With the City Series, TIDAL investigates the local music scenes of U.S. cities. Enlisting the expertise of a locally-based music writer, we explore the past, present and future of music in each town. In the last installment of Portland, OR, Travis Leipzig talks to local legends and punk royalty, Fred and Toody Cole.
Since the 1960s the Pacific Northwest has been a creative hot bed for rock and roll, ever evolving and stretching genre boundaries.
As a result, the region has been home to some of the world’s most seminal punk, grunge and indie bands, including Nirvana, Elliott Smith, The Wipers, Dead Moon and Poison Idea.
However, of all the greats who have come and gone through Portland and surrounding areas, only one of the aforementioned acts has roots stemming back to the origin of the city’s rich musical heritage and still remains here today, as active and relevant as ever.
Consisting of core members and husband and wife, Fred and Toody Cole, Dead Moon has been a driving force in garage and punk music that has echoed around the globe since 1987. But the full story of Fred and Toody’s punk romance begins even earlier.
Before the rise of Dead Moon, the Coles fronted bands equally as powerful and significant, starting with the early psychedelic sounds of The Weeds, who later became The Lollipop Shoppe in the ’60s and early ’70s. They later cut their teeth as garage rock pioneers in The Rats through the early ’80s, followed by their short venture into country music with the Range Rats.
While Fred and Toody’s most recent musical incarnation goes under the moniker of Pierced Arrows, the two still perform as Dead Moon. The power couple has remained firmly rooted in Portland the whole time.
The sheer catalogue of music these two have produced, and the influence they have had over subsequent decades and music styles is downright astonishing. What’s maybe even more astonishing, given the usual trappings of a rock and roll lifestyle, is that throughout all of their musical escapades, these collaborators have remained happily married in their own completely one of a kind punk rock love story.
I had the chance to correspond with Fred and Toody – an opportunity I was through the roof about – where we discussed their history, Portland’s music landscape over the years, their own musical influences, as well as some of their favorite memories from half a century of rock and roll.
You’ve been a couple and making music together for decades. Can you give some background on how you met, and where Portland comes into that picture?
Toody: Fred’s band at the time, The Weeds, were on their way from Las Vegas going up to Canada to avoid the draft notices they had all received. They ended up in Portland with not enough left for even gas money.
– After asking around on the street if there was a club they could play, they were referred to The Folksingers, a small coffeehouse upstairs on the block behind the Crystal Ballroom. They auditioned for the owner, Whitey Davis, and instantly became the house band. I volunteered there, helping with cleaning, et cetera, to keep the health inspectors off Whitey’s back and to keep our favorite haunt open. This was October 1966, I was still 17 until the end of the year, and Fred was just 18. At the beginning of 1967 we all moved into the Crystal with an all rock & roll format.
Throughout your long running tenure in the Portland music scene – not just as musicians but also having run a music shop and a record label – have you noticed any significant changes in the fabric of Portland’s music scene since you first arrived on the scene?
Toody: Every scene from our first in the late ’60s has been different but the feel has been the same, partly due to our age at the time and level of involvement in each. In the Folksinger-Crystal days music was our whole life and our sole focus. We were very young and so completely involved, but we weren’t making things happen, we were more along for the glorious ride.
– In the PDX punk rock days of the late ’70s and early ’80s, we were the ones involved in making things happen, coming up with new ideas, and financing the projects. On through the Dead Moon years, that always present dream of “making it” came true for Fred and I after 25 years of struggling to keep the dream alive.
– Now I picture us as the voice and inspiration for the up-and-coming bands just starting their journey toward that same dream. Now we’re the mentors, the history, the proof that it can be achieved. The one thing that has always been there in the music scene, from past to present, is the camaraderie and respect that musicians in this town have for one another, and the fact that Portland is one of the few cities that I know of with such supportive fans of live music, especially original music. They make it happen as much as we musicians do.
Do you have any favorite memories of past shows or other Portland music happenings that you’d like to share?
