On September 21 2017 Iggy Pop was hosting his “Iggy Confidential” show that’s become semi-regular Friday night fare on the UKs BBC 6. About three quarters through his show he dropped the needle on a song almost everyone familiar with the early 80’s Seattle music scene. It was The Pudz doing “Take Me To Your (Leader)”. More than a few Seattle listeners ears pricked up immediately and hopefully a few others’ around the world. After the song finished Iggy related what a horrible year 1981 was-the year The Pudz single was released. Iggy mentioned “pooping out” Zombie Birdhouse and how he’d been relegated to opening for A Flock of Seagulls at New York’s Peppermint Lounge; he was so humiliated he built himself a cross to drag onto stage with him. Then he went on to tell his audience what a great little band out of Seattle The Pudz were, and that they were a high point for him during that awful year. One person who heard the broadcast (via the quick thinking of a friend who was streaming it.) was Rob Morgan… the genius behind The Pudz, and for the last four decades one of most visible guys on Seattle’s music scene…25 of which were spent leading The Squirrels-or one of the many iterations of the band. First he tells me about Iggy playing one of his Pudz records;
“That was mind-blowing”says Rob. “Being a bright shining spot for him in a shitty year. I just about had a heart attack, then when he actually starts singing R.B Greaves’ ‘Take A Letter, Maria’ (the flip side of Take Me To Your ( Leader) and cracking himself up I felt like ‘that kind of validates my entire career; of all the people who gave me shit for being a quote-unquote “cover band”-which we’re not. If we were a cover band we’d be doing songs people actually wanted to hear, and playing in Holiday Inns for real money. We wouldn’t be taking Terry Jacks’ Seasons In The Sun and speeding it up faster and faster before it becomes Van McCoys’ Do The Hustle.
What Rob didn’t mention is that he has at least one other important and influential fan; or he did have until he died in 2004: The great British DJ, John Peel. Peel kept a box of records near his door, which has become known as The John Peel Record Box. Peel claimed if there was ever a fire in his house the box was next to the door because it was filled with 147 singles of his favorite records of all-time. The box contained everything from Anne Peeble’s ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ and Laurie Anderson’s ‘O Superman’ to much rarer fare like Medicine Head’s ‘Coast To Coast (And Shore To Shore)’ The box is an eclectic mix of jazz, rock, psychedelia and indie-pop. One of those rare 45’s included is ‘Oz On 45’a record by the band Morgan is more well-known for; The Squirrels. ‘Oz on 45’ is a piss-take on the once popular output of producers stringing one hit after another, sometimes speeding songs up to segue into the next- and sometimes slowing them down for the same reason. Most of the time the gimmick was to keep the same pitch and the same beat of top-40 songs. The best that can be said about the “Stars on 45” records was they keep people dancing (or listening) to some of the most egregious songs of the ‘70s…a pretty egregious decade in it’s own right.
“So you wanna know how we all got to this?” Rob offers in a more and more enthusiastic coffee buzz
Rob grew up in one of Seattle’s bedroom communities, Edmonds, Washington. He says he ‘There was nothing’ adding I was”a weirdo kid from the get-go” like a lot of the thousands and thousands of other suburban misfits biding their time before breaking out of the mold to become weirdo artists. Rob says that during his teens he was listening to people like Jethro Tull and Leon Russell and the Winter’s Brothers. He points to the Beatles as his earliest love. He also talks about his sister giving him a copy of The Mothers of Invention’s “Absolutely Free” while he was in the fifth grade. He didn’t know it then but he’d just set out on a journey that what would be Seattle’s next great era in music. He remembers a girl in school noticing Rob had a picture of Ziggy Stardust in his locker. Rob was being hassled by the jocks who were listening to Elton John “I find that really funny” he says. Then one day someone gave him a copy of the Seattle fanzine Chatterrbox. The fanzine was put out by Lee Lumsden and Jim Basnight. The cover was a photo of Lou Reed.
“By that time I was doing the back pages of Hit Parader so I was already familiar with the underground thing, but nobody I knew out in Edmonds even knew about that, so I called up Lee Lumsted on the phone because his number was in Chatterbox and we just started yackin’ back and forth. Then they invited me to a party so I went down there (to Seattle) and met those kids and the next thing you know I was hanging out with that crowd but I’m still living at my folks. I’d pack a sack of clothes and a can of soup and hitchhike the 20 miles to the University District and I’d be there two or three days-staying on Jeff Cades’ floor. Eventually my folks are like “you gotta go” so me and my other buddy from Edmonds fished around and found this place on 55th and University and rented it. It was $210 a month, all utilities paid and furnished, so we got me and my other buddy, Gary Womack, and the late Gregor Gayden and whoever. Everybody living in there paying fifty buck a guy. Eventually the U-Men moved in there…or Tom and Charlie moved in there, and the U-Men were formed in the basement. Anyway, we were in that house six or seven years. We got up the first time some guy knocked on the door, and went to bed after we threw the last guy out.
Those were the days before the U-District’s main thoroughfare became a dangerous place. In the late 80s University Avenue became a more depressing place full of drugs, runaways and homelessness. The scene before that it was vibrant, and a great place to hook up wth the altenative music scene. It was also before there was any social media to bond with other musicians, artists and fans. There were similar stirrings coming out of Seattle’s Capitol Hill, and by some sort of cultural osmosis among a large crowd of kids coming out of Seattle’s Roosevelt High School. In the end many of them would meet up, resulting in a city-wide movement. Lee Lumsden would go on to be a multi-talented presence in Seattle, Jim Basnight founded the power-pop band The Moberlys, Rich Riggins and Gary Minkler would found Red Dress, and Rich would later go on to co-found Chinas Comidas. The kid who seemed to be everywhere in the early to mid-80s’ Duff McKagen, also went to Roosevelt High School, though a bit later. Two other important alumni are Tom Price, one of the founding members of The U-Men and Bill Reiflin who played drums with The Telepaths, then went on to The Blackouts, Pigface, Ministry and R.E.M. Now Bill plays in the re-constituted King Crimson.
By 1979 Rob was also ready to jump into the fray. Since he’d been a kid he’d been a huge fan of just about anything great in pop music. He’d collected a large amount of promo and fan memorabilia (a collection that continues to grow even now) and the sly ability to combine pop music genres and show a great deal of wit in executing it.
“I just started playing. Me and Eric Erickson (who’s passed on) who was my buddy from High School..we were hanging out with this other friend of ours from High School named Kevin played at a party The Enemy were having and we called ourselves The Fishsticks. The Enemy and everybody thought that we were super-funny. We did “Herman’s Hermits “I’m Into Something Good” and “Do You Believe in Magic’ by The Lovin’ Spoonful and a bunch of 60s covers that no one was doing at that time, because they were only about five years old or something. Later we got asked to do another gig with The Girls, The Radios and Little Magnets at IOGG Hall. We pretty much stole the whole show and pissed everybody off”.
The band was also asked to play a couple of house parties and they went over well, but it wasn’t ‘til one night during a party at the “Madhouse” (an infamous party house near University Ave.) that The Pudz were actually born and christened. The entire process was witnessed by about 300 music weirdos, punks, artists and fans. Everyone went bananas and then ran all over town and told everybody there was this new band called The Pudz so we said “oh well, I guess we’re called The Pudz”. The next day hundred of people were running around talking about The Pudz. I guess I was a rock singer guy cuz I’d go out there and jump around and have a good time…it just kind of happened.”
“How I wound up in The Pudz, was kind of an accident. Dave Locksley, the guitarist, was trying to start a band with Dave Drewry the drummer (who’s also passed on now) and they would practice in my friend Bill Larsen’s basement. I was hanging out over there so I’d go down there and we’d start doing some dumb covers just for the hell of it.
After The Pudz were formed they had a successful career as one of Seattle’s favorite bands.
“In 1982 when The Pudz fell apart I did a fanzine called “Pop Lust” for a couple of years”, Rob tells me. “Then I got sick of doing that and I said I want to get back into playing. So I went and saw one of the Young Fresh Fellows first shows and I cornered Scott and said you guys have got the kind of 60s garage-y thing I’m kinda looking for so why not let me be your front man? And he said “well, I’m gonna be a front man because I’m writing all the songs, but how about if we back you up under a different name doing covers? And I said “GOLDEN!” So the first year The Squirrels was essentially me fronting The Young Fresh Fellows, except Scott would play bass and Jim would play guitar”.
“So they go up to Bellingham and play a show at The 3B’s and they take me with them. Then they put on wigs qnd basically open for themselves and half the time the audience wouldn’t even figure out it was the same band cuz the guy from The Pudz was jumpin’ around. So that’s how we did it first, and it was a bit straighter then, as far as the magic-y kind of thing. But then they started taking off and they were too busy to keep doing it, but Tad (the drummer) being a wierdo, he wanted to keep doing it.
In 1985 me and Tad brought Eric Erickson back in, got Craig Ferguson on bass (a buddy from Tower Records where I worked), and drafted Joey Kline on a recomendation after checking him out in Boy Toast. He was really funny and talented. Thats when it really started rolling.. Jimmy Thomas (JT) came into the band in 1989 and Joey has been my co-pilot 23 out of the 25 years The Squirrels (or one of their pseudonyms) have been together. The name eventually ended up simply as The Squirrels, but any term with the word “squirrel” in it has probably been linked to them.
“So how did we get to this point?” he asks himself again.
“He begins to answer himself. “Like I said I remember The Beatles…and that prime-era stuff that was on the radio. This was where I got all my information. I was just some lonely kid living out in Edmonds, growing up. What the hell? And then I find Aladdin Sane or something, and I’m like, whoa! there’s a whole world out there that seems to be interesting”.
“It made me realize that either they’re lying to us…all kinds of music is the same and it doesn’t matter and you can smash through rock into jazz into that and the other thing, and it doesn’t freaking matter. This world of ours tried it ourselves and that; along with NRBQ and other things, and there’s so many bands that think that way. I don’t mean to offend Country people but I just don’t understand why you would say “I do this and paint myself into this little box. I can’t step outside of this box…and it makes me a thousand times more authentic’. That makes no sense to me”.
“The whole tribute band thing also cracks me up cuz in 1986 on our first album one entire side was Johnny Kidd and The Pirates songs (an early British R&R band known for “Shakin’ All Over”-a song not included on their first record). The other Everybody thought that was completely stupid and that we were insane, and now if you have an original band you can’t get a show, but if you have a band where you dress up and pretend you were Guns N’ Roses you could play every day. So for our next show since we’re going to do a lot of covers and we’re just going to say “For this next song we are a tribute band to (whatever band we’re supposed to do)” and then we will become a tribute band for whatever the next song is, and then people will like it better”.
“Like I said” says Rob “The Squirrels just kept going and going and going and by 2009 we couldn’t do it any more” says Rob. “I looked at the calendar one day and said “if I make it to the next Christmas show that will be twenty Christmas shows and twenty-five years under the name of The Squirrels, so that was a good time to just step away”. I made a bunch of t-shirts with Death With Dignity Retirement Tour on ‘em and that was that. Until recently we hadn’t done a show since that “farewell tour” that ended Christmas Eve 2009. I mean we kinda did a one-off for a friend of mine’s 60th birthday in his living room. I kinda jumped up with the fellas and did a Mighty Squirrels set, but we haven’t done a fully authorized, sanctioned Squirrels show until last year (2017) and nobody thought it would happen. The first show was in April and then in May and then in September”.
‘Last year”, says Rob, “we brought The Squirrels back together. We had to cheer people up cuz of the whole Trump thing and I had to find something different to do”. He adds “I swore for years and years and years and years there’s no way we would ever do that. It sounds ridiculous but one of the main reasons we did that was because of Cheeto-face and everybody I know is losing their minds and just not having any fun…just losing their minds. I thought to myself It’s ‘boots on the ground time’ and it’s us against them and everybody has to do what they can do. I’m too old and physically beat-up to go on a march and too broke to give money that would be worth it to anybody, but I can sure as hell go out there and entertain people and distract them and make fun of this freaking idiot (Trump). So I called up the rest of the band and they just said yuh-huh.
