VINCE VALLEY & THE CHAIN GANG made their debut during an intermission at a Lake City Recreation Center sock-hop in the summer of 1958. Renamed the Viceroys by the spring of ’59, Jim Valley (guitar), Al Berry (piano), Fred Zeufeldt (drums), Fred Rucker (sax), and Bud Potter (bass) continued to develop their sophisticated teen-R&B sound at private dances held at the Washington Athletic Club, the Seattle Tennis Club, the Yacht Club, and many other uptown functions. After about a year of this Berry apparently lost interest and Billy Stull (guitar) was added. In time Rucker would be replaced by Mike Rogers. During these early years the Viceroys were often fronted by African American singers like Jimmy Pipkin (from the Gallahads doo-wop group), or Aaron Stewart.

In 1960 the band were approached by a traveling businessman about making a single for some out-of-state vanity label: Dream Records. “I Love A Girl” and “My Only Love” were recorded (with guest backing by Tiny Tony and the Gallahads), but in the end, it cost the guys $300 to receive a mere fifty copies, so that was a hard lesson learned. Stull had had enough, but upon his exit, Berry returned – bringing with him a new original tune he’d composed while playing his grandmother’s piano. It would be called “Granny’s Pad.”
The Viceroys’ first big break occurred in the summer of ’62 when World’s Fair frenzy gripped Seattle.  The combo scored the gig as regular performers on KTNT-TV's Deck Dance, an afternoon teen show hosted by radio DJ “Big Daddy” Dave Clark. [Viceroys seen here with fellow guest, Robin Robinson.] Broadcast for two full months from the deck of the Dominion Monarch, a luxury liner anchored as a tourist hotel at Pier 50 on Elliott Bay, this television exposure proved to be invaluable as the band began receiving positive responses to “Granny’s Pad” after introducing it on the show.

Signed by Seattle’s Seafair-Bolo Records, “Granny’s Pad” / “Blues Bouquet” was released by early 1963 and the town’s AM radio kingpin, Pat O’Day, entered it on KJR’s Battle of the New Sounds completion. The instrumental became a smash regional hit – the biggest Northwest hit ever (up until that point in time) according to Bolo’s Tom Ogilvy – and was picked up for national distribution by California’s Dot Records (and momentarily issued as the "Viceroys Five" when the label got spooked about some other Viceroys group out there somewhere.)

When Berry took leave once again, Rogers switched to keyboards, Kim Eggars (sax) joined on, Potter was replaced on bass by Gary Snyder, and the Viceroys recorded the ten remaining cuts that would comprise their upcoming album: At Granny’s Pad.  When Snyder split after a few months, Rogers assumed keyboard-bass duties forever after. The Bolo album included three singles: “Granny’s Pad,” which begat “Goin’ Back To Granny’s,” which begat “Granny’s Medley” (a recording that included the region’s signature song, “Louie Louie.”).

The Viceroys had evolved from an amateur high-society combo to a rockin’ mainstay on the Northwest dance scene. In December 1964, after the band (along with vocalist Nancy Claire) had returned from a nightclub booking at the Peppermint Tree in San Francisco, Valley was lured away by the more raucous Portland band, Don and the Goodtimes. “That Sound,” the Viceroy’s first recording with Greg Beck (guitar), was released in September 1965 and showed a bit of the British Invasion’s influence. A really great song that shoulda been a hit but, alas, it somehow slipped through the cracks…

Meanwhile, the Goodtimes scored a solid regional radio hit with valley’s “Little Sally Tease,” a tough rocker which both the Kingsmen and then the Standells covered in 1966. In time, Valley rose through the ranks to become “Harpo,” the official 23rd consecutive musician to be hired as one of Paul Revere’s Raiders but ultimately one of the band's most recognizable stars. Harpo recorded on their Spirit of ’67 and Revolution albums, toured widely, and appeared in innumerable slapstick spots on Dick Clark’s popular ABC-TV traveling teen show, Where The Action Is. The Viceroys and Goodtimes also appeared on Action.

In 1966 the Viceroys (with new vocalist Rob Lowery) signed a deal with Columbia Records, but then – surprise! – the band was suddenly informed that they would be marketed as the “Surprise Package.” Columbia would go on to release three single, but the best of the bunch was an acid-dosed rewrite of “That Sound” called “Out Of My Mind.” All the songs, in fact, suffered from what might be called the “Columbia Syndrome” and were thusly overproduced, under-promoted, commercial flops. This ultimately left the Surprise Package as unsigned free agents.

In 1968 the guys signed with Lee “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” Hazlewood to cut an album titled Free Up.  The LP’s liner notes explain in quasi-psychedelic, pseudo-hip lingo that it was “…created…in a very free atmosphere, with the overall concept designed for you…” In truth, both the songs and the performances were state-of-the-art, but the album was so rushed in production, and so delayed in release (1969), that it was sadly destined for the bargain bins where it resided for many years.

The freeform hippie-music era was a trying time for many established acts – especially the Raiders with their formulaic, corporate, approach – and in March 1967 (right after the Seattle date on their tour) Harpo was cut loose after a tour-bus incident rumored to have involved marijuana smoke. Then, only weeks later, both Phil “Fang” Volk (bass) and Michael “Smitty” Smith (drums) called it quits.

In 1970 the Surprise Package (with Gene Hubbard replacing Rogers) recorded an album as the American Eagle for Decca Records. Once again they received only a minimal marketing effort – which did, however, include promotional hype falsely claiming that the group had “played at the 1966 Beatles concert in Seattle.” American Eagle did perform concerts with the likes of Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull, the Beach Boys, and John Mayall. Returning home to Seattle the guys finally parted ways.

In 1972 Valley returned to rock ‘n’ roll, forming Sweet Talkin’ Jones with Greg Beck, Andy Parypa (bassist with the Sonics), Ron Ussury (sax, vocals), and Chris Blaine (drums). Meanwhile, Zeufeldt had joined up with Bighorn, which for several years was a major draw on the Northwest tavern and high school dance scene. Their first single, “I Get High” / “Takin’ Me Down,” was released in 1974, and in ’77 Columbia issued two addition 45s which were followed by the Bighorn LP in 1978. By 1982 a revamped Sweet Talkin’ Jones – with Ussery out front, Mike Rogers now on organ, Mark Whitman (ex-Springfield Rifle) on guitar, and Gary Porter on drums – had established itself as a nightclub favorite with their own Northwest-style R&B sounds.

[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 April, 1984.]

Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.