The chance discovery of a 45-record reveals a forgotten Seattle soul music scene.
About the Film
30 years before Nirvana, Microsoft and Starbucks put Seattle on the map, Seattle’s African American neighborhood known as the Central District was buzzing during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the soul sounds of groups like Black On White Affair, Cookin’ Bag, and Cold Bold & Together who filled the local airwaves and packed clubs seven nights a week. Many of the bands began breaking out nationally via television appearances, major record deals, and interactions with legends like Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. Just as the Seattle soul scene was on the edge of fame and fortune, the public demanded disco and the soul scene slipped into obscurity.
Flash forward decades later, local crate digger DJ Mr. Supreme unearthed Seattle’s soulful past by finding a dusty 45 single by Black On White Affair called “Bold Soul Sister” in a .99 cent bin at a Seattle Center record show. By 2003, he had carved out an impression of a once thriving scene with a pile of Seattle soul and funk 45s, some of which were fetching upwards of $5,000 on the collector circuit. Supreme approached local label Light In The Attic with the idea of releasing a Seattle soul and funk compilation. The label spent a year tracking down the artists and fleshing out the story of Seattle’s soulful past, and the result was a CD compilation titled Wheedle’s Groove. At the CD release party, a line of nostalgic 60 year old fans and funk-hungry 20-somethings wrapped around the block as the musicians inside (currently working as graphic designers, janitors, and truck drivers), reflected on music dreams derailed, and prepared to perform together for the first time in 30 years – their performance sizzled.
All of this is captured in this documentary, narrated by Seattle’s own Sir Mix-A-Lot, featuring interviews with local soul musicians of the era, as well as commentary from Seattle native and legendary producer Quincy Jones, jazz pop star Kenny G (himself a veteran of the 1970’s regional scene), and fresh perspectives from members of Soundgarden, Death Cab For Cutie, and Mudhoney. The Pacific Northwest has got soul!
I was first introduced to the music in Wheedle's Groove in August 2004, when I interviewed Matt Sullivan, part-owner of Light in the Attic Records for a different documentary. He was just about to release a compilation of Seattle soul and funk music from a collection of private-release 45 records gathered over 10 years by local DJ Mr. Supreme from junk shops and thrift stores. Supreme started piecing together the story of a thriving soul music scene in Seattle's historically black neighborhood the Central District in the 1960s and 1970s. Soon he would find that the janitor at his girlfriend's college, the lady at the post office, and the guy at the hi-fi store were all integrally involved. I showed up at the reunion show and CD release party the next week with a camera, and I knew I had to make this movie. Just over five years later in Memphis, Wheedle's Groove had its world premiere, and Matt and I had our honeymoon.
I was driven first and foremost by the desire take at least a small step toward righting the wrong that history dealt to this music scene. There were no books, no magazines, no museums, and no photo archives chronicling the music of this very rich time in Seattle's black community. It was almost as if the whole thing had never happened.
What I found was a world of speakeasies and music on every corner; of big dreams and near misses; of ex-Seattlite Quincy Jones as a messiah figure who would surely change your life if he just caught your set at the airport Double Tree. As funk turned to disco and clubs turned to DJs, the bands broke up and Seattle moved on. A few of the musicians continued to play, but the only one to ever reach the place they all thought they would is Kenny G, who got his start at 16 in a hard-hitting funk band called Cold, Bold & Together.
It's my hope Wheedle's Groove brings recognition to the musicians in Seattle's Central District in the 1960s and 1970s and reminds us that great things are often hidden in plain sight.
Jennifer Maas, Director.
The Reel NW Connection
Reel NW focuses on the very best of independent film from the Northwest. Every week, Reel NW airs intriguing films from, or about, our own community. Jennifer Maas graduated from The University of Texas with degrees in math and computer science. Jennifer works in Seattle and Los Angeles, and WHEEDLE’S GROOVE is her feature directorial debut.