Frank Gutch Jr: In-Stores From Hell, The Game Played Right (Questionable Advice From a Questionable Source), and Notes….

I remember the first time I ever walked into the Peaches record store in Seattle.  It was a big as the Tower Records store on Sunset in Hollywood and, for myself, more impressive.  You needed binoculars to see the records in the back corner of the store, it was so expansive, and every bit of the space was filled with bins of albums (real vinyl ones, kiddies), so many that the storage space beneath the bins were packed solid with albums as well.  Someone told me that there was over a million dollars worth of vinyl, wholesale,  in  the store, an unbelievable number considering the fact that albums retailed for about $3.98 at the time.

Myself, I was destitute, down to my last hundred dollars or so and wearing one of two pairs of jeans in my wardrobe, both patched poorly by my own hand.  I had never worked at a store that large nor did I have the inclination to, the whole idea of corporatism repugnant to me at the time.  But when you’re starving, you swallow ideals along with pride and while I swallowed, I was hired as a singles buyer.  (You know.  The little records with the big hole?  Jesus, am I that old?)

They had these huge album covers painted and hung on the front and sides of the store, just below roof-level.  I had seen them in Los Angeles, but hadn’t realized that they were on every Tower and Peaches storefront.  A number of artists who had album art (as it was called) also did in-stores— a promoted meet-and-greet with the public.  Peaches had a lot of them.  Before I got there, they had had Neil Diamond and supposedly Dolly Parton, among others.  After I showed, there were Cheap Trick (an in-store crashed by lunatic Ted Nugent who attempted to destroy the vibe by demanding he also be hand-printed (Crap!  I forgot to tell you that all in-stores were accompanied by artist’s hand-printing in cement for display outside— a task handled ably by a musician in-residence named John Hodgkin).  Nugent badmouthed everything he held non-sacred while being printed (which meant everything but guns and assholes, of which he was obviously leader) and, in an attempt to upstage Cheap Trick, planted his face in the cement next to his hands.  Ben Daniel, our store director, had to hold back a couple of guys who wanted to hold him down until it hardened, but admitted later that it was a tough decision).  I assume throngs of Cheap Trick fans wanted to do the same.  We should have let them.

We had Molly Hatchet there.  The biggest part of the in-store was a hatchet throw held out in the parking lot.  They had set a huge round of timber in front of a chicken-wire fence and allowed fans to compete against the band.  I didn’t see it.  I volunteered to watch the store and I’m glad I did because when Ben came in after the hatchet throw, he looked stunned.  Years later he would ask me the question on everyone’s mind but his at the time— what the hell did we think we were doing?  And I said, what do you mean, we?  Putting a hatchet in someone’s hands is bad enough when they’re competent or expert.  Putting one in the hands of wired musicians and fans was crazy!  Come to think of it, though, I believe the album being promoted at the time was Flirtin’ With Disaster.  In retrospect, it somehow seems appropriate.

The two biggest in-stores we had during my time with the store were within a few months of one another— Paul Stanley and Heart.  Stanley’s I assumed would be the worse, Kiss fans being what they are.  That goes to show you what I know/knew.  Stanley drew a crowd large enough to pretty much put us out of business for the afternoon.  It started at one, I believe, and was supposed to last for a couple of hours.  By noon, we were packed.  I kept looking over my shoulder, waiting for the shoe to drop but, to my amazement, it didn’t.  In fact, the crowd was one of the best behaved crowds I’ve ever seen, in or out of the music business.  There were no anxieties nor were there histrionics of any kind.  What there was was a lot of shared excitement of a very positive sort.  Many of the fans came in Kiss makeup (mostly Stanley— go figure).  Some brought their children, also in Kiss makeup.  And they were patient.  When Stanley finally came out of the back room and walked to the side of the store, separated from the crowd only by the waist-high cassette tape counter, there was a buzz and a lot of flashing of cameras, but no rush to get to the front of the line and nothing negative that I could see.  People came in in wheelchairs and the crowd parted to let them go directly to him.  If babies were involved (and there were a few), people stepped aside.  I remember a couple of babies having their pictures taken with Stanley in full Kiss getup, holding said babies, them mostly crying.  I can only imagine what I would have done as a baby, being presented to man-in-paint.  Besides shit my pants.

When it came time for Stanley to leave, he refused.  There was still a line and he told everyone not to worry, that he would make sure each got a chance to shake hands and/or get an autograph.  The whole thing ended maybe around five or five-thirty and, to my knowledge, everyone went home happy.  Stanley went to his hotel to get out of his makeup and later came back to pick up a couple of people who worked the in-store, taking them to dinner as a thank you.  I remember a couple of customers spending fifteen or twenty minutes helping us clean the store up a little, but there wasn’t much to do.  The people were cool.  They policed themselves.  Not an in-store from hell.

