When it comes to rock'n'roll, the Pacific Northwest has long been known as the toughest, most uncompromising region of the United States. From the Sonics through to Nirvana, Northwest musicians have always strangled their axes, pounded their ivories, honked their horns and whacked their drums that much harder. And this take-no-prisoners approach was exemplified no better than by the flourishing combo scene that developed in Washington and Oregon in the wake of the Wailers and the Ventures during the early 1960s.
It was an era of full-blooded, jazz and blues-tinged raucous instrumentals, with nary a vocal in sight. And so fans of the genre are in for a huge treat with Riot City! Rocking Northwest Instrumentals, which draws upon the voluminous archives of Jerden Records of Seattle, the Northwest's premier indie of the day. Featuring material recorded between 1960 and 1965, Riot City! not only showcases some of the region's top groups but also demonstrates the unique indigenous sound of the Northwest, where punchy rhythm and blues was the preferred style for every teenage combo. Most tracks are tried-and-tested searing guitar, wailin' sax, hard-on-the Hammond workouts, but there's a smattering of surf licks and spooky organ. In other words, plenty of killer grooves for instrumental nuts everywhere.
We commence with the legendary title track by Rocky & His Friends, an unbelievably chaotic number that fully lives up to its name-.-the collection also features cuts from the band's cool earlier incarnation as the Imperials. NW guitar heroes like Dan Olason (the Counts) and Joe Johansen (the Adventurers) show us why they were so revered, and there are plenty of other heavy players on display - plus let's not forget the granddaddy of Northwest Hammond, Dave Lewis, with his local smash, the much-covered David's Mood.
Other regional hits are Turn On Song, Alki Point and Black Cat, plus rocking takes on some of the era's standards (for instance, James Henry & the Olympics turn in an unissued version of James Brown's Sticky that has to be heard to be believed). Many tracks - such as the Raymarks' Backfire, the Beachcombers' Purple Peanuts and the Classics' Aces High - have previously only ever been available on scarce and highly collectable singles, that almost never show up.
Surf fans will rejoice in cuts by Johnny & the Velvetones and Danny & the Seniors, the latter tearing through Banzai Pipeline at a furious rate. There's even some north of the border Shadows-style action with Vancouver's Chessmen and Meadowlands, featuring the lightning-fast fingers of Guy Sobell. We slow it down ever so briefly for the cool, cryptic Sampan by the Bellingham Accents and Gentleman Jim's frat-shack classic Soul Searchin'. Otherwise Riot City! proceeds at a breakneck pace from start to finish, and is certainly the most frantic release instrumental fans will have heard for many a year.
As with Big Beat's sister series Northwest Battle Of The Bands, many hours of archive scouring and detailed tape research have gone into making Riot City! sound the most complete and in-your-face compilation of NW Instrumentals yet. Add to that the enthusiastic co-operation of many of its featured stars in assembling the photos and liner notes, and you have an indispensable and truly rocking collection that reflects the indisputable magic of the era.
P.S. It makes a wild party disc too!
By Alec Palao