By Mark Bjerkestrand
Above, Beatles collectibles from an anonymous fan in Spokane, WA. The collection was sold to the Hard Rock Cafe in Las Vegas. Photo courtesy of Wally Gobetz.
Television shows uncovering lost treasure in your garage, storeroom or private collection abound. Spokane, Washington may seem like an out of the way destination for treasure troves of significant value, but a few collections in the region have surprisingly valuable rock and roll connections.
Hot Rod Lincoln
Although rock and roll historians have debated when and who performed the first rock and roll song, one that has come to represent the genesis of the rock and roll ethos was recorded in Spokane in 1955 by Charlie Ryan at SRC studios. “Hot Rod Lincoln” was inspired by “Hot Rod Race” by Arkie Shibley recorded in 1950. However, Charlie Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” is also based on a ride to the top of the Lewiston Grade in Idaho.
The label on the 45 reads Charlie Ryan and the Livingston Brothers. Neil Livingston, a Havermale graduate, played upright steel on the first recording.
“We did the song in one or two takes. We played the song so many times at the juke joints we used to play, mainly the Lariat Tavern north of Coeur d’Alene,” remembered Livingston.
The song has been covered many times over the years, and all versions include Neil’s steel guitar playing and his brother Ron’s guitar arrangement. The original “Hot Rod Lincoln” recording was distributed by Souvenir Records in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho.
Elvis Presley Comes to Spokane
The first nationally known rock and roll artist was Elvis Presley. Elvis came to Spokane and played Joe Albi Stadium on August 30, 1957. Alan Hanson of Spokane has written a book on the 1957 tour with special attention to the Spokane show.
“In Spokane, only half the available seats were sold, so they moved everybody to the east side stands and placed the stage at the 50 yard line facing east,” Hanson said.
The stage was a flatbed truck that they used at all five Elvis northwest shows. Hanson’s book can be purchased in a retail setting such as Barnes and Noble or Auntie’s Books in Spokane, or online at Amazon.com.
When writing his book Hanson got to see a copy of an original ticket from the show. The ticket came from Marlene Moellers collection. Marlene co-owned Little Nells records with her mom Eloise. Marlene sold most of her Elvis collection to SpokAntiques. Over the years SpokAntiques has sold full tickets and ripped tickets from the show. “From time to time, we get ripped ticket stubs from the Spokane show, but fully intact tickets are rare,” says storeowner Tami Stith Weech.
The Blue Jeans – Spokane’s First Rock and Roll Band
The Elvis show inspired the rock and roll movement in Spokane. In attendance was Dick Baker. Baker and some classmates from North Central High School would go on to form Spokane’s first rock and roll band, The Blue Jeans.
“In 1957, there were no local rock and roll bands. The guys that started The Blue Jeans were playing western music,” Baker recalled.
Baker has a Blue Jeans 45 from 1960: “Since You’re Gone/Cool Martini” recorded at Dolton records in Seattle and distributed by Souvenir records in Coeur d’Alene. Northwest music legend Bonnie Guitar also played on the recording. It reached #1 on the Northwest charts. Recordings by The Blue Jeans can be found at Norton Records, www.nortonrecords.com or online at Amazon.com. A company in Chicago has just contacted Baker to re-release “Cool Martini.”
Wilson McKinley and the First Christian Rock Band
In the 1960s, concert posters started to become part of the music experience. The posters from the ‘60s were more decorative, creative and expressive. Karen Tunninga of Karenoia on North Market has a selection of Spokane and northwest rock posters from the 1960s and 1970s.
A self-proclaimed hippie, Karen moved to Spokane in the late 60s. She would later open an antique shop in 1983. She missed the real heyday of hippie power but loves the culture so much that she started the Hillyard Hippie Happening, held each September.
Karen has two posters from a band that really represented the time period, Wilson McKinley. Wilson McKinley was a well-known hippie rock band in Spokane that would later go on to be the nation’s first Christian Rock Band. The posters have the classic images familiar with the 60s and 70s rock posters with peace signs, dreamy type, and social consciousness. One poster advertises a Vietnam Moratorium dance to raise money for the Vietnam orphans fund at the Former Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Sprague and Washington.
Wilson McKinley did record two highly collectable albums that vinyl collectors worldwide would like to have: “Spirit of Elijah and “Heaven’s Gonna be a blast.”
Michael Clarke’s Record Player
Bob Gallagher, a local musician and owner of 4,000 Holes (a music store on Monroe Street in Spokane, WA), has a unique artifact that tells a national and Spokane story. Bob has a record player that was owned by Michael Dick. Michael grew up in North Spokane and eventually headed to Southern California where he changed his name to Michael Clarke. He would meet David Crosby and Gene Clark and become the drummer for the Byrds and later the Flying Burrito Brothers. After hearing Bob on a John Johnson’s Improbable World of Pop radio program on KSPS about Clarke’s career, Clarke’s mother brought Bob the record player that Michael was using during the time he was recording “Turn, Turn, Turn” in 1965.
“Collectables are worth as much as the collector is willing to pay. In my case I love the idea that a member of a band I love owned and used it. Makes it priceless.” Gallagher said.
Gallagher’s record player comes with a letter from Michael Clarke’s mom authorizing the piece.
Beatles Souvenirs from an Anonymous Spokane Collector
If you’re ever in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Casino, a local Spokane rock collector decorates part of the casino. In 1988, this local collector sold the Beatles portion of his collection to The Hard Rock hotel and casino. The collection included rare prototypes of merchandise that never saw production, like Beatles headphones made by Cost and a Beatles inflatable mattress. The collection sold for $50,000.
This local collector has been contacted by the attorney representing the cable TV show Pawn Stars for some items still in his collection, including hair strands from all four Beatles. They are authorized by Sotheby’s auction house in London. A lock of John Lennon’s hair was sold for $75,000 in 2016.