Northwest Music History: Psych/Prog

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN
Tom Dyer & Green Monkey Records

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

Tom Dyer in his studio 2019.  Photo: Howie Wahlen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poster by Tom Dyer & The Adults

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truth or Consequences. 1982. Cover Art Vicki Dyer.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

“Why the name Green Monkey Records?

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

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

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

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

“George Romansic thought it scary!” he adds.

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

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

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

DJ Steve Rabow. 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Epp. The Metropolis Feb. 3, 1994

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey Business (Compilation) 1986

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

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

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

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

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

Kim The Waitress. 1986

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been three decades now, Tim.

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

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

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

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

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

Tom has kept his promise.

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

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

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

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

Howie Wahlen.    Selfie by Howie Wahlen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monkey Business III. (compilation) 2016

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Maggie Teachout

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

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

Mike Refuzor 1953-2017

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Peterson. Seven. 2019 Cover Photo: Eric Johnson

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

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

Directed by Ken Harder & Scott Milam. 2004

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

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

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

OKAY, YOU JOLLY CHRISTMATOLOGISTS!

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

Green Monkey on My Back.
GMR Christmas 6. 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Author-Dennis R. White

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

NW SONGWRITERS: A STRAW POLL

James Marshall Hendrix, Paratrooper, 101st Airborne Division 1960-1961

Recently I took a straw poll of friends asking:

Who do you think is the most important songwriter to come out of the Northwest? This is not a quiz and there are no wrong answers.

Some of the responses were obvious, many were downright baffling and others were very close to what my personal belief of what a songwriter truly is.  I left my question open-ended as an experiment to find out what others might give their explanation of what and whom constitutes an important songwriter.  I made sure to tell those I polled  there were no wrong answers, allowing them to offer up names without spending too much time or offering up suggestions simply because they thought the person they chose was based on others’ (especially critics’) dubbing that artist as “most important”  Several people went on to ask what I defined as “important”.  My reply was that I did not want to define the term.  Everyone uses different criteria of what is “important”; besides I was more interested in others’ opinions, than my own.  I asked people to decide what was important to them because this was also an exercise was for me to understand what other people considered worthy.  I wanted to learn about how others saw things and challenge myself a bit in what I personally feel is important in a songwriting. I saw this as just as much a lesson for me.  It was by no means a popularity contest.

So here I’ll take my natural tendency to digress.

I am a fan of good songwriting.  I cannot put my finger on what it is exactly but I have certain criteria.  I think when a song’s lyric is written in a way that it may be interpreted universally by listeners is a good start. This is probably why so many songs deal in lyrics about the many states of love; from it’s stirrings, it’s longings, it’s attainment and it’s loss. I believe original, creative lyrics are important, but I know they are not always crucial to good songwriting.  They don’t need to be about love…but they usually speak to the human condition.  Beyond the universality of lyrics, the actual music is just as important.  I think sometimes people put more emphasis on lyrics rather than their combination with melody or arrangement. In my opinion all good songs are founded in the music.  I suppose most people at least subconsciously know that, despite the overemphasis of  lyrics alone.  But there’s no doubt a lyric can as easily set the mood as a melody.

Anyone who’s listened to the work of Frank Zappa might  point to “Peaches En Regalia”  (among others) as an example of brilliant songwriting  without the use of lyrics.  None of us can say what the song is actually about (except peaches dressed in the signs of their royal or noble status?) but there’s no doubt this song-among many other instrumentals-has been crafted, and composed in a way that each and every note seems to belongs exactly where it lies. It seems unlikely that anyone else would compose this particular song other than Frank Zappa. It contains a mix of elaborate musicianship, purposely-cheesy sounding orchestration and themes and a distinct left-of-center pop sensibility, although it’s highly influenced by jazz. For all it’s grandiosity of Peaches en Regalia uses an economy of tones and instrumentation.  It relies more on the unusual juxtaposition of sounds and an exceptional thematic device. More precisely; it’s fun to listen to.

On the other hand sometimes lyrics carry the day…a witty, unusual, or unexpected lyric might save an otherwise mediocre melody, but good songwriting rarely relies on the melody alone  The truth, to me, is that good songwriting is the result of craftspeople who devote their lives to songwriting, with little regard to who records their material….even  themselves.  This is what makes Leiber and Stoller, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Lennon and McCartney (together or separately) soar above the rest.  Songwriting is a craft unto itself to these writers  It goes beyond the performance of others, though there certainly are a large number of songwriters that are best suited to record their own material.  All of this congealed during the mid-19th century “Tin Pan Alley” an actual place in Manhattan on West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues,  “Tin Pan Alley” later became a collective term for the musicians, songwritersand publishers who dominated New Yorks’ popular music up until the mid-20th century.   If you ever visit New York City you will find a  comerrative plaque on the sidewalk on 28th Street between Sixth St. and Broadway.  Later, as songwriters drifted into the early days of rock and pop The Brill Building (1619 Broadway)  was considered their spiritual home.  The building had previously been a hotbed of activity for songwriting and publishing of music for the “big bands” like those of Benny Goodman or  The Dorsey brothers.  In the 1950s and the early 1960s  songwriters like Neil Diamond, Ellie Greenwich, Johnny Mercer, Billy Rose, Bobby Darin and Neil Sedaka Goffin and King, Leiber and Stoller emerged from The Brill building.  It proved to be a very successful time for songwriters pumping out well-crafted songs for teen idols, budding pop-stars and “girl groups”.  During the mid-60s “Tin Pan Alley” and The Brill Building became somewhat outdated.  By this time bands, individuals and those who would become singer/songwriters emerged, as well as the pop music charts becoming extremely influenced by “The British Invasion” The British had styled their s roots in the American blues rather than American popular music in general.  Soon the center of the music world shifted to the west coast even though many New York City-based songwriters were still able to create a hit or two.

 

In many cases the craftsmanship of songwriting is enhanced by the writers’ own renditions of their work..  This is the case with the aforementioned Elvis Costello or the collective work of a band like XTC.  Although I’d say there have been successful interpretations of Elvis Costello songs, it’s Elvis that usually supplies the definitive version.  In the case of XTC, it’s hard to imagine anyone else properly interpreting their work.

Other times we can actually hear and imagine the songwriter’s “voice” when a particular song is covered.  A case in point is The Monkee’s version of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”…really, who else could have written this song besides Neil?  Even though Diamond released his own version of it (about a year after The Monkee’s hit version) The song attributed to The Monkees is the one that counts and it should be!  The performance was actually recorded by guitarists Al Gorgoni and Sal Ditroia, Buddy Saltzman on drums, Carol Kaye on bass,  Artie Butler on the Vox Continental organ and the song’s producer, Jeff Barry, adding piano and tambourine.

It is Micky Dolenz’ vocals that add the typical Monkees sound, but the craftsmanship of Neil Diamond is the real star, no matter who played on the recording.  Aside from being a huge hit for The Monkees, Diamond once again shows his prowess as a songwriter because the song has also successfully interpreted by other artists-from The Four Tops to Robert Wyatt (his first recording after the June 1973 accident that left him a paraplegic).  It’s also famously been recorded by Smash Mouth for the film Shrek in 2001 but not quite as inventive or successful as other versions.

Another case may be made for the song “Theme from The Valley of The Dolls” as interpreted by Dionne Warwick.  The song itself was written by André and Dory Previn, instead of Dionne’s usual writers throughout her career, Hal David and Burt Bacharach.  Despite the mighty trio of Warwick, David and Bacharach, The Theme From The Valley of The Dolls remains as powerful an interpretation as anything else she has sung.  Of course it is Dionne’s incredible reading of the song that makes it so heart-tugging and melancholy as well as hopeful.  Another example of an interpretation of brilliant songwriting by another artist is Elvis Costello’s rendition of  “(What’s So Funny ‘bout) Peace Love and Understanding?”  I know I’m treading on thin ice here, but I’d say Costello’s rendition of an excellent song written by the gifted Nick Lowe is the definitive version of the song.  I believe this not only a sign of a great interpreter of another’s song, but also the sign of Lowe’s ability to write a near-perfect, unforgettable anthem.

My point (and I know I’ve been exhaustive about it) is that there is an animal called “the songwriter” whose first duty is to write solid, universal themes that combine well thought out lyrics and original, innovative  musical themes. This is a craft that takes hard work….much harder than merely performing the song, although a good song always deserves a good interpreter..  A good songwriter sculpts the song like Michelangelo, who claimed the end product was already within the stone.  It was his job to chip away enough to reveal what was already there.

Getting back to my straw poll, none of the writers’ work included writers included in the “Great American Songbook”. Although Spokane’s Al and Charles Rinker are considered among the talents of the era,  The more famous can be said to emerge out of the Northwest from that era is not someone we’d think or as a songwriter; it is the singer; Bing Crosby. In the late 1920s Bing  joined his Spokane friend Al Rinker  and pianist/singer Harry Barris to form The Rhythm Boys, who were featured as part of Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra. They had phenomenal success with both Rinker and Harris’s compositions as well as others’ writing.  The song below was written by Bing Crosby and Harry Barris. The song isn’t the most memorable of their output, but I’ve included it as an example of Bing Crosby’s early crack as a writer.

Al Rinker’s  brother Charles  wrote twenty-seven songs with Gene de Paul (who’d also written with Johnny Mercer) including “Your Name is Love”, which has been recorded by George Shearing and Nancy Wilson as well as other songs written by himself that have been recorded  by Frankie Lane, Red McKenzie, Shearing, Nancy Wilson, and Alan Dawson. Although both Al and Charles Rinker were capable songwriters who  crafted their music it’s hard to think of them as “important” since they are all but forgotten today.

I admit (once again) that I believe one of the hallmarks of an important songwriter is their ability to affect interpretations and long-term influence.  This can be somewhat confounding, because a composer’s work may be forgotten today, but at some time in the future re-discovered and influence unborn generations.  For my purposes I will only reflect on writers that we consider estimable from any time in the past up to the current era.  We cannot look into the future, nor can we anticipate a great songwriter’s work ever coming to light.

So let’s return to the original question:

Who do you think is the most important songwriter to come out of the Northwest?  

This was the question I asked in my straw poll, but I also invite YOU to ponder this messy question.  After all, the Northwest has a history of producing “important” songwriters, keeping in mind that the question in itself is based not only opinion, but personal taste and perhaps even a history of songwriting on your own part; and as I pointed out, there are no wrong answers

It shouldn’t come as a prize that the most often songwriter mentioned (according to my unscientific poll). was Kurt Cobain.  There’s absolutely no doubt he could write an excellent pop song, and partially wrap it up as something that could be defined loosely as “punk”.  I will refrain from the title “grunge” because I find it a useless and intellectually lazy…Any group of artists who’s output includes songs as diverse as Pearl Jam’s “Even Flow”, Seven Year Bitch’s M.I.A. or Nirvana’s cover of  David Bowie’s “The Man Who Sold The World” does not define a genre.  It might mark a period of successful Northwest bands, but the term itself denies the individuality of the bands who fall under this nonsensical term.  We can’t even compare it to the thread that ran through the 1960’s “San Francisco Sound” which largely relied on one similar electric guitar sound.

So, we know the place Kurt Cobain many people attribute to him. I believe most of Kurt’s talent was in listening intently to what had come before him, whether it was The Beatles or one of his particular favorites, Sonic Youth. He was able to distill everything from metal to punk to Americana and pop in crafting his songs.  The only question we can ask is, had he lived longer would his output have been as high-quality as what he left us?  We’ll never know.

The second most mentioned songwriter was Jimi Hendrix.  This seemed perplexing to me since I have always considered him an innovator and a performer rather than a songwriter; but looking a bit closer I can see brilliance in his writing, even though his output is far less than I’d have liked to see. I’d always seen his real strength as innovating the sound of the electric guitar and his incredible showmanship.   It was possible for him to “ramble” along a riff, playing guitar, with no discernable song structure, and still overwhelm and amaze his listeners.  I will admit I thought  that the core of his guitar pyrotechnics was strong, but were birthed by somewhat derivative standard blues riffs. Looking back this was a common practice among his contemporaries, especially among the British where he spent a lot of his later years.

His strong suit was exploding and expanding from his riff.  Even though I am a huge fan of his playing and performance I consider a handful of his songs contain signs of great songwriting in them.  For instance“The Wind Cries Mary”, “If Six Were Nine” and my personal favorite “Angel”. It’s fairly well-known that “Amgel” was written about a dream Jimi had of his mother coming to him after her death.  The song is considered by many (myself included) as the best song Jimi Hendrix ever wrote.  Again, I understand I may be walking on thin ice here; but the theme, it’s lyrics and it’s lovely melody is so universal that it can mean something special, for many reasons to its listeners.  It’s also telling that Hendrix spent about two years perfecting the song and how he wanted to record it. One other aspect we might consider is near the time of his death, Jimi was contemplating an entirely different approach to his music.

Some folk writers were mentioned, but to be fair I think some of the best folk writers near the Pacific Northwest happen to be Canadian. If Ian Tyson (of “Ian and Sylvia” and “The Great Speckled Bird”) had been born 20 miles south of his hometown of Victoria B.C. he’d  be one of my top candidates for important Norhtwest songwriters.  However, due to the constraints placed on my own choice of covering only the history of NW music of the U.S. I thought it unfair to include anything outside Washington, Oregon and Idaho.  Ian Tyson has written an incredible song book including “Someday Soon” and “Four Strong Winds” His songs have been covered by Neil Young,  Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Bob Dylan,The Kingston Trio  Marianne Faithfull, John Denver, Trini Lopez, Waylon Jennings, Joan Baez, Glen Yarborough, Bobby Bare, Harry Belafonte, Tanya Tucker, Suzy Bogguss, Lynn Anderson and countless others.  Although Canadians could reasonably disagree, perhaps the most popular (and most definitive version outside of Tyson’s) is “Someday Soon”sung by the Seattle-born Judy Collins. But Tyson is a near-mythic figure in Canada, and will always be considered as one of the most important songwriters in Canadian history no matter if we include British Columbia as part of the Pacific Northwest or not.  He is identified and rightly claimed as a purely Canadian artist.

Loretta Lynn was mentioned; an excellent choice.  But Loretta will always be “A Coal Miner’s Daughter” and though she lived in Washington, and her career was kickstarted here with the help of Buck Owens, Kentucky has always been her real home in her heart, and it’s there and Nashville that she’s written the bulk of her output.

Local heroes like Scott MacCaughey, Rusty Willoughby. Alice Stewart, Gary Minkler, Pete Pendras, Jon Auer, Ken Stringfellow, Eric Apoe and Ben Gibbard were were all mentioned as “important” songwriters..  There’s no doubt these artists deserve respect for their work…I’d only add that Gary Minkler, over the past five decades,  is also one of the most dynamic performers the Northwest has ever produced.

Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart got lots of recognition.  Although Heart put out some spectacular music, not all of it was written by the Wilson sisters collectively or apart.  Very early on the two of them brought in the very talented songwriter abnd collaborator, Sue Ennis, to work with them.  Sue would eventually go on to be one of the members of the Wilson’s post-Heart projects; The Love Mongers. We can’t dismiss the Wilson sisters’ work, but Sue Ennis may be the least-known of great Northwest songwriters.  Her work  with the Wilsons helped mere rock songs and ballads become great songs and ballads.

Quincy Jones is another good example of a writer whose output will always be considered genius even though his writing seems secondary to other facets of his career. He isn’t particularly known for his songwriting simply because it is overshadowed by his career as an excellent jazz performer, and later as one of the world’s most renowned producers and arrangers.

Ray Charles was mentioned several times for his R&B contributions.  Although there’s no doubt he was a dedicated and talented performer, he’s often assumed to have written many songs he did not actually write.  The best examples of this are the songs “Georgia On My Mind”, his definitive version of a song written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell in 1930. Another of Ray Charles’ signature tunes is “Hit The Road Jack”. The song was written by a friend of Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield. Mayfield initially recorded a demo of the song for Art Rupe, a producer and one of the most influential figures in the US music industry at the time.  Rupe was running  Specialty Records, and “Hit The Road Jack” found it’s way to Ray Charles rather than be fully recorded by Percy Mayfield.  This may be evidence that Charles himself was not as important a songwriter as others, but there’s little doubt he is one of the most influential artists in American music. No legitmate list of the most imortant American artists would be complete without him.

Mia Zapata was also mentioned by many people; a songwriter that left us too early to provide the much larger body of work she otherwise might have given us; still  she certainly inspired one of the most powerful, angry and cathartic songs of 90s Seattle music- M.I.A – a song by Seven Year Bitch that I’ve already mentioned.

