Hundreds of people gathered at Temple Theater on May 4 to pay tribute to the late Kent Morrill. The singer and keyboard player for the Fabulous Wailers died last month after battling cancer for several years.
Local music promoter Mike Mitchell began the evening by sharing some of his memories of Morrill. He recalled the first time he saw the Fabulous Wailers. When Mitchell was 14, he and a friend went to the old armory downtown for a teenager dance. The first thing he saw and heard was Morrill on stage singing "Dirty Robber."
"Until 1967 I never missed a Wailers show," Mitchell remarked. "They are so deeply embedded in my soul."
Next up was Pat O’Day, the legendary disc jockey who turned legions of youth in the region on to rock ‘n roll when he worked at KJR AM. O’Day said the Wailers made a live recording of their song "Tall Cool One" at the New Yorker nightclub on 6th Avenue. This record netted the group an appearance on "American Bandstand." Soon after Morrill contacted O’Day, seeking work for the band. O’Day had hosted teen dances when living in Yakima and Longview, when he was just getting his career going in radio. O’Day decided to hold a dance at Spanish Castle in Federal Way with the Wailers on the bill. It sold out, leading O’Day to hold other dances around the region. "The staple group at those dances was the Fabulous Wailers."
In 1961 O’Day played the band’s version of "Louie, Louie," which became a local hit. O’Day tried to get stations around the United States to play the song, but the response he got was that no one outside the Northwest was interested in hearing a band from Washington. Then the Kingsmen recorded the song and got a label in New York City to release it. O’Day said station managers assumed the Kingsmen were from New York and put the song into heavy rotation. "The Wailers were cheated out of the fame they deserved," O’Day commented.
O’Day hired Roy Orbison to perform for several weeks on the Northwest teen dance circuit. Orbison was intrigued by how Morrill’s voice sounded so much like his own. When Orbison died, Morrill started a tribute act. O’Day noted Morrill performed this tribute in Las Vegas for 10 years. He also performed it in the Northwest. About a year ago O’Day had one of these shows in Seattle filmed to use as a promotional video to book Morrill around the nation. He said Morrill could have taken the show on tour had it not been for his declining health. He showed a clip of the video, then turned the stage over to the musicians who performed the music of Morrill for the remainder of the evening.