Frank Gutch Jr: Rockin’ Out at Sweet Home High, ’60s Style…..

Damn!  I thought I would finally get my start on that scathing look at the music industry’s constant propensity to shoot itself in the ass, but last week’s column by Jaimie Vernon got the adrenaline pumpin’ and here I am ready to trip the ego fantastic (though ego might not really apply here— read on and you’ll understand).  You see, I too was an amoebic rock star wannabe back in the Stone Age (meaning pre-punk) before The Big Bang spewed rock stars and swamp gas like a shock wave from a nuclear blast and created the armpit we now know as the music biz.

I too was once an innocent carrying 2B drumsticks into the various after-football frays masquerading as school dances but which were really excuses to smell or, if you were lucky enough, lean against the girl of choice (or girl of opportunity, as was my unfortunate/fortunate case, on occasion) before heading home happy and at the same time frustrated, the heady perfume of female still in nostrils and love , unrequited of course, fresh in memory.  It was a different scene and a different era than Mr. Vernon’s, but it is as clear to me today as are the days of The Swindle(d) to him.  Want an excellent read about punkdom, I suggest reading Vernon’s columns (re: the punk days) from the beginning.  Want to go back a bit further, read on.

The difference between my world and Jaimie’s would fill the Grand Canyon.  He was younger and missed the beginnings of rock ‘n roll.  I was older and dismissed the beginnings of punk.  He was the city mouse.  I was the country mouse.  He played guitar and I played drums.  Most of all, I didn’t have that recessive Canadian gene which ends every sentence in “…eh?”.   Where the hell was Canada, anyway?  I answered that question myself a handful of years after my introduction to rock music when The Guess Who struck gold with Shakin’ All Over.  When I heard that, I remember thinking, Canada,  yeah.  I dig it.

God knows when I picked up the drumsticks but I have a feeling it was the first time I saw myself dance.  I was an uncoordinated mess on the dance floor and was humiliated when a family friend filmed me dancing and later showed the film at a gathering.  It may not have stopped me from dancing altogether, but from that point on I found it more fun to stand in front of the disc jockey table or the bandstand watching the whole musical process than prancing around the floor in spasmodic mode.  At a sock hop, I talked with KEX‘s Barney Keep, thinking, man, I would love to do that.  I talked to him about it but he wasn’t enthused.  He said something like “No money in it, kid.  Could you run over and get me a coke?”

I think it was the summer after seventh grade that I talked my parents into letting me buy a drum kit.  Dad was a logger and Momma was a stay-at-home mom and it was a sacrifice to “help” me put money down.  I swore I would pay it back.  I got a Slingerland set with a cool new drum pedal which utilized a leather strap which supposedly made the pedal faster and easier to use (and with no squeaks!).  Shiny new Zildjian cymbals, one large crash and a hi-hat.  Bass, snare and a tom, all blue sparkle.  It was a beauty.  All I had to do was learn how to play.

Mr. McClain, my junior high band instructor, took care of that.  The drum kit gave him leeway to put together a combo of sorts and we played a couple of school assemblies, pounding out When the Saints Go Marching In as students filed in and out of the gym.  We thought we were cool.  Maybe for junior high kids in those days, we were.

Up to high school, music was a lark.  I mean, I loved rock ‘ roll as much or more than the next guy.  I ran home from school for a period of time to watch Teen Scene, Eugene’s answer to American Bandstand and after that Bandstand itself.  I watched the kids dance and I listened to the music and lost myself in a world beyond.  But play rock ‘n roll?  Never even entered my mind.  Until I met Bill Johnson my junior year.

Bill played trombone in the high school band.  He was a minor league Jerry Lewis when he walked and danced, arms and legs flailing but somehow keeping him upright.  He acted like Lewis, too, his sense of humor (which he “honed” at every opportunity) on the cutting edge when not downright absurd.  He was eager for attention and would do anything to get it.  Well. Most anything.  And he was the most positive, never-say-die person I ever met.

Bill had this dream, see.  He wanted to play music.  Not high school band music, though he was happy to do that, too, but rock ‘n roll.  He wanted to plug a guitar into an amp and amaze crowds with his musical acumen.  All he needed was a guitar and an amp and someone to show him where to put his fingers and he was set.

