[This story will be way short on period photos, because I just couldn’t find many actual photos from back in the day. I had to use mainly stock photos culled from the internet. — Although I did find some band photos on the Pacific NW Bands website.]
Hey, I’m 67! I’ll be able to make that fantastic claim for several more months; but every April, my ability to do math is tested, if you know what I mean. – With that in mind, let me share this additional factoid with you: whenever I happen to see a group of teenagers/millennials having good fun, I say a little prayer of thanks, and then I make a request that whatever is bringing them happiness will continue. Because when I was their age, I was having a ball.
In the mid-60’s, having achieved my teen-aged status, my town of Yakima, WA, and its surrounding area happened to have within its population many great young rock bands. On weekend nights, young music fans could choose from several venues where they could hear these bands perform their favorite songs. Venues included the Women’s Century Center, Ike High, the YMCA, and the Knights Of Columbus Hall, or KC Hall, as we called it. Excepting for Ike High, these venues were located fairly close to downtown Yakima. Of them all, the KC Hall was my favorite. It was located on 9th Avenue between Yakima and Summitview, at the bottom of the hill below the Freezer drive-in, to the east a little….
I remember: every time I was fortunate enough to walk into the even-then old building, I was captured by its special magic. I remember the big, old set of wooden stairs we’d descend in order to get to the ballroom where the dances were held. The ballroom was so atmospheric — darkened, it was equipped with chairs and little tables for kids who wanted to sit and visit; it had a big, wide dance floor in front of an impressively large stage. On many a weekend night, I would sit at one of the tables that offered a view of the top of the stairs, so I could see who was coming in. I remember that a group of cool Mexican kids would always come in a little late, dressed to the nines. They were definitely the best-dressed kids in the place. — Some of my fellow white kids had whispered to me to watch out for them; that they could get violent. Speaking from experience, I can say that this was ignorant, unfair talk. I can say that I had a good relationship with the Mexican kids. The guy who seemed to be the group’s leader, a well-dressed young man decked out in a full-length top coat, would nod solemnly and politely when he saw me, and I would do the same in return. When I look back now, I’m left wishing we could have both been a little braver – so that we could have become pals. But instead, we kept a polite distance.
No, I never saw a fight break out in the KC Hall, and from what I remember, everyone in attendance was well-behaved. Like teenagers from all over America — heck, from all over the world — we were there to meet the opposite sex, share a Coke, dance ‘till we dropped, and listen to some good, live music. – Thinking back, the edgiest thing I remember happening was when the off-duty cop hired to keep everything copacetic had to tell a certain young girl who was sitting on a certain young guy’s lap to get off. That just wasn’t proper behavior at the KC. – And she did. She immediately got off my lap! — Well, she was sweet, and so cute, in her yellow granny dress….
I was very fortunate to not only attend dances at the Hall, I played music at them, as well. — I joined my first band, as rhythm guitarist, when I was fourteen, in 1963. I had a Harmony electric and a nice Epiphone amp, which my folks bought for me on payments. The combo was a four-piece Naches-based instrumental band called the Esquires. We played various halls which lay north of Yakima. I don’t think we ever did play the KC Hall; I’m not sure. I remember the band was led by two brothers; one played really good lead guitar, one played bass. We played popular surf and Northwest instrumentals, and originals with titles like “Walkin’ With Sherry”, which was written in tribute to our lead guitarist’s girlfriend. I forget his name; but our drummer was Yakima’s Lynn Erickson, a really cool guy with blond hair, who rode around town on a motorcycle. In the Esquires, we sported ascots, Beatle boots and matching Epiphone amps.
I was also in a short-lived Yakima band called Edgar Allen Poe and the Ravens. We tried to hold practices in our back yard on Cascade Drive, but a school teacher/wrestling coach who lived a couple of houses from us would come over and complain about our noise, and we’d have to stop, much to the dismay of the neighborhood kids who’d gathered to hear us rehearse. We played many of the mid-60’s hits, especially songs from Northwest groups like the Viceroys, the Ventures and the Wailers. Once again, I don’t remember if that particular outfit played the KC Hall. However, I grew to know a lot of the area’s young musicians, and I do remember this: in 1963 or ‘64, one of my musician friends got a call from the man who booked the bands for the KC hall. He needed a band on an urgent basis, because the scheduled band had to pull out. My friend rang a few of us up, we had a couple of practices, and we quickly assembled a band we called the Zebulons. Perhaps you caught our act. We played all instrumentals. I had yet to become a lead singer. — Which would not have mattered, because we lacked a PA system to sing through. Few bands had PA’s, which is why there were so many instrumental bands. I remember that some bands rented PA’s from Wyatt TV for twenty-five bucks a night….
That said, the KC Hall was where I finally learned to sing lead in front of a band. I was well-known to, and friends with, a lot of the bands that played there, and some of them would have me get on stage and sing Twist And Shout with them. That was the only song I knew the words to. But it was a start. By singing that song at a few dances, I built up my confidence; and I used that experience as a jumping off point to becoming a lead singer. — Just one more reason for me to look back so fondly on the KC Hall. – I wasn’t the only one who sat in with the bands; it was rather common for different kids in the audience to get up and do a song or two with the various bands. We were friends, and we enjoyed jamming a little. I remember a really nice, young African-American guy would often get up and do a great turn on a beautiful ballad called For Your Love.
I don’t recall if the Velvet Illusions, the most notable band I was in, played a gig at the KC. We usually rented the Nob Hill Grange, where we produced our own dances, often inviting another local band, the Fluorescents, to share the bill with us.
I can name some of the great area bands that I danced to at the KC hall: There were the aforementioned Fluorescents, led by guitarist/singer Chuck Gregory, who used a beautiful Gibson hollow-bodied guitar, which you can see in the photo, above. His band was the first live rock band I ever saw. Chuck had been enrolled in a class that my dad, Al “Cowboy Pinkeye” Bowles taught. One day, Chuck brought his guitar to class, to play for my dad and the other students. Dad came home one evening, raving about this amazing guitar player in his class, who played a lot like Buddy Holly. (Dad had been a rock jock at KLOQ and KUTI, so he knew his music.) Dad encouraged me to find out where the Fluorescents were playing, and to go see them. I laugh when I think about how I was just thirteen or so, and here was my dad, actually encouraging me to go hear rock music! Well, I eventually caught the Fluorescents at the KC Hall, where I naturally fell in love with their music. Their very polished drummer, a guy I didn’t know at the time, was the fabulous Stan Ruehlow, with whom I later played in every blue-collar country tavern and bar in Yakima, in the early 70’s.
Other bands I danced to and got to know at the KC were the Majestics, who had Roger Mack doing vocals, and the great Rich Meader manning the drum kit. I was friends with Rich’s younger brother Frank.
I remember hanging out with Frank and our mutual friend, guitarist Tony Rogers (who taught me how to play Louie Louie), in Frank’s parent’s basement near Fruitvale, where the Majestics equipment was set up. There was an awesome cherry-red Gibson SG guitar there, and Frank would let me pick it up and play it. It was so excellent; it practically played itself. – The neck was smooth as butter. That guitar would be worth a small fortune today. If you don’t believe me, just watch Antiques Roadshow. You’ll see one….
For some reason, there were many really fine guitars in Yakima. Perhaps it was due to our town having several good music stores, such as Lee’s Music, Wright’s Music, and Talcott’s Music. But yeah, there were Fender Strats and Telecasters, and Gibson Les Pauls (West Valley’s very talented Carolyn Daniels had a gold-top Les Paul, which she inherited from her brother, who died young. Now, that guitar would really command a high price).
I can’t recall their moniker, but a great R&B band from the lower valley played quite a few of the dances I attended. They were fronted by a small, Filipino or Mexican sax player/singer who could just wail on the sax, and who danced a little like James Brown. Now, that might sound like I’m talking about the Flames, who definitely played the KC; but I think they played there before I was old enough to go hear them. According to the Pacific Northwest Bands website, the Flames played the KC Hall from 1958-1962. I didn’t start going there until 1963 at the very earliest. But I would love it, if it turned out that the band with the great sax player, which I saw maybe ten times, actually was the Flames. Because to this day, they are legendary around Yakima. (Their Xavier Ramirez is a member of our Yakima Facebook group.) The Flames were one of the first area bands who played music with a beat that teens could relate to, rather than playing the “standards” that the older set preferred to dance to. Ditto for the Checkers, another band I was most-likely too young to see.
Another group I did see, quite often, at the KC Hall was the Bossmen, who I believe were from the Lower Valley. They featured the Zander brothers. Lead guitarist Bob Zander was just fantastic. His brother, whose name is lost to me, played keyboards. The Bossmen were more bluesy than most other bands from back then. Their signature number was Big Boss Man, which was later covered by the one and only Grateful Dead, out of San Francisco.
A bit about the kids I remember rubbing shoulders with: many of the girls wore granny dresses made from flower-print fabric; or they wore mini-skirts with cute tops. And boys favored stovepipe pants or wide-wale cords and flashy shirts, or velour pullovers in beautiful colors of royal blue, burgundy, forest green, black…. Styles were changing. We young people were definitely dressing with more flare. We had ditched the more dressy slacks and, oh, what would I call them (I’m a guy) — more “straight-laced” dresses. The YMCA dance crowd still dressed that way; but we KC Hall kids were into the cool fashions.
I would say we who frequented the KC Hall came up from more blue collar families. I think most of us were Davis High students/grads, or kids from Catholic schools. I was from West Valley. — We weren’t necessarily from Ike High; we weren’t the richest kids in Yakima. But we were music lovers who made it a weekend ritual to gather to visit, dance, and listen to oftentimes great music.
Speaking of Ike High, it had some memorable dances too, which I believe were held in the large cafeteria. I can’t even say how many times I danced to Danny and the Seniors at Ike. I remember a bunch of older guys would do the Gator, until a chaperone would make them stop.
I went to my share of “Y” dances, too, on Yakima Avenue. I played one with Carolyn Daniels, in her band, Carol and the Kaotics, with Steve Lafferty on his Fender lead guitar and Gary McClanahan stationed behind his beautiful Ludwig drums. The “Y” had a lot of rules. When we showed up for the gig, Carolyn was wearing a beautiful pants outfit. Some old men from the “Y” made her drive all the way home to West Valley, to put on a dress, before they’d let her take the stage. — Hmmm.
All of that said, nothing beat the KC Hall. After listening to a night’s-worth of Northwest and nationally-famous rock songs like J.A.J., Granny’s Pad, Walk Don’t Run ’64, Tall Cool One, Unchained Melody, Busybody and Slippin’ and Slidin’, I’d get a ride home and eventually tumble into bed, with the music still reverberating in my head for a good hour or two, while I came down from the natural high, finally drifting off into the deep slumber of a worn-out teen-aged boy.
And finally: on special weekends, bands with bigger names would play for us at the KC. I remember bands like Mr. Lucky and the Gamblers, and Don and the Goodtimes being on the bill. The most famous band I saw at the venue would have been the Knickerbockers, who had the hit, Lies. They seemed to take a liking to the KC Hall, because they played there several times. I actually got tired of hearing the Knickerbockers! I thought quite a few of our local bands were just as good, to tell you the truth. For some reason, Yakima was blessed with pretty girls who loved to dance, and hot guitar players, who loved to play. What a time to be growing up! I thank my lucky stars for those magic nights at the KC Hall, and Yakima’s other great teen dance venues. In my reminiscing, I’m still dancing the night away — with the sweet girl in the yellow granny dress.
In 2003, I had the honor of leading two members of Pacific Northwest rock royalty, Jim Valley and Fred Zeufeldt of the Viceroys, who wrote the legendary song, Granny’s Pad, which every Yakima band worth its salt would play, on a tour through Seattle’s Experience Music Project (which is now called MoPop). We had a great visit, shooting the breeze about Washington State’s sixties music scene. — After Jim Valley’s stint with the Viceroy’s, he joined Paul Revere and the Raiders, where he became known as “Harpo”. On another occasion, during our EMP grand opening, bassist “Fang”, and drummer “Smitty” of the Raiders jammed with a bunch of us in Sound Lab. And, a guitarist that Stan Ruehlow and I played Yakima’s country bars with, a young, talented fellow named Dan Davis, also went on to join a later version of the Raiders, where I’m sure he shined. – Everything, and everyone, it seems, is connected.
When I grew a little older, in the late 60’s, I began frequenting different venues. I loved going to the short-lived Electric Angel and the Gallery, where we hippies hung out. And of course, I loved the Downtown, the huge converted bowling alley that featured incredible touring bands, which I recently blogged about.
Go to this excellent site to see mass photos and stories of Yakima bands: http://pnwbands.com/nwtributes60.html
Here’s a song with some Northwest history: performing a song written by Yakima’s great Jerry Merritt, once a member of Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps, here are my Velvet Illusions in 1966, doing Town of Fools, with yours truly doing lead vocals:
Thank you to my old classmate Bill Burrill, for nailing down the location of the KC for me. It had been so, so long, and I wasn’t sure of that factoid. Bill has a good memory.