10 Years of Treasure Pt. 4: Wheedle's Groove
Over the last few years, Seattleites have become familiar with Wheedle's Groove through a slew of formats: the electrifying ensemble of old-school funk and soul musicians who headline major venues around the city; the award-winning documentary of the same name; the pair of albums released by Light in the Attic, the first compiling 18 vintage funk and soul songs by Seattle bands from 1965-1975, the second featuring many of those same musicians recording brand-new songs 40-some years later.
And beyond all those entry points, Wheedle's Groove embodies something bigger.
"Wheedle's Groove is a landmark phenomenon that transcends era, race and trend, unfixing the music and musicians from history's amber to produce a living, breathing force of culture," I wrote in the Seattle Times on occasion of Mayor McGinn declaring September 4, 2010 "Wheedle's Groove Day."
The fact remains true today. And that phenomenon owes its continued existence to Light in the Attic. That original compilation, released in 2004, was responsible for rekindling interest in this forgotten music. The Wheedle's story is more than a sentimental underdog tale.
The story arc of Wheedle's Groove is the best expression of the Seattle zeitgeist in recent memory (see iconic 1996 grunge doc Hype! for a point of reference). It goes like this:
A subculture, homegrown out of geographic necessity, homespun by design, remains staunchly local despite not-so-subtle aspirations to international acclaim. Fortune comes knocking, a few answer the call, the rest remain local and proud of their modest successes. All the while a lot of badass music is made.
It's the archetypal story of Seattle. But instead of Kurt and Eddie, our figureheads are Pat and Ron—Patrinell Staten, today known as Pastor Pat Wright of the world-renown Total Experience Gospel Choir, and Ron Buford, current bandleader of Wheedle's Groove. Back then they were kids making music for the love of it. Now in their 60s, they both still play today.
Ours is a humility born of a parvenu's shoulder-chip balanced by pride in a thing made better than anyone else, anywhere else can make it—self-knowledge both cynical and satisfied. What could be more Seattle than that?
"A Little Love Affair" by Patrinell Staten from Wheedle's Groove: Seattle's Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-1975
"Deep Soul Pt. II" by Ron Buford feat. Ural Thomas from Wheedle's Groove: The Finest in Seattle Funk & Soul 1965-1979 Ltd Ed. 45s Box Set
"Wheedle's Groove" by Anakonda from Wheedle's Groove: Seattle's Finest in Funk & Soul 1965-1975
In 1978, Spokene-to-Seattle transplants Anakonda recorded the song that gave Wheedle's Groove its name.
As I wrote in the liners for the Wheedle's 45s box set:
The '77 Sonics were serious contenders, winning the Western Conference title before succumbing to the Washington Bullets in the finals. It was a huge turnaround for an expansion team that had spent years in the division basement. The following season, under head coach Lenny Wilkins, the Sonics entered the playoffs with their strongest record yet, and Sonics fever reached full pitch around Seattle. As part of a promotional campaign launched by a local radio station, bands from the region recorded tribute songs for the team. One of those bands was Annakonda, who recorded a Sonics-themed 7". Side A was "Sonic Boom." Side B, "Wheedle's Groove."
"'Wheedle's Groove" was originally called "Space Bot," says Annakonda keyboardist Bryan Lawrence, now 62 and living in Olympia, WA. "'Sonic Boom' was written for the SuperSonics, and the Wheedle was the mascot at the time, so we decided to change the name so both songs would relate to the Sonics."
Lawrence penned the tune in a style vastly different from the Doobie Brothers-esque pop that Annakonda was known for. "We went out to Eastern Washington State University to a sound studio and recorded both songs and released 'em on a 45," he says.
On the strength of its horn-and-vibraphone-laced swagger, "Wheedle's Groove" became the team's unofficial theme song and received copious radio play in the fall of '78. After a tough conference finals win against the Phoenix Suns, the Sonics returned to the NBA finals in the spring of '79 for a rematch against the Bullets. Revenge was sweet: Led by Finals MVP Dennis Johnson and leading scorer Gus Williams, the Sonics won 4-1, bringing Seattle its first and only NBA title.