Frank Gutch Jr: Randy Cates Talks About Gypsy (and Rico) and Even More Notes (Pop Quiz at Eleven)…..

I was sitting here in front of the computer this past week and wondering about the plethora of deaths amongst musicians, because it seems like musicians are taking a larger hit than normal lately, and Gypsy popped into my head. Gypsy Queen— Part One, to be specific. “Warning… warning…” to be even more specific. Goddamn but I love the beginning of that song and the rest of the song, to boot, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell is going on. I can’t turn on the computer anymore without hearing of another musician’s passing and, truth be told, it is starting to get me down.

I remember other deaths. The 27-year-old trifecta of Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison (weren’t they the ones who died at 27?). Duane Allman and then Berry Oakley. Tommy Bolin. I can almost tell you where I was when I heard of each death. Each was important to one as deeply immersed in music as I was. They were benchmarks, of a sort. Like graduating. Like getting married. Like the beginning and end of a war. They meant something, I guess. More than they probably should have. After all, I had never met them. I didn’t know them. I had only seen one of them and only once— Jim Morrison at the Eugene Pop Festival in 1969— and he was hardly at his peak— overweight, bearded and downright surly, if you want to get right down to it.

So why “mourn” a musician’s death? I encase it in quotation marks because what I did was hardly mourn— more, acknowledge a death with a side of a record before continuing on to the next. Still, the acknowledgment says something. It says that they were important, if only for the length and breadth of their music. It says that I cared about the music— mostly that which could have come but which now wouldn’t.

And it is ongoing. One after another after another they pass, with no seeming end, and this past weekend has turned that fact over and over in my head until it makes no sense even when it does. Fact: People die. Fact: Musicians are people. Ergo, musicians die. I get it. It is a matter of rhetoric. But it doesn’t negate the deaths. Nor does it negate the memories.

So when Gypsy popped into my head, it seemed appropriate, considering my state of mind. My head began looping Gypsy songs and I was surprised that I could hear them as if they were playing on the old stereo, right then and there. I worked my way through song after song from the four Gypsy albums I have treasured since release and, like I always say when I hear good music in my head, it was a good day. And I thought of the one death which had been hidden from me— that of Enrico Rosenbaum, whom I will remember as the core of Gypsy, true or not. We’ll get to that.

But first, how I became acquainted with Gypsy in the first place. I was fresh out of the Army and had just finished a summer quarter at the University of Oregon when my mother asked if I would accompany her to Denver to visit Grandma. I was reluctant. I had a girlfriend, something which happened all too seldom back then, and my idea of a good time was hardly traveling from Oregon to Colorado and back on a cramped bus, not to mention visiting with relatives I hardly knew. But I went. The highlights of the trip were getting in an argument with my uncle (who is approximately my age) about The War (in those days, it was Viet Nam) and walking into a mall record store and hearing music which was nothing less than a sledgehammer to the forehead to me. The fight with my uncle resulted in my returning to Oregon early, leaving my mother behind (something I have regretted ever since because she deserved better than that) and the record store episode resulted in my taking with me Gypsy’s self-titled double album. I would spend the rest of my mother’s life trying to make up for deserting her (among other asshat things I did). I will spend the rest of mine listening to and talking about Gypsy to those who have never heard them. They are unlike any band I have ever heard. They were special.

Gypsy was originally from Minneapolis-Saint Paul, so imagine my surprise when, during my research for an historical piece about Fort Worth’s Space Opera, I began hearing Randy Cates‘ name. Not in relation to Space Opera, mind you, but in relation to Texas music. Music fans in Texas, I have found, are fanatic when it comes to their own and when I first started asking around, they began making suggestions. You write about music, you need to write about this musician. Bugs Henderson. Stephen Bruton. Bill Ham. I’m writing about Space Opera, I said. Doesn’t matter. Have you checked out Townes? (In Texas, you are immediately branded an outsider if you use Townes Van Zandt‘s full name) The occasional name caught my ear. Jim Colegrove, for instance, who I will write about soon, the gods willing. Sumter Bruton, Stephen’s guitar-playing brother. Randy Cates. Wait. What was that? The same Randy Cates who played with Gypsy? Yep, said good friend Julie Taylor Halyard, the same. You should contact him. So I did.

Talking with Randy, I learned how much I didn’t know about Gypsy. How misconceptions grew over the years and muddied reality. How the music happened organically rather than in the vacuum I had always imagined. I learned of problems and situations and of the highs and lows they all experienced. I learned how Rosenbaum (Rico, to Randy) died and his importance to the band and that Gypsy played on bills with groups now considered “classic” (meaning more popular than Gypsy ever dreamed of). I learned that many thousands of fans did see them live and that my conception of them playing in small town taverns between stripper acts was delusional (how else could I explain the fact that in all of my years in the record business, I met only a few who had heard of them and none who had actually heard them). How could a band back then open for Chicago or Poco and remain virtually unknown?

