While The Sonics, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and the Wailers are synonomous with the Pacific Northwest sound of the 1960's,
there were also many "second-tier" groups of the era that made the area one of the best - if not the best - rock 'n'roll
regions in the United States. Blue Light, the Pacific Northwest Champions of the 1967 KJR-Vox sponsored Battle-of-the-Bands,
was one such band. They were announced winners of the competion after trouncing other local groups but unfortunately were denied
a chance to compete in the national finals due to the event not being held. Randy Solvang, Blue Light's lead guitarist, explains
why in this interview for 60sgaragebands.com.
An Interview With Randy Solvang
60sgaragebands.com (60s): How did you first get interested in music?
Randy Solvang (RS): Although not from a "musical family", I demonstrated an interest in music at an early age. I began trumpet lessons at age nine, but my "awakening" came Feb. 9, 1964, in front of the TV as The Beatles performed on THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW. From that point forward, I as a 13 year-old, knew there was no turning back. I had found my passion!
60s: Was Blue Light your first band? If not, which band was? How long was it together?
RS: My first "official" band was a group called The Epics. It was a few guys from my Junior High School. We made a few public appearances and confirmed our suspicions that as "bandmembers" if not "musicians", we could "date better looking girls than we might otherwise be able to". There were various derivatives of that band for a year or so. Following that, I was "hired away" by a more popular band in town that consisted of "older guys". That band was called Uptown Express. That was my Sophomore year in High School. Although Uptown Express was an established band, I became the leader, as well as the lead guitar player, and sought to take the band to a higher level, musically. That task proved formidable, and it became apparent that I would have to form my own band to get what I wanted out of the effort.
60s: And so you formed Blue Light...
RS: Blue Light was formed by myself and my childhood best friend, Don Paulson, who had moved about an hour away. Don and I had been in The Epics together and I'm sure we both felt we would eventually get back together. In 1966 we formed the band with a combination of "the best" our respective High Schools had to offer, (or at least those who were available), at the time. Don was an incredible front man with the ability to interpret a song and and infuse it with passion and energy that was unmatched by any others I have worked with. He is one of those people that is best described by the word "charisma". I often likened him to Mick Jagger. The girls used to crowd the front of the stage, and each of them was sure Don was singing to only them! I, on the other hand, tried to perform competently, and to the best of my ability conduct "the business side" of the band's efforts through organization and promotion. I was a bit of a "control freak" really.
60s: Please recap the band's line-up...
RS: Each and every member of Blue Light sang. Don Paulson was the lead singer, and in later years played the saxophone. Don recruited Dave Bloom to play drums, and Randy Swanson to play organ. I recruited Steve Pittson to play bass.
60s: Who named the band? Did it have any significance?
RS: I have always felt that one of the hardest things about playing in a band is finding a suitable name! Local Urban Legend has it that if you go to a place near Sylvana, and park with your girlfriend, and look into the night, a "blue light" will appear. Much like submarine races, etc..... I believe it was Dave who most often "watched for the blue light" with girls, and is thus credited with naming the band.
60s: Where did the band typically play (schools, parties, teen clubs, etc.)?
RS: Blue Light began playing at high school dances, civic club functions and private parties. Eventually we "moved up" to the larger venues, skating rinks, clubs, large halls, military functions, etc.
60s: How would you describe the band's sound? What band's influenced you?
RS: The band's sound would best be described as high energy, harmony-driven, because of our influences. Groups like The Beatles, Rascals, Buckinghams, Bee Gees (early years), Turtles, Grass Roots, all had a profound effect on our sound. In the latter years, it was Vanilla Fudge, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and of course, The Beatles in their Sgt. Pepper's mode.
60s: Did you play any of the local Northwest teen clubs?
RS: The "Mecca" of Northwest rock in the '60's was Lake Hills Roller Rink in Bellevue, probably followed by Parker's in Seattle and various clubs in Tacoma. We had occasion to play most all of them at one time or another, most often as an opener for another headliner. Perhaps most notable of all was the Trips-Lansing Festival which was held in August of 1967 at the Aqua Theatre at Green Lake. It was an outdoor stadium event. Included in the event were Peter & Gordon, Sonny & Cher, Glen Campbell, The 5th Dimension, Vanilla Fudge, Five Americans, Harper's Bizarre, Moby Grape, Ural Thomas, Merilee Rush, Paul Revere & The Raiders, and many other lesser known local bands. It was certainly a thrill to be backstage with such greats, and Steve and I had the pleasure of backing Ural Thomas on-stage as well.
60s: Did you ever get to tour outside the Northwest?
RS: We were never a "touring band" per se. We were highschoolers, still bound by the restrictions of parents, school, homework, etc.
60s: What other local groups of the era do you especially recall?
RS: There were so many fabulous groups in the Northwest at that time it is hard to know where to begin and where to stop: Don & The Goodtimes, Sonics, Wailers, Jimmy Hanna & The Dynamics, City Zu, Viceroys, Surprise Package, Emergency Exit, Daily Flash, Paul Revere, Sir Raleigh & The Coupons (Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield), Merilee & the Turnabouts, Bumps, on and on and on! So many.....
60s: Blue Light was named Pacific Northwest Champions in the 1967 KJR-Vox sponsored Battle-of-the-Bands. What do you recall about this battle?
RS: I had competed in the Teen Fair Battle of the Bands in 1966 while with Uptown Express. The whole experience was somewhat "less organized" than the 1967 battle. It was during this time however that I determined to return in 1967 and at the very least acquit myself (ourselves) as "real band". This determination is at least in part responsible for the formation of Blue Light. The KJR-Vox Battle-of-the-Bands has been called various titles. In 1966 it was "The Teen Fair" battle, but by 1967 it is my understanding that legal battle had ensued over "right" and the event was changed to "Teen Spectacular" hosted by Pat O'Day of KJR radio fame. The 1967 event has also been referred to as the Northwest Battle-of-the-Bands Championship, which I'm sure the "Pros" in such bands as City Zu, Sonics, Wailers, etc. would find laughable since they were prohibited from entering. This was more appropriately "an amateur battle", to showcase the talents of bands hoping to "move up" to the next level. The folks at Kern's Music City held "district" competitions to find the best bands in each locale. We competed twice before being invited to the finals. The first was indoors, and the second time was outdoors at a Drive-In Theater on a make-shift stage, in the driving rain! It was a truly miserable evening which left us with little hope of advancing. There are varying reports as to how many bands competed, and how far-reaching the competition was. It has been reported that up to 700 bands in a 5-state region were involved. My response is "I doubt it!" We were told that 12 bands would compete in the finals at "Mecca", Lake Hills Roller Rink, in a final competition to determine who would represent The Northwest in the National Finals in Hollywood, and be the recipients of over $2,000 worth of Vox equipment. In fact 14 bands were represented at the finals on July 9th, 1967.
From the moment of our notification that we would be "in the Finals", until that day, I sequestered the band in my basement to rehearse. We had less than three weeks to prepare, and for a "control-freak" there is never enough time. We developed a "hard hitting" medley to "awe" the judges from the first note. Our uniforms were flashy and perfectly fitted. The choreography... ahhh the choreography...was impeccably prepared so that every turn, every step was synced. Guitar neck angles were evaluated, guitar elevations were critical, arrival time at the mics was analyzed to the millisecond. This was no longer a band, but a machine! We were going to The Finals with one purpose in mind, and that was to win!
I cannot recall all of the bands in the finals, but these I do remember; The Topics, The Shaynes, Head-On Collision, Rapid Transit, Interstate 5, Atlantic Steamer... I would love to know who the others were, but wouldn't know where to go to find out. The order was selected by random drawing and Blue Light was somewhere in the middle. This accorded us time to "pray" before and after competing! I felt then, and do today that there were better bands in the competition, but I believe that many of them (at least at that point in their careers) did not understand fully the importance of "presentation" in a live performance. Our goals was to not only play great music, but to look and act professionally. No hesitations, no extraneous "noodling" on the guitars, no "uncertainty" about our mission. Just get up there and hit them with what we had and leave it to the judges! Our final song was Come On Up by The Rascals, which had "WILD" choreography, thunderous drums, pounding bass, and Don in rare form singing "keep on pushin' Babe, until we get home". Don and I had come up with the idea to smash a guitar at the end (yes, it had been done before, but was such an obscure event that most had never heard of it at that time). To set up the finals moments, let me say unequivocally that I do something better on stage than most if not all performers...sweat! Not James Brown, Not Stevie Ray, me...I am the King of Sweat!
So, as we were reaching a crescendo, Don smashed the guitar on the front of the stage. The neck broke, and the body cracked, but it was not the effect we had hoped for. So, he gave it another whack, and a huge portion of it landed right in front of me, in the area where I was wildly gyrating in sync with Steve. I lunged to "stomp" the carcass of the sacrificial guitar at the moment Steve swung the neck of his bass towards me. Steve had a Vox Cougar bass with the BIG hatchet tuners and did his best Lizzy Borden impression on my head. By this time I was drenched with sweat, and we all know how a "Head wound" bleeds, so you can guess the rest. Fortunately there were only a few measures left because my face was a mess, as was my shirt and guitar. However, Blue Light created an effect to be emulated by Metal rockers of the future!
60s: According to a newpaper article at the time, the winner of this battle was compete in the regional competition in Hollywood...
RS: Alas, there was no "Final" in Hollywood. In 1966 the National winner was as we all know, Syndicate of Sound. They did in fact get to record Hey Little Girl. As far as we know nobody went to Hollywood to compete in 1967. We created a tape which was sent to the National judges. It was understood that there were five regional champions who were to compete for "The Title", but that did not happen. Were were awarded the Vox equipment. I still have the Super Beatle which was valued at that time at $1300! The guitars have long since disappeared. I have never seen any record of a "Winner" of the competition from 1967.
