Once upon a time, the term “punk rock” remained obscure to most Seattleites. On the date in focus here, a small coterie of young local musicians conspired to make local music history by introducing that volatile term to our sleepy little working-class town.
These musicians gathered that evening to present a three-band concert of original music at the Odd Fellows Temple building, located at 1525 10th Avenue in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The event was advertised as the TMT Show, an acronymic reference to the trio of participating bands: the Telepaths, the Meyce, and the Tupperwares.
While still somewhat obscure within mainstream Seattle music history, the TMT Show is now generally considered the first true punk rock concert ever held in Seattle — as well as the first concert of any kind in Seattle organized and promoted by the performers themselves. Thus, it sowed the seeds of DIY (“do it yourself”) culture in the city and the region — a culture that would flourish much more fully during the ensuing fifteen years, culminating in the surprise global success of Nirvana in late 1991.
At the time of the TMT Show, Seattle’s music scene was dominated by cover bands, and thus, bands playing original music were generally shut out of opportunities to play for large, paying audiences. The bands on the TMT bill, all frustrated with playing exclusively in basements and living rooms, sought to change that equation. In order to bring legitimacy to their efforts, the show was promoted as a benefit concert for the Telepathic Foundation. This “foundation” did not in fact exist. Neil Hubbard, a Seattle writer, musician, and friend of the bands on the bill who helped organize and promote the event, conceived the “foundation” as a means of convincing local media outlets to publicize the show.
“This one radio station, KILO, gave us free public service announcements,” Hubbard remembered years later, “’cause we had this nonprofit group that we just made up out of thin air called the Telepathic Foundation. We were just pretty resourceful about things.”
The punk scene in Seattle in 1976 was microscopic, and the crowd at the TMT Show mainly comprised members and friends of the few other punk bands in the city at the time. Admission to the event was one dollar, and it was attended by roughly one hundred people — just enough for the bands to pay for the room rental. Most of the audience, like most of the band members, were teenagers — and many of those people would soon go on to form their own bands.
Case in point: among those working “security” at the event was 18-year-old Penelope Houston, who would later move to San Francisco and become lead singer of the Avengers, the greatly influential American punk band of the late 1970s. Also in the audience was Damon Titus, guitar player for the Fruitland Famine Band, a country-rock covers-oriented act from Olympia. Inspired by what he witnessed that night, in December 1977 Titus would transform his band into the Enemy, one of Seattle’s most important early punk bands.
All the bands on the TMT Show bill were connected to the punk scene at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, now considered an incubator of sorts for much of what would later develop within the Seattle punk scene. The Roosevelt High punk scene was driven largely by Chatterbox, a DIY fanzine published by Neil Hubbard and Lee Lumsden, drummer for the Meyce. Although the TMT Show was promoted as a punk show, there was in fact some stylistic diversity among the three featured bands.
The Telepaths are now considered by many to have been Seattle’s first true punk band — although, truth be told, they were influenced as much by early-1970s progressive rock as by the likes of the Stooges and the MC5; after all, they took their name from an early Blue Öyster Cult song: namely, 1974’s “Flaming Telepaths.” Their amorphous personnel crucially included on guitar the legendary Homer Spence (c. 1941-1991), then a 35-year-old Seattle rock scene veteran, erstwhile University of Washington economics instructor, and spiritual mentor to the city’s nascent punk scene. As for the band’s transgressive disposition, according to guitarist Erich Werner:
“Our whole attitude as a gang was a perpetual state of anger about our environment. We opposed just about everything we felt Seattle stood for. We hated suburbia; we were completely opposed to complacent happiness, and we felt the world at large wouldn’t tolerate us. People constantly called us names because of how we looked, so we had a strong identity, a them-and-us polarity.”
The Meyce played what is now called “power pop.” On March 6, 1977, just before breaking up, they would open for the Ramones when the latter band played their debut Seattle show. The Meyce’s lineup crucially included singer-guitarist Jim Basnight, who would go on to form the Moberlys, a locally popular outfit who, in 1979, were among the first bands from Seattle’s early punk scene to record and release a full-length album.
The Tupperwares could best be described as “post-glam/proto-punk.” Led by the legendary punk provocateur Tomata du Plenty, they were a crucial spinoff of Ze Whiz Kidz, a pioneering and flamboyant countercultural theater troupe from early-1970s Seattle. A proto-Tupperwares of sorts performed on New Year’s Day 1976 at the Moore Theatre as the opening act for the Seattle premiere of the notorious John Waters film Pink Flamingos. In October 1976, frustrated with the stagnancy of Seattle’s punk scene at the time, they moved to Los Angeles, where, in early 1977, after receiving legal threats from the Tupperware trademark owners, they changed their name to the Screamers. With their new name and transgressive sound and style, they quickly became notorious and therefore very influential within that city’s early punk scene: among their contemporary admirers were X, the Weirdos, and Black Flag.
Not only was the TMT Show an important catalyst for Seattle’s mid-1970s counterculture, it also predated by several weeks the very first punk shows in England by the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, as well as the many Los Angeles punk bands that would soon follow — including, of course, the Screamers. Despite being ahead of London and Los Angeles in that respect, Seattle’s punk scene would not achieve wider fame until several years later, with the advent of the circa-1991 grunge explosion.
Sources: Patrick MacDonald, “Telepathic rock at Odd Fellows Hall,” The Seattle Times, May 3, 1976, p. A20; Clark Humphrey, Loser: The Real Seattle Music Story (Feral House, 1995; MiscMedia, 1999, 2016); Brendan Mullen, “Goodbye, Tomata du Plenty,” L.A. Weekly, August 23, 2000; Peter Blecha, Sonic Boom: The History of Northwest Rock, from “Louie Louie” to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (Backbeat Books, 2009); Stephen Tow, The Strangest Tribe: How a Group of Seattle Rock Bands Invented Grunge (Sasquatch Books, 2011).