Friday, October 9, 2009

Indie Memphis Outtakes: Wheedle's Groove Celebrates the Soul of Seattle

Posted By on Fri, Oct 9, 2009 at 10:00 AM

Quick, what's the first thing that comes to mind when when you think about the Seattle music scene? Was it Nirvana or Pearl Jam? Soundgarden, maybe? Or Mudhoney? If so, you're in good company. The grunge scene that exploded in Seattle in the ’90s wasn't only the best thing that's happened to the flannel industry since the invention of coldness, it completely annihilated hair metal and transformed late 20th-century guitar rock in the blink of a red-rimmed eye. But sonically speaking, Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder may not represent the best of what the Great Northwest has to offer.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Seattle was home to a thriving and innovative soul scene. Although it seems unlikely that it would have ever grown to rival soul meccas like Detroit, Memphis, Philly, or Muscle Shoals, local disc jockeys at KYAC, the city's only black radio station, kept the locally produced wax spinning and the nightclubs packed. Seattle soul was even beginning to attract some national attention when disco seized the spotlight and the bottom fell out.

Director Jennifer Maas' loving documentary Wheedle's Groove — named after a lurking instrumental that was in turn named for a former Seattle Supersonics' mascot, the Wheedle — was inspired by an obscurity obsessed audiophile named DJ Mr. Supreme , who started collecting Seattle soul after discovering a single called "Bold Soul Sister" by a group called A Black on White Affair in a cheap used-record bin.

Wheedle's Groove by Annakonda

DJ Mr. Supreme shared highlights from his collection with like-minded music fans at Seattle's Light In The Attic record label who in turn assembled a first-rate collection of songs for a comprehensive CD also called Wheedle's Groove. They also tracked down many of the original band members and convinced them to reunite for the the CD release party in the summer of 2004. Maas' film is built around interviews with and performances by artists who participated in that unique multi-racial and multi-generational event.

Here's a sampling of songs by some of the best artists featured in Maas' documentary.

Fronted by keyboard player and smooth shouter Calvin Law, the music of A Black on White Affair is probably best described as “power soul.” No matter how funky the guitar and organ lines may get, the drums are always up front and uncommonly steady. This beat isn't in the pocket, it's stepping out the door. "Bold Soul Sister" was engineered by Kearney Barton, a veteran of the Seattle music scene who had previously recorded garage-rock heroes such as the Sonics and the Kingsmen as well as early recordings by a young guitar player named Jimi Hendrix.

Patrinell Staten is the daughter of a Texas preacher who developed her vocal chops singing in the church choir. The influence of gospel greats like Mahalia Jackson is evident on “Little Love Affair,” a lost soul classic that was released as a b-side to “I Let a Good Man Go” in 1969.

Bernadette Bascom was still in diapers when Patrinell Staten moved to Seattle in 1964 but is easily one of the Pacific Northwest's more successful soul singers. She was the first artist signed to Stevie Wonder's Black Bull records. This cut is strictly ’80s but don't let that stop you from clicking.

Other Seattle celebs interviewed for the film include notables such as Quincy Jones, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Mudhoney's Mark Arm, Soundgarden's Ben Shepherd, and Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.

Wheedle's Groove screens at Studio on the Square at 5:15 PM Saturday, October 10th.

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