700 Funk, a Saturday night funk and soul party at Wallingford's Sea Monster Lounge, revives the spirit of 700 Club, a short-lived but influential Seattle club.
For a minute, it feels like venerable guitarist Thaddeus Turner is getting shown up. Lanky bass wiz Mark Mattrey is bouncing around behind him, his head nearly scraping the ceiling while pounding out a stream of rubber-band bass lines. Sunglasses on, lips pursed in a perpetual state of funky, drummer Woogie D kicks a vigorous beat that has the college kids, gray hairs and everyone in between on the Sea Monster Lounge’s crowded dance floor grooving in unison.
Meanwhile, Turner’s dutifully carrying a rhythm during Roc Phizzle’s keyboard flourishes, patiently waiting for his turn. When it comes, a wavy solo erupts from his guitar that would bring George Clinton to his knees, followed by several minutes of talk box funkadelia.
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Not bad for what the venerable musician and touring member of Digable Planets would later call an off night. Suffice to say that no one at his popular 700 Funk night seemed to mind. The weekly Saturday party, which began less than a year ago at the Wallingford nightclub, assembles a rotating cast of top players from Seattle’s funk and soul scenes for a free-wheeling jam session that feels like the coolest house party you’ve ever been invited to.
“It’s just a melting pot of all these different styles,” Turner says. “The biggest thing is just to make people feel good and maybe they shake their booty a little bit in the process.”
With all the action on stage, it’s easy to miss Andrew “Sea Monster” Nunez — the singer/sound guy/club owner/barman perched in the sound booth in the back of the dance floor. 700 Funk is his brainchild, drawing its name and more than a measure’s worth of inspiration from Seattle’s late 700 Club. The short-lived but influential nightspot was home to improvisational jam nights that attracted some of the city’s top funk, soul, hip-hop and jazz players — often studio musicians whose chops surpassed their name recognition — including Reggie Watts and the Maktub guys. It was there that Nunez, a Bay Area expat reared on house music, first bonded with some of the core members of the revolving 700 Funk family.
After working overseas for a few years, Nunez returned to the Bay to find the scene had dispersed as the city “got a little too pricey” and decided to head north. In Seattle, he wound up living with Mattrey, who held basement jam sessions with Turner and Woogie D (né Derneill Washington) and the trio became part of the nucleus of 700 Club’s King of Clubs funk night, says Nunez. Coming to their gigs and occasionally joining them on stage gave Nunez a taste of Seattle’s live-music culture and ultimately inspired him to open his own club.
“Much like Sea Monster is now, it was the meeting place for all of the real musicians that maybe don’t get all of the accolades,” he says. “It’s the underground scene of live musicians playing funk and soul, that are doing it every night whether it’s for 10 people or 100 people.”
“It was never built to hold the load.”
After opening in 1997 above downtown’s embattled Jerseys All-American Sports Bar, the 700 Club became a hangout for musicians and athletes. As its reputation grew, the speakeasy-style club built on Jerseys’ converted mezzanine often had lines wrapped around the block. At the time, True Loves drummer David McGraw was a new Seattleite, working around the corner at Jazz Alley. The 700 Club, which he says felt “like a secret little after-hour” spot, was one of their go-to hangouts after work. “I do remember thinking ‘Oh yeah, I’m definitely not cool enough for these people,’ ” he jokes.
Sonics players including Gary Payton and Vin Baker regularly came through, adding to the club’s allure and enabling them to jack the cover charge up to $20, according to King of Clubs promoter Blake Micheletto. Some nights they’d pack 300 people in the low-ceilinged room where clubgoers were eye level with the band and the dingy, charcoal-carpeted floors would bow. “It would be so bumping in there…” Turner says. “I’d been there several times when I thought we were going to go through, down to the other bar, because the floor was bouncing so hard.”
Eventually it gave. Toward the end of the club’s run, one of the floor’s wooden beams fell off the lip that was holding it in place, recalls co-owner Chris Clifford, a feisty activist who’s picked legal fights with Boeing and various government agencies. “It was never built to hold the load,” Clifford admits. Over time, the floor sunk 6 inches down into Jerseys and had to be propped back up with two-by-fours. The smarter move would have been removing the mezzanine altogether, selling the timber and rebuilding it entirely, he says. But given the sports bar’s contentious relationship with the city, he didn’t think he could get the permits.
“I couldn’t go down and get a permit to crap in my own toilet if I wanted, so the last thing I was about to do was go down and say ‘Hey, I’ve got a structural issue, I need an inspector out here to find out what to do.’ That would’ve been the opportunity to shut us down for good because they hated us so much.”
For several years, Jerseys — according to Clifford, one of the few Seattle bars playing hip-hop during the ’90s — battled the city, after police alleged the bar was a magnet for crime and gang activity. A lawsuit brought by Clifford and Jerseys led to a federal judge overturning a 60-year-old state law that required bars and clubs to get city or county licenses to have live music and dancing in 1999. The city had used the law to crack down on clubs it deemed troublesome, like Jerseys.
Despite the courtroom victory, Jerseys and the 700 Club closed a year or so later, facing rising rents, and shortly after, the building was sold as the area around Westlake Avenue was redeveloped. “That’s a good little run, but nobody was making our lives easy,” Clifford says.
Drawing the crowd
Along with the now-defunct Scarlet Tree and Baltic Room, the 700 Club was part of a local circuit Turner and other musicians played to help pay the bills between tours. It would be another three years, in 2003, before the Sea Monster Lounge opened in Wallingford, filling the funk and soul void. “The scene just continued and flowed over to the Sea Monster, and the Sea Monster became the hangout,” says McGraw, who used the club to scout future bandmates, including innovative organ boss Delvon Lamarr.
What started as a small, 50-person venue more than quadrupled its capacity after expanding into the neighboring bakery space in 2015.
“To me, Sea Monster’s pretty legendary,” says Tiffany Wilson, the powerhouse soul singer who performs at 700 Funk. She credits Nunez’s background as a singer and songwriter for creating a communal, musician-friendly vibe.
“So often in the music business, you have people directing and running aspects of the music who aren’t actually musically creative,” Wilson says. “They work primarily on the business side of it, so there isn’t sometimes the empathy and understanding of the artists. That’s what’s really helpful, that Andrew himself is creative musically. He’s creating a space where he himself as a musician thrives.”
And it’s not just musicians singing the Sea Monster’s praises. Alan Person has lived in the neighborhood long enough to remember when matinees at the old Guild 45th cost a quarter. The retired ferry worker with a push-broom ’stache that could sweep a tarmac
has been a club fixture since it opened. He regularly comes out to see Hammond B3 maestro Joe Doria on Tuesdays and Funky 2 Death, the de facto Friday night house band which features several 700 Funk regulars. Before the Sea Monster, live music was “scarcer than hen’s teeth around here,” says the man Turner affectionately calls “Uncle Al.” He says his neighborhood haunt is a cheaper, more accessible alternative to downtown clubs with hard-to-find parking.
“He makes an honest effort to get a variety of music in there,” Person says of Nunez. “And the crowd comes in. I mean Jesus, you get there by 10:30 [p.m.] or so, you might have to stand outside the door to get in. They’re obviously successful and I’m glad they are. Otherwise we wouldn’t have any place to go.”