If there was a poll taken to survey the country’s best music scenes, Spokane and the Inland Northwest wouldn’t register in the Top 100.
Over the years, for reasons of interest and money, the area hasn’t been able to foster a successful original music scene. Unless bands choose to play covers in hotel lounges every night, there’s virtually no chance of sustaining a livable wage here.
So many musicians, with aspirations of playing music fulltime, have had to take flight to other cities. In some cases, they’ve stumbled on the big time.
Only one band, Coeur d’Alene’s Shoveljerk, hasn’t had to relocate. But that’s mainly due to the band’s busy touring schedule.
Today, some of music’s most recognizable names contain Spokane blood. The list includes major-label bands: Everclear, 7 Year Bitch, Tool, the Replicants, Failure, the Untouchables, the Eddie Money Band, Dokken, the Lynch Mob and Hog.
Everclear is irrefutably one of the biggest rock combos of the year.
The Portland-based post-punk guitar unit has been making volumes of noise with its second major-label album, “Sparkle and Fade.” The disc’s second single, “Santa Monica,” blasted the band into the stratosphere in January and February and became heavily rotated by radio and MTV. It’s still in the top 10 on Billboard’s chart of mainstream rock tracks, checking in at No. 8 this week.
Now the third single, “Heartspark Dollarsign,” a song about interracial relationships, is following suit.
Craig Montoya, a Spokane native, plays bass for the trio.
Before moving to Portland in 1992, Montoya played in a local metal outfit called Soulhammer.
Soulhammer only lasted six months in Portland, and the day after the band dissolved, Montoya linked up with singer-guitarist-songwriter Art Alexakis. Thus, Everclear was born.
Montoya’s glad he left Spokane.
“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said from a Chicago hotel while on tour in February. “I love Spokane. I love the people there. Some of my best friends live in Spokane or came from Spokane. But what I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen in Spokane.
“There was usually just one or two clubs to play,” said Montoya, 25. “I wanted something better. I wanted something different. It was going to be a dead-end job for me in Spokane.”
Shortly after forming, Everclear rapidly became one of the most highly touted rock bands in the Northwest. Before signing to Capitol in 1994, the trio - rounded out by drummer Greg Eklund - released the EP “Nervous and Weird” and the LP “World of Noise” on Portland independent label Tim Kerr Records. “World of Noise” was reissued by Capitol right after the band signed.
At the time of the interview, Montoya was amazed that “Sparkle and Fade” was about to go gold (500,000 copies sold).
“I’m gonna have a gold record hanging on my wall,” mused the bassist. “How weird is that?”
Three months later, Montoya and his band have struck platinum sales (1 million copies sold) with “Sparkle and Fade,” released a year ago.
7 Year Bitch
Another band that’s primed to give the mainstream a jolt is Seattle’s 7 Year Bitch, an all-women punk combo that has thrived for many years in the underground.
Former Spokanite Selene Vigil fronts the band, which unleashed its major-label debut, “Gato Negro,” in March.
Vigil, who’s in her mid-20s, doesn’t share any fond sentiments for Spokane.
“I get really bummed out when I go there,” said the snarling, raspy-voiced singer.
That could explain why 7 Year Bitch has only played Spokane once (1992).
Vigil abandoned Eastern Washington for Seattle a year after she graduated from Mead High School.
“There was nothing for me to do there,” she said. “I wasn’t inspired to do anything. I wanted to be somewhere else. The biggest, closest place was Seattle, so it was easy to move there.”
Vigil had never played in a band before; 7 Year Bitch is her first. She started the group in 1990 with drummer Valerie Agnew, bassist Elizabeth Davis and guitarist Stephanie Sargent (replaced by Roisin Dunne after Sargent’s death in 1992).
In 1992, 7 Year Bitch signed to Seattle’s second biggest (next to Sub Pop) indie rock label, C/Z Records. For the label, the quartet produced a 10-inch vinyl EP (1992) and two full-length albums, “Sick Em” (1992) and “Viva Zapata” (1994).
The band inked a deal with Atlantic Records about the same time “Viva Zapata” was released. Most recently, 7 Year Bitch was touring the country with fellow Seattle band Steel Wool, a group composed of three former Spokanites.
Hog was conceived in 1994 by guitarist-vocalist and 18-year Spokane resident Kirk Miller in the muddy music pen of Los Angeles.
After being courted by a handful of major labels shortly after it began playing the local clubs, Hog opted for DGC.
The label released Hog’s “Nothing Sacred” debut in February. The album’s first single, “Get a Job,” has been a hit with album rock radio stations and was featured in the Chris Farley and David Spade comedy “Black Sheep.”
As a musician, Miller struggled for 12 years in L.A. before getting signed. He did session work, went on tour with various bands and started several of his own groups. One was Clover, which signed to Mercury/ Polygram after Miller had quit.
After Clover, Miller assembled his power-pop trio Hog. Right from the start, Hog had the industry squealing.
“It took me four months to ink a deal on a major label after 13 years of preparation,” said Miller, 31.
Tool, Replicants, Failure
Paul D’Amour had been living in Seattle for a couple of years before the one-time Spokanite joined the one-time Spokane punk unit Big Yuck Mouth, which had relocated to Seattle in 1989.
Big Yuck Mouth’s run in Seattle was short-lived. So D’Amour, 27, headed South to L.A., but starting a band wasn’t one of his intentions.
“I actually moved to L.A. to quit playing music,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I was going to work on a film down here. That got postponed so I ended up just kind of jamming around with the guys from Tool. Six months later, somebody offered us a record deal.”
Tool signed with major-label Zoo Entertainment and released two fine recordings, “Opiate” and “Undertow.” The latter has sold 1.5 million copies and contains the unsettling hits “Sober” and “Prison Sex.”
Tired of his role as just the bass player, D’Amour recently quit Tool. Additionally, he was frustrated by the band’s sluggish progress on its new album. However, D’Amour does lend his chugging bass to a handful of the songs.
Presently, the musician plays guitar and sings for the Replicants, a collaboration that puts a ‘90s rock, industrial and new wave spin on 11 eclectic covers on its debut album. The record spawned a minor hit with the Missing Persons song “Destination Unknown.”
Also, D’Amour just joined L.A.-based Failure, which is signed to Warner Bros., as a second guitarist. (Both Ken Andrews and Greg Edwards of Failure are part of the Replicants project.)
If that’s not enough, D’Amour has recorded a solo project scheduled for release by Zoo in the near future.
D’Amour insisted he left Spokane to broaden his horizons, but had this to say about the local music scene:
“There’s something about Spokane that it will always remain the same. People always try and get a music scene going. It goes for a while, then the club will shut down and it dies. Somebody will try it again somewhere else. It’ll kind of get going … and then it falls apart.
“At the same time, it’s a small town. I love it there; I like going back.”
The Untouchables, Eddie Money
Glenn Symmonds left the Lilac City after graduating from West Valley in 1973 to pursue drumming.
“I was friends with the drummer of Tower of Power,” said Symmonds, 41, in a recent phone interview. “And I really admired the way that he played drums, and I wanted to emulate his style and learn all I could about how he developed. So the best way that I could do that was to move down to Oakland, California and study with his drum teacher.”
In the ‘70s, Symmonds involved himself in all sorts of projects. He drummed with jazz musician John Klemmer, whose band featured Herbie Hancock and George Winston. Symmonds spent many hours in the studio as a session player and even played in a band called Automatic Man, which released two albums on Island Records.
In the early ‘80s, Symmonds joined the ska band the Untouchables, who were signed to MCA.
At the time, the Untouchables were the ska band in America and were as highly touted as their English counterparts the Selector, the English Beat, the Specials and Madness. Much of the band’s commercial success came in Europe. The singles “I Spy for the FBI” and “Free Yourself” from the Untouchables album “Wild Child” were huge hits in England. Here, they made little impact.
After a five-year stint with the Untouchables, Symmonds joined Eddie Money’s band and he’s been with him off-and-on since. With Money, Symmonds has played the Opera House twice.
“During my period in the Bay Area, when I was about 19 or 20 years old, (Money) was rehearsing down the street and their drummer didn’t show up for rehearsal,” recalled Symmonds. “So they came over to my house because they knew a drummer had lived there, and they heard me playing. And they said, ‘Would you fill in and bring your drums and keep time?’ After rehearsal, he wanted to keep me in the band, but I wasn’t really into playing rock ‘n’ roll. I always enjoyed ethnic music.
“Years later when I was with the U.T.s (what the Untouchables were frequently called), we were headlining the Universal Amphitheater (in L.A.), and Eddie and his wife were in the audience.”
Money happened to be in town auditioning drummers that weekend but wasn’t having any luck.
“So when we came on to play he said, ‘Now that’s a good drummer. Why can’t I have a drummer like that?’ I had these sunglasses on and I took them off, and he goes, ‘That’s my old drummer Symmonds. I want him back!”’
Dokken, the Lynch Mob
Guitarist George Lynch, 41, doesn’t remember much about his early life in Spokane. The guitarist, who is presently in Dokken and the Lynch Mob (not Da Lynch Mob), was born here but his family moved to California when he was 2.
“The only experience I had in Spokane that I can remember is going through there touring and I don’t remember much about that,” Lynch laughed.
Believe or not, Dokken, a multi-platinum seller in the 1980s, is still going strong. The band has a record deal with Columbia/Sony and released an album called “Dysfunctional” last year.
“Since the collapse of the ‘80s music, we’ve done real well in Japan but not as well here obviously,” said Lynch, who resides in Cave Creek, Ariz. “It’s definitely paying the bills. We’re able to still play music for a living.”
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