Frank Gutch Jr: Psych: Then and Now….

The Strawberry Alarm Clock just recorded and released a new album.  What’s that, you say?  The who?  No, not The WhoThe Strawberry Alarm Clock!  You know…  Incense and PeppermintsSit With the Guru?  The boys from Santa Barbara?  Loose fitting Nehru shirts and white pantaloons?  Paisley gone wild?  Sigh.  Sometimes I think I’ve lived too long.

Suffice it to say that if any band personified the psychedelic “movement” back in the day, it was these guys.  Hollywood’s version.  I say Hollywood because there was a Hollywood-ish aura when it came to their presence.  They looked manufactured, not unlike The Monkees.  They may have sounded manufactured too, but that was an illusion.  As many albums as their Incense and Peppermints album sold, only a few who bought them ever listened beyond the hit— that incessantly bubble-gum-ish title track which dominated the AM airwaves to the point of distraction.

Disc jockeys loved it, of course— well, most of them.  A perfect song to grab the ears of teens after the few minutes of ads and news, usually “on the hour.”  A blast of tom-tom, fuzzed-out guitar, farfisa organ and vocal harmonies stacked high enough to make the height-challenged dizzy.  Has there ever been a better AM radio track?  Sometimes it doesn’t seem so.  Then again, after that millionth listen…..

They were the psychedelic poster children for Hollywood.  Which begs the question:  What the hell is psych and how did it turn into a genre?  I have my ideas, but they are vague at best.  For myself, psych was a state of mind as much as a kind of music.  It encompassed everyone from Cream and Jimi Hendrix to Quicksilver Messenger Service and Kak to just about every kind of artist or band, really.  If I attempted to list the artists, it would be track by track and way too long to keep your attention and would be incomplete merely for the fact that I (again, like David Crosby) can barely remember my name and survive only on wits and the occasional brain fart.  Would Pink Floyd make the list?  Surely.  The Beatles?  In places, absolutely.  Hell, even bands like Gong and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band would make my list.  HawkwindCaravanThe Balloon Farm?  How about The Fifth Estate?   I made the mistake of searching on the Net and found this, a list of 100 of supposedly the best psych tracks, and while it contains but a portion of my choices it will give you an idea of the Pandora’s Box music can be.

The thing is, I personally don’t think there is such a thing as genre anymore.  Oh, we use them and it does make categorization a bit easier, but to my ears the Internet (or something) has knocked down the walls and everything has been smeared together.  I sometimes hear three or four different genres within one song these days.  Listening to The Winterpills is pure musical stew to me: rock, folk, psych and classical.  Psych is a big part of the ‘Pills as it is part of Sage Run and Australia’s Pepa and a whole slew of bands out there.  The fact is, if you put me in an entryway in which I can hear muddled music from a distance (with light show), I’m halfway there.  Why do you think Bill Graham put together the shows he did?  Because while genre mattered, it didn’t.  To Graham, music was music and if you were unwilling to give it a chance, to hell with you.  Like I said, it is a state of mind.  Graham’s, I liked.

Back in the Sixties and early Seventies, though, the media made sure it fast became a music unto itself.  Drugs and San Francisco had much to do with it, at least in public perception, and it spread from there as music scenes (or maybe drug scenes) developed.  Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and New York all had their own scenes and all had their own versions of psych music, prefab or not.  Remember The Summer of LoveThe Bosstown SoundFlower Power?  All media based and real enough, but only because the media would not let us forget.

Back in those days, the music was media-driven.  Heavily media-driven.  Record companies had a stake in it.  Clothing stores and wholesalers had a stake in it.  Beer companies had a stake in it (One of the best promotions Rainier Beer in Seattle ever came up with was their Rainier Sunbust series of summer concerts).  Newspapers definitely had a stake in it.  While it was not everything psych, it seemed like it was everything music.

