Northwest Music History: Punk/New Wave

Chinas Comidas

In 1978 The Bay Area Recorder announced an upcoming gig at San Francisco’s Mabuhay Gardens.  It read; ‘Seattle, the city that brought you The Kingsmen of ‘Louie, Louie’ fame, and Jimi Hendrix, exports their premiere new wave team —Chinas Comidas”

Later that year L.A.s Slash magazine called Chinas Comidas “Seattle’s most important band”.

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth would say ‘Chinas Comidas were the real deal.  Exciting, intriguing and intoxicating”.

Yet, in 1980 Marvin Goodman declared in Gary ‘Pig’ Gold’s Pig Papers the second single by Chinas Comidas, ‘Snaps (Portrait of a Fan)’ was “Boring. A copy of Talking Heads copying Blondie. Two chords is rotten-you need at least three. Turn it off. It stinks! ‘Dulll as Ditchwater’ as Jack Good (the creator of Shindig!) would say”.

Here we have proof of a couple of  elemental things.  Platitudes are easy to come by, but musicians must work really hard to engender the kind of dismissive, smarmy and calculated attitude that Goodman shows in his review.  Humans do not like change…music critics are especially resistant to it.  If a band receives comments like Marvin Goodman’s it probably because they are taking listeners out of their comfort zone.  Experimenting.  Challenging what is popular. Travelling their own artistic road.

Listening to ‘Snaps’ in 2018 might cause a person to wonder what song Goodman was listening to and how he mistook it for Chinas Comidas.  But Goodman had made no mistake at all.  He was listening to Chinas Comidas… something new to him’ something outside his comfort zone.  He did not like that.

Goodman would not be the only critic or listener that seemed to show visceral distaste for the band during their career.  It was unfair and pedestrian, but as we know, sometimes artists are totally vindicated by time and ongoing artistic and social evolution.

(N.B. Another elemental thing a music writer might do is to discover which band, from which city brought the world which particular song.  Knowing who wrote and recorded the song first is helpful-but only if the right band is named).

Chinas Comidas is really a tale of two cultures colliding-that of the erudite New York poetry scene and the somewhat more relaxed beginnings of punk and experimental music in Seattle. A third location could be added-Los Angeles, California.  But where the northwest and the northeast had birthed Chinas Comidas, it would be southern California that would break it apart.

The Seattle tale starts with two boys, one from the city’s View Ridge neighborhood and the other from nearby Laurelhurst.  They were assigned adjoining desks in their crafts class at Nathan Eckstein Jr. High School in 1962.  The boys, Rich Riggins and Gary Minkler became friends right away   Soon after meeting  they started playing and listening to music together

“Little did we know” says Riggins, “it would turn into something a bit bigger than what we expected.  We were just searching for ideas and being crazy artists guys”.

By the time they’d reached high school the two became even more serious about music.  They began working with other musicians and started their own band.  “We started getting really serious into music” says Riggins “We became inspired by all the other music we were hearing on the radio. Then we came across Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart and stuff like that”.

Meanwhile, across the country in New York City a budding poet was finding her voice.  Cynthia Genser had already had a couple of her poems included in the Paris Review (issue number 57, Spring 1974) and had started doing what was then called “spoken art’ around venues in New York City.  Early on she wrote;

“I’m attempting to position myself in the universe so as to read the books, which, as William Burroughs says, are out there.  I like to hang out in bars and grocery stores and listen.  I’m trying to be a writer, a woman, a human being in a world where those are all considered ‘criminal activities’ “.

While Genser was ‘attempting to position herself in the universe’ Minkler and Riggins began to combine  complicated music and absurdist humor within a group of interchanging artists and musicians.  Musicians were free to come and go in a free-flowing fashion.  The musicians  included Pete Pendras, Jerry Anderson, Steven Hoke and John Olufs among others.  These were the  early days of what would become the band Red Dress.

“Initially Red Dress was more experimental and full of theater and costume” Rich admits.  ‘We would have more theatrical performances with props.  We’d have little skits and crazy stuff. It was kind of off the wall. Kind of Dada-esque, inspired  by the surrealism of Frank Zappa, and corny. goofy things trying to startle people a little bit and be a bit more creative than the norm.  We wanted to challenge people with syncopated rhythms and more complex musical ideas; It was almost  a circus-y thing in the beginning.  Then, from there, Red Dress formed and Gary got more into having the band he took on.  He started recording and performing with the band that became so popular’.

‘We met Cynthia Genser a couple of years after Gary and I got started” says Riggins. “She was vagabonding around the country, writing poems. She had attended Columbia University in New York City.  She was a poet who had a collection of her work published by Wesleyan University Press called ‘Taking On The Local Color’.

She had this prestige about her.” Riggins says.

Although she already had been published the collection of poems was from several years earlier.  She says her work had become influenced by The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron and Jayne Cortez. “Spoken art was very big in New York at the time and I actually performed at Doctor Generosity’s” Cynthia says. Doctor Generosity’s was one of the most important poetry hang-outs in the city, at 73rd and Second on New York’s Upper East Side.One night there was a group on the bill called The Experimental Jazz Quartet.  I don’t know who they were butI played with The Experimental Jazz Quartet.  I want to thank them whoever they are”. The performance came out on BLACK BOX, an early spoken word ‘magazine’. It consisted of poetry performances on cassette tape, sometimes with musical accompaniment. The issues were released in an actual box. “Very cool.” adds Cynthia”

“Audre Lorde is on it and Allen Ginsberg and Leon Damas are on it. Really good people… and me. I was on it too!  Little old me. I was asked back to Doctor Generosity’s  by popular demand. I did two performances. That was the scene I was used to”.

In fact, Cynthia’s performences were included on two issues of BLACK BOX  (Black Box, Number 9 in 1976, and Black Box, Number 12 in 1977).   Both were published by The Watershed Foundation that was formed in 1970 in Washington D.C.  The cassette magazine BLACK BOX published 15 issues between 1973 and 1978 although The Watershed Foundation would last until the mid-1990s. Over a more than thirty-year period, The Watershed Foundation released approximately 130 Watershed Tapes,  and two series of poetry programs broadcast on 250 public radio stations. In the mid-1990’s, when a major portion of the archives was destroyed in a flood, The Watershed Foundation folded.  BLACK BOX was available by mail-order during it’s run but it also had sales representatives concentrating on college and university libraries, book stores and other institutions.  Their masters along with the entire Watershed tape collection are now in the archives of the Special Collections division of Gelman Library at George Washington University in D.C.

Meanwhile in Seattle, Gary Minkler remembers “In 1976, I was living (drinking beer, filling up notebooks, and sleeping) in a bag on a sheet of plywood placed on a couple of sawhorses) in a garage behind Gary and Marguerite Margason’s house in Wallingford”

Earlier, in 1962 Gary and Marguerite Margason had been instrumental in establishing KRAB, a volunteer-run, eclectic, listener-supported radio station.  It became part of Seattle counter-culture. Gary Margazan was the long-time Program Director and a trustee of  ‘The Jack Straw Memorial Foundation’ that had been set up to oversee the station. Realizing how tenuous their programing could be with FCC standards, KRAB did a good job flying below the radar for the first couple of years.  Later the scrappy little station would find itself embroiled in all sorts of attempts to shut them down, but the station lived on for 21 years.

In 1983 The Jack Straw Memorial Foundation  sold  KRAB to Sunbelt Broadcasting, Inc.  based in Colorado.  The sales price was said to be between $3.5 and $4 million. After paying off their debts, the now renamed ‘The Jack Straw Foundation’ opened a multi-media, creative public resource with a recording studio, and dedicated it to supporting of artist and authors of all genres.  Seattle had always begged for innovation in the arts.  For decades this made for a landscape of Seattle artists and musicians ready to experiment, but very few public places to present their art.  Many took it upon themselves to create their own venues-the streets.  It is from here that the seminal drag street theater troupe called ‘Ze Whiz Kidz’. who in turn helped inspire early Seattle punk.  The streets were also the starting place for Seattle-born performance artist Johanna Went.

Cynthia continues her story by telling me “It was the mid-70 and I was living in New York . I was studying with a  poet named Fanny Howe…she’s still around and she’s a wonderful poet. I told her I was thinking of going out west and she said ‘DON”T FLY! Don’t be one of ‘THOSE’ people!!!   Go across the country and really see it” So I thought ‘Yeah, OK’.  I picked up a ride with a person I didn’t know. His name was Miles which I thought was fictitious. He turned out to be a big bore.  We parted ways in Pennsylvania then I started to just get rides off of ride boards and occasionally I’d hitch solo…..Even in the ‘70s it was a little dicey going alone. But it turned out OK….It turned out wonderfully!”

“I met a lot of really interesting people. When I got to the Mississippi River…for me, being from New York that was mythic!” Cynthia continues.  “I said ‘I have to get out of this car! I have to put my boots in the Mississippi mud!’. To me this was like ‘America for real‘.  I ended up going out west three times. Once by these pick-up rides. Once by Canadian Rail, which was a lot of fun because at that time if you went by a cheaper line you could get on and off as often as you wanted.  I had adventures out Canada where I’d never been… out in those huge Mid-western, mid-Canadian spaces.  I saw all those mythic things and wildly empty, fantastic places for me.

“You know, I came from a congested city and to see so much space, in itself, was crazy. The third time I went west was by hippie bus, The Grey Rabbit. You’d travel around sitting and smoking weed while they drove.” Cynthia says.  “On my travels to the west I went from New York to Berkeley and then up to Issaquah Washington where I had a friend.  That was my first trip to Seattle.  I went back to New York City pretty rapidly.  I stayed a longer time in San Francisco and Berkeley than Seattle. It was sort of a progression. When I was in Berkeley I worked as a journalist for the underground, counter-culture journal The Berkeley Barb.  That’s when I started to use ‘Chinas Comidas’ as a ‘nom de plume’. I was an at-large cultural critic. I did movie reviews, I did gatherings and places. Then I covered the trial of the ‘San Quentin Six’ which were the guys who were blamed for killing George Jackson, even though it was obvious that it the cops who killed Jackson. They were set-up, although there was plenty of violence. I went with a cartoonist named ‘Spain’.  I just heard that he’d gone.  I didn’t realize he had died; He was a wonderful guy. He was a lovely, lovely man”

Free The San Quentin Six        Poster by ‘Spain’

 

It was a little confusing” says Cynthia, “because one of the defendants on trial was also called ‘Spain’ (Johnny Larry Spain).  The ‘Spain’ Cynthia attended the trial with was Manuel ‘Spain’ Rodriguez.  He was a well-known cartoonist who would make an indelible mark on underground comics and illustrated novels. Rodriguez used only his childhood nickname ‘Spain’ for his work. When Genser attended the trial with him he was already a counter-cultural icon who had co-founded (with Robert Crumb) the United Cartoon Workers of America.  Between the early ’60s to the early 2000s ‘Spain’ contributed to numerous underground comics including Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Zap Comix, Young Lust, Arcade, Weirdo, and dozens of others.  His unabashedly radical leftist views resulted in covering not only the San Quentin Six trial, but also the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a reporter/illustrator for the East Village Other.  He died  at home in San Francisco November 28, 2012 in after a six year battle with cancer. He was 72 at the time of his death.

In 1994 Seattle’s Fantagraphic Books published ‘Spain’s biography ‘My True Story’. Spain’s’ real-life story involved his love of motorcycles (and motorcycle gangs), his radical politics, and his heroic illustrated novels about Ernesto “Che” Guevara. ‘Spain’ was also responsible for creating ‘Trashman’, a superhero of the working classes and the radical left. Trashman’s adventures are set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian America run by a fascist police state and a patchwork of self-governing areas akin to territories ruled by warlords.  In 1997 Fantagraphic Books also  published ‘Trashman Lives!’, a collection of comics and illustrated novels that chronicel ‘Spain’s’ fictional defender.  Fantagraphics Books is closely associated with Larry Reid, who was an early champion of the music of Chinas Comidas and the poetry of Cynthia Genser. In fact, aside from playing Reid’s own late 70s gallery Roscoe Louie, Larry Reid has hosted re-unions of the Chinas Comidas at least twice over the past few years.

The San Quentin Six Genser covered were inmates Luis Talamantez, Hugo Pinell, Johnny Larry Spain, David Johnson, Willie Tate and Fleeta Drumgo.  They were accused of taking part in a prison riot at the facility’s euphemistically named  ‘Adjustment Center’ on an August 21, 1971.  The riot left six people dead, including George Jackson, a former Black Panther who had co-founded the Black Guerilla Family (BGF). The BGF initially was inspired by Marcus Garvey and held the ideology of creating a revolutionary African American/Marxist-Leninist organization comprised of prisoners who would focus on eradicating racism within the prison system and offering dignity to prisoners.  Another of their primary goals was the overthrow of the United States government

The prosecution claimed that George Jackson was given a .32 caliber pistol by his attorney, Stephen Bingham, and it was Jackson’s attempted escape that caused the rioting.  The accused inmates’ defense was that prison guards had smuggled the pistol into San Quentin, hoping it would result in George Jackson’s death. In fact, Jackson did die in the riot, as well as three corrections officers (Frank DeLeon, Jere P.Graham and Paul E. Krasenes). Two inmates were also killed (John Lynn, and Ronald L. Kane).  Another two corrections officers (Charles Breckenridge and Urbano Rubiaco, Jr) were attacked but did not die.

The trial cost the state $2 million and lasted 16-months. At the time it was the longest trial in California history. The final verdicts were that Johnny Larry Spain was guilty in the shooting deaths of prison guards Graham and DeLeon. Pinell was found guilty of cutting the throats of the two guards who survived, and Johnson was convicted of assaulting one of the corrections officers, Charles Breckenridge. There were no convictions for the killings of Krasenes, Lynn, or Kane. Defendants Drumgo, Talamantaz, and Tate were found Not Guilty of all charges, which had  included counts of murder, conspiracy, and assault. To this day the trial and convictions remain controversial and many still feel the blame should have been laid at the feet of the prison guards responsible for giving the pistol to George Jackson. In the aftermath of the riots, Jackson’s lawyer, Stephen Bingham fled the country.  He returned to the US in 1984 and was acquitted on charges of having supplied Jackson’s pistol and for any other part in the riot that led to the deaths and

‘They didn’t let cameras into the courtroom’ Cynthia says, “so ‘Spain’was the illustrator and I was the journalist. We went a few times. That was where Chinas Comidas was born as a name”  This experience had to have a lasting impression on Cynthia. a writer, an activist, a poet and a feminist.

The Last Bath, 1975           Film by Karl Krogstad

At about the same time Genser (now Chinas) was reporting on the San Quentin Six, Rich Riggins continued to perform with Gary Minkler.  Riggins had also been commissioned by Seattle filmmaker Karl Krogstad to create a soundtrack for his film The Last Bath.  In the ’60s Seattle’s ‘King of Porn’ Roger Forbes, decided to expand his hold on the city’s porn palaces and produce porn films himself. Forbes hired Seattle filmmaker Karl Krogstad to direct The Last Bath, an underground, sexploitation, artsy piece of pornography. The film makes ample use of psychedelic, underground imagery, confusing dream sequences and acid-inspired optics. IMdb notes ‘the film starts off impressively with an abstract chase sequence involving a Jaguar XK-E’ . It seems the film devolves from there. Two unnamed girls are played by Thalia Lemar and Debi Duchamps.  They and the  ‘big-dicked hero’ named David have a series of bizarre, convoluted sexual encounters.  The film is clearly not meant to be linear, but it’s hard to decipher which is past, present or future.

Late in the film David requests a bath after dinner.  One reviewer remarked ‘The cast seems stoned (for real) during this lengthy troilism in the tub scene, with tarot cards another suggestive (but unresolved) motif’.  Everything ends in a montage of violence and flashbacks of suicide.  The hero is dead while the film ends with the two women in the bath having sex with each other…sans David.

The Last Bath includes both graphic and soft-focus sex with Krogstad using ‘motor only shots’ (MOS) without sound capture.  Riggins’ musique concrète soundtrack was apparently set over the action in post production concurrent with the shooting. Riggins says “The thing that drove me crazy is that they gave me these shots and I had to view them for days on end.  It was driving me insane, viewing these scenes over and over again”.

Although the film is quite muddled, Krogstad was setting out on his career in experimental film. The film has rarely been seen on screen since its release in 1975.  Occasionally it shows up in underground art houses and among Karl Krogstad retrospectives. It’s far too ‘artsy’ for the porn crowd, and far too pornographic for the ‘artsy’ crowd.  Perhaps the most notable part of the film is Rich Riggin’s soundtrack.

The character of David was played Templeton Blaine, a member of one of Seattle’s wealthiest founding families. It’s said he was disowned by his family for appearing in the film and moved to Los Angeles to continue his career in the porn industry.  Whether his disownment is true or not, he continued to use his real name throughout his career….unusual for a porn actor.

