Perhaps you are aware of the fact that there is an oddly popular trivia game floating around that a group of clever (and likely bored) college students invented back in the early 1990s called Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Maybe you have even played it. Taking its name from the social-networking concept of six degrees of separation, the idea is to link any given film celebrity to the actor Kevin Bacon within six steps or less. Accordingly, the lower a player's "Bacon" number, the better.
With Glen Campbell the recent and highly deserving recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, I would now like to change the rules of the game a little bit for purposes of this essay.From this moment forward, it shall be officially known as Six Degrees of Glen Campbell. Further, the goal will be to link Campbell, not Kevin Bacon, in six steps or less to Powell's City of Books.
Got it? Okay, good! Let's give it a whirl.
Now, of course, it would be taking the easy way out to just say that, hey, Glen Campbell has a long-out-of-print autobiography on Powell's used shelves, so there you go. A "Campbell" score of one. Ta-da! True enough, but way too easy. Sorry folks. No, we are actually going to layer in a little bit of Portland, Oregon (and music business) history in our quest to link the iconic singer with the equally iconic bookstore.
A good half-century ago, right here in Stumptown (one of Portland's several nicknames), a young boy dreamed of nothing but music. Maybe it was because as a post-toddler he had attended Mrs. Rooney's Musical Kindercollege, the home of Mother Treble Clef and Father Bass Clef. Or maybe it was because his elementary school music teacher, Miss Gunderson, had instilled in him a passion for the likes of Woody Guthrie and Rogers and Hammerstein. Whatever the reason, starting in the second grade, and for years to follow, the lad spent every morning before school faithfully parked in front of a big wooden AM radio, mesmerized by the sounds of the '60s Top 40-style.
It all came flying out of the mesh-covered mono speaker courtesy of KISN — the Mighty Ninety-One — an almost-mythic local presence, which at the time boasted a certifiably mindboggling ratings share of somewhere in the vicinity of 40 percent. Which meant that roughly four out of every 10 radios at any given moment in the metro area were all tuned into the same thing. Four out of every ten. A number of simply laughable proportions in light of today's crowded (and fragmented) broadcasting landscape, where an eight-share is enough to make a station's program director turn cartwheels in delight. KISN also just happened to be located on the corner of NW 10th and Burnside, directly across the street (to the east) of Powell's current flagship location.
But, back to our story.
As the youth joyfully listened to the various rock-and-roll songs of the day coming over the airwaves from hit-making bands such as the Beach Boys, the Monkees, the Association, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Mamas and the Papas, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, the 5th Dimension, and more, one particular assemblage seemed to stand out from all the rest to his tender ears: Paul Revere and the Raiders.
An R&B-flavored outfit with a nasty, funky side, the Raiders could also rock. And they could roll, too. Whatever the situation called for, especially during their sweat-soaked live shows where they were known for leaving themselves and the audience thoroughly exhausted.
Though the band originated in Idaho at the turn of the '60s, the two primary Raiders, Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay, early on moved one state over to P-Town (yet another Portland nickname), hired three new fellow players, and never looked back. Portland became both their home base and hoped-for launching pad to stardom. The group then had the good fortune of catching the eye of the well-known KISN disc jockey Roger Hart, who subsequently signed on as their manager. The savvy Hart promptly financed the Raiders' recording of the Richard Berry-penned (and allegedly salacious) "Louie Louie," which became the Raiders' first single for Columbia Records in 1963. Further, Paul, Mark, and the rest cut the song at a dinky, hole-in-the-wall recording studio called Northwest Recorders, coincidentally also located on Burnside, this time a mere three blocks in the other direction of what would eventually become Powell's.
Following the strong regional sales success of "Louie Louie," the Raiders made their dreamed-of exodus from the wetlands of River City (yes, another nickname) and headed straight for the sunny climes of Hollywood, California. There, Hart once again came through, this time by turning music impresario Dick Clark into an instant Raiders' fan. Clark hired the boys for his daily afternoon teen show on ABC-TV called Where the Action Is and a string of Top 40 hits almost immediately followed.
Along the way, Mark Lindsay, by this point not only the band's lead singer, but also their de facto musical director, became good friends with a guy named Terry Melcher, the Raiders' record producer.Melcher, to get the precise level of performance he wanted in the studio, had the habit of using a small, anonymous group of top-notch Los Angeles-based session musicians known to insiders as the "Wrecking Crew" — which included a youthful, pre-fame, dizzyingly-talented guitarist named Glen Campbell — to secretly play on much of the music he produced. (Note: For those keeping score, our Six Degrees scenario has begun.)
Naturally, none of this sat well with any of the non-Lindsay Raiders or with other Terry Melcher-produced bands like the Byrds, who found themselves on the sidelines during the recording of some of their own songs. But in Melcher's defense, other big-name LA-based producers such as Phil Spector, Lou Adler, and Brian Wilson were doing the same thing with the same studio cats at the same time and having huge hits in the process. From "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," to "California Dreamin'," to "Good Vibrations," it was all the Wrecking Crew all the time. Not to mention on hundreds of other hits by dozens of other famous artists. The record-buying public, of course, along with our young friend sitting in front of his radio, were all left blissfully unaware of this subterfuge. Which is just the way the big record labels wanted to keep it.
Blessed with a keen ear and eye, none of this escaped Mark Lindsay's purview, either. As he gradually assumed the producer's mantle with the Raiders, Lindsay began using the Wrecking Crew, too. Not on everything, but whenever he felt it necessary. Lindsay also hired the Wrecking Crew to play on some of his solo material. In particular, this included a song he cut called "Indian Reservation (The Lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)." Maybe you know it as the Raiders' biggest hit, which it was. Maybe you know, too, that it became the biggest-selling single in Columbia Records' history, all the way until "Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson came out over a decade later. In reality, though, "Indian Reservation" was nothing but a Mark Lindsay solo-singing effort with the Wrecking Crew backing him up on all the instruments.
Many years later, in the mid-2000s, Mark Lindsay decided to move back to Portland and open a restaurant called "Mark Lindsay's Rock & Roll Café." And who do you think should end up being his partner in the eatery? Yep, none other than the onetime KISN-crazed kid who sat by that radio listening to the Raiders, err, I mean the Wrecking Crew, every morning before school.
And now for the final degree of separation in our little tale.
As you may have surmised, I am, in fact, the Top 40-loving youngster that eventually partnered with Mark Lindsay. More so, he and I enjoyed many a chat over the years about the Wrecking Crew's mammoth yet largely unknown presence in popular music. Which, in turn, helped spur me to write a book about their dramatic exploits, which I have done, and which Powell's is now carrying.
So there it is, six steps: Glen Campbell to Wrecking Crew to Terry Melcher to Mark Lindsay to Kent Hartman to Powell's City of Books. Though it could be argued that what really exists here is the "Circle of Powell's," with the bookstore's future location playing such an ironic, interesting early geographic role in this story. And with the original Raiders, KISN radio, the Wrecking Crew, and now even the superstar Glen Campbell all gone from the scene (Glen is retiring in a few months), isn't it reassuring to know that Powell's is the one thing still there for all of us to enjoy?
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Kent Hartman is a longtime music industry entrepreneur who has worked with dozens of well-known artists, including Three Dog Night, Steppenwolf, Hall & Oates, Counting Crows, and Lyle Lovett. He lives in Portland. The Wrecking Crew is his first book.
Books mentioned in this post