Isaac Scott - 1945 to 2001 (First American Records promo photo)To the writers that contributed these pieces earlier this year - my apologies for the long delay in getting this stuff published, and my thanks for your contributions!
The first time that I saw Isaac, he was playing with Junior Earl and Twist Turner at the old Place Pigalle tavern/bucket of blood in Seattle's Pike Place Market in the mid '70s. I played with him several times after that, usually in impromptu pickup bands. I recall playing memorable gigs at the Ridge Tavern on First Avenue (the bald bouncer had the solar system tattooed on the top of his head), the G-Note out in the North End, and the Evergreen Tavern on Vashon Island.
I also saw Isaac play often with Northwest guitarists Tom McFarland and David Brewer during this period. Sometimes they would team up with The Iceman, Albert Collins, when he was in town for the loudest shows on the planet!
Two albums if Isaac's music were created during his brief stay with us - one on Seattle's First American Records ("Big Time Bluesman" - out of print), and one on the British Red Lightnin' label ("The Isaac Scott Band" - a live set, apparently still available).
The Isaac Scott stories that were created by several current and former Seattle musicians appear below. Enjoy!
Part 1- By Don “Jr. Earl” McNeff
I met Isaac at the Place Pigalle (aka: "the Pig") on a Saturday afternoon in the mid ‘70s. We had a gig there and he had come by to sit in. He sounded good. He was only about 23 then and I was about two or three years older. He was a big, good looking guy sporting a slick conk haircut. He had a part time job at the barber school, sweeping up, etc. He got free haircuts, which changed quickly from a conk (straightened to look like white hair), to a cavatis (shaved with a razor cut line around it), to a short afro, to jerry curls – all within a month or so!
I had been woodshedding on bass and wanted to step out in public. I booked a couple of gigs for us at the Pig and the Boulder Lounge as the Isaac Scott Trio with a very young Twist Turner on drums. We started rehearsing at Isaac’s sidekick Leroy’s apartment in the Central District. The repertoire was heavy on Freddie King instrumentals and Booker T. and the M.G.’s tunes. We also played tunes by Little Milton, Lighting Hopkins, and quite a number of gospel things.
The gospel vamps were called “raps” at that time. The black players I knew then called the standard blues changes in order of appearance (that is, 1-2-3) rather than the typical 1-4-5. We tuned our guitars to all open strings straight across, from E on down. This is a practice I do not recommend. However, when playing the pawnshop Japanese junk that we were using, the intonation up the neck was always questionable, so this practice had some limited merit. I had an old Silvertone guitar amp head and a homemade speaker box. It was ugly and didn’t sound very good when played loud. Isaac told me not to worry because nobody could tell the difference but musicians, and they weren’t gonna make us any money!
I lived on Capitol Hill and took the bus downtown to shop for groceries – fresh fish and vegetables at the Public Market. I would sometimes run into Isaac on the street. He’d have bloodshot eyes and a pint of liquor in his pocket. “I’m trying to burn out this bug I got,” he’d say. Looking back, I remember he was sick a lot for a guy in his ‘20s. He’d show up for gigs in a foul humor and just play rhythm and be uncommunicative. At the time I was unsympathetic. He wasn’t holding up his end, so I quit playing with him.
With the benefit of hindsight, I see Isaac as a victim of non-existent or at least indifferent medical care. Undiagnosed diabetes and hypertension, combined with his pathetic attempts at self-medication with alcohol created a tragic path. The same situation developed when I played with Elvin (L.V.) Parr. These men certainly deserved better treatment from me, and us as a society. I’m sorry.
The Gray Blues Band at the Place Pigalle. Left to right: Jerry Christie, Don McNeff, and Keith Duncan. Photo contributed by Mark Dalton.
Part 2 - By Twist Turner
I was Isaac’s original drummer in Seattle - a member of The Isaac Scott Trio, which consisted of myself on drums and Don (Jr. Earl) McNeff on bass. I had been working with Jr. Earl for sometime before that and was still too young to be in the clubs at that time. I remember Don telling me he had met this black guitarist who played like Freddie King, and that he wanted to do some gigs with him. I guess Don just went out and booked us some gigs because the next thing you know we were playing the Pig Alley, the Boulder, Smitty’s, and several other downtown night spots on a regular basis. At this time Isaac wasn’t really even singing, as I recall the only songs he sang were “Why am I treated so Bad” which had been a minor hit for the Staple Singers and the Edwin Hawkins classic “Oh Happy Day.” I still have a tape of Isaac’s first gig in Seattle here somewhere.
Isaac Scott at Twist Turner's house, mid '70s. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
Jamming at Seattle record collector Bob West's houseboat on Lake Union. Left to right: Bob Beebe, Bob West, Isaac Scott, Mike Lynch, Jack Cook, Twist Turner, and Dave O'Bern (sp?). Photo contributed by Twist Turner.Those days were a lot of fun, paying in bars was new to me, and most likely having come from a gospel background, new to Isaac as well. Pig Alley was one place in particular I have a lot of memories of. There was never a dull moment in this is club which was filled with an equal share of hippies, bikers, dope dealers, hookers, gays and lesbians, merchant seamen, mental patients, and politicians. You never knew what would happen there. Anything could and anything did happen there on a nightly basis.
Isaac and Twist Turner jamming at Twist's house. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
More jamming. Left to right: David Brewer, Brian Butler, Twist turner, and Tony Thomas. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
I remember one afternoon we were working there doing an early after-work set. There was an older black gentleman who possibly had had too much to drink in the club. He grabbed the mic from Isaac and started talking into it when Isaac wasn’t looking. Isaac firmly told him not to mess with his mic. A little while later he did it again, and Isaac warned him that if he touched his mic again he was gonna kick his ass. This time the warning was slightly stronger. Isaac loved to fight and apparently this guy, who must have been all of 120 pounds and in his mid '60s, didn’t have a clue that the 300 pound, 28 year-old Isaac meant business. Once again he grabbed the mic, and without saying a word Isaac turned around and punched him dead in the jaw. I actually saw the guy’s feet leave the ground a good eight inches, and he flew back, landing on his head. Without saying a word Isaac just went on to the next tune. It turns out that he actually broke the guys jaw that night.
There were other nights where Isaac would get up on a tiny bar table and play, and one night the entire table fell to pieces under his weight. Isaac never missed a beat. There were nights where each set would be one long extended jam song, and if Isaac had to pee, no problem, he’d just take his 100 foot cord, walk into the bathroom and never miss a lick.
The Isaac Scott Band (1976). Left to right: Twist Turner, Isaac Scott, Kim Field, and Mark Dalton. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
Isaac once told me this story about his daughter Angie. One day there was a knock on Isaac’s door. Isaac answered it to receive a package from the postman. While talking to the postman, Angie stuck her head out from behind Isaac’s legs where she had been hiding. The three year-old looked up at the postman and said, “My Daddy says you a booty pervert!" This was during the time when Isaac had her wearing a button on her hat, which read, “Help save the virgins of America, join the pussy posse."
Anyway I have a lot of fond memories of working with Isaac in the early days: the afternoon rehearsals at Tony Thomas' apartment in the Central area, rehearsing with Crazy Dave, Isaac’s friend from Reno in West Seattle, Uncle TC, Jerry Tanner, Tom McFarland, Jr. Earl, Mark Dalton, Kim Field, Eloise, and little Angie, who’s probably in her mid '30s now. I miss hanging out at the Capital hill apartmentt with the Hammond organ in the living room, listening to Isaac play some of the best organ I had ever heard.
After awhile Isaac changed - maybe it was jealousy, maybe insecurity, I dunno, but we went from being best friends to semi-speaking to each other in later years. I’d come by to see how he was doing and he’d walk right by me like I didn’t exist (actually not an uncommon thing in Seattle I’ve noticed). The last time I saw Isaac was in 2000. I was in town for my mother’s funeral. A friend talked me into going to see Isaac at one of the Pioneer Square clubs. He was just sitting up on stage stuck in his wheel chair, all alone looking very miserable. I hadn’t seen him in years so I decided to go up and say hello. Isaac was so rude and nasty to me that I just turned and walked away, left him sitting up there all by himself.