It had to be pointed out more than once that there were actual women songwriters who need to be mentioned.  Perhaps it is the male domination of rock fans that prevents more talented women their due.  Aside from the aforementioned Wilson sisters, Mia Zapata and Alice Stewart there is a plethora of women writers that deserve to be mentioned: Carrie Acre, Amy Denio Kathleen Hanna, Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein, Jean Grey, Kimya Dawson, Neko Case all deserve recognition, and I’m certain there are far more that I’m failing to mention.  What’s more, these women should not be consigned to a ghetto of being “women” or “girls”  Their output is just as important-sometimes more important-than their male counterparts and a good songwriter does not rely on sex

Surprisingly it also had to be pointed out that Portland and the rest of Oregon are part of the Northwest too.  The prolific Chris Newman, Fred Cole, Greg Sage among others got mention.  Eastern Washington seemed to be under-represented too.  Folk singer and songwriter Danny O’Keefe (Wenatchee) got a single mention.  The late jazz great Larry Coryell, who learned his guitar chops in Richland, Washington before moving to Seattle and then on to jazz fusion history around the world only got a single mention.  Jazz players and writers did not make much impact on the list…surprisingly Chehalis, Washington born Ralph Towner (of both the bands Oregon and The Paul Winter Consort) wasn’t  mentioned at all.  Nor was

I had promised not to mention names but I’m going to make an exception.  Penelope Houston (who is a Northwesterner despite being mostly associated with San Francisco). Replied to my question with  a simple “phew”; I assume because it’s so hard to begin listing the “important” songwriters that have come out of the Northwest.  Of course she was too modest to name herself among those important songwriters. Houston’s writing in general deserves mention since her importance can never be overestimated.  But it would be important based simply as a co-author of what may be the single greatest American punk anthem of all time: “The American In Me”  The rest of her output stands above most others during the first wave of west coast punk as well.

As I’ve said there were a few artists named that baffled me. Perhaps it’s because I’m not familiar with their work or that they are in fact not from the Northwest.  One of the artists named in this category was Bruce Hornsby.  I agree that Hornsby is a terriffic songwriter but his bio states he was born in Williamsburg Virginia, and I could find no Northwest ties.  If he does have ties in the Northwest, please contact me with the information.  Another mention was of the Canadian musician and social justice activist Bill Bourne. Bill was closely associated with Scottish traditionalists The Tannahill Weavers during the 1980s.  They were originally based in Paisley Scotland, but considered a world-renowned ensemble. Bill has also worked with various other world-roots and traditionalist artists including ex-Tannahill Weaver Alan MacLeodm, Shannon Johnson, Lester Quitzau,, Aysha Wills, Eivør Pálsdóttir, Wyckham Porteous, Madagascar Slim and Jasmine Ohlhauser. Bill was born in Red Deer Alberta, and grew up in   Besides Alberta, Bill also spent time on the road worldwide, and for a short time in TorontoBill Bourne is certainly worthy of mention, as he’s won the Canadian Juno award several times.  But I know of no Northwest connection outside of  recording with vocalist Hans Stamer and Vancouver, B.C. guitarist Andreas Schuld on the album No Special Rider, released in 1997.  Once again, if you know of ties to the Northwest, please leave them in the comments section.

A less baffling recommendation was  saxophone great Skerik.  I personally am not familiar with Skerik’s output as a songwriter, but definitely familiar with his (often improvised) brilliant performances. Perhaps I am underestimating his output, but I am certainly not underestimating his importance as a player or as an innovator.  Please set the record straight as far as Skerik as a songwriter.  He’s consistently been one of my favorite Northwest artists.

I suspect others were mentioned because they are important figures that deserves all of our respect.  The most notable of these songwriters is Richard Peterson, who is practically a living treasure of Seattle. I was happy to see Anthony Ray (Sir-Mix-a-Lot) mentioned.  The submitter rightly pointed out that Mix-a-Lot has undoubtedly influenced and outsold many of the indie and/or famous Seattle bands of the 1990s.  So often people of color are left out of anything to do with “rock” no matter how much pull they have. Besides Mix-a-Lot, Ishmael Butler and Thee Satisfaction were mentioned because they are probably better known nationally and world-wide than many of the others on this list.

Finally we reach what I consider the pinnacle of “songwriters’ songwriters”  These are the best of the best in my opinion.  I know I have overlooked many great NW songwriters; but I consider these craftsmen to represent the high-water mark (so far) of not only Northwest writers, but among the entirety of ALL American songwriters.  This  list includes Ellensburg, Washington-born Mark Lanegan, Ellliott Smith (who was born in Texas but grew up and first found fame in Portland Oregon), Eugene Oregon native Tim Hardin, and a guy from Shreveport Louisiana who moved to Bremerton, Washington at an early age, the late Ron Davies.  It was satisfying to see each ot these get multiple mentions.

I recognize that everyone has their favorite songwriter, and usually that person writes within at least one of the individual’s musical tastes.  Keep in mind  I said there are no wrong answers in this unscientific quiz or its overview. In fact I hate the Rolling Stone type lists of “bests”.  Many of us know they are B.S. and some publications concoct these kinds of lists to drive circulation and advertising sales.  If that’s not the case they’re often put together by elitist critics and celebrities.  I believe everyone has a right to their personal favorites.  I admit at one time I too was a snotty elitist who looked down on other people’s choices…but for many years now I have looked at music in a far more ecumenical way, and my musical horizons have expanded because of it.

If you have a favorite Northwest artist that you believe deserves recognition as an important songwriter post it in the comments section below. Your opinion is always valid no matter what others think and any additions to this list may well open whole new musical worlds to other people.  I’ve also made a list of every songwriter submitted, since I have left so many talented people out of this story..  You may or may not agree if they’re worthy-but someone else does.

In the sidebar is a list of everyone voted for that I left out in the above article. It’s in no particular order of importance:  Feel free to add your choice in the comments section below.

 

-Dennis R. White

SKY RIVER ROCK FESTIVAL & LIGHTER THAN AIR FAIR POSTER

We recently purchased an almost complete collection of Helix Magazines from the generous Jerry Jermann. One issue came with this fantastic wrap-around “Sky River Festival And Lighter Than Air Fair” poster cover. The iconic Walt Crowley is credited with it’s design.  At the time Walt was the art director of  The Helix, who’s staff and friends were mostly responsible for the festival.  Notice the clever way the wrap-around took advantage of the “ split fountain” effect-one that uses two separate colored inks at either end meeting in the middle as a third.  This example is probably the result of pouring four horizontal bands of ink (top to bottom blue/red/yellow/blue).  No matter how it was done, this is one of the best uses of the process we’ve ever seen, and it’s clear Crawley’s drawing was specifically designed with the intention to be printed exactly as it appears.
The festival itself was held Labor Day Weekend, 1968  near Sultan WA in a 40-acre pasture owned by Betty Nelson.  Although we prefer to believe the “Sky River” referred to is some unknown visionary, LSD-fueled floating waterfall  that’s inferred in the illustration, “Sky River” is actually a clever reference to the adjacent Skykomish River.  The “Lighter Than Air Fair” refers to a tethered  helium balloon on site for attendees to rise above the crowd.  In fact, the first balloon flew off by itself before the festival even began.  It took quite a bit of scouting to find a replacement, but one was found in Spokane and hastily made it’s way across the state just in time.  One of Sky River’s organizers,Paul Dorpat, later reflected on the impetus for the festival- The “Piano Drop” that had taken place earlier in 1968: ““We thought if we could do a Piano Drop and get 3,000 people to come into a narrow road near Duvall, we could probably do a festival.”

According to many who attended, the line-up shown in this Helix wrap-around came closest to the actual bill, although ultimately there were plenty of additions and no-shows.  There’s still some inconsistent memories of the performers that actually took part, but we know the Grateful Dead took part (The Grateful Dead’s full set was filmed) and we’ve been told this poster is the closest thing to the final  line-up.  Other acts are certain to have played. Country Joe and the Fish (who had taken part in an earlier event that inspired the festival-more on that later) an unexpected, unscheduled Jam between Big Mama Thornton, James Cotton (who’d supposedly flown up with The Dead) and Billy Roberts-the writer of “Hey Joe”.  The proceeds of the Festival were to be donated to Native American organizations, as well as to the black community. Unfortunately the Festival failed to make a profit and came up short  $5000.  A modest amount, to be sure…but it certainly would have made a profit if all the attendees had paid admission instead of sneaking in.

The weekend was almost completely rain-drenched even though the showers were intermittent.  It’s said that an underground spring began to flow because of the activity.  Before the final act played the crowd is reported to have chanted “no rain-no rain-no rain”  According to the reports of many festival goers the sun finally came out as the festival ended, appropriately with a performance by “It’s a Beautiful Day” It’s believed that this version of the Sky River festival  (there were three in all) was the first organized rock festival held in an open air venue in a rural area.  The much more famous Woodstock Festival would not happen until almost a year later; August 15–18, 1969.  Click here to see it in all its psychedelic glory. More Helix related posts to come.

 

THE BARDS

Looking back on  heyday of 50s and 60s teen-dance music in the Northwest we tend to forget there was also a very healthy  scene in eastern Washington, Northern Idaho and to a lesser degree in eastern Oregon.  Teen dances were just as popular on the east side of the Cascades as they were on the west, but we often overlook it.  Perhaps the crowd sizes were smaller, but it’s important to remember the distances between the small towns of the Inland Empire.  Bands did much of the bookings themselves in Grange Halls, all-ages clubs, teen fairs in the larger towns and relentlessly trying to get the attention of small, local radio stations that were largely forgotten by labels and distributors.  One of the many bands that would follow in the tradition of eastern Washington bands was The Continentals (later The Fabulous Contitnentals).  The band was formed was formed at Moses Lake High School in 1961/1962.  Originally the Continentals was loose-knit affair with personnel coming and going.  During the early years Ron Covey was added on electric guitar, and singer John Draney got on board. According to bassist Chuck Wallace;

John (Draney) could do a pretty good Roy Orbison and ‘Pretty Woman’ was an early addition to our repertoire. Ken McDonald was the leader of the group and named it the Continentals. His father owned the local Lincoln, Mercury car dealership but at the time I’m not sure we were sharp enough to make a connection”.

Ken suggested the band play a “real” gig and they ended up with a 1962 booking for a New Year’s dance at a local Elks Club.  The band played “Five Foot Two” and the mostly-adult crowd loved them.  Chuck says “I was playing the upright bass, Bob Hull was on piano and I don’t really recall the exact make up of that first combo.” 

After graduating from High School in 1963 Ken went off to college, and the band went through drummers Stan Gibson and Nick Varney.  But it was Bob Galloway that finally became a permanent member of the band.  Bob Hull had also gone off to college and was replaced by keyboardist Mike Balzotti, and guitarist Mardi Sheridan joined the group around the same time.  It was at this point that the band re-christened themselves as The Fabulous Continentals and added Marsha Mae, sister of Ron Covey, on vocals. Chuck Warren says:

“We were traveling the state and enjoying some success on the dance circiout but the size of the group made traveling and dividing up the paycheck at the end of the gig was a challenge”.  Early on we rented our own halls and probably hit every Grange and Armory, and City Hall in Eastern Washington. As our popularity grew we began being hired by promoters who ran dances in roller rinks and larger venues”

It’s clear the core members of the Fabulous Continentals had aspirations and were willing to work as much as possible to make things happen. Keyboardist Mike Balzotti, guitarist Mardi Sheridan, drummer Bob Galloway, and bass player Chuck Warren were at the core of the band and made a decision to scale down the band to it’s basics.  Marsha Mae was told “to stay home. Her brother Ron quit in solidarity with his sister-or possibly on the orders of his mother and father.  At this point the Covey parents asked the remaining members to “leave the basement” where they’d practiced and “never return!” The parents even went so far as to run a local newspaper ad proclaiming that Ron and Marsha Mae Covey were no longer associated with The Fabulous Continentals “Lucky for us” Warren slyly adds “Bob Galloway had a garage!”

The move didn’t seem to deter Marsha Mae’s rise to local fame and her notoriety was probably more to her parents’ liking. In 1968  she would  be crowned “Miss Moses Lake” and the year after she was crowned “Miss Washington”.  Ron Covey became involved in Moses Lake politics and spent years on the city council as well as serving as Mayor.  Later he headed ‘The Moses Lake Irrigation and Rehabilitation District Board’ but resigned (without explanation) in 2014 after a contentious four years with the MLRDB.

Once Balzotti, Sheridan, Galloway and Warren had pared down the group to a quartet they started looking for a new name.  The musical world had been turned up by the British Invasion, with The Beatles at the forefront.  Contemporary musical tastes were changing at a dramatic pace, and bands across the US were in the process of finding more British sounding names.  Peter Blecha has pointed out a few Eastern Washington bands that followed the trend to Anglicize their band name;

“Spokane’s Runabouts retooled themselves as the London Taxi, Ellensburg’s Avengers reformed as the Scotsmen and recorded “Sorry Charlie” replete with Brit accents, and a Moses Lake band, the Bards — who had originally formed as the Fabulous Continentals back in 1961 — began restyling themselves after the Beatles…Another popular Moses Lake-area band, the Page Boys, got signed by Seattle’s Camelot label, which released their single “Our Love” The members of the Fabulous Continentals were changing (like many of their contemporaries) from a primarily instrumental band playing raucous R&B-tinged garage rock to a more lyrical outfit that would be known by a name that implied a more “British” sound.   The band started looking through a Roget’s Thesaurus to find a name that would describe the new path they’d chosen…to make use of classical  lyrics and content set to modern music…and of course to “sound” British.   After a search, they decided on the name The Bards.

The band kept up a hectic schedule playing as many venues across Washington, Oregon and Idaho as possible. After years as a dance band, and the hard work as The Bards things started paying off.  Although they were writing new music all along, they made sure to keep their audiences satisfied with playing plenty of their old standards from the Fabulous Continentals days, thus keeping fans old and new happy.  After years of constant playing they were becoming the most popular band in the Northwest…on both sides of the mountains; so it wasn’t a stretch that they’d eventually come to the attention of Seattle-based Jerden Records head Jerry Dennon.

Dennnon offered the band a chance to record a few songs at Kearney Barton’s Audio Recording Inc. studio, then on Fifth Avenue.  Barton’s Audio Recording Inc. was built inside space he’d made into one of the most sophisticated studios in the Northwest, complete with two echo chambers and a three track tape recorder. The Bards initially recorded four sides with Barton. “The Owl and The Pussycat” based on the poem by Edward Lear,  “The Jabberwocky” inspired by the Lewis Carroll poem, an original composition “The Light of Love” and a cover of The Who’s “My Generation”. The sessions were engineered by Barton and produced by Gil Bateman who also produced the Sonic’s  “Psycho” and “The Bears” by Springfield Rifle among other great Northwest sides.

Even though The Bards had originated about the same time as The Wailers, The Frantics and dozens of other NW Sound bands  The Bards tried to distance themselves from what was popular west of the Cascades.

“We purposely tried not to be too “Seattle” as we felt that many of the groups over there sounded a lot alike”.

Their first recordings show they were serious about that claim. After completing their first recordings  Dennon shopped them around Hollywood and New York City, but couldn’t find a major label willing to release them.  He had proposed “The Owl and The Pussycat” b/w “The Light of Love” as a single but label execs found the lyrics of “The Owl and the Pussycat” too…suggestive… even though the lyrics were mostly an unadulterated reading of Edward Lear’s original poem.

Instead of continuing to pursue a major label, Dennon decided to release The Bards’ first single on his Piccadilly Records imprint. Picaddilly was the regionally distributed label that Jerden Records  used to float a trial balloon for local  talent they were considering signing, or as a respected regional label that might attract the majors.  The release got a bit of Puget Sound and Eastern Washington attention, but really went nowhere.  “The Owl and The Pussycat” was rooted in what we might think of as “The Northwest Sound” but it definitely wasn’t garage rock in the manner of the Wailers, The Frantics or The Sonics. There was far more folk-rock influence, and it’s clear the band were interested in a more “pop” sound-albeit one based in serious songwriting rather than playing to the masses. The prominent organ was not played in the standard local R&B and vocal harmonies were more pronounced.  Over all it’s a great tune.  Ironically it was later re-issued by Capitol Records as well as a slower version that is pure early psychedelia. Unfortunately the later Capitol release didn’t do well either, although it’s worth a listen, and some collectors even covet it over the original recordings.  They’re  great examples of early  psychedelic pop.

The Bards second release (also on Picaddilly) didn’t fare any better outside the Northwest.  Their cover of “My Generation” was solid but not particularly innovative.  The “B’ side of the single is “The Jabberwocky” which would be used again later as a B-side (as was their song “The Light of Love”). “The Jabberwocky” is set to fine instrumentation, but the lyrics of the Lewis Carroll poem seem out of place here.  A bit too forced.  This might be because the poem was far less referenced in 1967 than it has been in the ensuing decades.  At a time that most songs on radio were love songs, or all-out rockers it gets marks for innovation.

Finally on their third try The Bards hit pay dirt.  The band had heard the song “Never Too Much Love” on the B-side of Curtis Mayfield and The Impression’s 1964 hit “Talking About My Baby” The Bards were smitten.  They rushed back over the mountains to Kearney Barton’s studio to cut their own version almost immediately.  Mayfield had originally written the song and performed it in the classic R&B/Soul style that he pioneered.  The Bard’s version didn’t veer too far off vocally, aside from being less smooth than the incomparable Impressions.   The smooth instrumental harmonies and a gentle horn section were missing on The Bards version.  They did what most rock bands do when faced with ballads-they relied more on electric guitar.  The result was a truly new reading of Mayfield’s song.  Instead of cool soul it took on a more folk-rock/psychedelic  air.  It was also infectious and rose to number one status on many Northwest and British Columbian regional radio station’s playlists.  More importantly, it drew the attention of the major labels who had earlier turned The Bards down. The Bards were left to choose several offers that were coming in fast but chose Capitol Records, since it was the American home of their revered Beatles.

