A huge passing took place in my small music world this past weekend.
This is what Buck Ormsby’s son posted on Buck’s Facebook page Saturday (Oct. 29):
Thank you to everyone who is sending birthday wishes to my father. He died early this morning. As many of you know he was down in Mexico for alternative cancer treatment, though cancer was not the cause of death. It was an unfortunate accident. Please know that his last months have been trans-formative in so many ways, and he was in a special place. Please give us time to adjust to our new reality. We will post information regarding services as plans form. Thank you everyone for all of your love and support.
Every punk, garage, grunge and/or indie act owes John “Buck” Ormsby a massive debt of gratitude.
Buck was the bass player for The Wailers — not The Wailers of Kingston, The Fabulous Wailers of Tacoma, who were an ace combo that combined solid rock’n’roll and R&B with high energy. So what did he do?
* He was a pioneer of DIY. He joined The Wailers in 1959, replacing original rhythm guitarist John Greek following the release of their debut single, “Tall Cool One.” After
their original label dropped them not long afterward, he started Etiquette Records with keyboardist/singer Kent Morrill and singer Rockin’ Robin Roberts. Buck ran the label, and the group, long ahead of the curve, at least knew where the money was coming and going, unlike so many acts who’ve been screwed. Every indie band and label (and I’m thinking of Sub Pop and K first and foremost, as Pacific Northwest labels) can draw this line back to The Wailers. They didn’t become megamillionaires, but they showed it could be done.
* The Wailers were the guys who made “Louie, Louie” popular. Their cover of Richard Berry’s 1955 single was a staple of their live shows, and it was Etiquette’s first single, in 1961 (credited, for contractual reasons, to Roberts). It didn’t chart, but they changed the beat from 1-2-3-4 to 1-2-3 and set the stage for The Kingsmen the following year, and Paul Revere & the Raiders the year after that, and you know the rest.
* He and The Wailers gave a struggling young musician some exposure. I had the pleasure of meeting Buck at his then-home in Seattle in September 1992; I interviewed him for a Boston Phoenix interview that never came to a fruition (I was transitioning jobs at the time). He told me about the Spanish Castle. If you’re not clued into the Spanish Castle, or only know of the reference from “Spanish Castle Magic” by Hendrix … Well, The Wailers were the house band at the Spanish Castle, a long-gone club on Highway 99 between Seattle and Tacoma. And Buck told me that, in the days when Fender amps were out of the financial reach of most young musicians, there was this young guitarist who had
one. And he would show up and let bands use it if they let him play a set of his own. And yes, they let him. And yes, it was Jimi Hendrix, before he went off to the Army and then became an ace backing guitarist and then became, well, Hendrix. Magic indeed.
* Speaking of the Spanish Castle: They gave us arguably the first live album — “The Fabulous Wailers at the Castle,” recorded in 1961.
* They gave us the first punk record — Buck released “The Witch” by fellow Tacomans The Sonics on Etiquette in 1964. The Sonics would eventually become one of the most influential bands of all time in the span of just two years and two albums (Here Are the Sonics, 1965, and Boom!, 1966) and one single on Etiquette. (Ironically, The Wailers tried to sound more like The Sonics as time went on — “Out of Our Tree” — and The Sonics were trying to sound more like The Wailers.)
All this from Buck and The Fabulous Wailers.
I also had the chance to see him twice in June 2002 when The Wailers made their way east for the first time since playing on American Bandstand in 1959; they played on my birthday at Ralph’s Diner in Worcester and then again that Saturday night at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. It was a wonderful musical week, to say the least. Like many ’60s bands whose careers were given a final chapter, even briefly, by the garage revival (The Sonics, ? and the Mysterians, The Remains, The Monks, The Standells, The Blues Magoos), I was happy to see The Wailers bask in the adulation from another generation of fans.
But their first tour would be their last. Exactly six months after my birthday, Rich Dangel, the guitarist, died suddenly overnight after playing with the band on his 60th birthday. Buck, Kent and the rest of The Wailers, with some replacements, carried on until Kent’s death in 2011. (Roberts died in a 1967 car crash, Greek in 2006, Marush in 2007.) And all good things, y’know?