Isaac was a guy who had a lot of talent, but no people skills whatsoever. I remember in the early days people would come up to him in awe of his abilities, they would want to meet him and shake his hand. I’d hear them say, “Man you are the best guitarist I ever heard," and Isaac would respond with a rude “Fuck you!” turn his back, and walk away. I was sorry to hear of Isaac’s death but in a lot of ways I think he brought it on himself. Isaac knew from the get go that he had diabetes, that didn’t stop him from eating what ever he wanted, drinking like a fish, taking what ever drugs he could get his hands on, beating his girlfriends, etc. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just telling it like it is. If he had followed his doctors orders and not been so stubborn (highly unlikely knowing Isaac) he might still be here with us today. All I know is we lost a great guitarist when we lost Isaac.
Part 3 - By David Brewer
1976 - Freddie King had just passed away, so I went to Issac's house to have a little wake. We jumped into his olive drab Dodge that was a former Bell Telephone car (it still had the outline of the bell on the door) and we took his daughter Angela, who was about three years-old at the time, along with us to pick up Isaac’s buddy, Buster. Then we went to the Safeway for stuff for gumbo and then to the liquor store. Angela ran straight to the Ten High and said, “Daddy, buy this one!” and points to the 100-proof bottle.
We went back to the crib and spent the rest of the night telling stories about Freddie, drinking, and stuffing our faces with Issac's award winning gumbo. At some point during the frolic I said we ought to do a gig to send him off right. From then on it was a brainstorming session focused on the where, what, and how. Isaac got hold of Jim Hamilton and asked him to put a show together, you know, a "Blues Review," if you will. We suggested the G-Note Tavern at 8301 Greenwood, and since my band Blueseye had been playing there on a regular basis on our own and with Albert Collins, the owners agreed.
The next thing we did was to gather a horde of headliners: Isaac, myself, Tom McFarland, Gary Cerutti, the Gray blues Band, Twist Turner, and, as Jim said "A sizable selection of super solid Seattle sidemen." The night of the gig came and the place was busting with about 400 people in a place that held 250! What a party! At the end it was Issac, me, and Tom, all blasting at full volume peeling the paint in memory of Freddie King. After that there were more Blues Review's at that club, one for COYOTE, the the legal team that worked with “sex workers” here and in San Francisco. Now that was fun - Isaac and me with our 100 foot cords carousing with the crowd playing in the middle off about 300 hookers with Isaac giving me that sly grin...
Isaac Scott and David Brewer. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
That's just a couple of my memories of Isaac, but they are for sure good un’s....
Part 4 - By Brian Butler
Isaac asked me to join his band around 1978 or so. He lived pretty close to my place on Capitol Hill. I went to his apartment, knocked on the door and Isaac opened it. He had a 30-foot guitar cord in his hand that he bestowed on me like some kind of symbol of initiation. In reply to my questioning look he said, “It’s so we can go out in the crowd together”. What a way to start out! “Ok” I said, and took the offered cord.
Brian Butler at the Place Pigalle, mid '70s. Photo contributed by Brian Butler.
I kept the cord and used it for a few years, with and without Isaac. I don’t remember any dramatic occasions when we descended into the crowd together, the blues master and his skinny acolyte, but I do remember that the cord, due to it not being very supple, would not always extend to its full length. Sometimes I’d start heading out from the stage with a distant goal in mind, usually a good-looking girl or may a shot of tequila, only to find the cord had become a tangled mess and any further movement would only imperil equipment or people.
Isaac had a green car, a Dodge or the like, that had been owned by some kind of utility company; it had a faded emblem on the doors. Since I lived close, Isaac would give me a ride to the gigs. Here I was, playing with one of the main blues guys in Seattle, excited to be heading out for any gig, anywhere. Most nights Isaac would give me this long, sideways look, moan and say something like, “Man, I don’t feel like playing tonight”. I’d mutter something sympathetic, trying not to let his attitude affect my anticipation of playing. He always played great once we got to the gig.
The night I first I saw Isaac he was playing at the Place Pigalle. He had on a purple suit, his hair was straightened, he was playing a little guitar on which the finished was sanded off and which, riding on his belly, looked like a wooden plank with some strings and pickups attached. He was playing Freddy King style blues and was using that big right thumb of his to dig into the notes. He caught my attention.
Isaac would play long 20 to 40 minute songs, with long solos. A favorite device of his during that time was to change the key, maybe several times within a song. “We’re going up a half-step”, he would motion or say and at the start of the next bar we’d all adjust accordingly. One notable time Isaac played a couple sets of short, concise versions of Freddy and Albert King tunes; a pleasant break from the usual long improvisations that he favored. He was a great guitarist and great singer and it was an honor to be part of his musical world.
