Top Ten Influential Bands from the Northwest

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The northwest has always produced great artists as Seattle is to music as New York is to fashion. From Bing Crosby and Ray Charles to Soundgarden and Sleater-Kinney, there’s always something going on up here. This list is compiled of bands/artist who laid the groundwork for other bands to follow, so don’t expect to hear any mention of bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam or Hendrix, and if you are unfamiliar with these artists, it’s probably best if you took a musicology course. So, without further ado, here’s my list of most influential bands to come out of the PNW.

Number Ten: Little Bill and the Blue Notes. While this band is a bit obscure outside of the northwest, their impact cannot be denied. Formed in 1957, the group was the first kid band to come out of Tacoma as they played the blues, but put their own unique spin on it. They were eventually banned for playing “race music” in Tacoma. That didn’t stop them as they would rent out halls just outside the city limits, and hoards of teenagers would show up to dance to their music. While the young band were barely out of their teens, they were pretty sophisticated for the time as they had a horn section who would do choreographed steps. They did score a hit with the love ballad, “I Love an Angel,” in 1959. Little Bill was to travel the country with acts such as The Ventures and Fabian. However, the ride was short, and Bill’s star faded fast. But he refused to quit, and by the time he turned 25, he was regarded as the granddaddy of blues. Now, 75, Little Bill still performs and has won multiple awards to his contributions to the genre.

Number Nine: The Ventures. The Ventures were a surf rock group that emerged out of Tacoma, WA, but ironically, there wasn’t much surfing going on in the rainy city. Formed in 1958 by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, the group would go on to sell 100 million records worldwide, which made them the best selling instrumental group in history. The band scored their first hit with the Chet Atkins song, “Walk Don’t Run.” The hits kept rolling like an assembly line throughout the ’60’s such as “Pipeline,” “Wipe Out,” ” Apache” and “Sleep Walk.” However, the group’s crowning achievement was “Hawaii Five O.” The Ventures declined in popularity until the late 70’s and early  80’s when surf music came back into vogue with the likes of the B-52’s. Their song, “Surf Rider,” was featured in the blockbuster Pulp Fiction. While their popularity in the US would wain, they were always huge in Japan, so much that during the height of Beatlemania, they out sold the Fab Four. While the only original member is Don Wilson, they still pack stadiums in Japan to this day.

Number Eight: The Wailers. The Fabulous Wailers were another band who originated in Tacoma. Lead by the impeccable vocals of Kent Morrill, the band would find success with singles such as “Tall Cool One” and “Louie Louie.” However, the Kingsmen are credited with making the song famous. Even the young guitar player known as Jimi Hendrix was a fan of the Wailers and guitarist Rich Dangel. The band’s run was short, but their legacy of being the first garage band lives on, and they are credited with influencing countless bands to follow.

Number Seven: Floating Bridge. Though they only released one album, their influence would last well into the 21st century. With two of the finest guitar players, Rich Dangel of the Wailers and Joe Johansen, the group was poised for greatness. Dangel and bass player Joe Johnson were in the Seattle band, The Time Machine, before they decided to form their own band in 1967. First order of business was to grab guitar player Jo Johansen and drummer Michael Marinelli. Pat Gosson was to join the following year to handle lead vocals. Their 1969 self-titled debut was a great mix of blues and psychedelic rock as they instrumentally covered such songs as “Hey Jude,” “Paint it Black” and “Eight Miles High.” What set the group apart from other acid rockers was their use of orchestra instrumentation, with Michael Jacobson on electric cello and sax and Andrew Lang on trumpet. They would disband the same year as their debut was seeing chart success. However, they would go down as one of the most influential bands to come out the ’60’s.

Number Six: Green River. Prior to bands such as Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Soundgarden, there was Green River who is credited with starting the grunge scene. Formed in 1984 by Mark Arm, Steve Turner, Alex Vincent and Jeff Ament, the group would lay the groundwork for other bands to draw from. After Stone Gossard (future member of Pearl Jam) joined the band, they hit the studio to record their debut, Come on Down, but the recording was delayed until after the tour to support the recording. With heavy riffs, heavier drums and Arm’s incredible voice, if you lived in Seattle, they were the band to see. The band issued their second album, Dry As a Bone, to the new indie label, Sub Pop. But again, the record was delayed until the following year. The band gave it one last stab with Rehab Doll. The album showcased their brilliance as they served up a mix of punk and classic rock.  The disc also featured a rather obscure David Bowie song, “Queen Bitch,” but tensions between band mates was taking its toll, and by 1987, the pioneering band was no more.

Number Five: Melvins. Melvins took a mix of punk and metal and rolled it around in the dirt to create some of the most influential rock ever recorded. Initially, they drew influence from the hard core band Black Flag, but are often compared to Black Sabbath. They are said to be influential on everyone from Green River to Nirvana. Although Melvins never accepted being pigeonholed into the grunge scene, they did benefit from it. After the success of Nirvana’s sophomore release, record companies were clammering for more artists to represent the genre, and Melvins were signed to Atlantic in 1993 and released their major label debut, Houdini. The album charted at 29 on Billboard’s Heat Seekers. Subsequent albums did equally as well as the band built a large cult following. The band was dumped by Atlantic after the release of Stag even though it did fairly well on the charts. The band returned to indie label Amphetamines Reptile Records and released Honky in 1997. While they weren’t get any major label press, their indie roots were better set with Reptile. Unlike many bands from that time period who have crashed and burned, Melvins are still alive and kicking.

Number Four: The Posies. Don’t let the name fool you as the Posies can go toe to toe with any hard rock band and emerge as champs. They play a blend of power pop and alternative rock and never joined the grunge scene of the mid 90’s as their music was closer to the first British Invasion. Formed in 1986, the band was being scouted by major labels by 1989 including Geffen, whom they chose to represent them. The band were successful early on as their song “Golden Blunders” from the band’s debut hit number 17 on the modern rock charts, and Ringo Starr covered it for his album, Time Takes Time. Though lineup changes plagued the band, that never stopped them from creating great music. Despite the unfavorable reviews of Frosting on the Beater and Amazing Disgrace, the band forged on.  Although all members kept busy with side projects, they always returned to the Posies, and in 2010 they released their seventh studio album, Blood/Candy.

Number Three: The Sonics. Long before the Sex Pistols and the Ramones would find worldwide acclaim, there were the Sonics. Playing as loud as possible, the band had such hits as “The Witch” and “Psycho.” Formed in the early ’60’s, the band has gone through members like socks, but despite that, they have never lost their edge. After showing they could pack local dance halls, they were signed to the Wailers’ label, Etiquette Records in 1964 and released their first single, “The Witch.”  While it was banned from the radio because of its reference to the devil, teens bought up the record quickly. Two albums followed before they left for Jerden Records to record the flop, Introducing the Sonics. The album failed to connect with hardcore fans as the material was polished, clean and did not represent the band’s earlier work, and by 1968, the Sonics were no more. With the punk movement in the 1970’s, the band’s work was reexamined, and a bevy of their earlier work was reissued. The grunge scene of the 1990’s also brought the band out of hiding. They finally reformed in 2007. With all original members in place, the Sonics conquered Europe by playing a bevy of festivals. Rumor has it, they are working on a new album as we speak.

Number Two: Duffy Bishop. To call Duffy Bishop a blues singer is a bit irritating as she flirts with everything from jazz, cabaret and straight up rock and roll. I first met Duffy in the early 80’s while she and her band at the time, the Rhythm Dogs, were playing at a hole in the wall named the Scarlet Tree. The band was smokin’ hot as they riffled through blues standards and original material. Duffy had a huge Mohawk and was wearing a plaid skirt with combat boots. I knew I was witnessing history as she lead the band through the Rocky Horror Picture Show classic “Sweet Transvestite.” No, this wasn’t just a blues band. She used a wireless microphone which gave her the freedom to walk through the crowd. She ended each performance either on the bar or in the rafters with the John Lee Hooker classic, “Boom, Boom, Boom.” But Duffy is much more than a performer as she played the lead role in a play about Janis Joplin before the Joplin family pulled the plug. She has several discs out including her latest, Find Your Way Home, which is her best recording to date as she slithers through some blues and shows us all that she can still rock as hard as the rest of them. Duffy was a pioneer who influenced many women rockers from Seattle to Portland.

Number One: Mother Love Bone. Open up an encyclopedia and you will most likely find Mother Love Bone listed first. Formed in 1988, the band found success at local clubs around Seattle. Frontman Andrew Wood was a charismatic performer who let the excesses of rock and roll get to him long before he found worldwide acclaim. Formed out of the ashes of Green River, the band had all the pieces in place including a record deal with PolyGram, a quick selling EP entitled Shine, and a wave of support from Seattle fans. In 1989, the group set out to record their debut, Apple. Everyone believed the album was going to make them rock stars. However, just days before the album was to be issued to the public, Wood overdosed on heroin and was left brain dead. Wood would be taken off life support two days after that. In tribute to their fallen friend, Soundgarden along with Eddie Vedder would record Temple of the Dog. Two of the members, Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard would go on to join Vedder to form Pearl Jam. However, Mother Love Bone left a valuable mark on the music industry, no matter how brief it was.

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