Frank Gutch Jr: My Own Little Bizzaro World

One of my favorite movie scenes is the one in Diner where this maniac vinyl junkie scares the hell out of his wife by going nuclear on her with his musical knowledge.  Know why?  Because I could have been that guy.  Like him, I would have had to have married straight out of high school because if you give girls a chance, they eventually soak up enough knowledge to steer clear of psychotic idiots like myself (and him) and make better choices, regardless how bad.  Was I that bad, you ask?  Sad to say, I must have been.  I always thought my life was normal and that I was actually a pretty average guy (though handsome as the dickens and with a sense of humor which could disable a battlefield with wit), but I may have been wrong, the key words here being “may have been”.

A key indicator may have been when I gave Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses to a good friend on the proviso that he never play it when I was in the house.  Well, he must have thought I was kidding because he played it.  And I took it back.

Another could have been the reader board Daryl made me wear when I worked at Licorice Pizza in Los Angeles in the mid-70s.  Rolling Stone had published an article about Dylan’s new album and, of course, every idiot in L.A. headed to the store to pick it up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t scheduled for release for a few weeks and explaining that to people who had obviously bought stock in Rolling Stone thinking they practiced solid journalism was damn near impossible, so I began starting every conversation with potential customers with, “No, the new Dylan isn’t out yet and won’t be for a few weeks, so don’t ask”, usually before they opened their mouths.  Daryl, our manager, decided it would be best to curtail my cynicism by making a reader board and asking me to wear it.  It said something like “No, the new Dylan album isn’t out yet and won’t be for a few weeks, so don’t ask”.  At times, Daryl was amazingly clairvoyant.

Another indicator should have been the amount of times I didn’t get laid.  I was always smelling my armpits or checking my breath because, seriously, women avoided me like the plague.  I knew I wasn’t that ugly (my Momma told me so) and was relatively intelligent (I could carry on for hours about  bands no one had ever heard of or the relative merits of fuzztone guitar), so I figured it had to be my Pigpen appearance and body odors.  Until one day Pigpen showed up smelling of sewage and I watched the last girl in the bar take him home.

That was okay, though.  Walking home in a cool breeze with a slight buzz on was not that unpleasant and I knew that when I got there, I would be surrounded by the music I loved.  That’s right.  Music.  For every girl who rejected me, there was a musician or group of musicians who didn’t.  Sound nerdy?  You don’t know the half of it.  My world was a world devoid of Jimmy Page’s and Eric Clapton’s and Aerosmith’s and Beatles (Anyone know why we have to put apostrophes behind those names?).  My world was a Bizarro World full of every musician and band who didn’t make it and who had that certain something that maybe other people didn’t get but I did.  Some would gain a sort of fame later (Nick Drake, Big Star, et. al.) while others would be flushed into oblivion.  This is my oblivion.  This is  My Own Little Bizarro World…..

CARGOE…..  I call Cargoe the flip side of Big Star because they were the first horses out of Ardent Records‘ gate.  I picked up their self-titled album at The House of Records in Eugene, Oregon upon release, along with Big Star‘s #1 Record.  I liked them both, but while laying down on the couch listening to the  Cargoe LP late one summer night,  I was jolted awake by the unique sound emanating from the speakers.  They were unlike any band I had heard to that point.  I was impressed enough to write my very first record review which was eventually published in an issue of Fusion magazine.  Decades later, I would write my first rock history piece, a history of Cargoe, because I felt their story had to be told.  While writing that story, Cargoe’s producer Terry Manning found tapes of a live broadcast the band had recorded while doing a live broadcast for WMC-FM-100, Memphis, and decided to release that through his own Lucky Seven Records label.  A few years later, the band would re-form with three original members and an added fourth and release another album titled, once again, Cargoe.  I swear to God, some bands are destined to exist no matter how the cards are stacked against them.

GYPSY…..  I was in this little mall record store in a suburb of Denver in the summer of 1971 when I heard this song on the system which turned out to be Gypsy‘s Gypsy Queen Pt. 1.  Bought the album on the spot.  One time through the double album and I knew these guys were way beyond the vast majority of bands out there.  For one thing, their songs were melodic and yet intricate, long yet hardly boring, full of everything you would want from a band— and musically intelligent.  Brilliant, in fact.  They would go on in their pretty much original form for four albums (the core of the band would remain throughout the four album run), but would never find the hit that would put them over the top.  They used their hometown of Minneapolis and Los Angeles as bases of operation until they finally gave it up sometime in the mid-70s.  James Walsh, the band’s keyboard man, would form a band around the ashes, calling it The James Walsh Gypsy Band and would record a couple of albums.  Enrico Rosenbaum, one of the band’s writers and vocalists, ended up taking his own life.  Of all tragedies related to music, this is the one which struck home the hardest.  To this day, Gypsy gets regular airplay around my house.  They are my Aerosmith, Journey, REO and Foreigner all wrapped up in one band.

