I've been wallowing knee deep in nostalgia lately. I guess it all started when I saw the 9th annual Squirrels reunion and christmas show in December of 1998. God, the memories that came flooding back! At one time, I had a rule for myself, that I'd only drive myself to Seattle a maximum of twice per weekend, just so I wouldn't go there Friday, Saturday, AND Sunday. Mostly it was to see the friends (who aren't my friends and were never really friends of mine then) who lived in Seattle, but also to see the bands that played there. I think of the late 80's as a golden age of Seattle music. The rest of the world discovered Seattle a couple of years after that, with Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and others erupting from the Seattle scene in the early 90's. Seattle chic hit real big about that time, with Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure cashing in on the craze. But for me, the really great bands and really great times came a couple of years earlier.
These are the greatest bands that you've never heard of. They never made it big, and for the most part, members of one could and often were members of another. And before there was SubPop, there was PopLlama, for my money, the greatest music label of any time and place. The PopLlama summer picnics, held late in the season, were drunken revelries for the employees of the label, and jam sessions for the many members of the many bands who played for Conrad Uno, leader of the band of motley fools. I actually attended the last two picnics, and was planning on going to the third when I'd heard that it wouldn't be held on account of the hosting picnic's grounds being worried about the "noise". Personally, I think that it was the fun times that caused the picnic's demise, as I remember a shit-kicking country band of some sort playing at the same time at the other end of the picnic grounds...
Prudence Dredge Taking their name from some children's book about toilet training, this was the first band that I ever saw Joey Kline in. Playing guitar, and not afraid of writing some of the more literate songs in the set list, Joey went on to found the University Coffee Video lounge and Toast bar before moving on to later digs at University Coffee. (No videos and no toast.) Craig Ferguson on bass. Mark Nichols on keyboards and whatever else was at hand. (Mark is understandibly reluctant to associate himself with a musical group that he left over ten years ago, and now wishes to be known for his modern music mentor thing with a production of his masterful theatric work Little Boy Goes to Hell, roughly an update of the hero traveling to hell and back for some reason or another. It was a song, then a musical, now it's an empire!) I don't remember Wendi Dunlap in the Dredge, but if you believe her page at Wendy, then she was in for a while. Another gal named Ava LaBamba was in the band and on their first record before I discovered them. I remember attending a Dredge or a Squirrels show and hearing an opening band whose name escapes me now, and I commented to Joey Kline that the female singer in the band sounded a lot like one of the female vocals on the first record. He told me that, yes, that gal had actually been in the band before. Carl Miller was another guy who jammed on trombone, sometimes on guitar, but more often with a harmonica, and he did lead vocals on a couple of songs. Saxophone section too. Literate, R&B styling, and funny without trying hard. Long ago broken up...
Wendi Dunlap-Simpson has heard of all of these bands, and here's what she has to say:
>Craig Ferguson on bass.
That's a later lineup. An early line-up was only 5 people, including Joey and Mick Vee. The 5 person lineup was the one that released the "Problem Child" single. By the _Big Ellen_ release, they were up to 9 -- Joey, Mick Vee on bass, Dave Guinn on drums, Carl Miller on trombone and harmonica, Tom Vail on sax, Darren (? I'm spacing out on his name) also on sax, Mark Nichols on keys, Ava (Chakravarti) LaBamba on vocals, and Diane Behrens on vocals.
Diane quit (I guess, I don't remember the details) in about April 1987, not long after Big Ellen came out, and I joined the band at the end of May for a tour to the midwest. I mostly sang Diane's parts; we're both altos. I stayed with the band right through August; then right before Bumbershoot Ava and I were unceremoniously dumped from the band, though I think Ava was ready to go anyway. I was bummed, though, because I was having a lot of fun. They went with a really stripped-down lineup at that point -- I think Mark might have been gone for a while, at least, too, and Darren was also gone. Later Mick quit, but I don't remember when. For a while I was not on very good terms with Joey and so I stopped keeping track of who was coming and going. :)
Dredge was a lot of fun because they were spontaneous and immensely skilled. They could play just about any song without rehearsing it first -- they were *really* sharp. It was a privilege to sing with them; I wish I'd gotten some shows on video or good-quality tape.
Don't we all Wendy, don't we all...New Age Urban Squirrels had more names than members. Actually, every new group line up had a new name, all with Squirrels in them somewhere. Led by certifiable maniac Rob Morgan, the Squirrels (in all of its permutations) read like a who's who of the Seattle scene in the mid to late 80's. The first recording had Rob backed up by the three guys who made up the Young Fresh Fellows, but later recordings had members of the Posies, the Tubes, Roy Loney, ReStyles and more. Built around Rob (of course), the best Squirrels groups had Joey Kline on guitar, Craig Ferguson on bass, Mark Nichols on keyboards and synthesizers (the man had samples for EVERYTHING!). I have memories of the following unforgettable shows.
Rob committing suicide:
As much as I like this version of the story, I must stand corrected. It turns out that the photo on the back of the second album was not, in fact, the incident described above. I'll let Rob tell the story himself:
Actually, that photo on the CD is from the 1987 PopLlama Picnic, yet ANOTHER watermelon incident! Dredge Saxophonist Tom Vail was playing the 'melon like a conga for the whole damn show, & I eventually smacked it open on a monitor, put half of it on my head, & began tossing the guts at the audience. Mark is seen rubbing a rubber chicken full of stage blood on my chest. (Now, THAT'S entertainment!) And the end of the set, we all put our gear down & jumped in the lake!
That must have been some set! Too bad I missed that one...
The Fishsticks 10th Anniversary Show at The Rendezvous on March 31st, 1989:
Green River Community College:
Another show, this time at the Central tavern in downtown:
I guess that's the theme of this piece, growing up, becoming what passes for "adult", or at least as adult as one feels comfortable with. Until the recent Squirrels christmas show and reunion, I hadn't gone to see live music in a club in about six years, or since about the last time the Squirrels had performed together. "Overweight and unrehearsed", as Rob put it. Nonetheless, it was a great show, and lots and lots of fun. But now we're all getting old, and it's time to move on. Fellow high school class of 1976 alumnus Rob now probably uses a magnifying glass to write that tiny print that he uses in his newly released series of zines called Pop Lust. I remember 2 katz and a toaster from the calendars, but that must have been 1989, and too many calendar pages have been discarded and thrown away in the intervening years. New hobbies, new groups, new friends. I may be getting older, but I refuse to grow up. And I have many fond memories of good times, featuring the Squirrels (in all of their many incarnations), the Smugglers, Prudence Dredge, and the Young Fresh Fellows. As the lost chapters in Animal House attested, There Were Giants In Those Days...
Copyright 1999 by Rich Webb, aka The Outsider.
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