50 Most Influential Musicians

Rock guitarists, jazz singers, folk pioneers, world-class cellists and more—these are the people who changed the sound of our lives.

By Steve Wiecking, Bart Blasengame, Peter Blecha, Gillian Gaar, Hannah Levin, Michaelangelo Matos, Thomas May, Kurt B. Reighley, Riz Rollins, and John Ross December 9, 2008 Published in the December 2008 issue of Seattle Met

Not a sell-out

Eddie Vedder stood by his principles with Pearl Jam.

Ernestine Anderson

The steadfast soul in her voice and her tricky way with rhythm—her ability to glide ahead or hang back a beat without losing musical direction—should have been an indication that Anderson would always find a way to land on her feet throughout the ups and downs of her life. Born in Houston, Texas, in 1928, she moved to Seattle in 1944 and got her start on the R & B circuit before becoming a jazz singer par excellence in the ’50s, working variously with Lionel Hampton’s band, Ray Charles, and others. A tour of Sweden led to a recording contract in America and a period during which she was hailed by Time magazine as “perhaps the best-kept jazz secret in the land.” Work dried up Stateside during the ’60s, but Anderson headed to Europe and sang steadily for the next decade. She’d launched her career again in the U.S. by the mid-’70s, once more attracting collaborations with musical greats like pianist George Shearing as well as her own formidable quartet. She garnered four Grammy nominations and, importantly, everlasting respect from the community: Learning that Anderson faced foreclosure on her Central District home earlier this year, the fans—including fellow Garfield High alum Quincy Jones—rallied with donations. It was a deserving tribute to a talent of inestimable worth. —Gillian G. Gaar

Because of her… The Emerald City became a fitting kingdom for a bona fide jazz queen.
Now hear this: Anderson’s authoritative bounce and brio turn “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” from the album of the same name, into a classic.

Clarence Acox Jr.

“It started off as me coming out to start a marching band during the football season—I was hired to rejuvenate it,” he says. “Once we got the program going and the kids were becoming more proficient, we were able to start the jazz band.” That’s Acox’s modest way of describing his move to Seattle from New Orleans to teach at Garfield High School in 1971—and, in 1979, to create what would become one of the most acclaimed high school jazz bands in the nation. Among many other awards, Garfield’s ensemble has twice taken first place at the prestigious Essentially Ellington National Jazz Band Competition in New York. Down Beat magazine honored Acox with its Educator of the Year award in 2001. He’s a drummer who still plays with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (a group he cofounded) and he also teaches a class at Seattle University, but it’s the triumphant beat he’s given students for nearly four decades that makes him an integral part of this city’s musical history. “I never thought I’d be teaching that long but I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he says. “It kind of blows my mind.” Ours too. —Steve Wiecking

Because of him… Music education in Seattle public schools holds national esteem.
Now hear this: Acox’s ensemble exudes a youthful spirit of celebration even on CD—it’s hollering, trumpeting, and, yes, really jumpin’ on “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” from Live at Benaroya Hall.

Nabil Ayers

He pummeled kitchen pots and pans until a sympathetic uncle bought him his first proper drum kit when he was still just two. He’s never stopped playing. “I’ve been in a band every day of my life since third grade,” says Ayers. The bespectacled, mutton-chopped, self-confessed “metalhead” became drummer for the popular and more pastoral hometown group the Long Winters in 2005—and pushed the pop band into broader rock territory. But he made louder noises offstage. During his senior year at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, he secured an internship with Polygram Group Distribution (which represented, among others, Bon Jovi and PJ Harvey). He cofounded the thriving local Sonic Boom Records (now in Ballard and on Capitol Hill) with Jason Hughes in 1997, and in 2002 began running his own label, the Control Group, whose roster includes Northwest indie success stories like Schoolyard Heroes, the Cops, and the Lonely H, as well as more prominent global acts El Perro del Mar and Telepathique. A newlywed who recently relocated to New York City, Ayers focuses less now on the day-to-day operations of his record store in order to further cultivate his label. He remains impressively upbeat in a notoriously fickle and soul-sucking industry. “I am not very close to the ‘it’s-all-falling-apart’ belly of the beast,” he says. “If I had a job at a major label, I would have probably changed careers years ago.” —Hannah Levin

Because of him… A thriving indie record store and label defy the corporate mindset and give Seattle musicians exposure on the East Coast.
Now hear this: “Pushover,” the lead track from Putting the Days to Bed, ushered in the Long Winters’ first record with Ayers on drums.

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Baby Gramps

He’s been a Seattle institution since the 1960s. Behind a beard that may not have been trimmed since the Nixon administration hides one of the most perceptive musicians in town. Look around at any other singer’s Seattle gig, and you’re likely to catch him absorbing it all like a sponge. Armed with a National steel guitar, Baby Gramps is a mixture of everybody he’s ever seen or heard filtered through a somewhat twisted musical brain into a singing voice that sounds like the love child of Louis Armstrong and Walter Brennan. Gramps’s amazing repertoire includes Fats Waller standards, Bob Dylan favorites, material from dusty old 1920s 78rpm records, and lately, his variations on sea chanteys (he recently toured England and appeared on Late Night with David Letterman to promote a CD—made with Bono, Lucinda Williams, and Johnny Depp, among others—inspired by Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies). Add his own songs, stories, and word games to the mix, and it’s no surprise that Gramps’s fans are a disparate lot; he’s as much at home playing a kids’ concert as he is opening for Phish or the Neville Brothers. —John Ross

Because of him… Today’s Seattle audiences know about old blues and novelty songs that the rest of the world has mostly forgotten.
Now hear this: Gramps’s Same Ol’ Timeously CD converts the kiddie tune “Teddy Bears’ Picnic” into a wild jug band epic complete with kazoos.

Alan Bishop

Had he been content just playing bass for one of history’s most theatrical, unpredictable art-punk ensembles, Bishop would still have left generations of audiophiles happily scratching their heads. But his role in enigmatic Arizona transplant band the Sun City Girls wasn’t enough. In 1983 a two-month visit to Morocco prompted Bishop to rescue field recordings and discover rural grooves from around the globe, particularly Southeast Asia and the Arab world. With his brother, Richard, and Hisham Mayet he founded Sublime Frequencies, the least fussy world-music label ever: They get tips from foreign taxi drivers about “new” talents; snippets of radio broadcasts—static, hiss, and all—are woven into full-length albums; and even the latest LPs have pops and crackles. Most of the titles in Sublime’s catalog are only pressed in limited editions, and quickly go out of print; if you see a copy of Thai Pop Spectacular in the racks, buy it now and worry about your bank balance later—if you can stop go-go dancing long enough. —Kurt B. Reighley

Because of him… Aficionados with a limited travel budget own eclectic music from every remote corner of the planet.
Now hear this: The weirdest instrumental not featured in a classic Looney Tunes clip? S. Hazarasingh playing lead on “Mera Naam Chin Chin Chu” on the Sublime Frequencies compilation Bollywood Steel Guitar.

Carissa’s Wierd

Newton’s third law says that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and in the Seattle music scene of the late ’90s and early twenty-first century, Carissa’s Wierd (the misspelling is intentional) offered solid proof. Well, semisolid: Their intricately arranged chamber rock was so painfully hushed it sometimes threatened to dissolve on the spot. But their style contrasted sharply with the era’s dominant garage punk bands. Arizona expatriates Jenn Ghetto and Mat Brooke founded Carissa’s Wierd in 1995 and vexed concert sound engineers around the country for eight years with their muted dynamics and meticulous attention to detail. They released a handful of albums and earned a rabid fan base, yet never achieved anything approaching commercial success…until they went their separate ways. Members of three acts on the current Sub Pop roster—the similarly somber Band of Horses, Grand Archives, and Sera Cahoone—played in Carissa’s Wierd, while Ghetto went on to record under the moniker S for local label Suicide Squeeze. —KBR

Because of them… Seattle rock learned to bury its sound and fury in a quieter alternative.
Now hear this: Alas, most of their discography is currently out of print, save the superlative, Chris Walla–produced Songs About Leaving from 2002.

Norm Bobrow

Like others on this list, Bobrow’s experience as a musician led to a greater contribution guiding others to experience music. He played percussion and sang with his own big band, but it was as an impresario throughout the 1940s and ’50s that he began to make his mark. Bobrow brought many of the greatest names in jazz to the Northwest—Charlie Parker, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, and Ella Fitzgerald were just a few of the performers who played under the “Norm Bobrow presents…” banner. He also elevated the early careers of local artists such as Ernestine Anderson, providing work and visibility beyond the Jackson Street clubs and lounges. Jazz, Bobrow insisted, deserved to be revered as high art. He backed that belief up by overseeing the West Coast’s first “formal” jazz concert in 1940 at downtown Seattle’s now long-gone Metropolitan Theatre; Fats Waller, thanks to Bobrow, played the Moore in 1941. Setting the model that rock promoters would later follow, Bobrow used his radio shows on KING and KRSC to publicize his concerts. He continued playing jazz on Seattle radio into the 1990s and passed away last spring—bequeathing to the city a rich music it might not otherwise have had the pleasure of enjoying on such a broad scale. —JR

Because of him… Seattle became a consistent stop on West Coast jazz tours, exposing the city’s jazz musicians and enthusiasts to many of the biggest names in the business.
Now hear this: Bobrow’s 1946 vocals on “Darktown Strutter’s Ball” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” for bandleader Gaylord Jones were the first releases on Seattle’s Linden record label.

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Image: EMP

Ray Charles

Feeling stifled at 18, Ray Charles Robinson asked a musician friend to pull out a map to locate the big city farthest removed from Florida, where he’d come of age. Although, as Charles later recalled, “the bus ride’s a bitch,” the eventual cross-country journey to Seattle laid down a pattern, foreshadowing an attitude of restless adventure that would take the man who became known as the “genius of soul” across countless musical barriers. A following quickly gravitated to Charles in Seattle’s Jackson Street jazz scene. He formed a group called the McSon Trio and played piano and vocals, channeling Nat King Cole and Charles Brown at the Rocking Chair, a popular after-hours club of the era. Reps from Downbeat Records got wind of Charles and flew up from LA to record his first release in a tiny Seattle studio. In the spring of 1949, Charles (under the name of his trio, misspelled the “Maxine Trio”) hit the charts for the first time with his song “Confession Blues.” The Emerald City also landed Charles a musical soul mate when teenaged trumpeter Quincy Jones began showing up at gigs, eager to trade ideas. Charles was already proving himself, to borrow a phrase from his famous definition of soul, to be “a force that can light up a room.” His planet-shaking hybrid of gospel and blues would become just one of his many musical legacies. —TM

Because of him… Pop music got soul.
Now hear this: “Confession Blues,” the Seattle recording that was Charles’s very first, is available on The Complete Swing Time and Down Beat Recordings 1949–1952.

John Cage

John Cage liked to remember a lunch he had one day with Cornish College of the Arts colleague and abstract painter Mark Tobey—or rather, the adventure of walking to lunch, which became protracted over several hours because of Tobey’s insistence on stopping to look at every minute detail along the way. Cage himself spent his life paying attention to what he called the “unsuspected beauty” of the world around us. In the process, he not only transformed how music could be made but totally redefined what could be considered part of the art form. “All sounds are useful in music,” he once said, “if they occur in music.” (Or in silence, which he proved in 1952 with 4’33", the entirety of which involves not a single note but rather the unsuspected beauty of a “quiet” room—and its ambient noise—for four minutes and 33 seconds.) The Los Angeles–born Cage spent a pivotal part of his mid-20s at Cornish as a dance accompanist and teacher in the late 1930s. While there, he invented his famous prepared-piano technique—nuts, bolts, and other objects were placed between the strings so as to radically alter the instrument’s timbre—and played around with variable-speed turntables, hitting on ideas that presaged the world of electronic music. His one-man revolution spurred on kindred souls (composer Philip Glass, consistently curious rocker David Byrne) long after his death in 1992. —Thomas May

Because of him… The musical expression of the avant-garde wove itself into the language of everyday life.
Now hear this: “Imaginary Landscape No. 1” creates a sonic geography out of turntables, frequency recordings, piano, and cymbal on the import CD Credo in Us.

Dad Wagner’s Band

Amid all the corruption and rough frontier living during Seattle’s first decades, the musically inclined started hankering after possibilities beyond impromptu cedar-stump dancefests. Volunteer bands began cropping up until the city finally claimed a bona fide professional bunch widely known as Dad Wagner’s Band—a testimony to the charisma of its leader, Theodore H. Wagner, who arrived in 1889. Though very little is known about this musical pioneer’s pre-Seattle days, his time here remains memorable: Dad Wagner assembled an impressive brass and woodwind ensemble of some 30 members that sported a Chief Sealth logo on their booming bass drum and outnumbered even the nascent Seattle Symphony. Both a concert and a marching band, they regularly charmed the public from a floating dock at the lakeside pavilion which Judge John McGilvra built in Madison Park for vaudeville shows and dances. They remained a fixture for some three decades. At the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated the lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest—held between June and October 1909 on the current site of the UW campus—Dad Wagner’s Band was one of the featured performers. Wagner was lauded at his death, in 1933, as a force that could “unite people for music.” —TM

Because of them… The city began forming a musical identity by boasting its first professional ensemble.
Now hear this: Think of Dad Wagner and his influence this Christmas while marching to the animated uplift of “Put One Foot in Front of the Other” on the recently released Happy Holidays from the Husky Band.

Death Cab for Cutie

Rock music has always been the domain of outcasts—tortured artists, bad boys, womanizers. And usually those outcasts offered at least some modicum of danger. Yet over their 10-year career, Bellingham’s Death Cab has made the stage safe for the bookish, shoe-gazing nerd. Behind thick glasses and packing a few extra pounds around his belly, front man Ben Gibbard wields a voice that sounds like he’s politely asking you to pass the salt from the bottom of a well. When television shows like The O.C. needed music to make their characters “hip,” Death Cab was at the forefront; they offered up their songs and watched album sales climb. Suddenly mixing art and commerce wasn’t selling out—it was a smart business decision. And when Death Cab left Seattle-based label Barsuk for Atlantic in 2004, a nation of knitted cardigans watched in anticipation. The band’s ensuing album, Plans, went platinum and garnered a Grammy nomination. A parade of previously indie groups like the Decemberists followed their lead to major label paydays. Not that any of this was calculated. Dreamy, heart-on-sleeve alternative rock is a hard sell in a musical landscape dominated by braggadocio rap and disposable pop. But a small nation of nerds continues to worship at the altar of Death Cab for Cutie—their most recent record, Narrow Stairs, debuted at number one. —Bart Blasengame

Because of them… Indie rock is now a whispering, introspective geek’s game.
Now hear this: Though they can rock when they choose to, nothing tells the band’s story better than the heartfelt voice and guitar work on “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” from Plans.

Stuart Dempster

He was trained as a classical trombonist but he’s better described as a “sound gatherer” prone to recording in unusual acoustical environments. He’s become a respected figure in the world of avant-garde music while teaching at the University of Washington since 1968. He’s also credited as the man who brought the didgeridoo—a hollowed-out eucalyptus log played by Australian aboriginal people that produces a low-pitched rhythmic drone—to North America (though our didgeridoo is now more likely to be made from a black plastic pipe). Traditional aboriginal musicians perform solo, often accompanying a singer, but Dempster’s students in the UW ethnomusicology program began playing as a group, mixing the Australian methods with Western style. As those students went on to teach elsewhere, more such groups started up and still others were beguiled by the unusual instrument. —JR

Because of him… The didgeridoo found a new sound in North America, and North America found new sounds in unexpected places.
Now hear this: “Morning Light” and “Didjerilayover,” both on Dempster’s 1995 CD Underground Overlays in the Cistern Chapel, were recorded with 10 trombones, didgeridoo, and conch shells inside a water tank at Port Townsend’s Fort Worden.

