ALL OVER THE MAP

‘Charlie Browning is still first-downing’ and other Husky novelty songs

Sep 1, 2023, 10:02 AM | Updated: 10:31 am

UW football songs...

The 45-rpm single of "Charlie Browning" was released in December 1963 and reportedly sold 25,000 copies during the UW Huskies' run-up to the 1964 Rose Bowl against Illinois. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

(Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

As the University of Washington’s (UW) Husky football program kicks off its final Pac-12 season in Montlake tomorrow, it’s a perfect excuse to look and listen back to some old local novelty songs about the beloved college team.

Husky Fever

In 1977, as part of a coordinated media campaign to boost awareness of the Huskies and help increase game attendance in a city that a year earlier had begun to fall in love with a little NFL expansion team that I like to call the Seattle Seahawks, the UW released a disco-tinged song as a 45-rpm vinyl single. There were versions with different lyrics for football as well as (on the ‘B-side’ – ask your parents) for basketball.

The Husky tune was based on the 1975 disco hit by The Sylvers called “Boogie Fever.” Naturally, the local version was called “Husky Fever.”

I took my baby to the stadium to see the Husky game

We never thought we’d have so much fun

She was so turned on she’ll never be the same

She’s got the Husky Fever!

She wants another first down!

Husky Fever!

I think it’s going around!

Charlie Browning

Perhaps the earliest Husky football tribute/parody song is now 60 years old. It was based on the #2 single by The Coasters from 1959 called “Charlie Brown.”

The UW’s 1963 version was by a group of students called The Young Men; the leader of the group, Rainer Rey, wrote the parody lyrics. The song was playing on local radio stations even before the single was released in December 1963, which was right before the Huskies played Illinois in the 1964 Rose Bowl.

The title comes from an otherwise unremarkable Husky linebacker conveniently named Charlie Browning, whose surname tees up a terrific football-themed rhyme.

Fi-Fi-Fie-Fie-Fo-Fo-Fum

I smell smoke in the Husky Stadium

It’s Charlie Browning, it’s Charlie Browning

Still first-downing,

Charlie Browning

Illinois is gonna lose just like USC

Why ain’t nobody ever tacklin’ me?

The single, released by Seattle label Bolo Records, reportedly sold as many as 25,000 copies. However, catchy lyrics notwithstanding, come New Year’s Day 1964 in Pasadena, it was Illinois who prevailed 17-7.

The Ballad of Sonny Sixkiller

During the 1970 season, Sonny Sixkiller was the Huskies’ sophomore quarterback sensation in beautiful downtown Montlake. Sixkiller is also Native American, born in Oklahoma and part of the Cherokee tribe.

Sonny Sixkiller told KIRO Newsradio earlier this week that right after the first game of the 1970 season against Michigan State, he heard from a friend-of-a-friend named Rex Parker. Parker was a local guy who had connections to the radio industry and who happened to have an idea for a song.

Sixkiller, who in 1971 would make the cover of Sports Illustrated, shared some biographical details so that Parker could incorporate that information into the lyrics. Parker promised to give Sixkiller a chance to hear the song and to approve it before it was released to the public.

That wasn’t exactly how it turned out, Sixkiller says.

A few weeks after meeting with Parker, Sixkiller and his UW football teammate Bo Cornell went out one night to get burgers just north of campus at the old Dari-Delite on NE 55th and 25th NE – a local landmark eatery which later became the original location of Kidd Valley (that Kidd Valley location permanently closed in 2022).

As Bo Cornell drove his old Chevy back to the UW, the radio was tuned to pop music AM powerhouse KJR Channel 95.

“On the way back, Emperor Smith is touting this new song, ‘And this is about Sonny Sixkiller,'” Sixkiller said, doing his best impersonation of the legendary KJR DJ. “‘Let’s play it!’ or something,” Sixkiller continued, imitating Smith’s booming AM radio voice.

