To those who weren't paying attention, the Seattle "scene" seemed to burst out of nowhere in the 1990's, but the truth is Seattle has been home to a hotbed of live, original music for a long time. Historians have done their work recording much of this, from the saloons of the Yukon gold rush to the dingy haunts of punk rock. One of the best works, of course, is Jackson Street After Hours by Paul de Barros, which documents the city's prolific early jazz scene: a must read for anyone interested in Seattle music and history.
But what happened after Jackson Street faded into history, and then there was rock? How could a city with an internationally-recognized, predominately African-American jazz scene simply stop producing? Soul, it seemed, must have left town with Quincy and Jimi.
Not so. Wheedle's Groove, Seattle's Finest in Funk and Soul has arrived to school us all in the thriving and varied scene that was Seattle music between 1965 and 1975. The brainchild of local DJ Mr. Supreme and produced with the help of Light in the Attic Records, Wheedle's Groove is an instant classic — an essential purchase for any collector, music fan, or devotee of Seattle life.
As elements of 70's- style Funk and Soul reemerge in both mainstream and independent music, this release is perfectly timed. As a unit, it is strong from beginning to end. Pop it in at your next party for a seamless groove. No song disappoints and various sounds are represented, including three artists of the present day, which, though not the highlights of the collection, flow well with the older tracks. Several small, local labels are featured, and homage is paid to the now defunct KYAC, which serves to remind us of the important role a local station willing to play local artists can play. All of the artists, who hailed from Bellingham to Bremerton, although most lived and played in Seattle proper, are polished, professional, and tight.
Each song brings unique qualities to the mix, and different tracks will appeal to different listeners, but there are some obvious stand-outs. For pure inspiration in the so-groovy-now-that-people-are-finally-getting-together sense, try The Soul Swingers, Cookin' Bag, and Robbie Hill's Family Affair. All feature a direct political message of positive action and unity indicative of the era (and sadly missing from today's top 40). Musicians will appreciate the instrumental complexity of the larger bands represented, as well as the surprisingly interesting covers. "Hey Jude" by the Overton Barry Trio is a fascinating take on the Beatles' classic, and "Louie, Louie" by The Topics contains one of the most mind blowing bass solos of all time, despite the somewhat comparatively sterile vocals.
By far the best tracks are three that feature female vocalists. "Brighter Tomorrow" by the aforementioned Soul Swingers showcases Miss Ernestine Wilkins, whom the liner notes accurately describe as the "#1 Soul Sister of the Pacific Northwest". With its Ronettes-style pop power, "Brighter Tomorrow" is a song worthy of more than local recognition, as good as anything Barry Gordy ever produced. Two songs feature Patrinell Staten, whose name should be known to locals for her current work with The Total Experience Gospel Choir. Staten wrote or co-wrote both songs, and her voice and writing talents are equally impressive. Catchy and powerful, these songs are rich in harmony with a clear gospel influence.
The liner notes which accompany this collection are as interesting as the music they describe, telling the varied stories of the men and women whose work and dedication created what was obviously a happening scene. The story of Bellingham's Cold, Bold, and Together provides some insight as to why this compilation ends in the seemingly random year of 1975. The group disbanded in 1978, in part because they refused to become "a disco cover band", which begs the obvious question: Was there a thriving local disco scene between the age of Funk and the rise of Punk, as gas lines lengthened and a famed Seattle billboard over I-5 read "Will the last person out of Seattle please turn out the lights?"
Perhaps the next great Seattle collection will be something like this: Silver Wings and Glittering Platforms, Seattle Disco and Boeing's Last Gasp. Anyone?