An Interview with Don Edwards of The Epics
Important Garage Band Contributors to the Northwest's '60's Garage Scene
"We started to almost be a mirror image--but not as talented--as the Wailers."
[Interviewer' note: For information on all the bands from the Northwest '60's scene, visit Sam Carlson's excellent Tribute pages at www.theregents.net. One band documented is The Epics from Auburn, Washington. Keyboardist Don Edwards graciously provided the Lance Monthly the lowdown on his former band.]
[Lance Monthly] How did you first get interested in music?
[Don Edwards] I first got interested in music when my parents literally forced me to take piano lessons at the age of ten. From there I wanted to play as many of the popular tunes on the piano as I could. I accumulated a lot of sheet music back then.
[Lance Monthly] Was the Epics your first band?
[Don Edwards] My first band was officially the Epics although I did fool around with a couple of guys, one who tried to play drums and the other played horn in the school band. Nothing came of that.
[Lance Monthly] Where were the Epics formed, what year, and by whom?
[Don Edwards] The Epics were formed in 1964 and the original members were myself on keys, Bob Perry - drums (deceased), Adri Vicente - Sax, and Mike Smith - guitar (deceased). The band was actually put together by a guitar player named Larry Knodel. Larry had heard that I played piano and tried for months to get me to join his band. I finally said I'd give it a try and we ended up practicing at my house because I had the piano (upright). After the practice the other guys and I decided we needed to replace Larry with Mike Smith.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically practice?
[Don Edwards] Typically we would practice either at my house until I got my Wurlitzer electric piano, or the park in downtown Auburn. There was a public building in the park and as long as no one else was using it we were allowed by the caretaker to use the building. Sometimes in the summer, we would set up outdoors on a bandstand and play a free concert for the neighbors of the park. We actually did practice a couple of times in Bob Perry's garage.
[Lance Monthly] Where did the band typically play?
[Don Edwards] We played from Seattle to Olympia for most dances set up by the city: the Elks, school districts, sock hops, talent shows, and many parties. We played for the Muckleshoot Indians on the reservation on a regular basis as well as for the Gearlords, the local car club.
[Lance Monthly] I saw on the band's web page that the Epics were the Gearlords private band. How did that come about?
[Don Edwards] The Gearlords adopted us after we played one dance for them. Our drummer Bob Perry was a gearlord and that's how we got the initial gig.
[Lance Monthly] So it sounds as if the band became somewhat popular locally?
[Don Edwards] I can't really comment on our popularity; we were mostly local although we did play for the Phi Kapps at the University of Washington and did a talent show at Fort Lewis. We always played other people's hits and never wrote our own music. We played at Pete's Pool, Cruises on Lake Washington, every local high school in the area, De Moley dances, fraternity hall dances, as well as many Elks club events in both Auburn and Puyallup. We also did a couple of Tacoma night spot gigs at the Red Carpet and the Gaslight. We also did the Evergreen Ballroom in Olympia a couple of times.
[Lance Monthly] What would you consider your best gig?
[Don Edwards] I think our best gig was the cruises on Lake Washington. Those were really wild cause everyone just gets plowed. They also paid the best. Back in those days getting $200 for a night was a lot of coin.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Epics ever enter a recording studio?
[Don Edwards] We never did any recordings that I remember. Tape recorders back then were just sort of beginning for the home. I will look to see if I have any but I doubt that I do.
[Lance Monthly] How would you describe the band's sound? What bands influenced you?
[Don Edwards] We started to almost be a mirror image--but not as talented--as the Wailers. We played almost every tune from their first few albums: "Wailers' House Party," "Tall Cool One," "Louie Louie," etc. We started playing mostly instrumentals and then got our first singer Larry Nyseth about six months after we started playing dances. We also played a lot of Northwest tunes from bands like the Viceroys, the Ventures, and The Sonics. During the second wave of the Epics, when Mike Smith left to play with a band called the Artesians, we brought in two new members: Ron Brock - guitar and lead vocals, and Bob Englehart - bass guitar. We then changed from mostly instrumentals to mostly vocals. Ron had a passion for Johnny Rivers and a voice to match. We did a lot of Johnny Rivers tunes combined with a myriad of popular music of the times including Beatles tunes, Stones, other British groups, and various garage band music like "Louie Louie," "Little Latin Lupe Lu," "Tall Cool One," "Wipe Out," "Wild Weekend," and "Johnny B. Good"
[Lance Monthly] You've already referred to the Wailers and Sonics. Along with Paul Revere & The Raiders, they're synonymous with the Northwest sound. What do you recall about these bands?
[Don Edwards] Paul Revere and the Raiders were THE band in the area in the early years and Don and the Goodtimes were later. The Wailers were sort of losing popularity primarily because the Spanish Castle was closing down. All local bands influenced us because we tried to mimic them all. We did, in the later Epics, begin a style a little more of our own because very few bands were doing Johnny Rivers type material.
[Lance Monthly] Did the Epics participate in any Battle of the Bands?
[Don Edwards] We were involved in some of the early Battle of the Bands locally which were primarily held at the Moose Hall in Auburn. I do remember being asked to go to the big ones at Exhibition Hall at the Seattle Center, but we were breaking up by then and couldn't make it.
[Lance Monthly] Why was the band breaking up?
[Don Edwards] We broke up because our members were graduating from High School and heading for college and the older guys were heading for the military.
[Lance Monthly] Did you continue playing in any bands after the Epics?
[Don Edwards] Ron and I formed a new band in college but we never really got going because we couldn't keep a drummer for any length of time. Many years later in the late 70's I started playing with a group called The Goodtime Parttime Band. We played for several years for parties and weddings. Later we formed a bar band and played for about three years in local area taverns and bars. That got old and we disbanded in the late 1980's.
[Lance Monthly] The Epics reunited in 1991 for the Auburn Class of 1966 25 Year Reunion. What led to the reunion?
[Don Edwards] In 1991 I went into a local Fred Meyer store and saw an older Bob Perry working behind the counter of the electronics department. I hadn't seen Bob since 1966. We reminisced and then decided that it might be fun to get the old guys back together again. I contacted all the old members and after bending a few arms they agreed to try and put the band back together for my and Ron's 25th Year Class Reunion. We talked to the class leaders and they agreed that we could do an hour as they had already hired a DJ. We were only able to get three full practices together and we really were rusty to say the least. We began playing at about 9:00 p.m. the night of the reunion for about an hour and then let the DJ take the remainder of the evening. The DJ couldn't get our class out on the dance floor (live music is best!!!) and we ended up back on the stage taking the remainder of the night. The class still talks about that night and I'm not sure why because we were horrible. But apparently they loved it. So that's why we're trying it again this August.
[Lance Monthly] How is preparation for the 35th Auburn Reunion progressing?
[Don Edwards] For the upcoming reunion, I couldn't quite get the Epics back together. Two of the former members would rather not and Bob Perry passed on about three years after the 25th reunion. The new band is coming along well with new members Rod Hash - guitar and vocals (a former class member), Larry Nyseth - vocals (original Epic and Goodtime Parttime Band), Mike Allen (former drummer from The Goodtime Parttime Band), and Wes - Bass player, whose wife is a Class of '66 graduate as well. Right now we're looking for a free gig to play so that we can test all the equipment and practice our song selection on friends and family before embarrassing ourselves in front of my class members.
[Lance Monthly] Please tell me about your career today. Apart from the reunions, how often do you perform?
[Don Edwards] After the reunion we played for several parties, weddings, special occasions, and did Pacific Days in 1991 and 1992. If was a lot of fun while it lasted but some of the guys didn't want to do it anymore and so therefore we eventually stopped.