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Bill Frisell

The end credits of Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho features a stripped-down version of composer Bernard Herrmann’s score tossed in almost as an afterthought. As transposed and played by guitarist Frisell, the iconic theme picks up meaning and nuance that adds to its tension. That’s typical of Frisell: He expands what we know about an artist’s work—whether it’s Aaron Copland or Bob Dylan or Madonna—by allowing the basic melody to move and breathe on new terms. Frisell, whose best work began after he left New York City for Seattle in 1989, gives his guitar an instantly recognizable tone. He stretches notes and phrases, elongating them to give them the same aural warmth they’d get from other bowed instruments (he and local violist Eyvind Kang complement each other on “Waltz for Baltimore” from Frisell’s recent History, Mystery). He’s even taken inspiration from silent comedians, releasing Go West: Music for the Films of Buster Keaton. Like Keaton’s, his singular style will never be outdated. —Riz Rollins

Because of him… Jazz guitar achieved infinite potential and global prominence.
Now hear this: Frisell’s reimagining of Madonna’s “Live to Tell” on Have a Little Faith lifts the song from its place as a minor pop ballad to a compelling meditation on survival.

Jack Endino

A lifelong passion took root during Endino’s teen years on Bainbridge Island, when he taught himself how to make music and record at the same time. “It was after high school,” he recalls. “I was a late bloomer. I started messing with drums, then a cheap electric guitar. I was bouncing tracks back and forth between two cassette decks before I could even really play. I always wanted to make records, and that included both skills, so the path was clear.” That path led him to Seattle, where in 1986 he cofounded and played guitar for proto-grunge outfit Skin Yard, which would appear that year on Deep Six, the landmark grunge compilation produced by Chris Hanzsek that included Green River, the Melvins, and Soundgarden. Shortly thereafter, Endino and Hanzsek founded Reciprocal Recording at a postage-stamp-size space in Fremont, where Endino would record Bleach, Nirvana’s debut album, for the famously paltry sum of $606.17. In 1992 he began working freelance, a flexible status that he enjoys to this day. His list of producing and engineering credits includes Soundgarden’s groundbreaking EP Screaming Life; Hot Hot Heats’ Make Up the Breakdown; and multiple albums for Titãs, a Brazilian band with platinum sales status in their home country. Endino shows no signs of retiring anytime soon—he still holds down lead guitar duties in his bands Slippage and Kandi Coded. —HL

Because of him… Nirvana’s demo tape ended up in the hands of Sub Pop owner Jonathan Poneman—changing the landscape of the Seattle (and the national) music scene.
Now hear this: The spare yet powerful production sound of “In ’n’ Out of Grace,” from Mudhoney’s recently reissued benchmark debut Superfuzz Bigmuff, is Endino’s engineering calling card.

The Fastbacks

A scene in the Seattle music documentary Hype! shows the Fastbacks gathered, giggling, on a couch, while ruminating in self-deprecating tones about their lack of commercial success compared to their peers in Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden. “Maybe,” posits Kurt Bloch, the band’s founding guitarist, “we should find out what that’s like?” No, they never achieved high-profile status within the mainstream, but the Fastbacks made an indelible mark on Seattle music with their perfectly rendered pop-punk anthems—and with their near parody of rock band clichés: Though the total number of drummers hired, fired, and lost is disputable, everybody from a pre–Guns N’ Roses Duff McKagan to current Presidents of the United States of America Jason Finn has held the band’s percussive role. Formed in 1979, they lasted for more than 20 years, disbanding in 2002—in part because bassist and covocalist Kim Warnick joined up with Fastbacks-influenced rockers Visqueen. —HL

Because of them… The city’s punk bands discovered pop hooks.
Now hear this: The Hype! soundtrack takes us back to “K Street,” a buoyant love letter to Tacoma delivered with a sporadically sloppy spirit and sealed with a shiny kiss.

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Bonnie Guitar

Bonnie Buckingham learned to play guitar as a kid, then began studying in her late teens under Paul Tutmarc, a relationship that led to marriage in 1944 and musical partnership in a string of country bands who cut 78rpm discs for Morrison Records. Eleven years later, under a new stage name, Bonnie Guitar was ensconced in a recording studio in California, where she established herself as a highly respected session player in a field then dominated by men. Her 1957 single “Dark Moon” became an instant Top 10 hit and led her to Ed Sullivan’s famed TV show as well as tour dates with Gene Vincent and His Blue Caps as well as the Everly Brothers. Having absorbed everything she could about recording technologies and techniques, Guitar returned home to help Bob Reisdorff form Dolton Records. The label enjoyed a level of success unmatched until the rise of Sub Pop three decades later. They shook the national charts in 1959 with international hits she produced for area teen bands including the Fleetwoods, the Frantics, and Little Bill and the Bluenotes. Guitar also took an interest in young African American combos, producing sessions for the Playboys, the Four Pearls, and reportedly, Jimmy “Jimi” Hendrix’s teen band, James Thomas and his Tomcats. She was, in short, a maverick who became an early crossover pioneer—scoring on pop and country charts—and made history as a female A & R talent scout for RCA Records and ABC-Paramount while also racking up her own hits right on through 1989. —PB

Because of her… The music business was forced to admit that a woman could contribute to a professional recording session as well as any good ol’ boy.
Now hear this: The hauntingly warm voice of Guitar’s fine early work can be heard on the Dark Moon compilation CD issued in 1991.

The Gypsy Gyppo String Band

Inspired by the rural fiddlers, banjo pickers, and country bands who recorded and performed before World War II, the Gypsy Gyppos played string band music with a ’60s sensibility that respected the old-timers’ style but treated it as source material rather than holy writ. Though carriers of the Southern mountain tradition, they didn’t try to duplicate the originals note for note. In the mid-1970s the Gyppo band turned on a whole new generation of urban enthusiasts—who had never been anywhere near old Grange halls or rural community centers—to square and contra dances by holding them in town. Audiences at the Gyppos’ shows were young computer programmers and social workers in blue jeans and long skirts; they had almost nothing in common with the organized square dance club whose members sported string ties and fancy shirts or crinolines under pastel dresses. The band’s Monday Night Dance was the starting point for today’s thriving dance scene; it continues with other bands to this day. The dances in the Folklife Festival’s Roadhouse, where thousands swing their partners in contras and squares every year, owe their origins to the Gyppo band’s influence. —JR

Because of them… We are home to one of the liveliest old-time music communities in the country.
Now hear this: The Gyppos’ version of Uncle Dave Macon’s “The Wreck of the Tennessee Gravy Train” on their eponymous 1977 LP models itself on the original but comes into its own with vocal harmonies and instrumental solos. 

Peter Hallock

Atheist, agnostic, or devout—it doesn’t matter: The Compline Choir that Hallock directs at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Capitol Hill has been luring fans for over 50 years to experience their soul-centering chant. Hallock is a musical polymath also known for his artistry as an organist and composer. He was music director at St. Mark’s for 40 years and founded the Compline Choir as part of his research into the sacred music, which has for over 1,000 years been used for the Office of Compline—the service concluding the daily cycle of monastic prayers. Each Sunday evening, the echoing, darkened cathedral space resonates with the choir’s musical balm. —TM

Because of him… Sacred chant groups mushroomed across the country.
Now hear this: Feathers of Green Gold includes a sublime performance of a complete service by the Compline Choir and Hallock’s work as a composer in settings of 10 Psalms.

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Image: EMP


Ann and Nancy Wilson, sisters who’d grown up in California and Taiwan before moving to Seattle, in the early ’70s joined—and then transformed—what would become not only the first rock band from Seattle that most of America had ever heard of (the Ventures were from Tacoma) but the first rock band most Americans knew of that was led by two women—at a time when a band with even one was remarkable. Few hard-rock groups of any era have had as brassy a lead singer as Ann Wilson, who could shriek like a police siren and purr like a panther. Fewer had the run of hits that Heart did in its first heyday; ’70s singles as down-the-middle irresistible as “Crazy on You,” “Magic Man,” and “Barracuda” would be rare at any time. And the band also had an unexpected commercial comeback with a series of mid-’80s power-ballads. Perhaps history won’t be kind to the overbuffed wiles of “What About Love?” or “All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You,” but the upside is that the Wilsons pooled their proceeds to become partners until 1997 in the downtown studio now known as Bad Animals. One of the city’s (and nation’s) top recording facilities, it’s where Soundgarden’s Superunknown, R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People, and Alice in Chains’ self-titled album came together. —Michaelangelo Matos 

Because of them… The male-dominated world of music realized that women could rock.
Now hear this: Ann’s throaty wail dueling with the lead guitars of “Crazy on You” from Dreamboat Annie is right up there with any Led Zeppelin epic.

Jimi Hendrix

After dropping out of Garfield High School, Hendrix learned in his early teens from soul men the Isley Brothers, Little Richard (who often claims Hendrix copped his style), and Ike and Tina Turner (whose feral sexuality no doubt made quite an impression). He went on in the late ’60s to mix rock, blues, funk, gospel, jazz, and soul, saturating the result with a psychedelically psychotic subtext of inner demons for a sound that has yet to be matched by anyone anywhere on the planet. His influence can be felt in every important musical movement that followed him, whether because of his sheer technical brilliance on the electric guitar—alternating between long wailing notes and rapid-fire attack—or his flamboyant way with the instrument, sometimes setting it on fire. Whereas most legends take a lifetime to make their mark, Hendrix’s output is confined to barely a decade—less than 10 years ended in a suffocating death brought on by an overdose of sleeping pills. He remains Seattle’s most reluctant and tragic prodigal son. —RR

Because of him… The guitar has been elevated to an importance in rock music rivaled only by the human voice.
Now hear this: The poetic masterwork “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” from Electric Ladyland seems a conventional rock ballad until the 4:20 mark when it becomes a meditative dream for seven minutes before returning for a fiery climax. 

Image: EMP

Quincy Jones

To call his output prodigious would be an understatement. A Northwest transplant, Jones played with Ray Charles while a student at Garfield High School (he was 14, Charles was 16). As instrumentalist, composer, arranger, bandleader, and producer, he has moved effortlessly from big band (in 1951 with Lionel Hampton) to bebop (in 1956 with Dizzy Gillespie) to pop (racking up number-one singles as producer as early as Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” in 1963). He became a household name in 1982 after producing Michael Jackson’s Thriller, still the top-selling album in history. He has won 27 Grammy Awards to date, and secured seven Oscar nominations (he was one of the producers of Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple as well as the composer of its score). His production company is the force behind TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and magazines including Vibe. He’s garnered praise worldwide for his work against famine (Remember that little song “We Are the World” back in 1985? That was Jones’s brainchild). Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Chaka Khan, and many others have spent time in the recording studio with him. His local loyalties have never wavered. He recently stepped in along with Tacoma songstress Diane Schuur to save Ernestine Anderson’s home from foreclosure (Anderson is a personal friend he retained from the days when they were both members of Lionel Hampton’s band). —RR

Because of him… There are solid bridges between every entertainment medium and musical genre.
Now hear this: The kicky, insouciant “Soul Bossa Nova” from Big Band Bossa Nova lasted well beyond its 1962 recording date. Yet another example of Jones’s chameleonic wizardry, the track returned to popularity as the theme to the Austin Powers movies.

Eva Heinitz

She was known as the grande dame of the cello, a musician worthy of mention alongside Pablo Casals. In her native Berlin, Heinitz studied and played with the great European musicians and conductors of the pre-WWII years before becoming one of the first modern players of the viola da gamba. She joined the University of Washington’s music faculty in 1948, where she was a member of its string quartet and of the Collegium Musicum ensemble dedicated to music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Her approach to early music performance was an extension of the formal tradition that played Bach and Telemann as if it belonged in a nineteenth-century concert hall, a philosophy that many later musicians and audiences criticized as an overly romantic imagining of the past. She taught both cello and viola da gamba at UW until she retired in 1976. Heinitz was known as a woman of strong opinions who was not afraid to express them. Yet, in spite of her outspoken manner, she was widely respected as both a player and a teacher. —JR

Because of her… A foundation was laid for the local early music boom that began in the 1970s.
Now hear this: Heinitz’s Authentic Baroque Music Performed in a Non-Authentic Manner demonstrates early music as she believed it should be played—flowing lines, connected phrases and all.

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Dave Lewis

Lewis was the leader of Seattle’s first significant African American 1950s rock and roll band, touring the region as the opening act for dances headlined by Bill Haley and His Comets in 1956. In 1957, the Dave Lewis Combo scored the plum gig as house band at the town’s hottest R & B nightclub, the Birdland, where they were likely the first area band to begin playing what would eventually become the region’s signature song, “Louie Louie.” At that time, Seattle’s twin musician unions were still racially segregated, but the Dave Lewis Combo’s growing popularity was such that the ballroom fought the white union by booking him. The Combo’s regular jam sessions at the Birdland attracted many an ambitious local player—including a teenager then known as “Jimmy” Hendrix—but in 1962 Lewis traded his quintet for a trio and his piano for an organ. That’s when his radio hits began flowing, with 1963’s “David’s Mood (Part 2)” and 1964’s “Little Green Thing” being among the best—tunes that white Northwest bands (the Kingsmen, Dynamics, Viceroys, Counts, and others) would soon adopt and cover. —PB

Because of him… Seattle’s 1950s entertainment scene started on the path to desegregation.
Now hear this: The History of Northwest Rock, Vol. 1 includes the 
Dave Lewis Trio’s radio hit, “David’s Mood (Part 2)”—an organ-led, 
pop instrumental whose secret weapon is its addictive “Louie 
Louie”–like groove.

Eyvind Kang

Legend has it that the city of Yelm, Washington, gets its name from a Salish term that describes the effect that occurs when heat from the sun hits the moisture of the prairie, resulting in a shimmering cloud. Kang, who lives on Vashon Island and plays all things stringed (and even tuba), employs that pastoral image to great effect as a jumping-off point on his newest release The Yelm Sessions. Kang’s sonic adventures can’t be contained by any category and often leave the realm of music entirely for the densest regions of philosophy and spirituality. He’s as comfortable in the forest of dark heavy metal—accompanying the oddly named Sunn O)))—as he is in the ornate music of Persia that he explored with Amir Koushkani on In the Path of Love. And as indispensable session musician he can be heard on Seattleite Bill Frisell ’s recent History, Mystery. —RR

Because of him… Jazz exploded its boundaries.
Now hear this: “The Circle of Fair Karma Part 2” from The Story of Iceland starts out as a simple music exercise written for trumpet and violin but climbs to a symphonic height.

Dumisani Maraire

Abraham Dumisani Maraire—“Dumi” to his friends and students—brought the music of the Zimbabwean mbira (a thumb piano featuring metal “tongues”) and marimba (a xylophone-like percussion instrument with hard wooden keys) to Seattle in 1968 as a visiting artist in the University of Washington’s ethnomusicology program. The music he introduced uses a western scale comparable to the white keys on a piano—with an extra F-sharp thrown in for good measure—and rhythms that are exotic yet approachable. He encouraged others to build their own instruments and form their own groups. A typical marimba ensemble might include eight or more instruments, ranging from a three-foot-long soprano to a bass that can be eight feet long. The infectious sound of a marimba ensemble is now common at dances, concerts, festivals, and street fairs in Seattle. —JR

Because of him… Hundreds of American and Canadian marimba and mbira groups trace their origins to Seattle.
Now hear this: “Mai Nozipo” (Mother Nozipo), Maraire’s own composition, features on the Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa with Maraire himself as one of the musicians.

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Vic Meyers

Bandleader Victor Aloysius Meyers ruled Seattle’s ballroom dancing scene in the speakeasy years. Born in Little Falls, Minnesota, in 1897, he grew up in Oregon and organized a band that toured until settling in Seattle in the 1920s. Meyers and his band performed as a regular part of the Jazz Age entertainment at the tony Butler Hotel with its fabled Rose Room (when it wasn’t being raided by liquor agents). He later held court at the faux-Mediterranean Trianon in Belltown (at the time, the largest dance hall in the Northwest). In those pioneering days of both radio and recording, Meyers proved himself an early adopter. His gig at the Butler led to what was the first commercial record made in the city (recorded “in the field,” as Seattle wouldn’t get an actual recording studio for years to come). Meyers was known for his bold defiance of Prohibition and also established his own venue (Club Victor) in the Denny Regrade. He later reinvented himself as a progressive politician, initially as a joke, until the pro–New Deal Meyers went on to get elected to Lieutenant Governor in 1932 and won reelection five more times. He also served as Secretary of State of Washington from 1956 to 1964 and lived until the age of 93. —TM

Because of him… Seattle entered the world of musical mass media with the first commercial record made here.
Now hear this: “Mean, Mean Mama” from the CD reissue The Bands of Vic Meyers will send you right back to the Roaring Twenties.

Randall Jay McCarty

Randy McCarty emerged out of the same 1960s musical counterculture that produced string bands like the Gypsy Gyppos and folk-rock groups like the Daily Flash. But instead of the Gyppos’ old-timey fiddles or the Flash’s electric guitars, McCarty and his friends riffed on medieval and Renaissance music with harpsichords, lutes, and the curved reed instruments known as krummhorns. In contrast to the formal presentation and romantic performances espoused by renowned Seattle cellist Eva Heinitz and her contemporaries, McCarty took a garage band approach to early music—he wanted it authentic, but it had to be fun. Early music, he decided, shouldn’t be preserved under glass but rather made for large amounts of people to enjoy. Without formal musical training beyond Roosevelt High School, McCarty became apprentice to Peter Hallock at St. Mark’s Cathedral and played in a long list of pickup groups and formal ensembles as well. Through the ’70s and ’80s he was the man to call when you needed a harpsichordist in Seattle. He was also morning DJ (specializing in early music) on KRAB radio, taught harpsichord at Pacific Lutheran, and restored antique pipe organs. —JR

Because of him… Seattle’s Early Music Guild was founded (with Jerry Kohl and John Gibbs) to widen exposure to the genre through concerts, scholarships, classes, and workshops.
Now hear this: McCarty’s approach to authentic performance of early music was shared by other period bands formed in the 1970s, including Ton Koopman’s Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, which can be heard on Yo-Yo Ma’s Simply Baroque.

Alice and Morrie Morrison

It was while working as an organist in a silent movie theater in Anacortes that Alice Nadine Lanterman first met her future husband, Bellingham dance instructor and dance-band drummer, Howell “Morrie” Morrison. By 1914 they were married and operating the Morrison School of Dancing. But in 1919 they formed the Morrison Music Company to publish a tune that Alice had penned titled, “My Love Is All for You.” Soon after a giant Chicago-based sheet music company licensed the song and pushed it nationally, it sold a reported 500,000 copies. That and her million-selling follow-up hit, “Love’s Ship,” brought in a fortune in royalties, and over the following decades the couple founded a string of dance halls, the Morrison Music record label, and even a pioneering Seattle-based recording studio replete with its own record-pressing plant. —PB

Because of them… The Pacific Northwest hit the national pop music scene and paved the way for regional publishing firms, recording studios, and record labels.
Now hear this: While these songs are not exactly easy to access, with concerted effort— and/or a little luck on eBay—you can find a Morrison Records 78rpm disc of “Love’s Ship” recorded by Seattle’s Jackie Souders and His Orchestra.

Jelly Roll Morton

Much of Ferdinand “Jelly Roll Morton” La Menthe’s biography remains shrouded in mystery. A native of New Orleans, the early jazz great was as gifted at making myths as at making music—he even went so far as to claim he was the sole inventor of jazz. However outrageous his boast, Morton was clearly one of the genre’s founding fathers, an extraordinary pianist, arranger, and small-band leader who blended an amazing variety of styles gathered on his travels. The most mysterious part of his career involves the years he spent along the West Coast between 1917 and 1923. When the love of his life, Anita Gonzales, threatened to leave him, he pursued her up to the Seattle-Tacoma area where he played in the segregated but thriving Jackson Street scene for a spell in 1919 or 1920. The speakeasy nightlife was conducive to gambling, and Morton later claimed he ventured up to Alaska wearing “diamonds pinned to my underwear” to safeguard all the money he’d made on a lucky night. Yet he also had unlucky periods that left him penniless—jazz scholars speculate that his popular piano instrumental “Seattle Hunch” referred to his sixth sense about just where his luck would turn. Morton’s trajectory eventually took him back East, but he died in Los Angeles in 1941. —TM

Because of him… Seattle got a taste of Morton’s mastery—years before improvised jazz caught on around the country.
Now hear this: His recording “Seattle Hunch,” a piece as flashy and sparkling as Morton’s diamond-studded front tooth, appears on the collection Jelly Roll Morton: 1926–1930.

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It’s easy to drown in the titanic hyperbole that hangs over Nirvana like a giant exclamation point. Best Group Ever! Voice of a Generation! The Band That Changed Everything! And sure, they’re all based in some sort of cultural truth—many hormonal worlds shifted upon first hearing Nevermind—but in attempting to capsulize Nirvana it’s important to remember that, above everything else, they gave the ’90s some great music. If songs like “About a Girl” or “Smells Like Teen Spirit” didn’t course with the desperation of an escaped convict, they wouldn’t be musical milestones. If “Heart-Shaped Box” didn’t sprinkle its bitterness with snark, it might be just another love-gone-wrong song. If we’d never heard “All Apologies” stripped down to a plaintive prayer (“What else should I be…”) on MTV Unplugged in New York, we might never have believed that Kurt Cobain was, at his core, inspired most by the pretty hooks of the Beatles. Celebrities tend to be puffed up when they die early but, beyond the iconography and mythmaking, Cobain and Nirvana never compromised, never betrayed their vision, and even in death never stopped being relevant. Since Cobain’s suicide in 1994, legions of bands have picked up where Nirvana left off and we’re all the better for it. If only Cobain himself was around to hear the fruits of his labor. —BB

Because of them… Seattle became a musical epicenter where 
the creation of great rock was no longer an isolationist accident—it was expected.
Now hear this: Nevermind? Sure, but as a visceral piece of art and a stiff middle finger to expectation, In Utero is Nirvana’s defining album. Listen to its “Serve the Servants,” which opens with Cobain complaining that “teenage angst has paid off well, now I’m bored and old.”

Modest Mouse

Their explicit subject is how to keep up with life despite—or because of—the fact that you’re feeling down. A hit like 2007’s “Dashboard” is as much about attempting to move past one’s own inertia as it is an ode to enjoyment. The duality makes it compelling; it sounds sunny, anyway. Founded as a scrappy three-piece in Issaquah in 1993, Modest Mouse has, despite its name, doubled in size: It’s now a sextet that happens to employ guitarist Johnny Marr of the 1980s UK rock band the Smiths (no strangers to the pop beauty to be mined from depression). Early albums—such as The Lonesome Crowded West from 1997—offer some of the period’s most rhythmically knotty rock. But once lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock, bassist Eric Judy, and drummer Jeremiah Green opened up the arrangements for Good News for People Who Love Bad News, the band caught the attention of the masses. Last year’s album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank made Modest Mouse the premier Northwest rock band this side of Death Cab for Cutie. —MM

Because of them… Music-loving misanthropes across the land have a Seattle support group.
Now hear this: “The View” from Good News for People Who Love Bad News was not a hit like the same album’s “Float On,” but sees the band at its most rhythmically rubbery and instantly tuneful.


When a band lifts its name from the title of a movie by Russ (King of the Nudies) Meyer—_Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!—you know they aren’t aiming to poach Linda Ronstadt fans. Yet this raucous quartet found its fair share of ardent supporters; UK press raves over the band ignited grunge hysteria (they were frequent guests on DJ John Peel’s BBC Radio 1 shows). Formed in 1988, the group teamed singer Mark Arm and guitarist Steve Turner (both of seminal Seattle outfit Green River) with former Melvins bassist Matt Lukin and blink-and-you-missed-him Nirvana and Screaming Trees drummer Dan Peters. The foursome never cracked the mainstream, even though Warner Bros. enticed them away from Sub Pop in 1992. Though dancing with the big boys didn’t take the sting out of Mudhoney’s blistering sound and sarcastic tone, it didn’t do them any favors, either. Since being dropped from Warner Bros. and returning home to Sub Pop, the band has gone from strength to strength, particularly on the brass-driven _Since We’ve Become Translucent in 2002 and this year’s The Lucky Ones. Lukin bowed out in 2001 and was replaced by Aussie import Guy Maddison, but otherwise, the band has forged ahead, surviving drug problems, changing tastes, and gray hair. They may be family men with full-time day jobs, but Mudhoney still kicks ass harder than bands half their age and 10 times as wealthy. —KBR

Because of them… The term “grunge” was coined and an entire generation of musicians tuned in to the sound of Sub Pop.
Now hear this: Everyone should be aurally defiled at least once by “Touch Me I’m Sick” from Superfuzz Bigmuff.

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Image: EMP


For a brief little window in the early ’90s, some Bellevue rockers dominated the airwaves: multiplatinum records, hit singles, heavy MTV rotation, and worldwide arena tours that for a short time made them the biggest band on the planet. It was a slow, shape-shifting climb from the clubs after growing out of their early, awkward faux-metal years (an umlaut?) and a brief dip into glam rock. They hit their stride in 1988 with Operation: Mindcrime—a hair metal concept album about a junkie who’s drugged by the government to carry out assassinations for an underground movement so that…oh, forget it. Although not huge, it built enough of a fan base to make the 1990 follow-up, Empire, the tipping point in the band’s career. It gave them their defining moment: “Silent Lucidity,” a bloated orchestral ballad that despite ripping off Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” was still kind of awesome. Their reign, though, was brief and was ended, ironically, by that more famous Emerald City export—grunge. And when that raw, pulsing nerve exploded, all bands with Aqua Net in their shaving kits were swept under the rug. —BB

Because of them… Northwest heavy metal owned the airwaves before Cobain and company arrived on the scene.
Now hear this: For the casual fan, nothing beats Empire’s falsetto-heavy “Jet City Woman,” a stomping Seattle shout-out that boils all of the band’s good qualities—steady guitar work, powerful vocals, epic choruses—into a concise five minutes and 22 seconds.

Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam may be the most principled stadium band in history. Though the band’s intentions were criticized early on by Kurt Cobain—who implied singer Eddie Vedder and his estimable crew were perhaps no more than corporate tools—the group pursued stardom with a more diligent eye toward doing the right thing than almost any other act boasting megaplatinum status. That desire is part and parcel with the band’s output. Early songs like “Alive” and “Daughter” wrestled with questions of mortality and family. After the memorable video for “Jeremy,” a chilling hit about a high school tragedy from their 1991 debut Ten, overshadowed the song itself the band began abandoning the idea of even making videos—or, in fact, releasing singles. They famously boycotted Ticketmaster for its pricing practices in 1994 (although they finally had to give in by 1998). Beginning with their 2000 tour, they began offering fans reasonably priced “professional bootlegs” of their shows on the band’s Web site and in stores. The live gigs themselves are ever-changing affairs, testifying to a group that’s more afraid of standing still than they ever were of appearing on the cover of Time magazine. And while Vedder’s brooding visage and powerhouse yowl dominate the group in the public mind, Pearl Jam has never been a one-man affair. The band exemplifies the best aspects of democracy in action—messy, yes, but highly rewarding when done right. —MM

Because of them… Bands can sell out an arena without “selling out.”
Now hear this: Sure they make albums as discrete units and remain ferocious in concert, but they were also a hell of a singles band, as demonstrated on Rearviewmirror: Greatest Hits 1991–2003.

Jim Page

If Seattle’s radical past has survived to the present day, it’s reflected in the political songs of Jim Page. A modern successor to Woody Guthrie and Earl Robinson, Page has been writing and singing around here since the early 1970s. The City of Seattle changed its restrictions against busking in 1974 after Page lobbied the mayor and city council, gathered public support, and testified at a public hearing. He developed his performing chops singing in the streets, and playing during the breaks in other musicians’ gigs at clubs and taverns like Pioneer Square’s Inside Passage. “You had 15 minutes to get their attention, hold it while you did your thing, and set them up for the hat pass,” he remembers. At some places, he would end up with more in the hat than the featured band was paid for the night—but his radical political message didn’t go over with every crowd. “His topical songs,” remembers folk musician Phillip Williams, “would drive our audience out the door.” —JR

Because of him… Musicians have the right to play on Seattle’s sidewalks.
Now hear this: Page delivers musical commentary about the impact of new money on this city in “Paul Allentown” from his 2004 Seattle Songs CD.

Walt Robertson

Walt Robertson fit the classic folksinger stereotype: He spent his youth wandering the country collecting songs and meeting singers, among them Woody Guthrie, Burl Ives, and Pete Seeger. He settled in Seattle in the mid-1950s, where he became a leading light in the folk music community. Accompanying himself on six- and 12-string guitar, he was a charismatic performer whose repertoire ran to American and British standards like “John Henry” and “Lord Randall,” much earlier than they became cliché material for grade school music teachers. He was a regular at coffeehouses, house parties, and on a live weekly KING-TV show called The Wanderer, named for one of his trademark songs. He ran coffeehouses and taught guitar, but it was as a singer, both on stage and at after-hours sessions, that he made his mark. —JR

Because of him… A true folk revival arrived in Seattle long before mainstream imitators made it a national fad.
Now hear this: Robertson gently acknowledges the plaintive side of his travels in “Wandering” on American Northwest Ballads.

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Sir Mix-a-Lot

The hip-hop MC born Anthony Ray in 1963 would belong on this list even if he’d never given a woman’s booty a second thought. The signs, though, were always there that if he were to rise to the top he’d do so humorously. His first hits were as funny as they were funky. After “Posse on Broadway” put both Sir Mix-a-Lot and Seattle on the hip-hop map in 1988, there was “My Hooptie,” a 1990 effort which may be the funniest of all of hip-hop’s many car anthems—a love song to a “three-ton monster, econo-box stomper,” complete with dragging tailpipe, single hubcap (“’cause three got stolen”), and expired tabs. Still, it was “Baby Got Back” that went big and topped the charts for five weeks in the summer of 1992. It’s become a constant presence whenever frat boys gather to party, whenever women shake what their momma gave them, and whenever a drunken barhopper needs a totally awesome song for karaoke. And if Mix has never quite lived down this greatest hit he’s also never lost his sense of humor: Hear “Big Johnson,” which mocks male peacocking. —MM

Because of him… Northwest hip-hop blew up around the world.
Now hear this: “Posse on Broadway” from Swass finds Mix dubbing himself “the man they love to hate—the J. R. Ewing of Seattle” and picking up a girl in front of the Capitol Hill Dick’s.

