round. It goes around and then you happen to get the ring, but most of the time you don’t’ and it’s absolutely true. I think that they had everything but there’s lots of groups that for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. It don’t mean they didn’t have the talent, but it didn’t mean anything. It just didn’t happen, That’s just the way it is. The other thing is they weren’t getting the radio play that they should have because at that time they were British-type power-pop and that’s not what Seattle rock radio was playing, It just didn’t register. Radio was playing more anthem Heavy Metal stuff and it didn’t register to them.  For some reason radio just couldn’t understand it. They couldn’t understand someone like Elvis Costello or anybody like that…they just couldn’t. At that time radio was so powerful, and you needed that, If you had a bunch of guys…and they were all guys…I don’t think there were any women in radio then…if it didn’t register with them because it was alien the band didn’t get the airplay. It just didn’t register with the radio programmers, so that’s the way it was.

Ken Deans is understandably upbeat about his taking part in ‘The Heats’.  He says;
.I’ve had a very fortunate life all the way around and it all started with ‘The Heats’. It propelled me into a career that I could have only dreamed about. I’ve gotten to do so many things and really I can tie a lot of it back to ‘The Heats’

I used to say ‘come see the Heats: You could come see The Heats and and forget about anything else going on in your life’.  That was really important to me. Part of what we were about was ‘you can come see The Heats and go on vacation.  Forget about your job.  Forget about your fucked-up romance; whatever it is.  Just come out here and have fun. That was really important to us”

Steve Pearson says
Overall I’m very very proud and honored to ever have been in that band and basically 35 years later I’m still reaping the rewards of being in ‘The Heats’. I don’t know how the other guys think about it; I’ve never even talked to them about it. I just know that I’ve been treated special and given a place in the musical world that I probably don’t deserve since I was 24 years old. In a way I look at it as a bit of a responsibility. I still feel like I have to pay respect to what I was part of and would never say anything against that whole time; the audience, the band members, the songs; I would never ever do anything but say “wow. that was friggin’ great and I got to be there, and I loved every minute of it”.

I feel a bit odd making my own assessment here  because my job is to report, not to give my opinion; but I’ve been in or around the music business all my adult life and have seen how random things can be.  Sometime it comes down to ‘who you know’, and sometimes it’s purely arbitrary.  It could even have to do with how screwed-up a day the A&R rep has had when they come see you.
Then I think about reading something somewhere that Steve Pearson said;

“These record company guys are real weird guys. They don’t like telling you whether you are or aren’t a hot commodity. I guess it’s part of their image that they’re supposed to be very cool so they act real cool. I’ve met four or five of these guys.  People just say to me ‘this is so-and-so and he’s from a record company.  I say ‘oh great!’ and they go drink a Coke”.

Please feel free to correct or add information in the comments section below.

 

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources; Feliks Banel “Before Grunge and Macklemore, The Heats rocked the Northwest” (My Northwest (July 13, 2016): Krys Lilly “The Heaters” (pnwbands.com, retrieved June 7, 2018);  Richard Rossi “Live At The Showbox, 1979” (Power Pop News.com, retrieved June 1, 2018); Heather Frye “A Wiser Man Takes a Look Back; Singer Songwriter is Happier Leaving His 1980s Rock Star Life Behind Him” (Lewiston Tribune, June 27, 2003); Erik Lacitis “Hire A Sitter And Get Cookin’ With The Heaters” (The Seattle Times, Friday August 6, 1999); Northwest Underground Rock 1980 – 2021“June 2011-The Heats: Have an Idea (www.greenmonkeyrecords.com, retrieved June 1, 2018); Michael Sutton “The Heats” www.allmusic.com, retrieved June 2, 2018); Tim M. Otto “ Could The Second Beatles Have Existed In Seattle In The Early 80’s?” (A Short Story About The Heats” (No Depression, February 19, 2013); Peter Blecha “ Sonic Boom: The  History of Northwest Rock from “Louie Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Beverly Paterson “Forgotten series: The Heats – Smoke (1998)” (Something Else!, March 8, 2012);  Ken Deans “interview with author” (May 20, 2018);  Steve Pearson “interview with author” (June 1, 2018); Rick Bourgoin “interview with author” (June 4, 2018); Erik Lacitis “interview with author” (June 9, 2018); Patrick MacDonald “The Edmonds Contributed to Rise of Bands” (The Seattle Times, September 14,1979); Erik Lacitis “Rock of Many Ages, Despite The Top 40” (Seattle Times, May 12, 1979); Erik Lacitis “The Heats: A Goodbye.  It Was Good Rock and it Lasted Five Good Years” (Seattle Times, December 29, 1983); Sandy Graham “Shelley Siegal-A Canadian Success Story Not to be Forgotten” (Cashbox Magazine [Canada] February 11. 2011); Gaye Guida-Dennis “Screamer Freddie Dennis will Rock the House again!” You Caring, https://www.youcaring.com/freddiedennis-961774, retrieved June 12, 2018);


FLOATING BRIDGE: Rich Dangel, The Wailers, Sir Raleigh, Sky River & the Buffalo Party. Whew!

In 1958 five Tacoma Washington friends formed a group they originally called The Nitecaps.  Later that year they recorded a demo for one the seminal songs of the first great music movement in the Northwest.  The band consisted of John Greek (guitar, cornet), Rich Dangel (lead guitar), Kent Morrill (piano and vocals), Mark Marush (tenor saxophone) and Mike Burk (drums). As you may have already guessed the group re-named themselves The Wailers, and became one of the most important bands to come out of the region in the late 50s and early 60s. Today the band is generally agreed to be one of the first to popularize “Garage Rock”

“Tall Cool One” was their biggest and best selling single It’s said the song was co-written by Rich Dangel and fellow Wailer John Greek while they were still students at Tacoma’s Clover Park High School.  The demo came to the attention of Long Island based Golden Crest Records and it’s head, Clark Galehouse. Galehouse liked what he heard so much that in February of 1959 he arrived in the Northwest, and after a Wailers gig at Lakewood Washington’s Knights of Columbus Hall he had the band re-record the song which became one of the great singles in Northwest and Garage Rock  history

When the song was released in 1959  it made The Wailers a household name among teenagers across the country.  The single peaked at number 36 on the Billboard charts and at number 24 on the R&B charts; not exactly spectacular positions, but higher than any previous Northwest rock group before them.  Beside the song’s fans were not the same crowd that was used to more popular sanitized acts like Pat Boone or Connie Francis who seemed to be everywhere at the time.

Tall Cool One” garnered The Wailers a featured spot on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, a spot on Alan Freed’s Big Beat show on New York’s WNEW-TV, and set them on an East Coast  tour.  For the next few years The Wailers would continue to release singles that became regional hits and played endless gigs on the northwest teen-dance circuit.  In 1964 Golden Crest Records re-released “Tall Cool One”; this time the single would reach number 38 on the Billboard charts.

The shine between The Wailers and Clark Galehouse had worn off, and Golden Crest Records lost interest.  Galehouse wanted the band to remain in NYC, but the “Boys from Tacoma” weren’t interested.  The wanted to return to the Northwest where they had found their biggest success.  The Wailers were effectively dropped by their label and ruined many of The Wailers plans to tour and record hits…but that wasn’t exactly how things worked out. In fact the move away from Golden Crest Records would be one of the best decisions of their career.

Soon after returning to Tacoma  The Wailers added “Rockin ‘Robin” Roberts (born Lawrence Fewell Roberts II) to their line up. Roberts had formerly been with another well-known Tacoma outfit, “Little Bill and The Blue Notes” headed up by Bill Engelhart.  During his time with Little Bill, Roberts had begun doing and calypso influenced rendition of Richard Berry “Louie Louie”. Roberts tracked down a used copy of the song that had originally been a minor hit for Berry on Los Angeles couple Max and Lillian Feirtag’s Flip Records in 1957.  It had been a flop nationally an It’s reported that Roberts paid ten cents for it- to decipher the lyrics.  Others believe Roberts stole the single from the record store he’d been working at.

Roberts began performing his own rock version that was enthusiastically received by fans of Little Bill and The Blue Notes, and later The Wailers among other Northwest Sound bands.  Another Northwest band, The Sonics recorded a cover of Richard Berry’s “Have Love, Will Travel,  It was originally released in 1959 as an early R&B song.  In 1965 the song  was revised into a garage-rock classic on the Sonic’s debut album “Here Are The Sonics”.  Northwest fans were familiar with Richard Berry for his frequent visits to Seattle, Tacoma and beyond.

After the loss of interest by Golden Golden Crest Records the band felt somewhat dejected, but decided to form their own label, Etiquette Records with Buck Ormsby, Kent Morrill and Roberts as the principal owners.  The decision for a nationally-known band  to record on their own label was unusual for the day, but it set the newly launched Etiquette Records on a run that would last about 60 years.  In the early 1960s the label had a roster that included The Sonics, Gail Harris, The Galaxies as well as The Wailers themselves.

It was in 1960 that The Wailers recorded the song “Louie Louie” sung by ‘Rockin’ Robin Roberts at Joe Boles’ West Seattle studio.  They also recorded an upbeat version of Ray Charles’s “Maryann” during the session.

Buck Ormsby recalls;

“In early 1961 I happened to be in Seattle visiting ‘Dolton Records’ and heard my friend and former band member ‘Little Bill (Englehart)’ recording “Louie Louie” in the studio in back of the building.  Solution solved.  We agreed it would be released under Robin’s name as the artist.  The label copy was sent to the manufacturer and our first 45 single was released early 1961 on ‘Etiquette Records’

Louie Louie 1985 re-release

Since The Wailers were technically still under contract with Golden Crest the single was released under the guise of being a solo project by ‘Rockin’ Robin Roberts’, but it was actually The Wailers who had recorded the song and everyone knew it.

Little Bill’s version of “Louie Louie” was recorded at Kearney Barton’s Seattle Audio Recording for Barton’s label Topaz. The back-up band used for this session was “The Adventures” rather his regular band The Blue Notes.  It’s noted that The Wailers version had been recorded with Seattle’s other sound engineer legend, Joe Boles.  It seems unclear where Ormsby actually heard Englehart’s recording, but Boles had a falling out with Dolton Records and for several months in 1959 and 1960 he’d worked at Barton’s downtown Seattle studio.  Barton was involved in several hits for the short-lived Dolton Records including The Frantics, The Ventures and a number one hit with The Fleetwoods (“Come Softly To Me).

No matter where Ormsby remembers hearing Englehart’s version, The Wailers camp rushed  an unlabeled copy to KJR, the most popular rock and roll radio station in the city.  The Wailers  were determined to have first crack at the song on local radio.  Pat O’Day, the  general manager and program director loved the single and put it into heavy rotation. A few weeks later Englehart released  his version, but it simply could not compete with the excitement The Wailers delivered with their version.

Peter Blecha, in his book Sonic Boom recounts the story from Englehart’s perspective;

“Well, so the next day on KJR I hear a record of Rockin’ Robin and The Wailers doin’ “Louie Louie”!  I didn’t know how they did it that quick-whether it was an acetate copy or tape or what it was-but it buried me I’ll tell ya! The fuckin’ guy (laughter) I could have killed them!”

This was more than two years before The Kingsmen’s recording that mimicked the original Wailers version. Rich Dangel re-arranged Richard Berry’s original song into its now well-known garage sound. Rockin’ Robins ad-libbed the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ s, and “let’s give it to ’em right now”. Dangel also lent his own universally recognized   A A A –  D D – Em Em Em – D D) intro to the song that’s been covered onstage and in garages by everyone who ever wanted to start a rock band.

“That solo (on “Louie Louie”) he did was copied by everybody,” said Buck Ormsby, The Wailers’ bassist and Dangel’s lifelong friend. “Tons of musicians and wannabe musicians actually used to come and watch Rich play, because he was so good, and so innovative.”

By 1963 Dangel had become tired of playing with The Wailers.  Although he had co-written a huge hit (“Tall Cool One”) and created what is arguably the most recognizable intro in rock history-maybe only second to Keith Richards opening to “Satisfaction”.  Dangel’s first love was jazz and he longed to find himself among the finest jazz players.  Eventually he’d reach that goal but for several years he found himself in rock outfits-but ones that would allow him to incorporate jazzy riffs and solos into their music.  In an interview shortly after Rich Dangel’s in 2002 his son Corey told the AP;

“The whole rock ‘n’ roll thing, he thought it was funny, almost. He wanted to play jazz and he wanted people to respect him as a serious musician, and not just some guy who could lay down three chords. I don’t think it was until recently that he became comfortable with his legacy.”

In 1964, after leaving The Wailers Dangel formed a four-piece band called “The Rooks” another garage band that released two singles.  The first was “Gimme A Break b/w “Bound To Lose” on Mustang Records-mostly known as the label that released The Bobby Fuller Four’s hit “I Fought The Law”,  The Rooks second single was “Believe In You” b/w “I’ll Be the One” released on Dangel’s former label Etiquette Records. “I’ll be The One” was written by Kent Morrill,one of the other founding members of The Wailers.

After two years Rich Dangel left The Rooks to join mother band “The Time Machine” The outfit had been formed by former Willow Creek Ramblers Paul Gillingham, and Paul Poth, Charlie Morgan (Yes, that Charlie Morgan of Morgan Sound) who’d started out in The Valiants. Fred Aldredge, Mike Allen (also of Magic Fern) Scott Letterman and Jim Wolfe (both who’d been in Tom Thumb and The Casuals) . There’s very little recorded  about  The Time Machine but seems they were popular during their existence.  Walt Crowley mentions them in his book “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of Seattle in The 60s”.

The Time Machine as well as Magic Fern, The Daily Flash and Crome Syrcus were playing regularly at Seattle clubs.  He reports The Time Machine playing “The Underground Rock Festival” held at Eagles Auditorium alongside Magic Fern, Crome Syrcus, Clockwork Orange, Good Karma Lawn Service,  Willowdale Handcar Jug Band, United Flight Service, Chimes of Freedom and Prism. 

On September 1, 1967 The Time Machine opened for The Peanut Butter Conspiracy at Eagles Auditorium.  The Peanut Butter Conspiracy was a pop/rock psychedelic band from Los Angeles that had once included  drummer Spencer Dryden,  After his short stint Dryden would move on to The Jefferson Airplane as a replacement for Skip Spence.  Even after Dryden left the Conspiracy they still had cult status in the Bay area as well with hippies across the United States.

Crowley also mentions The Helix magazine and KRAB radio coming together to present a “Media Mash” also held at The Eagles Auditorium.  The headliner was Country Joe and The Fish, supported by The Time Machine, Magic Fern, Uncle Henry, Indian Puddin’ and Pipe, Canterbury Tales, Blues Feedback, The Excelsior Jazz Band and Murray Roman. Roman is a now forgotten hippie-esque cross between Lenny Bruce and George Carlin.  During this period he was near middle-aged, smoked a cigar onstage and frequently appeared at rock shows with his sharp-witted routine that mocked both the “establishment” as well as having fun at the expense of the counterculture.  Roman also appeared at the The Seattle Pop Music Festival in 1968.

Charlie Morgan says Dangel was never in The Time Machine while he (Charlie)  was in the band.  Since Morgan was a co-founder his word should normally be good enough to dispel any rumors. However, there was a reformed version of The Time Machine later that both Poth and Gillingham were part of, but not Charlie. There’s no contemporaneous proof  of Dangel being in that iteration of the band, and Paul Gillingham who’d been in both incarnations of The Time Machine also says Dangel was never in the band.  The confusion may be due to the nature of the internet.  Somewhere along the way Dangel was named as a member of The Time Machine, and the mythology was simply repeated over and over again by “authors” or commenters who simply didn’t do the footwork to find out, and  repeated the claim until it became accepted as fact.  In 1966 The Time Machine released a single, “All or Nothing” b/w “Take It Slow and Easy”on what is probably their own label “New Sounds”, but no information I’ve found tells us anything except this single was recorded, and that it was actually released-so far I know of no copies that have surfaced and there are no digitalizations I’ve been able to find.  Any clues to this mystery are welcome.  If any copies of the single exist they would be highly prized on the collector’s market.

In 1967 Dangel teamed up with his old friend Joe Johansen to form Unknown Factor.  Both played guitar with Joe Johnson on bass and Michael Marinelli on drums. Johansen was already a seasoned-veteran having played with The Adventurers; the band that backed-up Little Bill Englehart on his version of “Louie Louie” and other important Northwest bands like  The Dave Lewis Trio, The Frantics and The Checkers-a band from Yakima that had started to make waves in Seattle in the late 1950s.  In 1960 some of the Checkers met a high school kid from Richland WA named Larry Coryell.  Coryell was drafted into the band on the spot and began a stint with The Checkers that would soon lead him to Seattle and the University of Washington playing and jamming with other local bands and eventually on to New York City.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Joe Johnson was a transplant from Texas who had played in Seattle band Sir Raleigh and the Cupons (often misidentified as Sir Walter Raleigh and the Coupons) alongside future Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin (born Walter Milton Dwayne Midkiff, in Chesterton Ontario in Canada), Dewey had made his way to Nashville and worked as a side musician for Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins, and Faron Young among others. In 1963, he left Nashville for the west coast  on tour with Faron Young.  He ditched Young’s band in Las Vegas and ran off to Los Angeles. Dewey decided to base himself in L.A. but spent time backing up some of the country stars he’d worked with on tour. In 1963 he met Mel Taylor of The Ventures who advised him to find work in the Northwest.  Martin was soon in Seattle and playing with “Lucky Lee and The Blue Diamonds.

Sir Raleigh & The Cupons 1965

“Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow was a guitarist in the band, but had spent time as a stop motion animator in the film and television business.  Kleinow  had  worked on The Outer Limits (1963–1965), The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964), and the long-running children’s shows Gumby and Davey and Goliath,  Soon after his time with Sir Walter, Kleinow found himself back in L.A. and playing his first love-the pedal steel guitar for The Flying Burrito Brothers.  He’d later go on to be one of the most in-demand session players of the 20th century.  Any artist remotely involved in the Los Angeles Country Rock scene during the 60s, 70s and 80s seemed to call on Klenows talents.

Before Martin and Kleinow had a chance to run off, the band recorded a demo at Kearny Barton’s Audio Recorders studio.  Lucky Lee, a very odd Hillbilly/HonkyTonk singer who billed himself as“America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Indian”.  It makes perfect sense that Dewey and Sneaky Pete would have hooked up with Lucky Lee since they were C&W influenced players and would go on to be important members of Hollywood’s Country Rock scene.  So The Blue Diamonds went into the studio as a budding C&W band and came out as the garage-rockers Sir Raleigh and The Cupons. The band was made up of Dewey Martin (drums) ‘Sneaky’ Pete Kleinow, Al Harris and Norman Raleigh (all on guitars) and Johnny Meeks (bass) under their new name. Lucky Lee went on to continue as a moderately well-known country singer.

Kearny Barton raved about the band’s demo, and they soon came to the attention of Jerry Dennon of Jerden Records.  In 1965 Jerden released their first single the Tommy Boyce/Steve Venet song “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day”b/w “Whitcomb Street” which became a regional hit and landed them a contract with A&M Records.The band would go on to record four more singles, two  for A&M and two for Tower Records, though none of them made much traction, and constant personnel changes were continual..

By this time Dewey Martin was the frontman and he brought in guitarist Steven Green, drummer Lyall Smith and keyboardist J.C. Reik.  The band  never recaptured the regional attention they’d found with “Tomorrow’s Gonna Be Another Day” but the song was later popularized by The Monkees on their self-titled 1966 debut albumafter all the song was co-written by Tommy Boyce who with Bobby Hart would become a “hit factory”  for The Monkees and others. The Monkees attempt is worthy but toned-down for popular consumption. For a truer representation of the garage rock of the northwest sound, Sir Raleigh’s version wins hands down.

In 1965 they also recorded their second single, a hopped up version of “The White Cliffs of Dover” b/w “Somethin’ Or Other” (written by Dewey Martin) that was released by A&M.  A follow-up “While I Wait” (written by Martin)  b/w “Something’ or Other” for a second time.  After these two singles the band moved to Tower Records and released,  Tell Her Tonight bw/ If You Need Me”.  The A side was another composition by Steve Venet and Tommy Boyce.  Their final single on Rocket Records was  “I don’t Want To Cry” b/w” Always” the B-side being credited as written by “Dewayne Midkiff” (aka Dewey Martin). The band finally broke up leaving  Dangel’s buddy Joe Johnson ready for another gig.

Drummer Michael Marinelli had come to Seattle by way of New York along with keyboardist Howard Wales. Wales had worked with The Four Tops, James Brown and Ronnie Hawkins before first joining Rich Dangels’ next projects, Unknown Factor and Floating Bridge.  Wales ended up playing  organ on the  Grateful Dead album “American Beauty”  as well as playing on two collaborative albums by Jerry Garcia and Howard Wales. “Hooteroll?” released in 1971, and “Side Trips Volume 1” in 1998. In the very late 1960s Garcia and Marinelli’s former partner Howard Wales had performed in small venues in the Bay area;notably at free-form jazz jam sessions on Monday night at The Matrix in San Francisco  and a handful of clubs on the east coast.  This allowed Garcia to stretch out a bit, playing jazz and experimenting in front of smaller audiences. Several gigs included Bill Vitt on drums and occasionally bassists like Richard Favis, or one of Garcia’s other friends and collaborators, John Kahn.  These jams became the inspiration for the album “Hooteroll?”  During recording the band brought in Howard Wale’s old friend Michael Marinelli to play drums.

Joe Johansen was a Washington native from Mossyrock, a speck of a town in Lewis County.  He learned to play from a door-to-door guitar teacher. He was a natural and moved to Seattle after high school to play with a band called the Adventurers,.  He also played with Northwest legend Dave Lewis and alongside Little Bill Englehart .It’s said that Jimi Hendrix idolized him and it’s obvious that bands like The Sonics, The Kingsmen and The Wailers weren’t above stealing licks from him.  They too idolized him. He was always the guy to watch.

“He IS the Northwest Sound,” says Robert Browning, a Spokane Washington rock ‘n’ roll history buff. “Joe is one of the great unsung heroes of guitar. He was there from the beginning of Northwest rock ‘n’ roll.”
In 1996 Rich Dangel said  “Joe was an awesome guitar player and a major influence to a lot of people.”
Johansen says it was Englehart that first introduced him to the blues and jazz. One night they listened to blues master B.B. King. 

While performing at The Spanish Castle one night Johansen noticed a teenager hanging around the club night after night.

The boy kept listening and asking for a chance to sit in.

Johansen refused each time.

“No way I was letting some weird-looking, skinny 15-year-old kid play my guitar,” says Johansen, exploding with a laugh. “Even if the kid turned out to be Jimi Hendrix.”
“My tastes, the way I played, everything went through a major lifestyle change right there,” he says.

Finally in 1967 Dangel, Johnson, Marinelli and Johansen got together to form a band.
Unknown Factor was a band with an incredible pedigree and not to be taken lightly. The band was ostensibly created as a back-up band for legendary Seattle’s blues and soul singer Patti Allen and Ron Holden-also from Seattle, who’d toured with Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, James Brown, Brook Benton, Etta James, The Coasters, Big Joe Turner, Bill Haley and scores of other popular R&B acts of the 1950s.  Holden also had a huge hit in 1960 with the song “Love You So” that reached number 7 on the Billboard Charts in June of  1960.

During its short stint as a backing band and guns-for-hire Unknown Factor met vocalist and keyboard player  Pat Gossan during a performance at a popular,  rundown tavern in Ballard called Mr. P’s. It’s said Gossan had  jumped onstage to sing with the band- to the surprise of everyone, but of course the mythology isn’t as interesting as what really happened.

Pat Gossan says;

“I was 20, and my girlfriend at the time (who later became my wife for a couple of years) was a regular at Mr. P’s.  She walked in in front of me and Irene Johansen-Joes wife-worked the door. Once she saw my wife Karen, she said “hello” and it was like nothing to breeze right in  the door behind her”.

Gossen was young at the time, but had already put in time in The Ambassadors, playing keyboards in a popular Mercer Island based band called The Punch as well as doing a short stint with Papa Bear’s Medicine Show.  

“The way I’d gotten up on the stage at Mr.P’s in Ballard” says Gossan “was I went up to Joe Johansen and said ‘we have something in common.  We’re both from Mossyrock Washington. You went to school with my cousin Trev’ and we started talking,  Ron Holden hadn’t shown up that night and I asked if I could sit in and he said ‘I don’t know.  Are you any good?”  He was a very intimidating fellow.  I said “well, my friends think I am” and he said ‘I don’t give a fuck what your friends think “Are YOU any good!!?” and I said, “well I think I could probably sing some songs with you and so they invited me up and I did a few songs.  Then they conferred and by the end of the night they asked me to join.  They were playing as ‘Unknown Factor’  at the time and they were backing Patti Allen. 

After Unknown Factor made Gossan their new singer they re-named themselves Floating Bridge  

The name Floating Bridge  was chosen because it referred to one or both of the major floating bridges that connected Seattle with the bedroom communities of Bellevue, Mercer Island, Medina and beyond.  The first of these bridges was opened in 1940 as The Lake Washington Floating Bridge” (now the Lacey V. Murrow Memorial Bridge, or simply the I-90 bridge).  This bridge is commonly referred to as the “first floating bridge” that was not used exclusively by the US  military.  This is untrue, but it may be the first floating bridge made with concrete pontoons. The Persians had used floating bridges centuries ago and two earlier 19th and 20th century floating bridges still span The Golden Horn between the European and Asian sides of the city of Istanbul  The band name might also have been inspired by The Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, (officially the Governor Albert D. Rosellini Bridge) but commonly called the 520 Bridge….or the Hood Canal Floating Bridge that connects Kitsap County to the Olympic Peninsula.  All of this is moot and just a bit of fun at guessing since the band had probably named themselves for a series of structures that are more prominent in Washington than any other state in the union.  Today there are even two more….and of course the name sounded cool.  

The band was a hit right out of the box.  Soon they became the house band at Eagles Auditorium. They played the first Sky River Rock Festival that took place outside Sultan WA between August 31 to September 2, 1968.  It’s reported their set was one of the best of the entire festival. They were playing the Seattle club circuit and venturing more and more outside the city-especially to the Bay Area.

It was their heavy psychedelic blues that attracted more and more fans.  They used twin guitar leads that found Dangel and Johansen veering off into heavy, blues and jazz influenced interweaving solos that were well-grounded in Marinelli and Johnson’s rhythm section.  The band played a mix of original material as well as their own interpretations of songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Byrds, each one delivered in a heavy thunder of psychedelic blues.  It’s not surprising that soon they would be  the most memorable acts of Seattle’s bohemian/hippie scene.  Pat Gossan did the vocals and was seen as genial and generous, despite his work as a blues singer.

During the first Sky River Rock Festival an A&R man from L.A.s Vault Records spotted the band, no doubt with the prompting of the bands’ manager at the time-Frank d’Aquila. The spreading word on the street about the band, their reception at the festival as well as their sound got them signed almost immediately.  Vault Records had been releasing surf bands for years, but they were looking to expand their roster since surf music was becoming less and less popular.  Floating Bridge was signed to Vault Records right away,  and in October of 1968 the band flew to Los Angeles to record their first album with producer Jackie Mills. A single from their upcoming self-titled album was released in December of 1968 did well locally but failed to make the national charts

In retrospect Mills may seem to have been an odd choice as producer.  He had spent many years as a jazz drummer working with luminaries from The Dorsey Brothers to Billie Holiday to Erroll Garner to Dizzy Gillespie, Barney Kessel, Benny Goodman, Harry James, Red Norvo  and scores more. He’d also drummed in the studio with Frank Sinatra, Anita O’Day, Benny Carter and many many more artists.  For over twenty years he was one of the most renowned jazz drummers in the music business.  At the time he met up with Floating Bridge his production credits were largely soundtracks by Elmer Bernstein, and The Pete Jolly Trio.  Mills had even composed the score for the 1960  Marilyn Monroe/Yves Montand film “Let’s Make Love”.

It was 1968, the same year Floating Bridge recorded their album, that Mills began working with other rock musicians.   In ’68 Jackie Mills recorded Floating Bridge  as well as producing an album by the band Kaleidoscope titled “Incredible!”  The band was originally comprised of Chris Darrow, who by the time of “Incredible! had left for The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and was replaced by Stuart Brotman, formerly of Canned Heat. The original drummer John Vidican was replaced by Paul Lagos who had a jazz and R&B background, having played with Little Richard, Johnny Otis, and Ike and Tina Turner.  Solomon Feldthouse had worked with Leonard Cohen among others, and is the father of the actress Fairuza Balk. Max Buda, who had worked with Chris Darrow before Kaleidoscope has continued to work with him as a duo to this day.  Last of all there was David Lindley, an American musical treasure and highly respected session man and live musician. Lindley has played on albums by Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Jackson Browne, Ry Cooder, James Taylor and David Crosby and Graham Nash along with others.  He’s been called “a “musician’s musician” who’s had a years-long collaborative relationship with Henry Kaiser and formed his own band, El Rayo-X in 1981.

After returning to Seattle Floating Bridge there were a couple of huge concert events ahead of them. On December 6th and 7th opened  opened for The Moody Blues at the Eagles Auditorium and on December 27 1968 the band opened for both Vanilla Fudge and Led Zeppelin at the Seattle Center Arena.  They continued playing opening slots for major acts that came through Seattle;  BB King, Johnny Winter, John Mayall and Elliot Randall-a session player who would break out on his own and also record with Donald Fagen and Walter Becker-soon to be ‘Steely Dan’

Then suddenly Dangel quit the band In early 1969.

He had a family to maintain and the small amount of money the band made simply didn’t allow him to continue playing in it.  Aside from the lack of money, Dangel still had the urge to be a jazz musician. The parting is said to be amicable-and this is probably true because Dangel and the other members of the band would often gig with each other, and it was Dangel who would, over the decades, bear the standard for the band.  Dangel was replaced by Denny MacLeod who is said to have brought a bit more of a traditional Americana sound.

Despite Dangel leaving Floating Bridge they still remained popular and even struck a non-exclusive deal with John Nyberg’s and Paul Barboras’ new agency Far West Entertainment.  Bigger events and festivals were interested, and Far West was happy to set up out of town dates for them.  They were also eager to pair them with more and more touring bands who’s bookings Far West was handling and producing.  It also made it possible to hook up shows through other agencies-like Far West’s rival Seattle agency at the time-Concerts West.

Floating Bridge also took part in the Seattle Pop Festival organized by Boyd Grafmyre. The Festival was held at Gold Creek Park in Woodinville, WA from July 25 to July 27, 1969. Besides Floating Bridge and another popular Seattle band, Crome Syrcus the line-up included  Chuck Berry, Black Snake, Tim Buckley, The Byrds, Chicago Transit Authority, Albert Collins, Bo Diddley, The Doors, The Flock, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Guess Who, It’s A Beautiful Day, Led Zeppelin, Charles Lloyd, Lonnie Mack, Lee Michaels, Rockin Fu, Murray Roman, Santana, Spirit, Ten Years After, Ike & Tina Turner, Vanilla Fudge, Alice Cooper and The Youngbloods.

Although there have been bigger festivals in later years – only 50,000 people attended The Seattle Pop Festival – but there’s no doubt it still remains the most influential and star-studded festival to ever be held in the northwest.

Floating Bridge were also on the bill for the second Sky River Rock Festival that took place August 30 through September 1, 1969 in Tenino, Washington. Also performing at the festival were Anonymous Artists of America, Black Snake, Blue Bird, Cleanliness & Godliness Skiffle Band, Collectors, Congress of Wonders, James Cotton, Country Weather, Country Joe and the Fish, Crome Syrcus, Crow, Dovetail, Flying Burrito Brothers, Frumious Bandersnatch, Grapefruit, Guitar Shorty, Buddy Guy, Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, Dr. Humbead’s New Tranquility String Band, Juggernaut, Kaleidoscope, Los Flamencos de Santa Lucia, Fred McDowell, Steve Miller, New Lost City Ramblers, Pacific Gas & Electric, Peter, Terry Reid, Mike Russo, Sons of Champlin, Mark Spoelstra, Alice Stuart, Yellowstone, Youngbloods, and Elyse Weinberg.  

Some of the shine had come off the second festival due to not even knowing if it would take place up til the last moment. After the first Sky River Festival held in Sultan Washington there were pressures from conservatives and local police to pass laws severely restricting the rights to hold large public rock festivals.

The second Sky River Rock Festival almost didn’t happen.  The Festival’s producer, John Chambless had looked in vain for a suitable place to hold the Festival, but was met with restrictive laws or angry citizens everywhere he sought to hold the event.  Finally he secured The Rainier Hereford Ranch, among small hillocks created millions of years ago by glacial activity.  The area is locally known as “the mounds” and hold both Native American and New Age mythology.  The Tenino Chamber of Commerce and adjacent property owners were granted an injunction blocking a permit Thurston County had already issued, but as the case wound through the courts a sympathetic judge asked The Chamber of Commerce and property owners to post a $25,000 bond against any possible losses. The plaintiffs couldn’t come up with it (surprisingly!)  and with only days before the Festival was set to open Chambless had won the right to hold it.

Floating Bridge appeared at “The Vancouver Pop Festival” which took place at The Paradise Valley Resort in Squamish, British Columbia between August 22 and 24, 1969. Their name is not included on any posters, news articles or festival-related ephemera; the history of early rock festivals are muddled, Bush is quite right and whichever band announced to show up might not make it-and conversely others might show up out of the blue.  Pat Gossan remembers, and when asked if they played he says;

“We absolutely did”.  ‘Canned Heat’ and ‘Little Richard’ played on the same might as us. The promoters were kind of shysters” he adds
“They ended up burning a lot of bands.  Eric Nelson was our manager at the time,  We played sometime in the evening after ‘Little Richard’.  Now, ‘Little Richard did get paid because they demanded their money up-font.  A lot of us got shorted or completely stiffed,  but our manager was able to get a little bit of money for us, but not anywhere near what was in the contract, so our manager made up the difference because we’d driven such a long distance.  It actually wasn’t in Vancouver it was quite a bit north’.

In fact it was 53 miles north of Vancouver and the route along the way was the very old and somewhat decaying Highway 99BC.  The same Highway 99 that still exists along most of the west coast of the US.

“I looked pretty closely at the poster and and found that our name wasn’t on there ” says Gossan” but that’s kind of like the Sky River posters.  I have some posters from that era…there are some that don’t  have our name on it, and some that do.  I think it was due to the fact that they would put out a poster for the initial bands and others were added later.  I think in our case on the Vancouver one and the first Sky River we were added later.  I think that poster was an early version of The Vancouver Pop Festival”

Despite this observation, later versions of the Vancouver Pop Festival poster don’t seem to mention Floating Bridge.

 The Grateful Dead who had been given as one of the major headlines is said to have not played as planned; but Jerry Garcia himself says they played, and his biographer, Blair Jackson, also claims The Dead played at the Festival.  On Garcia’s official web page 1,222 people claimed they had attended the concert-which is a pretty high percentage since it was estimated only about 15,000 attended the festival…but as we know millions have claimed to have been at Woodstock.   Even the local online journal recently carries a recent headline “Remember When The Grateful Dead Came To Squamish?”  It features two articles from The Squamish Times..,but neither of the 1969 articles mention the Grateful Dead. One would think that if they’d played there’d be some contemporaneous documentation of it. Over the years there’s been some misunderstanding where The Grateful Dead were on August 23, 1969, the date they were set to play The Vancouver Pop Festival.  A listing in The San Francisco Express Times  (dated August 21,1969) advertises for the day for the supposed presence at Vancouver Pop Festival:

“Hippy Hill: Trans-Cultural Rip-Offs, Inc. presents Steve Gaskin & the Grateful Dead in concert with Shiva Fellowship. Bring dope (the sacrament) and good vibes. noon. Free”.

In May of 2012 San Francisco historian Corry Arnold wrote:

“The event on “Hippy Hill” (the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park, close to the entry from the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood) was canceled at the last minute, and everything associated with it was subject to change. I’m sure that Stephen Gaskin (a hippie icon/guru/lecturer who would go on to found “The Farm” in Summerville Tennessee in 1971) hoped the Dead would show up, and I’m also pretty confident it didn’t happen. The whole weekend is rather murky, but escaping from a farm in rural Oregon is not like loading out of a Sports Arena that’s near an airport. I don’t see how ‘the Dead’ and their equipment were ready to roll by Sunday afternoon, even if they bailed on British Columbia”.

One thing is clear; The Grateful Dead and The New Riders of the Purple Sage were scheduled to play a gig at Seattle’s Green Lake Aqua Theater on August 20, 1969,  The show was rained-out so the date was set for the next day, August 21. Since the band was available they made an unannounced surprise gig at Ballard’s El Roach the night of the 20th.  We know both shows took place because they were documented with photographs from both the El Roach and the Aqua Theater gigs. On August 23 they appeared at the Bullfrog 2 Festival at Pelletier Farm near St. Helens Oregon.  The Pelletier Farm gig was two days before their scheduled gig at the Vancouver Pop Festival.  It would be a long haul to Vancouver, but not so long that they couldn’t make it. All we know for sure is thatThe Dead were in the neighborhood.

When asked if he remembers the Grateful Dead playing at the Vancouver Pop Festival Gossan frostily says:

I don’t remember ‘The Grateful Dead’ playing at the ‘Vancouver Pop Festival’; as Far as San Francisco bands I remember ‘Canned Heat’ playing; but we went up and hung out for the afternnon and played in the evening after dark and seeing Little Richard.  I think the fact is that we’d gotten soured for being stiffed on our money  so we really didn’t care about sticking around,  We saw such a small part of that fesitval, so they very well could have.

The band seems to have been quite impressed with Little Richard’s performance:

“It was something seeing him.  He had a mirrored vest that when the lights were on it the reflections were flying everywhere”.

Another reason Floating Bridge may only have seen a small portion of The Vancouver Pop Festival is that the promoters hadn’t bothered to arrange places to stay for many of the bands.   The weather was wet and chilly and they didn’t have any accomodations…just having to get in our cars since there was no place to stay. They chose to drive home.

We played all over”, says Gossan  “The Walrus of course, the El Roach,  We played the Buffalo.  You know we were kind of an odd group to play those places,  We played at The Clockwork Orange, il Bistro in Vancouver B.C, The Emergency Exit and the B.F.D. I was undergaged when I went to see The Daily Flash.   I think The Bumps-this psychedelic-garage rock band, probably played too.  The Time Machine could very well have played there; their salad days were from 65 to about 67.  And then they opened the second B.F.D. north of 205th Street on Aurora Avenue and it didn’t last very long.  It was very short lived.  It was like when Jerry King opened The Warehouse on Eastlake-I think we might have played there once.

There’s a picture we took down at Seattle Center with an old “Floating Bridge” sign; I gave that to Jerry King.  It’s been mistakenly said it was in The Blue Moon Tavern, but I gave it to King and he had it at The Warehouse.  That’s not to say it wasn’t moved to The Blue Moon when The Warehouse closed because King owned them both.  The Warehouse Tavern opened  a second Warehouse in Bellevue and it also went belly-up; when they tried to double their exposure it didn’t work for these places.

Since Vault Records were pleased with their first album. Floating Bridge set off for San Francisco to record a second album.  Manager Eric Nelson set up recording time at Columbia Studios in North Beach.  The band felt more in control, since the project was being financed by their manager and they were allowed to help produce the album and in some cases even taking part in the mixes.  The band was happier with this outing than they’d been with their debut.  People who’ve heard it claim it is a classic mix of psychedelic blues; especially a 21 minute track by the name of “Ode To Crazy Ray” that has been called their “masterpiece”,

When their manager Eric Nelson and the band presented the finished master tapes to Vault Records the label chose not to pick the album up. It’s possible that Vault was having jitters because owner Jack  Lewerke was negotiating to sell his entire company to National Tape Distributors of Milwaukee. 

“As far as Vault Records turning the second record down” Gossan says  “it was because of a 21 minute track called ‘Ode to Crazy Ray’ and ‘Today’s Pig is Tomorrow’s Bacon’ and some other titles like that; and the 21 minute of ‘Ode To Crazy Ray’ was so psychedelic, and Johansen absolutely killed on it. His guitar playing on “Ode To Crazy Ray” is stratospheric; I would love for the masses to hear it, Vault Records turned it down because it was too outside and they wanted us to record more middle-of-the-road material; they wanted covers. They didn’t care about our songwriting so much although they would have benefitted by it with the publishing so I don’t think they would have turned down something that would have been pleasing to their ears

Floating Bridge with Crazy Ray

Crazy Ray’ is about the band’s roadie. If you look at the  page for “Helix Redux” there’s a picture that I posted fairly recently of Floating Bridge playing at Seattle’s Volunteer Park If you look closely at that picture there’s a head sticking out of the bushes, He looks like an FBI agent looking at the crowd  well that was Crazy Ray!

I became at odds with Pat Hewitt over the length of “Crazy Ray” After Johansen’s solo it goes into an electric kind of backwards tapes playing the Joe and Denny McLeod played along with,  It gets a little bit frenzied. I think if it were to be edited by three or four minutes it would be stonger and there are a couple of other songs on there that would do pretty well.

Guitarist Denny MacLeod (who’d replaced Rich Dangel) finally became disillusioned and quit.  Despite his leaving a hole in the band, Floating Bridge invited Michael Jacobson to perform with them on electric cello and saxophones.  Andrew Lang Jr. was drafted to play trumpet; Lang was originally from New Orleans and had played on Robert Parker’s classic R& B song“Barefootin’, Jacobsen had a strong background in music having been performing since the age of three.   The band was stretching out, but even going into more of an experimental stage the magic was lost, and the band seemed directionless.

The newly re-invented Floating Bridge showed up at The First Buffalo Party Convention and Pig Roast on July 3rd, 4th and 5th of July 1970 at ‘Buffalo’ Don Murphy’s “Flying M Ranch” near  Eatonville Washington.  Albert King, Muddy Waters, Canned Heat, Van Morrison, Chuck Berry and James Cotton along with about two dozen other artists were announced to play, but there’s no record  of who actually showed up. Some of those who attended report that  James Cotton, The Strawberry Alarm Clock A.B, Skhy (with Howard Wales) played.  Some remember the Northwest Sound contingent of The Wailers, The Sonics and  Don and The Good Times playing as well as Mojo Hand and Crome Syrcus from Seattle.  All of these bands were likey (but not certain) to have played.  Other mentions are Fever Tree, Clear Light, Country Joe McDonald, and The Portland Zoo; but like many of the smaller festivals of the day we have to rely on anecdotal evidence rather than contracts and tight timelines by stage managers to tell us who and who did not play.  Adding to the confusion was the fact that since this was an anti-authority “political” gathering many bands had agreed to pay for free…hence no records at all.  So we have to rely on attendees who all seem to have been high on acid, full of alcohol completely fried or otherwise too zonked out to remember the same day, not to mention so many years later.  One thing that most attendees agree on is that much of the time cassette tapes were played through the huge loudspeakers.

The Buffalo Party had been and would continue to be a thorn in the side of Washington State and Thurston County authorities.  The Buffalo Party was able to pose as a political party but in fact were joined together in an attempt to keep authorities from crashing their “conventions” that allowed Buffalo Party “members” and their “guests” to roam freely in any state of dress (or undress) openly use drugs, skinny dip, have open sex and generally defy the status quo.

According to a post at geocaching.com:

“Sheriff Carl Peterson was onsite with 35 deputies to enforce (an)  injunction, assisted by state troopers. But there was no turning back the tide. Unfortunately, because of the injunction, portable restrooms were never delivered, so a large ditch had to serve instead. Drugs were sold openly, but the crowd turned out to be more peaceful than rebellious, causing almost no property damage. Local residents even cautiously joined the crowds, more to gawk at the “hippies” dancing and skinny dipping in nearby ponds than to listen to the music. Unfortunately one man died during the festival when he slipped and fell from the top of nearby Little Mashel Falls”.  

The man was Don Christiansen from Lakewood , Washington.

In the final analysis ‘Buffalo” Don Murphy came to a deservedly horrible end.  He was killed by his wife who he’d abused (along with the kids) for years. In 1977, Francine Murphy set fire to Buffalo Don’s bed as he was asleep. The ensuing fire killed him and burned the house down; Then Francine bundled up her five children, put them in the car and drove into Eatonville to confess what she’d done.  When she went to trial for murder the jury found her ‘“not guilty by reason of temporary insanity”.  They realized it was 13 years of physical and emotional abuse that drove her to kill her husband. It’s thought that this was the first case using what would come to be called the “battered wife syndrome.” as a defense.  People in and around Eatonville helped  pay her court costs and in  1984 Farrah Fawcett starred in a well-known movie based on the incident called “The Burning Bed

Later in 1970 the Floating Bridge van was involved in a wreck.  The van had actually rolled-over, but no one suffered any major injuries. Soon after the van rolling over it was stolen with most of the bands equipment in it.  Even though a charity event was held to recoup the loss of their equipment there seemed no reason to continue.  Their second album had been turned down by their label, audiences were getting smaller, tastes were changing and no one was sure how long the band could continue to face adversity;  Johansen had blown out his knee and he was having some issues with prescriptions  and self-medicating himself  He was done with it, We asked Doug Hastings from The Daily Flash to see if something could happenm so when that didn’t happen we just let it go. The band officially broke up in December of 1970.  Marinelli took a job at the top of the Sheraton with Corky Ryan and Joe Johnson went on to play with a band called Easy Chair” which was not the original “Easy Chair.  The original  band’s name was appropriated by the sleaziest of promoters, Matthew Katz.  Dangle had long since moved on and Johnson eventually found music and sobriety did not mix well for him.  Pat Gossan went on to a series of successful regional bands, and at one point even toured in Doug Kershaw’s band and his band Freddie and The Screamers has been Peter Noone’s back-up band on many occasions.

Their influence of Floating Bridge may have faded like most music of the psychedelic era, but more fans worldwide have found their way to Floating Bridge and their album. No less than a dozen re-issues of the first Floating Bridge albums have been pressed around the world since it debuted.

The deal with National Tape Distributors went through in 1971 and the second Floating Bridge album is still unreleased.

Gossan says:
Our former manager Eric Nelson who had foot the bill for the second album in San Francisco happened into this house of a former girlfriend in Seattle and he found the tapes down in the basement,  I thought the tapes were ruined and that I’d never see them again.  Eric’s ex-girlfriend called me and said “I’ve got these big boxes of tapes of the Floating Bridge. Do you want them? Well, of course I did,..this was probably 15 years ago and I hung onto them and hung onto to them trying to find somebody who had a Skully eight-track in Seattle so I could do a transfer, I was able to do that a couple of years ago at a studio in Wallingford. We put them on thumb drives and my old playing partner Pat Hewitt who I played together for the past 45 years off and on started going through them and got them up so that they would be able to be released, My intention is still to release them, So I contacted Michael Marinelli who is the only other living survivor of the original band and the second Floating Bridge album,  and I later found out Jake Jacobsen was living in L.A, but he didn’t have anything to do with the album.  Gossan says it’s always been his intention to release the second album.  Now only if there’s some label (large or small) willing to put it out.  It’s ready to go!

A bit on the cast of characters here:

Rich Dangel eventually went on to form another well-known Seattle band called Sledgehammer.He worked with them for years and participated in several Wailers re-unions and even went on tour with them in 1969. During the late ’70’s he put together a crew of outstanding musicians naming it ‘Rich Dangel & The Reputations,  By the 1980s and 90s years of dependence on alcohol and harder drugs got out of hand,  In the early 1990s Rich sought help overcoming his addictions, and even became a certified drug counselor. In 1997 he founded his dream group “Butterbean” along with Michael Kinder and Buck England.  The band re-inspired Rich’s deep interest in mixing jazz with blues, R&B and rock,  In 2001 he took part in recording The Wailers CD “Cadillac to Mexico”. Dangel died of a brain aneurysm on on December 3rd 2002, a week after his birthday.

