Frank Gutch Jr: When I Want Country, I Want Country!

And not the crap they’re telling us is Country.  It seems like forever ago that I cared about Country music.  Nashville pretty much put me off my feed when they started promoting artists like Brad Paisley and Taylor Swift and The Jayhawks— whom I like, don’t get me wrong— or maybe what I mean to say is, I don’t hate.  But it just ain’t Country, my friends, and that’s the truth.

As much as Nashville would love for you to think that what most people in Nashville play is Country, it just ain’t (and I use ain’t because those Nashville idiots seem to want to dumb down everything because they think it’s cool and, well, I’d like some of them to read this, too, in hopes that they might learn something).  It is Rock and it’s Pop and at certain times it’s damn near metal, for Chrissake!  Quite a leap from Country.  You know what I always say (and if you don’t, you ain’t been payin’ attention, Jethro), it takes more than a drawl and a pleather ass helmet to make you a country musician.  It takes heart.  And Nashville has taken the heart right out of what was once a viable and interesting genre.  They have turned it to pap.

For me, it was never about the sound, though when I was a kid you could not escape it.  It emanated from most radio stations and all of the taverns and bars in the old hometown and if it wasn’t Hank, it was Patsy or Lefty or Ernest or any one of what seemed like a million musicians who owned the jukeboxes in every small logging or farming town in the State of Oregon.  Most were so well known that you didn’t even have to refer to them by their full names (although why would you when they had names like Ferlin or Faron or Hawkshaw?).  Truth be told, I tossed those suckers aside when Rock ‘n’ Roll hit the streets because those clowns played one kind of music as far as I could tell— cry-in-your-beer music.  In my defense, I was a kid!  It has taken me years to gather enough knowledge to laugh at my young self and, believe me, today, I’m laughing, and that’s also the truth.

But I’m not laughing about Modern Country.  That ‘heart’ I was referring to?  It’s still there, it just ain’t in Nashville that much anymore.  It’s in Austin and Seattle and a hundred other places.  It’s in the hearts of the true Country musicians, wherever they may be.

I can think of three artists who started out far from Nashville, except in the heart:  Zoe Muth (who, with her band The Lost High Rollers just returned from a relatively triumphant tour of Europe), Dave Gleason (who built a large following in Southern California before finally giving in to the lure of Nashville and the chance for fame), and Jim Waive (a son of Virginia who stays home because home is— well, home).  All have country roots.  It’s what they do with them that sets them apart.  Nashville, pay attention.  There is more heart in these three than in the vast majority of your top-selling posers.

ZOE MUTH & THE LOST HIGH ROLLERS…..

The last song which hooked me as quickly as did You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying from Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers‘ self-titled album was Michael Dinner‘s The Great Pretender from the album of the same name.  Both songs reached out and grabbed me by the ears and would not let go.  Both convinced me that whatever the people behind those songs did was worth hearing in detail.

I have heard both artists in detail over a long period of time (Dinner since The Great Pretender release in 1974 and Muth since a fellow music freak turned me onto her in the Steve Hoffman Music Forums in early 2010) and I am happy to report that both stand up very well, thank you, and no thanks to Nashville.  They are both steeped in country music and yet step beyond the genre with forays into rock and folk stylings far enough away from Country to evade being labeled such, but when your Track One, Side One is double-dipped in pedal steel the quality of Ed Black‘s (The Great Pretender) and Country Dave Harmonson‘s (You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying), you become Country by default.  Does that constitute a conundrum?

I could draw parallels between Muth and Dinner.  They would center on songwriting and voice.  Both have a purity and focus on their songs and deliver them with a clarity you seldom hear on record.  Play The Great Pretender and You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying one after the other and you cannot help but hear it.  Close your eyes and they are practically right there in your living room, singing for you alone.  At one time, I thought that every album should be recorded that way until it became clear that not everyone have their voices.  Distinct.  Clear.  Lightly textured.  Intriguing.

The Lost High Rollers recently returned from Europe, the end of a long and grueling tour which started last Summer (or was it Spring?), a trek to the East Coast and back before jumping on the plane.  I am assuming the tour was successful, but how do you gauge success these days?  They played a lot.  They exposed tons of people to their music.  They did interviews and radio gigs and played some huge venues (though I am sure most were small).  And now they’re back.  Muth commented on her Facebook page that she is considering going back to work slinging burgers or waiting tables or something, because her blue collar days were lucrative for songwriting.  Harmonson should have no trouble finding gigs, being a Seattle landmark, of sorts.  The rest of the guys, the same.  Oh, they’re not disbanding.  They will be playing here and there and maybe lots more.  They are unsure is all and probably in need of a breather.

Doesn’t matter.  The songwriting will go on as will the music and the Country flag will remain planted in Seattle (Ballard, actually) for the near future.  Nashville, you blew it on this one.  This is what you used to be.

DAVE GLEASON…..

Now, Dave Gleason is a horse of another color.  I first heard him when an old friend, Ernie Hintereder, sent me a copy of his Midnight, California album (2004), an album released as Dave Gleason’s Wasted Days.  See, Gleason is a West Coast guy.  He picks and he grins, if you get my drift, and was doing it well enough to make a living but not much more.  A couple of years ago, he picked up and headed to Nashville, more than likely because he could actually make a comfortable living playing and, hopefully, recording.  If nothing else, Nashville does have a plethora of venues one can play, either in another band or with your own.  He’s still there, plugging away.  He is good enough that he will never have to look for work, but I have seen nothing in the way of physical product.  I’m hoping he’s recording and saving it for the right time.

When Ernie gave me the album, I gave it the typical cursory listen and set it on the table where it was promptly buried beneath a pile of promos which seemed to come in daily.  A couple of years later, I grabbed it and a stack of other CDs I had yet to listen to in detail and headed for Eastern Oregon to see Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun play in an old abandoned church in the middle of nowhere (not only was the drive exceptionally nice, but the venue and concert downright amazing).  I slipped Midnight, California into the player (where it stayed for the duration of the trip)— or did I alternate it with his new release, Turn and Fade (2010).  All I really remember is that it was a Gleason Fest, going and coming back, and I had been converted.

Sure, Country is Country (until recently, anyway), but there did seem to be a division between styles depending on region back in the day.  Texas and Oklahoma were swingin’, Minnesota and Michigan were more polka- and rag-oriented, the South was, well, the South, and the West Coast lived in its own little world.  Artists like Tommy Collins and Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant and Ferlin Husky and Dale Watson and Joe Maphis came from West Coast ponds.  I remember a series of albums from Europe on White Label Records which delved way beneath the surface of small, regional and local labels, plucking out records for their compilations, some pressed in such minute quantities it was amazing that the White Label people could even find them.  Hell, there was a whole scene going on!  And that scene, whether he admits it or not, spawned Dave Gleason, country musician.

You hear it in his songs.  You hear it in his delivery.  But mostly, you hear it in his guitar, and with Gleason, guitar is dominant.  On Turn and Fade, in fact, he plucks his way through two instrumentals, unapologetically, something few Country people do these days.  And when he’s not picking, he’s taking you on journeys, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, like the one through Hell (If You’re Going Through Hell, the lyrics being “If you’re going through Hell, stop by and see me, ’cause that’s where I’m living, until I can be the man I have to be, where the bottle is never empty, and the room is always lonely, I’m going through hell, since I lost you, baby….”).  Talk about cryin’ in your beer…..

Thing is, nobody cries in his beer better.  You live anywhere around Nashville, I suggest looking Gleason up.  Whether he is playing in a band or pumping out his own tunes, he is always worth seeing.  My Dad would have loved his music, rest his soul.  That says a lot.  That says Country.

JIM WAIVE & THE YOUNG DIVORCEES…..

Jim Waive knocks me out.  He is one of those I’m-stayin’-local-because-I’m-stayin’-home kind of guys and you can hear it in his music.  I have heard few musicians whose roots shine through as much.  First time I heard him, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him (or them, because while Waive does play solo on occasion, I believe he is most at home with The Young Divorcees sharing the stage), but it didn’t take much for me to get what he does.  He is a wild-eyed Son of Virginia and isn’t taking guff from anyone.  You don’t believe me, just listen.  Only really listen.  I know, it’s hard, what with The Young Divorcees cranking out that eerie to mind-boggling backup.  Listen to the lyrics.

I hate to do this because it makes it obvious that I am making it way too easy on myself, but listen to the lyrics of Why I Hunt.  With slight Hank Williams inflections, Waive tells a story of an unfaithful wife and a hunting expedition.  At first, you think he’s giving his wife a chance to run— one of those predator/prey scenarios.  It turns out, he hunts to allay that urge for revenge.  The bridge:  “You better thank your lucky stars, I don’t turn this gun on you”.  The chorus:  “That’s why I thank Heaven for God’s creatures, They kept me out of jail, You see I’da gone and shot my loved one, but instead I go huntin’ for White Tail.”  Lay that vocal on top of the almost mournful backup and I get shivers up and down the spine.

That backup might be one reason Waive doesn’t go anywhere.  I cannot think of a better group of musicians to back him.  Charlie Bell is masterful on dobro and pedal steel, a legend in the making.  Jenn Fleisher is a Tazmanian Devil, evidently, on what the bio terms the “bull fiddle”— every picture I’ve seen of her playing live is an action shot.  And Anna Matajasic squeezes notes out of rather than plays the violin on certain tracks.  She can turn a jig into a dirge on a dime and vice-versa.  If I was Waive, I wouldn’t go anywhere, either.  Finding musicians of that caliber to play with is a longshot at best.  When you find them, you try to keep them close.

Just so you know, Jim Waive is another one of those Charlottesvillains you hear me talk about once in awhile.  He’s not necessarily from Charlottesville nor does he necessarily live there, but he is among the many who circle that burg like noseeums circle your face on a hot and humid summer evening.   If a town or city deserves a museum just for its music outside of, say, Nashville or Austin or New York, it is C-ville.  You can quote me.

You do understand that I am not dissing Nashville, the city, do you not?  You do realize that my negative comments relate to the music business for which that city is known?  I have had trouble with the business there since the mid-70s when some ass hat (and not necessarily you, Jimmy Bowen) decided to cap every album coming out of that city at ten tracks, regardless of length.  When that idiot rule was implemented, many albums sank to sometimes barely over, if even, twenty minutes.  I think the businessmen had decided that more money could be made by stretching the music out or something.  Since then, the decisions they have made there have been about as intelligent.  That’s what happens when you eat, sleep and shit greed.

And that doesn’t mean that everyone in Nashville is greedy.  There are plenty of musicians and even businessmen (erm, businesspersons) there who have ethics.  Looking at the pap the city has been pumping out, though, they don’t seem to be as visible as they could be.  That’s all I’m sayin’.  This time.

Notes…..   

Boy, did I screw up!  After drinking far too much coffee, I posted The Cellar‘s opening time as 6 AM and then Randy Cates‘s quote about playing until 6 AM at which time he went to school.  Randy contacted me and corrected that.  The Cellar opened at 8 PM.  It closed at 6 AM.  Which makes their story even more intriguing.  Not exactly a teen club…..  I keep coming back to The Violet Archers in my search for way-beyond-the-pale rock/pop music.  Today, I played a track off of their first album, The End of Part One (All the Good), because I could not remember where I’d heard the guitar sound before.  Turns out it was War‘s Four-Cornered Room, a song so good it is etched in my DNA.  Now, so is All the Good.  You can hear it along with the rest of the tracks on that outstanding but virtually ignored album on the album’s bandcamp page.  Seriously, this is as good as it gets…..  Thanks to Deborah Millstein (thank you, Deborah), I am now in touch with Vinnie Zummo, the guitar player for The Joe Jackson Band.  Vinnie just turned me on to his new video, a tribute to Ringo.  Very, very Beatles-y without being a ripoff.  Very impressive, in fact.  View it here.  Holy crap!  Did I say new?  It was posted three years ago!  Where the hell have I been?  Well, chances are, after you watch the video, you’re going to want to check out some other Zummo offerings.  His ReverbNation page is here.  He also has a number of tracks on Soundcloud.  He’s damn impressive.  Listen and learn…..  It seems like a million years ago that Greg Laswell took over my system, and he’s back.  I am hoping that Landline will stop me in my tracks the same way Through Toledo did.  And if you haven’t heard Through Toledo, you really should do yourself the favor.  A killer album.  Greg will be touring extensively to back up Landline.  I suggest you try to catch his act.  I hope to catch him at Mississippi Studios on Portland on June 2nd, but would even like it more of I could make the Tractor Tavern Seattle gig on the 3rd.  Something tells me that that is a dream the heart makes, to quote Jiminey Cricket…..  You would think that Charlottesville’s Keith Morris would be plugging his own new record, but he took a few minutes out of his schedule to plug personal favorite Tom House, who posted a track on Soundcloud.  Keith isn’t the only one singing House’s praises, but he seems to be singing loudly lately.  The track is titled Someone’s Been Digging In the Underground and can be accessed here.  Thanks, Keith…..  Those crazy people in Toronto may be in the midst of Canadian Music Week right now, but I am in the midst of Canadiana my own self.  Listening heavily to Canadians Laurie Biagini and The Violet Archers (Tim Vesely, formerly with Rheostatics) (see above) for review purposes.  This is a good week…..  Closer to home, The Game Played Right out of Albany, Oregon posted a video recently (watch it here).  They’re just kids, but there is something there, methinks.  I will be watching them closely…..  This passed along by Howie Wahlen at Green Monkey RecordsNPR has a format for submitting music.  I’ll keep it on my computer should you need it in the future, but here is a link to the page should you wish to be considered at all.  Thank you, Howie!…..  And once again, if you have the desire to hear Southern Rock as filtered through the Czech Republic, check out The Cell.  It’s like watching Russians play bluegrass…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

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.”

 

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