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Friday, March 19, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ron Gardner Fans Honor Him With Music

"A Tribute to Ron Gardner," with Gabriel, The New Blues Brothers, Jumbo Groove, Merrilee Rush and special guests. Temple Theatre Grand Ballroom, 47 St. Helens St. 6 p.m. Sunday. Sold out. 272-2042. --------------------------------------------------------------- -- TACOMA Ron Gardner was a Wailer, in more ways than one. The singer and sax-playing songwriter, who passed away after an accidental fire last December, was not only a longtime member in one of the Pacific Northwest's earliest rock bands - The Wailers - but someone who was always playing, always performing, always doing something.

"He just amazed me,' said Buck Ormsby, a founding member of the Wailers. "He had so much energy. He always did." Gardner joined Ormsby's seminal rock band in 1962. "And he stayed with us until the show was over in 1969.

"We brought him in to replace our first sax player. We wanted someone who could play and sing and that was moveable, someone who could get around a stage, put on a show. He could sure do that. Eventually he started writing songs, too. It went on from there. He kept at it all through the '70s, '80s and '90s. He was working with another band when the accident happened."

"Ron lived around Tacoma all his life," says Mike Mitchell, a life-long fan and one of the organizers of Sunday night's benefit. "If you lived around here for any length of time, you knew Ron. It didn't take a lot of prompting to get some local businesses to

contribute to doing this benefit for Ron's family (Gardner was married to his high school sweetheart Diane and had two children) . Everyone wanted to pitch in."

Mitchell says the first time he ever saw the Wailers, he was just a kid. "I sneaked into a Battle of the Bands, and there was Ron and the Wailers. They were incredible. I'd never seen anything like it. So raw, so exciting. It was really rock 'n' roll. It really affected me - the music, the band, everything." Mitchell remained a fan, slipping into the now-legendary teen dances of the time even when he wasn't quite old enough. "I just followed his career," said Mitchell.

When the Wailers finally came to an end, Gardner went on to several other groups, most notably The Ron Gardner band and Jumbo Groove. He wrote and recorded several regional hits. He was always working on one project or another.

"We had recently been talking about a Wailers' reunion," says Ormsby. "We had done a few over the years and Ron hadn't been involved in all of them, so he was looking forward to this one. I guess some of the band will be coming together for this show."

Jim Leeder, another longtime friend and former manager for the band Gabriel - one of Seattle's hottest bands of the '70s and '80s - said that Gardner was a superstar before the word was coined. But like a lot of longtime local musicians of the '60s, he never got his due, he didn't leave a lot behind for his family. "That's why we're doing the benefit. The response has been really great."

"There were 500 tickets, and we were a little unsure of how they'd move at first," said Mitchell, "but they were gone in like a week. Almost all by word of mouth, a few here, a few there. The show is sold out. But we're doing some merchandising, too, especially a T-shirt. And we wanted people to know that we've set up a trust fund that anyone can contribute to. It's called the Ron Gardner Trust and anyone who cares to can make a contribution in that name in any Key Bank in the area."

"Ron was a pioneer," said Michael Kinder, leader of Gabriel. "We just want to celebrate his life and his music. It's the least we can do."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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