Buck Ormsby  became the last living member of the original Wailers died of complications from lung cancer on his 75th birthday-October 9, 2016.  Buck died in Tepic, Mexico in a bid to find alternative treatment for his cancer.  His long-time partner, Pamela Mills Ruzic said that Ormsby had died immediately after a fall. Ormbsy was a dedicated champion of The Northwest Sound as both a member of The Wailers and Little Bill and The Bluenotes. His founding of Etiquette Records provided the template for nationally successful bands to create and distribute their own music. In the ensuing years he became a much-loved figure on the Seattle and Tacoma music scene.  He took part in Wailers re-unions and made sure to re-release albums and singles on his Etiquette Records. He also played the occasional date with The Sonics as well as being their soundman from time to time. There had been years that Etiquette was not active, but it was still very much alive. Buck’s son, Gregory Ormsby, intends to continue Etiquette Records as an active label  In 2020 Etiquette will celebrate its 60th anniversary.

Joe Johansen retired from music in 1972 and slipped into obscurity after his escape from Seattle to Spokane in 1980,  He moved in order to get away from the influence of decades of addiction

In a 1996 interview Johansen said:

“All my musical heroes were junkies so I became one, I blew some of the best He had just come back to Spokane after a triumphant four-concert return in mid-May to the Seattle blues scene.years of my playing career. I’ll never know how good I could have been because I was always loaded.”

His interviewer Dale Clarke wrote:

Johansen played Carnegie Hall twice while touring with headline acts. After five years as an L.A. studio musician, he retired with a substantial amount of money in the bank. He bought a house in Seattle and a pound of pure heroin in that order”

Broke by the late 1970s, Johansen went back to playing. After a relapse, Johansen was forced to choose between the guitar and sobriety. “Sobriety won” he told Clarke.. Johansen sold his guitar and moved To Eastern Washington, Johansen, like Dangel also became a drug counselor.

One day Joe  was recognized on the streets of Spokane my music historian Robert Browning. They were soon fast friends, and it was Browning who had bought Johansen’s last guitar and encouraged him to play again.

In mid-may of 1997 Joe made one last trip to Western Washington and  played a triumphant four-concert return to the Seattle blues scene. His last performance was at The Swiss Restaurant and Pub in Tacoma.  The gig attracted his old music friends to support and share the moment he played from his soul.  Later he told Dale Clarke of The Spokane Statesman-Review:

“That last night was a high point.  I’ve never cried on stage, but I was blubbering like a damn baby. It was heaven, I don’t think anything could match that experience. So why try?”

He vowed never to play again.  His words were prophetic. Joe died of a heart attack in room 601 of The Delaney, a low-income apartment building in downtown Spokane.  He was found by the apartment manager.

Joe Johnson  went on to play with several local bands, most notably with Blind Willie.  Joe died June 4, 1977.

Pat Gossan went on to play keyboards in several bands from the 70s though 21st century. including, Prairie Creek, Freddie and The Screamers, Fat Cat and the Vududes (pronounced Voo-Dudes, geddit?) Pat now performs alongside Charlie Morgan, Steve Boyce, and Rick Bourgoin in the band “Two Sheds Jackson”.  He was asked to join after a concert to raise money and awareness of breast cancer.  The event was called Boobapalooza and raised more than $15,000.

Denny MacLeod died April 15, 2001, After leaving  live music behind him he became a radio disc jockey and went on to have a decades long career as a DJ and radio talent in the Spokane and Eastern Washington area, winning several awards along the way..  He spent his last years at the now defunct KZLN FM in Othello Washington.  Co-workers said he was a wonderful friend, mentor, and big brother and he often remarked about how he’d enjoyed his time playing guitar with Floating Bridge.

Little Bill Engelhart is still at it after over six decades in music.  Unfortunately he’s outlived all of the original Blue Notes, but musicians and fans still seek him out.

Michael Marinelli would go on to play on the original soundtrack for the cult film El Topo. Alejandro Jodorowsky had written and directed the film as well as creating it’s score..  John Lennon and Yoko Ono had been so impressed with the film they convinced  Allen Klein,who was then manager of Apple, to buy the rights to the film, and the soundtrack was released on Apple Records.  Lennon was so smitten by Jodorowsky’s work that he even advanced $1 million for Jodorowsky’s next movie,“The Holy Mountain” The latter soundtrack was released on Allen Klein’s own label ABCO.  In the 70s The members of the now-defunct Beatles entered into a series of legal battles with Klein and the rights to the entire Apple catalogue.

Michael then became an actor.  When “Freddie and the Screamers” were together Buck Ormsby had been able to secure a pilot to do fours songs for the TV show Northern Exposure.  The bass player was left out because Buck wanted to play, so the band went to Roslyn WA where they were filming the pilot. While they were sitting in the comissary area some guy walked past them and it was Michael.  Pat Gossan who hadn’t seen Marinelli for fifteen years  yelled “Magooch!” and the guy turned around and it was indeed Michael,  He was  was working as the stand-in for Barry Corbin.  He and the band  had a chance to catch-up. Marinelli had moved to Hawaii with his then-wife who was a flight attendent and he had secured a couple of things on Magnum P.I. and and a TV for an ad for a Home Alert system.  Gossan says he’s been in touch with Michael periodically. He’s living in Taos New Mexico and in poor health-he injured his hip and he has other health issues that are going on.  He’s content staying in his place and somewhat of a recluse

 Rockin’ Robin Roberts may be the most tragic figure in this story.  Roberts had sought out Richard Berry’s original “Louie Louie’ and turned it into a rock classic even before Rich Dangel added his signature intro.  It was his vocals on The Wailers recording, the first version of the song ever released. Rockin’ Roberts, more than anyone. turned a minor song into what is said to be the second most recorded song in history-only eclipsed by Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’.

Early in the morning of December 22, 1967 Rockin’ Robin Roberts was killed on impact in a head-on collision after leaving a party. He was the passenger in a car traveling the wrong direction on a divided freeway south of San Francisco.  He was only 27 years old.


All corrections to this story are welcome.  Leave your comments below.

 

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources: James Bush “Floating Bridge” (Encyclopedia of Northwest Music, Sasquatch Books,1999); Floating Bridge; Seattle, Washington 1967 – 1969 (Pacific Northwest Bands, pnwbands.com/bridge , retrieved May 20, 2018); Tony Engelhart “The Tall Cool One: Rich Dangel 1942-2002” (Blues Onstage, February 2003): “Floating Bridge” (Bad Cat Records Biography” (http://badcatrecords.com/BadCat/FLOATINGbridge.htm, retrieved May 20, 2018): Rich Dangle (Etiquette Records. www.etiquette-records.com/artists/dj-smiling-10/, retrieved May 19, 2018); “Floating Bridge” (Forced Exposure, www.forcedexposure.com/Artists/FLOATING.BRIDGE.html, retrieved May 19, 2018); “Floating Bridge” (AllMusic, www.allmusic.com/artist/floating-bridge-mn0000639749/biography , retrieved May 19 2018); “Floating Bridge; Floating Bridge” (Forced Exposure, April 18, 2012,  rockasteria.blogspot.com/2012/04/floating-bridge-floating-bridge-1969-us.html, retrieved May 19, 2018); Simon Stable “Floating Bridge [liner notes UK] retrieved May 20, 2018);Doug Clark “Guitarist Takes Final Bow On A Good Note” Spokeman-Review [Spokane WA] June 10, 1997); Eric Predoehl “Memories of Robin Roberts” (The Louie Report, December 14 2002 louielouie.net retrieved May 20 2018); Peter Blecha “Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock From “Louie Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Ian Ith “Richard Dangel, seminal guitarist, inspired luminaries” (The Seattle Times, Decembe 5, 2002); Jason Ankeny “Sir Raleigh and The Coupons” allmusic.com, retrieved May 22, 2018); Walt Crowley “Rites of Passage: A Memoir of the Sixties in Seattle” (Universtiy of Washington Press,1997); Johnny Blogger “Vancouver Pop Festival,1969” www.djtees.com/blogs/djtees-blog/vancouver-pop-festival-1969, retrieved May 24, 2018); Corry Allen [post] “Where Was The Grateful Dead August 24,1969?” (Jerry Garcia’s Middle Finger, May 9,2012); K2D2 “The Eatonville Rock Festival” (Geocacheing.com, retrieved May 24.2018); ZIBI “Floating Bridge ‘Floating Bridge, 1969” [Polish Translation] (Rock Dizziness, June 29, 2017, retrieved May 21, 2018) Don Rogers “The Time Machine, Seattle, Washington, 1966 – 1968 (pnwbands.com, retrieved May 21, 2018) The Time Machine” (rateyourmusic.com, retrieved May24, 2018); Don Randi with Karen Nishimura “You’ve Heard These Hands: From The Wall of Sound to the Wrecking Crew and Other Incredible Stories” (Hal Leonard Books, 2015): Dave Clarke “Jimi Hendrix’s Guitar Hero Now Lives Quietly In Spokane” (Spokesman-Review [Spokane WA] Oct. 8, 1996);Associated Press “Northwest music icon Rich Dangel dies” (December 6.2002); Pat Gossan “interview with the author”, May 31,2018)

 


Paul Tutmarc and The Mystery of Who Invented The Electric Guitar

 

        Audiovox 736, 1935

On March 6, 2018 a very special guitar was sold on ebay.  It was auctioned off by Dale and Bev McKnight, an elderly couple living in a mobile home park in Snohomish WA. Dale had originally bought the guitar in Seattle in 1947 and after over 60 years of dragging it around it found its place under the bed of their home in their trailer.  The buyer was David Wallis, a retired electrical engineer and guitar collector from Georgia.  Wallis paid $23,850.09 for the guitar-probably a bargain for an instrument so rare.  The guitar Wallis bought was an Audiovox 736 Electric Bass guitar; an instrument that some believe to be the first electric guitar…or at least the first electric bass guitar ever made..  It was Seattle inventor/engineer/tinkerer and musician Paul Tutmarc that had produced the first version of his 736 Electric Bass in 1935 or 1936.  Today there are only four known to exist.  Two are in private collections, and now Wallis will make his the third in a private collection.  The fourth Audiovox 736 known to exist is displayed at Paul Allen’s Seattle Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop); formerly known as the Experience Music Project or EMP).  Local music chronicler and former chief curator at the EMP Peter Blecha tells the story of the Audiovox 736 displayed in the MoPop/EMP museum,  In an April 1, 2018 letter he wrote

“By the late 1980s I was quietly picking up Audiovox guitars and amps wherever I could find them. Thrift shops, antique stores, and guitar stores mainly, plus via the occasional classified ad. The fact is, there was no demand for them and so once these shop owners knew I was interested , they would call me to inform that another had popped up.  Back then I was scooping them up for $25, or $50, or $75.  One place that was always interesting to scour was a very odd ramshackle store in Tukwila. The proprietor, Jake Sturgeon, did appliance repairs/sales there and was well-connected with the local Country music scene, so he also had an array of guitars stuffed in there too. I bought a few Audiovox units from him, and he understood that I was the prime collector of the things. So, in about 1996 — 4 years into my employment as curator with Paul Allen’s museum project — I got another call from Jake. This time he was rather excited and said he had just acquired a “weird 4 string” lap steel guitar” from a little old lady” and wondered if I wanted to come by and see it.  I was there within the hour.  The “weird 4 string laptop” proved to be the very first Audiovox 736 Bass Fiddle to have publicly surfaced.  By that point I was already well into planning the “Quest for Volume: A History of the Electric Guitar” exhibit for the EMP and knew that this would be it’s star attraction.

Becha adds;

“In 1998 I invited about five of America’s top guitar historians to Seattle to attend what I grandiosly named “The Guitar Summit.” They flew into town and we spent 2 or 3 days reviewing my exhibit plan outline, and the guitars I had lined up for inclusion in the Quest exhibit.  I gotta say that of all the amazing instruments we reviewed, that Audiovox Bass was the mind-blower. Not one of the historians had ever seen or even heard of one before.  In time, I found the matching Audiovox amplifier to accompany the Bass. And short story long: that pair of artifacts has been on exhibit at EMP/MoPop ever since the museum’s Grand Opening in June 2000.   Whereas every other inaugural exhibit in the museum has been replaced over time “Quest for Volume: A History of the Electric Guitar” remains. A few years back one recent director there informed me that they consider “Quest” to be the “Crown Jewel” of the museum and that it is truly a permanent exhibit.”.

A MUSICAL DYNASTY

Paul Tutmarc, who’d created the Audiovox Bass Fiddle was and is the scion of a Seattle music dynasty.  He was born in Minneapolis in 1896 and studied guitar and banjo as a child.  At aged 15  he also fell in love with the Hawaiian Steel Guitar.  As a teen he worked with traveling vaudeville troupes playing and singing.. In 1917 Tutmarc moved to the Northwest to work in the shipyards. He met and married his first wife, Lorraine in 1921.  They had two children, Jeanne and Paul Junior (known as “Bud”). Paul Jr. was born in 1922 and would become a respected musician in his own right.  Jeanne came along in 1924

The elder Tutmarc became known for his crystyline tenor voice and dapper appearance, as well as being a regular performer on Tacoma station KMO where he picked-up the nickname the Silver-toned Tenor. KMO was the only network-affiliated radio station in Western Washington (NBC). By 1929 Tutmarc had begun working the Seattle theaters as a tenor soloist with a number of the top dance orchestras, including those of Jackie Souders, Jules Buffano, and the town’s premiere bandleader, Vic Meyers. That same year he was performing with Stoll’s Syncopaters. Stoll was musical director for Mario Lanza and urged Tutmarc to re-locate to Los Angeles and its proximity to the to Hollywood studios. Tutmarc made barely a  mark in two moving pictures, possibly Sam Wood’s 1929 feature, It’s a Great Life and a celebrity newsreel (The Voice of Hollywood # 7)

After failing to catch fire in Hollywood Tutmarc returned to Seattle and continued his work as a vocal tutor and teaching guitar.  Originally he worked out of the home studio he’d built as part of a new house at 2514 Dexter Avenue North, overlooking Lake Union.  Later he set up a studio in the downtown Seattle Skinner Building which also housed The Fox 5th Avenue Theater. The  theater is notable in that it is one of only a handful of pre-war theaters in Seattle that have escaped the wrecking ball.  After years of neglect, the theater’s Chinese Forbidden City motif was restored in all it’s glory in 1980, and it now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As Tutmarc become more well-known he began to perform in concert halls, continued on the radio and various theater circuits as well as with Sam Wineland’s Broadway Orchestra at Tacoma’s Broadway Theater. In 1928 the Tutmarc’s moved to Seattle where he began a stint on KJR radio and performed on the Pantages and Orpheum circuits, as well as for the brother/sister ballroom dancers Fanchon and Marco (Wolff) who had created a west coast franchise of theaters.  Tutmarc was also known locally as a musician, tutor and inventor.  By the 1930s he was a popular performer on local Seattle radio as a soloist and as a member of several, mostly Country and Hawaiian bands.  It may seem counter-intuitive, but the earliest electric guitar aficionados were almost equally dispersed between the two genres, and both communities were responsible for the growing popularity of lap steel guitars  Aside from his Country outings,Tutmarc was also respected as an important  populizer of the Hawaiian lap steel guitar  on the local level, a love he passed down to his son Paul “Bud” Tutmarc.

Paul Tutmarc and his first wife Lorraine divorced in 1943, and about a year later Tutmarc married his second wife, Bonnie Buckingham, who’d been one of his students; Tutmarc was 27 years older than Bonnie.  By this time Tutmarc had moved his studio to 806 Pine Street in the Western Laboratories Building.   Paul Tutmarc had initially built each of his guitars by hand…now a neglected art that was once practiced by the builders of stringed instruments known as luthiers.    As demand for his steel guitars (and later bass laptop guitars) escalated, Tutmarc tried to keep up with the demand.  Both Bonnie and Paula (along with Bud Tutmarc and other members of the family) would go on to their own place in NW and national music history. Soon Paul and Bonnie, also from a musical family with her owndreams of stardom were performing at venues such as Eagles Nest Lounge in the Eagles Auditorium building (still standing and also registered as a National Historic Place) the Elks Club and the Surf Theater Restaurant.

Tutmarc continued his figure as a dashing man about town, all the while tutoring voice, and performing with Bonnie.  In 1944 the Tutmarc’s were introduced to a man named Buck Ritchey, a country/western DJ at Seattle’s KVI radio.  At the time Ritchey was promoting a country band called the “K-6 Wranglers (or variously as the “K-VI Wrangles” as a reminder of his station’s call letters).  Eventually Jack Guthrie would join the K-6 Wranglers.  Jack had already found a bit of fame as the co-writer (along with his brother Woody) of the standard “Oklahoma Hills”

The Tutmarcs were relatively new to Country music, but it didn’t take long before they’d mastered it, with Bonnie on vocals and a National Spanish Electric Guitar and Paul playing one of the Audiovox Steel Lap Guitars that he’d been producing since 1934.  The band was featured on KVI’s “K-6 Wranglers Show” which aired from 1944 through 1947.  “The K-6 Wranglers” released their first single on local Morrison Records in 1948 (The Two-Timin’ Yodeler b/w The Old Barn Dance).  Both songs were written by Bonnie.  The Tutmarcs also recorded “Sailing Through The Sunny San Juans” and “Old Montana Cowboys”  for Morrison.  In 1950 the Tutmarcs began recording for Rainier Records, another (obviously) local label.

By 1950 the Tutmarcs were recording country tunes like “Cowboys Serenade” and “Ain’t You ‘Shamed” for a new local label, Rainier Records.  One of the Wranglers shellac records released by Rainier is still available on the collectors market.  “Midget Auto Blues” b/w “Everybody Knew But Me” are both seminal hillbilly-cum-country recordings.

During this period the Tutmarcs were also playing two nights a week at the Seattle’s Silver Dollar Tavern (not to be confused with the famous Silver Dollar Dancehall in Des Moines)  Bonnie became a featured vocalist with The Abe Brashen Orchestra and Wyatt Howard’s Orchestra at the Town & Country Club in downtown Seattle.. She also recorded “If You Would Only Be Mine” with the Showbox Theater’s Norm Hoagy Orchestra for Listen Records, and in 1952 Listen Records also released two pop tunes (“Don’t Blame Me” b/w “I’m In The Mood For Love“) under the pseudonym “Candy Wayne”.

In 1950 Bonnie and Paul’s only child was born…Jeane and Bud’s new half-sister, Paula. The couple built a new home at 2514 Dexter Avenue North, overlooking Lake Union in Seattle.  By that time Bonnie was trying to launch a solo career, calling herself “Bonnie Guitar.  She’d been urged to demo some of her songs in both Seattle recording studios as well as in Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until she recorded the demo of a song, “Dark Moon”at Seattle’s Electricraft Inc. that her career headed for stratospheric heights.  Somehow the demo made its way to Los Angeles producer/promoter and record label owner Fabor Robison.  Robison had a fairly hefty roster of successful artists on his self-named Fabor Records,  In 1957 he signed Bonnie and with his pull in the music industry Bonnie Guitar’s “Dark Moon” became an international hit after Robison licensed it to Dot Records. Bonnie’s career not only included being a recording star, but  probably the first woman producer in the music business and a major label A&R executive for Dot Records and later Columbia. 

“MIDGET AUTO BLUES BY PAULTUTMARC AND HIS WRANGLERS

Slick Henderson-Accordian, Bill Klein-Bass, Paul Tutmarc-Steel Guitar, Bonnie Tutmarc-Spanish Guitar& Vocals.  Written by “Bonnie Guitar” Tutmarc

 

By the age of 15 Paul and Bonnie’s youngest daughter Paula had begun singing and writing while attending Orting high school.  She had moved to Bonnie’s ranch south of Seattle after the split between her parents I 1955. Her mother took Paula into Kearney Barton’s Audio Recording studio.  Paula spent her career using stage names and the first one she chose was Tamara Mills.  She recorded her first would-be single under that name. Her mother  produced the studio session that resulted in master recordings of two original compositions: “Fool’s Hall of Fame” and “Mr. Raindrop.”

According to music historian Peter Blecha who was a friend of Paula

“The plan, evidently, was to have Jerden release a single, but for reasons now lost, the project did not get further than having the two songs mastered at ‘United Recording Corporation’ in Hollywood. Those Tamara Mills tunes would likely be totally forgotten today except that in recent years a California-based record collector unearthed a ‘United Recording’ acetate reference disc of the songs which are pop with a garage-rock edge

Paula later found a bit of celebrity during the 60s going by the stage name Alexys. In October 1965 she released her debut single “Freedom’s Child” b/w “The Evolution of Alexys”.  The single was picked up on local radio and became a regional hit.  As Alexys, Paula became a part of Seattle’s folkie/hippie movement and her success led to sharing stages with bands as diverse as the Beach Boys, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Beau Brummels The Mojo Men, and The Yardbirds while Jeff Beck was doing his stint with the band.

Alexys was signed to  Dot Records-obviously the work of her mother, Bonnie.  Bonnie was also instrumental in the early days of The Northwest Sound by launching the careers of The Fleetwoods, Vic Dana, The Frantics and The Ventures on her and her business partner Bob Reisdorff’s Dolton Records.  The label itself was short lived so Bonnie moved to Hollywood to continue her recording career. By the time Paula/Alexys made her debut, Bonnie was the most successful performer in Country music.

Meanwhile Bonnie’s stepson “Bud” Tutmarc continued making his way as a performer and recording artist with the invaluable help of Bonnie.  In 1966, the year Alexys released her debut single on Dot Records,  Bud released his first full length album “Rainbows Over Paradise”…also on Dot Records.  It was his only major label release but Bud would go on to combine his love of Hawaiian music with his passionate Christian faith, recording over 25 spiritual albums, acting as the musical director for The Calvary Temple (now known as Calvary Christian Assembly), and directing The Northwest Youth Choir for many years.  He also ran his own independent studio, Tutmarc-Summit Studios, where he recorded his own music and produced others’,  Over the years Bud Tutmarc shared his ministry with music, on radio, as a volunteer and as a charitable donor.

Bud” died in 2006, and left behind another Tutmarc-Shane Tutmarc who had first found indie success around the Northwest with his band Dolour.  Shane was doing well, but just not well enough to make a mark beyond his fans.  After several attempts and riding an emotional rollercoaster Shane decided to retire from music in 2004.   He left music in a fit of gloom but within a year he had come to a greater understanding of his role, and tried again.

In 2007 Shane told Tom Scanlon of the Seattle Times that after his grandfather Bud Tutmarc passed away in 2006;
“It brought me closer to my family and I decided to put together a family band Shane Tutmarc & the Traveling Mercies”.

The band featured Ryan Tutmarc (Shane’s cousin) on bass and Brandon Tutmarc (Shane’s younger brother) on drums. This is perhaps what Shane had been most lacking: a solid, stable backing band. The Travelling Mercies recorded two critically acclaimed albums-“I’m Gonna Live the Life I Sing About in My Song” and “Hey Lazurus!”-.before Shane’s going solo and moving to Nashville where he still records and produces.

So now we know a bit about the Tutmarc dynasty it’s time to ask the unanswerable:

Who Invented The Electric Guitar?

Both Les Paul and Leo Fender have been given far more credit than they are due in the evolution of the electric guitar.  Each made design improvements and technical leaps, but the fact is the electric guitar has been around for over a century.  What’s more, aside from design and slight adjustments, the basics of the electric guitar have remained constant since even before the earliest version was built.

We might point to (or blame) the French physicist André-Marie Ampère (yes the term “ampere” is named for him).  Ampère was one of the founders of what we today know as  electrodynamics”. In September 1820, his friend François Arago showed the members of the French Academy of Sciences a new discovery by Danish physicist Hans Christian Ørsted. The discovery was elegant in its simplicity: that “a magnetic needle is deflected by an adjacent electric current”.

Ampère set out to apply mathematics and physical laws to refine what Ørsted had theorized.  The eventual result was what is known as Ampère’s Law.  First Ampère demonstrated that two wires carrying electrical currents running parallel to each other would attract or repel each other depending on the direction the electrical current was travelling.  This was the advent of “electrodynamics”. Ampère took this phenomena even further.  If your eyes are already glazing over,  this one is a bit harder to wrap one’s mind around.

