Who knew Seattle had its own Buena Vista Social Club waiting to be rediscovered and reunited? In 2001 a local vinyl nerd stumbled on a dusty 45 by the Black on White Affair, a 1970s Seattle soul band even he had never heard of. It was terrific, so he scoured thrift shops and record shows for more long-lost Seattle soul and funk: Cold, Bold & Together, the Soul Swingers, even Total Gospel Choir pastor Patrinell Wright back when she sang the devil’s music. He persuaded Light in the Attic Records to issue a compilation disk, which inspired Humpday co-producer Jennifer Maas to make this eye-opening, ear-teasing, irresistible documentary about Seattle soul in the ’60s and ’70s.
Wheedle’s Groove explores not just the music but the social and cultural conditions that nurtured it and then killed it, starting with musical redlining. Only one low-power Seattle station played Seattle’s soul sounds, and a white cover band got all the best gigs. Inevitably, some players made bad career choices, disco moved in, and others moved on; the images and recollections of 16-year-old Kenny G blowing hot sax with Cold, Bold & Together are priceless.
Seattle still underestimates its soul heritage. The documentary boasts interviews with Quincy Jones, Sir Mix-A-Lot, members of Soundgarden and Death Cab for Cutie, but SIFF scheduled just two screenings: one in Everett, and one on May 30 at its modest-sized SIFF Cinema, leaving hundreds lined up outside. Commercial bookers take note.
Wheedle’s Groove screens at Northwest Film Forum September 3-9 with guest appearances nearly every night, including a Q&A with Wheedle’s Groove "mastermind" DJ Supreme La Rock and the film’s narrator Sir Mix-A-Lot on September 9. You can also catch the players, who still sound great nearly 40 years later, at Bumbershoot on September 4.
“We’ve never had Wheedle’s show with this many original members,” Maas told us. "Black on White Affair vocalist Calvin Law is flying in from Salt Lake City, ‘Deep Soul’ vocalist Ural Thomas will be driving up from Portland. There’s Pastor Patrinell Staten Wright, Overton Berry, Ron Buford, Robbie Hill, Bernadette Bascom… All in all, it should be well over a 25-piece band—full horn section and all!”