Just the other day I was listening to an old aircheck from the Pacific Northwest. This was in conjunction with an article I am collaboratively composing with former KJR jock, Gary Shannon. I was reviewing a November 1965 recording of Tom Murphy on KJR, but a commercial by Lan Roberts caught my ear. Roberts was, of course, one of the funniest and most beloved morning jocks in the history of Seattle radio. My interest was piqued because it was an ad for the Bellingham garage band called Kathi McDonald & The Unusuals. Kathi McDonald had a successful regional and national career, as a popular blues and rock vocalist, until her passing in 2012. Some other members of The Unusuals still live in Bellingham. A founder of the band, Dr. Laurie Vitt, lives in Arizona and I am in Email contact with him.
In 2016, working with Laurie, I created a YouTube site (visit here) that features all of The Unusuals’ recordings and other historical tidbits. The band was memorable, touring with a giant boa constrictor that would join the group on-stage. (The snake belonged to Laurie Vitt, and the title ‘doctor’ in front of his name denotes his PhD in herpetology (reptiles, snakes and other creepy crawlies.) Laurie became a professor and turned his interest in reptiles into an academic career.
You can hear Lan’s funny spot — the snake was not left out — in the video below.
Although KJR was promoting this dance and the live appearance by The Unusuals, the station did not play the band’s records. KJR, being a major market radio station where airtime was valuable, didn’t make a habit of trying to break new local talent. However, over the years, KJR did promote and play a few regionally popular acts including The Fabulous Wailers, The Sonics, and reluctantly so, Merrilee Rush.
Kirk Wilde, music director at KPUG in Bellingham, was the first radio guy to jump on The Unusuals’ initial single Babe, It’s Me. It went to #1 on the hometown Top-50 chart. The Unusuals two mid-sixties singles, the second one being Summer is Over, received airplay on a number of stations around the country. But, ultimately, they were only regional hits. The Unusuals were probably the most successful band to originate in Bellingham until The Posies came along in 1987. Then Death Cab for Cutie, which formed in 1997, definitely took the title as the most successful band to come from Bellingham.
To hear The Unusuals’ first single, and to learn more about Kirk Wilde’s role in breaking it, click here.