Further experimentation led to the conclusion that the mutual action of wires carrying an electrical current is proportional to their lengths, and could be further controlled by the amount of current the wires decreased or increased their power-or intensity.  Ampère not only created and proved his own law, he aligned it up to the work of Charles Augustin de Coulomb and his “Law of Magnetic Action”. The alignment of Ampère’s Law and that of de Coulomb’s became the foundation for the newly science of experimental physics and what we now call  “electromagnetic relationship”  

Other physicists followed suit in the study after a demonstrable an empirical theory had emerged from Ampère’s  and de Coloumb’s work by  showing proof of what we know as the aforementioned electromagnetism. In 1827 Ampère published his findings in the typically French, over-flowery titled “Mémoire sur la théorie mathématique des phénomènes électrodynamiques uniquement déduite de l’experience”  (in English; Memoir on the Mathematical Theory of Electrodynamic Phenomena, Uniquely Deduced from Experience).

From here the story jumps across the English Channel to the brilliant,self-taught physicist, Michael Faraday. Faraday also discovered another elegant but simple example of electrodynamics…one that would eventually lead to the electric guitar-and quite a few other inventions we take for granted.  In 1830 Faraday discovered the “electrical principle of induction”.

Electric guitars rely on one, two or more“pickups”  These pickups are nothing more than  a coil of copper wire wrapped around a magnet. Because of the “electrical principle of induction”, when steel strings vibrate in the vicinity of these pickups an electromagnetic signal in the copper wire wrapped around the magnet occurs.. The signal that is produced can run from the guitar, to an amplifier through a cord. The amplifier increases the signal and it moves on to a speaker so the listener may hear the result.  BTW, we’ve tread into such theoretical territory, let’s pass on explaining how an analog speaker or microphone works. This explanation may have already made the reader fall asleep, and I admit I’m no physicist or electrical engineer, but I’ve described all of this in a way I myself can understand, though it might not be the exact narrative. I’m sure I’ll hear from those who have corrections.  If you follow this; good; if not, you may become more appreciative of how that Ted Nugent solo relates to something that goes back centuries and involves far more intellect than Nugent could ever summon up.

In 2016 writer Ian S. Port covered a three day symposium held at  The Wichita-Sedgwick County Historical Museum. A larger gathering of historians, musicians, electrical hobbyists in the manner of Peter Blecha’s so-called 1998 “Guitar Summit” One big difference; the purported objective was to answer the question “Who Really Invented The Electrical Guitar?”  Port reported on the symposium in the May 25, 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine.  It’s an enlightening article but it’s hard to believe that the symposium would or could answer the question of who invented the electric guitar.  It seems the gathering was more geared toward the joy of discussing electrical engineering, musical tastes, trading stories about guitars, showing off beloved instruments and generally using the question at hand as an excuse to have a good time.  It was a gathering of electrical geeks with guitar geeks, and probably more than a few attracted to the bar.  The inclusion of guitar geeks is self-evident, but the fact is over the past century and a half it has been electrical tinkerers who have driven the creation and evolution of the electric guitar.  There are very few advances in the electric guitar that have been made principally by musicians.  Of course Les Paul is an exception to the rule; so is the long forgotten genius of electronic swing music, Alvino Rey. But it has been physicists, amateur radio operators, electronics fans  as well as old men puttering around in basement workshops who have added more to the evolution of what we think of as an electric guitar.

One reason we cannot attribute the invention of the electric guitar is that there are so many definitions of what an “electrical guitar” is, and so many men and women that were doing the tinkering to develop it.  These tinkerers were often isolated from one another, some found each other as hobbyists, and a few auspicious meetings proved critical. A lot of it was happy coincidence and some was co-opting the technology of one field to apply to another.

According to Ian S. Port who covered the Kansas symposium:

(Faraday’s)  principle of induction is so simple and useful that devices based on it were widespread even before the 1900s. Telegraph keys used it, and some telephones did, too, though the first ones used primitive carbon mics. (The word “phony” comes from the awful facsimile of human speech produced by the early telephone.) Human communication was crucial in spreading the technology that would eventually become the electric guitar. ‘No one would have cared about this if it wasn’t initially about talking’ (over the telephone) Lynn Wheelwright, a guitar historian and collector, explained.”

Port goes on to write;

“A 1919 magazine ad offered a device for amplifying sounds, which, it said, could be used to amplify a violin—or ‘to spy on people’. Another magazine from 1922 touted an amateur-built “radio violin”: basically a stick with a string and a telephone pickup connected to an amp and a metal horn.

“Weak tones can be amplified by a radio loudspeaker,” the caption explained. Later that decade, a few proto-rock-‘n’-rollers figured out that by shoving a phonograph needle into the top of their acoustic guitar, they could get sound to come out of the speaker.  

They were a long way from “Free Bird,” but the basic idea was there”.

ELECTIFIED!

The first person to patent a device to power an electrified instrument resembling a guitar was an American Naval officer named George Breed. In 1890 he was granted a patent for his “Method of and apparatus for producing musical sounds by electricity.” 

As Port puts it:

“ it employed electricity to have the machine play the instrument. It was a self-playing guitar more than a century before the self-driving car.”

According to the Popular Mechanics story;

Matthew Hill, who studies the history and development of musical instruments, built a replica of Breed’s guitar based on its patent, and found that the complex electromagnetic system actually vibrates the strings. The guitar plays itself, in other words, producing an ethereal, metallic drone”.

“Unfortunately the replica weighed more than a dozen pounds and is entirely impractical” he concluded.

One thing that should be patently obvious should be mentioned here.  Up to the 20th century electrical currents weren’t as easy to get as plugging into an electrical outlet on the wall.  All experiment had relied on batteries, creating one more hurdle for physicists and practitioners of electrodynamics to achieve their goals.  It wasn’t until the dynamics and the growing  access of electric availability  that individuals could experiment on a wider scale.

W
ith more availability to electricity, more and more electronic hobbyists and guitar makers were chasing the idea of electrified instruments, and even by 1900 the principles of Faraday and his earlier French counterparts were being put to use.  According to Ian S.Port’

‘From 1919 until 1924 a quality control manager for ‘Gibson Guitars’, Lloyd Loar was working with pickups and amplifiers.  He had built a prototype of what he called an “electrified harp guitar” which would later become known as the “Vivitone Accoustive Guitar”.  

After his contract ended Loar left Gibson because of their lack of support for his creations. But while he was still at Gibson, in late 1923, he is said to have built at least one prototype for an “electrified harp guitar” It is now in thet collection of noted guitar collector Skip Maggiora, owner of Skip’s Music stores in Sacramento, California and a series of smaller local chains across the country.   Maggiora thinks he knows the history of the “Vivitone Accoustive Guitar”.  He appeared in a Smithsonian documentary “Electric! The Guitar Revolution’  His explanation was that by 1924 when Loar’s contract with Gibson expired he left, as we already know.  At the time Gibson was more interested in relying on its sales of acoustic instruments-mostly banjos and mandolins.  It was realistic for them to manufacture and sell proven money makers than fulfill Loar’s dreams.  According to Maggiora, Loar took his “electrified harp guitar” with him, sold it to an hotel orchestra musician and it was passed down by the unnamed musician’s family until it was discovered in 1975.

This makes for a great story-until one realizes electrical amplification was not around in 1923 when Loar is said to have invented his instrument.  Whether Maggiora had perpetrated a hoax or was duped is unclear, but the portion explaining Maggiora’s “electrified harp guitar” was later excised from the film.

It is certain that Loar did later produce and sell a line ofelectified harp guitars” but the “Vivitone Accoustive Guitar” in Maggiora’s collection is probably a second or third generation example from the late 1930s.  Loar is reported to have also built his own electrified bass guitar; but it is said to have a nasty habit of electrocuting players. There are also reports of Loar creating an electrified viola.  In 1933 he’d created his own company Vivi-Tone to market his combination of acoustic and electrified instruments but his attempts did not catch on. In a short Vivi-Tone began to produce and sell the more popular and established keyboards.

In 1928 The Stromberg–Voisinet company of Chicago began touting a new guitar for the consumer market.  The venerable “Music Trades” magazine (which has been continually published since 1890) ran a now-famous article/advertisement from Stromberg–Voisinet entitled “New Sales Avenue Opened with Tone Amplifier for Stringed Instruments.”  The announcement was published on Oct. 20, 1928, claiming their new Stromberg-Electro was:

“an electronically operated device that produces an increased volume of tone for any stringed instrument.”

The ad went further to say;

“The electro–magnetic pickup is built within the instrument and is attached to its sounding board. The unit is connected with the amplifier, which produces the tone and volume required of the instrument.Every tone is brought out distinctly and evenly, with a volume that will fill even a large hall’

This was a welcome announcement for guitarists playing in Hawaiian bands as well as the nascent swing,country and big band orchestras where the guitar was, for all practical purposes never heard except during solos. Up until then the only technology to heighten the sound of the guitar was the resonator-a thin aluminum cone inside the steel instrument that vibrated with the strum ot the strings, thus amplifying sound.  Often there were up to three resonators within a guitar and most steel guitarists were playing their instrument horizontially which made it even more difficult for audiences to hear.  The slightly amplified sound resonators produced was driven out of the guitar’s sound hole.  The resonator was not as effective as guitarists hoped, but resonating steel guitars are still popular with musicians for their unique sound.

Finally guitarists believed their electrified instruments wouldn’t be overshadowed by louder instruments.  But one problem exists concerning the Stromberg-Electro; no examples of the Stromberg-Electro have been found, so it’s questionable if one (beyond a prototype) was ever built.  In 1928 Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer became the president of  Stromberg-Voisinet and the company was soon absorbed in to Kay’s own company, (“Kay Musical Instruments”),  Kay’s new company, was formally established in 1931 from the assets of Stromberg-Voisinet.   The company did later introduce a line of electrical guitars, but under the spelling “Elektro”

Guitar historian Lynn Wheelwright, former guitar technician for Alvino Rey and a great friend of Rey’s was one of those who attended the Wichita symposium.  He  thinks one of his guitars might have an old Stromberg pickup, but he’s not sure.  Experts have found no other mentions of the guitar from this period, and have found no instruments to prove that any models were actually exist.  It’s clear that Kay (and the later Kaykraft label) continued to manufacture acoustic instruments under their own name and for several other companies.  Some historians claim a few Stromberg-Electro guitars were produced for the market, making it the “first” electric guitar; but as said above, not a single one has been located, and Kay Musical Instruments did not issue an electric guitar until 1936 — five years after the Rickenbacker Frying Pan, and the same year the Gibson ES-150 was introduced.

The Rickenbacker Electro A-22. “The Frying Pan”

The Rickenbacker “Frying Pan” was originally designed by George Beauchamp (pronounced as Beech-um in one of the English’s confounding ways to make spelling and pronunciation more complicated).  Beauchamp, a Hawaiian lap guitar player, like other steel guitar players had been looking for a way to make their instrument heard above the din of other louder instruments.  Beauchamp had helped develop the Dobro resonator guitar, and co-founded the National String Instrument Corporation  After months of trial and error Beauchamp created his own pickup that consisted of two horseshoe magnets. The strings passed through these and over a coil, which had six pole pieces concentrating the magnetic field under each string. It’s said he initially used a washing machine to wind up the coil.  At the time poor “Bud” Tutmarc was doing it by hand.

After determining that the horseshoe pickup actually worked Beauchamp approached Harry Watson, a luthier who’d been superintendent of the National String Factory in Los Angeles. Watson crafted a wooden neck and body to create a prototype. In several hours, carving with small hand tools, a rasp, and a file, the first fully electric guitar took form. It was dubbed (like others) as the world’s first electric guitar, even though it’s production model was actually made of aluminum.

Beauchamp then enlisted the help of his friend, the Swiss-born Adolf Rickenbacher.  Adolf had anglicized his name slightly to Adolph Rickenbacker and was cousin of the famous flyer Eddie Rickenbacker.  Adolph had plenty of capital and owned a company that created the aluminum resonators for instruments. Beauchamp and Rickenbacker joined forces and a company was formed to manufacture and sell the guitar that would fondly be known as the “Frying Pan” guitar. The initial name of the company was Ro-Pat-In Corporation then changed to Electro String.

According to the official Rickenbacker website;

“When Adolph became president and George secretary-treasurer. they renamed the company Rickenbacker because it was a name known to most Americans and easier than Beauchamp to pronounce. Paul Barth and Billy Lane, who helped with an early preamplifier design, both had small financial interests in the company as production began in a small rented shop at 6071 S. Western Avenue, next to Rickenbacker’s tool and die plant. (Rickenbacker’s’ other company still made metal parts for National and Dobro guitars and Bakelite plastic products such as Klee-B-Tween toothbrushes, fountain pens, and candle holders.)”

Although the official model name of the new guitar was the Rickenbacker Electro A-22 but it soon became known as the Rickenbacker Frying Pan for obvious reasons.  It’s small round body attached to its long neck is, in fact, reminiscent of a frying pan.  The fact that it was all aluminum also came into the equation.

“By the 30s the electric guitar had found more popularity, and so a race to create a consumer-friendly electrified instrument became paramount.   Electro String (the parent company of Rickenbacker) had several obstacles. Timing could not have been worse–1931 heralded the lowest depths of the Great Depression and few people had money to spend on guitars. Musicians resisted at first; they had no experience with electrics and only the most farsighted saw their potential. The Patent Office did not know if the Frying Pan was an electrical device or a musical instrument. What’s more, no patent category included both. Many competing companies rushed to get an electric guitar onto the market, too. By 1935 it seemed futile to maintain a legal battle against all of these potential patent infringements”
The Rickenbacker Electro A-22 was only produced between 1932 and 1939 and it did not receive a patent until 1937.  Even though the Frying Pan was not a commercial success at the time, it is popular among today’s collectors, and plenty of guitarists have been known to perform onstage with them.

THE FIRST KING OF ELECTRICS

But it was the near-criminally forgotten band leader and pioneer of the electric guitar  Alvino Rey (born Alvin McBurney) who was known for his mastery of the Hawaiian laptop guitar and later the pedal steel guitar.  He became wildly popular onstage later about 1933,  He began to be shown in national magazines with the newly available electric guitar.  Rey himself came to music through his love of electronics and experimentation with it during his boyhood.  It’s said he was constantly taking telephones and other gadget apart and putting them back together to understand how they worked. Aside from popularizing the electric guitar Rey also contributed other important musical  innovations.
He was, and still is called “The First King of Electrics”
by his millions of fans.

Since Rey had been known for his laptop guitar playing in 1935 Gibson  asked Rey to create a prototype with  engineers at the Lyon & Healy company in Chicago. The laptop steel guitar had the disadvantage of it’s sound being directed vertically rather than directly at the audience. The laptop guitar needed amplification as well as the electric pedal steel guitar that was becoming popular among Hawaiian and Country and Western artists. Rey himself was probably the most influential early guitarist for popularizing the pedal steel guitar.

Rey’s prototype resulted in Gibson’s first electric guitar, the ES-150. Many people refer to the ES-150 as the first “modern” electric guitar-though it could easily be argued one way or another. Rey’s original ES-150 prototype guitar is now also on permanent at Seattle’s  Museum of Pop Culture (formerly EMP)

Speaking of their guitar collection, Jacob McMurray, senior curator at the EMP/Museum of Pop Culture;

“There’s Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock guitar, Eric Clapton’s Brownie, which he played on “Layla,” and there’s Alvino.  Rey helped develop that prototype as a consultant for the Gibson company, but how he played was also an innovation”

Rey was also known for introducing an incredible novelty, “Stringy The Electric Guitar ”using what Rey called the “Sono-Vox”  Part technology and part artifice, a July article in Dangerous Minds explains:

Alvino Rey on Electric Steel Guitar with “Stringy The Talking Guitar”.  Vocals by Andy Russell

“Rey, using his steel guitar, appeared to be creating the singing voice for bizarro “Stringy The Talking Guitar.” In fact, it was Rey’s wife Louise, in tandem with Rey’s guitar sounds, that created the effect. Louise was backstage with a carbon throat microphone attached to a piece of plastic tube running to Rey’s amplifier. She would provide the words and Rey would alter them by sliding the steel bar along his guitar strings. Alvino and Louise were able to create some otherworldly sounds using this technique, including the weird voice of ‘Stringy’. Rey’s invention eventually evolved into the ‘talk box’, appearing as the vocal effect on the 1976 ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ album
.

Rey himself became history’s first “superstar” or “guitar hero”,  He became a celebrity that regularly sold out the venues he played, as well as a constant presence on radio.  Rey recorded with Esquivel, Martin Denny, The Surfmen and played on many “exotica” albums as well as film soundtracks, including Elvis’s Blue Hawaii.

Walter Carter a former Gibson guitar company historian has said:

“For millions of radio listeners, the first time they heard the sound of an electric guitar, it was played by Alvino.”

Rey would have a long career, and ventured into the avant-garde  as well as an early proponent of rock and roll.  He is often referred to as the “father of the electric guitar”  Although this is demonstrably untrue, it shows the amount of influence he had on the history of the electric guitar and the public’s affection for him.

Lynn Wheelwright (mentioned before as Rey’s guitar techinician and friend ) told Ian S. Port:

“You should have heard him on stage with a regular guitar—holy god!“ Alvino opened every show with a guitar solo, he closed every show with a guitar solo, and he had a guitar solo in every song. He found a way to use the instrument in such a way that people would buy them and use them.” At first, Rey plugged his guitar directly into the radio station’s transponder”, Wheelwright said. “But if the sound he wanted wasn’t readily available through his instruments, he tweaked the wires himself.
Eventually he would marry into the famously wholesome King Family and became their musical director.  He became less well-known as an i
nnovator even though he had a remarkable history in musical technology. He died in 2004 at the age of 95


We could continue with a discussion of the electric guitar in more modern times, including people like Leo Fender, Les Paul, Gibson, Bailey, et al or the merits of Rickenbacker or Mosrite over the Sears-Roebuck Silvertone guitar, but if we look into the history of the guitar and the laws of electrodynamics, we see that the electric guitar is basically the same basic instrument today that it was over a century ago.  There have been design changes, improvements (notably in humbucking pickups) and the change in popularity from electrified hollow bodied guitars to solid-body guitars (which predate Les Paul and Leo Fender by decades) so now we will return to our original subject;  Paul Tutmarc.

IF IT HADN’T BEEN ME, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SOMEONE ELSE

Tutmarc continued his performing career through the 1920’s and 30s and we know he taught various stringed instruments.  At the same time he continued his electronic tinkering and it’s application to musical instruments.  He experimented with various types of instruments, various forms of electrified amplification and a device that would later be thought of as a “pickup”

Tutmarc’s son “Bud” reports:

“In the later part of 1930 or perhaps the very first of 1931, a man, Art Stimpson, from Spokane, Washington, came to Seattle, especially to see and meet my father. Art was an electrical enthusiast and always taking things apart to see what made them function as they did. He had been doing just this with a telephone, wondering how the vocal vibrations against the enclosed diaphragm were picked up by the magnet coil behind the diaphragm and carried by the wires to another telephone. My father became interested in this “phenomenon” and began his own “tinkering” with the telephone. Noting that taping on the telephone was also picked up by the magnetic field created behind the diaphragm, he was encouraged to see if he could build his own “magnetic pickup”.

One very important revelation in “Bud’s” story is that Stimson and Tutmarc had been fascinated by the ability of a diaphragm to transfer vibrations from one telephone to another over an electrical connection.  This tells us something we may have overlooked, but should be obvious.  Alexander Graham Bell’s invention, the telephone, had been putting the laws of electrodynamics into pragmatic use for decades.  Bell had early patents on hundreds of devices, including telephone technology. In fact, it’s said he could be vicious in his attempts to accrue patents that he may not have been entitled to.  This should also tell us why it would be so difficult for the early pioneers of the electric guitar to patent their technology.  Graham had beat them to it’s technology years earlier.

About the time Tutmarc met up with Stimson he became friends with another electronics fanatic, Bob Wisner.  According to “Bud” Tutmarc

‘Bob Wisner (was) a young man with a brilliant mind, and a radio repairman of great repute in Seattle as about the only one able to repair the old Atwater-Kent radios. He worked at Buckley Radio in Seattle, on Saturdays, repairing all the radios the regular repairmen could not repair during the week. It was Bob Wisner who helped my dad re-wire a radio to get some amplification of his magnetic pickup”.

Tutmarc then took  an old round-holed flat-top Spanish guitar and discovered he could fit it out with a wire-wrapped magnet (essentially a pickup) inside that would carry the sound of a plucked string to hia newly-created amplifier-the modified Atwater-Kent radio.

According to his son, Tutmarc

“developed a polepiece sticking up through a slot he cut in the top of the guitar near the bridge, and the electric guitar was on its way. Being an ambitious woodworker, he decided to make a solid body for his electric guitar idea and his first one was octagon shaped at the bridge end, containing the pickup and then a long, slender square cornered neck out to the patent heads”.

Tutmarc had accomplished several things at the same time.  He had put the pickup inside the guitar, he’d created a practical amplifier (with Wisner), created a solid body guitar (an innovation he’d borrowed from Rickenbacker’s 1931 “Frying Pan” lap steel guitar), and tied it up with a “polepiece” which would be one of the hallmarks of the electric guitar as we know it today.
Paul Tutmarc may not have “invented” the electric guitar, but he had brought it much closer to the combination of design and technology we know it as today.

His invention caused a lot of interest-especially among local Seattle musicians and his students….all of who were a natural consumer base for his product.  Tutmarc envisioned his new operation as the “Audiovox Manufacturing Company” that would produce and market his guitar and eventually other instruments and amplifiers.

Art Stimson and Paul Tutmarc parted ways in early 1932. The partners understood the importance of what they’d achieved, but they had a difference of opinion on what to do with their discovery. Stimson wanted to sell or license the “pickup” to a larger company. Tutmarc wanted to seek a patent for the pickup’s design.  It’s said that Tutmarc spent $300 on a patent search (about $5000 in 2018 dollars-a cost that might be expected to be spent today, but an enormous sum during the depression of the 1930s).  At the time no patents would have been filed on the instrument Tutmarc created, but he and his lawyers were not seeking a patent on the the instrument;  they were searching for a patent for the “pickup” which had already been covered years earlier by the Bell company in conjunction with the entirety of it’s telephonic gadgetry.  Seeking a patent for his “pickup” technology would be a mistake that could have made Tutmarc a very wealthy man, but he wouldn’t discover it until later .Tutmarc went back to work in Seattle while Stimson left for Los Angeles where he said he was going to try get interest.

In August of 1932 Tutmarc became aware of a Los Angeles manufacturer selling an “Electro String Instrument”. The company was Rickenbacker International!

In  the spring of 1933, the Dobro firm started selling their electrified Spanish-style guitar.  It was obvious to Tutmarc this instrument was based on his own discoveries.  What Tutmarc did not know was that Dobro had filed a patent on April 7th, 1933 for the overall design of the instrument- not just the pickup technology Tutmarc had foundimpossible to patent in 1931.  It was later that he found out that the patent application named “Art Stimson” as the assignor. Besides being stabbed in the back by Stimson, Tutmarc also discovered that the pickup design (which was integral to the instrument) had been sold by Stimson to Dobro for only $600.

According to Blecha;
“Tutmarc finally forged ahead marketing his own brand of electric guitars. Though a bit late to the race now, Tutmarc became ever more determined to create a superior electric guitar and, through more experimentation, vastly improved his old design, effectively creating the world’s first slanted split-polepiece magnetic “humbucking” pickup — a design that Dobro, National, and other firms soon began emulating”

Although Tutmarc continued to improve on his design it was clear he could not compete with the big players.  His instruments became popular with cream of the crop of Hawaiian steel guitar players and among the musicians who had cross-pollenated Hawaiian music with Country music. The most famous Hawaiian guitarist of the day, Sol Ho’opi’i championed Tutmarc and Audiovox in general

According to Bud, Tutmarc his father was an avid woodworker,

“but as more and more instruments became in demand he “contacted a man, Emerald Baunsgard, a young superb craftsman, and an agreement was made. Emerald started doing all the woodwork of the electric guitars for Audiovox. Emerald was a master at inlay work so these black walnut guitars all had inlaid frets, inlaid pearl position markings and beautiful, hand rubbed finishes. The guitars were beautiful and very quickly accepted on the market”.

