"NORTHWEST BATTLE of the BANDS: Vol. I" (2001)

AT EASE TROOPS: Resting in your hands is the first volume of Ace Records’ mighty Battle of the Bands compilation sets of prime vintage rock ‘n’ roll from the Pacific Northwest. And though this CD series is new, the tradition that it is named for dates well back in time and was, for example, already established in the jazz world at least as far back as the Roaring ‘20s. Needless-to-say, of course, decades later when some rock ‘n’ rollers got ahold of the idea, the stakes were raised considerably.
Regional Band Championships, in which legions of local bands battled for supremacy, were first promoted as part of Seattle’s (and then Portland’s and Spokane’s) Teen Fair events in the mid-‘60s. The strategic objective for young musicians – other than a chance at winning the attentions of girls – was to capture some of the array of spoils being offered, chief among them being a genuine recording contract with the happenin’ local label that had recently launched the Kingsmen’s infamous “Louie Louie” 45 from the Northwest into an international phenomenon.Indeed, this entire Ace Records CD series is based on the prodigious output of Jerry Dennon’s Seattle-based Jerden family (e.g. Panorama, Piccadilly) of labels – a consortium that released many additional radio hits and contributed more than any other firm in the promotion of Northwest rock.

It seems worthwhile to ponder for a moment here the notion that a staged musical skirmish’s ultimate purpose is probably similar to that of certain competitive sports, that is, as one of modern culture’s ritualized forms of warfare – a way to blow off steam. But even though bloodshed and wanton pillaging have been relatively rare at such rock ‘n’ roll rumbles, the battles have not all been without consequence. One extreme example is documented by a notorious mid-‘60’s “Grudge Match” poster (Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers vs. the Redcoats) which proclaimed that the losing local band would suffer what was undoubtedly then considered to be the most horrendous punishment imaginable: the public shaving of their heads! Wow -- wasn’t that outlawed by the Geneva Convention?

Witnesses recall that competition among the scores of teen combos engaged in the ‘65 Battle was particularly fierce – Hey! Tell the truth: How would you, tenderfoot, like to have had to square off against such battle-hardened vets as the Sonics, Live Five, Bandits, Dynamics, Liberty Party, Counts, Bards, Dimensions, City Limits, Mercy Boys, Don & the Goodtimes, George Washington & the Cherrybombs, and Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers? – but, when the drums were stilled, the dust settled, and the smoke had finally cleared, the first Battle of the Bands! compilation LP honored the victorious combatants.

Similarly, the ’66 battle rewarded the top-ranked combos (the Kingsmen, Sonics, Bards, Live Five, Magic Fern, Brave New World, London Taxi, Bumps, Springfield Rifle, Breakers, PH Phactor Jug Band, Don & the Goodtimes, and the Rock Collection) with inclusion on the second Battle of the Bands! volume. The champion band that year was Seattle’s Jack Horner & the Famous Plums who also scored both an old-fashioned trophy and a then-cutting-edge electric 12-string guitar before slipping into obscurity.

Because Dennon’s labels documented this region’s musical evolution from the earliest original “Northwest Sound” instrumental years, up through the garage rock heyday and well into the psychedelic sixties era, his Master Tape vaults are still capable of providing significant surprises. And so, Ace is proudly able to offer here, for the first time anywhere, a good number of previously unissued discoveries that offer ten-megaton proof of the power of one region’s take-no-prisoners rock ‘n’ roll traditions…and a sound that continues to storm the barricades and conquer hearts around the world.

(This essay originally appeared as liner notes to the CD issued by Ace Records.)