Tacoma pays Tribute to the Legendary Buck Ormsby

Photo by Justin Gimse

It would be hard to imagine what northwest music would look like or better yet what it would sound like had John “Buck” Ormsby not been involved in this music we love so much. Certainly most popular rock bands in this region have been influenced by Buck, in one way or another, whether they know it or not. As a member of Little Bill & The Bluenotes and the Fabulous Wailers, the roots of the gritty garage rock sound that the northwest is famous for. Without Buck and those bands, there is likely no Sonics and so on and so forth. It’s almost all connected in one way or another. Tacoma Weekly had a great article last November that detailed Ormsby’s impact on the sound of the northwest. Read that HERE.

Buck tragically passed away October 29th, on his 75th birthday in 2016, while down in Mexico receiving treatment for cancer but in true Tacoma fashion he was not going to be forgotten and so a party was in order, in this case it would be Buck’s House Party at Temple Theatre.

The Temple Theatre was packed to capacity and it was clear from the buzz in the room that this would not be a sad affair, this was a party and a celebration of the life of one of Tacoma’s finest.

Pat O’Day and ‘Little’ Bill Englehart – Photo by Philip Bradford

Promoter Mike Mitchell and his team left no stone unturned and rolled out legendary act after legendary act such as popular Tacoma band The Galaxies, who got their start at Stadium High School and had a solid five-year run packing high school gymnasiums, teen dances and clubs. Their set on Sunday included classics such as “Mustang Sally” and “Unchained Melody.”

The Galaxies

Another northwest icon Jim Valley, best known as a member of The Viceroys and a short stint in Paul Revere & The Raiders sat behind the keyboard and delivered a fantastic set.

Jim Valley

Billy Mac, whose band was fired while opening for Merrilee Rush before he himself ended up in her band and of course is married to her, delivered a solo set proving that he’s still got serious chops behind the keyboard and the ability to rap! He also let the crowd know that he’s got a book coming out on April 15, 2017 called “My Oh My: The Dave Niehaus Story” and since I’m also a huge Mariner’s fan, I needed to give that one a plug.

Billy Mac

Mac also came out to play with the aforementioned Merrilee Rush who delivered a high-energy set and let everyone in the audience know that she still has a fantastic voice. That voice of course made her a star in the late sixties with a smash hit “Angel of the Morning.” There’s no way the band was going to get off that stage without playing that song and they lovingly obliged, which led to a massive sing-a-long. Not only did Rush exhibit that her voice is still sharp but she playfully engaged with the audience with a commanding stage presence. Throughout her set Jim King laid down some pretty tasty sax work and the whole band was tight and having a ball.

Jim King and Merrilee Rush

A highlight for me was watching Jerry Miller get to play to a large packed crowd. Just last week I was at a show in Tacoma when legendary blues-guitarist Walter Trout told Miller back stage that he is the reason he plays guitar. Trout of course is one of the best players on the planet so that is a pretty heavy statement when you get down to it. I lost track of time but Miller’s set was probably around a half hour and he delivered monster guitar licks and tricks that most players only wish they could pull off. Backed by two drummers, a bass, a second guitar and a keyboard Miller’s band was on their game and they brought the house down.

Jerry Miller

On this Sunday with a light drizzle coming down outside, a stage full of Tacoma and northwest legends like Jerry Miller, Merrilee Rush, The Wailers, The Ventures, The Kingsmen and more packed the dance floor and touched the hearts of all in attendance.  While Buck Ormsby may no longer be here in the flesh, it’s clear from the words spoken both from the stage and in the crowd that his legacy will live on and so will the music of the northwest.


To get a better idea who Buck Ormsby was and what he means to the northwest music scene please watch the short film by Randy Sparks, “Tacoma’s Rock-n-Roll Legends.” It’s an entertaining and educational short film, mixed with interesting stories, facts and music honoring Tacoma’s most notable garage rockers of the late fifties and early sixties. The movie’s raw and gritty format centers on a series of interviews conducted by Buck Ormsby of The Fabulous Wailers with Little Bill Engelhart of the Bluenotes, Kent Morrill of The Fabulous Wailers, KJR DJ Pat O’ Day, Jerry Roslie of The Sonics, Jerry Miller of Moby Grape and Don Wilson of The Ventures.

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