“The band almost didn’t happen” Ken Deans, former drummer for The HeatersThe Heats tells me. I’m on the phone with him as he’s perched in his office above the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio California; the site of the most important multi-day music festival in the United States; The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival…or simply “Coachella” as it’s commonly referred to. Ken, who is now the “Logistics Manager” for Goldenvoice Entertainment tells me he’s been up for about 90 days, but just as Coachella is being dismantled.
He still has a several more events to work on. The Bonnaroo Festival held in Manchester Tennessee and then for the annual Stagecoach Festival, (back at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio) which is becoming the largest gathering of C&W artists and fans in the country. In fact, Ken and Goldenvoice works with almost every major outdoor music festival in the United States. They also book top-notch concerts and events. I’m surprised he’s carved out time for me to talk with him, but he doesn’t rush, he’s full of anecdotes and stories that I don’t need to prompt him to answer. He’s surprisingly relaxed for a man with so much to do.
It’s been a long slog from The Heats to where he’s gotten, but he admits he wouldn’t have come so far except for starting out in The Heaters/The Heats a band that was once Seattle’s presumed contender for attaining fame and fortune.
“It was an accident” he says. “Keith Lilly and I were scheming to put a band together and find a female front singer to go to Alaska to make money. That’s all we were thinking about. So, it was Keith myself Steve Pearson, Gordon (“Rothberger…Rosman?… or maybe Craig Roper”) playing bass. We asked this woman named Kim to come and jam. It was awful. It was truly painful. We were trying to be like Burgundy Express; complete lounge bullshit”.
The band at the time consisted of Deans on drums, Steve Pearson on guitar, Keith Lilly on guitar (he’d later become bassist)
“Steve Pearson says to me;
‘Hey!” I have no desire to do this but I like playing with you and I met this guy and we’ve been talking about jamming, Maybe the four of us could jam some night”
The guy Steve was talking about was Don Short, who (with Steve) went on to be an integral part of the band as a writer, player and singer.
Erik Lacitis, was the Seattle Times feature writer who helped make The Heaters/The Heats a household name. He wrote in one of his early articles championing the band that Don Short and Steve Pearson first met at a Jack-In-The-Box somewhere in the suburbs of Seattle in 1975. It was late at night and only the drive-thru window was open so Don asked some kids in a car if he could join them to put in his order. Steve Pearson was one of the passengers in the car. Soon the chance meeting turned to a discussion on rock and roll between Short and Pearson…a subject both young men were drawn to. Both Steve and Tom found out they’d been playing in garage bands and had favorite bands in common.
“The two exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch, even getting together a couple of times to jam. The young men found they had the same tastes in music, They both looked for guidance to the back-to-basics just being released by British rockers. They both despised the bland, formula ‘album oriented’ pap and disco that dominated the airwaves at the time.”
A few days after talking to Ken I’m on the phone with Steve Pearson. He’s heard that some guy in Seattle has been trying to get in touch with him. He tells me;
“I’m a luddite. I don’t have a cell phone, I don’t do anything but our drummer does all the social media (for his band, British Racing Green). I don’t know if we have a website or a facebook page. He’ll pass on “call this guy” or “this person said this” or whatever. He sent me a message and said “call this guy” So I called and originally when I called you I didn’t even know why I was calling….if you wanted me to work on your car or whatever (he laughs) I didn’t know”
“When I began playing it was all these “Glorious Seattle Bands”, from ‘Bighorn’ on down’ says Pearson. ‘They were cover bands, They had semi’s full of gear. They had five road crew. They pretended they were the bands they emulated. Some of the guys were really good players and wonderful people, but the bands themselves were the antithesis of what you’d think of a rock and roll band” Ironically The Heats drummer Ken Deans had formerly played in one of the “Glorious Seattle Bands that both The Heaters and Pearson despised.
Deans good-naturedly admits before The Heaters he belonged to a group called Goliath.
“I had come from being in a glam/metal band and playing the midwest circuit. We had a Zeppelin tribute. We had a Jethro Tull tribute and we did a bunch of UFO, but at the core of it it was kinda fun because we would also do a bunch of Yardbirds stuff”.
Steve had played a bit with Jim Basnight, Keith Lilly had been in a band called The Daily Planet and Don had just returned from a year living in London. At one time Keith and Ken had been in a band together called ‘Money’.
Although the new band’s first jam was a total failure, their second session went far better. On Thanksgiving Eve, 1978 Steve Pearson, Ken Deans, Keith Lilly and Don Short met at a rehearsal space below a convenience store in Kenmore called The Night And Day. The band started to rehearse at 9 PM, playing everything from the Stones to Chuck Berry to what Ken calls “all the usual jam stuff and blues stuff”
After warming up with covers and jams someone said ‘Hey! let’s learn a song!’ and all of a sudden Don said ‘I’ve got one, wanna fool around with it ?’ Before they knew it it was 10 AM the next morning and they’d come up with six or seven new songs. Deans also remembers all of them looking at each other and saying “Well, fuck, this is kinda weird”
“I don’t think I’ve ever felt anything so natural before in my life” says Ken.“It seemed all of a sudden overnight we’d known each other forever. In the case of Keith and Steve and I, we kinda had known each other, (they’d all gone to Inglemoor High School) but we didn’t know Don from anywhere before he came into the room that night. It was really an amazing night so we decided to keep going. We made a conscious effort to only play the songs we wanted to play,…no matter if it happened to be on KZAM or KCMU we’d do it because we liked the song.”
The rehearsal space also helped the band come up with a name. Working overnight in a basement in late November made one thing almost more important than anything else; a heater. The band dubbed themselves The Heaters
The band found gigs fairly soon, Usually playing to small audiences; but it gave them a chance to work on their own material, and fill it out by playing songs by some of the then up-and-coming artists that had been coming out of England,. Seattle fans weren’t familiar with most of these songs, and The Heaters never set out to fool their audience but it was clear the kinds of songs they were covering were exciting, took on a whole new approach and were extremely danceable.
“We were very young and very naive”, says Pearson, “but also highly opinionated as far as what we wanted; what we like and didn’t like I might say. And it was great! We followed the vision of Don Short and me. We had a very narrow-minded approach to what we liked, and what we didn’t like. Anything that felt like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles from the 1960s we liked, Anything that felt like ‘Arena Rock’ we hated.”
At the time The Heaters came on the scene it was bar bands and cover bands that ruled the clubs and taverns of the northwest. Another new and alternative scene had begun to coalesce around bands like The Telepaths (later The Blackouts), Jim Basnight’s The Moberly’s and The Meyce, Student Nurse,The Look and scores of others writing their own material….some of whom fled to San Francisco or Los Angeles to be more appreciated and find labels (The Mentors, The Screamers,The Lewd and The Avengers all took this approach) It was a phenomenon Neil Hubbard would call “The Seattle Syndrome” for his groundbreaking 1981 collection of Seattle’s alternative music bands; Become too big to stay in Seattle and move to another city in hopes of becoming bigger, but in fact becoming a small fish in a new pond. But these were bands had relatively small fan bases in Seattle and the rest of the country at the time. It’s clear they would help inspire what became known as the Seattle Sound (or “grunge”) two decades later, but local radio and the majority of music fans at the time were ignoring them in favor of “good time” cover bands, industry-fed top 40 music and Heavy Metal.
It’s hard to say why Seattle suddenly burnt out as a hotbed for mainstream talent by the early 1970s. Seattle and northwest in general had been a hotbed of talent in the late 50s until the mid 60s, Of course Jimi Hendrix had become a worldwide phenomenon, but he was dead by 1970; but there was one band that would come to be a bigger success than all Seattle bands before it, excepting Jimi Hendrix, Heart, a band that wasn’t even initially associated with Seattle. seemed explosive when they first hit the big time. Ironically, on paper they were practically what the The Heaters despise most about “Arena Rock”. But Heart was distinct in it’s two very talented sisters out front proving that they could do it just as well…and better…than the boys. Besides, as Pearson told me. “They were groundbreaking, Ann’s voice cannot be denied”. The Wilson sisters too, were trying to kick down some doors.
The band that would become Heart was formed in the same suburbs as The Heaters; Kenmore and Bothell Washington, just a few miles north of Seattle. In 1967 bassist Steve Fossen. guitarist Roger Fisher, drummer Ray Schaefer and Don Wilhelm on guitar, keyboards and lead vocals formed a band the called The Army. The band would go through many various line-ups and different names over the years but were first re-named ‘White Hart’. The word ‘Hart’ is an old English term for what Americans call a ‘stag’; specifically a red deer stag more than five years old. The name of the book referenced Arthur C. Clarke’s ‘Tales from the White Hart’, a collection of short stories named after a thinly veiled London pub called The White Horse. During the 1950s the actual White Horse (The White Hart in Clarke’s compendium) was the center of the universe for British science-fiction writers and fans. The premise of the collection ‘Tales from the White Hart’ was that tellers of tall-tales met regularly at the fictional ‘White Hart’ pub, and the storied they spun were re-told for the reader by the fictional character Charles Willis, who is in reality Arthur C.Clarke himself. The tales Charles Willis re-told were actually Clarke’s original stories.
