2009 has been a banner year for books about the Seattle music scene. First came Greg Prato’s exhaustive oral history of Grunge, Grunge Is Dead. And now long time Northwest archivist Peter Blecha has published Sonic Boom, the most in-depth study of the era that produced The Ventures, Kingsmen, and The Sonics, among countless others.
The first glorious era of Seattle Rock N' Roll runs from approximately 1957 to 1967. During those years an incredible number of events took place, which add up to one hell of a story.
The “Louie Louie” saga could be a book of it’s own. Blecha sorts out the various recordings of the song with admirable tenacity. One of the many amusing anecdotes related here is how the Kingsmen, whose version eventually won out over all the others, actually hated it and wanted to re-record the song. Their flinty manager turned them down, and the first take was released, mistakes and all.
There were some great instrumental bands in this time period as well. The Ventures, The Wailers, and The Viceroys all enjoyed strong local support, and even charted nationally. In this world, live music was experienced at the Rock N' Roll dances held in multiple ballrooms in the area.
One of the most legendary was the Spanish Castle, where a young Jimmy Hendrix would occasionally climb onstage. Before he had changed his name to Jimi, the young guitar slinger had to be educated somewhat on the rules of these gigs. No showboating.
Apparently he would solo throughout whatever song was being played, and wound up alienating the established bands. Hendrix recalled these days on his second album, 1967’s Axis Bold As Love, with the song “Spanish Castle Magic.” Ten years later as a psychedelic superstar he could afford to look back with rose colored glasses.