Randy set me straight. He kept saying things like “and I’m not exactly sure how this happened” and “someone else might know” but he knew— not always the little tiny details, but enough. Set yourself. This is not the Cliff’s Notes version of Randy’s involvement with Gypsy, but it is necessary to really understand…..

Prior to Gypsy, I was playing at The Cellar in Fort Worth, which was an after-hours place,” Randy began. “I was playing with John Nitzinger at the time and there was a band from L.A. playing there, whose guitarist was Tony Peluso who later played with The Carpenters on all their hit songs. He told me I needed to come to L.A. and said he would help me find a gig there, so I sold my 1955 Chevy Nomad, bought another car, rented a trailer and was off to Southern Cal. I lived in a cheap hotel for awhile, then rented an apartment near Sunset and Highland. I got some local gigs by using the gig board at a large music store on Sunset. From those, I got a gig at The Brass Ring Club out in the Valley. The band was called The Blue Rose Band. Terry Furlong, who later played guitar for The Grass Roots,hired me. We played Sundays. After about a month, the drummer was hired by Delaney & Bonnie and a new drummer was hired— Bill Lordanfrom Minnesota, who was between gigs and was waiting for this gig with a band called Gypsy. When we played the Blue Rose gigs, the members of Gypsy would come in to see Bill and I became friends with them. This was just before the In the Garden album (the band’s second). After a bit, Bill left to plays gigs with Gypsy and to do some recording. When Bill left, Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield took over on drums. One Sunday, Gypsy’s road crew comes into The Brass Ring and says Willie Weeks is quitting the band right after they finish recording to join Donnie Hathaway‘s band. They wanted me to play bass. My reaction? When do I start?

No date was given, so I kept playing with The Blue Rose Band. I got a call from a Texas friend, Jerry Lynn Williams. He needed me for some dates to showcase his tunes for Capitol Records and others. They were mostly club dates and record company showcases. Snuffy Walden and Johnny Nitzinger‘s old drummer, Linda Waring was also in that band. It was a great band, but we didn’t get paid much. No money. It was time to go. Snuffy moved to Denver and Linda went back to Texas. After about six months, Gypsy was still not ready for me. I moved back to Fort Worth and my old gig at The Cellar. One day I get this call from Snuffy asking me to come to Denver. He was working with a band called Afrodity and the bass player wanted to play keyboards, so they needed a bass player. So I went to Denver. Two months later, the guy decided he wanted to play bass again so there I was, in Denver and out of work. So I head for L.A. A long drive back! When I arrive there, I have no place to stay, so I go by the Gypsy house in Laurel Canyon to see what was happening. I knocked on the door and Timmy, the road manager, opens it and says, ‘Perfect timing!’ I moved into the house that night and the gig was on!

It was a big house off of Laurel Canyon Road and everybody lived in it. Well, Jim Johnson lived in his own house and Jim Walsh was married and lived in his own house, but all of the road crew, myself, Rico and his girlfriend and Bill Lordan lived in that house. It had this huge living room where we had all our gear set up. When we were in Minneapolis, we rented the bottom floor of a vacant building in the Northeast section.”

Didn’t you audition or at least play for them, I asked.

No. They came out to see The Blue Rose Band when I was playing with Bill and more or less just offered me the gig. Of course, they weren’t ready for me yet, hence the trips to Texas and Denver. Well, when I got there and saw their itinerary… They were the house band at The Whiskey and had a tour with Poco lined up. There were gigs at The Fillmore East and The Fillmore West and there was The Atlanta Pop Festival. The money wasn’t that great back then. It was the opportunity!

We went right into writing tunes and working on the third album. We played out on some gigs, but mostly it was working on tunes. I could tell right away that those guys had been together for years. When Rico started singing a song, the other two guys (Walsh and Johnson) would start singing and it wasn’t five minutes before they’d have it. There was a natural harmonization between the three of them.

We recorded Antithesisin L.A. at the RCA Studios. They had huge studios in the RCA Building there on Sunset Boulevard. It was the first album I did with the band and I poured my heart and soul into that thing. I think I played, especially on the song Antithesis, some of the best lines I’d ever come up with. And I wrote the single for the album— Day After Day. I wrote the music and helped Jim Walsh with the lyrics.

You see, I left Texas for L.A. because I wanted to get away from the three-chord blues changes. Fort Worth has always been more of a blues town than any other style of music, but I grew up playing Motown. I loved Motown. Moving to L.A. was my way of getting away from the blues and getting into what I really wanted to play, if I could find it. And Gypsy was it. They were more soul and R&B as opposed to blues and rock. It was a perfect fit. See, what you had there was a soul rhythm section with three fabulous vocalists who blended beautifully. It was a real treat. I felt like I had found my niche.”

Cates was obviously a full-fledged member by the time the third album, Antithesis, was released. Then Gypsy hit the road.

We were mostly an opening act in the larger venues,” said Cates. “Whenever we played in Minneapolis, like at the State Fair or The Depot or any of the bigger clubs, we would be headliners, but most of the time we just opened for bigger acts. At The Whiskey, we would open for acts like B.B. King or Taj Mahal or Rod Stewart— a lot of the acts who came to Los Angeles to debut albums. When we played The Fillmore, we opened for Poco and when we played The Fillmore East, we opened for The Allman Brothers, I think. At The Atlanta Pop Festival, look at who all played there. But we were never a headliner. We never had the opportunity. We never had the popularity.”

And even with their connections, they made few gains. Like with Chicago. Their fourth album, Unlock the Gates, used Chicago‘s horn section.

How that came about was that the band had a softball team,” explained Cates. “Back in the early seventies, it was cool especially in L.A., to have softball teams and we would play other bands’ teams. We had jerseys and everything. We were good friends with Chicago and played them and opened some dates for them, as well. On those dates, we played some of the new songs and the horn players liked them, so we asked if they would be interested in recording them with us and they jumped at the chance. When we were recording, Terry Kath, Chicago‘s guitarist, was in and out of the sessions the whole ten days.”

What about the move toward Christian rock? Unlock the Gates had not only songs which hinted of Christianity, but a cover which promoted the idea.

Rico was Jewish,” Cates said. “I can’t remember who did the song, Jesus Is Just Alright With MeThe Doobies? Well, Rico wrote Is That News? and Make Peace With Jesus as a pun on getting a hit by using Jesus. It wasn’t a spiritual thing at all. There were lyrics, and I can’t remember exactly, which were “I believe I’ll join in too”. If you think about it with those words in mind, you can see it was just a spoof on getting a hit using Jesus’ name.

And the album design? We had nothing to do with it. RCA’s art department came up with that. We had no say about how the album was going to be laid out. So they put us in eagle wings. We were supposed to be angels, but they put us in eagle wings! It was deplorable, we thought, when we first saw it.”

So the album did nothing and then the band began to fall apart, I asked.

Exactly,” said Cates. “Not getting to the top was what really split the band up. There was frustration. After RCA released us, we were cut back to local band status when we moved back to Minneapolis. We were playing around Wisconsin and Iowa and North and South Dakota. Maybe once in a great while, we would play Chicago. But mostly we played the five-state area around Minnesota. And we played mostly as a four-piece band during that period because Rico had moved back to L.A. We would occasionally get a big enough gig that he would come back, or maybe we would go there, depending on where the gig was. But, yes, there was a lot of frustration at the end. Especially when I left and went back to Texas.”

That move to Texas proved to be final. Oh, there was a Gypsy, off and on, but without Cates and without Rosenbaum. They would occasionally record, but only 45s and only on small labels.

James Walsh ended up putting together a new band and called it The James Walsh Gypsy Band, but as good as they were, it wasn’t Gypsy.

And there was a reunion show. In St. Louis, of course. In 1977. There was a radio station there, KSHE, which played Gypsy on a fairly regular basis. A couple of the people I met from St. Louis, when they finally left, were shocked to find that Gypsy was not nationally famous. Two of only a small handful I have found over the years who even recognized the band’s name. Both echoed my discontent at the failure of the public to embrace the band. And for some reason we all three blamed the public even when we knew it was not their fault. After all, they had to hear them first.

Randy Cates moved back to Fort Worth and never left. He became a jeweler, by trade, but he would more than likely tell you that he is a musician, first and foremost. He plays in a band with Dave Millsap, a musician Cates has known for years. He also plays in a ten-piece show band which occasionally ties up with symphony orchestras for special concerts. He played a couple of recent gigs with Johnnie Red & The Roosters and has no trouble finding musicians in search of a top of the line bass player.

He obviously loved those days with Gypsy, but doesn’t talk about them that much. Maybe it’s because people don’t care but more probably it’s because people don’t know. For decades, I have been telling people that Gypsy was as important to me as The Beatles and the reaction I get is the famed dog-tilted-head. If we were cartoons, a bubble would appear over their heads with a big question mark, as if to say “What the hell is he talking about?” or “This guy is crazy.”

I know I’m not crazy because I am not alone. Randy Cates is there. He knew what the band had. He knew they could have— should have— made it. But they didn’t.

Gypsy is gone. They were gone in 1979 when Rico ended his own life. The details are not as important as the fact that an incredibly unique artist died. I found out years after the fact. I was working in Seattle at a record store at the time and not one person, if they knew or cared, said anything. Not around me. To this day, when I think of Enrico Rosenbaum, I feel an emptiness. I am pretty sure Cates feels a bit of that same emptiness because he knew Rico— personally.

Rico was Gypsy,” he told me early on in the interview. “He had help from Jim Johnson and James Walsh, but Rico was Gypsy. He was the main songwriter. He was the main guy.”

I love the band. I love everyone who ever played in the band, but I feel the same. Rico was Gypsy to me, too. Even with the incredible talent surrounding him, he was the main guy. Sometimes R.I.P. just isn’t enough.

Notes….. So Tom Dyer at Green Monkey Records puts up The Green Pajamas‘ FB page and posts this intriguing question: So here’s a question for the Green Pajamas aficionados. At Green Monkey Records we are putting out new Green Pajamas as well as occasionally remastering and releasing some old catalog items. We have re-released “Summer of Lust” and “Book of Hours” so far. If you got to pick the next item to re-release would it be:
a) Green Pajamas – “November” – cassette only back when unavailable for 20 years. Will contain all the tunes we had to cut to fit it on the original cassette. Will probably have the original mixes, plus the remixes Joe Ross did with Jack Endino ten years ago or so.
b) The Green Pajamas – “Happy Halloween” – cassette only back when (about 10 made) unavailable for 20 years. Will have many “Summer of Lust” era bonus tracks.
c) Jeff Kelly – “Baroquen Hearts” – cassette only back when unavailable for 20 years – when I get around to this it will probably have many bonus tracks. Charming stuff.
d) The Green Pajamas – “Strung behind the Sun” – out of print, put out by the late Tony Dale on Camera Obscura. Love that record.
e) Something completely different.”
How about all of the above, Tom?….. This intriguing song from the UK’s Richard Snow & The Inlaws makes me think I may have been too hasty in passing Am I Really That Boring over. Good stuff. Listen here. Methinks it time to backtrack….. You may have read some of the things I have written about Kink Ador, but more than likely not. They are without a doubt one of the most creative rock bands of the past decade or so. Here is a new video with introduces you to the band and their basic tenets. So, without further ado— Meet Kink Ador….. After you’ve met them, click on this and (I’m pretty sure) you will be able to download their three-sided single for free. Just click on download and type in your email address and they will send you info on how to download. Three great tracks! Highly recommended….. This is why I love Ticktockman Dala‘s Best Day— I finally got my copy and I’m very impressed— again. The girls sound and a feel all their own. Check out this video….. Hardin Burns— Thanks to Tom Mank, I picked up on this beauty early. Jeannie Burns of The Burns Sisters teams up with Andrew Hardin for a smooth acoustic/electric ride through the country. A couple of the tracks are downright mystical. The album is titled Lounge….. And then there is the new EP by Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers. Six songs, one original, all wrapped up in Muth’s special voice and the High Rollers’ class backing. Starts off with Anna McGarrigle‘s Heart Like a Wheel and gets better with each song. Titled Old Gold….. Tom House is still Winding Down the Road. The album will find its audience, but I can’t wait because I would love to compare notes. The album is a monster….. Colorado’s Elephant Revival and Sean Kelly are getting plenty of spins. With Kelly, it is catch-up, he has recorded so many albums. I’m still wondering which rock I was under. The guy is good! Elephant just tripped through Oregon and is in Washington right now, but I missed them. Bums me out. More on them in a couple of weeks….. Listening close to an album by Lianne Smith titled Two Sides of a River,passed along at the behest of friend and mentor Brian Cullman. Thus far, what I’ve heard sounds really good….. I need to start taking notes. Once again, I know I am overlooking something. Oh, yeah! Amy Campbell‘s new album Letters Home was released yesterday and I’m damn happy it was, finally, and Jon Gomm is still coming to Canada! In fact, playing the same venues in Halifax and Toronto that Amy just played for her CD Release Party. Dates go from August 1st through the 16th. . And remember, I’m not listening to you whine if you miss him!…On the turntable this week: The Fire Tapes. And getting better all the time. Here is a link to a music video on rvamag.com.

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.”

7 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Randy Cates Talks About Gypsy (and Rico) and Even More Notes (Pop Quiz at Eleven)…..”

  1. steve kromraj Says:

    wow I was 14 when I heard Gypsy. Ive played guitar bass and keyboards. Enrico was and still is my biggist influence musically in my life. I feel as if Enrico is in my life still. I even drove to Mn to meet his mother before she died. I live near St Louis. Ida Rosenbaum gave me a tour of her home. I was in awe. I got to hear some un finnished tracks. She showed me his Whiskey a go go hoodie and I played his acoustic guitar. WOW ! Ive meet James Walsh Jim Johnson and my buddy Dave Mueller introduced me to Randy Cates and Doni Larson. Very very nice article you have wrote about Enrico and Gypsy. My compliments to you sir.

  2. […] Gypsy/Everything (1970-1973)—  I walk into this mall record store in the Westminster section of Denver one day back in the summer of 1971 and I hear “Warning…. Warning….”  It is the very beginning of the first track on Gypsy‘s self-titled double album and it took just that much time for me to fall madly in love with a band I’d never heard.  The vocals and vocal harmonies were unique, yes, but the band was a juggernaut of rock filled with jazzy rhythms and flowing sounds and I knew I was in love.  I headed to the counter, asked who was playing and the guy behind the counter handed me the album to look at while I listened.  I immediately found the album in the racks and handed it to him to hold while I looked around.  I did little looking, preferring instead to just flip the album over and over, opening the gatefold sleeve to look at the picture of the band in classy pose, outdoors of course.  When the side ended, I payed for the album and walked out the door, a brand new diehard fan of one of the best bands I would ever hear.  I cannot tell you how much I have loved this band over the years.  Suffice it to say that when I was buying cutouts for a store in Seattle back in the mid-80s, I came across the album on a list for $1.25 apiece.  I priced them at $4.99.  No copy was getting out of the store unless people appreciated it.  The price guaranteed that.  A couple of decades later, while putting together a long piece about Fort Worth’s Space Opera, a friend introduced me to Randy Cates who played bass with the band for the last two albums.  I begged for an interview and spent a few hours going over his life with the band.  It is one of the columns about which I am most proud.  People should know who Gypsy was.  They should hear them.  They were something else.  (Read that column here) […]

  3. Thank you! My ghod, yes! I remember them well. Went to a lot of Underbeats gigs when I was in high school—they were fantastic, or at least, that’s how I remember them. I honestly can’t recall whether I got to see any Gypsy gigs, but I have the vinyl. Great stuff! This is more than I ever knew about them; thank you for writing it.

  4. Jeffrey Latawiec Says:

    Pretty neat…pretty good…no higher praise can I give Rosenbaum and Gypsy. They were incredible. They deserved better. Rock on Enrico…

  5. […] for an interview.  The story behind that band is both exhilarating and tragic.  For that story, click here.  And to hear the song I first heard in Denver and see pictures of the band itself, watch this […]

  6. John Ward (Jake) Says:

    Dear Mr. Frank Gutch Jr; , Respectively, I enjoyed your descriptions and interview transcripts with Randy Cates concerning Gypsy. I was fortunate enough to not only hear Gypsy play live several times but to get to know the band personally, including Mr. Cates, Rico, and Rico’s girlfriend Tootsie. Either he’s pulling your leg about some details or he just doesn’t wan’t to revisit some of the information concerning when and where he joined Gypsy. I met Randy Cates on 3 Points Blvd hitchhiking just on the outskirts of Mound, Minnesota when I picked him up in early 1971. He and Rico and Rico’s girlfriend Tootsie, were living in a house on the end of 3 Points Blvd, finishing some of the final recordings of In The Garden. I actually heard Rico and Randy play live to reel to reel master recordings of not only In The Garden but most of the other songs on that album as they worked out the final licks. I got to know them and spend alot of time with them to the point where a friend of mine and I got to ride to a concert with them in there Limo and sit in the front row of a concert where they opened for the Allman Bros. I was then invited to a private party where the Allman Bros and Gypsy actually played together at the party. I’m sure he must have his reasons for changing or omitting some of that history but let me assure you he was fully capable of playing every song on that album and did so before it was officially released. He may not have recorded it but he was Gypsy at every concert before that release where they played those songs.
    Sincerly
    John Ward
    aka Jake

  7. Thanks so much for this great article. I am 47 but just stumbled upon Gypsy and am in just complete awe of them and befuddled as to how I never knew about them. I have been listening to 60’s/70’s rock all my life, diligently but never had anyone recommend them, etc…..it is very sad as well and I can never find any information at all about the death of Enrico – I’ve read suicide and dependence issues but if anyone could elaborate I’d appreciate knowing what happened to such a talented musician and songwriter – thanks for the great article!

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