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Before Seattle Rocked

A City and Its Music

Kurt E. Armbruster

Publication Year: 2011

In this tribute to musicians, Kurt Armbruster tells the musical history of Seattle from the impact of the radio on the psychology of making music in boom and bust times to the influence of the Musicians Union.

Published by: University of Washington Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix

I want to thank Taylor Bowie Jr., Pete Leinonen, and the anonymous reviewers whose corrections and suggestions made this a better book; my editors at University of Washington Press, Lorri Hagman and Kerrie Maynes, for their encouragement and patient guidance; Warren Johnson, Monica Schley, Motter Snell, and the executive board of...

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pp. 3-8

For generations the men in white coats—and the women in black dresses—were the very definition of “musician.” Music for these practitioners was not necessarily fun or artistically fulfilling. It was work. In theater pits and dance halls, taverns and opera houses, ballrooms and skating rinks, making music was a job. For much of the...

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1. Song of the Duwamish

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pp. 9-18

For thousands of years many different groups of human beings have lived beside the great inland sea of the Pacific Northwest called by some Whulge and by others Puget Sound. Among them are those whose home grounds lie along the Duwamish River and in the hills surrounding Elliott Bay. To its native people, the Duwamish River...

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2. Gaslight Serenade

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pp. 19-42

The ageless rhythms of Puget Sound native culture were broken on November 13, 1851, when twenty-four men, women, and children from the Midwest landed on a spit of land at the entrance to Elliott Bay. One of the newcomers, David Denny, gave the new settlement the optimistic name New York (the Duwamish people called the place...

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3. Music on the Make

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pp. 43-86

Seattle in the early years of the twentieth century was a city full of young Charles Constantines on the make. The Klondike Gold Rush was succeeded by more strikes in Nome, and the gold kept coming, fueling astonishing growth. By 1900 Seattle was truly the Queen City of Puget Sound, and in the following twenty years its...

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4. Musician’s Dream

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pp. 87-120

The 1920s were a musician’s dream. Furred and tuxedoed audiences crowded the theaters and nightclubs, cafés jumped to hot jazz, and every neighborhood had its movie house, complete with organist. Radio and phonograph records, both initially derided as job-stealing “canned music” by musicians’ unions, stimulated popular demand for...

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5. Easing Depression

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pp. 121-144

In October 1929 the twenties boom went bust in an implosion of overextended credit and falling market confidence. The aftermath, twelve years of misery wrapped in the singularly apt description “the Great Depression,” was the worst social and economic disaster America has ever seen. Three million Americans lost their jobs in 1930, and within...

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6. Wartime Whoopie

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pp. 145-172

The beginning of the 1940s offered little promise that the Depression would soon end. Only the all-out mobilization after the bombing of Pearl Harbor brought America out of her slump and a new boom time to Seattle. Even before the first shots were fired in World War II, workers and their families from across the country descended upon...

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7. Dizzy Decade

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pp. 173-238

It began with “Mona Lisa” and ended with “A Big Hunk of Love.” It looked ahead, it looked back; it revered yesterday and worshipped tomorrow. The fast and frantic fifties were a schizoid decade, a dynamic decade, and mostly a decade dizzy with change. Freeways, suburbs, pressurized airliners, and television transformed landscape and culture. The...

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8. Groovin’ High

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pp. 239-290

Seattle sailed into the sixties in a roar of jet engines and bulldozers. The Boeing Company’s prototype 707 jet airliner took to the air in 1955 and by 1960 was radically accelerating the pace of travel. Up and down the hourglass-shaped city, bulldozers gouged out the artery that would soon tie it to the Interstate Highway System. Gleaming...

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9. Carrying the Torch

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pp. 291-324

By 1970 rock and roll was definitely here to stay. Old nightclubs— the Seattle Town and Country Club, the Magic Inn— closed, and new ones vibrated to the soft rock of Brownsmith and Reilly and Maloney. But then something funny happened: Music that had been written off as dead just a few years before came back stronger than...

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pp. 325-335

Sitting in the board room of the Musicians’ Association of Seattle, one is surrounded by ghosts. The faces of past union presidents— Theodore Wagner, Harry Pelletier, Chet Ramage—smile out on a changed world. Looking at those faces, one is impressed by how long so many of Seattle’s musicians were active in a business that has...


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pp. 337-348


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pp. 349-356


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pp. 357-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780295801001
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295991139

Publication Year: 2011