Heart, howsomever, was a different story.  From the get-go, we had trouble.  Again, the fans were numerous and early.  That’s where the comparison ended.  The fans were mostly middle class and upper middle class and white and the silver spoons metaphorically dangled from many mouths.  Amongst the silver-spooned were a handful of obnoxious assholes (I don’t remember one at the Stanley event) and they set about making everything difficult for everybody.  They spilled coke (the drink, and no, I will not put a capital letter in front) and dared us to say something.  They trashed endcap displays.  They used records as frisbees to pass the time.  When Heart showed, they surged and tried to break into the line.  A few succeeded.  I was all for manhandling them out of the store but Ben said, no, let them be.  Always the diplomat.

Ann was there, and Nancy.  I can’t remember who else, but definitely Fisher Roger.  I call Roger Fisher “Fisher Roger” because he spent a good deal of his time scrawling “Fisher Roger was here” in black magic marker all over the walls and, in some cases, girls’ breasts.  When I asked him to stop, he acted like I was joking and continued on.  Needless to say, he jumped to the top of my shitlist and has remained there to this day.

The rest of the band were aces.  Ann spent a lot of time talking with fans.  Nancy, looking incredibly tiny and frail, begged out after a short time and headed into the store director’s office to lay down on the couch.  Whoever else was there was cool.  I don’t remember much about them because I was occupied with Fisher Roger and fans who not so oddly resembled him.

It took us a few days to reassemble the store.  Some fans had moved records, looking at them and putting them back wherever they wanted rather than in alphabetical order.  A couple of the frisbee albums were destroyed.  For days, we found albums stuck together with dried coke or ice cream.  And we had to completely rebuild a couple of endcaps, physically destroyed by some who shall remain nameless.

I could go on, but not about in-stores from hell.  Mostly about the successes and not so much.  Like, did you know that the first Bad Company in-store at a Licorice Pizza store I worked at in L.A. only drew a handful of people?  Then there were those which drew one or two.  But those are stories for another time.  Maybe in the future.

The Game Played Right…  First Time Out (New Bands, Take Notes)

I went to see a band the other night.  I seldom leave the sanctum privaterius because as much as I hate to admit it I am becoming a hermit, almost afraid to go out into the world what with its politicians and bad drivers and social networkers.  It is not my world— not the one I was promised— and I feel a bit uncomfortable amongst the unwashed masses, as it were.  But there was a band I wanted to see, a local band, a band I have written about in the past, as little as it was:  The Game Played Right.  When I happened upon them a few months ago, I found a young and musically adventurous group of musicians ready to take on the world.  I wanted to see what they had because the one music video I had seen did not make me think of bar music yet that was where they were playing.  Cloud & Kelly’s in Corvallis, Oregon, to be exact.  It was to prove to be an interesting night.

But first, a word.  It probably isn’t going to sound like it, but I like The Game Played Right.  They are young and excited and thankful for the opportunities this band is giving them and that alone says a lot about them.  If they sold stock, I would buy some.  But… and please understand that this is not meant maliciously… there are problems.  Just as there are problems with virtually every band playing its first gig.  Yep.  First time out playing in front of strangers, putting themselves and their music on the line.  You think it’s easy?  Guess again.

Before that night, I thought they were little rich kids.  When I watched the video, I saw money behind the band.  I saw privilege.  I saw everything I saw when I was young and played in a rock band pieced together with paper clips and rubber bands— the kids with the equipment we could only dream about.  And there it was, right on stage as I walked in the door.  A drum set I would have killed for when I still had the desire to play, cymbals encircling the set at drummer’s eye-level.  Guitars that at one time would have made me drool.  Amps which would bring the guitarists in my old bands almost to tears.  I also thought that I would be hearing moderate rock with a jazz twist.  The first notes out of those beautiful amps would blow that misconception all to hell.  A conversation after the set would destroy the rest.

Those first notes were, to put it mildly, volcanic.  It was a din of jet engine proportions.  While I didn’t need to put my hands over my ears, it was painful.  And there was no one there to tell them, or at least no one who did.  The singer’s voice was nonexistent (the sound check just before they started playing was deceiving), the guitars were overamped, the drummer overpowering.  If I had had an armchair, I would have been the Maxell Man, the sound blasting molecules past me (and through me) at the speed of light.

And they were good.  I heard immediately that The Game Played Right are five incredibly talented musicians.  But they weren’t a band.  They were playing the right notes, yes, and they stopped and started on a dime, but they weren’t quite a band, though I suppose that technically they were.  They were five outstanding musicians all playing within their own bubbles.  There was little interaction except between songs.  There was no joy in the sound they were creating outside of that from their own instruments.  There was no evidence of feeling which could have put them over the top on any of the songs played that night.

