WHO AMONG US is unfamiliar with the fact that one of the most common complaints filed to police departments against venues that book live music has long involved the booming volume of that music?  The violation of city "noise ordinances" has led to the closing of many a nightclub or tavern over the decades. And while we can sympathize somewhat with the individuals who have rented an apartment or purchased a home while failing to realize that there is a dancehall downstairs, across the alley, or down the street, the forcing such popular places to go out-of-business and shutter their windows and doors is always unfortunate. So, what then would you do if the loud music was emanating, not from an easy target like a rowdy tavern, but rather from the skies? Who you gonna call?  How would you seek relief? 

Well, for guidance on these matters let's review what occurred one day -- October 8, 1948, to be exact -- in Seattle. That was the day that a Gray's Harbor County man named E.R. Jackson decided to test what he called the "world's largest" loudspeaker by blasting musical selections through it from his Cessna airplane, while buzzing downtown Seattle. Read on to learn more about that fateful day...


AMONG THE COUNTLESS FOLKS who caught the Hawaiian music bug in the early decades of the 20th Century was John W. Summers (1870-1937) who took up playing the ukulele. In his spare time he’d also graduated from the Kentucky School of Medicine in 1892 and then pursued postgraduate studies in New York, London, Berlin, and the University of Vienna, Austria. Then in 1908 he moved to Walla Walla where he practiced medicine and ran a farm. Meanwhile, the Hawaiian music craze took off locally during Seattle’s Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) in 1909, when a number of prominent Hawaiian musicians performed there and continued touring the mainland.

It was in 1917 that Summers was first elected to the State house of representatives. He proceeded to win additional elections and eventually moved up to serving in the U.S. Congress in Washington D.C. – which is where the tale of his beloved ukulele made news. In a March 12, 1925, column titled “Congressman Summers Bewails Lost Ukulele,” The Seattle Times reported that while “Representative Summers moved from his apartment … the ‘uke’ disappeared in transit.” A noted conservative Republican -- Summers was the author of a bill prohibiting the payment of salaries to District of Columbia teachers who taught ‘disrespect for the Holy Bible’ – he was livid over the theft. The news reporting continued in a playful manner: “It is the latest outrage upon Congress, and the Washington statesman has demanded of the District of Columbia police that they retrieve the instrument. … The owner has made strong diplomatic representations concerning the loss, conveying the intimation that it is a serious one. So far as known, Representative Summers is the only man in Congress who plays the ukulele. This talent heretofore has been concealed from his fellow members.” While it remains unknown whether or not D.C. detectives were ever able to track down the culprit -- or the missing instrument -- we do know that Summers failed to win his final few elections and returned home to his farm.  On August 19, 1937, Spokane’s Spokesman-Review reported that he had recently suffered a serious illness “but now is quite well and harvesting a big wheat crop.” But The New York Times followed up on September 27th with a Page 1 report that he “died at his home here last night at the age of 67.” Aloha.


AMONG THE EARLIEST KNOWN BANDS in Seattle were those led by Mr. H. Charles Legourgue (1875-????). A Frenchman who was an accomplished clarinetist, Legourgue seems to have arrived in town around 1909, when he performed as a soloist under Michael Kegrize and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra in a June 13th concert at the Auditorium on the grounds of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition (AYPE) -- Seattle's first World's Fair.
Over the following several years -- and as a member of Seattle's AFM Local No. 76 Musicians' Union -- he remained quite active locally, forming and leading his own Legourgue Chamber Music Society Quartet, the Legourgue Chamber Music Orchestra, and the Legourgue Concert Band. He also directed the Northwest Conservatory of Music and was the conductor of the Standard [Theatre] Grand Opera Company orchestra.

In addition, Legourgue was the composer of songs his ensembles performed including "L'Angelus Sonna," "Chanson d'Automne op. 47 no. 1," "La Ronde sans Fin du bel Oiseau," "2 Melodies Viellottes," "Premiere Chanson," and "Potlatch Spirit."

On July 31, 1916, the French Consul helped organize a reception at the Washington Annex in Legourgue's honor as he prepared to head off to Chicago where he was to open a music school on, as The Seattle Times noted, "the Paris Conservatory" model. "Later he plans to have a school in each large city of the United States. ... The Seattle school will be in charge of Ethel Murray."


THE SCANDIA BARN DANCE was an award-winning live radio program that aired on Seatttle’s KOMO radio from 1950 through 1952. It featured a cast of musicians, singers, actors, and comedic talents who specialized in the sort of “Scandihoovian” entertainments surely appreciated by the area’s large population of Scandinavian Americans who dominated the Ballard neighborhood. The show’s house-band, the Scandia Quartet, was led by accordionist Greta Logan – and they were also popular city-wide having performed at the 1950 Grand Opening of the Northgate Mall, and supplied tunes for the summer Seafair festival’s square dances held annually at the Civic Auditorium (225 Mercer Street) and the Trianon Ballroom (218 Wall Street). Other regulars included the singing duo – Loren Davidson & Ruth Stendal – announcer Frederick Lloyd (Lloyd G. Bloom, who’d begun as an actor on KJR in 1934, and then joined KOMO in 1944), and the zany dialect humorist Doug Setterberg (who started off on KOL’s Carnival Hour and then moved to KOMO, eventually becoming a writer and performer for Scandia Barn Dance). 

One highlight of each show was Settterberg’s serial monolog, The Little White Cottage Overlooking Shilshole Bay – “just a little bit south of North Ballard.” Setterberg later went on to wider notoriety as a musical partner, on records and television, with Seattle’s other great Scandihoovian humorist/musician Stan Boreson.


What a joy to stumble across this brand-new book published by Seattle’s Sunyata Books – The Singing Earth by Barrett Martin. There are numerous reasons why it, from page one onward, happened to intrigue this particular reader, but the foremost is that it is such an unusual memoir as penned by a stalwart member of the Northwest’s music community. Martin – like myself – was an Olympia kid who grew up playing drums all throughout our school years. We also both ended up studying at the University of Washington – albeit, my years there preceded his by a decade. From there we both formed or joined rock ‘n’ roll bands, played the local scene, and cut some records. A major difference in our subsequent paths is that my bands are mostly better left forgotten, while some of Martin’s will likely be remembered widely for many years to come.  

The Singing Earth provides some great back-scenes insight into his time spent auditioning, gigging, and recording with several of the Grunge Era’s finest bands including Skin Yard, the Screaming Trees, and Mad Season. That content alone would make Martin’s book – and the accompanying CD containing rare tracks – a worthy one to dive into, but the bulk of The Singing Earth conveys Martin’s evolving understandings about the spirituality of music-making itself. Martin, who earned a masters degree in ethnology and linguistics, is a fine and noted writer – one who is skilled at explicating the exotic percussion traditions of the many tribal societies he has studied via endless travel around the world over the past few decades. Readers are rewarded with introductory glimpses into musical cultures as far-flung as those in Africa, the Amazon rainforest, Cuba, the Middle East, and the Mississippi Delta. Along the way, Martin studies drumming techniques with various master musicians and also hones his skills as an audio producer. Not your typical gossipy rock star tell-all here – The Singing Earth helps us feel the mystical vibrations that have inspired musicians all across the globe down through the eons.  


Down through the ages many songs have been penned that celebrate the Yuletide season. In the Northwest, local recording artists have long excelled at this festive tradition. What follows is a survey of four decades of Northwest artists and their Christmas recordings.

BING CROSBY: Surely one of the most notable careers in all musicdom, Crosby recorded the song "White Christmas" for the movie Holiday Inn in 1942, creating an All-American classic favorite. Tacoma-native, Crosby also recorded wonderful renditions of "Jingle Bells," "Little Jack Frost," and countless others."

YOGI YORGESSON: Yogi Yorgesson, the Hindu Mystic was the act Harry Stewart first developed and performed on KVI radio live from the Tacoma Hotel. A bit later he realized his true calling as the creator of zany Scandinavian ethnic novelty tunes. Yorgesson, the mentor of Stan Boreson, released his hilarious national hit, "I Just Go Nuts At Christmas" in 1949.

STAN BORESON: The hero of KING's Klubhouse, the local kid's TV show, and the man who gave the world "Swedish Rock 'n' Roll" in 1959, Boreson finally yielded to popular demand and released his Christmas LP in the early '70s. Actually his fifth release with sidekick and fellow Scandinavian screwball, Doug Setterberg, the album presents numerous ridiculous novelty tunes including my favorite, "Yingle Bells, Yingle Bells."

THE GLOBE TRIO:  This instrumental version of "Silent Night" was released in 1953 as a 78 rpm disc on a short-lived Seattle label, Glove Records. Pressed by Seattle recording pioneer Morrie Morrison on his trademark multi-color wax, Globe's optimistic motto was Played The World Over. We can only hope so. The Globe Trio consisted of: Cork Tippin (guitar), NW accordion master Frank Iacolucci, and on Hammond organ, "E'lan, the Hi-Fi Girl From Kashmir." 'E'lan" – it turns out – was none other than Ellen Ogilvy, later one of the forces behind the esteemed '60s labels, Seafair and Bolo Records. Ogilvy is also the mother of Seattle singing sensation, Jimmy Hanna of the Dynamics. Oh, and she did actually hail from the distant and exotic local of Cashmere, Washington.

JIMMY RODGERS: He began his career at age five when he sang in a Christmas show in his hometown of Camas, WA. Rodgers, who bummed all around the Pacific Northwest after the Korean War, was marketed as a "modern-day folk singer" with his first hit "Honeycomb" in the summer of '57. "It's Christmas Once Again" was released in 1958.

THE ELIGIBLES:  Formed in Renton in the mid-'50s, these four fresh young men hit the charts in 1959 with "Car Trouble." They would eventually record backing vocals on over 100 discs. As their promo-bio stated: "extreme versatility is the Eligible' keynote." Their 1960 offering? "First Christmas With You."

THE VENTURES: If I explain that the cuts on The Ventures' Christmas Album are fairly predictable retreads (you know, the usual Christmas standards crossed with their early hits, "Walk—Don't Run" or "Pipeline") you'll get the idea here. Even so, it's entertaining enough to escape the critical Bah Humbug rating.

RON HOLDEN:  Seattle's Soul Man who was swept out of town in 1960 on the strength of is national hit, "Love You So," was later teamed, by his label, with a young (pre-Beach Boy) Bruce Johnston, to write a series of follow-up singles. His fourth release was "Who Says There Ain't No Santa Clause." Holden is still a believer today.

DALE SMITH: In 1961, Smith, the house bartender at the Camlin Hotel, entered Joe Boles' West Seattle studio with local keyboardist Gene Boscocci and Combo, and arranger Ross Gibson and recorded his "When Christmas Bells Are Ringing" and "Christmas Story." The single was released on the Seafair-Bolo label, and like most seasonal records, was promptly never heard of again.

BONNIE GUITAR: Seattle's '50s country/western Queen released her Merry Christmas LP in the mid-'60s. Packed full of good old-fashioned carols, it also included some nice originals such as, "Last Christmas." I've long maintained that there is something essential about a little pedal steel action during the holidays. This stuff's great.

THE SONICS / WAILERS / GALAXIES:  OK, OK, OK, OK, I know that this one is the one you've waited for. The legendary multi-band Merry Christmas LP. Three of the area's toughest bands of the 1960s joined forces and released the ultimate rockin' Christmas album. From the Sonics' irreverence on "Don't Believe In Christmas," and their "Jingle Bells" spoof, "The Village Idiot," to the Wailers' "Maybe This Year" and the Galaxies' "Christmas Eve" this record puts most other efforts to shame. Originally issued at dances in 1966, it has been a highly sought-after item ever since. This is one disc you may need to speak to Santa directly about if you want it stuffed in your stocking.

MARK III:  This record was issued in about 1966 as a limited release intended solely for the customers of the Mayfair Market chain. The Mark II, a very white vocal trio, was based in Eugene, Oregon. Previously these young gentlemen had released the wimpiest rendition imaginable of "Unchained Melody," but for this occasion they came forth with Your favorite Carols, a five-song EP. The pretty blue vinyl disc includes: "Deck The Hall," "Jingle Bells," and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town."

PAUL REVERE & THE RAIDERS: Their LP, A Christmas Present…And Past, with its nine originals and a salute to the past, "Jingle Bells," is simply god-awful. Yet, kind on Santa Claus himself somehow budgeted the time to write liner notes which carefully explain that both the Raiders and Christmas are "each very famous." If you must play this one, please spin "A Very Heavy Christmas Message." It's good for laughs.

