BEATNIK JAZZ – bongo beats, brainy piano figures, seductive saxophone lines, & crazy scat singing – Cecil Young's combo certainly knew what was hip at the dawn of the 1950s!
This musically progressive quartet "exploded onto the Seattle jazz scene in 1950, introducing the rhythmic fire of bebop to an eager new audience," noted my colleague, jazz historian Paul de Barros. Indeed, they "quickly became a regional sensation. Commanding breakneck tempos, the quartet's aggressive rhythm section mesmerized crowds across Seattle, Tacoma, and Yakima. Young was a modern piano player whose sparse, fierce, and harmonically sophisticated playing propelled his quartet."

Young had already jammed in New York City reefer dens with bebop luminaries like Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker before hitting the road. It was 1950 when his act broke up in Seattle after a final gig at the Palomar Theater (1300 Third Avenue). Young easily scored a gig at the New Chinatown nightclub (Sixth Avenue S. & South Main Street), after recruiting a new racially integrated combo that would include Traff Hubert (bass), & Jimmie Rodgers (drums). Perhaps Young's best find though was Gerald Brashear (tenor sax & bongos) who had already played with Ray Charles in his Seattle years (1948-1950) & with Billy Tolles – a wild saxman who would soon pioneer local rock 'n' roll.

It was on June 10, 1951, that the red-hot quartet performed at Seattle's Metropolitan Theatre (Fourth Avenue & University Street) for the Concert of Cool Jazz which was a fund-raising benefit show for Cerebral Palsy Fund – a gig that was luckily recorded, as was another show at the Ladies Music Club (807 E. Roy Street). The amateur audio engineer who captured the shows for posterity was Seattle's Ampex tape distributor, Bert Porter.

The theater event began with the combo's theme song, "Race Horse" & moved along to other standouts like "Who Parked The Car," which featured Brashear's bop vocals. Another tune, "Oooh-Diga-Gow," showcased his bongo skills – which later, in 1955, would earn Brashear the National Metronome Awards for conga & bongo drums.

Before long the head of Cincinnati–based King Records, Sid Nathan, visited Seattle & after hearing the tapes signed the combo up & several records followed including the Concert of Cool Jazz 10" LP [King 295-1] which featured tunes such as "Cecil's House Party Blues" (& "Tribute To Al Benson," which presumably is a misspelling of local jazz impresario, Art Benson), & an identically titled 12" LP [King 395-505]. In addition, two 7" EPs, Cecil Young Progressive Quartet [King 247 & 277], & a series of singles were issued, including "That Old Black Magic" [King 4604], "Fish Net" [King 4638], "Tea For Two" [King 15165], "Monsieur Le Duc" [King 15165], "Rushin' On Home" [King 15175], & "Fine and Dandy" [King 15192]. Upon its 1951 release, the Concert of Cool Jazz 10"sold quite well – the first Seattle-produced disc to catch outside ears since Ray Charles' 1949 Maxin Trio recordings had effectively launched his remarkable career. Indeed, sales of the the disc broke out in California (and then in France when issued there by Vogue Records) after America's ace jazz critic, San Francisco's Ralph Gleason, raved that "Who Parked the Car" was the best scat solo ever recorded. Even Nat King Cole described the tunes as "the swingiest bop I've ever heard." And with those accolades, the quartet's Seattle days were numbered: the nation's greatest talent bookers, the William Morris Agency, signed the band, a national tour commenced, & after a final show at New York's fabled jazz room, Birdland, the Cecil Young Quartet's members split the scene. Of the foursome, I know that Hubert returned to Seattle where we first met up nearly two decades ago -- & lemme tell you: he was still a very hip cat.


THE PEARLS were an R&B vocal group that formed at Tacoma's McChord Air Force Base in March, 1957. Artis Johnson Jr. -- an alumni of Oakland, CA's Midnights -- recruited three other singers (Elsie Hall, Lloyd Foster, & William Watson) & they competed in the military's annual Tops-N-Blue talent contest. By the next year's show Johnson & Hall had added new members: Rueben Martin & Ronald Small, they took the prize, & ended up performing Hall's "My Love" on the Ed Sullivan Show which aired from New York City on August 31st. Back home, the Pearls began working weekends at Seattle's top R&B dancehall, the Birdland (2203 E. Madison Street), where they were backed by house-band, the Dave Lewis Combo. In February, 1959, the quartet left Seattle by car & drove to Los Angeles with hopes of getting discovered. Arriving at the offices of Walter "Dootsie" Williams' Dootone Records, they lucked into an immediate audition – & as the Los Angeles Sentinel noted on March 19th: "after hearing them sing just once he immediately signed them to a long term contract." Ensconced in a recording studio with Ernie "Raunchy" Freeman's ace band – Williams was ecstatic about his Fabulous Pearls, declaring that "Both sides of this record will explode."
Well, not quite: even though the newspaper figured that the single's A-side ("Jungle Bunny") was an innocent "Easter-timed" (!) single, its title was actually based on some racist graffiti that Hall had once seen as a little girl. Williams thought it had "a slight edge due to its unusual style," but its edginess caused it to flop – so he began promoting the B-side, "My Heart's Desire," without much more luck. Three additional tunes -- "She'll Understand," "Baby Drop Top" & "I Laughed So Hard" -- were also cut, the latter finally surfacing on compilation CDs in 1995.
Back in Seattle -- & now recast as the Four Pearls -- they were signed in July, 1960, by Bob Reisdorff to his Dolton Records label which was scoring hits with Northwest acts like the Fleetwoods, Ventures & Frantics. The beautiful "Look At Me" (with Dave Lewis on piano) & "It's Almost Tomorrow" (with the Frantics) were cut by audio engineer, Kearney Barton, at his Northwest Recorders studio (622 Union Street). When issued by Dolton around August, KOL & various other Northwest radio stations gave "Look At Me" some support, but it failed to grow into a broader hit & the Four Pearls headed to Canada where they played their final gigs.


YEARS BEFORE the famous Blind Boys of Alabama gospel group formed in 1939, or the awesome Five Blind Boys of Mississippi formed in 1936 – not to mention the impossibly obscure Five Blind Boys of Montana, whose disc ("Brother Bill") I've struggled for 20 years to date – the Blind Radio Five Orchestra was working out of Seattle.

They were a quintet comprised of (left-to-right): William A. Teater (drums & manager), Claude E. Judge (banjo), Paul Tischner (sax & clarinet), Virgil Robison (piano & director), & Daniel O. Black (violin).

As the Seattle Times noted in 1925: "These talented young blind musicians have appeared frequently over KFOA and have won a host of friends through their artistry. The organization is declared to be the only professional blind orchestra o the Pacific Coast. When it is remembered that the musicians must necessarily play by memory their efforts are truly remarkable." KFOA – the first Seattle station to join a national network (NBC) -- was based on the second story of the Rhodes Department Store on Second Avenue. Its studio was built so that shoppers could stop by and watch while programs were being broadcast live.

On the evening of February 7, 1925, the Blind Radio Five performed for a Seattle Times-sponsored KFOA program from 8:30 p.m. until 10 p.m.. The band opened their show with a version of "You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine" a newly popular tune which had been released by Victor Records on September 5, 1924 as recorded by Glen Oswald's Serenaders who'd originated in Portland Oregon.

Then came "Follow the Swallow," "Honest and Truly," & "Where Shadows Fall." Next, Black performed a violin solo on "Then Will You Remember Me?," the Five played "Mama's Gone, Good-Bye," & Tischner did a solo sax rendition of "Marguerita." That was followed by "Blue," & the overture to "Abecia," Judge's banjo solo on Chopin's "Prelude" & "Bar Study," & Robison's piano solo on "The Octave Study." The fivesome then wrapped up their show with "Eliza" & "China Girl."


"LOUIE LOUIE" – the 1957 single by Richard Berry was a creative highlight for the singer, but prior to that he was involved in numerous Los Angeles-based doo-wop vocal groups including the Robins (he sang lead on their '54 hit, "Riot In Cell Block #9").
Berry also provided the male vocal lines on Etta James' "(The Wallflower) Dance With Me, Henry" in '55. In addition, Berry would cut many more discs under his own name, like '59's "Have Love Will Travel," which was adopted by several '60's NW teen-R&B combos such as Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Gallahads, Counts, & Sonics.

But it was "Louie Louie" that brought Berry lasting fame. The song was penned in '55; cut with his group, the Pharaohs, for Flip Records in '57; adopted by Tacoma's Blue Notes around '58; cut by Tacoma's Rockin' Robin Roberts (& the Wailers) in '60 (who scored a #1 regional radio hit in '61); cut by ex-Blue Note, Little Bill Engelhart, in '61; enjoyed as a #1 NW hit again by the Wailers in '62; revived simultaneously in '63 by Portland's Kingsmen & Paul Revere & the Raiders; revived again in '78 for the Animal House movie; & then in August '83, California's KFJC radio aired over 880 different versions of "Louie Louie" in a sixty-three hour-long Maximum Louie Louie marathon.
Months later -- on December 28, 1983 -- I had the opportunity to meet Berry. The occasion was KISW-FM's giant Best of Louie Louie event at the Tacoma Dome featuring performances by Berry & some of the vintage Northwest combos who were tied to the tune including: the Wailers, Kingsmen, Little Bill Engelhart, Gail Harris, & Ron Holden (who's band, the Playboys, had played the song in Seattle back around 1959).

It was Holden, in fact, who gave a shout-out to me when I entered the backstage green-room where all the artists were milling about pre-show. "Hey, Pete! Come over here & let me introduce you to somebody." Standing there in the corner with him was Berry – they'd been reminiscing about their first meet-up back in 1960. When Berry saw the stack of 45s, 78s, LPs, sheet music, & posters that I brought to have him autograph he laughed, obliged, & exclaimed that he could hardly believe that all this fuss was being made over that old tune, "Louie Louie."
After some small talk Holden excused himself, & Berry agreed to let me roll a tape & conduct an interview -- later we continued the discussion by telephone. My goal was to document Berry's recollections of his very first tour through the region so long ago back in the 1950s – when, like a bigbeat Johnny Appleseed, Berry had come striding through, planting his "Louie Louie" in the hearts of local R&B fans. Berry held plenty of memories about that tour, but he never was able to recollect the actual date (or exact dancehall) where he'd originally introduced Seattle to his immortal tune -- that was a mystery that I wouldn't solve for another two+ decades. So....sit tight for the forthcoming Part II of this saga!