Launching Ground for Cultural, Musical Revolutions

If only because it attracted creative types from around the Northwest who were going to college, the University of Washington ended up as a meeting ground for many of the individuals who would go on to form bands that made an impact. The UW itself didn't really have much to do with explosion of grunge (during my tenure at least the music department never held a class on "The Appreciation of Sonic Youth"). But it happened to be the Petri dish that served as breeding ground for many of the young, idealistic rockers who populated Seattle in the '80s. For centuries universities have played this role in society--they are the launching ground for most social and political revolutions, from bra burning to Communism to the counterculture. This time around the ideology was nothing more than a do-it-yourself rock 'n' roll attitude with electric guitars turned up as loud they would go.

And no one did it better than Mudhoney, with perhaps at least some of Mark Arm's angst built up from his time in Terry Hall. But Mudhoney isn't the only band with ties to the University of Washington. Others include Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, TAD, The Presidents of the United States of America, Mad Season, The Posies, The Screaming Trees, Skinyard, and the list goes on and on.

Though the UW might be known nationally for its research tradition or its football team, almost every major Northwest band of the last decade can be traced to the University of Washington in some form or another, with at least one member attending school at some point (graduating is another matter altogether). And the UW's role in those who made up the scene but who weren't musicians--the promoters, radio disc jockeys, journalists or record producers--is even larger, and more significant.

Even the history of Nirvana has a small UW chapter. The band played a show at the HUB Ballroom on Feb. 25, 1989, part of a bill that boasted "Four Bands for a Buck." It was one of their most infamous local concerts. They not only trashed their instruments, they also destroyed the HUB's PA system and hence were "banned for life" from the University of Washington, or so said University administrators. Kurt Cobain joked about it in interviews and the line "Banned For Life" ended up as the title of one of their most famous bootleg CDs, recorded at another Seattle show.

The UW's musical roots stretch back far beyond grunge, though, and begin with entertainers like Stan Boreson (class of 1950) and Jimmy Oglivy of Dynamics (1964). Pre-grunge, the biggest band launched from the UW campus was the Brothers Four, who formed at the Phi Gamma Delta frat house and scored a No. 2 hit in 1960 with "Greenfields." Like Kurt Cobain they wore sweaters, though their sound was decidedly square even in the '60s.

Also making waves during the '60s was Larry Coryell, who attended the UW and went on to become one of the most famous jazz guitarists ever, helping to launch the jazz fusion movement. During the psychedelic '60s, most Seattle bands began at the UW or at least had roots to the student underground movement. The Time Machine, Chrome Syrcus, and the Daily Flash all had connections to the UW and played gigs on or around campus, usually complete with light shows.

By the time I began attending the University in 1975 (and working at The Daily), there were only a handful of local bands worth writing about, and most of them were folk or blues. I don't know if Jim Page ever registered for classes at the UW but I'd say he qualified for an honorary degree considering how many performances he did in Red Square over the years. The Cowboys and The Heats were the big local bands during my undergraduate years, though both had ties to high schools rather than universities.

Kenny Gorelick, '78, went to the UW during this era. It's probably safe to say that even including grunge, the saxophonist (who goes by "Kenny G" nowadays) is the most commercially successful musician to ever attend the UW. Gorelick graduated, not as a music major, but with a B.A. in accounting.

The KCMU Connections
ASUW Concert Promoters Take on the World
Today: The Changing Dynamic of the Seattle Scene
Best of the Northwest: Cross's Fantasy Band of UW Alumni and Former Students

Send a letter to the editor at

Table of Contents