IN THE EARLY YEARS OF ROCK ‘N’ ROLL major recording artists often toured through regions of the country alone or with an accompanist, hiring various local bands to perform with them. So it was on February 22nd, 1959 when Bobby Darin rocked his hits, “Early In The Morning,” “Splish Splash,” “Queen of the Hop,” and “Plain Jane” for a capacity crowd at Parker’s Pavilion.  His backup band?...Seattle’s top teen band, the Frantics.

From all accounts Darin was ecstatic that evening, returning to the stage after his featured set to join the band on backing vocals, a little piano, and even drumming a song or two. Later that night, phoned arrangements were made for an impromptu recording session with Joe Boles, the local audio engineer responsible for “Come Softly To Me” the then-current breakout hit by Olympia’s teen trio, the Fleetwoods – a song that would soar to the nation’s #1 spot by March.

The Frantics arrived at the West Seattle neighborhood studio the following morning half-wondering whether the pop star from New York would actually follow-through on the previous evening’s late-night talk. But, Darin did arrive and immediately set about arranging, with the band, two brand new songs, each freshly penned on Olympic Hotel stationary. Three hours later the session was completed, Darin was thrilled and grateful to have gotten great takes on both songs. Each player was paid $90, thanked, and then Darin headed south to complete the final dates on his tour schedule.

Less than two months later the “Dream Lover” / “Bullmoose” single entered the national charts, climbing to the #2 slot, and eventually selling over 3.5 million units.  Along the way, however, Darin’s corporate overlords back in New York had gotten him to cut the tunes from scratch, but the Frantics could hear little difference from their “Dream Lover” and even chuckled after listening to how the New Yorker players had worked to capture their band’s sound on “Bullmoose.”

The Frantics’ beginnings trace back to Jane Adams Jr. High School, and yes, the proverbial talent show. Billed as the Four Frantics, Ron Peterson (guitar), Chuck Schoning (accordion), and a couple buddies then performed at community dances for the next few years. By October 1957, the combo’s lineup had solidified with Peterson, Schoning, Bob Hosko (sax), Joel Goodman (drums), and Jimmy Manolides (vocals – though he was soon peer-pressured into learning electric bass). The Frantics were one of only three known Seattle rock bands at that time – the other two being from the town’s Central District: the Dave Lewis Combo and the Playboys (with Ron Holden).

Based in the North-end, and with all-Caucasian members, the Frantics filled a void and they quickly became a hit on the P.T.A. dance circuit. It was at one early show that the boys were seen by the head of Seattle’s Musicians Union AFM #76, Chet Ramage. Miffed that they were performing before a large crowd without being dues-paying union members, he unplugged their amps mid-song and admonished them to come to headquarters and join up. That done, the Frantics soon found an almost unlimited range of gigs to play: theaters, proms, community halls, and television spots. Highlights included gigs where they played support for additional touring stars including Gene Vincent, Jimmy Clanton, and even Fabian.

One evening in late-1958, after a rehearsal and apparently on a collective whim, the guys loaded their gear into a couple of cars and drove to the downtown studios of KOL radio. They waved at the DJ, Art Simpson, through a window and then, before they knew it, they were inside the station’s small studio recording. That same night Simpson began broadcasting their original instrumental, “Checkerboard.” In fact the DJ was impressed enough to send them over to meet Bob Reisdorff, A Seattle record distributor who had just signed a teen vocal trio from Olympia, the Fleetwoods. Within a few months Reisdorff’s Dolton Records would score national hits by five different teenage groups from the Northwest.

It was on May 25, 1959, that the Frantics debut single, “Straight Flush” / “Young Blues,” hit the national charts (Billboard magazine, #91) and set the standard for most of their subsequent releases by topping the local radio charts at KOL, KJR, and even KING. At this point Don Fulton replaced Goodman, drumming on their second single “Fogcutter” / “Black Sapphire” which hit Billboard (#96) in September.

The third single had been intended to score during the upcoming Halloween/Christmas holiday shopping season, but technical issues delayed its release until the New Year. Entering the charts on February 29, 1960, its timing was fated to coincide with the United States Senate Subcommittee new hearings on payola and corruption in the music biz. During these the senators got all wound up investigating the content of songs rather than focusing on more serious aspects of the music industry’s Evil Empire. So, artists were attacked for the “gimmicky” or “disturbing” elements of their songs and the radio industry began to get gun-shy about breaking new songs that bore any questionable elements.

Enter the Frantics’ new single “Werewolf” with its creepy Thriller-esque spoken intro and maniacal wolf howls (as provided by audio engineer, Kearney Barton) and gothic pre-spaghetti-western guitar figures. After shooting up Billboard’s charts (“with a bullet”) for its first two weeks, “Werewolf” mysteriously disappeared. Reisdorff responded immediately by reissuing the song sans its sinister narration or howls -- retitling the thing “No Werewolf.” While no longer “gimmicky,” it was also no longer fun for the teenage masses and it died a quick death.

The Frantics released total of eleven singles between 1959 and 1962, all of which showed the band’s members to be top-notch players, but the latter ones – including “Yankee Doodlin,’” “San Antonio Rose,” and even “The Whip” (which featured the skills of famed bullwhip artist, Monty Whiplash), were all clearly attempts at cracking the novelty-instrumental market.

In March 1961, when the last of the band’s members turned 21, the Frantics were hired at Dave Levy’s old jazz club, Dave’s Fifth Avenue, becoming the first bona fide rock band to be booked into a Seattle tavern. They played the room for months on end and it seemed that the whole town turned out to dance. Then Manolides jumped ship to join the Dave Lewis Trio who scored an extended gig at Dave’s.

The following year, when the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair opened across the street on the new Seattle Center campus in April, the Frantics retuned to Dave’s, playing to SRO audiences all through the following autumn. They also cut two Fair-themed singles: the “Meet Me In Seattle Twist,” and “The Gayway Twist.”

Time went by and the Frantics experienced additional personnel changes – including bringing aboard a new drummer, Jon Keliehor, who had been in the official World’s Fair Band, and then a new guitarist from Tacoma, Jerry Miller. The band was getting some good job offers in California and on one fateful trip southward, Keliehor was hurt in a car-wreck – and Don Stevenson (formerly with the Continentals) was brought aboard.

