WITH THE RECENT PASSING of British rock icon, David Bowie (on January 10, 2016), comes another moment to reflect on the significant impact that early Northwest rock ‘n’ roll had around the world. Just consider: back in 1964 – when Bowie’s teen band, Davie Jones and the King Bees, got their first opportunity to cut a record, they did “Liza Jane” (Decca F 13807). And for that single’s B-side selection they could have opted to do just about any other song around. But, what they chose was to cover "Louie - Go Home," the B-side of a fresh 45 by Portland, Oregon’s Paul Revere and the Raiders. Recently signed to the mega-label, Columbia Records, the Raiders had followed up their “Louie Louie” single with a second Columbia disc – also penned by the Los Angeles-based musician, Richard Berry – titled “Have Love, Will Travel.”

And, as a flipside for that disc, they included a new tune written by their singer, Mark Lindsay. Its backstory is that the band had tracked Berry down at some nightclub in order to introduce themselves and ask if he had any other songs they might be able to successfully cover. Berry was busy – and perhaps even a bit dismissive of the young rockers – and their feelings were hurt. Frustrated, Lindsay dashed off the lyrics to “Louie - Go Home,” and on March 17, 1964, that single (Columbia 4-43008) was released. 

A mere three months later – on June 5, 1964 – the King Bees’ “Louie, Louie Go Home” was released. It caught the ears of the British press with one reviewer noting it had a “Pounding beat...It’s a good slice of R&B and could make the charts,” while another pegged it as a “Hard-hitting R&B follow-up to the Kingsmen’s ‘Louie, Louie’ hit...surprisingly good for a homegrown group.” Then another up-&-coming young "homegrown" band also took the tune into a studio – although, when the Who cut it in 1965, the song morphed a bit into something called “Lubie (Come Back Home).”


Music has been made in the Pacific Northwest for thousands of years. From the first Native Americans gathering to dance on these shores to the unholy mosh-pits of the Grunge Era, people in this region have always come together to create music. Over time, many of our finest local players have exerted a profound impact in various musical realms – including classical, jazz, pop, country, rock, and hip-hop – and have thus played important roles in shaping Seattle’s cultural life, and its global reputation. Today this area is as widely known for its unique sounds as it is for our famed computer and coffee companies – Seattle has blossomed into the “City of Music” and you are invited to explore many highlights from our deep history to our robust present through this website – and with the Seattle Music Map.

A Dustbin No Longer
Seattle – still a relatively young town – is certainly not the first to earn a reputation for its regionally distinct strains of music. Indeed, long before this area gained any notoriety for its tunes, places like New Orleans, Chicago, and Nashville were already the celebrated homes of jazz, blues, and country music. As recently as the 1940s while visiting the area, British symphony conductor [Sir Thomas Beecham] infamously quipped that Seattle’s arts scene amounted to an “aesthetic dustbin” – a harsh appraisal that wounded the town’s pride a bit, but surely also one likely shared by plenty of other worldly cosmopolitans.

So, though a late-bloomer in joining the music capitals’ ranks as a particularly inviting place to make and enjoy music, Seattle has, without a doubt, arrived. Our musical community has successfully developed an overlapping matrix of vibrant and resilient “scenes” that increasingly honor their pioneers and simultaneously nurture their emerging talents. Yet, in hindsight, we can also recognize that the path music-making takes is like a very busy two-way street –that traffic brings imported influences from the outside world, and simultaneously exports our local sounds to appreciative audiences in far-flung locales.

Early Sounds
The earliest-known music created locally was that which suited the cultural and spiritual needs of the indigenous Dkhw’Duw’Absh (Duwamish) Indians during the thousands of years that they’ve dwelled here. Then came sequential waves of inbound musical traditions brought here by Spanish and British explorers, French-Canadian fur-trappers, missionaries, miners, loggers, sailors and soldiers, cowboys, Oregon Trail emigrants – and, much later, World War Two-era jobseekers. It was, in fact, the children of some of the latter who grew up steeped in the local music of the 1940s and went on to fantastic careers – notably jazz and R&B greats like Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson.