ROBERT THOMAS VELLINE…..  You might know him as Bobby Vee, but he put out one hellacious country rock album titled Nothin’ Like a Sunny Day back in ’72 that knocked my socks off.  No Rubber Ball here, folks, but he did include a slowed down and completely different Take Good Care of My Baby that took the song in a completely different direction.  Produced by Dallas Smith, United Artist Records‘ (previously Liberty Records) in-house producer, it featured sidemen Red Rhodes (First National Band, Michael Nesmith), Dean Parks (he played with just about everyone back then, folks) , and Canadian national treasure Les Emmerson (Five Man Electrical Band, among others).  Velline fell into the country rock vein about the same time as Johnny Rivers, whose Home Grown album (which failed) included my favorite version of Jackson Browne’s Rock Me On the Water.  As good as Nothin’ Like a Sunny Day is, it tanked (it was the way of the country rock world until The Eagles hit with their first album) and Velline was left to go it on his own.

APRIL WINE…..  No, not that April Wine, and yet it is.  Before April Wine made it as April Wine, they dabbled in a form of semi-psychedelia which they would later drop in favor of the more melodic and harder rock which would make them stars.  There were three Henman’s then and, of course, one Goodwyn and the sound, sparse as it was, was more Paupers/Collectors and very early Guess Who than later April Wine, but man, they nailed it.  This is what April Wine could have been if they had not been hell bent on becoming rock stars.  Makes me want to light up a joint.

NICK HOLMES…..  Show of hands.  Who among you have ever heard of the band White Elephant?  Yeah, I thought so.  White Elephant was an experiment in music put together by jazzman Michael Mainieri around ’69 or ’70.  He had access to this recording and rehearsal studio, see, and he thought, why not grab the best musicians he could find and see what happened?  Being’s how it was New York, there were plenty and Mainieri grabbed the best of them.  Around seventeen of them.  They recorded in various combinations over a period of months and Mainieri spliced the songs together and released them under the moniker White Elephant and the rest is history.  Deep history, evidently, because hardly anyone knows about them.  Well, out of that pack came a vocalist/guitarist named Nick Holmes, whose songs highlighted that album.  He would record a solo album a year or so later which would be praised by critics as a unique combination of rock, folk and jazz, Soulful Crooner.  Holmes would soon thereafter fade from the scene, except that he didn’t.  God knows how or why these things happen, but Nick kept on doing what he was doing— writing, playing and recording— and ran a recording studio in New York and then the Bahamas for years.  He’s still at it.  The thing is, I tried to track him down with no luck.  Soulful Crooner was to me not only a good album, but a great album, one which I spent hours listening to in dark rooms.  Nick should have been a star.  He is, as far as I’m concerned.  Oh, the rest of White Elephant?  Guys like Hugh McCracken and Randy Brecker and Michael  Brecker and Tony Levin and Ronny Cuber and Warren Bernhardt.  I could go on, but if you recognize any of those names, you get the picture.

DADDY COOL…..  Just when you thought all the good music was coming out of the US and the UK, along came Daddy Cool, one of the coolest, hippest and rockin’est bands to grace the early 70s.  They were out of Australia (home of, oh yeah, The Bee Gees) but came at music from a completely different angle.  These guys planted their feet solidly in the fifties and went from there.  By 1972, they had a large following down under but had trouble gaining traction in the US.  Their second album in the US, Teenage Heaven, should have given them a leg up but didn’t.  In spite of excellent guitar rock and tongue-in-cheek humor which should have had them laughing all the way to the bank, they instead received short shrift in the States, getting little if any airplay— Please Please America (Hear My Plea) was a natural, too, with laugh out loud lyrics which implored America to give them wheelbarrows full of money.  They continued on in Oz, changing band names and recording more mundane rock, but their time in the States had passed.  Sadly.  Still, they left us with two fine albums and an indication of what real roots music is.

CAPABILITY BROWN…..  At a time when bands were lucky to  have one decent vocalists, Capability Brown had six!  I first happened upon them because of their cover version of Argent‘s Liar which had not only stellar harmony vocals but a bridge up there with the very best, the dual lead the British side of the Allmans.  By the time they put out their second album, Voice, they had advanced beyond their Brit Rock roots enough to include not only a standout version of Steely Dan‘s Midnight Cruiser, but a smokin’ rocker by Brown member Dave Nevin titled Keep Death On the Road (Drive On the Pavement), a stone killer of a track.  Side Two is a one-sided epic track titled Circumstances (In Love, Past, Present, Future Meet), for those who like their prog a bit on the light side.  I would have killed to have seen these guys live.  The closest I came was a couple of years later when I saw Heartsfield at The Troubadour.  Six part harmonies rock, my friends!

MICHAEL HARRISON…..  When I was young, I revered The Yardbirds above most other bands of the era.  For Your Love caught my ear, Mister, You’re a Better Man Than I embedded them in my head and Shapes of Things, Over Under Sideways & Down and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago and drove them into my genes.  It would their Five Live Yardbirds album which would give me my ultimate Yardbirds thrill, Smokestack Lightning, a live tour de force of a song with Eric Clapton and not Jeff Beck or Jimmy Page plucking the strings.  It is a song ready-made for a long jam, the bass line laying down a groove you fell into whether you liked it or not.  Spooky Tooth‘s lead  voice Michael Harrison evidently liked it as much as did I because when he headed down to Muscle Shoals to record his album in ’72, he recorded it and, in fact, named the album for it.  He came out of the session with twelve and a half minutes of pure bliss, thanks to a lineup of Muscle Shoals sidemen which makes my head spin.  I mean, Spooky Tooth will forever remain one of my all-time favorite bands, but Harrison’s Smokestack Lightning album… whew!

WILLIS ALAN RAMSEY…..  having someone record your song can be a double-edged sword, as it was when The Captain & Tennille recorded Willis Alan Ramsey‘s Muskrat Candlelight.  Oh, they didn’t butcher it as much as they could have, I suppose, but they tried.  A&M Records listed it as Muskrat Love, either because they didn’t know any better or they wanted to make sure the ignorant listening public didn’t get confused (I mean, Muskrat CandlelightMuskrat Love?  I’m pretty sure The Tea Party couldn’t have figured it out, but…..).  Ramsey’s self-titled album was released in ’72 and the Captain & Tennille hit around ’76, so by the time Muskrat Love hit, Muskrat Candlelight was water under the bridge.  Over the years, though, Ramsey has gained a huge following for that one album and deservedly so.  If you had wanted Americana back then, this was as Americana as it got.  It was also as good as it got.  Ramsey never made it back into the studio to record another album, or if he did, he never told anyone.  You may not believe it, but he has legions of fans waiting for that second album.  They just won’t give up.

SPACE OPERA…..  Here is another band whose story needed to be told, so I told it.  Actually, David Bullock did, mostly.  I mainly wrote it down.  Born of an incredibly healthy 60s rock scene in Fort Worth, Space Opera rode a magic carpet to nowhere, which is why most people I know don’t know about them.  They put out one album, I thought, until a friend pointed to a second album they had recorded and released on their own around 2000.  All I could think at the time was, What the…?  That friend, John Reagan by name, put me in touch with the members of the band, all but Brett Owen Wilson who, alas, had passed away just the year before, and the work began.  It took three years.  We did it all by email but for two short phone interviews with an ailing Phil WhiteScott Fraser, the musical genius behind much of the band’s music, was ailing also and both have since left this mortal coil.  The story and the music is too involved to go into here, but should you so want to take the time to read about the band and their music, you can log onto the first chapter at http://www.rockandreprise.net/spaceopera1.html and go on from there.  The music?  You would have to hear it for yourself.  Available from http://www.itsaboutmusic.com/spaceopera.html.

These are but ten important parts of my bizarro world.  They have replaced the Led Zeppelin’s and The Rolling Stones and The Eagles and practically every hit which inhabits your world.  In my head, they are stars and they are important.  My friends ask me all the time, why are you that way about your music?  Well, they used to until they got tired of the same answer all the time, which is I can hear those any time by clicking a switch in my head or standing in an elevator.  I only hear “my” music when I play it.  ‘Nuff said?  Okay.

Notes:  The Weaver Twins are slowly making their way back into the present day.  They are a huge favorite from a few years ago, hitting on all cylinders with their Fayre album and putting out two of the best videos I’ve seen from the Indie side of things:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSde4J8RnwI and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycCQWYBPQr8&NR=1 .  They have posted rough demos of new tracks at their Soundcloud site.  Keep in mind that these are not finished tracks, which as far as I’m concerned makes them even better.  Mainly for the musically adventurous…..  “Oh, you crazy fools, don’t you know that you had it made?  You were living in paradise…”  And here you thought that this whole “green” thing was new.  The Five Man Band had it nailed down back in the early 70s.  Another warning ignored:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CeVhhHRDcQU&feature=artist …..  Here is the first video from Bright*Giant‘s Kings & Queens of Air album, to be released on 11/11/11.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8vlntStuac …..  Charlottesville’s Sarah White just posted three tracks from a live performance at The Paramount with cohort Ted Pitney.  They are pay-what-you-want and are classic.  I also recomment you checking out White’s Sweetheart EP (also recorded with Pitney) and Pitney’s outstanding The Genesee EP.  Good, good stuff (if you listen, you will hear…..)…..  For those who like their music with a little surf and girl group sound, Laurie Biagini just announced that her A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World album will hit CDBaby within two weeks.  While there, I suggest you check out her other albums, Ridin’ the Wave and A Far-Out Place.  Fine, fine albums…..

We now have an email address where all of us here at Don’t Believe a Word I Say can be contacted: dbawis@rogers.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.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: My Own Little Bizzaro World”

  1. Glen Bringslid Says:

    Hey Frank,
    Thanks alot for this post. You actually turned me onto some stuff that I really like. I’m listening to the first two GYPSY albums right now and I heard snippets of the Capability Brown album “Voice” on YouTube and it sounds pretty damn good! FYI, The latter was just reissued this year (2011) as a mini LP/CD in Europe on Arcangelo/Charisma/Virgin records! 🙂
    Thanks again!
    Glen Bringslid

  2. Glen, what can I say? You are a man of taste!

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