“And the song came on,” Sixkiller said. “But wait a minute,” Sixkiller said he was thinking at the time, “I didn’t give him the okay,” – meaning Rex Parker – “I didn’t give him the okay.”

And what did legendary Husky quarterback Sonny Sixkiller hear that night coming out of the dashboard radio of Bo Cornell’s old Chevy – replete with old Hollywood cowboys-and-Indians movie music and fake Native drumming?

He was born one morning ‘neath the sun and the heat

The proud grandson of an Indian chief

The Cherokee Tribe from which he came

Was first to learn of his famous name: Sonny Sixkiller

About the eponymous song, Sonny Sixkiller has, let’s say, mixed feelings.

“It was cool,” Sixkiller admits when it comes to being the subject of a song that was popular in Seattle and playing a lot on the radio.

But the “cool” part was just a small portion of Sixkiller’s reaction to Rex Parker’s musical creation.

“I wasn’t really excited or ecstatic about the ‘drum-drum’ total Indian sound and ‘shooting arrows’ and all that kind of stuff,” Sixkiller told KIRO Newsradio. “It just kind of went along with the sportswriters of the day that would label me as the ‘Cherokee Chucker’ and the ‘Slinger of Six’ and all those things.”

“So from that standpoint, I wasn’t really happy with the song just because of the narrative of it, but it was too late,” Sixkiller continued. “It was already on the air, so what was I gonna do?”

Sixkiller says that Native American clichés were rampant in the early 1970s, which was also a heady time of the Civil Rights movement, protests against the Vietnam War, and the shooting of unarmed students by the National Guard at Kent State University in Ohio. Sixkiller says he got support from a team psychologist to work through his feelings and that his teammates came through for him as well.

“My sophomore year, the team captains got together and wrote a letter to the local sportswriters . . . telling them to stop using the Native clichés when writing about me,” Sixkiller said.

That letter ultimately made a difference in the way the local media wrote about him, Sixkiller says.

“That was my team. They did it on their own because they appreciated me as a player and who I was being a Native American,” Sixkiller said. “It wasn’t right. I was really proud of my teammates to take that initiative and do that.”

Sixkiller, who works for a company that manages sports-related licensing for many college teams, including the UW Huskies, still has a complicated relationship with the song. During his interview with KIRO Newsradio, a copy of the original 45-rpm single was in easy reach.

“I’ve got several copies, by the way,” Sixkiller said, describing how the song still comes up when he speaks with Indigenous youth about his life and career and the choices those kids now face.

“You do what you’re supposed to do when you’re supposed to do it,” Sixkiller explained, describing his typical talk with kids. “In high school, if you’re training, you’re training, you’re not messing around. And you’ve got to strive for something if you want to go to college, or whatever it may be.”

“And I say, ‘Look, if I hadn’t done what I was supposed to do as a kid, in high school and all that, I wouldn’t have gotten a scholarship, I wouldn’t have had a song written about me, I wouldn’t have been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, I wouldn’t have all these things,” Sixkiller continued.

“And I say, ‘So you don’t know what’s gonna happen unless you put your mind to it and focus on it,'” Sixkiller said. “So I kind of use [the song] in that context now.”

Sixkiller says he’s not sure whatever became of Rex Parker; KIRO Newsradio was unable to locate Parker in preparing this story.

Other Husky songs on any dedicated fan’s playlist would also include “Watchin’ The Dawgs” and (on the B-side) “Tailgatin'” by Richard Gerber and “Husky Fever, On Two” by the Great Pretenders. Completists would likely throw in a vintage recording of “Bow Down to Washington” as well as the original recording of “Tequila” by The Champs and the Husky Marching Band version.

Hopefully, the Big 10 will not get wind of any of these old songs and then change their minds about the Huskies joining that conference in 2024. Should that happen, it would likely create a widespread and untreatable outbreak of a much different variant of “Husky Fever” than has ever been experienced before, musically or otherwise.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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‘Charlie Browning is still first-downing’ and other Husky novelty songs