The first two shows we railed heavily. We did “Lump” by The Presidents of The United State, but we changed it to “Trump”. We did “Draggin’ The Line”. We changed it to “Drainin’ The Swamp”. We did “Carrie Anne” by The Hollies and changed it to “Kellyanne”. People were peein’ their pants laughing, but by the time we got to the third show we said “You know, we don’t wanna talk about it anymore’. People know why we came back, and it’s getting to the point that it isn’t funny anymore, so we dumped all the Trump stuff. Now we’re playing sporadically…I’m not actively trying to get out there and compete and get rollin’ again, but we’re doing a show every few months. We have the best band now that we have EVER had. It’s ridiculous.
We’ve got me and Joey back in, who as I said was in The Squirrels for 23 of the 25 years we’ve been together. J.T. is back on lead guitar. who was in the band for 15 years at least. Bruce Laven is back in on keyboards who did it for eight or nine years. Then, we’ve got an all-new rhythm section. We got this guy named Bill Ray on drums who recently moved to town who’s fantastic. He also works with Leroy Bell right now, but he used to play with Ike Turner for years. He’s a technical monster, but he just happens to be a big goofball who “gets it”. Then we brought in Keith Lowe on bass. He’s another monster who’s been just kinda laying in wait. Certain people we just consider members of The Squirrels whether they’ve ever played with us or not. Basically Keith Lowe has been in The Squirrels for 20 years but only played the last three shows. Keith plays with everybody. He even plays with Wayne Horvitz. Keith’s a world-class bass player, so we’ve got a world-class rhythm section and all the best loved guys we ever had…that’s what the current line-up is. It’s pretty ferocious.
“We could have spun the next show as our fifth one, but it’s really our fourth and a half show. There was just me and Joey and a drummer from 20 years ago playin’ in a pot store for their third anniversary, so that was kind of The Squirrels. But we were thrilled to death because we had no idea…well we knew people would remember us, but we had no idea what would happen. Our first show back, last April, we had more people in Darells Tavern by 9:00 than any other band who’s played there. The door guy was “what the hell is going on?” They came from miles around and went freakin’ bananas, We couldn’t believe it. We were totally touched. And we went down to Tacoma a month later and it happened again. Then we played at The High Dive and it pretty much happened again, except the crowd was a little lighter that time cuz it was Labor Day Weekend and Bumbershoot was going on, but we held our own, even against that. It’s been going really good and people seem genuinely happy and genuinely grateful. It’s a kick in the pants to look out there and just see a room full of people with shit-eatin’ grins on their face”
“The Squirrels have been through about 35 guys. We were the aforementioned Mighty Squirrels for about a year, and then everybody quit except Tad…they just couldn’t do it anymore. Then me and Tad got guys together as The New Age Urban Squirrels (also mentioned before) and that’s what we were for a couple of years. Then the first album was two split EPs “Five Virgins” by and The New Age Urban Squirrels and Ernest Anyway and The Mighty Mighty Squirrels doing “Sings The Hits of Johnny Kidd and The Pirates. Then Tad quit and we got another drummer, and when Craig quit and we got Kevin Crosby on bass and changed the name to Crosby, Squirrels and Nay because we had brought in Jon Nay who used to be in The Frazz. Nay quit, and then we brought in Nate Johnson from the fastbacks on drums…so we just changed our name to Crosby, Squirrels and Nate.
“Anyway we’d get into the gradual process of replacing people as they dropped out; and the style would kind of change depending on who else was in it. Now when Eric Erickson was with us he could play anything. When I was about 16 years old in High School I remember him playing the entire The Who Live at Leeds album on his SGN…like OK! So that’s when we started getting a little all over the map stylistically because we could take on anything. We were doing what they call mash-ups now decades ago. We called them Mudleys cuz a Medley is a whole bunch of songs in a row. We figured a Mudley was a whole bunch of songs stacked up. We’d have one bit where half of the band was doing a country version of “Ben” by Michael Jackson and the other half were playing “Giant Steps” by John Coltrane. Five musicians would be laughing while everyone else scratched their heads. We had another thing “Hawaii Take Five-O”…stuff like that”.
I ask him why people believe The Squirrels are a cover band. He nearly bristles at the question, so I ask him how he would describe the band.
“The Squirrels were never really a cover band. They took multiple hooks and melodies from one band and mooshed them up with another unlikely band or two…or three, etc. The formula was exactly what made The Squirrels shows fun and entertaining. Then he enigmatically says
“Well we’re not a cover band but we are a cover band”.
“I would call us “the great rock and roll equalizers” he says. We take really shitty songs and we elevate them. Then we take really great songs and we grind them through the skewer and we pound it all together into a dough. Basically we take the entire history of pop music, smash it together into a ball and throw it back in your face.. Some people understand it, and some people don’t. There’s not a lot of middle ground. There’s the people who generally like The Squirrels . They say “They’re genuine and I love that band” or “I don’t understand what’s going on, make them stop”. You don’t meet somebody who says “oh I have one of their albums…they’re pretty good”. They’re either in or their out”.
“As far as CDs go, Popllama Products recently went out of business and it’s owner, Conrad Uno retired. He sold his house and he’s moving away. He’s done more than enough. So when he was clearing out his basement he found a few boxes of CD’s he didn’t know he still had. He found copies of one of our CDs ‘Harsh Toke of Reality’ from 1993. The band also have a bunch of copies of ‘The Not So Bright Side of The Moon’. Those two are available at our shows and at our next show we’re hopefully going to be putting in two or three more of the Pink Floyd covers into the live shows” says Rob.
“Harsh Toke of Reality” is probably representative of what we do; about a third originals and the rest random covers. And then, “The Not so Bright Side of The Moon”- it’s our undisputed masterpiece.
“There’s actually an entire album that is unreleased”. he tells me “It was the follow-up to “The Not So Bright Side of The Moon”. We recorded it in 2002 and called it “Rock Polisher”. It’s the mother of ALL Squirrels albums, but we have never found a label to release it cuz rather than doing it at Uno’s studio (where we had to pay for the studio time) we did it at J.T.’s on his computer. We could spend as much time as we wanted The Not So Bright Side of The Moon” took us ten days total, mixed and everything. For this album (“Rock Polisher”) we got together every Wednesday for a year, and by the time we made it, it took “Let’s Dance” three days to mix because it had 50 tracks on it. We did “Let’s Dance” and Wish You Were Here” at the same time. Anyway, all the Squirrels fans wanted it because it has all the medleys, It has the Mandy medley on it and all that stuff that was never on any other album because we didn’t have time to do it right. But by doing what we did on Rock Polisher no one could pay the royalties for it. They’d have to pay for 27 songs for a half hour album and every single song is like five songs at the same time. So we sent it to all these labels and they said
“That is the greatest thing you’ve ever made. But I gotta hire a team of scientists to figure out how to pay for it. Good luck”.
Rob ends up with a final message:
“I’d also like to say that we’re super-excited that in 2034 the comprehensive boxed set called Fart Party is gonna come out. However, we have no idea what label it’s going to come out on because the kid who’s going to re-discover us in a pile of crap isn’t even born yet. But this stuff’s all gonna happen. We’ve left a big enough pile of weird crap laying around for somebody to find in 20 years and say “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! If there is someone out there who wants to release it we have all the master tapes.
THE SQUIRRELS WILL BE DOING A MATINEE SHOW, SUNDAY JANUARY 7, 2018
18041 AURORA AVE. NORTH, SEATTLE, WA, 98133
DOORS OPEN AT 2:00 PM
SHOWTIME 2:30 PM
-Dennis R. White. Sources; Rob Morgan interview with the author (November 25, 2017); Stephen Tow; “Addendum: Pop Lust For Life, Rob Morgan and The Squirrels” (The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge, Sasquatch Books, 2011); Rich Webb “The Greatest Bands You’ve Never Heard Of” (The Outsider, January 20, 1999); Ned Raggett “The Squirrels: USA (O Canadarm-Fine Musical Trash from Canada and Beyond, September 5, 2009); Michael Krugman “Capt. Morgan’s revenge: In a scene that takes itself too seriously, The Squirrels lighten the Mood” (The Seattle Weekly, October 9, 2006); Scott Schinder / Ira Robbins “The Young Fresh Fellows [The Squirrels