Jerry Bailey ~ Vocals
Bill Diefenbach ~ Drums
Steve English ~ Bass, Hammond Organ, Vocals
Doug Phillips ~ Drums, Harp, Saxophone
Ric Rivera ~ Guitar
It was the fall of 1969 when I got a call from my good friend Doug Phillips. He wanted me to come down that night to a club called the African Hut on Rainier Avenue in Seattle and to sit in and play bass with a band he had recently joined.
I had driven by the Hut many times, both under that name and before, when it was the Chalet Tavern. Before the Chalet, and before my time, it was the Hitching Post Tavern. Today it is gone, the site now being the location of an I-90 on-ramp.
The African Hut was obviously a black club and this “house band” was mixed-race with several blacks, a Filipino, and Doug and me the two whites. I had long been intrigued by the idea of playing in a mixed-race funk band, so I eagerly showed up that night and thereafter, every weekend at the Hut.
This was Jerry Bailey’s band and, when we met, I immediately took to him. We got along great and got a kick out of each other. He was our vocalist, an absolutely amazing dancer, and the heart and soul of the band.
Other than Jerry, the band was a shabby-looking crew so he set us up to go to a black-owned clothing store on Empire Way, now MLK Jr. Way, to get some new clothes at no cost to us. I was soon making a fashion statement down at the African Hut during the era of Black Panthers with my new black leather jacket.
To tell you the truth, I don't know the name of the band. The only reason I call it Soul Revolution is because I recall seeing that on the billboard outside the club the first night I showed up. We never talked about the name, not even once. I’d bet that if you asked all of us in the band today what the name was, no one would know or care.
During breaks we would often pile into Ric Rivera’s van and ten or twenty minutes later reemerge in a cloud of smoke. When the night ended we might not owe the owner money, but there would always be a lot of haggling over how much beer the band drank, which was an awful lot. We kept the pitchers coming all night. And I doubt any of us were of legal age, except maybe Jerry.
Many times, the end of the night’s gig was only the beginning of the night’s adventure. We’d be sitting in the Hut at 3:00AM waiting to be paid when Jerry might come out from talking with the owner in his office with no money and call out, “Follow me!”, and off we’d go. There was no telling where we’d end up. One night we pulled up in front of an old, dilapidated-looking house in the Central District. There were no lights on, nor any other sign of life. Jerry knocks on the door and someone inside opens a little viewport and after exchanging a few words, lets us in. We find ourselves entering a living/dining room area with crystal chandeliers, purple velvet walls and plush carpeting set up as a lounge with a bar in the kitchen. We were served drinks and then led downstairs to the basement where we found a mini-casino complete with a roulette wheel and other gaming tables. There must have been fifty people drinking, gambling and partying in that house.
I reckon this is a small thing in the annals of NW funk, but one night Jerry tells us that we’ve got a one-night gig at an Interlake High School dance. This would be interesting as this was 1969, and this was a school located in Seattle’s fast growing, white-flight, eastside suburbs. There was a real good chance those kids had never experienced anything quite like Jerry Bailey and his inner-city funk band before.
We showed up at the school and didn’t find a single soul there, but it was unlocked, so went in and found a large cafeteria that had a stage at one end and a long wall of double doors at the other. We thought that this had to be the place, so we set up on stage and hung out and waited. And we waited. Were we there on the wrong night or something? Were we even at the right school? We were about to start loading up the gear and head home when suddenly all of the double doors burst open at once and a thousand teenagers poured through. They must have just won a big game or something because they were stoked and ready to get down with Jerry Bailey and his band of funk brothers.
Those kids were going nuts from the start. The band was tight and we probably never played as well as we did that night. At one point we were playing James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”. By then Jerry had the school’s very lovely young cheerleaders on stage with us, go-go dancing. Then during the middle of the song Jerry starts waving at some of the kids dancing in the center-front of the stage to clear a space for him. Huh? The next thing I know, Jerry leaps up and out from the stage, at least six feet above the dance floor, and then lands in a split. At the instant he lands, he freezes, the band stops, the kids stop dancing. We could only stare in silence, all of us. I thought he must have hurt himself. We paused for about ten seconds when Bill Diefenbach and I finally caught each other’s eye and started playing again, just his drums and my bass with that funky “Cold Sweat” bass line. All eyes were still on Jerry as he slowly started rising from the floor with the music. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Bill and I continued to play, and then when Jerry had finally fully risen, the full band joined in, he broke out dancing, the go-go cheerleaders started dancing, and the students of Interlake High roared their approval. I’ll be forever convinced that many young, innocent suburban lives must have been forever changed that night.
I haven’t run across Bill since the band last played. I saw from a search that he played with Apricot Brandy in the early 1980’s. It would be great to see him again someday. Ric and I got together through email just this last year, so we’re back in touch and hope to get together soon. He seems to be doing well.
Doug went on to play sax with Road House and then in a band with Eddy Young, although I don’t recall the name of that one. They have great stories to tell of playing places like Prince Rupert and Kodiak Island, where a wire cage protecting the band from thrown beer bottles would have been great. He was also jamming with guys like our friend Jeff Fiorini on the first jazz cruises on the Virginia V during the mid-nineteen seventies. Soon somewhat commercialized, the Virginia V jazz cruises started out as private South End parties. It was during Jerry’s band that Doug returned to the sax as his primary instrument. I had a Yamaha tenor that he borrowed and we would play James Brown songs together for hours in his basement, me on bass, keeping the beat on a high-hat, and Doug practicing his sax licks, improvising, getting his chops back.
I last saw Jerry one day, maybe in 1980 or so, when I was walking in Rainier Valley around 47th and Lucille. I’m walking towards the intersection when a car crossing through it before me screeches to a halt and I heard the driver call out, “Steve!!” I looked at the driver and I couldn’t believe my eyes. “Jerry!!” He pulled over, I got in the car and we talked briefly before each continuing on our way. Sorry to say, I haven’t seen him since. I’ll always wish him and the rest of the guys in that band the very best. We shared something special.
A few years ago I saw the Wheedle’s Groove film about the Seattle funk scene and was glad to see some people I once knew were being recognized. The late Big Joe Erickson of Push and other bands was an old friend from high school. In fact, during the summer of 1969, Joe, Eddy Young and I almost started a band together after Big Joe’s the Trip and Eddy and my Paraphernalia had both broken up. The most memorable thing about that band with Big Joe was the ride home from our only practice. Alas, Big Joe, weighing in at over 400 pounds, proved to be a little bit too much load for Eddy’s little Ford Falcon station wagon, poor thing!
Having left the Seattle area for a few years, I returned in 1976 and soon learned that Big Joe had gone funk with the all-white Push, which was having some local success. I wasn’t much interested in the music scene at the time and never heard them play, or anyone else during the actual funk era, for that matter. It was only when I saw the Wheedle film that I understood what had been going on, what with many white-owned clubs not hiring black funk bands and the role Push played, taking the stage in their place. I can only say for myself that I had no interest whatsoever in playing in an all-white funk band which would be playing in all-white clubs. I found the experience I sought and I found it at the African Hut.
The Noblemen, a black band I knew from high school, were given mention in the Wheedle film end credits and I liked seeing at least that much. They were a damned good band. No mention of Jerry’s band, of course. The Noblemen was the Noble brother’s band, George and Roger, friends from school. I saw George at our 40th high school reunion a few years ago and shouted out, “Hey, Roger!” But he’s an old friend and we laughed. It was so good to see him again. He was being ribbed from the stage that night for his old high school Blank Panther days. Funny thing is, the white people doing the ribbing that night were probably scared to death of what was happening back then. I recall going to a Noblemen band practice in 1969 and finding myself partying with twenty or so Black Panthers. I have to say, even for me that was a little unnerving at first, although I eventually loosened up. You can probably understand that this was 1969 and Black Panthers, although they included some good friends, weren’t exactly experiencing the happiest phase of their young lives.
I couldn’t possibly say where Jerry’s band stands in Seattle funk history. Well, other than forgotten, that is. I had the impression at the time that we were probably the only mixed-race funk band around, maybe the first, but I imagine now that there were likely others who, like us, were unknown. Perhaps someone came before us. If so, good for them! There were certainly mixed-race soul bands before us, if not funk. For instance, my great friend Danny Hook played in Ben Mobley and the Streamers in the mid-1960s. For me, it was simply something I wanted to do and I’m damned glad I did it. Decades later, I didn’t think anybody remembered or cared about that era of Seattle Funk music, much less, my band. I was very much surprised to learn with the Wheedle film that some people do remember that musical era. Some people really do care. They want to hear that sound. They want to know what happened. Perhaps some would even care to learn about a funk band with no name which played long ago in a long-forgotten Seattle bar on Rainier Avenue called the African Hut. It is for those people, as well as for my old bandmates and friends, that I record these recollections of Jerry’s band and of the era during which we played.
Steve English, December 2014