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!

Music For A Lifetime

django-reinhardtThe year: Nineteen-eighty-something. The place: Bellingham. Our protagonist is a handsome young man finishing his studies in music whilst working in the college library. A mile or more from his modest roach-infested home sits the Bellingham Public Library, a bastion of free knowledge. Much to the delight of our hero, the building sports an eclectic vinyl record collection (an ancient form of music media, similar to 8-track tapes) ranging from field recordings of chain gangs to sea chanties of the Hebrides. It is here that he first discovers the music of Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills. And here’s the twist: I was that young man!

It’s true.

Bob WillsSome 30 years later, I still listen to Django Reinhardt and Bob Wills on a semi-daily basis. It’s amazing what an impact these library holdings made on my existence. Throw in Charles Mingus’s Fables of Faubus and Haitian Fight Song and we’ve captured significant musical influences to my later life.

At that time in library collection management, I would wager that audio selection was made to provide people with access to music they’d never find anywhere else (this was before everything imaginable was issued on CD) rather than to provide popular music for listening pleasure. And for me, this was perfect! I loved the Folkways releases of underwater Christmas carols and chants of the Irkutskian mud men. Although I might be misremembering those titles.

When I moved to Everett in 1987, the audio holdings were very similar to those in Bellingham. Perfect! And within a couple of years, a few CDs even joined the collection! It was around this time that music selection processes changed to some extent. Perhaps influenced by the initial lack of offerings on CD, perhaps reflecting a change in library philosophy, popular music entered the library in a big way.

But where I’m going with this ramble is: Bellingham Public Library has influenced my life for over 30 years! I’m so grateful that I was exposed to music that I otherwise did not have access to (no internet, no Pandora, no iTunes, etc). And here at Everett Public Library we try to provide a diverse collection of music that will keep you grateful for the next 30 years.

Wild and woolyOur latest venture is the Local Music collection which currently consists of over 70 titles from a variety of time periods. A good place to start exploring this new collection is the CD Wild and Wooly, a compilation of northwest music stretching from the 50s to the present. Many of its performers might not be familiar names, but they’ve all been essential to the growth of local music. And one of the most important bands found on this album is The Wailers, teenagers (well, they were in the 50s) hailing from Tacoma.

In 1959 The Wailers released the instrumental single Tall Cool One which went on to chart at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. Other local bands such as the Dave Lewis Trio, The Frantics, The Ventures and The Viceroys (all featured on Wild and Wooly) also focused on instrumentals, joining in The Wailers’ success with hit recordings and sold-out performances. The Wailers’ momentum led to recording an album (The Fabulous Wailers), appearing on American Bandstand and touring the east coast. But there’s no place like home and after returning to the northwest the band started its own record label, Etiquette (which later helped launch The Sonics), and made a ground-breaking recording of Louie, Louie.

And this is just scratching the surface (vinyl humor!) of the amazing Wild and Wooly. Check this one out! Perhaps you’ll find a band or two to put into your life’s playlist for the next 30 years. And stay tuned for more posts on Northwest music.