Surely it is okay to talk about the Wailers on a Pacific Northwest editorial website. And I don’t mean "Bob Marley and the Wailers" for crying out loud. I mean THE Wailers, the Boys from Tacoma. In case you haven’t heard, they’ll be co-starring alongside the Ventures (another Tacoma band) at the Moore in Seattle next Friday night.
Many northwesterners who were teeneagers in the 60s have a Wailers story. Mine has to do with the difficulty of picking up KJR (95am) radio in Ellensburg. At night-time it was possible; in your car cruising down 8th in front of Central Washington State College, the rock and roll waves from KJR came in on pretty strong.
Daytime was harder; the signal came in and out. But where there’s a will…
My best friend, Lloyd Nickel, lived across from the "Big Pool" on Poplar and 6th. On a hot summer day, the Big Pool was about as good as it got in Greasewood City (aka Ellensburg). Lloyd brought the radio outside via an extension cord; he placed it on a lawn chair in the exact right location, antenna extended. Full tilt boogy. Disc Jockey Pat O’Day came on the air prime time, the 2pm to 5pm show.
Everyone knows the Wailers’ "Tall Cool One," but my memory is the "Seattle" 45rpm. It’s ironic that the Boys from Tacoma would call a signature tune "Seattle," but Wailer Kent Morrill explains the song was originally called "Dallas." Its post-November 22, 1963, release found it renamed. Marketing.
They didn’t need to market that song to me, man. It starts out hard with drums, 2 bars, then Buck Ormsby blasts in on bass, then Kent electronc piano; then guitar. They all amp up and continue to rock. "Seattle" is all instrumental, a motif of the Northwest (and west coast) sound at that time. And those drums! I am sure other regions had drummers who could do syncopated push-beats, but this was the first time I had heard any drum kit move like that.
Where did they learn that syncopation? Fort Lewis was 10 miles south and Jackson Street 40 miles north of the Boys from Tacoma. Northwesterners didn’t have to go to Memphis to learn rock and roll; the South came to us.
And all of that blasted out of a tiny (1"?) speaker in an AM radio on a lawn chair in front of the Big Pool in Ellensburg, Washington, summer 1964.
Ed McClanahan once aptly wrote: "It was at this moment that I discovered there was such a thing as art, and I had to get me some."