Seattle and surrounding region (Portland OR, Vancouver B.C.) sure gained notice during the end of the 20th century for its contribution of “grunge” to the pop culture of the planet. Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and others made waves on the scene. All these bands are mere by-products of a scene that got the music industry and media to look towards that neck of the woods. From the mid 70s to mid 80s was one amazing music culture that created the wave that “grunge” came along and surfed.
Where do I start? Do I talk about Ten Minute Warning which spawned Duff McKagan’s journey to Gun’ and Roses? How about Green River’s contribution of members of Pearl Jam or the Blackouts’ Bill Rieflin going to work with Ministry? The initial works of Steve Albini? Jonathan Poneman putting out cassette tapes creating some label called Sub Pop? It goes far beyond that. Let me just tell the story of one band to get the ball rolling on the subject.
This band is called X-15. I think of all the great independent bands from Seattle, they were the best. Why did these guys never get signed? A question often heard throughout the old scene. Before I go on, let me credit other outstanding bands like Napalm Beach, DOA, the Moberlys, the Fastbacks, the Blackouts, the Visible Targets, 3 Swimmers, lots of others…
X-15 first came together in 1979 in Bellingham, WA when vocalist Kelly Mitchell, drummer Todd Fuhs and guitarist Eric Alton discovered a magic combination of original music and lyrics powered by top-rated musicianship and poetry. Bringing on bassist Tim Lollar and keyboardist Erik Rohrer, this group named themselves X-15 after the US Airforce experimental rocket plane. They recorded and played, gaining popularity in the Bellingham area, a blue collar and college town of about 50,000 just south of the Canadian border.
In 1980 the band headed south 90 miles to Seattle to join the ever expanding music and arts scene. Their live performances were well executed and word spread about X-15.
The band became a draw in Seattle, landing prime club dates both as headliners and as support for signed touring acts. A trip to a 24 track studio produced a 5 song tape that gained immediate airplay on independent and college radio stations in western Washington. The song Vaporized was selected as opening track on the critically acclaimed Seattle Syndrome album. The local PBS station produced a video of this song. The band opened shows by Jon Cale, Gary Myrick, Romeo Void and many others during this time. A walk on jam by Iggy Pop during a club appearance was very impressive.
1981 brought artistic growth and many changes. Keyboards and bassists were auditioned. The band changed its name to Life In General. They built a recording studio and in 1982 released a 5 song 12″ E.P. that was well received by radio & critics and garnered sales world-wide. Their music was said to to be “so hard yet so soft”
From 1981 to 1985 X-15/Life In General moved to the top of the scene opening for X, Missing Persons, PIL, the Clash, Lene Lovich, Black Flag, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snakefinger and many others in clubs, theaters, arenas, and outdoor festivals. They achieved impressive popularity in Seattle, Portland OR, Vancouver B.C. and all points in between. In 1984 a tour of the west coast included stops in Los Angeles and San Francisco. During this time the Butthole Surfers opened for X-15/LIG at a Seattle club. At their band house they hosted a party with the very first performance by a band featuring young budding friends called “the Shemps” who soon after renamed themselves Soundgarden.
Seattle musicians and the music industry can tip their hats to X-15 and all the other great bands and fans of the scene for opening the door to success of the Puget Sound influence on modern pop culture.
Oh man, I could go on and on. There are many books, websites, CD’s, videos and other archives that can be dug up on the subject. But this is a start. Many of you who are now somewhere on this planet might have been in Seattle during this time. You know what I’m talking about.
OK, go to CDBaby for a taste of X-15. Go to Amazon.com and find the book entitled LOSER by Clark Humphrey. It is a good resource. e-mail me at email@example.com to answer any questions and get you guided to this fabulous scene that not much of the planet really knows about.
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