A few questions with Seattle Express, the band
with William Pennington
Who or what is the Seattle Express, you ask? I didn’t know either until I found their 7” record at Easy Street Records. This much I have figured out so far: The Seattle Express was a band from the late 1970s to the early 90s. They had many members, in and out, coming and going. If it weren’t for this physical 7” record, no article or interview would have been written. Strangely, I have the only copy of the record among the members. Here is their story.
The most famous name in the band belongs to Argentinian percussionist, Luis Peralta, who later went on to play drums for Dizzy Gilespie’s band (here he is beautifully playing a few salad bowls). Luis is nearly impossible to track down, as he is a very private person, but he opened up on his early Seattle days.
Who chose the name Seattle Express?
Luis Peralta (LP): The guitar player, very good guitar player, he’s very good classical guitarist, and it was his idea. A catchy idea, for gigs. Bob Gronenthal was his name. Pasqual the violinist was a body builder guy. Italian, big muscles, very handsome attractive guy. And he brings his dog, with a hat. Sometimes I think people loved the dog more than the band, I think he was the main attraction.
Whatever became of the band?
LP: It was just a little band to play weddings and parties. The violinist and guitar player kept working together, but no bass no drums. And that was it, it was just maybe for a year or two. Long long time ago, I don’t even have a copy...and I just don’t think it was that great really... [laughs]...it was fun for awhile but not really. We were thinking about making some money, and not so much about the music. We should think about, but not about music. I didn’t expect to have any reaction to it, good or bad.
Do you ever expect or want to have a reunion?
LP: [laughs] not really, I think I don’t know if anybody else is still alive, and what they are doing
What do you think of the music scene in Seattle right now?
LP: I really don’t know what’s going on in Seattle now. I’m into my books now.
What are you doing nowadays?
LP: I’m studying physics and cosmology, composing, and playing the drums, and the meditation. Not much anymore outside, and the drum set is meditation, movement for me right now. Something to keep my head, my heart, my body as much as possible in harmony and so I practice every day, almost every day, and reminisce of the good times and watch a lot of movies.
Who else have you played with?
LP: Oh lots of people. Dizzy Gilespie, Lalo Schifrin, Montel Alexander, John Carter, mostly famous jazz musicians. I was about to play with Miles Davis because he hired me to play percussion but then he died. He didn’t make it, I didn’t make it. I met him in France with Blossom Dearie and Bob Dorough. And then it was a friend of Blossom, a great singer, pianist, and Miles heard it from her and he said he needed a percussionist. It was gonna happen but then two, three months later the drummer in the band Ricky Wellman called me and told me he was gone, that we lost him.
When I looked up the next member of the group, Pasquale Santos. Pasquale can be seen busking the city streets with his two bulldogs (one dog always with a water bottle in his mouth), and his violin repertoire has become somewhat legendary on the streets of Seattle. I have seen him dozens of times over the years, and the connection made with this discovery was unexpected. Like Luis, he also seemed surprised by my interest. “Thanks for the pics of the old record,” he said. “I haven’t thought about it in years.”
As to what he’s been up to, he wrote “As far as me, I’m gigging more than ever. The technology has made my life easier, I gig with my backup on my Apple Watch and iPod and my repertoire is over 40 hours and growing every day. I’m with a program called buskers in the park. Seattle Parks and Recreation sponsors it and I’ve been doing it for 13 years. And if I’m not playing at the Space Needle or Chihuly Glass Garden, I’m out there busking. I’m just traveling around to Australia, Honolulu, points in Southern California on busking holidays.”
Bob Gronenthal, whose name on the back of the record said to contact “for information”, yet left no address and has very little online presence, seems to be the kind of guy who knew everyone in Seattle. I later learned that he has developed MS, and has been unable to play with much regularity. Sadly, this is all the information I have been able to gather at this point.
Bob Beerman was the final member of the group. His time with the band was relatively short compared to Pasquale and Mr Gronenthal, but he remembers those years as “great times”. He does not remember the existence of the record, but does recall with fondness that “Pasquale drove around in a small convertible with his dog Newfoundland dog, Odin [pictured on the back of the sleeve], sitting in the front passenger seat, often wearing sunglasses”
Whatever became of Seattle Express? Can you give a brief history?
Bob Beerman (BB): Can't remember how I became involved...probably through Bob Gronenthal. We played mostly for private affairs...weddings, parties, etc.
Will you ever make a comeback, or have you ever gotten together lately?
BB: No, I don't see that happening. We're 3000 miles apart, I don't play bass anymore, and we all have gone our own way. No communication for over 30 years.
How many records did you release?
BB: Just that one...I didn't even remember that one...and I don't have a copy.
Were there any other variations of the band? Papaya seems to be the only pre-version I can find online.
BB: That's a question for Pasquale or Bob G. And I wish I knew what happened to Luis Peralta...very musical guy, great Latin accent and fun to play with.
Bob was a fine guitarist, particularly adept at classical music.
What are you doing nowadays?
BB: My wife and I own the Bass Violin Shop in Greensboro, NC. We have 2 bass luthiers besides myself, a front person and Teresa who does most of the business end.
What was Seattle like in the mid 80s?
BB: In a nutshell. We moved from Denton, TX about a month after Mt St. Helens erupted...saw solid grey ash over the whole landscape. It was the beginning of the turn-around for Seattle...bought our small house on Queen Anne Hill for $62,000...1215 Warren St. Sold it 4 years later for $68,000. Last time I looked it was valued at over $900,000. It was a great time for us. I took music classes at UW and played lots of jazz gigs at Parnell's and Jazz Alley. I also played in the group Blue Sky, headed by Kevin Rolstad, with Dave Peterson and John Bishop.
We missed the south's warm nights, crickets and our families...and moved to Greensboro in 1987.
This record may not have the lasting impact of a classic, or even a cult classic, but it does have deep connections into the heart of the city. While Pasquale and Mr. Gronenthal have stayed behind and put their mark on the Seattle music scene, Mr Beerman kept his love of bass violins alive for the residents of North Carolina. Mr. Peralta went on to bigger and brighter things. What makes this record interesting is not its greatness, but almost lack thereof. Anyone can make a record, but this one meant something more to them then than it does for them now. It may not have been the pinnacle of any members’ career, but it was very important to them at the time. Meaning is what we give it, if it means something to us.
When searching for new music, don’t forget that old music is new (to you) if you haven’t listened to it yet.
WP - 6/2019