The first thing the former members of rapid-i want to make clear is that their name pre-dates the wide success of R.E.M. Their name evolved out of the same expression (Rapid Eye Movement) but it was coined in 1980, about three years before the debut of R.E.M.s album, Murmer on I.R.S. Records. The point isn’t really that important except to point out that the small “i” in the name is a reference to Prince-Far-I, the dubbiest of the deep-dub artists to come out of 1970’s Jamaica…go through the used records racks and find a copy of one of the the tuffest records of all time; “Prince Far I & King Tubby “‘In The House Of Vocal & Dub”. rapid-i was not a reggae band, but their respect for a wide range of artists brings up accomplished and experimental pop artists and music figures. They name artists like Mark Smith and The Maffia as well as Smith’s former band The Pop Group. Linton Kwesi Johnson, James Chance and the Contortions, James Blood Ulmer, Adrian Sherwood, King Crimson and The Sex Pistols among the jazz greats.
It might seem these guys were all over the map musically, but it’s clear they were more interested in musical execution and innovation than any particular genre. This interest showed up in their own music, whilw doing a ripping version of the funky Barney Miller theme song-written by Jack Miller and Allyn Ferguson with the killer bass line performed by Chuck Berghofer. The rapid-i version is practically note for note-not because they were anything near a “cover band”, but because, hell…why mess with something near-prefect?
The changes in keys and difficult rhythm patterns of their original compositions were clever moves for them to share onstage. One might not understand exactly what they were up to but audiences weren’t left out as if their musicianship was an “inside joke”. The bands joy and exuberance in pulling off a slick musical move never cane off as intellectual and snobbish. The audience could see their open enthusiasm and glee. The band didn’t care if it’s audience was classically trained, musically illiterate or astute jazz and classical musicians. They openly invited them to enjoy what they were doing. In fact, one of the apparent “inside jokes” they shared with the audience was covering the Barney Miller theme…It proved finding brilliance in the most mundane, unexpected places.
Which comes to audiences-or perhaps lack of them. The early 1980’s and Seattle’s post-punk era produced some mighty fine bands that strayed from the punk formulae developed in the late 70s. For instance, how would it be possible to accurately label The Blackouts, with their weird and near-mysticism laid over an almost indescribable sound? And how could a power-pop oriented band like X-15 be referred to as “one of Seattle’s original punk bands” when, as entertaining as they were, they simply were not a punk band, and arrived on the scenefrom Bellingham in the 1980s; long after The Telepaths, The Lewd, The S’nots and The Mentors had established Seattle as a major outpost of West Coast punk. All of these bands (punk and post-punk) shared one thing in common; small, very loyal fan bases and audiences that mostly consisted of friends, family and like-minded musicians and fans.
This is typical of what goes on in all cities, but Seattle at the time seemed so insular, and it seemed that everyone on “the scene” either knew or knew of everyone else. So it was with rapid-i. They spent many nights at local “punk” clubs like WREX or The Gorilla Room playing to near-empty houses., to friends family and others who actually appreciated the music. Of course the upside to this for any band is that it allows them to practice, to grow and try-out new material to mostly open (if small) audiences. This seemingly negative situation has birthed many of the greatest pop and rock bands of the 20th and 21st century. Even today it’s difficult for friends around the globe to believe that Nirvana’s first Seattle show on April 10, 1988, at the Central Saloon was practically empty.
“No one else remembers it,” says Sub-Pop founder Bruce Pavitt “because it was just me, the doorman and about three other people.”
As Nirvana went on to success on their own terms (at least originally) rapid-i certainly had the chops and the good nature to play the more lucrative fraternity-boy filled clubs that abounded in Seattle at the time. Their repertoire included plenty of “accessible” dance-music, but they studiously avoided falling into that “trap”. Oddly enough unapologetically “pop” bands like The Visible Targets and X-15 also avoided playing to drunk, mostly indifferent and rowdy college crowds. As far as The Visible Targets went, they pulled in crowds, but they were far more dedicated to performing their tight, self-written music; and to be honest a band fronted by three attractive sisters would have probably killed any chance of being taken seriously in a club full of horny young students They would be a novelty act that were nothing more than “three hot sisters” despite their musical talent. On a side note, The Visible Targets were one of the bands that set the stage for the following generation of women involved in the riot grrrl movement. The Visible Targets’ music wasn’t the same, the lyrics not as political, but the attitude toward being taken seriously certainly was. It’s interesting to note that the aforementioned Bruce Pavitt took an early interest in The Visible Targets as well as Drew Canulette and Steve Fisk-none of them known as fans of lightweight pop. Even the Target’s first EP was recorded in Olympia WA…later the spiritual home of the riot grrl movement.
The odd thing is that rapid-i often attracted fewer audience members, and that even though what they were doing was almost the antithesis of punk, it is probably more punks that saw them in near empty rooms than anyone else. This is not to say they had nothing in common with the punk scene. It’s also not to say they were underappreciated. Promoters and fans came to see them as solid performers even though it was hard to pigeon-hole what they were doing. It made it difficult to find appropriate opening slots for the great variety of new American and British artists touring at the time. Bands like Magazine, The Specials, John Cale, The Dead Kennedy’s, Pere Ubu or The Stranglers..all bands that had a high degree of popularity in the Northwest, and had played sold-out concerts in early 1980’s Seattle. None of the bands mentioned fit into neat pigeonholes either, but rapid-i wasn’t a logical choice as opening bands, no matter how inventive or oddball the headliners were. So they chose small club shows which in the end didn’t hurt them in any way. There was one opportunity to play to a large crowd-an all day event at Seattle’s Showbox Theater that went exceedingly well. The audience was enthusiastic and their set was one of the best of the day.
So how did all of this come to be?
Phil Otto and Dave Ford met at Stanford University. Otto was working on a degree in Cultural Anthropology and Ford says he was “just hanging around”, though it’s hard to believe he was simply a slacker or couch surfer. He is by nature always on the move; always working hard to accomplish what he’s set out to do. Otto and Ford joined three fellow students (Jimmy Jett on bas,s Tim Clark on Rhythm Guitar and Dave Latchaw on drums) to form a band called Raw Meat. Otto took on vocal duties and it’s been reported that even at this early stage (1978) Ford was already a top-notch, inventive and talented guitarist. The band found an audience on campus and in couple of clubs in Palo Alto. They also became a part of near-by San Francisco’s burgeoning punk scene, playing famed venues like The Mabuhay Gardens and The Deaf Club. Otto often performed wearing nothing but a black skeleton painted on his body…”I was very devoted to Iggy Pop, that’s all I can say.”
Otto and Ford both agree that their original tastes in music were quite different, with Ford being drawn more toward jazz, the experimental and the mélange of dissimilar sounds coming out of Britain at the time. Otto’s background in music was more “traditional” but there’s no doubt that he used the best of it while becoming exposed to newer sounds and changed quickly by exposure to punk, reggae, garage rock, etc. By the time Raw Meat were at their height both Ford and Otto were pretty much in synchmusically. Although the band was closer to being punk than what we’ve come to know as new wave Dave Ford wrote at the time
“Listening to New Wave is like having a nose job done with a jackhammer during an earthquake in a vat of boiling tar and pig intestines”
Just substitute “new wave” for “punk” and you get the idea…especially if you were there.
After Otto graduated from Stanford he headed home to Everett WA and his parent’s home to ponder his next move. Phil and Dave had made enough of a connection at Stanford that Dave (a native of the Bay Area) followed his buddy north where they both crashed at Phil’s parents house until moving to Seattle, where they decided to continue their musical pursuits. Those pursuits may have been different than those of Raw Meat, but Seattle at the time was a great place to experiment and invent, whether it was the hardcore punk of The Fartz or the incredibly dense and near incomprehensible barrage of Audio Leter (yes, that’s spelled correctly).
Having decided to form a new band Dave and Phil put a “musicians wanted” ad in The Rocket, Seattle’s all-around chronicler of the music scene. The two were incredibly fortunate when a fellow named Jerry Frink turned up. Jerry was a great drummer, but his real talent was in his mastery of all forms of percussion, whether it be congas, bongos, bell trees, marimbas or just about anything else he could hit or strike in perfect unison. The greatest-and probably most unexpected instrument he brought into the mix was the timbale….not an instrument normally found in punk or no-wave music-outside the Contortions, perhaps…but still not a featured instrument by any means
The addition of a stand-alone percussionist offered a broad array of directions, but the band would still need a drummer behind a full kit. Terry Pollard, a drummer who’d studied music theory but with little live experience showed up on the recommendation of Bryan Runnings who was then running The Gorilla Room on Second Avenue. Pollard admits he didn’t have a musical agenda. He was ready to play just about any genre as long as it presented a challenge…why waste that music theory degree? The other three were open to jazz, funk, Caribbean, African, rock and punk themes, and as they wrote new songs they took advantage of all those sounds, as well as bit of musique concrète ala John Cage. Despite delving into some serious musical territory there was always a sheen of fun encapsulating everything the band played. Self-seriousness was never a part of the show.
In late 1980 rapid-i went into American Music studios to record four songs for a projected EP. Songs included “New Style”, “Each Second (both featured here) as well as “Misinformation” and “Hungry People“. The two tracks here are less angular and more traditionally structured than both “Misinformation” and “Hungry People”, but there’s no doubt the other two tracks are plenty of fun with odd (changing) time signatures and plenty of clanging (but not annoying) guitar laid over an inventive rhythm section, and of course, plenty of quirky percussion fills by Jerry Frink.
Unfortunately the EP was not released at the time, and the tapes were forgotten, They finally saw the light of day in 2013, and were released as a digital download on dadastic! sounds along with an extended mix of the title song “New Style” The EP is widely available at almost all internet download and streaming services. Take a chance!
Shortly after the EP’s recording rapid-i called it quits. Ford was ready to go back to the Bay Area and pursue a career in journalism. He became a contributor for The San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. He also became a yoga instructor a vocation he still takes part in. By all accounts he’s a pretty good teacher. His students love him and the quirky sense of humor he has always shared has made many of his students actually enjoy yoga! Dave is currently living in Tampa Florida. He still plays occasional gigs and records.
After the dissolution of rapid-i Phil Otto formed the band Steddi-5 along with Student Nurse drummer John Rogers, guitarist Tim Clark, Saxophonist David Fischer and Corinne Mah on vocals. The band had a brief but successful career in Seattle, and in 1983 their song “Fame or Famine” was included in The Seattle Syndrome Volume II compilation. The song featured Jack Weaver on trumpet. Jack was the original owner of Triangle Studio, which would later be made famous when Jack Endino took it over as Reciprocal Recording.
After their break-up Rogers would continue to play in Student Nurse and self-produce his weirdo-pop solo project “Sunworm” Tim Clark had been a member of The Hurricanes, although it’unclear if he continued with the band. Corinne Mah, would return to British Columbia where she was born. David Fisher continued to lend a hand in several productions by Marc Barreca (formerly of Young Scientist).
Otto took a job teaching on the east coast, but soon found himself back in the Bay Area, where as his profile as the head of his Otto Design Group says;
“Philip has been designing innovative systems for retail and living for over 20 years — beginning with his work at the Headlands Center for the Arts crafting spaces for artists Ann Hamilton, Andres Serrano and David Ireland. With a degree from Stanford in Cultural Anthropology, an MA in Human Development from Pacific Oaks College and MFA from San Francisco Art Institute — Phil brings a uniquely humanistic approach to all of his work — creating truly memorable environments and experiences for clients all over the globe”.
Jerry Frink and Terry Pollard went on to co-found The Beat Pagodas along with Terry’s brother Tim on vocals, Stanford Filarca (previously of The Spectators), and Steve Homman and Chris Anderson (besides Jerry and Terry) on various drums and percussion and vocals. The band became very successful on the Seattle club circuit, and never failed to point out that the entire band were percussionists except for Filarca who played bass. so their rallying cry became “no guitar!” Their shows were kinetic, full of dedicated abandonment and driven by controlled chaos. The Beat Pagoda’s only released one EP on Left Coast Records in 1984.were, like rapid-i a complete anomaly among Seattle’s then crop of rock bands-perhaps the same can be argued even today. It’s certain there have never been Seattle bands that brought across such joy in the decades since. After all is said and done the gloom and doom that became so fashionable in the late 80s and early 90s “grunge” era there was a parallel universe of fun, unabashed dancing and the pull of the avant garde in Seattle’s early to mid 80s scene. We still need bands like rapid-I to remind us in the joy of both the avant garde and the mundane. Most of all we could all use a respite from the seriousness of our times.
-Dennis R. White, Sources; Dave Ford (interview with the author, September 9, 2017); Philip Otto (interview with the author, September 19, 2017); Terry Pollard (interview with the author, September 20, 2017); “rapid-I New Style” dadastic.blogspot.com, retrieved December 29, 2017); Dave Seminara “Chasing Kurt Cobain in Washington State” (New York Times, March 25, 2014); Dave Ford “A Mabuhay Punker Spills His Wisdom” (The Stanford Daily, 18 May 1978); “Philip H. Otto, Primary” (ottodesigngroup.com, retrieved December 29, 2017) Raw Meat -78″ (collegeband.com, retrieved December 29, 2017)