Thoughts on Black Happy

Local scenesters remember why they loved (and why they hated) North Idaho’s best-known grunge-era band.

Singer in defunct local band 10 Minutes Down

“When I played with 10 Minutes Down, we covered a Black happy song called “Three Day Weekend” (from the album Peghead), at the behest of one of the members of the band who had seen them in their prime. [They] dragged up some old videos of a Black Happy show at the Met and forced it on us. I must admit it was inspirational. Certainly something about having a horn section made that inspiration easier to imagine, but really it was about the energy. There was something just absolutely manic about the way they tore around the stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. More than any Orange County ska band of the late 90’s, 10 Minutes Down drew its inspiration from the stage presence of Black Happy. We certainly made an effort to be our own, but it made it seem like there was a standard to achieve — to bring it no matter what the crowd or venue. To the very end (we played it at our final show) people would swoon about the hey days of Black Happy three bars into our shitty cover of “Three Day Weekend.” I’ll be there at the Knitting Factory for sure.”

Platform Booking promoter

“My sophomore year of high school (Gonzaga Prep) I was wearing a Black Happy shirt. My religion teacher told me I had to take it off or she would send me to “the office.” She found it offensive!? Needless to say, I ended up in the office. The Vice Principle put his foot down and gave me a shirt to change into. So I went to the bathroom to change. I put the shirt he gave me in the trash, my BH shirt in my back pocket, wrote Black Happy on my chest with a sharpie, and walked back into his office. My Mom picked me up out front 20 minutes later. Listened to the record later that day at home and had a good laugh.”

Former co-owner of Prago and the Spike Coffeehouse

“They played one of the first shows I ever went to when I was just starting high school (Pasco High) at the Hoe Down in Kennewick. Luckily one of my older skater buddies had a car and brought me to the show- I felt so cool going with the older kids. They played the Tri-Cities a lot while I was living there with bands like Small (now Lady Bird Unition) and LouderMilk (now Gosling). It all seems like a blur now but I met so many people there that I stayed friends with throughout high school and still stay in touch with today.”

Promoter, owner of the B-Side

“I remember going to see them in Coeur d’Alene in ‘92 along with probably 30 other LC kids. I was into Fishbone and RHCP back then so I was a sucker for their sound. Later, at Gonzaga, I was in a band that opened for Shoveljerk. [I’m] a bit surprised about the wild enthusiasm for the show. I have friends coming from Seattle and Denver to see them.”

Music fan, former Inlander photographer

“Black Happy was all about fun and energy. I was 17 in 1990 when they got started and I saw them at some all-ages gig. I danced and had such a blast that I made it my mission to hit every show of theirs that I could. Their shows were so much fun, so full of energy, such a fusion of different styles... they were great and so perfect for the Spokane scene in the early ‘90s. And the guys were so great. I got to be friends with the band and they were a group of really nice guys.

That was a fun time in Spokane and I have so many really great memories of seeing Black Happy in those early years. Sure I haven’t listened to them much since — if at all — but some things are about positivity and energy, about nostalgia, about just being a part of what is, in the moment. This was my time in the ‘Kan and in some ways there reunion tour will feel like a high school reunion to me.”

Local musician, one of this year’s Inlander Bands to Watch

“My friend got me into them years and years ago when we were young. We’d listen to what we had while we drove to UTF to skateboard. Very good memories for me.”

Inlander contributor

“Wow. That name brings back memories. They played a lot around Seattle when I lived there in the early 1990s. Been a long time, but my memory tells me they seemed to had practically set up shop at the University Sports Bar in the U-District, along with Inflatable Soule around 91-92. I think I also saw them at the Ballard Firehouse and the HUB. And probably numerous other times, as we used to just go out and music was everywhere in Seattle at that time. Some of their sound fit right in with what was going around the city at the time, but they also had that strange funky horns thing they’d do, which kinda set them apart and made them pretty popular because people could dance a bit to it, which was unusual in the heavier music scene there. I was lucky to be in Seattle from 88-96 and I took for granted one of the greatest music scenes of my lifetime.”

Local musician, Inlander contributor

“It took me awhile to see Black Happy. I moved to Spokane in 1992, just before I turned 18. Being a young punk rocker interested in exploring my new town’s music scene, it was inevitable that Black Happy’s name came up. In my case it was always in a negative way. My friends here would snort derisively whenever the name was mentioned. They were anathema to the punk scene; a fusion of punk and funk that had been discarded when the Chili Peppers “sold out.”

I never even thought to attend one of their shows until a couple of years later when a girl I was infatuated with identified herself as a huge fan. In my arrogance I dismissed her fandom as feminine naiveté. My musical tastes at that point had evolved out of punk and into new, progressive indie territory; I was listening to Drive Like Jehu, Slint, Gastr del Sol, Don Caballero and other new, exciting bands that had blossomed from punk rock roots. I couldn’t be bothered by some hackneyed, local funk rock outfit. Black Happy was beneath my contempt. Then the girl dumped me. She wouldn’t speak to me. I was beneath her contempt.

In my despair I endeavored to catch a glimpse of her at a Black Happy show that was happening at Playfair. It was winter and it was cold. I did not see her there, but I did see Black Happy for the first time. Alas! I must report that all my friends were right the whole time. It was terrible in the way that music is when you recognize the skill of the players but cannot identify with any of the sounds they make. I wanted them to be good, but they were not. The amalgam of funk and rock, when played by white dudes with horns, has just never appealed to me. It was a uniquely disturbing experience to see a large group of mostly unfamiliar Spokanites rocking out to this music that I hated. I felt like a stranger in a strange land. I left before they finished, after losing hope that I would see the object of my desire. We never spoke again. It was probably for the best. She had really shitty taste in music.”

Local musician

“Everything Jon said, minus the girl. The aggressively and perplexedly icky thing that was Black Happy. I shall hide under the table until they are gone. Again. Join me. There is plenty of room under the table. We’ll play cards and tell scary stories about the first time Black Happy walked the streets of Spokane.”

Bartender, music fan

“I remember going to a show at The Met that I was soooo excited for — Black Happy meant dancing, fun and great, upbeat/total energy songs. Everyone was dancing, singing along and the place was completely packed! A couple years ago I saw a sticker on someone’s car and thought how funny it was to see a Black Happy bumper sticker.”

Local musician, former Inlander Art Director

“I was in the 6th grade…I think. It must have been my extra long batty eyelashes or my sweet innocent face, but most likely I must have promised not bash on my drums (which were located directly outside my sister’s bedroom door) for a week or so. Whatever it was and however I did it doesn’t matter now and it didn’t matter then. I was going to a show, my first show…ever. So my sister and her boyfriend let me and buddy tag along out to Playfair to see some band called Black Happy’s. I mean it was a cool show but it was totally overwhelming. I tried to mosh and got tossed around. It was like being around a bunch of enlightened monks and you just wandered into their party. It was a great energy, I wanted to be a part of it, I didn’t know what IT was. So in retrospect I suppose that’s what started my addiction to music. But not just playing, the whole experience.”

Watershed feat. Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Thomas Rhett, Kelsea Ballerini and more @ Gorge Amphitheater

Fri., July 30, Sat., July 31 and Sun., Aug. 1
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About The Author

Leah Sottile

Leah Sottile is a Spokane-based freelance writer who formerly served as music editor, culture editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She has written about everything from nuns and Elvis impersonators, to jailhouse murders and mental health...