While gigging in San Francisco the Frantics were now coming into increasing contact with the blossoming Flower Power culture and a falling out occurred over psychedelic influences on their music – and the renaming of band to Luminous Marsh Gas may have been the final straw. More changes happened: Hosko returned to Seattle, Bob Mosely (bass) was added, and Schoning was axed. Finally, when L.A. folkie Peter Lewis (guitar) and the Jefferson Airplane’s original drummer, Skip Spence, both connected the band changed names one more time. Moby Grape first played the Fillmore Auditorium in November 1966 and their mind-blowing single, “Omaha,” hit the charts in July 1967.

Meanwhile, Keliehor healed and joined a new psychedelic folk-rock band from the University District, the Daily Flash, who enjoyed their own successes locally and in California. Then Schoning resurfaced a bit later, filling an opening in Haight Ashbury’s beloved band, Quicksilver Messenger Service. Finally, in 1970 Manolides and Hosko helped found the Northwest’s ultimate goodtimes/oldies band, Jr. Cadillac, who went on to rule the region’s tavern rock scene for a quarter century.

[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 March, 1984.]

Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


“1234” / “BLACK WIDOW” – A SINGLE released in 1964 by the Bootmen, remains perhaps the best recorded example of pure Northwest roller-rink rock. The opening shouts of “One! Two! Three! Four!,” the ultra-cheezy organ figures, that serious tambourine backbeat, ancient and virtually extinct slop-roll drum fills, and a wild scream or two all add up to one really fun record.

Following in the footsteps of Tacoma’s Wailers, scores of young bands formed under the influence of their internationally successful instrumental-rock style. In the Wailers’ hometown of Tacoma, Ron Gardner (sax), Neil Andersson (guitar), and Barry Belandi (drums) of the Solitudes recruited Jim Stover (bass) and Butch Hanukane (keyboards) from the Olympia/Aberdeen-based band, the Capris, and the Bootmen were born. It was 1963 and the dawning of the British Invasion Era – a time when Carnaby Street fashions, mop-top hairdos, and Beatle boots were quickly becoming fab/gear/ Mod in America. Thus…this new band’s name was most timely, and they rocked high school dances and, especially, the hometown crowds out at Olympia's Skateland roller rink.

The Bootmen cut their debut single – which was released by the Wailer’s on label, Etiquette Records, but before they could even promote it properly Gardner was called on to replace the Wailer’s sax-man, Mark Marush. This move was, in effect, a trade as Marush then joined the Bootmen. Their next step, the release of a second single –“Forevermore” / “Love You All I Can” – was actually a bit of a stumble, in that the pairing of a slow eternal-love-type pop ballad and a mediocre, modified Bo Diddley-beat rocker didn’t compel repeated listenings. Then or now.

But in 1965 the Bootmen marched on with the support of fresh troops from Olympia. The Capris had actually begun cutting their own siingle when their drummer, Dave Roland, was lured away by the Wailers (to replace Mike Burke). At that point Belandi persuaded the remaining members – Fred Dickerson (guitar), Duane McCaslin (bass), and Mike Moore (keyboards) – to join him and release those recordings as the “Bootmen.”  Released by Etiquette’s new subsidiary label, Riverton Records, “Wherever You Hide” / “Ain’t It The Truth Babe” were, and are, both killer Northwest garage punk, and, surprisingly, the A-side even received a bit of local airplay.

Gardner went on to become a popular focal point for the Wailers, singing lead on several hit singles and the final four of the Wailers’ seven albums. From there he went on to front Sweet Rolle, Anthem, and Sneaky Sam’s Lamb. The Ron Gardner Group formed in 1973 and released an album nationally in 1974. Meanwhile, Anderson went on to replace the Wailers’ original guitarist, Rich Dangle, and helped record their fourth through sixth albums. He also recorded with the popular local band Adam Wind in the 1970s. Roland – who played on the Bootmen’s “Wherever You Hide” – drummed on the Wailers' final three albums, then worked with Sweet Rolle, currently performs with Airplay.

In 1967 Dickerson and McCaslin formed Olympia’s quintessential psychedelic band, Cottonmouth, releasing “Sunshine Saleslady,” a record that became an instant ultra-rarity when most copies went down in the band manager’s airplane wreck. Later, in 1976, Moore helped form Olympia’s popular jazz workshop ensemble, Obrador.

Were it not for the classic quality of their few recordings, the Bootmen might easily have become nothing more than an interesting footnote to the history of the Wailers. But they were much more than that. Long live the Bootmen!

[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 February, 1984.]

Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


NEARLY 20 YEARS AGO the Seattle-based Seafair-Bolo record label released the classic album, The Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna. It was 1960s Northwest teen-R&B in peak form as performed by the premier band of the genre.

The Dynamics saga began in about 1959 with the release of “Baby” / “Aces Up,” a joyfully raw single pairing up two :”Kansas City”-type “originals.” Both songs featured good gritty sax solos by young Jeff Afdem, in whose living room the recording session took place.  The band’s leader, Tom Larson, soon approached Tom and Ellen Ogilvy – the operators of Seafair Records – and in 1960 the band’s second single, “Onion Salad” was released and enjoyed modest radio airtime.

Then in 1961 personnel changes occurred: founding members Terry Afdem (keys), Jeff Afdem, and Pete Borg (bass), regrouped with drummer Ron Woods, and the Ogilvy’s singing son, Jimmy “Hanna.” Soon Yakima’s Checkers lost their guitarist, Larry Coryell, to the band, and then Mark Doubleday (trumpet) became the last to join. The Dynamics’ next series of singles (on the subsidiary label, Seafair-Bolo) were excellent: 1962’s cover of Dave Lewis’ “J.A.J.” was so fine it briefly saw national distribution. Then came “Wild Girl,” 1963’s “Tough Talk,” and “Genevieve” (featuring guest organist, Mike Mandel, of the Checkers).

Coryell, of course, eventually split for New York and the rest is jazz history.  Harry Wilson left the Casuals to replace him and also excelled in his guitar duties.  Both he and Gary Snyder (who took over for Borg) appear on the 1964 album The Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna and the boss singles “Busybody” and “Leavin’ Here” which was briefly distributed nationally by Atlantic Records.