When Cynthia finally arrived in Seattle she became familiar with Rich Riggins and Gary Minkler who were part of the alternative art and music scene then developing in Seattle. We all weren’t involved in  Red Dress” says Cynthia. “but we hung out so much that we were all together. I knew Gary Minkler first. I met Gary early. So definitely we go back. He’s a big person in my mythology…and my reality. He’s a sweetheart and he’s a great musician, songwriter and performer”.

Gary Minkler recalls “One evening I came over to find a group of friends socializing in the living-room. I was immediately transfixed by a dark eyed, thin-limbed Jewish girl sitting with them”. Gary found out she was a poet from New York and was even more intrigued. Having earlier seen the red hourglass marking on a black-widow’s abdomen became Gary’s inspiration for the name Red Dress.  He says it had a direct link to Cynthia.

I was moved to offer to put together some musicians to back her when she told me she wanted to do some performances” Gary says. “I had the idea she might be talented, but more likely the offer was a ruse to get closer.  Anyway, very instinctual”.

Rich Riggins remembers hearing about Cynthia’s arrival in Seattle.“We were all excited to meet her. She was from New York. She was vagabonding around the county writing poems and she had graduated from Columbia University.  The Wesleyan University Press had published her first book  Taking On The Local Color.

“She had this prestige about her” says Rich Riggins.

Cynthia points out that Taking On The Local Color was a collection of poems from years before the book was published and that she had not graduated from Columbia University.  She had spent one year at Columbia but found the atmosphere stifling for her as a feminist and as a woman.

She directs me to the story of  Carolyn Gold Heilbrun.  Heilbrun was the first tenured woman in Columbia’s English Department, held an endowed chair, was past president of the Modern Language Association, a leading feminist literary scholar and the elusive writer known as Amanda Cross.  Under that pseudonym  she was responsible for a series of mysteries who’s protagonist was named Kate Fansler.  From 1985 until her retirement in 1992, Heilbrun was Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities at Columbia.  Her academic books include the feminist study Writing a Woman’s Life, written in 1988.  In 1983, she co-founded the Columbia University Press’s Gender and Culture Series with literary scholar Nancy K. Miller.  Heilbrun’s specialty was British modern literature, with a deep  interest in the Bloomsbury Group who’s most famous members included Virginia Wolfe, E. M. Forster, John Maynard Keynes, and Lytton Strachey.  Heilbrun was the subject of a 1992 profile in the New York Times Magazine. She looked back on her academic career and told The New York Times;

“When I spoke up for women’s issues, I was made to feel unwelcome in my own department, kept off crucial committees, ridiculed, ignored,” says Heilbrun a month or so later, perched on a sofa in her large, light Central Park West apartment, an elderly Maine coon cat in her lap. “Ironically, my name in the catalogue gave Columbia a reputation for encouraging feminist studies in modernism. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

The remark was challenged by her male colleagues, but there was no doubt many women teaching or studying at Columbia University during Heilbrun’s academic career agreed.  It seems that Cynthia was one of them.

She was hanging out at the Hasty Tasty, a greasy spoon that was open 24 hours a day in the University District. We’d hang out there to have coffee and be poets. There was me, Gary Minkler, Eric Apoe, John Olufs and Bill White. We all started forming some crazy little music ideas and piecing together little groups within our group”.

Gary put together a group of musicians to back Cynthia as he’d offered.  He hired an upright bass player named Jerry Anderson (later the bass player for Red Dress).  Cynthia found a classical guitarist and Gary played sax” Riggins says.   “We might ve had a conga player. We got together for rehearsal and it worked!  Cynthia recited her poetry over instrumentation. It was all very unplugged and ‘beat’ “Gary tells the story of the first ‘Red Dress/Chinas Comidas’ gig in the basement of the College Inn that used to stand  at the corner of University Way and 40th Street NE. “We all told our friends, and showed up descending into the view of the bartender with our instruments and a little crowd. The bartender asked ‘what’s going on?’ I said ‘we’re performing here tonight’. He said ‘Nobody told me about a performances here tonight!’ I said ‘well, it was booked last week, where do we set up?’  We found a spot, did our three our four numbers then split. Meanwhile the bartender had gotten ‘hold of the owner or manager and realized there was no booking ever made.  We were done and walking out before he could express his protest.  This was Cynthia’s first Seattle performance”.

Chinas Comidas with Al Sharp. Alternative version of
Snake In The Sun. 1977

Jerry Anderson was the upright bass player Gary had dragged along would become more musically involved with Cynthia as Chinas. “I had met Gary Minkler at a jazz jam in a bar on University Avenue in Seattle, in about 1976 or 1977′. Jerry tells me. “I was playing upright bass.  He was playing some really scrappy outside sax and he had asked me if I wanted to play bass ‘with a poet’.  “I had said ‘OK’ to meeting her, and gave him my number”.

“The poet turned out to be Cynthia, who had arrived in Seattle relatively recently.” Jerry tells me. “She had been hanging out with Gary and Rich Riggins, and was looking for outlets for her poetry which she wrote under the pen name Chinas Comidas. This was before the name was attached to the band.  Cynthia and I tried arrangements of several of her poems to music, often just bass and recited poetry.  Gary would sometimes play sax, and I recall an early version of  ‘Johnny Guitar’ with Rich and Cynthia as a duo. Now and then different musicians were around as Red Dress and Chinas Comidas bands began to gradually take shape.
Rich and Gary were initially working on the earliest Red Dress tunes with me and other musicians Gary had recruited.  This was before Rich split off to concentrate on Cynthia’s music.”

“At the beginning Cynthia was still working mostly in the pure poetry vein.  We were not so much working them into songs, but adding musical backgrounds. I have a copy of her poetry collection from that period, ‘Cowboys’ that she self-published in 1978.  It contains some of the poems we performed as spoken voice and upright bass duets. We performed  pretty much in a beat style. The poems worked pretty nicely with moody upright bass backups.”

“We did half a dozen poems in several performances at the UW Ethnic Cultural Theatre,” Jerry continues “and a few other small gatherings in galleries or on the University of Washington campus.  I recall playing with Cynthia, Rich and drummer (maybe Stuart Laughlin) opening for The Ramones. This must have been in 1977, before Rich and Cynthia spun off Chinas Comidas into a distinct band from Red Dress. The same year a similar formation played The Bumbershoot Festival.  After that I spent most of my efforts on Red Dress, though I saw a lot of Rich and Cynthia for a while.  I liked what they were doing and Cynthia always had something interesting going on”.

Gary Minkler            Photo: Ernie Sapiro

“We eventually separated from Red Dress” says Riggins.  “Cynthia and I developed a romantic relationship.” He adds. “The name Chinas Comidas  comes from Puerto Rican restaurants in New York, The term means Chinese Food in Spanish. Signs hang outside practically every Hispanic/Chinese restaurant in New York City. Cynthia copped that name from the local cultural color of New York. In fact for a few years Cynthia WAS Chinas Comidas and would often be referred to as ‘Chinas’.  Then she reverted to Cynthia because people actually felt the band’s name was Chinas Comidas”. “It was flexible” says Cynthia. “We never assigned any title”.

“I designed the Chinas Comidas logo” Cynthia tells me. ” I just painted it. Carl Smool put the little star on the ‘i’ then he took the whole thing with my face, and that became our trademark.  Carl also made a poster that was so great we had to use it over and over again.  Carl has been a great friend and a great supporter.  He’s another great Seattle guy and a magical person. A talented person. He was definately part of the ménage that we travelled around with at the time”.

“Because Cynthia and I had this romantic relationship” says Riggins. “we were burning that off and writing lots of songs. I was approaching things from a little different angle. We all were loving the punk idea…Cynthia too. We wanted to rebel and we saw a wonderful platform for art to mesh with words.  Interesting words that meant more than ‘I saw my girl walking down the street today’. We wanted something somewhat political and a little bit Dylan-ish. Of course Cynthia, being the creative literature person that she is, could piece together these wonderful, simple, artful, lyrical ideas that weren’t the norm but still fit into a great pop style. In my musical writing I was trying to maintain certain kinds of pop ideas but then twisting them around a little bit. Doing syncopation or a stop and a start that usually wouldn’t have been there; a break or complex rhythm change; a little twist and turn that to make it a little more interesting. If you were to take all that stuff off the top we were just cranking out the basic pop structure”

After the delineation, between Red Dress and Chinas Comidas. Gary started moving toward a completely different direction than his arty first incarnation.  By the end of the decade Red Dress had become the most popular white R&B band in the Northwest.  The charismatic Gary Minkler stepped out front singing songs that were influenced by the great blues great masters as much the absurdity of Captain Beefheart.  In 1980 the band released Bob Was A Robot b/w Pterodactyl Teenagers, one of the truly great records in Northwest music history”.

Mark Wheaton of Chinas Comidas and long-time sound designer for Johanna Went

Around this time Rich connected with Mark Wheaton through the band Uncle Cookie. Conrad Uno was a member of Uncle Cookie and would later make his name as the producer of The Young Fresh Fellows, The Posies, The Presidents of the United States of America, The Fastbacks, Mudhoney, The Squirrels, Roy Loney and Red Dress among others. Uno eventually acquired a total of at least 166 production credits to his name.

Mark Wheaton says “The first time I ever met Rich and Cynthia was when they were rehearsing in the basement of a friend of mine’s house. His name was Dave Hancock. He was someone I met when I was the sound guy for  Uncle Cookie.  At the time Dave was interning at a recording studio on Capitol Hill called The Music Farm.  It was a good, full-on 24 track recording studio. Dave would get Uncle Cookie in the studio during ‘off-times’ with him doing the engineering. At some point my relationship with Uncle Cookie stopped but I was still hanging out with Dave Hancock.  I’d go over to his house a lot. Dave had one of these houses on the hill above Green Lake, north of the University of Washington that had an enormous basement, like a lot of houses in Seattle. He would let people rehearse in the basement.  One of his friends was Steven Hoke. His little brother was Eldon Hoke  ‘(‘El Duce’ of The Mentors). Eldon would practice in Dave’s basement with The Mentors. I’d be over visiting Dave and they’d be downstairs practicing. Then they would come upstairs and sit around and listen to the cassette tapes of their rehearsal”.

ROCK IN CONCERT IN SEATTLE Seattle May 5, 1977

“Eldon was playing with a lot of bands in his early days” Mark continues.  “At one point before he was drumming for The Tupperwares, who would later become The Screamers.  Both Chinas Comidas and The Mentors were using Dave Hancock’s  basement for rehearsals at the same time.  Eldon  was drumming for both bands. Ed Shepard, a local promoter, was going to put on a big show at  the I.O.O.F. Hall on Capitol Hill.  A  poster had been created and The Mentors were the featured band. Chinas Comidas were also on the bill. Eldon decided he couldn’t  be in both bands. He felt he needed to focus on The Mentors, so he quit Chinas Comidas. It was an amicable departure, and China Comidas would find itself with The Mentors on many future gigs.  However Eldon quit Chinas Comidas about a week before Ed Shepard’s big show.

According to Mark “I was upstairs and they (Rich and Cynthia) came upstairs, all panicked saying ‘We don’t have a drummer. What are we going to do?’ “So I said ‘My brother Brock is a drummer.  I could talk to him. You could see if he might be a good fit’.”

“Brock had been playing drums since the early ’60s and he began playing around Burien in 1969.  His first band was called The Sound Barriers.  Brock was mainly in the south end of Seattle, drumming with neighborhood hard-rock bands that were more like early metal bands” says Mark.  “After he graduated from High School he joined a Bremerton-based band called Razzmatazz.  He was a very serious student of a drum teacher in Burien and he’d even attended workshops with Dave Brubeck’s drummer, Joe Morello, who was a friend of Brock’s drum teacher. He was also involved with several people in the band Mondo Bando.  He was really invested in the hard rock and metal scene that was happening at the time”.

“I had taken him to see The Ramones show at The Olympic Hotel’s Georgian Ballroom.  The high-end hotel had unknowing allowed promoters Neil Hubbard, then 19, and Robert Bennett, then 20, to book The Ramones in what the young promoters thought was the last all-ages room left in Seattle the night The Ramones were scheduled to play in Seattle.  The Olympic Hotel’s  patrons looked on with both bemusement and horror when they saw throngs of young punks descending on the hotel.

“That was the first time Brock heard The Ramones and he was totally blown away.” says his brother Mark.  “He was like, ‘Wow! This is another way of looking at things’.  So he agreed to come and rehearse with Rich and Cynthia. They hit it off pretty well. I think there were some on-again, off-again moments there for awhile where Rich, Cynthia and Brock  played together and then it didn’t happen for a while.  At that point Rich and Cynthia were still associated with Red Dress. They would do shows basically with Red Dress as the backing band, and there were times Cynthia would just do poetry with a stand-up bass player, Al Sharp (Jerry Anderson).  Cynthia would also appear with guitarist Annie Rose DeArmas, who would later head up her own long running revue, Annie Rose and The Thrillers”.

So with Brock on board, he and Rich started writing more rock songs to accompany Cynthia’s pieces. “That was kind of where the beginning of Chinas Comidas as a band happened” says Mark.

“At that point Shawna Holt began playing keyboards”. Mark says “Shawna’s boyfriend at the time was Lyn Paulson, who became the bass player for Chinas Comidas.  Brock knew them from his Mondo Bando days. Brock wasn’t in Mondo Bando but he was friends with all those people who were playing in this dark metal, sludge-rock kind of thing that was happening in Seattle the same time as punk rock”.  Chinas Comidas was finding a loyal audience in Seattle and managed to play on a fairly regular basis. After establishing themselves among the early Seattle punk vanguard, Chinas Comidas ventured south to San Francisco to play The Mabuhay Gardens, one of the west coast’s most important venues.  They played on August 5 and 6, 1978. The Kids from L.A. and San Jose’s hard-core metal band, Seizure, opened for at least one of these shows. The gigs seem to have been good shows for Chinas Comidas.  They were written up in San Francisco’s Search and Destroy magazine, although existing copies are near impossible to find except on the collectors market.  Shortly before the band returned to Seattle they were set to record their first single.  Then there was a break with Shawna and Lyn and the rest of the band.  Both of them left Chinas Comidas.

Chinas Comidas     Ethnic Cultural Theater 1976

“Finally after a year” Mark says, “I took the leap and became the keyboardist for Chinas Comidas”.  Mark had been the bands’ soundman for almost a year before becoming the band’s keyboard player.  “One day after Shawna and Lyn left,” Mark tell me, “Rich came up to me and said ‘You should be the new keyboard player.’ I said ‘Well, I’ve never played keyboards before’ (Mark laughs). “He just said ‘get yourself a synthesizer and I’ll show you the parts and we’ll do it‘. ‘So I did. I got a loan and bought a Wurlitzer electric piano and a Steiner Parker synthesiser. I began learning the parts from Rich. I really never learned how to play keyboards, I only knew the parts to the songs Rich had taught me”.

Mark points out that he didn’t play keyboards on the first Chinas Comidas single ‘Peasant/Slave’ and ‘Love Love’ although his photo is on the sleeve. “It was a transitional period” he says. “I was still occasionally doing sound for the band in local clubs. says Mark. “Rich would come over to my apartment and show me the parts to the songs and that’s basically how I learned how to play in the band. I didn’t know a thing about playing keyboards. I wasn’t a keyboard player at that point but  I became a keyboard player.”

The band recorded their first single at The Music Farm, the studio that Dave Hancock worked at.  The flipside included Al Sharp (a.k.a. Jerry Anderson) accompanying Cynthia on the spoken word poetry that had been recorded at the UW Ethnic Cultural Theater.  For the two studio recordings Rich played the bass parts since Lyn Paulson had left the band. Chinas Comidas turned to Gordon Raphael for the keyboards. Gordon is now well-known for his production work with The Strokes, The Libertines, Regina Spektor, Damon Albarn and dozens of others.  Although he’s based in Berlin Gordon globe-hops from one place to another doing production jobs, or guesting as a DJ.  Finally after decades of making other artists household names Gordon released his own solo album in February 2018 called ‘Sleep On the Radio’.  

Producer Gordon Raphael

“He was just a little kid then” Rich says of Gordon. “I remember having to drive out to the north end of Seattle-almost to Edmonds-where he and Ben Ireland lived. That’s the first time I met Ben Ireland, (later of The Fags and Sky Cries Mary, a band that also featured Gordon). I drove out there and taught him the song and then took him to the studio one night and he pulled the whole thing off…and he was on acid! He was on LSD and I changed the key on him (Rich laughs). I didn’t know he was on acid-he didn’t tell me. Then years later he said ‘You fucking changed the key on me!’ (more laughter) So he had to go through an acid moment while I was piecing together the key structure and changing it around…but anyway he pulled it off!”

Gordon has a similar but slightly different version.  He says:

“I played My arp odyssey on Lover Lover, a fast and difficult riff that Rich wrote. That was fine,
but then a week later he called me out of the blue, as I was just starting a Peyote trip (I was walking around Green Lake with a friend) and picked me up, took me to the studio, and showd me this old Moog Sonic 6 synthesizer.  The keyboard was rickety, plus I’d never used one before.  He asked me to learn and record the riff in a new key.  It was really hard to concentrate on in the
shape I was in… but somehow, we did it!”

Soon after recording their first single, and without an official bassist the band began auditions for a replacement.  Mark says “I was working at one of Wes Eastman’s used record stores in the University District. One night I was going to take the bus  home and I was standing at the bus stop next to a guy with blonde punk-rock hair. I started talking to him and he told me his name was Dag Midtskog and he played bass.  I said ‘we’re looking for a bass player are you interested?’  So he came and tried out and became our bass player.

Before bringing Dag into the band they also allowed a familiar face on the Seattle music scene to audition. Her name was Sheli Story.

“It’s funny because I had actually met Brock Wheaton at a party” Sheli says.

The party was at the notorious Mad House in Seattle’s University District.  It was one of the wildest, most boisterous party houses of the 70s and early 80s. Though it was in the University District it was clearly and definitely NOT a fraternity party house  It’s denizens were mostly punks, weirdos, artists, working kids without trust funds, early video geeks and people working and living on the fringes of punk rock. Sheli remembers her and Brock’s first meeting as ‘sitting back to back on this ottoman chair’. “We ended up fucking in his van” she says.

As for her audition:
“I was 16 or 17 and just got my first bass. I played classical music and jazz  because my parents are classical musicians. I had a black Precision Fender bass…. heavy as fuck, and here I am trying to play it, auditioning for Rich and Brock because I had been fucking Brock. I knew nothing about  ‘jamming’ or how to ‘rock ‘n roll” . Gawd. It was so funny because those guys were so sweet and forgiving. It ended up that they chose Dag Mitskog to play bass. All the girls in town were saying ‘Oh my God, Dag is so cute!’ and then I ended up with Dag and marry him.

Dag says his first band was called ‘Violent World’. “I was invited into the band by a guy named Electra Bue who was the soundman for The Lewd. . Naturally I was very interested. Mike Davidson was in the very first iteration of The Lewd along with Dave Drewry’.  ‘We’d hang out at Davidson’s house”

The Lewd and Chinas Comidas  July 17,1978 Seattle

The Lewd,  fronted by J. Satz Baret (another alum of the glam troupe Ze Whiz Kidz) had catapulted onto the west coast punk scene as one of the most entertaining and forceful outfits during Seattle’s early punk days. They would move to San Francisco leaving Davidson and Drewry in Seattle. In 1979 The Lewd released a great three-song EP on Scratched Records in 1979. (‘Kill Yourself’ ‘Trash Can Baby’ and ‘Pay Or Die). The Lewd’s guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof (a.k.a Blobbo) left to create his own very successful  band, Metal Church. After some musical chairs were re-arranged Olga de Volga who’d been in The Offs and VS. became part of The Lewd.  In 1982 The Lewd released their only full length album, the classic American Wino. One side was recorded at Mystic Sound in Hollywood and the other side live at Target Video in San Francisco  Shortly after its release The Lewd dissolved.

“I was kind of like a hippie kid, and going to shows” Dag continues. “I took photographs, press photos and  band photos. I know some of the photos I took are still used on CD’s which are uncredited.  So, I met this guy, Electra Blue through The Lewd and we started a band with Brad Rammels and a guy named John on drums…I can’t remember his last name.   After the original guitarist for The Lewd  left the band, J. Satz Baret, the founder of The Lewd stole our guitarist Brad Rammels”. Rammels would  go on to play with R.P.A. and The Wolfpack, an early ’90s band featuring punk legend, the late Mike Refuzor. “I started playing guitar in Violent World” says Dag. “That meant Electra Blue started playing bass, and my younger brother Tor Midtskog was on drums for a short bit”.

“Electra Blue had also been in Mondo Bando with Shawna Holt and Lyn Paulson who were stolen by Chinas Comidas which was just Rich and Cynthia originally.  “Rich and Cynthia had seen me around, or maybe at a Violent World show when they asked me to play bass in Chinas Comidas.” Dag says so I said ‘Sure, OK’.  “I left poor Electra behind. All of these other bands were stealing his fellow band mates”.

“I was in another band with Mark Smith called The Beakers” says Dag. “ I was the bass player before Frankie Sundsten came along”.  The Beakers would become one of the most innovative and influential band to come out of the Seattle/Olympia vortex in the ’80s. Their impact is still felt today.

“My time with The Beakers was concurrent with Chinas Comidas”Dag tells me. “Rich and Cynthia were very much the taskmasters. You know, we practiced a lot!  I was pretty much a beginning player in my first real bands. I was a very shy kid and was very anxious about playing live; but when you’re really well-rehearsed and you concentrate on the music you forget about the anxiety, and just put your mind into what you have to play”.

Dag Midstkog of Chinas Comidas 1979

“It was a challenge for me, but I got better and better equipment which made the sound change quite a lot” Dag says. “Mark Smith of The Beakers was competent enough-he’s never called himself a musician- but he was good enough to play his parts.  The Beakers played some pretty wacky songs with wacky progressions and complicated rhythms. We did the same thing in Chinas Comidas mostly thanks to Rich and Brock.  They were very inventive. I know that Rich was really into Captain Beefheart who was also pretty obscure, wacky and unusual at the time. As time went on we got better and better shows. We opened for The Ramones.  We opened for The Dils, Black Flag, D.O.A. The Dead Kennedys, Fear, The Germs The Bags, Zippers, The Plugz, The Crowd and a lot of other well-known bands. There was also that famous Seattle gig at the Oddfellows Hall with The Mentors, Violent World, The Lewd, The Feelings, Roland Rock and Jim Basnight”. (the show put together by Ed Shepard).

Many musicians have bemoaned the Seattle music scene at the time as a wasteland, but there were early punk bands working, and underground promoters (mostly band members or their friends) putting on shows with local bands. On May 1, 1976 the seminal TMT show was held at the Oddfellows Hall on Capitol Hill. The TMT Show was ostensibly a benefit for the fictitious Telepathic Foundation.   Some believe it was the first real punk event put together by punks in Seattle.  The TMT stood for The Telepaths, The Meyce and The Tupperwares who made up the bill of the show.

The Telepaths would later become The Blackouts and have a major influence on Seattle music. After The Blackouts breaking up Bill Rieflin and Paul Barker went on to form Ministry with Al Jourgensen. Rieflin stayed on until around the time Filth Pig was released before leaving Ministry. His job was then replace Bill Berry of R.E.M.  Rieflin also worked with KMFDM, Pigface, Revolting Cocks, Nine Inch Nails and dozens o f others bands.  He is currently a member of the reformed King Crimson.

Barker, who was essential to the sound associated with Ministry lasted 18 years before leaving, it’s said, because of regular disputes with Jourgensen.

The Meyce was led by Jim Basnight.  His later band The Moberlys has been cited by many critics (past and present) of being one of the greatest American power-pop bands in history.  The Meyce included Jenny Skirvin, Lee Lumsden and Pam Lillig (later of The Girls).

TMT Show Oddfellows Hall, Seattle, May 1.1976

The Tupperwares was a punk trio headed by the founder of an early 70s drag performance troupe called Ze Whiz Kidz.  The founder’s  name was David Xavier Harrigan (a.k.a.Tomata du Plenty). The Tupperwares had formed in 1975 and included ‘Tommy Gear’, ‘Tomata du Plenty’, and Rio de Janeiro. On occasion they were backed by Pam Lillig and Ben Witz of The Girls, as well as the aforementioned Bill Rieflin and the teenaged Eldon Hoke (‘El Duce’).

The Tupperwares would eventually rename the band to The Screamers (after threats from the Tupperware Corporation) and move the core trio to Los Angeles.  Despite a few personel changes they became one of the most popular draws during the heady days of California punk, and were often cited as influential to bands like The Germs and The Dead Kennedys.  Tomata himself would go on to be an actor, a painter and a performance artist until his death in 2000.  In an ironic but touching twist, Tomata du Plenty died in San Francisco where his old Ze Whiz Kidz and punk compatriot J. Satz Baret (formerly of The Lewd) took care of him during his final months.  Tomata du Plenty died of complications from AIDS on August 21, 2000.

Down the hill from The Oddfellows Hall in downtown Seattle The Enemy  started their own all-ages club, The Bird, in 1978.  It didn’t last long, but it helped get things rolling. Also playing around town was Clone whose members included Gordon Raphael, Jeff Gossard (cousin of Stone) Mike Davidson and Dave Drewry (the former members of The Lewd that Dag Mitskog had met).  Clone was led by the infamous Upchuck (Chuck Gerra) who would later go on to become the lead singer of another very influential Seattle band, The Fags. The Fags also had hardcore guitarist Paul Solger as a member. Paul’s guitar travelled back and forth and concurrently with his hardcore and more melodic styles.The Fags left for New York City in the mid-80s and promptly broke up despite some success there.   Gerra stayed in New York City and was on the verge of “making it” with his partner Shlomo Sonnenfeld in the NYC duo Such before his death from AIDS on May 28th, 1990/May 28, 1990.

There was The Meyce ,The Pudz, The Feelings, The Cheaters, The Refuzors, The Fartz, The Moberlys and dozens of other short-lived bands that would rotate members, coming and going all the time. In some ways Seattle was a wasteland, but it wasn’t for lack of talent.  There simply were not enough venues for alternative and punk bands to play.  Only a few clubs could be convinced to cater to Seattle’s small but very tight punk crowd…but as we know that scene would continue to grow and grow until it exploded onto the national scene in the late 1980s.

Chinas Comidas at The Bahamas Undergroud Club. Seattle

Cynthia remembers “There was no infrastructure. No real spaces for practicing and recording.  There was very little management.  It was totally DIY, for us at least.  We rented halls, made our own bookings, and created our own posters…the whole 9 yards.  However there seemed to be a moment; a convergence of ideas and energy. When we started doing our music along with some other punk and experimental bands, in some immediate way we were the scene.  Everybody came. We got reviewed in major papers. That was the greatest thing about it. It was new. It felt like everybody was waiting for something to happen”.

Rich Riggins also remembers “The punk-bar thing didn’t really open up before WREX and The Gorilla Room in 1979″.  Earlier the gay bar TUGS Belltown was playing a sort of punk-oriented music some nights of the week, but no live bands.  By that time Chinas Comidas had already left Seattle.  “Another all-ages place was Danceland ” Rich says. “It was a dance studio during the day but also let punk bands book it at night.  We also played at The Edmonds Theater a couple of times.  Cult music films and new bands were being paired for shows put together by promoter Norman Caldwell….he managed us for a short time.  I think The Cowboys, The Girls, The Heats, Red Dress and The Moberlys played there too”.

Despite the frustration of finding venues and audiences Rich Riggins says “We did a lot of different things, and that was beautiful in the beginning; the experimentation. It was a great time but of course we weren’t successful with the majority of people. By and large most people wanted to hear pretty much what they listened to on the radio at the time but we got things going really well and connected with a lot of people in Seattle at that period of time-about 1976.  Things were just kind of opening up for us, but disco was going on and nobody was making any money in Seattle.  It was really dead as far as original music”.  Bands like The Screamers, The Lewd, The Mentors and Penelope Houston who co-founded The Avengers had to leave Seattle to get heard.

“Seattle clubs were contemplating getting DJ’s because bands were too expensive and too noisy” Rich tells me. “This transition of “what the fuck?” was a period in Seattle where you saw the signs that Seattle was dead or the famous billboard ‘Will The Last Person Leaving Seattle Turn Off The Lights?’.  There was just nothing going on, and punk was that ‘let’s spur it on!‘ thing.  With the fiery force of a lot of people, people started piecing together little scenes.  What we and most of the other bands like The Enemy and The Mentors had to do was go to clubs and bars and convince them to let us do a show.  We’d  tell them we’d bring in enough people to get the place packed and get them to drink so the bar would make the money.  We would play and do all the advertising, all the promotion and design and put up all the posters.  Everybody in the bands did everything. So did their friends.  It was a real grassroots organization, and that’s what became the scene that Seattle eventually developed into; Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green River, Mother Love Bone. Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and all the others.  What we developed was fragmented, but it still had this growth of strength that developed into something in the later 80s. The records we put out back then are still holding their own.  It’s great to see in the digital realm  people are listening to our stuff and going ‘Wow! That’s pretty cool, man!’

Cynthia Genser  The “Chinas” of Chinas Comidas

“The first few Chinas Comidas gigs were at lofts and parties” says Riggins.  “Then we rented out the Ethnic Cultural Center Theater in the University District. It was Red Dress and Chinas Comidas.  Then certain bars opened up like The Rainbow on N.E, 45th in the University District.  That became an easy venue for everybody.  There would be Kidd Afrika and those kind of ’70s bands, and later that’s where you’d find Green River in the early days and where you’d find the Soundgarden guys hanging out around the time they formed.

“I was still alternately called Chinas or Chinas Comidas” Cynthia tells me. “Then it was my real name Cynthia because people actually felt the band was Chinas Comidas. We didn’t have a logo so I just painted one. I think Carl Smool put the little star on the ‘i’.  Then he took the whole thing with my face and that became the whole trademark. We’ll have to let it go someday, but for now it’ very recognizable. Carl also made that poster that was so great we had to use it over and over again. Carl has been a great friend and a great supporter; another great guy and a magical person. A talented person. He was definitely part of the ménage that we travelled around with.”

Combining poetry with free-form music wasn’t exactly what Seattle rock audiences were looking for in the late 1970s  Even so, a small but dedicated following was growing up around Chinas Comidas, as it was around the new punk rock scene in general.  In 1979 Cynthia told the influential underground, punk magazine Slash about the struggles the band faced trying to create their own art in Seattle

“If you knew what kind of shit I’ve gotten in the past in the last 2 ½ years, I don’t think anybody’s ever been treated like that in every way.  That’s why I’m a bit scared on stage.  Once in some club some guy came up and blew the contents of a whole ashtray in my face.  Right down my throat; I got a plate of food smashed on my head, now I get scared”.

The interviewer from Slash asked her why she thought people would do that?

She answered;

“I think it was men reacting to me as a woman, upset by me being there”

Mark Wheaton offered his own perspective, sayingIt was seeing a woman standing there, aggressively singing…I think people felt personally confronted by what she said. When she got that plate of shrimp she was doing a poem about relationships.  It was very direct and this guy must have taken offense to it”.

There’s no doubt that Cynthia’s lyrics and poetry could sometimes be caustic, and it’s clear she wrote from a feminist punk perspective. It’s not surprising that many men-even young, supposedly punk men, would take this attitude in the late ‘70s.  Despite believing social norms were changing, the fact is that misogyny was rampant in the ’70s…and still is.

Cynthia and the rest of the band found a fellow traveler back in Seattle in the form of Steven “Jesse” Bernstein.  The band and Cynthia considered him a good friend and a poet worthy of listening intently to.

Steven ‘Jesse’ Bernstein  Dec.4 1950-Oct.22 1991

In the same 1979 interview with Slash Cynthia said: We have a friend, Jesse Bernstein, who is kind of a big loud-mouthed drunken poet…He’s wonderful. He opened for Red Dress in Seattle and there was this other band, a boogie band, that was playing all these boring songs about their baby leaving them and drinking vodka or whatever; the down and out life thing. All fraudulent. Then Jessie, got up there and got really hard core, and told them about life and the way it was and they HATED IT! They were yelling and heckling and making fun of him, saying ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Lighten up! “

Cynthia recalls “Jesse yelled at me too, but I have a letter of deep apology for how he had acted the night he’d done it.  He was very sweet.  He saw me leave and left a note for me that said;

Dear Chinas Comidas, 
I read one of your books standing up. That is some goddamn good poetry. I am the one who gets loud and obnoxious and wrecks things at poetry readings. Most poetry makes my skin crawl, Even the word “poetry” implies a kind of cloistered delicacy which I think is insulting to the human spirit. But sometimes a poet will slip up and say something really grabbing. I’m always thankful when someone says something strong enough to shut me up for awhile. Thank you.
Steven 

“So we hung out and were pals” Cynthia tells me. “But I did not see him in the period where he was sick or he was hanging out with addicts or all that. He was heavier into drugs after I had left Seattle.  It was sad. I was shocked because I actually had not seen the documentary about his life and death.  I hadn’t heard about anything. When I came back to Seattle two years ago Rich had a show with a lot of Chinas Comidas ephemera at the Majestic Arts Gallery on Greenwood Avenue.  They told me the whole horrible story of Jesse’s death. He certainly was the most well-known poet from Seattle, and in some ways the most characteristic. Although he was born in California, he was a son of Seattle, for sure. He was a charming person in many ways. He wanted to be many things that he couldn’t always bring himself to be. He wanted to be existing in a world with other people. He was really social but his temperament was pretty wild”

In 1991 the British paper The Independent had called Bernstein “TheGodfather of Grunge’   He hated it; The description pales in the face of the lyrical and personal integrity as a writer that intertwined with the failure and misery he’d written about since the late 1960s.  It pigeon-holed him into a fad rather than being taken serious as a poet in his own right.

