Frank Gutch Jr: Opportunities Missed (Damn It!) Makes For Tomorrow’s Treasures….

I was digging through my tape drawer this week (yes, I still have cassettes) and while not bemoaning the death of tape, did bemoan the lack of success of a handful of incredible treasures which I have only on tape.  To my knowledge, they have never been available on any other format, though I am not sure.  Three of them— the only three commercially available— may have suffered because of that.  More than one person had made reference to cassette as a non-format in their world— to paraphrase them, “better to miss the music than have it on tape.”

That attitude angered me then but only makes me laugh now, as much as did the audiophile people and their insistence upon ‘sound’.   The music always came first for me and still does.  Thus, my little collection of cassette treasures.  Oh, and the ‘damn it’?  I threw that in because I would have given up the treasure for the chance that any one of these artists could have had success.  Real success.

Radio Van Gogh…..

I don’t know if any of you remember my references to these guys in any of my writings, but they have been mentioned more than twice.  I came upon Radio Van Gogh through Howie Wahlen with whom I worked at Peaches Records in Seattle.  If Howie and I had anything in common, it was a deep love for Pop music and by Pop, I mean all music with hook, melody and harmonies.  I remember our first conversation and what I remember wasn’t the real conversation but one of those dog cartoon conversations— you know— the ones where you talk to the dog and all they understand is his/her name.  In retrospect, it went something like this:  “____ ___ __ Big Star ______ __ ___ Big Star __ __ Big Star.”  Later on it became “___Radio Van Gogh___Green Pajamas___The Records___The Shoes”, ad infinitum.

Howie is partially responsible for my fall from reality.  I was in a store one day and heard this song I knew was a hit and asked the guy behind the counter who it was and this guy didn’t know.  Come on, I said, it was HUGE and he said he was sorry, he had no idea who it was.  It turned out it was a track from Matthew Sweet‘s first A&M album— not huge in any sense of the word.  Howie had played that damn thing so many times, it was ingrained as “hit” on my musicmeter.  That is called brainwashing, my friends.  Subliminal suggestion.  Howie was good at it.

Well, I’m working one day and Howie walks up to me and says, here’s something you have to hear, and tosses a cassette of Radio Van Gogh‘s brand new three-song EP on my desk and left.  Three songs later, I tracked him down.  Who the hell are these guys, I asked.  He told me.  Turns out they (specifically Rob Evans) were friends of his and had come up with this little three-track item in the hopes of taking their music in a positive direction.  I’m pretty sure my reaction was that it didn’t need to be taken in any other direction, that this was a pop smash.  I Hope I Get It All, specifically.  I have heard so few songs that have all the makings of a smash hit and the pop on this was undeniable— slightly twangy guitar, hook, melody, deep harmonies— everything I wanted in a song, the rest of the world be damned.

So I bought a copy.  This very copy I have in my hands right now.  Well, sitting on my desk anyway.  I have cared for this like public servants care for crown jewels.  Right down to the “doop-dooh”s at the end.  This should have been a local if not national hit.  An opportunity missed.  Damn it!

The Allies…..

Has there ever been a better song written about Emma Peel than Emma PeelThe Allies‘ version?  Who are The Allies, you ask?  If you lived in Seattle in 1983, you would not ask that question.  We all knew who were The Allies back then.

They were the guys who, along with The Heats (originally known as The Heaters until they realized that at least one band and probably many more had played/were playing under that name) were going to put Seattle on the Power Pop map.  Neither band did, of course, but that was through no fault of their own.  Major labels dominated the music market back then and, of course, the major labels ignored them.  The bastards.  Two rockin’ examples of what could have been (and was, for the people lucky enough to have discovered the bands).

The Allies actually came closest to success, getting airplay with what would become a cult classic, the aforementioned Emma Peel.  You know Emma, of course?  If you are over forty, you should, because Emma Peel (as portrayed by Diana Rigg) was every male teen’s dream girl and potential sidekick.  Yes, we all wanted to be John Steed just so we could inhabit the same general area as Rigg, the smooth and beautiful and long-legged sidekick who made Batman’s Robin look like— well, Robin.  Teen girls, I’m sure, hated her because her mere presence on a TV screen had us guys all drooling, no matter how much we thought we loved the girl of the moment.  She was something else.

So The Allies recorded a song about her which starts off “I’m in love with Emma Peel…” and, in grooving rock form, went on to tell us all why.  They even did a video for it, something which happened all too little on the local scale, money being what it was back then— for musicians, very scarce.  It was played on local TV as was the song played on local radio, but not enough.  The classic stations (in those days, KISW and KZOK) pretty much ignored it and the small stations had few listeners.

Another opportunity missed?  Not really.  A key player in the band, David Kincaid, migrated to New York and formed The Brandos, who signed a record deal with small label Relativity and did fairly well there.  They still are, though I believe Kincaid might be the only original member of the band left.  Still cranking out that music after all these years…..

Anyway, the cassette I have is the original and released, I believe, only on cassette.  They went on to change personnel a bit (adding Steve Adamek, a Pac Northwest musician who deserves more credit than he has been given for the many musical things he has done) and put out a very fine album, but ‘hit’ was not in the future.  The cassette had the original lineup and the original version of Emma Peel (I don’t know if they re-recorded it for the album or not) and four tracks which ended up neither on the original album nor the recent compilation of songs from that era.

Damn it!

KING KRAB…..

When grunge kicked in in Seattle, it kicked the crap out of us in the music biz although it was not the only game in town.  Seattle already had a growing rap scene, an intense pop scene and a bar scene second to none.  And it had a lot of bands which, though outside grunge on the whole, skirted grunge.  King Krab was one of those.  While not exactly from Seattle (they home-based in Ellensburg as did friends The Screaming Trees until their relocation), they played the occasional gig.

I worked at Peaches with Nathan Hill, the core of King Krab.  He seldom talked about the band, with me at least, but he did one day ask me if I wanted to come to a gig they had scheduled at the Central Tavern, downtown.  September 13th 1990, in fact.  I know the date because they handed out 45s with a special edition insert, the date imprinted. I went.  Nate was surprised to see me.  He thought I never went to shows.  I rarely did, but for him I made an exception.  Nate is one of those guys that when he asks something (which he rarely did), you answer.  It was a good show.  It was… well, you had to be there to understand.  There was an extremely dark edge to the band, but not too extreme.

I have to laugh about (not, certainly, at) Nate.  He is a dichotomy in the flesh.  I know no better man, yet he trips on the edge of everything.  With King Krab, you could tell just from the song titles— Shapous Head, Die On the Telephone, I See Your Insides, I Spit Fire, Harmony In Defeat, and the flip side of that free 45, Ran From My Grave.  It is rough and gruff, guitar-as-bulldozer.  That was the way Nate played back then.  Intense.  The cassette I have, Harmony In Defeat, was supposedly a precursor to an album.  I have no idea if it made it to vinyl.  I don’t know what happened.  Maybe I got fired.

Nate plays with The Putters and The 667s these days.  I will write about them sometime soon.  Nate thinks never.  I promised him a review months ago.  It’s coming, Nate.  But right now, I’m streaming my past and King Krab was a bigger part of it than you might think.

Damn it!!!

Free Flowing ‘SAND’?

Ah, Sand!  I have a lo-o-ong interview with Jack Meusdorffer about that band.  I was going to write an involved history, for what happened to Sand and what later happened to Meussdorfer (Jack Charles in the original lineup of Quarterflash) was classic record industry.  Band makes good, but not quite.  The fairy tale gone bad.  Opportunity missed, but not squandered.

You see, Sand is the flip side of Notary Sojac to me.  I saw them both for the first time at that fabled Skinner’s Butte Rainier Sunbust concert the summer of ’71.  Two of the best and most original bands to ever come out of the Pac Northwest.  If you’ve read me, you know the story.

