Frank Gutch Jr: Sonics Boom! Seattle’s Peter Blecha Writes (Not Rewrites) Pac NW Music History!, Pac NW Labels— In Fact, It’s the Great Pac NW Rundown, Part One! (plus Notes?)…..

FrankJr2You may not know or know of Peter Blecha, but I do.  Peter and I have been acquaintances if not friends for a number of years and I have watched his growth as a writer and music historian with great interest.  We share an intense interest in the Pacific Northwest music scene, past and present, and we both revered the music and the bands which inhabited the various periods in the Pac NW music saga.  We know that the rest of the world, if not for The Sonics and Paul Revere & The Raiders, would consider the music scene minor league at best, but have always considered the rest of the world ignorant of the music and artists who seemingly have and have had to struggle for respect beyond the borders of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

And we don’t care all that much, except it would be nice for people to get things right once in awhile.  See, as in all music scenes back in the day, music was local and regional first and few bands had the backing or got the breaks to go national.  Oh, we had our successes— Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Fleetwoods, The Frantics, The Wailers, and later Heart and the Nirvana-led grunge movement of the late-’80s and 90s.  We had our stars and our favorites.  But life (and music) does not happen in a vacuum.  I know that.  Blecha knows that.  Sometimes, though, I wonder if anyone else does.

peterblechaI first met Blecha at the old Dean’s Golden Oldies store on 45th in Seattle in the late-70s.  We were both dumpster diving for 45s, looking for those gems that Dean talked about in his ads—  the ones which compared original vinyl pressings to precious gems— when Dean introduced us to each other as “someone we might like to talk to.”  We chatted a bit and Blecha, upon finding that I was a Pac NW music nut also, took over.  He blitzed me with questions about Northwest bands and the music scene and a whole host of other questions I could not even begin to answer.  He talked and talked and I finally plain had to leave because I had run out of answers.  I laugh when I think of that day now because that was Blecha as I was always to know him— a vinyl junkie with a bottomless desire to know everything music.

That was over thirty years ago and Blecha is still asking questions, though he has gathered some answers too.  Many of those answers make up the bulk of his 2009 tome, Sonic Boom!  The History of Northwest Rock:  From Louie Louie to Smells Like Teen Spirit.  How the hell could he cover the scene from the fifties to the present in less than 300 pages, you ask?  That’s the beauty of this book.  He didn’t have to and, I assume, didn’t want to.  Blecha knows the short attention span of the reader since the digital revolution and steers clear of the lo-o-ong journey.  Instead, he has culled what he deems the basics (and basic truths) about the area’s scene and gives us information that we need to understand what happened and how.  The cool thing is that he gives us all the as-true-as-it-can-be lowdown through the memories of the people who were there.

In last weeks column, I mentioned the genius of John Broven in the writing of two of the best musical history tomes ever written about the modern days— Rhythm & Blues in New Orleans and South to Louisiana.  He simply set the stage and let the people involved tell the story.  Blecha has done the same.  He tells and lets the musicians and music people tell the story behind Louie Louie (and it is quite the story) and Dolton  Records and The Raiders (it is a struggle not to type out the full name of the band each time, just out of respect for their importance in bringing the Northwest national attention).  He tells the story of The Fleetwoods and The Wailers and The Sonics, but steps beyond those constraints and delves into the labels and radio and the dance scene.  The armory circuit ruled (and the scene in Seattle was a slightly altered version of the armory circuit) and very few Northwest bands were able to fill auditoriums and larger venues until later.  Heart and Albatross Productions are given due diligence and, of course, the grunge scene and all of the stops in between.  (For an alternate look at teens scenes in the 60s, check out this earlier DBAWIS column)

blechasonicboomBooks like Sonic Boom! are crucial to a true understanding of the real history of music.  Unfortunately, most music writers limit themselves to what they think readers will gobble up without question.  They want the easy kill— to put in the basics and nothing more and to play sycophant to the star.  They are lazy and, as such, rewrite music history to a larger degree than you might think.  That does not describe Blecha.  He sweated through 20 years of interviews and phone calls and attending shows and driving long distances to get the answers he hoped were there.  A lot of that he did just in time.  Those of us who lived those times are getting fewer and farther between as we age.  There ain’t many of us left.

The verdict?  If you are a true rock music history buff, this is a must for your collection.  Why did I not include it in last week’s roundup of books on music?  Somehow (it must be that damn rock I’ve been hiding under, again) I missed it and stumbled upon it quite by accident.  Not to worry.  I read Blecha the riot act and he knee-jerked the book to me the moment we hung up.  (Truth is, we messaged through Facebook, but you get the drift, eh?)  I’ve read it twice and I still haven’t assimilated all he laid down.  And I was there!  I thought I knew something!  You know what?  The older I get, it seems the less I know.  You can purchase the book through Amazon (and I suggest you do— Christmas may seem like it, but it isn’t that far away and, unlike fashionable clothing or the number one hits of today, Sonic Boom! won’t start to stink by then).  I wish every region or city had a book documenting the music.  I would buy every decent one I could get my hands on.

You know what?  I am glad I missed it until now because it has given me impetus to run through some other Pac Northwest items of interest.  How about this?

Before I Go On, Though…..

lullabyeWhile seemingly everyone, dead and/or alive, participates in this ongoing love affair with The Beatles, I found a tribute album which places them where I feel they belong— in a child’s bedroom.  Yep.  They call it Lullabye of Beatle Land and is, as far as I’m concerned, every bit as viable as any of the tribute and/or cover songs and/or albums produced.  Geared to put the infant to sleep without that scary Helter Skelter side of them crazy mop-topped lads.  You get lullabye versions of Blackbird, Sun King, I’m Only Sleeping and more.  Music to whet your and your child’s Beatle-sized appetite.  And this ain’t a joke.  I am listening to samples right now.  And you can, too.  Just head to this site (http://www.beatleslullaby.com/) and prepare to be enlightened (or lulled to sleep).

Not only that, the site offers all kinds of options for your listening pleasure.  Click on “Special Collections” and you get everything from BeatlesGrass to StonesGrass to EaglesGrass to MarleyGrass— yep, Bob Marley, bluegrass-style.  As musically credible as Heart doing Led Zeppelin.  And the musicians are quite exceptional.  You should take a listen.

Meanwhile, Back In The Pac Northwest…..

I came upon those albums while searching http://diskeyes.com/ for a few Pac Northwest artist items which supposedly have not been available for some time—  recordings by Jr. Cadillac, Kidd Afrika, Jim Page and others.  When I first got to Seattle around ’78 or so, the music scene was thriving.  Most of it, besides the always present folk scene, was taking place in bars and there were only a few artists/bands who/which really owned the scene.  Annie Rose & The Thrillers.  The Skyboys.  Robert Cray.  The king of them all, though, was Jr. Cadillac.

jrcadillac1Cadillac was originally a band comprised of a handful of leftovers from the mid- to late-sixties era of the Pac Northwest.  Head Cadillac Ned Neltner had once played with bands out of Spokane known as The Mark V and The Demons before heading west to Seattle.  Others in the original lineup were Jim Manolides (The Frantics, The Dynamics), Andy Parypa (The Sonics), Bob Hosko (The Frantics) and George Rudiger.  The revolving door would soon place Les Clinkingbeard (The Mark V) and Buck Ormsby (The Fabulous Wailers) alongside Neltner and crew, as well.  The band, in various lineups, released a number of albums in the seventies, every one a ripsnortin’ dance monster made up of fifties, sixties and original tunes, all guaranteed to get the shoes dancin’.  Disk Eyes has four albums digitized and ready for recreating those hot, sweaty nights in the numerous clubs they played.  If you want to know more about the band, follow this link.  It is a fascinating story.

Cadillac was not the only band hitting the bars, though.  Seattle had a handful of impressive bar-but-more-than-bar bands.  Kidd Afrika, for instance.  No fifties and sixties for those guys.  They melded genres, did they, tripping around the edges of soul, funk, jazz and new age and developed a following which followed them religiously from tavern to tavern.  Folkie Jim Page was second in popularity only to Reilly & Maloney on the folk circuit, and to be fair, Page gained followings internationally where R&M didn’t.  His In the Act album contains a classic original titled Runaway Shah which to this day in my mind stands as a yardstick track for political protest songs.  Disk Eyes has no less than twelve of his albums ready for download through either Amazon or iTunes.  The New Tweedy Brothers had quite the reputation back in the early seventies and the tracks available on the site are the only ones I can find anywhere.  Toss in Main Attraction, a four man vocal group (mostly a capella) and Tim Noah, who vied with Raffi for the title of king of the kid set and you have a rounded out list of albums of the time.  Early seventies to mid-eighties, these were the Seattle artists whose albums I sold in quanitity.  Those were the days.  If you are at all interested in these bands, you can read an earlier column I wrote regarding Disk Eyes here.

A Mixtape For the Ages…..

Working in Seattle was not only great because of Seattle, which was a hell of a place to live in the late 70s and 80s, but because of the great people with whom I was lucky enough to work.  One, Joe Lee, still lives there and plays drums in a few bands inhabiting a different but strangely similar tavern scene a la Junior Cadillac.  One night, probably in a drunken stupor, I pulled out a lot of my 60s 45s and proceeded to make a tape for ol’ Joe of the best of those days, including one side \dedicated specifically to the Pac Northwest.  His daughter, Marisa, years later took it to college with her and decided to put it online.  You can access the songs from that tape by clicking here.

mixtapeYep, that’s me.  Uncle Frank.  I was the outcast among all of my friends who were giving up living for marriage and families, something I would have gladly done if I had only met the right woman.  I was the guy the kids loved, only because I treated them like regular human beings instead of toddlers.  I was the guy who reacted to boo-boos as if they were major accidents, recitals of songs as if I was a judge in American Idol.  I played board games with them (I mean, Candyland and Chutes & Ladders?  Hard to say no).  I taught them things I wish I could have taught my own kids— the value of honesty, fairness, their own self-worth.  Or at least, I reinforced what their parents were already teaching them.  I had the best friends in the world.  They were also the best parents.

So when Marisa decided the tape I had recorded for her father was worthy of posting, I was understandably proud.  Not that I had recorded it.  But that she understood the value of the music.

One side of the tape is mostly from the vaults of Jerry Dennon.  Dennon was one of the handful of record people who worked their way up when the record business was small and mostly being conducted, in the Northwest anyway, out of the trunks of cars.  He promoted small label records to radio stations, not unlike the guys who put Alan Freed up against the ropes.  It was just the way business was conducted back then.

Dennon got lucky in that he glommed onto a 45 by The Little Dippers titled Forever and worked it to death until it broke out.  I remember the song well.  An instrumental with choral background vocal and a rock beat.  Smooth and perfect for that lead-in to the news at the top of the hour.  It was 1960, I was thirteen and spewing hormones like a runaway lawnmower, and The Little Dippers, alongside a string of others, were writing the soundtrack of my young life, of which love was a huge part.

historyofnwrockrainier 001I found this out later, of course, when Dennon started his own labels (Jerden, Burdette, and Picadilly) and gave us all music all our own.  Beatles?  Rolling Stones?  Beach Boys?  Yeah, they were there, but so were Don & The Goodtimes and Mr. Lucky & The Gamblers and Little John & The Monks and The Live Five and a host of other bands from all over the Northwest region.  Never heard of them?  Then you’re probably not from the Pac Northwest.  (BTW, Portland’s Don & The Goodtimes were a completely different band than the Don & The Goodtimes on the East Coast)

A simple glance at the A-side of the mixtape brings back a flood of memories of radio stations KGAL (Lebanon), KFLY (Albany) and KSLM (Salem) spinning Northwest-origined tunes between the national monsters.  The Bumps, a Seattle band, cranking out a pure 60s rock upper of a song titled Hard Woman, complete with odd effects and and solid beat;  Chip & Dave, sounding a lot like Peter & Gordon with Soon Another DayJack Eely & The Courtmen reprising Louie Louie with Louie Louie ’66 (Jack Eely was the voice of The Kingsmen‘s smash hit, exiting the band directly after it was recorded);  The Live Five working the overamped guitar on one of the best songs to come out of those year, Who Knows (also released as Hunose) on another of Dennon’s labels; and, of course, The Sonics blasting a stellar version of Little Richard‘s Bama Lama Bama Loo till hell won’t have it.  All Pac Northwest.  All killers.

The B-side of the tape, while not being Northwest, shows you where my head was at the time— I looked for over ten years before I finally found a 45 of The Gants(You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings;  I special-ordered Sean & The BrandywinesShe Ain’t No Good and had to wait for months before they shipped a copy to the far reaches of Oregon (distribution in those days was very regional);  The Road Runners came through one weekend in the summer one year and got airplay with a killer track titled I’ll Make It Up To You;  and The Great Scots?  So what if they weren’t from the Northwest (they were from Nova Scotia), they sounded like they were!

