Friday, May 6, 2011

The NW Rivals form to take Seattle (and beyond) by storm

Introductory text © Robert Barry Francos, 2011
Text supplied by the band © 2011
Image © Ernie Sapiro, 2011

Jim Basnight has been a staple on my turntable, and then CD player, for a number of years. His melodic pop punk style is an excellent introduction to the sound of the Northwest (NW), predating Nirvana by well over a decade. While Nirvana may have “broke” the scene, it did not invent it.

When I heard he was forming the NW Rivals, a new band made with members collected from classic indie musicians from “the day,” I thought publishing the chronicle of the band was worthwhile because of the lineage of those involved. One could say this is a press release, as it was supplied by the band, but it is actually more than that, as it is a history lesson of the scene back then, one that deserves more of a second look, such as has been done with Toronto recently. – RBF, 2011

The NW Rivals are more than just your average band. Guitarist Steve Pearson, bassist Jack Hanan, drummer Mark Guenther and guitarist Jim Basnight bring a combination of great songs and style from bands that have truly helped define music in the Northwest since the mid-to-late ‘70s.

These four have been creating great songs, recordings and shows to this day. Almost as if by design, they've been closely connected. Jim started Lovaboy (from the NY Dolls song "Trash": "How do you call your....”) one of the West Coast's earliest "pre-punk" bands in 1975, with the late drummer Dean Helgeson, Jack's high school friend.

Though Jim never met Jack then, he heard Dean talk about a guy at his school named Jack Starr, who could play Beatles songs just like the record. When Jack finally met Jim in '76 they instantly hit it off. After staying in touch and being mutual fans from then on, Jim and Jack put together Sway in 1992, followed by the Rockinghams in 1993.

The Rockinghams were never able to gain major success, but released a fun and very catchy CD, Makin' Bacon, in 1999, after the band had gone their separate ways. Steve met with Jack and Jim when they first got together in '92, but at the time he had just put together his own band. Basnight and Hanan also talked to Guenther at that time as well.

The timing was wrong, but it was obvious that these guys always wanted to make music together. In the 2000’s, Steve and Jim put a number of shows together, just so they could collaborate, and Jack also contributed as a bassist and co-writer on half a dozen tracks in Basnight's Recovery Room CD in 2004.

Lovaboy, as we travel back to '75, broke up after Jim's high school talent show, where the student body and faculty reacted in shock and amazement. Inspiring literal violent objection as well as "if these guys can do it, so can I" to their post-glam/pre-punk posturing, Lovaboy led to the formation of other bands, and more importantly, original songs.

Within a year, Jim's new band, the Meyce, debuted at the TMT Show in Seattle's Oddfellows Hall, where the NW Rivals took pictures in April 2011. The TMT show has been found to be the first DIY punk show on the west coast by historians. One of the musicians in this small group of kids that dared write their own songs was Mark's brother, the late David Guenther.

Mark met Jim in May ‘76 and briefly played with the Meyce toward the latter stages of the band in early '77. Mark also met Steve at that time (July '77), while playing with his brother David and Don Short, a future band mate of Steve's in the legendary Seattle band the Heats.

The Heats went on to have major regional success and tour nationally with the Knack, the Kinks, and many others. They released the Have an Idea LP in 1980, and the Burnin' Live LP in '83, before breaking up in later in that year. Steve also saw the Meyce at a midnight show in '76 and was inspired.

Not so much by their abilities as players, Steve was impressed by Jim's songs and by his sheer audacity and commitment to originality. At that time, Steve was arriving as a writer too. After working in cover bands for a few years, while quietly working on his songs, Steve joined up with Jim in an early version of the Moberlys in mid-'78.

Jim had released a single in late '77 after leaving the Meyce to move to NYC earlier in the year. His attempt to take Manhattan by storm had fallen short for Basnight, but it also gave him tremendous inspiration. The 45 rpm single ("Live in the Sun” / “She Got Fucked") created a little buzz around the Northwest, and even a bit elsewhere.

Prior to Steve playing in the embryonic Moberlys, the other guitar spot was filled by a Washington DC area transplant named Jeff Cerar. After Jeff was replaced following the Moberlys’ first recording session and before their first gig with Steve, Cerar joined up to form the Cowboys with the late and certainly great singer/songwriter Ian Fisher, Dean and Jack.

When Ian passed away in late 2007, Pearson, Hanan, Guenther and Basnight helped put together a fantastic show in Seattle in tribute, where they performed many of Ian's best numbers from the Cowboys. Fisher, Hanan and Helgeson had been in the Feelings along with ex-Lovaboy, the late Geoff Cade. Though Jim may have released the first "punk" single on the Seattle scene, the Feelings predated that by a track on local FM station KYYX's compilation titled Destroy Destruction in '77.

