Before Seattle Rocked

A City and Its Music

Kurt E. Armbruster

  • $26.95 paperback (9780295991139) Add to Cart
  • hardcover not available
  • Published: September 2011
  • Subject Listing: Northwest History, Music
  • Bibliographic information: 384 pp., 50 illus., notes, bibliog., index, 6 x 9 in.
  • Territorial rights: World
  • Contents

The rich, deep roots of Seattle’s musical heritage have profoundly affected the city’s cultural life and history. For this once remote city, music forged links as real as those created by railroads and steamships. Personal anecdotes and memories from many of Seattle’s most beloved musicians and historic photographs of the changing music scene enrich this entertaining panorama of Seattle music from the 1890s to the 1960s, “before Seattle rocked.”

Kurt E. Armbruster is a Seattle native, historian, professional bassist, and singer-songwriter. He has played music of many genres, from Beethoven to balalaika, Sousa to swing, and has written three books, including Orphan Road: The Railroad Comes to Seattle, 1853–1911. He is a proud member of the Seattle Musicians’ Association, afm Local 76–493.

“Packed with history, personalities, and great stories, this multilayered look at Seattle’s musical beginnings will delight anyone interested in the sources that fed the region’s unique cultural identity. A fun and absorbing read!” -Maxine Frost, Classical KING FM 98.1

“This unusual book is chock-full of marvelous anecdotes about Seattle’s musical history, from folk to country to opera to jazz.” -Paul de Barros, Seattle Times jazz critic and author of Jackson Street After Hours: The Roots of Jazz in Seattle

“Kurt Armbruster has done an extraordinary job in honoring the musicians that have made Seattle such an innovative place for music. A remarkable book, about some remarkable people.” -Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony

Watch the trailer:


1. Song of the Duwamish

2. Gaslight Serenade

3. Music on the Make

4. Musician's Dream

5. Easing Depression

6. Wartime Whoopie

7. Dizzy Decade

8. Groovin' High

9. Carrying the Torch


"Armbruster's research is deep and wide and his writing style, graceful, clear, and vastly entertaining, so carries the reader along that one doesn't want to put the book down." -W. Royal Stokes, Jazzhouse Diaries, March 2013

"This book is an excellent contribution to the history of music cultures in the Pacific Northwest and is a laudable example of a civil history based on a cultural form that impacts daily life but often remains invisible." -Sarah Dougher, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Winter 2012

"Armbruster spins an informative narrative thread. . . . Before Seattle Rocked recalls how this connective tissue [music] binds all of the city's inhabitants and reconstructs the musical skeletons overlooked or under cooked by previous local history books." -Steve Griggs, Examiner, February 2012

"Covers most imaginable music-related subjects in our community's past, from Bach through the Wang Doodle Orchestra and beyond." -Paul Dorpat, Pacific Northwest Magazine, December 2011

"Finally, for those who prefer to trace local music history even further back, Seattle historian and musician Kurt E. Armbruster offers this extensively researched and compelling book." -Brangien Davis, Seattle Magazine, December 2011

"This is a lively tour of Seattle's musical heritage which opens a new window on local history." - Mike Dillon, City Living, November 2011

"[Seattle's] culture and nightlight were dependent upon live musicians, from saloons at the turn of the century, to taverns in the 1920s, to symphony halls in the '40s and '50s. Throughout Seattle's history, music was truly woven into the city's cultural fabric." - Andrew Gospe, The Daily, November 2011

"It's amazing how much musical history Kurt E. Armbruster has uncovered . . . He clearly talked to everyone . . . and as lucid and lively as his own prose is, he's often upstaged by interviewees who are born raconteurs." - Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times, October 2011

"The book details a vibrant local scene featuring every kind of music, reflecting both the people of the time and the places they came from." - Josh Kerns, My Northwest Blog, October 2011