Friday, September 1, 2000

Northwest Rock 101: The times they are a changin’

• In 1965, Northwest folkies plugged in, grew their hair and hit the road, and their music would never be the same again.

By Steve Stav, for The Rocket, Seattle, Sept. 2000.

By 1963, rock 'n' roll -- only about seven years old or so -- was dying. Elvis Presley was making more movies than records, Buddy Holly was long gone, and rock needed something new -- and rock was about to get exactly what it needed.

A wind started blowing in from the East -- the Beatles -- and from the California Coast -- the Beach Boys (ironically, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson all were influenced by the same sounds: Chuck Berry-style R&B and American folk music). In the lonely, isolated land of the Pacific Northwest, local musicians were getting ideas of their own, re-inventing rock by seeing the rest of the world through rain-clouded visors, and interpreting those leaps-and-bounds developments in their own unique ways.

The folk music scene, particularly around Seattle's University District, was a quietly thriving, underground scene at the time.

"There has always been a direct connection between the UW and Berkeley," says former Daily Flash singer/guitarist Steve Lalor. Idealists, beatniks and comparatively square young people all gathered in coffeehouses, listening to Woody Guthrie and the Kingston Trio. It was harmless music and ingested by invisible people. "At the time, folk was a politically liberal, but socially acceptable art form," Lalor says.

It's difficult to pinpoint the catalyst -- and even the exact time --for the change in their weather, but most would agree that it started with Bob Dylan, a bonafide circuit hero whose "plugged in" 1965 milestone, Bringing It All Back Home, pulled the curtains back to expose a whole new realm of possibilities. Subsequently, Columbia producer Tom Wilson and engineer Roy Halees decision to flesh out Simon & Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence with Dylan session musicians opened the floodgates even wider.

For Steve Lalor, who left his highprofile gig on TV's "Seattle Center Hootenanny" to play the San Francisco scene with a folk group (that included "Hey Joe" writer Billy Roberts), another sound changed the way he looked at music: the 12-string ring of Roger McGuinn's electric guitar.

"I heard 'Mr. Tambourine Man' by the Byrds. and said to myself, 'I can do that: so I came back to Seattle and put the Daily Flash together," explains Lalor, who was familiar with McGuinn's earlier work with the Chad Mitchell Trio.

In a period of a couple years, there was an exodus of Northwest bands -- both fledgling and established -- who, having learned by the Fabulous Wailers' example that one couldn't get a decent record deal by staying around town, packed up and set off to see the world.

The Daily Flash, harried by an unsuccessful drug raid of Lalor's Capitol Hill digs, went to L.A. with nomad Danny O’Keefe -- initially staying at the Tropicana. The Crome Syrcus, who took music to new, psychedelic heights, lived in New York City for a time, performing a score for the Joffrey Ballet and playing gigs at the Filmore East. Portland's Kingsmen and Boise's Paul Revere & the Raiders all but left home, spending years on the road. Straight-ahead rockers Don & the Goodtimes found initial success in L.A. Jerry Miller, along with the Frantics, tried to leave, but a car accident in Oregon postponed the trip to San Francisco. Miller, along with drummer Jon Keliehor, were almost killed. Keliehor, seriously injured, was replaced by the Daily Flash's Don Stevenson.

It was on the road that these bands discovered that, while their clothes might raise eyebrows, the length of their hair raised blood pressures.

"If you had long hair, you were a hippie maggot," says Lalor, chuckling. "We got physically threatened by people with short hair. Long hair was a dangerous thing to have in those years, it was a badge that you wore.

"Between L.A. and San Francisco, there was this whole other world," he continues. "We had to go in pairs into stores, because people wouldn't serve us. Sometimes they wouldn't sell you a pack of gum. I had to send my girlfriend in to register for a motel room. When you got to San Francisco, you were in the tribe again, but between San Francisco and Eugene was yet another wasteland."

Jerry Miller remembers seeing some early hippies when the straight-edged Frantics first visited San Francisco.

"We thought we were pretty cool, we might have had hair past our ears -- really pushing things. Then we saw these guys with hair almost down to their butts, and said, 'Whoa!' We knew right then that this was a totally different scene," remembers Miller, who later made some fashion statements -- with the legendary Moby Grape.

Long hair was just the tip of the iceberg. Before people like Miller and Lalor knew it, a crack in the sky appeared, and suddenly, everything was a psychedelic free-for-all: free love, sometimes-free drugs, and a subsequent freeing of the mind. Some bands thrived in the new climate, and actually helped create it -- The Jimi Hendrix Experience principally. The Crome Syrcus' trippy 1967 album, Love Cycle was a bold move in the realm of psychedelia for any band-especially one from the Northwest. Miller and Stevenson, with Moby Grape, recorded one of the finest LPs of the period -- the band's eponymous 1967 debut.

Other Northwest acts faded or folded after a brief brush with fame -- The Daily Flash, who never recorded a full-length record, nonetheless influenced many bands as they toured the West Coast. The Viceroys (known for their regional hit "Granny's Pad"), after changing their name to Surprise Package, recorded some psychedelic material for Columbia and Lee Hazlewood's LH1 label before a lineup (and another name) change. Local guitar gods Rich Dangel and Joe Johansen's powerhouse psychedelic-blues venture, the Floating Bridge, recorded for Vault, but classic misfortunes quickly eroded their career. Legendary punk precursors the Sonics, one of the Northwest's most influential bands, began internal combustion in 1967, thwarted by, among other things, a lack of national success.

Like exhausted knights returning from the Crusades, most musicians eventually returned to the Northwest. Bands dissolved, lineups revamped, and some walked away from the rock business entirely, but a surprisingly large number of those artists continue to rock today. Others, unfortunately, are no longer with us.

The '60s, as everybody knows, claimed a freakishly large number of music casualties. The untimely departures of huge artists like Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix are well-known; the car-crash deaths of Rockin' Robin Roberts and Tom "Thumb" Blessing, along with the heroin overdose of Daily Flash bassist Don MacAllister, barely made the AP wire, but struck the music community like a hammer. Others managed to survive the '60s, only to pass away in the decades since: stellar Dave Lewis Trio/Floating Bridge guitarist Joe Johansen and B3 master Dave Lewis, who never reached the heights that their talents deserved. Others included Ventures drummer Mel Taylor, singing star Ron Holden and Waders multi-instrumentalist Ron Gardner (who was killed in a fire in '92).

These artists, and the musicians that remember them, are more than footnotes in Northwest rock history. However large or small their contributions might have been, everyone involved in making music in the turbulent '60s played a role in electrifying not only rock 'n' roll, but a culture that we take for granted today.

Editor’s note: This article, originally published in the Seattle music magazine The Rocket in Sept. 2000, was originally intended as an introduction piece to a series of articles about the history of Northwest rock, had the long running magazine not abruptly folded less than a month later.

copyright 1997-2011, Steve Stav

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