This March, 2023, marks the 50th anniversary of my birth.
The lead up to this moment in my life has stirred up many memories, some good, some bad but almost all related to music.
In my early teens and finding my musical feet, I found I was not at all interested in what was on the radio. I am talking 1985 when our radios were infected with things like Crazy for you, Madonna, You spin me round, Dead or Alive and Neutron Dance, Pointer Sisters, I subsequently sank into my fathers record collection where I found solace in The Who, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin.
As I headed towards 15 I had moved on to Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Bon Scott era AC/DC.
This perfect blend of Metal and Rock N Roll got me through a couple of years and managed to avoid mainstream radio pop until the day I stubbled upon Soundgarden.
It was mid-1990, I was 17, and stumbled across Ultramega OK at a local music import shop I used to buy my Iron Maiden picture discs from.
I was completely blown away and hooked 60 seconds into Flower.
This of course lead me to finding and falling in love with all things Seattle, from the music, the city and the people.
That was my musical life before Grunge, below is my take on life in Seattle leading up to Grunge.
Jimi Hendrix is the obvious go to here but not only were many PNW bands already prominent on the dance floors but getting radio play courtesy of Pat O’ Day on KJR.
Jimi didn’t really gain any notoriety in Seattle until his move to London the opposite can be said of Ian Whitcomb. Ian moved to Seattle from Surrey in the UK where he wrote and performed This sporting life with Sonics, Gerry Rosalie. This song was a chart topper and was picked up as a sort of anthem by the gay community.
Paul Revere & the Raiders in 1960 on the eve of their first record release for Gardena Records. The band garnered their first hit in the Pacific Northwest in 1961, with the instrumental “Like, Long Hair”. The record had enough national appeal that it peaked at no. 38 on the Billboard Hot 100 on April 17, 1961.
Although originally from Boise Idaho, following Pauls service in the Armed Forces they settled in Portland Oregon.
Paul Revere & the Raiders – Steppin’ out – Baby please don’t go
The Sonics formed in Tacoma, Washington, in 1960 and I was lucky enough to see them perform in Tacoma in 2018, it was an awesome set.
They soon were scouted by Buck Ormsby, bassist for popular Northwest band the Wailers, and signed to Etiquette Records. Performing several early rock standards such as “Louie, Louie”, and “Skinny Minnie” as well as original compositions like “Strychnine”, “Psycho”, and “The Witch”. Their catalogue is generally based around simple chord progressions, often performed with a speed and tonal aggression that was novel for the time, making the band a notable influence on later punk rock bands.
They were a huge influence on bands like The White Stripes, The Stooges, The Cramps and Nirvana.
The Wailers, often known as The Fabulous Wailers, originally called The Nitecaps, also from Tacoma, Washington have been credited as being Americas very first Garage Rock band.
Their first single was an instrumental track, Tall cool one and reached # 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 and # 24 on the R&B chart. Performing locally and according to keys man Kent Morrill, their biggest fan was a young Jimi Hendrix who was just learning guitar.
Their live album The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle, recorded in 1961, which has been described as “undoubtedly one of the most influential albums in Seattle rock & roll history.
Country and Jazz were also huge in the PNW at the time with most act being instrumental with very few offering vocals. Standouts in this area would be Jazzy instrumental masterpiece from The Frantics, Werewolf.
From the Country genre we were treated to Everyday livin’ day from Merrilee Rush.
The mid to late ‘70s scene was becoming a real solid footing for the Grunge scene. Metal, heavy and hardcore bands began to share stages and fans which saw the rise of alternative music and the scene.
1976 brought what is regarded as the first Punk concert in the PNW. Held at the Moore Theatre and featured The Tupperwares and The Telepaths.
The Late ‘70s and early ‘80s saw the rise of sludgy, dirty Punk Rock in Seattle.
Touring acts like Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys from LA and D.O.A from Canada were joined by locals The Fartz, Pudz & The Blackouts who all featured on Engram Records local compilation record, Seattle Syndrome.
There was a lot going on in the Seattle music scene at the time and this period saw the rise of internationally renowned bands, Heart, Queensryche and many more.
As we moved into the mid ‘80s we started to hear the sound we would later know as Grunge, with the local prominence of the U-Men, Green River, Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard and Soundgarden.
These particular bands were all exposed to the world via CZ Records compilation album, Deep Six.
While no one seems 100% on the first use of “Grunge” as a genre we can be pretty sure it was Green River/Mudhoney vocalist Mark Arm who first used it.
If that was referring to Green Rivers sound in a 1981 letter to the Seattle zine, Desperate Times. … Arm said years later, ‘Obviously, I didn’t make the word up. The term was already being thrown around in Australia to describe bands like King Snake Roost, The Scientists, Salamander Jim, and Beasts of Bourbon.’
For me, personally, it represents a time, an era and a feeling that is unique to Gen Xers. Most of us were the same age as the artists, feeling the same way, transitioning from kids to adults and dealing with all the same life issues. That is the real connection between the bands and the fans, that is what makes grunge, Grunge.
I wish to thank all those mentioned and many, many more for sharing your art and showing the world what an amazingly wonderful place your shining emerald city is, the beautiful Pacific North West and wonderful people. Of course, thanks for the music
Hope you enjoyed this article and as always, please correct me on any errors, bands I may have overlooked or just say hi 🙂
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