Dave Lewis Got People To Dance To His `Northwest Sound' Of Rock
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
Dave Lewis, one of a handful of Central Seattle musicians who created the duo-saxophone, rhythm-and-funk "Northwest sound" of rock in the late 1950s, died of lung cancer Friday (March 13) in San Diego. He was 59.
He had been to Mexico with his wife, Linda, and brother, Eulysses Lewis, also of Seattle, to find relief from the cancer.
"We were trying him on alternative therapy rather than radiation or other orthodox treatments," said his wife.
Lewis had been in Mexico for about a month before returning to San Diego.
Like his friends Quincy Jones and the late Jimi Hendrix, who also had Northwest roots, Mr. Lewis was one of those midcentury local musicians who achieved fame.
Tutored in music theory by his father, guitarist Eddie Lewis, who also taught Hendrix's friends, Mr. Lewis cut nine albums and had two hits, "Little Green Thing" and "David's Mood," a takeoff on "Louie, Louie."
With or without the Dave Lewis Combo, he played his Hammond B-3 organ in nightclubs such as Birdland and on stages such as the Paramount's for three decades.
Mr. Lewis enjoyed his fame, making $1,500 a week in the 1960s and 1970s (a lot for the time), and driving custom Lincolns, mainly in Seattle.
He arranged his tunes for dancing and romancing. He once complained that when the young Hendrix sat in on his sets, dancers stood and looked confused.
"Getting people on the dance floor was a priority of mine," he said.
He spent his infancy in Bremerton and grew up in Seattle, where he attended Garfield High School.
Mr. Lewis started out with small combos making big sounds with a hard-driving backbeat at high-school dances, inspiring groups such as The Wailers and The Kingsmen (of "Louie, Louie" fame).
Mr. Lewis once told author Mary Willix that The Kingsmen's version of "Louie, Louie" was his arrangement of the song.
In Willix's book, "Jimi Hendrix, Voices From Home," respected musician Luther Rabb calls Lewis "the godfather of the Seattle Sound."
"The Dave Lewis combo was more advanced musically than any other Seattle group," Rabb said. "They knew all about intervals and overtones and music theory. . . . They had the fewest guys and they made the biggest sound."
Drummer George Griffin noted that "The Dave Lewis Combo was the transition from rhythm-and-blues to rock and funk."
Mr. Lewis signed a contract for albums with the national A&M Records group and enjoyed several regional and national hits.
Noted for his rapid keyboard playing and excellent arrangements, he was the arranger for the 50-piece house band at the Paramount Theatre, then run by his brother, Eulysses Lewis. For a time, he also ran the club Dave's Fifth Avenue.
He was sidelined several times by drug addiction and in 1985 pleaded guilty to charges of armed robbery of a North Seattle drugstore. But he cleaned up his act, and once more began entertaining Seattle audiences at local clubs.
Lewis had been married four times.
Besides his wife and brother, Lewis is survived by his mother, Bertha Lewis; a twin sister, Eunice Scott; and a younger sister, LaDonna Lewis, all of Seattle.
A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, 1522 14th Ave., Seattle.
Carole Beers' phone message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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