Northwest Music History: Rock

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).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buck Ormsby recalls;

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

Louie Louie 1985 re-release

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sir Raleigh & The Cupons 1965

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Johansen refused each time.

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

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

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

Pat Gossan says;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then suddenly Dangel quit the band In early 1969.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In May of 2012 San Francisco historian Corry Arnold wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Floating Bridge with Crazy Ray

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

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

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

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

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

According to a post at geocaching.com:

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

The man was Don Christiansen from Lakewood , Washington.

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

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

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

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

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

A bit on the cast of characters here:

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

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

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

In a 1996 interview Johansen said:

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

His interviewer Dale Clarke wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

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

 


LeRoy Bell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s go back to the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Leroy continues the story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Terry remembers hearing from LeRoy around 2000;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s something young bands have come to accept.

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

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

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

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

LeRoy and His Only Friends will be appearing at:

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Daily Flash

The Daily Flash are often referred to as either the first alternative rock band in Seattle or the first psychedelic band in Seattle. Although the former argument is up to debate, there’s no doubt The Daily Flash were one of the most successful and widely acclaimed bands to come out of Seattle in the 1960s.  The Daily Flash found it’s footing in the underground west coast folk circuit rather than the garage /R&B roots that had become so popular in the Northwest.

In fact, the term Psychedelic-at least in the beginning- may even be a bit misleading.  The Daily Flash were more interested in interpreting classic Americana and folk music as totally different takes on their originals.  This often resulted in a mix of the blues, the electrification of traditional acoustic folkie sounds and drawing from a somewhat obscure well of music written by obscure musicians…some from past folk masters, and some from writers that would soon be famous.  The biggest thing that may have set them apart from the Seattle Sound at the time is that they sought a bluesier, more electric sound than the free-wheeling style of R&B the Northwest had become known for.  The Daily Flash had more to do with the nascent sound that was about to come out of San Francisco and Los Angeles.  They drew form jazz, electric blues, folk and rejected much of what had made up the northwest teen-dance circuit.

The band rarely wrote their own material but this by no means pegs them as a “cover band” in the traditional sense.  In fact most Northwest bands working the dance circuit had always drawn from familiar covers. It’s simply that in the early days The Daily Flash took unknown or relatively unknown traditional and folk music and put their own stamp on it.  Often times the stamp was so original  as to make the material absolutely their own, and unrecognizable from the original.  In that way The Daily Flash were much like all the Northwest bands who had preceeded them…it’s only that they only had a more obscure background in folk and the hootenannies of the early 60s rather than the R&B of the late 50s.

The beginnings  of The Daily Flash go back to 1964 when multi-instrumentalist and singer Don MacAllister met another folk affecianado, Steve Lalor, in Seattle.  At the time MacAllister was playing in a local bluegrass outfit called The Willow Creek Ramblers along with Paul Gillingham, and Phil Poth.  Lalor had dropped out of college in Ohio in 1963 and headed to San Francisco where briefly hung out with musicians who would later become members of  Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Grateful Dead and a few others who would go on to create the San Francisco sound.  Lalor spent a short time in San Francisco, but decided to check out the scene in Vancouver B.C. because, he’d found  San Francisco to be a city with a “hard, cold attitude”.   He was on his way up the West Coast, until he stalled in Seattle.   Lalor became aware that the Seattle Center was auditioning for an acoustic folk show that would be broadcast from the center’s Horiuchi Mural Amphitheater.  He auditioned and made the grade as one of the performers. The show was a success and later  turned into a weekly program  “The Seattle Center Hootenanny” a weekly broadcast that ran for a year and a half on KING TV.  Lalor appeared on every show.  It was during this period that Lalor and MacAllister became aware of each other and took to practicing folk tunes and popular duets on their guitars and as vocalists.

Lalor and MacAllister began working together informally, learning songs by The Everly Brothers and The Beatles.  Lalor soon paired-up with Alice Stuart and Mike Hall and Jim Manolides (via the Seattle Center Hootenanies) and the founded “The Upper University District Folk Music Mandolin Society and Glee Club”. In 1964 Jerden Records released their only single under the (thankfully) truncated name, “The Upper U Singers”. There’s some question if the recordings had been done in 1963, because by 1964 Alice Stuart was in Los Angeles.”The A side (Green Satin) was written by Frank Lewis and the B side (Sing Halelluah“) was written by Mike Settle who would go on to work with Kenny Rogers, Glenn Yarbrough and as a respected singer/songwriter in his own right.  The single went nowhere, but.  today “Green Satin b/w  Sing Halellujahis one of the rarest, most sought after singles from any era of Northwest music.

By the end of the “The Seattle Center Hootenany” show’s run Lalor had once again decided to try San Francisco.  This time he was able to co-found the popular trio there. The Driftwood Singers included Lalor, Lyn Shepard and (originally) Courtney Branch.  Soon after the trio formed, Branch left and was replaced by Billy Roberts. The Driftwood Singers became the house band at San Francisco’s “hungry i” club, then in the basement of the International Hotel in North Beach.  North Beach at the time was the spiritual home of West Coast beatnik culture with “the hungry i” and a handful of other tiny clubs at it’s comedic and folk music heart. Alice Stuart had also left Seattle for Los Angeles and by chance encounter had met Frank Zappa. The Mothers of Invention were a blues band when they started out, so Zappa invited Stuart to join the band.  He was interested in incorporating his electric guitar with Alice’s accoustic delta-blues style.  During 65/66 Stuart played with the original Mothers of Invention, but left shortly before the beginning of the Mothers’ recordings of their debut “Freak Out”.  After her short,  improbable stint with Zappa, Alice returned to her roots and became a folk icon in her own right.

As for Billy Roberts, he was finding a name as the writer of “Hey Joe”.  He’d originally written it in 1962, and it had been covered in concert by both folk and folk-rock artists (well before Jimi Hendrix popularized it).  Eventually Roberts also left The Driftwood Singer and returned to his former solo career, that saw him performing across the country, finding himself on bills with Steve Miller, Santana and as a Bay Area favorite.  Roberts went on to play the first Sky River Rock Festival-that year in Sultan WA where he jammed with James Cotton, Big Mama Thornton and members of The Grateful Dead. Roberts had also written an early folk standard “The Girl From North Alberta”  The Daily Flash would work both “Hey Joe” and “The Girl From North Alberta” into their sets, and there is a demo of “The Girl From North Alberta” that has found it’s way to both legitimate and bootleg Daily Flash albums.  Unfortunately Roberts was involved in an automobile accident near Sonoma CA in the early 90’s and moved to Atlanta, Georgia to retire from live gigs.  His performing days were over, but in 2017, at the age of 81 he still continues to write music. He owns the copyrights of over 100 songs.

The Driftwood Singers had made a name for themselves and ended up working regularly in other Bay Area coffee houses as well as doing several tours up and down the West coast.   But Lalor was once again ready to leave San Francisco behind.  His old friend Don MacAllister had come to San Francisco to entice Lalor back to Seattle to form a band with himself, Lalor and a brilliant drummer that MacAllister had “discovered” named Don Stevenson. Unfortunately for Lalor and MacCallister, Stevenson had been snapped up by The Frantics by the time they returned to Seattle.  The consolation was Lalor and MacAllister ended up with Jon Keliehor, the former Frantics drummer who’d been replaced by Stevenson after Keliehor had been involved in a near-fatal accident near Eugene OR. Don had been driving alone on his way to a series of Frantics gigs in California.  Keliehor was unable to play the gigs and was replaced by Stevenson, who became The Frantics regular drummer.  Keliehor had recuperated and joined The Daily Flash,  while Stevenson and The Frantics guitarist Jerry Miller went through several transformations in the Bay Area, and eventually went on to co-found Moby Grape.  Ironically Moby Grape and The Daily Flash held an abundance of talent that would never be properly utilized by the music industry.

At the time MacAllister had met up with Lalor it was still presumed that Stevenson would be drummer, and Stevenson had been talked-up so dramatically that it was a great disappointment to find Keliehor in his place when Lalor returned to Seattle.  Lalor would go on to tell Seattle rock Neil Skok ;

“(hiring) Keliehor was the right thing to do. He was the secret magic ingredient that makes groups happen.  Lalor also added that Kehielor ( a classically trained musician) “knew music better than the rest of us and was game to try anything”.

The next task was to find a guitarist that would be a good fit and capable of playing the blend of electric blues, traditional folk music and the newly-minted psychedelic sound.  It was Doug Hastings, a young player (still in college) that occasionally sat-in with The Dynamics that was drafted into The Daily Flash.  So now, in 1965, the classic line-up of The Daily Flash was born.  Success came almost immediately.

Jon Kehiehor  credits their popularity for breaking the mold of typical ‘Northwest Sound’ bands like The Wailers and The Sonics.

“We were the first alternative music voice for the hippie movement in the area and set a new pattern that influenced so many musicians at the time.  We broke from the teen movement and started playing outside high school venues, creating new alternative audiences and venues.  Our music was a unique fusion of folk, pop and jazz, and Steve and Don’s vocal combination was imitated by many who followed.”

It’s clear an entire new paradigm was taking hold of youth culture. music, dress-and yes…drugs  If anyone was going to break up the old one The Daily Flash were more primed than any other local choice.   They were the mosttalked about and most popular band in Seattle…and all based on the few performances they’d done, and as many posters for shows that weren’t even meant to take place.  But when the did perform The Daily Flash brought great, innovative musicianship, tight harmonies and 12 string guitars into the mix of re-interpreting folk music and jazz as rock.

One of The Daily Flash’s first gigs took place at a club called The BFD.  During the heyday of psychedelic rock in Seattle it was the place to be.  In 2009 musician Tom Dietz (formerly of The Nomads) recalled taking music lessons at Ford’s Music in Eastgate.  One of the steel guitar instructors was Blaise Lewark (of The Evergreen Drifters and later The Canterbury Tales).

“One day we were visiting between his lessons  (Lewark) told me of his vision of opening a nightclub within an abandoned church building and asked me what I thought of the name of the club – BFD.  Sounded good to me, so true to form…Blaise took possession of the building and bought a whole bunch of flat black paint.  Several weeks later the teen rock club was open for business.  Live local rock acts upstairs and live folk music in the coffee house inspired basement”

“The smartest thing Blaise did” says Dietz “was to have the joint open on Sunday nights.  If you lived in Seattle during the mid-60 the BFD was the only rock club open on Sundays.  What a stroke of genius.  Every musician in town hung out at th BFD on Sunday nights.  Most sat in with the band and we all jammed our Sunday nights away”.

One of the attractions that brought crowds to The Daily Flash’s shows was the care they took in presenting their sound.  Steve Lalor remembers:

“The harmonies were coming over like a wall of sound.  Seattle hadn’t heard anything like it before

Blaise Lewark also opened a second BFD club in West Seattle, and along with the more-often shows of national acts at the Eagles Auditorium and plenty of underground clubs Seattle now had a thriving alternative scene.  One other club that was around at the time , “The Door” (at 1818 7th Avenue-now gone) was still hosting folk music as well as some of the newer artists that were spinning out of the Seattle scene.  It was there in 1965 that Ron Saul, a local record distributor, met the band and agreed to shop the group around.  It wasn’t long before he’d gotten them a deal with Parrot Records- the American subsidy of London Records.

The first single was envisioned to be a cover of Dylan’s ‘Queen Jane Approximately” backed with Dino Valenti’s “Birdses” a song that Lalor admired since his days hanging out with Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Valenti had also written the massive hit “Get Together” for The Youngbloods and was held in high regard within the hippie music scene, not only for his writing and as singer for Quicksilver Messenger Service, but also with music executives who saw his ability to write commercially viable songs.  After recording the single Saul considered “Birdses” to be too light, so the band went back into the studio to record what some would call a classic of psychedelic blues,  their version of the traditional “Jack of Diamonds”  Unfortunately the single went nowhere except to make a small dent in the Seattle radio market.  Both sides have gained much more appreciation over the years, but it is “Jack of Diamonds” that is the stand-out.  In 2012 David Marsh of The Guardian wrote:

“Today, the shambolic brilliance of ‘The Daily Flash’s’ Jack of Diamonds is more listenable and less dated than much of what their more celebrated peers produced. The opening wall of noise during which the drummer seems to be warming up; the bass playing the same insistent riff throughout; the urgent harmonica and jagged guitar; the production that suggests it really was recorded in someone’s garage – all contribute to a great record. It finishes as it begins and you have heard the definitive garage punk single”.

Even though their debut single had failed, The Daily Flash were becoming well-known up and down the West Coast on the strength of their live performances.  Soon they caught the attention of Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, the managers of Sonny and Cher as well as up-and-comers like Iron Butterfly and Buffalo Springfield.  Greene and Stone invited The Daily Flash to re-record their single in Los Angeles while they took on management duties.  But the re-recorded single also failed to draw attention outside the Northwest and Southern California.  The management team was helpful in getting the band gigs on both the East and West coast opening for acts like Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messanger Service, The Grateful Dead, The Grass Roots, Country Joe and The Fish and The Sons of Champlin, but it was their live performances, not singles or albums that would draw them fame.

On their way south to re-record “Queen Jane Approximately”for Greene and Stone they had a stopover in San Francisco where they played two shows at The Avalon Ballroom.

According to Lalor”

“The promoter, Bill Graham, billed the group as headliners.  It was two nights, a Friday and a Saturday in April and both nights featured ‘The Daily Flash’ and ‘The Rising Sons’.  Plus on Friday night there was ‘Big Brother & The Holding Company’-without Janis-and on Saturday night it was ‘The Charlatans”

(Lalor’s memory of the shows may be off a bit.  At the time Chet Helms was running the Avalon Ballroom, but it’s possible his former partner, Bill Graham had actually booked the show).

No matter, The Daily Flash were gaining more and more popularity in San Francisco and Los Angeles-as well as Seattle where they were seen as conquering heroes. As more and more gigs piled up Jon Keliehor remembers a hard-to-forget incident in 1966.  The band were to play at Vancouver Canada’s first “Trips Festival” held on the weekend of 29-31 July.

“Steve, Doug and I arrived at the festival in the morning. We weren’t due to perform until 7 or 8pm. Quite suddenly a car arrived announcing that we were to be escorted to the seaside to spend the afternoon with various members of ‘The Grateful Dead’. I remember that The Dead’s chief chemist Owlsey Stanley drove the car that picked us up. Before any of us quite realised it, we had fallen not only under his spell, but also under the spell of his magic tablets. Soon afterwards we met other members of ‘The Grateful Dead’ and the afternoon passed amiably”.

Soon afterward The Daily Flash were firmly rooted in Los Angeles, where they became the “house band” for the local television show “Boss City”.  They were also offered a cameo in the spoof/spin-off TV show “The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. starring Stephanie Powers. ( episode 19, “The Drublegratz Affair” which was first aired January 31, 1967)  The band played an improbably ridiculous song titled “My Bulgarian Baby”.  The result was pure kitsch.

In 1967 the band went into the studio again.  This time they recorded a single for UNI Records.  UNI had been formed under MCA in 1966 and was still finding it’s way.  The label had taken over management of MCA’s newly acquired Kapp Records.  UNI’s artist roster was impressive. The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Hugh Masekela, Brian Hyland, Desmond Dekker, Bill Cosby, Elton John, Neil Diamond, Dave and Ansil Collins Olivia Newton-John, and Betty Everett were some of their biggest acts.  UNI had also taken over management Revue Records,  a soul music subsidiary, from about 1966 to 1970.  Despite their roster and distribution network (or because of it’s overextension) UNI was a mess.

The band chose to do a cover or Ian Tyson’s and Sylvia Fricker’s (Ian and Sylvia) beautiful ballad “The French Girl” along with “Green Rocky Road” as the B-side.  “The French Girl” had been originally released by Ian and Sylvia and would be covered by Gene Clark, The Grateful Dead, and others, but it is The Daily Flash’s version that best captures the melancholic romance of the song.  It’s been reported that Bob Dylan occasionally used the song as a warm-up to some of his shows, but never recorded it.  In actuality he’d recorded it with The Grateful Dead and another version of it can be found on “The Bootleg Series, Vol. 11:  The Basement Tapes Complete (2014)” But these versions, like all other attempts to cover the song have never been able to capture the magic of The Daily Flash’s version.

Perhaps The Daily Flash’s release of “The French Girl” was a case of too much, too soon for UNI.  Consequently it failed to chart nationally.  It’s probably the most viable of all of The Daily Flash’s recordings but a lack of promotion or poor distribution caused the single to fail.  Looking back now it’s clear The Daily Flash version is the best of all that has been done before and since. It even makes Ian and Sylvia’s version sound a bit brutal. The Daily Flash version is a lost 1960’s masterpiece.  Fortunately it got traction in Southern Calfornia and the Northwest, so listeners of retro-radio may find the song familiar but not quite to be able to pinpoint how they know it.

With so much work without much payback, The Daily Flash began to disintegrate later that year.  Doug Hastings had taken the place of Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young when Young had walked out. Hastings’ association with the band was brief, since The Buffalo Springfield was also near collapse.  In spite of that, Hastings had a chance to play with the band at The Monterrey Pop Festival. Hastings was replaced in The Daily Flash by Craig Tarwater formerly of “Sons of Adam” At nearly the same time Jon Keliehor was fired from the band because he’d chosen to attend a spiritual event rather than show up at an important gig.  According to Kehielor;

“I was dismissed from the band because I wanted to take a weekend to learn transcendental meditation in Los Angeles, which happened to clash with a semi-important, last minute scheduled performance in Las Vegas. I opted for the meditation instruction and was given immediate notice by the others. The result of my dismissal meant that I was no longer subsidised by our managers. I had to give up my house on Amour Road at the top of Laurel Canyon and was taken in by my friend and former Kingsmen bass player Kerry Magness”.

Keliehor was replaced by Tony Dey on drums and Dey continued to play into 1968 when he was replaced by Ron Woods just before The Daily Flash finally disbanded.  Given the direction and spirituality he’d find in the future Jon Keliehor had probably made the right decision in attending the spiritual retreat.  He moved to England in 1970 to work with The London Contemporary Dance Company, and formed Luminous Music, an organization to experiement in new and world music and movement.  His mission and work had taken on a spiritual quality.  He made a sojourn back to Seattle in the 1980s and became a composer and performer with Gamelan Pacifica, taught at The Cornish School of Art and became involved with The Seattle Symphony.  In 1996 he returned to the U.K. (this time to Glasgow Scotland) to continue his exploration of music and dance. He remains there and has become a vital contributor to the contemporary arts scene in Britain.

