The Mooney Building
Backstory and Context
Bob Godfrey Played for Wenatchee Dancers
Retired record store owner Bob Godfrey has been a music fan all his life. As a boy he loved listening to the radio, started playing drums at Wenatchee High School, organized several big-name concerts as a young man, and then spent four decades as a professional drummer with a host of local combos that played jazz, swing and a little rock ‘n roll. Bob Godfrey Records was an icon on Wenatchee Avenue for 30 years, offering a wide selection of musical genres and expanding into cassette, 8-track and compact disc technology before changing hands in 1990.
Except for a few years in the Coast Guard in the 1950s, Godfrey has made Wenatchee his lifelong home. His first professional gig was in 1946, the year he graduated from high school. He continued to play sporadically while attending Wenatchee Valley College and working as a sales clerk for Beany Lanphere’s Belmont Music store on Wenatchee Avenue, then played regularly into the 1980s. His late wife, Mary (Miller), a fellow WHS grad, had a lovely voice and often sang with Bob’s combos.
“There weren’t really any established bands, or at least they didn’t really have set personnel,” he said. “Whoever was approached to play a dance would invite the guys he played with.” Leaders of some of the more popular local dance combos were Jack Brownlow, an excellent piano player; Don Lanphere, a saxophonist who became known on the national jazz scene; and Stretch Garrett, an orchardist from Rock Island who played great piano and led a six- or seven-piece band. Garrett’s band often included Wenatchee High School music teacher Bob Yetter on sax, Cashmere orchardist Bud Murdoch on trombone, and Douglas County fire chief Bob Derry on trumpet. The bass player was from Leavenworth and the drummer was often Lowell Garrett (no relation). “I substituted for Lowell once in a while,” Godfrey said.
“Wenatchee had a musicians union from the 1930s to the late 1950s, but it was toothless!” he added. “The musicians never got a good deal.” Playing music has never been an easy way to make a living, he noted, unless you’re a school music director. But for a music lover it’s not about the money.
During the Depression, when Godfrey was just a young boy, he remembered there being several places in Wenatchee where people would go to dance. Polison’s Café on Wenatchee Avenue, owned from 1918 to 1958 by Greek immigrant Tom Polison, was a restaurant and bar with a dance floor. It had a nice clientele, unlike some of the beer joints and betting parlors to be found in Wenatchee during the 1930s. Another establishment at the corner of Wenatchee Avenue and Miller Street (whose name Godfrey could not remember) had a big dance hall and would occasionally host marathon dance contests.
Monitor and Manson had big dance halls that gave people something fun to do on weekends. In Wenatchee, dances were held at the Eagles Lodge on South Chelan Avenue, the Elks Lodge on Mission Street, the American Legion Hall on North Wenatchee Avenue, and the Wenatchee Auditorium. The latter was located where the entrance to the Performing Arts Center is today, on Wenatchee Avenue; the J.C. Penney store was on the corner. Godfrey said the auditorium was not really a meeting room set up with rows of chairs, but a dance hall where local guys played for dances every few weekends. Occasionally a big-name band would be brought in.
Godfrey tries his hand at promoting concerts
In 1947 Godfrey and his friends Mark Sorley and Bill Van Hoose organized a concert featuring the King Cole Trio, fronted by the legendary Nat King Cole. They made arrangements through the trio’s agent – pooling their money to send an advance, rent the auditorium and publicize the concert. With Cole, they knew they would have a big crowd.
The Wenatchee Auditorium didn’t have many chairs, so the three friends borrowed a couple hundred metal folding chairs from a women’s fraternal organization that met upstairs in the Central Building (today’s Arlberg Sports). “We had to walk down those marble stairs over and over again, carrying the chairs to the auditorium,” Godfrey laughed.
The young men spread the word throughout Eastern Washington that Nat King Cole was coming to Wenatchee. “We filled the place,” Godfrey said. “There were only three or four black families living in Wenatchee at the time, but there must have been 200 black faces at the concert, from Spokane, Moses Lake, Ephrata, Yakima. It was great.”
Vocalist/pianist Cole and his bass and guitar player, all of whom were black, dressed in white silk tuxes and wowed the audience. Following the concert, however, the musicians were refused rooms at the Cascadian Hotel across the street. The Cascadian was part of the Westin Hotel chain. Cole called somebody he knew at the Westin headquarters in Seattle, Godfrey recalled. This man told the Cascadian desk clerk, “Let them in!” He did.
