Northwest Music History: Misc

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN
Part II: The Green Pajamas

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

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

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

THEY MET AT A PARTY

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

Illustration: Joe Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THANKS TO EVERYONE  WHO SANG AT THE PAJAMA PARTY

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

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

Summer of Lust Poster, 1984. Illustration by Joe Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Monkey Logo                Design: Vicki Dyer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ANOTHER “ANOTHER PORKY PRIME CUT”

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

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

George “Porky” Peckham in his studio.

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

 

“WE ALWAYS HAD THIS JOKE…”

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

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

Steve Lawrence. Date unknown
Photo courtesy of Julie Lawrence.

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

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

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

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

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

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

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

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

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

THIS WINTER’S NIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

A HORSE IS A HORSE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TELL ME SOMETHING GOOD: 64 SPIDERS AND CAPPING DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LET’S REWIND A BIT

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

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

Bruce Haedt.
Photo: Susanne Kelly

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

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

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

Book of Hours, 1985.
Design: Ursula Bolimowski

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

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

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

That’s three decades now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PAJAMAS ALL BUT SELF-DESRUCTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PREPOSITIONS, COMMAS AND CANNIBALISM

Kim The Waitress by Material Issue. 1994.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 PEERING THROUGH THE PIN-HOLE OF A DARKENED ROOM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strung Behind The Sun, 1997. Painting: Suzanne Kelley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TERRASTOCK NATION

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

Phil McMullen (left) Bob (right)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrastock 2. San Francisco CA
April 17-19 1998

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terrastock 3. London England
August 27–29, 1999

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GOTHIC, THE GOBLINS AND A GUY FROM BOSTON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Vanderpool

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

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

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

Terrastock 6. Providence RI
April 21- 23 2006

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

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

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

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

A GUITAR GENIUS, A HIDDEN AGENDA  AND A SCARLET SONG

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

Nick Saloman: The Bevis Frond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

PAUL TUTMARC
& 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).               

STAN BORESON


“Zero dacus, mucho cracus hallaballu-za bub That’s the secret password that we use down at the club Zero-dacus, mucho-cracus hallaballu-za fan Means now you are a member of: KING’s TV club with Stan.”

Every baby-boomer who grew up within the broadcast signal of Seattle’s KING-TV knows the song.  From 1954 until 1967, it was the theme for “King’s TV Club With Stan Boreson” and later simply “The Stan Boreson Show“.  Boreson was only one of many kid-show hosts in the early days of Northwest. television.  Others included the Ivar Haglund inspired “Captain Puget” (Don McCune), the railwayman “Brakeman Bill”( Bill McLain), Wunda Wunda-a sort-of Pixie Harlequin played by Ruth Prins and of course the most beloved of all; J.P. Patches played by the incredibly resourceful and hilarious Chris Wedes.

Although all local kids show hosts played a character, and focused on their kiddie audience in 1998  Boreson told April Chandler of the Kitsap Sun;

“We used to joke that the reason we’re not on (television) anymore is we were entertaining the parents instead of the kids,” he said. “I never talked down to the kids; we were just carrying on a normal conversation.”

The statement about the adults is probably true.  Even though Boreson ran a cartoon or two during his daily broadcast,the bulk of his unscripted routine was a series of subtle “Scandahoovian” jokes and characters that were sure to go over the heads of most kids-especially the majority of his audience who had no first or second generation familiarity with the Scandinavian experience back home, or in the immigrant community. Not only that, Boreson was the master of cornball parodies of popular songs, sung in an addled English-Scandinavian dialect.  The dialect itself was a large part of the joke, and even the parody must have seemed a bit too dense for small children.

This was the early days of television and cheap broadcasts of local artists allowed broadcasters across the country to fill time. In fact, it’s probable that not a single broadcaster across the nation didn’t have a kiddie show to fill in an afternoon  time slot, or at least a comedy show that could please both the stay-at-home mom and her rowdy kids just home from school. Unlike most kiddie program hosts who had come from radio as announcers, weatherpeople or disc jockeys, Boreson had a leg up on all of them.  He’d started his career as an entertainer and by the time he was hired he’d already performed his corny take on Scandanavian life and his accordian playing in front of  thousands upon thousands of audience members.  The start of his career goes back to his early days in Everett WA.

Boreson was born into a second generation family. His grandfather-a carpenter- had jumped ship from a Norwegian lumber hauler near Utsalady on Camano Island.  After hiding out for several days the angry captian and crew of the gave up looking for him, he made his way out of the forest and eventually filed a land claim on Camano Island.  Next he sent word to his wife to join him.  By 1925, when Stan was born, his mother and father had settled in Everett WA, where a large Scandanavian population had congregated. It’s unclear if his grandparents remained on Camano Island, although later it would be a welcome destination for Stan and his wife to re-charge their batteries.

Stan grew up around first and second generation Norwegian immigrants who were stuck somewhere between stubbornly holding onto the ways of “the old country” and being bemused and a bit confused by the new American culture they’d found themselves in.  In fact Boreson would use a running joke throughout his life that “this is a song my uncle Torvald taught me” before launching into one of his thick-accented parodies.  It was both humorous to Scandinavian audience, but it also showed a sign of Stan’s well-meaning, genial attitude toward his audience and their backgrounds.  Scandinavians who had immigrated were no less frowned-upon and subject to bias than any other ethnic group that has come to America in large numbers.

In the 2010 documentary “”Off The Air But Still In Our Hearts” Boreson recounted a story that’s become familiar with almost every one of his fans.  He remembered that at age 12 his mother had decided it was time for Stan to start music lessons.  The instrument originally assigned to him was the guitar.  She sent him to a tutor, Mel Odegard who worked out of Buell’s Music on Hewitt Avenue in Everett. Odegard told him Stan “I’ll teach you some chords on the guitar and then you can sing the melody.’  Stan was too shy to sing at the time and objected.  ” I was very bashful, so I sez ‘No way am I going to sing.’ So he said: ‘Well, then why don’t you trade-in the guitar on an accordion? — you play the melody on one side and chord on the other.  That’s how I became an accordian player” Stan recalls.

He also recalls the accordion being so heavy that he hauled it from home to Beull’s and back in his wagon. Of course Stan often repeated this story and each time he was sure to insert the names and addresses-including his home address in Everett at the time.  Even though he repeated the story often each time it sounded like the first time he’d told it. Apparently Stan was fighting his reluctance to sing when a cousin, Myrtle Lee, dared him to take part in a skit at one of Everett High School’s pep rallies.  Stan would play accordion and sing the lyrics to the song “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh”, an old, somewhat hackneyed standard written by Abe Olman and Ed Rose in 1917.  The idea was for Stan to play and sing the song’s lyrics as written in English and Myrtle would “translate” the lyrics in an over-the-top, Norwegian display of comedic melodrama.  The performance was a hit, and Boreson-and presumably his cousin Myrtle-would never be stage-shy again.  In fact, Boreson clearly reveled in his ability to perform and entertain audiences.  This revelry would continue throughout his entire life.