Sadly, Bernstein struggled with mental illness and addiction most of his life. He killed himself during a trip to the Olympic Peninsula on October 22, 1991.  The 2010 documentary of his life, ‘Secretly I Am An Important Man’ is part love letter, part horror story and part deconstruction of an unsettled mind; but it’s also true to Jesse’s ability to be outgoing, loving and very, very funny. Despite their different approaches to style and substance Cynthia and Jesse’s recognition of each others’ talents was inevitable.

Club 82, 1979   Design: Payton Wilkinson 
   September 19, 1952- June 18, 1989

Cynthia mentions another good friend of the band’s  “The guy who did the cover for my book of poetry Club 82, was the cartoonist Payton Wilkinson, who died really young. He had AIDS. He thought that he had been poisoned, though…long before he got AIDS. Years before. When we first met him he had crazily joined the Army at some point. His father made him, and of course he bunked out of Viet Nam pretty fast.  When they brought him back stateside they debriefed him and put him in an institutional kind of building. He didn’t even know where he was.  Something happened. I don’t know if they gave him LSD, or they did other things, but they did something weird. Then they also pushed him out because suddenly there were a lot of guys coming back from Viet Nam who needed treatment.

Payton got pushed out and he felt that he was never quite well after that.  Rich knew that story too.  It was a strange thing because he got sick awfully quick and suddenly. It was bad.  He was such a talented guy and a lot of fun to hang out with.  As I said he did the cover for Club 82, the book that I did when I was in Seattle. I have lovely photos of him that my husband took when Payton came to New York. It’s funny we were in New York together, and he did some studio shots that are really nice.”

In the spring of 1979 the band began making plans for opening dates on the east coast with The Dead Kennedys.  It’s often misstated that this was a ‘tour’ with the Dead Kennedys, but in fact the band was only scheduled to play a handful of dates with the DK’s. Their first gig was to be at Hurrah, a huge venue at 36 West 62nd street that was New York City’s first punk disco.  The club also booked national and international punk, post-punk and new wave bands from from 1976 until 1980.  Bands from the era that played Hurrah included Mission of Burma, Ultravox, The Cure, Klaus Nomi, Suicide, The Slits, Tuxedomoon, The Specials and 8-Eyed Spy-the band Lydia Lunch fronted after the break up of her pioneering no-wave band, Teenage Jesus and The Jerks.  Dozens more important artists played the club, including New Order in their first American appearance. Their previously planned tour of the US had been scrapped when lead singer and frontman of the band-then Joy Division-commited suicide the night before they were to leave the UK and fly to New York.

From 1978 to 1980 Hurrah was managed by well-known promoter and gay activist Jim Fouratt.  His assistant Ruth Polsky took care of booking bands.  Later Fouratt would move on to Danceteria at it’s most well-known four-floor location at 30 West 21st Street in Manhattan.  Jim is still involved in gay activism, music and New York City politics.

Rich Riggins of Chinas Comidas flying to NYC, 1979

When Chinas Comidas went to New York City, Mark remembers they sent their gear ahead of them on a train and the band flew there. They rented a van in New York City, and stayed on the floors of friends’ apartments. They had a few gigs lined up, including Hurrah.  Chinas Comidas’s  manager at the time was Robert Hanrahan who also managed the Dead Kennedys and The Offs.  The Hurrah gig with The Dead Kennedys had been set up by Chinas Comidas, but Hanrahan had promised to put them in more opening slots for the Dead Kennedys.  “Then something happened at the last moment before the Hurrah gig’ Riggins says. ‘Hanrahan dropped the ball on everything and left Chinas Comidas stranded with no gig and  suddenly stopped managing us”.

Mark recalls “Hanrahan went to Jim Fouratt at Hurrah and told him ‘Well, they (Chinas Comidas) really aren’t that good, and you shouldn’t put them on the bill’.  So Hanrahan undermined the show and Jim Fouratt took us off that bill.  By that time we had arrived in New York with our gear, ready to go, but we had lost the Hurrah gig. “We never heard from Hanrahan again” says Riggins. “So Cynthia went down to the club and talked to Fouratt and got it all patched up.  They set up a date for us and we got to play”. Cynthia says she doesn’t remember this, though admits it’s very likely she did go to Fouratt, to complain and get the band a new date.

“I think a band called The Reds were on the bill” says Riggins. “They were a pop band from Philadelphia. We kind of over-blew the crowd. We just weren’t steady enough for them and our tempo-we kind of jerked it around-was  a little bit too much for them. There were about 1500 people out there and at the beginning of the show.  They were right up front. Four songs in and they were kind of backing off. What do you do? How do you pull them back?”

“Then we got another show at Tier 3 at West Broadway and White Street in Tribeca” Rich tells me. “It was one of those Tuesday night things and there was nobody there. Nobody shows up on Tuesday night in the city unless something really big is going on.”

The next gig with the Dead Kennedys was meant to be in Boston at  The Rat Club. (officially The Rathskeller in Kenmore Square). “I really didn’t want to be in Boston with the Dead Kennedys” says Cynthia. The band blew the gig off. “‘It was a big fuck-up” Cynthia says of the DK show at The Rat. “It was a big brawl in Boston as you might expect. That was one thing that didn’t really appeal to me. I loved Jello Biafra and I thought he was a brilliant guy, so hanging out with him was great. But the tour in itself was rough. Especially when you have no money”

Chinas Comidas & The Dead Kennedys Philadelphia

“We drove to Philadelphia and opened up for the Dead Kennedys at The Hot Club“. All I remember is driving there” Rich says about the Philadelphia gig.  “I vaguely remember being in another dark, beer-stink pighole that they called a venue; everything’s painted black, you know that whole deal. The stage is in the corner with some kind of a P.A. set up. That was the last gig Robert Hanrahan had booked for Chinas Comidas.  After we did The Hot Club we just bailed on the thing with the Dead Kennedys because they looked at us as roadies or something.  They wanted us to carry their gear. We said ‘that’s not what we’re here for, so forget it’.”

The tour wasn’t a complete bust for everyone.  In fact, Dag says “Being in New York during the summer of 1979 was pretty much a life-changing experience for me. I’d been a shy, sheltered, suburban white kid from white suburban Bellevue outside Seattle. I was thrust into the New York of the 1970s when it was arguably it’s scummiest and probably it’s most interesting too. I just saw stuff on the streets. We were out on the street all the time, exploring, going places, taking subways, and just seeing all kinds of weird people doing weird things. It was mind-boggling and eye-opening for this sheltered suburban kid. We played some shows that were not especially successful, but it was definitely a great experience for me”

After returning the band knew Seattle wasn’t going to be the place to get to the next level. They had come up to the point of what promoter/label owner Neil Hubbard referred to when he named his Seattle compilation ‘The Seattle Syndrome.  His premise was that at there would come time a band would become too big for Seattle.  The only way to get more success was to move to a larger city…where they would have to start all over at the bottom of the ladder again.  Chinas Comidas had gotten too big for Seattle.  They had tried New York and that didn’t turn out very well, so they all thought LETS GO TO LOS ANGELES!

“By that point we had put out our second single. ‘Snaps (Portrait of a Fan) b/w For The Rich’. We had sent both of our singles out to be reviewed by all the punk magazines”.  says Mark “We’d sent copies  to Slash magazine in L.A. and they loved the singles. They gave them great reviews. A person from Slash contacted us about being on a compilation that was going to be released on Slash Records which was exciting. In New York we had gotten a telegram from Bob Biggs who was the guy in charge of Slash. He said ‘we’re really interested in your band and we’re thinking of doing a recording with you guys. Can you come to L.A.?’ At that point Slash Records was just starting as a label. They had been a magazine, but they were just starting the record thing”.

Hong Kong Café Los Angeles Halloween 1979
      Design: Gary Panter

“So we ventured down to L.A. to see what was going on” continues Mark. “We didn’t move there at first. We just went down there. We went into the Slash office and they were in the middle of a big meeting that was basically about The Germs being signed. Paul Panter who was the manager of The Germs was there. Bob Biggs and Claude (‘Kickboy Face’) Bessy, the editor of Slash magazine and all these other people were there. We just happened to walk into the building right when all this was going on. They turned around and said ‘Oh, we have this gig at The Hong Kong on Halloween.  Are you guys interested in doing that?‘. We said ‘SURE!’  So we were put on the bill with The Germs and Fear and Claude (‘Kickboy Face) Bessy’s band, Catholic Discipline. Gary Panter did  the poster.

“That was a wild introduction to L.A. punk” says Rich. “That was our first gig in Los Angeles. We hadn’t even actually moved there yet.  All I remember is The Germs were there. Darby Crash and Pat Smear, Don Bolles and Lorna Doom…they were just little puppy kids. Really young little things, you know, and drunk. Their success was just LET IT ALL GO!!! They had social destruction songs and were over the top with teen-aged angst. Just flailing around. It was fucking awesome. It had a lot of intensity and power. I remember I left for a drink and  came back at the end of the show. None of the band members were onstage. The only people onstage were their friends playing The Germs’ instruments. It was like a high school party. That’s kind of what their whole deal was”.

“We played a lot of little bars. L.A. was really happening and it was doing the bar thing. Seattle wasn’t doing that. Seattle was just trying to get that going. Bands like The Heats were trying to cross over into the ‘80s and asking ‘How do we get more commercial and get business-oriented and make some money?’  “You know a lot of bands are given grief”

Rich tells me “because they try to get commercial success. People did that to me. ‘What are you doing man? Are you trying to get commercial?‘   I have to tell them “I’m trying to make a living. Fuck you! What does that mean? You’re the guy who goes out and buys the new Van Halen record that sounds like corny-pop-metal. Gimme a break! Then you buy Elvis Costello and you don’t like me because…I don’t know..Anyway there were lots of little clubs opening in L.A.” Rich says. “The Viper Room was starting to do stuff. All over L.A. there were these little places that were opening up and certain people were doing stuff, like Slash Records and Brenden Mullen. He was a heavy promoter of punk down there We just kept going and going. We played a lot of great shows and kept busy”.

“We left Seattle for L.A. in 1979” Cynthia says “Rich and I got a place in Silver Lake. It was a cute little bungalow. It was possible to rent because it was very cheap. It was on the wrong side of Silver Lake; it wasn’t  the side that looked out at the city. We lived on Hyperion Drive. We were poor but we could afford it then because the area was just not as desirable as it is now. We had an old banger car, and I could walk to the Griffith Observatory and walk around there, sketching and writing.  It was pretty there. I was happy in the bungalow.  I just wasn’t happy about greater L.A. particularly.  The music scene was just insane. It was getting to the point that things were pretty much ‘violence for violence sake’. I was not very comfortable there.”

One of the bands who were very good to us was The Plugz” Cynthia says. “Maybe they were a little disappointed that I wasn’t actually Hispanic because of the name Chinas Comidas.  I didn’t think about it at the time but it was just so polyglot in New York that everybody ends up speaking English in whatever way they could speak; but out west it probably had more meaning, and maybe a more political meaning because of the history of Los Angeles”

Dag remembers coming back to Seattle before making the actual move to Los Angeles.

“In the beginning of 1980 we permanently sold most of my records, sold a lot of my music gear and as much stuff as I could. We packed the rest of it up. By this time Sheli Story had broken it off with Brock and she and I were together. Sheli and I got in a U-Haul van with our cat and Mark Wheaton, then drove to L.A. We had a house lined up in West Hollywood in The Fairfax District. It was a shitty, flea-bitten, dusty, dirty house. I think we were there for about a week, maybe two, when we got raided by the West Hollywood Sheriff because we were squatting…We had paid money to somebody to stay there but they had totally scammed us.  We had to get out with an half an hour’s notice. It was pretty traumatic, so we were trying to find places to go and all that. Rich and Cynthia had a friend who let them stay there. I can’t remember what Mark did…I think he and his girlfriend Susan Nininger got an apartment straight away.”

“Sheli and I lived out of Brock’s van for a week or so.”Dag says. “Later it was pretty nutty, staying in these cheap fleabag hotels. We got turned away from one of them. They told us ‘you guys are too sweet. You’ll get killed in this place, so I’m not going to rent you a room‘. We ended up getting a place in Hollywood at the St. Moritz Hotel at Sunset and Bronson. We didn’t have any money. I think I was on unemployment for a little bit. Sheli finally got a job as a seamstress in Beverly Hills. We literally had no food. We were pretty much starving. We had a little black and white TV and see advertisements for ‘Sizzler’ and say ‘Oh my god, that looks so good!’ Sheli finally got her first paycheck and what we did was to run across the street to get food from the Thai restaurant and pigged out.

Chinas Comidas    The Whiskey a Go Go Los Angeles 1980

Rich describes the first night they played The Whisky A Go Go. “We were all excited. There was our name on the marquee and of course that’s where bands showcase. That’s what the Whisky has always been. The Doors, The Byrds, Love,  Buffalo Springfield and all the great L.A. bands of the ’60s got connected there.  Well, we had a wonderful show. We played really fucking incredible. After the show we were at the top of the stairs backstage and a guy from Slash Records comes up to me and he says ‘Fuckin’ Awesome! You guys are really fuckin’ great. I can see exactly what you’re trying to do. I can see you guys as the new Motown of punk’ ”

Then he says. ‘That’s it! It’s that pop feel buried with all this other weird shit on top’  Then he says ‘I’d love to sign you to ‘Slash Records’ but I just signed The Go-Go’s and they’re taking off and we’re putting everything into the Go-Go’s. If it wasn’t for that I would have signed you tonight.’

 “Things kind of fell off to the side after that.” Rich says.  “Life is an emotional ride…we all know that. If you stay alive long enough it’s and incredible little thing that goes on….or a big deal that goes on. That was one of those ‘well fuuuuuuck!’ things. But you know if you stay together things do continue on and bands like X…they survive and they’re fucking awesome. There’s something really gritty, and it has that westerny survival thing. You know, ‘We came across America‘  The manifest destiny thing. The Germs and Alice Bag and the others-we were right in the mix with all those bands”.

Bags, Johanna Went, Chinas Comidas, Eddie & the Subtitles
Hong Kong Cafe, LA

Cynthia and Rich always had a lot of friction in their relationship and it was getting worse.  “At the time Cynthia and my relationship got to be too much and things started dissipating” says Rich.“We didn’t get along so our relationship fell apart, and so that meant there was no Chinas Comidas. Cynthia eventually moved back to New York in 1981 and stayed. We realized there was a pretty giant scene of people from L.A. that were vying for a position on the Slash Records backlog.  We probably would continue to be given the news of another band like The Go-Go’s being signed. Chinas Comidas were newcomers to town so they got shoved to the side, because Slash Records were more interested in The Germs and X, so they put us on hold. Cynthia didn’t like that. She said ‘Well, fuck it! If that’s what they’re going to do, and I don’t want to have anything to do with them‘ and shortly after that she decided she didn’t want to do a rock band anymore”.

“She wanted to go back to New York and be a poet” says Mark. “That was basically the end of Chinas Comidas.  At the point she said that, we had already gone back up to Seattle and got all our gear and made all our arrangements to move down to L.A. We found places to stay which was hard, then she left”.

Rich says “We had done a lot of shows and we were just on the verge of opening up and getting things going. When Cynthia left, I stayed in L.A. and got a hard-working grease monkey gig like everybody did. Mark got some job and so did Dag. We tried to keep it together but then I thought ‘ I’m down in L.A. and I’m on my own and we’re all on our own’.  I started thinking ‘maybe we can keep something together’. So I decided ‘I’m going to keep Brock and I’m going to keep Dag and Mark and maybe we can do something, and I’ll sing’.

“I tried to do that but it was difficult and hard to maintain. I think I just fired everybody. First Dag and then Mark. Brock and I tried to keep it going, but I didn’t like living in L.A. It was really just another created environment for me. There was too much stress and anxiety so maintaining life down there and dealing with a lot of aggressive Type A neophytes and male aggression. A lot of game playing. You know when you’ve got a jillion people trying to be a star overnight, people are pinching each other and they’re squeezing each other. Although there are beautiful things that pop out of scenes that are legitimate, I decided ‘I can write songs wherever I’m at. I moved back to Seattle at the end of 1981”.

