Good Summer Beloveds –
Welcome to August, as the summer takes it final glorious laps. For our AotM this month we are going to feature the
works of artists on the Seafair/Bolo label. There is a detailed history of the label below, from some mysterious and anonymous individual. For me, Seafair/Bolo was mostly a recent discovery as I did a little extra diggin’ in preparing to record my next record History of NW Rock Vol.1. I was planning to do the hits of my youth by the Sonics and Raiders, etc. The only Seafair/Bolo thing I knew was “Granny’s Pad” but in poking around I first ran into The Dynamics and Little Jimmy Hanna doing “Busybody”, which I love (ok Howie actually found it) and the even more obscure Tiny Tony and the Statics. Totally great. Me and Howie thought it would be a fine month to feature some of those fine artists, so here we go.
And the future. Looking in my crystal ball, September still looks cloudy. October looks plenty solid with the release of Happy Halloween by the Green Pajamas. November could be Tom Dyer/Northwest Ono Band – History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1 or Escapegoat by The OF. Or both. Who knows? The race is on.
1. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – Busybody
2. Tiny Tony & The Statics – I Wanna Hold Your Hand
3. Viceroys – Granny’s Pad
4. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – Leaving Here
5. Tiny Tony & The Statics – Hey Mrs Jones
6. Viceroys – Get Set
7. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)
8. The Nitesounds – Get Clean
9. Viceroys – That Sound
10. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – J.A.J.
11. Viceroys – David’s Mood
12. Joe and Juma – Invitation to the Fair
13. Kelly Gates – Cafe In The Sky
14. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – Tough Talk
15. Viceroys – Dartell Stomp
16. Dynamics with Jimmy Hanna – Spongy
17. Viceroys – Louie Louie
Seafair-Bolo. A small piece of Seattle music history to some, a large piece to others, a core piece to those who were there. If you lived in or around Seattle in the sixties, you knew the labels and the artists. If you lived elsewhere, not so much. There were moments, though— crucial moments— which made the company a player among the smaller labels of the day and put them in a position to go major. Moments lost in time but every bit as important as those which define the history as seen today. Peter Blecha, a music historian of no small repute, captured that history in an excellent article posted in 2008 for Historylink.org (click here) and as far as it goes, it is the best look back I have ever read on the subject. But the history is only part of the story.
The real story is the music and for those involved, just music, for that (and the new technology) was why they were all there. Tommy Ogilvy (and, yes, he went by that more familiar name, though he never said why). Ellen Ogilvy. Joe Boles. Virginia Boles. And before Seafair-Bolo was actually formed, Chet Noland, who was the recording force behind Scott Noland Dimensional Sound which marketed music under the Celestial Records moniker. All key players in the story. All necessary to the story.
But Tom (and Ellen and Joe and Virginia and, most likely, Chet) would have said that without the music there would be no story, and without the musicians there would have been no music, so therein lies the real story. The music.
Few know that Tommy and Ellen were, until Seafair-Bolo, mainly songwriters. Sure, Tommy had his run as “The Singing Soldier” during WWII and Ellen recorded as “E’Lan, the Hi-Fi Girl From Kashmir,” but their relationship had first been trial-by-fire songwriting sessions, something which they never really gave up. Even the later Electro-Mart venture, major income that it was, played second fiddle to the dream— that big hit and possibly even a music publishing deal. They lived their whole lives with a Tin Pan Alley attitude and that dream, but if they couldn’t have it, the next best thing was to help others have it. That was what Seafair-Bolo was, a rung on a ladder to success. While they didn’t reach that top rung, some of their artists did (by local and regional standards of the time) and part of their success had to be attributed to The Ogilvys and The Boles.
Billy Saint got his shot when Dot Records picked Polly Ann up for national redistribution. Unfortunately, the label’s priority artist, Pat Boone, took the wind out of the record’s sails by releasing and promoting Boone’s Exodus at the expense of all other releases at the time. As a result, Polly Ann, which had scored big on Seattle radio station KJR, was lost in the storm.
Bolo got first shot at Dave Lewis, who later became a major player thanks to tracks like David’s Mood, which right out of the box became a Pac NW standard for every existing teen band, right up there with Louie Louie. That would come later, though, after Lewis exited for Jerry Dennon‘s company of labels. Lewis’s first release for Bolo was Candido and was backed with Untwistin’, original written as R.C. which stood for Ray Charles, who Lewis had met and admired. The Untwistin’ was to hopefully ride on the recent dance craze, the Twist.
Later, the label released what would become a Lewis classic, J.A.J., which supposedly stood for “Jive Ass Jerry.” Tom remembers getting a call from one of the radio guys saying that he’d heard that JAJ stood for Jive Ass Jerry and if that was the case the station could not play it. Thinking on his feet, Tom assured him that it stood for “Jumpin’ and Jivin’” and airplay was assured. Bolo artists The Dynamics would also have a regional hit with the song.
Tiny Tony & The Statics will be remembered for Merrilee Rush‘s participation on the Pac NW hit, Hey Mrs. Jones, but few will remember that Tony himself was quite the star at the time (thanks largely to the record). Getting the record beyond the Pac NW borders, though, proved difficult if not impossible. Merrilee would move on to form her own group with husband Neil Rush (Merrilee & The Turnabouts) and have the huge hit Angel of the Morning. Years later, Tony reformed the band for a short time but then retired.
The Viceroys were as close to a sure thing as Bolo ever had. There is a whole history behind the band’s run, but it started with an instrumental, Granny’s Pad and ended a few years later with That Sound and if you played the two back-to-back, you would not know they are basically the same band. A certain amount of credit has to be given to KZAM radio DJ Little Gordon DeWitty, a very young jock and blind to boot. DeWitty went on a run, playing the single every fifteen minutes and introducing it with a signature “… and now, here’s my fa-a-avorite record again, Granny’s Pad” and it wasn’t long at all before the record was #1 at Seattle’s Warehouse of Music and going strong. It caused such commotion that real estate companies began offering “granny’s pads” for sale and God knows what else. Dot Records, of course, jumped right in and opted it for their label before dropping the ball and allowing it to die. That Sound, released a few years later, was a last gasp as a band and the last record for Bolo. It did well, but not as well as it should have, and the band was courted and signed with Columbia Records as The Surprise Package. Their first release on Columbia was a remake of That Sound, retitled Out of My Mind, which did nothing at all. The Surprise Package shortly thereafter signed with LHI and released an album before dissolving into American Eagle.
Bolo brushed right up against major success with a Texan named Ray Ruff. A disc jockey from KOL radio brought him to Tom’s attention and said that if he was labeled up, the station would give him airplay. Bolo signed him and Pledge of Love, a Buddy Holly-esque track, began making big noise down in Texas and got a smattering of airplay in the Pac NW. Hearing the numbers, Tom got on the horn to the pressing plant and ordered a large number. The day before the records were to be shipped, the pressing plant declared bankruptcy and the record phased out of existence. Today, it is a collectors item both in Texas and the Pacific North West.
Tom, unable to resist the novelty tune syndrome he had picked up during his songwriting days, jumped in with both feet on The Young Men‘s Charlie Browning, too. The Washington Huskies were having a banner year in football, going to the Rose Bowl, and sports and music fans went nuts. Tom had to call Monarch Pressing in California and beg for virtual overnight pressings. The song was a takeoff on The Coasters’ Charlie Brown and while the sales didn’t last, the label burned through a huge number before the record passed into history.
People who had trouble with Jimmy Hanna & The Dynamics‘ approach to R&B got caught with their pants down when Bolo released Leaving Here. Jimmy had taken it to Pat O’Day who, while complimentary, did not add it to KJR’s playlist. KOL, however, jumped all over it. Atlantic Records sniffed it out and the next thing you know, they released it too. While sales did not seem to happen with Atlantic (they never gave an accounting), it did show up later on a couple of radio station compilations, one titledPittsburgh’s Golden Oldies. Tom inquired about the record to Atlantic and the label and they said they would sell the master back for $25,000. According to the contract, an accounting was legally required, so Tom decided Bolo had the rights to the song until an accounting was forthcoming.
And then there was The Dynamics. Remember J.A.J.? It was huge in the Pac NW. Most remember the band as spawning ground for Larry Coryell, but there was more to the band than that. They were a backup band for Jimmy Hanna as well as a band in their own right. Over the years a whole string of musicians of note passed through, the most notable of which was Jeff Afdem. Afdem stayed withThe Dynamics for a number of years before putting together, or maybe just joining, a band called The Springfield Rifle. Few outside of the Northwest are aware of them, but they had two monster hits which received blanket airplay throughout the Pac NW in the late sixties— 100 or Two and It Ain’t Happened.
To really know about Seafair-Bolo, though, you had to know the people. Ellen Ogilvy used to tell the story behind one of Jimmy Hanna’s biggest hits, Genevieve. Bolo had plans to release Genevieve by Hanna when Don Stevenson, later of Moby Grape but who was with The Continentals at the time, brought them a recording they had made of the same track. Because Hanna’s version was already scheduled for release, they had to turn Stevenson down. When Hanna’s version went through the roof, the success was bittersweet. “I hadn’t wanted to tell him (we already had Jimmy’s version in the works) and I felt so bad,” Ellen Ogilvy said. “I always wondered if maybe he thought that we had copied him, but it was really just a coincidence.”
Seafair-Bolo. Keeping the human in the music. Therein is a valuable lesson.