THE NORTHWEST MUSIC ARCHIVES captures and presents data about the history of music-making in our region – with an emphasis on documenting notable local musicians, and audio recordings produced by companies – or “labels” – active in the Pacific Northwest from the 1920s onward. Preliminary data on more than 2,700 local record labels, 6,800 musical artists, 11,200 records, and 32,000 songs is already accessible. Our team’s initial focus was on the earliest pioneering labels, but we continue to actively expand this database to include more-recent labels. As a work-in-progress, we always welcome input – and are very grateful for the many donations already received – from music fans, musicians, and labels.
DATELINE April 25, 2020: News broke today that Lynn Easton, the original drummer for Portland Oregon’s 1960s garage rock kings — THE KINGSMEN — passed away while in Toronto, Canada.
Soon after laying down the crazy-cool tub-thumping heard on the band’s debut 45, “Louie Louie,” in April of 1963, Easton famously spearheaded a revolt within the band, taking over the frontman spot from singer Jack Ely, and recruiting a new drummer.
With Easton now leading, the Kingsmen went on to score a dozen additional singles on Billboard magazine’s hit charts. Easton moved on to various other careers including hosting the This Is It teen-dance show on KGW-TV in Portland. The Kingsmen survived with ever-revolving cast of players for the following five decades.
DATELINE April 17, 2020: Here’s an interesting 100+-year-old card advertising the availability of piano lessons being offered by professor John Brabazon Lowther an instructor based at Ms. Nellie Cornish’s arts school on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Lowther initially showed up in town back in 1915, when according to The Seattle Times “the noted Celtic baritone” singer performed in a vaudeville revue at the Orpheum Theatre. During WWI in 1917 he sang for a Red Cross fund-raiser event at the Sunset Club. His renditions of Tosca’s “Se la Giurata Fede,” Hood’s “Song of The Shirt” — along with two original compositions: “My Soul Is An Aeolian Harp” and “A Man’s Best Friend” — were so enthusiastically “received by the audience” he was “compelled to repeat a number of his selections before he was allowed to continue the program.” [“Brabazon Lowther Scores Decided Hit” Seattle Times October 1, 1917] Then, on October 16th Lowther gave his first concert at the Cornish Recital Hall, many others followed well into 1919. In December news broke that Lowther — the son of Colonel and Mrs. Lowther of Shrigley Park, Macclesfield, Chesire, England — had married Dr. Lyra B. Kohlander of Seattle on October 25th in London.
DATELINE April 11, 2020: We are so pleased to have recently uncovered another rare image of Seattle’s first be-bop jazz band: the Cecil Young Quartet. Formed in 1950 they recorded a live gig in a downtown theater and it was released on disc in 1951. Only a few scant few photographic images of them have surfaced thus far, so this is a significant find! [READ MORE…]
DATELINE April 3, 2020: The discovery of a previously unknown photograph of — or recording by — a Northwest-based musician or ensemble often sparks a new effort to unearth more info about them. Here is one from 1913 that recently surfaced and which we are currently attempting to learn more about: Spokane, Washington’s “representative concert band” — Bowen And His American Band. We’ll report back as further details emerge…
DATELINE March 26, 2020: Here’s an interesting 100+ year-old local postcard that just popped up. It shows one of the female floor-show entertainers employed at the Butler Hotel’s Cafe (located in Seattle at Second Avenue and James Street).
The Butler was a legendary spot — the first grand brick hotel to be constructed right after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 burned the Central Business District down. The Butler hosted visiting Presidents and other luminaries, and its various ballrooms, grills, and cafe’s offered entertainment provided by numerous singers, dancers, orchestras and Jazz Era dance-bands.
The Hotel Butler was also the site of the first ever recording session in Seattle. The Hotel Butler Orchestra, as led by the irrepressible Victor “Vic” Meyers (1897-1991), had been attracting Seattle’s collegiate dance crowd to their perch at the hotel’s Rose Room . This was at about the midpoint of the Prohibition Era (1916-1933) and the Rose Room was one of the most prominent / infamous speakeasies in Seattle – a place where guys in raccoon coats & their flapper dates danced the foxtrot, & sipped illegal booze well into the wee small hours. But the place was hardly a secret: Seattle’s social/political elite also reportedly enjoyed attending – & Meyers would famously tip everyone off to impending liquor raids by signaling his band to stop playing whatever song they were on & instead shift to the refrain of “How Dry I Am” while all the evidence was poured down kitchen drains. But even though these periodic raids were occasionally successful (with as many as 150 attendees hauled off to jail on one particular night), it took many years for the clampdown to have any real effect. [READ MORE…]
DATELINE September 12, 2019: Here’s our new biographical essay about beloved Seattle singer, Val Rosa, whose life in music is a remarkable one: While still a teenager she sang with early Pacific Northwest rock ‘n’ roll bands, including the Dimensions, Viceroys, and Dynamics, and joined Jimmy Hanna’s Big Blues Band — a large ensemble of premier R&B players that opened local concerts for touring Motown stars. Rosa headed to Hollywood in 1967, where she experienced brushes with fame and had many memorable musical encounters. [READ MORE...]
DATELINE June 25, 2019: When we ponder which musicians from the Pacific Northwest cut the most records during their careers, a few names immediately come to mind: Theo Karle (Olympia’s concert vocalist who cut perhaps 150 discs beginning in 1916); Bing Crosby (Tacoma’s pop vocalist who cut 2000+ songs beginning in 1926); Jimi Hendrix (Seattle’s superstar rock guitarist who cut about four albums worth of tunes while living – but has had thousands of bootlegged songs released since his passing in 1970); & Pearl Jam (Seattle’s grunge heroes who have cut a half dozen studio albums, and hundreds of live concert albums for their in-house “bootleg” series).
But on a whole ‘nother level of achievement is Carol Kaye — the native of Everett, Washington, who went on to carve out a career as a premier bassist in Los Angeles and cut 10,000+ songs — including many of the top radio hits of the 1960s. With Kaye’s cooperation, Pete Blecha just wrote and posted a definitive biographical essay about her life’s work. [READ MORE...]
DATELINE June 3, 2019: Ten years ago I published the first-ever telling of the saga behind Tacoma’s teenage doo-wop group, The Barons, and their 1950s recordings for the mighty Imperial label in Los Angeles. 25 years prior to that, an old-time local music fan showed me his own copy of a 78-rpm disc of “Searching For You” (Imperial #930). What was special about it was that he’d actually had the guys autograph the disc when he crossed paths with the group one day way-back-when at Tacoma’s Broadway Record Shop. Well, patience brings rewards, and that very same record recently came home to the Northwest Music Archives. We are simply thrilled!
In addition, this photo of the Barons — the first one ever known to surface — was recently confirmed to be the real deal by a grandson of a founding member of the group William Gold (as seen, second from left).
DATELINE May 5, 2019: NEW ARTIFACTS JUST DISCOVERED! After many years of searching, we recently lucked upon two evidently quite rare old Northwest 78 rpm discs from back in the 1940s-1950s.
We already knew that Seattle’s pionering record label, Morrison Music Co., had issued a couple Samba & Rumba dance records (serial numbers #70 and #71), but could just never locate surviving specimens until now. Though the names of the performing artists still remain unknown — the tunes reveal a professional-level Latino combo — we aim to solve that lingering mystery in due course.
DATELINE March 1, 2019: NEW ARTIFACT JUST DISCOVERED! In our quest to document the history of audio recording — and early recording studios in the Pacific Northwest — we are always thrilled when significant new clues emerge. So our recent acquisition of a disc produced on April 16, 1937, by the Seattle Recording Studios Inc. is quite exciting.
Based in Seattle’s New Hotel Earl (at 315 Seneca Street) this early facility had actually taken over the spot previously occupied by George Rex’s Rex Studios, making these among the first two or three active audio businesses in the whole region. Such studios typically focused on cutting vocal + piano songs by local songsmiths or wannabe professional singers. This 10-inch 78rpm disc features two songs — “Pick Yourself Up” and “Wanita” — as performed by a yet unidentified artist(s). As noted on this fragile disc’s label, it requires the use of a fibre (cactus) stylus — but even though we do have some unused antique cactus styli, we have not spun it yet, so we don’t know what the darn thing sounds like!
DATELINE February 14, 2019: A big thanks to the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) who just shipped us a copy of their recent CD release: Country Music From The Pacific Northwest (BACM CD D 580) — and, for crediting the historical writings of one of this site’s founders, Peter Blecha, in its liner notes. The disc contains 29 vintage recordings spanning the 1940s through the 1950s. The bands featured hailed from Seattle to Spokane, Tacoma to Kelso and Portland. Many of the tunes — taken largely from vintage 78 rpm records that are also in the NWMA’s collections — were performed by notable talents including: Bonnie & Paul Tutmarc, the Evergreen Drifters, Arkie Shibley & the Mt. Dew Boys, and Vic Martin & the Western Merrymakers! So great to finally have these cuts in the handy CD format — excellent job BACM!
DATELINE September 13, 2018: In honor of the 15th Anniversary of the passing of music great, Johnny Cash, we post this vintage photograph from the summer of 1961. It shows Cash in performance, backed by his guitarists — Luther Perkins and Marshall Grant — along with several Northwest musicians / singers: Jerry Merritt & the Crowns and Laverne Myllicent. Exact location is uncertain, but thought to perhaps be at Olympia’s Evergreen Ballroom, where Cash played on June 25, 1961.
DATELINE July 26, 2018: VINTAGE PHOTO JUST DISCOVERED! The Scandia Barn Dance was a live radio program that aired on Seatttle’s KOMO radio from 1950 through 1952. It featured a cast of musicians, singers, actors, and comedic talents who specialized in the sort of “Scandihoovian” entertainments surely appreciated by the area’s large population of Scandinavian Americans who dominated the Ballard neighborhood. The show’s house-band, the Scandia Quartet, was led by accordionist Greta Logan – and they were also popular city-wide having performed at the 1950 Grand Opening of the Northgate Mall, and supplied tunes for the summer Seafair festival’s square dances held annually at the Civic Auditorium (225 Mercer Street) and the Trianon Ballroom (218 Wall Street).
Other regulars included the singing duo – Loren Davidson & Ruth Stendal – announcer Frederick Lloyd (Lloyd G. Bloom, who’d begun as an actor on KJR in 1934, and then joined KOMO in 1944), and the zany dialect humorist Doug Setterberg (who started off on KOL’s Carnival Hour and then moved to KOMO, eventually becoming a writer and performer for Scandia Barn Dance).
One highlight of each show was Settterberg’s serial monologue, The Little White Cottage Overlooking Shilshole Bay – “just a little bit south of North Ballard.” Setterberg later went on to wider notoriety as a musical partner, on records and television, with Seattle’s other great Scandihoovian humorist/musician Stan Boreson. [Source]
DATELINE March 16, 2018: In honor of one of the finest guitarists to ever live and work on the Pacific Northwest’s music scene, we salute Nokie Edwards who passed away on March 12th. Edwards’s family came to the Puyallup area by the early 1950s, and he was playing in Buck Owens‘s Tacoma-based country band in 1958-’59 when he crossed paths with a couple young local guitarists who recruited him to join a recording session up in Seattle. The result was “Walk––Don’t Run,” a global radio hit in 1960 – one that effectively sparked the subsequent Surf Rock movement. The Ventures proved to be the most successful instrumental band of all time, and the biggest rock ‘n’ roll export from here until Jimi Hendrix emerged. The New York Times contacted us for comments – read their obituary HERE.
DATELINE January 25, 2018: Of all the many hundreds of vintage song-sheets from the Pacific Northwest that we’ve collected over the decades, this one has long been a favorite. The bold graphic design elements combine nicely with the cheeky Jazz Era humor of the song title, “The Rag With No Name.”
Published in 1911 by J.W. H. Camp Jr., the cover-art of this scarce sheet music also features a fun photo image of our ragtime piano boys, Brink and Camp. That same year, Brink and Camp stayed busy entertaining partying crowds weekly at Seattle’s Olympus Café (110-112 First Avenue S). We wish more info on this dashing duo would surface, but this is all we know for now!
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 1976 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).”