THE NORTHWEST MUSIC ARCHIVES captures and presents data about our regional history of recorded music. Our team documents audio recordings produced by companies – or “labels” – active in the Pacific Northwest since the 1920s. Preliminary data on more than 2,200 local record labels, 5100 musical artists, 8,700 records, and 22,000 songs is already accessible. With an initial focus on the earliest pioneering labels, we continue to actively expand our database on more-recent labels. As a work-in-progress, we welcome input from music fans, musicians, and labels.
TO SEARCH for info about Northwest labels or artists select one of the tabs above. Please click on our “About & Contact” page to access a “KEY” to the database format – and/or to make contact with our team.
AUDIO HISTORY: To gain a greater sense of the deep back-story of our main topic, please click on our “NW History” page. It includes links to essays covering topics including the first record ever cut in Seattle and an overview of recording history in the Northwest.
DATELINE November 13, 2017: What a joy to stumble across this brand-new book published by Seattle’s Sunyata Books – The Singing Earth by Barrett Martin. There are numerous reasons why it, from page one onward, happened to intrigue this particular reader, but the foremost is that it is such an unusual memoir as penned by a stalwart member of the Northwest’s music community. Martin – like myself – was an Olympia kid who grew up playing drums all throughout our school years. We also both ended up studying at the University of Washington – albeit, my years there preceded his by a decade. From there we both formed or joined rock ‘n’ roll bands, played the local scene, and cut some records. A major difference in our subsequent paths is that my bands are mostly better left forgotten, while some of Martin’s will likely be remembered widely for many years to come.
The Singing Earth provides some great back-scenes insight into his time spent auditioning, gigging, and recording with several of the Grunge Era’s finest bands including Skin Yard, the Screaming Trees, and Mad Season. That content alone would make Martin’s book – and the accompanying CD containing rare tracks – a worthy one to dive into, but the bulk of The Singing Earth conveys Martin’s evolving understandings about the spirituality of music-making itself. Martin, who earned a masters degree in ethnology and linguistics, is a fine and noted writer – one who is skilled at explicating the exotic percussion traditions of the many tribal societies he has studied via endless travel around the world over the past few decades. Readers are rewarded with introductory glimpses into musical cultures as far-flung as those in Africa, the Amazon rainforest, Cuba, the Middle East, and the Mississippi Delta. Along the way, Martin studies drumming techniques with various master musicians and also hones his skills as an audio producer. Not your typical gossipy rock star tell-all here – The Singing Earth helps us feel the mystical vibrations that have inspired musicians all across the globe down through the eons.
DATELINE August 6, 2017: Kurt Cobain (1967-1994), among the most famous musicians to emerge from the Pacific Northwest, established himself as the iconic rock ‘n’ roll anti-hero of his time.
Born in Aberdeen, Grays Harbor County, Cobain was an artistic kid from a broken home who loved rock music, played guitar from a young age, and in 1987 formed a band. In 1988 Nirvana made its Seattle debut and Sub Pop began marketing the group as part of the Northwest’s flannel-clad Grunge Rock uprising. Nevermind, the group’s 1991 album on the DGC label, was an instant commercial success and genuine cultural phenomenon, with “Smells Like Teen Spirit” becoming a Gen-X anthem. Cobain’s angst-ridden songwriting exhibited a snarly punk musicality leavened with a keen pop genius that won over MTV, Rolling Stone, and the global radio industry. Nirvana’s meteoric rise was soon recognized as part of an authentic “alternative rock” revolution. More records and tours followed, but in April 1994 the tremendously talented yet troubled musician died by his own hand at his Seattle mansion. [Read More…]
DATELINE June 8, 2017: Solomon Ho’opi’i (1902-1953) – known as “King of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar” was an extremely gifted player, a great innovator, and an originator of the Sacred Steel movement. He sailed from Hawaii to California by ocean liner in 1919. Finding little work in San Francisco, he headed to Hollywood where – under the simplified stage name “Sol Hoopii” (pronounced sawhl ho-ohh-pee-eee) — he was quickly embraced by the entertainment biz. The Hawaiian music craze was in full swing and Hoopii soon formed a trio, performed on national radio broadcasts, began recording for major labels, appeared in numerous movies, and before long was nicknamed the “Hollywood Hawaiian” – reputedly the most famous Hawaiian musician on earth. Then, in 1938, he found religion and turned away from fortune and fame to devote his life to performing sacred hymns. While touring the Pacific Northwest in 1942 he crossed paths with Seattle’s steel-guitar teacher and manufacturer Paul Tutmarc Sr. (1896-1972), forging a steadfast friendship with the entire Tutmarc family. Hoopii later married Anna Hutchinson of Seattle and bought a home in the city, where he played numerous shows until his death at Virginia Mason Hospital in 1953. [Read More…]
DATELINE May 3, 2017: Phil Moore (1918-1987) – was an African American child prodigy musician from Portland, Oregon, who studied music in Seattle before embarking on an amazing career in New York City and Hollywood. He got his first big break on Seattle radio in 1935:
DATELINE March 3, 2017: Larry Coryell – among the finest guitarists to ever hail from the Pacific Northwest – passed away at age 73 on February 19th in New York City. Widely acknowledged as a prime pioneer of the Jazz Fusion movement of the 1970s, Coryell initially made his mark as a contributor to the rise of our regional R&B-driven rock ‘n’ roll scene of the 1950s-’60s. Numerous obituaries have been published elsewhere – including The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine – but here at the Northwest Music Archives, we want to share a few details that those other publications overlooked.
Coryell had been very helpful to our research efforts over the decades, describing his earliest years growing up in Richland, Washington; taking his first guitar lessons there at Korton’s Music shop; joining his first bands and playing his first gigs; recording his first 45 in Seattle with the Royals; being recruited into Yakima’s top band, the Checkers, and cutting additional singles; moving to Seattle in 1961 and jamming with the Dave Lewis Combo at Birdland; joining the Dynamics and helping propel them into status as one of Seattle’s top teen-R&B groups; and then finally determining that he needed to move to New York to further his career. It was in NYC that he formed a psychedelic folk/jazz/rock band, the Free Spirits (along with Oregon’s Native American saxman, Jim Pepper).
A top-tier player, Coryell also jammed with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton – indeed, after an energetic concert appearance with the latter, London’s Melody Maker magazine ran the blaring headline: “Coryell Cuts Clapton.” As a jazzer Coryell also jammed and recorded with many top names; joined and/or lead numerous esteemed jazz combos; and recorded countless LPs. But, in our discussions with him, Larry Coryell, dependably reiterated his undying fondness for his early Northwest days and the original “Northwest Sound.”
DATELINE November 29, 2016: Pat Suzuki (b. 1930), a vibrant Japanese American singer, wowed the town like few other local stars had during her three-year mid-1950s run headlining The Colony, a downtown Seattle supper club. Her intense stage presence and preternatural vocal skills destined her to become a diva. Pretty as can be, the petite performer, blessed with an enviable hairdo — hence her nickname “Little Miss Pony Tail” — simply dazzled her audiences, which soon included stars such as Bing Crosby, who offered his influential approval to the media. National television appearances followed, then a major record deal, then a starring role on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s new musical Flower Drum Song. From there Suzuki simply skyrocketed to national fame, appearing on Time magazine’s cover, sharing the stage with Frank Sinatra, receiving a Grammy Award nomination, and even hanging out with the Kennedy family during the “Camelot” days. But, as she once admitted early on: “I’m not joining the big-time rat race” (Quigg). And she didn’t. Suzuki married, had a family, and scaled back her career, albeit one that continued at a lesser pace well into the 1990s. [Read More…]
DATELINE November 9, 2016: Seattle was graced throughout the 1950s by the presence of an extremely elegant and popular local chanteuse who billed herself simply as “Merceedees.” Born Mercedes Welcker, she was a piano-playing Chicago teen who moved at a young age to New York City and went on to compose a song recorded by big-time artists like the Glenn Miller and Jimmy Dorsey orchestras. Merceedees came to Seattle as a World War II veteran in 1949 and her citywide popularity as an African American performer soon played a significant role in narrowing the cultural chasm between various racial communities. Pretty, glamorous, smart, and musically talented, she quickly scored her own Music with Merceedees show on early television station KING-TV and then a weekly radio program on KING-AM. Her star rose further with a regular gig at the swanky Sorrento Hotel and a recording contract with Seattle’s pioneering Linden Records. Ever ambitious, she also built and ran a recording studio and founded her own Gold Seal publishing company and record label. But life’s challenges wore on her, and Merceedees Walton ended up living alone in squalor during her final years. [Read more…]
DATELINE November 8, 2016: Just published! Pete Blecha’s latest essay – this one is about Seattle’s early child prodigy pianist, Dorothy Eustis. She garnered widespread fame – via radio, TV, and recordings, and Hollywood film soundtracks – before disappearing, and then finally being rediscovered much later as a mysterious mute hospital patient in Italy. Here’s her amazing story. [Read More…]
DATELINE July 10, 2016: Just published! Pete Blecha’s latest essay – this one is about the day, back in 1927, when an audio-engineering team from one of the greatest labels in the world, the Columbia Phonograph Company, arrived in Spokane, Washington, and began recording various local musical talents – including Miss Lillian Frederick’s Garden Dancing Palace Orchestra.