Bud says his father also manufactured a sold-body Spanish Guitar, but there simply was no market for it.

He also says:

“My dad, being a band leader and traveling musician, always felt sorry for the string bass player as his instrument was so large that once he put it in his car, there was only enough room left for him to drive. The other band members would travel together in a car and have much enjoyment being together while the bass player was always alone. That is the actual idea that got my father into making an electric bass. The first one he hand-carved out of solid, soft white pine, the size and shape of a cello, To this instrument he fastened one of his “friction tape’ pickups and the first electric bass was created. This was in 1933”.

“The idea of the electric bass was very important to him, but he was so dissatisfied with his solid body “cello size” bass that he made a 42 inches long, solid body bass out of black walnut, like his guitars, and the electric bass was launched. The cello sized bass was too heavy and not really accomplishing what he set out to do; wanting to create an instrument, small and light-weight, yet capable of producing more sound than several upright, acoustic basses. My father advertised his electric guitars, single necked steel guitars and double necked steel guitars”. Finally his new electric bass (the Audiovox 736) was shown in a local school’s 1937 Yearbook. That certainly establishes a definite date. I personally played the electric bass in John Marshall Junior High School, here in Seattle, in 1937 and 1938”.

By this time it’s clear Tutmarc missed out on the bragging rights to claim he “invented” the electric guitar, but it seems almost sure he had invented the first electric bass guitar.  The official designation for his bass was the Audiovox 736 Electronic Bass Fiddle.  Instead of the traditional double bass, this model was to be played on the horizontal, not the vertical or “upright” position. Aside from it being electrified and amplified (therefore much louder than the traditional bass) it also featured a fretted neck (also unlike the traditional bass) and not particularly meant to be played with a bow.  Although Audiovox guitars come up for sale now and again it seems very few 736 bass guitars were made-hence it’s rarity.

Besides instruments Audiovox also created and manufactured amplifiers designed by Bob Wisner, the man who’d first paired up with Tutmarc to turn the old Atwater-Kent radio into an amplifier.   Wisner created an amplifier to accompany the Audiovox 736; the Audiovox Model 936.    After his time as a repairman and electronics wizard in Seattle Bob Wisner went into scientific work. He ended up as part of the team working on the Atomic Bomb in Wendover, Utah and Alamagordo, New Mexico.  After WWII Wisner worked on the Bomarc missile program at Boeing. Eventually he went to Cape Canaveral (now Cape Kennedy).  Sadly Wisner died during the first American space-shot to the moon.. He witnessed the lift-off but did not survive to see the successful landing.

In 1948 Bud Tutmarc began making his own electric guitars that were distributed by Portland’s “L.D. Heater Music Company.  He also went on to create his own electric bass; the Serenader.  Bud believes  the “L.D. Heater Music Company”was the first large distributor to carry any electric bass.  Bud also created several innovations, in particular an attempt to find a way to have the steel guitar give more depth on the bass strings.  He reverted to the old practice of putting the pickup outside the guitar,plaing them at various locations over the strings. He also put the a pickup six inches in front of the bridge,  giving the instrument  much more depth of sound. After he discovered this trick he went on to place  all of his pickups on the electric bass six inches from the bridge. This is still prevelant in basses today.  Bud also tried slanting the pickup so that the polepiece would be farther from the bridge under the bass strings and closer to the bridge under the treble strings.  This further gave more depth to the bass strings without  affecting the treble sound of the higher strings. The slanted pickup near the bridge is another of his innovations that are still commonly used.

Peter Blecha, the Audiovox expert this article has relied so heavily upon believes;

Even though Audiovox sold numerous Electronic Bass Fiddles to Northwest musicians, the instrument was so completely ahead-of-its-time that it never succeeded commercially. So, despite the trail-blazing uniqueness of Audiovox instruments, relatively few were sold, no national distribution strategy was ever implemented, and Tutmarc’s contributions basically fell through the cracks of history. All of which helps explain why the Audiovox saga went missing in all of the early electric guitar history books, and other men — like Fullerton, California’s Leo Fender (who first marketed his famously successful bass guitar in 1951) — long received all the credit for “inventing” the electric bass.  Until recently Paul Tutmarc’s innovations have not been considered among the most important facets in the history of the electric guitar…and although an argument can be made that he invented the first electric guitar and bass guitar it really doesn’t matter much.  The most important thing is that his place among the pioneers of the electric guitar has been restored.

It’s often been noted that Paul Tutmarc was not a fan of rock and roll and felt some ambivalence toward his creations, the electric guitar and bass.  Shortly before his death in 1972 he told a newspaper interviewer “A lot of fathers and mothers probably would like to kill me. Then again, if it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else”

 

 

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources; Bud Tutmarc “The True Facts on the Invention of the Electric Guitar and the  Electric Bass” (http://tutmarc.tripod.com/paultutmarc.html retrieved April, 20, 2018; Peter Blecha “Tutmarc, Paul (1896-1972), and his Audiovox Electric Guitars” (HistoryLink.org Essay 7479, September 18, 2018); Erik Lacitis “Historic, Seattle-made electric bass guitar sells for $23K “ (The Seattle Times, March 11, 2018); Ian S. Port “Who Really Invented the Electric Guitar? After 80 Years, We Still Don’t Really Know”(Popular Mechanics, May 25, 2016);. Peter Blecha “Audiovox Electronic Bass: Discovered! The World’s First Electric Bass Guitar” (Vintage Guitar Magazine, March 1999); L. Pearce Williams “Michael Faraday, British Physicist and Chemist” (Encyclopaedia Britannica (retrieved April 21, 2018); Rich Maloof “Who Really Invented The Electric Guitar?” (reverb.com, June 29, 2017); Christopher Popa “Alvino Rey: Wizard of the Steel Pedal Guitar” (bigbandlibrary.com, retrieved April 20, 2018); “Les Paul Biography: Guitarist, Inventor (1915–2009)” April 27, 2017. Retrieved April 23, 2018); Phyllis Fender & Randell Bell “Leo Fender:The Quiet Giant Heard Around the World” (Leadership Institute Press, 2018); G.W.A Drummer “Electronic Inventions and Discoveries: Electronics from its Earliest Beginnings to the Present Day [Fourth Revised and Expanded Version]” (Institute of Physics Publishing, January 1, 1997); Sonia Krishnan “Paul ‘Bud’ Tutmarc, who shared Christian faith through music, dies at age 82” Seattle Times, December 8, 2006); Tom Scanlon “Shane Tutmarc Finds Healing In His Roots” (Seattle Times, October 19, 2007) “Shane Tutmarc Home Page” (www.shanetutmarc.com, retrieved April 21, 2018)  Peter Blecha correspondence, (April 29, 2018):  Clayton Park  “North Seattle Was Birthplace of the Electric Guitar, Bass” (Jet City Maven, volume 4, issue 8, August 8, 2000); “The Earliest Days of the Electric Guitar” (Rickenbacker.com, retrieved April 2, 20180;  Listen to The Music [Smithsonian Channel] “Electrified!  The Guitar Revolution” (first airing August 15, 2010); A.R. Duchossoir “Alvino Rey: The First King of Electrics” (Gibson Steel Guitars: 1935-1967, Hal Leonard Books, 2009).               

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)

 

 

 

Northwest 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

The Bird

Writing the history of a band or a venue can be a daunting task; especially when the author knows far less on the subject than many of his or her readers.  It’s with this trepidation that I approach writing about The Bird.  In most cases the music histories I write rely on research, articles, written or oral histories and scholarly reports..  One-on-one interviews and original documentation also helps; but in the case of The Bird, there is not much documentation or  written histories.  Online blogs and books that mention The Bird often repeat the same exact entries word-for-word. This, in my view is a very poor practice and plagiarism.  However this is the internet age where people recycle all kinds of information they don’t need to be accountable for.

There are at least two authors I know that have done independent research on The Bird There are also others who have kept the memory of The Bird alive in their own individual ways.  I did not arrive in Seattle until 1979; almost a year after The Bird had ceased to exist.  Many of the musicians who had played at The Bird had left Seattle for greener pastures even before the advent of The Bird including The Mentors, The Lewd, The Screamers, Penelope Houston who would front The Avengers.  All were no longer on the scene by the time I’d arrived. Still, many of the fantastic friends I would make in Seattle had been involved or regulars of The Bird.

Many of us have foggy memories of our past, and very little ephemera to document The Bird exists, so I have had to rely on incomplete information and small bits I have learned from friends about The Bird over the years. It is in this spirit that I ask you read this story, keeping in mind that what I am trying is to build a history of The Bird…a history that has been seriously overlooked.  I hope what I write here is accurate, but I know I cannot live up to that hope throughout this story.  This is meant to be the basic outline of a realistic, accurate and detailed portrait of one of Seattle’s most important cultural touchstones.  I welcome corrections, additions, suggestions, photos, posters and most of all, memories.  As I’ve said, the history of The Bird has never been properly recorded..  What I have to write is incomplete without as much input form those who were there.  If you have anything to add, please leave comments in the space provided below. This will help me build a more accurate and complete history.

There’s plenty of points of departure that we could begin the story of The Bird.  It came along after punk had established itself in many other cities in the U.S, Canada, Britain and Australia.  We could discuss the dissatisfaction of young people with their future prospects, the D.I.Y. ethic, or what had led up to the need for an all-ages punk club in Seattle or youth culture in general,  But that would take an entire dissertation…which this already nearly is.   Let’s leave it at the well-known impetus that the gay troupe Ze Whiz Kidz who had broken down the door for punk to make headway in Seattle. Let’s  also point to the T.M.T. show, (The Telepaths, The Meyce and The Tupperwares) which wasn’t exactly “punk” but also opened the gateway of the new, alternative and music and a kick-start for the local scene.  There are the early practitioners and promoters of punk rock or new wave; consider that in the late ‘70s the terms were interchangeable.  These would include Jim Basnight, Neil Hubbard, Lee Lumsden, Mike Vraney and dozens of others including Sheli Story, Eldon Hoke,Upchuck, Ralph and Judy Becker who’s store Kitchy Koo catered to the hoards of Roosevelt High School students that would dominate the early Seattle punk scene.  As far as helping to outfit the new “look” it would only be proper to mention the influence (and gear) of Danny Eskinazi’s store, Dreamland, then located in the University District.

But let’s start with two individuals; Damon Titus and George Gleason,  Although they went to separate high schools and lived in different parts of the city they were thrown together as members of the Unitarian Church’s  Liberal Religious Youth (LRY), around 1969 or 1970. According to George Gleason, within a short time after meeting Damon he joined his band Fuzzy Peach.  At the time they were a folk-rock trio  trio with two sisters from George’s high school, Lisa and Chrissie MacPhaden. Once they became a quartet they spent a year or two on the coffee house and all-ages circuit.

By 1972 Damon moved to Olympia WA to study at The Evergreen State College (TESC).  George also moved to Olympia with an eye to starting a more rock-oriented band.  Don Harper, a friend of George’s from high school, would became their road manager. Roger Husbands, an older guy Damon and George knew through the LRY was hired as manager.  The two thought Roger seemed to know his way around business and theater, but in truth, he had little experience in management. Fellow Evergreeners Suzanne Grant, who’d been a jazz singer was recruited as vocalist and Alan Mundial came in on drums. Mundial would later be replaced by Peter Barnes when the band decided to move to Seattle and Alan chose to continue his studies at TESC. John  Adams was the original bassist and later replaced by Sal Paradise. (Walter Szalwinski)  Along with Damon and George they became The Fruitland Famine Band who deserve their own entry here at a later date,  The band was successful doing gigs in and around Olympia and Seattle and eventually moved to a large, old Mansion on the corner of Union and Minor on Seattle’s First Hill.  The band had a fair amount of success playing cover songs in  bars around the Olympia and Seattle area.  Later they moved further afield to play the greater Northwest and Western Canada.  The band did a few originals, but were mostly playing bar patrons’ favorites…slightly FMish music, some popular covers, and venturing into country and boogie classics  They were not the “average” Top 40 band, but they were a cover band nonetheless.

The Mansion at Minor and Union was across the street from the The Summit Alternative High School.  It was through these students, who used the Minor Mansion’s  garage as their unofficial smoking lounge that the the members of the Fruitland Famine Band started to become familiar with the stirrings of punk rock.  George claims that everything changed when the band heard the albums The Runaways, The Ramones and the bootlegged Ramones Live at CBGB’s. “Finally we were hearing new music that was song-based, and infused with manic humor” says George.

Their act began to reflect those influences, and it was not entirely welcome by the bar crowd they playing to.  The band told manager Roger Husbands they were fed up with being a cover band and fed up with playing bars.  So The Fruitland Famine Band joined the now near-forgotten, and always underrated Uncle Cookie (featuring Ernie Sapiro, Mark Sargent, Conrad Uno and Brock “The Rock” Wheaton as their soundman) for a concert at Capitol Hill’s Oddfellows Hall at 915 East Pine.  The Oddfellows Hall would be the location of future punk shows, and was crucial to Seattle’s nascent punk rock movement.  It had also been the venue for Seattle’s first “punk” concert known forever as “The T.M.T. Show” on May 1, 1976.

George Gleason remembers:
As a goof, we started our set dressed in slick lounge outfits,playing disco and changed into leather and jeans, playing punk in the middle of the set”.  George also reports that “This evidently made quite an impression on the delicate mind of Patrick MacDonald, music writer for The Seattle Times”
MacDonald” according to George Gleason “has never since missed an opportunity to describe us as a band that once “stripped naked” on stage.  This would, of course, be only one of MacDonald’s misinterpretations of the rock music he generally covered.  Not only did MacDonald misinterpret and misreport concerts, for years it was rumored that he commonly sent proxies to events, and he’d write his reviews based on their notes…but we’ll never know for sure, and it certainly wouldn’t have been the first time a critic cribbed others’ notes.  MacDonald retired as a local music critic years ago, but he’s still an object of derision among Seattle musicians and the fans who once read his reviews.

On Oct 30th 1977, The Fruitland Famine Band threw an all-night “Come As You Were or Will Be “ party at the Minor Mansion.  The death of the FFB was declared and the birth of The Enemy, one of the west coast’s first punk bands. At this time Sal Paradiso was let go and Paul Hood (onetime member of The Meyce and future member of The Toiling Midgets and briefly with Student Nurse) was given bass duties.  The Enemy rented space in a vacant building in downtown Seattle and began writing and practicing all-original music,

Damon Titus says
“People forget that at the time downtown Seattle was boarded up buildings. The building at First and Spring was vacant, We were in a nine story building that was vacant.  We were next to the store Warshall’s-a sporting goods store.  The only ones we ever had to worry about disturbing was Warshall’s”

However there was one problem that made the rehearsal space sub-par
“We determined that the only problem was that there were these flyng iron fire doors between the two units that made the place sound terrible.  One day we took the station wagon and went up to Capitol Hill-somewhere around St. Jo’s parish with all these nice big mansions around. We went up there as scraggly looking punk rockers going door-to-door asking for newspapers….and they gave us all these old copies of The Seattle Times-enough to fill the station wagon.  Then we opened our side of those iron doors and filled the gap with all these old newspapers.   The incredible  thing is that later when we ended up getting closed down by the Seattle Fire Department the Fire Department were completely unaware of the newspapers.  Come to think of it it probably was really dangerous!”

Damon admits that part of The Enemy’s agenda was to open punk rock to as many venues as possible.  Roger and Damon had gone to San Francisco for the last Sex Pistols show on Jan. 14, 1978.  Their old friend and ex-Seattleite Penelope Houston had formed her own band in San Francisco, The Avengers, and they had been on the Sex Pistols bill at Winterland.  During their trip  it occurred to  that Damon and Roger that they should open their own rehearsal space as a club and showcase  West Coast punk bands. They also knew that there was enough local talent to fill out bills,
Since bands like The Lewd, The Mentors, The Screamers and The Avenger’s lead singer Penelope Houston all hailed from Seattle they  knew they could create a network of like-minded bands to play at the new club they planned.

Video by Jo David, March 3, 1978

I’ve never talked to her about this” says Damon, but I’ve heard Penelope talk  about feeling she was part of a West Coast team…playing all up and down the west coast.  There were people from L.A  like The Screamers and the Dils  who wanted to bring The Mabuhay (San Francisco’s premier punk club) up here. That’s kind of what we were doing  We had a real cool rehearsal space to work with”

So the die was cast.  Seattle was about to witness the opening of its first official all-ages all-punk club.

Peter Barnes has said that starting the Bird was possible because of what he calls infrastructure.  The band had financial resources (mostly contributed by a single member) good sound and lights systems and a knowledgeable sound technician, They had a space that could hold about the right size of crowd they’d expected-even though the club was often crowded beyond it’s legal limit. They had west coast band connections and bands themselves that were eager to play Seattle.

                                      

Sheli Story Roger Husbands, Neil Hubbard, Gregor Gayden, The Bird, 1978

Despite the credit to Roger Husbands as being the impetus for opening The Bird, it was actually run as a labor of love for The Enemy and their friends.  In actuality Husbands was simply a hired-hand to manage The Enemy’s affairs….at times better than others.  But he became the “official” face of the business/management side of the venture.  He was a bit older, looked more mature and didn’t wear punk rock clothing,  He looked responsible. It was his appearance and business-like approach that got the straggly looking Fruitland Famine Band and The Enemy taken seriously among the press, booking agents and licensing officials. He had helped secure the lease for The Enemy’s rehearsal space at 107 First Avenue.

“So” says Peter Barnes: “we got a pop machine and somebody to watch the door, and then it was a club”

Despite Peter’s tongue-in-cheek remark, it took more than a coke machine and a doorman to keep the club a going concern.  Fortunately The Bird  was run primarily by Husbands and The Enemy’s one-time soundman Don Harper. Various friends and volunteers took up the slack.

According to George Gleason;

“‘I can’t remember them all, but Neil Hubbard, Shelli Story and Gregor Gayden helped Roger & Don (who would eventually marry the band’s singer Suzanne Grant).  Rob Morgan was another one involved in working at the club; often manning the door and generally spreading laughter and mayhem.  Rob would later go on to found The Pudz and later The Squirrels…both bands that lay among the all-time most original bands-even though they chose, ironically, covers as departures for unexplored territory.

Neil Hubbard’s involvement cannot be overestimated.  He had been with this project from its inception and spent a good deal of time getting the message out. Some of the only bits of ephemera left over from The Bird are the press releases he’d written and released during The Bird’s short existence.  Hubbard was a natural for working at the club..  He had pulled off a major coup in 1977 getting a gig for The Ramones at an all-ages venue in Seattle.  

Originally The Ramones were booked to play a bar in Seattle.  Neil knew that bar patrons over the age of 21 were not the core following of The Ramones and that the 21+ crowd would be less interested in seeing a punk band in a bar than their natural fans in an all-ages venue; one that would accomodate the teens and young adults who were actually fans of The Ramones.  

On the first of March Neil  began trying to make contact with The Ramones, their tour manager, their label, or the band themselves….anyone who would listen to him. Eventually he found a contact with The Ramones tour agent and desperately tried to sway him into re-bookimg The Ramones outside a barm and in an all-ages venue.  After he made his argument the tour manager said “OK, if you can find a place the show’s yours”

Hubbard and his friend Robert Bennett then made a series of frustrating calls to venues that could have staged the event and found that none of them were available on The Ramones’ Seattle date. By chance they heard that The Olympic Hotel Ballroom was available the next Sunday night when the Ramones were scheduled to play Seattle  At the time The Olympic Hotel was the grande dame of Seattle hotels.  It had been built in 1924 and retained it’s luxurious architecture and interior.  It was known as the most prestigious hotel in the entire northwest.  The Olympic catered to a well-heeled clientele and had probably never hosted a rock show within it’s confines…-let alone a punk rock show.  In booking the ballroom Bennett simply told the management that he intended to hold a dance that would include live music.
The Ramones management agreed to play, and the Olympic’s staff were left in the dark about the details until the night of the show when hoards of punk rockers in full regalia began to descend on the hotel.  According to contemporaneous  accounts between 400 and 500 Ramones fans showed up to see the band with The Meyce opening,
This was a coup that came about by circumstances, but it was also a coup in the sense that for at least one night punks had infiltrated a society that despised them.  They had won…and although it was really a case of “necessity being the mother of invention”  it was an incredibly punk rock thing to do.

With this under his belt Hubbard was looked upon by the punk rock community as somewhat of a hero and a mastermind.  It was only natural he would also make his mark by helping to manage The Bird.  It also lent a certain amount of credibility to the project.  At the time Seattle punks were suspicious of The Enemy and their past as a quasi-country cover band.  The early days of punk required (a) that you make no money, and (b) did not achieve any kind of commercial success.  Ironically the bands punks had been influenced by-The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and other bands, were signed to major labels and were enjoying a modest amount of financial success.

An artist and their fans would expect a band to seek widespread fame nowadays, but at the time The Enemy were looked down upon…all this despite they had opened The Bird in their own space, had provided most of the financial backing, were bringing fantastic west coast bands playing on the high quality PA in their club and providing the punk community something they’d never had before…a “real” all ages club.  Perhaps the suspicion had to do with what Barnes had called their “infrastructure”.  The fact that they were becoming adept at songwriting was either ignored or seen as just another form of crass commercialism’

In her 2016 book DesperateTimes Maire Masco explains the self-imposed dilemna the average punk rocker faced.  Maire was just a few years behind the first generation of Seattle punks, but her observation of punk life in the late 70s and early ‘80s sums it up perfectly;

“Although we fashionably hated big business, we secretly desired to be rich, to have freedom from  money and the constant worry of paying the rent or purchasing food.” (Sounds perfectly bourgeoisie to me — how did those three syllables wax syphilitic anyhow?)”

Later Damon Titus would say
“When we started the Bird I was very aware that we were bringing what I used to call….I had all sorts  of names for it…”a three band format” or a “concert band format” ..We were bringing three bands a night, and nobody in Seattle was doing that at the time…It just didn’t exist. We needed a club like The Bird.  That was always part of our mission and we opened a few clubs around town. (to punk music).  We would be the first ones to open clubs around town to that format”.

Despite their mission and their actual contributions to the community, a vaguely negative vibe would follow them throughout their career.  It was a vibe that was unwarranted.



Now there was a club, but no name for it.  According to ‘The Strangest Tribe’, Stephen Tow’s excellent 2011  book on Seattle music history he repeats a story Neil Hubbard had told him:

“Initially Hubbard and the members of The Enemy struggled to come up with the name for the club.  Hubbard then ventured outside and noticed an old sign on the building.  “I went out and looked at it” he recalls “and went ‘Well it says John L. Bird Office Supplies’ Let’s just call it ‘The Bird’. You know [as in] ‘Fuck You!’ Perfect!”

Now with a name a date was set for the grand opening of The Bird; March 4, 1978.  A pre-gala event the night before took place as an introduction for  a new band  called Clone. The band was fronted by local maverick and unapologetically gay, Upchuck. The pre-opening was by invitation-only and gathered up “anyone who was anyone” that had been associated with Seattle punk, the press as well as the gay punk and glam community who had once revolved around Ze Whiz Kidz.  It’s either fortunate (or unfortunate depending on how one looks at it) that a video record of The Bird was created that night.  Local photographer, videographer, and all-around artist Jo David set up a back-drop and invited everyone attending to pose, jump around or otherwise mug to his video camera.  Although the video wasn’t shot as a spectacle it certainly is spectacularly full of those who populated the punk community of the day.  It leaves the viewer wanting more; to see the young fresh faces and probably much more innocent people they remember from the past-and in many cases those that still remain friends.  Ralph Becker (then of Kitchy Koo) recalls;

“Photos were taken due to the presence of Friends of the Rag, the clothing art and performance group.  We were invited to show up dressed as punks.  Some of the members didn’t quite get it, but most of us were interested, and friends of many of those in attendance.  I remember someone (Gregor Gayden?) putting a fist through the door window.  Lots of slamming.  Photos by Don Leber (which I believe are lost to time, but which I would love to see).  Jo making movies of what many thought punk was like.  It was an amazing event that brought the punk movement to Seattle consciousness, but in some ways it was an event where folks could act like New Yorkers”.