60s: What about the role in a Sam Katzman Production - which was also promised to the winning band?
RS: Obviously the Sam Katzman movie did not happen either.
60s: What do you recall about Dallas Hammond, whose managerial services you obtained after winning the Battle? How instrumental was Hammond in the band's progress?
RS: Ummm, Dallas Hammond.... Dallas was a saleman at Kern's Music City, the local Vox distributor. Following our victory, Dallas declared himself to be our manager, but I have no recollection of any documents to support that claim. It is my understanding that he "sold" the rights to our services to Mac Keith almost immediately. Mac was a very influential manager in the area who had connections to further the careers of local bands. Dallas did not. Dallas did not work with us, book us or otherwise help us during our very brief association with him. Mac did! Mac Keith managed other notable local bands such as The City Zu (at that moment in time the best and most popular Northwest band), The Bards, The Pied Pipers, and Blue Light. He became very instrumental in booking us, and causing our income to rise. Mac took the burden from me to "hustle" bookings, and allowed me to concentrate more on "the music". It was at this point however that somehow the "youthfulness" of the whole experience began to vanish. Mac "forced" if you will, changes in personnel, which brought about a different chemistry. For the most part good, but not altogether good. Firstly, we hired Brent Thompson to play organ, and dismissed Randy Swanson. Brent was without question one of the premier keyboard players in the area, who possessed "lead vocal" talents. The fact that he had a B-3 was a plus as well, and man, he could play it! Secondly, Mac "made" us dismiss Dave. To this day I wrestle with that decision and wish I had had the fortitude to stand up to him. That was, and is to this day my biggest regret about the entire Blue Light experience. Although we hired Corky Neely and later John Fox, both competent drummers, the mood was never the same as when "our buddy Dave" was in the band. Finally, we hired a Choreographer named Marvin Sterling, at Mac's insistence, who trained Steve and me "to do steps" during songs. Marvin was a Taskmaster, who polished our presentation and elevated it to the next level.
60s: How popular locally did Blue Light become? RS: Popular...our Mom's loved us! I would categorize Blue Light as a second-tier band. We never achieved huge success, but got to play some great venues and play with some great bands. Perhaps more than anything, we got caught in a time warp. We were of the Costumes, choreography ilk, while the climate of music was changing to Psychedelic. Although we gave that genre a try, it probably wasn't our forte, and people were tiring of "the old schtick". We were not chameleon enough to survive. I still love The Raiders-type presentation, but the market for that changed in 1967.
60s: The aforementioned newspaper article also reported that Blue Light recorded for Audio Recording Company and Camelot Recording in Seattle.
RS: We as band members have little recollection of the Audio Recording/Camelot Recording. We do know that it was recorded at 15i.p.s. and that none of us had a player to listen to it, so it got passed around to people who "promised" to re-record it at 7 1/2i.p.s., but it got lost in the shuffle and has not been found in 35 years. Many of the songs are on the CD that was made with a single mic in the back of Gold Creek Hall, which is the only surviving recording, poor as it might be.
60s: Did Blue Light write any original songs?
RS: We only had one original, which was our theme song, appropriately titled, Blue Light. We used it as our "break song".
60s: Did the band make any local TV appearances?
RS: No TV or film exists.
60s: Why did the band break up in the '60's?
RS: The "break-up" was precipitated by many issues: Personalities, changing times, college, drugs, draft, etc. Personally, rightly or wrongly, the joy of the music was gone when it did in fact become a business and the psychedelia began to mutate the innocense of the times. As music became more complex, so did the thought processes behind our motivations for continuing.
60s: What did you do after your stint in Blue Light ended?
RS: On a personal note, Mac Keith had intimated that he was "grooming" me for something bigger. At one point he asked me if I thought I could replace Doug Heath in The City Zu. One would have had to be crazy to not want to be in The City Zu at that point in time. I however knew that I was nowhere near as talented as Doug (who has now been with Paul Revere for over 30 years), and that process proved to be a tremendous distraction as I had to keep it secret from the others in Blue Light and labor under the insecurities of knowing that I could never measure up to the level of professionalism that Doug presented. I however wanted to, but at 17 years of age did not posses the maturity to deal with all of the pressure, so I began to unravel. My relationship with Mac began to suffer and ultimately he chose Ron Foos from The Pied Pipers as Doug's replacement. Ron was a bass player who because of his tremendous talent adapted quickly. Ron also has been with Paul Revere for over 30 years. I, in turn, vanished into obscurity, musically speaking. I dabble in music in church and play out occasionally. Recently I have begun jamming with some locals who prefer "British Invasion" music. I handle lead vocals and rhythm guitar, and we actually sound quite good. Looks like there will be a few gigs in our future. I look back on the years with Blue Light with nothing but fond memories. All of the guys are still above ground, and well grounded. We talk occasionally and get along well. For the 35th anniversary of our victory I transferred our tape to CD and sent it to them. A good laugh was had by all!
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