Dag says that when Cynthia told them she was going to back New York, and Chinas Comidas was no more it was kind of a relief because of him being the youngest one in the band.  “I was the most intimidated by Cynthia because she was so assertive” Dag continues.  “I felt like I had to walk on eggshells around her at times. So I said to myself ‘It’s OK. Now we don’t have a singer but we can still carry on as ‘Exquisite Corpse’ a band that Rich, Brock, Dag and Mark had been doing since the earliest days of Chinas Comidas back in Seattle”.

“Back in the early days Cynthia and Rich were in this little apartment that was above The Comet Tavern in Seattle” says Sheli Story. “This was when they had a rehearsal studio on the main floor which became Blue Room Studios. At one point Richard started a band called Exquisite Corpse who would open for Chinas.  Exquisite Corpse would come on and do their songs and then Chinas (Cynthia) would come on.”  Sheli also adds that despite Dag feeling intimidated by Cynthia, he was broken-up when she left. Sheli says Dag had become close to Cynthia.  As for Sheli, Cynthia says “I really liked and still like Sheli. She gave me my only real hardcore dye job-we went for red and it came out black with a red sheen which was totally bitching for L.A. so to speak. I do remember we had fun although it’s all in the very far past”.

After Cynthia left, Mark, Dag and Sheli  ended up moving into another apartment in the Fairfax District on Ogden Street. Dag started working at Canters Restaurant. “It was literally on the same block as Canters, but two streets over” Says Dag. “I didn’t have a car, so we’d take the bus to rehearsal which was straight down Santa Monica Boulevard to Brock’s place. He had kind of an old office space on the second floor. That’s where he lived and that’s where we rehearsed”.

“We practiced for maybe a week or two” says Dag. “I went to rehearsal one day and I got the news from Rich and Brock ‘We’re going to look for some other musicians to replace you and Mark‘….so that was it. I was crushed. I think they said ‘we want to get really serious, we need some better musicians‘. I came home an hour later and Sheli said ‘Wow! why are you home already?‘ I told her ‘I got kicked out of the band’ and she burst into tears.  She’d been along with us the whole time and Brock’s lover first and then she and I started hanging out. There was chemistry going on.”

“Eventually Mark moved out” Dag says. “I thought ‘Sheli and I should get married because Mark has all the cookware, so if we get married we’ll get cookware’. So we came up to Seattle and had a big fancy wedding. Then we went back to L.A.  I think the guy who would become Sheli’s second husband, Case Armour, had been to England and doing bands and partying and all that. He had met this kooky 17 year old guy from Los Angeles named Danny Glickman.  I guess Case and he had a fling together.  Danny was an avid record collector and somehow he found out Case knew people who were involved with Chinas Comidas that lived in L.A.  He was rabid to meet us, which he did. When he got back to Los Angeles I think he just cold-called us, or maybe Case was visiting and he came along.  Danny was very exuberant and loud and very energetic” Dag continues. “He asked if we wanted to do a band with him, so I said ‘yes’. So I played guitar and Sheli played bass and he was a very creative songwriter…singing about really wacky stuff.  Suburban teen-aged angst stuff along the line of Modern Lovers meets X-Ray-Spex. Somehow we got a drummer and the four of us just tore up Hollywood for the next couple of years. The name of the band was Jerry’s Kids. We had some label interest, and did some recording…the recordings weren’t all that great.

Sheli Story of Jerry’s Kids    Al’s Bar L.A. 1980

  • “Danny was a teenager who would go to school, come home and have nothing to do but call clubs and bug people for gigs” Dag tells me. “So we played all the time and we rehearsed all the time. We got to be pretty good. I remember seeing Rich and Brock at the Cathay de Grande, an underground club at Argyle and Selma in Hollywood. The place was packed…they had a lot of bands.  I’m sure no one was really there to see us specifically, but Danny was so showy.  He would connect two or three microphone cords together and then he’d connect to the house cords. He’d go into the audience and sing in people’s faces while we were onstage playing the songs.  That was a night when he was all the way back to the bar where there were a lot of people”.

“Brock and Rich looked bewildered, not knowing what to think” Sheli says. “I loved Brock so much. We all went through a lot together. Moving to L.A. then Chinas Comidas breaking up. Then me and Dag starting a new band. When they came to see us at the Cathay de Grande their faces looked like they were just heartbroken. Dag and I were, in a band that was getting a lot of attention at that time. They were just devastated because they had let Dag go from Chinas Comidas after Cynthia left. Brock was close to Cynthia”

Jerry’s Kids was a lot of fun” Dag says. “But the demise of the band was when Sheli and I started bickering and arguing a lot. It got too much for Danny and he had kind of a breakdown and said he didn’t want to do it anymore. Then Sheli and I split up and I moved on the other side of the Hollywood Ridge and got involved with other bands.  Sheli and I had lived in Beechwood Canyon on a dead end street and I’d been hired away from Canter’s  to work in this super-trendy hot spot, a nouveau-Chinese restaurant called ‘China Club‘ Of course you make friends with people you work with,  and I met a waiter there and a friend of his-a woman-had a three-bedroom house.  They knew Sheli and I were breaking up so they said ‘we’ve got an extra room’.  I moved just literally out of Beechwood Canyon to the Cuanga side. It was still in the Hollywood Hills. I ended up staying there for 15 years“

Mark and Brock Wheaton had also chosen to stay in Los Angeles.  “When I was dismissed from Chinas Comidas” Mark  “I thought ‘that’s fine, I’m gonna do something else’. “That’s when I went into recording engineering school”

“At the same time I ran into Johanna Went. It was at an annual party at Waddles Park in Hollywood” Mark says. “It was Tomata du Plenty’s birthday party. Every year people would get together and hang out in a big gathering.  Kind of the L.A. ‘scene’ and I was going to that party. I was walking up toward the park and Johanna was walking along so I said ‘hey!’  We started talking and and she said ‘Oh, I love your brother’s drumming and I love what you’re doing.  Are you guys willing to do shows with me?’  That’s when she suggested that I start working with her. It was 1980″

Johanna Went “The Worm” from “The Club Years”

Johanna Went was a performance artist who grew up in Seattle.  She’d been part of the underground street theater movement that permeated the city in the early 1970s. Eventually she made her way to Los Angeles where her performance went through a shocking transformation. She began making odd costumes that were more like dream apparitions or psychic monsters made from found or discarded objects.  She made liberal use of artificial blood, Jello and any other element that congealed, allowing it to spurt everywhere.  She danced and spun into an almost trance like state.  All the while she screamed, chanted and wailed in a completely incomprehensible language.  Her performance sometimes included religious and irreligious subtext.  The message (if one could say there actually was one) lay mostly in the performance itself, not in any formal sense of communication. Soon after her arrival in Los Angeles she became closely associated with the punk rock movement and performed alongside practically every well-known punk band of the era.  At the same time her performance art also attracted the higher end of the gallery crowd.

Her work was largely improvised but used a rough outline of what she planned. Each performance was unique and could be categorized as primitive or l’art brut.  All of her dream-creations were destroyed in the process.  Her work dealt in an almost ritualistic conversation between herself and her audience, yet at the same time she remained a distant figure from them. According to cultural observer Pat Cammack, ‘Critics have frequently characterized Went’s shows as ‘chaotic’, ‘wild’ or ‘shocking’. Her work is often seen in context of other women artists of the 1980s whose performances are regarded as daring and transgressive, such as Karen Finley, Lydia Lunch or Diamanda Galas’.

“I began working with Johanna Went performing freeform syntheziser on stage with her wild messy and visually stunning shows” Mark tells me. “We attracted large crowds to LA area clubs throughout the early and mid 80’s up until 2007 when Johanna and I did our last show.  Originally Johanna Went’s band was a loose collection of LA rock musicians performing completely improvised unrehearsed noisescapes years before it was defined into a category. The band included my brother Brock on Drums, Greg Burk on Sax and at various times, Karl Precoda on Bass, Kerry McBride on guitar, Robin Ryan on percussion, Danielle Elliot on Drums, Don Preston and many others.  When Johanna began traveling, she and I created a way to improvise sound using multiple tape loops manipulated at the mixing board. We toured to New York, San Diego, Phoenix, San Francisco to Rotterdam and beyond where we performed in an International Performance Festival”.

“Johanna and I have been going through all of her archives lately and trying to get all of the videos that she has transferred to digital”  Mark tells me. “There’s a site online that has all the Johanna Went videos we’ve transferred  so far. As I said I’m working on her archives. The last show was im 2007, but we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of shows.  Most of them in the ’80s and ’90s. Brock was involved in the first round of those shows up until the mid ’80s. By that time he was drumming in several other bands, so sometimes it wasn’t convenient for him to work with Johanna.  We worked with other players. When we started doing shows outside of L.A. we started experimenting with using tape loops and eventually computer-generated backing tracks.

Brock and I were on Johanna’s ‘Hyena’ album.  I produced that record while I was interning at a recording studio.  I would do work for them in exchange for studio time.  I invited a bunch of players, including Brock and some of the people he was working with, as well as other L.A. people that we knew.  They’d come in the studio in different groupings and just jam in the studio; not with Johanna at all. After we jammed we’d pick out something that we liked and Johanna would write something for it, and then she would come in and do her vocal. It wasn’t really a song as such…it ended up sounding like songs.  When you listen to the album they aren’t just free improv”.

Brock no langer had time to work with Johanna, however, if you listen to our live recordings of shows we did, you can hear the raw improvisation side of Brock’s drumming talents. One of Brock’s drumming gigs was with The Ju Ju Hounds (NOT the Izzy Stradlin band of the same name that came long after). Brock also attended The Percussion Institute in L.A. and refined his drum talents further, wanting to join a band that could go all the way.

But with all of the bands he worked with Brock kept running up against the difficulties of breaking out of the underground and having any real success. Finally in the mid ’80s, Brock moved back to Seattle where he pursued his other passions: motorcycles and scuba diving.

“He became a member of the northwest motorcycle club called The Cossacks and became a star as a stunt rider” Mark tells me.  “He was also a high end scuba diver and was into deep dives, diving on shipwrecks and cave diving.   He got this from our dad who was a pioneering Northwest diver.  He had taught us all to dive. Brock decided to get back into it full time.

Brock Wheaton.   March 24, 1956 – March 27, 2003

“From  this point through the rest of his life, Brock did not regret leaving music behind, but in his final year, while he was dying of cancer, he reconnected with the members of Chinas Comidas” his brother Mark tells me. “This was when we began revisiting all of our recordings and decided to release the compilation CD.  Brock  was also able to reconnect with Sheli Story.”  Sheli says “I loved Brock. We’d gone through so much together.  I talked to him about 11 months before he died. Basically he was at home waiting for a kidney transplant but he didn’t make it”.

Cynthia says “I called Brock the moment I heard he was sick, and every day from New York while he was so terribly ill. I spoke to him the day before he died and he told me he wasn’t ready-it was heartbreaking.”

Brock Wheaton died of kidney cancer at home in Seattle March 27, 2003.

Cynthia Genser returned to New York City. “I came back because I had my family here-my mom and dad” she says. My sister is in Massachusetts and I had friends from over the years, obviously.  I continued to write and publish poetry in New York; fiction and academic articles.  I had a poetry series downtown at Sybossek’s (a place where punk and poetry connected).  It had early readings by Eileen Myles, and prime appearances by June Jordan. Ron Padgett read there, Michael Lally, Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein. I reviewed for and worked with Poetry Flash”  (a journal calling itself ‘A Literary Review and Calendar For the West).

 Cynthia’s poems have also appeared in Western Humanities Review, Speechless the Magazine, Open City, Antaeus ,The Paris Review, The Southern Review and the anthologies Ordinary Women (Ordinary Women Press) and New York: Poems (Avon).  She also authored The Mexican Murals, a work she’s described as ‘sense/memory poems written by adapting some acting exercises of Stanislavsky and combining them with William Burroughs’ walking on colors technique’ Her collection, The Touch, was nominated for the 2011 Poets’ Prize.  In 2005 Cynthia wrote liner notes for the release of their first compilation of earlier Chinas Comidas recordings

“Later I got my PhD in England in Medieval Literature at The University of London. I was very happy to do that” Cynthia says.

“I had started at NYU and it was just a terrible system. I had a friend who was doing a degree at The University of London and she said ‘You know, it will be like you go to a Greek island only it will be like Manhattan Island.  You can get an advisor and it will just work that way’ So that’s what I did.  I taught for many years. I loved it. I started at a small college teaching Chaucer and all that stuff and poetry. I loved my students, and I loved teaching. it was a good thing. It was actually a great choice in the end. I taught mostly black kids from the Bronx, Brooklyn and kids near Westchester and from all over. It was a good experience. It was wonderful. I felt good about doing it. I loved them, they loved me. It was good work I was glad to be doing it. I’m sad now because it’s over. When something stops, especially in the first few years, it’s like it never happened.

In 2005 Exquisite Corpse released of compilation CD  Chinas Comidas: 1977-80 Live and Studio Recordings.  Bill White did the liner notes in which he wrote:

“Cynthia Genser was a rock and roll poet. A rock lyric needs music to live; a rock poem already has the music in it. She read her poems with the band Chinas Comidas. And as time went on, the poems became rock songs.  But first Cynthia Genser was a rock and roll poet.  Her arrival in Seattle had an impact on the musicians of the city that was strong and significant. But even with Rich Riggins writing music for Cynthia’s poetry, the verbal attack was too confrontational for audiences that were being lured back to corporate rock…I am reminded of the days that Northwest Rock was something to be proud of.  When it was made, not by no-playing suburban twits lusting after stardom, but by argumentative outcasts with fingers twitching for a guitar.  Chinas Comidas were never scenesters: They didn’t hide behind somebody else’s attitude.  They were the first band to take punk out of the punk clubs and into lumberjack bars where working people danced to country rock.  I don’t know how many times  Cynthia had to listen to some asshole yell at her to “shut the fuck up”.  Now it’s their turn to shut up. Shut the fuck up and listen”. 

In 2007 Rich contacted Dag, Mark and Cynthia about a Chinas Comidas reunion. He set-up three shows but at the last minute Cynthia couldn’t make it to Seattle from New York. Dag had flown up from L.A. and Rich had gotten a drummer, because Brock had died. “They were freaking out” Sheli says. I told them  “I know all the songs, so I’ll step in.  So I did these three shows with them in Seattle as Cynthia! (Sheli laughs) I have video of those shows. We did a show at Bop Street Records, at The Funhouse (before it moved) and at Fantagraphics Books in Georgetown.  When I stepped in to do vocals I was sooo fucking scared. I did not want to fuck it up. After performing the song Isadora at Fantagraphics, Carl Smool, longtime original friend and fan of Chinas Comidas, came up to me with tears in his eyes saying ‘You did it!!!’. You channeled it, bitch!!!’ and then laughed”.  Sheli says she was honored to do it, and says “A huge piece of my heart is occupied by my love for this band, the people in it and the journey I took with Chinas Comidas“.

Cynthia and Rich also did a performance together at The Majestic Gallery on Greenwood Avenue in Seattle on June 13, 2014 as part of the exhibition ‘1977-When Punk Was Punk’.

“Richard and I are still doing music” says Cynthia. “Maybe we’ll actually get something out, but it’s pretty different from what we did before, and it should be. We’re a lot older, but now I write more of the music. There’s actually a song of mine, so I’m excited about that. ‘Oh! I wrote a new song!!!’ exclaims Cynthia.  “That will be fun to get out some day, if we ever do. We’re kind of stuck because Richard’s out there on the west coast and I’m here in New York. It’s really weird so we still have to figure out how to do it, or I just have to get out there to Seattle. He did come to New York and we got some work done, but you know, It’s rough for him to be away from home, and we try to make him comfortable but it’s hard travelling.”

Rich tells me “One day I got a call from the initial set-up person for Take The City Records in Madrid, Spain. Then he messaged me and said ‘Would you be interested in releasing your music on vinyl?‘ Of course I said ‘Yes‘.  I met Mario Rodriguez who is behind Take The City Records in Madrid. He has a record store so he’s selling new and used music. He’s been re-discovering punk bands and researching. That’s how he found Chinas Comidas.  He thought we were amazing.  He said ‘I’m going to put out your music, Do you want to do it?‘ and I said ‘yes’ so we discussed all of the details. Mark Wheaton came in as being a good business associate and brought in information and helped to piece this thing together.  Now we have Chinas Comidas on 12″ vinyl. It looks awesome and the work on it is exceptional and professional. The cover and it’s design are really beautiful.  We’re happy about it

The pressing of the new album is pretty limited”. Rich says” I think they initially made 500 vinyl copies of them. 400 on black vinyl and another 100 on red vinyl. They’re available at discogs.com. You can also find it at ‘Singles Going Steady at 2219 Second Ave. Seattle, Georgetown Records at 1201 S Vale St, Seattle, and Jive Time Records at 3506 Fremont Ave N, Seattle.  Online it’s available through discogs.com for about  $18.60 US, and shipping. It’s also available at CD Baby and Amazon.

The 19 song compilation on CD that we put out in 2005 is still available.” Rich says. “Mark and I spent a couple of weeks putting a collection of all of our stuff at his studio in L.A  We went through it all, archived and re-mastered it. Mark did a great job.  I’ve also  put together a kind of mash-up of Chinas Comidas playing at Tier 3 in New York City.”

Cynthia and I have written five more songs. We’re putting together a CD.  We’re mixing all of it right now. We are about three quarters of the way there, so we’re going to release another CD and then go to Spain! We’re going to fly there and hopefully work something out with Mario Rodriguez at Take The City Records and perform in his record store as promotion. We also want to get gigs in Europe. We want to branch out and make as many contacts as possible and pick up three players over there, tell them to listen to the songs and we’ll meet you in Spain and then carry on.  Perhaps we can make a little bit of extra money and have some fun, keep going on and doing things.”
Things are looking up even after all these years.

Just a few days after finishing this story…or at least assuming I’d finished this story, Cynthia wrote me a short message.  She spoke about Chinas Comidas “We had a cheerful outlook on the whole project. It was camraderie. It was romance, too”  then added;

“Recently I read ‘Glad Ghosts’…a pretty bizarre story from D.H. Lawrence. I came across a little paragraph I liked; of course it’s in an old-fashioned locution, but it captures the feeling I had about hanging with Rich and working with him in the band. It’s written in the masculine narrator’s voice, so it’s sort of Rich speaking:”

She and I had a curious understanding in common: an inkling, perhaps, of the unborn body of life hidden within the body of this half-death which we call life; and hence a tacit hostility to the commonplace world, its inert laws. We were rather like two soldiers on a secret mission into enemy country. Life, and people, was an enemy country to us both”…

 

 

 

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources:  Rich Riggins; interview with the author (August 17, 2018). Cynthia Genser; interview with the author (September 3, 2018). Cynthia Genser; notes to the author (September 20th, 2018).  Sheli Story; interview with the author (August 18, 2018). Dag Midtskog; interview with the author (August 20, 2018). Mark Wheaton; interview with the author (August 25, 2018). Mark Wheaton; letter to the author (August 30. 2018). Adam Block “Chinas Comidas” (Bay Area Reporter, August 3, 1978). “Chinas Comidas” (Slash Magazine, December 1979).  Gary Minkler; letter to the author ( August 23, 2018 ). Mark Wheaton; interview with the author (August 16, 2018). Fantagraphics Books “Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Association with Georgetown Records Present Punk Pioneers Chinas Comidas” (Press Release retrieved September 9, 2018). Mark Wheaton “Brock Wheaton” (catasonic sounds.com retrieved September 1, 2018). “Brock Wheaton Obituary” (The Seattle Times, March 31, 2003). “The Last Bath [1975,directed by Karl Krogstad]” (IMdb. com, retrieved September 2, 2018).  Jeff Boruszak “Cynthia Kramen: Chinas Comidas Live and Studio Recordings 1977-1980” (Jacket 2,   Mauri Regnier; “Alive In Underground Seattle” (The University of Washington Daily, March 8, 1977). Tom Bolling  “Cynthia Genser / Cynthia Kraman”  (https://staff.washington.edu/kendo/genser.html, retrieved September 7, 2018). Gary Groth “The Spain Interview” (The Comics Journal, November 29, 2012). Bruce Weber “Spain Rodriguez, Artist of Underground Comics, Dies at 72” (December 2, 2012, The New York Times). Hotmovies.com; Templeton Blaine (retrieved September 12, 2018).  Cynthia Kraman Genser “Chinas Comidas” (oetry Flash September 2018).  Patrice Cammack  “Review of Interview with Monkey Woman, by Johanna Went”. (High Performance 9, no. 4, 1986). Ray Freed “Remembering Jack Micheline” (Poetrybay, Spring 2001. Retrived September 1, 2018). The Floydian Device “Upchuck: Gone But Not Forgiven” (Punk Globe, March 2018). Kurt B. Reighley “The Gay Cobain: Eighteen Years after His Death, the Music World Honors “Upchuck” the Man Who Set Seattle on Fire” (The Advocate, Retrieved September 18, 2018).  Anne Matthews “Rage In A Tenured Position” (The New York Times, November 8, 1992).

 

The Heats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lacitis wrote:
“The two exchanged  phone numbers and stayed in touch, even getting together a couple of times to jam. The young men found they had the same tastes in music,  They both looked for guidance to the back-to-basics just being released by British rockers. They both despised the bland, formula ‘album oriented’ pap and disco that dominated the airwaves at the time.”
A few days after talking to Ken I’m on the phone with Steve Pearson. He’s heard that some guy in Seattle has been trying to get in touch with him.  He tells me;
“I’m a luddite. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t do anything but our drummer does all the social media (for his band, British Racing Green).  I don’t know if we have a website or a facebook page. He’ll pass on “call this guy” or “this person said this” or whatever. He sent me a message and said “call this guy” So I called and originally when I called you I didn’t even know why I was calling….if you wanted me to work on your car or whatever (he laughs) I didn’t know”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A movie theater with a dance floor? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Edmonds Theater 415 Main St, Edmonds, WA

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

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

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

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

Nonetheless. Deans recalls the unquestioned truth;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Deans says;

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Then he adds:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Later, Jon tells me
“The Heats came across better in a club rather than arena rock sorts of venues. They came from a similar DIY background- they certainly were never a punk band, but really not that far away from The Ramones in their attitude and energy on stage. really they were more a throwback to Beatles/Stones British invasion bands, crossed the 70’s British pub-rock like Dr. Feelgood, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and similar bands”,

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

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

Erik Lacitis tells me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Steve Pearson and Steve Aliment will be doing a show

Thursday, July 12 at 6:30 PM – 9 PM at

McMenamins Anderson School

18607 Bothell Way NE, Bothell, Washington 98011

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

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


Northwest Songwriters: A Straw Poll

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

Recently I took a straw poll of friends asking:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So let’s return to the original question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

-Dennis R. White

The Bird

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video by Jo David, March 3, 1978

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

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

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

                                      

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

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

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

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

According to George Gleason;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

CLONE featuring Upchuck March 3, 1978

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IN MEMORIUM

Gregor Gayden

Homer Spence

Tomata du Plenty

Judy Stay

Upchuck

Geoff Cade

Brock Wheaton

Dave Drewry

Roger Husbands

Annie Mulcahey

Eldon Hoke

Dean Helgeson

Wally Danger

Case B. Armour

Greg Ragen

Randy Hall

Benji Rabinowitz

Bob Kondrak

Mike Vraney

Mike Refuzor

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

 

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

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

Tomata du Plenty: Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another, recent reviewer at letterboxd.com remarked

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downey goes on;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Rob Morgan and The Squirrels

On September 21 2017 Iggy Pop was hosting his “Iggy Confidential” show that’s become  semi-regular Friday night fare on the UKs BBC 6.  About three quarters through his show he dropped the needle on a song almost everyone familiar with the early 80’s Seattle music scene.  It was The Pudz doing “Take Me To Your (Leader)”.  More than a few Seattle listeners ears pricked up immediately and hopefully a few others’ around the world.  After the song finished Iggy related what a horrible year 1981 was-the year The Pudz single was releasedIggy  mentioned pooping out” Zombie Birdhouse and how he’d been relegated to opening for A Flock of Seagulls at New York’s Peppermint Lounge; he was so humiliated he built himself a cross to drag onto stage with him.  Then he went on to tell his audience what a great little band out of Seattle The Pudz were, and that they were a high point for him during that awful year.  One person who heard the broadcast (via the quick thinking of a friend who was streaming it.) was Rob Morgan… the genius behind The Pudz, and for the last four decades one of most visible guys on Seattle’s music scene…25 of which were spent leading The Squirrels-or one of the many iterations of the band. First he tells me about Iggy  playing one of his Pudz records;

“That was mind-blowing”says Rob. “Being a bright shining spot for him in a shitty year. I just about had a heart attack, then when he actually starts singing R.B Greaves’ ‘Take A Letter, Maria’ (the flip side of Take Me To Your ( Leader) and cracking himself up I felt like ‘that kind of validates my entire career; of all the people who  gave me shit for being a quote-unquote “cover band”-which we’re not.  If we were a cover band we’d be doing songs people actually wanted to hear, and playing in Holiday Inns for real money.  We wouldn’t be taking Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun and speeding it up faster and faster before it becomes Van McCoys’ Do The Hustle.

What Rob didn’t mention is that he has at least one other important and influential fan; or he did have until he died in 2004: The great British DJ, John Peel.  Peel kept a box of records near his door, which has become known as The John Peel Record Box.  Peel claimed if there was ever a fire in his house the box was next to the door because it was filled with 147 singles of his favorite records of all-time.  The box contained everything from Anne Peeble’s ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ and Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ to much rarer fare like Medicine Head’s ‘Coast To Coast (And Shore To Shore)’ The box is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock, psychedelia and indie-pop.  One of those rare 45’s included is ‘Oz On 45’a record by the band Morgan is more well-known for; The Squirrels.  ‘Oz on 45’ is a piss-take on the once popular output of producers stringing one hit after another, sometimes speeding songs up to segue into the next- and sometimes slowing them down for the same reason.  Most of the time the gimmick was to keep the same pitch and the same beat of top-40 songs.  The best that can be said about the “Stars on 45” records was they keep people dancing (or listening) to some of the most egregious songs of the ‘70s…a pretty egregious decade in it’s own right.

“So you wanna know how we all got to this?” Rob offers in a more and more enthusiastic coffee buzz

Rob grew up in one of Seattle’s bedroom communities, Edmonds, Washington.  He says he ‘There was nothing’ adding I was”a weirdo kid from the get-go” like a lot of the thousands and thousands of other suburban misfits  biding their time before breaking out of the mold to become weirdo artists.  Rob says that during his teens he was listening to people like Jethro Tull and Leon Russell and the Winter’s Brothers.  He points to the Beatles as his earliest love.  He also talks about his sister giving him a copy of The Mothers of Invention’s “Absolutely Free” while he was in the fifth grade. He didn’t know it then but he’d just set out on a journey that what would be Seattle’s next great era in music. He remembers a girl in school noticing Rob had a picture of Ziggy Stardust in his locker.  Rob was being hassled by the jocks who were listening to Elton John “I find that really funny” he says.  Then one day someone gave him a copy of the Seattle fanzine Chatterrbox. The fanzine was put out by Lee Lumsden and Jim Basnight. The cover was a photo of Lou Reed.

“By that time I was doing the back pages of Hit Parader so I was already familiar with the underground thing, but nobody I knew out in Edmonds even knew about that, so I called up Lee Lumsted on the phone because his number was in Chatterbox and we just started  yackin’ back and forth.  Then they invited me to a party so I went down there (to Seattle) and met those kids and the next thing you know I was hanging out with that crowd but I’m still living at my folks.  I’d pack a sack of clothes and a can of soup and hitchhike the 20 miles to the University District and I’d be there two or three days-staying on Jeff Cades’ floor.  Eventually my folks are like “you gotta go” so me and my other buddy from Edmonds fished around and found this place on 55th and University and rented it.  It was $210 a month, all utilities  paid and furnished, so we got me and my other buddy, Gary Womack, and the late Gregor Gayden and whoever. Everybody living in there paying fifty buck a guy.  Eventually the U-Men moved in there…or Tom and Charlie moved in there, and the U-Men were formed in the basement.  Anyway, we were in that house six or seven years. We got up the first time some guy knocked on the door, and went to bed after we threw the last guy out.

Those were the days before the U-District’s main thoroughfare became a dangerous place. In the late 80s University Avenue became a more depressing place full of drugs, runaways and homelessness.  The scene before that it was vibrant, and a great place to hook up wth the altenative music scene.  It was also before there was any social media to bond with other musicians, artists and fans.  There were similar stirrings coming out of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, and by some sort of cultural osmosis among a large crowd of kids coming out of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School.  In the end many of them would meet up, resulting in a city-wide movement. Lee Lumsden would go on to be a multi-talented presence in Seattle, Jim Basnight founded the power-pop band The Moberlys, Rich Riggins and Gary Minkler would found Red Dress, and Rich would later go on to co-found Chinas Comidas. The kid who seemed to be everywhere in the early to mid-80s’ Duff McKagen, also went to Roosevelt High School, though a bit later. Two other important alumni are Tom Price, one of the founding members of The U-Men and Bill Reiflin who played drums with The Telepaths, then went on to The Blackouts, Pigface, Ministry and R.E.M. Now Bill plays in the re-constituted King Crimson.

By 1979 Rob was also ready to jump into the fray.  Since he’d been a kid he’d been a huge fan of just about anything great in pop music. He’d collected a large amount of promo and fan memorabilia (a collection that continues to grow even now) and the sly ability to combine pop music genres and show a great deal of wit in executing it.

“I just started playing. Me and Eric Erickson (who’s passed on) who was my buddy from High School..we were hanging out with this other friend of ours from High School named Kevin played at a party The Enemy were having and we called ourselves The Fishsticks. The Enemy and everybody thought that we were super-funny.  We did “Herman’s HermitsI’m Into Something Good” and “Do You Believe in Magic’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful and a bunch of 60s covers that no one was doing at that time, because they were only about five years old or something.  Later we got asked to do another gig with The Girls, The Radios and Little Magnets at IOGG Hall.  We pretty much stole the whole show and pissed everybody off”.

The band was also asked to play a couple of house parties and they went over well, but it wasn’t ‘til one night during a party at the “Madhouse” (an infamous party house near University Ave.) that The Pudz were actually born and christened.  The entire process was witnessed by about 300 music weirdos, punks, artists and fans.  Everyone went bananas and then ran all over town and told everybody there was this new band called The Pudz so we said “oh well, I guess we’re called The Pudz”. The next day hundred of people were running around talking about The Pudz.   I guess I was a rock singer guy cuz I’d go out there and jump around and have a good time…it just kind of happened.”

“How I wound up in The Pudz, was kind of an accident. Dave Locksley, the guitarist, was trying to start a band with Dave Drewry the drummer (who’s also passed on now) and they would practice in my friend Bill Larsen’s basement.  I was hanging out over there so I’d go down there and we’d start doing some dumb covers just for the hell of it.

After The Pudz were formed they had a successful career as one of Seattle’s favorite bands.

“In 1982 when The Pudz fell apart I did a fanzine called “Pop Lust” for a couple of years”, Rob tells me. “Then I got sick of doing that and I said I want to get back into playing. So I went and saw one of the Young Fresh Fellows first shows and I cornered Scott and said you guys have got the kind of 60s garage-y thing I’m kinda looking for so why not let me be your front man?  And he said “well, I’m gonna be a front man because I’m writing all the songs, but how about if we back you up under a different name doing covers? And I said “GOLDEN!” So the first year The Squirrels was essentially me fronting The Young Fresh Fellows, except Scott would play bass and Jim would play guitar”.

“So they go up to Bellingham and play a show at The 3B’s and they take me with them. Then they put on wigs qnd basically open for themselves and half the time the audience wouldn’t even figure out it was the same band cuz the guy from The Pudz was jumpin’ around. So that’s how we did it first, and it was a bit straighter then, as far as the magic-y kind of thing.  But then they started taking off and they were too busy to keep doing it, but Tad (the drummer) being a wierdo, he wanted to keep doing it.

In 1985 me and Tad brought Eric Erickson back in, got Craig Ferguson on bass (a buddy from Tower Records where I worked), and drafted Joey Kline on a recomendation after checking him out in Boy Toast. He was really funny and talented.  Thats when it really started rolling..  Jimmy Thomas (JT) came into the  band in 1989 and Joey has been my co-pilot 23 out of the 25 years The Squirrels (or one of their pseudonyms) have been together. The name eventually ended up simply as The Squirrels, but any term with the word “squirrel” in it has probably been linked to them.

“So how did we get to this point?” he asks himself again.

“He begins to answer himself.  “Like I said I remember The Beatles…and that prime-era stuff that was on the radio.  This was where I got all my information.  I was just some lonely kid living out in Edmonds, growing up. What the hell?  And then I find Aladdin Sane or something, and I’m like, whoa! there’s a whole world out there that seems to be interesting”.

“It made me realize that either they’re lying to us…all kinds of music is the same and it doesn’t matter and you can smash through rock into jazz into that and the other thing, and it doesn’t freaking matter. This world of ours tried it ourselves and that; along with NRBQ and other things, and there’s so many bands that think that way.  I don’t mean to offend Country people but I just don’t understand why you would say “I do this and paint myself into this little box. I can’t step outside of this box…and it makes me a thousand times more authentic’. That makes no sense to me”.

