Sunday, January 16, 2011

Today's Music: The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle

I picked up this CD with my Christmas Amazon gift card from my parents.  It combines two of my favorite interests in music.  While I have come to this recently, I'm really interested in Northwest rock and the Spanish Castle, a road house in what is today the Des Moines/Sea Tac area of Highway 99.

 I confess to being kind of novice to the Northwest rock thing.  As a boy growing up in Seattle in the 1960's, the first band I fell in love with was Paul Revere and the Raiders.  They were legit Northwesterners based in Portland, that eventually morphed into California pop stars.  I don't mean to diminish their credentials.  Their early sound is the real deal.  Lead guitarist Drake Levin, just a teenager when Just Like Us was released in 1966 was an very talented original guitar stylist and Mark Lindsay's vocals and sax gave them a distinct sound that is very unique to the Upper Left Corner.

 A few years ago I was captivated by the music in  a Land Rover commercial.  The song was "Have Love Will Travel."  Great song, covered by everyone and their mother in the Northwest.  This version happened to be by The Sonics from Tacoma.  They were amazing, with a muddy garage rock sound.  Very proto-punk stuff.  Just for the record, The Black Keys do an amazing version of Have Love . . .

Which brings me to the Wailers.  Over the years I've listened to a few cuts from this seminal Tacoma band.  Mostly they were instrumental pieces, which is also a characteristic of Northwest music.  I'd been eying the live at the Castle album for some time.  I wasn't disappointed.

There are sixteen great songs on the disc.  All of them feature the R & B influenced Wailers playing the tunes, but a variety of vocalists.  The Wailers' own Kent Morill handles two tracks, local favorite Rockin' Robin Roberts four songs, and two tracks by Gail Harris.  The Wailers were instrumentally solid.  Led by Guitarist Rich Dangel, John "Buck" Ormsby on bass, Kent Morrill on keyboards and a changing lineup of musicians from 1958-1969, they were talented and tight.  Dangel is particularly good and would compare favorably with any of British guitarists in the First Invasion. The vocals by Morrill and Roberts are okay, but Harris really shines. Her version of "I Idolize You" is great.  Her voice is edgy and soulful.

The album was recorded at the Spanish Castle in 1961.  The Castle was a road house that hosted all the great Northwest rock bands-Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Wailers, Sonics, etc.  Jimi Hendrix sat in played with bands as a young guitarist, and of course sang about the theater in "Spanish Castle Magic." 

The album also has a couple of studio cuts, "Louie, Louie," and "Mary Ann."  It's a great collection from a great band in action.  Compare the great Northwest bands of this era to anything else that's happening in American music of the time-the Four Seasons, girl groups, crooner wannabes, even Elvis--this was stuff way ahead of its time.  It's what the Brit bands wanted to be.

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