If Bill and I shared anything in common, it was a love for rock bands from the Pacific Northwest.  Paul Revere & The Raiders was a source of fascination for us both along with Don & The Goodtimes and The Wailers and The Sonics.  And we loved those closer to home— the best of which was The Live Five out of Salem.  The more we listened and the more we talked about them, the more Bill wanted to play until, one day, out of the blue, he said let’s start a band.  I think my response was, what?  No way.  Get involved with this guy?  I don’t think so.  But he wouldn’t let it go.  He kept saying let’s play, man, without the faintest idea as to how or what or where we could play.  He got the guitar and the amp and  came to me and said, look, I got a guitar and an amp.  I gave him points for persistence.  I gave in.

Bill had somehow befriended one Dayton Turner, an older guy who had already graduated (not from Sweet Home) and was gainfully employed by The New Era, Sweet Home’s weekly newspaper.  Dayton, oddly enough, played guitar.  Bill found out that one of my good friends, Dave Horner, played bass and had a bass and an amp.  How he found that out, I’ll never know.  I had known Dave for years and we hung out a lot together and he had never once mentioned it.  I knew he played sax and had a great voice, but that wasn’t news.  Everyone in town knew that.  Weird.  Where there was once a void, there weresuddenly four.  Bill completed the little group, which we eventually named The Survivors, with Terry Rice, a guy he met in one of his classes.

We all met one evening in Bill’s basement, a small cavern which included a large furnace.  After packing equipment downstairs, we set about learning a few tunes.  Bill and I had compiled a list along with Dayton— Little Latin Lupe Lu, Louie Louie, Louie Go Home— we had all of the Louie’s covered.  To those we added Hot Pastrami, Blue Moon (slow numbers were plain hard to come by and Dave had been singing this one since he was a toddler), Tall Cool One, Night Train (Raiders’ version) and a handful of others.  By the end of the night, we had a list of maybe fifteen songs, five of which we could play well enough that people would know what they were.  Of course, Terry just stood there as Bill or Dayton yelled out chord changes because there was no piano there.  Bill would end up staying after school with Terry a number of nights, teaching him chords and time changes on the school’s upright.  As far as Dave was concerned, well, the guy was a whiz.  Tell him the key and he could just about play anything.  Follow along, anyway.

Practices were a struggle.  We scheduled a few and had a couple.  I was getting pissed because the guys weren’t showing up and Dayton and Bill were constantly trying to cool my jets.  From my viewpoint, if the guys didn’t show up for practice, it was time to 86 them.  Only Dayton knew how to handle such situations.  He had a glass eye and would threaten to take it out unless I settled down.  I settled.  The thought of Dayton minus an eye, as humorous as it seems now, was a deterrent and a half.

We had practiced maybe two or three times when Bill brought us the news that we had a gig.  He had somehow talked someone at the high school into booking us for an after-school dance.  We kicked into high gear, getting the ten or so songs we knew into presentable shape and adding three or four more.  We knew we would have to repeat a few, but we didn’t think that would present a problem.  A little extra Louie went a long way in those days.

The night came all too soon and we spiffed ourselves up as best we could.  Dayton had found a contact mike and we rolled the chorus room’s upright piano into the study hall and put the drums on a riser and thought we were set.  A borrowed mike from the auditorium plugged into a small Sears Silvertone amp (alongside two guitars and a piano) was our P.A. system.  Horner’s small Oahu amplifier carried the bass.  And the drums…  Well, the drums didn’t need amplification now, did they?  We had practiced in Bill’s basement and it was pretty loud and if it wasn’t loud enough, I could bang a little harder, right?

Wrong.  While the couple of songs we warmed up on before the doors opened sounded fine, when the kids packed the room the sound was absorbed.  Friends came up to us between songs asking if we could turn it up, saying that you couldn’t hear us in the back.  By the time we had twisted the knobs practically off the amps, we sounded like a wounded bear, speakers rattling and feedback shrieking and still not loud enough to fill the room.  Vocals?  Unintelligible when they could be heard.  Guitars?  Sounded like we had blown both of the speakers.  Bass?  That puny little Oahu tried, but to little effect.  The only instruments that seemed to work were the drums.

I give my fellow students credit that they did not run us out of the room.  We sucked.  We didn’t know it, but we sucked.  Then again, how hard is it to ruin Louie Louie?  After the first round of ear-bleeding feedback and the minor adjustments made for volume, the kids settled down and slogged their way through the mashed potato and the stomp and whatever other dances we did back then.  We worked our way through our repertoire and repeated the songs we had to and the night ended without incident.  We sweated, they sweated and all was right with the world.  Of course, we knew we would play hell to get another gig at the high school, but then we hadn’t counted on Bill’s persistence.

Bill was an enigma.  He was the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet and took hazing (which he got all the time from upper classmen) like a trooper, but he was also a wolverine when it came to the band.  He bit into you, locked his jaw and wouldn’t let go.  A little over a month later, Bill had not only booked us another after-school dance, he wangled the band onto the list of bands to play a KGAL Battle of the Bands at the Lebanon Armory.

The gigs were a blur.  Not too long after those, we hit the wall.  The kids had heard us.  They knew we weren’t good.  We might have been had we had equipment, but we didn’t.  The only option was to quit playing or…..  change the band name.

Yep, like many bands of those days, we just changed our name.  They remembered The Survivors, but they had no idea who The N Crowd were.  Well, to be fair, it was a different band.  Dave had exited (he had only joined the band to fill the hole, as it were, and had logged on for only a short time).  Terry was moving.  That left Bill, Dayton and myself.  Bill scoured the valley.  He finally found Mike Borland and Mark Schmidt thirteen miles away in Lebanon and The N Crowd was reality.  Dayton took over bass chores, but only when necessary.  Jerry White stepped in on trombone and percussion as well as adding a voice.

We practiced, this time with a purpose.  Borland and Schmidt brought instruments, amps and more of a professionalism to the band.  The repertoire expanded.  Bill’s guitar was sounding better all the time and Dayton’s occasional dance with the bass gave us more range.  By the time we started to get it down, Bill and Dayton scored another coup— playing a Battle of the Bands at the Portland Coliseum.  We bought shirts, coordinated pants and headed up thinking we could make a dent.  It wasn’t bad.  The band was better.  The equipment was better.  It was fun.  No chance of making a dent, though.  We were outclassed.  Four stages all the time with two main stages at the times they had scheduled the big names.  I had hoped to catch Paul Revere & The Raiders and Sly & The Family Stone, but Sly was late, as usual, and the Raiders played that night after we were scheduled to leave.

Summer put an end to The N Crowd but not to the band.  Jerry left, so Mike talked us into trying out Eric Chandler as lead vocalist and he didn’t suck, so I was okay with it.  He was a nice guy and had some singing chops but was uncomfortable in front of a crowd.  It didn’t take him long, though.  We played a dance at the VFW Hall in Sweet Home and his nerves began to disappear and by the end of the dance, he was fine.  Our swan song awaited us, a gig at a co-op at the University of Oregon the fall of 1965.  We sounded decent enough, but I was done.  Commuting between Eugene and Sweet Home was not an option and I exited, stage left.

The band went on.  They brought in Steve Turnbull to replace me and Scott Adams took over keyboards.  I was waist deep in college and completely lost track.  Recently, I became reacquainted with Dayton, Eric and Steve.  Mike and Mark faded into the woodwork and Jerry— well, Jerry and I remain good friends to this day.  The highlight of my “career” was playing alongside Dave and Jerry, two of the best people I have ever known.

Bill?  No one seems to know where he is.  I hope he is alive and well.  If it wasn’t for Bill, there would not have been a band.  Not that band.  We may have not been that good but we had fun.  We shared something few people get a chance to share.  It was a gas.

After college, I was drafted and ended up selling my drums to a buddy in the Army who wanted them to earn money playing clubs while he worked his way through college.   A hundred bucks.  I wanted to give them to him but he wouldn’t let me.  I remember him saying, hell, the cymbals are worth more than that.  It didn’t matter.  They were going to the right guy.  I hope he used them well, as I’m sure he did.

After the Army, I tried to piece together a career.  I had a diploma in broadcasting but couldn’t stand the people who worked in television.  I dabbled in radio but only dabbled.  Mike fright.  After a couple of years living in Eugene, I decided it was time to head to Los Angeles to teach the clowns down there how to sell records.  When I got there, it was evident they didn’t care.

But that’s another story.  Maybe when I’m inspired I will tell you how a small town clown from another planet decided the record industry was shit and deserved what it got.  But like I said, that’s another story.

Notes…..  I’ve been hitting Youtube a lot lately, thanks to a handful of friends who just will not leave me alone, but I have to give it to them.  They came up with videos I might not have uncovered myself, some of them absolute gems, so I list them here in the hopes that you will take a few minutes to see what is buried beneath their usual mountain of sludge…..   Vancouverite Laurie Biagini is a pop-up on her latest video, A Ride On the Train.  It makes me laugh a little because one of her Facebook things is sending friend Deborah Millstein train sitings— people who look like people, you know?  Like doppelgangers.  Williams Shatner.  Mr. Spock.  Brian Wilson.  I guess that’s what comes out of commuting.  Anything to keep yourself sane.  It works here.  Sounding a bit like Petula Clark with a girl group complex, she winds her way into Vancouver.  At least, I think it’s Vancouver.  Laurie is an upper.  I dig what she does because she always does it with a smile on her face.  Watch the vid here…..   I’ve let Green Monkey RecordsHowie Wahlen and Tom Dyer know that if any GM product gets by me, there will be hell to pay.  Both Howie and Tom recently sent me links to a preview of The Green Pajamas‘ new album and video which is intriguing to say the least.  Looks like it might be another concept album and there is no other band which does that as well.  Take a look at a short clip prefacing their upcoming Death By Misadventure album.   And in case you missed it, here is one of my all-time favorite videos— GP’s Jeff Kelly and his tribute to actress Louise Brooks and the film Pandora’s Box.  There is something about the juxtaposition of Kelly and Laura Weller which puts them on another level…..  Speaking of Green Monkey, they keep outdoing themselves.  This month’s release is a deluxe two-CD package by one-time Seattle group The Life— one being a re-release of their 1987 album Alone, the other a first go-round of their heretofore unreleased second album, Witness the Will.  It’s a slam dunk.  If you don’t think so, watch this.….  That’s not all Seattle has.  They also have Rusty Willoughby, who is seen here with an amazingly talented group of musicians including Maggie Bjorklund, Barrett Martin, Barb Antonio and Rachel Flotard.  It blows me away that people can find and watch all of the standard tripe and rave on while this goes unnoticed.  Of course, when there are uber-talents like Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and the like to enjoy.  You f**king cretins!…..  Remember, you heard it here first— well, maybe you didn’t, but the world is finally waking up to the talent that is Sydney Wayser.  Her song La Di Da has been picked up as background for an ad for ROXY swimwear.  Now this is short.  You should have time.  Of course, it does not really reveal the depth of the song.  You want to hear it in completed form to get the full effect, click here…..  What happens when you connect three dots separated by continents?  The Britannicas and Talkin’ ’bout Summer, that’s what.  For those who miss summer, these guys give you something to look forward to.  The music and video was filmed by each musician in his own habitat and spliced together by Britannican Joe AlgeriLaurie Biagini, take note…..  And it’s time you started picking up on Devon Sproule.  Her new release, I Love You, Go Easy, is a corker.  Here is an example…..

As a precursor to my up and coming indictment of the record industry (tomato, tomahto=record, music), here are two artists pointing out the obvious— from the artists’ viewpoints, the industry sucks!  First, Phil Alvin talks about music as furnitureThen Dick Dale warns artists about signing with major labels.  Where were you when I needed you, guys!

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, send 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.”

4 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Rockin’ Out at Sweet Home High, ’60s Style…..”

  1. I am not worthy. Thanks for the kudos, Frank. Your column is always riveting and I really enjoyed this one where we get to know the man who loved cat dancing er, drumming. Keep ’em coming…maybe our stories will cross paths in a bizarre time warp accident 🙂 PS – Laurie Biaganini is the new Nancy Sinatra!

  2. Oh the memories – Frank may not realize how we loved the band. And that’s my hairdo in the dance pix groovin to Frank’s band in the Study Hall at SHHS. A belated thanks my talented friend. Well done!

  3. Patricia Davis Says:

    Loving your memories, Bud. Can I have your permission to put this in our family tree on Ancestry.com? My grandchildren should know all of this.

  4. Rudy Hashberger Says:

    I actually saw the back of my head and my then high school girlfriend, Carolyn Lowery. Those were the days, my friend. I shall never forget the BAND , and u particularly. Keep up the great work and memories.

Leave a Reply to Coreen Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: