Keith Kessler

Keith Kessler picture sleeve Don't Crowd Me / Sunshine Morning

Keith Kessler’s “Don’t Crowd Me” is an anthem to garage-punk fans, with a sound to match the intensity of the lyrics: “Inside looking out, got no place to shout … I’m locked inside this place, problems I can’t face, I’m getting out breaking free … don’t crowd me! / My soul is cramped and bare, there’s freedom I can’t share … my independence crushed, don’t crowd me, give me air, give me time …”

Keith Kessler recorded “Don’t Crowd Me” at Kearney Barton’s Audio Recording Studio at 2227 5th Avenue in Seattle in 1966, using musicians from Keith’s group, the Impulses.

The Impulses formed in Bellevue (just across Lake Washington from Seattle) in 1964 and included Michael Elliot on lead guitar, Jack Joseph on rhythm, Keith on keyboards and vocals, Jim Simmons on bass and Lew McCall on drums. After the session for “Don’t Crowd Me”, Doug Holloway replaced Lew on drums. The Impulses split around 1967 and Keith joined Calliope for a time but left before they signed to Buddah.

“Don’t Crowd Me” wouldn’t be released for two years, and it was only with some luck that it was issued at all.

During the summer of 1968, Mike Wing, a Bellevue musician and aspiring record producer, liked one of Keith’s original songs “Sunshine Morning” enough to set up a publishing company and finance the recording, pressing and promotion of the record. Keith’s 1966 recording “Don’t Crowd Me” filled in for the b-side, and they released the record and sleeve in August. “Sunshine Morning” didn’t hit, but “Don’t Crowd Me” deserves to be ranked among the top examples of the tough Pacific Northwest sound.

My friend and fellow record collector Gregor Kessler (no relation to Keith) asked Keith about this record and his career in music:

I wrote “Don’t Crowd Me” back in 1966 during a period of general turmoil. Vietnam War. Seemingly mindless, rigid authority by government. Suffocation. A need for freedom of thought and action. Dissatisfaction. Frustration.

That was the backdrop.

Although I was with the Impulses at the time, this was never an Impulses song. We did play it at some of our gigs, but the late 60s and early 70s dance styles made it difficult to dance to.

Guitar on “Don’t Crowd Me” was Mike Elliott (also in the Impulses). I let him go wild on his solo in the middle of the song. My last contact with him was many years ago when he was a studio musician in Los Angeles.

Jim Simmons was on bass (also in the Impulses). He was respected for a creative, rapid walking movement. Although he wasn’t James Jamerson, he was very likely the best in Seattle.

My brother Kent sang back-up. We’d sung together throughout our youth. He wrote a number of songs that I always felt would be hits if he pushed them.

Both Kent and I recorded at the MTW studio (Mike Wing), along with Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. They obviously made the most of their talent.

The sleeve: “Sunshine Morning” was intended as the “A” side – sort of a Young Rascals light-weight, mellow 60s song. So the photo was taken at Golden Gardens State Park in Seattle to suggest waking up and enjoying a new morning. Although it was covered by two bands on separate recordings, it was basically not that exciting and lacked traction.

The “B” side – “Don’t Crowd Me” – got the airplay and, oddly, was popular with late Boomers and early GenXers. It was included (without permission) on a number of punk rock albums. Only one group – The Flying Saucers – asked for permission to record it. When I said “Of course”, they told me that there were at least 15 versions recorded by different bands across the country, and they sent me a tape with several versions. I have kept that very interesting tape, as wells as the Flying Saucers’ vinyl 45 version.

What caused the break-up of the Impulses? It’s incredibly difficult to keep musicians together. I was offered an opportunity to work with a newly forming band of the top musicians in the Pacific Northwest. Each of them had been with a band that had successful records. They were all extremely talented, and it was an amazing experience. The band – Calliope – worked day and night while I was trying to also attend college and raise a family. Ultimately, I left and was replaced by Danny O’Keefe who later had a popular hit – “Good-time Charlie’s Got the Blues”.

