ROCKABILLY MUSIC has an obscure but interesting history in the Pacific Northwest. Because a number of small local recording studios were actively cutting sessions with numerous country/western musicians, it was inevitable that a few hot rockabilly sides would be released. Many of these were one-shot novelty efforts by players who probably could be found at the local grange hall on Saturday nights performing a much more straight style of country music – but rock music was beginning to sell, so they gave it a shot.

Clayton Watson and the Silhouettes, however, rocked from day one.

Formed in 1957 in Lewis County the band was comprised of six teenaged greasers: Clayton Watson (vocals, drums); Roger Jeffries (guitar); Norm Lindscott (piano); Carroll Hill (sax); Randall Watson (sax); and Gary Elsey (bass). Contacted recently, Clayton Watson recalls: “We played all over the Northwest. And we played all the time…because, see, it was new. And even though I was a nobody, just the fact that I had a rock band could get a crowd.” The DJs at Seattle’s giant KJR radio had begun throwing a few teen-dances and when they booked the Silhouettes, the band was hyped as “The First Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the State.”

It was likely around April 1958 that the band booked time at Portland’s Northwestern Inc. recording studio and cut a couple original tunes. Then Watson decided to form his own record label – one that would be named in honor of the garish color of his hotrod: Lavender Records. As an early example of rock ‘n’ roll’s vaunted do-it-yourself indie spirit, their single “Everybody Boppin’” / “Tall Skinny Annie” sold like hotcakes at their dances, but failed to garner radio airplay.

But the band did catch the attention of the region’s top dance/concert promoter, Pat Mason who began booking them on tours all around the Northwest. Watson’s memories are of the primal days of Northwest rock: “I can remember Paul Revere coming up to a dance – he was younger than me by a couple of years – and he said he wanted to start a band, and how did he go about it? [laughter] Here he [later] made millions and I play weekends! [laughter]"

As it happened, Pat Mason had begun handling tour logistics for numerous stars, and the Silhouettes benefitted. During a time period when Gene Vincent’s Bluecaps had disbanded and Mason was managing the singer (while he lived locally), Watson’s band backed the star at many shows. “We traveled with names like Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley and his Comets using my group either as a backup for the name or traveling along with the name band.”

It was in 1959 that the Silhouettes were spotted by Tacoma big-band leader Art Mineo who doubled as a talent scout for Golden Crest Records, the New York-based label that were then enjoying the success of Tacoma’s Wailers who had scored a national radio hit with their instrumental tune, “Tall Cool One” (Billboard #36).  The label was interested but suggested that the Silhouettes record only instrumentals. Oh, and a name change would also be in order. The band – which by this point had undergone several personnel changes – finally settled on: Lord Dent and the Invaders.  Lord Dent? “Well,” explained Watson, “my nickname was ‘Dent’ because I had two accidents in my car.” Golden Crest’s subsidiary label, Shelley Records, soon released the Invaders’ two-sided classic: “Wolf Call” / “The Greaser.”

Playing all those gigs while backing the stars over the years had additional career benefits for Watson: “I developed friendships with some of these people and I got calls to work steady on the road as a drummer, with like the Bluecaps, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids, and Bobby Freeman. I made my living that way for about two years.” It was 1963 when Watson retooled by forming a new band, the Trends and began working the Las Vegas scene for several years. After returning home, the Trends morphed into a country band whose current lineup includes Watson; his son Kevin (keyboards); Ken Thomas (guitar); and bassist David Shriver (formerly with Eddie Cochran, Donnie Brooks, and Trini Lopez).

[Note: This is an edited version of an essay that originally appeared in the “Northwest Music Archives” column of Seattle’s The Rocket magazine back in November, 1983.]

Text copyright © 1983, 2014 by Peter Blecha.