In the political universe, 2016 was the year for the craziest, most divisive election in the modern history of the United States. While a few of my associates will be celebrating this bizarre moment where all the normal rules were tossed by the wayside, so many of us are truly dreading to see what happens next.
If there was a unifying theme of 2016, it was an excess of deaths for some very talented people – musicians, actors, writers and various good people that made a real difference in making the world less bleak.
Last year – 2015 was a difficult one for the LOUIE project. We lost some principal members of the documentary project., as well as a beloved family member.
Last year, around this time, it took me a few days to write up an overview of those we lost in 2015.
This year –a bit more of the same, as more principal members of the documentary project have left us.
So, let try to summarize the year that was, or at least, my personal thoughts on the people we lost last year.
Frankie Lee Frankie Lee was someone I failed to mention in my 2015 wrap-up. Between the years of 1999 to 2001, I was a writer, researcher and associate producer for Blues Express, a television production company and record label based in San Francisco. I worked closely with Frankie, helping produce a video segment on his life story, as well as writing liner notes for his CD release “Here I Go Again.”
I really enjoyed working with Frankie, and that album in particular, which I was proud to be involved with. Members of the Etta James band were backed up Frankie on that album, including Etta’s sons Sametto James and Donto James, who coincidentally married Richard Berry’s daughter Christy.
I was saddened to hear that Frankie died of cancer on April 24, 2015.
Meanwhile, let’s go over some of the losses of 2016…
Long John Hunter Long John Hunter was another musician I was honored to work with in conjunction the Blues Express TV program. Like Frankie Lee, Long John was a blues musician that came from Texas. Around that time, Norton Records had just reissued some of his early 1950’s recordings from El Paso. He was a blues player with some really great stories, and I was more than happy to capture some of those moments with the interview I conducted. (January 4)
David Bowie’s death caught so many of us off-guard that it initially felt like a hoax. As the sad news was confirmed, his passing ignited a floodgate of emotional tributes. On this LOUIE site, I noted one of his earliest recordings –a cover version of Paul Revere & Raiders’ LOUIE answer song – “Louie Go Home”; the significance of the year 1983 as a moment when both Bowie + the KFJC LOUIE Marathon broke out to a much bigger audience; and the unlikely connection between “Fame” and Richard Berry’s old band, The Flairs.
As the impact of David Bowie’s legacy continued to be analyzed and celebrated throughout 2016, there were a considerable number of people that planted the idea that David Bowie was the one that really should have received TIME magazine’s Person of the Year award… which inspired the fake TIME magazine graphic shown above… (January 10)
Blowfly Blowfly (aka Clarence Henry Reid) was an inspired creature that discovered a way to fuse funk soul music, rockin’ oldies, rap hip hop and comical obscenity into an absurd art form. Countless hours were laughing along with his not-ready-for-radio “Oldies But Goodies” parodies of 50s rock ‘n’ roll standards. You categorize this one as a guilty pleasure, not designed to be shared with children or those that might be easily offended (January 17)
Paul Kantner Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane / Starship was truly a San Francisco institution. We (the LOUIE production team) would see him all over town – drinking coffee in North Beach, catching a punk or hippy music show, walking around in Golden Gate Park, or simply performing at one his own shows as the leader of the Jefferson Starship. The LOUIE production team was honored to work with Kantner on a handful of projects for a various clients. (January 28)
Signe Toly Anderson
Ironically, Jefferson Airplane co-founder Signe Toly Anderson, passed away in Oregon on the same day as her old band mate Paul. (January 28)
Buck Munger Buck Munger was a dedicated advocate for music in his home state of Oregon. When Norm Sunholm of the Kingsmen and his brother Conrad decided to market their customized high-powered amplifiers, they created the Sunn Musical Equipment Company in 1965. As they continued to grow their company, they hired Buck Munger to represent their company with an office in California to promote their products and line up endorsement deals. Thanks to Buck, the Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who both endorsed the products of this company, helping transform this company into a major player in the late 1960s. After his run with Sunn, Buck wound up working with Norlin (manufacturer of Gibson and Moog products) and Billboard magazine before moving back to Portland, Oregon, where he launched TWO LOUIES, a regional music trade public publication. Buck did a lot of great things in his hometown – a lot of celebrations as well as inspiring the eventual creation of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. He provided some great support for the LOUIE documentary project and will be severely missed. (April 19)
Good ol’ Candye Kane. A dynamo blues singer. A beautiful being that believed in empowerment, promoting healing, love, and self-acceptance of one’s body – whatever size, shape or hue it may be. She fought her cancer for many years, and actively helped others that were also dealing with cancer She put up a damned good fight, but unfortunately lost the battle. Those that knew her, truly loved her. (May 6)
Jim Manolides Jim Manolides was a member of one of the earliest musical groups to cover Richard Berry’s LOUIE LOUIE. Jim was a founding member of the Frantics, whose first record (“Straight Flush”) made the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1959. While the Frantics may not have recorded LOUIE LOUIE, they did perform the song regularly in the Seattle area in the late 1950s. According to Jim, he was the guy that taught the lyrics to Rockin Robin Roberts, the guy who recorded what many people consider the definitive version of the song. Not only did Jim play LOUIE LOUIE before the Kingsmen made it famous, but with his band James Henry & the Olympics, he also recorded the song “My Girl Sloopy” before the McCoys picked it and renamed it “Hang On Sloopy.” As our pal Barry Curtis stated, “Jimmy was opinionated and did not suffer fools, but once any of us got to really know him, we had a friend for life.” (May 9)
Gary S. Paxton was a friend that lived a life filed with some truly incredible moments. As a teenager, he found early success as a singer-songwriter of Skip and Flip, a teenage duo with a hit song that sold a million records, and toured America with legendary DJ Alan Freed. After that partnership fell apart, he wound up forging a brief alliance with Kim Fowley, producing a lot of records together, including their own musical project (which evolved into an actual group), the Hollywood Argyles, which had a big hit with “Alley Oop.” From 1959 until the time of his passing, he produced thousands of records for a wide variety of musicians, with an assortment of #1 hit records in rock, country and gospel music. He survived a murder attempt on his life, character assassination attempts by tabloid media, multiple marriages, and became a reborn Christian that eventually found an everlasting love with Miss Vicki Sue, who was with him until the very end. He also produced some excellent records with Richard Berry after LOUIE LOUIE, and also wound recording the very first album by Paul Revere & the Raiders, years before they signed to Columbia Records. (July 16)
When it comes to finding an advocate for the legacy of music from the Pacific Northwest, and the Seattle-Tacoma area in particular, one would be hard-pressed to find a stronger player than Buck Ormsby. As a key member of the Fabulous Wailers, and a co-owner of Etiquette Records, one of the earliest artist-owned record labels of the Northwest, Buck was a true pioneer that forged a path in uncharted territory. With Little Bill Engelhart, they formed The Blue Notes, which was considered the very first rock band of Tacoma, and they also discovered Rockin’ Robin Roberts, who would later transform Richard Berry’s ditty into the rock ‘n’ roll archetype adopted by the Kingsmen and a gazillion other bands. As the primary mover behind Etiquette Records, Buck also discovered and produced the Sonics, whose ragged style provided the primordial ooze for what would eventually be labeled punk. As my friend Alec Palao so eloquently stated, “Buck Ormsby proffered no agenda other than to keep the faith for what he felt need nurturing and preserving: real rock’n’roll.” (October 29)
The beautiful poetry of Leonard Cohen, set to music, provided some wonderful elements to the ongoing life soundtrack for many of us. When faced with an unexpected financial crisis late in his life, he returned to public performances for the first time in many years, discovering the biggest audience of his career during his golden twilight of his life! (November 7)
Leon Russell Leon Russell was a musician that was highly respected by fellow musicians. As singer, songwriter, and session player, he was involved with a LOT of top-selling musical recordings over the course of his 60-year career. During an early part of his career, he filled for Paul Revere for a few weeks when the leader of Paul Revere & the Raiders was unable to perform. He also recorded with Richard Berry for some of Richard’s final studio recordings. (November 13)
Billy Miller was a true champion for the foot-stomping, hip-shaking, soulful roots music we call rock ‘n’ roll. Along with his beloved companion / partner Miriam Linna, they established an incredible legacy designed to honor, archive and celebrate in the grandest possible manner, the rich heritage of American garage rock music with their Norton Records label, Kicks magazine and their musical group, The A-Bones. (Nov 13)
My friend Raul Vega was an extremely talented artist based in the San Jose area. He created some beautiful illustrations, had an unforgettable laugh, and was one of the most generous people I’ve ever known. Back in the 1980s, he, Phil Tiger, and Lisa Venuti were part of a special art collective / live/ workspace known as “Sector Four,” all of which was eventually bulldozed and transformed into another generic shopping center in Santa Clara. Before that particular renovation, they were the subject of a cover story for the March 9, 1986 issue of San Jose Mercury News – West magazine with the title “San Jose’s Lonely Bohemians.”
Of course, nothing lasts forever. Lisa moved out of California, Phil died in 2012, and we just lost Raul a few months ago. “Be a slave to art and die happy” was their mantra. (November 17)
When Richard Berry visited England in 1993, George Michaels was one of the big name British musicians that was anxious to meet him. (December 25)
Blue Johnson aka Bangkok Blue
Right after I assembled most of this article, I realized I failed to mention the passing of Blue Johnson aka Bangkok Blue, who did a jazzy remix of Richard Berry‘s original version, which he shared with the world on YouTube.
Yes, once again… its that special time of the year!
Celebrating the spirit of Christmas and the always-relevent theme of recycling, we bring you a semi-modern classic holiday LOUIE mutant-bastard recording by one of our favorite musical pranksters, the legendary Mojo Nixon!
It’s time to point the mighty LOUIE LOUIE spotlight at an oldie but goodie….
Stiv Bators (aka Steven John Bator), the singer from The Dead Boys and The Lords of the New Church, who lived from October 22, 1949 until June 4, 1990, once recorded an inspired version of LOUIE LOUIE, which used different lyrics and was retitled as “L.A. L.A.” Apparently, this was from a previously unreleased 1980 jam session, and it came out in 1994 on a CD compilation of the same name from Bomp Records.
As the songwriter credits was attributed to Stiv Bators, we’ll label this one as a “LOUIE Bastard.”
2016 has been a rough year for losing musicians, and frankly we’re getting a bit tired of this sort of thing. In the past month, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen, Mose Alison, Sharon Jones, and as of yesterday, Greg Lake. In the LOUIE universe, we lost Buck Ormsby and Billy Miller, as well as Leon Russell, who had a unique connection, without necessarily playing the song…
Here’s a few things that connected Leon to the LOUIE universe…
In 1961, before Paul Revere & the Raiders were signed to Columbia Records, they had an early Top 40 hit with “Like, Long Hair” on Gardena Records. As they embarked on bigger tours, gliding on the success on their hit recording, Paul Revere was soon drafted for military service, became a conscientious objector, and the band decided to hire a temporary keyboardist to fulfill a two week tour while Paul served his obligatory duties by working in a hospital. The person who was hired to play keyboards was a young Leon Russell.
Mark Lindsay told me that those two weeks with Leon was a real educational experience, as he learned a lot of things from this master musician.
Leon also worked with Richard Berry. In the late 1980s, Richard re-connected with his old friend Steve Douglas, the legendary sax player that was part of an alliance of musicians we now know as the “Wrecking Crew,” who recorded with a ton of different musicians. Steve decided to produce some new recordings with Richard, and invited his old pal Leon to be a part of this project. Working with Scott Matthews as co-producer and studio engineer Joel Jaffe, four songs were recorded at Studio D in Sausalito.
There were plans to record a full album, but like many great plans it never came to full fruition, and the songs remain unreleased. Steve died in 1993, Richard passed in 1997, and we just lost Leon a few weeks ago, but with any luck, we hope to see the proper release of these songs in the near future.
In the meantime, here’s a little sample snippet of one of the songs – “Three Cool Cats” – a Leiber and Stoller composition!
In the midst of a week filled with rotten news, things were made even worse when we lost a kindred spirit…
Billy Miller was a true champion for the foot-stomping, hip-shaking, soulful roots music we call rock ‘n’ roll. Along with his beloved companion / partner Miriam Linna, they established an incredible legacy designed to honor, archive and celebrate in the grandest possible manner, the rich heritage of American garage rock music with their Norton Records label, Kicks magazine and their musical group, The A-Bones.
In the Norton comic book “Kicksville Confidential,” (illustrated by Avi Spivak) Billy shared his story about how they got started….
I really loved KICKS magazine – a fantastic hodgepodge of music reviews and historic overviews of forgotten oddball performers, all blended together with a healthy sampling of humor in the jugular vein.
Here’s a sample page from issue #3….
When Billy and Miriam shifted their focus from a music magazine to a record label, they created a wonderful showcase for some truly unforgettable entertainers…
“Norton’s got a six and a half foot Cyclops drag queen, a pair of singing Siamese twins, an Indian with a lung, at least three murderers, the nation’s number one art thief, the world’s first wheelchair confined bad guy wrestling manager, a hillbilly who sings about the joys of chicken, cheese and decapitation, at least three pimps, an elephant thief, a convicted pornographer, about a dozen guys that wears turbans for no apparent reason, one guy who claims to be from Saturn and another who claims to be from Mars, and we haven’t even gotten to Kim Fowley!” – Billy Miller, as quoted in interview with Ugly Things Magazine
..and their own band, The A-Bones, wasn’t too shabby either!!
The legacy of Billy and Miriam’s empire has been a great inspiration for us that love this kinda stuff!
(a cool photo of Billy & Miriam with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins – a wild and crazy guy)
Four years ago, Hurricane Sandy destroyed a lot of the Norton Records inventory, but they were able to salvage what they could, and continue what they were doing, opening a retail shop earlier this year.
To celebrate the spirit of Billy, we’re sharing a special performance of him singing a “LOUIE relative” with a video clip of the A-Bones live at Otto’s Shrunken Head’s Tribute to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins on February 13, 2014. It’s a cover version of a Paul Revere & Raiders song written as a sequel to Richard Berry‘s timeless ditty.
As promised, here’s more on Buck Ormsby, who passed away recently…
My friend Alec Palao wrote an excellent tribute to Buck that was shared at the Ace Records website.
Here’s the first paragraph…
BUCK ORMSBY defined the term “rocker” better than anyone I have ever met in the music business. Not in the clichéd sense of an extrovert who struts the stage and lives life with abandon; rather, Buck was a clear champion for, and a willing slave to, the cause that unites us all. Unlike others in a similar position, he was never overbearing or proprietary; eschewing the spotlight, Buck Ormsby proffered no agenda other than to keep the faith for what he felt need nurturing and preserving: real rock’n’roll.