CLONE featuring Upchuck March 3, 1978

The now well-known producer Gordon Raphael described that night with these observations;

“We started his band which I named “Clone”-with Jeff Gossard  (cousin of Stone Gossard) who was already playing guitar with Chuck. Mike Davidson (later of The Blackouts and X-15) played bass  and  Dave Drury on drums.  Davidson and Drury were fresh from J. Sats Beret’s, confrontational Cool band The Lewd…Chuck had just recently recorded an amazing single called ‘Jacuzzi Floozie b/w Afterthought’ with Gossard and a super-talented Seattle drummer named Drake Eubanks, whom I never heard anything about after that.  We worked up a few original songs and threw in David Bowie’s ‘Station to Station’ as an opener and a cool song by The Runaways called ‘Hollywood’ which Chuckie delivered with a startlingly sleazy and passionate vocal performance. He had a very full deep trembling voice and could really project in a powerful, emotional way.

The first gig was the “press only” party that Chuck threw before our first show at The Bird” continues Raphael,  “How very irate and pissed off were the rest of the punk rockers from the scene when our unknown band had a well publicized party that most were not invited to! Clone’s first show at The Bird was a night to remember! First off, Chuckie made me put my unfashionable long hair up into a little boat captain’s hat and then wrapped my bare chest in clear cellophane, over which I wore a white plastic boy’s jacket from Goodwill which was way too small

Aside from the music there are great  examples of what went on at The Bird during the day.  Sheli Story worked at The Bird and is still an important part of Seattle’s alternative movement recalls a story about her and the late Gregor Gayden.  Gregor was a much-loved member of the scene at the time.  He’d been the vocalist for The Telepaths and later fronted the band The Look. Sadly Gregor passed away in January of 2008.  Nonetheless he’s still remembered as an important, funny, kind and generous man who made a mark on Seattle’s 70s music scene..  
Sheli recounts this story about hum-drum life around The Bird;

“By the time The Bird had been open for a few weeks the walls were proudly covered in graffiti; most of it musically and politically based. It was an all ages punk club, it was 1978; we were fierce and edgy and full of ourselves . .. With ‘the powers that be’ constantly trying to find a way to shut us down, yet another directive was made by the landlord of the space (which was already pretty much a shithole to begin) to “CLEAN UP THE PROFANITY OR ELSE!!”

“Well fuck that!!” Says Sheli “Roger Husbands decreed that Gregor and I were going to do just that: clean up the graffiti.  Our solution was to paint the entire place black.

“The Bird by night was full of the sizzle of attitude, music, lights and personalities galore. By day The Bird was damp, dark and filthy.  Gregor and I arrived at the club and got to work. We had gallons of black paint, two rollers each – double down painting style, and our paint clothes. Gregor had snagged a pair of jeans from one of his little brothers and of course they were way too small. It was hilarious from the start. The music was blasting – I’m thinking it was The Damned but it could of been anybody . We were slinging paint everywhere. Being soooo smart, we had taped paper bags on our heads to avoid splatter and Gregor was wearing the tiny jeans and  a pair of shoes with wedges and gummy soles. As if it mattered that we would get black paint on our black clothes!!

“When Gregor threw down his rollers and went into dance mode I followed suit but not for long; Gregor was doing the pogo. Yes, the pogo. He was a big, tall man and with every leap he hit the ground with his bouncy wedgies and those little jeans inched down and down until they were bunched at his ankles. He was in tidy whities with his paper bag hat and his face a huge grin. I laughed so fucking hard my stomach hurt and Gregor was unstoppable.

“Eventually we were able to cover enough of the “profanity” and The Bird prevailed!! For another few weeks.  

“This is one of those “you had to be there” stories. Says Sheli, “It is my most precious memory of my friendship with Gregor; a man with huge love in his heart and a vital part of the birth of the music and art scene that was  punk in Seattle. On a side note: Gregor and I used to poster the town like madmen at night!! One night on Capitol Hill the police followed us and stopped us; let us off with a “warning” and made us take down our posters while slowly driving their cruiser beside us. We were back the next night. Because we were determined punks. And we hardly ever got caught”

The “official” opening night saw The Enemy headline with The Mentors and The Telepaths also on the bill.  It was a format (three bands at least) that had fulfilled Damon Titus’s mission.  Every Friday and Sunday night included Seattle bands, touring headliners and usually a capacity crowd…or more.

The Enemy. George Gleason, Suzanne Grant, Peter Barnes, Damon Titus

From the beginning the City, The Seattle Police Department and the Seattle Fire Department were no friends of the club or its clientele.  They were eager to see the club closed just for the sake of it.  Punk rock meant mayhem in the streets, the breakdown of society and the end of family values; the same accusations that have always been levelled against outsiders.  In spite of their hostility The Bird managed to stay open at the 107 First Ave. location until the building’s landlord notified Husbands that The Enemy and The Bird were to vacate the premises by June 1, 1978.  When it finally closed The Bird had lasted only seven weeks.  But those seven weeks were crucial to Seattle’s alternative music scene and resonates even to this day,

Leslie Meyer, a regular at The Bird who seemed to take on a few duties herself sums up The Bird experience in particular, and the punk rock scene in general with these memories;

“When The Bird opened, it was only natural that I would do my best to spend every weekend during its short tenure at the club. In 1978, I was 19 years old and was already adept at sneaking into bars but here was the place I could go to without being thrown out. Seattle’s punk rock scene was small but intense. At best, there were a few hundred kids and young adults but we were passionate.

Going to The Bird on a Friday or Saturday night meant getting dressed up in your finest which usually meant pair of pegged jeans, white dress shirt and a black suit coat, lots of makeup, spiky hair and equally spiky high heels. Then it meant getting on a bus from the conservative north end of Seattle and going downtown which in the 70s was blue color and gritty. The Bird was located on extremely steep hill between First and Second Avenue. Because of the elaborate makeup and spiky hair, it was not uncommon to be harassed on the bus by teenagers for whom punk rock (and its predecessor, glam rock) were anathema. If you did manage to get downtown without being harassed too much on the bus, then it was an easy walk (unless you were wearing 4 inch spike heels) down the hill to the club.

Scraping up the two or three dollar cover charge in those days was always a challenge so quite often I ended up sweeping up after a show in exchange for cover. Gregor Gayden and Sheli Story worked the door and Neil Hubbard was quite often the MC for the shows. Although there were no real rules about conduct, everyone kept an eye on everyone else to the best of their abilities and trying to keep the really young kids out of harm’s way.

We were lucky to have two excellent photographers who captured so many wonderful images. Bob Kondrak went to nearly every show with his son and photographed bands and people in the crowd. His photos showed up in rock magazines around the country. He also made several audio recordings, including the infamous recording of the plainclothes police raid on the club’s closing night. I had recently found out I was pregnant so I ended up leaving moments before the raid.

“Randy Hall was also a photographer whose work captured more intimately members of bands, people in the crowd and even yours truly. I love the  pictures Randy took of me with the late Eldon Hoke (El Duce of The Mentors) at the first Bird and with Gregor Gayden at the second location.

‘The bands we saw during those brief seven weeks downtown and subsequent shows at other locations (including a brief period on Capitol Hill) were in the avant-garde of the punk movement. The music was loud and strident and impassioned. It was filled with frustration over the ongoing political machinations of our government, social injustices and a certain “fuck everything let’s dance” attitude that quite often carried the day. 40 years later, it’s easy to see how the music helped create something new and electric in the world”.


Recently Damon Titus noted:
“It always surprises people when they find out, for all it’s impact, The Bird only lasted seven weeks. Probably about twenty  bands in those seven weeks played; bands from San Francisco, Los Angeles and Vancouver BC.  The lasting impact it made over such a short period  IS impressive!  We wanted to open up sort of a new market”  

The Bird, in spite of its short life did exactly what it was meant to do; not only provide an all-ages retreat for fans of punk, but also to kickstart musicians and non-musicians alike to form even more bands and to become an important part of Seattle’s-and the rest of the world’s-clarion that a new ethic and a new music had arrived.  This was the kind of “market” Damon seems to have been referring to.

According to Stephen Tow, the writer of The Strangest Tribe Rob Morgan told him;

“If The Enemy hadn’t talked their manager into steppin’ up and trying to milk this new scene, “God knows if anything would have happened on the level it did.

On April 14, 1978 The Dils were set to play The Bird.
Nothing seemed unusual about the mood of the crowd.  No one had predicted the outcome of that  night  A new band,  The Dimes were playing-throwing  dimes around.  Then word came like a searing hot chunk of metal. The Seattle Fire Department were across the street  They’re inspecting,  Quick everybody, put your cigarettes out!  Don’t take any chances. Don’t light that.  Keep that one out,…not one person in the place lit up.  The Marshalls made a quick inspection, pointed at something under the stage and left.  Someone said  They’re coming back back in fifteen minutes to close us down-and they did”

Only The Dimes had played. The Mentors were almost ready to go on when the announcement was made;

“Hey!  You keep all those guys in here”.

It was the Fire Marshalls.  They said we would have to stop the show NOW!  Everyone would have to leave.  The Marshall’s  excuse for closing the club was vague. Their report for closing was simply “Too many code violations to list”.  There was no doubt that the move by the city and the Fire Department was a political one; a punk rock club simply could not be tolerated in Seattle. And why was the Fire Department carrying billy clubs?

There were refunds at the door on the way out.  $2 out of $3 were handed out. “The Dils had to get some gas money’ Neil Hubbard has said  It was rumoured that the Seattle City Council had discussed The Bird a day earlier regarding the mass scale poster plastering of posters around the city. (Good job Sheli and Gregor!)  The same day the Fire Department closed the club  an envelope had arrived at The Bird addressed to the Telepaths.  The University of Washington, informed them they were to pay $15 for removal of their posters from a campus building.

The club was now was closed by the Fire Department  but at 11 PM that night a “private rehearsal party” took place “The Mentors finally took to the stage around midnight, although it took some convincing to get them on before the first keg of beer arrived. Says Neil. “Beer after beer was thrown, cocaine was blown, as the masked villains of “rape rock shat out lovable numbers like Secretary Hump,  Nuthang, Macho Package”, and “Total Crap”. After about half an hour of that abusive sort of nonsense ended Steve Clark, another Bird regular, got onstage, with some help, and .unmasked The Mentors. The band ended their set abruptly”.

The unmasking was a bit of a joke, since almost everyone in the club already knew who The Mentors were.  Many were friends of the band members.  They had originally formed in Seattle.

According to Neil “The Dils got set up for their shotgun show, during which yet another keg of stuff to soak people with was brought in…I was too far gone to even rememberwhere I was. Heaven?”

The night was supposed to be over after that, but everyone wanted more. So there was jam featuring Eldon Hoke and Eric Carlson of The Mentors, Bill Rieflin & Donald of The Telepaths, Jimmie from The Avengers (he ran away from the group while they were on their way to Vancouver B.C.), various Dils, Greg Regan of The Feelings.  Rob Morgan (later the genius behind The Pudz and The Squirrels took part  along with Rick Smith (ex-Ratt and future leader of The Girls), Lee Lumsden and Neil.

People were still not ready to leave, so a group of the party-goers (including some members of The Enemy made their way to the roof.  In 2011 Enemy drummer Peter Barnes told Stephen Tow
“The after-show party was lame until some people started throwing things off the roof.
“Somehow the cops were called and they showed up and they sent the vice squad after us. I mean these were heavy-duty cops”.

The incident escalated when the police began to shove badges in people’s faces, called them “faggots” and  became physically abusive. A policeman grabbed The Enemy’s singer, Suzanne Grant, pulling one of her arms behind her back and ended up breaking it. It’s reported that Damon Titus tried to come to Suzanne’s defense, but had his face smashed on the ground in the process.

Luckily one of the people caught up in this mayhem had a tape recorder (remember; this was the day before cell phones) and the entire incident was recorded.  The band used the recorded evidence in a suit they brought against the Police.  The band won and received a monetary settlement.  Portions of the same tape was also used for the intro of their next single, Trendy Violence.

With The Bird officially gone Roger Husbands and The Enemy looked for a space to re-open a regularly running club. However, their attempts were in vain.  Even though they weren’t able to find a permanent space and create the magic of The Bird they booked several all-ages concerts around town, primarily at the venerable Oddfellows Hall mentioned at the beginning of this story, but also at Fourth & Wall, and at The Carpenters Hall.  The concerts were dubbed The Bird In Exile and followed the same format the club had been so successful at. The magic of The Bird may have been gone, but it was clear there was no turning back.  Punk had arrived in Seattle for good.  It became frequently featured as dance music in gay clubs like Tugs Belltown, and later live and recorded punk and new wave became the raison d’etre for bars like WREX and The Gorilla Room (who had also been “opened up” by The Enemy.  It wasn’t long before band that had previously featured cover band began to book edgier bands doing original.  Still the underage crowd were left to organize their own shows around town.  That too would eventually end when The Metropolis, an all-ages club near Pioneer Square began booking national touring acts like Bad Brains, Hüsker Dü, Black Flag, The Butthole Surfers, Flipper. The Replacements, The Meat Puppets and dozens more.  Almost every show was  supported by local bands that included TAD, Mudhoney, Green River, Soundgardem, Mr. Epp, Skinyard, The U-Men, Malfukshun and others who would be the precursors of “grunge”and find wild success later.  But even here we see a direct line from the first punks in Seattle to take a stab at creating their own club..

Around the time The Bird closed, Neil Hubbard wrote;
“The Bird was a complete breakthrough for Seattle. It created sensation in a city that thought the next big thing was the late King Tut exhibit arriving in town.  Never before, outside of the wretched taverns, had there been a regular place for local bands to play for the public–and make money doing it. Everyone had worked together to make it happen; Roger Husbands, for having the wits to open the place.  Don Harper for having the guts to spend over 60 hours a week keeping the place in working order, Gregor and Sheli for working the door and taking any kind of shit from all kinds of assholes and myself, for just being one. The audience dedication had  increased each weekend, with a strong core people that showed up each night  It was those people who were at the parties held at The Bird both the night it was closed and the next might. They deserve all the credit.  And our city.

 

IN MEMORIUM

Gregor Gayden

Homer Spence

Tomata du Plenty

Judy Stay

Upchuck

Geoff Cade

Brock Wheaton

Dave Drewry

Roger Husbands

Annie Mulcahey

Eldon Hoke

Dean Helgeson

Wally Danger

Case B. Armour

Greg Ragen

Randy Hall

Benji Rabinowitz

Bob Kondrak

Mike Vraney

Mike Refuzor

If you remember anyone else you’d like to add, leave their name in the “comments” section below

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources: Jo David “Seattle Punk Club Opening Video” (March 3, 1978): George Gleason “Story of The Enemy” ; Peter Barnes “Interview with the author ( January 1, 2018); Damon Titus “Interview with the author (January 1, 2018) Sheli Storey (Letter of March 1, 2018 and various conversations 1979-2018); Leslie Meyers (Letter of March 1, 2018 and various conversations 1979-2018) George Arthur “Punk Rock Takes Flight At The Bird” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 21, 1978);  Dave Birkland “Arrest of 15 at Punk-Rock Club Bring Complaints, Police Probe”  (The Seattle Times, June 8, 1978); Unknown Author “Police Arrest 15 Downtown Party-Goers” (The Seattle Times, June 3, 1978); Jeff Stevens “March 4, 1978: The Bird Was The Word” (The Seattle Star, March 4, 2013); “The 40th Anniversary of The Bird – Seattle’s First Punk Rock Club @ The Back Bar, Crocodile Club” (Ticketfly, retrieved February 21, 2018); Derek Erdmen “Seattle Punk Club: The Bird” (The Stranger [Seattle] October 28, 2012); Stephen Tow “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011);   Gordon Raphael “Upchuck in Seattle” Gordotronic.com retrieved January 26, 2018)               

A very special thanks to Neil Hubbard for his guidance, “Why The Bird Died” and “The Bird Weekly Press Releases” as well as photos and posters of The Bird (February, 2018)

Mildred Bailey

She was a superstar in the 1930’s and 40’s.  She introduced Bing Crosby to the music of Louis Armstrong  and Bessie Smith.  She worked with the most famous big bands of the era.  Tony Bennett said

“From 16 to 20 years old  the only thing I listened to was Mildred Bailey. I just said  I want to sing like her”  She provided the template for the “girl singers” from Ella Fitzgerald to Anita O’Day.  She introduced Billie Holiday to the famous producer John Hammond.  She started from the speakeasies of Spokane and Seattle and made her way to Los Angeles and then to The Savoy Ballroom and Stork Club in New York City. Yet Mildred Bailey and her contributions to jazz and pop music have all but been disregarded.  She is the most famous jazz singer of the 1930s and ‘40s that you’ve never heard of.

Over the years there’s been attempts to replace her to the stature she once had, but she still remains a cult figure who is absolutely loved by her fans.  Every one of her recordings have been available for years-most of them have been in continual release since 1951 when she died.  Her entire Columbia Records catalogue has been lavishly presented as boxed sets in both LP and CD formats for decades.   So it must be asked-in the words of jazz critic Michael Steinman; “Who Erased Mildred Bailey?”  It certainly wasn’t singers like Tony Bennett,mentioned above.  It wasn’t Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra who helped her out at the end of her life.  It wasn’t a change in taste; The Big Band sound and jazz/pop singers were in their heyday when she quit the music industry.   It wasn’t for a lack of exposure on the new media of television…she even had her own television program at one time.

The fact is that there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer to why Mildred Bailey has been erased from our collective musical consciousness, and the answer remains elusive to this day.

Mildred Bailey was born Mildred Rinker on February 27, 1903 in Tekoa Washington, a small farming community about an hour southeast of Spokane Washington. Mildred’s mother, Josephine had been deeded land there and created a farm on the land she owned.  Josephine was one quarter Native American.  Her ancestors were what became known as the Coeur d’Alene tribe. Owners of valuable property by tribal members was unusual at the time: so while the Coeur d’Alene people were generally living in poverty, Mildred’s family were more economically secure. Until the age of 13 her family lived in De Smet Idaho.  Though miles apart,both communities (De Smet where she lived and Takoa where she was born) butted up on the Washington/Idaho border (each one on different sides).  It’s thought her father Charles Rinker was of Irish/Swiss descent but because of her mother’s tribal affiliation Mildred’s early upbringing was spent on the Idaho side of the border the family lived on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation which at the time was (and still is) within the confines of the state of Idaho.  According to her tribe’s custom, inclusion into the tribe is based on either maternal or paternal lines. Mildred’s  lineage as a Native American came directly through her mother who was a full member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe.

 The tribe’s modern name, Coeur d’Alene was arbitrarily bestowed upon them by the first French traders that operated in the area.  The literal translation of Coeur d’Alene to English is “heart of an awl” or more colloquially, “pointed hearts”.  The name was given to them because they were tough negotiators with European traders.  It’s unclear if the designation “pointed hearts” was due to a respect for the natives or as a derisive term based on their generally seeking the upper hand in matters of commerce.  As traders came to be more common in the area, Catholic missionaries moved in and converted most of the people of the nation are Roman Catholic and many place names on the area are French.  Most tribal members today are Catholic, but in recent decades younger members are returning to their traditional spiritual roots.

The Coeur d’Alene name has stuck as the preferred name the US government and Idaho state uses to designate the tribe, but they themselves have always called themselves “Schitsu’umsh” or “Skitswish” meaning “The Discovered People” or “Those Who Are Found Here”.  Traditionally the Coeur d’Alene homeland included most of Idaho’s panhandle, a portion of Eastern Washington and Western Montana.  The historical north/south borders spanned between the lower end of Lake Pend Oreille at the northern extreme and The Palouse Hills to the south, and the Clearwater River to Spokane Falls.  The homeland originally consisted of more than 3.5 million acres of forests, mountains, lakes, rolling plains, marshes and rivers.  The entire Coeur d’Alene (or Schitsu’umsh) territory has now been reduced to a 345,000 acre reservation, all of it within the state of Idaho, abutting the Washington State border.

At the time of Mildred Rinker’s birth in 1907, the Schitsu’umsh people lived in poverty, surrounded by mining operations in and around the reservation that stripped the land of minerals, leaving  much of the land and water was left damaged and polluted.  The environmental conditions were so bad and so prevalent that in recent years the tribal council has brought several (successful) civil actions against the US government and private mining corporations-ASARCO being the worst offender. In 2014 then-Idaho House Representative Paulette Jordan claimed the industries “left several thousand acres of land and tributaries connected to the Coeur d’Alene Basin, contaminated with heavy metals”.

According to the tribe’s website;.

“These mining operations have contributed an estimated 100 million tons of mine waste to the river system.Over a 100 year period the mining industry in Idaho’s Silver Valley dumped 72 million tons of mine waste into the Coeur d’ Alene watershed. The State of Idaho, meanwhile, looked the other way. As mining and smelting operations grew, they produced billions of dollars in silver, lead and zinc. In the process, natural life in the Coeur d’ Alene River was wiped out. In 1929, as the river flowed milky-white with mine waste, a Coeur d’Alene newspaper reporter described a river trip to the Silver Valley a “Up the River of Muck and into the Valley of Death.”Today, the Silver Valley is the nation’s second largest Superfund site. The natural resource damages, however, extend upstream and far downstream from the 21-square mile “box” that is now under Superfund”.

All of this may seem extraneous to the story of Mildred Bailey, but it helped shaped her reaction to adversity both in positive and negative ways. It also informed her view of discrimination and the downtrodden,  So it was into this environment that Mildred, her three brothers were born..  Despite the surroundings the Rinker siblings were also fortunate to be exposed to music all their lives.  Their mother, Josephine, played piano and taught all of them to play at an early age. Mrs.Rinker had studied music at the Catholic Academy in Tekoa..  It’s said that she was proficient in both classical music as well as all the current popular genres sweeping the nation.  Their father, Charles Rinker was a fiddler who took part in local squaredances and also took time to teach his children as much music as he could. The family spent many a night playing and singing, often with neighbors joining in.

By the time Mildred was 13 years old the Rinker family had moved to the city of Spokane Washington. In 1912, Charles Rinker had bought one of the first automobiles in the Takoa area and upon his work-related trips to Spokane he found he was more suited to city life. The Rinkers leased their farm and moved 60 miles to the city…already Washington State’s second largest metropolis.,.  Mildred’s father  opened an auto supply shop.  It was after this move that Mildred and her brothers became more closely involved in music as a vocation. Mildred was enrolled at St. Joseph’s Academy, where she studied piano and her brothers continued to learn piano with their mother at their side.

In 1916 their mother Josephine died. Various reports indicate the cause of death being either tuberculosis or The Spanish Influenza.  Soon after the death of Mrs Rinker, Charles Rinker remarried.  According to Mildred Bailey biographer Gary Gibbin the second Mrs Rinker was;
“an abusive, grasping woman, who moved in with her daughter while insisting he send his kids to boarding school”. Charles Rinker resisted her threats, trying to keep the family together, but Mildred despised her”.

Even so the house was still filled with music.  Al Rinker remembers his step-mother at the piano singing songs of longing and faraway places: Rinker recalled some of her favorites were “Siren of the Southern Seas,” “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight,” and “Araby.” among others.

After putting up with her step mother for about a month Mildred packed her bags and headed for Seattle to live with an aunt  We know that for a few months Mildred demonstrated and sold sheet music at Woolworth’s in downtown Seattle.  She also began singing in some of the local speakeasies. Within a year she married a man named Ted Bailey. The marriage was brief, but upon the couple’s divorce Mildred chose to keep the surname Bailey.  She believed it sounded more professional, and more American than her birth name, Rinker.  It’s not coincidental that Mildred chose Bailey over Rinker;  her given name sounded vaguely Teutonic and WWI had aroused suspicion and overt abuse toward anyone suspected of being of German heritage.

After her father’s divorce from her step-mother Mildred returned to Spokane and once again began to demonstrate and sell sheet music; this time at Spokane’s  Baileys Music Store-the name of the store and Mildreds surname were coincidental.  Her brother Al began hanging out at the shop and brought along one of his friends, a young singer named Bing Crosby.  Soon the three of them became fast friends and hang  out at the store on Riverside Avenue where Mildred briefly worked.  The three no doubt spent time strategizing about their future careers.

