In the late 50’s and early 60’s there was a struggle to define a rock sound. Elvis and Buddy Holly emerged from the south. Frankie Valli and the neo-crooners came out of the northeast, Chuck Berry exploded out of St. Louis and Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Little Walter labored in relative obscurity in Chicago until their music was popularized by the British Invasion.
But in the Northwest, we had our own thing going on, and it didn’t sound like the rock music coming out of any other part of the United States. From Portland to Seattle, from Idaho to points by the Pacific Ocean, bands traveled the region playing their songs in ballrooms and clubs.
Lots of them you never heard of. No not Heart or Nirvana, they came later. But these were legit rockers: the Kingsmen from Portland, the Frantics from Seattle, The Wailers and later The Sonics from Tacoma, my adopted home town. For 1957-65 their music was edgy, even raw. Often instrumental only, the bands had strong guitar leads, a screaming sax, and if there was a lead vocal it wasn’t someone trying to sound pretty. They played lots of covers. One of them, “Louie, Louie,” is anthemic. “Louie” is a Richard Berry song, an African American R & B artist who made frequent trips to the clubs on Seattle’s Jackson Street. He also wrote the gut buster “Have Love Will Travel,” covered by a host of Northwest bands including the Sonics and later The Black Keys.
Northwest bands have a unique sound, distinct from any other region in the early rock and roll era. It is often given the label, garage rock. I’ve always found that term to be disparaging, more like lightweight, crude, not to be taken seriously. It’s true that none of the big labels were recording Northwest bands until 1964-65, unless they went elsewhere, like Tacoma’s Ventures. But the music deserves serious reconsideration. Each of the artists named in paragraph one is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, honoring important influence on the growth of a nascent rock and roll era. There should be an entry from the Northwest showcasing the talent from this era too. My nominee is Paul Revere and the Raiders.
Without recounting their entire biography, Paul Revere and his band migrated from Idaho to Portland and toured the Pacific Northwest. They took part in Battle of the Bands competitions in clubs and ballrooms. They dressed in Revolutionary War uniforms and were known for two things: musicianship and showmanship. They knew how to have a good time, but they also put on a great show. In 1964 they signed with CBS Records, and put out string of hit singles, and some very good LP’s. But, I want to focus on just three.
The first of the CBS records was recorded in 1964, but released in 1965 as Here They Come. It’s an interesting record, mostly covers. Side A is recorded live in-studio, so the listener gets a sense of what the Raiders may have sounded like in front of a live audience. It’s fun and rowdy. Side B is not live and is mostly mostly covers demonstrating vocalist Mark Lindsay’s range, from the Rolling Stones’ “Time Is On My Side” to Peggy Lee’s “Fever.” The record serves two purposes. It got the band some national notice as direct competition for the British Invasion, and it jumped on the Paul Revere and the Raiders bandwagon just as they signed with Dick Clark’s Where the Action Is television show.
But the second CBS record, Just Like Us is the PR&R masterpiece. Though the album is still full of covers, including (I Can;t Get No) Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones and I’m Crying by the Animals, it has two hit singles Here We Come lacked. “Stepping Out” and “Just Like Me” are both R & B influenced rockers. The latter features blistering guitar work by 19 year-old Drake Levin, and is the first double-tracked guitar solo. Just Like Us got the band on the national map. They were on television every day. The were getting AM air play with hit singles. It was their first record to go gold.
Most importantly, Here They Come and Just Like Us gave Americans a look inside what we already knew in the Northwest. There was a vibrant R & B based rock sound in this corner of the country. Though there wasn’t a rush to sign Northwest bands to national contracts as there was during the Grunge revolution in the 1990’s, bands like Don and the Good Times made appearances on Action and the area did receive some recognition.
The third record is In the Beginning, and isn’t from a CBS affiliate at all. It was a collection of pre-CBS recordings released originally on the Sande label in 1963 and later by Jerden in 1966. Though a clear effort to cash in on the band’s fame, it gives a look inside the kind of music the Raiders were playing in their scuffling years. Covers of “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and “Don’t Be Cruel” are included with the frat rockers “Mojo Workout” and “Crisco.”
All three records are readily available. The two albums released on Columbia are usually available for ten bucks or less, In the Beginning cost probably double that. In all, the entire Paul Revere and the Raiders catalog is pretty available and inexpensive. However, as appreciation for the early style has grown, they have grabbed the attention of Sundazed in America, Magic Records in France, and Raven in Australia, though none of the re-releases are on vinyl (boo-hiss!!)
The Raiders recorded many LP’s and released a lot of singles. They always suffered from the pressure to commercially compete with whatever was new. A huge lineup change in 1967 brought in more studio sidemen, replacing guitarist Jim “Harpo” Valley, bassist, Phil Volk, and drummer Mike Smith. After 1967’s Revolution, the uniforms were gone in recognition that their audience was marching against the war in Vietnam. They were also TV stars, appearing on Where the Action Is and later Clark’s Happening ’68. More attention was focused on the handsome, talented Mark Lindsay and records appeared as Paul Revere and the Raiders featuring Mark Lindsay.
The rest is history.The band continued recording successfully into the 1970’s when they simply fell out of touch with the youth market and Columbia dropped them. Lindsay had a brief, successful solo career. Mostly importantly, Revere continued on the road with one permutation of the band or another, complete with uniforms until his death last year at age 76.
Based on their success, their longevity and, importantly, sharing the Northwest sound with a national audience, Paul Revere and the Raiders should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.