When US involvement in the Pacific and Europe broke out into war h tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected because of an arm injury that had kept him hospitalized for a year as a child.  So having been turned down by the Army he chose to do his service by joining the USO.  His USO deployment led him to Italy, where he sang on makeshift stages with musical greats The Andrews Sisters, Arthur Tracy, Allan Jones and more. This experience would lead Boreson to gain even more confidence performing in front of audiences. After the war ended Boreson returned to Everett and enrolled as a student Everett Community College…in those days “community” colleges were known as “junior colleges”, so Stan spent two years at Everett “Junior” College, before transferring to the University of Washington.  His studies included  accounting and personnel management.  But study seemed to come second to his aspirations of becoming a comedian and porodist.   It was at the University of Washington that his true ambitions as a performer blossomed.  Boreson started out with amateur student comedy troupes, mostly among the  University’s  student entertainment groups.   It was here that he honed his “Scandahoovian” persona.

In 1948 Dorothy Bullit purchased  KRSC-TV , which had been the first television station to broadcast in the Northwest.  The station was re-branded to KING TV shortly afterward to match the call letters of it’s sister station KING Radio.  Bullit who was President of KING at the time hired Lee Schulman-a former NBC program director-to  look for talent to fill the airwaves of KING TV.  One of the targets of Schulman’s search for talent was the University of Washington.  It was there that Schulman first saw Boreson and soon afterward he offered Stan a role co-starring with fellow U of W student Art Barduhn.  The  show debuted as a 15 minute slot each Thursday called “Campus Capers”   Later, when the show found a sponsor-Clipper Oil-and the name of the program was changed to “Clipper Capers”.The show included music, comedy skits and occasional interviews. Still later Boreson and Burduhn were offered a half-hour show called “Two B’s at the Keys” (Boreson and Barduhn being the two “B’s. the keys being Stan’s accordion and Burrdun’s piano.)  The show, like the previous “Clipper Capers” included comedy sletches, but Stan went even further into Scandanavian parodies of popular songs.  It is on “Two B’s at the Keys” that Boreson debuted what would become one of his most beloved parodies “Valkin’ In My Vinter Undervear” set to the tune “Walking In a Winter Wonderland”.   The show was a hit with the audiences as well as the sponsors. Boreson and Barduhn did their television show as well as work as featured and opening acts around the Puget Sound region.

Boreson also had a personal connection to band leader Lawrence Welk, another immigrant who’s accent was shaped by the adults he grew up around. Although Welk was born in Strasburg, North Dakota.  His family were of German Catholic descent who’d fled Odessa, a city in what was at the time The Russian Empire. (Odessa is now  in Ukraine)..  Although they did not share a Scandinavian background it’s clear that Boreson had a special place in his heart for Welk and his orchestra throughout his life.  Another tie was that Welk’s family had stubbornly held onto their traditions and accents during Welk’s early life.  Welk’s accent became as much a part of his persona as the “Champagne Music” he conducted.

“When my cousin and I ran the 7 Cedars Dance Hall in Mount Vernon, we were able to hire him, his whole 16-piece band, and even the Champagne Lady for $750. And his wife sent us baked cookies. He wasn’t famous then, but I knew of him because he’d made some polka records. Later, when he got famous, he had me on his show (in 1957) in Los Angeles. I could never hire him again, though. His price had gone up to $30,000. Same band!”

During the early 1950’s Stan also became aware of comedian/singer/parodist  from Tacoma, Harry Edward Skarbo (aka by his adopted name, Harry Stewart) and his alter-ego Yogi Yorgesson. Boreson had been doing his Scandinavian schtick for years, but Skarbo/Stewart/Yogi was far more successful.  Boreson’s musical act emphasized comic Scandinavian dialect parodies.  Skarbo/Stewart had created a somewhat dim-witted character (Yogi Yorgesson) portraying a naïve Swedish “Hindu yogi” who handed out absurd advice and divination in a thick Swedish accent.  Aside form a successful nightclub act, Skarbo/Stewart (as Yogi Yorgesson) had charmed audiences across the country with his own parodies of the ever-confused Scandanavian immigrant and his somewhat backward ways.  His first recording  “My Clam Digger Sweetheart”b/w”I Don’t Give a Hoot had proved popular enough to land him a contract with Columbia Records.  According to his bio Skarbo/Stewart/Yorgesson’s second recording (the first that debuted on Capitol)  “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” backed by The Johnny Duffy Trio) was promoted as a special  Christmas release.  Advance orders came from all around the country, and sales soared.

Capitol realized they had a bona fide hit . The song debuted on the Billboard charts at number 24 on December 10th, 1949 , and by the next week, both “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas, and it’s B-side “Yingle Bells” were both in the Top Twenty.  By Christmas that year both were top ten hits. The song “I Yust Go Nuts” proved it’s legs at Christmas” and even reached number five even after the holiday. The single became one of Capitol’s permanent hits—being reissued virtually every year in one form or another since it’s debut in 1949.. Right after Christmas, “I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas” reached number five, and the single became one of Capitol’s permanent hits—being reissued or covered by other artists since it’s debut. It remains a seasonal hit on the Dr. Dememto show. As the 1950’s continued along Skarbo/Yorgesson  continued to perform  under his stage name, but largely abandoned his “Hindu mystic” character in favor of his act as a Swedish-American parodist and comedian taking advantage of an exaggerated accent.  Sadly Skarbo died in an automobile accident in 1956 near Tonapah NV, on his way from a gig in Ely Nevada to his home in Los Angeles.

Between 1956 and 1979 Stan and his musical collaborator Doug Setterberg would record and release 18 songs that had been written by Skarbo/Stewart.  In 1980 Stan recorded another 11 of his songs on the tribute album “Yust ‘Tinkin’ of Yogi” .  Before. during and after Stan’s television career Boreson had worked closely with his collaborator Doug Setterberg writing and performing  parodies together.  They appeared onstage as a duo and recorded albums under the name and “Stan and Doug”, although it’s clear that it was Stan who held the spotlight.  In all. Boreson (either as a solo artist or alongside Setterberg) recorded 16 albums during his career.  Setterberg also collaborated on Boreson’s television show as characters “Foghorn Peterson”, “Phineus The Frog” and various sketch characters.  Aside from Setterberg regulars included the voice of Mike Rhodes as the heard but never seen “Old Timer”, Boreson as “Grandma Torvald (his drag persona) a 1962 World’s Fair visitor from outer space, Space-Nick, played by Jerry Sando.  The menagerie of animals (real and imagined) scattered the set that included Victor Rola, Pepita the Flea, Phineas the Frog , and  “The Swedish Answerman” but none so predominant as the perpertually inert Basset Hound, No-Mo-shun, often shortened to simply “No-Mo”  The name stems from a contest to name the mascot of Boreson’s  show.  The name is a pun on speed record holder (at the time) of“ Slo-Mo-Shun” a local favorite in hydroplane-mad Seattle.  Later No-Mo-Shun would be paired with the equally immovable Basset Hound, Talulah Blankhead. I n 1967 Stan Boreson’s show became victim of changes in children’s afternoon programing and an emphasis of afternoon news, talk shows, syndicated sit-coms and soap operas.  In fact Boreson’s show was replaced by the gothic themed “Dark Shadows”  Sadly, Stan’s sidekick and  collaborator, Doug Setterberg died shortly after the show’s cancellation. Still this didn’t keep Boreson from travelling the country or appearing locally to his fans and admirers who had dubbed him “The King of Scandanavian Humor”.  His fame was so widespread among pockets of Scandinavians across the country, in Canada, and in Scandinavia itself that his albums, especially his Christmas albums, are regularly pulled out and listened to at large gatherings of Scandinavian friends and family.  As corny as they are, they still bring a laugh, and maybe a cringe at their corniness.

Stan continued to record and tour during the 1960s and 1970s and continued to appear on television in the form of “The Stan Boreson Christmas Reunion” that ran every Christmas from 1991 to 2003.  He also continued to work live all over the country as well as in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.  In 2006 Rick Anderson of the Seattle Weekly wrote:

“Boreson has been on an accordion world tour since, from the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, N.D., to the Little Norway Festival in Petersburg, Alaska, and every lutefisk fight in between. He appears regularly at local events; he’s also done six gigs on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. Wherever he goes, they ache to hear the Klubhouse theme song, “Zero Dacus” (“mucho cracus, hullaballoozabub “

While Stan kept performing the honors and accolades started to pile up.  He was summoned by King Olav V of Norway to perform for him and hundreds of guests.  In 2005 Olav V’s successor King Harald V awarded Boreson  the St. Olav Medal of Honor, an award Boreson shares with only eight others.  The Ballard Chamber of Commerce began giving out annual Stan Boreson Awards to various esteemed members of the community, and in 2007, Boreson was honored with two of the first Distinguished Alumni awards ever offered by Everett Community College. He also was dubbed the “Prime Minister of Sea-Fair” Seattle’s annual festival of concerts, parades and special events culminating in the anuual hydroplane races.  The largest honor, of course, is the place in the hearts of his fans.  Although his TV shows are long gone he’ll always be remembered for his genial mood and gentle humor.  It’s important to remember that Stan spent more than 20 on television (12 of them as the host of “KING’s Klubhouse” and “The Stan Boreson Show)  But the bulk of his nearly 70 year career was as a live performer, a recording artist and comic. was as a recording artist and live entertainer.  Videos from the early days of television broadcasts video was re-used, so  very little footage of the Stan Boreson Show, KING Klubhouse, Campus Capers amd Clipper Capers are left, but most folks outaside the Northwest know Stan through his revcordings and live routines.  Consequently, there is a great deal of recorded music available.

In 2007 Boreson and his wife formed “Stan Boreson and Barbara Tours”.  They took tourists across the US, Canada and Europe for several years by bus; Barbara was the gracious host and Stan, always with his accordian on hand, worked as the commentor, tour guide, and musical  entertainment.  Always self-deprecated and kind though extremely funny in his trademarked cornball  banter.  It was clear Stan had no desire to continue being the cut-up he’d been for decades. Stan and Barbara’s tour business lasted 25 years, and each tour provided an captive (but willing) audience for Stan to charm.

Stan’s final foray into recorded music came in 2007 with a cover of Sheb Wooley’s “I Just Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore” A self-deprecating, corny video of the song is available on you tube.

On January 27th 2017 Stan Boreson suffered a massive stroke in the presence of Barbara, his wife of over six decades.  His obituary in the Seattle Times wrapped up his career and status as a Northwest icon.  The obituary then goes on to say:

“In true Stan Boreson style, he would have wanted to end with a joke…so here goes”.

Lena calls the newspaper and asked to speak to the obituaries.
“This is the obituaries, what can I do for you?”
“I would like to put an ad in your obituaries.”
“What would you like to say?” ”
I’d like to say, “Ole died.”
“Just two words… “Ole died?”
“Yeah, well he did.”

“We have a special this week…five words for a dollar. For the same amount you can have three more words. Is there anything else you’d like to say?”
“In that case,” Lena said, “I would like to say, “Ole died boat for sale.”

Years ago Barbara Boreson said that she and Stan had made a pact that when one of them died the other would go on with life and promised to remarry. Sadly Barbara Boreson never got the change. She died August 20, 2017 just six days short of her 86th birthday.  Although both Stan and Barbara and Doug Setterberg are no longer with us, it’s certain that Stan’s corny “Scandahoovian” comedy will last for generations.


 

-Dennis R; White.  Sources; Peter Blecha “Borsen, Stan (1925-2017)”  (HistoryLink.org Essay 8553); Barbara Boreson “Stan Boreson. The King of Scandinavian Humor” (http://www.stanboreson.com/index.htm); By Kaitlin Manry “Stan Boreson Can’t Stop Singing” (Everett Herald, December 23 2007); Rick Anderson “Most Resistant to Makeovers” (Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006); Roger George “My Memoir of Growing Up in Seattle With Television” (Images of Television, September 3, 2014); “Stan Boreson 1925-2017” (Seattle Times Obituaries, January 27, 2017); “78’s fRom HeLL – – Listening in on Phone Chatter: Janette Davis – Hold The Phone, (and on line two) Stan Boreson & Doug Setterberg – The Telephone” (I’m Learning To Share, May 26, 2007); April Chandler “Stan Boreson: Fans Still Going Nuts Over Funny Norwegian” (The Kitsap Sun, January 7, 1998); Dawn Broughton “Remembering Stan Boreson of KING’s Klubhouse” (King TV, February 1, 2017); “How Was He Different?” Seattle Television History); Sherry Strickling “Yust the two of us: Stan and Barbara Boreson Have Kept Each Other Laughing For Nearly 50 Years” (The Seattle Times, July 15, 2001); Kari Bray “Stan Boreson, ‘King of Scandinavian Humor Dies at 91 (The Everett Herald, February 1, 2017); Melinda Bargreen “The Klubhouse Is Open Again” (The Seattle Times, December 15, 1991); “Barbara Jean Boreson” (Obituary, The Seattle Times, August 20, 2017); John Louis Anderson “Scandinavian Humor and Other Myths” Nordbook, 1986); Will Jones “Yorgesson? Yust A Phoney” (‘After The Last Night’ The Minneapolis Tribune, April 18, 1950); Will Jones “Smart Swede Fails To Click” (‘After Last Night’,  The Minneapolis Tribune, June 22, 1950); ” ‘Yogi Yorgesson Killed In Car Crash” (The Minneapolis Star, May 21, 1956); Susan Paynter “Boreson’s Living Proof That Silliness is Good For Your Health” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 5, 2005

 

PAT WRIGHT & THE TOTAL EXPERIENCE GOSPEL CHOIR

Since it’s formation in 1973 the Total Experience Gospel Choir has travelled the nation and across the globe, from the Far East to Europe to Russia and a lot of places in between.  Under the tutelage of Pastor Pat Wright, the Total Experience Gospel Choir has  journeyed to Japan where they not only presented their ministry through song, but also delivered supplies to victims of the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami who had taken refuge  in Ishinomaki, Japan. In 2006 the Total Experience Gospel Choir also travelled to Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi to help victims of Hurricane Katrina and to rebuild and refurbish homes for hurricane victims in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Pat Wright was honored for her and the choir’s efforts by ABC News World News Tonight.  In May of 2007 she was named one of that month’s Person of the Week, and later in a broadcast on December 27 2007, Pat was declared one of 2007’s “Persons of the Year”. It’s clear that the choir is not only one of the Northwest’s greatest musical assets, they spread their ministry through music, and actual, on-the-ground help.

