Frank Gutch Jr: HEARTSFIELD—The Party That Wasn’t….
It wasn’t “What if they threw a party and nobody came” but it was as close as I’ve ever seen it. I could have the story all wrong because there were only a few record label people I listened to in those days and they were not always in the know themselves (a standard paradigm for major labels worldwide, I do believe), but through a series of happenstances I actually got invited to a party (probably by mistake) and went.
It was ’75 and this band out of Chicago (okay, it wasn’t exactly Chicago, but it was close and you can’t expect huge corporations to get everything right—- they even go out of their way to not do that, I think)— Heartsfield by name— was booked into the Troubadour in L.A. for a showcase. They had a new album, Foolish Pleasures, and evidently a new location (they had reportedly just relocated to San Francisco) and they were ready to blow the sand off the beaches in SoCal and NoCal and any other Cals they could find and become you damn betcha superstars, by God. This was a night to introduce them to retail people as well as record company employees, most of whom had heard of the band but had never heard them, which seemed to be in the job description of most major label employees. You have to understand that if you worked for a label back then, there were pop quizzes but they always gave you plenty of time to memorize the answers and didn’t much care if you passed or not. I mean, they cared if you knew “your stuff”. God forbid if you could not name the songs off of an Elton John album in correct order or list the albums of The Eagles in order of release, but there were so many releases outside of the hits that the labels thought it unreasonable to ask their people to know much beneath the top ten selling albums of the moment. That was how I saw it. And that was the attitude I dragged into the restaurant where this Heartsfield party was to happen.
I can’t remember where it was because I was from Oregon and every damn street in L.A. looked like Hollywood or Sunset Boulevard to me, but it was in a nice area and the restaurant itself was as upscale a place as I’ve ever been to. When I entered the restaurant, I noticed low ceilings hovering over a main room of tables and chairs with plenty of room between. Potted plants and ferns and small palm trees in big pots were pretty much the norm back then and this place had its share. A counter had been plopped along the back wall, a huge mirror reflecting the various bottles of liquor from which the place made its profit. To the right were “the facilities” and to the left an entrance to a dark cavern which opened up into a huge room of more tables and chairs, these a bit smaller and less plush. Another counter graced the back wall of the cavern and the drinks were already being poured by the time we arrived, not early but not late either. The room was peppered with typical Los Angeles types— women favoring nice dresses or blouses with skirts and the men in slacks and shirts if not suits. Peppered throughout the room were a handful of long-hairs looking as if they’d accidentally taken a wrong turn and now found themselves at an awards banquet of some kind where the food was free and the booze was flowing, a magic combination for the many who worked the mines on the retail side. Free food and booze? They had to survive somehow. As it was, they barely had enough to cover rent and weed. This was a windfall!
In the main room, someone had placed a person with a clipboard by the door and if you weren’t on the list or knew somebody you didn’t get in which gave people a sense of importance whether they liked it or not. Al Kooper must have been on that list because it wasn’t long before this cherry red limo pulled up out front and out stepped Al with two gorgeous ladies decked out in gowns which would have made the Academy Awards red carpet easily and him in this zoot suit outfit, red from his slinky hat to his shiny red boots. He strutted— hell, if I’d had two women like that on my arms, I would have strutted too— and the cameras popped and the lights flashed. Until then, no one had even noticed the photographers, but there were plenty and even I with my negative attitude could understand the reaction. He slowly moved his way to the cavern, nodding and talking with people he recognized, and was soon buried in the bowels to never be seen again by these eyes. While there were no other entrances like that, people continued to filter in until the room was fairly well packed and the chatter and clinking of glasses began making voices rise in order to be heard.
The Runaways were there so Kim Fowley must have been there too, but I didn’t care. Fowley left a bad taste in my mouth thanks to street buzz which surrounded not only The Runaways but a handful of other artists and bands which he was obviously trying to exploit. Years later, I would talk about Fowley with a good friend of mine, Tom McMeekan, guitarist with the legendary Pac NW band Notary Sojac, and he would set me straight. The buzz was bullshit, he told me. Fowley was a good guy and was trying to do the right thing in spite of obstacles put in his way. Tom is the kind of guy you trust in all situations and I did a one-eighty and wished I could take back all of the negative things I ever said about Fowley.
That night, it was mostly about The Runaways. Each of the girls had been placed at tables far separated from one another and the writers who had been invited took part in a speed dating concept of interviewing each in a musical chairs kind of setting. We had taken a table in front of Joan Jett (who no one really knew at that point) and listened to her answer questions most writers of the time asked— influences, favorite bands, why music— all of the things Tiger Beat used to ask her male counterparts. She was small, thin and look overwhelmed and she spoke haltingly with a lot of um’s and uh’s, basically a deer in headlights. When one writer finished, another rotated in and it started all over again and she answered the same lame questions in the same halting fashion. Fowley or someone must have prepared the girls for this, but watching the process was painful. Their album would not be out for a number of months and the machine was already grinding. Most of the writers were fawning. The ones who weren’t look bored. Welcome to the music biz, girls.
There were a few other music celebrities there, I suppose, but I didn’t catch the names. I was waiting for Heartsfield because this was their party, was it not? And now I wonder. Was I invited to the party to meet the band or was I invited to a party with an invite to see the band at The Troubadour later? The reason I wonder is that during the entire party, only one person mentioned the band at all. Phonogram Records’ Bill Follett, the guy who made sure I was on the list, stopped by to make sure we could make our way to The Troubadour. From him, I found out that the band would not be there, that they were at that very moment doing a sound check at the club. At that point, the party ended for me. A Heartsfield party without Heartsfield? No comprendo and no thanks. I finished my drink (I’m sure it was beer) and left. The sun was out and it was a good day and even though I did not get a chance to meet the band, in a few hours I would be hearing them. That was enough.
… and the party that was…
If you’ve never been to The Troubadour, you might have the misconception that it is a first-class venue— and it is, but only because of the booking. The club itself is much like other clubs, a glorified tavern with booths dressed in easy-to-clean fabrics and simple wood. The stage, while not overly large, can house a number of musicians and this night would test that—- six guys, five with amps and one with a full set of drums and, of all things, six microphones! Today, most people wouldn’t blink, but in those days if bands had two or three voices, it was noted. Six? Unheard of.
When the music started, it was not Heartsfield on the stage and while I’ve been busting my brain trying to think who it was, I cannot be sure (too many dead brain cells). Perhaps it was The Sutherland Brothers, but they may have been the opening act for Barclay James Harvest, who I also saw at The Troubadour at a different time. Maybe they didn’t have an opening band (which was entirely possible because I seem to remember them playing two sets and usually on a normal night a band only gets one). Oh, the fog which obscures even remarkable moments over the years.
I guess it doesn’t matter much. This is about Heartsfield and if I remember nothing else I remember the sets presented by those Chicago boys (whether it was two sets or one incredibly lo-o-ng one didn’t much matter because those guys definitely gave you your money’s worth). When they stumbled onto the stage, I was in a booth directly in front and had already had a couple of beers and have to tell you that two was close to my limit back then. It was all I would get, in fact. While the beer continued flowing, I didn’t drink much because my jaw was mostly on the floor. Those six guys planted me against the back of the booth and I felt like the Maxell man, hair blown back by the pure vibrations of the music. It was, surprisingly, not too loud and perfectly balanced. I could hear every note and I remember laughing a lot because when they turned on a dime, they all turned on a dime! Six musicians, six instruments, one sound. But what really cinched it was the six voices! There have been some downright incredible vocal groups over the years who might have equaled them on that night, but none could have topped them. They were on! And they were happy.
Not as happy as we were, though. I had gone with Gary Gersh, years later a high mucky-muck at Capitol Records, and when the band got going, Gersh decided that clapping and yelling wasn’t enough so he took off his shoe and pounded the heel against the wall of the booth at the end of each song. I pounded the table. Everyone surrounding us had their ways of making noise. It was New Year’s Eve and the Fourth of July tucked into the tiny Troubadour. It was a party!
Play? Those guys played their asses off! One of the best shows I have ever seen. From hillbilly jackass to pounding rock ‘n’ roll, those guys could play anything. By the end of the set, they were soaked, especially Perry Jordan (rest his soul) who was a river of sweat. And they loved it! They finished and came back for an encore and sang an a capella song and for awhile everything became harmonic choir. It sent chills up my spine.
We were asked to come backstage and we did, our little entourage. We weren’t the only ones. The label (Mercury Records) had invited people from various places and took them into this little back room one group at a time to have pictures taken with the band and they later sent copies to each of us. I still have mine. You’re seeing one here, in fact.
While the other was a party, this was the Heartsfield party. Every time they picked up their instruments it was a party. It had to be. They didn’t know how not to do it.
Perry died a short time ago, but the band lives on. Fred Dobbs, one of Heartsfield’s guitarists, stepped in when Perry had his heart attack and is carrying the band into the future. I’m sure they are good, but they would play hell to put together a night like that.
Rolling Stones? No thanks. I’ve seen shows which I am sure would have equaled or bettered them. This was one of them. And I will never forget it.
Notes: I’ve been having trouble keeping up this past week. I will probably be repeating myself if I tell you that Lisbee Stainton‘s new album Go is finally available….. That Bright Giant‘s new album Kings & Queens of Air is scheduled to be released on 11/11/11….. That Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers‘ Love Wounds & Mars will be available very soon….. That Part Two of the Research Turtles Mankiller EP led for the first of the year and that Sydney Wayser‘s Bell Choir Coast is scheduled for that time also….. In spite of what you may view as obscurity of these artists, they are major artists to me and I have heard all but the Research Turtles and the Sydney Wayser. The music is first-rate and I recommend you sample a few tracks at the very least. Next week, who knows? I have been gathering information for a full-fledged indictment of the major labels, there are tons of new albums being readied for release and I might just preen some of the Elaine Bender story for the column as a teaser. Elaine was an actual go-go girl and worked at KFJZ in Fort Worth as a hospitality hostess, handling food and drinks for a lot of the major artists who came through, like The Five Americans and The Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits and The Dave Clark Five, among others. She has some interesting stories to tell. And it is getting close to Christmas. A rundown of albums you might like to give as presents is imminent. Nothing better than giving an excellent but totally obscure album as a gift to someone who really loves music. Best present in the world, as far as I’m concerned. So, until next week…..
We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: email@example.com Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you’d like to read about, links you’d like to share, and let us hear what you have to say.
“Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”