Foo Fighters music band
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Pacific Northwest musicians find fertile grounds for their craft

Pacific Northwest rocker Dave Grohl is the frontman and founder of the popular international group Foo Fighters.

By Greg Johnson, writer

The Pacific Northwest has long been a haven for some of the most dynamic and popular musicians of all time.

The long list of musicians with Pacific Northwest roots includes Jim Hendrix, The Kingsmen, The Ventures, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Nu Shooz, Quarterflash, Heart, Rickie Lee Jones, Robert Cray, Queensryche, Foo Fighters, The Decemberists, The Dandy Warhols, Everclear, Macklemore, Sir-Mix-A-Lot, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam and Pink Martini.

Many of us who live in the Northwest were able to see these stars in our local nightclubs and festivals before they made the big leap into fame. And we were distressed upon learning about the deaths of the Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and the 1994 death of Curt Cobain, lead singer for Nirvana fame and Christopher John Cornell, lead vocals on Soundgarden.

Probably the most well-know current Pacific Northwest rocker is vocalist Dave Grohl, the former drummer for Nirvana who formed the Seattle rock band Foo Fighters after the suicide of Kurt Cobain. The Foo Fighters have sold over 30 million albums worldwide, won 11 Grammys and four Brits.

Man playing guitar
Dave Grohl is a master guitarist, vocalist and founder of the Foo Fighters.

The unfortunate deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain was especially disheartening. Just think if Jimi was still alive and expanding his phenomenal creative energy to express his music, perhaps in jazz. “There was no parallel for him so it’s hard to imagine where he would’ve ended up had he lived,” writes producer and composer Bob Belden in Jazz Times. “Would he have become a smooth-jazz guitarist? Maybe he’d end up playing “The Star Spangled Banner” with an orchestra at the halftime of the Super Bowl or in a Las Vegas show. As the song goes, “Who Knows?”

And singer-songwriter Kurt Cobain, who formed Nirvana in Aberdeen, Washington in 1987, could still be using his acclaimed writing and vocal skills to expound upon our social ills. The fact that Nirvana’s hit song “Smells Like Teen Spirit” recently hit one billion views on YouTube attests to the relevance of its abjection and social alienation themes in modern times.

Another Pacific Northwest band still making musical waves is Heart, formed in 1973 by sisters Ann Wilson (lead vocals) and Nancy Wilson (lead guitar). Heart has sold more than 35 million albums with top 10 albums on the Billboard 200 throughout their career.

Lesser known but still amazing Pacific Northwest musicians include the blues crooner Robert Cray, funky Nushooz, Johnny and the Distractions, Quarter Flash and one of my Portland favorites, the Burnside Bombers.

Rindy and Marv Ross, who have been playing together since getting married in 1971, are best known for their five Top 40 hits in Quarterflash including their iconic hit, “Harden My Heart.” The duo recently released their album “A Better World” featuring acoustic-based original folk and pop songs.

Robert Cray has won five Grammies and recorded 20 studio albums featuring his blues, soul and R&B roots. He recently released his Sam Cooke influence album “That’s What I Heard.”

Grammy nominee NU SHOOZ is known for their eighties hits “I Can’t Wait,” “Point of No Return,’ and “Should I Say Yes.” The funky group is still going strong with their latest release ‘Bagtown’.

Jon Koonce, known as “a working man’s troubadour,” is still making albums and recently published a book. Koonce’s band, Johnny and the Distractions, recorded six albums with A & M records during the eighties, including his hit “Let It Rock.”

Mark Bosnian is the former lead singer for the Burnside Bombers, a bodacious Portland rock group that formed a dedicated local following during the seventies and eighties. Bosnian, also a former keyboard player and vocalist for NU SHOOZ, has more than 30 years experience as a musician and professional voice coach. His company, Center Stage, helps clients to sing with confidence and clarity.