The result was taking their regional hit “Never Too Much Love” to a nationwide distribution deal, and would become a minor hit around the US.  It still ends up on compilations of both Northwest and psychedelic bands. In the aftermath of their “hit” The Bards remained on the road even more than they had in the early 60s.  They found themselves as openers for bands like The Young Rascals, The Turtles, The Dave Clark Five and as pick-up band for Tommy Roe.   Although they admit they found Roe to be a top-knotch performer, they weren’t as thrilled by his music.  The Bards also opened for other top national and international acts around the region.

Between opening gigs they continued headlining the kind of venues that had always provided their bread and butter; teen dance halls, roller rinks, grange halls, county fairs and whatever other spaces that hosted teen dances.  According to Chuck they were working 20-25 nights a month and in 1967, 1968 and 1969 they had put over 100,000 miles a year on the Bardsmobile, a car that towed a small trailer carrying their equipment with The Bards logo prominently displayed on each side.

“Virtually all of those miles were in the Northwestern Part of the United States. Washington, Oregon, and Idaho were Bard states. Parts of Montana, British Columbia and Northern California were part of the circuit also”

The schedule got incredibly demanding after “Never Too Much Love” and the band was afraid of becoming stale.  They cancelled a month’s worth of gigs and rented an old theater in Moses Lake (The Ritz) to write, practice and record.  It was these recordings that showed an even more original and innovative sound.  The band recorded on a reel-to-reel  and a song or two at a time was sent to Kearney Barton’s studio for mastering.  At the core of what they were writing was a sort of mini rock opera they called “Creation”. The Bards were so pleased with the results they decided to drive to Los Angeles with demos in hand to find a label interested in releasing the totality of “Creation” which would include a few other remarkable compositions that would fill out an album.

Before their move to find a label in LA The Bards recorded one more song at Kearney Barton’s studio.  This time the band chose Jeff Afdem of the bands The Dynamics and Springfield Rifle to arrange and produce.  The A-side of the single was “Tunesmith” by Jimmy Webb.  Webb was at the height of his career at the time, writing classic songs such as “Galveston”, Witchita Lineman” and “MacArthur Park”. The B-Side of “Tunesmith” was written by an unknown singer/songwriter born in Spokane and commuting between his home in Yakima and his gig with the Seattle based band Caliope. The song chosen was “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues”, and of course the singer/songwriter was Danny O’Keefe. O’Keefe had recorded a demo of “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” about a year before The Bards release. O’Keefe’s version had remained unreleased since it was, in fact, a demo that O’Keefe had used to find a label.  O’Keefe had also caught the eye of Jerry Dennon very early on, and O’Keefe had become friends with Jerry, and signed with his Jerden label, as well as Dennon’s Burdette Publishing. It’s likely that this was the connection that brought the song to The Bards attention

The single was released on Parrot Records (a U.S. subsidiary of London Records) who would go on to license two other Bards  re-issues.  Danny O’Keefe would have an international hit with his song a few years later, and since then his song has been covered literally by dozens of well-known artists.  Although Jimmy Webb was considered one of America’s best songwriters at the time, Keyboardist Mike Balzotti says:

“Had it been up to The Bards, ‘Goodtime Charlie’s Got The Blues’ would have been the “A” side”.
He goes on to say:
““As it turns out, a year later Danny O’Keefe made a big hit out of a similar rendition of the song!”
(The song would actually become a hit for O’Keefe in 1971, three years after The Bards).

Despite Webb’s fame and popularity The Bards were on the right track.  “Good Time Charlie” has become the longer lasting song, that still remains a staple of oldies radio, and the many other covers of it remain favorites of the fans of other artists.

. Once in Hollywood, by pure coincidence The Bards ran into singer/songwriter/producer Curt Boettcher in an elevator after they’d visited the offices of Mike Curb, one of the most successful producer/executives of all time.  Boetthcher was taken by the band right away  so he drove them to his business partner Gary Usher’s house to listen to the tapes they were shopping.  Both Boettcher and Usher were impressed.  Later the band were introduced to Usher and Boettcher’s third partner, Keith Olsen.  Boettcher, Usher and Olsen were then in the process of putting together a label called Together Records.  On paper the trio seemed like a team that couldn’t be beat.  All had been successful producers and/or engineers on a plethora of hit records.

Boettcher had produced The Association’s debut album which resulted in the hits “Along Comes Mary”  which reached number seven on the Billboard Charts and “Cherish” which reached number one. Boettcher is remembered as one of the earliest proponents of “Sunshine Pop”-a slightly more serious version of “Bubblegum Music” and although he only lived to be 41 he would go on to produce The Grateful Dead, the mixdown engineer for Emmit Rhode’s “Farewell to Paradise” and in the mid-1970s, he sang backing vocals for artists as diverse as Elton John, Eric Carmen and Tanya Tucker among a host of others.  He’d also managed to perform and record as a solo act.

Gary Usher had strong ties with the Beach Boys, had produced a few of their early singles and co-written several  songs with Brian Wilson, including “409” and “In My Room”. He’d also produced The Byrds, The Surfari’s and Dick Dale, as well as “discovering” The Firesign Theater and being instrumental in getting them a major label deal. Usher would go on to have his own successful career in the 1970’s.

At the time Keith Olsen was a respected engineer, but his incredible track record of production credits was a bit ahead in his future.  During the 1970’s Olsen produced dozens of hit artists and several number one albums.  In all he would produce more than 39 Gold records, 24 Platinum records, and 14 Multi-Platinum albums. So under contract to “Together Records” The Bards set out to record what would be an album with “Creation” at it’s core.  Their new label seemed bound to be a huge success with all of the talent on hand and with distribution through Curb. One hitch was that The Bards were still under contract with Jerry Dennon of Jerden Records, and also to Capitol Records.  They needed a new name to release any new recordings.

Curt Boettcher, as producer had been fascinated by the name of The Bards’ hometown, Moses Lake.  He suggested the band their name should be changed to “Moses Lake” The band liked the idea, so the recordings proceeded with the assumption the band name had changed.  While the erstwhile Bards were recording , Usher, Boettcher and Olsen were in the process of finding financing and distribution for their new label.  The three had been in talks with Motown in the beginning, but no deal could be reached.  The trio then returned to Mike Curb (in who’s office elevator the band had met Boettcher) and were able to secure the finances they needed to get off the ground, and a distribution deal through Curb’s organization.

Mike Curb was and is a legendary figure in the music and film business.  He had worked with artists such as the young Linda RonstadtThe Electric Flag (featuring Mike Bloomfield and Buddy Miles) as well as writing songs for and producing The Osmonds, Roy Orbison, and Liza Minnelli among many of the acts that would later become best sellers.  Curb would also sign artists such as Richie Havens, Gloria Gaynor, Eric Burdon, Johnny Bristol and War.  In 1969 Curb merged his successful Curb Records with MGM and became President of MGM Records and Verve Records.

Shortly after becoming President of MGM  Curb became embroiled in a crusade to rid the music business of drugs by dropping 18 acts that in the words of Billboard Magazine

“had, promoted and exploited hard drugs through music.”

Billboard added that Curb was motivated by the drug-related deaths of Janis Joplin Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. Oddly enough one of the acts Curb had dropped was Frank Zappa.  Even in the 1960s Zappa had been well-known as a critic of drug use.  Apparently Curb had not gotten the memo.  He also hadn’t got the memo that Zappa had already fulfilled his contract and was in the process of establishing his own labels, Bizarre and Straight Records.

Sadly Together Records failed to live up to it’s promise.  It’s said that their only release that came near being a “hit” was used for paying staff.  The compilation  “Preflyte” by The Byrds is a collection of demos and non-released material that predated their being signed to Columbia.  The album also contains a great deal of early material recorded under The Byrds original name, The Jet Set.  The album stalled at number 84 on the Billboard charts, and other Together releases by The Hillmen, Sandy Salisbury and Charlie Musselwhite, and Curt Boettcher himself didn’t even chart.  The label was out of money, and their distribution deal was dropped.  Mike Curb was not interested in putting more money and more energy into a label that looked like it would continue to be disastrous.  No one else would touch it.  The result would also be disastrous to The Bards/Moses Lake. They’d mostly finished their album after working many months on it, but were now without a label to release it.