THE MOMS AND DADS:  And now … As Advertised on TV! The pride of Spokane, this foursome: Quentin Ratliff (sax), Leslie Welch (accordion), Doris Crow (piano), and Harold Hendren (drums) have been pleasing Eastern Washington's senior dance crowds for years with their original smash hit song, "The Ranger's Waltz," and many more. So choose 'yer partners and be prepared when this capable crew cut loose on "Jingle Bell Rock," a hot single from the popular Merry Christmas / Happy New Year LP. It's a serious toe-tapper.

JIMI HENDRIX:  The supreme electric guitar god of the '60s grew up within Seattle's '50s rhythm & blues scene. Despite all the conflicting myths and increasingly compounded biographical confusion, Hendrix was born and lived here from 1942 until 1961. In December '69, between rehearsals for his Band of Gypsys' New Years Eve concerts at Fillmore East, Hendrix let the spirit move him to tape an impromptu take of three seasonal standards: "Little Drummer Boy," "Silent Night," and "Auld Lang Syne." Now folks, I'll give fair warning: if what you usually enjoy is the no-noise-or-nonsense easy listening sounds of the Christmas album series by the Firestone Tire Co, Orchestra, then this may not be for you. Remember Hendrix' cosmic freeform dissection of "The Star Spangled banner" at Woodstock? Well, these simple tunes are given an equally classic Hendrix treatment. Long after these precious tracks finally reached America's marketplace via Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?, a bootleg LP, Hendrix' label eventually wised up and released them as a DJ-only EP in 1979.

DON SNEED AND CO:  A true period piece, "Santa's A Hippie" sounds like one of those early-'70s country/pop novelty numbers that always featured a redneck, though somewhat humorous, good 'ol boy who talks his story all the way to the ethics lesson at the final verse/punchline. These guys give the genre a little twist though, by tolerantly asserting that "It won't change a thing about Christmas, just because Santa has long hair." Knowing that, I can certainly rest easier now. A member of Walla Walla's venerable Sneed family Band (who themselves have cut many a country & western disc over the years), Don apparently set out with his own band for this one.

HI FI:  This Seattle band released a Christmas single in 1981. Their original, "It's Almost Christmas," was back by a nifty instrumental version of "Winter Wonderland" that harkens back to the Ventures' big-guitar sound.

BILLY RANCHER AND THE UNREAL GODS:  Christmas circa 1981. During a fall sweep through New York City, Portland's Boom-Chuck-Rock champions cut "Happy Santa Claus" at the top-notch Power Station Studios. A big sound. That big BCR beat. A silly song with reindeer sleighbells and all, it was released as a nifty one-sided single complete with the ranchman himself pictured on the sleeve in his custom-fitted leopard-skin Santa suit.

POPLLAMA:  An aggregation of U District bands have gathered for the previous two years to record special Christmas cassettes for the PopLlama label. The cassettes, Astray In The Manger ('82) and Santaclaustrophobia ('83) feature individual members of Red Dress, Dynette Set, Fastbacks, Moving Parts, New Flamingoes, Fartz, Lonesome City Kings, Bombardiers, Young Fresh Fellows, and others on a crazy selection of standards and originals including then unique hardcore thrasher, "Saint Nick's A Dick."

CHRISTMAS IN THE NORTHWEST:  Just released, this is the only record noted here that is readily available. There are, however, additional reasons to recommend it. Though conceived as a benefit project for Children's Orthopedic Hospital, this album, which features 14 current local acts, is a clear musical success. Recorded primarily at Steve Lawson's fine studio, the LP offers both nicely arranged renditions of some Christmas standards as well as several new originals. The Seattle Brass Ensemble and other musical institutions such as the Brothers Four and Walt Wagner are included. Terry Lauber, former member of '70s rockers, Gabriel, teams up with singer Carol Mayne on a medley of "Silent Night" / "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." Jr. Cadillac is thumping out a vintage sounding cover of Elvis' 1957 hit, "Santa Claus Is Back In Town." This LP also offers acoustic folk numbers, children's music … a little something for everybody. Yes, Christmas in the Northwest is special.

Perhaps in years ahead we can highlight other interesting Northwest Christmas records. If so, we won't forget the discs released by: Russ Elmore, Bobby May, the Brothers Four, Magi, Julie Miller, L. Rae Miles, Reilly and Maloney, or Santa's Little Helpers.

'Til then, Happy Holidays!

[NOTE: This is a lightly edited version of a feature by Peter Blecha originally published by The Rocket magazine in 1985. Copyright (c) Peter Blecha 1985/ 2017]