The Wild West
But a question arises: Why? Why exactly did Seattle, of all places, become a serious music-making center, a genuine “City of Music.” Among the popular theories advanced to explain this little puzzle are those that hinge on the notions of geographic and cultural isolation, the long-acknowledged “Seattle Spirit,” and, well yes, this area’s famous – “It’s The Water” – precipitation. Considering our relative geographic isolation, this turn of events would seem highly improbable given that Seattle was simply way off-the-beaten-path in the eyes of the power centers of America’s entertainment industries in New York City and Hollywood. During the early decades after settlement – when few professional entertainers dared brave their way out into the wilds of the Northwest – local talents made music simply to satisfy themselves and entertain their friends.

One theoretical reason that Seattle’s music is unique is the special character of the Northwest people. Perhaps inspired by the helpful friendliness of Chief Seattle (“Si’ahl'”) and his tribal members who greeted the arrival of the Denny Party here in 1851, those early denizens of the tiny village we now call Seattle kindly helped one another settle into their new frontier homes. Among the very first log cabins constructed was the large cookhouse for Henry Yesler’s steam-powered sawmill – and that structure served for years as the fledgling community’s public house. It was there that the villagers entertained themselves. The charming young daughters of Denny Party member Nathanial Bell (for whom the Belltown neighborhood is named) were known to perform for their neighbors on occasion. This sort of cultural isolation ultimately has its impacts on the art that blossoms from a place, and Northwest music – produced not to please distant music industry moguls, rather to appeal to local tastes – slowly began to take shape in its uniquely regional forms.

Rhythm of the Rain 
Now let’s consider Seattle’s famous rain and what possible impact it may have on artistic endeavors. Though that silly ‘60s pop radio hit – “Seattle” – was all about “The bluest skies you’ve ever seen are in Seattle,” the truth is that this is one very soggy place. From ancient times onward, seeking shelter during the extended rainy months resulted in individuals spending an inordinate amount of time indoors. Cultural anthropologists have posited that a major reason why North Coast Salish artwork is among the most stylized – and easily recognizable – forms developed by any indigenous people on the globe is that they had abundant food sources which allowed them plenty of time to create art inside their longhouses.

In modern times staying inside during the dark rainy winters can bring a sense of the dreaded “cabin fever,” but it also can drive creative types to focus ever more deeply on their artistic endeavors. Musicians increase their skills. Songwriters hone their craft. Audio engineers perfect their techniques. Bands rehearse and develop formidable sonic profiles – musical sounds that more than once have managed to capture the attentions of the outside world.

Seattle Spirit
Then there is that timeworn phrase – “The Seattle Spirit” – which was initially applied in efforts to describe the bootstrap vigor with which townsfolk rebuilt Seattle in the wake of the devastating Great Fire of 1889. Not waiting for others to offer help, those people displayed an admirable do-it-yourself approach to the disaster. This “D-I-Y” attitude became an ingrained aspect of the Northwest character – and one that has energized our artists down through the decades.

Along the way, this region’s musicians created their own unwritten ground-rules. They developed an informal set of attitudes and practices that evolved into a Northwest ethos. Among the tenets adopted were the rather novel notions that blatant, overt careerism is not ideal; that collaborative camaraderie amongst musicians is beneficial; and that a music scene is composed of far more than just the players. Indeed, that the audience – ideally with an openness to new artistic explorations and willingness to support the community’s creative individuals – is essential and must be respected. And on that front Seattle is second to none.

Seattle Hunch
So, then: Why has Seattle evolved into an irresistible musical mecca that has attracted so many idealistic musicians from faraway places? (Hey, anyone remember those legions of rock ‘n’ roll pilgrims who sought the “Holy Grail” of Grunge here throughout the 1990s?) Well, in significant part, it is because we have established an open and supportive music community here. But even that reality is not something entirely new. Consider the historical fact that players have long relocated here from distant places in attempts to weave their way into the Northwest’s enviable and irreplaceable scenes.

That is certainly why jazz and R&B legend Ray Charles moved here from Florida in 1948. It is why the struggling country singer/songwriter Willie Nelson moved to the Northwest in 1957. Same story with Bakersfield’s honky-tonk hero, Buck Owens, in 1958. Then there was the amateur songbird Loretta Lynn who moved here from Kentucky around that same time, got a guitar in Seattle, and launched her remarkable career. Fresh and inviting, Seattle proved to be a land of opportunity for many additional soon-to-be famous musicians including the American folk icon Woody Guthrie, who penned 26 Northwest-themed songs here in the during the 1940s, and America’s premier avant-garde composer, John Cage, who moved here in the 1930s. A decade earlier our rough-&-tumble jazz joints provided steady work for the self-proclaimed “inventor” of jazz, Ferdinand “Jellyroll” Morton, who wrote and recorded his boogie-woogie piano classic “Seattle Hunch.” In each such instance the Northwest offered a nurturing environment replete with roadhouses and dancehalls and a receptive audience who supported them on their paths to stardom.

206 Talents
The Northwest’s most notable talents, however, were not visitors or recent emigrants at all, but rather, our own native sons and daughters. Among those who the expansive world of music has embraced are Bing Crosby (the “world’s most recognized voice”); Mildred Bailey (“the first female big-band vocalist”); Bonnie Guitar (‘50s country/pop star & pioneering female producer); the Ventures (world’s most successful instrumental rock band); the Brothers Four and Chad Mitchell Trio (hit-making folkies); the Kingsmen (purveyors of the region’s signature song, “Louie Louie”); the Sonics (‘60s garage/punk pioneers); Jimi Hendrix (psychedelic bluesman); Larry Coryell (jazz fusion guitar pioneer); Heart (hard rockers); Mark O’Conner (fiddle virtuoso); Danny O’Keefe (folkie songwriter), Robert Cray (superstar bluesman); Queensrÿche (heavy metal heroes); Sir Mix-A-Lot (hip-hop star); and Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana (gods of the 1980s-1990s grunge scene). On an equally as impressive level, the Seattle Symphony has in the last couple decades earned a reputation as one of the world’s most-recorded orchestras.

Making A Scene
Having outstanding musicians alone, however, does not define a genuine music scene. Just as Seattle continues to grow and mature, so too does its music biz infrastructure. Seattle’s audio recording industry has come quite a ways since Joe Boles’ modest home-basement studio cut the town’s first string of hit records back in the 1950s. Those teenaged rock ‘n’ roll musicians – including the Fleetwoods, who enjoyed a few international hits – each scored national hits for Seattle’s first successful pop label, Dolton Records. Inspired by Dolton’s sudden success, a handful of additional labels – including Jerden, Seafair-Bolo, Etiquette, and Camelot Records – also got in on the ‘60s action. Subsequent years saw the emergence of fine new recording studios like Bad Animals and hit-making records companies including Nastymix and Sub Pop. Today, Seattle is home to many high-quality studios and several dozen active record companies.

For musicians, recording a song and then having it marketed by a record company is but the beginning. The next step has been getting radio stations to support it with airplay. Luckily, Seattle has boasted radio stations that supported locally produced records. KJR was an extremely influential hit-breaking national leader throughout the 1960s, and more recently KNDD and KEXP have followed suit. Yet another – the high school-based student-run station, KNHC – has established itself as one of only six Nielsen-monitored stations that contribute song selection data to Billboard magazine’s national “Dance Airplay” chart.

The City of Music
Seattle has always benefited from having outstanding music schools including the Cornish School of Fine Arts and the University of Washington’s Music Department. In addition several local high schools’ jazz studies programs – most notably at Garfield and Roosevelt – have for decades consistently been recognized as among the nation’s best. Seattle is also the home to many music-focused organizations including one of America’s major music museums – the Experience Music Project (EMP) – and the city government’s own Office of Film + Music which helped found the Seattle Music Commission in 2010.

Considering the ubiquity of live music performances found here, Seattle – the “City of Music” – has especially earned its new tagline. Aside from the seemingly endless variety of tunes one can hear in obvious venues like nightclubs, taverns, theaters, concert halls, and elevators – remember Muzak (the “background music” company) was based here for many years! – music can be enjoyed in countless other settings – including the City’s OnHold program which provides locally produced tunes as background music heard by people telephoning City departments when they are placed on hold. 

Among those are the traditional street-corner buskers down at Pike Place Market; lunchtime concerts at Freeway Park; various Seafair events; the Vera Project’s all-ages live music shows; the Woodland Park Zoo’s Zoo Tunes concerts and the music scheduled at numerous scattered neighborhoods’ weekend farmer’s markets. And that doesn’t even include all of the many annual festivals at which music plays a key role – such as, Bumbershoot, the Capitol Hill Block Party, the Decibel Festival, Earshot Jazz Festival, Northwest Folklife Festival, REVERBfest, the CityArts Fest, and various ethnic events. So, to summarize, in Seattle, music is everywhere!

This city has long sought a definitive identity that could be easily encapsulated in a punchy marketing tagline. A century ago it was somehow agreed that Seattle’s preeminence amongst the region’s sparse settlements had earned its crown as the “Queen City.” Later – when widely viewed as a company town for the Boeing Company – people started applying the moniker of “Jet City.” Struggling to escape that inaccurate nickname, a concerted rebranding campaign began in the 1980s – one that inexplicably seemed to lean on Wizard of Oz iconography by asking us to click our heels and try to believe that we live in the “Emerald City.” Luckily, one can’t always choose how one is perceived, and today it is quite clear that many years of community effort have finally established this place as nothing less than: Seattle: The City of Music.

[Note: This essay by Peter Blecha was originally commissioned by the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Music + Film, and  posted on their website from 2011 through 2015.]


IN JULY 1916 AN AMBITIOUS MUSICAL EVENT was promoted as Seattle’s “First Annual Music Festival.” A recently discovered promotional card reveals that the main musical attraction would be a performance of George Frederic Handel’s oratorio from “The Messiah.” A hand-penciled note at bottom states "Heard this in Arena, Seattle, July 23-1916" – but a bit more research will be required to determine what venue that actually was. The festival orchestra’s conductor was none other than the town’s very prominent musician, Claude Madden – who also served the arts community in many other capacities including the Musical Director for the Amphion Society, and the President of both the Seattle Clef Club and the Seattle Composer’s Society. The concert’s soloists included some of the finest singing talents on the local scene including Mary Louise Clary – who was already singing in Seattle by 1902, the same year that the Musical Courier magazine described her as “a contralto of unusual power and fine quality.” Clary went on to record for Victor records in 1923, and tour widely with her own Clary Concert Company. Another, Seattle soprano Alma Simpson, went on to study in Europe and also tour South America several times. The Musical Monitor magazine once noted her as “an American prima donna” who drew large crowds to gigs at prestigious rooms including New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, the Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall. Seattle baritone George Hastings also went on to a career in New York, and later in 1916, Olympia’s famed tenor Theo Karle also went on to make his New York debut and recorded for Victor Records that same year, but cut his best-selling discs later for Brunswick Records between 1920 & 1924. Karle also toured with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, sang concerts throughout Europe, and finally settled back home in the Northwest, finally passing away in Seattle in 1972.


The practice of rock ‘n’ roll archaeology continuously accelerates as the decades race by. At this late date – and given the countless rock compilation albums that have been issued since the 1980s, & the growing number of albums that have been issued to represent many deservedly overlooked vintage bands – it comes as a supreme surprise to discover any group whose old music demands one’s full attention.

sweetmadness1coverSweet Madness is perhaps the perfect example.

Formed in Spokane in 1978 – a time period when that town had zero cultural space for punk, New Wave, or anything musically interesting – Sweet Madness toiled in predictable obscurity without breaking through commercially in any measurable way. But as energetic and highly creative young men, the quartet focused admirably on their craft: writing impossibly catchy tunes, playing whatever gigs they could conjure, and – to our great luck – taking the initiative to cut plenty of their originals at numerous recording studios across the Northwest.

In that pre-Grunge Era – when our local music biz infrastructure was still in its infancy – it was the extremely rare local band that managed to rise above the legions of other bands and achieve any notable success. To get a manager was a miracle. To actually cut a record was highly unlikely. To get that record on the radio was almost unprecedented. Many tried. Many failed. When the Heats’ “I Don’t Like Your Face” 45 became a minor “powerpop” hit on a handful of regional radio stations in 1980 all the scenesters took notice.  Then, somehow, the Allies and Rail each saw their new music videos airing on MTV, and when the Young Fresh Fellows’ debut album was reviewed by Rolling Stone in 1984, that fact was the talk-of-the-town for weeks. In 1985 both the U-Men and Green River each signed to New York’s cool Homestead label and the excitement was palpable all across town…even though, the looming rise of Seattle’s Sub Pop label (and the all-conquering Grunge phenomena) were yet unknowable.

Still, by that point in time it was just plain too late for some of the scene’s most promising early talents including Red Dress, the Blackouts, and the Visible Targets. So the vast majority of the era’s bands were destined to basically be forgotten footnotes in music history. Which is downright unjust. It is also why us fans of Northwest sounds were thrilled to death with the release, a couple years back, of Sweet Madness’ Made In Spokane 1978-1981 album – as distributed by Seattle’s mega-successful Light In The Attic label. The disc won rave reviews far and wide, which undoubtedly helped prompt the recent [2015] release of the Made In Spokane 1978-1981 Volume 2 album. Both are chock full of delightfully quirky, but fully realized, rock tunes that might easily have remained locked away in the subterranean pop-memory vaults of only the band-members themselves and perhaps a few loyal fans.

Instead, we can all now gaze back and play the mental game of: What If.

What if Sweet Madness had managed to score a few more connections with Seattle’s fledgling music-oriented media? What if those young Spokeville rockers had gotten a shot at playing better gigs on the New Wave era dance-club scene? What if they’d signed a recording contract with a savvy label? What if kindred big-time outside bands – like, say, Split Enz, or Oingo Boingo, or Squeeze – had gotten the chance to hear them and maybe bring them along on tour? What if? What if? What if?

Well, of course, now we’ll never know. But with these Sweet Madness songs readily available I know that a lot of us somehow overlooked a terribly promising band, and it is simply everyone’s loss that we weren’t able to encourage them along their rightful path to greater success. Next time, as a creative community, let’s all be more vigilant & try and do a bit better, agreed?


SONGS IN SHEET MUSIC FORM were being published in the Oregon Territories by at least the 1870s. Local musicians and songsmiths -- both professional and amateur -- would typically pay a local printing house to design some cover-art and then print a number of copies either for use onstage, or possibly to satisfy their personal vanity by seeing them available for sale at a local music shop, or even with the far-fetched goal of scoring a hit song. Their lyrical topics ranged from sentimental notions, to romantic thoughts, to regionally relevant ditties about the area's natural appeal. Notable examples over the decades include: Olympia's Francis Henry and his "The Old Settler" (1874); Bellingham's Alice Nadine Morrison and her "My Love Is All For You" (1920); and Seattle's Harold Weeks and his "Little Cabin in the Cascade Mountains" (1929).
But, individual songs are one thing, while folios of multiple songs are a whole 'nother matter. They are far more scarce. Seen here is what must be one of -- if not the -- earliest published booklet of songs that can be associated with Seattle. A recent eBay find, this (presumably circa 1890s) booklet is titled: All the Latest and Most Popular SONGS Of The Day - Comic and Sentimental - Compliments of The Leading Merchants and Business Houses of Seattle, Wash.  The printing firm of Finlayson & Gratke may have been based down in Astoria, Oregon, but the advertisers credited in the 48-page booklet are strictly Seattle-based -- and, interestingly enough, are largely booze & smokes oriented.

They include: The Merchants cigar shop (109 Yesler Avenue); Butler Cafe - The Choicest of Wines, Liquors and Cigars (Second Street & James Street); Gill & Gill liquors (806 Front Street); Delcho Beer, Wines, Liquors & Cigars (111 Yesler Street); The Demijohn Wines, Liquors and Cigars (910 Second Street); The Drum Fine Wines, Liquors and Cigars (812 Second Sttreet); L. Jaffe & Co. liquors; R. Satori & Co. Wines & Liquors (115 James Street); Harms & Dickman Wines Liquors & Cigars (corner Front Street & Marion Street); P.J. Smith's Oyster House (202 Yesler Street); and Seattle's fabled Horse Shoe tavern.

A few of the 20+ songs included here are: "A Pretty Girl, A Summer Night," "Kiss and Let's Make Up" -- and the new technology-inspired "Telephone In De Air." However, the commercial genius behind a publication such as this one is that it only included the lyrics to each composition, rather than those and the musical notation required to actually play the songs at home on your parlor piano. Thus, at the bottom of each song's page is a helpful reminder that: "The music for this song can be obtained at O. E. Pettis & Co.'s Music house." As for who the authors of these songs might be, we may never know as this publication failed to bother to mention them!


SEATTLE MUSIC FANS had a long and mutual love affair with the pioneering Harlem-based jump-blues / R&B bandleader, sax-man – and widely renowned “King of the Juke Box” – Louis Jordan (1908-1975). For decades Jordan brought his band through the Northwest thrilling throngs of dancers with explosive shows that were spiced with a comedic edge. Today Jordan is best remembered for a couple of his many, many hits: “Saturday Night Fish Fry” – which has been touted by historians as a contender for the title of “First Rock Record” – and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie.”
When the final time was that Jordan performed in Seattle is yet to be determined, but this photo (from the estate of his widow, Martha Jordan) recently surfaced showing the couple visiting the Century 21 World’s Fair in 1962. Jordan’s band probably first toured the area pushing their 1930s recordings for the giant Decca label. Then in the 1940s they came through town quite regularly, playing major shows in large venues like the Trianon Ballroom (218 Wall Street) and the Palomar Theater (1300 Third Avenue). But the fun-lovin’ band also enjoyed after-gig jams at various jazz rooms around town – and even a bit south of town.

In the 1940s a legendary but short-lived nightspot called the New Orleans Club – not to be confused with Seattle's more recent (1985-2014) New Orleans Creole Restaurant (114 First Avenue S.) – was founded just down the old dirt road from the Longacres racetrack west of Renton. As Seattle jazz historian Paul de Barros noted in his 1993 book, Jackson Street Afterhours: “The club had a barbeque pit and a New Orleans chef; the band was as hot as the food. …There was a complete floor show and, for a while, big-time traveling acts…performed there.”

I recently acquired the New Orleans Club’s original owners’ amazing collection of vintage promotional photographs of many of the artists who gigged there. Among these images are those of Billie Holiday (who sang there in March 1949), Christine Chatman (the boogie-woogie pianist who toured with bluesman Joe Liggins), sax-man Jimmy Jackson, sax-man King “The Pied Piper of Swingdom” Perry, Texas blues-shouter Smilin’ Smokey Lynn, Mabel Scott, blues singer Mickey Champion, Johnny Otis, Mel Walker, & Little Esther, and as shown here, two pix of Jordan and his band.


THE FOX THEATRE (at 7th Avenue & Olive Street) had the historic misfortune of opening on April 19, 1929 – a mere six months before the stock market crash and beginning of the Great Depression. Tough times saw the grand Spanish Baroque-style venue changing ownerships and identities over subsequent years, at times presenting entertainment as the Roxy, the 7th Avenue, the Emerald Palace, and finally the Music Hall (razed in 1992). But, while still doing business as the Fox, its house orchestra included some of Seattle's finest players. Here is a newly unearthed photograph showing the ensemble's dapper woodwind section, who were all prominent members of the town's American Federation of Musicians Local-76. Seen (left-to-right) are:
  • Ronald Phillips (1906-2004): clarinet / conductor, joined AFM 76 in 1920, also played with the Seattle Symphony and was a noted UW instructor.
  • Frank Horsfall (1883-1968): flute, joined AFM 76 in 1908, also played with the Seattle Symphony, and has a major annual flute competition named in his honor.
  • Whitney Tustin (1911-2002): english horn / oboe, joined AFM 76 in 1927, also played with the Seattle Symphony and was an important local oboe teacher.
  • Recchia Angelo (1898-1981): clarinet / saxophone / oboe, joined AFM 76 in 1918, and (according to AFM 76-493's Secretary, Kirsten James) was a quite probably another member of the Seattle Symphony.