For myself, psych was San Francisco, at first.  I had to get my hands on everything the Bay Area produced.  There were certain albums I had to have and then considered them irremovable from my collection:  Quicksilver Messenger Service‘s first and second albums, Jefferson Airplane‘s After Bathing At Baxter’s, Big Brother & The Holding Company‘s self-titled album for Mainstream Records (for some reason, I never got into later albums, maybe because Joplin became less of a band figure with every release and, to me, they were a band first), Country Joe & The Fish (there will never be another Not So Sweet, Martha Lorraine) and a host of others including, later, Frumious Bandersnatch, Mad River and Mendelbaum.

Soon, though, my ears yearned for more.  Chicago gave me the Chicago Transit Authority album (the only Chicago album I have ever been able to tolerate), The Cryan’ Shames (ever heard their Synthesis album?  Whew!) and Illinois Speed Press, a band which would give us Paul Cotton (Poco) and Kal David (The Fabulous Rhinestones).  Texas was cranking out hype too, everything from 13th Floor Elevators to The Moving Sidewalks to Shiva’s Headband and an album by Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit and Greenhill (three legs of, later, Space Opera working under the tutelage and auspices of T-Bone Burnett).  Detroit produced Frost and MC5.  Minneapolis gave up Gypsy, which was so far beyond psych the world has yet to catch up.  Portland and Eugene and Boise teamed up to provide us with Notary Sojac, a band of legend, as well as Providence, and Seattle coughed up The City Zu and Floating Bridge (and The Daily Flash, but they soon exited for the Bay Area).  I know I’m leaving a lot out, but you understand, right?  Psych was everywhere.

I lived in the Pac Northwest.  We had our own special bands.  One was The Collectors.  Out of Vancouver, they toured the West Coast bending minds and, while not really making a huge dent in the US market, making dents in many a head.  I lost my copy of their first album over the years (probably gave it away— my attitude when I was young was that if I had something that someone else would appreciate more than myself, I gave it to them) and began a search.  Through my good friend Stanley, I recouped not only the album I once had (and Grass and Wild Strawberries), but early singles I had no idea existed.  The core of that band would eventually morph into Chilliwack, a British Columbia landmark.  Anyway, here is what Stanley wrote about the disc he put together (at a time when the music was virtually unobtainable unless you knew a guy who knew a guy):

“Originally formed in 1964 as The Classics (adopting the name CFUN Classics when they gigged to promote local Vancouver BC radio station CFUN-AM), the group was featured as the house band on Let’s Go, a weekly TV show.  In 1965, they released two singles as The Canadian ClassicsTil I Met You and I Don’t Know.  The band reinvented themselves as The Collectors in 1966.  By 1967, in addition to lead singer Howie Vickers, The Collectors included Claire Lawrence (tenor sax, organ, recorder, flute), Bill Henderson (lead guitar), Glenn Miller (bass), and Ross Turney (drums)— the band’s ‘classic’ lineup.  Recordings from this period include the Vancouver smash hit Lookin’ At a Baby and two other 45s:  Fisherwoman and Fat BirdLookin’ At a Baby is MOR flute-pop floating amidst heady clouds of psychedelia.  What I have compiled here are the A- and B-sides of their three non-LP singles and their debut Warner Brothers album.”

I’m so glad he did.  The Collectors, to me, were what psych was all about.

I got into The Paupers because I was a drummer.  Theirs, Skip Prokop, was getting an unbelievable amount of press thanks to winning some drum contest somewhere and I was sold.  If I wanted to be as good as Prokop, I had to hear him.  I picked up the PaupersMagic People and never looked back.  I still remember people’s faces when I would put this on.  They were on the whole not amused, but I loved it.

While this isn’t the best visual video in the world, it will give you an idea why I love these guys.  They were psych personified.  Here’s the link.

I don’t know why, but my head seems to be all Canadian today.  But here’s an album you would hardly think would even broach psych:  the first April Wine album.  I know!  But there it is.  I have to confess that I was a big April Wine fan by the time I heard about this.  A couple of dudes from British Columbia came down to Seattle to buy records one day, hoping for a break (the Canadian dollar was taking a real beating back then).  The guy who sent them my way was a good friend, so I took care of them— albums at cost.  To return the favor, next time they came down, they handed me a stack of albums— all April Wine.  I was ecstatic.  So little of it had been released in the States at that time and AW had yet to break through with their signature crunch rock.  Not long after they handed me those albums, AW took off like a shot.  Not the old stuff.  The new, harder edged stuff.

It took me a few years to really get around to checking out the collection, but when I did I was handed the most pleasant of surprises.  Very early April Wine was, I found, distinctly psychedelic.  Not in the Hollywood sense.  In the real band sense.  Their music was strides away from that for which the band became known.  Little crunching hard rock, little pop influence.  Instead, adventurous tunes delving into the psyche.  To this day, it is one of my favorite of the psych classics.  Oh, to have seen AW in one of those psych clubs or at an outdoor music fest back then.  Left nut time.

There was hardly a better writer of sci-fi and fantasy (okay, and horror) than H.P. Lovecraft (I know.  I’ve read plenty), so when I followed the various members of Shadows of Knight (which I was wont to do back then), I naturally followed Jerry McGeorge to H.P. Lovecraft.  I was fascinated by the Philips Records label already, thanks to releases by Richard & The Young Lions and Harvey Mandel, so HPL was an automatic.  While they didn’t bowl me over, they did have this one track on their first album, The White Ship, which was as psychedelic as you could get.  Downright weird, it was, and I delighted to play it for people, most of whom could not make the stretch.  To this day, when someone says ‘psych’, I say The White Ship (even when what I’m thinking is Incense and Peppermints or Smell of Incense (Southwest FOB, out of Texas and included Dan Seals {England Dan} and John Ford Coley, if you can fathom that).  See?  I told you psych was more than the music.  It was evidently smell, too.

Now, though…..

It isn’t that simple.  Like I said, music and musicians have come so far that genre many times is confusing, at best.  Still, there are songs and even bands which drag me back to those Black Light days (and if you don’t know Black Lights, you really should).  That new Strawberry Alarm Clock album, for instance.

There are quite a few bands which trip the Black Light fantastic, as it were, and it is hard to separate the different styles, but the quality?  Pretty easy.

If you want the Byrdsy, jangly approach, you can hardly do better than The Grip Weeds.  They have spent years perfecting that sound.  You could say that they stopped living in the late sixties, but it wouldn’t be quite right.  While their sound is one of that era, they slip modern psych moments between the vibes of the past.  And you have to give them credit.  They psych up whatever they can.  They released a Christmas album and are on the verge of releasing a live album they have titled Speed of Live.  If you want a taste of what they can be (they trip around many influences), here is a video you have to see.

For my money, there is no better band out there which captures the psych feel today than The Winterpills.  They’re from Massachusetts (as if that has anything to do with it) and have this uncanny sense of melody and harmony and arrangement which covers a vast array of psych sounds.  I first heard them on their EP,  Tuxedo of Ashes, and was bowled over at the sound of songs like Are You Sleeping, Feed the Spider and The Ballad of the Anxious Decoder.  Think Simon & Garfunkel in their Parsley, Sage days, only with full band and a female voice (and a damn good one at that).

While this video does not exactly capture their tendency toward psych, it is a fascinating behind the looks scene at how the band and their new album, All My Lovely Goners, came about.  In fact, head to their video page.  There are a handful of excellent videos to cleanse the mind.