“On that night a color line fell in Wenatchee,” observed Tracy Warner in The Wenatchee World March 10, 2000. Not only had the packed audience been one-third black, but blacks were welcome for the first time at the Cascadian Hotel.
After the Cole concert experience, which made them a little money, Godfrey, Sorley and Van Hoose booked two big bands headed by Stan Kenton and Herb Miller (Glenn’s brother). Neither of these concerts was profitable and the young men gave up their careers as promoters.
Later that year someone else brought in Jimmie Lunceford, alto saxophonist and leader of an all-black big band. Godfrey’s friend Don Lanphere sat in with the band on tenor sax. Lanphere was a year or two ahead of Godfrey in school and had pulled together a group called the Melodeers that played at school dances. After attending Northwestern University and getting to play with well-known Chicago musicians, he went on the road and became part of the national jazz scene – playing with the likes of Fats Navarro, Billy May, Artie Shaw and Charlie Parker. He hung out in New York and Boston and became hooked on drugs in the 1950s, Godfrey said. His father, Beany Lanphere, brought him home to Wenatchee for a while and Don fronted a local band. He then joined Woody Herman’s big band and started touring again. Returning to Wenatchee, he underwent a religious experience and shook the drug habit. Don Lanphere took over Belmont Music and fronted a local band until about 1990 when he moved to the Seattle area. He died in 2003.
Wenatchee’s dance scene was lively in 1950s and ‘60s
Local musicians who had played for years at Eagles, Elks and American Legion dances began to retire in the 1940s. These included Jimmy Garrett, a chef who played sax and clarinet; Connie Rose, saxophone-playing son of Wenatchee pioneer Conrad Rose and secretary of the musicians’ union; and Rixta Will, a piano player from a well-known wheat family in Waterville. Replacing them were guys like piano players Jack Brownlow, Stretch Garrett, Louis Crollard, Homer Crollard and Larry Johnson; guitarist and vocalist Jack Day; saxophonists Steve Laughery, Walt Cumbo, Elton Henderson and Bob Yetter; and trumpeters Johnny Prabucki, Jimmy Tan, George Sellar, Gordy Isaacson and Jay McCament. Godfrey drummed with them all.
This new wave of musicians favored tunes from the swing era, Broadway musicals, and popular songs that appeared on the “Hit Parade.” Some favorites were:
C Jam Blues
Them There Eyes
Day by Day
My Funny Valentine
The Cascadian and Columbia hotels also had dance floors, as did the Wenatchee Golf and Country Club, Chieftain Restaurant and local Grange halls. Godfrey said local dance combos often worked both weekend nights and sometimes five nights a week. The income from these evening gigs wasn’t much, maybe $12 to $15 per player for a night, but it supplemented the incomes from musicians’ regular jobs.
Godfrey bought the record department of Barnhart Music in the mid-1950s, after returning to Wenatchee from the Coast Guard. After three years he moved his record business across Wenatchee Avenue to a photography shop. This burned down and he lost his whole inventory. After about six months the owner of Anderson’s Hardware, next door to the former photographer, invited Godfrey to start up his business again at the back of the hardware store. Godfrey sold records there for about three years, then moved to the basement of Belmont Music (now an antique mall) before settling in a long, narrow space at __ Wenatchee Avenue. The business was popular but didn’t turn a high profit.
“Bob was always so generous about letting us play the records before actually buying them,” said frequent customer Wilma Stellingwerf. “I don’t know how many times he had to deal with people not handling them with care.” Jan Dorn Haven recalled Godfrey’s as a laid-back place with a welcoming atmosphere and great selection of popular and jazz recordings.
Godfrey gradually stopped playing drums in the mid-1980s, and sold the record business in 1990. He still gets his music fix through a collection of several hundred cassette tapes, CDs and records – mostly jazz – and jazz radio stations that stream music over the Internet. His neighbors get to share the love when he accompanies his yard work with recorded music. Sometimes it’s his wife Mary, singing with a local band, but usually it’s big-name players from the 1950s like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Bud Powell – and Nat King Cole. “I’ve got dozens and dozens of his albums – everything he’s done,” Godfrey told Tracy Warner in 2000. “I think about Nat King Cole all the time.”
Polk Directories. Wenatchee, WA. 1907-2006.
Rader, Chirs. Bob Godfrey Played for Wenatchee Dancers. The Confluence. October 1st 2013.
Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center Photography Collection # 012-51-2051
Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center Collection # 89-36-19