“The whole tribute band thing also cracks me up cuz in 1986 on our first album one entire side was Johnny Kidd and The Pirates songs (an early British R&R band known for “Shakin’ All Over”-a song not included on their first record).  The other Everybody thought that was completely stupid and that we were insane, and now if you have an original band you can’t get a show, but if you have a band where you dress up and pretend you were Guns N’ Roses you could play every day.  So for our next show since we’re going to do a lot of covers and we’re just going to say “For this next song we are a tribute band to (whatever band we’re supposed to do)” and then we will become a tribute band for whatever the next song is, and then people will like it better”.

“Like I said” says Rob  “The Squirrels just kept going and going and going and by 2009 we couldn’t do it any more” says Rob. “I looked at the calendar one day and said “if I make it to the next Christmas show that will be twenty Christmas shows and twenty-five years under the name of The Squirrels, so that was a good time to just step away”.  I made a bunch of t-shirts with Death With Dignity Retirement Tour on ‘em and that was that.  Until recently we hadn’t done a show since that “farewell tour” that ended Christmas Eve 2009. I mean we kinda did a one-off for a friend of mine’s 60th birthday in his living room. I kinda jumped up with the fellas and did a Mighty Squirrels set, but we haven’t done a fully authorized, sanctioned Squirrels show until last year (2017) and nobody thought it would happen. The first show was in April and then in May and then in September”.

‘Last year”, says Rob, “we brought The Squirrels back together. We had to cheer people up cuz of the whole Trump thing and I had to find something different to do”. He adds “I swore for years and years and years and years there’s no way we would ever do that. It sounds ridiculous but one of the main reasons we did that was because of Cheeto-face and everybody I know is losing their minds and just not having any fun…just losing their minds. I thought to myself It’s ‘boots on the ground time’ and it’s us against them and everybody has to do what they can do.  I’m too old and physically beat-up to go on a march and too broke to give money that would be worth it to anybody, but I can sure as hell go out there and entertain people and distract them and make fun of this freaking idiot (Trump). So I called up the rest of the band and they just said yuh-huh.

The first two shows we railed heavily.  We did “Lump” by The Presidents of The United State, but we changed it to “Trump”. We did “Draggin’ The Line”. We changed it to “Drainin’ The Swamp”.  We did “Carrie Anne” by The Hollies and changed it to “Kellyanne”.  People were peein’ their pants laughing, but by the time we got to the third show we said “You know, we don’t wanna talk about it anymore’.  People know why we came back, and it’s getting to the point that it isn’t funny anymore, so we dumped all the Trump stuff.  Now we’re playing sporadically…I’m not actively trying to get out there and compete and get rollin’ again, but we’re doing  a show every few months.  We have the best band now that we have EVER had.  It’s ridiculous.

We’ve got me and Joey back in, who as I said was in The Squirrels for 23 of the 25 years we’ve been together.  J.T. is back on lead guitar. who was in the band for 15 years at least. Bruce Laven is back in on keyboards who did it for eight or nine years. Then, we’ve got an all-new rhythm section.  We got this guy named Bill Ray on drums who recently moved to town who’s fantastic.  He also works with Leroy Bell right now, but he used to play with Ike Turner for years.  He’s a technical monster, but he just happens to be a big goofball who “gets it”.  Then we brought in Keith Lowe on bass.  He’s another monster who’s been just kinda laying in wait. Certain people we just consider members of The Squirrels whether they’ve ever played with us or not.  Basically Keith Lowe has been in The Squirrels for 20 years but only played the last three shows. Keith plays with everybody.  He even plays with Wayne Horvitz.  Keith’s a world-class bass player, so we’ve got a world-class rhythm section and all the best loved guys we ever had…that’s what the current line-up is. It’s pretty ferocious.

“We could have spun the next show as our fifth one, but it’s really our fourth and a half show.  There was just me and Joey and a drummer from 20 years ago playin’ in a pot store for their third anniversary, so that was kind of The Squirrels.  But we were thrilled to death because we had no idea…well we knew people would remember us, but we had no idea what would happen.  Our first show back, last April, we had more people in Darells Tavern by 9:00 than any other band who’s played there. The door guy was “what the hell is going on?”  They came from miles around and went freakin’ bananas, We couldn’t believe it.  We were totally touched. And we went down to Tacoma a month later and it happened again. Then we played at The High Dive and it pretty much happened again, except the crowd was a little lighter that time cuz it was Labor Day Weekend and Bumbershoot was going on, but we held our own, even against that.  It’s been going really good and people seem genuinely happy and genuinely grateful.  It’s a kick in the pants to look out there and just see a room full of people with shit-eatin’ grins on their face”

The Squirrels have been through about 35 guys. We were the aforementioned Mighty Squirrels for about a year, and then everybody quit except Tad…they just couldn’t do it anymore. Then me and Tad got  guys together as The New Age Urban Squirrels (also mentioned before) and that’s what we were for a couple of years. Then the first album was two split EPs “Five Virgins” by  and The New Age Urban Squirrels and Ernest Anyway and The Mighty Mighty Squirrels doing “Sings The Hits of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates.  Then Tad quit and we got another drummer, and when Craig quit and we got Kevin Crosby on bass and changed the name to Crosby, Squirrels and Nay because we had brought in Jon Nay who used to be in The Frazz.  Nay quit, and then we brought in Nate Johnson from the fastbacks on drums…so we just changed our name to Crosby,  Squirrels and Nate.

“Anyway we’d get into the gradual process of replacing people as they dropped out; and the style would kind of change depending on who else was in it. Now when Eric Erickson was with us he could play anything. When I was about 16 years old in High School I remember him playing the entire The Who Live at Leeds album on his SGN…like OK!  So that’s when we started getting a little all over the map stylistically because we could take on anything. We were doing what they call mash-ups now decades ago.  We called them Mudleys cuz a Medley is a whole bunch of songs in a row.  We figured a Mudley was a whole bunch of songs stacked up. We’d have one bit where half of the band was doing a country version of “Ben” by Michael Jackson and the other half were playing “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane.  Five musicians would be laughing while everyone else scratched their heads. We had another thing “Hawaii Take Five-O”…stuff like that”.

I ask him why people believe The Squirrels are a cover band.  He nearly bristles at the question, so I ask him how he would describe the band.

“The Squirrels were never really a cover band.  They took multiple hooks and melodies  from one band and mooshed them up with another unlikely band or two…or three, etc. The formula was exactly what made The Squirrels shows fun and entertaining.   Then he enigmatically says

“Well we’re not a cover band but we are a cover band”.

“I would call us “the great rock and roll equalizers” he says.  We take really shitty songs and we elevate them.  Then we take really great songs and we grind them through the skewer and we pound it all together into a dough.  Basically we take the entire history of pop music, smash it together into a ball and throw it back in your face..  Some people understand it, and some people don’t. There’s not a lot of middle ground. There’s the people who generally like The Squirrels .  They say “They’re genuine and I love that band” or “I don’t understand what’s going on, make them stop”. You don’t meet somebody who says “oh I have one of their albums…they’re pretty good”.  They’re either in or their out”.

“As far as CDs go, Popllama Products recently went out of business and it’s owner, Conrad Uno retired.  He sold his house and he’s moving away.  He’s done more than enough.  So when he was clearing out his basement he found a few boxes of CD’s he didn’t know he still had.  He found copies of one of our CDs ‘Harsh Toke of Reality’ from 1993.  The band also have a bunch of copies of ‘The Not So Bright Side of The Moon’.  Those two are available at our shows and at our next show we’re hopefully going to be putting in two or three more of the Pink Floyd covers into the live showssays Rob.

“Harsh Toke of Reality” is probably representative of what we do; about a third originals and the rest random covers.  And then, “The Not so Bright Side of The Moon”- it’s our undisputed masterpiece.

“There’s actually an entire album that is unreleased”. he tells me “It was the follow-up to “The Not So Bright Side of The Moon”. We recorded it in 2002 and called it “Rock Polisher”. It’s the mother of ALL Squirrels albums, but we have never found a label to release it cuz rather than doing it at Uno’s studio (where we had to pay for the studio time) we did it at J.T.’s on his computer. We could spend as much time as we wanted  The Not So Bright Side of The Moon” took us ten days total, mixed and everything.  For this album (“Rock Polisher”) we got together every Wednesday for a year, and by the time we made it, it took “Let’s Dance” three days to mix because it had 50 tracks on it. We did “Let’s Dance” and Wish You Were Here” at the same time.  Anyway, all the Squirrels fans wanted it because it has all the medleys, It has the Mandy medley on it and all that stuff that was never on any other album because we didn’t have time to do it right. But by doing what we did on Rock Polisher no one could pay the royalties for it.  They’d have to pay for 27 songs for a half hour album and every single song is like five songs at the same time.  So we sent it to all these labels and they said
“That is the greatest thing you’ve ever made. But I gotta hire a team of scientists to figure out how to pay for it. Good luck”.

Rob ends up with a final message:

“I’d also like to say that we’re super-excited that in 2034 the comprehensive boxed set called Fart Party is gonna come out. However, we have no idea what label it’s going to come out on because the kid who’s going to re-discover us in a pile of crap isn’t even born yet. But this stuff’s all gonna happen. We’ve left a big enough pile of weird crap laying around for somebody to find in 20 years and say “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! If there is someone out there who wants to release it we have all the master tapes.

 

THE SQUIRRELS WILL BE DOING A MATINEE SHOW, SUNDAY JANUARY 7, 2018

DARRELLS TAVERN

18041 AURORA AVE. NORTH, SEATTLE, WA, 98133

DOORS OPEN AT 2:00 PM

SHOWTIME 2:30 PM

TWO SETS

$10

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources; Rob Morgan interview with the author (November 25, 2017); Stephen Tow; “Addendum: Pop Lust For Life, Rob Morgan and The Squirrels” (The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge, Sasquatch Books, 2011); Rich Webb “The Greatest Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Outsider, January 20, 1999); Ned Raggett “The Squirrels: USA (O Canadarm-Fine Musical Trash from Canada and Beyond, September 5, 2009); Michael Krugman “Capt. Morgan’s revenge: In a scene that takes itself too seriously, The Squirrels lighten the Mood” (The Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006); Scott Schinder / Ira Robbins “The Young Fresh Fellows [The Squirrels

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rapid-i

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how did all of this come to be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

3 Swimmers

The band that would become 3 Swimmers rose out of the ashes of The Beakers-probably the first Olympia WA band that made the town the musical gravitational force it has become today.  Other contributors to the early Olympia scene-and later contributors to the overall NW music scene- included DJ/editor/musician John Foster and the alarmingly underappreciated producer Steve Fisk. Both were early champions of the local scene, and had been students at The Evergreen State College just outside Olympia. TESC, as it’s often known was at the time a free-wheeling liberal arts college that pushed students to express their social and artistic endeavors to the maximum.

As well as Fisk and Foster, the college produced well-known graduates like Bruce Pavitt (Sub Pop) Matt Groening (The Simpsons) artist/cartoonist Lynda Barry (Ernie Pook’s Comeek, the illustrated novel The Good Times are Killing Me as well as the iconic image “Poodle with a Mohawk“). Later alum include Bill Hagerty (aka Macklemore of Ryan Lewis and Macklemore) and the pro-Palestinian advocate and martyr Rachel Corrie. A cadre of musicians, filmmakers, early video artists, writers, activists, idealists and excessively talented and motivated individuals emerged from the college. Many of them collaborate off and on up til this day.

The Beakers had had some great underground success based on the strength of only one single, the Bill Reiflin produced Red Towel b/w Football Season Is In Full Swing. Bill was the drummer for the near-mythic Seattle band, The Blackouts, and later worked with Ministry, Revolting Cocks, KMFDM, REM, Minus 5 as well as a myriad of other projects. He would also become a couple with-and marry Frankie Sundsten during the late 1980s. As of August, 2017 Bill is a member of the reconstituted King Crimson.

The Beakers label, Mr. Brown Records was a project of the Lost Music Network headed by the aforementioned DJ, chronicaller of underground music and founder of the influential OP magazine, John Foster A couple of inclusions (Figure 21 and I’m Crawling (on The Floor) appeard on Foster’s 1980 “Life Elsewhere EP and in 1981 The Beakers song What’s Important was incluced Pavitt’s Sub Pop 5 cassette release. A rather dull (for The Beakers) rendition of Lipps Inc. Funky Town is out there in the internet ether, but ultimately it doesn’t represent the sound of the motif of the band. The Beakers were angular, sometimes chaotic and sparse, with vocals by Mark H. Smith, drummer George Romansic, bassist Francesca (Frankie) Sundsten and the wildly manic saxophone of Jim Anderson who also shared vocals. This formula would transfer nicely when 3 Swimmers was founded. 3 Swimmers retained much of the angularity (especially in Smith’s vocals) but the sound was a bit more refined and not as purposefully caustic. Whereas The Beakers were shining lights among the underground, 3 Swimmers’ sound was more accessible to mainstream audiences, and the ever important college DJ’s who could break a band within weeks.

After a year of mostly success, touring and opening for major acts The Beakers called it quits. Each of the members would pursue projects of their own, but remain involved in one another’s projects. Frankie pursued her main love-painting, and became a member of Children of Kellogg along with Annie Mulcahey, a longtime fixture on the Seattle scene and experimental provacateur, Sue Anne Harkey who would later find success with one of her highly experimental ongoing groups, Audio Leter. Jim Anderson became involved in several music projects including Little Bears From Bangkok (with occassional drumming by Romansic. He also devotes himself to social justice and political causes. In 1981 George Romansic and Mark H. Smith would go on to be founding members of 3 Swmmers, eventually coelescing into Romansic on drums, Smith on Vocals, guitars and synths, Fred Chalenor on bass. Chalenor had worked with avant-garde artists like Wayne Horvitz, and after 3 Swimmers he co-founded The Tone Dogs with Amy Denio, and later included Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron. The original 3 Swimmers line-up also included Colin McDonell of Cinema 90 and The Macs Band (alongside brother Angus). McConnell had been label-mates with The Beakers earlier at Mr. Brown Records. After 3 Swimmers recorded their first EP, The Worker Works To Live (1982, Engram Records) McDonnell departed the band to pursue solo projects and production. Shortly after McDonell bowing out MacKenzie Smith was brought on to play keyboards and take on some of the vocals. Taylor Nelson Little shared drumming duties with George Romansic, and Craig Florey, another Seattle stalwart joined as the groups saxophonist. Mark H. Smith recounts

“Taylor Nelson Little from Vancouver was just the best drummer we could find, we didn’t care that he lived in Canada. He and Fred really locked in together, which was critical because we were a groove-oriented band. We added Craig Florey on sax because he was irresistible”

A second EP-also on Engram-American Technology (also released by Engram Records in 1982) brought even more attention to the band and they ended up touring on their own and as opening acts for international headliners, most notably Gang of Four, with which they shared a socially conscious, perpendicular, jagged and jarring sound-and ideals…at least the sound and ideals found on Gang of Four’s first outing Entertainment. The sweeteners, back up singers and highly produced sound of later Gang of Four releases was not a direction 3 Swimmers would take.

We were young” says Smith. We wanted to do things differently. We wrote the songs together. Made business decisions together. It was very much a collective. And I think the pressure of trying to do what we were trying to do caused some strain”.

Still the band weathered it out until Fred Chalenor yearned for a different direction for the band. According to Smith;

“When Fred, who is a genius bass player, decided he wanted to put his energy into more experimental music, the band fell apart. From the very beginning he was the key component to the 3 Swimmers sound. He was irreplaceable”.

Somewhere out there another full EP of completed recording remains. Smith believes it’s the best thing 3 Swimers ever recorded. It remains unreleased and will probably never see the light of day. That’s unfortunate. Despite some criticism of the band being derivative (they weren’t) and Mark’s vocals as somewhere between “a hysterical David Byrne or an illiterate David”(they were) 3 Swimmers still stand out even among the stratospheric talent found among 80s Seattle bands. After the band’s demise MacKenzie Smith would go on to become Associate Director for Technology at MIT. She’s recently moved on to teach at UC Davis. George Romansic passed away on Sunday January 25, 2015, after a months-long battle with cancer.  He remained bright, generous and kind up ’til the end, and is still mourned by family, friends and just about anyone who ever met him.  He will continue to be remembered, honored and missed for many, many years. In a tribute to her friend, Patti Smith dedicated the song “Beautiful Boy” to George at a performance she gave in Seattle the night after George’s passing.

Mark H. Smith now is an assistant professor in the MFA program for Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts at UC Riverside, Palm Desert Graduate Center. He’s a regular contributor to journals and newspapers around the country and an accomplished novelist. His newest book, Blown, is due in the summer of 2018. He still remembers the importance 3 Swmmers made in his life and career. He says:

“For an indie band playing slightly annoying music from the northwest corner of the country, we came close to some kind of success. We supported some great bands like Gang of Four, Duran Duran, and Bow Wow Wow. We played Los Angeles with the Gang of Four, we had meetings at Warner Bros and IRS records. But listening to the songs now, I really wish someone had suggested I take singing lessons. I am a terrible singer”.

Despite their short run 3 Swimmers were not just “could have beens“. They played intricate, but enthusiastic music to live audiences. There recorded output almost perfectly captures their sound. And despite what Smith has to say about his voice, I for one am very happy he never took singing lessons.

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources; Mark H. Smith interview (August 20, 2017). Clark Humphrey (Loser. The Real Seattle Music Story. Updated and revised 2nd edition, MISCmedia, Seattle, 1999). Gillian G. Gaar: History and Revolution: Two Timely 80’s Acts Resurface. (The Stranger, November 4, 2004) markhaskellsmith.com retrieved August 25, 2017; Rocket writer, Champion of Local Music, George Romansic dies at 58 (Northwest Music Scene, January 27, 2015); Photo by Kristine Larsen. The Worker Works To Live design by Robert Newman.

 

The Visible Targets

The Visible Targets, with the frontline of sisters Pamela Golden, Laura Keane and Rebecca Hamilton could have dressed up as babes.  They could have played covers for frat parties.  They could have been a “novelty band”.  Instead they chose to work within Seattle’s alternative scene, playing alongside art bands, punks and “loser” bands as well as the innovators.  It’s no wonder that the band was often scoffed at by the supposedly hip, more cynical and “serious bands.   The irony is those “hipper” more cynical audiences always showed-up at their shows.  The truth is The Visible Targets were original, musically talented and…fun.  They were secure in their musical talent and determination.  It’s fair to say they were the forerunners of the riot grrl movement that wouldn’t flourish for another

decade.  The sisters, originally from Yakima WA had paid their dues in cover bands and had even spent time in England trying to jump-start their career.  But it wasn’t until they returned to the US and recruited Ron Simmons as drummer.  Ron was an old friend of theirs from school, and he fit in perfectly.  With the sisters in front and Simmons in the back providing an excellent behind them the band (then known as Wreckless) set out to conquer Seattle-and further.  With their name change to The Visible Targets, and their musical and lyrical dexterity popularity was to come quickly with a dedicated fan base who loved their approach, their look, and most of all their musical and lyrical talent.

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

The band reflected everything good about the ‘power pop” and new wave” music of the 1980’s. They had an incredible pop sensibility, a talented line-up with enough edge to satisfy serious musicians while appealing to fans that were more interested in being entertained than any of the complexities of what they were hearing. During their five year career they garnered major label interest, and took on national tours.  One of their tours was the Canadian leg of a worldwide tour by Simple Minds who were then at the height of their success. The tour gave them great exposure in Canada, but the US market still alluded them.

After touring with the The Simple Minds the Visible Targets had the great fortune to snag the legendary “Spider From Mars” guitarist Mick Ronson as a producer.   The result was their second EP “Autistic Savant”.  The EP omitted several songs that Ronson produced for them-one featuring Mick on piano.  He’s The Boy, which had been the the b-side of Little Eva’s monster hit The Loco-Motion was a fan favorite but not included on the Autistic Savant EP. The Ronson produced song from these sessions was finally released in 2012 on dadastic! sounds compilation That’s Dadastic!  At least two other songs have never been released, although the band members have the intention of releasing them on a CD/digital retrospective of their career some time in the future.

Their two EP’s ‘The Visible Targets’ and ‘Autistic Savant’ were well-received, but they never made as big a dent nationally as they should have. Their single, Life In The Twilight Zone is undoubtedly one of the most well-known songs to come out of Seattle’s 1980s music scene. But the hit was only a regional one and despite excellent live performances they were always on the look-out for that hit to provide them the national hit they sought.  In those days vinyl records and tapes by indie bands were poorly distributed.  Having to rely on self-promotion and the guidance of their friend and manager Bob Jenniker was not enough to send them over the top.  After a five year career, the band were gone and seemed to fade into history despite a large following of rabid Northwest fans…fans that remain to this day

Drummer Ron Simmons later explained in an interview with DJ El Toro of Seattle’s KEXP radio:

“One summer in the mid-’80s we all decided that we needed a long overdue break. We had been performing, writing and practicing pretty much all the time, five to six days a week, for five years. During that time most of us worked day gigs to make a living. We were all exhausted and decided to take the summer off. After the summer, we just kept putting off getting back together, taking time to do other projects that we now had time to do. Pamela started visiting Nancy Wilson (of Heart) briefly and did some jamming. She then started working on a solo project with the help of Tony Levin (bass player for King Crimson/David Bowie/Material, et al). She put out one CD shortly after. Rebecca spent some time with various musicians mixing tunes and writing new ones. Laura spent more time with her family. I threw myself into painting and various art projects that I had a passion for; I showed my work quite a bit in the late 80’s through the mid 90’s in the Seattle area“.

After the demise of The Visible Targets Pamela and Rebecca, with the help of another close friend, wrote a CD’s worth of music (actually quite good), and called me to get back together for a possible reunion. I had already made a commitment to move to the Portland area and start up a publishing company for a close friend, so our reunion never materialized

A CD full of new material was self-released by the sisters.  The music is a broadening of what would probably been the trajectory would have gone forth with.  Unfortunately the problem of distribution still prohibited a wider release, and the band’s new moniker, “Wonderland” may have confused fans.  There were several groups using that name in the 90s.  No matter how great the music and musicianship it’s always difficult to amass a following when exposure is a problem.  Remember, the digital age had not taken hold yet, especially not in terms of independent artists to make their music available to millions of listeners.
According to Ron Simmons “Today, Laura is working for a college in the area, and Pamela and Rebecca started their own business in the service industry. They still pick up their guitars and jam. I am North Regional Publisher for a regional publication, still painting and showing my work in the area. We all still stay in contact. Bob Jeniker our manager and best friend, died around the late ’90s of cancer. He kept encouraging us to get back together, but it was just not in the cards”.

Even though The Visible Targets broke up decades ago they are fondly remembered by those who had the experience of seeing or hearing them in their heyday.  Life In The Twilight Zone is still regularly requested on local stations.  In 2007 former members of the band did an interview on Seattle’s KEXP.  The station also has a very strong presence on the internet with listeners around the world.  The lead-up to the interview garnered a great deal of interest, with many fans waiting to hear plans of a reunion-or at least a career retrospective that has not yet come to fruition.  One can only hope a compilation of all their recorded music is released one day.  It will be a testament to the power of well-written, well executed power-pop.  The music of The Visible Targets is timeless.

-Dennis R. White.  Sources: Ron Simmons, Rebecca Hamilton, DJ El Toro “Weird At My School” KEXP blog, August 4, 2008.  Photograph Jo David

 

WREX

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

Seattle’s punk and gay communities have often mingled together, and the subcultural mise-en-scène at WREX was no exception to that general rule. Occasionally, former Johnny’s Handlebar clientele would drop in after WREX’s opening, not yet knowing about the change in management and regular crowd. Since both gays and punks were then equally shunned by mainstream Seattleites, there was no true clash between the two subcultures.

Armed with that knowledge two gay young men who were familiar with the cross-pollination between punk and gay culture approached Aaron McKiernan, the principle investor in WREX with a proposal.  One night a week WREX would host dances showcasing the latest independent, alternative and punk rock. The two DJs there were Charles “Upchuck” Gerra, then a prominent figure within Seattle’s punk scene, and Dennis R. White who would later become a graphic designer. promoter. manager and part of the staff of The Rocket.  Although Gerra spun a few records each night, his real strength was hosting, mingling with and entertaining the crowd and promoting the fact that WREX had now become a haven for young gay and lesbians searching for their own space.  And with them came their allies and friends in the punk community.  All-ages clubs and all-ages shows had come and gone in Seattle, but no single club had devoted itself to punk and alternative dance music.  There was a ready audience waiting, so, on a rainy night in December 1979 just after 8PM the needle dropped onto “Orphans” by Teenage Jesus and The Jerks.  A new chapter in Seattle music had begun.

At first the crowds were sparse, but they grew throughout 1980 and eventually the club was just as much a “gay” venue as a “punk” venue that welcomed anyone with a love for the alternative scene.  Some time during this period, Mike Vraney (of Time Travellers and Modern Productions) began to book live music at the club.  His sights were high and he intended to showcase the best of popular local alternative bands with rising stars on the indie scene both in the US and Europe.  The first live band to play WREX was The Fastbacks (with a young Duff McKagen on drums).  Their set was meant to work out any kinks in presenting live music, and in anticipation of the first official show at WREX.  The next night The Blackouts and The Beakers opened for Delta 5 from Leeds, England.  Delta 5’s politically infused feminist politics had made them stand-outs in the early post-punk years.

From then on bands played at WREX three nights a week, originally booked by Vraney.  During his very successful run of bookings Vraney brought national and international acts to the club, as well as booking the cream of the crop of Seattle alternative bands.  The job was eventually turned over to WREX manager/publicist Wes Bradley.  Bradley had extensive ties within the established music business, so it wasn’t hard for him to get his foot in the door of the labels promoting alternative acts that were finally seeing some success in the wider music business.   Bookings were also handed over to independent agents as well as bookings by members of WREX’s own staff.  At the same time Ted Ladd, a video artist and curator was in the process of making headway with both video wallpaper and showing music videos between DJ’s and live music sets.

The shows filled it’s tiny space for most of the time WREX existed. Along with almost every local band then playing original music (starting with the Enemy), touring acts who played at WREX included Grace Jones, Joan Jett, X, The Fleshtones, Romeo Void, Wall of Voodoo, Los Microwaves, Hüsker Dü and others who were then becoming staples of alternative and college radio.  The frequency of shows — and their apparent local popularity — inspired other bars around Seattle to start booking original-music bands, thus giving a crucial boost to Seattle’s punk scene at a crucial time in its development. Additionally, certain bars near WREX in Belltown — such as the Frontier Room and the Rendezvous — soon became local punk hangouts. One gay bar that had always been punk-friendly was Tugs, Belltown.  The proximity of Tugs and WREX exponentially help create what would be one of the city’s best strips to enjoy music on, First Avenue.  A little further south down road lay The Showbox, and during the heyday of it’s operation was a showcase for everyone from Captain Beefheart to John Cale to The Specials to James Brown.  Smaller all-ages venues like Danceland and one-off store front gigs and artists’ studios became common.

By the height of WREX’s popularity Upchuck had continued pursuing his career as a rock performer, Dennis White was spinning records  one night a week, and involved in The Rocket, his own musical side projects, churning out hundreds of rock posters and producing a few band’s recordings on his Pravda label.  But the bulk of the music was presented by DJ’s Michael Clay and Ross Bostwick.  Bostwick would become the one single DJ that was the powerhouse behind the dance music at WREX.  He also made  the transition to the most popular DJ when the space became The Vogue, a few years later. His excellent taste in what was new, progressive, alternative or downright spooky kept the audience intrigued.  Meanwhile Ted Ladd continued to curate punk and new wave videos-a job he continued after the club became The Vogue.

Along with the fertile subcultural ferment that thrived at WREX, there was also an inevitable element of sleaze. At the end of many nights there, spilled beer lingered an inch or two thick on the concrete floor, and young couples often had sex openly on the back staircase during shows. Such was the standard punk nightlife during that time, in Seattle and elsewhere. The nature of its clientele wasn’t WREX’s most important problem: it also had constant problems with cash flow. Dennis White once lamented,

WREX was always out of cash. Toward the end I was buying the keg off the truck in the afternoon out of my own pocket, hoping they’d sell enough that night to pay me back.

Money-or lack of it-is the most common downfall of great nightclubs, so WREX officially closed on March 18, 1982. One year later, the same venue would reopen as The Vogue (in honor of the original hotel’s name-something lost on many of WREX’s former clientele). While focusing on recorded dance music played by DJs, also The Vogue hosted live music acts on off nights — including Nirvana’s first Seattle gig before a full audience on April 24, 1988.  Perhaps it was Nirvana’s “first Seattle gig before a live audience” Most rock historians consider this show the band’s first Seattle gig, but Bruce Pavitt, founder of Sub Pop Reocrds insisted that a Nirvana showcase he attended on April 10, 1988, at the Central Saloon was the band’s very first in Seattle.  He claims “No one else remembers it because it was just me, the doorman and about three other people.”

Some people see The Vogue as one of the first venues to host bands that would one day be known as “grunge”…but like the transition from the 80s to 90s Seattle music scene, it’s hard to escape that WREX had been important to that which would emerge around The Vogue and other clubs like Gorilla Gardens, The OK Hotel and The Metropolis.  Anyone old enough or with a good fake ID who would go onto become part of the late 80s/early 90s movement had stepped inside the doors of WREX at least once. “We all stand on the shoulders of giants” as has been pointed out so many times.

 

–Jeff Stevens & Dennis R. White Sources: Clark Humphrey, “Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story” (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Clark Humphrey, “Seattle’s Belltown” (Arcadia Publishing, 2007); Peter Blecha, “Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from ‘Louie Louie’ to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Stephen Tow, “The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge” (Sasquatch Books, 2011),
 

Student Nurse

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

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

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

In 1981 Student Nurse entered Triangle Studios-later to be renamed as the famous “Triad Studios” where so many other successful bands would record.  The choice of the material for their next single  may have seemed odd, as they chose two of their more accessible songs, the Dutch-lyriced “Recht Op Staan” (“Stand Up Straight” in English-a song referring to the importance of good posture).  The B-side was an instrumental called “Electronic Pop Smash”.  Both choices were designed to catch listeners and fans off-guard.  Maire Masco, one of the heads of Pravda, the label that released “Recht Op Staan” remarked “Who the hell sings a rock song in Dutch?  Not even the Dutch!”  And that was exactly the subversive kind of thing that could have been expected of Student Nurse.

David Javelosa (of “Los Microwaves” and” Baby Buddha”) was brought in to produce-another purposeful anomaly since Student Nurse were ostensibly a guitar-driven band while Javelosa was known more for his work in synthesizer-based outfits.  The fascination of weirdo-influenced pop made it a good fit for the band and Javelosa.  A totally unexpected lyric sung in an almost-obscure language backed with a song who’s title denoted electronic synth sound (yet contained no synthesizers) was not only an inside joke.  It was a decision to thumb the nose at everything American alternative music was becoming.  Over three decades later it’s easier to see this was an “inside job” calculated to challenge listeners and their perceptions.

Although it was clear John and Helena were the core of the band, it remained fairly democratic, but onstage Student Nurse belonged to Helena.  Skinny with piercing silver eyes and a Phranc-ish hair she was the epitome of lesbian-chic before lesbian-chic was even a thing.  All shouts and smiles, she provided the hyper-caffeinated energy at the center of the band.  The staccato performances combined with Helena’s butch persona scared many of the top booking agents from putting them on the bill with larger touring acts.  The band was too oddball and too difficult to pigeonhole…in fact they might even upset the sensibilities of a MOR audience.  But a few clubs regularly welcomed them, and the band was expert at putting together shows with other “unbookable” acts at private venues, lodges, halls and dance studios.  They did quite well without having to assuage the mass crowds and bookers that were starting to catch onto the poppier side of new wave.  Student Nurse didn’t spend time calculating what would have been best for their career-they simply did what they loved for as long as people wanted to hear them.  They were far more interested in being architects of their own very unique sound and approach to the art and dance.

Gary Heffern

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

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

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

Seattle rock critic and well-known author Charles R. Cross writes:”In Heffern’s own songs there is a constant struggle between darkness and light, between failed dreams and reckless prayer, between a world where all hope is lost and one where a consoling friend offers a sliver of deliverance. Even on a song as haunting as “(I Am Your) Destroyer” from the album “Consulation” sounds like Iggy Pop could have written it. There is still a core of sweetness among the ruins. “That’s the Beauty (Of the Little Things in Life)” truly rings with a ghost: It was written in Seattle’s Comet Tavern on the very night that Gits’ singer Mia Zapata went missing (and later turned up murdered). Not only a remarkable timepiece, “That’s the Beauty” demonstrates Heffern’s skill at creating a story arc that celebrates the fragility of life at the same time it bemoans it. It’s the kind of re-framing that is uniquely Gary Heffern”.
Aside from his songwriting, albums. online music and live performances, Gary has also been the subject of Finnish filmmaker Erkki Määttänen’s “Sweet Kisses From Mommy” It recounts Gary’s birth in Finland as Veli-Matti Tervaneimi through his adoption, childhood and renaming and growing up in 1950s and 60s San Diego.

Dennis R. White: Sources, Gary Heffern, Charles R. Cross, liner notes for the album Consolation (2008).  Video Janne Huotari / Wolf Productions.