The Wailers aka The Fabulous Wailers
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L-R: John Greek, Richard Dangel, Mike Burk,  Mike Marush, Kent Morrill
The historical importance of the Wailers is undeniable. They were one of the very first, if not the first, of the American garage bands.The very beginnings of Seattle's grunge rock sound  can be directly traced back to the pioneering efforts this of the rock 'n' roll combo.The Wailers are probably directly responsible for the sixties rock explosion in the Northwest. Paul Revere and the Raiders aspired to be as big as the Wailers were; the Kingsmen had a hit with their arrangement of "Louie Louie; the Sonics were groomed by the Wailers and the list goes on and on. 
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    John Greek - rhythm guitar/trumpet replaced by John "Buck" Ornsby in 1960.
    Richard Dangel - lead guitar replaced by Neil Andersson 1964
    Kent Morrill - keyboards/vocals
    Mike Marush - tenor sax replaced by Ron Gardner (lead vocals) in 1962
    Mike Burk - drums replaced by Dave Roland 1964

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(L-R) John Ornsby, Neil Andersson, Ron Gardner, Kent Morrill, Dave Roland

The fifties in the Northwest were an interesting melting pot. Clubs such as The Black and Tan, Birdland, and the Evergreen Ballroom routinely brought black R&B acts to town, and Ray Charles was based in the area. Rockabilly had made its presence known, and Elvis Presley was huge. It was out of this environment that five teenagers from Tacoma, Washington formed the Wailers.

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Originally a jazz band in 1957, formed by two high-schoolers, acoustic basiest Woody Mortenson and trumpeter John Greek.  At various times they called themselves the MGs, the M-G Trio, the M-G Quartet and so forth.  They filed in the group with hired players. One of those was guitarist Rich Dangel, who they hired to help them with a few rock 'n' roll songs at dances. The MGs began playing instrumental rock tunes causong the jazz musicians to begin dropping out.

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(L-R) Rich Dangel, Mike Burk, Mark Marush, Kent Morrill, John Greek, 1959

After realizing their audience preferred rock 'n' roll, to jazz, the band moved in that direction and began playing instrumental rock ny\umbers. The jazz musicians began dropping out and the band became a New Orleans style combo with Kent Morrill, Mark Marush, Rich Dangel Mike Burke. They now became the Nitecaps.. Their first paying job was at The Snakepit, an enlisted men's club at McChord Air Force Base. they would soon be asked by another local group The Blue Notes to open for them at a dance at American Lake. They accepted the offer and changed their name to The Wailers. Soon they were playing to crowds of 800. Building on their popularity the group began puting on their own 'Wailer House Parties', renting venues, Coca Cola Machines and printing posters to advertise the shows.

In August 1958 they recorded 'Scotch on the Rocks' at Commericial Records in Seattle. Their manager Art MIneo took the demo tape and shopped it around back East. After seeing a Wailer live show, Golden Crest Records owner Clark Galehouse signed the group. In February 1959, he recorded the group as it played in the Knights of Columbus Hall in Lakewood, capturing 'Scotch', 'Mau Mau', Snakepi', and 'Dirty Robber' on tape   Golden Crest  released Scotrh after the band retitled it 'Tall Cool One', which sold 20,000 copies within ten days of its release.It would rise to #45 on the Cash Box chart and peak at #36 on the Bilboard chart.

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Golden Crest arranged a visit to the East Coast, to discuss promotion with a talent agency. This was followed with several trips and television appearances., The Dick Clark Show in Philadelphia  on June 11,1959, The Milt Grant Show in Washington, D.C., The Buddy Dean Show in Baltimore and The Ray Lamont Show in in Richmond. They played dances in Maryland, Indiana, Michigan before returning to New York to play the Apollo Theater and appear on Alan Freed's Big Beat Show. During this time Golden Crest had released 'Mau Mau' in June which rose to #68 on the Billboard chart. In July Golden Crest announced their plan to release a Wailer LP  on the condition that the band return to to the East Coasst so they could be more easily managed. Greek was in favor but most of the other members weren't, causing a rift between Greek and band that would eventually see hime forced out of the group

Golden Crest released released the album the Fabulous wailers in in March 196. but did little to promote it

the Wailers had a national hit with "Tall Cool One" (#36, June 1959) while still in high school. They then went to the East Coast for some appearances, including the Alan Freed Show and American Bandstand.

Unhappy with the  way they were being  handled they returned to Tacoma and formed their own label Etiquette Records. Thus their material was self recorded and self promoted. The Wailers also produced a number of other acts, and Etiquette has left a fine history of some of the Northwest's most gritty recordings.

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L-R: Mark Marush, Gail Harris, Richard Dangel

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Wailers with Rockin' Robin Roberts

The Wailers had several fine vocalists in Rockin' Robin Roberts, formerly of the Blue Notes and Gail Harris who was only 13 years old when she first sang with the Wailers, and eventually became a regular during the early sixties. With Harris and Roberts the Wailers started moving in a far more R&B direction. With  Robin Roberts doing the vocals, the Wailers turned an obscure R&B song "Louie Louie" into a 1961 local hit  that served as the prototype for the countless subsequent versions of the 60s most popular garage song.

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Spanish Castle circa 1963
Photo courtesy Wilson Family

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Robin Roberts and Wailers 1961
Photo courtesy Gary Tidernan

The live album The Wailers At the Castle was the first record featuring The Wailers, Gail Harris and Rockin' Robin Roberts all together. They often toured and recorded with female back-up singers the Marshans, thus emulating and updating the R&B revue/extravaganzas that had been so influential years earlier. Songs such as "Hang Up" and "Out of Our Tree" showed their abilities with mid-sixties "punk rock", but they were certainly as talented in any other musical sub-genre of that magical decade.

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Rockin' Robin Roberts died in aa automobile
accident after leaving the Wailers in 1967

It was their hard-nosed R&B/rock fusion that inspired the Sonics and Kingsmen. Though the Wailers anticipated the British Invasion bands with their brash, self-contained sound, their inability to write first-rate original material, as well as their rather outdated sax and organ driven frat rock,  that led to their decline in popularity. As the decade progress they did adsorb mild folk-rock and psychedelic music without much success.

Beginning in the late seventies and through the 80's The Wailers joined together for a number of successful reunion concerts. Today a new wave of interest and fans all over the world have enticed the Wailers to once again pick up their instruments and play their rock 'n' roll. 

Robin Roberts died in a car in late 1967.
Ron Gardner died in a 1992 fire.
Richard Dangel died of an aneursm in 2002.
John Greek died in 2006.
Mark Marush died in 2007.
Kent Morrill died of cancer April 15, 2011.
Buck Ornsby died of lung cancer October 29, 2016.

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