Toody: Too, too many but a few are: the first time I saw Fred Cole on stage with The Weeds at Midtown Ballroom (this is before I formally met him); Buffalo Springfield at the Crystal and meeting Neil Young, who crashed in the band house with all of us who worked there; playing at Long Goodbye with the Dharma Bums drummer using the basement pipes as an instrument; the first time I saw The Wipers live; my 40th birthday at Satyricon with Sado-Nation, Obits and Rats; opening for Husker Du and Soul Asylum at La Luna (the first big venue Dead Moon ever played), then coming back to Portland after playing Europe in 1990 and 1991 to realize just how small it looked then.
What are some bands or musicians that have influenced your vast catalogue of music over the years?
Fred: The Rolling Stones, Ramones, Love, John Lennon, The Beatles, AC-DC.
What are some of your favorite bands or musicians that have either come out of Portland or held residency here for any period?
Fred: The Tweedy Brothers, PH Phactor, The Kingsmen, Wipers, Sado-Nation, Napalm Beach, Poison Idea, Don’t.
Are there any current local bands or musicians that you think are deserving of a wider audience?
Fred: I think Portland’s musicians and bands in general deserve more respect – locally, nationally, and worldwide!
Do you think the current boom in Portland’s garage/psych/punk music scene is at all comparable to the thriving local scene throughout the ’70s and ’80s?
Fred: It all seems to have its ups and downs, from the mid ’50s to today. When it’s good, it’s good; and when it sucks, it’s a Hoover.
Perhaps it’s an unfair question, like asking parents to choose between children, but you have produced music under so many different monikers, do you have a particular band, album or songs that you’re most proud of?
Fred: I really don’t have a favorite except whatever is my latest project. Once it’s out I go on to the next one. I love playing in Dead Moon right now because we had such a long break (8 years) that everything is fresh again. Pierced Arrows is what I’m writing new material for, so that’s a kick, and Toody & I doing our duo is really different and I love that as well.
Dead Moon has been your biggest and longest running group. What inspired the group to disband and reform as Pierced Arrows?
Toody: After 20 years, everyone except Dead Moon was having fun. Fred was a bit frustrated that the newer material he was doing wasn’t the focus – everyone just wanted to hear the same songs. There was no new challenge, too many expectations, and none of the excitement that comes from building a band from the ground up. Plus we all just needed a break from each other.
In Pierced Arrows, you stepped away from putting out material through your own label, Tombstone Records, to releasing albums through Vice Records. How and why did that transition come into fruition?
Toody: We did the same thing latter on with Dead Moon, as well with both Music Maniac and Empty Records. The Vice thing came about while Pierced Arrows was touring the West Coast with the Black Lips. Cole [Alexander] is a big fan of Fred’s, so we got to know him on tour. We were working on a new LP and since Black Lips were on Vice at the time, Cole suggested we approach them about putting out our second LP. We were hoping for better distribution by going with Vice, a hard thing to accomplish with your own indie label.
Any upcoming albums, shows or tours that we should keep our eyes open for?
Toody: We still plan to put out a third LP with Pierced Arrows, hopefully in 2015, and we’ll possibly do a bit of touring behind that. Because of Fred’s heart surgery we had to cancel a tour of the U.K., new territory for Fred and I, so we’d love to reschedule that. A few soon will be Dead Moon at the Crystal Jan 3, Fred & Toody Unplugged at the Hollywood Theater on Jan 22, and Pierced Arrows’ first return gig on Feb 13. We’re not yet sure just where, but Friday the 13th seems like to best time for us to get back in the saddle again!
Travis Leipzig is a Portland native and has been actively involved in the local music scene for over a decade. He is the editor in chief for The Deli Portland Magazine, as well as a staff writer for Eleven PDX Magazine. Travis plays the bass guitar and sings backing vocals for local experimental indie/psych bands Aan and The We Shared Milk. When not engulfed in music, he spends his time snowboarding on Mt. Hood, or skateboarding in Oregon’s various world-renowned skate parks.