These Jet City staples also played key roles in laying the groundwork for the Great Grunge Explosion
Green River’s place in Seattle music history will always be assured, due to the band’s members heading on to greater glory in Pearl Jam and Mudhoney. Here are five other under-the-radar Seattle acts who are ripe for rediscovery:
Blackouts: Formed in 1979, this sharp four-piece outfit was from the spikier end of the post-punk spectrum. They were taut and edgy, with the bass pushed up in the mix, keyboards lurking in the corner, with lead singer/guitarist Erich Werner’s high-pitched, strained vocals adding a sense of desperation. They left for Boston in 1982, where Al Jourgensen produced their last EP. In 1984, they relocated to San Francisco, but soon disbanded, Jourgensen scooping up Paul and Roland Barker (keyboards and bass, respectively) and Bill Rieflin (drums) for Ministry. Werner resurfaced in Toiling Midgets; Rieflen went on to drum for R.E.M. Their entire output is available on History in Reverse (K Records).
U-Men: In typical punk rock fashion, the U-Men came together in 1980 out of boredom; “There was nothing else to do,” guitarist Tom Price explained to me. And Price and drummer Chas Ryan tapped the towering John Bigley to join their nascent group just because he looked like a singer; they had no idea if he even could sing. But their hunch paid off handsomely, as Bigley learned to navigate from a booming bass rattle to hell-raising screams with ease. The U-Men’s punk ‘n’ roll was best experienced live, their very unpredictability making them a natural draw from bars and clubs to art galleries and warehouses. Price later played in Gas Huffer; bassist Jim Tillman went on to Love Battery. The excellent anthology U-Men (Sub Pop) includes everything the group ever recorded.
Malfunkshun/Mother Love Bone: Before Pearl Jam there was Mother Love Bone, and before Mother Love Bone there was Malfunkshun, which was where Andrew Wood, aka “Landrew, The Love Child” got his start in 1980. Wood had chosen rock stardom as a career after seeing a Kiss/Cheap Trick concert in Seattle when he was 11 years old, and the glam influence would always be prominent in his work. While still in Malfunkshun, he began jamming with some of Green River’s members, leading to creation of a new group, which Wood insisted take on the name Mother Love Bone (leading another Seattle band to jokingly dub themselves Daddy Hate Box). The band fused glam and metal into something shiny and new, leading to a major label deal with PolyGram. But days before the planned release of their debut album, Apple, on March 19, 1990, Wood died of a heroin overdose, at age 24. The Malfunkshun: The Andrew Wood Story CD/DVD set (Hip-O-Select) has music and a documentary; Mother Love Bone (Stardog/Mercury) and On Earth As It Is: The Complete Works (Monkeywrench) tell the rest of of the story.
Jesse Bernstein: Steven “Jesse” Bernstein was the gnarly-voiced poet laureate of the Seattle music scene, featured on the legendary Sub Pop 200 compilation, and opening for the likes of Nirvana and Big Black. His performances could be confrontational; when a heckler shouted out “We want music!” during Bernstein’s opening set for Big Black, he promptly snarled back “This is music, asshole!” But his readings could also be mesmerizing, drawing praise from his friend and mentor William S. Burroughs. Prison (Sub Pop) set his spoken words against musical soundscapes created by Steve Fisk; the track “No No Man (Part One)” can be heard during the opening credits of Natural Born Killers. Bernstein, who struggled with mental issues and substance abuse, committed suicide on October 22, 1991.
Room Nine/Love Battery: Room Nine entered the 1980s tripping the light fantastic, known for their exceptionally loud performances, and trippy light show. After the release of Voices…Of a Summer’s Day (C’est La Mort Records) in 1987, the band dissolved and vocalist/guitarist Ron Rudzitis, aka Ron Nine, brought his psychedelic leanings to his next outfit, Love Battery. A veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers made their way through the band’s lineup over the years: Dan Peters (Mudhoney), Jason Finn (Presidents of the United States of America), Jim Tillman (the U-Men), Bruce Fairweather (Green River, Mother Love Bone), Mike Musburger (Posies). Tip: the records on Sub Pop (Between the Eyes, Dayglo, Far Gone) are stronger than the later releases done for Atlas. The Dayglo lineup (Nine, Finn, Tillman, and guitarist Kevin Whitworth) came together last summer to play the album in its entirety at a Seattle club.