But there could have been.  I saw it at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland a few weeks ago.  I saw a band so powerful (Alcoholic Faith Mission) they could have burst eardrums but instead played within themselves.  I heard the jet engine but I also heard the music.  And I saw the joy of playing together.  If The Game Played Right can stick it out, if they can avoid the pitfalls every new band faces, they could be Alcoholic Faith Mission.  They are technically that good.  So with that in mind, allow me to trip the ego bombastic and point out a few things they must learn.

One:  A band, by definition, is a bandTGPR are new and fresh, but they need to work on the group aspects of the music.  They need to be aware of everyone on the stage, not just themselves, and they need to adjust their playing to accommodate whatever the song of the moment needs.  To be fair, I would imagine that each band member was a bit uptight, this being their first gig and all, and I’m not saying that I haven’t seen bands handle themselves as TGPR did.  I have seen it all too many times, in fact.  But nerves aside, that band cohesiveness is crucial, no matter how good the music.  And I have confidence that as they ease themselves into the public ear and find that their music is accepted and maybe even outwardly praised, it will come.

Two:  They need an objective ear (and they may have one, but I did not see him or her there that night).  They need someone to go to their live gigs and listen closely and point out spur of the moment adjustments necessary for better sound or better stage presence.  They need a sound man (okay, person, if you insist).   A psychologist who can hear.  A friend who cares.  A musician who knows.  And they need to trust him or her to guide them.  And that person really needs to care.  About the band, about the music and about the audience.  For AFM, it was their manager and sound man (two different people).  The manager handled the problems of the moment.  The sound man handled the sound of the moment.  It seemed to work.

Three:  They need to work on their stage presence.  I know of no one in music today who works harder at maintaining musical integrity while trying to please the crowds than Logan Fontenot of Lake Charles’ Research Turtles.  It is foremost in his mind alongside the music.  Nothing bothers him more than audience disconnect.  Nothing will kill a band faster, either.  I’m sure TGPR knows this.  And stage presence will come with time and experience.  Especially if they embrace Fontenot’s attitude.

Four:  They need a game plan.  “Five musicians walk into a bar” isn’t going to make it.  They need to know the venue and to play the field.  They need to be able to adjust to whatever life throws at them and make things not just better but the best they can possibly be.  If that means learning Hava Nagila to play a Bar Mitzvah, so be it.  If that means turning down the sound, so be it.  Too many bands isolate themselves for the purity of their “art.”  Too many bands have too few fans.  It is correlative.

Five:  They need to involve the crowd.  That doesn’t mean jumping into their midst and getting them to dance or talking directly to them when they do not respond.  They need to be able to read the crowd.  To know what is working and what is not.  To be able to adjust on a constant basis.

Every band needs these things.  Every band needs to know what they’re doing right or wrong.  The band who thinks everything they do is right is a band I never want to see again (and I’ve seen a few and, no, I did not make the effort to see them again).  So when the bass player and one of the guitarists from TGPR came over to talk after the show, I welcomed it.  Look, guys, I said, I’m going to blast you and I’m telling you this because you need to hear it.  I’m pulling no punches and I want you to know that it is not personal and I went on to go over some of the things covered here.  And they listened.  And I still have a knot in my stomach.  I am not God nor do I know everything.  I am wrong more than I care to admit and would be the first one to say to take everything I say or write with a grain of salt.  But too many times I have not said things when I should have, when truth (as crushing as it sometimes is) could have defused problems, imagined or not.

And I like these kids.  They have a vision and a sound and could well be putting together something very worthwhile, musically.  I probably came off as somewhat of an asshole and an egotistic one at that.  It certainly was not my intention.  A first gig should be a time of happiness and joy, if for no other reason than that you survive it, and I more than likely put a damper on it.  Look, guys, if you read this (and I’m pretty sure they will), I wouldn’t take the time to critique the situation at Cloud & Kelly’s if I didn’t think you had the goods.  Take solace in that and the fact that the first gig is over.  Now you can look to the future and the growth you will experience both as a band and as musicians.

As I type, I am looking forward to it, too, because you’re on my radar.  Alongside Research Turtles and Bright Giant.  On my Bands-to-Watch list.  Keep me posted.

