Etta James passed away.  I know because I have so many contacts with musicians through Facebook and most of them were passing the word along.  A cloud began forming over my head not unlike that of the one Joe Btfsplk carried over his in the occasional Al Capp-inked step over the Li’l Abner line.  It started me to thinking (and as Momma used to say, may she rest in peace, that’s never a good thing) and before I knew it I was walking amongst headstones.

I knew James through her music— many of us did— but most knew her mainly through a reawakened interest courtesy of the television ad using her version of At Last to hock, what was it—– cars?  Credit the music to my not remembering because the most important thing about that ad was the music and not just the music but the moment in time created by James and every person who had any kind of hand in its creation.  Off the top of my head, I can think of only one song which rivals Etta JamesAt Last in terms of magnificence and arrangement (the vocals, notwithstanding) and that is Lenny Welch‘s superlative Since I Fell For You, a song which to this day drags my heart back to high school and the thrill of the slow dance.

But this isn’t about the song— either one— though maybe it should be.  This is about death and the effect it has on us all, even when it doesn’t touch us personally.  This is about musicians who fall by the wayside and who are either revered or forgotten, or so it seems, and why we revere or forget, for one thing that became obvious as I read tribute after tribute on Facebook, usually one line or the simplistic “RIP”, is that in this day of digital communication, that communication is immediate and becoming more and more public.  Of course, when it comes to music (or any form of entertainment), how can it not be?  Even I am breaking my long-held code of neither speaking nor writing (at least, emotionally) of the dead.  And even though I tell myself that it is to make a point, I feel uncomfortable.  I feel like I’m sticking a microphone in someone’s face and asking them about things so personal they should never be made public.

As a child, I remember wondering about the public’s fascination for death.  Mostly celebrity death  because that was where you saw it— in the newsreels and sometimes in your own hometown, either throngs filing through a huge building to view a casket or a flock of people outside a funeral home or church.  I asked my father once what one such gathering was all about and he said it was about respect.  I didn’t really understand because in my family we held our respect in.  If Dad taught me one thing it was that if you had not shown a person respect during his or her life, after death it was too late.  After death…..

The first outside-the-hometown death I can remember was that of Hank Williams.  I grew up in a small logging community in Oregon and the only entertainment you got outside the movies was through radio or the jukeboxes (Jukeboxes, children, were like large coin-operated iPods with a very limited selection— you found them mainly in restaurants or taverns).   Around Sweet Home, Oregon, Hank ruled both.  I was five when Hank died and the reason I remember it is because he dominated conversations for weeks afterward.  Before that, it was mostly about the weather.  Weather meant a lot to loggers and farmers back then.  Evidently, so did Hank.

Buddy Holly‘s death sticks in my mind, though in later years it is because so many remember and revere Holly and so few remember Ritchie Valens or The Big Bopper, who went down in the plane with him.  I was twelve then and enamored with Rock & Roll and their deaths affected me because music by that time had started taking over my life and they, of course, were a big part of it.  I think what has stunned me more than Holly’s death is that so many attribute so much to him.  His music influenced other musicians, yes, but I think how much is a matter of opinion.  I consider Holly (and I was as big a fan as most when he died) an example of overkill.  The people I worked with over the years universally disagreed with me.  In my mind, he was my first realization of legend, of the public making someone more important than he would ever have become if he had lived.  Then again, I could be wrong.  We will unfortunately never know.

Patsy Cline was peaking when she died in a plane crash in 1963.  I was fifteen and remember the (newspaper) headlines, Patsy’s picture alongside those of Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.  It was Hank all over again in Sweet Home and maybe a little more.  In our house it was more.  Next to Teresa Brewer, Patsy was my father’s favorite.  For a guy who couldn’t play an instrument or sing a lick, he took his music personally and he mourned the loss of her voice.  He seldom spoke about it, but I could tell.

Where do you want to go from there?  Rock music took over my world and the deaths began to become more personal— and less.  Perhaps it was the volume (the numbers, not noise level).  Jimi Hendrix passed in 1970 as did Janis Joplin.  1971 took Duane Allman and Jim MorrisonBerry Oakley followed Allman in 1972, leaving The Allman Brothers Band a mere shadow of its former self.  Those were big names and maybe I was getting a little jaded around that time because my reaction moved from “Hey, man, did you hear about…” to “Dude.  Tommy Bolin.  Bummer.” in just a few short years.  I was evidently feeling the effects of Rock & Roll martyrdom pressing on my psyche.  I couldn’t even begin to count how many times I heard friends and acquaintances rail on about Hendrix and Joplin and Morrison as if they were the end-all of Rock & Roll and I began to feel a bit negative towards them.  I could not get away from their music and I could not get away from fawning fans.  I had already heard them.  The last thing I needed, or so I thought at the time, was to hear about them more than I already had.  I moved on.

