Northwest Rocks!

The Pacific Northwest is filled with brilliant musicians who create spectacular albums. Some of those albums find their way into the Everett Public Library local music collection. And on Saturday, September 15 at 2:00 pm, I will present a talk on some of those local musicians.

But wait, there’s more!

After the presentation, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will play some rock and roll tunes that shock and assault the senses. In a good way. And there will be much rejoicing.

“So,” you might say to the version of me that lives in your head, “what can I expect at this so-called talk?” Wellsir, we will delve into the history of northwest rock, attack the ever-present confusion surrounding genre definitions and witness interesting (and perhaps boring) stories about local musicians. But perhaps most importantly, we will listen to snippets of songs by various northwest artists.

Here is a preview of some of the groups that will be discussed. They appear here more or less chronologically, with a nod to their approximate genres.

Prepare to behold the instrumentals of The Frantics, garage rock from The Sonics and early local punk from The Accident.

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Thrill to the power pop of Seattle’s The Heats, proto-grunge from the U-Men and the dawn of riot grrrl punk from Olympia’s Bikini Kill.

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Bow down to the experimental offerings of Anacortes’s Mount Eerie, to the post-punk brilliance of Seattle’s Blackouts and to the wide open spaces of Nevada Backwards and their dark country musings.

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Need a breather? There is no time for breathers! Behold the majesty of your northwest heritage!

Prepare to be aurally assaulted by the heavy, heavy sound of Montesano’s own Melvins, get down to the dark cabaret of Bellingham’s Pirates R Us and swing, yes swing, to the rockabilly of Seattle’s Hard Money Saints.

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Dance like a dancer to the synth pop of Seattle’s Perfume Genius, foxtrot to the old-timey swing of Bellingham’s Birch Pereira and the Gin Joints and boogaloo to some raucous garage rock with Bellingham’s Clambake.

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What of Everett, you say? Pogo with Sleepover Club, get blue with Ryan LaPlante and go electronic with goawaysun.

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And finally, weighing in at 325 pounds, Everett’s own Oliver Elf Army will present their brand of sinister pop in a live performance.

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 But wait! We got books:

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We got DVDs!

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We even got audio books!

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So come see what’s happening with local music at the Everett Public Library. In the words of The Presidents of the United States of America:

It’s gonna blow… Volcano!

Just Regular Joes

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By the time you are reading this fascinating post, the following statement will not be true: Tonight I am going to see (and hear) The Tripwires, Girl Trouble and the Young Fresh Fellows. While I’ve never even heard of The Tripwires (Seattle power pop super group) and have not seen Girl Trouble live (they’re a garage rock band from Tacoma formed in 1983), I opened for and consequently saw the Young Fresh Fellows in 1986. For those of you who are good at math (rainmen), that’s 30 years ago. This was also the last time I saw them live. I don’t get out a lot.

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Over the years I’ve kept track of the Fellows and have continued to purchase both their albums and those of their side projects, which are actually big name groups. Scott McCaughey often tours with R.E.M. He plays in the Venus 3 with Robyn Hitchcock. He leads another semi-local group called The Minus 5. Guitarist Kurt Bloch led the well-known Seattle punk band The Fastbacks as well as performing with many other local bands. Bassist Jim Sangster formerly played in grange rock (yes, grange not garage) group The Picketts and currently plays in the genius power pop group The Tripwires. Drummer Tad Hutchison, simply the best drummer period, plays with Chris Ballew of The Presidents of The United States of America in a group called simply Chris and Tad.

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The Young Fresh Fellows’ music is sort of a cross between The Kinks and The Sonics, with a touch of early Pink Floyd thrown in. Garage anthems, beautiful pop melodies and dueling psychedelic guitar solos are offset by oddities such as Tad singing a warped version of Neil Sedaka’s Calendar Girl (January, it was very cold / February, it was still real cold). Their live show is a bundle of energy, top-notch musicianship and humor. Band members are roughly in their fifties, but when Tad puts on a hat that covers his salt and pepper hair he suddenly becomes a 10-year-old boy playing incredible fills. Kurt jumps up and down maniacally and leans into Scott while ripping out psychedelic solos from the depths of H.P. Lovecraft’s mind. Scott is the leader and focal point, providing intricate lyrics delivered with a simple everyman’s voice. And Jim, not to be outdone by Kurt, is a kinetic kewpie doll pounding out the bass, the bass, the bass.

It’s difficult to choose a single song as a favorite, but one that resonates with me is Searchin’ U.S.A. from their Topsy Turvy album.

I’ve been to Pauline’s Café in Bellingham
Jack said he’d be with me in a minute
I asked him for a glass of water
He said, “What for, you want to put some LSD in it?
There’s already speed and marijuana in the hash browns
Pauline always gets a kick out of that crack
And that kind of service brings the customers back

Pauline’s Café, which opened in the 60s, was a legendary diner in Bellingham, barely wide enough to walk through from front to back, simply a counter with barstools. By the 80s the owners were in the autumn of their lives but were full of vinegar and enjoyed messing with the college students. One of Pauline’s strict rules was no dessert until you cleaned your plate. Searchin’ U.S.A. offers up several slices of life that I have experienced (verse 2 begins: Well, I’ve been to the Alderwood Mall…) encased in poppy Americana-esque music.

There are those of us who see the “Seattle sound” as something that existed long before grunge was conceived. The Young Fresh Fellows are the heirs to this wild, dirty, thumping throne of sound born with The Wailers and The Sonics. Check them out and file the experience under Mind Blown!

Bang Your Head With The Sonics

Album collage

“The Seattle of the 1980s, in which Nirvana came to life, was a rainy city of lakes, rusty bridges, and more than a few disaffected . . . teenagers. . . . Jimi Hendrix had grown up in the city in the 1950s but had to go to London to get noticed, and not much happened of note musically in Seattle until Nirvana formed in 1987. . . .”

~ Encyclopoedia Britannica

Wrong.

Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

Recently at EPL we introduced a Local Music CD collection, and in the months to come I’ll be blogging about music in the Northwest from the 50s to the present (as well as cleaning up my cats’ litter box with pages from the Encyclopoedia Britannica). Suffice to say, music has been a happening thing in Seattle and its environs for many decades, from the days of back-alley jazz clubs to the current national success of groups such as The Presidents of the United States of America and Modest Mouse.

The birth of NW rock and roll was greatly influenced by touring R&B acts like James Brown and his Fabulous Flames. The NW circuit became a popular destination for such acts, and the teens who went on to form bands frequented these shows. This R&B influence combined with raw, energetic, and loose musicianship formed that early Seattle sound. Garage rock at its best.

The Sonics, a group of Tacoma teenagers, best exemplified the sound with screaming lyrics and drum fills approaching the speed of sound. Many of their songs were covers, but delivered with a shiny new reckless abandon. And their originals: The Witch (1964), Psycho (1965), and Strychnine (1965) among others, sound as fresh today as they did 50 years ago. Seriously. Word from the bird.

The group released Here Are the Sonics in 1965, Boom in 1966 and (strangely titled for a third album) Introducing the Sonics also in 1966. And that was pretty much it.  Band members drifted their separate ways, occasionally getting together for reunions. And the band’s name, without any of the original members, kept going into the 80s.

So people lived their lives, sold insurance, raised kids, painted houses, what have you, and FIFTY YEARS LATER!!! (2015) the band released another album, This Is The Sonics. So we got musicians in their late 60s and 70s playing in a band known for its hard-driving, aggressive sound. And it’s their best album yet! No one can rock harder than The Sonics do on This Is The Sonics. Check it out. Spin it. Spin it again. Be amazed that vocalist Jerry Roslie, age 71, sings the best hard rocking garage vocals you will ever in your life hear. Stare into the distance in wonder at the slammin’ guitar riffs, up-in-your-business bass lines, and Einstein-defying drumming.

That’s it, babies. Listen! Glory in the heritage of Northwest music, which is also contemporary Northwest music, which is really way confusing…  Just listen.