The Dynamics had started out by playing house parties and school dances, but later became mainstays on the teen-dance circuit promoted by KJR radio’s kingpin DJ, Pat O’Day. Highlights were the gigs they shared with the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Bobby Freeman, Jan and Dean, the Astronauts, and Vancouver B.C. Canada’s ‘60s Invasion modster, Terry “Unless It’s You” Black.

Hanna, who had built up quite a reputation with his rich, smooth – almost Bobby Bland-like – vocals, left the band and by 1966 was fronting his own 11-piece “blues big-band.” He released several singles through 1967, before taking up studies in San Antonio, Texas, where today he owns a studio and is a music instructor.

The Dynamics forged ahead, signing with Seattle’s Jerden Records, and later revamping themselves as the Springfield Rifle. This band became a highly successful performing and recording outfit for several years, scoring airplay with discs including 1967’s “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and 1968’s “That’s All I Really Need.” Alas, that enterprise eventually mutated into the Springfield Flute, a vehicle for Jeff Afdem’s saccharine arrangements of tired pop tunes.

Meanwhile, Ron Woods had exited just prior to the Rifle’s formation. He headed to Los Angeles to sit in on the last gigs of Seattle’s own psychedelic folk-rock tripsters, the Daily Flash.  Over the following few years Woods also did stints with the Buddy Miles Express, Pacific Gas & Electric – not to mention session work with Jimi Hendrix, Barry Goldberg, D. J. Rogers and others. Mark Doubleday went on to play with Miles’ band, the Electric Flag, and numerous other bands.

Back up in Seattle, Seafair-Bolo Records went into mothballs in 1968. But now the label marks its return with the release of a new Dynamics album: Memory Bank of Early Northwest Sounds. Like the Dynamics’ previous LP, this one also includes material cut live at Parkers, along with a couple studio cuts. The nine live tracks were recorded on three separate nights between 1962 and 1965, and therefore features both Coryell (most of side one) and Wilson (side two) and both Borg and Snyder on bass guitar. The stereo master tapes were lovingly mixed by the legendary Northwest audio engineer, Kearney Barton, and the album sounds properly vintage. No, this is not a “Dynamics 1984 Reunion” LP or even a Greatest Hits package. Instead, it is offered as a song-set typical of countless local teen-dances from a long-ago time. In truth, it is a remarkable historical record by a band of musician’s musicians: The Dynamics.

[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 January, 1984.]

Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


ROCKABILLY MUSIC has an obscure but interesting history in the Pacific Northwest. Because a number of small local recording studios were actively cutting sessions with numerous country/western musicians, it was inevitable that a few hot rockabilly sides would be released. Many of these were one-shot novelty efforts by players who probably could be found at the local grange hall on Saturday nights performing a much more straight style of country music – but rock music was beginning to sell, so they gave it a shot.

Clayton Watson and the Silhouettes, however, rocked from day one.

Formed in 1957 in Lewis County the band was comprised of six teenaged greasers: Clayton Watson (vocals, drums); Roger Jeffries (guitar); Norm Lindscott (piano); Carroll Hill (sax); Randall Watson (sax); and Gary Elsey (bass). Contacted recently, Clayton Watson recalls: “We played all over the Northwest. And we played all the time…because, see, it was new. And even though I was a nobody, just the fact that I had a rock band could get a crowd.” The DJs at Seattle’s giant KJR radio had begun throwing a few teen-dances and when they booked the Silhouettes, the band was hyped as “The First Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the State.”

It was likely around April 1958 that the band booked time at Portland’s Northwestern Inc. recording studio and cut a couple original tunes. Then Watson decided to form his own record label – one that would be named in honor of the garish color of his hotrod: Lavender Records. As an early example of rock ‘n’ roll’s vaunted do-it-yourself indie spirit, their single “Everybody Boppin’” / “Tall Skinny Annie” sold like hotcakes at their dances, but failed to garner radio airplay.

But the band did catch the attention of the region’s top dance/concert promoter, Pat Mason who began booking them on tours all around the Northwest. Watson’s memories are of the primal days of Northwest rock: “I can remember Paul Revere coming up to a dance – he was younger than me by a couple of years – and he said he wanted to start a band, and how did he go about it? [laughter] Here he [later] made millions and I play weekends! [laughter]"

As it happened, Pat Mason had begun handling tour logistics for numerous stars, and the Silhouettes benefitted. During a time period when Gene Vincent’s Bluecaps had disbanded and Mason was managing the singer (while he lived locally), Watson’s band backed the star at many shows. “We traveled with names like Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley and his Comets using my group either as a backup for the name or traveling along with the name band.”

It was in 1959 that the Silhouettes were spotted by Tacoma big-band leader Art Mineo who doubled as a talent scout for Golden Crest Records, the New York-based label that were then enjoying the success of Tacoma’s Wailers who had scored a national radio hit with their instrumental tune, “Tall Cool One” (Billboard #36).  The label was interested but suggested that the Silhouettes record only instrumentals. Oh, and a name change would also be in order. The band – which by this point had undergone several personnel changes – finally settled on: Lord Dent and the Invaders.  Lord Dent? “Well,” explained Watson, “my nickname was ‘Dent’ because I had two accidents in my car.” Golden Crest’s subsidiary label, Shelley Records, soon released the Invaders’ two-sided classic: “Wolf Call” / “The Greaser.”

Playing all those gigs while backing the stars over the years had additional career benefits for Watson: “I developed friendships with some of these people and I got calls to work steady on the road as a drummer, with like the Bluecaps, Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids, and Bobby Freeman. I made my living that way for about two years.” It was 1963 when Watson retooled by forming a new band, the Trends and began working the Las Vegas scene for several years. After returning home, the Trends morphed into a country band whose current lineup includes Watson; his son Kevin (keyboards); Ken Thomas (guitar); and bassist David Shriver (formerly with Eddie Cochran, Donnie Brooks, and Trini Lopez).

[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 November, 1983.]

Text copyright © 1983, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO OVERSTATE Dave Lewis’ contribution to the Northwest music scene. His distinctive organ style, instrumental arrangements, and pop/R&B compositions influenced a generation of local dance bands.  In the mid-1950s, AM radio playlists in Seattle were loaded with songs by established mainstream acts like Les Paul & Mary Ford, Pat Boone and Kay Starr.

“That was the Top-10,” recalled Lewis in a recent interview. “But I wanted to do something…I wanted to play for dancing, and we tried to find records that were, I guess, black-oriented, and we tried to introduce them to the people. And I think that’s what got us over. Because here in Washington there wasn’t a big opening for underground R&B music.”

His first group, the 5 Checks, formed at Meany Jr. High School for a talent show. Later they sang their doo-wop songs at neighborhood house parties, YMCA gigs, and even a few shows downtown at the old Palomar Theater. Later, while attending Garfield High, that act morphed into the Dave Lewis Combo who worked to build their reputation as Seattle’s first notable teenaged rockin’-R&B band. They played community centers, dance halls, proms, and eventually were hired to open shows for many of the seminal rockers of that era who had begun touring through the region. The Combo traveled the early circuit with the likes of Bill Haley and his Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and numerous other stars.

In 1957 the Combo were offered the chance to become the house band at Seattle’s popular after-hours nightclub, the Birdland (23rd Avenue & Madison Street), and they became a local sensation. Young musicians from all around the Northwest flocked here to hear the sounds, and the Combo began welcoming players to sit in and jam. It was also at Birdland here that the Combo eventually auditioned for Bumps Blackwell – the former Seattle bandleader who had gone off to Los Angels and has since managed stars like Little Richard and Sam Cooke. Blackwell liked the band but noted that they were playing all cover songs, instead of originals. So he passed on working with them…

But that rejection sparked them to begin formalizing some of their original riffs into actual songs. In 1960 they recorded their debut single which included “Barney’s Tune” as written by one of their ace sax-men, Barney Hilliard. Their second single featured Lewis’ “Candido” which he titled after the nickname of his pal and eventual drummer, Don Mallory, backed with a Twist-era tribute to their musical hero Ray Charles: “R.C. (Untwistin’).”

By 1961 Lewis was leading a trio at Dave Levy’s jazz club, Dave’s Fifth Avenue, located right across the street from the new Seattle’ Center – the site of 1962’s Century 21 World’s Fair. Throughout that exposition the Dave Lewis Trio packed crowds in and the following year saw Lewis switch from piano to electric organ and sign a record deal with Herb Alpert’s new A&M Records. Albums and many more singles followed, with a few becoming sizeable hits on Northwest radio.

That the “Dave Lewis Sound” made a big impact is undeniable. Scores of early Northwest rock bands covered his tunes, including: the Kingsmen (“David’s Mood,” “J.A.J.,” and “Little Green Thing”); the Counts (“And Then I Cried”); the Dynamics (“Candido” and “J.A.J.”); Don & the Goodtimes (“Lip Service”); and the Courtmen (“David’s Mood”).

But then, after playing six-nighters steadily until 1980, Lewis entered into a “semi-retirement stage.” But, “I started dreaming about…I wanted an orchestra…but, I didn’t want it formatted to the old-style orchestra. I wanted an orchestra that played funk. That’s my thing! I still prefer to have people dancing to the music I play.”

In the last year-and-a-half, Lewis’ 20-piece ensemble has performed at the Music Hall and Paramount Theater concerts with Quincy Jones, Gladys Knight, and the Gap band. They also recently kicked off the new Gasworks Park Summer Music Series.

[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 September, 1983.]

Text copyright © 1983, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


ONCE UPON A TIME there were only a handful of combos existing in the Pacific Northwest who could rightfully lay claim to being genuine rock 'n' rollers. Among the very first were the Swags. Formed at Bellingham High School in 1958, the six-piece band dubbed themselves after the  instrumental-guitar record by Link Wray and his Ray Men, as released in April of that year. Their initial lineup consisted of Bruce Reddick (vocals, guitar), Gailen Ludtke (lead guitar, sax), Allen Bar (guitar), Chet Dow (piano), Wayne Morrisett (bass), and George Johnson (drums). After debuting at a few school events, they continued by playing at local grange halls. Band leader Ludtke explained in a recent interview: "You see, there wasn't any real teenage dances until we started doing them up here. We were the first band of our type in the area."

As the teen dance circuit developed across the state the Swags rocked area ballrooms including the Beacon outside of Blaine, Washington, Mount Vernon's Seven Cedars, and Birch Bay's Forest Grove. Many gigs they played were sponsored by Seattle's AM radio giant, KJR. The band also shared double billings with Seattle's pioneering band, the Frantics, and even competed in a "Battle of the Bands" against Tacoma's Wailers at the Spanish Castle ballroom at Midway. "We did a lot of prom nights then," Ludtke elaborated, "because we were the only known group north of Seattle. But I think one of the highlights for us were the times we appeared on Seattle Bandstand." First "live on KING TV" in 1958, this teen-dance show occasionally spotlighted local talents and the Swags also traveled to appear on the Portland Bandstand and Yakima Bandstand programs.

Discovered by a local radio DJ, Jim Bailey, the band was taken to Seattle where a recording session was held at Commercial Productions' studio. The result was their debut single "Rockin' Matilda" / "Blowing The Blues" which was released in on his Westwind label (WW1003) in early 1960. As their new manager, Bailey successfully promoted the disc enough that Bob Keane's Del-Fi Records in Hollywood which was riding high with the first hits by East L.A.'s up-&-coming Chicano rocker, Ritchie Valens took notice, licensed the Swags tune's and re-released them (Del-Fi 4143) nationally.

At that point Dick Clark took notice and chose to air "Rockin' Matilda" for two consecutive weeks nationally on ABC-TV's mega-popular American Bandstand show. From there the record broke out on the radio charts in a scattered few regions of America. Other highlights for the young musicians must have been the big shows they opened for touring rockabilly and country stars including: Johnny Burnette, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Tillotson, and Gene Vincent and his Blue Caps. Most significantly, they also shared the bill with Ritchie Valens, for his gig at the Holiday Ballroom just outside of Burlington, Washington.

But then, after just two years together the Swags disbanded when college and career decisions conflicted.  Soon thereafter, Reddick helped form a new band, the Toggeries, with some fellow Western Washington State College kids and today his current group, Country Sunshine, performs regularly in the Whatcom County area.

[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 October, 1983.]

Text copyright © 1983, 2014 by Peter Blecha.


[NOTE:  This essay was presented in 2000 by the author at a University of Washington symposium titled "Around The Sound: Popular Music In Performance, Education and Scholarship." Also serving on the speakers panel that day was his friend and one-time Seattle teen rocker, the jazz guitar legend, Larry Coryell.]

There is an old saw in the music world regarding the origins of rock ‘n’ roll. It states that rock was born as a result of the merging of the musical genres of country/western and rhythm & blues. And, this notion is one that may very well be true. Certainly the debut recordings cut by young Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee, in the mid-1950s seem to fit the bill: in other words, these are rockabilly songs that obviously share the genetic code of both musical parents.

But, as we pause here today to consider regional variations in rock traditions – in particular, Northwest rock and its origins – another quote pertains, I believe, much more aptly. And that is a line that bluesman Muddy Waters once sang: “The blues had a baby and they called it rock ‘n’ roll.” Now clearly: Under Muddy’s theory, blues is deemed fully capable of self-pollinating – and presumably mutating – while country music is not credited with fulfilling any sort of progenitorial role whatsoever. And though no systematic study has yet been conducted, I believe that the surviving aural evidence suggests that the early, original “Northwest rock sound,” was particularly, and profoundly, blues-based…relying very little on traditional country music elements. In other words, Northwest rock owed infinitely more to Ray Charles, Willie Dixon, and Hank Ballard than to Ray Price, Willie Nelson, and Hank Williams.

Again, certain seminal ‘50s rockers evince clear ties to country music… Bill Haley, the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Ricky Nelson, and Jerry Lee Lewis come easily to mind. But the pioneering Northwest rockers forged a different school of rock – one based on a canon of shared tunes that were heavily weighted in favor of hard-core R&B numbers and one on which country conventions had virtually no perceivable impact. So, indeed, while the Beatles, for example, were busy recording cover versions of Buck Owens and Carl Perkins tunes in the early ‘60s, their generational peers here in the Pacific Northwest were obsessed with songs by R&B stars.

The Northwest Sound was, by definition, a driving, jazz-tinged – and largely instrumental – form of, to coin a phrase, teen-R&B, that had been created in the rowdy dancehalls of the area's biggest seaport towns of Seattle, Portland, and Tacoma. In fact, an early descriptive street name for this music was, actually, the “Sea-Port Beat.” This backwater mutation was essentially a unique regional sub-branch of rock 'n' roll that in hindsight seems firmly anchored by the West Coast blues of the likes of Big Jay McNeely, T-Bone Walker, Charles Brown, Ray Charles, Richard Berry, and Freddy King. Additionally, the powerful horn-driven bands that backed Little Richard, Little Willie John, and Hank Ballard & the Midnighters were key influences on Northwest musicians.

The Northwest Sound’s early phase was initially based on a repertoire of cover versions of recent and current R&B hits and that era’s largely-instrumental rude-jazz tunes. The difference being: very few of the young Northwest players possessed the skills or finesse demonstrated by the seasoned professional musicians who composed these songs originally. Truth is, the Northwest school squared-off a lot of the subtleties and nuances of these songs. Simplifying them yes, but, on the bright side, often making the tunes rock harder in the process.

This super-charging phenomenon was noted as early as the mid-‘70’s when the editor of New York’s Kicks magazine, Billy Miller, wrote that: “As a tried and true East Coaster I can’t tell downtown Seattle from uptown Tacoma – drop me off a bus in Portland and I may as well be on Mars. Despite my geographical shortcomings, however, I can spot a vintage Northwest disc at a hundred paces in a blizzard.  It ain’t all that hard mind you. There’s a feel about the way they tend to pound a little harder and blast off faster than most rock & roll records.

Well, to Northwest teenagers of the day it would seem that whatever musicality might have been lost in this transformative process was more than made up for in raucous energy and sheer danceability. In due time, and after honing their chops, the Northwest bands began composing original tunes that, while based on a basic R&B vocabulary, were nonetheless an innovative new take on those traditions. In 1993 Warren Gill illuminated the situation in a Canadian Geographer essay when he wrote: “The rhythm-and-blues-based music of the dancehalls of the region was, in its own way, as fresh an interpretation of the African-American roots of rock and roll as that of the pioneers of the genre in the mid-1950s and the revival to come from the United Kingdom in the 1960s. In a period bereft of these elemental aspects of rock and roll, the Northwest Sound was not simply a return to a previously successful formula, but a different evolutionary direction in response to local conditions.”

This evolutionary process is perfectly represented by the case of “Louie, Louie” an obscure 1956 tune by an otherwise obscure LA-based R&B singer, Richard Berry. His original calypso-tinged rendition became a Top-10 radio hit in Seattle and was eagerly adopted by black and white teen combos to the extent that by 1960 the song – simplified and modified now with a chunky power-chord feel – had become firmly ingrained as a primal social teendance ritual all across the region. Ultimately nearly a dozen Northwest teen bands, including the infamous Kingsmen, recorded their competing versions of the R&B ditty, effectively establishing “Louie, Louie” as the region’s signature rock song.

But “Louie, Louie” was merely the centerpiece of a core list of songs that became the standardized canon of the Northwest teen-R&B bands. Examples abound: The Ventures, Paul Revere & the Raiders, and the Kingsmen each recorded versions of Jimmy Forrest’s classic, “Night Train”. The Wailers and Viceroys both cut Julian Adderly’s gem, “Sack ‘O Woe.” The Dynamics (a combo our fellow panel member, Larry Coryell, long-ago performed with) and the Raymarks each cut Nat Adderly’s groover, “The Work Song.” The Dave Lewis Trio, the Raiders and the Ventures each cut Bill Doggett’s ground-breaker, “Honky Tonk.” Another local favorite was Earl King’s gem “Come On (Let The Goodtimes Roll)” which many bands played and the Dynamics and Viceroys each issued recordings of. Of course, Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix also famously recorded the song at his prime. Many local bands included Big J. McNeely’s “There Is Something On Your Mind” in their set-lists and it was recorded by Don & the Goodtimes, and Jr. Cadillac, as well as by Hendrix. Other Northwest staples included Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” which the Capers and Hendrix each cut around 1965, and Freddy King’s “San-Ho-Zay” which both the Wailers and Hendrix also recorded.

