Back in the day — we’re talking the 1960s, '70s and ‘80s — local Seattle bands played funk and soul music in the city’s dance clubs.
The music was the soundtrack of a black-owned radio station operating out of the Central Area called KYAC.
It also defined a DIY mentality: a lot of these artists would never become household names, but many found ways to cobble together enough money to press their own LPs and get their music heard.
A decade ago, local record label Light in the Attic Records, with the help of DJ Supreme La Rock, released a compilation album of local Seattle funk and soul music called “Wheedle’s Groove.” (Wheedle was the name of the Seattle Supersonics’ mascot, another relic from back-in-the-day Seattle).
Now there’s a second compilation, "Wheedle’s Groove Volume II: Seattle Funk, Modern Soul, & Boogie 1972-1987."
Jonathan Zwickel, senior editor at City Arts Magazine and a Seattle-based music journalist, tracked down many of the artists featured in the new album and has written the liner notes. He shared with KPLU the backstory behind five songs featured in the compilation.
1. “Kingdome” By Lenny Randle & Ballplayers, Featuring “Rashawna”
Lenny Randle played second and third base with the Seattle Mariners in 1980 and 1981. And he’s probably best remembered for an incident involving a slow roller hit by a Kansas City Royal in 1981. The ball rolled down the third base line. So Randle got on his hands and knees to blow the ball into foul territory.
“There’s so much legend surrounding Lenny Randle and when you talk to the guy, he doesn’t do much to dismiss those legends,” Zwickel said. “He really enjoys the lore that’s built up around him.”
In 1981, Randle recorded the song in tribute to Seattle’s Kingdome stadium. The female voice you hear on the track is his 10-year-old niece. When Major League Baseball went on strike later that year, “Lenny says they took the song on the road," Zwickel said. "I can’t substantiate Lenny’s claims that they played on Broadway and at different venues across the country, which may or may not be the legend of Lenny Randle.”
2. “I’m Through With You” By Romel Westwood
In 1986, Romel Westwood won a songwriting contest sponsored by Budweiser. That song got airplay on the local rock station at the time. And that prompted Westwood to form his own band and record an LP. “I’m Through With You” is one of the songs from that LP.
Back then, Seattle had a vibrant club scene, mostly along Rainier Avenue.
“On top of that, there were after parties happening in people’s kitchens and in restaurants, unlicensed spaces where this music was being played live,” Zwickel said.
3. “You Turn Me On (Portland Session Mix)” By Push
Many of the musicians were African-American, and many of the bands arose out of the Central District.
“But there was a bit of very discrete segregation that went on,” Zwickel said. “There were venues all across the city that apparently had some difficulty booking African American musicians, either because of latent racism or just as a matter of institutional policy.”
The band Push was all white.
“They picked up the style (of music, music birthed by African Americans) and they were able to play wherever they wanted because they were white," Zwickel said.
4. “Your Love is Fine (Lovin’ Fine)” By Deuce, Featuring Clevon
This band was helmed by a guy named Cleve Ticeson, who was (and still is) a producer at KCTS-9.
“You hear this song and you think it’s a love song, but it’s actually a love song directed at the Creator,” Zwickel said.
In an interview with Ticeson, Zwickel learned how he had been working on a series about Native Americans and their portrayal in Hollywood. This was in the late 1970s, and Ticeson met some Native-American producers and “was really impressed by their earthiness and how cool they were.”
And they turned Ticeson on to the Baha’i faith.
“He said it removed this ceiling he had been feeling. This song is about a feeling of openness and a feeling of some sort of connection with a higher power, this revelation and awakening that he had," Zwickel said.
5. “Get Off the Phone” By Epicentre
That’s Bernadette Bascom you hear on vocals, a Maryland transplant who first sang with a Philadelphia funk band as a teen. When the Philly band went on tour and landed in Seattle, Bascom decided to put down roots here.
She sang with Robbie Hill’s Family Affair and Acapulco Gold before joining the quintet of white musicians in the band Epicentre. And at one point she met Stevie Wonder who paid for Bascom’s voice lessons in L.A.
That was back in the late 1970s, but Bascom "has never stopped singing," Zwickel said. "She gets all sorts of gigs in Europe. She’s big in the cruise line industry.”
The “Wheedle’s Groove” albums have rekindled interest in this music. Septimus, another band featured on this second album, has also started playing again, Zwickel said.
Jonathan Zwickel will be hosting a “Living Liner Notes” event with Bernadette Bascom and other musicians on July 23 at Seattle’s Project Room.