My friend Merri Sutton shared a wonderful memories of Buck on her Facebook page:
He heard our son, Peter (11 years old at the time, 2004), playing guitar one Wednesday night in the Guitar Center store in Tacoma. We had been amp shopping for what seemed like months. While I wandered around, memorizing all of the guitars on the wall, Peter was playing “San-Ho-Zay.” A fellow walked up to him and said, “Hey, kid, where’d you learn that song?” Peter said, “From Jho Blenis, my guitar teacher.” “Well, my band recorded that song. You play it pretty good. Would you like to come play with my band next week at the Silver Dollar? We do a radio show there.” “Sure, but I’ll have to ask my mom.” The mom was standing behind Buck by the time…. Buck turned around, smiled, extended his hand, and said, “Hi. I’m Buck Ormsby (like he needed to introduce himself). Your boy here is pretty good. I’d like him to come out and play with The Fabulous Wailers, if that’s okay.” I nodded like a drunken seal. “Yes, that would be fine….” And so it began. By the summer of the next year, Peter was on the poster for Louiefest, a huge music festival of which I had become an organizer, playing on the Main Stage with some of the top guitar players in the PNW. He played with The Fabulous Wailers at their gigs all summer – at 12 years old. I was asked by Buck and Kent Morrill to be on the board of the Wailers Performing Arts Foundation, and then I found myself in the position of photographer for The Fabulous Wailers and The Sonics… being mentored by the legendary Jini Dellaccio. I still pinch myself because it’s so surreal.
I’ve learned so much from Buck over the years. He has been so giving of his knowledge, encouragement, mentoring and, most of all, friendship. We’ve done a lot of work together and had even more fun. He’s helped me connect with many amazing people, and because of him I will hopefully be able do a lot more with and for the PNW music community – and help finish some of the projects he has left undone. I will miss him so much. He was my buddy.
Merri Sutton shot this photo of Buck (right) with Kent Morrill and Jini Dellaccio, as well as the lead photograph of this blog post.
Tacoma Weekly did a nice write-up on Buck, featuring some wonderful words from his long-time friend and former bandmate Bill Engelhart.
“Of all of us, that kind of started the ball rolling in Tacoma, if any of us really tried to keep the history of that going it was Buck,” Engelhart said. “That was a focus that he seemed to have all the time. He wanted people to remember. He would give us light, and it was really important to him.”
Today, I’m sharing a video I shot of Buck performing “Willie and the Hand Jive” live at the Kent Morrill tribute concert that took place on May 4, 2011 in Tacoma, Washington.
This was the first and only time I’d ever heard Buck sing lead vocals!!
My friend Dave Marsh on the passing of Buck Ormsby:
My first response is about what I figure Buck’s woulda been: Aww fuck…
Dave dedicated a special edition of Rock & Rap Confidential to Buck:
RRC Extra No. 58: Buck Ormsby
SPANISH CASTLE WIZARD…. Dave Marsh writes: Buck Ormsby was the guitar player in the Wailers of “Tall Cool One” and the leader of all the madhouse rock that came after him and his great band that rescued “Louie Louie” from a trash-heap.
Now, this won’t mean a damned thing to anyone not fully steeped — soaked to the DNA — in Pacific Northwest rock’n’roll lore. But without Buck, and the shows he did with the Wailers and other bands he was in, at the Spanish Castle (not a figment of Jimi Hendrix’s imagination but a true crazoid rocker hatchery) and elsewhere in Seattle and Tacoma and Portland, that whole area, there would not have been the Kingsmen doing “Louie Louie” (because they were only doing it ‘cause they’d seen the Wailers do it), there would not have been any of the Sonics, etc. powerhouse garage punk music, there wouldn’t be any memory of “Louie” at all.
He was a pioneer in having a band own its masters (and for that matter, its record company), he was a champion of the lost memory of Rockin’ Robin Roberts, of the blues and R&B musicians they copped all their licks from before warping them into teenage overdrive. He was one of the toughest guys I ever met and although I usually couldn’t deliver, I’m proud of the fact that he always at least tried to include me in all his over-ambitious projects. He had a vision, more vision than pretty much anybody out there, certainly more vision than anybody in his area until the grunge gangs evolved (and that wouldn’t have happened without the foundations he laid, and there’s nobody part of it I can think of it who was as visionary as Buck was on a bad day). And nobody outside of Seattle-Tacoma-Portland will remember him in a half inch of obituary.
But I can’t forget. He was my shepherd when I wrote the “Louie” book. But it wasn’t just that. He was a throwback to every indomitable rock’n’roll impresario I’ve known from Jeep Holland to Frank Barsalona. He was even in his own merciless way a prefiguration of Little Steven. I own no higher praise.
I told Eric Predoehl, the “Louie” archivist who’s been close to finishing a Louie Louie documentary for the past 25 years that my reaction to the news was “Aw fuck” because I figured that was what Buck would have said. They tore down the Castle to widen the highway, or something equally useless. They will never tear down Buck Ormsby because they can’t even reach that high.
Take it from Jimi, who was there, up front copping licks from all those heroes, and didn’t neglect them as he became one:
Hang on, My Darling, Yeah
Hang on if you want to go
It puts everything else on the shelf
With just a little bit of Spanish Castle Magic
Just a little bit of daydream here and there.
Today, Saturday October 29th, I was saddened to learn that my friend Buck Ormsby died early this morning on his birthday.
Here’s the message I saw on Buck’s Facebook wall:
Thank you to everyone who is sending birthday wishes to my father. He died early this morning. As many of you know he was down in Mexico for alternative cancer treatment, though cancer was not the cause of death. It was an unfortunate accident. Please know that his last months have been transformative in so many ways, and he was in a special place. Please give us time to adjust to our new reality. We will post information regarding services as plans form. Thank you everyone for all of your love and support.
Buck has been a great ally for the LOUIE documentary project, providing multiple interviews over the years. In the Pacific Northwest, Buck was a genuine legend in the music community, performing with the Fabulous Wailers, creating one of the very first artist-owned record labels- Etiquette Records, and was directly responsible for discovering + producing the Sonics, one of the earliest bands to perform in the ragged style of rock music that would eventually be labeled as “pre-punk.”
Buck was one of the major architects within the LOUIE LOUIE universe, recording his friend Robin Roberts doing “that song” with the Wailers for the first record ever released by the newly-founded Etiquette Records in 1961. That particular recording, which used a very different arrangement than Richard Berry‘s original 1957 version, established an archetype that was followed closely by the Kingsmen, as well as Paul Revere & the Raiders, who both wound up with hit recordings of that song in 1963.
One of the earlier bands Buck ever joined was the Blue Notes, group of teenagers from Tacoma (Washington), featuring Buck’s good friend Bill Engelhart, who would eventually be given of the stage name as “Little Bill” of the band that would eventually be re-named as Little Bill and the Blue Notes. Early in their careers, Buck and Bill decided to visit the Puyallup Fair, where they found one of their high school classmates, Robin Roberts, singing rhythm and blues songs to a captivated crowd that was clearly enjoying this impromptu performance. It was at this point that both Buck and Bill thought Robin would be a perfect addition to The Blue Notes, and Robin soon became a full-fledged member of the band
For a couple of years, these three guys performed together (along with various other members) for what turned out to be one of the earliest rock bands ever created in Tacoma. Eventually, this collaboration drifted apart with Bill focusing his efforts as a solo artist, while Buck and Robin (now known as “Rockin Robin Roberts“) both teamed up with the Fabulous Wailers, who had just finished an east coast tour that included an appearance on Dick Clark‘s American Bandstand TV show.
Not long after Buck and Robin joined up with the Wailers, a recording was made of Robin singing LOUIE LOUIE with the band… and the rest was history, so to speak…
Here’s a photo I took of Buck with Kent Morrill, his musical partner with the Wailers and Etiquette Records, back when they visited KFJC Radio (Los Altos Hills, CA) in December 2001. As you may remember, KFJC was the place that produced the MAXIMUM LOUIE LOUIE marathon that played over 800 versions of the song for 63 hours.
When Buck and Kent did this radio appearance, they were in the middle of a road trip, and had driven down from Tacoma in a beautifully restored vintage Cadillac. They had just released their new album “Cadillac to Mexico,” and this was one of their stops.
As fate would have it, Bill returned to Mexico for what turned out to be his final roadtrip.
There’s so much more that could said about Buck, but we’ll save that for another time.
My thoughts are the family and friends of John Buck Ormsby.