For what it’s worth, I chose law school over rock-n-roll, and am a trial attorney today. But in the process, I became addicted once again to playing rock music, and ended up doing a lot of writing, working with exceptional musicians from Alaska. We made no recordings, but, given their incredible talent, I thoroughly enjoyed the year that we spent together. Ultimately, as expected of musicians, we exploded, and most of them returned to Alaska.

Keith Kessler, September 2010

Mike Wing added this history in consultation with the Kessler brothers:

“Sunshine Morning” was recorded in June 1968 at Audio Recording’s 5th Avenue studio in Seattle, with engineer Kearney Barton at the controls and me in the producer’s chair. The musicians on the session were:

Keith Kessler – vocal, keyboards, songwriter, named artist
Kent Kessler – backing vocal, keyboards, chimes
Jack Joseph – bass, trumpet, arranger
Doug Holloway – drums
Leonard Olive – violin

We pressed up copies of the record with a photo sleeve and sent them to every music-oriented radio station in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. We got airplay on a number of the smaller stations, but unfortunately not in the larger markets like Seattle, Portland or Spokane.

The promo guy at a Seattle record wholesaler liked the record and pitched it to his contacts at RCA Records. I followed up with them a number of times hoping to work out a master licensing deal, but they eventually backed out citing the lack of major market airplay.

Meanwhile, a contact in London pitched the record to the Beatles’ newly formed Apple label. I was hoping for a master licensing deal for the UK or Europe. But to my surprise they asked about a publishing deal for the record’s flip side, “Don’t Crowd Me,” for possible use by their new group known as Badfinger. [Cool!!] Unfortunately, the deal never came together.

“Don’t Crowd Me,” was recorded at Audio Recording by Keith and his band at the time, the Impulses, in 1966. I was not involved with that session. Years later it was discovered as a punk/garage classic, but by that time neither Keith nor I were involved in the music business. I’ve always felt honored by the underground popularity of the track even though my involvement was limited to picking it as a flip side.

While there have been a number of cover recordings of “Don’t Crowd Me,” there is only one cover of “Sunshine Morning” that I am aware of. That was by New Era on their Observation album (the track can be found on YouTube).

Notes by Mike “MTW” Wing, January 2015.

Thanks to Keith Kessler and his brother Kent, and to Gregor for bringing this article together.

10 thoughts on “Keith Kessler”

  1. As an avid NW record collector, I was delighted to discover “Don’t Crowd Me” 45 at a thrift store in the early 1980s. When, five years or so later, I was looking for exciting material to cover in my bar-band The Flyin’ Saucers, I played Keith’s song for my bassman and pal Xyz Nikto, and he agreed that “Don’t Crowd Me” was solid gold. The Saucers learned the tune and played it live at local shows in the Seattle area 1985-1987.
    A buddy of mine from Eugene suggested to me that the Saucers should RECORD Keith’s magnum opus, but at the time we didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. So my Eugene friend took a tape I’d recorded for him of the Kessler single back to Eugene and played it for the inestimable John Barley of The Falling Spikes. About 1990 John and the Spikes recorded it and put it on the B-side of a single they issued, and when I heard their version I thought, “Damn! Great version, but not how I’D do it! Why did I let these guys beat me to it?”
    In 1992, I called the other Flyin’ Saucers (we hadn’t gigged in five years) and suggested we go into the studio to record “Don’t Crowd Me” and a parody of the Who’s “My Generation” I’d written about dog food, “My Ken-L-Ration”. We recorded in May of that year, and I had 500 copies of the single pressed on multi-color splash wax. My keyboard virtuoso, artiste Saucer Xeke, did the cover art for the picture sleeve from my specs, and the two of us printed, cut apart, folded, and pasted them together by hand. I also hand-numbered all 500 copies of the 45.
    As part of the preparation for doing the recording session, I called Keith Kessler to ask his permission to record it. I had no idea how to find him; my old friend Dave Voorhees of Bop Street Records in Ballard had mentioned that he thought Keith was an attorney, but didn’t know where. Finally, I picked up a phone book and started calling everybody named Kessler. I was very fortunate to reach Kent Kessler, who was living out by Eastgate, and he was great. He was very proud of his involvement in his brother’s recordings, but the thing he bragged about was NOT his backup vocals; he pointed out that he was the guy who kicked on the Leslie during the intro of “Don’t Crowd Me”!
    Kent put me in touch with his bro, and when I called Keith he couldn’t have been nicer. Not only did he graciously consent to our recording; at my request he also reviewed the lyrics with me. I thought it was amazing that when I got some of the lyrics WRONG (“I need room for me”), Keith said, “That’s great! Just sing your words; they’re fine!” “Well, I’d really like to sing the original lyrics.” “Yours are just as good; sing it like that!” Talk about not getting your creative ego in the way!
    We issued the record, with “Don’t Crowd Me” as the A-side, in August 1992. We had a record release party at Lofurno’s on 15th, but since the band hadn’t gigged in over 5 years, we actually had Duffy Bishop and The Rhythm Dogs play most of our party! We got up and played the two songs, of course, but Duffy, Chris, Keith Lowe, John Lee, and their drummer (dang…I’ve forgotten his name) played the rest of the show.
    I invited Keith Kessler to the gig, but he couldn’t make it. I did send him the cassette tape of our version of his song, along with the 45 we cut. The tape also had the Falling Spikes version and the one by The Outta Place, which I’ve never seen on vinyl. I heard that the Outta Place take was on a comp of some kind. It’s a dynamite version, too. These are the only covers of Keith’s tune I’m aware of.
    The only time I know of that our 45’s A-side was aired publicly was on Bob Blackburn’s satellite show out of LA. Bob was in Seattle band The Liquid Generation in the mid-eighties, and he aired our version of “Don’t Crowd Me” in the mid-nineties.
    The B-side became a little bigger deal. “My Ken-L-Ration” was aired by Dr. Demento on his show in 1993, and subsequently found its way onto a comp CD called “Those Answer Songs Vol. 2” which was released by Bear Family without our knowledge or permission. They must have recorded it directly from a 45, or a tape of a 45. The Good Doctor aired the song again in 2009, although by this time his show was online-only. I’ve never heard a word from him or his minions about his two airings of the song I “co-wrote” with Pete Townshend. Perhaps he, or his heirs, will play it again in 2025.
    But I digress. The Flyin’ Saucers were very proud to record Keith Kessler’s rockin’ classic, and I appreciate Keith’s approval of our recording and his assistance in helping a half-deaf singer decipher his timeless lyrics.
    -Dave Oathout
    a.k.a. Bewot, Leed Saucer
    The Flyin’ Saucers

  2. Thanks for interviewing the amazing Keith Kessler. As lead singer of The Flyin’ Saucers, I reached out to Keith in 1992 to ask his permission to record “Don’t Crowd Me”, which the Saucers had been performing live for some time. I later sent him a tape of our version, and the only other two versions I was aware of. One was by Eugene, Oregon’s Falling Spikes, who actually heard of the song after a friend of mine from Eugene heard us play it and told the Spikes about it. The Falling Spikes, and their leader John Barley, were well-known around Eugene and count The Flamin’ Groovies’ Roy Loney among their fans.
    The only other recorded version of this song that I know is by New York’s Cave Teens, who included it on their “We’re Outta Place” LP.
    The Flyin’ Saucers version was aired by Bob Blackburn (son of the former Seattle Supersonics broadcaster) on his satellite radio show in the mid-’90s. Bob was in Seattle neo-psych band The Liquid Generation, who played some gigs with The Flyin’ Saucers in the ’80s.
    The “B” side of The Flyin’ Saucers’ “Don’t Crowd Me” 45 was a parody of The Who’s “My Generation” entitled “My Ken-L-Ration”. This side has been played by Dr. Demento on his show a couple of times, in 1993 and 2009. It was also included in a Bear Family comp CD “Those Answer Songs Pt. 2”, even though it really ISN’T an answer song!

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