Aside from performing for President Bill Clinton and President Obama,  the Total Experience Gospel Choir have been featured at prestigious venues from the Sydney Opera House to The Mormon Tabernacle.  Even though they’ve been ambassadors around the world, and won many prestigious awards, it’s clear the Pastor Wright’s greatest mission is to the uplifting of her own community, here in Seattle.

Pat Wright was born Patrinell Staten in Odessa Texas as one of eight children.  Her father was a Baptist preacher and her mother taught school.  Both parents urged her to pursue a career in gospel music.  Having started to sing at an early age, Pat performed her first solo at the age of 3 and by the time she was 14 Pat had taught herself to play piano and was directing two choirs in her father’s church.  Her parents saw to it Pat grew up in the church, but education also played an important part in her upbringing.  Pat graduated as valedictorian of her high school class (Turner High School, 1961)  and later attended Prairie View A&M College just north of Houston TX.

Pat first arrived in Seattle in October of 1964 to help her sister, who was then going through a divorce.  Her intention was to be of assistance to her sister, and then move back home.  She later explained her plan to return to Carthage, but then discovered she could make $7 a week in Seattle compared to $3 back home.  She chose to throw her lot in and remain.

At the time Pat moved to Seattle, the nation was embroiled in the Civil Rights struggle.  Pat had felt the sting of segregation and discrimination back in Texas, and on her bus trip from Carthage to Seattle.  In 2014 Pat told local Seattle (and PBS) TV presenter Enrique Cerna:

“The bus ride took about four days. Being the only African American and the only female on the bus for the last 2500 miles was quite an experience. When she finally got to Seattle, after having survived just about every abuse on that long ride, she wanted to get back on the bus and go home. “But I’ve always had a bulldog tendency,” she admitted. “I decided to stay. The lessons I needed to survive…gave me a backbone that won’t quit.”, they’ve always told me that. And I decided that I was going to stay. But it was a very hard time for me because it was at the height of the civil rights movement, and I had participated in the civil rights movement personally, because I was in college at the time. A small college, A&M, now university…”

Having decided to stay in Seattle, Pat naturally gravitated toward the church and to gospel music in general.  Her sister lived in Renton, but regularly visited a church in Seattle. On one of their trips into Seattle to attend church one Sunday Pat says she heard music coming from a church across the street. The church she was sitting in must have bored her and she was drawn to the other church.  She walked across the street and entered the church.   “I remember stumbling over somebody’s feet trying to get a seat because the place was pretty packed. And that somebody happened to end up being my husband” Benny Wright who became a preacher in his own right, has always been critical in Pat’s Total Experience Gospel Choir and her other endeavors. Benny also became teacher and football coach at Seattle’s Franklin High School and also served as head chaplain for the King County Youth Detention Facility in Seattle.  Both his and Pat’s ministry have always revolved around helping at-risk youth.

Pat says she always knew the ministry was her calling, but for a brief period she walked away in order to pursue a more secular side of her life.  She says she briefly gave up gospel back in the late ‘60s. “Actually decided I was tired of gospel, so I was going to try my hand at soul music.”

As music historian and author Peter Blecha wrote in 2013:

“In 1969 Wright was discovered singing in church by a recent Louisiana transplant, LaVera Clark, who took Wright under her wing, telling the songbird, as Wright recalled years later, “A voice like yours — the world needs to hear it and they’re not gonna hear it in church. They are not going to church to hear it! … Especially in Seattle” 

The two began composing songs together and then making test recordings in Clark’s little home studio (2407 E Boston Avenue). Clark then matched the singer with a previously existing group, the Blenders, and they re-emerged as Patrinell and the Casanovas. Clark, who wanted to promote rhythm and blues music locally, then formed her own Sepia Records company to do so. After a trip to Vancouver, B.C., to record a few songs, Sepia released a single — “I Let a Good Man Go”b/w”Little Love Affair” (Sepia Records No. 8201). By September, Seattle’s soul station, KYAC, began pumping it up to hit status locally”.

The pressing on Sepia Records was small, but that didn’t stop it from being a regional R&B hit…but the story of Pat’s foray into R&B and soul goes much deeper.  We’ll leave that story to a seprate, future post.

By 1970 Pat had been hired by the Seattle School district to lead a class in gospel music at Roosevelt High in the north end of the city. Pat initially led what was known as The Franklin High School Gospel Choir.  It was later known as The Black Experience Gospel Choir  The Seattle School District hired Wright to teach and conduct gospel music.  She also began work at radio station KYAC as a DJ playing a gospel music program that lasted 13 years.  She had begun her own gospel group, Patrinell Wright’s Inspirational Seven.  The Inspirational Seven were guests of churches around town as well as taking part in organized events in support of the still simmering racial divide in the US and as a way to support self-determination among the black community at large, drives to fight sickle-cell anemia and to help raise funds for KYAC among other causes.

After two years teaching gospel choir at Roosevelt High, funds for her program dried up and Pat was left without a day job.  But this set-back proved to be the birth of Pat’s Total Experience Gospel Choir.  She began taking the lessons she’d learned in her gospel background, her secular experience and her ministry to young people through music.   In the process she created one of Seattle’s longest-running musical outfits, based on Pastor Wright’s determination to help kids in her community.   She wanted to offer a safe, positive environment at-risk youth could escape to, and allow them to take part in the world outside their own neighborhoods.

Soon after forming the Total Exerience Gospel Choir it swelled to over 100 students that she’d brought along from Roosevelt High and the Mount Zion Baptist Church. Soon Pat opened the choir to non-students and people of all ethnic background and race, even though the thrust of her work remained her ministering to black youth as well as other communities of color.

One of the most remarkable aspects of  The Total Experience Gospel Choir is that there are no auditions in order to be a member.  From the beginning Pat seemed to take the position “if you can’t sing, come on down-we’ll teach you”.  Despite causing the Choir to become chaotic and unfocused, the opposite occurred-Pat’s Choir began to win awards and honors both in the Northwest and around the nation-and beyond.  The Total Experience Gospel Choir would become one of America’s most famous and most beloved Choirs in the country.  With more recognition the Total Experience Gospel Choir were able to raise the money it takes to take a large-scale choir on the road-both within the US and outside.  The Choir has won numerous awards and traveled to 38 states and performed on five continents in 28 countries at last tally.  They have been welcomed with open arms everywhere they’ve gone.