The name White Hart was intended as the name for another local band, but The Army got permission from the band’s leader Toby Cyr, to use the name. The band originally to be called White Hart became Raisin’Cain instead. Having secured the name, the band previously called The Army decided to add an “e” making the name White Heart. By the early ‘70s more line-up changes would take place, one of which was the addition of Ann Wilson (the exact year is unclear) resulting in another name change to Hocus Pocus. In 1973 Ann’s sister Nancy Wilson joined the band and after a few months the band reverted to the name White Heart and eventually to Heart.
Roger Fisher’s brother Mike was about to be drafted when he decided to flee to Canada. On one of his trips sneaking back across the border to visit friends and family in Seattle, Mike attended a show featuring his brothers’ band Heart It was here that Mike Fisher and Ann Wilson met and fell in love. Ann was determined to follow Mike back to Canada so soon she joined him in Vancouver B.C.. Steve Fossen also decided to move to Canada in late 1972, and Roger soon followed. Shortly after the move both Brian Johnstone (keyboards) and John Hannah (drums) showed up in Canada. It was during this period that Roger Fisher and Nancy Wilson (while they were still in Seattle) became involved. Roger and Nancy joined the rest of the band in Vancouver British Columbia. When Nancy Wilson came on board as a guitarist the band was complete.., Johnstone and Hannah would shortly return to the United States, but replacements would show up soon enough.
In 1975 Heart made demo’s with producer Mike Flicker-who would go on to be their long-time producer over the course of the 70s and early 80s. Howard Leese was brought in as a session player, filling out the demo with guitar and keyboards formerly played by Johnstone and Hannah. Leese soon became a full-time member of the band. Producer Mike Flicker also brought in drummers Duris Maxwell, Dave Wilson, Kat Hendrikse as well as Mike Derosier. A host of session players became part of the album. By 1975 Mike Derosier had become Heart’s full-time drummer.
The band’s demo’s made the rounds but no major label was ready to bite. Still determined to make a splash the band went into Can-Base Studios in Vancouver, again with producer Mike Flicker at the helm. Without Heart having a label or distribution the Canadian investors who had backed Can-Base Studios decided to take on and release an album on their own independent Mushroom Records, then managed by Shelley Siegel. The album which became Dreamboat Annie was only released in Canada over its first few months, It’s airplay and sales were helped along by a particular Canadian law meant to protect Canadian television,the arts and musicians. The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) controlled and enforced the Broadcasting Act of Canada. The Broadcasting Act (at the time) demanded at least 25% of Canadian content must be of Canadian origin. Regulations concerning broadcast quotas have become practically un-enforceable in the 21st century because of the advent of online content, cable networks and NAFTA but at the time Dreamboat Annie was released it was a very important tool for Canadian artists of all sorts. The band and the band’s producer were not Canadian, but Mushroom Records was a Canadian label and the album was recorded in Canada, thus making it eligible for heightened airplay on Canadian radio. This exposure initially caused the sale of about 30,000 copies in Canada, Not numbers like major American acts, but more than many Canadian artists. The music industry sat up and paid attention.
Many northwesterners knew a bit of the history of Heart as a local band, and sales of imports were fair in the region, but most Americans assumed Heart was a Canadian band because of their first brush with success was there. After their Canadian success Mushroom Records opened a US subsidiary and originally released Dreamboat Annie in the Seattle area on February 14, (Valentine’s Day) 1976, Dreamboat Annie sold approximately 25,000 more copies in the northwest alone.
Mushroom Records knew it had a potential hit on its hands and began a wide release in the U,S, with a successful city-by-city roll out. It was time-consuming but Mushroom Records’ Shelley Siegal knew it was the right strategy. The album was propelled by two of the most iconic rock songs of the early 1970s. ‘Crazy on You’ and ‘Magic Man’. ‘Crazy on You’ made it number 35 on the US Billboard charts, and later ‘Magic Man’ made it to number nine. The album Dreamboat Annie peaked at number seven on the Billboard charts, and eventually recieved platinum status in the United States (over one million units sold) in 1976, and double platinum (400,000 units total) in Canada in 1979. It has been claimed by some that Heart’s initial success was that Mushroom Records head, Shelley Siegel ended up convincing “the guys that filled jukeboxes” to put ‘Magic Man’ into the slot that was meant for The Rolling Stones “Brown Sugar”. It’s only rumor and speculation, but if it’s true it was one more fantastically successful move by Mushroom and Siegel
Inevitably success brings lawsuits. Mushroom claimed they had a two-record deal and demanded another with the band instead of selling their contract on to a major label. Mike Flicker, who had signed on to be the band’s designated producer quit the label leaving Heart without a contracted producer at Mushroom. This created a Catch 22; No producer, no record. Things were further inflamed when Mushroom released advertising suggesting the Wilson sisters were lesbian lovers. The members of Heart were furious and felt the label itself had broken the contract with them.
Mushroom then released a throwaway album called Magazine filled with unfinished tracks and a couple of live performances (recorded at The Aquarius in Seattle). The band distanced themselves from Magazine as being an unauthorized release. Lawsuits were filed. A court ordered Mushroom Records to pull the album from the racks and allow the band to remix it and add new vocals. The revamped album was re-released in 1978 and made it to number 17 on the US Billboard charts, with a single, Heartless, that made it to number 24 on the US Billboard charts. Eventually Magazine went platinum in the US and Canada. It’s not a very good album, but today it is somewhat of a collectible since the album was originally printed with a colored vinyl design. After the dust settled Heart signed a multi-album deal with Portrait Records, a sub-label of Epic Records, and later Columbia.
So what does all this have to do with The Heaters? Well, both bands would soon share the same management, (Albatross) The Wilson sisters became vocal champions of the band. Ann Wilson produced a demo and a video for them and was instrumental in the release of The Heats album ‘Have An Idea ’on their management’s Albatross Records. The album was produced by Heart’s Howard Leese. Members of the original band ‘The Army’ had also attended the same high school as Heaters members. The Heats would continue issuing singles on Albatross Records and tour with Heart. The Heaters involvement with Heart was unequivocal…and they had an additional tie-in…
Ken Deans says;
I clearly remember the day I wanted to be a rock guy. The Army (pre-Heart) was playing down in the Kenmore shopping mall in front of Olsen’s drug store. This was probably 1967 and I said “that’s what I wanna do!”
Heart’s story also provided a cautionary tale to The Heaters, and foreshadowed in some ways the struggle The Heaters/Heats were about to wade into.
In 1979 The Heaters were playing the ‘Old Mill Tavern’, ‘The Town Pump’ and then got Doug Boad at Farwest Entertainment to book them into the ‘Central Tavern’,‘The Alki Tavern’ and ‘The Shire’-across from the Admiral Theater in West Seattle-the place the band later broke out of. Soon they were introduced to Norm Caldwell and his business partner Don Kellman who were running and managing The Edmonds Theater. Their formula was to book up-and-coming bands with classic cult films.
In a September 1979 article, Seattle Times rock critic Patrick MacDonald asked the question;
“A movie theater with a dance floor?
He went on to say “That’s the Edmonds, probably the only one of it’s kind in the world. For the past few months the old but handsomely refurbished neighborhood theater on Main Street in downtown Edmonds (about 15 miles north of Seattle) has been featuring rock ‘n roll movies with live bands as a second feature, The concept has been so successful that the theater has been racking up record days at the ticket booth”.
MacDonald pointed out that several of the northwest’s best new rock bands-including The Heaters, The Moberlys, The Cowboys, Red Dress, The Girls, The Jitters and others-had their popularity boosted by appearances at the Edmonds Theater.
The Heaters first performance at The Edmonds Theater shared billing with the the 1956 film The Girl Can’t Help It, starring Jayne Mansfield in a va-va-va-voom, over the top performance and a soundtrack featuring Gene Vincent, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, Teddy Randazzo and Fats Domino among others, The film was and still is a high point in bringing rock and roll to a mass theater audience, as well as being terrifically funny in it’s own right.
“That’s where everything started for us” says Steve Pearson. Ken Deans agrees, adding “That’s probably the best gig we ever did in our lives”
Norm Caldwell who was doing the bookings at The Edmonds Theater told MacDonald:
“The bands love to play here as an alternative to playing the bar circuit. They get to play on a stage to a younger audience that pays attention to them. Bands turn down higher paying jobs to play here because they like it so much”.
