On March 29, 1980, eighteen-year-old Al Bloch is on stage at the famed UCT Hall just north of Downtown Seattle.
This is the same stage where six months earlier his previous band the Cheaters broke up mid-set, when Al and lead singer Scott Dittman erupted in an onstage brawl. As the fight spilled out into the street bystanders were puzzled that the two men were wearing dresses, unaware that the event at the UCT that night was a Punk Rock Halloween party. Now, six months later Al Bloch finds himself on the same stage with his new combo, “Wenis.” The reason for the fight has long since been lost to the ages.
Did this really happen?
Wenis was formed with Cheaters drummer David Shumate and ex-CheaterRandall Fehr on Farfisa Organ. They came together after the Cheaters’ breakup, while Cheaters’ guitarist (and Al’s brother) Kurt Bloch continued on with his new band the Fastbacks. This was Wenis’ first performance, and tonight they shared the stage with the Fastbacks, The Vains and local favorite Missing Link. Six months prior, Al was just a simple punk-rock bass player, navigating his four strings like a musical jackhammer. He had since blossomed into a guitarist who couldn’t play, and a singer who couldn’t sing. Like Al Bloch, the band Wenis was a bundle of contradictions; striving to become more proficient, while not afraid of brutal simplicity and repetition . . . much like hammering a nail with no point at the end. Their first gig was a beautiful shambles. Al lost his voice during the first song, and was reduced to croaking through the rest of the set, culminating in a fever pitched version of “Light My Fire.” Track 8, “It’s Misunderstood” was recorded at that very show.
Throughout the rest of 1980, Wenis went on to play many clubs (and one record store) with many great Seattle bands. They recorded very few songs; first as a three piece and later as a quartet adding Bruce Carlson on bass guitar. Then, as quick as the band came together, they disbanded at the end of 1980. Why? Who knows? This time there was no on-stage brawl, just a slow pulling apart as the members found new musical inspiration elsewhere.
Al went on to play in a bunch of Seattle bands, like The Deans and Bombardiers, went national with Concrete Blonde and Wool. He most recently released his music as My Favorite Martian (more about them soon).
The songs on “The Donut House, Seattle 1980” were written by an ambitious 18-year-old and played by young guys trying to make engaging, lasting music that people would enjoy. Cut to 38 years later. The keen ear of Tom Dyer from Green Monkey Records heard what few had heard before, the honesty and vulnerability in Wenis’ music. He loves Wenis. Are these songs good? Are they memorable? Is the playing competent? To these ears, the answer is an unequivocal “maybe,” though you would be wise to listen and judge for yourself.
with Bruce Carlson – Bass