Pat worked ceaselessly and seemed capable of juggling the tasks to run the choir, to continue in her own ministry, plan tours, raise money, become a soloist in her own right, and finally to open and run her own store-front church.  Granted, Pat relied on volunteers, but even the co-ordination of volunteers took a great deal of energy.

Eventually disaster-or divine intervention-came into Pat’s life.  On March 18, 2001 Pastor Pat Wright was struck by a heart attack.  Pat believes she died that day, but God sent her back to continue her work and her ministry.  Pat had been born with a hole in her heart, but her family had no money for doctors growing up, and the condition went unknown until a medical examination when Pat was 23 years old.

Once healed from her brush with death, Pat went back to her hectic schedule-and also became an ambassador for the American Heart Association.  In 2006 she told Seattle Times reporter Nicole Brodeur that sometimes her colleagues feel uncomfortable when she speaks of divine intervention and the gates of heaven.

“They don’t think faith should be a part of it,” she said of her survival story. “But how could it not be?”

As the Choir began to become more well-respected Pat recognized the need to bring of all ethnicities into the choir. This particularly hit home because, as she says, she grew up in the South where mixed marriage-at least during her youth-was very uncommon.  As Seattle became more enlightened she noticed more and more children of mixed-ethnicity were becoming members of the Choir. She realized that they (and others) deserved to learn about their heritage no matter how Caucasian they might look.  Besides, both Caucasian and kids-of-color were facing the same temptations and dangers.

Pat had also opened more opportunities for adults to take part.  A good deal of them were white and they still remain an important part of the Total Experience Gospel Choir-both those who are married to people of color, and those who have married within their own ethnicity. But the goal she’s always worked toward is improving the lot in life of at-risk kids…who are more often found in the African-American community  This is an attitude Caucasian and mixed ethnicity adults in the Choir also share.

The 1990’s and early 2000s saw the Total Experience Gospel Choir attract more and more attention and these years may possibly be the most successful of the choirs mission to date.  Although Pat remained dedicated to her gospel roots she would make a very unusual move in during the early 2000s..  Seattle-based Light In The Attic records released the album Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest In Funk & Soul 1965-75 in 2004.  The album included artists who had been involved in the early Seattle Sound that developed in the late 1950s and into the 1960s.  Pat Wright’s only soul single (I let a Good Man Go b/w Little Love Affair) was included in the boxed set of newly pressed 7″ singles.  A  reunion show and the release of the album was so well-received that almost immediately a follow-up album was planned.  This newer release would include artists that had previously worked with one of the Northwest’s most important studio engineers, Kearney Barton.  Barton had been instrumental in developing the Northwest Sound by recording The Wailers, The Ventures, The Sonics, The Fleetwoods, The Frantics, Quincy Jones, Dave Lewis, The Kingsmen and other artists that were responsible for establishing a regional sound that was every bit as important as the “grunge” coming out of Seattle in the 1990s.   Paricipants in the new recordings did both originals and covers of current music.  The tracks were recorded at Barton’s original studio, Audio Sounds, and fittingly as analog recordings.

Pat Wright and the Total Experience Gospel Choir chose the most audacious song of the collection on what would be released under the title Wheedle’s Groove: Kearney Barton.  Their choice was a cover of Soundgarden’s Jesus Christ Pose.  Despite the title, Jesus Christ Pose was a secular piece of rock music that was critical of celebrities, private and public figures that used religion in a false show self-aggrandizement.  In short, it was critical of those who used religion as a hammer.  In an incredible turnabout Pat and the Choir turned the tables on the meaning of the song.  The point Pat was making was equally critical, but it was aimed at Christians believing themselves better than others, rather than the pretention of celebrities trying to criticize religion itself.  Pat and the Total Experience Gospel Choir managed to turn what might be thought of as a cynical and non-religious song into a warning against intolerance and self-importance.  Reports at the time indicated that the members of Soundgarden liked Pat’s rendition.  It’s such a powerful version that it’s hard not to like!  It clearly impressed music fans that had not given gospel music much of a listen.  The performance was roundly praised by critics as the finest song in the fine collection found on the album.

Shortly after it’s release in 2009 Pat Wright told Dave Segal of The Stranger:

“I was asked to put my own personality on it. I thought that the music was great. Soundgarden is a very powerful group. I was already working with the gentleman [Matt Cameron] who played drums for them… on another project. So I felt very comfortable doing it. And besides, the words of the song epitomize what I try to say in my sermons and the way I live my life. [Light In the Attic Records] said, ‘You can put a little gospel twist on it.’ Well, I’m a gospel singer and a minister and a pastor, so therefore I put my little twist on it.”

For the last few years Pat Wright has continued to work with the Total Experience Gospel Choir, taking their ministry of song around the country, and lending a practical hand where they see they’re needed.  Pastor Benny Wright has retired…a few years ago he had knee surgery.  Pat continues to be the whirlwind she’s always been, but has had to slow down a bit.  As of this writing (September 2017) she is working on a new album and continues to solo with the choir.  Aside from their usual appearances the Choir has backed up artists as diverse as Barry Manilow and Dave Matthews.  The majority of the current members of the Total Experience Gospel Choir are adults that have grown up in the Choir, or joined within the past decade or two.  Sadly, gospel music has fallen out of fashion among younger people these days, and the black community’s roots in the church have become less important.  But gospel music lives on despite it’s adversities….another total experience in the history of blacks in America.  It is certain to make a renewal, the more that people understand it’s importance in itself, and to pop music.

Many music fans today ignore gospel music, probably because of it’s roots in Christianity.  But the fact is that most of the great R&B and Soul artists of the past and present have deep roots in gospel and in the church.  It was the secularization of the lyrics, not the music of gospel that gave rise to artists like Aretha Franklin, The Winans, James Brown, Ben E. King, Otis Redding, George Clinton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a host of other widely vaying artists.  Even the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson has an important place in the development of popular music.  It was Mahalia, more than anyone that brought gospel music into American homes through TV and radio.  If you’re one of those who feel turned-off by religious music, have a listen to any good gospel choir.  Let the sound and the passion roll over you.  You will soon find yourself tapping to the music and experiencing the communal joy that gospel brings.  At the very least Pat Wright and The Total Experience Gospel Choir deserve a listen.  You might just see them for what they are; an important, but too-often overlooked part of Northwest music history.

For upcoming live performances of the Total Experience Gospel Choir see the schedule at http://www.totalexperiencegospelchoir.org/calendar

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources: Nicole Brodeur “Heartening Glimpse of Heaven” (The Seattle Times, February 23, 2006); Unknown Author “Pat Wright: Seattle’s First Lady of Gospel” (Northwest Prime Time, November 29, 2014); Peter Blecha “Wright, Pat b.1944” (HistoryLink.org Essay 10392, June 16, 2013); Interview with Enrique Cerna (KCTS, January 30. 2012); Misha Berson “Pat Wright’s Total Experience-Seattle’s Mistress of Music Lives The Gospel She Sings” (The Seattle Times, December 10, 1998)  Terry Morgan (interview with the author, September 22, 2017); Dave Segal (Barton Funk in the Soundgarden of Eden: How Wheedle’s Groove Revived Old-School Seattle Soul, September 3, 2009); Jason Ankeny (Patrinell Staten Biography, allmusic.com); Total Experience Gospel Choir home page ( http://www.totalexperiencegospelchoir.org/ ); Photo: Christopher Nelson.

SILLY KILLERS

The Silly Killers are one of early 80s Seattle punk bands that would probably be forgotten years ago if it wasn’t for the fact that former Guns N’Roses’ Michael “Duff” McKagen was a member for a short time.  One has to wonder what rabid metal fans would have felt if Duff had continued playing in a multitude of punk bands before becoming famous in one of the all-time most successful metal bands in history; after all McKagen, from a very young age, was one of the most prolific members of early Seattle punk.  Most likely all of his hard work might have been little more than a footnote were it not for relocating from Seattle to Los Angeles-being a footnote is a fate he obviously would not deserve.  But in spite of McKagen’s short time with the Silly Killers, they had already become stars in their own right among Seattle’s punk community. The Silly Killers’ reputation in recent years has also has been heightened by new-found interest in their only 7” recording of what’s usually referred to as the Knife Manual EP, and two other hard to find tracks that have only been “officially” released on the excellent 1983 cassette “What Syndrome” put out by local label Deux Ex Machina Records And Tapes in 1983.

Then there’s Slats (born Chris Harvey) founding member of the Silly Killers who died in 2010 after years of being an iconic figure not only in the punk community, but in the city at large. Despite his ongoing addiction and alcoholism Slats made the rounds two and a half decades as a highly visible character in both Seattle’s University District and on Capitol Hill.  Some worried about him.  Others made bets on how long he would live.  Aside from that Slats was a genial, kind and generous person who had simply found himself in the grips of addiction.  Some friends have reported that he was clean his last few years, but there’s no doubt he was not sober.  You could often find him drinking in one of Seattle’s many musicians’ hangouts-always ready to talk and (what the hell) accept a free drink.  However addiction is in no way a character flaw and it’s clear that many were touched by his legacy…friends who had known him for years, and strangers who had only sighted him from afar.  He was much more than a cast-off.

From the mid 80’s onward Slats was well known for his “uniform”.  Punk-rock (all black) regalia, including skinny jeans and ratted, longish black hair almost always topped by a wide-brimmed hat.  If he never became a huge rock star he was always dressed as if he would be soon…perhaps as a re-incarnation of Johnny Thunders. But the legacy of the Silly Killers goes beyond an iconic figure or a member of rock royalty. The Silly Killers began as one of a handful of seminal second generation hardcore bands that arose in Seattle during the early 1980’s.  It’s might even be misleading to call the Silly Killers “hardcore” since their music and performances did not follow the formula most early hardcore bands did.  The singing of vocalist Eddie Huget could be nuanced instead of a constant, disembodied supposedly traumatized suburban scream.  The songs were actually melodic at times…it might be more appropriate to call the Silly Killers a great little rock and roll band that found it’s place among punk rock.

The band was not above pissing off everyone, including their own fans.  Instead of using the term “pissing off” “taking the piss out of” may be more correct.  Often acting as provocateurs 0n several occasions the band used what seemed to be misogynistic images to promote their shows.  The images drew the wrath of those who didn’t see it as funny or as a stunt to heighten the Silly Killers image in the public eye.   Needless to say, they managed to anger Seattle’s feminist and lesbian communities often.

It’s been reported that in 1982 the Silly Killers were part of the very first punk-rock show in Tacoma, which is about 25 miles south of Seattle.  The bill included The Fartz and Wad Squad (led by the equally iconic Chuck “Upchuck” Gerra).  This claim could be argued, since punk was not new to Tacoma, but it’s also probable that this could have been the first, most visible show of important Seattle bands to do an all-ages show in Tacoma.  Nonetheless the Silly Killers had already made a name for themselves in Seattle,  although often found themselves as the opening act for more well-known local and regional bands.  Despite being largely a support band the Silly Killers had a devoted following and it grew each time they hit the stage.

It was during this era that the Silly Killers recorded their now infamous Knife Manual EP for Kurt Bloch’s No Threes Records.  Kurt was a founding member of The Fastbacks and another highly visible musician-even to this day- on the Seattle scene.  Although the output of No Threes was sporadic during the early 80s Kurt managed to release some of the most classic (and consequently desirable) singles of any local label.  His first four releases (Kill The BeeGees by The Accident,  Man as Hunter by The Cheaters, The Fastbacks debut single It’s Your Birthday and “You May Not Believe In Vains But You Cannot Deny Terror” by Vains-which also featured the near ubiquitous Duff McKagen. No Threes went on to release several Fastbacks records as well as other bands, including Pure Joy, and more recently The Yes Masters and Full Toilet as well as an excellent compilation of the early Fastbacks recordings. No Threes is still active and has also re-issued many of it’s original releases-except, mysteriously, the Silly Killers.

The fact that Silly Killers tracks have been included in several unauthorized bootlegs over the years deprived the original members even a modest amount of royalties.  One of the unauthorized compilations the Silly Killers can be found on is Killed By Death Volume 12 (1996, Redrum Records).  In fact the cover art for this volume is based on the very same image the Silly Killers used on their Knife Manual EP…but then again, they had stolen the image themselves. The photo used on the cover of Knife Manual is that of wrestler turned Ed Wood actor Tor Johnson.  Johnson is probably known best as the hulking figure in both Bride of the Monster (1955) and Plan Nine From Outer Space (1959) as well as a few other Ed Wood films.  But, amazingly, Johnson was also featured in film and television from the big screen musical adaptation of Carousel to television’s Shirley Temple Theater to the Monkees psychedelic outing Head.

There have also been a few legitimate releases of the Silly Killers songs.  Among them is a tip of the hat from later Seattle favorites Gas Huffer.  They contributed their version of Knife Manual in 1992 on a split single with Mudhoney doing a cover of The Angry Samoan’s “You Stupid Asshole”.

The Silly Killers, like most early practitioners of punk never expected to make any money in the first place. They played and recorded for the hell of it, and knowing they’d be entertaining their fans.  They probably never dreamed they would have the status and influence of later generations.  After all, a review in the region’s premier music magazine The Rocket gave it a poor review, and sales of the 7” EP were modest at best.  Today copies are highly prized on the collectors market, but practically impossible to find…one copy recently sold for $200.