Dennon had his run in the sixties and then faded somewhat from the scene (the whole record thing was changing drastically).  He resurfaced in the late 70s with The Great Northwest Music Company (Jr. Cadillac would always consider it a rip-off of their own label name, The Great Northwest Record Company), releasing three volumes of tracks from the Jerden/Burdette/Picadilly vaults (and borrowing a couple from Etiquette Records).  He also dabbled in releases by other artists of the time including The Skyboys, Kostas, Penrose and others.  (His Music Is Medicine label also released albums by Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and dixieland clarinetist Pete Fountain)

Troubles came his way, however, and First American, the umbrella company for all of his new labels, was handed over to other interests.  Carmen LaRosa headed the company until they were forced to fold after pipelines burst in the warehouse, destroying the vast majority of product available for sale.

You can listen to the mixtape mentioned above (and there are some excellent rare tracks included, let me tell you) by clicking here.

Also, the Dennon tracks are for sale, should you so desire to purchase.  Check out this page (click here) and be prepared to be amazed.

This One’s Personal…..

My beautiful pictureI first met Tom Ogilvy because the record store I worked at decided to honor Northwest musicians by having what they decided to call “Northwest Music Days.”  I gathered as much material as I could (I had numerous 8X11 promo shots of many of the Northwest bands, articles and promo material I had saved over the years, and rare 45s and albums to put on display.  While working on the display, a guy told me I should contact Tom Ogilvy.  Who is he, I asked.  He ran Seafair-Bolo Records, he answered, the offered to get in touch with him for me.  A couple of days later, a rotund little man sporting a yachtsman cap strolled into the store, walked to the display and asked if I was Frank.  I said yes, and he stuck out his hand and said, well, I’m Tom Ogilvy and someone told me you were putting together a display of Northwest music from the 60s.  How can I help?

That was the beginning of a real friendship.  Mr. Ogilvy brought by a large packet of material he had in his basement— pictures, a few 45s, xeroxes of articles.  He stood and talked with me while I sorted through it, making sure that I understood who the artists were and their importance to his labels and vice-versa.  He had done yeoman’s work.  The articles were the highlight of the display.

He came back in a few times in the few weeks during which the display was up, once with his wife, Ellen.  She was as nice and sweet as was he and the people at the store, none of whom really knew him nor understood their importance, treated them like royalty (the people I worked with made work a pleasure because of attitudes like that).  At the end of that visit, Mrs. Ogilvy had made me promise I would visit them at their house where we could talk about the labels and the music uninterrupted.

Bolo-Logo1I went.  We talked.  I was asked back.  I went and we talked some more.  Jimmy Hanna, their son (his real name is James Ogilvy), was coming up for the NAMA (Northwest Area Music Association) Awards.  The label was being honored.  Little Bill was going to perform as were The Fleetwoods and Jimmy Hanna.  It was going to be a party.  Was I going, because if I wasn’t, they wanted me to.  I went.

The awards ceremony was a long line of performers voted the best on their instruments.  Ryan Collins, who was later to work with me at Peaches Records, won for best bass player.  Peaches won for best local music store.  Little Bill sang.  Roger Hart, one-time Raiders manager, was selling records at a desk.  Mr. Ogilvy accepted an award.  I remember little else.  Except that it was the first of what is now a long line of awards ceremonies and that it happened at the legendary Parker’s Ballroom.  It was cool.  A night to remember.

A couple of days later, I met with the Ogilvys and Jimmy at their home and Jimmy presented me with my own special NAMA award, an ashtray he had made out of a Bolo album just re-released, Bolo Bash.  I still have it.

We talked a lot that night— about how Jimmy used to hang out with The Dynamics in the basement of the Ogilvys’ home, which they used for practice.  How Mr. Ogilvy would sometimes take Jimmy along with him when he slipped through the back doors of a few bars to listen to the R&B and jazz acts of the day.  How Mr. Ogilvy had come to meet and become good friends with Bumps Blackwell, who made himself quite a name in Los Angeles as a record man and songwriter.  How Ray Ruff‘s Pledge of Love climbed the charts until the pressing plant’s bankruptcy withheld the product and the record dropped quickly off the charts.  How Jimmy’s Genevieve 45, seemingly dead, became a hit overnight off of the airplay of small radio station KAYO.

JoeBoles_SeattleStudio_ca1950sWe talked of Mr. & Mrs. Ogilvy’s dream of having that elusive hit song, for they had been writing songs together before they were married and publishing, at that time, was where the money was.  Of their disappointment when Dave Lewis asked to be released from his contract.  Of Joe Boles and his importance to the whole Northwest music scene and not just the label (Bolo is a name comprised of Boles and Ogilvy— they were partners).  Of Kearney Barton and Tiny Tony and Merrilee Rush and, of course, Larry Coryell, who fell asleep in their basement more than once, amp on and guitar in hand, and how he used to call Mrs. Ogilvy “Mother Dragon.”  How Jimi Hendrix came by occasionally to listen to The Dynamics practice.

If anything set Seafair Bolo apart from the other labels of the time, it was the Ogilvy’s willingness to record the Tiny Tonys and the bands which leaned more toward R&B.  Anyone who knows their catalog understands.  They were like no other.  Not in the Northwest.

The label still exists.  Friends of the Ogilvys and Jimmy made sure it survived.  They have a store on eBay (click here) and are considering setting one up through their own website.  Not all of the music is from the 60s but a large portion is.  They have product by Main Attraction, mentioned earlier, Slamhound Hunters (their 4/1 Mind album is a rockin’ blues classic and features the guitar of Louis X. Erlanger and the harmonica of Kim Field), Jimmy Hanna and Jimmy Hanna’s Big Band albums, among others.  I have most of what they have for sale.  It is very cool stuff.

I have a tape Mr. & Mrs. Ogilvy put together for me, telling their life story together.  I will write a long piece about them soon.  I wish I had done it while they were both still with us.  Unfortunately, they have moved on.  I loved them.  I loved who they were, inside.  I hope they knew how much I appreciated what they had done.

Like I said.  This one’s personal.

Now I’m depressed.  That’s okay, though.  It means that it is time to end this thing.  But I do have some things you should go over.  Like…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I seldom get a chance to say “Hey!  I know those guys” and in truth, I can’t say that here because I know only one.  I worked with Paul Hood at Peaches Records in Seattle just after The Meyce and just before Toiling Midgets.  He is a good man— and from what I can tell here, a good guitarist as well.  This is live, sports fans, and I’m freakin’ impressed…..

Sometimes I swear to God I’m losing it.  I have had a link to a site for a band known as Cabin buried in my bookmarks for quite a few months and didn’t find the time until now to follow.  When I checked out the site, I checked out the music, which I find absolutely enthralling, and this video.  By the end of the video, I was convinced that if I owned a label, I would be trying like hell to sign these guys.  I love their kind of music and am blown away by the people they portray in the vid.  Check this out.

Greg Laswell will be releasing an album of songs he has recorded over the past number of years.  Contrary to what you might think, he is not just re-recording them.  He is recording altered versions of them.  Here is the story behind the project.

 

Remember when I was singing the praises of The Delta Saints?  Well, I haven’t stopped.  Here is a live video of them crankin’ out a tune at a, ahem, brewery.  The Saints and beer.  A combination made in Heaven.

From the music of The Curtis Mayflower and the creative mind of Duncan Arsenault.  This is a beauty.

By Divine Right.  Damn!  I like this!

 

A couple of weeks ago, my column featured books on music.  Two of those books, The Death of Rhythm & Blues and Where Did Our Love Go?, were written by a dude named Nelson George.  Recently, George released a documentary about funk music.  If you missed its premiere on VH1, you can watch Finding the Funk here.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Sonics Boom! Seattle’s Peter Blecha Writes (Not Rewrites) Pac NW Music History!, Pac NW Labels— In Fact, It’s the Great Pac NW Rundown, Part One! (plus Notes?)…..”

  1. greg simpson Says:

    Favourite Gutch column ever…I grew up a few miles from Seattle in Victoria, BC, and the scene in Seattle seemed to be rock and roll Nirvana (the place not the band)…Pat O’Day, the PD of KJR, controlled the club scene so, of course, many of the bands that played his clubs also got played on the radio. Got to see many of them in Victoria, and any time any band came to our city from Washington, half the audience that turned out were the local musicians, drawing inspiration from their American counterparts. Thanks, Frank, for this great overview.

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