Part 5 - By Little Bill Englehart
When Isaac passed away so did Blues in Seattle. He was the REAL deal!!
My favorite Isaac story happened when I was playing at the Mint (in Seattle's Public Market) in the late 70's. He was a regular guest and we became friends. As you may know Isaac had a bit of a sick dark side. He would get a real kick out of calling me a "crip" in front of people and then have me call him the "N" word. It would break him up and, I'm sure, make everyone around us very uncomfortable.
Anyway, as time went on I got tired of it and told him we weren't doing it anymore. Well you know Isaac had to run it into the ground. One night I was coming out of the Mint and he and Tony Thomas were out on the sidewalk. He starts right up with the crip thing. I told him if he didn't stop I was going to shoot him. He just laughed and kept on. At the time I had a starter pistol in my car. I grabbed it and pointed at him. He, of course, laughed. Said I didn't have the balls to shoot. So I shot it up in the air. With all the buildings around it sounded like a cannon going off. He and Tony started running down 1st Avenue with Isaac calling me a crazy motherf****r. I kept shooting 'till they rounded the corner.
The next day he went into the Mint and told the owner that I had tried to kill him. I never told him it was a starter pistol. I'm sure it kept him thinking that I was a little close to the edge.
Isaac Scott and bassist Tony Thomas. Photo contributed by Twist Turner.
Part 7 - By Steve Bailey
Isaac Scott and Leslie "Stardrums" Milton at the Jolly Roger Roadhouse in Seattle (mid '80s). Photo contributed by Leslie Milton.
Isaac Scott and Leslie Milton in Seattle, 1994. Photo contributed by Leslie Milton.
The Isaac Scott Band at the Jolly Roger Roadhouse in Seattle (1983). Left to right: Paul Wager, Dick Powell, Isaac Scott, and John Stephan. Bassist Tony Thomas is standing behind Isaac.
Isaac Scott Blues Story Gonna Get My Money
More stories at IsaacScott.com
Part 11 - By Monte Price
Thanks so much for inviting me to contibute to your piece on our brother Isaac Scott. I hope I can relate something that your readers will enjoy.
From the time I met Isaac in the mid-1980s at the Occidental Beach Club in the Square until his departure we were fast friends, associates and partners in crime like none other. Isaac knew my passion for Blues music and brought me records and tapes to listen to when he'd take the bus from downtown to my place in West Seattle on Sunday. He'd bring big grocery bags of food so he could cook in my kitchen as his place downtown didn't have cooking privileges. One weekend he came up on the back porch all excited - he had bought "buffalo fish" at the Market and was set to "greez", as it is commonly known. He set to whipping up his deep fried delicacy amid a haze of libations and loud Blues blistering from the Klipschorns in my living room, and our fish-fry was legendary.
When I moved from that place two years later, there was still the distinct patina of "buffalo fish" coating every surface of that kitchen's walls, floor, and ceiling. One evening Isaac called me asking if I'd go with him over to Vashon Island in my pickup. He offered to pay for the ferry, so off we shuffled to the Fauntleroy dock. Seems Isaac's friend Wilson wanted to start making home brew and needed to clear space from his Vashon garage for this endeavor. A large chunk of space in this garage was occupied by a vintage condition Hammond C-3 organ (just like the B-3, but the 'church' cabinet), and our benefactor just wanted it out of his garage!
Somehow, we managed to get this beast and the included Leslie speaker up into my truck. We got back to the mainland very late, so we didn't make plans to move it until the next day when Tony Thomas, Steve Bailey, Todd Zimberg and I congregated in front of the house there on Phinney in Fremont around the corner from the Buckaroo Tavern (you know the place!) and contemplated the move from the curb at the sidewalk up about 8 stair treads to park this pig on the ground floor of the house! Bear in mind that the Hammond 'C' cabinet was much heavier than the 'B' model as these church models were to be like an anchor to their congregation and were intended never to be moved. We strained and swore and humped and groaned, and one painful step at a time the big Hammond found its new home. As we limped down the steps to leave, Tony said "If I didn't love that big motherf****r so much, I wouldn't never have done that!" Amen, Tony.
It paid off, though. For weeks Isaac played inspired Hammond that few of the full-time Hammond players around could match. Every record he played was Jimmy Smith, Booker T, Billy Preston, and Bill Doggett. On a bright Sunday afternoon some time later, I felt the windows of the house zanging from the sound pressure level of the screaming wide-open Leslie cranking Isaac's awe-inspiring gospel-tinged tirade to the entire neighborhood. Passers-by were stopping for long awe-struck moments of pure Isaac. Nobody called the cops.
Isaac at the Hammond organ. Photo contributed by Monte Price.
On another weekend at the same West Seattle house, Isaac came by on an evening when my son Russell was on his 'every other weekend' visit. The Bluesman was packing some new plank-of-the-moment, and regaled my impressionable seven-year-old with just about every lick he knew, having dimed all the controls on my Music Man RD410. I worried for a moment about my little man's ears and brain cells, but he was totally fascinated not just by what he was hearing, but what he was seeing. Watching up close while Isaac cranked and wrung some quasi-satanic Blues meltdown from 6 strings on a slab of wood was a damned impressive show. When Russell was getting ready for bed that night after Isaac left, he asked me if that was "magic" when Isaac played like that. You know the punchline.....
The Isaac Scott Band at Seattle's Bumbershoot Festival in 1989. Left to right: Isaac Scott, Homer Leon, Lonnie Williams, Mark Dalton, and Tom Mc Farland. Photo contributed by Monte Price.
The Isaac Scott Band, possibly at an office complex lunch concert in the late '80s. Left to right: Tony Thomas, Jim Plano, Isaac Scott, Dan Abernathy, and Lonnie Williams. Photo contributed by Monte Price.
Part 12 - By John Lee
I had come to Seattle in the summer of 1975 fresh off a summer tour of Alaska with John Lee Hooker. I had moved to the Capitol Hill neighborhood and was determined to leave the great white north behind for good.
I dropped in to a weekend show with Issac Scott and Tom McFarland at Mother's Tavern. I had never met or seen Issac or Tom play before that night. Issac's guitar playing completely knocked me out and Tom was right there with Issac. I would get to know both guitar greats more the following year and the years to come.
I went to Hawaii for the winter and stayed with my friend Jerry Hite and his family. We played ping pong, watched films, listened to blues and R&B tapes and drank Primo beer. Having worn out my welcome and ready to give the Seattle blues a true go, I headed back to the Pacific Northwest .
Before I landed a gig with the band Nightlife, fronted by harp player and vocalist Mike Lynch, I played numerous jobs with Issac Scott. One was quite memorable. We were to open for my old buddy John Lee Hooker at Hibble & Hyde’s in Pioneer Square. The group consisted of Issac on guitar, Gerald Gibson on tenor sax, and me on bass. To this day I can’t remember who the drummer was! We played a great set, but in the middle of the proceedings my glasses slipped down on the end of my nose. Instead of helping me out of this uncomfortable moment, Gerald Gibson pulled my glasses down further. Gerald was a great player but a little unstable.
The second our set was complete, Issac pulled Gerald into the back room that doubled as the break area. While Issac and Gerald were having a little talk, my old Alaskan buddy John Stephan and I were having a little conversation with the Hook not far from the break room door. After a few minutes had passed, Gerald came running by us, then an empty bottle of Jack Daniels came flying by, followed by the 300-pound Issac Scott dressed in a canary yellow suit and doing what can only be described as hauling ass. Everyone in the area looked on in total amazement. John Lee Hooker was the only one to say anything, one simple phrase: “Them niggers are crazy!”
The big man could be a hard ass, but he would stick up for you if he thought you were being wronged. That is more than you can say for a lot of people.
This photo was created by Jef Jaison at the Isaac Scott wake held at the tractor Tavern in Seattle on December 1st, 2001. These are musicians (with the exception of Annieville Blues) that played at one time or another in the Isaac Scott Band over the years. Photo contributed by Monte Price.
Standing, from left to right: Norm Bellas, Bill Freckleton, Bill Bowden, Paul Wager, Jim Plano, Daddy Treetops, Annieville Blues, Bruce Ransome, Monte Price, Charlene Grant, John Keskey, David Brewer, and Richard Evans,
Kneeling, from left to right: Raven Humphries, John Stephan, Ric Howell, John Lee, Steve Bailey, and Mikal Rollins.