Wait a minute.  Did I just say no better band?  Maybe not better but definitely as psych-y, there is Seattle’s entry into the psych sweepstakes:  The Green Pajamas.  These guys are full-on psych when they want to be (and they more often than not want to be).  Just head to their MySpace page and click on The Fairy Queen I, a rhythmic guitar-laden step into the past from the present’s perspective.  These guys are so cool, they recorded the song twice— once purely electric (the song on MySpace) and once more acoustic (Fairy Queen II).  They’re the same song, all right, but then again, they aren’t.  Each takes you into a different space and yet are both purely psych.  If you like them, set yourself.  They have been recording for years and have a plethora of excellent albums through which to delve.  Friends have pointed to the All Clues Lead to Meagan’s Bed album as one you need, but they’re all solid and all good.  I prefer The Complete Book of Hours, which while released in the 80s, is as impressive today as it was then.  Then again, there is The Night Races Into Anna and Seven Fathoms Down and Falling and Poison In the Russian Room and the brand newly re-released Summer of Lust (maybe a bit more pop than psych) and….. whew!  I don’t have enough breath to cover them all.  You can find all things Green Pajamas on their website and the Green Monkey-related product at http://www.greenmonkeyrecords.com/.  The new album, due in July, is Green Monkey– related, in case you didn’t know.

Few have heard of Sage Run, but they will.  It is the project of one David Stace-James, who is finding it hard to keep his music inside these days.  Having talked with him, I know that recording is tough for him, but necessary.  He has this intensity which seeps through his outward calm.  He has little idea what he is doing outside of the music.  The business side is daunting for him.  He had recorded a solo album before he started on Sage Run.  Solo piano.  It is a good album, but he felt a need for more.  So he continued.  He became a band.  Not like musicians become a band, but like someone driven becomes a band.  He recorded.  And recorded.  Then he re-recorded and recorded again.  He worried about the music and the project, but when he started asking people to listen, those who did found, to his surprise, that it was not only acceptable, but good.  I thought so.  I wrote this review to make that point.  The music?  It lies somewhere between psych and space with vague rock tinges.  Let’s call it impressive and leave it at that.

Thomas Hunter has done something few will do.  He recorded an album (White China Gold) in movements and while it is not technically psych, it is put together so magnificently that it is.  That state of mind I was talking about is captured in a bit less than 42 minutes.  This guy is a freakin’ monster when it comes to stringing together musical segments.  White China Gold is a symphony for the head.  This is psych in the same sense that Sgt. Pepper is psych.  It’s in the stories and the combination of sounds and feelings.  I felt compelled to write about this album too.  Read the review and then head to http://soundcloud.com/arsdivina/thomas-hunter-white-china-gold to experience something way beyond what most musicians are putting out today.  You’re welcome.

And on a completely different plane, we have The Soundcarriers, who somehow have captured the rock side of psych without jangly guitars and spacy electronics.  Oh, sure, they use the keyboards a lot, but where the psych comes in are the vocals and the feel.  Both knock me out.  Listening to this, I am dragged back to 1969 or so and the Brit psych movement.  There was one, wasn’t there?  If there wasn’t, there should have been.  All the way back in 2010, these guys put together an album titled Celeste.  I haven’t been quite the same since.  Listen here.

In the Continuing Quest of Free Downloads…..

I am doing my part.  The question is, are you doing yours?  In this world of seemingly no good music anymore, I am finding plenty and much of it is for the price you ask— free.  Just because it is not Katy Perry or Justin Bieber or Led Zeppelin does not mean that what I’m finding is not world class.  Here are a few of the albums/tracks that you can download right now, for free.  How about a little adventurous spirit out there?  And just because you can get it for free doesn’t mean that you can’t contribute to the fund.  Many of these bands/artists are struggling to get the music to you.  If you like it, you can always toss a few bucks in the ol’ tip jar, even if it is in the way of buying one of their other albums/songs.

The Georgian Company…..  Austin, Texas may be known for a lot of bands, but this one is evidently not one of them and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.  But maybe it’s me.  In the late sixties, I turned my lifelong purgatory of country music into a discovery of country rock and pursued bands like Cowboy, Pure Prairie League and Uncle Jim’s Music, among others.  I found solace in the country roots without the southern drawl and the slick Nashville productions which dominated back then.  I now find solace in bands like The Georgian Company.  Leader George Irwin writes like every note matters and the band is a wave under his board.  Smooth and sometimes beautiful country-flavored rock.  Good harmonies and great pedal steel.  Their first EP, Side A, is available for the free pickin’ right now (here is the link).  I suggest, if you have not heard them at all, you start with Apology, a haunting song of the dichotomy of love.  It sends shivers down my spine.  When you get through downloading Side A, there is a link on the page for Side B, their second EP.  While the entire EP is not free, they do allow you one track— If You Love a Ghost— and if you like it, you might consider downloading and paying for the entire thing, which they set at a mere three dollars.  Just a thought.

