Frank Gutch Jr: RIP – Pocahontas Illinois Cloud (Plus a Retrospective of Maggi, Pierce & EJ and Hymn For Her), and That Elusive Research Turtles Release Becomes Imminent….

Yesterday was rough.  What should have been a fantastic day, one heralding the release of the long-awaited Research TurtlesMankiller Pt. 2 EP, turned incredibly somber when I stumbled upon a post by Hymn For Her‘s Lucy Tight that Pokey had tripped off this mortal coil, and if that sounds a bit flippant, I assure you that it’s not.  Pokey was a dog, mind you, but not just any dog.  A very human dog.  Though I had only met him twice and only for short periods, we were friends.

We emailed one another (and I am not so delusional that I did not know that it was Maggi Jane doing the typing, but it was Pokey’s spirit dictating), mainly about the status of the band he was part of (Maggi Pierce & EJ).  We made jokes, each ending in woof!, and tried like hell to figure out a way to make those hapless humans hapless rock stars, but for all of our communications came up with nothing.  With all of the opportunities missed, the unsuccess of the MPEband (as they were wont to call themselves) loomed large to us both.  They could have made it.  They should have made it, damn it!  But in the end, they didn’t, and for all of the could haves and should haves, in the end it didn’t really matter.  I didn’t realize that until yesterday.

Pokey’s real name is Pocahontas Illinois Cloud and I write that in the present because his spirit lives on.  He was not born that way, though, and in fact was a late addition to the MPEband, a lonely waif hiding behind a dumpster in a back alley in Pocahontas, Illinois (hence, the name).  He was a puppy, abandoned and alone and in need of a band.  It was prophetic that one should come along.  I laugh when I envision him, young and tail wagging to beat the band, trying to convince them that he was one of them, that he too was a musician.  He was, you know.  He sang backup.  He was also an inspiration.

He earned his keep as roadie, security and backup vocalist.  Yep, he sang on more than one of the band’s tracks.  He was subject of one song, too— perhaps more— and I have been playing that song this morning with tears in my eyes.  Pocahontas, Illinois is not only a classic rocker but one that only MPEband could have written and played.  It was on the album which made me an MPE fan for life— the silver one.  See, MPE had this thing for colors for some reason and named their first numbers of albums after, erm, colors.  The first was white, the second (I believe) black and they went from there.  By the time they got to silver, I pulled up alongside and introduced myself.  See, when I first started writing for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange, I developed this aversion to their system which was, basically, here are the albums offered for review. You have six months, then they’re history.  Too many put in their six months only to slip through to the other side and disappear, so I made it my mission go all the way to the bottom of the list, peruse those ready to fall through the cracks and order up the dusty ones, as it were.  Silver was one of those.

Silver almost changed my life.  In a way, it did.  Few albums caught me the way it did.  I became obsessed.  I listened incessantly and pounded out a review in a fever (read it here) and probably got everything wrong, but I didn’t care.  If I got it wrong, they didn’t and that was all that mattered.  I became the consummate MPE fan.  I wasn’t the only one.  There were plenty before me  but not enough to make them household names and that is what they deserved.

The cool thing, though, was that through that album, I met Pokey.  I began corresponding with Maggi and before long she let Pokey hammer out a few messages.  Emails which discussed the band and the music.  They began with “sniff” and ended in “woof!”.  I laughed whenever I got one because they were usually funny and occasionally hilarious and addressed not the trials and tribulations of a struggling band but the humorous foibles which should brighten each day.  Sure, we occasionally touched upon subjects germane to the band’s situation, but only when necessary.  I struggled to stay focused on the supposedly important matters at hand, like finding a way to spread the MPE joy and making them millionaires (how delusional was I?), because Pokey insisted on focusing upon the joys of life.

Yeah, I knew it was Maggi, but how could I not love the sidestep away from reality?  To take on the persona of not just a dog but a beloved member of your family, canine though he be, can be a wonderful way to see things differently.  We do it with humans every day.  Animals are human, too.  Especially dogs.  They are the humans we should strive towards— loyal, loving and joyful.  To me, Pokey was human.  The best side of human.

Have you ever thought about the little details of life?  How every step you take takes you in a specific direction?  How butterfly wings in Africa can change the whole world?  Well, had MPE not found that alley at precisely the time they did, Pokey would not have become a Cloud and MPE would have been much the lesser.  Much.

Pokey gave those of us even on the very fringe of the band’s existence a lot, even if we didn’t recognize it.  If nothing else, he gave us one of the best songs Maggi Pierce & EJ ever recorded.  When I wrote the review of the Silver album, I had no idea what the song was about.  I found out later that it was about Pokey, a lonely puppy trapped in an upstairs room while the band practiced down below.  It took more than a few listens and a couple of emails from Pokey to figure it out.  It goes like this:

Take me outside to play

Take me out, Don’t wanna stay in

Take me outside to play

Take me out

Don’t want to stay inside

Such a beautiful day

Can’t you hear me cry

Such a beautiful day

Let’s walk to the mountain

Climb the tower

Catch the eagle

Hide in our special place

Where no one can see me

You sit there and play her

While I sit and cry upstairs

I  just want my freedom

Take me out

Don’t wanna stay inside

Such a beautiful day

Can’t you hear me cry

Such a beautiful day

Let’s walk to the water

Swim in Pogie Dam

Run thru the cornfield

Watch where you step because

It just might be your grave

It just might be your fate

Pocahontas Illinois Cloud

We touched noses once.  It sealed our bond.  Run through the cornfields, Pokey, and swim in Pogie Dam and be assured that you are remembered and loved.  No one will ever sing backup quite like you.

Maggi Pierce & EJ— The Legend…..

If this seems like it is a turn on a dime, let me assure that it isn’t.  I had to walk away for a time to gather my wits about me.  See, if Pokey and I agreed on anything, it was that his humans were among the best the world of music has to offer.  They play as Hymn For Her now, but they were once the mighty Maggi Pierce & EJ and both bands are/were something else.  I heard it on Silver and all of the other colored albums MPE did (and the non-colored ones too).  I hear it on Hymn For Her‘s, as well.

The legend started in Philadelphia with The Goats, hip-hoppers of some regional repute.  Guitarist and bassist for that band, Pierce Ternay and EJ Simpson, ran their course with that group, eventually splitting off to form their own with friend and semi-roadie Maggi Jane.  They busked, they hustled and did whatever it took to survive, all the while writing and practicing and putting together a three man band which usually sounded like much more, even live.  Eventually, and not long after formation of MPE, they released and album and a single and set about building a music career which would always remain just beneath the surface in spite of the quality of the music.  By the time I caught up with them, they were just finishing up their run through the colors (White, Black, Red, Gold, Blue) and had put out a compilation titled Play Their Landlady’s Favorites (a greatest hits compilation, as if they had had  hits) and were working towards an album of cover tunes which they would name Live Covers.  There would be others, but none would bring them the fame they deserved.  Eventually, they would run out of gas, EJ would traipse off to do what he would do (Maggi said she told him to contact me but he never did, so I’m not really sure what that was) and Maggi and Pierce would come out of the cloud to become Hymn For Her.  (For a rundown of their albums, click here and you will be taken to another one of my many early attempts at spreading the word)

Tell you what.  I can’t really do this right now.  I will leave this as is, though, and promise that sometime soon I will give these bands the full writeup, DBAWIS-style.  While doing a bit of research, though, I found Pokey’s Myspace page.  I thought you might enjoy his profile.  Here it is:

“I am a black lab mix. Some say Point Setter. Some say Blue tic hound. But I’m pure love. I’m almost six. I live in a time capsule with 3 pilots. We tour the country in a big blue van. Usually, I sleep on the loft in the back. My co-pilots, Maggi, Pierce And E.J. sometimes let me sing on their records. I have my own track on the Gold CD. That was a fun recording session, but I did get a little nervous. Now I’m a pro. I love peanut butter and avocados. ELP stands for Everybody Loves Pokey. . . cause it’s true. I don’t mean to be arrogant, it’s just the way it is. I love you. Be my friend and I’ll lick in between your toes-but only if you like that kind of thing. Woof!”

Though it was written some time ago, it captures what Pokey is and was to those lucky enough to have known him.

Research Turtles— An Update…..

I have been writing a fairly large article about Research Turtles and their alter-egos, Flamethrowers.  I should have completed it by now, but the job the way I envisioned it was for a writer way more skilled than myself.  I became bogged down in the particulars, as I usually do, and began slogging through the proverbial swamp, but the imminent release of Mankiller Pt. 2 has forced me into a corner.  I am up to the point at which the band is readying itself to record the aforementioned EP and I would have completed it by now but for my personal attachment to the band.  I have written, rewritten, deleted and revised to the point of mental exhaustion and have decided that I have to finish it this week or die trying.  No, I have not heard the EP yet (Judson has kept this one extremely close to his vest— even moreso than usual), but I have no doubt that it will be magnificent.  This will be the first recording with the new lineup (They recently replaced drummer Blake Thibodeaux with ex-Lazy K drummer Chad Townsend).  Am I stoked?  You bet!

And you can bet that I will be supplying links to the RT article when completed.  Watch for it in next week’s column.  For the Turtles’ friends and families, it will provide some amazing insight.  For fans of the band(s), it should fill in some holes.  For others, it should tell the story of a bunch of young guys struggling to cope with not only all things musical, but a lot of things personal.  If I do my job right, that is.  That’s next week— the wormhole from your world to that of the Research Turtles, one of my picks to make it in spite of the marscape left by the continuing crumbling of the music industry (i.e., major labels).

Music isn’t dead, my friends.  It is only your perception.

An Afterthought…..

As if this whole major label meltdown has not altered my reality enough, we seem to be traveling through a Bizarro World in music which raises hackles on my neck.  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised what with the Interweb and its influences, but some of what I see out there has me scratching my head.  Like tribute bands.

I scratched my head when I got to Seattle in ’79 (or was it ’78?) and saw Randy Hansen packing out The Paramount with his Hendrix tribute.  A decade or so later my eyes rolled back in my head when people started putting out those “Songs of…” albums— you know, the ones where every odd band you could think of would each take a song by Neil Young or The Flying Burrito Brothers which would be compiled into an album of supposed importance.  Not long after, bands (and not the originals) started performing entire albums recorded by groups and artists.  I gagged.  (Would someone please pass a law that Dark Side of the Moon can only be performed on the dark side of the moon AND only by a band which includes at least one member of Pink Floyd, for chrissake?)  Today, it is tribute bands again.  Bands dedicated to recreating music by other bands.  Complete albums.  Now, covering songs I understand, but complete albumsWTF?

I get that music is personal and each person chooses to listen to what he or she wants, but this whole cover thing has gotten out of hand.  When musicians who have built careers (well, they will be careers if they can survive the digital devastation brought on by the idiots who ran and run the major labels) writing and performing original music turn to covers, that (to me) is a step backward.  Just look at the (il)logic of it.  You have released three albums of solid original music which have received critical if not financial success.  You’re building a following.  Then you decide that an album of covers is what’s needed.  You lose me.  Maybe you don’t lose the fans you have gained, but you lose me.  And I know a couple of other music writers who would jump ship.  For awhile, anyway.

Seriously, who needs covers unless they are covers which totally change the original?  Or songs unheard?  Why?  You have 76 songs in your portfolio ready to go and you decide the world needs another version of The Pina Colada Song  and maybe Down By the River?  Kill me now, but you’ll have to get in line.  I know of more than a few who would like to do just that.  Wait.  Tell you what.  Just poke my ears out.  That way I could avoid musical drivel and the rest of the election year at the same time.

Forty-five Years Later….. Monterey Pop…..

Just when you thought it was time to turn the clock forward, they turn the clock back.  That’s right, kiddies and hippies, they’re  bringing back the Monterey Pop Festival and, no, Jimi won’t be there, but there is an impressive list of artists who will.  Like Big Brother & The Holding Company (sans Janis, of course).  Like It’s A Beautiful Day (today’s equivalent, surely fronted by fiddle man and singer David LaFlamme).  Like Barry McGuire & John York and The Beau Brummels and the Linda Imperial Band.  Even David Freiberg (Quicksilver) is making an appearance (though, oddly enough, Gary Duncan is not listed).

If I was going, though, it would be to see Sopwith Camel.  While most people tie this band to San Francisco, to me they were in another world.  That whole Hello, Hello phase was mere warmup for what I wanted.  I wanted The Miraculous Hump Returns From the Moon and when it came along in 1972, it floored me .  If they recreate only an iota of that album live, this year’s show would be worth seeing.

It’s a crapshoot, for sure.  Can a band be what it once was after thirty or forty years?  Strawberry Alarm Clock proved that they can be with their Wake Up Where You Are album, released only a few months ago.  Will Big Brother and The Beau Brummels and It’s A Beautiful Day make the grade?  You’ll only know if you attend.  Click on Monterey Pop Festival above to link to the web page promoting the show.

Notes…..  Side One, Track One of Love Wounds & Mars goes Hollywood.  Brand spanking new video from Charlottesville’s Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers.  And I didn’t even know he knew how to drive.  Watch and listen here.  And don’t miss that killer dashboard.  They don’t make ’em like that anymore.  Added bonus:  That’s Blue Ridge Mountain territory!…..  Speaking of videos, remember the band known as Lunic I wrote about last week?  Well, they just posted a new video on YouTube and, yes, it has music as background but is not a music video, per se.  It is a video of the girls packaging and mailing hundreds of their albums to radio stations.  They want airplay.  They say so right in the video.  Needless to say, the post office was not all that happy when they got that far (it also said that right in the video), but I thought it was very cool to see a light-hearted look at the small details of promoting your own music in today’s indie world.  It’s hard (and expensive) work, people.  On a more serious note, if the music playing in the background is from the album they’re mailing, the album might very well be a killer!  Well, if good Pop kills you.  Watch the video here.  And if you get an inclination, check out their please-help-us-tour page.  They’re not asking for money.  They give you something for your “donation”.  These ladies deserve a leg up…..  I have to say that of all the bands I hold in esteem, none are as diversified musically as The Green Pajamas.  Their latest album, Death By Misadventure, continues to impress while the videos snake their way to the public eye and ear.  Here is their latestThe Queen’s Last Tango.  I never would have expected…..  If you don’t know Tommy Womack, you might want to start here.  Womack is an odd duck.  Is this an original?  I’ve not heard it anywhere else.  Shades of Craig Elkins though Elkins gets even weirder.  Don’t misunderstand, I dig them both, but then I’ve been accused of being a bit weird myself at times.  I can’t help myself.  Now, I know I’ve posted a link to this at some time in the past, but Elkins’ video of Tumbleweeds is just too classic to pass up.  One of the coolest videos I’ve recently seen…..

I know this isn’t much, but I am wiped out— running on empty.  I will try to make up for it next week.  Promise.

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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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.”

4 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: RIP – Pocahontas Illinois Cloud (Plus a Retrospective of Maggi, Pierce & EJ and Hymn For Her), and That Elusive Research Turtles Release Becomes Imminent….”

  1. Sorry for your loss, Frank. Pokey was obviously a happy doggy. I would have never believed an animal could be instrumental to a band until Toronto’s Leslie Spit Treeo proved it possible by introducing the world to their German Shepherd “TAG”. He too has gone to doggy heaven. Maybe all bands should feature a pet…just to keep the musicians grounded and sane.

  2. martin mcneil Says:

    Pokey rocked and had a radar of love…….

  3. […] Their latest, by the way (Lucy & Wayne’s Smokin’ Flames) is on vinyl and it is just what it says.  Smokin’!  And dedicated to my old pal, Pokey. […]

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