Local singer Alexys performs folk-pop radio hit at huge Seattle Center Coliseum concert on January 1, 1966.

  • By Peter Blecha
  • Posted 4/26/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10376

On the evening of Saturday January 1, 1966, local folk-pop singer Alexys shares billing on the "New Year's Spectacular" concert at the Seattle Center Coliseum with numerous big-time rock stars including the Beach Boys from Los Angeles and the Yardbirds from London, England. Alexys is the stage name adopted by Paula Tutmarc (later Johnson, 1950-2013), the teenage daughter of two prominent Seattle musicians: radio star, music teacher, and electric-guitar manufacturer, Paul Tutmarc Sr. (1896-1972); and nationally famed country/pop singer and record producer, "Bonnie Guitar" Tutmarc (b. 1923).

Big-time Concerts Begin

Built as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition (the 1962 Seattle World's Fair), the subsequently renamed Seattle Center Coliseum became the site of the city's first gigantic indoor rock 'n' roll concerts. The launching of this new era occurred with the Beatles' show on August 21, 1964, which was emceed by Pat O'Day (b. 1934), the key DJ at Seattle's dominant AM radio station, KJR. O'Day had already been earning a goodly side-income since 1958 by throwing teen dances in various local halls and old ballrooms, but the sheer size (14,300) of the paying audience attending that show had an impact on his thinking.

The whole realm of rock 'n' roll culture was rapidly expanding in the mid-1960s, and it seemed that more and more hit artists -- e.g., the ones with records being pushed on KJR! -- were now touring widely. As a result O'Day (and his fellow DJ and business partner, Dick Curtis) began producing multi-act events that would be promoted as "Spectaculars." The first was the "Summer Spectacular" held on July 10, 1965, at the Coliseum featuring England's the Kinks and Ian Whitcomb, Los Angeles's Jan and Dean and the Righteous Brothers, Memphis's Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs, New York's Jay and the Americans, Nashville's Ray Stevens, and Tacoma's very own garage-rock kings, the Sonics.

Six months after the resounding success of the Summer Spectacular O'Day and Curtis announced their next event -- the New Year's Spectacular to be held on December 31, 1965, and January 1, 1966. The acts who would perform that evening on the Coliseum's famous revolving round stage included: Los Angeles' Beach Boys and Gary Lewis and the Playboys; San Francisco's Beau Brummels, Vejtables, and Mojo Men; England's Yardbirds (with guitar ace Jeff Beck); and a band fronted by the local girl singer billed as "Alexys," Paula Tutmarc.

"Freedom's Child"

Raised in Seattle, Renton, and Orting, Tutmarc learned music at an early age and when the folk-rock craze began in the mid-1960s her desire to become a professional musician led her mother Bonnie Guitar to show her the path. The first step was to pair her with a teenage backing band from Puyallup called III Generation (which by 1965 included bassist Barry Breen, pianist Scott Templeman, and new guitarist Gary Ballor). They began rehearsing and then cut a demonstration version of Tutmarc's promising new song "Freedom's Child" with Kearney Barton (1931-2012) at Seattle's Audio Recording, Inc.

Bonnie and Paula Tutmarc then took a trip to Hollywood where they recorded the song again (along with several more) with a crew of big-time session players. Those recordings were then pitched to Dot Records -- the same label that had made Bonnie's "Dark Moon" single into a No. 6 national hit in 1957, and for whom she served as an A&R (Artist and Repertoire) scout and producer. "Freedom's Child" was the lead single issued from the subsequent Alexys LP, and in late 1965 it broke out as a Top-10 hit on Seattle's KJR radio, spread to a few other radio markets across the state, and then began garnering a smattering of play down the West Coast and into Texas.

New Year's Eve 1965

That's about when word broke that Alexys and the band had been booked to open the 1966 New Year's Spectacular concerts. The first show took place in Tacoma at the University of Puget Sound's UPS Fieldhouse (1500 N. Warner Street) on New Year's Eve, and the second on New Year's Day at the Seattle Center Coliseum. In preparation, as the III Generation's Barry Breen recalled decades later: "Bonnie had a seamstress in Fife make us all custom shiny blue jackets with velvet collar and buttons, and a gold lamé dress for Paula -- with sleeves that, when unzipped, dropped two American flags from her outspread arms" (Breen).

But well before they ever reached the stage on the night of New Year's Eve, there was, according to Breen, some real rock 'n' roll excitement to be had:

"The first night, the band drove in one car and had to park a ways from the Fieldhouse. We showed up in full costume, the jackets, cocktail ties, black pants, and suede Beatle boots. Halfway across the parking lot we were spotted by teenage girls that screamed and chased after us. Steve Northrop was the slowest runner, got caught, and had his jacket torn a bit, before we were rescued by security" (Breen).

New Year's Day 1966

The following night brought the New Year's Spectacular to the Coliseum -- and with better logistics. "First off," Breen recalled, "we had secure parking and backstage entry." And the backstage action was ramped up a notch:

"A few of the musicians were funny and entertaining backstage. I recall that [Beach Boy guitarist] Al Jardine and I talked for a long time … Someone sent a bouquet backstage to Paula; the Beach Boys' fans sent a large cake. Dennis Wilson [1944-1983], Gary Lewis [b. 1946], and Scott Templeman, at one point, started this ridiculous baseball game throwing pieces of the cake around" (Breen).

Then it was showtime, and Alexys and band were slated to go on first. Breen recalled:

"So we go out and do 'Freedom's Child' as the opening number on that wobbly stage. And, we get to the end of the song, and Paula crosses her arms to un-zip the flags and -- one of the zippers sticks; one flag drops while she's fussing with the other zipper. Finally Gary steps up and gets the other zipper undone and both flags are flying beneath her outspread arms. Audience applauds -- and Paula goes up to the mic to thank the audience, and Pat O'Day in particular, and us, and she fumbles her words saying something like: 'I want to welcome all of you for your kind applause. Welcome to Pat O'Day for having us. Welcome to my band'" (Breen).

From there, the partying in the Coliseum's green rooms continued on through the evening. And then, "some of the groups were staying at the Hyatt near SeaTac, and invited us to an after-concert party there. With Bonnie's permission, a few of us, including Paula, went to the party." That's about when Jeff Beck grabbed Alexys's cowboy hat, put it on his head, and playfully refused to give it back -- instead, promising to mail her a gift of some cool wide-wale corduroy pants (just like his) once he returned to England where they were then available -- a promise that he actually kept. But it eventually came time to wind down -- at least for the Northwest kids: "Bonnie came back later and picked us up in the Lincoln -- said something like 'Glad to get you kids out of there because I smell marijuana being used someplace'" (Breen).

And that was that: Alexys and the band had made their first and final shows together. There would, however, be additional seasonal Spectaculars -- Spring, Summer, Fall, Thanksgiving, and more -- still to come, but the times, they were a'changin' and the final Spectacular rocked the Coliseum in 1967.


Sources: Peter Blecha interview (Puyallup, August 7, 1996) and telephone conversations (January 2013) with Paula Tutmarc-Johnson, telephone interview with Jerry Johnson (March 27, 2013), and telephone interview with Bonnie Guitar (April 1, 2013), notes or transcripts in possession of Peter Blecha, Seattle, Washington; Barry Breen emails to Peter Blecha, April 2-3, 2013, in possession of Peter Blecha; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Tutmarc, Paul (1896-1972), and his Audiovox Electric Guitars" (by Peter Blecha) and "Guitar, Bonnie (b. 1923): The Northwest's Trail-Blazing Pop Pioneer "(by Peter Blecha) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed April 1, 2013); "Beaching Here Jan. 1," The Seattle Daily Times, December 13, 1965, p. 27; "In 'Teen Spectacular,'" The Seattle Daily Times, December 27, 1965, p. 18; "1966 New Year Spectacular," display ad, The Seattle Daily Times, December 30, 1965, p. 7; "Teen Show at Coliseum Tomorrow," The Seattle Daily Times, December 31, 1965, p. 15; "Fans Miss Playboy's Arrival," The Seattle Daily Times, January 1, 1966, p. 12; and author's archives.

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