Promoter, former KJR DJ Pat O'Day keeps on truckin'
Pacific Northwest legend Pat O'Day will be at the Snoqualmie Casino tonight with legendary 1960s band "The Fabulous Wailers," celebrating the 50-year anniversary of the first teen dance at the Spanish Castle Ballroom.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pat O'Day presents: The Fabulous Wailers
8 p.m. today
The man never stops hustling. He is Pat O'Day, 75, Pacific Northwest legend.
Until the day he dies, he'll likely be blanketing the airwaves with yet one more Schick Shadel commercial, or calling a hydroplane race on TV, or promoting another rock show.
This week, it's a rock show.
It's the 50-year anniversary of an event at the now-long-gone Spanish Castle Ballroom that led to O'Day's becoming the king of teen dances in the Seattle area, an era that lasted through all of the 1960s and into the early 1970s.
That's a hook, isn't it?
Thursday night at the Snoqualmie Casino! Only $10 entrance! Featuring The Fabulous Wailers, the 1960s Northwest group considered to be the first garage band!
If we could just put an echo in that previous paragraph.
This time around, there will be no teens celebrating the dance. It's 21 and over at the casino. And the show will be winding down by 10 p.m., bedtime, probably for some in the older audience.
Back in the 1960s, whatever city one grew up in, there was one disc jockey who owned the market.
Here it was O'Day.
He was the afternoon drive-time jock at KJR-AM, then a Top-40 station that at times could claim a remarkable portion of the total radio listening audience — one-third or more. O'Day says he once got a 42 share. He eventually ran the station.
These days those under 50 (about two-thirds of Seattle residents) would never know O'Day as a radio guy.
He's better known now as the pitchman who says about Schick Shadel, "Give us 10 days and we'll give you back your life!"
O'Day himself went into treatment at the hospital in 1986, after friends intervened. At that point, he says, he was capable of drinking more than a fifth of whiskey a day.
"And I was in rock 'n' roll," he remembers, "spending years on the road with every temptation and substance known to man."
O'Day became a convert to Schick Shadel, which uses aversion therapy that includes a nausea agent, saying he hasn't touched a drop since then.
However, by 2002, the hospital was foundering, one reason being its lackluster marketing.
O'Day became part of the hospital, owning around 10 percent, and began doing the commercials.
He says the hospital, which treats alcohol and drug addiction, now takes in 1,000 patients a year, who pay average fees of nearly $15,000. That's a gross of around $15 million a year.
O'Day also owns the John L. Scott Real Estate franchise for San Juan Island.
So it's not that he's hurting for money.
But he can't stay away from getting out there in front of the public and promoting an oldies dance.
"It's not a compulsion," O'Day says. "It's in my genes. It's what I do."
Back in the fall of 1959, the area had bands playing at venues, but nothing was organized.
Starting teen dances was a natural extension for O'Day, with his disc-jockey fame.
On the second weekend of October 1959, O'Day rented the Spanish Castle Ballroom on Highway 99 (now Pacific Highway South) near the airport.
The venue was called that because it was constructed with a castlelike facade that had cutout towers.
O'Day booked the Wailers, now known as The Fabulous Wailers to differentiate them from the reggae group with the same name. At that time, the band had a national hit single, "Tall Cool One," and was considered the leading local group.
The kids flooded in to the ballroom that had been used by big bands.
Buck Ormsby, bass player for The Fabulous Wailers, says the group played the Spanish Castle about 100 times after that night.
"Sometimes you'd look out from the stage, and you couldn't see the floor, it was so filled," he remembers.
Ormsby also remembers the giant parking lot was a big party.
"Everybody wanted to show off their cars. They used to bring their own bottle. It was like going to a football game," he says.
O'Day will be at the Snoqualmie Casino show tonight, selling, of course, copies of his autobiography, "It Was All Just Rock 'n' Roll II." The "II" is because the first edition sold out.
And he'll be telling stories about those days at the Spanish Castle, which was torn down in 1968.
Want a Spanish Castle story about Tony Orlando or Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Lee Lewis?
OK, Jimi it is.
Back in 1961, when Hendrix was about 19, he'd show up at the Spanish Castle.
He approached O'Day with an idea. O'Day writes in his book:
"Back then, the amplifiers bands used ... overheated, overloaded and blew out with irritating regularity ...
"Knowing this, the young man made a simple offer: He said he always carried his high-wattage Gibson amp in his car and proposed that, should one of the band's amps blow, we could use his amp with the understanding that he could then play his guitar on stage along with the group.
" 'I'll stay in the background,' he promised me. 'And don't worry,' he added, 'I know every note of every song these guys do.'"
One evening some weeks later, an amp blew in the middle of a show by a group called Tiny Tony and the Statics. It was Hendrix's chance.
"Once plugged in, he spent the rest of the evening on stage backing up the Statics," O'Day remembers.
In Hendrix's "Axis: Bold as Love," there is a track called, "Spanish Castle Magic."
Its lyrics include, "With just a little bit of Spanish Castle Magic, Just a little bit of daydream here and there."
Those are the kinds of stories that O'Day can tell, not minding if he promotes a dance or a book at the same time, too.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or email@example.com
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