Producer Curt Boettcher suggested the band return to Moses Lake with him coming along as the band’s lead singer. This suggestion did not go over well with all members of the band, and going through an ordeal like the one with Together Records again was too much.  Apparently Mardi Sheridan and Mike Balzotti  had already seen the writing on the wall and left the band.  Chuck Taylor decided he’d spent too many years and too many miles on the road and wanted to return to Moses Lake to spend time with his family. Drummer Bob Galloway chose to keep the band going with a series of players until 1972.  Bob was the only original member, but “new” Bards found gigs in the Northwest, although never found the kind of success or popularity of the classic 1965-1968 line-up.  Despite their disparate reasons for dissolving The Bards/Moses Lake,  the band agrees the split was amicable.  This was reinforced when the band re-united one more time to celebrate Mike Balzotti’s 40th birthday in 1987.

The Bards work for Together Records was not a complete failure, though. The label had released a single from their “Moses Lake” sessions.  The single, “ Oobleck” b/w “Moses” was finally released under the band name, Moses Lake in 1971.  The A-side, “Oobleck “ was inspired by Dr. Seuss’s 1949 book Bartholomew and the Oobleck” with music by Mike Balzotti.   Although it has an intro that seems to go nowhere at first, and sounds appropriately Seussian, it becomes the kind of unexpected song that rings “genius” and leaves a person wanting more. Even though it’s launch was completely ruined by the concurrent collapse of their label there are a few copies to be found on the collectors market.

One other unexpected results was that without a label the band no longer had a contract with Together Records.  Their contract had not been bought-up by another label-they were, in fact, free agents. The tapes of the “Moses Lake” sessions would remain in their hands and under their control.  But life has a way of keeping us from reliving unfortunate and discouraging  past events.  Better to concentrate on the present and future than to revisit the past…so the “Moses Lake Recordings” stayed with Balzotti, without public exposure, for three decades.

Mike Balzotti was surfing the web one day and came across the site for Gear Fab Records out of Orlando Florida. Gear Fab releases what they term “Legitimate and Authorized re-issues of Psych, Garage and Rock Sounds, 1965-1972” Since the band had already come across an unauthorized bootleg of their early Piccadilly recordings along with a few later Bob Galloway-era songs, Gear Fab seemed like a natural, ethical  label to release their only album  on.  If not for this re-issue The Bards would probably be near-forgotten today.  With help from Gear Fab head Roger Maglio, the record was re-mastered for CD and released in 2002.

The album is still in print and is a great reminder of how psychedelia, pop, good songwriting , lyrics (even borrowing from the masters) and great musicianship combine to make a total much more than the sum of it’s parts. Despite the material on the album being stellar, the title is a bit cumbersome.  Officially it is “The Bards resurrect ‘The Moses Lake Recordings’ Produced by Curt Boettcher and Keith Olsen featuring ‘The Creation’. But no matter, it’s not that difficult to simply search for “The Moses Lake Recordings” Even though it sounds as if the recordings were done in Moses Lake they were not.  The title is meant to point to the band’s re-naming.  Over three decades since it was first recorded this album seems revolutionary in it’s mix of pop, garage, psychedelia, bubble-gum and prog-rock.  It’s final release is truly the end of an amazing story.

One last note;  Near the end of the documentary “I Am What I Play” Pat O’Day, the dean of west coast AM-Top 40 DJs was asked was asked what NW group deserved greater national recognition. His answer? “The Bards

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources:  Don Rogers “Dance Halls, Armories and Teen Fairs” (Music Archives Press,1988); The Bards (http://mikebalzotti.com/BardsHomePage.htm); Richard Flynn (“Woodstock Rock RTR-FM 92.1,Perth Australia”); Stanton Swihart (The Bards Artist Biography. allmusic.com); Chuck Warren “The Bards Interview” (http://home.uni-one.nl/kesteloo/bards.html); “The Bards” (discogs.com);  Mike Dugo “The Bards” (The Lance Monthly, Volume 4, No. 3, May 2002); Peter Blecha “Inland Empire Rock: The Sound of Eastern Washington” ( HistoryLink.org Essay 7490); “Resurrect The Moses Lake Recordings by The Bards” [album20909] (rateyourmusic.com); Stanlynn Daugherty “Rock ‘n Roll Group Draws Anxious Crowd” (The Lantern, [Pendleton Oregon], Friday November 1, 1968); Beverly Paterson, Review of The Moses Lake Recordings  (September 23, 2002. The Lance Monthly); Mike Flynn “Once-obsure political race in Moses Lake takes on new import for areas’s economy. (Flynn’s Harp [Columbia Basin]  November 16, 2011)

 

JEFF SIMMONS
From The Blues to Easy Chair to Zappa and Back

By the time the mid-60s The Northwest Sound has pretty much wound down.  Many former teen-dance bands were moving closer to rock and the new psychedelic sounds coming out of L.A. and San Francisco. In some ways many local artists had begun to see Seattle as a northern outpost of San Francisco.
One of the bands that emerged in the mid-60s was Blues Interchange.  David Lanz (future star of “new age” music) had been one of the band’s first members.  The band began making the rounds of Seattle venues and became very popular with the tripped-out psychedelic crowd.   Due to some of the members being drafted local boy Jeff Simmons signed on as bassist in 1967. Simmons was already an accomplished player with a gregarious, often comedic air about him  Other members included Al Malosky on drums and guitarists Peter Larson (later replaced by Burke Wallace), and Danny Hoefer.  Danny Hoefer would later go on to play in Tower of Power.
After the change of personnel, Blues Interchange found even more favor with Northwest audiences.  One result of the changes was re-naming the band to Easy Chair. The transformation caught the eye of Seattle’s emerging rock scene as well as other pockets of psychedelic blues  around the country

In 2014 the website Clear Spot would look back on Easy Chair, writing;

“Their epic West Coast blues features the unique chemistry of psychedelic guitar leads, fluid lines and hypnotic chording”.

Around this time the band was emerging they met up with notorious San Francisco manager Matthew Katz.  Katz had been the first manager of Jefferson Airplane and had ben fired even before the release of their first album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off.   Seattle native Signe Anderson (September 15, 1941-January 28, 2016) did vocals, but soon left the band, handing over the task to Grace Slick. The firing of Katz would result in ongoing litigation over the release of original or licensed material by Jefferson Airplane.  The litigation between Katz and Jefferson Airplane was not settled until 1987.

Katz was also  involved in a dispute with Moby Grape beginning in 1968.   Katz had sold the  group members’ rights to their songs as well as their own name were signed away in 1973 to manager/producer David Rubinson without the band members knowing it. He retained rights to the name Moby Grape and a large part of their songs. Katz continued to send out various personnel under the name “Moby Grape” until 2005, the original members won back the rights to their name and started performing again as “Moby Grape” Even as late as 2007  Moby Grape (who’d won back the rights to their name) Katz  threatened to file a lawsuit against Sundazed Records (licensed by SONY) claiming ownership of the album artwork and songwriting for the first three albums.  The label was forced to withdraw the albums Moby Grape, Wow and Grape Jam.  The albums have since been re-released.

Hooking up with Katz could have resulted in disaster but he remained a savvy (though untrustworthy) entrepreneur.  In 1967 he opened the club “The San Francisco Sound” on Seattle’s Capitol Hill.  The club was  popular, but it lasted for less than a year.  Katz’s real interest was to establish a venue for bands he managed..  The meeting between Blues Interchange and Katz gave the band more high-profile gigs opening for San Francisco bands he’d booked in his club including  It’s A Beautiful Day,  Tripsacord Music Box, West Coast Natural Gas and Black Swan. Katz also convinced Blues Interchange to change their name to  Indian’ Puddin’ and Pipe. In yet another case of Katz’s dissembling, another band called Indian Puddin’ and Pipe already existed. Katz owned the names of several bands and could bestow them on any line-up he desired.  Simmons’s Indian Puddin’ and Pipe dropped the name after severing ties with Katz in 1968.  Fortunately neither the band nor it’s members walked away beholden to Katz except for the  name he’d given them-not a very good one in the first place.  Obtaining a new manager was painless.  Glen Harmon was chosen to take on Katz’s job and endlessly worked to book and promote Easy Chair. Hammon had been a big fan who worked at Boeing, but from the start of his association with Easy Chair he proved to be a natural for the jobs of promotion and management.

Meanwhile Harmon and the band sought to get a record deal  Eventually they were forced to finance their own recording at Vancouver WA’s Ripcord Studio.  The songs recorded there were  produced by Rick Keefer-who would go on to found Sea-West Studio in Seattle.  The result of their sessions was a single-sided 12′ EP that included only three songs, Slender Woman, My Own Life and Easy Chair.  Both Slender Woman and Easy Chair were written by Jeff Simmons.  My Own Life was written by Peter Larson.  With a release of only 1000 copies, it did well in the Northwest.    The songs show a slight reliance on the San Francisco Sound, but also retains a bit of the jazz-inspired R&B that successful NW bands of the 50s and early 60s had always imbued into their music.  The recordings are sparse, but have an honest, almost innocent quality.  The band would later go on to be much heavier, but their initial (and only) release is probably the most sought-after, and most valuable record by any Seattle band in the collectors market. In the past few years the EP has been re-released on CD by several foreign and domestic labels.

With some powerful gigs behind them and a popular regional hit, Easy Chair were on their way.  An opening slot for Cream at Seattle’s Eagles Auditorium may have been their high point.  They also opened for The Chambers Brothers who were then at the height of their success.  These concerts, along with opening for Blue Cheer the early Led Zeppelin enhanced their reputation.   They were offered a contract with Tetragrammaton Records but turned it down.  The label which was co-owned by Bill Cosby, a fact Easy Chair did not know at the time they were approached by the label  Soon  Tetragrammaton released a worldwide hit with Deep Purple ( “Hush”)    In 1968 the label also licensed the release of  John Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’sUnfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins” in the United States. The album’s cover featured nude photos of John and Yoko on the front and back jacket cover. The Beatles and Lennon’s US label, Capitol Records, refused to release or distribute it, citing negative responses from retailers, and American audiences objection to nuditiy, so Tetragrammaton stepped in to distribute the album in the US.

Easy Chair under the name Ethiopia was slated to open for Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention at the Seattle Center Arena on August 24, 1968. During sound check, Frank Zappa and his business partner Herb Cohen listened to the band and were impressed enough to fly them to Los Angeles for an audition and possible contract with one of two new labels Zappa had created (Straight and Bizarre Records). The Zappa gig took place a week before the band (billed as Easy Chair) performed at the first Sky River Rock Festival.  Easy Chair/Ethiopia played their booked obligations in the Northwest and were then on the way to L.A.  Soon Ethiopia was signed to Bizarre Records and the band waited to record….and waited.  Although they were signed as Ethiopia, the band once again reverted to Easy Chair for a handful of gigs with Zappa.

Their finest moment during their stay in Los Angeles was taking part in  Bizarre Record’s legendary “Gala Pre-Xmas Bash” at Santa Monica’s Shrine Exhibition Hall on December 6th & 7th 1968.   Easy Chair played the shows alongside The Mothers of Invention, Wild Man FischerAlice Cooper, and the GTOs. Ostensibly a pre-Christmas gig, it was actually Zappa’s debut of the roster of Bizarre acts that he, for the most part, had personally signed. This gig was definitely one of the most important shows of it’s day and possibly one of the most important gigs The Mothers of  Invention ever played.

After months of living in hotels, recording negotiations and long periods of inactivity Easy Chair members became discouraged.  It was clear the studio sessions were never going to happen. They decided to return to Seattle.  Jeff Simmons and drummer Al Malosky stayed in LA.  In 1969 Jeff Simmons (as a solo artist) was signed to Frank Zappa’s Straight Records to record two solo albums.  Malosky went along for the ride as a sideman on the first album.   Jeff’s assignment was to create the soundtrack for Naked Angels a biker/sexploitation film .  Although it’s not meant to be high art, the film itself is fairly decent within it’s genre.  Jeff”s soundtrack stands out as well executed psychedelia and is really the highlight of the film.  The film featured Penelope Spheeris (who would later direct both Decline of Western Civilization documentaries) and Corey Fischer (one of Robert Altman’s stable of actors, and who appeared in both the film and the TV series M.A.S.H.  The film got very little attention outside it’s intended audience but Simmon’s soundtrack album has long been a favorite among his fans.

Later in 1969 Jeff released what is universally considered his best solo work.  The album Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up leans more toward the accessible music Frank Zappa had released.  In fact Zappa contributed heavily to the album as a guitarist, wrote the title track and co-produced with engineer Chris Huston.  Zappa wrote the title track and also co-wrote “Wonderful Wino” with Simmons.  Zappa credited his work on the album under the pseudonym Lamarr Bruister.  Later Zappa would work Lucille into an entirely different version for Joe’s Garage and “Wonderful Wino” later shows up on Zappa’s  Zoot Allures.  Zappa rarely co-wrote his music, so it’s apparent that he had high regard for Simmons during this period.

 On “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” a variety of players who are often heard in Mothers and Zappa’s bands show up. Simmons is featured on lead vocals, keyboards, bass guitar, and accordion. Craig Tarwater-former member of the legendary L.A. garage band Sons Of Adam plays guitar, Ron Woods (of Pacific Gas and Electric) on drums, Ian Underwood on Sax and fellow Seattle native John Kehlior, (who’d played with The Frantics and The Daily Flash) on drums for two tracks (“Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” & “Raye“).  The reception of Lucille was positive, but like all Zappa-related albums up ’til then, did not sell to the masses.

Instead of offering another contract with Straight Records, Zappa went a step further.  He asked Jeff to join The Mothers of Invention. He had already played a one-off concert of the the album Hot Rats.

Around this time Jeff reminisced about his hometown to the U.K. Music journal Melody Maker, saying:
“There’s a lot of music in Seattle, a lot of clubs and musically it’s influenced by San Francisco and even more, Chicago.  For instance when I started playing, the first people I heard were the Spoonful and The New Vaudeville Band.  But it wasn’t long before I forgot them and got into Little Milton and Magic Sam”.

In 1970 Simmons appeared on Chunga’s Revenge, which was Frank’s third “solo” album…even though Zappa included his floating roster of musicians with himself as the main character. The album was largely a transitional one, retaining some of the satire and humor of earlier albums, though heading more toward the avant-jazz of future projects.  It was also the first time Flo & Eddie  (Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, formerly of The Turtles) made a studio appearance with Zappa.  Jeff Simmons had also stepped up his game with Chunga’s Revenge by playing alongside Ian Underwood again, as well as drummer Aunsley Dunbar, and keyboardist George Duke.  Others who took part in Chunga’s Revenge was John Guerin, Max Bennett and Don “Sugarcane” Harris.

In 1971 Frank Zappa began to film his ambitious art film 200 Motels.  It’s commonly held that Jeff Simmons had quit the band shortly before the shoot began, but it’s not entirely clear what happenedSimmons is seen in the documentary The True Story of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels-though not credited.  The actual film has large segments based on Jeff.  There is a cartoon segment in which “Jeff”, tired of playing what he refers to as “Zappa’s comedy music”is convinced by his good conscience (played by Donovan) to “quit the group”  There’s an ongoing (inside joke?) of characters saying “Jeff quit the group” throughout the film. “Dental Hygiene Dilemma” sees Jeff smoking a marijuana cigarette which had been dipped in Don Preston’s “foamy liquids” and Jeff’s imagining Donovan appearing to him on a wall-mounted television as his “good conscience”.  “His good conscience” asks Jeff not to steal the towels.   Studebaker Hoch appears to him as his evil conscience in the form of Jim Pons, tells Jeff to steal ashtrays and convinces Jeff to quit the Mothers of Invention, to “et your own group together. Heavy! Like Grand Funk or Black Sabbath.