Notes….Because I knew you were about to ask:  Yes, I am still listening to Alcoholic Faith Mission‘s excellent Ask Me This album.  It my palate cleanser.  A battery recharger.  Granted, I have to crank it up to earsplitting level to get the rush I got when I saw them live, but I’m willing to make that sacrifice.  In fact, I gladly throw myself on that grenade.  Read my review to find out why.  Then go here to listen…..  Musicman Craig Elkins continues his mildly insane ways with a new video promoting his new soon-to-be-released-and-free-downloadable EP titled The Darkside of the Valley. I know he just put out I Love You, an also mildly insane but brilliant album, but what the hell, it will be FREE and we know that free is a good price.  Keep checking his website for details.  Me, I dig the guy…..  Those boys from Belfast, The Minnows,  have been plugging an older video they did of Neil Young’s Hurricane.  They pop it up a little (okay, a lot) and that’s okay with me, especially since I can pop their album Leonard Cohen’s Happy Compared To Me album on whenever I want…..  Canada’s Amy Campbell is giving a preview of one of the tracks from her new album on her website.  Just click on this and then click on the player.  I’ve been a huge Campbell fan since picking up on her double-disc album Oh Heart, Oh Highway a few years ago.   Can hardly beat her for folk/pop…..  Seattle duo The Fading Collection is attempting to break through the white noise.  Normally, I am not a fan of industripop or trance music, but there is something there that keeps me coming back.  Give me awhile, and if you’re curious, listen to this…..  Gary Heffern is reaching out to friends and fans for his next release.  He hadn’t planned it this way, but his appendix burst and he almost died, keeping him off the work train for a couple of months.  Rather than spending his time moping, he decided he would put the time to good use and put together a new album.  If you’re interested in helping, you can contact him here.  Get better, dude!…..  This video was put on YouTube back in July in anticipation of Alice Texas‘s new album, but a monkey wrench got thrown into the whole works.  Alice is attempting to get it together for the new album, Love Is,and a re-release of her first two albums, Gold and Sad Days.  I have yet to listen to the two earlier albums but have them in my possession.  Love Is, though, to my ears a bona fide contender…..  I don’t know how I missed this video.  Usually my friends keep me well ahead of the loop, but somehow this short promo film about Immediate Records got past me.  It’s a hoot.  Think sixties and England (in other words, if you grew up in the States, disregard The McCoys‘ intro)…..  Seattle’s Cahalen Morrison & Eli West are kicking of a Kickstarter capaign for their next album, tentatively to be titled Our Lady of the Tall Trees.  Of all the Americana-ists out there, Morrison & West are two who keep old-timey as their taproot.  If you are into roots music (of the old-timey variety) and have not yet heard The Holy Coming of the Storm, I suggest you check it out.  If you like it, consider backing this project.  They are doing it on their own mainly because they want to keep the music pure and independent…..  If you like your music more toward the smoother and easy rockin’ side, you might want to check out Fort Atlantic, who have a four-song free download available from Noisetrade.  Nice, nice stuff…..  Here’s a guy you really should check out if you’re into the singer/songwriter side of things:  Steve KatzYou can stream his new EP 

here….. It’s here!  I guess you could call it a Research Turtles spinoff, but it is actually just Jud’s kid brother Joe Norman and his new band Bobcat.  This is definitely not RT-squared.  Joe and the boys are on a different wavelength and I dig it!  Apples and Oranges.  And how cool is it that there are now two hot bands out of Lake Charles?  Slowly becoming a hotbed of music.  Click on “Bobcat” to listen…..I know I’m forgetting something, but can’t for the life of me remember what it is.  I guess it will have to wait until next week.

Be sure and check out DBAWIS the rest of the week, also.  Some fascinating things going on here…..

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.”

3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: In-Stores From Hell, The Game Played Right (Questionable Advice From a Questionable Source), and Notes….”

  1. Stop introducing so much new music….I can’t keep up! Great advice on the TGPR. I’ve said these things, and more, to artists over my lengthy run as a label droog and the ones that fail are the ones that don’t listen. Those that take the advice inch their way closer to the brass ring and God bless them…for they’re able to step outside themselves long enough to do what’s best for their career and their art. Advice is free. Not taking it is costly.

  2. I know you couldn’t include all the Peaches/Seattle in-stores, but there was one that really stood out for me and I didn’t even work there yet.
    I went to the Patti Smith in-store at Peaches while I was still working at Everybody’s Record Company and it was magical. I was not a huge fan, but did like the Easter Lp quite a bit so I went to get an autograph. What I saw was way more than I bargined for or expected. When she arrived and stood on a counter to address the crowd, I noticed she had complete control and command over everyone including me. It was totally unexpected by me. If she had told the crowd to go into the street out front and bring her one of the cars I’m sure it would have happened somehow. Her charisma was infectious. Everyone was under her spell.
    I have never witnessed anything like that since. It was amazing.

  3. Fantastic advice to musicians. It’s not criticism, it’s advice. I’ve written similar things in reviews (working on stage presence, acting more like a cohesive band, even getting a look or style together, etc) and have gotten cold responses from bands as a result. if i dont like a band or see their potential, I won’t provide this constructive criticism. i’ll just forget i ever saw them and I’ll never write a word. I hope these guys take your advice to heart. great piece again!

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