The Cowboys went on to be, along with the Heats, at or near the top of the list of premier bands on the Seattle scene in the early ‘80s. Their original songs clicked, and received airplay from local radio, as well as major success in the clubs.

The Heats single "I Don't Like Your Face” / “Ordinary Girls" and the Cowboys 45 "Rude Boy” / “She Makes Me Feel Small" were local radio hits. The Cowboys followed the single up with a self-titled EP release in '81, and then a full length LP release in 1985, How the West was Rocked, before they started slowing down in 1986.

The band continued to do reunions, but Jack stayed active, playing bass in numerous local original bands up until he hooked up with Jim in '92. The Heats followed up "I Don't Like Your Face" with "Rivals" (hence the NW Rivals) in '81, which was a tribute to the relationship with the Cowboys and the Moberlys.

The Moberlys went through two guitar players, Short and the late Ben Rabinowitz, with whom Basnight later wrote "Summertime Again" and "Hello Mary Jane," two of his best. The Moberlys finally found their man in Ernie Sapiro, a former schoolmate who had played in Uncle Cookie, the other band at the midnight show where Steve first saw Jim play.

The Moberlys played with Ernie from mid-1978 to late '79. The band split prior to the release of The Moberlys, the first full length LP that this scene produced. Ernie took the NW Rivals' recent band pics, and also played in the Cowboys after Cerar.

Jim moved to NYC after a year with the Pins, a band made up of three Seattle guys just off the road backing Doug Kershaw. Jim worked the clubs with the Pins long enough to save enough money for another crack at the Big Apple in the fall of 1980.

The Pins continued as a three piece, but joined with Pearson to form the Rangehoods in 1984. The 'Hoods had a successful career, yielding two full length albums, Rough Town in '84 and Long Way Home in '90. They toured outside the NW more than a few times, garnered nice reviews and were a strong club draw locally.

Guenther joined the Cowboys in '83, after playing with Sapiro in the Lonesome City Kings in the early ‘80s, and the Features, with members of Uncle Cookie in the late ‘70s. Mark also made his mark as a recording engineer, with scores of records (engineering credits on the first Presidents of the USA record, and the Supersuckers, just to name a few).

Guenther has mastered over 1,500 records (early Death Cab for Cutie, Brandi Carlisle, Daz Dillinger, mastered two Grammy nominated releases, the Posies, and many more). Jim formed another version of the Moberlys in NYC in the early 1980s.

After playing with numerous New York notables, writing and recording some great songs while coming back to Seattle for short trips with the New York band and pick up groups made up of from locals, Jim moved back to Seattle in '84, but not for good. Back in town, Basnight formed the third and final version of the 'Mobes, which for a while included Rabinowitz.

That band released a 45 ("I Want to Be Yours” / “Cinderella"), a 4-song EP, and compiled their recordings with tracks from previous Moberly line-ups for Sexteen, a full length LP for Lolita Records in France. The Moberlys then moved to Los Angeles in '85, and lasted for almost five years. They recorded most of an album with Peter Buck of REM for EMI in '87.

In LA, Jim wrote and recorded hundreds of tracks before and after the demise of the band. The best of those, including the Buck tapes, were released on CD in three collections (along with previous works), Pop Top in '93, The Moberlys Sexteen on the Bear Family label (Germany) in ’96, and Seattle-NY-LA on the Pop the Balloon label (France) in 2001.

After the Rockinghams, Jim released The Jim Basnight Thing, mastered by Guenther in 1997, and proceeded to earn a living traveling the NW with the Jim Basnight Band, as he does today. Steve, less inclined to work the road, instead chose to play gigs closer to home and focus on writing and recording.

Pearson released solo CDs Battles & Ballads in 2003, and Impatient in 2007 to many rave notices and fans who still value his enduring music. That's really what the NW Rivals are about. Enduring music done for fun by friends who have always crossed paths. They are all great individually, but together there is a chemistry that is undeniable.

Their debut performance is scheduled for Club Venus in Seattle on May 22, 2011. For more information about ether the band or the show, please email Jim at The NW Rivals can also be found on Facebook.


  1. Robert, any chance you know where I can find an mp3 of "I Am A Rock" by The Pins?


  2. Hey, D, I'm sorry, I'm afraid not. I didn't even write this article, but was submitted by the band. Jim Basnight is a musical acquaintence of mine, and I thought the piece compelling enough to reprint it (this is the only time I have ever reprinted a press sheet, but being it's a band history, it worked for my criteria). My only suggestion is to get it from YouTube and find a software that will let you copy it into MP3. Best I can do, sorry!