MacDonald, who could sometimes fall into the trap of hyperbole, was spot-on in his assessment of the Edmonds Theater, and Norm Caldwell was not simply saying whatever he could in order to bring in warm bodies. What both of them claimed was absolutely true. Kids from all over the region (including Seattle) would make the trek to Edmonds to see these shows.
According to Caldwell at the time some of the other upcoming pairings would included Nicholas Rogue’s Performance (starring Mick Jagger) with Red Dress, and the film Stardust (starring David Essex) would be paired with the band Citizen Sane. Later The Heaters would have another prime gig at The Edmonds Theater, playing for the NW premier of The Ramones’ Rock and Roll High School.
There’s no doubt the Edmonds Theater’s brief period of pairing new music with cult classics helped develop the latest northwest “scene” that was rising in the region’ but sadly very little of what happened at the Edmonds Theater was documented. Very few photos and no videos of the performances have come to light. The Edmonds Theater is now The Edmonds Center for the Arts, and hosts a great line-up of exhibits, music and dance. It also shows first run films at reasonable prices….perhaps the only small, independent theater to do so left in the state.
Soon after The Heaters performance there Ken Deans remembers;
“We were doing this gig playing at ‘The Shire’ in West Seattle. Wednesday through Saturday for $400 and there were usually twelve people in the room. We were making $100 each a week. So, (after their appearance at The Edmonds Theater) we’re sitting down with northwest rock writers and all of a sudden these guys start deciding what they’re going to do. I thought “this is weird, we’ve got the guy from the Seattle P-I, The guy from the Seattle Times and we’re discussing columnist Erik Lacitis who wanted to do a series, so they said “Erik you do the series” Erik says ‘I’m gonna need a photographer, we’re gonna shoot some pictures. Be here tomorrow at 3:00’. So we were “uh..uh..OK”
Lacitis says he doesn’t remember this meeting with the other writers, He says only he and his good friend George Arthur (another columnist) saw The Heaters at The Edmonds Theater the night in question. He says he was inspired to write about The Heaters on his own because “they blew me away”, There was no convening between writers, although it’s possible they did gather among themselves later and talked about the band.
Nonetheless. Deans recalls the unquestioned truth;
“So we go down there and sit around and talk with Erik for awhile, and the photographer had brought in ladders. He’s climbing up ladders and taking these shots and doing all sorts of stuff and we’re going ‘yeah, OK’. Then Erik says ‘I think it’s going to run in Saturday’s paper’. We’re thinking ‘Wow.Cool’ but we really didn’t know what that meant at the time.
“Quite frankly we didn’t know who Erik Lacitis was because we weren’t a bunch of front section newspaper reading people yet. Then the next Saturday night Keith and I were driving home pretty early in the morning. We were still living with our parents at the time; over in ‘Arrowhead’ in Kenmore. So Keith says ‘Hey! I bet the Saturday morning paper is out. Let’s stop by the 7-11 and see if it’s there yet’. So I run in and grab a paper, I threw the first two sections away and start going through the entertainment section, and I go ‘Ha! there’s nothing, I think we got cut’. And then Keith looks at me and goes ‘y’know I think Erik Lacitis wrties ‘real’ articles. He might even be in the front section’. I look at Keith and said ‘OH YEAH?’
“So I start flipping the pages. At the time ‘The Seattle Times’ had a section called ‘The Page’. I flip the paper over and above the fold is all picture of ‘The Heaters’ and below the fold it’s all an article on us. Nothing else. I thought ‘Holy Fuck! How did this happen?’ So we went back to the store and bought every copy we could. Then I called Steve and Don and said ‘Hey guys, have you seen the paper?’ All we knew at that time was that this was amazing”.
“Everybody in Seattle’s going to see this because back then newspapers were still NEWSPAPERS. So the next night Keith and I got back in our car and drove back to West Seattle, to ‘The Shire’ We pulled into the back parking lot. There was only one space open so we thought ‘maybe it’s going to be a good night’. When we opened the back door of the club and it was packed. We walked in and people started cheering and outside there was a line down the street”.
Steve Pearson remembers something similar. He says;
“We played at this club down in West Seattle called ‘The Shire’, and nobody came in. We would play to an empty house.and gradually the local musicians started coming in. Then Erik Lacitis, (because of the Edmonds Theater gig) came out and took some pictures of us and wrote an article about us in ‘The Seattle Times’. The next night I was walking in the back door of ‘The Shire’ and people started applauding. I turned around to see what famous person they might be applauding for. I’m not making this up. This is as factual as anything in my life. I had no idea…the club was jam-packed with musicians…people…everybody from Seattle wanted to see this new band called ‘The Heats’ or ‘The Heaters’ back then. And we tore it up. You would think we’d be awed by that-and in a way I was awed by it-but we saw that as our chance to kill. And we did. We were absolutely seize-the-moment teenagers and we never even had to talk about it. We just walked out and said to ourselves “this is gonna happen” and then made it happen.
Around this time The Heaters became acquainted with Buck Ormsby, one of the original Fabulous Wailers. Buck was a producer and worked occasionally with the reformed Sonics as well as The Wailers. He had co-founded and run the local label Etiquette that had released The Sonics, The Galaxies, Gail Harris, Rockin’ Robin Roberts, and The Wailers themselves. Ormsby became a mentor to The Heaters, a friend and their first de facto manager/producer. At the time Ormsby’s label Etiquette was in hiatus, but Ormsby would go on to revive the label around 1980. It’s no surprise that most of his life Buck spent in the northwest music scene in one capacity or another. He was also one of its’ biggest and most revered figures.
Steve Pearson tells me his thoughts on Buck;
“Buck Ormsby was great. But most of the the biggest thing we got from Buck Ormsby is that he was basically an overgrown teenager that had picked up an instrument and went out and rocked, just like us. He didn’t go to Berklee School of Music. He didn’t have pretentions. He wasn’t anything more than a cool northwest rock and roll guy. He thought we were that, and we thought he was that. It’s pretty much as simple as that”.
Ken Deans says;
“You know Buck Ormsby’s ‘Etiquette’ was a label for 60 years, Buck was smart from the beginning, He started a revolution. He reminded me of the days of The Wailers and The Sonics, Don and The Good Times The Washingtons and the whole slew of bands that came out of the northwest. We were emulating those guys. We used to go to ‘Bandstand Music’ in Bellevue just because guys from The Sonics worked there. I was buying drum sticks from the guy who wrote “The Witch” (Gerry Roslie) Author Charles R. Cross had called Roslie ‘the Howard Hughes of punk rock’ because of his reticence in speaking to the press.
“When Buck first came and sat down with us” Deans says “ he really worked with us. He introduced us to George Peckham from who we took lessons, and Buck spent time with us in rehearsals, It was at Bob Lang’s studiom before it was famous. Lang’s studio was a subterranean garage built into a hillside..,”
At the time The Heaters rehearsed there, the studio was notorious because both bands and their equipment had to enter the recording studio by crawling under the control panel. Since The Heaters practiced theren Since then Lang’s studio has had clients ranging from Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and The Foo Fighters to Peter Frampton. It should be noted by the time big acts began recording at Bob Lang Studios they no longer had to crawl under the counsel!
“At the time we were there, Lang had was still excavating the garage/studio. It’s a mystery how he got the city to sign off on his project, It was crazy” says Ken Deans “but he had the money-Bob has never had to worry about money-but you had to crawl under that counsel to get in. It was like a barn red garage. But you know it was pretty amazing, and it was as garageband as you got”.
Deans recalls that he started playing drums to become a rock star from an early age;
“My parents were friends with the mother of ‘The Sonics’ drummer” says Ken (it’s unclear if he means Bob Bennett or Dusty Wilson who replaced Bennett in 1972). “They bought me a Premiere drum set…the drum set Rob Van den Akker bought from my drum teacher Bruce Ford who had it given to him by Buddy Rich years before, Of course I traded it in for a new lovely set But the point of it was Buck came out and saw us at the ‘Central Tavern and I think we were as enamoured of him as he was with us because we weren’t looking up to ‘Bighorn’ we were looking up to ‘The Sonics’ and ‘The Wailers’ and all those bands, The original northwest punk bands”.
“I went and saw ‘The Sonics’ at The Roxy in Los Angeles a couple of years ago (Says Deans who lives in southern California these days), Freddie Dennis has done an incredible job in carrying that torch”. In 1992 Freddie Dennis (formerly of Freddie and the Screamers and The Kingsmen) joined the Sonics as bassist and vocalist. He had a series of strokes in 2017, sidelining him from the Sonics, but he says he’s recovering quite nicely at this time.
“It was nice because Buck was there and he was putting out a new ‘Sonics’ record. Buck and I had a very nice conversation. Buck had wanted to sign ‘The Heaters’ to ‘Etiquette’ but we had higher hopes, although they never really came to fruition.
“37 years ago we met our first mentor in Buck Ormsby. He believed in us, practiced with us, took us to vocal lessons with George Peckham, and when he thought we were ready took us into the garage, literally, at Lang Studios. It was a one car garage built into the hillside at Bob Lang’s house. You had to crawl under the desk to get into the recording room. We spent a week there working on how to arrange, record, get the basics right and finally mix what became our first record. We owe a lot to Buck as does almost the entire Northwest music scene. His contributions are innumerable and his legacy will be forever embossed in all musicians, whether they know of him or not. We Thank you Buck. Our hearts and Thoughts go out to all your family and friends. Godspeed and may your next tour be one of the best ever”.
When it came time for The Heaters to find management they were torn between Ivy Bauer at Concerts West and Ken Kinnear at Albatross. They even spoke to Erik Lacitis, telling him they were conflicted about who should represent them. Lacitis told them; “it’s not about who you like the most, it’s who you think that will do a better job. Today Ken Deans says ‘hindsight is always 20/20’ but in retrospect I think we went with Albatross because of Heart more than anything else. Steve Fossen and Roger Fisher were still in the band at the time and they were Kenmore musicians.
After The Heaters signed onto the Albatross roster, most of the day to day duties were handed over to Jon Kertzer. Kertzer had formerly worked in several radio and promotions capacities including being a music director for Seattle’s KZAM radio and as a promotions manager for CBS Records. Jon admits people are often surprised to hear he was involved in rock and roll during the 1970s. Today he’s known as a teacher, speaker and explorer in the world of ethnomusicology. From 1984 until 1998 he hosted a radio program on radio station KCMU and it’s later incarnation KEXP, called The Best Ambiance. Note the spelling here. Ambience (with an e) has more to do with environment, and Ambiance (with an a) is usually-but not always-descriptive of art, culture or design skill. Jon didn’t and still doesn’t present the popular “world music” that popular jazz and pop artists have been interested in for the past two or three decades. He’s more interested in presenting authentic examples of traditional music, especially that of Africa and Asia, and the organic rise of modern music among artists in those geographic areas.
From 1979 until 1981 Jon handled the day to day operations of keeping The Heaters afloat. He acted as a tour manager, sold their merchandise at gigs and sometimes ran the lights or sound. He set up small tours, and showcase events. He was also the one who initially went from one major label to another trying to get enough interest to get the band signed. Jon helped set up a west coast tour with The Knack, and The Heaters (under various names) played the southwest and west coast with them. The Heaters.Heats also did thirty dates opening for Heart. Kertzer tells me that although the Heats were able to play New York’s Radio City Music Hall twice with Heart, many of the dates with Heart and The Knack didn’t always present the band at their best due to problems with sound and staging. He adds that the band was far too pop with some audiences and not pop enough for others. He remembers the tour with The Knack as being terrible, and uncharacteristically calls Doug Fieger (the lead singer and guitarist for The Knack) “an asshole”. He (and The Heats) have much kinder words for Heart, who truly wanted them to succeed, and did their best to help them by taking the band on tour with them, and mentoring them-especially Ann and Nancy.
Just as they were becoming to be called Seattle’s “Next Big Thing” The Heaters faced a couple of missteps in being paired with two bands at two different shows at The Paramount Theater. One was opening for Alvin Lee, the former leader of Ten Years After on June 27, 1979, Lee and his band had been totally dedicated to the electric blues and were one of the biggest hits at Woodstock a decade earlier. Alvin Lee was known as one of the best blues/rock players to come out of an abundance of incredible British blues guitarists in 1960s Britain. In the early ‘70s Alvin Lee and Ten Years After had found commercial success worldwide through two much more mainstream albums; A Space in Time in 1971 and Rock & Roll Music To The World in 1972. By 1973 Alvin Lee had disbanded Ten Years After because their American label (Columbia) had tried to push the band into even more commercial pop territory. Both A Space In Time and Rock and Roll Music to The World are excellent albums, but the were only meant as diversions from Lee’s ultimate goal of playing pure electric blues. Alvin Lee ended up working solo, later putting together a highly respected group of blues musicians to record a live album at The Rainbow in London (the double record In Flight) and took part in numerous solo projects and collaborations. By the time The Heaters opened for Lee he had reverted to his former shred-based blues with the band Ten Years Later. Most of his fans were keen followers, so The Heaters was not a good choice to warm up for Lee and the crowd responded in kind. They booed them mercilessly. The Heaters considered it the most difficult show they’d ever done.
They told rock music critic Pat MacDonald;
“After that nothing can faze us”
The band (and their fans) showed themselves in a much better light when they opened for The Kinks at Seattle’s Paramount Theater on October 29, 1979. This pairing made far more sense than the Alvin Lee show.
Seattle Times music critic Pat MacDonald wrote:
“The Heaters’ redeemed themselves. This time they were cheered, and for good reason. The sound was much better, the set was tighter, the tunes were well-chosen and well played and the guys were a lot more animated.”
And why shouldn’t they have done better? The Kinks crowd were exactly the kind of fans that The Heaters could connect with. The Kinks were also the kind of 1960s band that would be among their influences.
Another less than admirable pairing took place on February 7, 1981 when a local radio station tried to boost The Heats profile just after the release of their album Have an Idea. They shared a bill with Alberta Canada’s Loverboy. The Heats, Loverboy and Johnny and the Distractions were doing shows in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland. Each band was headlining their hometowns. By this time time Loverboy had made Vancouver their base of operations. U.S. abd Canadian radio programmers were trying to attract more interest in Loverboy who had recently been signed to Columbia Records and were pushing their latest single ‘Turn Me Loose’ from their debut album. It was doing very well, so many of the audience in each city had come to see Loverboy rather than The Heats or Johnny and the Distractions. Later that year Loverboy (who had based themselves in Vancouver) would have their biggest hit from the band’s follow-up album, Get Lucky, released in October 1981 when they were on tour with Journey. The song was Working For The Weekend and it became a huge radio hit. Loverboy was getting a great deal of international attention at this point in their career. The Heaters were finding less attention, although still a huge local draw on the Seattle club scene. The Loverboy crowd simply weren’t The Heaters natural crowd. Loverboy was more in the mold of bands The Heats had disliked so much at the beginning of their career. And in fact Loverboy did become a major arena draw on the same tour The Heaters played with them on.
But The Heaters also made some clever moves. They did a free concert at Golden Gardens on Sunday July 8, 1979 and later at the Seattle Center.They broadcast a live concert from the Showbox Theater on Thanksgiving Day 1979; exactly one year from the day of their first rehearsal. The performance went out over the airwaves and was captured on tape but not released until June 26, 2011 by Tom Dyer’s Green Monkey Records. Tom has spent a lot of time researching, compiling, tracking down and releasing a steady mix of CD’s and digital downloads of past regional underground bands. Green Monkey has done a better job than any other to carry the torch of Seattle’s music of the 1980s, The Heats and Tom agreed that all proceeds from the recording of the 1979 live performance go to Ronald McDonald House, the fast food giant’s charity devoted to (in their own words) “Keeping families with sick children together and near the care and resources they need”. Ronald McDonald House has been hailed as on the nations best charities. Even people who would not patronize the fast food chain recognize this. This act of charity by Green Monkey Records and The Heats is admirable and in keeping with the generosity of both parties.
Shortly before their tour with The Knack, The Heaters became aware of a better-known Los Angeles band using the same name; The Heaters. The band scrambled at the last minute for a different name to tour under, and ended up calling themselves The Gears. During tour the newly-christened band,The Gears, found out that that name was also being used. They re-named themselves The Torpedoes, and just as before, found the name had already been taken. In the meantime Albatross had bought an expensive ad explaining the change in name. The confusion of a series of names could not have helped establish their career in the power-pop world; and it must have been a thankless job opening for The Knack. The Heaters/Gears/Torpedo’s played their set while fans of The Knack waited impatiently to hear the latest HUGE hit, My Sharona”, must have been excruciating. It’s unclear if The Heaters evengained fans during these tours. Some crowds found them a nuisance between themselves and hearing one of the biggest international hits of the 70s and 80s. During the tour The Heaters should have been the height of their career when they opened for The Knack at the Seattle Center Coliseum. Local fans loved them, but how far they’d strayed from the original intentions The Knack may have been labelled power-pop, but they were actually not much more than a bombastic outfit with mediocre (but catchy) songs. Their follow-up single follow-up single “Good Girls Don’t” peaked at No. 11 in the US, and reached No. 1 in Canada’s chart but it was not nearly the international hit their debut single was. .It’s no wonder they faded from view just as quickly as they’d made a dent in the billboard and radio charts; especially since The Knack were doing a very distinct American version of power-pop that soon fell out of favor. It should be noted here that American power-pop bands (like Cheap Trick) have continued to be popular so many years after their founding simply because their songs were better played, do not rely on enforced happiness and they have continuously put out a repertoire of well-written songs that are/were far more entertaining and clever than anything The Knack or The Romantics ever released. It seems the staying power was with bands like The Ramones or Blondie rather than flavor-of-the-moment phenoms. It’s sad that the Heats were unable to be identified more as a smart power-pop band than simply another clone of what was then in favor.
