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"The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show" reunion gig of early local rockers kicks off on July 20, 1980.
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On July 20 (and 21), 1980, a big musical reunion -- promoted as "The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show," and spotlighting many luminaries of the Pacific Northwest's 1950s teenage rock scene -- is held just south of Seattle at The Place nightclub, located at 15221 Pacific Highway S in unincorporated King County.
The Teen Scene
The rock 'n' roll scene in the Pacific Northwest had been bubbling for a couple years already when it got a major kickstart in 1959. During that year several area bands saw their debut records leap, almost simultaneously, from local radio playlists to national and even international, hit status. That string of successes began with Olympia's Fleetwoods, went to Tacoma's Little Bill and the Bluenotes, then to Seattle's Frantics, and finally to Tacoma's Wailers. The action continued into 1960 when Tacoma's Ventures, Seattle's Gallahads, and Ron Holden and the Thunderbirds scored national hits.
One cumulative result of all that was the forging of a recognized "Northwest Sound" -- and a general realization that the region had developed a vibrant teenage rock 'n' roll scene based on weekly dances, successful recording studios and record companies, and supportive radio stations. That scene's signature song came to be the then-obscure 1956 rhythm and blues tune, "Louie Louie" by Los Angeles's Richard Berry (1935-1997). "Louie Louie" was popular as a dance tune and most every Northwest band (including the Gallahads and Thunderbirds) performed its own version -- and a number chose to record it. In 1961 the Wailers scored a huge radio hit with their influential rendition and Little Bill Engelhart (b. 1939) and the Adventurers released theirs as well. Over the following years the Ventures, Kingsmen, Viceroys, and Sonics followed suit.
Time raced on, and the culture, music, and teen-scene evolved. By about 1970 the original scene was but a memory as all the pioneering bands (except the never-say-die Ventures), record companies, and recording studios were defunct. But a keen fondness for the old sounds remained and a new "supergroup" of veteran players emerged with a new oldies-focused band, Jr. Cadillac. Composed of members of the Wailers, Frantics, Sonics, and other vintage bands, Jr. Cadillac would go on to become the single biggest regional nightclub draw over the following two decades. The group would also be appreciated as the living torchbearer of the Northwest Sound -- and it would play a central role in various "scene reunion" gigs in the upcoming years.
The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show
The first -- featuring performances by the Wailers, Frantics, Kingsmen, Viceroys, Sonics, Jr. Cadillac, Ron Holden (1940-1997), and others -- was held on May 14, 1972, at Seattle's Paramount Theatre (911 Pine Street). Eight years later (two decades after the scene had gotten rolling), Jr. Cadillac organized another event promoted as "The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show." Held on the two consecutive evenings of July 20 and 21, 1980, the dance/concert was held at The Place, a large, popular, 750-seat nightclub located just south of Seattle in a part of unincorporated King County.
The Great Northwest Rock and Roll Show featured some of the usual suspects -- the Wailers and Little Bill -- but also offered a few surprises. Among the spotlighted singers were those who had not been seen around much in recent years including one of the Wailers' former singers, Gail Harris, and one of the Gallahads' singers, Tiny Tony Smith (1940-1987). Of special note was the resurfacing of Nancy Claire (b. 1943) -- the old scene's most in-demand vocalist, who had once fronted the Ventures, Frantics, Adventurers, Exotics, Dynamics, Casuals, Checkers, and Viceroys. Claire had not been seen onstage much since basically retiring from music in the 1960s in order to raise a family, and her return to action was highly welcomed by longtime fans.
The two-night celebration also offered attendees the debut of another local "supergroup" with deep regional roots. The All Star Rock and Roll Band boasted guitarists Barry Curtis (Kingsmen) and Larry Parypa (Sonics), bassist Andy Parypa (Sonics), singer Freddie Dennis (Spokane's Liverpool 5), and drummer Rick Taylor (Striker). Advance publicity in The Seattle Times noted, "It is expected that 'Louie Louie' will be performed at last once each night. And, probably, at least one guy will get down on the floor and do the gator" (Lacitas).
A short four months later The Place would be closed for a remodel and on December 5, 1980. it reopened as Montana's Bar with a "Western bash" featuring Tex-Mex music and food. By the following year most of the All Star band were out gigging as Freddy and the Screamers.
Peter Blecha interviews with Nancy Claire (August 7, 1985 and February 20, 1987), and telephone conversation (March 26, 2013), recordings and/or transcripts in possession of Peter Blecha, Seattle; Peter Blecha, "Nancy Claire: The Voice of the Northwest from the Ventures to the Royals," Northwest Music Archive column, The Rocket magazine, November, 1985; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Women of Northwest Rock: The First 50 Years (1957-2007)" (by Peter Blecha), and "The first-ever Northwest rock 'n' roll reunion concert is held on May 14, 1972," (by Peter Blecha) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed March 15, 2013); Erik Lacitas, "Legendary Northwest Rock Bands Thunder Forth Again," The Seattle Daily Times, July 18, 1980 p. 68; Carole Beers, "There'll Be a Hot Show in the Firehouse Tonight," The Seattle Daily Times, December 4, 1980 p. 52.
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"Great NW Rock and Roll Show," article by Eric Lacitas, 1980
Courtesy The Seattle Times
Nancy Claire (b. 1943), publicity photo, ca. 1964
Courtesy Nancy Claire