Although it’s likely he was on set at least occasionally it’s claimed that had read the script of 200 Motels before the shooting and discovered it included things Simmons and others had actually said when they thought Frank was out of earshot.  It’s claimed these negative comments were based on secret hotel-room recordings.  Another version is that Zappa fired Simmons for smoking too much marijuana.  This version would be in keeping with Zappa’s firm rule of not working with musicians using drugs…at least not if it affected their professionalism.  But the former version would back up Zappa’s habit of taping discussions among band members (recorded with or without their knowing it).  They were “anthropological field recordings” as Zappa liked to call them.  It would be a more interesting story if Simmons had actually quit because he was angry about the secret recordings.  But it’s just as probable that he was fired for his objection to the  script.  Many years later full songs, out-takes and interviews were included on Playground Psychotics. The album includes a track called “Jeff Quits” and further complicates the question of whether Simmons quit or was fired.  Jeff probably was smoking too much pot and he may have well wanted to move on from Zappa.  In 1972 Frank Zappa told Jip Golsteijn of the Dutch magazine OOR:

“Jeff Simmons is a great bassist, which will become obvious to everyone during the European tour, but I thought he had another talent. He was a comedian and I wanted to exploit it, especially because we use  quite visual elements in our shows. I let (Jeff) play Rudolph the Reindeer which has always been a huge success. Initially, he had no objection, but I was told after a while that he considered himself a heavy bass player not a clown. I knew which way the wind was blowing since Jeff’s wife had  recently said something like that to me. His wife, of course, complained that he should not be misused by me and should leave the group.  Jeff told me in honesty that he was seriously considering starting his own band.  I then said ‘can’t we play that conflict in 200 Motels that he wanted to quit’?
Then at Pinewood Studios ( London), where we recorded the film, I thought we could show Jeff brooding in a hotel room and is torn by doubt. His good conscience tells him to stay in the group, but his bad conscience tells him that he will be made a fool by Zappa and that he has become the real heavy bass player he really is. When Jeff heard what this meant, he turned quite pale, because he took it as a dig, although he knew exactly what was intended. Shortly afterwards he quit the group anyway…precisely at a time when we could not afford to lose him, right in the middle of recordings. Eventually we decided to change Jeff’s portion of the film. Another part was created for Martin Liquort (Ringo Starr’s driver) that is reminiscent of Jeff.  In the scenes where ‘Jeff’ is  playing, it’s Martin in the background with a guitar in his hand. Martin can not really play.”
(Zappa’s words here have been translated to English from Jip Golsteijn interview, originally written in Dutch)

Athough Jeff doesn’t appear in the film there’s an ongoing line of “Jeff has quit the group” sprinkled throughout the dialogue as an inside joke. One long animated sequence called “Dental Hygiene Dilemna” finds a very high Jeff  struggling with his good conscience (who he believes to be Donovan on a wall mounted TV screen) and his bad conscience.  Among advice Jeff’s good conscience  gives him  is”don’t rip off the towels, Jeff“.  His bad conscience soon appears and says “Jeff, I’d like to have a word with you . . . about your soul. Why are you wasting your life, night after night playing this comedy music?” Jeff replies “I get so tense“.  “Of course you do my boy” says his bad conscience.  That’s why it would be best to leave his stern employ….You’ll make it big!”  “That’s right” says Jeff.  “And then I won’t be SMALL!” This is the real you!” Jeff’s bad conscience tells him  “Rip off a few more ashtrays. Get rid of some of that inner tension. Quit the comedy group! Get your own group together. Heavy! Like GRAND FUNK! or BLACK SABBATH “.”Like COVEN!” shouts Jeff.

Apparently it would take animation, in the absence of Simmons, to complete Frank’s vision.

Whatever the reason for Simmon’s leaving, by 1972 he was back in the fold of musicians Frank Zappa employed to record Waka/Jawaka • Hot Rats.  He also continued to tour with Zappa’s band, and took part in the 1974’s Roxy and Elsewhere.  The album includes a live performance at The Roxy Theater in Los Angeles (with some overdubs) recorded the 8th, 9th and 10th of December, 1973.  The Elsewhere” tracks (“Son of Orange County” and “More Trouble Every Day”) were recorded on May 8th, 1974, at the Edinboro State College in Edinboro, PA.  Sections of “Son of Orange County” were also recorded on May 11, 1974, at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago but does not contain overdubbed material.  Jeff Simmons plays rhythm guitar on all tracks and adds occasional vocals. After Roxy and Elsewhere, Jeff played live with some of  Zappa’s succeeding live performances. He’s also heard playing on some of the “official” live albums that were released after Frank’s death.  Recordings Zappa  probably wouldn’t have allowed to be released because of their poor audio quality.

Jeff Simmon’s recorded legacy with Zappa had included  him providing bass, guitar, and/or vocal for Chunga’s Revenge, Waka/Jawaka, Roxy & Elsewhere, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 1, You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 6, and Playground Psychotics; He’s also featured on the Beat The Boots series of bootlegs that were later released by Rhino Records.  Disc’s he’s included on include Freaks & Motherfuckers, Unmitigated Audacity, Piquantique, Disconnected Synapses, Tengo Na Minchia Tanta, and At The Circus 

Although Jeff’s history after saying goodbye to Frank is a bit sketchy, by 1980 he found his way back to Seattle.  In the 80’s, Simmons was busy performing with such bands as The Backtrackers, The Shimmering Guitars, and Cocktails For Ladies and as his alter-ego l’il Bobby Sumpner and his band The Stump Blasters. He claimed in the 1990’s, he was writing a book (“I Joined The Mothers Of Invention… For The F.B.I.”) which is now in unpublished manuscript form.  Given Jeff’s sense of humor it’s hard to know if the manuscript actually exists.  It would be hard for a publisher or editor to pass up a book based on Jeff’s time with the Mothers…even the title is intriguing!

In 1982 Frank Zappa appeared as a guest DJ on BBC radio (UK).  He played some of his favorite songs including “I’m in The Music Business” by Jeff.

In 1988 Jeff was featured in the psychotronic  “grunge” inspired local film Rock and Roll Mobster Girls, directed by Rick Werner.  Aside from being barrels of fun the film also includes more Seattle rock luminaries as well as local fans.

Over the years Simmons had worked on material for a potential new CD. He says it is the culmination of 20 years work. Finally, in 2004 he was able to release “Blue Universe” which got rave reviews.

In the webzine Jet City Blues Mark Dalton wrote:

“Jeff Simmons, a man with his heart in the blues no matter what he’s doing, has a hilarious persona as a performer that draws from this same well. Simmons has written a whole cycle of great tunes about “Treatment,” for example – with a couple such tunes residing on this CD. Simmons’ ne’er-do-well musician character is always one step ahead of those pesky treatment program guys – whether he’s “Breakin’ Out of Treatment,”or kicking back and enjoying the life of a “Treatmon’ Center Playboy” while he’s there, as he does on this CD.

In November 2010, Jeff Simmons took part in a Q&A session at the “Frank Zappa At The Roundhouse” celebration of Frank Zappa’s music in London. Jeff played with the Dweezil Zappa Played Zappa band at the same festival with special guests Ian Underwood & Scott Thunes as well.  The celebration also included the UK premiere of “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary” an avant-symphonic work that is one of Zappa’s most epic and most popular classical pieces.  Besides The Adventures of Greggery Peccary, the London Sinfonietta played Zappa’s “Revised Music for a Low Budget Orchestra”.  The performance included a solo set by Jeff as a multi-instrumentalist and a long-time member of Zappa’s circle.

Archival footage of Jeff Simmons was included in Thorsten Schütte’s 2016 documentary Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words

IMDb credits Jeff Simmons for sound editor of several TV series during the 90s but I can’t confirm this is the same Jeff Simmons.  Any information would be welcome.  Also feel free to offer corrections or comments below.

-Dennis R. White. Sources; “Jeff Simmons” (Zappa Wikijawaka); Lemonde Kid “Its too late for them to get their due but Katz needs to get HIS!” (Love:  The Message Board for Love Fans, October 12, 2011); Mark Dalton, (“Blue Universe CD Review” Jet City Blues, November 19, 2005); “Jeff Simmons” (spotify.com); “Jeff Simmons” (World in Sound, worldinsound.com); “Jeff Simmons – ‘Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” ( The Day After Sabbath, Jan 23, 2015) “Jeff Simmons” (Melody Maker, December 5th 1970);  Dean R. Hegerty,”A Guide To Straight Label Records & Compact Discs” (United Mutations, 2002); “Jeff Simmons” (lastfm.com) “Eagles Auditorium” (A Seattle Lexicon)callihan.com/seattle/pophist.htm); Jeff Simmons-Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up (allmusic.com); Alan J. Stein “Sky River Rock Festival and Lighter Than Air Fair opens a three-day run near Sultan on August 30, 1968” (HistoryLink.org, Essay 5425. March 15, 2003); “Easy Chair” (Clearspot, www.clear-spot.nl/item/410251/easy_chair_easy_chair.htm); “FZ and Secret Recordings” zappateers.com, July 20, 2010); Jip Golsteijn “De industrie wilde het Fillmore album ontzettend geil aanprijzen”(OOR Magazine, Issue 15. 1971); “Frank Zappa at The Roundhouse”(The 405, September 17, 2010); James Bush, “Easy Chair” (Encyclopedia of Northwest Music. Sasquatch Books, 1999); “Naked Angels” (IMDb.com); 200 Motels. film “Dental Hygiene Dilemna” sequence (directors Frank Zappa & Tony Palmer, 1971); “The True Story of Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels” film. (written and directed by Frank Zappa, 1988); “Eat That Question: Frank Zappa in His Own Words” film. ( directed by Thorsten Schütte, 2016) Scott Hill “From Straight to Bizarre Explores Frank Zappa’s Freak Indies” (Wired Magazine, January 19, 2012); “Jeff Simmons” (IMDb.com)