Wheedle’s Groove is a feature documentary about Seattle’s long-lost soul and funk music scene of the 1960s and 70s. With commentary by Seattle notable music figures like Quincy Jones, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Mark Arm (Mudhoney), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie), Ben Shepherd (Soundgarden), Kim Warnick (The Fastbacks) and Kenny G, and using interview footage, archival materials, original music, and live performances, the film paints a picture of a thriving and vibrant music scene centered around the city’s small African-American population.
Due to a century of housing discrimination in Seattle, 1972 saw 80% of the city’s black population living in a four square mile neighborhood called the Central District, or the C.D. Despite the neighborhood being a product of racism, black-owned businesses, black culture, and black music thrived in the C.D. Groups like Black on White Affair, The Soul Swingers, and Cold, Bold & Together played on the local black radio station KYAC and packed clubs every night of the week. Many of the groups started to receive widespread attention with invitations to perform on national television and to collaborate with mainstream acts. Many were given breaks by Seattle native Quincy Jones, who had become almost a messiah-like figure to local musicians. But just as many of the groups were on the verge of breaking out, the fickle public turned its ear from funk to disco, and Seattle’s soul and funk scene slipped into obscurity.
By 2001, Seattle was known for grunge music, Microsoft, and coffee. There seemed to be nothing left of a Seattle soul music scene until local record collector DJ Mr. Supreme found a dusty Black on White Affair 45 called ‘Bold Soul Sister’ in a 99 cent bin at a Seattle Center record show. By 2003 he had a rough impression of a once-thriving scene and a hefty collection of Seattle soul and funk 45s, some of which were beginning to fetch upwards of $2000. Supreme approached local record label Light In The Attic with the idea of releasing a Seattle soul and funk compilation. Light In The Attic spent twelve months tracking down the artists and fleshing out the story of Seattle’s funky past, and the result was a CD compilation entitled Wheedle’s Groove. At the Wheedle’s Groove CD release party in August of 2004, a line of nostalgic 60-year-olds and funk-hungry 20-year-olds wrapped around the building as the musicians inside, now janitors and graphic designers and truck drivers, prepared to perform together for the first time in 30 years.
The players paint a vivid scene of an incredible cultural explosion inside a community transformed by the black power movement. But as one musician after another had to turn away from music as a career, only a young Kenny G, after leaving the primarily black funk band that gave him his start, was able to rise to the level of success that everyone in the scene had dreamt of. Most had to radically alter their vision of how they would live their lives.
Looking back, each player sees the one painful place where a decision or an event started them down a path away from music. A disagreement with a more well-known singing band that they were backing, a fight over a woman, a decision to pass up an opportunity to leave the band and tour with Curtis Mayfield all remain frozen in memory to be analyzed and rewound and analyzed again. That moment for one band was a misunderstanding-turned falling-out with Quincy Jones, who had been helping them out in Los Angeles. When asked to recall his part in the story, Quincy Jones remembered nothing.
With the rediscovery of the music came write-ups in national magazines, world-wide distribution, and finally a sense of redemption.
High Resolution Stills
I was first introduced to the music in WHEEDLE’S GROOVE in August 2004, when I interviewed Matt Sullivan, part-owner of Light in the Attic Records for a different documentary. He was just about to release a compilation of Seattle soul and funk music from a collection of private-release 45 records gathered over 10 years by local DJ Mr. Supreme from junk shops and thrift stores. Supreme started piecing together the story of a thriving soul music scene in Seattle’s historically black neighborhood the Central District in the 1960s and 1970s. Soon he would find that the janitor at his girlfriend’s college, the lady at the post office, and the guy at the hi-fi store were all integrally involved. I showed up at the reunion show and CD release party the next week with a camera, and I knew I had to make this movie. Just over five years later in Memphis, WHEEDLE’S GROOVE had its world premiere, and Matt and I had our honeymoon.
I was driven first and foremost by the desire take at least a small step toward righting the wrong that history dealt to this music scene. There were no books, no magazines, no museums, and no photo archives chronicling the music of this very rich time in Seattle’s black community. It was almost as if the whole thing had never happened.
What I found was a world of speakeasies and music on every corner; of big dreams and near misses; of ex-Seattlite Quincy Jones as a messiah figure who would surely change your life if he just caught your set at the airport Double Tree. As funk turned to disco and clubs turned to DJs, the bands broke up and Seattle moved on. A few of the musicians continued to play, but the only one to ever reach the place they all thought they would is Kenny G, who got his start at 16 in a hard-hitting funk band called Cold, Bold & Together.
It’s my hope Wheedle’s Groove brings recognition to the musicians in Seattle’s Central District in the 1960s and 1970s and reminds us that great things are often hidden in plain site.
AUDIENCE AWARD Indie Memphis 2009
JURY PRIZE FOR BEST FILM Sound Unseen International Duluth 2010
AUDIENCE AWARD Tacoma Film Festival 2010
Seattle International Film Festival 2010 (GOLDEN SPACE NEEDLE DOC AUDIENCE AWARD 2ND RUNNER-UP)
Maryland Film Festival 2010
Maine International Film Festival 2010
Reel Film 2009
Atlanta Film Festival 2010
Sidewalk Film Festival 2010
Perth International Film Festival 2010
Oxford Film Festival 2010
Olympia Film Festival 2009
Philadelphia Independent Film Festival 2010
Chicago International Movies and Music Fest 2010
Tucson Music and Movie Festival 2010
Port Townsend Film Festival 2010
Sound Unseen Film Festival 2010
4 Stars | Uncut Magazine | May 1, 2011
Jennifer Maas (director/producer)
After graduating from The University of Texas with degrees in math and computer science, Jennifer warily left Austin for a job in Seattle. After three years, she decided to pursue film, started Evil Bunny Films, and has since worked on features, music videos, and commercials as an editor, a producer, and a director. She co-produced Lynn Shelton’s film HUMPDAY, which premiered in competition at Sundance in 2009, and most recently produced TREATMENT, starring Josh Leonard from HUMPDAY, and directed by her co-producer Steven Schardt. WHEEDLE’S GROOVE is her feature directorial debut.
Michelle Witten (editor/producer)
Michelle is an east-coast native, and has lived in Seattle for the past 6 years. She has worked as an editor for 5 years, cutting features, documentaries, corporate video, music videos and experimental art installation pieces. She has cut several features besides WHEEDLE’S GROOVE, including Lynn Shelton’s debut feature WE GO WAY BACK, and SCOUT’S HONOR, starring Chris Kattan and Fred Willard, which will be distributed online and theatrically in Fall 2010. Most recently she has cut WHITE LINES AND THE FEVER: THE DEATH OF DJ JUNEBUG, a short doc premiering at SXSW Film 2010, and will then play the Tribeca Film Festival.
Ben Kasulke (co-cinematographer)
Ben Kasulke is an award winning Director and Director of Photography with over seven years of professional experience. While employed as the staff cinematographer for the Seattle based Film Company, he was fortunate enough to work with award winning filmmakers Guy Maddin and Lynn Shelton. In 2006, he received two awards for his Cinematography on Shelton’s WE GO WAY BACK from the Slamdance and Torun Film Festivals. Ben was also honored to work with director Linas Phillips on his award winning documentary WALKING TO WERNER in 2006. The Seattle Stranger shortlisted Kasulke for its Genius Award in Film in 2007. Ben worked as the cinematographer on Lynn Shelton’s film HUMPDAY, which premiered at Sundance in 2009.
Total running time: 95 min
Aspect ratio: 4:3 Letterbox
Format: Mini-DV, color
Screening Formats: Digibeta, DVCam, DVD
Language: English, no subtitles