Nardwuar vs. Jerry Dennon
And then God created Jerden Records! Well, maybe not, but come on, throughout the 1960s the Seattle-based Jerden label (and its associated labels Panorama and Piccadilly) did capture on wax many a choice cut of butt-kicking, devastatingly drunken, teen-angst flavoured rawk 'n' rock.
Yessiree, the Pacific Northwest happened to be oozing with punk frat combos at this time and who better to capture them in their full glory, bellowing uncompromising, gut-wrenching noise, than Jerden Records. No, we ain't talking "Freddie and the Creamers" here, just pure Northwest stimulation, courtesy zit-face losers such as The Raymarks, Dave Lewis, Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers (whose "Take a Look at Me" [Panorama 217] was so awesome Tacoma's 1990's teen punks Girl Trouble just had to cover it!), Thee Live Five, The Kingsmen, The Bards, Rocky and His Friends, The Devilles, and the group that could blow away anybody, anywhere, anytime, the...ahem...Sonics!
Kindly Jerden founder, Jerry Dennon, put his ear to the receiver and...
Nardwuar: Who are you?
Jerry Dennon: I'm Jerry Dennon, Nardwuar.
You're not Dave Jerden?
Uh, negative. No, I'm not.
Have you ever been confused with Dave Jerden at all?
Uh, not recently. No.
'Cause when I saw Dave Jerden was doing 54-40 and Faith No More, I was going, "All right, he's going to get that 60's northwest punk feel back", but it wasn't the same. it wasn't Jerry Dennon. You produced the original "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen, right?
That is correct.
Did you produce the actual recording that we hear on the record today?
No, I produced it in the sense that I was not in the studio waving a baton. I caused it to happen in the sense that a guy in the radio station in Portland in 1963 called me up and wanted me to record this group that he had working with him.
So we got involved in The Kingsmen, kind of sight unseen. But I insisted that they do "Louie Louie". I'm not even sure Ken Chase was there but that's how -- Ken Chase and Jerry Dennon get credit for producing it actually. My role in producing it was in the sense that we put it out on our own label and we worked for many long weeks before the thing finally happened for us.
What label was that?
It was on, guess what, the Jerden label. ("Louie Louie" b/w "Haunted Castle", Jerden #712)
To be asked to release The Kingsmen, you must have had an established relationship in the music field to begin with.
At that time, I was also doing promotion with other labels so the radio station population knew me and I had been putting out a couple of other things on local groups in the Northwest area. That is how Ken Chase was aware of me.
That's great! They phoned you up to release it.
You've got it.
How did the Sande label play a part in this?
The memory is foggy but I can tell you what I do recall. Another person at a competitive radio station -- and this is back in the days of AM radio and basically you had two competitors in Portland. One was a little more successful than the other, KISN...Ken Chase was the program director there. His competitor was a station known as KGON, and there was a fellow there named Roger Hart who had an afternoon shift. At any rate, he also managed a group called Paul Revere and The Raiders. From some sort of competitive situation, Roger and The Raiders cut "Louie Louie" and put it out on Roger's own label, which was Sande. He actually had success ahead of us in the sense that he was able to convert that Sande release into a recording contract for the Raiders with Columbia. They took on "Louie Louie" and started having good success with it.
Fortunately the gods were smiling on me because within a few weeks of that time we were able to break the record through a friend of mine in Boston and a label called Scepter Wand out of New York was very expensive. We did an instantaneous deal with them. They put the record out. they really knew more about street level promotion of rhythm and blues and rock product that Columbia and they just literally beat Columbia on every market across the country, with the exception of Denver or something.
You really had the connections!
We worked hard at it.
Your past musical experience had been with ERA Records and Dolton before Jerden?
ERA was a little independent in Los Angeles that had some neat success in the 50's and into the 60's. That was good ground for me to learn about the business. Prior to that, I was here in Seattle with a label that was a total startup that also had some neat success in 1959 when our first release, which was something called "Come Softly To Me" by The Fleetwoods, went to number one in the country. so we had some real street level knowledge of how to get records on the radio and make them work. We got lucky.
Have you ever heard of Fred Cole of Dead Moon and Weeds fame?
Only names. That's all they are to me, just names.
He has the actual machine that "Louie Louie" was mastered on.
You've got to be kidding me.
No, he continues pressing 45's on his Tombstone record label and he masters them on the actual machine that "Louie Louie" was mastered on.
What a guy!
He lives in Portland.
I did not know that.
Just think, this legendary machine he has. And just think, if he could bring you together to that mchine, he'd have two thirds of the ingredients.
Ha ha! I don't know where that takes us, but that's a lot of fun anyways.
Where is the actual equipment that The Kingsmen recorded "Louie Louie" on?
I have no idea but it was done very archaically. I guess, at the time, it would not have been a studio that would have been called state-of-the-art recording but it was an okay studio. It really was not a music studio. It was called Northwestern Recording in Portland, and their claim to fame, really what kept them in business, was doing advertising work. Music wasn't really their normal thing. The group went in as an accommodation because at least one of the guys in the group, at the time when they were recording, was going to high school so they literally couldn't get out of town. I am assuming that Northwestern was probably one of a couple of studioes in town that actually had the equipment to record music, though they were not known for that sort of thing. So where the equipment is, God only knows.
There's a cool drum sound on that recording. The whole sound of "Louie Louie" is like one of the most excellent sounding records, I think, ever. Ever. Really, it's just the ultimate.
Let's face it, a lot of people get lucky but in those days people thought monoaurally. People thought as far as balance when you were doing something and recording something live, you were really cognizant of the balance then. You know, later, when you started getting multitrack recording and everyone got an isolated track, it wasn't that important to try and get the total right out of the get-go. And I'm talking about a recording technique which is recording with a handful of microphones in a live room.
Did you ever do actual miking or --
Oh yeah, as the years went by...Most of the stuff we did -- you have to realize we're talking now 1963 -- was state of the art and at that time it was still two track recording. We just experimented and if we like the sound we went with it. it wasn't high tech. It was just gut and ear at the time. Later it became three track recording and then, oh boy, big time in the late 60's it became eight track [recording].
And you're Jerry Dennon! Speaking live from the Jerden Record offices in downtown Seattle, Washington.
That's correct. We've reactivated the company. Originally Jerden was started in 1960 here in Seattle. It was active through the 60's. I've had different names, and got out of the business a couple of times and then last year in September of 1991, I decided to get back into the music business and tap into some of the stuff in our vaults. We just said, "Why not? Let's call it Jerden, re-establish the label, and start over and have some fun."
"Louie Louie" only cost $37 to record?
Actually I think it was $44 but we don't need to get that technical.
$44. It went on to make millions, obviously. Do you get any sort of credit for being on the actual label, you know, "Produced by Jerry Dennon"?
I don't recall...
Any royalties, or...?
Oh no. You see, what happened, it's a very sad story and I won't get into the details. Scepter Wand went into bankruptcy sometime in the early 70's --
How could they? They made all that money off of "Louie Louie"?
Well, that's a good question. That might take a few more days to get an answer to. To make a long story short, the actual royalties that are due The Kingsmen group and that are due Jerry Dennon are probably in the millions of dollars and we don't see any of it. That's a very touchy issue that is probably going into some sort of legal resolution very shortly.
So the band almost got nothing for that?
Since Scepter Wand went out of business, the royalty stream stopped. So, all these records you pick up on labels like -- and I don't mean any disrespect because they are all nice people -- like Rhino, and someone just sent me a CD from England on the Charly label, those are basically all rip-offs. They are legal rip-offs but they are rip-offs because we don't get anything, The Kingsmen don't get anything. This happens in the music business. It's very sad but it's something we are trying to go back and resolve in some fashion.
Another interesting thing about "Louie Louie" is that when The Kingsmen were on TV shows they weren't allowed to lip-sync to the actual version of "Louie Louie"?
Well, again, I don't mean to get into anybody's face or bend anybody's nose but the story, which I am sure you probably know, is from the time when the record first broke. We're talking now November of 1963, Jack Ely was in the recording session and was an original member of the group. For whatever reason he left the group before the record was ever released --
And he was the one that sung on the record.
You got it. So now you've got a unique situation; you've got an act which has the number one record in the country and Lynn Easton, a very nice man but not the lead singer originally, and Lynn struggled as far as getting into singing it because, obviously, he couldn't do the same job and was not sounding like Jack Ely. That's my sense of the story behind it.
Why did The Sonics switch from Etiquette Records to Jerden? Was it something to do with you having national distribution?
That's correct. There were actually a couple of things. Looking back, I think the etiquette people did a wonderful job with The Sonics, but two things happened in 1964-1965. One, they had a monster hit with "Psycho" and "The Witch" locally but they didn't sell enough copies outside of Washington, or Oregon or whatever got into B.C. Nothing happened nationally so I am sure the group got disillusioned with this incredible monster hit --
Did any other groups have big local hits?
To my knowledge, no one had as big a regional single other than, and unfortunately it happened to Etiquette again, "Louie Louie" by Rockin' Robin Roberts. It was a monster hit in the state of Washington, etcetera. Nothing nationally.
So, my sense is that two things happened: The Sonics had this regional success but they couldn't spread; and you also had the fact that the Etiquette label is owned by a very major group in the Pacific Northwest called The Wailers. The Wailers and The Sonics are, in a sense, competitive, so that was what I think influenced the group to leave and come over to us. We did have national distribution and we're the people who finally got the group happening in some other markets. Unfortunately, we were never able to really break them nationally. We got close by the time the group started changing personnel.
Was it hard to get your product out if you were an independent label in the Pacific Northwest in the 1960's? I mean, did most bands who put out a single sell them off the stage?
Yeah, I don't think it was quite as refined as it is now, but there was either somebody who had a little label and didn't have distribution and/or they sold them off the bandstand, or that type of tihng. Again, we were the only people, as I recall, during that period of time who had national distribution.
How about in the northwest? Were there stores willing to take stuff on consignment, like Woolworth's or any of the chain stores?
Back in those days it was easier to get into but there were less chains, like you just talked about. Now, in the industry, it is proliferated by a handful of national chains that have megastores all over. We're even having difficulty getting into those outlets that have that kind of mentality.
Are The Sonics in Fred Meyer today?
They are not.
Oh! It would be great if they were.
As a matter of fact, there was an ad in something that I read down here and it was SubPop. They've come out with their Classic Series, that includes Nirvana and what have you, and it's an ad with Fred Meyer. I would hasten to suggest that that's the first SubPop product to make it into Fred Meyer since the inception of that company.
Where is Jerry Roslie, lead screamer of The Sonics?
Lead singer, writer, really the kind of central creative force. I can only tell you hearsay. I am told that he works with his son in some sort of construction or building activity, in the Tacoma, Olympia, or the Centralia region. I have not been able to reach him. I have left phone messages; apparently he has been consistent in not responding to anyone.
The Kingsmen are not getting any royalties. Has Jerry Roslie received any payments?
He will get royalties, as will all The Sonics, on the product we have. If I can get a plug in, that's the album we've just released now, "Maintaining My Cool". We are paying royalties from day one to that group. As far as royalties from any other records, I don't know.
Have you, Jerry Dennon, legendary 60's punk producer, heard of The Sonics tribute album which has been out for a couple of years now, "Here Ain't The Sonics"?
You got it. I was pressented one of those about a year-plus ago. It's great and I love it.
Did Jerden have a hard time capturing The Sonics on wax?
As long as we maintained the integrity of keeping it like they were doing it live, I shouldn't say it was easy, it was relatively easy. When they came to Jerden, looking back in hindsight, they themselves were looking to get a slightly different image than being -- although punk was not a word then -- the screaming, psycho...They were trying to find something that was probably a little more playable for radio stations. I'm not sure what the motivation was, but we obviously had some sort of indirect influence that, when I look back on it now, I regret because they softened their sound the longer they were with us.
Were they happy with their previous recordings?
They were generally so. In the main, I think they weren't. When we first came, I think they were hoping they would have a little bit more freedom in what they were doing, and we involved them both in recording them in Seattle and enabling them to go to Los Angeles. We cut some things in LA in a neat studio down there that's quite well known called Goldstar. We brought in an engineer who had worked with Phil Spector by the name of Larry Levine. So we extended their perspective somewhat while they were with us.
The Sonics recorded the Zappa tune "Any Way The Wind Blows" when they were on Jerden!
That's crazy, man! Was Jerry Roslie a big Zappa fan or...
Oh yes. Absolutely.
Did Zappa ever know that The Sonics recorded that song?
I would have presumed but I do not know that for a fact. I've never talked to Zappa so I have no idea.
Is there a lot of stuff in the Jerden vaults?
Yes, we've got a lot of stuff, thank God. I'm just discovering the tape, although it's thirty years old, has held up beautifully. So, currently we're going in to edit the first in a series of albums called "The History Of Northwest Rock". There will be twenty selections on that with a variety of groups that I think people will like a lot. Peter Blecha, the rock historian, is involved in the project.
And I am also in the studio editing, getting back to The Kingsmen, tapes that no one has ever heard. Actually, the group has never heard them because after "Louie Louie" hit we were asked by the label to go and get an album ready as soon as possible. And due to the fact that one or two of the guys were in school and had other constraints, we ended up having to do live recording at The Chase. The original album, the Louie Louie album, that stayed on Billboard's chart for over three years was actually a live recording except for the "Louie Louie" cut that was dubbed onto it. The rest of those two days of sessions has never been heard.
Anyway, I am editing right now and the album will contain something that has never been heard by anybody, and that's "Louie Louie" with drummer Lynn Easton singing lead, so that's going to be kind of fun. But we're going to be cdoming out with a variety of stuff from a lot of different groups that we had going on at the time.
Jerden Records released some Vancouver groups...
With Terry Jacks!
You got it. I think we did his first record. ("Mustang" b/s "Meadowlands", Jerden #743)
You also did the Hi-Fives. ("Going Away" b/w "Tort", Jerden #730)
That's correct. Absolutely. They should have been a big-time group.
Didnt' Jerden release something by the Devilles featuring Wayne Gust?
They're from Vancouver.
You know, I've forgotten that. And later we did The Kingsmen doing one of their song, "Searchin' for Love". ("Searchin' For Love" b/w "Mary Lee", Jerden #7)
What are your memories of the Vancouver scene in the 1960's?
It was great. I had a neat relationship with Red Robinson. He and I were actually roommates when he was on KGW in Portland in 1959. Red, for a while, was going to make it in the United States. He was in Portland for a year or two and then he got his draft notice. I think he spent some time in Uncle Sam's wonderful U.S. army, and the day he got out of the army, he got on a plane and went back to Vancouver. I don't think Red's ever left since. Anyway, Red was a great conduit for me to Vancouver at the time. I love Vancouver. In retrospect, I wished we had done more things up there.
There are some spoken word albums coming out on Jerden, like Beatles press conferences. Those aren't the ones that Red did?
Those are exactly the same thing. Red is the producer, Red is the source.
But that's Red doing the interview, one of his legendary interviews, in cool.
I talked to Red a couple of years ago. I asked Red if he had ever heard of The Sonics, and Red said, "Ahh, they were just a bunch of guys in the garage". And I said, "Argh, how dare you say this!"
You recorded Ian Whitcomb.
Legend has it that when he was recording the song "You Turn Me On", an ashtray dropped and made him falsetto his voice. Is that true?
The falsetto part I'm not sure about, but the ashtray part, yes. You can hear it on the recording. We actually did a couple of takes on that song; on one of the takes it's on there, and on the other it isn't but yes, you can hear it.
Mr. Dennon, do you have any Elvis 1962 World's Fair stories at all?
I do not, I was not here in 1962. I was in California saluting everything. I was in the army so I missed the World's Fair.
Speaking of the army, how about any Hendrix barfing accounts?
Unfortunately, no... he did hang out at his studio that we later did a lot of recording in. I missed the whole Jimi Hendrix thing. He did almost nothing locally so very few people were really aware of him in Seattle because, as you know, he was discovered in England.
How about Brian Jones pants-stealing episodes?
I don't have any of those. Yikes, we should have rehearsed this...
Where are the Paul Revere & the Raiders costumes? Are they available for purchase?
I would think so. If you send the right amount of money to Paul, I am sure he'll send you one.
Don Grady of the TV show "My Three Sons" apparently played in the Northwest-based band The Yellow Balloon.
I couldn't attest to it as fact.
Was the media very supportive of the Northwest rock scene in the 1960's?
To a point, yes. In many ways they were moreso then than they are now, but it's all changed.
Back then, did there happen to be anything like the Seattle Rocket magazine?
No. For awhile I published something called -- regrettably-- "Disc A Go Go" which was kind of a knockoff of some of the tabloids coming out of England at the time. That was for a couple of years in the mid-60's. But not until The Rocket came along was there really anything in that style.
Do any videos or films exist of this era?
To my knowledge, negative.
Aww! There would be so much cool stuff, like the Wailers were on American Bandstand.
Yeah, for instance, Ian Whitcomb was on Shindig. I've got a kinescope, which is a negative film of the show. The Kingsmen have some video of when they were on Shindig. That type of thing is available but I don't know how many people have copies of it.
There is a Northwest Music Archive, though, right? Spearheaded by Peter Blecha.
That's correct. That is going to happen but they're still looking for funding. They're going to have a display at the Museum of History and Industry here in Seattle, but they're still looking for endowments and what have you.
And finally, Jerry Dennon of the legendary -- do you like being called "legendary 1960's punk rock producer"?
I think it's the first time but I love it.
Who is your favourite 1990's rock'n'roll ensemble?
That's very difficult...Paisley Sin. They have been around the market for several years but they have some of the same elements for me and my ear of what the Sonics were all about. You have to realize that I'm kind of locked into liking a certain type of music. I appreciate a lot of the other types of music I hear but I don't necessarily get into the groove of what is happening. It's a different step from where I was. it's not the same kind of music as what we were doing with the Sonics. Some I like, some I don't.
It's great that could name at least one group.
See? You didn't think I could, did you? And I know all about TAD and all the famous people from here.
Who is the Prime Minister of Canada?
It's the man whose name starts with an "M". Is he still there?
Okay. Thanks very much and keep on rockin' in the free world.
Thanks, you too.
(For extra Northwest 60's rock stimulation,
check out "Dance Halls, Armouries & Teen Fairs"
by Don Rogers, available (I think!) through
Dionysus Records, PO Box 1975, Burbank, CA
91507 USA...Oh yeah, write Jerden Records at
PO Box 4740, Seattle, WA, 98104 USA.)
Interview done over the phone, August 1992.