Before his departure from Los Angeles Keliehor was still in demand though.  He’d been brought into a new project called “Gentle Soul“.  The band’s ostensible producer was Terry Melcher, but Melcher’s intention was to record an album with upcoming singer/songwriter Pam Pollard as a duo.  He brought Pam’s collaborator on board, as well as Kerry Magness (who’d been working as a studio sideman for The Doors) and former Iron Butterfly guitarist, Danny Weis.  The proposed band would back Terry and Pam’s material.  Gentle Soul” only made one demo before going their separate ways.  Shortly afterward  Keliehor and Magness were invited to audition for The Doors producer Paul Rothchild.  Rothchild was putting together a new project he was to call “Rhinoceros”.  Doug Hastings, who had spent a brief time in Buffalo Springfied was also asked to audition, as was a host of other Los Angeles musicians  Hastings had been dropped by Buffalo Springfield the minute Neil Young had shown an interest in re-joining the group. Rhinoceros was not congealing as Rothchild had anticipated so he put the project on hold. He’d later revived the project as the first “Supergroup”, but the result was bloated and overblown.  Rhinoceros came and went after one album. To this day the album has detractors as rabid as it’s fans.
Hastings spent his time doing pick-up gigs.  Keliehor sat in on the recording of The Doors’ second album, “Strange Days” He also became friends with The Byrds (particularly David Crosby).  He gained several opening spots for the band and was considered as a substitute for Micheal Clarke when he temporarily left the band; but Michael Clarke soon returned to The Byrds. Unfortunately Keliehor’s being drafted full-time with The Byrds wasn’t meant to be.

The Daily Flash soldiered on and ended up supporting The Grateful Dead during a tour of the Northwest. Afterward they returned to Los Angeles to play a few gigs and then back to Seattle to do some very well-received shows.
“Everyone who came to see us was expecting to see a great group“, Lalor later claimed, “and because of that we played like a great group.”

In the wake of these dates the band was off to support Van Morrison for a handful of dates but it was clear there was serious division in the band. Part of it was personal, but much of it was based in the fact the band wrote very little of their own material.   MacAllister, Tarwater and drummer Ron Wood collaborated with future Mother’s of Invention bassist Jeff Simmons.  Darryl De Loach, late of Iron Butterfly and former Soul Survivors/Poco guitarist John Day joined them.  The new band worked under the name “Nirvana” They soon changed their name to “Two Guitars, Bass, Drums and Darryl”  They cut a single for Atlantic Records without Simmons (“He’s My Best Friend” b/w “Spaceman Blues”).  Both songs were penned by Don MacAllister.  After the single’s poor reception the band parted ways.  MacAllister and Craigwater the took part in the recording of Jackie De Shannon’s “Laurel Canyon”  During the sessions they became aquainted with Mac Rebennack (Dr. John). By this time MacCallister shared more than musicianship with Dr. John.  Both were heroin addicts.  Later MacCallister would tour with Dr. John (along with Hastings)  but was dismissed by the Doctor’s management for “encouraging the good Doctor’s bad habits”

In fact, MacAllister had been a junkie for quite some time and was sinking futher and further into his addiction, despite a series of studio gigs and a short tour playing mandolin for Bob Dylan.  Soon he was picking up gigs for second and third line artists in Los Angeles so MacCallister was making plans to return to Seattle to see his old friend, Paul Gillingham.  Remember that MacAllister had worked with Gillingham in The Willow Creek Ramblers.  Unfortunately MacAllister overdosed and died a few days before his planned trip.  Later Hastings recounted that  “MacAllister’s family strongly disapproved of his life and his friends and they retrieved the body (from Los Angeles) and returned to bury him in Seattle, leaving no invitations for his friends.”

Steve Lalor had played on a couple of tracks on Dr. John’s “Remedies” and played various sessions in Los Angeles before re-connecting with Danny O’Keefe, a former member of the Seattle group “Caliope”.  Lalor auditioned to tour with O’Keefe after the success of “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” which became an international hit from O’Keefe’s solo album.

By June 1970 Doug Hastings left music behind and gone back to college, where he completed his original studies of Petroleum Geology.  As of 2016 Hastings was Senior Geologic Science Advisor for Brooks Range Petroleum.  Although he’s left music behind he occasionally sits in with the newly re-formed Daily Flash.  They’ve continued to play regularly around the Northwest since 2002.

Various members that floated in and out of the band have taken part in tours or studio recordings by artists as diverse as Buddy Miles, The Turtles, James Brown, The Byrds and too many more projects to mention.

In 1984 music critic Peter Blecha and record producer Bob Jenniker put together a comprehensive overview of The Daily Flash called “I Flash Daily”  The compilation includes the only two singles The Daily Flash ever released (“Queen Jane Approximately” b/w “Jack of Diamonds” and “The French Girl” b/w
Green Rocky Road”) as well as several demo’s, live performances and unreleased material.  The album was released by Psycho Records in the UK but has never been released domestically in the U.S.  It’s a shame since the band had gone so far on the strength of two 7″ singles, one imperfect 7″ compilation and a history of some of the earliest and most well-received performances of the psychedelic era.  There is also a soundtrack for the film “Pit Stop” credited to The Daily Flash, but in fact composed and played by Two Guitars, Piano, Drum & Darryl.  Musical radio clips of The Daily Flash are found in the 1968 Peter Bogdanovich film “Targets” starring Boris  Karloff.

 

Nowadays The Daily Flash consist of Steve Lalor, Barry Curtis (one of the original Kingsmen) and  Steve Peterson (a member of The Kingsmen since 1988) and Don Wlhelm who has worked alongside Heart founders Roger Fisher and Steve Fossen.  Wilhelm has also had the honor of working with The Frantics-turned Moby Grape drummer Don Stevenson.  The Daily Flash members also consider their sound engineer, Craig Bystrom, an essential part of the band.  On their homepage they claim “…he brings his wealth of talent and experience to The Flash and enables the band to sound its best at all times”  After their re-uniting in 2002 the band have played consistently.  In 2012 The Daily Flash released the album “Nightly”.  The album includes original material as well as the re-interpretations of traditional folk and jazz. Reviews were roundly positive (to say the least) upon it’s release.

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources. Neal Skok “The Daily Flash” ( Ptolemaic Terrascope #12, July 1992); Steven Selinkoff ” Don MacAllister & Jon Keliehor”, (Name Dropping, 13 December 2015); Brian T. Marchese “The French Girl-The Tale of The Tune” (Where’s That Music Coming From? February 1. 2012);  Tom Deitz,”The BFD’ (PNWBands.com);  “Alice Stuart Interview” (Guitarhoo! May 14.2004);  Gordon Skene “3 By The Daily Flash-1966-Past Daily Weekend Soundbooth” (Past Daily, August 18, 2014); Vernon Joynson “Fuzz Acid and Flowers Revisited: A Comprehensive Guide to American Garage Psychedelic and Hippie Rock [1964-1975] (Borderline Productions, 2004); “Daily Flash Recordings” (Copyright LamaSivaDoz, 2003); Stewart Hendrickson “Hootenannies in Seattle” (Pacific Northwest Folklore Society); Phil Williams “</Early Bluegrass in Western Washington and the Pacific Northwest” (Voyager Recordings and Publications); David Marsh “Old Music: The Daily Flash-Jack of Diamonds (The Guardian, 13 March, 2012); Nick Warburton “The Daily Flash” (Rhinocerus. www.rhinoceros-group.com August 2001); The Daily Flash: Subverting The Dominant Paradigm Since 1965, www.thedailyflash.com) The Daily Flash “Nightly’ Liner Notes” (CDBaby.com); Jon Keliehor “I Flash Daily”  (Luminous Music, www.jonkeliehor.com/Daily_Flash_profile.htm); Richie Unterberger “The Daily Flash-I Flash Daily” www.allmusic.com); Peter Blecha “The Daily Flash: Seattle’s ’60s Folk-Rock Heroes 1965-1967”  Northwest Music Archives, 2014); Ritchie Unterberger “Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk Rock in the 1960s”  (Book Baby, Feb 20, 2014);

 


 

 

 

 

 

The Bards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

The F-Holes

The F-Holes formed out of a jam session on Nov 21, 1984 at The Central Tavern near Seattle’s Pioneer Square. The original members were “Lucky” Tony Mathews, Douglas “Stringtie” Creson and John “Moondog” Mooney. The jam consisted of three songs. The booker was impressed enough to ask them to open for his band, The Alleged Perpetrators on Dec 14, 1984, and a band was born. Since that night The F-Holes have consistently been part of the Seattle music scene.

One night while Stringtie was playing pinball at a tavern with Kevin Heaven (a local musician and well-known scenester)’ Kevin said;“You gotta check out my new f-hole guitar!” Stringtie went home that night and made a poster. He brought it to rehearsal the next day. “We are the F-Holes” he told them.  The newly-named outfit’s drummer, John “Moondog” Mooney asked;“What am I gonna tell my Mom?”

1985 brought a solid stream of bookings.  The bookings continued.  The first few years The F-holes played more shows than they rehearsed. Doug Creson recalls;

“We’d rehearse on Wednesdays and play shows Thursday , Friday and Saturday”.

Things changed in 1986 when the F=Holes added Otis P. Otis on lead guitar. He was a huge Johnny Thunders fan and brought a heavier sound that lead the band into the pre-grunge era. The original F-holes sound included generous heaps of Psychobilly, Cowpunk, Garage Rock, Punk, Acid Blues and 60s Psychedelia. They add they also play Country music, though they add

“we’re not sure which country“.

Along with Otis  came a sound that brought the band to a new level and wider audience. They still played the same music as before-only heavier.  Their look was still psychobilly with the big pompadours and cowboy boots and bolo ties.  That would change in later years, but for the earlier part of their career the band was known for their appearance as much as their music.  Both were fun, over the edge and a little bit retro as far as their dedication to punk.

“Promoters always had a hard time pegging our sound but we played with all kinds of bands. Punk, Alt Country, Grunge, Power Pop” says Creson.

The biggest misconception may be that the F-Holes are a rockabilly band.  It’s a claim the band adamantly deny.  Since the beginning they’ve always played a few rockabilly-tinged numbers, and they often dressed in a style associated with rockabilly.  Still, it’s hard to listen to them without thinking they’re nothing less than a great punk-pop band with the talent to pull off just about anything they throw out to their audience.

Th band is also known for wicked sense of humor.  In 2011 when the magazine Seattle Sinner asked them what their fondest Christmas memory was Creson told the interviewer;

“We played a Buzz Scooter Club party in an abandoned building with 64 Spiders. On the way to the gig we bought a sheet of windowpane acid, 100 hits. At the party we dissolved the acid into the punch bowl. People were drinking kegger cups full of this shit. By the time we finished our set everyone was just flying, wandering around lost on the upper floors like wide eyed zombies. I wonder how many bodies they found when they tore that place down. This was in 1984, back when you hipsters were still crappin’ in your diapers and sucking breakfast out of your mama’s knockers”.
True story.

By the mid ‘90s band members drifted into other bands, failed marriages, rehab and dead-end corporate jobs. They played a few uninspired shows, now and again…not really breaking up, just not playing with the same passion and frequency as before.

In 2006 The F-Holes were invited to play Geezerfest at Seattle’s legendary Crocodile Cafe. It was a
showcase of bands that helped create the alternative sound and so-called “grunge” Seattle had become known for in the 1990’s.   These were long-time workhorse bands that had actually developed the sound, others had built their success on, but despite their talent were overlooked getting signed to a big record deals. Along with The F-Holes, the line up included bands like Catbutt, Coffin Break, Swallow, Snow Bud and The Flower People,  Blood Circus, Love Battery, and  other worthy bands.

The F-Holes showcase was so well-received that it led to their playing steady ever since. Now in their 33rd year of rocking their fans remain rabidly loyal, and friends are bringing their kids (and grandkids?) to their shows.

The F-Holes recorded output over the years has been sporadic…in fact there’s been only a few recordings available; but the good news is that they’ll be entering into the studio with Jack Endino in 2018. They’ve also found a newer and younger audience while keeping the old-timers.  An Endino-produced album looks promising.

The Stranger magazine’s Mike Nipper observed that after so many years;

“The F-Holes are, dare I say, a smart and (ahem) “songwriterly,” kickass punk group, and live they’re driving as a mofo”.

Even more fitting, on their website the F-Holes simply say “Totally Skankin’ since 1984”.

 

-Dennis R. White-Sources; Doug “Stringtie” Creason;  The F-Holes (home page, http://fholesrock-blog.tumblr.com); Mike Nipper (The Stranger, February 23, 2016); The F-Holes (thatsdadastic.com, 2010); Chuck Foster (“The F-Holes Unmasked: F-Holes Celebrate 28 Years of Being Misunderstood”  Seattle Sinner, December 2011)

Nancy Claire

Not surprisingly the bands of the 1950s and 60s that would define The Northwest Sound was mostly a boys game.  There had been women who’d made it in their own right –Bonnie Guitar comes to mind- but even she was closer to country than the newer sounds.  Bea Smith had made her name in rockabilly but  The NorthwestSound relied on a hybrid of R&B and jazz.  In fact most of the successful women performing were either coming out of rockabilly, hillbilly music or singing blues and early R&B among the many black venues surrounding Jackson St.  Of course many of these clubs were avoided by whites, and those teenagers wanting to hear the real deal dare not venture into many of the mostly-black bottle clubs and dens of gambling and prostitution that some rightly were known as.  Police raids were common along Jackson Street and door men were careful not to give entry to the kids that may be cause for even more raids.  The musicians who had come to play R&B were the exception to the rule.  Their fans may have been frightened off by what was collectively known as the (primarily black) Jackson St. Scene. The Birdland, The Ubangi Club, The House of Entertainment and especially The Black and Tan (which was largely integrated by the late 50s) were all clubs that attracted the young white practitioners of teen-dance R&B.

Very few of the early Northwest Sound bands ventured into vocals or women in general.  This wasn’t a purposeful lock-out of women.  It was out of popular demand.  Audiences didn’t mind instrumentals, they simply wanted to dance.  Girl Groups from across the nation were seen as a novelty acts.  Very few bands had fully-fledged female members of their bands.  There were exceptions, but this was mostly the face of the Northwest Sound during the mid-late 1950s. Enter The Fleetwoods.

Artist, label owner and producer Bonnie Guitar and her business partner Bob Reisdorff of Dolphin Records (soon to be re-christened as Dolton Records had taken note of the Olympia trio (Gary Troxel, Gretchen Christopher, and Barbara Ellis).  The band did not fit into the girl group mold, nor was it the kind of rollicking R&B Northwest fans were used to… but Bonnie and Bob’s belief in The Fleetwoods and their signing them paid off in droves.  The first two releases by The Fleetwoods rose to the number one position on the US Billboards charts in 1959.  Their music did as spectacularly well in Britain, Canada and the rest of the world.   “Come Softly to Me” by The Fleetwoods  was Dolphin/Dolton’s very first commercial release.  The label  had pulled-off something incredible, even today…an independent, regional label releasing a bona fide, massive hit on their first outing.  Fortunately the label  was widely available due to distribution from Liberty Records in the US and with London Records almost everywhere else in the world.  The second release by The Fleetwoods, Graduation’s Here, did well but it wasn’t until their third release that the band and label landed another number one single and worldwide hit.  Mr. Blue was also released in 1959 and helped make The Fleetwoods one of the best selling trios in the late 1950s

Aside from Barbara Ellis and Gretchen Christopher-along with Gary Troxel-becoming stars arising from the Northwest, there were a few great female singers waiting on the sidelines until regional bands realized that featuring a female singer in one of two songs was a bright move.  Among those waiting in the wings were Merrilee Gunst (later Merilee Rush) a very young and incredibly talented Gail Harris in Tacoma who had appeared on Buck Owens’ radio show and would later sing with Tacoma’s Fabulous Wailers.  But a young woman from Kent, Nancy Claire, was the most sought-after female vocalist in the Northwest.  She would end up singing and recording with the cream of the crop of NW music, notably as a featured vocalist for The Dynamics, The Exotics, and maybe the most popular Seattle white R&B band of the early 60s, The Frantics. The floodgates for featuring girl singers on a couple of songs at live gigs had opened.  In 2009 Seattle Music historian Peter Blecha wrote:

“…scores of Northwest combos joined in the fun and some cool records were one result. In Seattle, Ronnie D. and the Valiants featured Pam Kelley on their “Cherry Darlin'” 45; the Duettes (with Bonnie and Ann Sloan) sang their teen-dream ode, “Donny,” and Barbara McBride and the Nomads cut “The Only Reason”; Walla Walla’s Frets featured Janie Hanlon on “Do You Wanna Dance”; Moses Lake’s Fabulous Continentals cut “I’m Not Too Young” with Marsha Maye Covey; Tacoma’s Cindy Kennedy cut “Skateboard” and Patty Q recorded “Help Me Baby”; Olympia’s Stingrays featured Cheri Robin on “The Dance”; and Wenatchee’s Linda Jo and the Nomads recorded “Stop Your Cryin’.”

And plenty of other Northwest bands with girl singers never issued records, including Tacoma’s Sonics (with “Miss” Marilyn Lodge), Solitudes (with Dani Gendreau), Regents (with Sandy Faye), Galaxies (with Andy Haverly), and Statesmen (with ‘Fabulous’ Juliette); Seattle’s Neptunes (with Melody and Merilyn Landon), the Dynamics (with Randi Green), and the Pulsations (with Darlene Judy); Bremerton’s Raymarks (with future country star Gail Davies); Aberdeen’s Beachcombers (with Jocelle Russell and/or Shirley Owens); Olympia’s Triumphs (with Janet Weaver); Tenino’s Hangmen (with Sandy Smith); Sequim’s Eccentrics (with Pam Clark and/or Nancy Warman); Winthrop’s Danny and the Winthrops (with “Miss” Tessie Thomas); and Spokane’s Runabouts (with Mickey Davis).

But it was Nancy Claire who was in most-demand.  After playing dozens of gigs with an almost unbelievable amount of  well-know Seattle bands, the owner of Rona Records, Nacio Brown Jr. took notice and flew Nancy down to LA in 1961 to cut a few songs for his label.  Nancy was whisked off to Hollywood to pursue a solo recording career.  Her initial route to wide exposure was propelled by the release of “Danny” b/w ” Y-E-S!”.  She toured on the strength of that single and Warner Bros. took advantage of her popularity by licensing the single from Rona…Unfortunately her second release on Rona (Cheatin On Me b/w Little Baby) released in 1962  failed to catch fire among national radio stations, so Nancy returned to Seattle and continued to sing and hang out with dozens of then-important Northwest Sound musicians.  After her return from California she expressed ambivalence about her time in Hollywood.  She had done sessions with excellent musicians, producers and arrangers but the mold  record execs tried to put her into didn’t comport with her natural instincts for R&B and Rock & Roll.  It was, she said “not my bag”.

Nancy was approached to record in Hollywood again in 1963.  It was also to record again with Nacio Brown Jr. but this time the label would be the highly regarded World Pacific Records.  Nancy was put in the studio with a full orchestra and the sessions produced two more singles. (“I’m Burnin’ My Diary” b/w “The Baby Blues” and “Last Night” b/w “Charlie My Boy”  In retrospect both are fairly interesting singles, but top 40 radio at the time all but ignored them, and Nancy headed back to Seattle where she was truly appreciated


Once back in place as the Northwest’s most sought after vocalist Nancy joined up with The Viceroys.  In 1964 legendary radio personality and promoter Pat O’Day took notice.  He put them in the studio to record two cover-songs (Death of An Angel and Earth Angel)  and arranged to have the single released on the prestigious Imperial Records label.  The Viceroys (with Nancy Claire) single went nowhere, and it would be the last attempt by Nancy to release a national recording.

Although Nancy used the name “Claire” she was actually born in 1943 as Nancy Claire Penninger. She used Nancy Claire as her stage name-and who could blame her?  The name seemed so much more fitting for the petite, beautiful girl onstage.  Years later Nancy would officially change her surname to “Claire”  but most of her fans would never see her as Nancy Penninger in the first place. The name she chose to work under seemed so fitting.

Nancy’s earliest exposure to music wasn’t jazz, R&B or Rock and Roll.  It was Country & Western, mostly influenced by KVI DJ, Buck Ritchey and her exposure to his radio program.  Buck Owens also played a role.  Buck did a show on a station he co-owned (KAYE) in Puyallup WA.  As a young girl Nancy had played as an amateur with several C&W outfits, but it wasn’t until Nancy was invited to appear on a talent show televised by Tacoma’s KTNT that she got her break. A local Tacoma band The Versatones also appeared on the same show.  The Versatones had been founded by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle two masonry workers.  Their band would face adversity and challenges before emerging a couple of years later as The Ventures…the most successful instrumental band in rock history.

Del Halterman’s recounts in his book “Walk-Don’t Run: The History of The Ventures”  that Nancy
“strummed a guitar and sang cowboy songs under the watchful eye of her mother. When the TV show ended, the mother introduced herself to [the Versatones] as Nancy’s manager and described a problem that she hoped they could help solve. …[Clair’s] limited ability on guitar restricted the number of songs she was able to sing. Impressed with the Versatones, [she] proposed that they back Nancy on her show. There would be no pay, but [she] would bill the act as ‘Nancy Claire and the Versatones.’ Radio exposure being valuable and not easily obtainable, they accepted and proceeded to perform with her on KAYE each week for about two months”. (sited by Peter Blecha)


I
n fact Nancy occasionally reverted to her C&W roots as an adult and in 1965 she toured the west coast with some of the biggest country stars of her day-The Carter Family,  Skeeter Davis, Marty Robbins, and Merle Travis.


As the 60s progressed and The Northwest Sound made way for more rock, folk-oriented and psychedelic music.  Nancy spent more and more time raising a family, even though she drifted in and out of the music scene and kept up with old friends even though she was no longer in the public eye.  She wasn’t exactly forgotten, but she was certainly seen as a figure from a different era-even if that era had only been 5 or 6 years earlier.  As the 1960s wound down, Claire began singing with a hippie flower-power group, Paleface.  The band found modest success around the Tacoma and South Seattle.  She also sang with the bluesy band Easy Money, and later with a Top 40 band, The Royals.

Although Nancy appeared onstage less frequently she occasionally sat-in with some of her old  pals, and from 1970 thru 1972 she made regular appearances with Jr. Cadillac, a loose aggregation of players of former 50s and 60s regional bands. The line-up often consisted of the late Buck Ormsby (The Wailers), Bob Hosko and Jim Manolides (The Frantics), Jeff Afdem (The Dynamics and Springfield Rifle) and Harry Wilson (The Casuals and The Dynamics), drummer Steve Moshier (The Turnabouts) Les Clinkingbeard and Ned Neltner (Kidd Afrika/Issac Scott/Mark 5), Tom Katica, who passed away in 2010, and a host of others.  The band has played continuously since 1970 and plenty of well-known Northwest Sound artists have sat-in over those 47 years.

Nancy has also sat in alongside Merrilee Rush, Kathi Hart, Kathi MacDonald, Patti Allen as the Seattle Women in Rhythm and Blues,  She continued to make occasional sightings during the 70’s and in 1980 she took part in “The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show” put together by  Jr. Cadillac gathering featuring Anthony “Tiny Tony” Smith,  Little Bill Englehart and The Wailers with Gail Harris. Nancy also took part in Jr. Cadillac’s 12th Anniversary party at Parkers Ballroom on Aurora Avenue-one of the premier venues that hosted teen-dances in the late 50s and 60s.

Today Nancy sings with “Blues On Tap” featuring Steve Peterson, a 2013 nominee by the  Washington Blues Society for  Best Male Blues Singer; Bruce Ransom who’s shared bills with Taj Mahal, Elvin Bishop, Roy Gaines, Kenny Neal, Billy Branch, Jimmy Burns, Mitch Woods, Deanna Bogart, and Eden Brent;  Ray Hartman who’s credits include a long stint with the Dick Powell Band who’ve opened for B.B. King and The James Cotton Band; and Jim Plano former drummer of the psychedelic-era Crome Syrcus among other gigs.

Over the past few years Nancy Claire continues to show up now and again, even though her audience has aged along with her.  .  Her singles, although ranging from modest hits to flops are worth a listen and various you tube vids of the music is online.  As the one-time First-Lady of Seattle R&B she certainly deserves attention from a younger audience that can take a snapshot of Seattle’s original burst onto the national scene.

Nancy Claire is also a two time winner of  The Northwest Music Associations Hall of Fame Award. Both awards are well-deserved.

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources; Peter Blecha, “The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show reunion gig of local rockers kicks of on July 20, 1980″ (NWHistoryLink.org, Essay 10375, April 14, 2013); Steve Flynn,”The Music” (stevenflynnmusic.com, 2017); Peter Blecha “Nancy Claire (b. 1943)” (HistoryLink.org, Essay 10374, May 8, 2023): Del Halterman, “Walk-Don’t Run; The History of The Ventures” (LuLu Books, May 11, 2009); Peter Blecha, “Women of Northwest Rock: The First 50 Years (1957-2007)” (Essay 8935,HistoryLink.org); “Blues On Tap”, (bluesontap.net/bios.php); Photo courtesy of Nancy Claire.

 

The Frantics: How an R&B teen dance band became monsters of Psychedelic Rock

The story of The Frantics covers alot of NW music history.  It’s also a tale of two bands…at least.  The birth of what would become The Frantics goes back to 1955 when schoolmates Ron Petersen and Chuck Schoning formed a duo in 7th grade.  They initially named themselves The Hi-Fi’s.  Ron played guitar and Chuck playing accordian.  Soon Chuck was loaned a keyboard and the band would expand with new recruits Joel Goodman (drums), Dean Tonkins (bass), and Gary Gerke (piano). After paring this line-up down to Ron Petersen, Joel Goodman, Chuck Schoning and  Jim Manolides  the band would become known as The Four Frantics.  All members of The Four Frantics at this time were underage, so they hit the mighty teen dance circuit that was then at its height in the Northwest.  Later Bob Hosko would sit in as sax player so the band shortened its name to The Frantics. By 1958 the band had gone through a few more personnel changes, heralding in the first classic line-up of the band.  It was solidified with Ron Petersen (guitar), Joel Goodman (later, Don Fulton then,  Jon Keliehor) on drums, Chuck Schoning (keyboards), Bob Hosko (saxophone), and Jim Manolides (bass).  The band continued to play teen dances in the Puget Sound region, and by 1958 had become a local sensation.  They’d also attracted the attention of local label Dolton Records.

The Frantics sound was simple.  An incredibly tight rhythm section, highly proficient guitar playing and an up-front raunchy, R&B and Jazz influenced saxophone.   The result was both fun, danceable and a bit dangerous.  It was the sound of NW garage rock played with a little more finesse. The band was all-instrumental except for occassional appearances by locally in-demand vocalist Nancy Claire. Nancy made the rounds of the NW scene, both before and after her tenure with The Frantics, She played with the most iconic players of her era.  Nancy Claire had such a high profile in the 60s that she will be covered in her own future post.

By 1959 The Frantics were slated to record for Dolton Records with prominent engineer Joe Boles in the basement studio of his West Seattle home.  Boles was working with Dolton Records at the time and had done recordings and demos with soon-to-be-famous acts like The Fleetwoods, The Ventures and The Wailers. It was Boles himself that recorded The Ventures Walk Don’t Run and The Wailers Louie Louie, a song that became, and remains one of the seminal recording that would transform American Rock & Roll.  Although The Frantics were wildly popular in the Northwest, their recorded output stalled in the nether regions of the national charts.  Their three biggest national “hits” that made it into Billboard’s charts were Straight Flush that reached # 93 in the charts, Fog Cutter at #91 and their wildest outing Werewolf at #83.  Their last charting success had been slated for a Hallowe’en release in 1959 , but because of delays wouldn’t be released until January of 1960.  By that time it had lost it’s luster and missed the Halloween market it was intended for.

In 2012 a You Tube poster under the name “mroldies1″ (possibly Jim Manolides?) commented: ”I played bass in The Frantics. the original release (of Werewolf) had on the flip side a rocker called Checkerboard. When the payola scandal hit right as this record reached #53 (sic) with a bullet in its second week on the charts, the wolf howls were eliminated and ‘No Werewolf’ was on the b side of the re-release. the poem at the beginning is the voice of Bob Reisdorff (co owner of Dolton Records) the wolf howls are Kearney Barton, and the scream at the end is Bonnie Guitar (Dolton’s other co-owner) and there you have the truth.

The Frantics (like label-mates The Ventures)  interpreted the popular tunes of the day, but wrote most of their own material.  They also were not afraid to release what might be termed novelty records.  Certainly tracks like Werewolf (with it’s spooky-sounding intro and howls) and The Whip (which featured noted bull whip performer Monty Whiplash) had a schtick-like quality, but the music itself went way beyond gimmicks.

One of their biggest successes up to that point came on the night of February 22nd 1959 when the band were chosen as Bobby Darin’s back-up band at Parkers Ballroom in north Seattle.  Solo artists commonly travelled without a band in those days, and relied on advance men to choose musicians to play behind them in each city.   Darin was impressed enough with The Frantics that he asked them to back him on some recordings at Joe Bole’s studio the next day.  The band weren’t sure if Darin was serious, but quick arrangements were made to book the studio for the next morning, and as promised, Darin showed up with charts and lyrics for two songs he’d recently written: Dream Lover and Bullmoose.  After a successful, amiable session Darin and the band parted ways.  It was several months later that band members found out that Darin had taken the recordings to his label Atco.

The label loved the songs, but demanded they be re-recorded in NYC using professional studio musicians.  The recording of Dream Lover and Bullmoose were produced by the famed Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, but it was clear much of the songs’ arrangements were based on The Frantics original recordings with Darin.  This is especially apparent in Darin’s new recording of Bullmoose. Fortunately the band and Boles had been paid for their time, and they laughed off the incident.  This kind of thing was common in the early days of pop music. Dream Lover became one of Darin’s signature tunes as well as a multi-million seller, reaching #2 on the U.S. pop charts for a week and #4 on the R&B charts. In 1994 Darin’s son Dodd wrote that the song was a musical love letter to Dodd’s mother and Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee. The Frantics had missed out on a chance for widespread national recognition with Darin, but little did they know that some of the band’s members would later go on to make a more lasting mark.

The Frantics remained a popular draw throughout the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia and up and down the US West Coast.  Around this time Manolides left the group and was replaced by Jeno Landis.  When the Seattle World’s Fair opened in 1962 the band were in the midst of a residency at Dave Levy’s’s club on  5th Avenue near the site of the fair  They had all come of age and often played at local clubs and taverns.  Throngs of Fair attenders flocked to Dave’s 5th Ave. to hear the band and The Frantics wrote and recorded the World’s Fair themed Meet Me In Seattle Twist and The Gayway Twist. The single went nowhere in the charts, but it made for a good souvenir from the World’s Fair.  Collectors still search for mint copies of the flexi-disc.

Later that year musical differences between Chuck Schoning and Ron Petersen caused the band’s line-up to dissolve and then rise as two separate outfits. Schoning’s  Frantics had left their teen image behind them and become a serious R&B influenced rock outfit.  As more recordings were released by The Frantics.  Petersen chose to re-christen his band as Ron Petersen and The Accents.  His band later released one single (“Sticky” b/w“Linda Lou) on another of Seattle’s formidable ‘60s labels. Jerden Records. Meanwhile Schoner’s Frantics no longer took jobs in establishments geared to the teen crowd and hung out and jammed with serious Seattle legends like Little Bill Englehart, Dave Lewis, Mark Doubleday, Larry Coryell, Sarge West, Dicky Enfield, and Don Stevenson

From 1964 and onward The Frantics spent more and more time on the road and along with it came more personnel changes.  One change involved adding Jerry Miller, a guitarist from Tacoma.  After drummer Jon Keliehor was seriously injured in an automobile wreck (on his way to gigs in California) the band had to bring in Don Stevensen-an old friend from Seattle-to replace him. Various other members came and went and  during a series of local gigs in California’s Bay Area.  In the mid 60s the band was convinced to re-locate to the San Francisco area by a four-fingered guitarist playing in a band called The Warlocks.  The guitarist later went on to become a founding member of The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia.

The Frantics became more and more influenced by the brewing San Francisco Sound, and were surrounded by the growing movement that was burgeoning in the Bay Area.  They even began to dabble in psychedelia  by recording a single featuring the songs Human Monkey b/w Someday,  It was released by San Mateo based label, Action. It’s the only release by The Frantics not originally released on Dolton Records.

The band’s movement away from the traditional Frantics sound and toward the hippie-flower power, tie-dyed direction was causing another rift in the band, so by 1966 the band continued to change personnel  Bob Mosely, a former San Diego bassist was added. Hosko threw in the towel and went back to Seattle. Chuck Schoning was dismissed.  For a short time the band chose to work under the name Luminous Marsh Gas, but didn’t attract much of a following.

Shortly after the Frantics move to psychedelia, they were introduced to Skip Spence, the original drummer for Jefferson Airplane.  He’d also been an early member of Quicksilver Messenger Service, and played guitar in The Other Side.  Marty Balin was a fan of The Other Side and introduced Spence to  theJefferson Airplane as a potential member.  Spence played drums on the Jefferson Airplane debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off  but was kicked out of the band and replaced by Spencer Dryden even before the album was released.  Matthew Katz, the Airplane’s manager was also let go.  He was just beginning to become one of the most unscrupulous characters to come out of San Francisco’s psychedelic scene. Spence and Matthew Katz had been joined forces and were searching for players for a new project. Peter Lewis-son of actress Loretta Young-had already signed on.

Spence and Katz had their eyes on The Frantics guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson along with Bob Mosely, who had joined The Frantics shortly after their relocation to the Bay Area. All three of the Frantics agreed to join Lewis and Spence and it’s at this point The Frantics essentially morphed into one of the most important bands in rock history, Moby Grape. The name was supposedly thought up by Bob Mosley and Skip Spence, coming from the punch line of the somewhat corny riddle “What’s purple and swims?”

Shortly after forming the new line-up as Moby Grape the band decided that writing and singing was to be shared by all members, and the band would essentially allow all three guitarists (Spence, Miller and Lewis) to play leads with Mosely on bass and Stevenson as drummer. Soon Moby Grape was picked-up by Columbia Records and the began recording their first album.  Critical and popular success came quickly as the band was constantly gigging.  Their debut eponymous record is now regarded as one of the masterpieces of the psychedelic era and is regularly listed as one of the greatest recorded albums of all time.  The highlight of the record may be the Skip Spence-penned Omaha.  It’s a song that became a leading light of the San Francisco sound and regularly heard on radio stations around the world since it’s release.  It’s a perennial favorite of critics and fans alike.  In 2008 Rolling Stone’s Robert Christgau described the song as Moby Grape’s best single.  He went on to add:

“Jerry Miller, Peter Lewis and Skip Spence compete in a three-way guitar battle for two and a quarter red-hot minutes, each of them charging at Spence’s song from different angles, no one yielding to anyone else.”

Unfortunately Moby Grape would be dogged by problems from the very beginning. They had to endure poor management, contracts, their label, their producer and worst of all, addiction and mental illness.  In Jeff Tamarkan’s book Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane he laments Moby Grape by writing:

“The Grape’s saga is one of squandered potential, absurdly misguided decisions, bad luck, blunders and excruciating heartbreak, all set to the tune of some of the greatest rock and roll ever to emerge from San Francisco. Moby Grape could have had it all, but they ended up with nothing, and less.”

Both Spence and Mosely were victims of mental illness and drug addiction. Spence was notorious for his outrageous and often inappropriate behavior.  It’s what had earlier led to his firing by Jefferson Airplane.  Many times his actions devolved into violence.  Finally in 1968 Spence went over the edge during an LSD-fueled lapse into schizophrenia. He tried to chop down Don Stevenson’s door at The Apex Hotel in New York City.  His intent, he said was “to save him from himself” by killing Stevenson.  Spence had to be hospitalized for six months in Bellevue Hospital after this event. Even though his action had led to his dismissal from Moby Grape, Spence was often assisted by his former band mates during the course of his life.

An incident that shows the band’s failed management came when Moby Grape were slated to play one of the first outdoor rock festivals ever, the Monterey Pop Festival. Because of managerial disputes, Moby Grape was not included in the D.A. Pennebaker-produced film of the event, Monterey Pop. Footage of their performance remained unreleased until 2007 when it was included as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the Pennebaker’s groundbreaking documentary. According to Peter Lewis, when questioned about their not appearing in the movie, he recalled:

“Katz (their manager)  told Lou Adler (the festival’s organizer and promoter) they had to pay us a million bucks to film us at the Monterey Pop Festival. So instead of putting us on Saturday night right before Otis Redding, they wound up putting us on at sunset on Friday when there was nobody in the place.”

Obviously Adler was not amused by Katz’s demand

Soon after, another blow to the band occurred when in 1969 Mosely inexplicably quit the band to join the Marines.  He was discharged a few months later and eventually ended up homeless, despite offers of help from his fellow bandmates.  He had become embittered by a long dispute concerning the band’s ownership of their songs and, poor management and promotion and a dispute with their producer David Rubinson.  The entire tragedy was caused by Katz making a settlement with Rubinson by Mosely that the band never knew about at the time.  Mosely ended up living with addiction and mental illness on the streets for several years.

When Moby Grape was dismantled in 1971 the former Frantics members Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson joined up with John Barrett and John “Fuzzy” Oxendine to form The Rhythm Dukes. Don Stevenson played guitar, while Oxendine played drums.  Stevenson preferred to play drums as he had in The Frantics and Moby Grape so he left the band shortly after it was formed.  Upon Stevenson’s departure keyboardist Bill Champlin (formerly of The Sons of Champlin) signed on with the band.  After The Rhythm Dukes disbanded Champlin embarked on a solo career and later became a member of the hugely popular band Chicago.

After a career with such potential Moby Grape dissolved and were left with legal problems, failure to be paid their royalties and a history of bad promotional moves by their label.  They also had contractual obligations with Columbia Records dogging them and ongoing problems of who actually owned the name Moby Grape. That litigation would go on for decades.  In total Moby Grape had released six albums and received adulation by a wide audience for their live shows and recorded output.  Their debut album still remains a shining document of the era.  Every one of their albums have been re-released as full albums and as compilations.  There’s no doubt Moby Grape still have a huge fan base.  But they gained nothing but headaches and heartaches for their efforts.

In 1983 original members of Moby Grape, Lewis, Miller, Mosley, and Stevenson re-united and held a concert that was recorded and released as Moby Grape: 1984. The band attempted on several occasions to reunite Moby Grape with a series of new members.  Their attempts would not be realized until at least a decade later, with all but two original members-both of them original members of The Frantics, Jerry Miller and Don Stevenson.

In 1987 the band was re-united again, with the full original line-up of Moby Grape, along with It’s a Beautiful Day, Fraternity of Man, and The Strawberry Alarm Clock, for a couple of shows and also took part in a celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

In the ensuing decades Miller and Stevenson have spent time spreading the gospel of The Frantics, as well as resting on their laurels as members of Moby Grape.  They have re-popularized a band that may have only been a footnote in music history without them.  In a very real way, Moby Grape would not have existed if it was not for their earlier work. In 1985 The Frantics took part in a reunion at the Seattle Center.   The concert was held in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Seattle World’s Fair.   .

Here is a partial list of the aftermath of those who were associated with The Frantics and Moby Grape. It is by no means comprehensive and comments and corrections are welcome.

Jerry Miller has played alongside some of the greats of rock.  Robert Plant has pointed to Miller as a major influence for Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton once called Miller “the best guitar player in the world”. Rolling Stone magazine listed him at #68 as one of the ”100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time”.  Miller spends most of his time in Tacoma nowadays and gigs locally.  He makes the occasional forays into the outside music world as a member of the re-constituted Moby Grape. In 2009 Miller took the place of Sky Saxon of The Seeds during the California 66 tour soon after Saxon’s death and in 2010 played a gig during that years SXSW music festival.

Don Stevenson returned to the NW and become successful in real estate. He currently resides in Whistler BC Canada.  Stevenson also appeared with Moby Grape at the 40th anniversary San Francisco Summer of Love concert in Golden Gate Park. . In 2010, Stevenson performed with Jerry Miller and Omar Spence (son of Skip Spence) at SXSW in Austn.  That same year he released his first solo album, King of The Fools.  He is planning a second solo album and in the process of raising funds to release it through crowdsourcing.  If you’d like to help go to www.gofundme.com/rjxswe-fund-my-grandpa

Bob Hosko went on to become a founding member of Jr. Cadillac but left after 1972. Seattle historian Paul Dorpat remarked in a post in 2008 that “Hosko died years ago”

Jon Keliehor returned to Seattle, recuperated from his auto accident and went on to be a founding member of The Daily Flash.  Later he moved to the UK and now produces and records under his own name and leads music workshops in Glasgow, Scotland. His musical interests have evolved into exploration of esoteric, experimental and world music.  According to his website his credits include music for the dance Class, The London Contemporary Dance Theatre, and for Troy Game, presented by the Royal Ballet. He is director of  Dreamhouse, World Music Village in London and a co-composer of 1984 recording East Meets West (BRR18).  The music Celestial Nile initiated collaborative works for Venezuelan dancers and company, Danzahoy, and resulted in the development of his current catalogue of recordings. He recorded and co-composed Trance Gong for Gamelan Pacifica in Seattle, and has worked with Gamelan Naga Mas in Glasgow, Scotland where he now lives.

.Chuck Schoning  Joined Quicksilver Messenger and later recorded multiple albums under the name Chuck “Steaks” Schoning.  He played on Southern Comfort’s 1970  “Who Knows” (Columbia Records) and Todd Rundgren’s 1972 breakthrough album Something/Anything (Bearsville Records) During his later years Chuck became organist for the Trinity Community Church in San Rafael CA and for Senior Access in San Anselmo. He died in San Rafael on March 3rd 2001

Jim Manolides became a well-loved music and art curator in Seattle and Ocean Shores WA.  He bartended at Parnell’s jazz club in Seattle during the ’70s and ’80s, where he became the clubs’ most popular, most gregarious barman.  Later he spent time behind the counter at Nickel Cigar, on Yesler Way.  The space had earlier been The Manolides Gallery, an establishment Jim had opened in the early 1970’s. The last 13 years of his life he lived in Ocean Shores WA, where he died from a strok in May of 2016.

Joel Goodman is an Emmy Award-winning composer.  According to his website Joel “creates music for narrative feature films, documentaries, television, album releases and other forms of collaborative media. Joel has scored over 125 films and television programs that have received 5 Oscar nominations, 20 Emmy awards and over 30 Emmy nominations. He has scored over 40 films for HBO and composed the Main Theme for the long-running and critically acclaimed PBS series American Experience. His scores can regularly be heard in movie theaters and on television around the world”.

Bob Mosely suffered from schizophrenia and ended up living on the streets until former Moby Grape members got him back to work and able to support himself. Despite his circumstances Mosely was able to continue writing and recording. He has released five solo albums since his time in Moby Grape. His most recent solo release is True Blue released on the Taxim label in 2005.

Skip Spence died of lung cancer on April 16 , 1999 just days short of his 53rd birthday. After his dismissal from Moby Grape Spence spent much of his life institutionalized due to his schizophrenia and the ravages of years of addiction to heroin, cocaine and alcohol.  Soon after his release from NYC’s Bellevue Hospital in 1968 he managed to record the album Oar in Nashville.  Many critics and fans consider Oar to be one of the most painful, confused and harrowing albums of all time.  Multiple celebrations of his life were held immediately after Spence’s death, and every once in a while another event is celebrated to highlight his brilliant contribution to psychedelic rock.   In 1999 shortly after Spence’s death a tribute album was released. More Oar: A Tribute To The Skip Spence Album, The collection had contributions from Seattle-related musicians Mark Lanegan, Mudhoney and Minus 5 (a band formed by Young Fresh Fellows’ Scott McCaughey that includes a revolving cast including Barrett Martin, Jenny Conlee, Peter Buck, John Ramburg, Linda Pitmon, Jon Auer, Bill Reiflin, Ken Stringfellow, Kurt Bloch, Mike McCready, Jeff Tweedy, Chris Belew, Anna Shelton and Mike Mills among others in the constantly changing line-up that are all attached to the Seattle music scene…either directly or tangentially.

Peter Lewis is still writing and performing as a member of the presently  re-constituted Moby Grape and the reformed Electric Prunes,

 

Any updates or corrections are welcome

 

-Dennis R. White. Sources; “The Frantics: Seattle’s Top Teenage ‘50s Band” by Peter Blecha, “NW Music Archives” (1984); “Got a Revolution!: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane” by Jeff Tamarkan (Atria, 2003); “Dolton Album Discography” by David Edwards and Mike Callahan (bnspubs.com, November 2005); “Moby Grape Just Can’t Catch A Break” (NPR.com, December 21, 2007); “The Frantics” by Joel Goodman (PNW Bands, October 2003); “The Frantics” by Jon Keliehor (PNW Bands,December 2007 & April 2009). “The Frantics-Complete Recordings on Dolton” (Collectors Choice Music, 2004); “40 Essential Albums of 1967” by Robert Christgau and David Fricke (Rolling Stone July 12, 2007):“Jimmy Manolides, a Seattle musician and art curator, dies at 76” by Paul de Barros  (SeattleTimes, May 12th, 2016) “Moby Grape” Wikipedia entry, 26 June 2017, fact-checked by Dennis R. White, August 14th 2017); Jerry Miller official website (jerrymillerband.com); “Welcome to the Bob Mosley Website!” Bob Mosely official website (bobmosley.com); “The Frantics – Human Monkey” by theblog11(Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, January 25th, 2014); You Tube comment by mroldies1, (You Tube 2012); Jon Keilihor, (personal website at jonkeliehor.com); Joel Goodman (personal website at joelgoodman.com); discogs.com; photograph copyright Liberty Records.

Ballin’ Jack

Ballin’ Jack was formed in Seattle by former childhood friends Luther Rabb and Ronnie Hammon. Both of them had gone to school with and been friends with Jimi Hendrix at the city’s Garfield High School.  In the early 60s Luther Rabb played around the NW with several moderately successful outfits on the teen and R&B circuits.   He had even played saxophonist alongside Jimi Hendrix’s in The Velvetones, the first band Hendrix had been involved in.  Ronnie Hammon was a drummer who’d also backed a few Seattle bands-none of them particularly notable.  In 1967 Rabb and Hammon decided to form their own band.  Rabb, a multi-accomplished musician would leave the saxophone behind and switch to bass guitar.  Hammon continued drumming, thus forming a strong rhythm section.  Almost immeadiately they added Jim Coile on flute and Tim McFarland on trombone. A bit later Jim Walters would come onboard as their saxophonist and Glen Thomas providing the lead guitar.  The name Ballin’ Jack has obscure origins.  It could be based on “Ballin’ the Jack” a 1913 song written by Jim Burris and  Chris Smith.  It could refer to the and the ensuing dance that became popularized by the song.  The expression “Ballin’ the Jack” also has ties to railroad workers who used the expression “to go full speed”.  But the band’s use of the shortened expression probably was chosen for one of two other reasons.  Sometimes the term “ballin’ the jack” implied having a great time.  There’s certainly enough examples of the expression being used in film, on Broadway and popular music….but sometime the meaning was (literally) deep, full-on sex.  Blues great Big Bill Broonzy sang in “Feel So Good”

My baby’s coming home
I hope that she won’t fail because I feel so good, I feel so good.
You know I feel so good, feel like balling the jack

As Bessie Smith sang in “Baby Doll” in 1926,

He can be ugly, he can be black
So long as he can eagle rock and ball the jack

There’s several ways to interpret the term, but “ballin the jack” was an expression often used in jazz and blues circles to mean deep, full and fast sex.  It may be this veiled, slang reference is the meaning the band intended their name to represent.

Ballin’ Jack found themselves moving to Los Angeles, living in a large house cum-home studio near the Sunset Strip.  Although all of the members had put plenty of time paying dues, their signing to Columbia Records and tour success came almost immediately, partly due to the encouragement of their old friend Jimi Hendrix.  One key to their success is that Ballin’ Jack had been formed not only as a soulful funk unit, but also as one of the “horn bands” that were popular on the fringe of pop music in the late 60s and early 70s.  They found themselves treading the waters of both James Brown and Sylvester Stone along with bands like WAR, Pacific Gas and Electric, Cold Blood, Tower of Power and other rock bands featuring horns that were arising from on the West Coast.  Obviously the most successful of these bands was the more commercial Chicago Transit Authority-later shortened to Chicago-from the Windy City

Many of these bands had begun creating a new hybrid of soul, jazz, funk with strong horn sections. They also followed the current (at the time) move to integrate multi-ethinic players into their line-up. Ballin’ Jack could be counted among this new genre, and their rise had been quick, but Ballin’ Jack they only found modest success outside the Northwest and Bay Area of being an incredibly tight and incredibly well-loved live act.  They played the college circuit, auditoriums  like the Fillmore West and the Fillmore East and a myriad of rock festivals.  In 1970 Billboard Magazine proclaimed

“Ballin Jack’s’ reputation was that live their shows were so good that fans were known to have left afterwards, and that some headliners had actually refused to have them again as an opening act”.

Unfortunatly none of this translated into the kind of album sales and radio play they deserved. The band only lasted five years, but not before becoming a reliable touring draw and Jimi Hendrix insisting they be included as openers for several of his 1970 Cry of Love tour. After .Hendrix’s death that year they would continue to share bills with the likes of B.B. King, Spirit, Elton John, Sly and The Family Stone, The Kinks, and more of the most famous artists of their day.  They even found themselves playing two of America’s most venerated small clubs, The Bottom Line in New York City, and The Troubador in Los Angeles.  The band also played two separate sold-out dates in their hometown, at Seattle’s Paramount Theater in 1973 and 1974 respectively.  In 1973 Ballin’ Jack were featured on Burt Sugarman’s prestigious late-night show The Midnight Special.  One thing that distinguished the show was that bands played live in the TV studio.  No lip-synching.  No backing tracks.  Of course, Ballin’ Jack tore the place up.

In 1974 Ballin’ Jack called it quits due to poor album and single sales, and the band’s running it’s natural course. Co-founder Luther Rabb went on to tour as vocalist with Santana in 1976.  He then began working with Lola Falana and in 1977 released his own solo album Street Angel. Throughout the early to mid 1980’s Rabb was the bass player for

In 1986 Rabb was involved in a serious automobile accident that left him with nerve damage-consequently ending his career as a bassist.  At that point Rabb moved on to management and production until, sadly, he was left paralyzed by a stroke in 2002.  Eventually Rabb died in 2006, but he’s still recognized for his incredible talents in Ballin’ Jack,  Santana, and WAR.  He had kept close contacts with friends and musicians in the Seattle area, where his passing also had a great effect.

Although Ballin’ Jack never found the audience they should have in the 70s it’s ironic that since the band’s demise their music has been used in TV and Radio ads for the ESPN X Games and Found A Child was re-recorded in 2005, by Kon & Amir” and released as 12″ vinyl for sale to hip-hoppin’ live DJ’s.    The Beastie Boys also sampled Ballin’ Jack’s  “Never Let ‘Em Say” on their album Paul’s Boutique.  Their music has also been sampled by Ozamatli, Gang Starr and DoubleXX Posse Cheetah Girls .  Their most famous and most heavily sampled Found A Child was used liberally on Young MC’s international hit, Bust A Move.

 

-Dennis R. White.  Sources: “Luther James Rabb”  “Jump Up: “Crusin’ The Super Highway…”From Hendrix To Hip Hop”)  (DancingMonica.com); Ballinjack.com:  PNW Bands;  Harry Blair, The Louie Report, the blog for all things LOUIE LOUIE; Harry Blair ” RIP Luther Rabb, Seattle musician with Jimi Hendrix”,Feb 16, 2006.

 

 

 

The Spectators

The Spectators played fewer than 20 gigs. They performed only 15 songs live. But their reputation as one of the most original and accomplished bands of the early Seattle alternative scene continues to grow into the 21st century. Their first gig was December 8th 1980, the same day John Lennon was gunned down in New York City. It was just like most other nights at Seattle’s legendary Gorilla Room on Second Avenue; a handful of people showed up, and more free beer was drunk up by the bar staff and their under-aged buddies than was ever sold. But that night one of the finest Seattle bands of the era played to the nearly empty club. Over the next few months the band would be regulars at the Gorilla Room and WREX and end up on the stage of Seattle’s Showbox Theater at least twice, as co-headliners, and as openers for The Stranglers. Later, Bob Mould, having played three dates with The Spectators while on the first national tour by Hüsker Dü , called them “the greatest unsigned band in America“. Less than a yearlater The Spectators were gone.

The Spectators combination of surf, metal, jazz and punk predates most alt bands with similar influences by a full decade. They were a power-trio, but one that dealt their deadly blows with intricate and subtle precision rather than blind swings. This was a band that had brains as well as brawn. By using a limited amount ofeffects, guitarist Byron Duff and bass player Stanford “Stan” Filarca created a sound so tightly woven that it was hard totell who was playing lead, where the rhythm was coming from and how they could possibly sound so big and layered at the same time. Add to the mix the powerful, inventive and perfect tempo of drummer Jeff Farrand and it’s hard to think of any finer trio in rock, signed or unsigned, even today.

During their short life The Spectators recorded very little of their output in the studio-about six studio tracks still exist. Unfortunately most of it has been lost or the tapes have degraded so badly they’re practically unlistenable.  Fortunately there still are some fairly high quality mono recording caught on a cassette player using a condenser mike! Some of these cassettes and board mixes have been discovered, including this recording of Call It Chaos. One-time Seattle promoter and indie label owner Maire Masco found an almost-perfect copy of the song (and four others) hidden away in an attic. Another notable tape that has surfaces is a live-in-studio session they did with producer/engineer Ed Shepard at his Seattle space The Funhole. Two of those songs were released on Masco’s 1982 cassette-only compilation release PRAVDA Volume I. The cassette is incredibly rare, and those that remain are worn-out, but the brilliance of The Spectators still shines through. They show the deft ability to meld bass, rhythm and lead guitar sections into their music so effectively that it can confound the listener into thinking there are far more instrument than a simple trio at work.  Oddly enough, The Spectators biggest influence wasn’t punk…it was the Prog Rock of the 1970s and early 80s.  It’s hard to envision that in their music.

After The Spectators disbanded, guitarist Byron Duff faded from the Seattle scene, much to it loss. Drummer Jeff Farrand left the NW for San Francisco. Bassist Stan Filarca managed to fill duties-although a bit funkier-for another of Seattle’s best bands to emerge in the 1980s The Beat Pagodas. He used the same creative arsenal as he did in The Spectators allowing for them to revel in their “no guitar“ ethos. Byron Duff re-emerged briefly in the late 1980s with his band Dive, Moth and more recently as guitarist for the band Idiot Culture, who finally released a brilliant album in 2012.

Duff was no slacker in the lyrics department either. That first night the band played at Seattle’s notorious Gorilla Room an old beat-up big-screen TV projected flickering images behind them. As someone behind the bar changed channels back and forth they stopped on an old sci-fi flick. Giant locusts were attacking a horrified city. At that moment, by coincidence, the band lit into one of their signature tunes, Idiot Culture – a title Duff would later take as a band name. As the creatures wrecked havoc and terrified the population Byron sang:

There is

Something of great size

Out of control in the head

Of an insect

Of an INSECT!

“Great size and out of control”…it’s a perfect metaphor for The Spectators

Call it Chaos is one of the few remaining songs from sessions produced by Jack Weaver at Seattle’s Triangle Studio.  A few years later the studio was re-named “Reciprocal Recording” and the room became the home of seminal grunge recordings engineered and produced by Jack Endino. The song begins in a slightly more pop style than typical of The Spectators, but it was soon apparent the song wasn’t going for the radio-friendly new wave sound popular at the time. It implodes into a pile of chaotic, but intentional sonic bricks…each one falling on another in an almost precise way. It’s an example of what The Spectators were best at; simplicity appearing as much more than the sum of it’s parts.

-Dennis R. White. Sources: Byron Duff, Stanford Filarca