So, we see, those types of R&B tunes were a deep inspiration, but where this really gets interesting is the point when local bands began composing their own original songs. As it transpired, these originals were consistently based on obvious R&B elements….making clear the black roots of Northwest Rock.

But why? Why did the original Northwest rockers explore a form of music that shunned Country and Top-40 Pop influences -- instead fixating so plainly on R&B sources? Well, a partial explanation was first expounded over 35 years ago. And, interestingly, that theory was presented in an essay published in the UW Daily of all places. In an article with a headline that blared: “WHY DID THE NORTHWEST HAVE A DIFFERENT SOUND?”– the writer went on to proclaim that:

“The Seattle bands have, by and large, stuck to the blues and have turned a deaf ear toward the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and Al Hirt. Hence, Seattle bands like Dave Lewis and the Dynamics have developed original and natural styles of playing that are welcome alternatives to the pop music that is packaged and peddled by Madison Avenue and shoved down the ears of gullible subteens as ‘music of today’.”

Some things, it seems, never change…

By the way: the author of that piece was none other than a young journalism student here at UW named: Larry Coryell.

So: This question of why things developed in this fashion locally is an issue of some musicological interest – and a matter that I hope we can further explore here today…

[Text copyright 2000, Peter Blecha]


“LOUIE, LOUIE" BY THE KINGSMEN – the undisputed garage-rock hit of all time – was still charting nationwide that first week in February 1964 when the Beatles landed at Kennedy Airport. Although the Beatles were spearheading a major British Invasion of America’s radio airwaves, the Kingsmen successfully held their own. Between 1963 and 1967, at least eleven of the Kingsmen’s singles and five of their LPs scaled Billboard magazine’s charts. These discs were a non-stop series of some of the loudest and rawest rockin’ radio hits ever. The Kingsmen emerged from their Portland, Oregon garage in 1959, around the same time that the world was first being introduced to the developing Northwest Rock Sound.  The Seattle/Tacoma based combos: the Wailers, the Frantics, Little Bill and the Bluenotes, and the Ventures each scored on the national charts with their early releases.
The Kingsmen originally formed as a 4-piece unit: Jack Ely (vocals/guitar); Mike Mitchell (guitar); Bob Nordby (bass); and Lynn Easton (drums). They performed popular standards, Top-40 tunes, and their favorite raunchy R&B songs at local supermarket grand openings and school sock-hops. In the fall of ’62, the Kingsmen lured Don Gallucci (keyboards) away from another Portland band, Gentleman Jim & the Horsemen.  Just prior to this Ely acquired a copy of “Louie, Louie” by the Wailers – a cover of Richard Berry’s 1956 underground R&B hit. This version featured the Wailers’ raving vocalist, Rockin’ Robin Roberts (along with his patented “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah’s…”), and it raced up the charts in 1961 on KJR, Seattle’s then-mighty Top-40 / rock ‘n’ roll radio station. That achievement and the disc’s five-digit sales figures offered simple statistical evidence of the Pacific Northwest region’s undying fondness for the song. It also bolstered the local tradition for rockin’ combos to feature the song nightly at dances.

The Kingsmen adopted it and began employing the song as an extended showstopper finale. When a local disc jockey, Ken Chase, hired the Kingsmen to open his new teen club, The Chase, and noticed the young crowd’s wild reaction to “Louie, Louie,” he booked the band into a downtown Portland studio. “Louie, Louie, and an original instrumental number, “Haunted House,” were quickly cut in March, 1963, for thirty-eight legendary dollars. When DJs at Portland station KISN began broadcasting this “Louie, Louie,” Seattle record mogul, Jerry Dennon, took notice, signed the boys up, and released their debut single on his fledgling Jerden Records label.

Such was the early ‘60s Northwest teen-dance scene, that many of the working combos a shared a core canon of the same songs in their sets. So, it made perfect sense for a crosstown rival band, Paul Revere & the Raiders, to enter that very same studio, that very same week, in order to cut their own version of “Louie, Louie.” These two bands battled it out on Portland’s radio charts all through that summer. 

The Kingsmen’s chaotic version with its manic lead guitar solo, insane cymbal crashes, generally slurred and unintelligible lyrics – as well as that famous fluffed third verse – rose to about the #20 slot. The Raiders’ good, though comparatively tame, sax-based rendition went on to get them signed to the big-time Columbia Records’ talent roster.  Easton, meanwhile, had been devising other schemes: he had secretly registered himself as the legal owner of the Kingsmen’s name – and he had also taken up the saxophone. Finally at a rehearsal session in late-August, he dropped his bombshell: Easton would now be taking over as their frontman/vocalist. Needless-to-say, the guys were stunned. It was, however, a bloodless coup as both Ely and Nordby opted to quit and Gary Abbott (drums) and Norm Sundholm (bass) were recruited from other local bands.

Only weeks later, Easton was phoned by some college students in the deep south who were curious about the garbled lyrics within “Louie, Louie” and they wondered whether it was true that they could be deciphered if the 45 rpm disc was slowed down to 33 1/3 rpm. The Kingsmen were initially humored by these outlandish rumors, but before long the news networks were filing reports from New Orleans, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere about an American public nearly hysterical over the possible dangers of this record. When Boston radio DJ, Bernie “Woo Woo” Ginsburg, at WMEX caught wind that the Governor of Illinois was preparing to ban the song, he immediately set the tune into heavy rotation on his show. Ginsburg apparently reasoned that it might not appear proper if the song were to be outlawed in another area before staid ol’ Boston could have its chance. 

That’s when the New York-based R&B label, Wand Records, jumped in, reissued the disc, and 21,000 copies were sold that first week in Boston alone. As “Louie, Louie” began to saturate every radio market, a frenzy began building, the rumor mills were working overtime, and ugly record-burning incidents reportedly occurred.  A congressional subcommittee took an interest, the FBI paid the band a visit, and both Ely and Berry ended up being summoned by the FCC to make statements regarding the song’s lyrical content. “Louie, Louie” entered the Billboard charts in November ’63, charted for sixteen weeks (resting in the nation’s #1 position for two solid weeks), and would go on to sell probably 10 million copies worldwide.

