Frank Gutch Jr: Now I Remember What Music Used To Be…..

I’m sitting here drinking my umpteenth cup of coffee and listening to music and thinking that soon a topic for a column will appear when, bam, it does, but I wonder if it will come to anything.  I have a hard disk full of starts and hiccups and links to information I thought for sure would be useful but which have collected cyber-dust since I found them.  I know it should be easier to come up with something to say and it used to be back when I would talk up a storm about all of the injustices the music business has foisted upon us, but there are times when ranting or even politely pointing out such things are places I do not want to go.  Not today.  Not right now.

I am listening to Sam Wilson‘s latest EP, Late Nights and Lonely Hearts Vol. 1, and thinking how much I both love and hate The Internet.  I probably would not have found Wilson without it and yet as I listen, I wonder what good it does sometimes, for the songs on the Soundcloud page which hosts the EP show little interest over a five month period of time.  Indeed, the last track, Take a Moment, shows only six listens and I know at least two of those were mine.  I like this EP.  I love a couple of the tracks.  I should have written a review of it by now but I got sidetracked like evidently the rest of the world and now find myself playing catch-up (not catsup— I throw that in for comic relief though I am not feeling especially comedic at the moment).  Six listens!  Admittedly, there are other places to find the music (and buy the music) but I find that even at that, there should be more than a number six behind that song.  What has happened to us?  Back in the Seventies, even the totally unknown (on the West Coast) Country Funk got more hearings than that— in Eugene!

Indeed, what has happened?!  I’ve asked numerous people over a period of time.  Among the music people, the consensus seems to be that music is just plain hard to find, not because it’s not readily available but because there is just too damn much of it.  Yeah, I can see that.  Sometimes even I want to quit before I start, but when it comes to music I am one relentless sonofabitch.  I restrict myself, true, leaving superstars and even the major-label-distributed supposed indies to other people and even then, the task seems daunting.  I know that the people who keep saying that there is no good music out there are wrong, of course, but I understand their point.  Finding music is hard work and ‘good’ to most of them means proven, anyway, which means ‘hit’ or at the very least that the song has had some kind of exposure, even if it be just background for a commercial.  To be fair, most people who make such statements have most of their lives behind them and have stopped looking (which begs the question as to why they make such statements in the first place).

So what do you do?  How do you find the good stuff?  Well, there are the social network sites.  I have found many new artists and some of my favorite music through Facebook and the Steve Hoffman Music Forums.  I still use MySpace, mainly because musicians still use Myspace, and they should.  The name of the game these days for musicians is getting heard and you never know where that person who can make a difference in a career is.  I use CDBaby because they list new items on a daily basis and have simple clicks to sample the music.  And I have learned all sorts of tricks when it comes to finding music, from skimming through my spam (you would be surprised how many unsolicited emails end up in your spam folder) and searching public relations sites.

Let us be clear here.  I don’t do this for money.  What little I get paid does not even cover my Internet connection.  I do it for the love of music.  I do it to help the artists who are struggling to get their music heard and are facing that seeming wall of apathy (and it seems to be everywhere).  I do it because when I get a high from someone’s music, I feel a need to pass it along.  I always have, from the days of my youth when I wanted my playmates to listen to Ten Little Indians, through my high school days when I would spend the lunch hour sometimes arguing the relative merits of the new Gary Lewis & The Playboys or Beach Boys song, through my college years when I would stop by the resident weirdo’s dorm room to see if he had bought any new records lately, to my days in the music biz.  Music has never been just music to me.

Music, in fact, though I’ve only recently realized it, is and always has been a large part of my social core.  I was a drummer in a rock band at one time and met and gained support from many people who related to that.  I listened to the radio all the time and even when my friends and I would argue over something as trivial as which station was best, it was mostly about the music (and a little about the DJs).  In the Army, I bought this little stereo with speakers that separated so you could hear the stereo better and in front of which more than one acquaintance became a friend.  My friends would have parties over new albums—- beer, food and brand new music.  I threw people out of my house for abusing my records or even changing a record which had not played through.  And when I went into the record business, all retail, I made friends and enemies, all because of music.

Where did it go?  Where did we start losing our way?  I think, for me, it started when people became self-absorbed and didn’t want to hear other peoples’ choices in music.  When I socialize, I want to socialize, not be held captive in some superstar hell.  I’ve left more than one gathering for which the background music was Free Bird or Stairway to Heaven, ad finitum.  I have also had people leave my parties because I played nothing but Glass Harp and Cargoe.  One of the biggest fights I ever had with a girlfriend was because she took off Glass Harp in the middle of a song to put on a Joni Mitchell album, an album which was already over-saturated, in my head at least.  I’m not saying Joni wasn’t good.  I’m saying that two weeks after release, I had already heard the album enough.  If I could sit through a hundred sides of Joni, couldn’t she have sat through one of Glass Harp?

I may have mentioned my friend Daryl before.  Daryl was this guy who used to hang out with us at the House of Records in Eugene back in the early seventies.  Daryl loved his progrock.  Daryl buried himself in very early Genesis and Van der Graaf Generator and Amon Duul (I and II).  He seldom listened to anything else.  Unless he was with us.  He would come down to the store and shoot the shit while we played record after record and I know he didn’t really care for most of what was played, but he never said anything.  One day, he asked me to come over to his place to listen to some music and even asked that I bring some albums along.  It was an afternoon of progrock— not because he dominated the turntable but because he had records I’d never heard.  I had already heard mine (and, thanks to those hours at the store, so had he).  But I’d only heard a couple records out of his entire collection of fifty to a hundred.  That afternoon, I heard Genesis‘s Foxtrot all the way through for the first time.  I was turned on to Peter Hammill‘s extraordinary lyric ability on H to He Who Am the Only One and Pawn Hearts.  I heard Oscar Peterson (yeah, how’d that get in there) and Amon Duul II‘s Wolf City.  And I finally heard Hawkwind.  Oh, I’d heard Hawkwind before but never outside the store.  I was amazed at what a difference listening to an album in a different setting could make.

I shared a love for the first Marshall Tucker Band album with Gary, the owner of the store.  That and Ramatam and Help Yourself and Man and Wishbone Ash and so many more albums and artists.  To this day, Gary and I are good friends.  It all started with the music.

Robert Hall, this guy I knew in the Army, went on leave and came back with two albums which reinforced who I was to become, in the music world at least:  The Allman Brothers Band and Steve Young‘s Rock Salt & Nails.  My Army buddies and I sat around the barracks in the evenings and on weekends listening to my record collection, which at that time consisted of Rockin Foo, Captain Beefheart‘s Trout Mask Replica (they delighted in shouting “It’s a blimp, Frank!” every time I came into the barracks), the first Bloodrock album, Spooky Two and Grand Funk, which had this killer version of Inside Looking Out which none of us could seem to get enough of.  Ten-to-one, I’ll bet that if any of us ever met up again, the first thing we would talk about would be those albums.  More than once, I came into the barracks to find one or the other of them laying on their bunks listening to one of my albums.  I kept my locker unlocked.  They knew they could use the record player any time they wanted.  We had a bond: music.

Later, there would be different places and more friends:  Licorice Pizza in Los Angeles and San Diego, where we shared A Foot In Coldwater‘s Or All Around Us and Max Webster‘s High Class In Borrowed Shoes and the three Heartsfield albums to that point (Heartsfield, The Wonder Of It All and Foolish Pleasures) and everything Barclay James Harvest.  Oh, there were others— many others— but that should give you an idea of why I loved working with those people.  I then opened a store with good friend, Lance Anderson, which we called Scratchin’ the Surface and met Gary Heffern and Tom and Tim Griswold and Jacqui Ramirez and a whole string of people who were avid supporters of the upcoming New Wave/Punk movement.  Members of the San Diego bands The Zeros, The Dils, and The Hitmakers would stop by along with their friends and we all became friends, though I didn’t have much time to enjoy them.  I would soon leave for Seattle and end up at Peaches.

You would think that I would have hated working for a huge corporation like Peaches, but I didn’t.  There were the typical corporate entrapments, of course, but I worked with some of the best people I have ever known there.  Those people— Ben and John and Nathaniel and Howard and Beryl and, later, Howie and D-no and Nate and Ryco and (I don’t mean this in a name-dropping kind of way because few knew who they were back then and they were great people before they became accepted as musicians) Mark Lanegan and Eddie Spaghetti—  we all shared our music.  There were arguments and snide jokes and loud farts and everything you could imagine when we discussed music because, for us all, it was that important.

Do you understand what I’m getting at here?  Can you see that happening today?  I suppose there are Internet equivalents but it isn’t the same.  Everyone listens to music, but not together.  When they share, they share through the Net.  Few want music without the accompanying video.  Few really care.  There is so much to watch and hear, they move on quickly, leaving music just heard in the dust.  There is always another video to watch or another band to re-discover.  I don’t blame them.  Except when they say that there is no good music anymore.

These days, most of my good friends are cyber-friends.  I have met few but have an ongoing connection through the Net.  The vast majority I met because of music:  Research Turtles or Bright Giant or any of the Charlottesville artists who dominate my listening time (I’d list them, but there are honestly too many to go into at this time— maybe I’ll devote a whole column to the Charlottesville music scene, in the future).  Some are musicians and some are PR people and some just music fans.  Many are as enthusiastic about music as I am, but it is not a prerequisite.  They are all friends.  It is not the same, but it is.

Some ask me if I ever want to go back because I talk about the good old days in the record biz so much.  The answer is no.  Like Jud Norman of Research Turtles says every time he drops an old song from the band’s setlist, “That was then… this is now.”  Now is a great time to be into music.  Music has never been better.  I know because my friends say so, whether the statement prefaces something about Amos the Transparent (thanks, Cam Carpenter) or Rival Sons (thanks, Bob Segarini) or Ollabelle (thanks, Brian Cullman) or not.  I am swamped with great music.  And my friends are making sure I am not missing too much.  Maybe we’re not in the same room passing around a doobie and fighting over the turntable, but we might as well be.  Thank God for the music.

But About Sam Wilson…..

Sam plays guitar and sings for the Charlottesville band Sons of Bill.  I met him through a string of connections beginning with Danny Schmidt and Devon Sproule and continuing on into the night.  I think it was Joia Wood who convinced me that Sons of Bill was a band I had to hear, though I’d heard them mentioned by others.  They had one album out at the time and Sam was working on a solo project which would be released as Green Gates and I called and got a review copy of that album and wrote a review (read it here) and even went so far as to interview him via phone.  I wrote an article based on that interview and all I’d been hearing about him and his band and waited.  It seemed like I waited forever.  Sons of Bill were busting out of the gate with their second album, Far Cry From Freedom, and Sam was busy.  No time to promote Green Gates, he was undoubtedly was thinking.  So he didn’t.  Not really.  He played a few gigs with “his” band, but he only had time for a few.  Like I said.  He was busy.

He’s still busy.  He tossed Late Nights & Lonely Hearts Vol. 1 out and hit the road because Sons of Bill was readying their third album for release (Sirens, which is doing very well, thanks to a lot of touring).  Late Nights has been there since.  It’s stuck to the wall.  I’m sure Sam says to himself, as do I do to myself at times, “I wish I could clone myself because there is just no time.”  I wish he could and would.  It’s a beautiful EP.  Six songs on the lighter side— soft, beautifully produced.  If Sam Wilson is nothing else, he is an accomplished guitarist, but of course he is.  Something else, that is.  He writes from the heart and it comes out in his recordings.

So when I saw that he had only six hits on his Soundcloud page for Take a Moment, I had to write this.  If Sam doesn’t have the time, I do.  Check out his first solo album, as well, and this piece I wrote about him.  He deserves it.  Oh.  If Sons of Bill happen to come to your area, I suggest you make an effort to see them.  Their new album is making waves.

Notes…..    I know I mentioned Sydney Wayser in my notes for last week, but the album is completely blowing me away, so I’ll mention her again.  I’m not the only one noticing her new album, Bell Choir Coast, though.  A clip of her showed up on Carson Daly‘s show (watch here) and Elle magazine is running an article, assumedly about Wayser’s fashion sense.  The album?  Could well end up in my Top Five for 2012 or could even take the prize…..  Guitarist-extraordinaire Jon Gomm is taking Australia by cloudburst.  Three packed-out shows and he has yet to hit Brisbane and Sydney, among others.  If you’ve not checked Gomm out, Aussies, here is a video worth watching.  Miss him at your own peril…..

As long as we’re talking videos, here is the latest from Brendan Benson, featuring Jonathan Auer and Ken Stringfellow.  Benson decided that not only was it time to go solo, it was time to start his own label.  First release is an album by Young Hines.  From what I’ve heard of Hines, it is a good choice…..From wa-a-ay off the beaten path, this via Nathan Hill (The Putters, 667s).  A new band out of Olympia calling themselves Hey What & the Shut Ups (HWATSU).  I don’t know what they’re putting in their coffee in Olympia these days, but I’ll take a cup.  Make that a pot.  Lots of shifting rhythms, bottomside grunge guitar and attitude.  Listen here.  And while you’re at it, why not give The 667s a listen?  They’re edgie, to say the least…..  They call Low Volts blues?  True, they have blues roots here and there, but they aren’t really blues.  Then again, if that’s what you call Jim Allchin and Stevie Ray, okay.  It’s a pay-what-you-want item at Bandcamp.  From San Diego…..  Here is something so cool I’m not allowed to say it’s cool.  Old friend Louis Chirillo, one of the biggest hockey fans I know, put together this little history of hockey in Seattle, newsreel -style.  I laugh every time Louis says, “and then for four years, nothing happened” (you really have to see it to get it).  For hockey buffs, this is the kind of thing you will love.  Too bad every city and town does not have a Louis to document the sport— or any sport, for that matter…..  When the labels won’t come to you, start your own.  That’s what Tim Held and Justin Foss did when no one was giving Tyrannosuarus grace a notice.  Hence, Fake Label Records.  They recently posted their compilation album for free download.  Download it if you want to hear the likes of Tyrannosaurus grace, Little Beirut, Afraid of Figs— or just want to hear what The Hardcount‘s  Dead Friends sounds like.  Some pretty good stuff and the price is right, not to mention that Held and Foss are doing it for the music.  Very cool…..  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to Kickstarter or Pledgemusic things (That’s a lie.  I follow the ones I am curious about closely.  It’s just that I can’t afford to help them.  Which sucks.), but normally, Ollabelle‘s Glenn Patscha does not mention such projects publicly.  When Glenn mentions, I always respond.  Any member of Ollabelle deserves my ear.  If Glenn says it’s worth pledging, I know it is.  If not, wait until the album is released.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Johanna Divine & Denise GallagherElectric Tide— Illustrated Music for Artsy PeopleFollow the link and see and hear why you should back them.  And remember, you probably heard it here first (except for those who didn’t)…..

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.”

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: