THERE ARE TWO BASIC TYPES of “Various Artist” LPs that the music biz has developed over the decades: “compilation” & “sampler” albums. The most common model is the “compilation” album, which usually features a selection of otherwise-unavailable songs performed by an array of artists. These LP’s are often intended to showcase a certain musical style/genre, or music from a distinct era or particular region.
A few classic examples would be 1962’s Seattle Beat (a set of new recordings of then-active area jazz combos as produced by Seafair Records); 1965’s Merry Christmas (a set of new holiday-themed garage-rock songs by the Sonics, Wailers, & Galaxies as produced for seasonal sales by Tacoma's Etiquette Records); 1975’s Collector’s Item: Songs From the Taverns of the Pacific Northwest (a set of new recordings by an array of popular regional bands); 1981’s Seattle Syndrome, Vol. 1 (a set of new recordings by local punk & New Wave bands); & 1986’s Deep Six (a set of new recordings cut in one particular studio, & featuring groups who were beginning to forge what would later come to be known as Seattle’s “grunge” rock revolution).

A significant variation on this "compilation" album concept involves an after-the-fact retrospective approach. Local examples include 1965’s Bolo Bash (a compilation of local hits produced over the past few years by one local label, Bolo Records); 1965’s The Hitmakers (a compilation of songs by local, well, hit-making bands produced over the past few years by another local label, Jerden Records). Additional examples – which would each highlight vintage recordings originally produced by multiple record companies – include a few that I have happily contributed to the creation of over the years, such as Rhino Records’ 1988 LP, The Northwest: Nuggets V.8 (featuring local rock groups from the psychedelic sixties), & EMP’s 2000 set Wild & Wooly: The Northwest Rock Collection (featuring a wide range of rockin’ local bands spanning the years of 1958–1995).

The second major type – a “sampler” LP – is typically produced by one particular record company with the intention of drawing immediate attention to their talent roster’s recent and/or current singles and/or albums. Of the two types, samplers are usually pressed in relatively smaller quantities with the understanding that they are about the commercial goals of the moment & will thus likely have a much shorter shelf-life. There is at least one notable example of a "Various Artist" set that straddled both models: the Sub Pop label's 1988 classic Sub Pop 200 (which took the now-maturing “grunge” sound worldwide with new recordings by various bands – some of whom did have other Sub Pop recordings then-currently available in the marketplace).

But, with all this in mind: I hereby nominate the one spotlighted above as the earliest & probably rarest “Various Artist” rock 'n' roll specimen of them all. This 1959 sampler album – Mr Blue – is comprised of recordings produced by one Seattle label (Dolton Records) & was made strictly for the British marketplace. Issued by England’s Top Rank International label, the LP bore both a serial number cleverly designed to encourage sales [BUY/028], & a title taken from the name of the second smash-hit single by Dolton’s winsome debut act, that Olympia, Washington-based teen trio, the Fleetwoods. But as a sampler it also offered up various current hits that Dolton was enjoying with other acts that they had signed that very year, including the Frantics, Little Bill and the Bluenotes – & even one by the label’s Vice President (& resident studio producer) Bonnie Guitar. Of special note is the fact that this would be the first-&-only LP to feature music by the Frantics and/or Little Bill and the Bluenotes until the retrospective “compilation” trend kicked off years later. But way back in ’59, Top Rank’s Mr Blue sampler evidently achieved its objective as all four of the artists represented on the disc went on to score radio hits of varying magnitude in Merry Olde England. The musical contents of this LP are:

The Fleetwoods
  • “Confidential”
  • “The Three Caballeros”
  • “Raindrops, Teardrops”
  • “You Mean Everything To Me”
  • “Serenade Of The Bells”
  • “Unchained Melody”

The Fleetwoods
  • “We Belong Together”
  • “Come Go With Me”
  • “Mr. Blue”

Little Bill & the Bluenotes
  • “I Love An Angel”

The Frantics
  • “Fogcutter”

Bonnie Guitar
  • “Candy Apple Red”


THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST'S most storied Country/Western radio DJ – Marion "Buck" Ritchey – effectively promoted that genre of music for about 32 long years on area radio stations. Born in 1915, he was initially inspired by the recordings of America’s “Blue Yodeler” Jimmy Rodgers, & he taught himself to play the guitar. In 1930, & at the mere age of 15, he left his home in Missouri, & his wanderings eventually led him out to Tacoma in 1938. 
By 1942 he’d been confined to a tuberculosis ward, but upon release he took on a gig as a radio host at Seattle’s powerful KVI station – a daily 3-hour shift that paid the royal sum of 75¢ an hour. As he made deeper connections within the area’s music scene, Ritchey ended up leading a country band – The K-VI [“K-6”] Wranglers – which also included Seattle’s star steel guitarist Paul Tutmarc, along with his young bride Bonnie Tutmarc (who would go on to later international solo fame as Bonnie Guitar). One of the Wranglers’ claims-to-fame was that they also briefly featured a singer named Jack Guthrie (the cousin of folkie icon, Woody Guthrie) who debuted the tune “Oklahoma Hills” with them – a song that went on to become a No.1 hit in 1945. The K-VI Wranglers’ high public profile was partially the result of their becoming the house-band for KVI – & thus, their records managed to receive an inordinate amount of airtime. Controversies erupted as other local country artists saw this blatant favoritism while their own, perhaps more deserving, discs didn’t enjoy such generous support. But it must also be stated that Ritchey did help a lot of country singers along the way:  it was said that the Grand Ol’ Opry’s Hank Snow once credited Ritchey with helping establish his career by being the first radioman in the nation to air his early records on a regular basis. Some of the records credited to Ritchey himself include: “A Wasted Life Like Mine” / “Only The Moonman Knows” [GRC Records 109], & “The Slave” / “Busy Signal” [GRC Records 111] – & one of his most popular recordings was the seasonal favorite, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” After 22 years at KVI, a Seattle pop station, KAYO, switched formats & Ritchey jumped ship & joined the “Kountry KAYO” crew. Around 1970 he was diagnosed with cancer & after a valiant three-year battle, Buck Ritchey died at Providence Medical Center on December 23, 1973.


IT IS A BIT SAD that such scant information has survived regarding what is surely one of Seattle’s most fabled jazz joints: the Old Rocking Chair Club. Sure, I occasionally turn up various vintage trade tokens from the place (as seen below) but the shortage of photographs of the long-gone place is simply a travesty to our efforts to document local history. So, saints-be-praised then that this image just recently surfaced in a stack of old pix recently unearthed here in town.  
Based in a 2-story wooden house on the Southeast corner of 14th & Yesler – note: its street address has variously been listed as either being 115 14th Avenue S., or 1301 E. Yesler Way – the Rocking Chair was run by Fred Owens who had begun in the nightlife biz by operating the Blue Rose club in that same locale back in the Roaring ‘20s. The greatest legend about the room certainly centers on its role in the “discovery” of one of America’s greatest musical talents: Ray Charles – who considered it “the gonest place in town.”
It was in March, 1948, that the 17-year-old pianist, Ray Charles Robinson – seeking a better life & a way into the music business – arrived in town by Greyhound bus from his home down south. On his very first night in town he was steered to a jam session at the Rocking Chair, a venue that boasted a comfortable bar built from glass blocks, a small bandstand, & a not-so-discrete gambling room upstairs. Since its opening back in ‘46, the Rocking Chair had fully earned its reputation as the place to stir up some action or just hang: even touring stars like Count Basie & his band would relax, or jam, there into the wee small hours after their main gigs across town. The original house band was the Elmer Gill Trio & that’s who was onstage when Robinson showed up and asked to sit in a play a few tunes. Instantly winning over the club’s colorful cast of regulars, the kid was offered a weekly gig at the local black chapter of the Elks Club (662 1/2 S. Jackson Street). Robinson (who soon assumed the stage-name of “Ray Charles”) added guitarist Garcia McKee & the duo held down that gig until summertime when they formed the McSon Trio (which soon became: the Maxin Trio) by adding bassist Milt Garred & moving up to the Rocking Chair gig.  
Then one night in late-‘48 an LA-based businessman named Jack Lauderdale was shooting dice at the Rocking Chair and began diggin’ the tunes that were wafting up from the bandstand. And Lauderdale certainly knew his music:  he operated what was one of the very first black-owned independent labels, Downbeat Records, which had already issued R&B hits by artists including Lowell Fulson, Jay McShann, & Joe Turner. So when the Maxin Trio informed him that some of the tunes they’d been playing were originals, he tried to lure them into a recording session. As Charles later recounted:

“I first met Jack Lauderdale…when we were at the Rocking Chair. There was a private club upstairs – that's where they would gamble at – and downstairs was where we were working. Jack was there one night and he came downstairs and heard us playing. He said, ‘I'd like to sign you guys up to a contract. What would you think about that?’ Oh, Man, I was so excited! ‘Wow! We're gonna get a record contract!’ There was nothing about any advance or money up front. All the man said to me was the he was gonna record me, and we'd have a hit. I didn't even ask about the terms. All I knew was that I wanted to make a record; this was a big thing to me at that time.”

Jazz historian Paul de Barros once reported that: “When Lauderdale offered the trio a record date, they thought he was putting them on. McKee recollects: ‘Ray and I got together and said, “This guy thinks we damn fools!”…We didn’t know he was serious, because we didn’t know nothing about recording. He kept on persisting, and persisting, and finally he got us down to this station and then that’s when we did our first tune. …We recorded them downtown.’ …‘You know,’ adds Charles, ‘…We just couldn’t believe that – we’re going to make a record and we’re going to make it in Seattle.’” “A record! Man, that was the ultimate!” Charles enthused in his autobiography, Brother Ray. “Yes we’ll cut a record, Mr. Lauderdale. Good God Almighty! Just show us the way, Papa. Nothing I want to do more. …Jack was the first person I signed with, and I have to give him credit. I don't know what he heard, but he must have heard something – because he recorded me in Seattle.”
The Trio’s debut session was likely held at the KOL radio studio in the Northern Life Tower – one of the very few options in town at the time. At session’s end Lauderdale split with the master tape – which contained the first bluesy tunes ever recorded in Seattle: “Confession Blues” and “I Love You, I Love You” – and in early 1949 it was released on his Down Beat label. Though the disc’s commercial success was marginal, Lauderdale had the trio come down to LA for another session. After that he sent again for Charles and McKee, who recorded with a hired rhythm section before returning home once more. Finally, in February 1950 Lauderdale sent just for Charles – and thus the Trio’s days were over. Perhaps feeling a bit homesick, Charles – who would soon launch his fabulous career as the “Genius of Soul” – cut his next record which was a sweet tribute to the ol’ gang back at the club: “Rocking Chair Blues.” Here's some of what Brother Ray sang about his Seattle pals:

“If you're feeling lowdown, don't have a soul to care, (X2)
Just grab your hat and start for the Rocking Chair.

There's Dubonnet Judy, Gin Fizz Flo, Cocktail Shorty, and old Julip Joe.

I'm telling you, it's the gonest place in town,
If you don't have your rubbers, take a taxi down.

If you're a regular guy, you're bound to get a souvenir, (X2)
And when you write back home, you can say you're spooning at the Rocking Chair.”


WHAT AN INSPIRATIONAL FIND I recently stumbled across! Seen here is the cover-art for an 88-page book/CD set titled: Northwest Passage: 50 Years Of Independent Music From The Rose City which is, as noted, “A Book And Audio CD Highlighting The History Of Portland’s Burgeoning Independent Music Scene.” Recently produced by that city’s Dill Pickle Club – a volunteer-powered non-profit corporation that adopted its briny moniker in homage to an old jazz-drenched speakeasy that served as a locus for the creatives who sparked the “Chicago Renaissance” during the Prohibition Era – & which has embarked on a program of presenting unusual educational events. As their website states: “Through tours, public programs and publications, we create nontraditional and interactive learning environments where all forms of knowledge are valued and made readily accessible.”

Northwest Passage is a wonderful example of their visionary efforts. What it contains, in part, is documentation of some of their past events: interesting transcripts from public interviews they completed with various notable musicians from Portland’s remarkable music scene – including: Ural Thomas (a storied R&B and soul singer who first recorded as a member of Portland’s ‘50s doo-wop vocal group, the Monterays), Valerie Brown (of the groovy ‘60s band, Melodius Funk), Fred & Toody Cole (garage/punk icons whose band, Dead Moon, enjoys a global fan-base), and Cool Nutz (local hip-hop pioneer). Those transcripts offer a hint about how interesting the Club’s events can be, with the veteran players sharing recollections about earlier days in Portland music history & reflections on the state of music there today. The CD – which is tucked into the back of the high-quality book – provides an audio supplement to the experience with songs by those artists and others ranging in vintages from 1966 to 2010.  In addition, the book includes a brief discographical listing of important Portland recordings & a bibliography of relevant books [Full Disclosure: my own 2009 tome, Sonic Boom! is included]. All-in-all, a most impressive product from and admirable organization. The Dill Pickle Club has created here a model that the people of any town that can boast a musical past even half as robust as Portland’s would be wise to consider emulating. With their event programs, & this cool book/CD set, the Club has demonstrated a very effective way to explore one’s collective past, heap a little belated public honor on overlooked contributors to that history, bring a focus to the present-day community’s longing for connection to a proud heritage, & help ensure that the future of any particular music scene is better fortified with a solid & well-understood foundation.


SURE, THERE HAD been major rock ’n’ roll shows in Seattle before The Beatles arrived here back in the summer of 1964 – Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, and Gene Vincent at the Orpheum Theatre, and Elvis Presley at Sicks’ Stadium in 1957 come to mind – but the Fab Four’s initial appearance at the Seattle Center Coliseum was undeniably historic. The Coliseum itself had served as the “Washington State Pavilion” during 1962’s Century 21 Exposition – the Seattle World’s Fair – but the bigbeat concerts held during that expo had occurred in other venues (including the Arena where Fats Domino, James Brown, Ray Charles, the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, and Ricky Nelson all performed). Then, after The Beatles began scoring international radio-play in late-1963, it became apparent that the sheer size of their emerging fan-base would require a larger venue for their upcoming tour-date. Thus the Coliseum made its debut as a concert hall by hosting a crowd of 14,300 screaming teenagers on August 21, 1964 – the date that marked the building's beginnings as the site of a multi-decade run of concert performances by the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll. Here’s a photo of how it all began...