Frank Gutch Jr: Beneath the Radar? How About Under the Covers?

Here I had an outline all ready for this week’s column when Paul Curreri pops out of the woodwork, posting a video of Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers doing a cover of Hall & Oates’ I Can’t Go For That, a song which I never really liked much but now can’t get out of my head.  Result?  Outline scrapped, head full of Bluhm and crew and a serious jonesing for covers out of my past which in many cases are better or as good as the originals.  I have to limit myself here because otherwise it would turn into a free-for-all which never ends, so I’m tossing out the Sixties when so many songs were covers (at times, it almost seemed like they all were).

I’m tossing out the Nineties and the “thousands” when labels delighted in handing out songs to bands to record so they could put out their many (and mostly musically worthless) tribute albums (nothing closes my ears faster— except lame medleys— than a bunch of popular-today bands doing versions of, say, Neil Young songs, nothing against the bands or Mr. Young outside of the fact that I think the idea lame as hell).  I’m tossing out the so-called genre-specific albums for which artists like Rod Stewart record tunes from the Forties and the like.  Just not interested.

What was and is interesting to me, though, are the many tunes covered by bands not because they were asked to or because there was some idea behind it, but because of maybe reverence for the song or band which originally (or maybe not even originally) recorded them— or maybe just had this need to put their mark on a classic (think The Sonics’ Louie Louie).  Hell, some of the songs you love were covers, though you maybe don’t think of them as such.  The Eagles’ version of Seven Bridges Road?  A cover of a song written and recorded by Steve Young and covered by Ian Matthews on his not-so-amazingly good Valley Hi album before The Eagles recorded it, ripping off Matthews’ incredible arrangement note-for-note for which they have never, to my knowledge, given credit.  Eric Clapton‘s Please Be With Me?  A cover of Scott Boyer‘s song, originally recorded on Cowboy‘s 5’ll Getcha Ten.  I remember almost throwing a guy out of a Licorice Pizza I worked at for insisting that Clapton had indeed written it, even after I showed him the writing credits printed right on the album jacket!  Oh, you don’t know the troubles I’ve seen.

But this column is neither about myself nor my so-called troubles (I only wish that was the height of my problems) but about the music because when I find it, I have to trumpet it from  the rooftops, King Kong-style— because it is in my DNA, I suppose.  But hey, let’s make this a game.  If you have heard of the band or artist, give yourself a point.  If you’ve heard of the album, give yourself another.  If you’ve actually heard the track, give yourself two.  At the end of this, tally your points.  If you accumulated more than ten, you’re as isolated as I am musically, meaning that you actually care and listen to what you hear.  Anything less than that means that you maybe care but live on a different planet (most of my old girlfriends fell into that category).  If you got 0, you are normal, which isn’t saying much these days, the shape the world is in, eh?  So here we go.  My pick for one of the best covers of all-time:

Capability Brown/Liar—  You have heard the song, right?  Argent originally recorded it, but it came to the general public’s attention when Three Dog Night turned it into a hit.  Luckily, I had already discovered Argent’s version before Three Dog Night’s version hit the airwaves.  It turned me into a diehard Argent fan, in fact, and truth be told, I don’t even remember the Three Dog Night version, but I do remember thinking, why is this a hit?  Argent’s version kicks its ass.  Thing was, in those days radio controlled everything.  If all the stations in your area played was white bread R&B, you got lamed-down versions of the real thing.  If all the stations played was Country, you got the Country version.  And I would not be surprised at all to find that Liar had been covered sometime, somewhere within the Halls of Hickdom, which is what I used to call it.  I’m just thankful I never had to hear it.

But here’s what you need to know about Capability Brown.  There were six in the band, every one a voice, and when they stacked those harmonies it was like nothing you’d ever heard before.  Turns out, not many wanted to hear it.  The album which contained Liar, From Scratch, failed to find an audience in spite of those voices (and a killer instrumental bridge).  If they’d have come to the States, and they may have— I don’t know— I would not have been surprised if they’d been run out of the country on a rail.  They did that to Igor Stravinsky in Europe, you know.  Not that they were in the same league.  Of course, this was America.  We all know how swell that is.

Stagecoach/Stingaree—  I’ll bet few outside of San Diego have heard this.  Stagecoach was a country-rockin’ hybrid of a band  which lived on the bar circuit crossing that fair city and I was lucky enough to have crossed paths with them late one night in a tavern out in the middle of nowhere.  I drank way too much and ended up being pored out of the car at three in the morning, luckily on my doorstep, with a phone number in my pocket and what seemed like gallons of beer with which to feed the plants. That phone number was for one Kenny Wheeler, who fronted the band and actually, at one time, had a chance to record for a label.  It never happened, unfortunately, and to my knowledge, the business passed him by, though I am sure the music did not.  Anyway, Stingaree was evidently this tavern on the Coast Highway in Encinitas, just north of Cardiff in California.  Jack Tempchin supposedly owned it, though how true that is I’m not sure.  Now, wait a minute.  I’m getting to it.  If you don’t recognize Tempchin’s name, then you don’t pay attention to what is written on your Eagles’ album jackets.  He wrote Peaceful Easy Feeling and a few others for that band.  He also wrote Stingaree, a song about that tavern.  While it does not exactly qualify as a cover it should have been, but nobody wanted to record Tempchin back in the day, even after Peaceful Easy Feeling hit it big.  Tempchin would eventually get his shot, scoring a contract with Arista Records for his band, The Funky Kings, as well as a solo contract.  Stingaree would show up much later on Tempchin’s self-titled solo album around ’78 or so.  So I guess that would be the cover version.  Nothing like having to cover your own song, eh?  The reason this song is worth mention?  Stagecoach, while having a country rock sound, meshed in surf here and there and that’s what you hear on Stingaree.  Country-rockin’ surf.  An aside:  If you really want to hear country/surf, you have to hear Surfin’ All Day Long, also from the band’s one album.  It’s a freakin’ killer!

Mark Ashton/Satisfaction—  That’s right.  The Stones’ Satisfaction, but you would barely recognize it.  Don’t know Mark Ashton?  He was one of  the guys behind another band (with Steve Bolton) you probably don’t know:  Headstone.  Why am I telling you this?  Because the two albums released by that band consumed many hours of my time back in the Seventies.  They were crinkly fresh, unique as hell (they wrote the oddest songs which got stuck in my head for days) and pretty much assured of failure.  They weren’t commercial, is what I’m saying.  When Headstone split up, Ashton sold songs, did some session work and ended up putting together a few solo albums— well, two that I know of anyway.  The first, self-titled and released on 20th Century in the States, was a step further than his previous efforts and had within it the darndest version of Satisfaction I’ve heard to-date.  Slowed down, almost cathartic, Ashton utilizes synthesizers and finesse bass to elude any Stones reference beyond the accepted verse/lyric/verse format and the lyrics.  I remember when Cream recorded Skip JamesI’m So Glad and someone pointed out that it didn’t sound a bit like Skip James’ song.  That’s pretty much what we have here.  Sometimes you cover, sometimes you morph.

Allman Brothers Band/Trouble No More—  What?  You think I’d pass up a chance to point out the best phase of the Allman’s— the first album? I used to get in verbal fist fights over these guys.  I was listening to the band right out of the box and then this Live at the Fillmore comes along and all these asshats who didn’t pay attention to the first two albums are experts?  Excuse me.  The first Allman Brothers album kicks anything they ever did after that to the curb.  I give as example their version of McKinley Morganfield‘s Trouble No More.  The Allmans take this solid blues tune into Allmans’ territory and do it up right.  This is rockin’ stuff and quite beyond what Muddy Waters (that’s his AKA, kiddies) did.  I dig Muddy, but when I heard what the Allmans did, I was sold.  It’s that great background Hammond organ, that driving beat and the guitars.  God, but I love those guitars!  And yes, this is kind of cheating.  It borderlines the Sixties.  But I love it too much to not include it.  Cut an old man some slack here, okay?

Robert Johnson/Burnin’ Love—   No.  Not that Robert Johnson.  If you already knew that, you’re probably thinking, an Elvis song.  Well, you would be right and wrong there, my friends.  It is actually a Dennis Linde song, so calling it an Elvis song is akin to calling Hound Dog a Big Mama Thornton song.  I know.  In this day and age, who cares, right?  Well, I sure as hell do and let’s set the record straight right now— Burnin’ Love was not written by Elvis nor was Hound Dog by Big Mama.  Burnin’ Love = Linde;  Hound Dog = Leiber & Stoller.  But back to the point.  What Robert Johnson did here was take all of the fru-fru backing they gave Elvis and turn it into a New Wave arrangement, the crunchy rhythm guitar dominating.  Is it as good as Elvis?  What can I say except that it’s different.  I like it.  By the way, Johnson was supposed to be an act which was going to put Infinity Records, Johnson’s label, on the map.  The label was originated by MCA’s Sidney Sheinberg, who picked Epic Records’ Ron Alexenberg as CEO.  There was a combination headed for hell.  They put a ton of money behind Johnson, the vast majority of it spent unwisely.  Even in those days, record labels were intent on self-destruction.

Amazing Rhythm Aces/Love and Happiness—  Few artists could pull off a genre switch better than The Amazing Rhythm Aces and no better example exists than their version of Al Green‘s Love and Happiness.  Included on the Aces’ Full Moon/Columbia self-titled album, it paralleled Green’s version beautifully but Russell Smith‘s slightly smoother vocals gave it less of an edge.  By the time I caught on that it was a cover, I was hooked by the smooth and flowing feel of the Aces.  If nothing else, it gave me a reason to revisit Al Green, one of R&B’s greatest treasures.

Hi-Fi/Man In the Station—  I remember cringing the first time I heard this cover of what I considered an untouchable song by John Martyn.  First off, let me tell you about Hi-Fi.  They were a band consisting of Ian Matthews, David Surkamp (Pavlov’s Dog), Bruce Hazen and Garey Shelton (who played with numerous Pac NW bands before and after Hi-Fi, and Bob Briley.  Surkamp had moved to Seattle alongside ex-Pavlov Doug Rayburn, played a few gigs (if I remember correctly, as Mad Shadows), then met up with Hazen and Ian to eventually put together a band.  According to Hazen, the band recorded an unreleased album, then an EP (which includes this track) and finally an album (Moods For Mallards).  But about this track.  If you know anything about John Martyn, you know that he started out pretty much as a Brit folkie and began delving into the spacey jazz side of folk music.  It was during his earlier jazz phase that he recorded Man In the Station (included on his groundbreaking Solid Air album, an album which I loved and listened to obsessively for quite some time).  So you can imagine my chagrin hearing it done new wave-style— chunky rhythm guitar, rock riff and screaming electric guitar (courtesy of Mr. Hazen).  Thing is, the more I listened (and I had to because all of the people I hung out with were way heavy into Hi-Fi) the more I liked.  It eventually morphed (in my mind, at least) into a completely different song which just happened to have the same melody and lyrics as Martyn’s original.  I pull this EP out on occasion to remind me that it isn’t always the song, it is what you do with it that counts.  And, yes, it helped to see Hi-Fi play it live.  It always does.

The Talbot Bros./Easy To Slip—  You can count me in the ranks of those who picked up on Little Feat early, but I can hardly take credit.  All of my friends at Eugene’s House of Records wore me down until I finally listened to that first album closely and, sonofagun, they were as good as my friends had been telling me.  I returned the favor by turning them on to The Talbot Bros.  and I did it by playing their version of a Little Feat song.  Isn’t it funny how sometimes we need a reason to discover certain songs?  Well, the connection to Little Feat was the reason and most of them ended up appreciating the Talbots.  They had just exited the quite popular (around Eugene) Mason Proffit and had continued as brothers, setting off on their own.  Shortly after they recorded this album, they found Jesus and headed toward the fold, as it were, recording Christian music, solo and with others.  Easy To Slip is not unlike the Feat’s version, but the Talbots brought their smooth harmonies to the fore and leaned more toward country rock and the song literally sings.  In my head, good song by Feat, better version by the Talbots.

The Rockets/Oh Well—  Let’s face it.  No one will ever touch the intensity of Fleetwood Mac when it comes to this song, but you know what?  Sometimes all it takes is the good sense to cover it, regardless.  When The Rockets went in to record Oh Well, they had to know they couldn’t best it, so they did the next best thing.  They grooved it.  They took away some of the intensity and power and substituted a light groove and I think it works very well, thank you.

Although I have to admit that one reason I like their version is because it is the perfect lead-in to one of my favorite Rockets tracks ever— Lost Forever, Left For Dreaming.  I was a drummer once.  I love drummers, especially the ones who are the core of the band.  John Badanjek, if no one has ever told you (though I am sure someone has), you rank right up there with Bobby Caldwell (Captain Beyond) and Jon Hiseman (Colosseum, among others) as drummer/songwriters who really made the difference.  God love you!

Wet Willie/That’s All Right—  The song starts out, “Live from Mobile, Alabama, yeah— with a little red hot chicken— The Wet Willie Band” and I don’t remember much after that except I drank a hell of a lot of beer and kept playing it over and over, really loud, until my buddies blocked me from the turntable— and they were right, even if it was my turntable.  Fifteen to twenty listens, speakers cranked up to max (and they were big speakers, too— Sansui’s— six speaker/five-way suckers), two or three o’clock in the morning.  Man, I was lucky I didn’t get arrested, but I couldn’t help it!  There was something in the power Wet Willie was wielding that made me almost lose control.  To this day, their cover of Arthur Crudup‘s R&B classic ranks at the top of my songs-with-the-best-jam list.  Right from the start, they crank, and it just keeps getting better until they go  balls-out on the bridge— that long instrumental break towards the end.  In fact, it’s playing right now and even though I seldom drink anymore, this makes me want to start again.  It smokes!  Everyone rocks out, but the award has to go to Lewis Ross, the drummer, who deserves a medal just for making it o the end.  Give it up for Jimmy Hall on mouth harp and Rick Hirsch on lead guitar for their question and answer tradeoffs!  Whew!  From Wet Willie/Live— Drippin’ Wet!  Drippin’ wet, indeed.

Michael Nesmith/Bonaparte’s Retreat—  You know what?  That should read Michael Nesmith & The Second National Band because if Nesmith wanted anything more than wanting to be accepted on his own merits, it was being accepted as part of a real honest-to-God band.  Well, he did it— first with The First National Band and then with The Second National Band, but no one really seemed to care.  Though I am sure that he felt back then that he would always be known as “Wool Hat”, his moniker with The Monkees,  he gained my undying respect with his version of Pee Wee King‘s Bonaparte’s Retreat.  My Dad had it on 45 as a traditional fiddle tune and as done by King, who evidently borrowed the melody from that traditional fiddle tune, and I liked them both, but Nesmith broke the mold when he recorded it for his Tantamount To Treason album.  He stacked the harmonies a mountain high and then let pedal steel master O.J. “Red” Rhodes work his magic and brought that old fiddle and later Country & Western tune into the 20th Century.  And you know what?  He even gives you a beer recipe right on the back of the album jacket, in the liner notes.  Man, I knew there was a reason I held on to this!  Actually, I have been a Nesmith fan since The Monkees.  I always liked Nesmith’s songs, even back then.  And oh, what he has done since!  But that’s another story…..

CMW cranks— and the US sleeps…..

Perhaps it is just the juxtaposition of the two music festivals one after the other, but I am astounded by the overwhelming coverage of Austin’s SXSW and the complete lack of coverage given Canadian Music Week by the “legitimate” US media.  Granted, CMW did not take place in The States and, granted, Bruce Springsteen did not give some kind of groundbreaking oral treatise on the state of the music industry, but it was still one hell of a big music fest and worthy of attention.  I thought that this whole “social media” thing was supposed to change that, break down the walls, as it were.  Well, as far as I can tell, it’s the same old— The States being into The States and Canada taking sloppy seconds.  When will we learn that it is about the music and not about the geographical area?  If it is about geography, then please do me a favor and send all of those reality talent shows like The Voice, American Idol and The X Factor and send them to Canada.  I’m sick of watching supposed celebrities crawling all over one another in an attempt to sound clever or make a point.  People, you sucked when you were on top of the charts.  Now, you’re just pathetic.

As regards CMW, what can I say?  Like with SXSW, I have yet another arms length worth of bands to check out, and digging in Canada is an adventure in itself.  It’s what I live for.  Honest.

Notes…..Remember Vinnie Zummo, the guy who did the video Ringo which leaned heavily into  White Album territory (watch it here)?  He says he is working on a video for another Beatles-related tune, John Lennon.   You can listen to it on this page.  Zummo has something going on that most Beatles fans will want to hear.  Of course, it isn’t all he does.  He’s all over the place when it comes to styles, but he does them all oh, so good…..  And here’s something very intriguing—  this new group out of Florida, Carrousel, just released three videos on Youtube which are evidently all from the same shoot.  One is a split screen is backward (as a performance, they say) and one side forward.  Here is the link:  The reverse side video is here:  and the forward is here: .  I haven’t quite figured out what the hell they are doing, but the song is so damn good I don’t really care.  Very Pop with an orchestral flair.  Beautiful…..  On the Freedom Hawk front, Mark has just notified me that they are working on a new video.  Did I mention that they have vinyl?  Colored!  And black, if that’s what you prefer.  Fans of hard rock need to check this out!  Only 175 of the aqua blue sold to the public (that’s you, Dipwad)…..  For those who have never heard Tommy Womack and those who have but don ‘t get him, I give you a video produced by those masters of recorded music, Music Fog, who have this amazing ability to get the best out of any artist they tape.  Womack straddles the line between normal and manic, as he is wont to do, in this straightforward performance of Alpha Male & The Canine-Mystery Blood.  Don’t do this at home, kids…..  I have to start writing things down.  Sometime, somewhere, someone turned me on to a video by a band called The Wildes.  I bookmarked it and finally got around to watching it and I’m impressed.  They’re from Australia and have a country rockin’ thing going on that really is growing on me.  Lots of piano, which you don’t hear that much anymore.  Who mentioned them?  Hannah Gillespie?  She might have because I follow her constantly since I heard her fine All the Dirt album (she has a bit of a Marianne Faithfull sound to her on certain tracks).  Bill Jackson or Pete Fidler?  Those two folkies from Down Under have turned me on to many Aussie artists.  Regardless, let me pass the video along to you.  Watch it here.….   It’s official.   Mist and Mast has a new album coming out… finally!  I have been awaiting its release for what seems years, but it probably has only been one to two years.  Time doesn’t fly when you have a dentist appointment or are anxious for that new album.  Follow a Bad Map, scheduled for release April 24th, is more Jason Lakis goodness.  The guy is a writing machine and has his own unique sound.  I love it when a good album comes together and I ought to know because I’m listening to it right now!  While you’re waiting, I suggest you head over to the band’s bandcamp page and take a listen to Action at a Distance, their last recording endeavor.  It is classic!…..  For those who actually read my column (thanks, Aunt Flo & Uncle Ferd), you will be happy to know that Sydney Wayser‘s brand spanking new album Bell Choir Coast is now available on bandcamp.  It’s a killer!  If nothing else, stop by and take a listen.  You might want to hold off on the purchase, though.  Sydney is planning a vinyl release soon and there is something about vinyl, eh?…..  On the CD player this week, Wrinkle Neck Mules, three of them!… a new album by Shelly Fraley…  Keith Morris & the Crooked NumbersLove Wounds & Mars (yep, it looks like that crazy SOB is finally going to release it— it took so long, I was beginning to think it might not ever happen)…  and two Tom House albums (thanks, Tom and Keith).  People have been mentioning Tom for quite awhile now and I agree with Keith that it’s about time I listened.  Oh, and I sneaked in to Tom Mank‘s office and stole a four song rough cut CD.  Don’t tell him.  I’m planning to steal his next album when it comes out as well…..  As always, I know I’m forgetting something.  Oh yeah!  Glad I remembered!  Gary Heffern has teamed up with Chris Cacavas (Green On Red) and Steve Wynn (Dream Syndicate, Baseball Project) to create a new video of his new song, Undergrowth.  Heffern wrote the lyrics, Cacavas supplied the music and vocals, and Wynn did the video.  View it here…..

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: Beneath the Radar? How About Under the Covers?”

  1. bobby gottesman Says:

    Hey frank. Great article. Took me back years.

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