Here is one courtesy of a site called Guerrilla Candy, which evidently dedicates itself to all things Seattle.  In an article picking out ten artists/bands that you don’t want to miss, one of their writers chose both Ticktockman, a personal favorite, and a group I’d never heard of— one Eternal Fair.  The Fair has just released a four song EP (Eternal Fair, Vol. 1) which is quite impressive in its wide expanse of musical styles.  All four songs are solid, but one really caught my ear.  Brightest Star begins like any vocal ballad but slowly builds toward a vocal group chorus beyond the scope of the song itself.  This would be a perfect intro/outro to The Jersey Boys, The Movie, if they haven’t already made it.  Worth it for the vocals alone.  And remember, for now it’s free.

Being’s how I’m writing about psych in this column, I should have started the free download section with Planting Seeds Records collection of, basically, psych tracks.  It is not surprising to me that the label put together this sampler.  Neil DelParto has always had a leaning toward the sixties and psych music— at least, as long as I’ve known him.  He hand picks the musicians he backs and he backs them with an almost religious fervor.  On Wavelengths, he has placed the tried and true (The Lovetones, The Young Sinclairs, The Tamborines, Linda Draper) alongside the new (Death Valley Rally, The Mirrors, Field Trip) and come out with a gem.  One of the best compilations of new psych stuff out there.  He also slipped Linda Draper in there, as well he should.  While basically a folkie, Draper has bent my ear since I first heard her on an old Pop Culture Press sampler years ago (Man, I miss that zine).  To my ears, The LovetonesHurricane is the real standout here, with vocals and hook I can’t get out of my head.  Not that the others aren’t good.  Download it here, and let us hope it stays free for a long while.

It isn’t Christmas yet, I know, but if you want to get an early start, here is a free download “single” (two sides, as opposed to the one side they give you these days) by a group from Argentina— The KavanaghsChristmas Again has a definite Beach Boys’ instrumental background sound with Kavanagh harmony vocals and Happy Christmas, My Love for some reason brings to my mind the old Beatles fan club releases of years past.  It makes me smile, for sure.  It’s never to early to get in the spirit, especially if it’s free.  Download here.  But wait!  Download that and we’ll let you download yet another Christmas single (again, two sides)!  This one was recorded last year.  A Lighthouse In the Night is a church chorus delight, complete with that ol’ church organ and that choir feel.  Kinda Cool is a good example of pop rock and pretty damn fun.  (Give it a try)  But wait!  We’re going to go you one better!  A third Christmas single from 2010, you ask?  Well, yes, now that you mention it.  It’s A Song We All Can Sing b/w (sorry, I had to throw that in there— it means ‘backed with’ in old music biz lingo) Coming Home For Christmas.  Free!  (Here is the link)  Are they cool?  Definitely festive and pretty damn cool, actually.  I like these guys.  They have asked me to listen to their latest album but I have been swamped.  Keep the faith, guys.  I’ll get there.

If there is a bigger Kink Ador fan out there, I would like to meet him or her.  I have been listening and digging these guys since Joe Lee, drummer for band Nine ‘n’ Out, told me they were the real deal.  Real is right.  Between the first two outstanding albums and the present, they put together a three-sided single (their words, not mine) and I find myself jonesing for it every once in awhile.  I mean, these guys can play!  I especially like the driving rhythm of Into Oz, but I am enamored by the entire three song set.  Not quite like any band I’ve ever heard before.  And you guessed it, the download is free!

I’ll be filling you in on other free downloads in the future, but let me say this:  These musicians aren’t putting this out there just for your benefit.  They are placing their music in your hands hoping that you will find it worthy.  If you do, give them a tip or buy something out of their catalog.  If you listen to the music (and I do), it is the least you should do.

Notes…..    If there is anything that would make me junk DSL for Broadband, it would be the incessant breaks in Lisbee Stainton‘s new single Sidekick, which I would once like to hear all the way through.  Truth is, though, this song brings back AM radio and Pop Music so well that I gladly suffer the breaks in streaming just to hear it.  Stainton is, for my money, one musician who will survive this brick wall we see before us— so high that it seems impossible to scale.  The good music is on the other side, my friends, and Stainton just keeps getting better and better.  And she was damn good to start with.  Head to her website to hear.  Single to be released May 28th!…..  Let’s get serious here.  Cam Carpenter has been on this Cobra Ramone jag and I decided I had to hear her (band) just so I could shut him up.  Can’t do it.  She’s as good as he says.  Now I want to see her live.  I can’t win!…..  Hot damn!  Back in ’72 or ’73, Ardent Records released an album by Tulsa/Memphis’s Cargoe.  When Terry Manning released the Cargoe: Live In Memphis album years later, he dug out the old video of the band’s Feel Alright that Ardent had done and superimposed the live version on it to promote the live album.  Not long after, I couldn’t find it.  Well, it’s back!  Here is one of my favorite bands doing their one and only “hit” (it charted— no shit!).  Man, I spent years yelling about these guys.  Good to see them getting some respect…..  Let’s see.  New old Green Pajamas‘ reissue this month— Summer of Lust (see the video from that release here).  In July, they are scheduled to release a brand spanking new album, Death By Misadventure.  For September, maybe we can talk the Pajamas and Green Monkey to start re-releasing the many out of print albums from years past?  Never hurts to ask…..  Have I mentioned how much I have been enjoying Alice Texas’s video?  Damn thing was posted on YouTube last July and nobody told me.  After watching the video, I am salivating for the album…..  Craig Elkins from Huffamoose is releasing an album soon titled I Love You.  While I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first listen, I am now convinced that this it is going to be a serious music lovers dream album, much like Simon & Garfunkel‘s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. was long before Sounds of Silence turned them into the masses’ favorites;  like The Rolling StonesEngland’s Newest Hitmakers was;  like the first Mothers of Invention album was.  This is a get-it-before-this-guy-makes-it-big warning, folks.  This guy is on another planet.  Catch the new video here…..  This by way of Hannah Gillespie, whose All the Dirt album is still kicking my music loving ass (it’s a killer— listen here)—  An all-instrumental band out of Sydney called sleepmakeswaves.  At first, I thought it was going to be more lame electronica, but these guys have chops!  Check them out on their Reverbnation page….

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: Psych: Then and Now….”

  1. Frank,
    Your columns are music to my ears….and absolutely exhausting in the amount of content….I’m still tracking down artists from things you wrote months ago. Glad to see some Canadian name-dropping too. If you can find it anywhere, track down the Paul Butterfield Superjam – where Skip Prokop was a special guest.

    And where else would I see power pop sensations The Gripweeds get listed? Check out the Audities facebook page. An entire underground movement of pop, power pop and psych lovers I’ve been hanging out with for nearly 15 years now. Much of it is derivatively Beatles or Beach Boys, but this is the land of Jellyfish, The Gripweeds, Orchid Highway, and Material Issue as well.

  2. i immediately bought the cobra rabone albums (well, mp3s) after reading cam’s column too. totally my flavour of music, loved it. great tips here, as usual!

  3. Cameron Carpenter Says:

    Hey Frank – Thanks for all the Canadian love. Are you still interested in heading up to Doug Fir Lounge on Friday for Alcoholic Faith Mission? They were pretty great when they played Toronto last week. Let me know and I will get hold of the tour manager.

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