Celebrating The Sonics

-by Maria Ruiz

One of the most influential bands to come out of Tacoma has definitely got to be The Sonics. They are responsible for paving the way for garage rock and punk rock music that began in the seventies and prevailed in the nineties. The Sonics were a rock band formed in 1960. The original lineup consisted of Rob Lind, Gerry Roslie, Andy Parypa, Larry Parypa, and Bob Bennett. They have been described as being ahead of their time. “It didn’t stop there either, several bands, northwest or not, have covered songs by the band, including Iggy and the Stooges, Bruce Springsteen, The Melvins and too many others to list here. The other thing that comes up a lot (especially among guitar players) is that Larry Parypa played his guitar in Drop D-tuning” (Casebeer, 2017).

An interview with Rob Lind, the last original member of the band revealed that The Sonics took inspiration from the Wailers who were a decade older than them at the time. Their sound leaned heavily more on rhythm and blues, which the Sonics had trouble replicating. It was decided that they wanted to be a rock band. Lind has mentioned that their crowds range in ages such as their gigs back in 2007. “You go on stage and you look at the crowd, it’s like Roslie said one time in an interview, he said, ‘It’s like our crowds from the ‘60s, you look out at the crowds and it looks like the ‘60s.’ That’s kind of a good way to put it, although there is a mix; there’s a few older people, people that will come up to me after shows all the time and say, ‘Oh, I remember when you guys were playing at the Lynnwood Rollaway skating rink, my girlfriend and I were there.’ It’s always cool to hear that, and the crowds I’d say on a given night are probably 80% in the 18-to-35 age range” (Casebeer, 2017).

An example of The Sonics influencing other bands from decades later is with rock band Surf Curse. I will be using The Sonic’s song, “Have Love, Will Travel” and Surf Curse’s “Freaks” for comparison. Some similarities that these two songs share is they both have a rebellious sound to them. They’re very unapologetic. The vocals are also unclean. They sound as if they’re going for emotion than singing in tune. The riffs in both songs sound a bit similar as well. When listening to the Sonic’s song, it delighted me. A few years ago, I was obsessed with a game called, “We Happy Few” that took place in the 60s. The soundtrack was also inspired by 60s boy bands, so this song took me back to that time. When listening to the Surf Curse song, it felt nostalgic tome even though it was released in 2013. Grunge was popular in the 2000s which was my childhood. It has a very wistful and youthful tone to it. In the interview, Lind speaks about his experience with music in the sixties in comparison to the present.

“’What happened to the Sonics was, we stopped playing in ’67, and as I’ve explained, we went off and did our different careers and things, ad we got back into playing again in 2007. We had missed all that music that was in between. We hadn’t been doing disco, psychedelic music like The Daily Flash, light shows and all that… in 2007, we picked up right where we left off in ’67, and started playing the same exact kind of music because that’s what we know, that’s what we liked’” (Casebeer, 2017). He was even surprised when he first saw these black boxes when the band was doing their first show in New York, which were monitors and how easier it was to edit music now without doing a dozen takes.

Some would say that the Northwest doesn’t have a distinct sound to it. But there is evidence that there is, which is called the “Northwest Sound.” The bands responsible for creating that sound are the Frantics, the Wailers, Paul Revere and the Raiders and of course, the Sonics. “But just across the Cascade Mountains in the ‘Inland Empire’ of Eastern Washington another rock scene was also simmering. And although some of the earliest rockin’ and rollin’ there owed more of a stylistic debt to rural 1950s rockabilly sounds than to West Coast R&B, in ensuing years the area contributed significantly to subsequent trends, including the Pacific Northwest’s grunge explosion of the 1990s” (Blecha, 2005). At the time, there weren’t many opportunities for up-and-coming musicians to cut their own record.

Something else notable that happened in the Pacific Northwest is the many reunions of rock bands that originated in the area. This took place on Sunday May 14, 1972. It served as a revival of early rock and a reflection of how the sound of rock and roll changed from the sixties. The Sonics originally split during the late sixties due to pursuing education or to join other groups. They reunited in 1972 for this event and wouldn’t reunite again for another 36 years. They “reminded those who witnessed them play that night exactly why they were already living legends. That the band rocked the house ferociously is proven by the forensic evidence: the 1972 live recordings of their songs (‘Lucille,’ ‘Psycho,’ and their 1964 hot ‘The Witch’) which were finally released by Etiquette Records in 1986 on the Sonics Live / Fanz Only disc [ETLP 1185], and in Europe on the New Rose/Fan Club label [FC 033]” (Blecha, 2012).

Today with the internet, it’s easier now than ever to access older music and see how current bands are influenced by the founders of rock. Many bands from the Northwest were not able to go big and stayed in the same area. But those who did were responsible for influencing the most iconic bands in recent history. “’It was gratifying to me to see the boys in the ‘90s explode on the national music scene; those guys and Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains and Screaming Trees and right down the line, everybody you can think of, I was proud of those guys. We didn’t do it; for whatever reason, those guys all did it, they were all really food in their own way, and I kind of look upon Soundgarden and all those other bands as kind of relatives, they’re Pacific Northwest rock and roll bands’” (Casebeer, 2017).

About the Author

Maria Ruiz prepared this article as her final project for TARTS 225: Musical History of Tacoma, at the University of Washington, Tacoma. At the time she took the class in Autumn Quarter 2021, she was a senior majoring in Arts, Media and Culture.

References

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