This was the era of Prohibition and the speakeasy.  Mildred would spend the next few years travelling up and down the west coast singing her way from Seattle and Los Angeles to Vancouver BC and as far afield as Alberta.

Mildred’s Spokane break came with a one night singing engagement at Spokane’s most popular speakeasy Charlie Dale’s.  It’s said that Bing Crosby saw her at Charlie Dale’s that night and called her “the area’s outstanding singing star”  Even though Mildred was obviously talented and fashionably lithe at barely five foot tall and weighing under a hundred pounds, Bing’s statement may be apocryphal, but he later remembered her as “specializing in sultry, throaty renditions with a high concentration of  southern accent such as “Louisville Lou” and “Hard Hearted Hannah”  That would be far closer to the truth, even if she eventually perfected her style in much the same manner. And she had not yet become the heavy-set, matronly figure she’d later become popularly associated with.

Soon Mildred was off to Los Angeles hoping to pursue her singing career in popular speakeasies. Biographer Giddens reports that

“Mildred and Benny moved to Los Angeles where they bought a house at 1307 Coronado Street, a few blocks off Sunset Boulevard.  He was prospering with his bootlegging and she was earning a reputation singing sad songs in local dives”.

By 1925 Mildred was singing at Jane Jones’s Hollywood Hills speakeasy-a popular watering hole for the Hollywood elite.  During her stint she had convinced brother Al and his buddy Bing to come to Los Angeles.  Still, it was a shock when the two showed up unannounced.  However as the older more experienced artist she allowed them to stay and showed them the ropes to survive in Los Angeles.

By this time Mildred had begun to put on weight-a condition that would follow her the rest of her life.  She also cemented her life-long friendship with Bing Crosby, who would later come to her aid. During he and Al’s first months in Hollywood Bing called Mildred “mucho mujer”, a great talent. Within a few months Mildred, through her connections,  had the famous bandleader Paul Whiteman have a look at Al, Bing and Harry Moss (The Rhythm Boys).  After one audition Whiteman hired them as featured vocalists in his Orchestra.

Three years later, before Bing went solo, he and Rinker returned Mildred’s favor by getting Whiteman to have a look at Mildred onstage. At the time The Rhythm Boys were involved in the filming of Paul Whiteman’s film The King of Jazz .  Al Rinker later retold the story that Bing Crosby could only film during the day.  He was on work release after hitting a telephone pole while driving drunk!

The film and Whiteman’s orchestra were in a state of disarray at the time..  Whiteman had no time audition a new singer, and that same week he saw Mildred he had turned down Hoagy Carmichael.  The three (Al, Bing and Mildred)  concocted a plan.  Mildred was friends with several members of Whiteman’s orchestra and invited them and the bandleader to a “going away party” where she would serve her own well-regarded homebrew, taking advantage of the well-known fact that Whiteman was a heavy beer-drinker.

At some time during the party Bing Crosby (on cue) asked Mildred to sing something. At first she pretended to be too embarrassed, but finally she asked brother Al (as planned) to accompany her on “(What Can I Say) After I Say I’m Sorry?”

She nailed it.

Whiteman was impressed, asked her to sing an encore, and by the end of the party had made arrangements for Mildred to appear on his Old Gold radio show.  Although she was not an outright member of The Paul Whiteman Orchestra within the year Mildred Bailey became Whiteman’s highest-paid musician.

The story may or may not be true, but it’s an interesting one. There are other reports that Whiteman only became familiar with Mildred Bailey through a demo recording she’d made.  We’ll never know if the party stunt was ever employed-but it makes for a good story, and it’s as likely as any other.

Mildred’s was making her ascent to becoming the most well-known singer of her era.  Soon the critics were heralding her as the first “white” singer to be compared with black singers such as Ethel Waters. Bessie Smith and those taking advantage of the syncopation Louis Armstrong had brought to jazz.  This claim, however, dismissed the fact that Mildred had a strong Native American heritage and she was proud of it.  She made no attempts to hide her ancestry, and was one of the first American celebrities to actually stand up for racial equality. It would be years before her ancestry was truly recognized and admitted among her fans and champions.  But even then there was some confusion. Some believed she was black. Others believed she was of mixed race-the former being true, but the races assumed being incorrect.   As late as 1994 The US Postal Service issued a series of stamps commemorating the great Black blues and jazz musicians that had made notable contributions to American music. The series included  Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Robert Johnson, Jimmy Rushing, Ma Rainey, Howlin’ Wolf…and Mildred Bailey, the only non-African American in the series.  It’s hard to say if this was a case of mistaken racial identity or not, but one other problem with the Mildred Bailey stamp is that it is printed with the wrong year of her birth (1907 instead of the correct 1903).That, however is a common mistake.

It wasn’t the first time Mildred was assumed to be African American.  Nothing of consequence was made of her ethnicity in the jazz world (except for later, after Prohibition ended). Because the milieu she worked in, it was populated by people of color.  But to be Native American during the early to mid 20th Century could be even worse than being black and discrimination was widely practiced.  In fact even in the early 21st Century discrimination and outright dislike of Native Americans is not unusual. But within the jazz world things were more relaxed since it wasn’t a strictly whites-only profession.  In fact Mildred Bailey believed that the Native American music she grew up with had influenced her style.  In an essay by Chad Hammill “American Indian jazz: Mildred Bailey and the origins of America’s most musical art form” the author cites Mildred Bailey as saying:

““I don’t know whether this (native) music compares with jazz or the classics, but I do know that it offers a young singer a remarkable background and training. It takes a squeaky soprano and straightens out the clinkers that made it squeak; it removes the boom from the contralto voice, this Indian singing does, because you have to sing a lot of notes to get by, and you’ve got to cover an awful range.

In any event by the 1930s Bailey had created a sound of her own that acted as a transition from the old blues belters (like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey,) to the breezier, jazz interpretations of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. It’s especially easy to hear Bailey’s influence over Billie Holiday, even though Bailey’s style is slightly stiffer, more clearly enunciated  and her voice not as sultry and breathy as Billie’s. The years of.
Mildred’s success set off the popular format of the “girl singer”.  The name might not be politically correct today, but at the time of the “girl singers” it referred to the women who Big Bands featured to interpret well-known songs, try out new material for up-and-coming songwriters and provide a few torchlight songs in order to break up the big band’s mostly instrumental presentation.  Most women singing with the big bands were and are referred to “girl singers”.  Women as diverse as Mildred Bailey herself to Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Anita O’Day, Kay Starr and Helen O’Donnell. The list goes on and on.  One of the attractions of the “girl singers” is that they usually sang for several big bands, some for a few years at a time, and others working with several bands simultaneously.  This offered fans of both the singers and the big bands a heady mix of styles and sounds.

Mildred first recording was a 1929 uncredited vocalist for a session by the Eddie Lang Orchestra in 1929 (“What Kind o’ Man Is You?”), Her next was a Hoagy Carmichael song that was issued only in the UK).  In 1932 she recorded what would be her signature song, “Rockin’ Chair” written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1929.  The song became so popular that she would be known as The Rockin’ Chair Lady”. It was a name that would stick.

By 1933 Prohibition and the era of the speakeasy had ended and Mildred Bailey found herself more and more in demand.  She toured the country, played legitimate nightclubs, dance halls and ballrooms.  She made frequent radio appearances.  She continued to work with the best big bands of the day, and created several herself to back her. Bailey’s backup bands were never less than first-rate. Besides Norvo’s ensemble, she’s accompanied on these vintage recordings by the Casa Loma Orchestra, the Benny Goodman Orchestra and a band led by the Dorsey brothers, Jimmy and Tommy.  According to Owen McNally of the Hartford Courant;

“There’s a classic blues session with pianist Mary Lou Williams (a powerful, groundbreaking female figure in the sexist jazz world) and more than 20 tracks with the John Kirby Orchestra, an early chamber jazz group that was a forerunner of the classicism of the Modern Jazz Quartet. There are witty arrangements by Eddie Sauter and composer Alec Wilder’s progressive, third-stream charts for an octet. Wilder scored for oboe, English horn, bass clarinet and flute — instruments then not much associated with jazz”.

One blatantly missing facet of her career was appearances in feature films.  She certainly had the popularity of other singers who were featured.  It may have come down to her being less photogenic than her peers.  She continued to gain weight, and there was no escaping she was obese.  Her biographers believe she made a Vitaphone short, and possibly one for Universal but as of 2018 they haven’t been discovered.

She remained popular throughout the 30’s but even more fame came after she married her third husband, Red Norvo (Kenneth Norville) .  Norvo had been a vibraphonist, marimba player and xylophonist who brought those instrument to the fore in many jazz recordings.  He’d started his career playing in an all-marimba band on the vaudeville circuit, and early on in his career had become part of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in 1931.  It was there that he and Bailey met.  Soon afterward they married, Mildred having dumped her second husband, the bootlegger.  Norvo would go on to be one of the most influential figures in jazz.  After a brief stint with Whiteman, Norvo went on to form his own band.  During his career he would come to work as a soloist, with his own band and a featured player on the recordings of Benny Goodman, Charlie Barnet, and Woody Herman,  Billie Holiday, Dinah Shore and Frank Sinatra. Norvo was a non-conformist and attracted to the newer movements in jazz.  During his later years-after the popularity of big bands came to a close- he would play with bebop luminaries such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker as well as establishing a name for himself

Shortly after marrying Mildred, Norvo’s band was on the verge of collapse.  Mildred offered to step in and bring some of her popularity to Red’s band.  The coupling saved Norvo’s band and both played off each other, creating some of their finest music.  After success the couple became known as  “Mr. and Mrs. Rhythm” Now Mildred had two nicknames “The Rockin’ Chair Lady” and “Mrs. Swing”  It’s been said the thin “Mr. Swing” pounding out near-athletic backing on vibes and xylophones and the corpulent “Mrs. Swing” doing some of her best singing created quite a dramatic scenario.  And the fans loved it.

Many critics point to Mildred and Red’s best work together on the album 1937 album Smoke Dreams. (re-released in 1999) The sound is a critical departure from big band stylings and more forward looking, as most of Red and Mildred’s work would veer toward.  Originally released on Songbirds Records, the label’s web site includes a review by Jeff Austin.  He writes;

“The Red Norvo Orchestra with Mildred Bailey had an unmistakable sound, with Bailey’s feather-light vocals paralleled by the delicacy and grace of Norvo’s xylophone, all couched in light, ever-swinging arrangements by the likes of Eddie Sauter. The title track, ‘Smoke Dreams,’ epitomizes what made Bailey/Norvo different than anyone else. Legend very credibly has it that, subsequent to Sauter’s being the object of a Bailey rage, he fashioned for her an arrangement that would be any other singer’s worst nightmare, riddled with ear-bending dissonance that might have permanently traumatized most other lady band singers. Undaunted, Bailey sails serenely through the din—and one is left wondering what other band (save, perhaps, for Stan Kenton ten years later) might have attempted a chart so avant-garde.”

Although the couple was successful, by the late 1930’s Mildred’s weight had become such a problem that she was kept more and more from public appearances.  Along with the weight came problems with diabetes.  This may have been part of her Native American heritage (Native Americans and Alaska Natives have a greater chance of having diabetes than any other US ethnic group according to the CDC). She had always had wild mood swings, but now she was more and more depressed.  This was a time in her life that would have been incredibly bittersweet.  She and Norvo divorced in the late 1930s (though remained friends and worked together on several recordings).  She would also have two more number one hits during this period.  In May of 1938 Red Norvo and His Orchestra with Mildred Bailey would have a chart-topper on the Hit Parade chart with the song “Please Be Kind”. In June of the same year they would also have a number one hit with “Says My Heart”  Mildred’s final number one hit would be on Benny Goodman and His Orchestra’s 1940 song “Darn That Dream”.

She continued to take solace in food. Medical specialists-in fact most citizens today- know that there is a dangerous correlation between weight and diabetes. It wasn’t well known before the 1960s.   Top that off with depression and it becomes an even more serious life-threatening condition.  Today we would recognize Mildred Bailey as having an eating disorder that could be treated, alongside her mood swings.  At the time many of her friends felt sorry for her and her inability to lose weight, while others simply blamed her condition on her own gluttony.  According to her best friend, jazz singer Lee Wiley, Bailey suddenly threw herself on the floor just after Wiley said goodbye and was leaving her apartment one day.

By God, I really talked her into living, because she apparently wanted to be dead,” Wiley said. “Well, what I did was to use some of her own language. I said, `Mildred! Now get your ass off that floor! Or something like that. And do you know that pretty soon a smile came over her face, and she got up?” 

Yet she would again turn to food for comfort.  The only other comfort she found was in her two dachshunds’

Her working relationship with Norvo lasted until 1944 when she retired because of her ongoing health problems.  She continued to make sporadic appearances and in 1947 she performed to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall.  Her health continued to deteriorate and along with the diabetes came something she’d never achieved while she was well.  She became dangerously thin and frail.  Not only was she very ill, she was broke and living in poverty in Upstate New York,  Old friends like Bing Crosby paid her back for starting his career and supporting her during her final years.  Those friends she’d picked up along the way also came to her aid, including Frank Sinatra who she’d dueted with in her later years. In fact it was an appearance on Bing Crosby’s radio show (her final appearance) that covered her mortgage payment in late 1951.

Finally on December 12, 1951 in Poughkeepsie, New York, at age 48 Mildred Bailey died of heart failure, due chiefly to diabetes and the exertion put on her heart throughout her adult life.  Her death had not been a dramatic tragedy.  Instead it was a long, drawn out affair that was precipitated by years of ill health.  She was no longer in the public eye by the time she died, and although swing was in its final years her early contributions to be-bop weren’t yet recognized.  So we’re still left with the unanswered question: why is Mildred Bailey forgotten?.  Every 20 years or so jazz critics and enthusiasts ask the same question.  The last period of interest in Mildred Bailey to ask the question came when Columbia Records released their complete recordings box set in 2001.  That means we’re headed toward the same interest in Mildred Bailey and being stupefied why she is so forgotten is due within the next couple of years.  I say take a listen NOW.

According to her official biography Mildred Bailey was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1989. Her contributions to jazz were commemorated by a United States Postal Stamp was issued in 1994.  In 2012, the Coeur d’Alene Nation introduced a resolution honoring Bailey to the Idaho state legislature. They were seeking acknowledgement of the singer’s Coeur d’Alene ancestry as well as to promote her induction to the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame in New York City.  The resolution was adopted by The National Congress of American Indians.  She has not yet been inducted into the Jazz at Lincoln Center Hall of Fame.

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources: Scott Yanow “Jazz on Film” (Backbeat Books, 2004); Catherine Bainbridge & Alfonso Maiorana “RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked the World” [film] (Kino Lorber 2017); “Mildred Bailey, American Singer” www.britannica.com/biography/Mildred-Bailey (retrieved February 14, 2018); “Mildred Bailey”www.biography.yourdictionary.com/mildred-bailey (retrieved February 13, 2018); Murray Horvitz “Mildred Bailey: That Rockin’ Chair Lady” (NPR, August 1, 2001); Owen McNally “Unforgettable Mildred Bailey Somehow Forgotten” (Hartford Courant, March 18, 2001); “Bailey Discography” www.slipcue.com/music/jazz/artists/mildredbailey.html (retrieved February 12. 2018); Michael Steinman “Who Erased Mildred Bailey?” (Jazz Lives, December 27, 2009); Gary Giddins “Bing Crosby: A Pocketful of Dreams-The Early Years, 1903-1940 (Brown & Little, 2001); Dennis Zotigh, “Meet Native America: Paulette E. Jordan, Idaho House Representative” (National Museum of the American Indian, 19 December 2014 retrieved February 12, 2018); Gary Giddins “Mrs. Swing” (The Village Voice, June 6, 2000); “Native Americans with Diabetes (Center for Disease Control and Prevention retrieved February 14, 2018); Jim Kershner “Coeur d’Alene Tribe celebrates jazz great’s reservation roots” (The Spokeman-Review lSpokane] April 1 2012);

Tomata du Plenty: Part One

It’s difficult to tell the story of much of alternative West Coast art, performance, painting and punk rock without recognizing the genius of Tomata du Plenty.  His troupe, Ze Whiz Kidz are also an important element in the evolution of the Seattle alternative social and arts scene…but they deserve to have their complete story told, so we will leave their history for another post.

Tomata du Plenty (David Xavier Harrigan) was born, depending on who you choose to believe, in New York State, in Queens NYC, in Brooklyn near Coney Island or in Coney Island”). The facts seem to point to Queens, but  I prefer to think he was born in Coney Island simply because it conjures up delightful, weird entertainments, a certain amount of artiface and slightly tattered around the edges.  It reminds me of the jumbled construction that improbably holds up the famous Cyclone Roller Coaster and zillions of uncovered treasures that are, in fact, nothing more than metaphoric “glad-rags”.  These were all the wonderful characteristics I associate with the singer/performance artist/painter Tomata du Plenty.

Wherever he was actually born he was brought up in Montebello, California where his Irish-American parents moved when young David was nine years old.  Tomata claims he ran away to Hollywood at age 15-not as daring as it may seem since Montebello is adjacent to Los Angeles and only about 15 miles to Hollywood and Vine.   It’s unclear if he kept in contact during that period with his parents, but there’s nothing that points to him being thrown out of his parents’ home because he was gay.  If his parents were welcoming it would have made a convenient escape from the streets of Hollywood.

In 1968 he hitchhiked to San Francisco and wound up in the Haight-Ashbury.  The twenty-year-old David Harrigan met George Harris and became a member of the psychedelic gender-fuck  troupe, The Cockettes.  The Cockettes were founded by the transplanted New Yorker  Harris (1949-1982) and were influential in helping to usher in not just the modern Gay Liberation movement, but Glam Rock as well.  When Harris moved to San Francisco he’d undergone a metamorphosis. He changed his name to Hibiscus and fell in with a vanguard circle of flamboyant, LSD dropping, hippie drag queens that performed gender-bending free theater on the streets. Hibiscus would eventually organize the entourage into The Cockettes. The Cockettes would later make silent films, produce their own plays and open for film screenings-including the San Francisco premier of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos starring the gay underground’s superstar Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) or as People magazine dubbed him ” Drag Queen of the Century”. That would be the 20th century since Divine died in 1988 at age 42. Divine himself would later become a member of The Cockettes after they’d become a theater troupe, taking part in Les Etoile Du Minuit, the final version of Pearls Over Shanghai, Journey to the Center of Uranus and their final show, Hot Greeks.  In  Journey to the Center of Uranus Divine sang the song “A Crab On Your Anus Means You’re Loved” while dressed as a lobsterHe was on his waySadly Hibiscus (George Harris) would become one of the first of the many gay men that would be struck down by AIDS.  He died in 1982  at the age of 33.  The New York Times headline referred to the disease that struck him down as the “homosexual disorder” then known as GRID (Gay Related Immuno-deficiency).

By this time David Harrigan, who was now Tomata du Plenty had long since left.  His principle work with The Cockettes had been as “Hazel The Maid” in their film production of “Tricia’s Wedding” (1971);  a take on then-President Nixon’s daughter’s wedding.   In the film, characters as diverse as Phyllis Diller, Jackie Onassis and the Pope are in attendance at the wedding as well as some of the most well-known or notorious politicians and celebrities of the day.  All were played by various members of The Cockettes.  IMDb’s mini-review of the film says:

“The ever-outrageous Cockettes reenact Tricia Nixon’s 1971 wedding to Edward Cox. Hurtme O. Hurtme, television correspondent, covers the wedding and interviews faux celebrities in attendance. Once Eartha Kitt spikes the punch with LSD, events unravel quickly”. 

Another, recent reviewer at letterboxd.com remarked

“If you like flaming creatures this is its educated technicolor grandbaby. Brilliant camping of political figures I have vague frame of reference for. Thoroughly enjoyed”

Tricia’s Wedding is a gay cult classic, but is hardly seen these days.  Unfortunately the short was not packaged with 2002’s popular documentary “The Cockettes” when it became available on DVD.  “Tricia’s Wedding”was released on VHS several years ago-before the Cockettes documentary, but it seems to be unavailable now.  Luckily the film can be found among several online libraries. It takes a bit of looking, but thoroughly worth the time if you want to get a glimpse. The film is not only a document of the times, it’s also the first work of someone who would go on to be a towering figure in film.  “Tricia’s Wedding” was produced by Mark Lester, who later went on to become one of Hollywood’s most bankable directors, with über-hits like Stephen King’s thriller Firestarter (1984) and Commando (1985) starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Many of du Plenty’s biographers and casual observers have posited that it was his time with The Cockettes was responsible for his understanding of production and direction.  These skills were useful, but it was Tomata’s natural talent, his charisma and his native understanding of society and satire that were probably more important traits he’d already acquired…after all, his major influence was as an agent provocateur (although a very nice one) and his ability to engage in on-the-spot guerilla theater whether in the streets, in the theater or onstage with one of his bands

After leaving The Cockettes, (before the release of Tricia’s Wedding) Tomata headed north to Seattle.  in 1970 he began to put together his own gender-bending, street performance art troupe-cum-hippie drag community, Ze Whiz Kidz.  This was at a time that street art and off-the-cuff public performances were burgeoning in Seattle.  One notable performance artist working at the time was Seattle native Johanna Went, who would eventually land in L.A. and become one of the most provocative, most extreme performance artists of this or any other era.  It’s said that Tomata du Plenty was a recipient of Seattle’s “one-percent-for-art” program when he arrived in Seattle.  It’s true that Seattle was one of the first U.S. cities to adopt funding the arts in public spaces, but the  “one-percent-for-art ordinance” was not enacted until 1973.  Perhaps du Plenty was partially funded by some other program in the early days, or past biographers have simply misidentified the period that he was funded.  In any event he quickly went about forming the core of his troupe that included Gorilla Rose (Michael Farris), Satin Sheets (Dennis Weikel, later known as J. Satz Beret of The Lewd), Melba Toast (who would become Tommy Gear when he and du Plenty formed the band The Screamers), Rhina Stone, Palm Springs, Co Co Ritz, Rio de Janeiro (David Gulbransen), Daily Flo, Benny Whiplash, Michael Hautepants (costume designer Michael Murphy), Leah Vigeah,  Louise Lovely (Di Linge), Valerie Allthetime (DePonty), and Cha Cha Samoa (Cha Davis).

Roger Downey authored an overview of a 2006 celebratory exhibition of Ze Whiz Kidz at Seattle’s annual arts and music festival, Bumbershoot called Between Garage & Grunge: Glitter, Glam and Proto-Punk in Seattle’s Subversive ’70s He took time to speak with Larry Reid, Seattle’s doyen of alternative arts and music, who was a co-curator of the exhibition.  Downey reports;

“No one would write about these shows, recalls Larry Reid, then a young man in the early ’70s. The Times and P-I (daily newpapers) couldn’t have cared less about one-night cabaret performances and non-theatrical happenings that featured queer content, improv, drag comedy, loud music, and calculatedly poor taste. The Weekly—launched in 1976—was too snooty, and The Rocket  (Seattle’s authoritative magazine concerning local and national music and culture) didn’t yet exist”. And the scene that Reid and Martin Imbach document in ‘Between Garage & Grunge: Glitter, Glam and Proto-Punk in Seattle’s Subversive ’70s’ would no longer exist by the ’80s. It morphed away from pansexual stage performance to traditional music categories—punk, New Wave, and (much later) grunge—and was mostly forgotten.

Downey goes on;

“What were the shows like? Loud, campy, joyous, with the audience sometimes joining the Kidz onstage. “We would call it performance art today,” says Reid. “There was no template to it”—more an amalgam of rock, glam, drag performance, and lingering hippie culture. ‘There’s a very direct connection. Seattle had a long hangover from the ’60s.’ For those who weren’t there, the spirit would later be codified somewhat by ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and in John Waters movies.

In 1973 Tomata du Plenty would bow out from Ze Whiz Kidz and return to his hometown, New York City.  He and one of The Cockettes, Fayette Hauser joined him to create  ‘guerrilla comedy’ at various East Village clubs, including CBGB.  The two opened for bands then-unknown outside NYC  like the Ramones and Blondie. “I used to do Pat Suzuki between their sets” said du Plenty, in reference to the Japanese-American Broadway performer known for her song ‘I Enjoy Being A Girl’ in ‘Flower Drum Song’.  Other former Cockettes and Whiz Kidz showed up in New York City; Gorilla Rose, John Flowers, and Sweet Pam Tent.  In 1973 Tomata and his cohorts produced two Palm Casino Revues at the Bouwerie Lane Theater, an off Broadway theater that had been transformed from a late 19th century bank.  Tomata du Plenty and Fayette Hauser opened a vintage store on Mott Street that remained unnamed during it’s life.  They also wrote a gossip column called “Hollywood Spit“for an adult journal called Naked News.  Eventually ‘Hollywood Spit’ would be taped and shown on public access TV.  Clearly, there was always a project to work on as well as planning one for just around the corner.

That next project around the corner would be Tomata’s return to Seattle in 1974.  The times and cultural zeitgeist had changed. The geurilla theater that had been so useful earlier in the decade was making way for newer, more provocative tactics and attitudes. As time moved on he set his sites on creating a band called The Tupperwares.  The band included other seminal figures on the Seattle scene….and beyond.  The Tupperwares included ex-Whiz Kidz Tomata du Plenty, Tommy Gear (who was still using his drag name “Melba Toast”) and Rio de Janeiro (David Gulbransen) who’s mother Laurie had been the decades-long owner and manager of beloved Dog House restaurant-where “friends meet friends” and featured on it’s menu “Rib Eye Steak (Tenderness not guaranteed)”.  After Laurie Gulbransen’s death, her son David would take her place until the restaurant was closed in 1994 ).

Back-up vocals were provided by Pam Lillig and Ben Witz (Ben Rabinowitz,later of The Girls) and Bill Rieflin on drums who would go on to play for The Blackouts, Ministry, Pigface, Revolting Cocks, R.E.M. and most recently the newly the re-formed King Crimson.  The band also included a very young Eldon Hoke who later became the notorious “El Duce” of The Mentors. 

According to synthpop.com
“The first Tupperwares show was a short concert at the Moore Theater in Seattle. The event was the premiere of the John Waters movie, “Pink Flamingos,” and the theater wanted to have some sort of musical event to open the night. The Tupperwares, Tomata du Plenty, Rio de Janeiro a
nd Melba Toast, each on vocals, were backed by The Telepaths. Each Tupperware sang one song on lead, with Tomata doing “I’m Going Steady With Twiggy” and Rio doing “Eva Braun.” (cowritten by Erich Werner and Bill Rieflin of the Telepaths). A third song, “Instamatic Fanatic,” with Melba on lead, was pulled at the last minute”.

A second show had been planned for April 18, 1976 at Seattle’s Polish Hall.  The show was to be called ‘The T-T-Oh! Show’ since the line up was The Tupperwares, The Telepaths and Oh! Henry.  Unfortunately the show was cancelled

On May 1st 1976 The Tupperwares joined The Meyce and The Telepaths to perform for the “TMT Show” at Seattle’s Oddfellows Hall (915 East Pine St.); a show that is one of the touchstones of Seattle music history.  It is regarded by many in the musical community as the first departure from the local popularity of big arena bands and top 40 radio to a wider, more experimental and all-encompassing D.I.Y. culture.  In short it is considered the beginning of punk rock in Seattle.  TMT was the acronym for the Tupperwares, Meyce and The Telepaths.

In a May 1981 issue of Rescue Magazine (Seattle) Neil Hubbard recounts that for The TMT Show The Tupperwares  played the songs  ‘I’m Going Steady With Twiggy’, ‘Eva Braun’, ‘Instamatic Fanatic’ and ‘possibly other songs’
Neil went on to say
“Admission to the TMT Show was one dollar (yes, $1), about a hundred people showed up, the groups paid for the room and made their nut. This show (please correct me if I’m wrong) was the first self-promoted show in town. The bands rented the hall, got a P.A. and DID IT. It was as much fun or more than many of the shows now.” At the time Hubbard believed a tape existed.

Meyce consisted of Jim Basnight on guitar and vocals, Paul Hood on Bass and vocals, Pam Lillig on guitar, Lee Lumsden on drums and Jennie Skirvin doing vocals)  Basnight would go on to form the power-pop group The Moberlys, Paul Hood who went on to play with The Toiling Midgets, The Enemy and Student Nurse among other bands.  Pam Lillig would later join The Girls on guitar.  Lee Lumsden became the chronicler of all things first-wave punk in Seattle (and beyond) with Chatterbox, a fanzine he co-created with future promoter and later head of Engram Records, Neil Hubbard.  Lee later recorded with James Husted under the name The Celestial Pymies, and co-founded The Guardians.  In his 2011 book The Strangest Tribe author Stephen Tow asks;

“Don’t know Lee? You should, if you have any interest in Seattle music. Along with a handful of folks like Jim Basnight, Neil Hubbard, and Rob Morgan, Lee essentially created the Seattle music scene out of thin air in the mid-’70s”. Jennie Skirvin (now Jennie Brott) was a regular on the Seattle punk rock social scene during the 1970’s and ’80s, but gave up performing.  She now keeps up with all her old friends and makes her way to the odd concert here and there.   She has many many friends who adore her.

The third band included in the TMT Show was The Telepaths.  Between the years 1975 and 1978 The Telepaths included  (in various line-ups) Geoff Cade, Mike Davidson and Allen McNabe/Michaels on Bass, Dean Hegleson and Bill Rieflin on drums.  Dave Demetre played saxophone at one point, and Homer Spence, Erich Werner and Reid Vance played guitars in the bands’ many incarnations.  Over the course of the band both Gregor Gayden and Curt Werner were vocalists.  The band transformed itself as The Blackouts over the years, with Mike Davidson, Bill Rieflin and Erich Werner at the band’s center. They were joined by Roland Barker, first on synthesizer and later on saxophone.  In 1981 Davidson left the band and was replaced by Roland’s brother Paul Barker.  The Blackouts are arguably the most innovative and fearless band to come out of Seattle.  They became incredibly popular but eventually moved to greener pastures.  After failed attempts at gaining wider recognition in Boston and L.A. bassist Paul Barker and drummer Bill Rieflin eventually hooked up with Chicago’s Al Jourgenson and became crucial members of the industrial/metal band Ministry.

Both Gregor Gayden and Homer Spence have passed on.  Spence suffered a fatal heart attack in 1991.  Aside from The Telepaths Homer Spence had been involved with several projects, including Engram Records, The Blackouts, Pink Section, The Macs and The Fastbacks; but he will probably be most well known as the smartest, most affable and interesting Economics Professor turned Cab Driver turned bartender to ever sling a beer in Seattle.  For years he worked behind the bar of First Avenue’s Virginia Inn.  He could often be found extending his working hours to include hours on the other side of the bar holding forth, dispensing his vast experiences, politics, talking philosophy and baseball.  Gregor Gayden went on to form his own band The Look and was another regular on the punk rock and alt rock circuit.  He died on January 30, 2008 of organ failure.  His obituary, in the Seattle Times of  January 30, 2008  reported quite correctly that:
“Gregory touched so many with his great, big spirit; his sensibilities, as a performer in Seattle’s early punk era,political, historical, cinematic; his verbiage deft (“oops, did I say orientate? Sorry, that was an occident!”). He was amazed and amused by wildlife, Alaska fishing crew, spectacular food, sartorial splendor. He loved life. His heart failed. Our hearts broke.”

In a 2017 essay, Seattle cultural and musical historian Jeff Stevens revealed his upcoming book ‘City of Anxiety: An Alternative History of Seattle’ included a summation of the TMT era by Erich Warner;

“Our whole attitude as a gang was a perpetual state of anger about our environment. We opposed just about everything we felt Seattle stood for. We hated suburbia; we were completely opposed to complacent happiness, and we felt the world at large wouldn’t tolerate us. People constantly called us names because of how we looked, so we had a strong identity, a them-and-us polarity.”

So it was with this attitude that Tomata du Plenty, Tommy Gear (who’d dropped his drag name “Melba Toast”) and Rio de Janeiro (David Gulbransen) decided to leave Seattle to find success in Los Angeles.  Seattle lore clams that in late 1976, after legal threats from Tupperware Brands, the owners of the name, the band renamed themselves Gianni Bugatti, then settled on The Screamers.  The final name would be a good change since it carried with it a very punk rock image…one that would represent the sound they created better than The Tupperwares….better than just about anything

This article has been cobbled together from multiple sources.  Some of them are living people. Some are simply quotes from books (which are noted).  In some cases the sources are in conflict. Many of Tomata du Plenty’s friends and colleagues are still with us. If you have a correction, suggestion or omission please leave a message in the comments section.

-Dennis R. White.  Sources:   Mark Vallen; “Who was Tomata du Plenty?” (Art For a Change [blog], May 4, 2014); Brian Miller “Bumbershoot: Remembering Ze Whiz Kidz and Their Glam-Punk Descendants” (Seattle Weekly, October 31, 1970: Ze Whiz Kidz” (Countercultural Seattle Remembers, October 31, 2015); Brenden Mullen “Goodbye Tomata du Plenty” (L.A. Weekly, August 23, 2000); Mark Deming “The Screamers: The Great Lost Band of the First Wave of L.A. Punk” (Nightflight, September 14, 2015) “Population: 1”  (IMDb  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091781/, Retrieved January 31, 2018); Dave Lang “The Screamers” (Perfect Sound Forever,  March 2000); “Screamers” Various reviews (fusetron, www.fusetronsound.com/label.php?whomart=SCREAMERS , Retrieved January 30, 2018);  “The Life and Times of Tomata du Plenty” (kickstarter,    https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2147432630/the-life-and-times-of-tomata-du-plenty/description); Mark Deming “The Screamers Biography” (allmusic.com retrieved February 1, 2018); Mark Spitz & Brenden Mullen “We Got The Neutron Bomb: The Untold Story of L.A. Punk” (Three Rivers Press-New York, 2001); “The Tupperwares”  (Synthpunk, www.synthpunk.org/screamers/history75.html , retrieved January 1, 2018); Roger Downey “Glitter and Be Gay: The inspirational extravagance of Seattle’s Whiz Kidz. (The Seattle Weekly, Oct 9 2006); Stephen Tow “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2001); Paul Hood “Meyce” (pnwbands.com  September 2002.  Retrieved January 28. 2018); Jacob McMurray “Taking Punk to the Masses: From Nowhere to Nevermind” (Fantagraphics Books, 2011); Art Chantry “Tomata du Plenty, Primal Screamers” (Madame Pickwick Art Blog, madamepickwickartblog.com/2011/08/tomata-du-plenty-primal-screamers . Retrieved January 2, 2018); “Tricia’s Wedding” (IMDb.com, Retrieved January 31,2018); Lee Lumsden “You Don’t Know Anyone Until You Know The Screamers” (Chatterbox issue 6, Summer/Fall, 1977); “Population: 1” (IMDb.com, Retrieved February 3. 2018) Leslie Meyers (Contribution, February 4, 2018

 

 

Jimmie Rodgers: Corrupt Cops, The Mob and Not Knowing How To Quit

 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 and 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rapid-i

The first thing the former members of rapid-i want to make clear is that their name pre-dates the wide success of R.E.M. Their name evolved out of the same expression (Rapid Eye Movement) but it was coined in 1980, about three years before the debut of R.E.M.s album, Murmer on I.R.S. Records. The point isn’t really that important except to point out that the small “i” in the name is a reference to Prince-Far-I, the dubbiest of the deep-dub artists to come out of 1970’s Jamaica…go through the used records racks and find a copy of one of the the tuffest records of all time; “Prince Far I & King Tubby “‘In The House Of Vocal & Dub”.  rapid-i was not a reggae band, but their respect for a wide range of artists brings up accomplished and experimental pop artists and music figures. They name artists like Mark Smith and The Maffia as well as Smith’s former band The Pop Group. Linton Kwesi Johnson,  James Chance and the Contortions, James Blood Ulmer, Adrian Sherwood, King Crimson and The Sex Pistols among the jazz greats.

It might seem these guys were all over the map musically, but it’s clear they were more interested in musical execution and innovation than any particular genre. This interest showed up in their own music, whilw doing a ripping version of the funky Barney Miller theme song-written by Jack Miller and Allyn Ferguson with the killer bass line performed by Chuck Berghofer. The rapid-i version is practically note for note-not because they were anything near a “cover band”, but because, hell…why mess with something near-prefect?

The changes in keys and difficult rhythm patterns of their original compositions were clever moves for them to share onstage. One might not understand exactly what they were up to but audiences weren’t left out as if their musicianship was an “inside joke”. The bands joy and exuberance in pulling off a slick musical move never cane off as intellectual and snobbish. The audience could see their open enthusiasm and glee. The band didn’t care if it’s audience was classically trained, musically illiterate or astute jazz and classical musicians. They openly invited them to enjoy what they were doing. In fact, one of the apparent “inside jokes” they shared with the audience was covering the Barney Miller theme…It proved finding brilliance in the most mundane, unexpected places.

Which comes to audiences-or perhaps lack of them. The early 1980’s and Seattle’s post-punk era produced some mighty fine bands that strayed from the punk formulae developed in the late 70s. For instance, how would it be possible to accurately label The Blackouts, with their weird and  near-mysticism laid over an almost indescribable sound? And how could a power-pop oriented band like X-15 be referred to as “one of Seattle’s original punk bands” when, as entertaining as they were, they simply were not a punk band, and arrived on the scenefrom Bellingham in the 1980s;  long after The Telepaths, The Lewd, The S’nots and The Mentors had established Seattle as a major outpost of West Coast punk. All of these bands (punk and post-punk) shared one thing in common; small, very loyal fan bases and audiences that mostly consisted of friends, family and like-minded musicians and fans.

This is typical of what goes on in all cities, but Seattle at the time seemed so insular, and it seemed that everyone on “the scene” either knew or knew of everyone else.  So it was with rapid-i. They spent many nights at local “punk” clubs like WREX or The Gorilla Room playing to near-empty houses., to friends family and others who actually appreciated the music.  Of course the upside to this for any band is that it allows them to practice, to grow and try-out new material to mostly open (if small) audiences. This seemingly negative situation has birthed many of the greatest pop and rock bands of the 20th and 21st century. Even today it’s difficult for friends around the globe to believe that Nirvana’s first Seattle show on April 10, 1988, at the Central Saloon was practically empty.

No one else remembers it,” says Sub-Pop founder Bruce Pavitt “because it was just me, the doorman and about three other people.”

As Nirvana went on to success on their own terms (at least originally) rapid-i certainly had the chops and the good nature to play the more lucrative fraternity-boy filled clubs that abounded in Seattle at the time. Their repertoire included plenty of “accessible” dance-music, but they studiously avoided falling into that “trap”. Oddly enough unapologetically “pop” bands like The Visible Targets and X-15 also avoided playing to drunk, mostly indifferent and rowdy college crowds. As far as The Visible Targets went, they pulled in crowds, but they were far more dedicated to performing their tight, self-written music; and to be honest a band fronted by three attractive sisters would have probably killed any chance of being taken seriously in a club full of horny young students They would be a novelty act that were nothing more than “three hot sisters” despite their musical talent.  On a side note, The Visible Targets were one of the bands that set the stage for the following generation of women involved in the riot grrrl movement.  The Visible Targets’ music wasn’t the same, the lyrics not as political, but the attitude toward being taken seriously certainly was.  It’s interesting to note that the aforementioned Bruce Pavitt took an early interest in The Visible Targets as well as Drew Canulette and Steve Fisk-none of them  known as fans of lightweight pop.  Even the Target’s first EP was recorded in Olympia WA…later the spiritual home of the riot grrl movement.

The odd thing is that rapid-i often attracted fewer audience members, and that even though what they were doing was almost the antithesis of punk, it is probably more punks that saw them in near empty rooms than anyone else. This is not to say they had nothing in common with the punk scene.  It’s also not to say they were underappreciated. Promoters and fans came to see them as solid performers even though it was hard to pigeon-hole what they were doing. It made it difficult to find appropriate opening slots for the great variety of new American and British artists touring at the time.  Bands like Magazine, The Specials, John Cale, The Dead Kennedy’s, Pere Ubu or The Stranglers..all bands that had a high degree of popularity in the Northwest, and had played sold-out concerts in early 1980’s Seattle.  None of the bands mentioned fit into neat pigeonholes either, but  rapid-i wasn’t a logical choice as opening bands, no matter how inventive or oddball the headliners were. So they chose small club shows which in the end didn’t hurt them in any way.  There was one opportunity to play to a large crowd-an all day event at Seattle’s Showbox Theater that went exceedingly well.  The audience was enthusiastic and their set was one of the best of the day.

So how did all of this come to be?

Phil Otto and Dave Ford met at Stanford University. Otto was working on a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ford says he was “just hanging around”, though it’s hard to believe he was simply a slacker or couch surfer. He is by nature always on the move; always working hard to accomplish what he’s set out to do.  Otto and Ford  joined three fellow students (Jimmy Jett on bas,s Tim Clark on Rhythm Guitar and Dave Latchaw on drums) to form a band called Raw Meat.  Otto took on vocal duties and it’s been reported that even at this early stage (1978) Ford was already a top-notch, inventive and talented guitarist.   The band found an audience on campus and in couple of clubs in Palo Alto.  They also became a part of near-by San Francisco’s burgeoning punk scene, playing famed venues like The Mabuhay Gardens and The Deaf Club. Otto often performed wearing nothing but a black skeleton painted on his body…”I was very devoted to Iggy Pop, that’s all I can say.”

Otto and Ford both agree that their original tastes in music were quite different, with Ford being drawn more toward jazz, the experimental and the mélange of dissimilar sounds coming out of Britain at the time.  Otto’s background in music was more “traditional” but there’s no doubt that he used the best of it while becoming exposed to newer sounds and changed quickly by exposure to punk, reggae, garage rock, etc.  By the time Raw Meat were at their height both Ford and Otto were pretty much in synchmusically.  Although the band was closer to being punk than what we’ve come to know as new wave Dave Ford wrote at the time

“Listening to New Wave is like having a nose job done with a jackhammer during an earthquake in a vat of boiling tar and pig intestines

Just substitute “new wave” for “punk” and you get the idea…especially if you were there.

After Otto graduated from Stanford he headed home to Everett WA and his parent’s home to ponder his next move.  Phil and Dave had made enough of a connection at Stanford that Dave (a native of the Bay Area) followed his buddy north where they both crashed at Phil’s parents house until moving to Seattle, where they decided to continue their musical pursuits.  Those pursuits may have been different than those of Raw Meat, but Seattle at the time was a great place to experiment and invent, whether it was the hardcore punk of The Fartz or the incredibly dense and near incomprehensible barrage of Audio Leter (yes, that’s spelled correctly).

Having decided to form a new band Dave and Phil put a “musicians wanted” ad in The Rocket, Seattle’s all-around chronicler of the music scene.  The two were incredibly fortunate when a fellow named Jerry Frink turned up.  Jerry was a great drummer, but his real talent was in his mastery of all forms of percussion, whether it be congas, bongos, bell trees, marimbas or just about anything else he could hit or strike in perfect unison.  The greatest-and probably most unexpected instrument he brought into the mix was the timbale….not an instrument normally found in punk or no-wave music-outside the Contortions, perhaps…but still not a featured instrument by any means

The addition of a stand-alone percussionist offered a broad array of directions, but the band would still need a drummer behind a full kit.  Terry Pollard, a drummer who’d studied music theory but with little live experience showed up on the recommendation of Bryan Runnings who was then running The Gorilla Room on Second Avenue.  Pollard admits he didn’t have a musical agenda.  He was ready to play just about any genre as long as it presented a challenge…why waste that music theory degree?  The other three were open to jazz, funk, Caribbean, African, rock and punk themes, and as they wrote new songs they took advantage of all those sounds, as well as bit of  musique concrète ala John Cage.  Despite delving into some serious musical territory there was always a sheen of fun encapsulating everything the band played. Self-seriousness was never a part of the show.

In late 1980 rapid-i went into American Music studios to record four songs for a projected EP.  Songs included “New Style”, “Each Second (both featured here) as well as “Misinformation” and “Hungry People“.  The two tracks here are less angular and more traditionally structured than both “Misinformation” and “Hungry People”, but there’s no doubt the other two tracks are plenty of fun with odd (changing) time signatures and plenty of clanging (but not annoying) guitar laid over an inventive rhythm section, and of course, plenty of quirky percussion fills by Jerry Frink.

Unfortunately the EP was not released at the time, and the tapes were forgotten,  They finally saw the light of day in 2013, and were released as a digital download on dadastic! sounds along with an extended mix of the title song “New Style”  The EP is widely available at almost all internet download and streaming services.  Take a chance!

Shortly after the EP’s recording rapid-i called it quits.  Ford was ready to go back to the Bay Area and pursue a career in journalism.  He became a contributor for The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Bay Guardian.  He also became a yoga instructor a vocation he still takes part in.  By all accounts he’s a pretty good teacher.  His students love him and the quirky sense of humor he has always shared has made many of his students actually enjoy yoga! Dave is currently living in Tampa Florida.  He still plays occasional gigs and records.

After the dissolution of rapid-i Phil Otto formed the band Steddi-5 along with Student Nurse drummer John Rogers, guitarist Tim Clark, Saxophonist David Fischer and Corinne Mah on vocals.  The band had a brief but successful career in Seattle, and in 1983 their song “Fame or Famine” was included in The Seattle Syndrome Volume II compilation.  The song featured Jack Weaver on trumpet.  Jack was the original owner of Triangle Studio, which would later be made famous when Jack Endino took it over as Reciprocal Recording.

After their break-up Rogers would continue to play in Student Nurse and self-produce his weirdo-pop solo project “Sunworm”  Tim Clark had been a member of The Hurricanes, although it’unclear if he continued with the band.  Corinne Mah, would return to British Columbia where she was born. David Fisher continued to lend a hand in several productions by Marc Barreca (formerly of Young Scientist).

Otto took a job teaching on the east coast, but soon found himself back in the Bay Area, where as his profile as the head of his Otto Design Group says;
“Philip has been designing innovative systems for retail and living for over 20 years — beginning with his work at the Headlands Center for the Arts crafting spaces for artists Ann Hamilton, Andres Serrano and David Ireland. With a degree from Stanford in Cultural Anthropology, an MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College and MFA from San Francisco Art Institute — Phil brings a uniquely humanistic approach to all of his work — creating truly memorable environments and experiences for clients all over the globe”.

Jerry Frink and Terry Pollard went on to co-found The Beat Pagodas along with Terry’s brother Tim on vocals, Stanford Filarca (previously of The Spectators), and Steve Homman and Chris Anderson (besides Jerry and Terry) on various drums and percussion and vocals. The band became very successful on the Seattle club circuit, and never failed to point out that the entire band were percussionists except for Filarca who played bass. so their rallying cry became “no guitar!” Their shows were kinetic, full of dedicated abandonment and driven by controlled chaos.  The Beat Pagoda’s only released one EP on Left Coast Records in 1984.were, like rapid-i a complete anomaly among Seattle’s then crop of  rock bands-perhaps the same can be argued even today.  It’s  certain there have never been Seattle bands that brought across such joy in the decades since.  After all is said and done the gloom and doom that became so fashionable in the late 80s and early 90s “grunge” era there was a parallel universe of fun, unabashed dancing and the pull of the avant garde in Seattle’s early to mid 80s scene.  We still need bands like rapid-I to remind us in the joy of both the avant garde and the mundane.  Most of all we could all use a respite from the seriousness of our times.

 

 

-Dennis R. White, Sources; Dave Ford (interview with the author, September 9, 2017); Philip Otto (interview with the author, September 19, 2017); Terry Pollard (interview with the author, September 20, 2017); “rapid-I New Style” dadastic.blogspot.com, retrieved December 29, 2017); Dave Seminara “Chasing Kurt Cobain in Washington State” (New York Times, March 25, 2014); Dave Ford “A Mabuhay Punker Spills His Wisdom” (The Stanford Daily, 18 May 1978); “Philip H. Otto, Primary” (ottodesigngroup.com, retrieved December 29, 2017)  Raw Meat -78″ (collegeband.com, retrieved December 29, 2017)