THE COUNTS can be counted as the first not to mention, by far the best rock ‘n’ roll era combo to emerge from Seattle’s little Ballard neighborhood back in the 1950s. But even though Ballard itself was long a bastion of Scandinavian fishing-industry culture, the Counts were one of the Northwest’s hottest purveyors of the local teen-R&B sounds of their time. So, just how funky were they? Well, the Counts were among the very, very few young caucasian bands who were ever hired to perform at that fabled '50s/'60s jazz- and rhythm & blues-oriented nightclub, the Birdland (2203 E. Madison) in Seattle's Central District.

Formed in 1959 by Ballard High School kids, their original lineup included: Dan Olason (guitar), Peter Riches (bass), Center Charles Case (keyboards), Howard Hornsby (sax), and Jim Nichols (drums). Early on they played social club tea parties and P.T.A. dances, but by 1960 the first of many personnel changes began, with Olason and Riches as the permanent core and Al Scanzon (sax) joining them. The Counts began developing their reputation as a good dance band, with the significant bonus of Scanzon’s skillful sax-work and Olason’s estimable guitar technique raising the stakes. By 1963 Olason’s younger brother Bill (keys) and Phil Creore (drums) were brought aboard. Finally, an R&B singer from Los Angeles, Billy Burns, arrived in town and this lineup stuck together for the band’s prime years.

Over time the Counts had worked their way up to gigging on the emerging Northwest teen-dance circuit, playing halls all over the region including: the Spanish Castle, the Lake Hills roller rink, Capitol Skateland in Olympia, Laurie’s in Everett, the Target Ballroom in Burien, and the Pypo Club in Seaside, Oregon. Throughout those years the band also saw additional changes to their lineup: Mike Smale, Steve Lervold and Craig Parker each had turns as keyboardist; Mike Leary was a drummer; Dick Gazewood played sax  and most importantly, the addition of Richard Person on trumpet gave the band’s sound a rich twin-horn dimension. Along the way various local singers fronted the Counts, including "Tiny Tony" Smith of Seattle's '50s doo-wop vocal group, the Gallahads, and Nancy Claire.

Though they failed open auditions held at the Olympic Hotel by New York’s Golden Crest label – which had already issued discs by Tacoma’s Wailers, Centralia’s Lord Dent and the Invaders, and Salem, Oregon’s Mad Plaids (and would actually sign Seattle's "Scandihoovian" musical humorist Stan Boreson that very same day) – the Counts soon scored a different deal. Through connections made via a school chum’s father, the Counts were signed to a new local label, Sea Crest Records, which would release two singles by them.

“Turn On Song” was released in July 1964 and has the distinction of being one of the last instrumental rock radio hits of that genre’s Classic Period (1956--1965). A song that hung on Seattle’s KJR Fab-50 charts for seemingly ever, it was basically a raw, uptempo R&B riff with a stunningly memorable melody and by any measure one of the best Northwest Rock songs of all time. Backing the hit was a much slower and jazzier piece, “Enchanted Sea.” The follow-up single, “And Then I Cried,” a snappy Dave Lewis composition, featured local R&B singer Woody Carr. The flipside, “Doggin,’” was a good raunchy original instrumental. Meanwhile, Portland’s Don & the Goodtimes covered “Turn On Song” and created another hit single on the New York-based Wand label.

The Counts were such good players that they were hired as the support band for the 1964 and 1965 Teen Spectacular events at the Seattle Center. In that role they performed instant-arrangements of all the hit songs by touring stars including: the Righteous Brothers, Jan and Dean, Glen Campbell, Barry McGuire, and even Patty Duke. The band also worked as Ian Whitcomb’s backup during the Dubliner’s lengthy stay here while Seattle’s Jerden Records managed his climb to brief pop stardom which peaked in ’64 with his #8 Billboard hit, “You Turn Me On.”

In November of that same year the Gallahads used the Counts to back them for their Sea Crest single, “My Offering” / “Have Love Will Travel.”  The latter was, of course, the other song written by Richard Berry – the author of the Northwest’s signature rock song, “Louie Louie” – and “Have Love Will Travel” also became a regional dance staple, one that was also recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders and then the Sonics.

It was by mid-1965 that Jim Walters (trumpet) and Dave Hummon (drums) had replaced departing members. That July the Counts next single was released by Panorama Records, a sister label to Jerden Records. “Clyde, Clyde, the Cow’s Outside,” a song that was originally conceived as a very bluesy shuffle, was – under the guidance of KJR DJ, Lan Roberts – rendered with a then-trendy “Jerk”-beat in the studio. Intended to now appeal more to Roberts’ boss, Pat O’Day, the song – which was even named after one of Roberts’ silly on-air comedy shticks – received minimal radio support and sank without trace. Too bad, because the flipside, “Chitlins Etc.,” was a fine funky instrumental workout. Then, a version of Earl King’s “Trick Bag” (featuring Billy Burns on vocals, and evidently a outtake from an earlier Whitcomb-era session) was issued on Panorama’s Battle of the Bands album.

In April 1966 the Counts released their final single. “Come Now” was a good original vocal pop/rock number with quite cool simulated Eastern modal guitar lines. The flip was an adequate but uninspiring cover version of Lenny Welch’s over-recorded 1963 hit, “Since I Fell For You.” It was just too little, too late, with the hippie revolution already on the horizon.

After trimming down to a quartet the Olasons, Riches, and Hummon renamed their group the Rubber band and continued regular bookings into the spring of ’67, and then performed their final gigs at Tumwater, Washington’s sole rock ‘n’ roll landmark, the Tyee Motor Inn. The Olason brothers both entered graduate school at the University of Washington and today lead professional business careers. Riches went on to become a successful photographer and local business owner. Both Lervold and Leary resurfaced in James Henry and the Olympics (1963-1964), and after Scanzon left in August 1965, he became a police officer, but almost five years ago died in an off-duty motorcycle accident. Jim Walters left the Counts to form the Emergency Exit in 1966, releasing two great singles nationally on the ABC Dunhill label, and then he went on to help form Ballin’ Jack who recorded LPs for the big-time Columbia and Mercury labels.

[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 June, 1984.]

Text copyright © 1984, 2014 by Peter Blecha