The Kingsmen embarked in late-December on a whirlwind three-week tour for the powerful William Morris Agency. Soon after returning home, Abbott was replaced by Dick Peterson and Barry Curtis joined because Gallucci was still stuck in high school and wasn’t free to tour. By the spring of ’64 various concert promoters were urging Ely to form his own Kingsmen because Easton’s crew was experiencing a bit of trouble on the road: people had begun to question whether Easton’s was the same voice as the hit record. Jack Ely and his brand-new Kingsmen began booking shows but eventually the two groups would end up facing off in court. A settlement was reached: Ely would desist from making further bookings as the “Kingsmen,” but any subsequent pressings of “Louie, Louie” would have to specifically credit “Jack Ely” as the vocalist – and Easton was barred from lip-syncing to Ely’s original vocals during TV appearances.

In March 1964 the Kingsmen’s second single, a cover of Barrett Strong’s 1960 Top-40 smash, “Money,” was released, and it charted for 11 weeks. The Kingsmen began four years of endless concerts, road tours, dances, and appearances on all of the teen-set’s TV shows: Hullaballoo, Shivaree, Shebang, Where The Action Is, and others.  They also performed the title track and tough rocker, “Give Her Lovin’,” in what was perhaps the zaniest of Annette’s surfin’ flicks, How To Stuff A Wild Bikini.

In January 1965 the Kingsmen’s fifth single, “The Jolly Green Giant” – a novelty tune based on a well-known frozen vegetable company’s popular animated trademark character – sparked another mild controversy. “The Jolly Green Giant,” boosted by all the attending “bad” publicity, charted for 12 weeks, peaked at the nation’s #4 slot, and became the Kingsmen’s second best-seller. That disc’s flipside, “Long Green,” became a regional standard that was covered by numerous Northwest bands and, in fact, Jimmy “Sugar Shack” Gilmer & the Fireballs even scored a minor national hit version of it later in 1969.

Don & the Goodtimes – Gallucci’s newly formed band – burst out in ’65 with a scorching original, “Little Sally Tease,” a song that the Kingsmen promptly covered with a full-blown studio effort. “Little Latin Lupe Lu” (1964), “Death Of An Angel” (1964), one of the band’s contributions to the dance-craze-of-the-week fad, “The Climb (1965), and other hits kept the Kingsmen charting regularly through November 1967.

The Kingsmen experienced further personnel changes, brought in new producers, and booked recording sessions in Hollywood. By this time, the era’s psychedelic influences began to shade some of their recordings: “I Guess I Was Only Dreaming,” “Just Before The Break Of Day.” These final Wand label releases were, perhaps, just a little too experimental and did not met with the same massive commercial success that the band’s previous teen-R&B outings had. The Kingsmen finally abdicated their throne in 1968 and went into a self-imposed musical exile.

Meanwhile, “Louie, Louie” – the song that couldn’t be stopped – had made a remarkable re-entry onto the Billboard charts for a couple of weeks back in mid-1966, and then Jack Ely & the Courtmen, now signed to New York’s Bang Records, released spirited rewrites such as “Louie, Louie ‘66” and “Love That Louie.” The phenomenal impact of the Kingsmen’s classic cut remains undiminished and its legend grows. In the 1978 movie Animal House, the late John Belushi gave a memorable performance leading a debauched frat-house party in a hilarious slurred sing-a-long with the Kingsmen’s record. Then, in 1979, the British mod group, the Who, also paid tribute by including the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” in the soundtrack to their film, Quadrophenia.

Today, the Kingsmen are back at what they have long been renowned for: raucous live performances at dances throughout the Greater Northwest and beyond. The band’s recent “Louie, Louie” video has been airing on MTV, and there is currently a grassroots movement underway to have “Louie, Louie” declared the official Washington State Song.

The Kingsmen – a teen combo that began their reign banging out truly basic three-chord tunes steeped in the strong R&B elements of the Pacific Northwest’s school of rock ‘n’ roll – may for all eternity be pegged as the prime example of that wonderfully crude, supremely sloppy, sixties garage band sound that many of us still hold near and dear. 
And that’s one hell of a high honor.

[NOTE: This is a slightly edited version of the original liner notes to Rhino Records' The Best of The Kingsmen, Featuring “Louie Louie” 1988 LP (RNLP 126) and 1991 CD [Rhino 2 70745]
. It was named as one of the "25 Best Liner Notes" ever by Dave Marsh in his 1994 book, The New Book of Rock Lists. In addition, Bruce Eder wrote in the All Music Guide that: "The Best Of The Kingsmen was the album that helped restore the group to modern record collections...and Peter Blecha's essay is still the definitive account of the band's history." Thanks guys!]

[Text copyright 1988-1991-2014, Peter Blecha]


THE HISTORY OF SEATTLE'S WILD NIGHTCLUB SCENE of the Roaring ‘20s and down-&-dirty '30s is rich with tales of exciting Jazz Era music, bootlegged booze, reefer madness, lots of larger-than-life characters, and a goodly number of sketchy venues where, for years and years, all this frenzied action played out nightly well into the wee small hours.

Jackson Street Jazz Scene
In the early 1930s Seattle’s African American-oriented newspaper, The Northwest Enterprise, described the town’s notorious Jackson Street scene that, in part, ran straight through the neighborhood historically known as “Chinatown” – today’s International District. It reported that the area “attracts persons from all sections of the city and numerous migrants who are attracted by the bright lights and allurements. And there are allurements, if you know where to find them…Jackson Street might be called the ‘Poor Man’s Playground.’ Here all races meet on common ground and rub elbows as equals. Fillipinos [sic], Japanese, Negroes and whites mingle in the same hotels and restaurants and there is an air of comradeship.”

This was the social milieu in which jazz music had gotten its initial toehold in Seattle, and perhaps the first local entrepreneur to capitalize off the growing interest that young whites were exhibiting for this crazy new jazz stuff was none other than Seattle’s reigning speakeasy/nightclub king, E. Russell “Noodles” Smith. A fellow who Northwest jazz historian Paul de Barros noted as: “One of the earliest and most colorful black entrepreneurs” who (along with his partner) “lived the lives of flamboyant gangsters, driving fancy cars and showering food and drink on their friends and relatives.” 

The Black and Tan
“Smith was a gambler and a businessman,” de Barros further informs, “who was nicknamed ‘Noodles’ because no matter how much he risked in a crap game, the story went, he always set aside enough cash to buy a bowl of noodles before he went to bed.” He had begun to amass his considerable fortune back in the 1920s by co-founding the fabled Black and Tan club (12th Avenue and Jackson Street) – a long-lived room whose very name signaled its racially tolerant access policy.

But times were already moving on, as Kaegan Faltys-Burr has written: “In the climate of Roosevelt’s New Deal, Jackson Street jazz clubs began catering to more class-specific audiences.” And it was Smith who “saw the need for a more sophisticated club to satisfy the growing demand of wealthy whites for jazz venues.”

Thus begins the short-lived but legendary saga of Smith’s most ambitious nightclub enterprise of all, the Ubangi (410 7th Avenue S). He set out by renting a large space on the east side of the Louisa Hotel – which had originally been built (by a trio of Scandinavian emigrants) back in 1909 as the Nelson, Tagholm & Jensen Tenement (a 120-room boarding house that catered mainly to recent-arrivals and ethic workers awaiting passage to seafood canning jobs up in Alaska). “The Louisa was something of a sanctuary,” Ellis E. Conklin has written, “and in the 1920s and 1930s, Chinatown throbbed with excitement. Paper lanterns and glowing neon hung from the stoops of apartment dwellings. Children pitched baseball cards in Canton Alley. Adults gathered in social clubs, tucked away in basements and backroom parlors, for card games, and feasted on platters of” authentic Chinese delicacies. “The hotel, with its orange brick facade and windows with cast-stone sills and lintels, boasted a second-floor billiard room where seven two-story bay windows allowed light to stream in. Rumors persist that a secret casino with a surreptitious passageway may also have been on the second floor.”

Rumors aside, what is certain is that the hotel’s alley featured an entrance to one particular Chinese social club – the Blue Heaven (665 South King Street) – where illicit gambling flourished for decades. Recast later as the Wah Mee Club, the basement room would become widely infamous in 1983 as the site of one of Seattle’s most shocking robbery/murder sprees. Much of what had long occurred at this club was hidden and illicit, whereas the illegal activities at the Ubangi were rather more open, and Smith dealt with whatever fallout the traditional way: by paying off the police.

Direct from the Cotton Club
Smith’s goal was to run a swanky room that offered the finest in entertainment, and towards that end he and a manager, Bruce Rowell, took a trip down to Los Angeles to scout out talent. A visit to Frank Sebastian’s famous Cotton Club brought him into contact with one of that town’s leading black bands, Les Hite’s Cotton Club Orchestra. A deal was struck and Hite, his band, and a chorus line of singing/dancing girls were successfully booked for a twelve-week stint to mark the Ubangi’s grand opening. The two-story club featured two distinct ballrooms and a mezzanine that boasted a solo pianist, initially the legendary Seattle pianist Palmer Johnson. Seattle’s most glamorous black-owned rooms, the Ubangi offered the public the town’s first floor-show spectacle, in an atmosphere of elegance and exotica – replete with potted palm trees and an African-themed décor.

The Ubangi – which the Northwest Enterprise deemed “the largest race-owned enterprise…north of Los Angeles” – was an immediate hit. Especially with certain members of the white community who had extra money to burn during those Great Depression years – and Les Hite’s band got the joint off to a jumpin’ start. After a dozen weeks, Hite moved on but other fine talents kept the momentum up. Seattle’s own Howard Wyatt dance orchestra was brought in, as were additional stars from Los Angeles. Among the biggest names to work the stage was Gene Coy’s 11 Black Aces, and Cab “Hi-De-Ho” Calloway.

It's A Raid!
“Smith spared few expenses,” Faltys-Burr wrote, “flying in musical and dance acts from Los Angeles, and as a result most of the patrons attracted to the club were white. But even the lavish Ubangi continued to deal with problems of police harassment.” Raids by the Seattle Police Department, and/or state liquor agents, were common along Jackson Street, even if they often only resulted in punitive fines (or were forestalled by cash payoffs). But the Ubangi’s physical layout afforded employees, like manager Rowell, opportunities for escape via secret doors, stairwells, and even a hidden slide.

Decades after-the-fact Rowell once gleefully recalled to de Barros: “That’s how I got away from the Washington State liquor board, three times! Heh-heh-heh! When they came in, I’d go to [my] office, see, and say ‘Let me get my overcoat.’ Then I’d zip down that little deal, you know, near the floor, and Sheeoop! I’m downstairs in the basement. Next thing I know, I’m coming out [in the back alley], go down to the Mar Hotel, get a room, take a bath, and go to bed! They’re all up there looking’ for me and I’m in the shower!”

The Ubangi Nighthawks
All this must have been a frustration for Smith, but he had enough income streams – additional nightclubs, his personal gaming and gambling, and various real estate investments – to forge ahead. Indeed, his profile within the community continued to grow with every step including his founding and supporting of a very popular black semi-pro football team called the Ubangi Nighthawks. Smith was renowned for attending each of their games, while Rowell attended to, as Brent Campbell has written, “the team’s financial and physical health.” 

Alas, the well being of the Ubangi itself couldn’t be maintained once the building it was based in was sold off in February, 1938 – and then 75 years later, on Christmas Eve, 2013, a fire destroyed the top floor of the historic building and ruined numerous businesses below.

A New Discovery
Now, in late 2014, I have recently unearthed what is perhaps the only known artifact related to this whole little realm of Ubangi club history: a vintage photograph of an as-yet-unidentified racially diverse band that includes a pianist, six sax and trumpet players, a bassist, a drummer, a leader, and three female singer/dancers(?). The 8x10 glossy print is autographed thusly: “9/27/36  To Hazel Simpson:  May you never get any nicer, may you never get any worse. Paula Walton  Ubangi Club. Seattle Wash.”