Earl Robinson

He composed some of the great patriotic anthems of the 1930s and 1940s, including “Ballad for Americans,” “The House I Live In,” “Joe Hill,” and “The Lonesome Train”—songs that waved the flag in support of progressive issues (organized labor, desegregation, antifascism). In the middle of the communities that combined music and politics in both Seattle and New York, Robinson regularly participated in the early hootenannies that began in Seattle as fundraisers for left-wing causes and later became folksingers’ house parties. His songs were recorded by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, Joan Baez, and even Three Dog Night. A regular visitor to Seattle during his years in New York and California, Robinson returned to his home in West Seattle in 1989, where he continued to compose and perform. He appeared several times at the Folklife Festival, which honored him as a beloved elder of the tribe. —JR

Because of him… The Left redefined the sound of patriotism.
Now hear this: When Paul Robeson sings “Takes more than guns to kill a man,” on his cover of “Joe Hill” from Live at Carnegie Hall, 1958 you know you’re hearing the truth.

Wally Shoup

Improvising isn’t just a musical strategy but a guiding philosophy for jazz saxophonist Shoup. The North Carolina native, now in his mid-60s, changed his life to become a musician after hearing the influential 1970 album Music Improvisation Company. Since settling in Seattle in 1985, Shoup has been a tireless engine in the underground noise scenes, where music is liberated from the status of commodity and the only unwelcome dissonance is the concept of “smooth jazz.” He was one of the early organizers of Seattle’s Improvised Music Festival, which began in 1985. His fiery, spasmodic creativity also fuels his paintings (exhibited by the Garde-Rail Gallery) and his work collaborating with groups such as Sonic Youth. —TM

Because of him… Seattle hosts the country’s longest-running improvised music festival.
Now hear this: Shoup’s 2003 album Fusillades and Lamentations is just that: a mesmerizing amalgam of edgy outbursts and hazy dirge.

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The Sonics

They came from Tacoma to terrorize Seattle and the suburbs for a few brief years, playing searing originals with titles like “Psycho,” “The Witch,” and “Strychnine.” All three songs were regional hits, despite subject matter decent folks deemed inappropriate for radio airplay and tender young ears. Contemporaries of the Kingsmen and the Wailers, the group had been kicking around since 1960, but ignited in 1964, when new singer Jerry Roslie assumed howling and songwriting duties. The seismic ripples have been radiating outward ever since: ’70s punks like America’s the Cramps and England’s the Fall covered their songs; LCD Soundsystem namechecked them (repeatedly) on their first big dance hit “Losing My Edge” in 2002; and the template was set for legions of garage bands that followed, whether it was Mudhoney in the late ’80s or, more recently, the Hives. They cut their full-length debut LP Here Are the Sonics on a two-track tape machine with a single microphone for the entire drum kit. The louder-than-loud signature sound made an impression on Kurt Cobain, who called it “the most amazing drum sound I ever heard.” Although they could command $1,000 a night close to home, they rarely strayed outside the area, and splintered apart between 1966 and 1968. But as of 2007, they were playing shows again—including a Halloween date this year at the Paramount Theatre—for the first time in 35 years. Older, yes, but loud and unfettered as ever. —KBR

Because of them… Punk rock happened in the Northwest a decade before anyone in New York or London claimed credit for the idea.
Now hear this: “Don’t Believe In Christmas” (“Hung my stocking on the wall / Didn’t get a thing at all”) is a bratty, garage rock, holiday rave-up amended to the CD reissue of Here Are the Sonics.


They were all virtuosos, but they weren’t show-offs. Their Screaming Life EP in 1987, one of the earliest issues from Sub Pop Records, captured attention outside Seattle and eventually led to a national recording contract with A & M. They stood out thanks to their strong songwriting. With Chris Cornell taking lead vocals, guitarist Kim Thayil, drummer Matt Cameron, and bassists Hiro Yamamoto and Ben Shepherd conjured hard-swinging noise that spawned a healthy number of classics. “Rusty Cage” was so good Johnny Cash covered it, while “Outshined” was so indelible that its best line (“I’m looking California / And feeling Minnesota”) was swiped for the title of a Keanu Reeves movie. And in 1994 Superunknown gave us “Spoonman” (about Seattle street busker Artis the Spoonman) and the inescapable “Black Hole Sun.” Sure, Cornell was married to Susan Silver, who also managed Screaming Trees and Alice in Chains. But in all the best ways, Soundgarden stands alone. —MM

Because of them… Grunge attracted its first major record label.
Now hear this: Superunknown persists as one of the greatest hard-rock albums ever made in Seattle or anywhere else. 


Rising from the ashes of riot grrrl bands Heavens To Betsy and Excuse 17, Evergreen students Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein in 1994 decided to name their group after the road in Lacey where their practice space was located. Their self-titled debut was released the following year, but it was in 1996 with Call the Doctor—especially its cheeky track “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”—that they became critical darlings. Once Janet Weiss joined up as their permanent drummer, the group grew even stronger. Eschewing major offers, they stuck with Northwest labels throughout their career (Chainsaw, Kill Rock Stars, Sub Pop). Their distinctive, invigorating take on alt-rock— a blend of grunge and punk propelled by genuine political concerns—won them praise from critics and plaudits from Pearl Jam (who invited them on tour as an opening act in 2003). In 2001, they were hailed as America’s Best Rock Band by Time magazine. Coming in the wake of their strongest album, The Woods, the unexpected announcement that the band was going on hiatus in August 2006 came as a sad surprise to fans. But the group’s accomplishments secured them a place in Northwest rock history. —GGG

Because of them… Women earned status as “best guitarist,” not “best female guitarist.”
Now hear this: Contrast the rawness of their self-titled debut album with the stunning power of their last effort, The Woods.

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Sunny Day Real Estate

When they issued their Diary in 1994, no one would have guessed the ripple effect it would have. Jeremy Enigk’s voice knows no limits on its upward arc and his unabashed fervor combined with the band’s stop-start dynamics to thoroughly alter the indie-rock landscape. Diary hit a lot of kids just graduating from punk rock who were ready to move on to something more expressive and perhaps more melodic; the album became both a primary building block of latter-day emo and an indirect inspiration for many other bands (it’s hard to imagine the dour attitude of Modest Mouse, for example, without them). Its sound also helped steer the image of Sub Pop beyond the grunge that made its name. And that internal combustion you heard from Enigk was real: Soon after _Diary_’s success, he embraced Christianity, which has colored his work since—with or without Sunny Day (which has disbanded and regrouped twice, most recently as the Fire Theft) as well as on ambitious solo albums like the subdued, orchestral Return of the Frog Queen in 1996. —MM

Because of them… Emo made it to the masses.
Now hear this: Chiming, sparse guitars and murmured vocals form the heart of the band’s anthem, “In Circles,” from Diary.

Paul Tutmarc

Singing radio star, musician, bandleader, teacher—Tutmarc was a man of many accomplishments. But it’s an invention for which history will honor him. As a player of the guitar, banjo, and Hawaiian steel guitar, he opened a music school in 1931 and around the same time began a series of experiments which led to an innovative electromagnetic pickup device that could electrify and amplify various musical instruments. By 1934, Tutmarc had launched a line of electric Hawaiian-style “lap steel” guitars which he played around town and sold to his students. But his biggest claim to fame was the creation in 1936 of the Audiovox No. 736 Electronic Bass Fiddle—an instrument that beat Fender’s far more famous electric bass to the marketplace by 15 years. In the ’40s, Tutmarc and his bride, Bonnie, began performing country music; she scored her first of many national hits under the stage name Bonnie Guitar in 1957. Their daughter, Paula Tutmarc, became a successful folk-rock recording artist in the 1960s, while a great-grandson, Shane Tutmarc, is currently a rising artist on Seattle’s alt music scene. —PB

Because of him… The guitar went electric.
Now hear this: Tutmarc’s vintage recordings are near impossible to find, but in 2004 the Collector label issued a proto-rockabilly compilation CD, Steamline Boppin’, that includes his (and Bonnie Guitar’s) zingy gem, “Midget Auto Blues.”

The Ventures

Don Wilson and Bob Bogle were Tacoma construction workers when they founded their band back in 1958. Those brick-and-mortar beginnings are fitting since, without the Ventures, instrumental music might never have gotten off the ground as an offshoot that gave us Booker T. and the MGs and even popular progressive rock like Pink Floyd. Launched on the airwaves with a chance spin by famed Seattle DJ Pat O’Day, the band’s “Walk—Don’t Run”—with its iconic lockstep lounge cool—grew from a regional novelty to an international hit. Others would follow (e.g., the theme to TV’s Hawaii Five-O). All of them relied on the fleet, fiery fingers of guitarist Nokie Edwards rather than a vocalist, an untested concept at the time that nonetheless worked—the band would go on to sell over 100 million records. With the guitar the focal point of their music, they were one of the first groups to experiment with their sound—using fuzz pedals and reverse tracking before they became a part of Heavy Metal 101—and threw around the term “concept album” before the Who’s Pete Townshend penned his first rock opera. Although the 2008 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees have been relegated to surf-rock compilations here in the States, they’re still huge in Japan, where their albums outsell the Fab Four by a ratio of 2-to-1. Not bad for a couple of bricklayers. —BB

Because of them… Guitar rock’s unlimited possibilities inspired legions of bands.
Now hear this: Walk—Don’t Run: The Best of the Ventures follows the band through nearly 50 years of surf, space, and psych-rock incarnations.

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Elmore Vincent

In the glory days of radio the new medium allowed a performer to create a fresh identity at will. Performers, that is, like Elmore Vincent, whose family had moved up to Tacoma from a Texas cotton farm. Vincent longed to be a radio singer and in 1929, when he was 21, got himself a gig with KJR, one of Seattle’s first commercial stations. He belonged to the in-house variety show crew called the Mardi Gras Gang and earned a reputation as the sweet tenor “Northwest Shanty Boy,” singing lumberjack songs with yodel arrangements. But during spare moments he worked up a comedy routine based on his word-mangling “Senator Fishface.” NBC, which bought KJR in 1934, loved the act and persuaded Vincent to move to San Francisco to join a nationally broadcast variety act. Vincent insisted on opportunities to sing on other shows as well and gained even more exposure. Meanwhile, his Fishface routine was such a hit that he was asked to bring it to one of the earliest TV broadcasts, in 1937. He later retooled himself as a character actor, appearing in shows from Dragnet to Little House on the Prairie. He died in 2000 at the age of 91. —TM

Because of him… Video couldn’t kill the radio star.
Now hear this: Recordings of Vincent’s vocal performances remain elusive, but you can check out clips of his “Senator Fishface” routine in the archives of The Dr. Demento Show online.

The Wailers

All the proof one needs to debunk the myth that Kurt Cobain pioneered that “soft-loud-soft” mode of songwriting is one spin of “Tall Cool One,” the Seattle-recorded 1959 hit by the Wailers. Just consider its sizzling hi-hat intro, those initial understated guitar chords and tinkly cocktail bar piano fills, which all lead up to a hurricane-force saxophone squall. That debut by the Tacoma band earned them a hit, a brief national tour, and big-time TV appearances alongside music impresarios Dick Clark and Alan Freed. In 1961 the band and their singer, Rockin’ Robin Roberts, made history as a teen band that formed their own label, Etiquette Records, which launched with a huge number one regional hit: a soulful take on Richard Berry’s 1957 obscurity “Louie Louie.” Etiquette went on to issue plenty more Wailers LPs, and many other classics by homegrown garage bands including the Sonics. But by the mid-’60s the Wailers lost their momentum, focus and, well, relevance. By then, however, their influence as stylistic trendsetters had inspired legions of up-and-coming Seattle players including Jimi Hendrix, the Ventures, the Sonics, and Paul Revere and the Raiders. —PB

Because of them… “Louie Louie” became a Northwest staple that the Kingsmen later took to global hit status.
Now hear this: Try a “Tall Cool One” on The Fabulous Wailers.

Harry F. West / Henry Hadley / Mary Davenport-Engberg

When violinist and conductor Harry F. West brought together 24 musicians for a concert on December 29, 1903, at Christensen Hall on Second Avenue—the spot where the Seattle Art Museum now stands—the Seattle Symphony was born. By 1909 it had moved to the recently opened Moore Theatre and was ready for the rapid expansion plans envisioned by its newly appointed, Boston-bred music director, 38-year-old Henry Hadley. He increased the number of season concerts and built the orchestra into an ensemble much closer to its present size. (He left after two years but continued to add to his estimable portfolio: He was the San Francisco Symphony’s first conductor as well as the Vitaphone conductor on the 1926 John Barrymore vehicle Don Juan, the first studio film to feature a synchronized music soundtrack.) The symphony faltered during a long period of unsteady leadership until it was rescued by virtuoso violinist Mary Davenport-Engberg. She studied music for a few years in Europe then upon her return conducted the Bellingham Symphony Orchestra. In 1920, she and her husband moved to Seattle where Mary began her efforts to resuscitate the city’s orchestra. On April 24, 1921, the revived symphony debuted at downtown’s erstwhile Metropolitan Theatre—its maestro widely heralded as the only female in the nation to hold the title of symphony conductor. She held the post through 1923 then taught for decades at Capitol Hill’s Engberg School of Music. —PB, TM

Because of them… Seattle has one of the oldest orchestras in the United States.
Now hear this: If you want to make your sound system erupt with civic pride, listen to current Symphony director Gerard Schwarz lead the ensemble through 1993’s Hovhaness: Mount St. Helens Symphony/City of Light Symphony.

Image: Fritz Dent

Pastor Patrinell Wright

Odds are you’ve have heard the Total Experience Gospel Choir before—without even realizing it. Pastor Patrinell “Pat” Wright and her crew have lifted their voices for everyone from mall shoppers to President Clinton; accompanied Dave Matthews on his 2003 solo album Some Devil; and for the past nine years have featured prominently in Intiman Theatre’s annual production of Langston Hughes’s Black Nativity. Wright has a history of popping up in curious places: In 1969 she cut the Seattle soul classic “Little Love Affair” under her birth name, Patrinell Staten, and worked the club circuit for three years. But her gift has always served the Lord first. Born in Carthage, Texas, she was the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a schoolteacher. The family radio was tuned strictly to gospel programming—though young Wright surreptitiously sampled secular fare while her parents were out—and by 14 she was leading choirs and playing piano in her father’s church. In 1973 she formed Total Experience Gospel Choir at Mount Zion Baptist Church by merging ensembles from Seattle’s Franklin and Roosevelt high schools. The choir is unstoppable with this spirited grandmother at the helm, most recently doing extensive relief work for Hurricane Katrina victims, and performing and competing in Japan and South Korea. —KBR

Because of her… Seattle has a world-class gospel choir.
Now hear this: Motown should have picked up “Little Love Affair.” Instead, Seattle label Light in the Attic did on the 2004 compilation Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest in Funk and Soul, 1965–75.

Phillip and Vivian Williams

Folklorists, musicians, and record producers, this couple has been playing and documenting traditional music in the Northwest since the 1950s. In the process, they have created an environment and supported a community that nurtures those traditions. Vivian is a championship fiddler who consistently brings home trophies from regional and national contests while, in a progression of bands, Phil’s tasteful accompaniment on guitar and mandolin have helped make them resident favorites for decades. And their record company, Voyager—the ultimate Seattle indie label—has documented dozens of old-time fiddlers, string bands, and other traditional musicians, along with local performers that operated below the radar of the commercial music machine, like Dumisani Maraire’s marimba ensemble. —JR

Because of them… The first Folklife Festival was organized in 1972 (around their kitchen table, to be exact).
Now hear this: Tunes like “Forked Deer” and “St. Anne’s Reel” on Vivian’s album Twin Sisters—made with her onetime student and protégé Barbara Lamb (now a successful Nashville session musician)—showcase some of the best traditional Northwest fiddling available on record.

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