Finally, the band that had started out as The Heaters chose what should have been obvious to them and their management from the beginning. They simply dropped the last syllable of their original name and called themselves The Heats. That’s the name that the band was referred to from that time until now.
In 1980 The Heats recorded their first single at Kaye-Smith Studios in Seattle. The record was “I Don’t Like Your Face b/w “Ordinary Girls” Buck Ormsby produced. Steve Boyce was listed as “Associate Producer’ and the engineer for the project was Rick Fisher (now the owner and principal talent at RFI Mastering in Seattle). The single was released on the bands own HRRR label and ended up selling between 14,000 and 18,000 copies depending who you ask.. It only got modest airplay on the big Seattle radio stations, It was too “pop” for KCMU, the reigning college radio station in the area, but they did not ignore it altogether. The single found much better reception at KJET who was making a concerted effort to become Seattle’s “new wave” station.
This was The Heats beginning to reach their high point. The were constantly gigging at local taverns and clubs, and hundreds of fans would show up every time. Now more than ever they became Seattle’s presumed “Next Big Thing”. The word kept spreading.
Steve Pearson says; I think our audience liked us first off because they were ‘told’ that they should like us. Somehow the word got passed down ‘this is a cool band’ and they would go out and see us and the guys would see the girls and the girls would see the guys and everybody would seem to be having fun. Then maybe they thought about other things, I don’t really know, Over the years alot of people have told what they got from us, almost with this juvenile honesty, about how we loved rock and roll. We loooved the music we were playing, We loooved performing that music for people, and I think they responded to it”
The Heats fans weren’t exclusively “the guys who would see the girls, and the girls would see the guys”
“The Heaters was playing a big club in Vancouver B.C.” Ken Deans tells me. “Joey Shithead came backstage and said ‘I love your fucking band”. Ken says to him “You’re in D.O.A. and you LIKE US?” Joey replied ‘I think you guys are awesome, can I jam?’ So the band did the next set with Joey, Then there was The Dils. Steve got to be friends with them when they became Rank and File. He also got to be friends with Dave Alvin who founded The Blasters and went on to do time in X and The Knitters. Steve had been going to Los Angeles and jamming from time to time.
It seems there were other fans among the hardcore punk scene. The late Mike Refuzor was a fan and spent time talking to Ken Deans about the state of popular music, it’s direction toward the new, rather than relying on the tried and true. Deans says he always enjoyed talking with Mike and saw The Refuzors on a couple of occasions.
“Finally things had started to open up”. Says Ken. “When you go back and listen to those D.O.A., Rank and File and The Dils records the musicianship is really fucking good. A Lot of people told me ‘yeah, those are punk guys. They’re people that play what they play because they’re not any better’. I can’t tell you how many arguments I’ve had with music snobs who say things like ‘Keith Richards is a crappy guitar player’ and they’re like, from ‘Julliard’. They say ‘I can play that stuff in my sleep’. And I tell them ‘yeah but you didn’t invent it, and no you can’t play it in your sleep”.
“They tell me ‘I know how to dial all those tones into my XV-15’. I tell them ‘Richards plugs into a fucking AV30 and turns all the knobs up…and good fucking luck finding out all his tunings’. Then they tell me, ‘that’s just because he’s not a good guitar player’
It’s clearly an attitude Deans despises after years of being surrounded by musicians of all sorts and all genres.
In early 1981 Jon Kertzer abruptly left Albatross (and his duties with The Heats). He tells me a story that he says The Heats themselves probably have never known;
Each year the Seattle music industry holds a holiday party where people from all walks of life in the northwest music business gather, share stories, and generally network and talk about new artists. In 1980 the party was held on December 8, the same day John Lennon was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman outside Lennon’s NYC home.
Kertzer says he was deeply affected by Lennon’s death. He was shocked that the holiday party was not cancelled or postponed. He remembers he couldn’t believe the nonchalant attitude the music industry took. He says the attendees “acted like they were shoe sales people”. Obviously Lennon’s murder was on everyone’s mind, but still schmoozing was the primary goal of the event. It completely soured Kertzer to his involvement in rock music, and he soon left Albatross to continue his interest in ethnomusicology. In 1984 he became station director for KCMU radio. Since then he’s also been Audio Manager for Microsoft, Director of Social Media and Special Projects for The Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle, Director of Smithsonian Global Sounds, Head of Microsoft’s Zune project, Moved from radio KCMU to KEXP as the producer and host of The Best Ambiance (which lasted 24 years on-air) and partnered with Sub Pop records as the A&R director of their “Best Ambiance” imprint that handles “ethnic” rather than rock music.
In 1997 and 1998 Kertzer attended the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS ) at the University of London and received his Masters degree in Ethnomusicology. In short, he’s done much better after moving on from the world of rock and roll.
.In 1981 Seattle Times critic Pat MacDonald opined on what he believed made The Heats so popular by explaining;
“Coming after the dark days of punk rock movement-which took itself terribly seriously-the Heats were a breath of fresh air. They brought fun back into Seattle rock and the fans loved it”
Perhaps Pat never got the memo; Punk rock enthusiasts were in a distinct minority among music fans both in Seattle and across the nation. Punk rock was not played on local radio except maybe the occasional spin on college station. Most venue owners across the country would simply not allow punk bands to play in their premises. Many punk bands had to rent halls and self-promote their own shows where 100 people would have been seen as a great success. The only punk club that had ever opened in Seattle before 1980 was the all-ages The Bird and even that lasted only about three months.
The Heaters were formed just at the time punk and new wave were establishing roots in the United States. In 1978 most Americans were still listening to top 40 radio on stations that wouldn’t even play Nick Lowe. They also tended to favor bland AOR (Album Oriented Rock) or Heavy Metal blather instead of the healthy barrage of singles US and UK power pop/punk-pop rock singles that were independently released-or the few on larger labels that were often sold-out within a week.
Pat must not have realized that The Ramones, Blondie, Television and The Talking Heads came directly out of the same branch of the new D.I.Y. movement as The Heaters. The Heaters had found success almost from the beginning. They were born into an era that had never been eclipsed by the“deep dark days of punk” in the first place…and those “deep dark days” never existed in the first place.
In fact the same winds that blew The Heaters in had also blown in other power-pop bands that had a desire to get back to basic rock and “fun” music. The Jam, XTC, The Plimsouls, The Ramones, Blondie, The Records, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Devo and The Modern Lovers; None of these bands were “deep dark punk” but all of them rose from the genre, not as antidotes to it but as artists that shared the same rejection of Arena Oriented Rock (AOR) and FM radio excess. In many ways what became “new wave” or “power-pop” or “punk” had the same affinity for tearing down walls and kicking doors open as The Heats. It’s absurd that the “deep dark days of punk” had resulted in bands that “took themselves terribly seriously” It was the AOR bands with massive audiences that were so self-important.
It was not “the dark days of punk” that had darkened the doors of Seattle music fans. It wasn’t punk music that “took itself terribly seriously” and killed any fun left in local music. It was the taverns and dancehall that would only hire cover bands playing the same songs over and over to keep people dancing and buying beer. It was the radio stations that stuck to tight genres and programmers too afraid to let anything new and exciting on their playlists. It was the music industry as a whole prohibiting individuality and their turning their backs on anything that wasn’t already tried and true.
Mostly It was the incessant background sounds of Foreigner, Supertramp, Boston, Styx, Kansas, and their ilk that killed all the fun. They squeezed every bit of the joy out of music and served up music“which took itself terribly seriously” The music had nothing to do with basic three-chord rock and roll that was not only fun,but danceable. The sounds they made were pseudo-intellectual ballads and milquetoast arrangements rather than the booty-shaking abandon of “the devil’s music”.
It’s ridiculous to claim bands like Devo, Blondie,The B-52’s or The Ramones took themselves “terribly seriously” Even Iggy Pop-often referred to as the “godfather of punk”- didn’t take himself “terribly seriously”, He’s admitted time and time again that his primary goal has always been to entertain audiences. If anyone took themselves “terribly seriously” it was the arena bands of the day were AOR bands and those The Heats rejected.
All of this is especially ironic knowing that 10-15 years before The Heats came together the northwest had been a hotbed of regional talent. The Wailers.The Frantics. Dave Lewis. The Ventures. Little Bill and The Bluenotes. All of them reigned in the early 1960s…and they weren’t alone. There were literally scores of bands that could fill teen dance halls. By the mid-60s musicians from some of those bands morphed into psychedelic bands like The Daily Flash, Crome Syrcus, Springfield Rifle, Magic Fern or Moby Grape as well as more mainstream hitmakers like Bonnie Guitar, Paul Revere and The Raiders, Gary Puckett and Merrilee Rush.