It was on Friday, September 23, 1927, that a mobile field crew of a half-dozen men from the big-time, New York City-based Columbia Phonograph Company began a two-day round of recording sessions with local musicians in Spokane. This was not the first time that a major label had sent technicians out into the boondocks to capture provincial talents with their recording devices – Brunswick came through the Northwest as far back as 1923, and Columbia visited Seattle in 1926 (and will travel around the Northwest yet again in 1928) – but this time the Spokane Daily Chronicle covered the crew’s arrival and activities for its Eastern Washington readers. [Read more…]
DATELINE May 13, 2016: Just a quick posting in honor of the recent passing (May 9, 2016) of one of Northwest rock ‘n’ roll’s very first teens to have owned an electric Fender bass guitar back in the 1950s – my old friend, Jimmy Manolides. He joined Seattle’s first prominent white rock band, the Frantics, while an art student at UW.
In early 1959, they scored a couple sizable radio hits for the new Dolton Records company – a label whose graphic logo Manolides designed. The Frantics enjoyed countless adventures together – including supporting many touring teen-idol singing stars, such as Bobby Darin and Ray Stevens. Then there was the time they backed Fabian – who was decidedly not “The most talked about star of the century” as was claimed in one display ad seen here! – at the old Civic Auditorium (225 Mercer Street) on November 6, 1959. [Pete Blecha]
DATELINE April 28, 2016: Just published! Pete Blecha’s latest essay – this one is about a series of the Pacific Northwest’s earliest hot-rod themed songs from back in the 1950s and 1960s: “Hot-Rod Songs of the Northwest”
A century-long tradition of songs that feature lyrics (and sometimes musical sound effects) associated with driving automobiles attests to the fact that songsmiths have found the topic of fast cars to be an attractive one. Road-race songs have certainly been popular in the Pacific Northwest, and one of the best-known of all such tunes — Charlie Ryan‘s proto-rockabilly gem “Hot Rod Lincoln” – originated here back in the 1950s. But the region’s hot-rod-song history is richer than that, as Ryan’s hit was preceded by earlier Northwest country records including Jack Rivers‘s “Navy Hot Rod” and the granddaddy of them all, Arkie Shibley‘s “Hot Rod Race.” [Read More…]
DATELINE January 29, 2016: Though there have been countless Nirvana bootleg albums released (in both vinyl and compact disc formats) over the past two-and-a-half decades, some are more notable than others. Here is a recent unit that is exceptionally exciting. Even with a title that is inaccurate – the 9-song set was recorded in Olympia (rather than Seattle) at Olympia’s Evergreen State College for broadcast on the campus radio station, KAOS-FM – this CD is a most welcome addition to the band’s recorded history. Cut at an early date (April 17, 1987) when the young band was still called Skid Row, we get a good sense of the amazing promise that our talented rocker boys from little ol’ Aberdeen would soon treat the unsuspecting world to…
DATELINE January 1, 2015: New essay about the 1991 live debut in Seattle of one of the most significant hit songs ever produced by any Northwest musical artists – Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” – just posted online by Pete Blecha at HistoryLink.org. [Poster design by Mark Bendix, image courtesy EMP Museum.]
DATELINE November 18, 2014: The recent discovery of another mega-rare Seattle music history artifact inspires a new mini-essay by Pete Blecha: “The Ubangi Club: Seattle’s Hot Nitespot (1936-1938).”