The Sonics, one of Tacoma’s legendary rock ‘n roll bands, will soon play a concert in their hometown for the first time in 45 years.
The band was founded in 1960 by guitarist Larry Parypa. It began as an instrumental combo with his brother Larry on guitar and brother Jerry on saxophone. They played covers of R&B and rock ‘n’ roll songs and were soon playing venues in the Tacoma teen music scene.
Buck Ormsby, longtime bass player for the Fabulous Wailers, was operating a small record label in the early 1960s. He was looking for bands for his label and a friend told him about the Sonics. He went to see them practice in a garage.
Ormsby asked if they had any originals. They had one, with lyrics written by singer/keyboard player Gerry Roslie about dancing. Ormsby liked the guitar riff but did not think the lyrics fit the rough rock music. They wrote new lyrics about a treacherous female and changed the title to “The Witch.”
Ormsby came back for another practice. “When they played the ‘The Witch’ they knocked me out,” he recalled.
He released a record of “The Witch,” with “Keep A’Knockin’” by Little Richard as the B side. Ormsby began contacting radio stations to get airplay. The major rock ‘n’ roll station at the time was KJR AM in Seattle. Legendary disc jockey Pat O’Day gave it a listen and was hesitant to play it. “It was a bit wild for KJR,” Ormsby remarked.
O’Day suggested he get some smaller stations to play it. Disc jockeys at several of them began playing it. It became a hit with young listeners. Ormsby returned to KRJ. O’Day told him he would play the song after 3 p.m., when the housewives were less likely to be listening. “That thing took off like a rocket,” Ormsby recalled.
They eventually released a second pressing, this time with the original “Psycho” as the B-side. The young rock audience in Puget Sound went crazy for it.
In 1965 band entered a Seattle studio to record their debut album, “Here Are The Sonics.”
It was a collection of originals and cover tunes. One of the latter was “Have Love, Will Travel.” It was written by Richard Berry, who wrote “Louie, Louie.” The song became a hit in recent times when it was used in a Land Rover commercial broadcast around the world.
“We picked covers we thought fit the band’s style,” Ormsby recalled.
Soon the band was playing teen dances before 1,000 to 2,000 people. They even played a show at Seattle Center Coliseum.
In 1966 they released their second album, “Boom.” The original song “Shot Down” became a local hit. But it was becoming apparent a band based in the Northwest had limited ability to attract a national audience.
The band signed with another label that had a distribution deal with ABC-Paramount Records. They went to Los Angeles to record their third album, “Introducing the Sonics.”
Soon after two members left the band. Not long after the group disbanded.
They got together in 1972 for one reunion show.
By the 1990s a new wave of Washington bands emerged. Some of them, such as Nirvana and Mudhoney, cited the Sonics as an influence on their style. Interest in the band picked back up.
In 2007 the Sonics did a reunion show as part of a festival in New York City. Ormsby said some people flew over from Europe to see the band. “It was an amazing thing. People really wanted to see the Sonics.”
In 2008 they played a show in Seattle. Ormsby began managing them that year. He has booked them at festivals in Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Italy and Spain.
In 2010 the Sonics entered a studio with producer Jack Endino to record the EP “8.”
Last year Ray Davies of the Kinks asked the band to play a rock festival in London. They ended up as one of the headliners in the concert at Royal Festival Hall.
This year they have sold out venues on a tour of Australia and Japan.
The current lineup is Larry Parypa on guitar, Rob Lind on saxophone, Roslie on vocals and keyboards, Ricky Lynn Johnson on drums and Freddie Dennis on bass and vocals.
The Sonics will play Pantages Theater at 7 p.m. on July 27. Tickets range from $35 to $75. Ormsby said they last played their hometown in 1966 or 1967. “I think this is a great thing. I have been asked many times when they would play in Tacoma.”
Opening acts are Stars of Bombay and Dead Man.