Which artists, groups belong on Seattle’s music Mount Rushmore
Nov 12, 2023, 10:26 AM | Updated: Nov 15, 2023, 11:07 am
(File photo: Alex Brandon, AP)
Before a little online bookstore became a retail giant, when a local company later known as RealNetworks was pioneering something called “streaming” and 97.3 FM was still playing the oldies, Seattle’s local music scene had a loud global resonance.
During a Friday edition of KIRO Nights, several KIRO personalities debated and discussed the music that defines Seattle and what artists belong on the Mount Rushmore of Seattle music before listeners sent in their votes for an official ranking.
Matt Butler, KIRO Nights producer
“I’m going with Jimi Hendrix for my first pick,” Butler said. “One of the defining talents of psychedelic rock guitar virtuosity, poetic lyricism and vivid imagination. He’s one of these artists that takes the listener on a journey into the vastness of the universe, the cliche of mind expansion.”
Hendrix, known arguably as the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music, attended Horace Mann Elementary School and then Garfield High School, both in Seattle. Hendrix never graduated from Garfield High, as he soon started his first band, the Velvetones. Hendrix claimed he was expelled from high school, while school records state he dropped out.
“Like a future Seattle icon who would blow the doors off of the mundane rock of his day, Kurt Cobain, Hendrix did more for music in his tragically short career than many artists accomplished in a lifetime,” Butler continued. No one did heavy quite like Jimi nor did anyone do abstract poetic beauty quite like he did.”
Butler’s next pick was none other than Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
“I’m going to go with Eddie Vedder. It’s a challenge to pick just one icon of the grunge era, but Eddie stands out to me for his vocals. He can wail with the best on a Pearl Jam song, he can equally channel a more soulful kind of folk rock sort of style like on the soundtrack to ‘Into the Wild.’
Vedder won a Golden Globe in 2008 for the song “Guaranteed” from the “Into the Wild” soundtrack. Entertainment critic website, Consequence of Sound, also ranked ‘Into the Wild’ as No. 20 on the list of Top 20 Rock ‘n’ Roll Solo Albums.
“For the Mount Rushmore of Seattle music, I’m picking Brandi Carlile,” Butler said. “Her music falls in the genre of Americana, a kind of a trendy catch all for music that’s too rock for the mainstream country world and to rootsy for mainstream rock and pop. Brandi is one of the most popular artists in that scene, but her music is uniquely her own and she should be a household name. Hopefully around here she is, but more people need to hear her music.
More from Matt Butler: Five essential holiday songs that celebrate the area
Butler’s final selection was saved for a key member of Washington-based band, Screaming Trees.
“Mark Lanegan. As lead vocalist for Screaming Trees, Lanigan and his band got thrown into the splendor of the grunge movement,” Butler added. “I think their music was much more intricate and beyond that, Lanegan’s vocals were some of the most soulful, weatherworn and moving vocals that I’ve ever heard in rock and roll, even in his later work, especially with Isobell Campbell from Belle and Sebastian.”
Frank Sumrall, MyNorthwest editor
“Pearl Jam. I have to make the tough case, and I don’t want to make the tough case because I don’t want to be dragged for it, but is Pearl Jam more influential than Nirvana?” Sumrall asked.
“I just think Nirvana was such a singular achievement. And that singular thing couldn’t be implemented again. Couldn’t be copied,” Sumrall continued. Whereas Pearl Jam created a new wave, whether it was the look, Eddie Vedder really embodies the Seattle look. He rocks the flannels, he’s got the long hair, etc. And the sound, we had to deal with five to 10 years of so many different bands copying their sound. There’s one, the Stone Temple Pilots, right? Every band tried to do their spin.”
“I’m switching gears to indie rock, basically a handoff from grunge to indie rock, and I wonder where Modest Mouse ranks amongst the greatest Seattle bands,” Sumrall continued.
Despite being based in Portland currently, the band formed in Issaquah. First forming in 1993, Modest Mouse embraced the eccentricity and absurdity of 90s music.
“If I said to you a phrase like ‘the lonesome crowded West’ or ‘good news for people who love bad news’ or ‘we were dead before the ship even sank,’ don’t those kind of sound like Seattle phrases? That’s kind of the Seattle irreverent, wacky humor,” Sumrall added. “And we have to remember this is not a Mount Rushmore for a New York or an LA, this is a Mount Rushmore for a city that has a gum wall. I think Modest Mouse belongs on a Mount Rushmore of a city that has a dedicated gum wall.”
For his third slot on the mountain, Sumrall volunteered Ernestine Anderson.
“Ernestine Anderson, one of the great jazz R&B singers of our time,” Sumrall said. “She started working with another Garfield High graduate, Garfield High in Capitol Hill where I live, Quincy Jones, who then linked up with Ray Charles. So it’s Ray Charles, Quincy Jones and Ernestine Anderson performing jazz in Seattle. And I picked her out of the three because she was the most local, she eventually died in Shoreline. She came back here and spent a lot of time in Seattle, where the others moved on. Ray Charles, I think he’s buried in Inglewood. Quincy Jones obviously lives in LA amongst other places. So I chose her as just the the local representative.”
“People really sleep on the jazz scene here,” Sumrall continued. “There are incredible jazz clubs in Seattle.”
Sumrall’s fourth and final nomination was for the band Fleet Foxes.
Lisa Brooks, KIRO Newsradio anchor and editor
“I’m not going with Pearl Jam the band, I’m going with Eddie Vedder, the frontman of Pearl Jam, just because he’s done so many great collaborations. And I think he has such a significant impact,” Brooks said on KIRO Nights. “The band has a significant impact on music, but his voice to me is like no other. I think Eddie Vedder just has the most amazing voice.”
Lisa nominated Jimi Hendrix before selecting to choose the Ravensdale singer-songwriter native.
“Jimi Hendrix just like Spike said, he is absolutely the No. 1. My other ones may be a little bit controversial, Brandi Carlile,” Brooks said before KIRO Nights played one of her most iconic performances at the Grammys (which can be heard in the audio above).
“She was drawing from another source that night,” Brooks stated. “That was the 2019 Grammys. At one point as that run continues, she is singing two tones in her voice an octave apart. It was just killer, but she’s also a great songwriter and now she’s getting into collaborations. There’s a wonderful documentary with her work with Tanya Tucker, and she produced Tanya Tucker’s comeback album, and Tanya Tucker won Best Original Song from that album.”
Brooks used the final rock for Quincy Jones.
“To me, Quincy Jones should be on Mount Rushmore just because of how much impact he’s had on Seattle music and everybody’s music, including Michael Jackson,” Lisa stated.
Spike O’Neill, co-host of The Jack and Spike Show
“First off, I want to separate Rushmore for grunge because when you talk grunge I want Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Those four voices alone are worthy of Mount Rushmore. And I know I’m insulting all the Mudhoney fans, I apologize, or Screaming Trees with Mark. I mean, there’s just so much music.”
“You got to put Hendrix,” Spike continued. “Definitely Hendrix is a cornerstone. Hendrix is the the father of all Seattle music. Can Ann and Nancy share one face?”
Ann and Nancy Wilson, the two lead singers of the rock band “Heart,” grew up in the Puget Sound region despite both being born in California. They attended Sammamish High School and soon after graduating, got their start in music with a local band called White Heart, which changed its name to Hocus Pocus, and then to Heart officially in 1974. Their first album was recorded in Vancouver the following year.
“Oh, this is where it gets ugly. This is where you start leaving people off,” Spike said. “Of all the voices of Seattle grunge, and what a slap in the face to all all guitar players to not say Mike McCready or Jerry Cantrell deserve to be on the Mount Rushmore of Seattle rock. Well, I’ll tell anybody to the day I die that Alice in Chains is my favorite Seattle band of all time.”
“What separated Alice from the pack?” Matt Butler, guest host for KIRO Nights, asked Spike.
“The way Jerry [Cantrell] harmonizes with Layne [Staley’s] vocals and Jerry’s guitar playing, which was unlike anything I’ve ever heard,” Spike answered. “I love Jerry’s style and I loved Jerry and Layne’s voices together.”
Still, Spike couldn’t bring himself to put Alice in Chains over Kurt Cobain, taking his third spot. Spike’s last nomination for the Mount Rushmore of Seattle music was Chris Cornell.
“I remember one day I was sitting at a Harley shop in downtown Seattle, Downtown Harley when it was still on MLK, and I bought my first bike there and I was getting my bike serviced,” Spike said. “And Chris was there getting something done on his bike. And afterward, we went for a bike ride together. Me and Chris Cornell just up through 90 to Fall city up North and then on to 203 through Tolt and Carnation and all the way to Monroe.
“Chris Cornell was a gift from God, absolute touched by the Lord with his voice.”
Nate Connors, traffic reporter
“You got to throw Kurt up there,” Connors said. “Unfortunately, I’m just thinking of all the dead rockers sadly.”
Connors first worked as an intern for KXRX and was on the radio on Friday, April 8, 1994 — the day Kurt Cobain killed himself.
“An electrician was called to do work at Kurt Cobain’s house that morning,” Connors said. “And he couldn’t find anyone on property. So he just went about his business, which happened to be, it wasn’t actually Kurt’s house, it was the granny unit. I think maybe a recording studio. Anyway, he went in there and that’s when he found Kurt. He first called 911 and then as soon as he hung up, he called KXRX to tell us because he was a fan of our station. I was interning and I actually picked up the phone call.”
In a recent ranking from Vulture, an American entertainment news website, the organization ranked Kurt Cobain and Nirvana the eighth-greatest group in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“I kind of would try to picture the event when John Lennon was killed. When people first heard that news and you’re just in a daze,” Connors continued. “And Cobain was like that for a different generation. There was a lot of, as you can imagine, upset teenagers because he represented the teen voice for a generation. And then, a week later, there was a huge public memorial at the Seattle Center, which we all attended at the station. I remember his wife, Courtney, came there and was shocked by the crowd.”
More than 10,000 people attended the public funeral, mourning Cobain with incense, poems and music.
For the rest of Connors’ Mount Rushmore, he stuck to Seattle’s most dominant decade in music — the 1990s.
“I’m thinking Layne Staley. I’m thinking Chris Cornell,” Connors said. “I don’t know if I’d put Vedder up there. Not any disrespect, but I don’t know, he didn’t hit me as much as the other guys for some reason. I don’t know. The guy is fantastic, obviously. And he does a lot of good for the planet. So what the heck, let’s put Vedder up there.”
Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest Lead Editor
“I’m going to start with Kurt Cobain,” Coogan said. “Now I understand that Kurt Cobain grew up in Aberdeen and spent more time in Olympia and other areas besides Seattle. With that said, I’m still going to put him on the list because I still think that he is, there’s just something about him. He was such a talented individual when it came to rock and roll and what his contributions were. He’s just the first name that I think of when I create a list like this.
“I grew up in Massachusetts, and I was a teenager when ‘Nevermind’ came out,” Coogan continued. “So definitely it was ‘Nevermind’ at first. I distinctly remember being 13 or 14 at that time and I just remember listening to that album.”
‘Nevermind’ spent 253 number of weeks on the Billboard Top 200 with more than 30 million records sold worldwide.
“I’m a little reluctant to put this fella at No. 2, but I still think that there’s merit here and I’m going to go with Eddie Vedder,” Coogan said. “Because ‘Nevermind’ and ‘Ten’ came out kind of around that same time as part of the grunge explosion. I think I’m pretty sure I wore those two CDs out when I was a teenager.”
Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ was released in August 1991, mere weeks before Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’ debuted that following month. According to the Center for Recorded Music, Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’ helped broaden the appeal of grunge music.
“It’s going to be the Wilson sisters from Heart for No. 3,” Coogan continued. “If you look at the history of the city in terms of rock and roll, I think pre-grunge they were the big act from this area. So I think they deserve their credit, no doubt about that.”
Heart is reuniting at Climate Pledge Arena for the band’s first concert in four years on New Year’s Eve 2023.
More on Heart: Heart to reunite for New Year’s Eve concert in Seattle
For Coogan’s final pick, he went off script and nominated a local record label.
“I’m actually not going to pick a person, I am going to put KEXP, the radio station, and Sub Pop Records,” Coogan said. “I just think they kind of personify rock and roll music here. There’s just something about those those brands that I think they belong when you’re writing Seattle rock history and you’re doing the Mount Rushmore or the top five. Whatever it happens to be, I think those brands belong there.”
KIRO Nights Listeners
Throughout the show, listeners texted in their lists. Jimi Hendrix, by far, received the most votes, with Heart, Nirvana and Brandi Carlile rounding out the voting. Other artist/groups that received votes: Pearl Jam, Queensrÿche, Modest Mouse, Critters Buggin, Ernestine Anderson, Screaming Trees, Presidents of the United States, Chris Cornell, Maktub, Kathi McDonald, Diane Schuur, Skerik, and Seattle’s very own Tuba Man.
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