Monday, December 25, 2006

Tall tales from Alaska - Pt. 2

Nitelife in Ketchikan, AK in the early '80s

Every time our band, Nitelife, returned to Ketchikan, we were always struck by the beauty of the place. A beautiful waterfront, mountains, totem poles, a large fishing fleet - but of course we didn't spend much time enjoying all (or any) of this splendor. We had a job to do, working in the belly of the Beast - the Shamrock Bar & Supper Club. I have written about some of our adventures in Ketchikan in a previous blog, so my goal here is to describe what happened with the band during subsequent visits.

Ketchikan waterfront

Winter scene - Ketchikan Creek

But first - you know, one of the nice things about publishing a blog is that you can never tell who might be reading it around the world, and who might contact you after reading it. It seems that some friends of "Terrible" Ted Herlinger saw this blog and sent him a link to it. Ted contacted me and told me that my story about the Ketchikan judge ordering him out of town was "...pure horseshit." So, I guess I'm gonna have to take that one back. Sorry about that Ted! I wish I could recall who told that story to me...

I should also point out that Nightlife was not the only Seattle blues band to visit Ketchikan during this period. Blue Lights also played in Ketchikan, and featured both pianist Sunnyland Slim and guitarist Hubert Sumlin during their visits. I believe that I will write a blog about this band in the not too distant future.

Shamrock Bar & Supper Club

Stuffed salmon - Shamrock Bar

After the first version of Nitelife burned out in Ketchikan, bassist John "The Savage" Lee, drummer Jim Becker, and I returned to Seattle. Jim moved on to become the first drummer for Seattle's Slamhound Hunters. John and I recruited drummer Ric "Mad Dog" Howell and guitarist Jack Cook from the Isaac Scott Band for our second trip to Ketchikan and the infamous Shamrock Bar & Supper Club in the summer of 1980. We played in the back of the club next to the ice machine from 10:00 PM to 3:00 AM six nights a week to a (usually) totally smashed crowd of revelers and the topless dancers working the fishermen and loggers. The band stayed in an apartment above the liquor warehouse next door to the bar, where we could hear the bar's jukebox blasting away from 4:00 PM until 5:00 AM. The entrance was in the back of the building, at the end of one of the world's most interesting alleys.

Entrance to the band crib

The party lights were still burning bright at the Shamrock during our second visit, and some of the members of the band partook heartily in the festivities. Sometimes too heartily, for sure, but we made it out of town safely, somehow. If I recall correctly, we played in Ketchikan for six weeks before making our escape back to Seattle. The Savage, having meet a future ex-girlfriend who returned to Seattle with him, declined to participate in any further expeditions north.

Nitelife Ver. 2.0, leaving Ketchikan - Ric Howell, Mike Lynch, John Lee, and Jack Cook

The following summer we returned to the Shamrock for the last time, with bassist Doug Royce in tow. Doug, an actual trained musician who had worked in big bands years before, was playing with the Brian Butler band when I first met him (I worked with Doug again years later, in the Tom McFarland Band). We worked the same fun house shows, to an ever-changing cast of topless dancers, regulars, loggers, and fishermen (and women).

We did play outdoors at least once during this visit. Here are a couple of photos from that event - these were created at either a wedding or one of Terrible Ted's salmon/shark barbecue benefits, I'm not sure which, unfortunately.

Nitelife Ver. 3.0 - Ric Howell and Doug Royce

Nitelife Ver. 3.0 - Mike Lynch and Jack Cook

At the end of this final engagement at the 'Rock, the band split for Seattle. But not me - oh no, I decided to stay in Ketchikan to tend bar at the Shamrock and work as the foo-foo dancers' "house mother." This was a position where I was supposed to manage the dancers' schedule, but it was more like trying to herd a bunch of hungover, irritable cats.

Unknown country band at the Thunderbird.

I gave up on the house mother gig pretty quick, and tended bar at the Shamrock and at the Thunderbird out at the north end of town for the next 18 months. During this time lots of interesting stuff happened: I met the famous stripper Chesty Morgan (breast size: supposedly 33FF, but she told me that they were MMM), I was detained during a drug raid at the Shamrock (along with all of the other denizens of the deep in the place), I met a future ex-wife, lived in a float house, and developed an interest in high-powered handguns. Nitelife was reanimated in the late '80s for a brief run during the heyday of Seattle's Pioneer Square scene.

Click here for an interesting article about the life and death of the Shamrock Bar & Supper Club (aka: The Chapel by the Sea). Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Ted Herlinger for providing this link.

No comments: