Frank Gutch Jr: I May Be Old, But I Got To See All the Good Bands!

It’s a T-shirt thing but it says way more than most people will ever know.  Sure, the vast majority of you out there are thinking, yeah, The Beatles at Shea, or maybe Woodstock.  Maybe Led Zeppelin at The Forum in L.A.  I yawn.  I suppose they were good and all, but music is an adventure and sitting in the midst of thousands to barely hear music played not nearly as good as the record (not to mention exposing yourself to possible burn damage from those lighters idiots used to hold up in the air at the oddest moments) is hardly my idea of adventure or even a good time.

Have I ever gone to a big show?  Yeah.  I saw Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie, and Taste in Portland.  You guessed it— my favorite was Taste.  I saw David Bowie in Los Angeles the year he opened his shows with Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou.  I liked the movie better than the show.  I saw Queen at the Sports Arena in San Diego but was there to see Paris, ex-Fleetwood Mac Bob Welch’s band, which didn’t play because Queen would not allow them to do a soundcheck (and I don’t care why) and preferred announcing that Paris’s equipment truck had broken down to telling people that they (Queen’s management or possibly even Queen themselves) were assholes.  How do I know?  I stood twenty feet away and watched Paris‘s manager argue with Queen’s goons before storming away.  I wanted to cash in my ticket but I was there with someone else, a dyed-in-the-wool Queen fan, and he was my ride.  The result was a couple of wasted hours watching Freddy Mercury prance around the stage (argh!) and listening to a way too long guitar solo by Brian May (and it was solo, the rest of the band having left the stage) which would have sounded great in 1968 but was lame as hell in the mid-Seventies.  Of course, the crowd did not see it that way, but I was not the crowd.  If there was ever a chance of me being a Queen fan, it was destroyed that night.  And what kind of an adventure is it, anyway, fighting thousands of people to watch a show you didn’t really want to see in the first place and listen to music you can barely tolerate.  Not much of one, I assure you.

No, the adventure is in the journey and my journey pretty much circumvented the coliseums and arenas, though I did sit through a long hot day at California Jam but that involved a girl and, well, when it comes to girls I have a track record as good as George W’s with the dictionary.  I tell people about some of the things I have seen and some get excited but all I do is yawn because it’s not like Stevie Winwood invited me to his house in England after the Blind Faith show or Eric Clapton wanted me to sit in on cowbell on his next session.  I just happened to see George Harrison (supposedly) behind a bank of speakers playing along with Blind Faith, or so the guy sitting next to me said.  He couldn’t play the show, this guy explained, because he was under contract and, in fact, could only play on sessions not okayed by the label under a pseudonym (which was, I believe, l’Angelo Mysterioso— correct me if I am wrong).  This guy shoved his binoculars in my face and said take a look and I did and it did indeed look like Harrison and he was playing along, if not doing a great simulation of it, so I took him at his word.  Better than getting in a fist fight in the middle of the show, which is what this guy seemed to want to do.  Something about honor or something.

I have never had a sense of camaraderie at big shows nor do I enjoy watching bands play from outfield bleachers.  I want sound.  I want immediacy.  I want to see the equipment up close and to watch the band sweat.  I want that thrown drum stick impaled in my chest because I was so enamored by the music that I forgot to duck.  I don’t want the experience of the crowd.  I can get that at a baseball game.  No, I want the music!  So set yourself.  Today, it is (once again) all about the music!

You Ready, Boys?  Let’s GO!

It’s either the 3rd or 4th of July of either 1983 or 1984 and I’m sitting in the Buffalo Tavern in Ballard, a suburb of Seattle, with my buddy The Duck (if I had enough room, I would tell you how he got his name, but…) and pumped to see and hear The Slamhound Hunters, a band put together by Mink DeVille‘s former guitarist, Louis X. Erlanger, and mouth harp specialist Kim Field.  They had been stopping by the store I worked at at the time, Peaches, attempting to vacuum all I knew about labels and distribution and record stores and radio from my brain.  They had a record in the works.  They wanted it to sell.  My brain must have been vacuumed clean because it didn’t.  But I digress.

The Duck and I sat there quaffing down a brew when onto the stage stumbled the Slamhound Four and three, uh, chicks— and don’t blame me because that’s what they called themselves.  They were, in fact, The Spitting Cobras, an amalgamation of three vocalists of local semi-fame (let’s see— there was Donna Beck who sang with The Jitters, the lady who fronted Bellingham’s Wet Paint and a third whose name I never could get for some odd reason).  The Duck looked at me as if to say what the fuck?  He was not a fan of female singers.  I told him to cool his jets and after a few loud plunks and a boom and a crash, they kicked into warmup fare— songs to loosen the crowd up, so to speak.  This was cover city but covers that you seldom heard done right.  They may have started out with Chapel of Love or maybe it was Iko Iko or maybe even Respect.  The order of songs presented were not important.  What was important were the vocals (pretty damn good), the attitude (downright snotty when they wanted to be) and the dance routines(straight out of American Bandstand or Motown).  A full set of excellent songs presented professionally.  Maybe not anything to write home about, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

A short break later, the Slamhounds hit the stage with what was to become the new album.  All I remember is, “You ready, boys?” and a guitar riff which led into a pounding straight out of ZZ Top territory.  It was plant-you-in-your-seat type stuff.  I was in awe.  After that song (their signature track, The Slamhound Hunter), they took us through surf and Fifties and some deep Chicago blues (Field proved himself a monster harpist) and I was sold.  I looked at The Duck expecting a smile and a nod.  He sat there in a coma.  I thought I had him, but when the Slamhounds finished, he leaned over and asked if there was another band we might go see.  I was stunned.  The Slamhounds had just chain-sawed through a killer set and he wanted to go?

Well, he was in town visiting and if my Momma had taught me nothing else, it was that visitors are always given preference.  Something about guests in the home.  So we left.  I missed the last set.  I was bummed.  We headed over to The Rainbow Tavern where Annie Rose & The Thrillers were getting the dance crowd pumped up with Stax and Motown covers and, yeah, they were good for what they were, but I have to tell you that if I wanted to hear some band doing soul hits, there were a dozen bands in Seattle doing that at that very moment and after The Slamhounds, the Thrillers sounded lame at best.

The Slamhounds were good enough that I remember that night like it was last night— the renovated insides of the tavern, the new wood smell, the excellent sound and the feel of summer seeping into the night.  The Slamhounds killed.  The Thrillers barely thrilled.  One day I’m going to tell you how The Duck got his name.  That sonofabitch.

Oh, by the way, The Slamhound Hunters recorded two albums and the Cadillac Walk EP 4/1 Mind (the album which contains the songs heard that night) and Private Jungle.  The latter is available from Seafair-Bolo Records.  Not long ago, I received an email that stated that a few copies of 4/1 Mind were available also, but only on vinyl.  That’s the way I’d go.  I suggest if you’re interested, you contact the label here.

Goin’ To Carolina…..

Not the state, my friends.  Carolina is a state of mind, a song Pac Northwest legends Notary Sojac used to play to get the crowds warmed up and I have to tell you, it never failed.  The first time I heard it (and saw them), I was amazed.  It was everything I expected out of The Dead and The Allmans and every other hippie band storming the festivals and stages and taverns at the time (the summer of ’71).  It was, to use a kid word, awesome!

They were playing the Rainier Sunbust at Skinner’s Butte Park in Eugene on a beautiful sunny afternoon and I had no money and a girlfriend, so she suggested we go.  We did and, let me tell you, few bands have impressed me as much.  It was a two-fer, really, because on that same bill was Portland’s country-rockers Sand, another band which blew my socks off.  You know that cartoon of the hippie who’s just taken drugs and the mushroom cloud has blown the top of his head open?  That was me.

Oh, the things Notary Sojac did to me that day.  I was fresh out of the army, hair barely Beach Boys-length (the early days) and dressed in the only civilian clothes I owned at the time (bell-bottom jeans, blue work shirt, sheepherder’s vest and jungle boots and a chain around my neck— that’s right, just a chain— hey, it was a statement!) in the midst of a crowd of some of the coolest and hippest people that side of the Mississippi, and I wasn’t even stoned!  The music did it to me, Officer!  Honest!  I was standing there listening to this, this music and that’s the last thing I remember!

It was Carolina, this light riff straight out of The Allmans’ bag of tricks which built into that mushroom cloud coming out of my head.  Verse-chorus-verse and then I forget.  I remember seeing three guitars lined up playing a theme-and-variation bridge to nowhere and at the same time everywhere.  I remember the organ player (a Hammond B-3!  And Will Herold made it scream!) taking us on a ride which almost had my heart  exploding, it was so good, with drummer Doug Ness and bassist Jim Lowry driving and driving and driving!  Those guitars— it was powerhouse Tom McMeekan and the swingin’ Steve Koski and brother Bob Koski, who only played guitar on that one song and played flute and sang on the others.  Yes, I know them by name.  I knew them by name right after that gig.  I had to.  I had to know who those guys were.

They played another Sunbust two or three weeks later in Portland at the Rose Gardens, in this natural bowl-like setting.  Sand was there.  I expected a letdown.  Lightning can’t strike twice, right?  Wrong!  Both bands killed.  It was freakin’ free and the bands killed.

I feel sorry for people who have never heard (or heard and didn’t get) Notary Sojac.  They were an experience.  You can have your Led Zeppelin’s and your Phish.  I saw the best.  Many times.  And I never walked away disappointed.

Notary Sojac, by the way, put together an album of tracks mostly recorded in taverns through one or two microphones hung from a ceiling— because us fans demanded it.  The sound is rough and in places, muddied, but it captures what those guys did live.  I have no idea what people these days would think, but I love it.  Of course, I was there.  It can make a difference.  Available through CDBaby.  And for the fans who might happen upon this, the band is slowly putting together an album of the only studio-recorded tracks they ever did, an album I call The Tioga Sessions because they were recorded at Tioga Studio down around Coos Bay, Oregon.  Hopefully, it will be available soon.

Watching Burritos Fly…..

And, no, when I saw them, Gram wasn’t there except in spirit.  I get that people are Gram Parsons fans.  I like his music too,  but The Flying Burrito Brothers did not end with Gram’s death.  They continued on and on and by the time I saw them, were… a shadow of their former selves?  That’s what one guy said the night I saw them play and all I could think was, what an asshole.  True, Gram wasn’t there and

Chris Hillman was working elsewhere.  This was about the time of Live From Tokyo (early 1980s) and the band was fronted by Gib Gilbeau and Skip Battin (I believe) and, no, they didn’t sound like the original Burritos, but they smoked anyway.  They rocked and moaned and bluegrassed and even souled out.  They convinced the few who were there that they didn’t need Gram Parsons to be a band, and that’s no slam on Gram, just a recognition that they were that good on their own.  At one point, when they were rockin’ out,  Sneaky Pete had the crowd on its feet when he tipped his pedal steel on its side, got on his knees and soloed like a bona-fide maniac.  I have never heard pedal steel like that.  I expect I never will again.

You Don’t Like The Carpenters?

Then you didn’t see them the night I did back in, what was it… 1970?  They were touring to support their first album and their new hit single, We’ve Only Just Begun, and I’m not sure what happened, but there was no one there.  They were playing this plush night club, the decor practically out of Las Vegas, with tables and velour-seated booths and a full dinner menu and a stage bands would have killed just to stand on, let alone play on.  It must have been Thanksgiving or something— it was an empty cave and it was The Carpenters, for chrissake, and to this day I wonder what happened.  Eight people?  Ten people?

I was in the army at Fort Lewis when my buddy Dave Gray came up to me and said, hey, The Carpenters are playing at this night club in Seattle.  Wanna go?  It wasn’t my cup of tea, really, but Dave was a great guy and I said, sure.  So we went.

I am so glad I did.  There were only four of them— Karen, Richard and two guys who were multi-instrumentalists (I know, because one of the guys had this clothes-tree type stand with what seemed like a hundred instruments hanging on it and he played every damn one of them before the night was over, I swear).  They sounded like they were seven or twenty.  Karen’s voice was clear as a bell.  Richard’s voice was perfection and his keyboards filled holes no instrument should have been able to fill.  The two others were pros— you could tell by their demeanor and the sound of the instrument of the moment.  You want to hear something amazing?  You should have heard them nail Close To You and We’ve Only Just Begun.  Amazing, like I said.

The real thrill, though, was Karen herself.  Most know her as a vocalist.  She was also a drummer.  She had this drum kit with every sound-making apparatus you could think of— cowbell, block, sleigh bells, cymbals of every kind— but with this ring of toms you only see in movies.  They ringed the set, Karen’s left to right, smaller to larger.  I couldn’t count how many she had there and she used them like keys on a piano.  She played songs, almost.  And was she smooth!  I mean, I was a drummer.  I studied drummers, from Ginger Baker to Jon Hiseman to Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck Quartet) to Elvin Jones and beyond.  And I attest to the fact that Karen Carpenter was a drummer!

I am not really a fan of musicians just because they become popular.  I know how big The Carpenters became.  What I saw that night, though, was one reason they became that big.  They were…. damn, what is the right word?  Amazing.

Steve Young at The Backstage…..

You want to talk about an empty cave, that’s what The Backstage was the night Steve Young played.   When was it? Mid-Eighties?  The info has gone the way of dead brain cells, I guess.  Not the night— just the date.  The night— well, you had to be there.

They call Steve country and I suppose they have every right to.  His two most critically-accepted albums were country— produced in Nashville by Nashville producer Roy Dea.  He sounds country, though he sounds as much blues and folk and rock, at times.  Which was his point when I talked with him about his life.  He didn’t think he was country.  In fact, he didn’t think he fit into any genre because he loved and played all kinds of music.  But there you have it.  It isn’t what you think, it’s what your fans think.

Well, if you were at The Backstage the night I was there, you would have thought that he had no fans.  How many were there?  Six?  Eight?  Most musicians would have walked away.  Not Steve Young.  He has this thing about giving his fans their money’s worth.  He will play to one if need be.  Something tells me that he has.

That night, though, you would have thought there were hundreds.  Young went through a set which included most songs on the albums I have (I have them all) and a number of classics he just felt like playing.  He sang, he picked, he stomped.  He told jokes.  He made friends.  He was incredible.  I don’t think one of us walked out of that club less than thrilled with what we had just seen and heard.

It was partially because of that night that I called Steve a number of years later and asked for an interview.  That interview turned into a few interviews and interviews with members of his family and his friends and eventually became a story which needed to be written— Steve Young— Reluctant Son of the South.  I mention it here because it is a fascinating story told mostly in Steve’s own words, a testament to his spirit of survival in the music biz.

Herb & The Spices— Sports Rock Fusion…..

I laugh every time I think of the night I stumbled into The Rainbow Tavern and saw the stage setup for Herb & The Spices.  A big scoreboard with the names “Herb” (or maybe it said “Spices”) and “Them” next to the numbers.  Running platform shoes (that’s right— running shoes with platform soles, like if The Sweet wanted to get any real exercise).  Football, lacrosse stick, basketball, hoop.  Baseball glove and bat.  I saw that and I had to stick around and see what the hell it was all about.

What it was about was Bruce Kirkman, who had played in a variety of bands in Seattle over the years, including a long run with Fat Jack.  He decided he needed to get out and play a bit, something he did only once in awhile, and called a few of his friends (the drummer, whose name I forget, had played with one of the big Pac NW bands— The Wailers or a band of that stature;  Barry Curtis of The Kingsmen and Fred Dennis, who played in a later version of The Liverpool Five) to help out.  What it turned out to be was a laugh fest, Kirkman cutting up on stage, telling jokes (if they laughed, he gave himself a point, if they didn’t, he gave “Them” one).  They worked their way through a number of classic Pac Northwest tunes, from Louie Louie to Little Latin Lupe Lu (a standard dance tune for the Sixties’ Northwest bands) to whatever hit their fancies.  It was a hoot.

I found out later, thanks to a visit from Kirkman, that Herb & The Spices had at one time had a 45 which Dr. Demento adopted, Swimming Pool b/w Cannibal Cutie.  I don’t know if they played it that night or not, but I would not at all be surprised.  See, Cannibal Cutie is about this girl who asks a guy out on a date and ends up inviting him for dinner— to be dinner, actually, and to this day it makes me laugh.  What can I say?  Bruce Kirkman Is a Funny Guy… Right! 

Hey, I could go on and on.  I saw Rockin Foo at the Eugene Pop Festival in 1969, Seattle’s The City Zu at some park somewhere in that fair city (they had their equipment and just decided to plug into the electrical outlets next to the picnic tables one Sunday); The Turtles at The Tork Club between Eugene and Springfield and again at the Washington County Fair in Hillsboro (both shows were outstanding); Barclay James Harvest at The Troubadour in Los Angeles (if you can believe that— supposedly, John Lees was so sensitive about the band’s sound that he had the roadies set up all of the equipment and balanced the sound by eliminating amps and speakers one at a time);  The Phil Keaggy Band at The Paramount in Seattle (now that was a show I went to by myself because I didn’t want anybody bothering me);  The Wailers and The Sonics at the Albany, Oregon National Guard Armory;  Deep Purple at The Eugene National Guard Armory (with Rod Evans, my favorite lineup of the band);  and The Mendelbaum Blues Band at The Matrix in San Francisco, before they changed their name to Mendelbaum and pretty much pushed the blues to the back.

But my time and space has run out.  I might revisit some of those shows at a later date.  I don’t know.  I’m a wild-hair-up-my-ass kind of guy.  You never know what piques my interest from one moment to the next.  But, hey, this is not over yet.  There are still…

Notes…..    Let this be a warning.  Do not start searching on the Net unless you are willing to take the time to do it right.  I searched once again this past week for Mick Underwood, a drummer who had played with many of my favorite bands, and I stumbled on thisQuatermass IIGillan In Rock?  I now know that I will go to my grave before I listen to or read everything that I want to…..  This from good friend Gary Heffern: a link to a track by European Andrea Schroeder which sounds like it comes from the vaults of ’60s garageness— Blackberry Wine.  I think Heffern wrote the lyrics or something on this one.   Doesn’t matter.  It’s good and will be released on Schroeder’s next album on Glitterhouse Records come September.  This is something to look forward to, music fans.  You can hear the track here…..  This April 21st  is Record Store Day, in case you didn’t know.  Never participated?  It’s turned into quite the zoo what with the limited editions making the rounds.  You never know what’s going to happen.  Some releases are one-time-only pressings and some just happen to be released on that day.  Flora of Winterpills sent me a note reminding me that their latest album, All My Lovely Goners, will be released on vinyl that day.  It’s going to be a double-album set featuring an unreleased track (Little Boy Ghost) and a limited edition poster.  If you like folk/psych which reaches back to the late Sixties and early Seventies, you’ll love this album.  Already on my short list for Album of the Year.  If you’re not sure you have a participating record store nearby, I suggest you find out, if only for this record…..  Speaking of Album of the Year, I’ve been listening to Sydney Wayser‘s Bell Choir Coast (here’s a link to listen yourself) and it has jumped onto the list as well.  Much more of a band feel than her earlier efforts and her songwriting is stronger than ever.  One of the more unique voices out there and a killer of an album…..  And speaking of new releases, Jud Norman of Lake Charles’ Research Turtles told me they have finally locked down a date for their Mankiller Pt. 2 album.  Mark it in your calendars.  It’s June 26th and features the— well, not new lineup, but their latest.   Haven’t heard them?  Might I suggest a visit to their website (researchturtles.com) to get a free download of Mankiller Pt. 1 and the lowdown on everything worth researching.  Oh, and stay tuned.  I am working on a fairly large piece on the band from pre-conception to present…..    In between listenings to Wayser, I’ve been slipping in the new album (Fatou) by Fatoumata Diawara, a native of Mali who reminds me enough of Gigi Shibawbaw to make me want to hear more (hear more of Diawara here).  Gigi bowled me over with Gold & Wax a few years ago (Gigi is a native of Ethiopia and transcends any international labeling) and Diawara is doing the same.  Very, very impressive…..

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.”

5 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: I May Be Old, But I Got To See All the Good Bands!”

  1. Peter Blecha Says:

    Frank: I remember crossing paths with you that night at the Steve Young show at the backstage. We were equally astounded at the small turnout. Steve did make the most of it, and was happy to hang out between sets and talk music. I had dragged along the guitarist, P.S. O’Neill, from my band at the time. So that settles who at least three of us attendees were… I still have a poster from that show, and still cherish his albums — which I finally digitized last week so I can have them accessible on my iPod too!

  2. David Randolph Koski Says:

    Frank, I can corroborate your impression of the Carpenters on their first tour. I heard them at two concerts in Idaho when I was handling equipment for Notary Sojac who opened for them. You didn’t mention that the two multi-instrumentalist sidemen also were excellent singers, and the four of them faithfully recreated the experience of their studio recordings. I remember being mesmerized at the soundcheck in Twin Falls as they practiced the vocals (a cappella) for “Close to You.” And I had the opportunity to talk with Richard and Karen backstage a couple of times.They remain two of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and one of the best bands I ever heard.

    • I envy your hearing the a cappella version of “Close To You”, David, but why has no one ever mentioned that Sojac opened for them? Strange bill, but one I would have loved to have seen!

      • David Randolph Koski Says:

        There are probably a lot of little Notarty Sojac stories you haven’t heard yet. You are right that it was an odd pairing: there was a kind of firefight in the letters-to-the-editor section of the Boise newspaper after the concert there, with fans of each band championing their faves and deriding the “oppostion.” Funny, because the bands themselves were mutual admirers. A year or two later, Notary Sojac again opened for the Carpenters at Mac Court in Eugene.

  3. I loved the Carpenters having the opportunity of making out to there music at the tender age of 13-14 in Portland when spin the bottle and running off to a closet was in vogue. Memories that will always be there. Their harmonizing was amazing and still is today. The new crap nowdays is lame and incomparable.

Leave a 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: