This band – influenced by the rise of Cream and the whole new blues-rock movement then beginning to stir – performed for Seattle’s flower children at dances and Be-Ins all through that Summer of Love in ’67. Blues Interchange appeared at The Happening (today’s Showbox Theater) and did shows with Country Joe & the Fish, and Seattle hippie bands including Emergency Exit, Magic Fern, as well as Portland’s PH Phactor Jug Band. They also played at Portland’s Pythian Ballroom with the Worloks, Great Pumpkin, and the Retina Circus Light Show.
Blues Interchange changed again when guitarists Phil Kirby and Peter Larson (ex-Chancellors from Spokane), and drummer Al Malosky (ex-Emergency Exit) each joined on. The band played one memorable dance with Blue Cheer at Portland’s Crystal ballroom. In December, the San Francisco Sound – a new paisley power hangout based in the old Encore Ballroom (13th Avenue & E Pike Street) – was opened by Matthew Katz, an infamous rock promoter who had been banished from Haight Ashbury for his questionable dealings with Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape (a band that included a few members of Seattle’s pioneering rock band, the Frantics). Katz seemed to have a thing about fudging: at one point he created a false Moby Grape and booked them around, and then he took another California band’s name – Indian Puddin’ and Pipe – and forced it on Blues Interchange when they played his new club. It was there that the band did shows with such acts as It’s A Beautiful Day, Tripsacord Music Box, West Coast Natural Gas, and Black Swan.
It was about March 1968 when a young Boeing engineer became the manager for the guys, who soon renamed themselves after one of Simmons’ songs: Easy Chair. And even that became confusing when another Northwest band later took on the same name! But the originals did gig all around the region, including at such hippie havens as the Electric Angel in Yakima, the Sadir Con Grotto in Spokane, and several halls up in Vancouver B.C. Perhaps the most unforgettable show though must have been the one at Casey’s in Lewiston, Idaho, when the headliners were England’s Yardbirds (with Jimmy Page).
In April Easy Chair’s manager booked them into Ripcord Studios in Vancouver, Washington. Primarily a country/western-oriented facility – best known at that time for having cut Buzz “The Singing Logger” Martin’s radio hit “The Frozen Logger” – Ripcord probably wasn’t the best choice for these sessions. Each of the songs undertaken (“Easy Chair,” “My Own Life,” and “Slender Woman”) were interesting enough compositions but they really suffered from laid-back production values. Nevertheless, once pressed, the three-song EP quickly sold out from various University District area record shops.
In 1968 Easy Chair appeared along with Seattle’s Juggernaut and Canterbury Tales at the massive Draft Information Picnic held on the 4th of July in Cowen Park. The band also did a show with the Chambers Brothers, and along with Time Machine opened a show for Cream at the Eagles Auditorium. That summer, Larson was replaced by Burke Wallace (ex-Jack Horner & his Plums) and on August 24 – one week before they performed at the first Sky River Rock Festival – Easy Chair and Juggernaut opened for Frank Zappa & the Mothers of Invention at the Seattle Center Arena.
This gig proved to be a major break, as Zappa heard their set and became interested in their unique sound. He stepped into their dressing room and asked: “So, who wrote all your songs?” The band responded: “We’re communists. We all did.” Invited to audition for Zappa’s Bizarre/Straight record label down in Los Angeles, Easy Chair went and were signed. They returned home to complete a few bookings – including a Halloween gig at the Eagles hall with the Grateful Dead.
Resettled in L.A., and renamed Ethiopia, the guys shared concert dates with Alice Cooper, Zappa & the Mothers, and the GTOs. The expected recording sessions, however, were stalled for so many months that the band disintegrated. Kirby split for studies at Stanford and Wallace drifted up to San Francisco where he joined on with Sperm Whale. Then in ’69 Simmons and Malosky were assigned to cut an original soundtrack LP for a sleazy low-budget biker flick, Naked Angels. Simmons, raised on the early Northwest rock sounds of the Wailers, the Dynamics, the Dave Lewis Trio, and the Ventures, saw fit to compose mostly boss instrumental tunes with disturbing titles such as “Rat Grind.” One critic later described the LP as the “true musical soundtrack for Altamont.”
Before long Malosky had enough and quit – and then, merely days later, Simmons was finally given the go-ahead on another album project. He quickly recruited a studio band that would include guitar ace Craig Tarwater (ex- Walla Walla’s Hawk & the Randellas), and drum master Ron Woods (ex-Seattle’s Dynamics). Several tunes were completed and then Zappa offered to ssist in completing the LP. So, Zappa (guitar) and Seattle drummer Jon Keliehor (ex-Frantics, ex-Daily Flash) helped lay down some sizzling blues-based tracks and Simmons’ Lucille Has Messed Up My Mind album was released in late-’69. Then Zappa hired Simmons as the Mothers’ bassist, and they set out on schedule of countless U.S. concert dates, three European tours, and also recorded three albums: Chunga’s Revenge (1970), Waka Jawaka (1971), and Roxy & Elsewhere (1974).
Meanwhile, Kirby, while attending school from ’69 through ’74, also performed around the Bay Area with Big Money & Electricity. Today, Dr. Kirby practices medicine at Seattle’s Harborview Hospital and still manages to gig on weekends with his band, Maneuvers. Woods and Wallace resurfaced together briefly in Count Heartbreak, releasing their “Weredog” 45 locally in 1981. Along the way, Simmons has worked as a hired gun for many touring stars including gigging with Bo Diddley, the Drifters, Pee Wee Crayton, Mary Wells, Etta James – and has recorded with the likes of Dion and Maria Muldaur. In addition, Simmons has performed – primarily on keyboards – with numerous Seattle bands including: the Automatics, Palmolives, Reputations, Del-Psychics, Backtrackers, and the 123 Club. He also does a rollicking boogie-woogie piano solo gig as Little Bobby Sumptner.
[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 March, 1986.]
Text copyright © 1986, 2014 by Peter Blecha.
Text copyright © 1986, 2014 by Peter Blecha.