The Heats had been dubbed Seattle’s best chance of breaking out as a power-pop band….but maybe it would be more appropriate to name them as beneficiaries of Britain’s pub rock movement; another back-to-basics attempt to return to the roots of rock, rockabilly and cleverly written pop…which unashamedly included power pop, but not the overblown flavor the Americans were serving up. Members of the movement included Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Graham Parker. Wreckless Eric, Kilbourne and the High Roads (who became Ian Dury and the Blockheads) Dave Edmunds, Eddie and the Hotrods, the 101’ers (an early band of Joe Strummer’s) as well as a slew of others. These were all artists who relied on carefully crafted songs rather than carefully crafted images….or at least images that didn’t make them seem distant from their audiences. They were also accessible even to the point of attending each others small gigs, rubbing shoulders with fans. Most of the venues they favored were in and around London. The Elgin in Ladbroke Grove, The Nashville in West Kensington and probably the most well-known pub rock venue in the world, The Hope and Anchor at 207 Upper St. in Islington. These bands’ attitude fit hand in glove with The Heats. They were well-respected but not deemed “commercial” enough by the record industry. Because of that they relied on small venues (hence the label pub rock) and turned to independent labels like Chiswick, Albion or the best of all the then-current indie labels, Stiff Records who’s early motto was “If it ain’t Stiff, it ain’t worth a fuck” These were the bands The Heaters would have fallen in with.
Even The Sex Pistols had started out in the pubs. It could be argued that behind the cynical but clever lyrics of The Sex Pistols lay one of England’s most potent power-pop bands; at least during Glen Matlock’s involvement as a member and player on the only actual studio album the band ever released, ‘Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols’. The band would have denied it at the time but remove vocals of “Pretty Vacant” or “God Save The Queen” and what you’ll find is tight, well crafted power-pop created by three accomplished musicians that happened to have an anti-hero out front. Glen Matlock had written or co-written all but one of the original songs on Never Mind The Bollocks…” Later a sad, messed-up Sid Vicious replaced Matlock and provided a musically inept freak show. Sid’s encouragement by fans and music industry-types who encouraged his own self-destruction is something John Lydon still resents to this day. It’s almost unbelievable that an album that affected so many people in the U.S.,Never Mind The Bollocks… it did not reach Gold Record status (500,000 units sold) until December of 1987…over ten years since it’s initial release on on 28 October 1977. If less than expected sales figures means anything than The Heats were in good company.
Many talented punk bands would fully develop into power pop-based outfits…some even began as power-pop disguised as punk bands. In Britain Siouxsie and The Banshees, X-Ray Spex, The Undertones, The Buzzcocks, The Rezillos, Bram Tchaikovsky,The Records all had strong power-pop threads running through them. Listen to Siouxsie and the Banshees first single -Hong Kong Garden-then explain why it shouldn’t be considered “power-pop.
The British pub rock aspect of The Heaters becomes even more evident knowing that just before joining the band, Don Short and his girlfriend Caroline had spent a year living in London, They came back after being exposed to Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Dr. Feelgood, Elvis Costello, and Rockpile etc. These were artists that the majority of Seattle music fans had never heard of. The Heaters started including many of their songs into their set.
“In the beginning audiences thought those were our songs”. says Steve Pearson “We’d intersperse our original songs and the unknown covers in between a Dave Clark Five or a Who or Chris Spedding song. We really worked to make those songs fit so people would ask “what’s that weird song?” We’d say “Oh! It’s not a weird song, it’s cool!” and that was a natural thing that happened.
“We were the quintessential ‘get-together-in-a-basement-write-some-songs band. We’d play to our limitations, go out and shove it down people’s throats, And that’s what I believe rock and roll is all about. In that respect we were absolutely that band that every teenage boy says “I’m gonna grow up and be in a band like that. We were that band”.
Finally The Heats went back into Kaye-Smith studios to record their debut album Have an Idea. This time Howard Leese of Heart produced and The Heats were given a co-producing credit as well. The album was released on their management’s Albatross Records which was largely due to Heart’s Ann Wilson’s support for the band and their bad luck finding a major label deal.
“We were already at the point where we didn’t want to be known just as the novelty band that did ‘I Don’t Like Your Face’ says Ken Deans. “We wanted to be more known for ‘Ordinary Girls’ and ‘Remember Me’ and ‘When You’re Mine’ and some of the other songs that were-I don’t want to say ‘better crafted’– but less tongue-in-cheek. And then we did ‘Have An Idea’ and they said ‘you’re going to come out with the same kind of thing we said NO and that’s when we did ‘When You’re Mine’ and ‘Sorry Girls’
They did, in fact, re-record ‘I Don’t Like Your Face’ and it’s original flipside ‘Ordinary Girls’ but most of the album was filled with newer, well-written and captivating pop songs. In 1981 the songs Ken mentions (‘When You’re Mine’ and ‘Sorry Girls’) were released as a single, but as with all of The Heats releases radio mostly ignored both the album and the single. Have An Idea was a commendable effort that probably gets as much love today as it did when it was released, even though it’s said to have initially sold only 15,000 copies…but it’s probable most of those sales were strictly regional. In 1996 John Borack compiled a list for Goldmine magazine calling ‘Have An Idea’ as ‘one of the most essential US Power-Pop albums’ of all time. On a side note Jim Basnight’s 1993 cassette-only release of ‘Retro’ was also included on the list.
Steve Pearson remembers someone from Goldmine looking for a comment about ‘Have An Idea’ being listed among The 50 most essential US power pop albums.
“He called me and asked me if I would give him a quote. He said ‘think it over and call me back’. I said ‘I don’t have to think it over, here it is; “The Heats got to live every high school boy’s dream. But the best part is we never got so famous that we had to see our pictures in the check-out line as we were buying groceries”.
Ken Deans says a stranger approached him a few years ago at a Phish Festival;
“Some gal came up to my desk and said ‘Your Kenny Deans. THE Kenny Deans, OMG! Your record is me and my boyfriend’s favorite record of all time!”
She was 23 years old.
“Funny how things went through a time-warp in Seattle. The Cowboys and half a dozen other bands were part of it; we just happen to be the ones that got the most notoriety. I don’t mean to be egotistical-but I think rightfully so.”
“I think some of the people who originally saw them STILL follow them. When Steve Pearson is playing (in his band British Racing Green) I think Heats fans show up and I think Steve might even do one or two of The Heats songs”.
Pearson readily admits to having The Heats songs in the repertoire of his band ‘British Racing Green’. Pearson says he doesn’t play them for any nostalgic value. He plays them simply because they’re great songs.
For a couple of years The Heats had definitely been over-exposed in Seattle. They had done as many local live gigs as they could fit in. There were ongoing updates from writer Erik Lacitis and reviews from Pat MacDonald in The Seattle Times, as well as occasional reviews and mentions by local music critics in various other journals. They’d opened high-profile concerts, toured and released their album and three singles in less than three years….perhaps not as much exposure a better known band could expect, but for a small back-to-basics rock band from Seattle, all of it was a big deal. They had also garnered two covers on The Rocket magazine-the most important regional music magazine of it’s day in the northwest. Both covers of the Rocket featured major stories, one of which Ken Deans remembers in a self-deprecating way. He says;
I think the author called us “consistent” I think the reference was “you always know that you get a cheeseburger at McDonalds and you always know exactly what it is”.
Soon after the release of ‘Have An Idea’ bassist Keith Lilly left the band. The parting was said to have been “less than amicable” at the time, but that rift seems to have been repaired long ago, since Keith takes part in The Heats reunions. In 1981 The Heats released the single Count On Me b/w Rivals that featured Wayne Clacker-the bassist that had replaced Keith Lilly. The single was produced by northwest music veteran Pat Hewitt at Triangle Studios in Seattle. Later, in 1986 Triangle Studios would change hands from producer/engineers Jack Weaver and Bill Stuber to Chris Hanzsek and Jack Endino. Endino acted as in-house producer. It was here that Nirvana’s album Bleach as well as Green River’s Dry as a Bone, Soundgarden’s Screaming Life, Mark Lanegan’s The Winding Sheet and dozens of other ‘grunge’ recordings that the studio and Jack Endino would become famous for.
Eventually graffiti was spotted around town saying “Kill The Heats” partially because of their high profile, but also because there had always been a sense of unease between those following local alternative music and those following local pop or cover bands. Of course there were a few exceptions, but The Heats had wrongly become associated with only the successful cover bands that played a particular circuit of clubs around Seattle. Alternative music fans had their own original scene and it was rare when any member of one group stepped onto the others’ turf. The fans of alternative music despised the patrons of certain clubs and the band’s they supported because they believed they were arrogant fraternity boys looking to pick up drunk sorority girls (in some cases that was true). The patrons of the more mainstream clubs were suspicious of the alternative crowd that hung out in their own clubs because it was assumed they were all punks looking for trouble….or worse, out and out queers (in fact many were!). It sounds amazing today that such a wide and profound gulf existed between these groups, but it seemed to be the natural order of things in early 1980s Seattle. A punk was just as unlikely and unwelcome to step into a bar like Pioneer Square’s Hibble and Hyde’s as it was unlikely and unwelcome for a Hibble and Hyde’s patron to enter a place like WREX or The Gorilla Room only two or three blocks away.
After Lilly’s departure Ken Deans was also getting antsy. Although his relationship with the other band members had not broken down, it became frustrating to be part of “The Next Big Thing” when nothing was actually happening. When Ken finally left the group it was for better prospects in management, promotions and productions and booking. He was replaced by Rick Bourgoin.
In July of 2016 Deans told Seattle journalist Feliks Banel he “felt really bad leaving The Heats”. He added that “It was one of those experiences in life where you had just spent the last three years of your life pouring your blood and guts out on the floor with these guys, and then you weren’t…That was the hardest point in my life because it was like, ‘Wow, I got to be part of this experience that I know was amazing, but we couldn’t quite grasp the brass ring”.
Bourgoin says he hadn’t really seen or heard The Heats music while he was playing in a band called The Impacts;
“We were a little punk power-pop band” says Bourgoin” We did things like ‘The Ramones’…you know, super fast, We were playing a lot of gigs. So one night ‘The Impacts’ were set to open for ‘The Heats’ at ‘Astor Park’ (a club on 5th Avenue uptown). ‘The Heats’ planned go onstage to do their soundcheck and then we’d put ourselves on the stage and do our soundcheck, so everybody was ready to play…this was probably in late summer of 1981. Everybody was waiting around for Ken who wasn’t there. We’re waiting and waiting and my band was getting frustrated because we were running out of time to get our sound check. I said ‘I’ll just get up and play the drums so you can go through your soundcheck and then we can get our stuff up there’. So they said ‘OK’ and I did it. I’d heard enough about some of their tunes so I just plowed through their stuff and then got my band’s stuff up onstage did our soundcheck and we played the the gig that night”
“A couple of months later I got a call from Don who told me they were maybe going to look for another drummer. We talked on the phone for quite awhile and then he got back in touch with me a little bit after that, and asked if I wanted to come out and sit in and play some songs at a rehearsal place…kind of an audition. I said ‘sure’ so I listened to their record a little bit to familiarize myself with the songsm and then went and played with them and had a great time. I think Wayne Clack had a drummer buddy from San Francisco…I think he came up, and they listened to him, and I’m not sure how many else, but I ended up getting the gig from the beginning of 1982 to the end of 1983”
Bourgoin remembers Ann and Nancy Wilson sitting in on at least one of his own auditions.
After Jon Kertzer had left Albatross in 1981 Jeff Trisler (now of ‘Live Nation’) became responsible for The Heats day to day management. The band became less and less involved with Ken Kinnear because of Kinnear’s frustration that the band hadn’t been signed and a slight rift was developing between Don and Steve about staying in Seattle or moving to Los Angeles.
Ann Wilson tried to get major label interest in the band but had little success. She finally got a chance with David Geffen at his namesake Geffen Records. Geffen paid for a three song demo that Ann produced at Kaye Smith Studios. The sessions included participation from other Heart members. Afterward Ann provided Geffen with the demo but never heard back.
One of the demo songs ended up being shot as a video-again, produced by Ann Wilson-intended for broadcast on MTV. The video of “In Your Town” got a bit of airplay, but not enough to create much interest beyond The Heats own fan base.
The band continued to play gig after gig and recorded what would be their second album, a live performance they did at Astor Park entitled ‘The Heats: Burnin’ Live. It was released in 1983 on Sushi Records. It was released in an edition of 1000 vinyl copies. Reports are that the pressing was very poor, but later when it was re-mastered for CD it proved to sound much better.
But even a new album couldn’t help the band from an eventual crisis.
‘It was Don’s decision to leave the band” Rick Bourgoin says,” In fact now that I think about it ‘The Heats’ were doing a gig in Vancouver BC…I think the club was called “Outlaws”, it might have been the New Years Eve prior to the one when we broke up. Steve and I had gotten into a little heated discussion about something up in the dressing room between sets and I think some words flew as they do. I went back up to the stage and was standing on the side of the stage, grumbling. Don came up and at that point he said “If I wanted to leave and start something different would you come and be my drummer? And I said “sure”, That was a year before it actually happened so I think he probably had thought about it a long time before he came to the band and said “I’m gonna go”
In the fall of 1983 Don Short did tell the rest of the band it was time for him to move on. Short told the band he would finish out the rest of their booked performances which included a final New Year’s Eve appearance at Astor Park. Pearson felt shocked and betrayed, vowing to never speak to Don Short again. At the time he said;
“I would think after five years-after our careers being so tied together for five years-that I would be entitled to something more than just walking in and saying ‘I’m leaving”
Don Short told Erik Lacitis;
“I agonized over the decision. The last thing I wanted to do was to have it become personal. It was a musical decision. All I want to do in these last shows is go out with a bang. I don’t want to sound patronizing but I want to say thanks to all the fans because you made us. I don’t want to dwell on all the other crap. I want people to remember we were a good rocking club band. We wrote and played good tunes”
A few years later Steve Pearson told Lacitis;
“I don’t expect anything I ever do to be as big a thing in Seattle as The Heats were. The Heats was perfect. We were a unique group. We were honest. People could see that rock and roll spirit in us.
During my phone call with Steve he says;
“For all our naïveté we were very ballsy and confident. Part of that is that we admired the other members of the band. For instance I would look over at Ken and say to myself (if not to him) “Wow! Ken is great, Ken is really really a good drummer and he really is in tune with these songs”. Then I’d look over at Don Short and I’d say “I can count on Don every single night to play his parts and be right there and he will sing in tune, He’ll play his bits. He’ll play them better than I will cuz I was always the flakey crazy guy in the band. We all knew that we respected and counted on each other….We believed in each other and we believed in the concept of the band.
Then he adds:
The other factor, the one that is integral is you gotta have songs. You can be the greatest band in the world but if you don’t have songs no one will respond. (Before The Heaters) I had been writing songs for a year and a half, two years maybe, and Don had some songs. I brought my songs to practice and said this is what we’re going to base the band around. Songs. Original songs. I don’t want to do a really good version of “Carry On My Wayward Son”. I don’t give a fuck about Kansas. To this day I believe that if you want to make your mark in the world you’ve got to do it by writing a song. That is the advantage we had over most (local) bands”
After the disintegration of The Heats Pearson joined up with Pat Hewitt, Tony Lease and Don Kammerer (The Pins) to form The Rangehoods. The Rangehoods turned out to be a decent draw around Seattle, and in 1985 put out one of the era’s best EPs, titled Rough Town. In 1991 they released the album, Long Way Home. Michael Wansley played bass and sang with the band from 1985 onward. Today most people know Wansley as “The Wanz’ who’s featured in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s number one hit Thrift Shop. Pearson also appeared in various outfits over the years, but now shares guitar and vocal duties with his wife Lucette, Frank Johnson on Bass and Jon Newton on drums and vocals.Steve Pearson Guitar and Vocals. They’re based in Cashmere Washington, but do shows in the Seattle area as well as Eastern Washington. You can find more information at https://britishracinggreen.weebly.com/
Keith Lilly eventually went on to form The Elementaries. Sadly his wife, Krys died of cancer August 16, 2014. Keith plays with The Heats when they do occassional reunions. He can be found on facebook.
Wayne Clack joined Maurice and The Clichés, a synth-pop band originally from Vancouver BC. Before Clack joining they’d had a minor hit with a song called Softcore and one album, C’est la Vie. Although they never charted after Clack joined they are said to have put on interesting performances and had enough popularity to have a compilation of their recordings re-released in 2007 as ‘Flogging A Dead Horse” Wayne has returned to his home state, California. He’s also on facebook.
Don Short and Rick Bourgoin spent about two years rehearsing and writing for their band Avalon. Rick says they were trying to take a direction similar to The Fix or Simple Minds. Atlantic Records took an interest in the band and paid for 18 songs recorded at London Bridge Studios. “But then….crickets” says Rick. A couple of years later the band was pared down and became ‘Luna Park’. In 1991 Bourgoin left for Los Angeles and Don continued under the name ‘Living Out Loud’. That incarnation only lasted a couple of gigs and Don Short removed himself, mostly, from the music business.
In 2006 Mark Mosholder (who had been in Avalon and Luna Park) convinced Don to start playing again. Rick, Mark and Don got together and formed the band Random Manors. The band released a self-titled EP in 2008 and began work on a full length album. The trio’s friend, Tom Pfaeffle, who was their engineer and owner of The Tank where they had been finishing up basic tracks was shot and killed in July 2009. ‘It took us two years to finish the tracks at our rehearsal studio at Don’s’ says Rick Bourgoin. We played our last gig (although we didn’t know it at the time) at St. Michelle Winery in September 2014, opening for Boston. There are videos on YouTube”.
Rick Bourgoin still plays around the northwest. One of his projects is ‘Two Sheds Jackson’ (named after an old Monty Python skit) The band includes Charlie Morgan, Steve Boyce and Pat Gossan. They play occasional gigs around the northwest.
Don Short now works at an Eastside lumber store. He gets recognized by old friends and fans from time to time… say hello if you see him.
Jon Kertzer-who was so critical to The Heats early success, has just started a new show on the low-powered KVRU radio station in Rainier Valley. He’s interviewing and playing the music of many of the bands covered here. Jon’s currently working on number 17 and 18 of his series, but since the station is still new, his program has only been on the air for a short time, so he has a backlog of shows taped.
He tells me;
“I’m covering everything pre-1985 basically. It’s not focused on any one genre, Yesterday I interviewed Jim Valley. I was at his house all day. I’ve done shows on ‘60s rock and I did shows recently on ‘The Visible Targets’ and ‘The Crazy Eights’ from Portland. The first show I did was on ‘The Daily Flash’ and Jerry Miller from ‘Moby Grape’. The furthest I’ve gone back to the 1940s, I did a show about the Al Smith photo exhibit at MOHAI.
I also interviewed Pat Wright, the gospel singer who did a show with Overton Barry, She just did a show with LeRoy Bell from Bell and James (The thread here is that LeRoy Bell’s bass player/manager Terry Morgan was the long-time bass player for Pat Wright’s ‘Total Experience Gospel Choir’.
“My interviews contain a lot of music” Kertzer tells me. “I mean it’s a two hour show. I play about an hour that is interview and an hour that is music”.
Jon’s show is on Saturdays and Sundays at 6pm on KVRU at 105.7 but the signal is very weak. This upcoming September the station intends to start streaming online
So do we need a post-mortem? Probably not, but I’ll include a few opinions anyway.
What made The Heats “The Next Big Thing” into “Could Have Beens”?
In 2016 Jon Kertzer was asked what went wrong by Feliks Banel.
“That’s the $64,000 question,” Kertzer said. “I mean, I worked really hard to try to make that happen. That was my job as manager to try and get them national attention and we did have several national tours. When we went to places like New York, I would take their music around to all the record labels, and talk to them about getting signed. And they came pretty close.
Our timing was a bit off,” he continued. “By the time we were talking seriously to labels, it was just a little late, and the rage for power pop sound had passed.”
Later, Jon tells me
“The Heats came across better in a club rather than arena rock sorts of venues. They came from a similar DIY background- they certainly were never a punk band, but really not that far away from The Ramones in their attitude and energy on stage. really they were more a throwback to Beatles/Stones British invasion bands, crossed the 70’s British pub-rock like Dr. Feelgood, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and similar bands”,
In a letter former Rocket owner/editor (and now a three time NYT best seller list alumni) Charles R. Cross says;
“At The Rocket, we were boosters, but our coverage only helped them become the biggest local band. In the end the Heats had poor timing — they were too late for the era when a regional band could break out a top 40 hit without a major label behind them, and too early for the Seattle wave that would come a few years later. Seattle was just too far away from the center of culture in that day for them to find a wider audience than our tavern circuit. But that was true for every band from the northwest in that period. The next Seattle act to make it big was, surprisingly from an entirely different genre: Kenny G.”.
Erik Lacitis tells me:
“I still listen to the music, I’ve done a number of rock and roll groups and I remember talking to one guy…it could have been one of the Wailers..one of the early ‘60s northwest groups that had regional success but not national, and he explained to me ‘You know…you can have great music but you’re on a merry-go-round. It goes around and then you happen to get the ring, but most of the time you don’t’ and it’s absolutely true. I think that they had everything but there’s lots of groups that for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen. It don’t mean they didn’t have the talent, but it didn’t mean anything. It just didn’t happen, That’s just the way it is. The other thing is they weren’t getting the radio play that they should have because at that time they were British-type power-pop and that’s not what Seattle rock radio was playing, It just didn’t register. Radio was playing more anthem Heavy Metal stuff and it didn’t register to them. For some reason radio just couldn’t understand it. They couldn’t understand someone like Elvis Costello or anybody like that…they just couldn’t. At that time radio was so powerful, and you needed that, If you had a bunch of guys…and they were all guys…I don’t think there were any women in radio then…if it didn’t register with them because it was alien the band didn’t get the airplay. It just didn’t register with the radio programmers, so that’s the way it was.
Ken Deans is understandably upbeat about his taking part in ‘The Heats’. He says;
.I’ve had a very fortunate life all the way around and it all started with ‘The Heats’. It propelled me into a career that I could have only dreamed about. I’ve gotten to do so many things and really I can tie a lot of it back to ‘The Heats’
I used to say ‘come see the Heats: You could come see The Heats and and forget about anything else going on in your life’. That was really important to me. Part of what we were about was ‘you can come see The Heats and go on vacation. Forget about your job. Forget about your fucked-up romance; whatever it is. Just come out here and have fun. That was really important to us”
Steve Pearson says
“Overall I’m very very proud and honored to ever have been in that band and basically 35 years later I’m still reaping the rewards of being in ‘The Heats’. I don’t know how the other guys think about it; I’ve never even talked to them about it. I just know that I’ve been treated special and given a place in the musical world that I probably don’t deserve since I was 24 years old. In a way I look at it as a bit of a responsibility. I still feel like I have to pay respect to what I was part of and would never say anything against that whole time; the audience, the band members, the songs; I would never ever do anything but say “wow. that was friggin’ great and I got to be there, and I loved every minute of it”.
I feel a bit odd making my own assessment here because my job is to report, not to give my opinion; but I’ve been in or around the music business all my adult life and have seen how random things can be. Sometime it comes down to ‘who you know’, and sometimes it’s purely arbitrary. It could even have to do with how screwed-up a day the A&R rep has had when they come see you.
Then I think about reading something somewhere that Steve Pearson said;
“These record company guys are real weird guys. They don’t like telling you whether you are or aren’t a hot commodity. I guess it’s part of their image that they’re supposed to be very cool so they act real cool. I’ve met four or five of these guys. People just say to me ‘this is so-and-so and he’s from a record company. I say ‘oh great!’ and they go drink a Coke”.
Steve Pearson and Steve Aliment will be doing a show
Thursday, July 12 at 6:30 PM – 9 PM at
McMenamins Anderson School
Please feel free to correct or add information in the comments section below.
-Dennis R. White. Sources; Feliks Banel “Before Grunge and Macklemore, The Heats rocked the Northwest” (My Northwest (July 13, 2016): Krys Lilly “The Heaters” (pnwbands.com, retrieved June 7, 2018); Richard Rossi “Live At The Showbox, 1979” (Power Pop News.com, retrieved June 1, 2018); Heather Frye “A Wiser Man Takes a Look Back; Singer Songwriter is Happier Leaving His 1980s Rock Star Life Behind Him” (Lewiston Tribune, June 27, 2003); Erik Lacitis “Hire A Sitter And Get Cookin’ With The Heaters” (The Seattle Times, Friday August 6, 1999); Northwest Underground Rock 1980 – 2021“June 2011-The Heats: Have an Idea (www.greenmonkeyrecords.com, retrieved June 1, 2018); Michael Sutton “The Heats” www.allmusic.com, retrieved June 2, 2018); Tim M. Otto “ Could The Second Beatles Have Existed In Seattle In The Early 80’s?” (A Short Story About The Heats” (No Depression, February 19, 2013); Peter Blecha “ Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock from “Louie Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Beverly Paterson “Forgotten series: The Heats – Smoke (1998)” (Something Else!, March 8, 2012); Ken Deans “interview with author” (May 20, 2018); Steve Pearson “interview with author” (June 1, 2018); Rick Bourgoin “interview with author” (June 4, 2018); Erik Lacitis “interview with author” (June 9, 2018); Patrick MacDonald “The Edmonds Contributed to Rise of Bands” (The Seattle Times, September 14,1979); Erik Lacitis “Rock of Many Ages, Despite The Top 40” (Seattle Times, May 12, 1979); Erik Lacitis “The Heats: A Goodbye. It Was Good Rock and it Lasted Five Good Years” (Seattle Times, December 29, 1983); Sandy Graham “Shelley Siegal-A Canadian Success Story Not to be Forgotten” (Cashbox Magazine [Canada] February 11. 2011); Gaye Guida-Dennis “Screamer Freddie Dennis will Rock the House again!” You Caring, https://www.youcaring.com/freddiedennis-961774, retrieved June 12, 2018);