But here’s something you probably don’t know.  After Sand released the one album on Andy Williams’ Barnaby Records, they changed personnel and recorded one on their own.  Ostensibly listed on the Internet as Head In the Sand, the band was still Sand, but because of the way the graphics were printed on the album jacket, one who didn’t know would think it otherwise.  Attilio was a member of that lineup.

Attilio was trying to get people to listen to his own music as well around that time.  He handed a cassette of his demos to Terry Currier of Music Millennium to hand to me on a visit and I stuffed it in my pocket and really didn’t look at it for a few days.  I listened to the songs some time later and would have passed it along to the few people I knew at major labels except that none of my friends worked for major labels anymore.  The business was changing, and not for the better.

A number of months later, I pulled the cassette out to play it again and inadvertently flipped the cassette over to see it listed as “Unreleased Sand Stuff”.  Wha?  I freaked out.  What I heard was a conglomeration of live rehearsals and demos.  What I heard was pure treasure.  Jack Meussdorffer, in the aforementioned interview, had mentioned a second album they had readied for Barnaby.  It was not quite finished, if I remember correctly, when the deal fell through.  Some of those songs ended up on Head In the Sand.  There are a couple of tracks on the tape which could well be tracks from that lost second album which did not make the cut.

Doesn’t matter.  I am going to have them digitized.  The whole side, actually.  Attilio, if you’re out there, you don’t know how much I appreciate this.  The Sand stuff and your four tracks.  They are treasures.

Goddamn it!

Son of Man…..

While most people in Seattle were jumping on the grunge bandwagon because of Mudhoney and Soundgarden and Nirvana, I was listening to Son of Man.  Their drummer, Top Jap (damn, why can’t I remember the cat’s real name?), worked at Peaches with me and I kept bugging him about this band he talked about all the time and he brought a tape in one day for me to hear and I was knocked out!  I don’t know if they were grunge or not, truth be told, because I had never heard grunge that I knew as such before, except Nirvana, which I couldn’t get away from.  Not that I might not have liked them all.  I had just heard enough about it that by the time the music surfaced for listening, I was done.  Music is sometimes like movies to me.  If everyone likes it, I figure it can’t be worth a shit.

Well, not everyone liked Son of Man.  Chalk that up to their never having released anything outside of a single, as far as I know.  That single (The Dummy and Me b/w Temporary Altercations) is one of my great treasures, but even more of a treasure are the demo tracks I somehow got my hands on.  One is an actual demo tape which was being passed around in hopes of a label deal.  Five tracks and an insert with basic contact information.  1990.  This was official.  Two of the tracks are sides of the single.  The other three— Electrolux, Come In, and Can’t See Me There— are lost to the ages.   Except for the few remaining cassettes out there somewhere.  I love this band.  I was seriously considering sending the tape to one of my remaining record label friends.  But the band broke up.

Damn it!!!!!

Now, I have a few other tracks as well.  Don’t ask me how I got them because I don’t remember.  Someone, assumedly Top Jap, but not necessarily, gave me a tape of The ReplacementsDon’t Tell a Soul and on the B-Side, there are seven Son of Man tracks.  Come In and Electrolux are there, but there are five more— five beautiesThis is the Son of Man I really love!  Security Force, Lucky Dave, Bound In Chains, Slick Willie, and Hard LifeHard Life, especially.  It is crunch to the nth degree.

Yes, I will digitize this soon.  This and the others.  I am afraid something will happen to the tapes— that they will somehow be erased during a thunderstorm or will get chewed up.  I have very seldom played them for that very reason.  These are rare.

Will Kimbrough…..

I found another cassette, too, maybe not quite the treasure the others are, but treasure nonetheless.  It is an old interview tape of Will Kimbrough of Will & The Bushmen and one Wendy Wall.  No disrespect to Ms. Wall, but I kept this for the Bushmen’s side.  Maybe few of you know of Kimbrough.  I’ll bet you know more than you think.  Kimbrough has been making music since the Bushmen made a few waves back in ’89.  They had signed with the venerable SBK label.  That label would soon be responsible for hits by the likes of Vanilla Ice, Boy George and Wilson Phillips (I will never forgive them for any one of those three) but would do for Will & the Bushmen absolutely nothing.  Not that they didn’t try.  They plugged the hell out of the band and probably greased a few palms along the way.  But the Bushmen’s success was not to be.

Kimbrough went on to do a number of other things.  He has released a number of solo albums, plays (and played) with Tommy Womack in Daddy and formerly in The Bis-Quits, and has worked with numerous artists as producer and sideman including Adrienne Young, Rodney Crowell, and Todd Snider, to name only a few.  He is much in demand as a guitarist and is on the road much of the time.  And he posts, on occasion, his “Lick of the Day” on  Youtube.  The man is a hurricane of music, whether it be his or someone else’s.  I dig his stuff.

So when I saw this cassette, I pulled it out and placed it alongside the others written about here.  I am going to listen to the young Kimbrough soon enough.  I listen to him every couple of years.  The interview is a reminder of what music once was and what the music industry once thought it was.  It is an example of hype and hope.  I have no idea whether Will & the Bushmen deserved better or not.  I just know that when I play that first album, I enjoy it.  Same with anything Kimbrough has had a hand in.  He has a touch…..

Airplay at my house…..

Sunday Lane has been getting multiple plays.  I seem to be in the mood for melodies and hooks and she has both on her new album, From Where You AreHere is a live video of a track from that album— Painted Blue.  Go to her website to hear the studio version.  It is stunning.

Normally, I am not a jazz guy, but there is something about the Elliott Caine Sextet‘s Hippie Chicks On Acid that has me listening.  I keep thinking it’s the vibraphones because I have an affinity for that instrument, but it is more than that.  If I ever figure out what it is, I’ll let you know.

Lisbee Stainton is back to heavy on my playlist.  The tracks on her latest, Go, are so beautifully arranged that I find myself wanting to play them over and over again.  Alas, not enough time.

Sydney Wayser‘s Bell Choir Coast is a daily pleasure and Thomas Hunter‘s White China Gold is still getting the love, as are The Violet ArchersThe End of Part One, Shade‘s One Last Show of Hearts, Sage Run‘s Sage Run, and Goblin Market‘s latest.  Cued up are Ticktockman, Cober, Dead Ship Sailing and Hundred Visions.  Life is good.

Notes…..    The last real contact I had with Washington DC was back around ’70 or so when a friend sent me a newspaper rundown of the DC scene which included a band called Tractor and pre-CBS Grin.  So how weird it is now to have been sent by class act and musician Drew Gibson to a DC blog under the cybermoniker of Chunky Glasses and gotten a rundown of a live show I would have actually paid to see (as old as I am, there aren’t many, believe me).  Seems White Denim blew into DC and riding that train was also openers Hundred Visions who are currently on tour with said band.  The review was over the top (“killed it” being used a number of times) and written so well that I decided to check out Hundred Visions (I am already a big White Denim fan— and btw, they added another guitar, something which should make their sound even wider) and am glad I did.  Hundred Visions have a three-song EP available (Last Cab From Tunis) and it hit the ol’ Gutchola G-Spot.  Three outstanding tracks makes me think these guys have a real shot.  Check them out here…..  2012 continues to impress.  The Bay Area’s Mist and Mast have just released another album, Follow a Bad Map.  I’ve been waiting for this one for a long while and, let me tell you, it does not disappoint.  M&M’s Jason Lakis has a sound in his head which has gotten under my skin.  I mean, these guys do not sound quite like anyone else.  You can check out their music on Spotify (I’m still not really convinced that it’s the way to go, but…..) or maybe find links on their website.  I got into them through their last album, Action at a Distance, and stepped backwards to their previous lineup as The Red Thread.  It’s all good, as far as I’m concerned…..  Charlottesville’s Wrinkle Necked Mules are making quite an impression as well.  I really like their mix of acoustic and electric.  Their drummer Stuart Gunter sent me all three of their albums and I made the mistake of listening to the oldest  self-titled album first.  I can’t seem to get past it.  It is outstanding.  I think of it as mountain rock ‘n’ roll.  Stop by their website and scope out their latest, Apprentice To Ghosts.  I’ll get there as soon as I can get that first album out of my system.  Maybe…..  Talk about impressed!  I’ve been listening to Joe Crookston‘s Darkling & the Bluebird Jubilee and I am floored.  I thought his Able Baker Charlie & Dog album was good, but he has taken a huge step forward with performance and songwriting.  Huge.  I hear traces of Gordon Lightfoot and John Denver, not that he sounds like either.  There is just something about the ease with which he seemed to put this album together.  Major league stuff…..  Research TurtlesJud Norman was working with engineer David Farrell in New Orleans last week, mixing down Mankiller Pt. 2.  And the hits just keep on comin’…..  I saw on the No Depression website that Tom Kell has a new album out.  Kell is most remembered here in the Pac Northwest as a card carrying member of country rockers Skyboys, a band which packed them in all over Seattle for a handful of years.  I’ll be looking for a copy.  If I get hold of one, I’ll  let you know what I think…..  And I’ll be damned if the Strawberry Alarm Clock hasn’t gone and put out a new album.  I used to get in fist fights over those guys.  I’d go to parties and asshats who had never heard anything but Incense & Peppermints (the single, not the album) would badmouth them incessantly.  It was a point honor.  I mean, how can you not love the vibraphone on The World’s On Fire or Passing Time With SAC? …..  Oh, hell yeah!  Jud Norman’s brother Joe, who was an original member of Research Turtles, has just completed an album with his new group, Bobcat.  I really dug Joe’s guitar work with the Turtles and can’t wait to see what direction he is going…..  Northwest legends Notary Sojac are a step closer to releasing their only studio effort.  Stay tuned…..  Jon Gomm, guitarist extraordinaire, is just finishing up a tour of Australia and has put out feelers for a Canadian tour.  If you’ve seen the videos, you know what ‘extraordinaire’ means.  Canucks, keep your eyes peeled.  You are not going to want to miss him.  Here is a video to whet your appetites.  It’s a short promo for Gomm’s Australian tour.  If that impresses you (and it should), you can do some digging.  There are some really excellent Gomm videos on YouTube…..

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.”

8 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Opportunities Missed (Damn It!) Makes For Tomorrow’s Treasures….”

  1. Fascinating, but depressing. All this talent that never went anywhere, and now reminds me how old I am. Still – would love to hear some of it when you get it transferred.

  2. Frank….yes…you definitely have to get these tapes digitized. I did the same years ago with demos I used to get from bands who wanted to sign to my record label. The earliest submissions I ever got were promising but I was in no position to sign everyone….I still listen to a lot of these recordings now because they remind me of the hope and the promise of naivete in art. These kids had their whole careers ahead of them….and the music was earnest.

  3. I love that picture of you!

  4. Oh, and I love the article, too! Seriously, fantastic article.

  5. I still love cassettes! They were the best.
    Cheers,
    Sean Kelly

  6. I too still love Radio Van Gogh’s tape. If you want to hear “I Hope I Get It All” try this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMgzGrfkhbY&feature=my_favorites&list=FLI4J7MiRAd8qT3sgqEvhDSQ
    That Allies EP did come out on vinyl too Frank. It’s in my record collection and I’m still in love with Emma Peel.

  7. Look bad? No way Frank. I’m just helpin’ a busy guy do his best for the best.
    BTW – digitize those tapes. They will fall apart even if you don’t play them much. They have built in obsolescence. I’m sure you already know this.

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