One of Seattle’s most remarkable rock shows took place when the Ramones shook the Georgian room in the grand old landmark, which in its heyday was the center of Seattle high society.
One of Seattle’s most remarkable rock shows took place 40 years ago today.
The seminal punk group the Ramones played in the staid Olympic Hotel, in the Georgian room, a 3,600-square-foot hall with a beautiful 31-foot ceiling.
Their music literally shook the guests in the lobby as a crowd of 400 to 500, mostly kids, overflowed from the 150-person-capacity venue March 6, 1977.
It likely was the loudest musical group ever to grace this grand old landmark that in its heyday was the center of Seattle high society.
And it all took place because a couple of recent Roosevelt High grads, Neil Hubbard, then 19, and Robert Bennett, then 20, made it happen in one week’s time.
“It was incongruous to have this venerable, old Seattle hotel with stodgy guests, on a quiet Sunday, have the lobby all of a sudden full of kids in leather jackets and torn jeans,” remembers Hubbard, now 59. “Guests were complaining to the front desk.”
But a contract is a contract; in this case, $500 to rent the Georgian (about $2,000 in today’s dollars).
Bennett did kind of warn the Olympic’s manager.
“I tried to explain, they’re kind of loud. He said, ‘Fine. We have proms here all the time.’ I said, ‘All right,’ ” says Bennett, now 60.
These two young men scrambled to book a hall for the Ramones when they heard where the band originally had been booked.
It was at the now-demolished Aquarius Tavern at 170th & Aurora, formerly known as Parker’s Ballroom.
But being under 21, Bennett and Hubbard knew that they and their friends who made up a large part of the local Ramones fandom couldn’t get into the show.
Hubbard began making phone calls and eventually got ahold of the Ramones’ tour manager.
“He said, ‘If you can find a place to do the show, you can produce the show,’ ” says Hubbard.
Cost to book the band for one night: $1,000.
At that time, Hubbard was going to North Seattle Community College and, he remembers, “living with a bunch of punk rockers.”
The only one in that group with some cash was Bennett, who was working at a burglar-alarm company.
They had six days to find a hall. They remember calling about 20 places, which either were booked or, having a notion of what the Ramones were about, passed.
Then, whoa, the Olympic agreed.
The two printed up a poster (all red, with “Ramones” repeating) and rudimentary tickets. Record stores on “The Ave” in the University District such as Cellophane Square and Campus Music sold the tickets.
Jim Basnight, now 59, also was a Roosevelt High kid who hung out at the record stores.
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At a time when the radio top hits included the Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight” and Wings’ “Silly Love Songs,” they were listening to Talking Heads, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Iggy and the Stooges, and, of course, the Ramones.
Said Trouser Press, an alternative rock magazine published in New York:
“With just four chords and one manic tempo, New York’s Ramones blasted open the clogged arteries of mid-70s rock, reanimating the music. Their genius was to recapture the short/simple aesthetic from which pop had strayed, adding a caustic sense of trash-culture humor and minimalist rhythm guitar sound.”
Basnight then was in a band called Meyce, formed with other North End kids. The band would end up opening for the Ramones at the Olympic.
He says about this music that captured them, “It was stripped-down, less solo-oriented, less jam-oriented, pretentious rock, not the, ‘We’re beautiful rock stars with long hair.’ ”
Strange Seattle crowd
Seattle was the third stop in this state for the Ramones as they drove up from California gigs in their van.
On March 4, they played at Natacha’s Pavilion in Bremerton.
It was quite a joint, described by historian Peter Blecha in HistoryLink.org as a place “presenting BYOB events for sailors from the nearby Navy facilities — an odd situation since those sailors’ teenaged dates were also allowed into these private parties.”
Mark Wheaton, now 67, was among the contingent of maybe a dozen Seattle kids who took the ferry and hiked for miles to the club.
The Navy guys and their dates, he remembers, “had absolutely no idea” what was taking place on stage when the Ramones appeared. The Ramones, he says, “didn’t care. They were totally doing their performance.”
Wheaton tape-recorded a short interview with Johnny Ramone, with the kind of prepared questions a young kid asks:
Do you feel responsible for spreading such powerful music and lyrics and causing teenage trauma?
On March 5, the Ramones appeared at The Rocker Tavern in Aberdeen.
Yes, Kurt Cobain had been born in that town 10 years earlier.
But Monte A. Melnick, the Ramones’ road manager, has this recollection in a book titled “On the Road with the Ramones”:
“There was one place that we got screwed, though — some blue-collar lumberjack bar in Aberdeen, Washington. We did our 20-minute, 30-song set, and BAM! It was over before they blinked. The owner stormed out and hollered, ‘Are you crazy? You gotta play here for two hours!’ There were all these lumberjacks, big guys, who were throwing bottles because we didn’t play long enough.”
Then came the Seattle appearance.
“I never saw such a strange assortment of people,” says Paul Hood, now 58, then a member of opening act Meyce. “There was this guy in the front row with Peter Frampton hair like Big Bird. Not all were wearing black. People were in multicolored jeans, multicolored hair.”
Then the Ramones were introduced about 9 p.m.
“BAM! It was a huge rumble. So loud, unbelievably loud. There was so much energy it went right into the audience,” says Hood.
Neil Hubbard says he has permanent hearing damage in his left ear.
“I was walking in front of one of the P.A. stacks and there was this huge burst of feedback. I felt something go ‘TWANG!’ and there were tears streaming out of my left eye uncontrollably,” he says.
Hubbard has a couple other anecdotes.
Before the show, the Ramones said they wanted something for dinner. They didn’t request anything special. Just the nearest Jack in the Box, which turned out to be the one then on Broadway.
“They were really humble. They ordered tacos and they all got large coffees,” says Hubbard.
Hubbard was taking tickets at the door, he says, when Randy Bachman of Bachman Turner Overdrive handed him a business card. Apparently he was staying at the hotel.
“I want to get in for free,” Hubbard recalls Bachman saying. “I looked at him in the eye and said, ‘You can pay double.’ He could afford it. We didn’t like Randy Bachman anyway. He was part of the rock establishment.”
By 10:30 that evening the show was over. Two sets filled with 2-minute songs.
Robert Bennett says the show turned a small profit.
“I remember thinking I was wealthy,” he says. He ended up booking the Ramones at other shows.
Would the now-named Fairmont Olympic Hotel still book the Ramones at the Georgian?
Yes, says Victoria Dyson, director of sales and marketing.
She says that somehow the rent for an evening would need to total $20,000 ($2,500 for the room and $17,500 for food and beverages).
Otherwise, the Olympic welcomes the next Ramones. Hey, Ho, Let’s Go.
If you’re wondering what happened to those in this story:
Robert Bennett owns 2GoServices, a Renton company that arranges delivery from local restaurants.
Mark Wheaton owns Catasonic, a recording studio in Los Angeles.
Neil Hubbard, of Kirkland, is a full-time professional bagpiper and bagpipe instructor.
Jim Basnight, of Indianola, Kitsap County, is a full-time musician who plays everywhere from clubs to weddings.
The original lineup of the Ramones performed at the Olympic.
Joey Ramone died in 2001 at age 49 of lymphoma.
Dee Dee Ramone died in 2002 at age 50 of an apparent heroin overdose.
Johnny Ramone died in 2004 at age 55 of prostate cancer.
Tommy Ramone died in 2014 at age 65 of bile-duct cancer.