The Silly Killers were exceptionally entertaining live. Slats thrashed on guitar while lead singer Eddie  often Huletz feigned indifference when he wasn’t singing.  Both Gary Clukey and  Tim Gowell (now Steven Gowell) played with abandon. The shows could end in chaos (to the glee of audiences) and their set was filled with confrontational lyrics as well as the song titles on their EP which included Sissie Faggots and Social Bitch.  More strident members of the public had no sense of irony and considered the Silly Killers to be misogynistic and homophobic.  Of course it was all provocation as part of their schtick.  It should be noted here that Duff McKagen was not with the band at the time of their recording Knife Manual, but he is credited with “backing vocals” on the song Social Bitch.  By the time the Silly Killers recorded the two songs originally released on What Syndrome (Nothing To Say and Big Machine) Duff had replaced Gowell as drummer.  The band would dissolve soon after that, leaving Eddie and Gary (as well as Tim/Steven) to follow other pursuits while Duff McKagen continued his path toward becoming a rock star-and Seattle hero. As for Slats, he would continue to be a well-known figure in and around the Seattle music scene as well as somewhat of a cultural icon in the city-for decades.  He drifted in and out of bands, or made attempts at forming bands that never materialized and eventually went on to found Pain Cocktail, his final band.  He became a sort of romantic figure of the archetypical rock junkie that became almost de rigueur in some circles…especially in Seattle during the late 80s and early 90s.  Whether being taken seriously as a musician or simply “just another junkie” he was both revered and reviled by students University District where he was considered an “Ave. Rat” who was admired by others.  Later he spent time on the ever-more gentrified Capitol Hill.  “The Hill” still remained an important locale of the music scene and despite being written off  by many who didn’t know him, Slats was always ready to talk to anyone who approached him. According to Ross Beamish a fellow member of Pain Cocktail

I asked Slats one day if he had seen any of the bullshit people posted online about him.  He just shook his head casually and continued with whatever he was doing. It really didn’t bother him.” 

That was typical Slats…living in a world he’d built for himself but ready to engage with anyone and everyone with a respectful deference and kind heart.  In other words Slats was a good guy, despite his failings…and what failings he had didn’t really affect too many others outside of his mother.

In the spring of 2010 Slats fell and had to have hip surgery.  His lifestyle had done quite a bit of damage to his general health and he died from complications of the surgery on March 13, 2010.  There was a more-than-usual outpouring of love from the community for a one-time punk rocker turned professional addict/alcoholic.  His loss was mourned not only by his friends and family, but by strangers who had only had an occassional glimpse of him.  He’s remembered as a kind eccentric, and probably will be referred to for upcoming historians of Seattle music in the future.  But his lasting legacy will also be based on being involved in one 7” chunk of polyvinyl chloride pressed into a Seattle watershed moment.

-Dennis R.White. Sources: wabbit34, (last fm.com) Chris Harvey (discussions with the author 1984-2005};  “Knife Manual EP 7″ (biography and comments, Killed By Death Records, 1982-present) ” “Legendary Ave Rat Chris Harvey, AKA Slats, dies” (10 Things ‘Zine, March 16, 2010);  Josef Alton. “In Memorium” (City Arts, April 27, 2010); Justin Vinson “Silly Killers EP”  (Sugarbuzz Magaizine.com, date unknown)  “Tor Johnson” (IMDb.com)  “Not That Time Again” Video Slideshow ©Mike Leach

BONNIE GUITAR

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

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

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

Around this time Bonnie took on the name she would always be known as- Bonnie Guitar. Bonnie recalls that one day a songwriter approached her with a few songs he wanted her to do demo’s of in order to shop them to labels in southern California. The songs themselves never went anywhere, but an independent producer, Fabor Robison heard Bonnie’s voice and her by now exceptional playing.  He immediately called her and convinced her to come to LA and work with his team.  Robison was well-connected in the growing country music scene.  He’d been involved in the early careers of Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton, the Browns, Mitchell Torok, Floyd Cramer along with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette.  His original label, Abbott Records had been a success starting in 1951 Robison established Abbott Records with the financial backing of pharmacist Sid Abbott and the major goal was to record Johnny Horton who Robison had discovered in Texas.  In fact all ten of Abbott Records first releases featured Johnny Horton. However, distribution problems led Robison to sell Horton’s contract to Mercury in mid-1952.  Even so, Fabor Robison’s Abbott and Fabor labels would find a good deal of success with later artists.

By early 1957 Robison had been trying to produce a new composition written by another of his studio players, Ned Miller. Despite take after take with Dorsey Burnette he was dissatisfied with the outcome. In his book Seattle Before Rock: A City and It’s Music author Kurt Armbruster recounts Bonnies tale:

I had been working in Seattle, and a woman asked me to demo seven or eight songs she’d written. I recorded them, and she sent the disc to Fabor Robison, a producer in L.A.  Fabor called ‘How soon can you get down here?’ I flew down and he hired me as a staff musician in his studio in Malibu Canyon. I played on and helped produce every hit record he had.  One day Fabor said ‘I have a new song that I’m recording with Dorsey Burnette (brother of Johnny Burnette).  I want you to hear it’.  Dorsey had had a big hit and was on his way up the charts.  Well, Fabor played me this song, Dark Moon and I was knocked out.  I had to have it!  I’ll forego all my royalties to record this song.  It’s going to be a smash!  So I recorded it and sure enough it hit big.  But what I didn’t know was that Fabor had already recorded the song with Dorsey and didn’t like the result.  He didn’t bother telling me that”.

Bonnie, was so taken by the song she convinced Fabor to allow her to record it, and hopefully release it as a single.  In exchange she told Fabor she was willing to forego all of the royalties that would be due her just to have a chance at the opportunity.  This was not a smart business deal, but it taught Bonnie lessons she would later be grateful for, and most of all it provided Bonnie with her first huge hit in 1957.  The song would become her signature song, and in it’s  has been covered by everyone form Elvis Presely to Chet Atkins & Hank Snow to Chris Issacs and beyond.
Bonnie had done what she calls “hundred of takes” on the song, accompanied by a backing band and larger production than the final version.  It is this spare, haunting, ethereal and shimmering.  Bonnie told the story in a later interview

Fabor recorded me on Dark Moon with as many as twelve musicians; we must have done it a hundred times, with different combinations, and still he wasn’t satisfied. Then one night Fabor and Ned Miller and I went into the studio to record it as a quartet.  I asked Ned to play just a straight rhythm on acoustic guitar, I played lead, and we had a bass.  That simple version was the one we ended up releasing’.

At the time Bonnie recorded “Dark Moon” Fabor was in search of a larger label to sell his company to, and found a taker in Dot Records who had the muscle and distribution to make Dark Moon a crossover hit on billboard magazne’s charts reaching # 14 on the country charts, and an amazing #6 on the popular chart.

At the height to Bonnie’s position in the charts another Dot artist

, Gale Storm (of My Little Margie fame) also recorded a version of Dark Moon. Storm’s version also raced up the charts and caused some confusion among the public.  But there’s no doubt that Bonnie’s rendition was far superior.  It was haunting and Bonnie’s crystal voice wasn’t muddied by the highly arranged and over-produced Gale Storm version.  Although this would be the last hit record for Gale her producer Randy Wood chose to present a version that was akin to what Pat Boone had done with early rock and roll hits.

Even though Gale Storms’ version charted slightly higher than Bonnie’s, at #4 in the charts, it is Bonnie Guitar’s version that is clealy the definitive recording.  Unfortunately Bonnie’s follow-up single Mr. Fire Eyes did well on the country charts but failed to make much of a dent on the pop charts.  The single only reached the #71 spot on Billboard’s pop chart.  Subsequently she was dropped from Dot Records.  In the future Bonnie Guitar would continue to record albums, release singles, play as a session musician and produce even though she chose to move back to the Seattle area.  She had a clear and dedicated base that weren’t interested in letting her go, despite her treatment by Dot Records.  In fact, Bonnie would later be picked up by several major labels into the 1980. But for the time being Bonnie turned her eye to found her own record label and produce other’s records.  In 1958 she paired up with former Seattle refrigerator salesman Bob Reisdorff to form Dolphin Records.  Soon after the labels founding Bonnie and Bob discovered there was already a label and record store using the Dolphin name.  The label (and store) was owned by John Dolphin a prominent black producer who had had great success in what were then called “race records”- R&B. Jazz and early Rock and Roll primarily aimed at black fans and among white teens and DJs that were more progressive.  Bonnie and Bob changed the name of their label to Dolton Records but before they made the change Bonnie came across a vocal group from Olympia WA   The group consisted of Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher, and Barbara Ellis .With Bonnie as producer and Reisdorff mainly in charge of finances the label had a hit straight out of the box with three vocalists from who went by the name The Fleetwoods . Come Softly With Me was a song the trio had written and it became an international sensation that was soon covered-and remains covered-by a multitude of American and British artists.  The attention of the first Dolphin/Dolton single led to a distribution deal with Liberty Records which lasted until Dolton merged with Liberty Records in 1966.  The Fleetwoods second hit (their third outing) with the newly-christened Dolton label was Mr. Blue. It quickly topped Billboard’s pop charts.  Later artists that found success with Dolton were Vic Dana who was a solo artist that had also taken on vocals for live gigs when Gary Troxell was drafted into the military. Other groups that would get their first taste of success at Dolton were Seattle’s The Frantics, and a little combo from Tacoma WA named The Ventures. The Ventures were dubbed “The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands” and ended up releasing 12 projects with Dolton.  Today The Ventures are considered seminal founders of what is considered modern Rock&Roll.

Bonnie herself released a few projects of her own on Dolton, the most intriguing being a song called Candy Apple Red, a self-penned song that she used to show off the virtues of her favorite car that she’d bought in 1956; a candy apple red Ford Fairlane 500 Skyliner hardtop convertible.  It was a first production model with a retractable top. Bonnie bought it in 1956 and had it personalized with red guitars stitched into its white leather seats and musical notes that were fashioned into its hubcaps by hotrod hotshot Dee Wescott.  She still owns it.

Although Bonnie had been a co-founder of Dolton Records, there had been friction between herself and co-owner Bob Reisdorff, so in 1960 she left Dolton with another ex-employee, Jerry Denon to found Seattle-based Jerden Records.  Unfortunately Jerden only lasted for about a year, and both Bonnie and Dennon returned to Los Angeles.  Bonnie became a recording artist for Columbia and RCA records, and later returned to Dot Records, who had unceremoniously fired her only a few years before.  Eventually Bonnie ended up being a vice-president at Dot.

Dennon worked in promotions until he was drafted into the army.  Upon leaving the army Dennon revived the Jerden label as sole owner and re-released the entire Jerden catalogue-which featured several of Bonnie’s own recordings and others she had produced.  This second iteration of Jerden Records was far more successful than the first.  In 1963 Jerden released the single Louie Louie by The Kingsmen– a song which has become a high water mark in rock and roll history…and for better or worse on January 24th,  1986 Louie Louie was named the official song  of Washington State.

Bonnie churned out recording after recording during the 1960s and although most were only minor pop hits she continued to have a strong country music fan base and gained more and more respect from both the pop and the country music establishment.  By 1968 she had become one of the all-time biggest country solo artists in history. Later Bonnie released the successful country music hit I’m Living in Two Worlds which became Guitar’s first Top 10 Country hit and she released an even bigger country hit in 1967 with A Woman in Love which peaked at #4 on the Billboard charts. That same year, Bonnie won the Academy of Country Music’s “Top Female Vocalist” award. In 1968, she recorded another Top 10 Country hit I Believe in Love.  And finally she teamed up with Buddy Killen in 1969 to put out A Truer Love You’ll Never Find (Than Mine).  By that time Bonnie’s recording career had pretty much run it’s course, though she continued producing and became more and more involved with the business side of music, working as a talent scout, producer and an A&R representative…all positions she had previously involved herself in and was known for being very sharp at.

In 1969 Bonnie married Mario DiPiano and moved back to Washington State-Orting WA to be precise.  She and her husband spent their time raising quarter horses, but the pull of Hollywood and Nashville was too great.  She continued recording throughout the 1970s.  After DiPiano died in 1983 Bonnie went into seclusion.  A couple of years after Di Piano’s death -the man she called the love of my life-Bonnie received an invitation to perform one show at the Businessmen’s Club of the Notaras Lodge in the desert town of Soap Lake WA.  That single performance led to a residency that lasted until 1996!  Today Bonnie lives in Soap Lake and still tries to do a gig here and there.  She is somewhat active on face book and is happy to share memories and update daily occurances as health permits.

It’s hard to say if Bonnie Guitar was the first female session musician, but she’s the earliest we know of.  She’s certainly the first female artist to crossover from the Country charts to the Pop charts, and it’s near-certain that she was the first woman allowed to take on the task of music studio production.  Again, we simply don’t know of any woman that had previously done that job.  The world owes a great debt of gratitude to Bonnie Guitar, even though her accomplishments may seem over-shadowed today.  But she is surely one of the all-time greats in American recorded music and in the business of creating hits.

On March 23rd 2917 Bonnie Guitar turned 94 years old.  Her latest face book post (July 17, 2017) says:

It has been a little while but I have been working on getting stronger and ready to play some music for you all ! With kindest regards.
BG

-Dennis R. White. Sources:  The Herstory of Women in Rock N’ Roll, Vol 1. By Tia (Vashtia.com, March 15, 2017; Guitar, Bonnie (b. 1923) The Northwest’s Trail-Blazing Pop Pioneer, by Peter Blecha, (Posted 6/19/2008 HistoryLink.org Essay 8656); Womans Work-Bonnie Guitar, by Linda Ray, (No Depression, December 31, 2006); At Age 93, Northwest Music Legend ‘Bonnie Guitar’ Still Gigs Every Weekend by Gabriel Spitzer (KXPX.org, Nov 26, 2011);  Before Seattle Rocked: A City and Its Music, by Kurt E Armbruster (University of Washington Press 2011)