There was something about the idolatry that I couldn’t put my finger on.  It was the way people talked about artists formerly known as living and the huge numbers of people who talked about them and it irked me.  I began developing a hard edge.  By the time I started working at the Peaches record store in Seattle, the edge had become buzzsaw.  I’m sure some people thought I was an asshole when I would walk away during virtual eulogies of superstars formerly known as stars, but in all honesty, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I was becoming Kurt Cobain after Nirvana, but before Nirvana.  I remember Cobain walking down the street and rebuffing a young guy who was asking for an autograph with “Where were you when we were playing garages?” because Kurt took the public apathy before and the public idolatry after personally.  And then he killed himself.  I hesitated writing that because I know how Nirvana fans and even people in general will take it, but it’s the goddamn truth and why should I hold back?  It sucks that Cobain died but it sucks when anyone dies.  Yes?

So riddle me this, Batman.  Why is it so important for people who never knew a musician beyond his or her music to publicly carry his or her banner and why do they not carry the banners of some of the lesser-knowns whose music they love?  Who chooses?  And why does it take death for so many of them to pay attention?  How many people who are talking about Etta James today were talking about her before the commercial?  Hell, how many people were talking about Nick Drake before his commercial?  And I know it wasn’t his commercial, but it is another case of music overshadowing product.

You want to know whose deaths I truly mourned in the musical world?  George Clark, for one.  George played bass for Cowboy, one of my all-time favorite bands, and it shocked me when he died.  Not long before I had conducted an interview with him for that history of Cowboy I have been threatening to write and I was impressed.  He was straight forward with his answers and patient and thankful and all of the things a writer wants in a person of interest.  Not long after the interview he went into the studio with the other five original members of Cowboy to record and, bam, not long after, he was gone.

You ever hear of Gypsy?  I was in a record store in Denver the summer of 1971 and heard this incredibly unique sounding band and had to have a copy.  The self-titled double album was the first of four incredible albums, as far as I was concerned.  When I heard that that band’s Enrico Rosenbaum had died, I was stunned.  Rosenbaum was the core of Gypsy.  No one wrote like Rosenbaum.  No one sang like him.  He was one of a kind.  I loved the guy’s music.  I wish I could tell him.  I wish I had.  I recently had a conversation with Fort Worth’s Randy Cates about his days with the band.  He misses “Rico” even more than I do.

I could go on, I suppose, but what good would that do.  I am trying to make a point, is all, and if you don’t get it, you don’t get it.  I don’t know.  Maybe it doesn’t matter.  Though it does to me.

Now, on to more pressing matters, like

BREWER & SHIPLEY…..  We are truly living in a world of idolatry these days but it is one of fantasy, one where you think you know something but actually think you know everything.  That is the world in which Hendrix gets voted best ever guitarist in poll after poll and pop sensations like Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, as popular as they are, are little more than flavors of the day.  The real world is the one lived day in and day out by artists who hock their musical wares any- and everywhere they can get people to listen.  Imagine my surprise to find that while the clusters of people who supposedly know music praise certain artists ad nauseam, they ignore some of the best.  Maybe you don’t remember Michael Brewer and Tom Shipley except from their one huge hit, One Toke Over the Line, that hippie anthem from the seventies, but they were one hell of a lot more than that.  Sure, that was the song which brought them to my attention, but when I picked up the Tarkio Road album and then backtracked to Weeds, I found music to soothe my soul.  A couple of years later, while walking past Pacific Records in Hollywood (the precursor to Peaches), I stumbled upon an earlier album by the duo on A&M Records, Down In L.A., which to my astonishment had their version of a song recorded by The Poor which had struck my fancy titled She’s Got the Time (She’s Got the Changes (listed as Time and Changes on the A&M album).  I was smitten.  Three solid albums and some of the best damned harmonies I’d heard in my not all that long of a life.  When I picked up a copy of Shake Off the Demon, their fourth album, I became a bona-fide B&S supporter.

The reason I mention them is, why in hell aren’t people picking up on these guys again?  They’ve struggled in virtual obscurity over past past couple of decades and you would think that as much as people these days are enthralled by so many of the old-timers, Brewer & Shipley would be among them.  Perhaps they, too, need a commercial?  Or maybe a nudge.  Consider this a nudge.  If you like the softer side of rock with an incredible lineup of session men as well as music to soothe your soul, I recommend you at least listen.  Here is a link to their website.  Show them some respect.


Have you ever had a friend recommend and older album to you which filled a hole in your collection you didn’t even realize was there?  Well, it recently happened to me.  Shade‘s Jane Gowan, whom I have mentioned before and will mention again (and again) posted a reminder in a post on her Facebook page to stop by The Violet Archers’ bandcamp page.  Gowan has been working with Archer Tim Vesely in Shade, which recently released their second album/EP.  Well, I stopped by and listened and I’m still listening.  I’m assuming that Vesely, who is a former member of The Rheostatics, wrote and sang lead on most of the songs and if that’s true, I need to talk with him if for no other reason than to ask him why I hadn’t heard of The Archers until now.  The music is pop rock which branches into all sorts of territory with its use of sixties and seventies hooks.  For instance, ,All the Good culled here from 2005’s The End of Part One, overlays folk/psych on top of what is but isn’t War‘s Four Cornered Room and screams early seventies.  I laugh every time I hear the guitars, which sound like samples from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.  While the sound on this track is an anomaly, I would recommend you sample both Archers albums to see if they catch your fancy as much as they do mine.  Review pending— ‘pending on when I get my copies.  Vesely, I’ll be watching you…..

Notes…..   Hoodoo Gurus are back and will be touring down under with a string of bands like The Lovetones, The Hard-Ons, Redd Kross, and Died Pretty playing on the various bills.  They will tour to support their new release of a compilation of older tracks plus one unreleased or newer track.  The album will be titled Gold Watch: 20 Golden Greats.  Normally I wouldn’t mention this because they are on Sony and we all know that major labels suck, but the supporting bands are on the whole indie and you gotta love the fact that the Hoodoos are supporting them…..  I believed I mentioned Pure Prairie League in a recent column and can’t remember if I gave a link to their present website (and, truth be told, I’m too damn lazy to check).  For fans of that band (they were one of my favorites back in the day), here is the link…..  The UK’s Maxi Dunn released The Neglected Gambit pre-Christmas and I am sorry I didn’t listen to it earlier.  Here is a link to Tangled Tree, a fairly impressive song which seems to be getting better with each listen.  If you follow the link to the song, I suggest sticking around to listen to more…..  Speaking of Dunn, she teamed up with Vegas With Randolph on VWR’s A Lesser Fool, which is a bit like a slightly less soulful Hall & Oates with female guest.  Very nicely done…..  So I’m sitting watching TV last night (like there’s something worth watching) and end up on The Hallmark Channel for some reason.  There was this movie starring that guy from JAG and that girl from, what?  Full House? (shudder) and it wasn’t all that bad, though as Hallmark formula as it could get right down to the “almost” kiss they place in every movie they make, it seems.  The reason the movie interested me, though, was that Ernest Troost did the music and I had recently received a copy of his Live at McCabe’s album in the mail.  I liked the album, but after revisiting it post-movie, I’m really impressed.  Not only can Troost play guitar, he has a sense of soundtrack about him.  It takes a special touch to lay down music which does not detract from a scene in a movie and Troost has it.  I had to keep my ear cocked to actually hear some of the music and when I heard it, it fit to a T.  Acoustic guitarists, take note.  If you raise yourself to Troost level, you’ve really accomplished something…..    Someone’s spiked the water down in Lake Charles, Louisiana.  The Boys from Lake Charles, Research Turtles, have gone nuts, smashing guitars onstage and putting their latest EP on the free download block for a limited time.  It is all in preparation for the release of the second part of their Mankiller album, recorded and to be released in two parts.  Part One is the freebie and it’s a killer, no pun intended.  Part Two is scheduled for release, though an exact date has yet to be set.  It probably depends upon how much water the boys drink.  And I’m not sure, but there have been rumors that it might be released on vinyl in its entirety, should the winds blow strong enough.  For the free download, check out their website.  Then, stay tuned…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: DEATH ON THE ROCK AND ROLL HIGHWAY….”

  1. I still disagree with you about Buddy Holly. Of the 3 in that plane crash, I believe he was the most talented and would have continued on the longest in the topper most of the popper most…but then again, who knows. The public is fickle, right Frank?
    Hendrix…yes, I still believe his talent was not fully explored. He is still unique as guitar player and composer/producer. I haven’t heard anyone that comes close yet.
    And, yes I know John Lennon is dead. You don’t have to remind me anymore Chevy. It was way too soon.
    But my list of other unsung music heroes that are gone grows; Brain Wahlen, Eric Erickson, Owsley, Pete Ham, Tom Evans, Doug Fieger, Alex Chilton, Doris Troy, Chris Bell, Phil Seymour, Bill Pitcock IV, and more… These people rock my world.
    I guess the media chooses who the most important are, but that may not be who was important to you. We don’t all have the access that you and I had.

    BTW – Damn you for making me write this?

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