On Friday, January 5, the Crystal Ballroom will host Dead Moon Night: A Tribute to Fred Cole, a storied and legendary musician who passed away in early November. He and wife (“kickass garage bass player”) Toody influenced an entire generation of Pacific NW grunge musicians, several of whom will celebrate his music this Friday.
As noted in his New York Times obituary, Fred Cole (shown here with Toody) was “a cult hero of the Pacific Northwest music scene as the leader of the long-running garage-rock band Dead Moon… As the grunge gold rush in the 1990s made stars of young bands in and around Seattle like Nirvana and Soundgarden, Mr. Cole and Dead Moon remained beloved local stars despite being decades older than their peers. … Well into his 40s by then, Mr. Cole had been a regular of the garage-rock circuit — playing a rough and raw sound that long predated grunge’s noisy take on punk.”
When asked what it was like to be an older couple in the midst of a youth-driven grunge frenzy, Toody said, “Most of the young ones had a hard time keeping up with us.”
For his book The Many Lives of the Crystal Ballroom, our historian Tim Hills interviewed Fred and Toody about their time in Portland and playing at the Crystal in the late 1960s with one of their early bands, The Weeds. Below are just a few excerpts that illuminate a colorful, controversial era.
Arriving on the Scene
“Late in 1966, a van full of young musicians from Las Vegas coasted into town. Bound for British Columbia to evade the draft (and diligent truant officers in Las Vegas), they had run out of money, their stash of donuts was depleted, and the gas gauge was dangerously close to ‘E.’ Not knowing a soul in Portland, they asked where they could set up a gig for some quick cash and were directed to Whitey Davis at the [second-story music club called the] Folksinger. Whitey gave them a listen and not only offered them a gig, he also offered his services as a manager. The band was the Weeds (sometimes called The Wild, Wild Weeds), and its five members had modeled themselves after the power blues style of the Rolling Stones. With their heavy sound and their Carnaby Street look, the boys from Las Vegas were an immediate sensation. Initially, the Weeds’ monetary rewards were pretty meager, but their new manager did offer the band members the Folksinger’s floor to sleep on and a constant supply of day-old donuts. These incentives were enough to keep them from continuing their trip to Canada.”
An Experimental Climate
“The drugs that [Timothy] Leary had encouraged Portlanders to try were the facilitator of the psychedelic explosion. The Weeds’ former leader, Fred Cole, recalled that experimentation was rampant at that time. ‘People were trying to get high off anything: banana peels . . . swamp weed . . . aftershave . . . even brake fluid.’ Cole, who was often chided by friends for not partaking in the drug scene that surrounded him, said many people at that time had the attitude, ‘I don’t know what it is, but let’s smoke it.’”
Societal Change: Them vs. Us
“A darker manifestation of the ‘Them-versus-Us’ attitude was the increasing alienation and persecution of Portland’s hippie community. Many of the Crystal Ballroom crowd remembered epithets, food, and even rocks, hurled at them. Fred Cole recalled an even more violent side of this story. He remembered that, in the fall of 1966 — soon after Cole’s arrival to town with his band the Weeds — he and several other people witnessed four college-aged, clean-cut men dragging a guy down Broadway by his long hair. Cole said that the four men beat the long-haired man to death. Soon afterward, a similar, though fortunately less violent, episode involved the Weeds. He recalled that a car full of clean-cut young men chased down the car driven by Cole and his bandmates and they cut the drummer’s shoulder-length hair with a knife.”
A Punk-Rock Love Affair & The Crystal Ballroom’s Elevator
“By the late 1960s, when Toody and Fred Cole were hanging out in the Crystal, the unreliable elevator provided a reliably secluded spot for passionate interludes. In the Coles’ own words, their extracurricular activities at the Crystal quickly earned them a reputation for being ‘a notorious couple.’ … When the mood inspired them, Fred and Toody slipped into the elevator, stopped it between floors, and then crawled onto its roof for a tryst. Later, if they needed an excuse, they just said the elevator got stuck. Because it was always breaking down, this was the perfect alibi. Then one time, with Whitey hollering at them for holding up the show, they fed him the line about the elevator breaking down. Unfortunately, the parallel black lines running down the back of Toody’s long white dress told a different story: they were grease marks from the elevator cables.”
To read more about Fred and Toody Cole and their influence on the Pacific Northwest music scene: