When most people think of the Seattle music movement they think of the grunge wave of the late 80’s and early 90’s. Bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Mudhoney (oooooh). But this is the story of the other Seattle music movement. The one that occurred in the early 2000’s. And the band in question is Stabone. But let’s go back a few years before Stabone took the University District of Seattle by storm. Let’s go back to September 3, 1996 and go to a small classroom on the second floor of Kent-Meridian High School. I remember I was so nervous, being in a new school for the first time after transferring for baseball reasons. Sitting in the corner seat, I looked directly across the room and saw two people. One a tall gangly guy who was cracking up all the gals in the class and looked like the coolest guy ever. His name was Ryan Reed. He was talking to another guy, who was much shorter, probably 5’9 or 5’10 and had a huge collared sweater on. There were rumors he tucked in his sweater but that can’t be confirmed by anyone but Mike Nguyen. I digress. The man with the sweater was Ryan Armstrong. Throughout the next two years of high school I got to become good friends with both Ryans. Whether it was golfing with Ryan Reed, or sitting at Godfathers with Ryan Armstrong while he nibbled on his girlfriends’ ear, they became two of my best friends.
I went off to The University of Washington while both Ryan’s went to Green River Community College for 13th grade. The Ryan’s would often come up to my fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega and party once in a while and I could tell Ryan Armstrong was dying to get to UW. Ryan Reed hurt his knee like 9 times during his 3 years at Green River and also pursued a solitary life as a fisherman. But Ryan Armstrong wanted to get to UW and was accepted in spring of our freshman year. Ryan and I decided to get an apartment together for our Sophomore year. Ryan brought his drums up to the apartment, I had my guitars and amps and that entire year we played cover songs together. Scorpions, Metallica, Def Leppard, Black Sabbath and many other awesome butt rock bands were our songs of choice. Ryan and I would invite girls over to the apartment and we’d play shows. We needed a name. Now I had been nicknamed J-Ball or Ball since I was about 4 years old. And Ryan was performing under the stage name Tony Large, which was a shout out to not only his Italian heritage, but his massive “size” as well. So using a naming tactic like Hall and Oates, Seals and Crofts, Crosby, Stills and Nash……Ball T Large was born. However once the school year was over, I moved back to the frat and Ryan moved in with a guy named 46.5 up in North Seattle. Practices were rare during that Junior year and it appeared Ball T Large was fading fast.
Then came the summer of 2001. Ryan Armstrong moved in with Ryan Reed, who finally joined us up at the UW and Ryan’s parents bought a house in the Wedgewood neighborhood. I was home most of the summer as my dad was sick with skin cancer. He died on July 24, 2001 and one of the things I did to cope was write songs. I wrote songs about my dad, one that reflected the sadness of those final weeks and days with him and one that reflected how conflicted I was about him, because like any father and son, we had our issues. The nice song was called Floating and the conflicted one was called Haggen, named after a can of green beans that had no connection to the song.
Now when I went over to the Ryan’s house, they had a huge basement that was dedicated to playing music. We jammed all the time down there. We made videos about being a band. But we weren’t a band yet. I continued to write songs and then one day, Ryan said that a guy named Chris Walbridge wanted to come and play with us. Chris went to Kent-Meridian as well, and even though I’d honestly never really said two words to him while we were in school, Chris was my nemesis. And he was my nemesis for one reason. Leading up to the Sadie Hawkins dance of my senior year, I was hoping and praying that this gal who I was in love with would ask me. I had all my friends tell her to ask me and drop hints that I wanted to go with her. Instead…she asked Chris Walbridge. I didn’t care if he was the nicest guy ever, this guy was my enemy! Well fast forward to late 2001 and Chris comes down into the basement to jam with us. I was irritated the whole practice, because three years ago this guy did absolutely nothing but say yes to a hot girl who asked him on a date. In other words I was being very rational. But musically there wasn’t that much of a connection. But Chris practiced his ass off. Like all the time. And the next time we jammed it was better. And the next time even better. Sooner than later, Chris was part of the band. But we needed a name. We sat and brainstormed and brainstormed. Finally, somebody suggested (I’m guessing it was Ryan) the name Stabone. It was an ode to our favorite character from Growing Pains, Boner Stabone (RIP). Now afterwards there was some debate on the spelling, because I was contending since it rhymed with Stallone, that we should have two b’s in Stabbone. But Chris and Ryan lobbied that it should just be one b and they were right and won.
Now it was about this time in the band that I was over at the house hanging out with Ryan Armstrong. I was sitting on his bed with my guitar as Ryan was telling me all about his new love. She was blonde and gorgeous and had a friend who was like 7 feet tall who wore all black and we called Darth Vader (that’s a whole different story for another time). Ryan was telling me about all the trials and tribulations that went into him dating this Polish beauty. I suggested “We should write a trash 80’s love ballad about you and her”. In literally 15 minutes, the song Over The Top was penned. It’s loaded with innuendo’s and humor and is named after the 80’s arm wrestling movie. But it’s catchy as hell and at it’s core, is really a story about a man trying to come to terms with getting in a gal’s pants.
We wrote more songs and started playing shows and Over The Top took on a life of it’s own. People that had seen us sang along and we knew right away this song was bigger than any of us. The song even got it’s own special intro with Ryan getting on the mic to tell the story of the song while Chris played the role of backup singer, a position he was great at.
Summer of 2002 saw Ryan and I graduate from the University of Washington. I remember the weekend we graduated, Friday the 14th of June was my dad’s birthday, Saturday the 15th was graduation and Sunday the 16th was Father’s Day. I was very emotional. And that Monday morning we went into Mirror Sound Studios to record what would become our one album, Rock Hard. It was six songs. Ken Fordyce was the producer and he would go on 20 minute breaks every hour it seemed. The tension in the studio was palpable as Ken and I battled over creative control. Ken named Chris associate producer even though I wrote all the songs and was the band leader. But all that tension fueled the creative process and we blew through those six songs and after a week we had an album. The album opened with Alarm, a fast, kick your ass rock song inspired by our friend Ryan Reed. Obsequious was a riff-licious rocker that had a boss bridge and ending. Over the Top was over the top, Haggen rocked, Floating was for my dad, and the last song was another ballad. It was written about and for the girl that Chris had gone to Sadie Hawkins with. I had carried an obsession about that girl for years and finally put down to words that I was wasting time and wasting words on someone I used to know. The song was called Wasted Time and it’s fucking awesome.
Stabone played a ton of shows during 2002-2005. We wrote new songs. I gambled in my spare time. Ryan started working towards a career with the fire department. Chris finished up school. But the music remained. People say if you walk along 89th and Wedgewood you still hear the echo of Stabone. In March of 2006 I was fortunate enough to land a job at River Downs in Cincinnati, Ohio. We decided we needed to play one last show. There was even a movie retrospective made about the band getting back together for this last show which you can see below. The show was amazing and Stabone went into the night as true stars of the Seattle music scene. This band survived deaths of loved ones, school, booze, drugs, chlamydia, Ken Fordyce, Vader, and many other obstacles. We’ve always said that Stabone never broke up. As long as the three of us are alive, anything can happen. But Stabone was really one of the best parts of my life. I love Ryan and Chris. I mean really love those guys. I love Ryan Reed as he was our honorary 4th member even though he can’t play a note of music. I love all those memories. I love all those songs. Every I listen to the Rock Hard album I get emotional. Stabone will always live on inside of me, Ryan, Chris and the millions whose lives we touched.