“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.