Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Not Just Politics (The New Musical Landscape), The Hits Just Keep On Comin’, and The Psychology of Vinyl….

You don’t know how many times a day I just plain want to kill myself.  I wake up in the morning, turn on the computer and while it boots up, brush my teeth and wash my face only to confront a computer aflame with news which is not news and a world going to hell in a handbasket.  I never thought that this country would turn into a seething pile of manure but it’s well on its way and there looks to be no turning back.  What the hell happened?  Is it the Internet?  Is it the smart phone?  Is it The Bible?  Whatever it is, something has turned us against one another.  Democrat against Republican.  Vegans against red meat eaters.  The Tea Party against everybody.

Of course, the Boomers shouldn’t be surprised.  We as a world have been spinning headlong into the hell that is the future and were warned.  The Kingston Trio turned that warning into a hit, even.  Remember?  “They’re rioting in Africa/They’re starving in Spain/There’s hurricanes in Florida/And Texas needs rain”  (Lyrics to They’re Rioting In Africa (The Merry Minuet), a hit for the Trio back in 1959 but written by one Sheldon Harnick in 1953).  We laughed then.  Not so funny now, is it?

They have fired the warning shot across our bow, whoever “they” are, and we have responded badly.  At first, we napped.  Then we grumbled.  Now, it’s you against me, you against them, us against them.  There is less and less dialogue and more and more monologue.  It is I, I, I all day long and far into the night at which time we reload for another day of backbiting and screaming bloody murder when it suits our cause and fancy.  There are more causes than Carter has liver pills (one of my dear departed mother’s favorite phrases when I was a kid), everyone knowing what’s right even when they have no clue as to issue.  Corporations have convinced a court system which is obviously corrupt (Pssst!  Wanna buy a judge?  Step right over here.) that money and brainwashing equals free speech and we all know that free speech is politburospeak for General Bullmoose (Li’l Abner?  What’s good for General Bullmoose is good for the USA?  Crap!  No one?  I’m older than I thought!).  And I would love to end this by saying that the Pussy Riot debacle is the endgame but it isn’t.  They were rioting before and they will be rioting after.  That handbasket?  Only a fool would not realize that we are in it.

I knew it long ago but the past couple of weeks have driven it home.  Yes, Pussy Riot had something to do with it, but there is also a small unheralded battle brewing in music which needs addressing.  It revolves around pay for artists (in this case, musicians) and many venues’ anti-pay stance. In the midst of the chaos brought on by the major record label implosion, pay for live shows has diminished— not a little, but a lot.  At a time when it looks as if the music business is booming, it is evidently not.  Not according to musicians who are tired of being asked to play for free and not according to venues which claim they are one step away from bankruptcy and can’t afford them.

What started out in appearance as negotiation on social networks has now blossomed into a movement among musicians.  Statements are being bandied about on Facebook and Twitter and various music forums which say, in no uncertain terms, to hell with the bastards.  The first time I saw them I thought, shit!  Here it comes.  I was not wrong.

Thanks to the structure of the social networks, the repost button has been clicking overtime passing this statement of redress throughout cyberdom.  They might as well be on street corners carrying placards and screaming “We’re getting screwed!” at the top of their lungs whilst asking for honks of support.  For free, of course.  And with that statement I hear the hair raising on the backs of musicians’ necks because what they do deserves pay and who am I (or the venues) to take that away from them.

They are right, the musicians.  So are the people representing the venues.  Oh, it’s not all black and white.  You can’t lump any large group together based upon mutual interest.  The Tea Party is proving that, in spades.  But, yes, the musicians are right.  The musicians are entertainment and the venues have to pay for the rights to use music and sell cigarettes and liquor and a whole host of other things which are also entertainment related.  Why not pay them?

You would think it would be that simple, but I assure you it is not.  For one thing, we are no longer dealing with a handful of venues with a large pool of talent from which they can choose.  The Whiskey/Troubadour scenario has long since passed.  Where before musicians almost needed mob connections to play the few venues available, today it is wide open.  Check the free entertainment paper in the city closest to you and count the shows for the week or month.  Count the venues.  You’ll run out of fingers and toes very quickly, my friends, and you will not have even scratched the surface.

On the other hand, count the musicians who want and need a place to play.  There are reasons that there are lots of music stores selling guitars and amps these days and most of those reasons can be counted as bands and musical artists.  Not every musician is trying to make a living playing out, but I’ll bet that most every one of them dreams of it.  There is that “If I could only get popular enough” thing streaming in the back of their heads at all times, I am sure.  It is what dreams are made of.  As in any world based on not only quality but supply and demand, the market adjusts accordingly.  And, no, I’m not saying that just because there is a huge pool of musicians that they should all have to bow before the venue gods.  I am just saying that’s the way it is and you have to adjust.

I take no side.  I understand both.  Were I a musician, I would be discouraged to the max.  I would also bemoan the state of the live performance situation and cry and bitch.  But I would not whine.  Whining says to me that you do not accept the way things are.  You have to get past that.  You have to see what is and find a way to work it in your favor.  You have to build an audience and a reputation not only as a musician or group of musicians, but also as good people.  Bitch and people listen.  Whine and the ears close.  Be fair.  All venues are not alike.  Some are barely making it.  Some are failing.  To ask those which are failing to pay is defeating your own purpose.  Musicians need venues.  That is, assuming that they do not initiate an agreement asking you to play for free.  In that case, whining is accepted behavior.

Venues:  Do you not have a sense of fairness?  Profit is the bottom line.  I get that.  But when a band or an artist brings in patrons and makes you a profit, should you not share that profit?  Isn’t there an implied contract?  On the other hand, if you cannot make it paying musicians, what alternatives do you have except presenting music for free or not having music at all?

So here is what I’m saying:  Musicians, get off your high horse.  Stop bitching about the venues who want to but cannot afford your fee.  Just the ones who truly wish they could.  Give the good venue a break and maybe play a free show now and again.  The venues which can afford you  but don’t?  Avoid them.  Accept the fact that they won’t pay.  Stop asking them to.  Don’t play there.  And spread the word.  Soon, other musicians won’t play there, either.  And real music fans will stop going there.  If you want to hurt a businessman, do it in his pocketbook.

I frequent a few venues which don’t pay.  They can’t really afford it.  I can tell.  The music is not the driving force behind those venues, but they love the music.  They try to help in other ways.  Some allow the artists to charge a cover and keep the money.  For a couple of those, it works well because they are located close to major college campuses (campi?) and have a ready-made clientele.  For other venues, the door might mean gas money, if that.  Still, it is something.  To be fair, those venues also allow the artists free drinks.  Not unlimited drinks, of course, but a few beers for a hard night’s work can go a ways toward compensation sometimes.  And their music gets heard.

A few venues offer advertising as well.  Usually, it ends up being your name on a reader board and a mention on the venue webpage, but that is at least something.  What I would love to see is a venue willing to put sweat equity into the bands they book.  Real sweat equity.  Make deals with restaurants and stores to promote the schedule— find musicians and radio people who would help promote shows of bands they like— go the extra mile so that a band from Pittsburgh will not play to three guys named Jake in a bar in Boise on a Monday night with the TV drowning out the guitar.  That is respect and the least they can do for musicians, in my mind.  Then again, my existence is not dependent upon making a profit.  I survive by my wits.

I was involved in the first ever punk concert for local San Diego bands back in the late-seventies.  A store I owned was the catalyst for a large group of musicians and people to pull off a show with The Zeros, The Dils and The Hitmakers.  To this day, I have no idea whether any of those bands even got gas money.  The whole thing could have been a money loser for all I know.  But I do know that money was not the reason for that show.  Not for any of the people involved.  It was about the music.  When we forget that, I think we’ve lost the reason for having shows in the first place.

Here is a musician’s rule of thumb:  Know your venue.  If they don’t pay and that bothers you, don’t play.  On the other hand, if there are ways around playing for “free”, find them.  Compensate yourself.  Venues:  Show respect.  Work with musicians.  Help them.  It is to your advantage in more ways than one.  That profit you’re not making?  Maybe you can correct that over time by getting musicians behind you by doing right by them.  Do right by them and they will do right by you.  Simple as that.

Know where I learned that?  The musicians who played San Francisco previous to and during the Summer of Love.  They all liked Chet Helms but they loved Bill Graham.  Graham paid.  As agreed upon.  Helms sometimes struggled to get the funds together.  They were both reasons San Francisco put flowers in our hair, but Graham was rock solid.

Like I said, it isn’t just politics anymore.  We’re getting crazy in all areas of life.  I personally think we need more music— or we need to listen to more music.  Sometimes I think that’s the problem.  We’ve somehow forgotten to listen.  To anything.

Those hits?  They’re everywhere!

Let’s see.  This column will appear Wednesday, barring act of God or Congress, so the next night, Thursday, I will be at Alberta Street Pub in Portland, Oregon watching and listening to one of Canada’s outstanding new musical treasures, Picture The Ocean.  I just wrote a review of their new album and may have inadvertently mentioned that it was a goal in my life to see them live and sonofabitch if I didn’t get an email from guitarist/vocalist Jesse Dee saying guess we’ll see you in Portland on Thursday then, huh?  That’s what is called painting yourself into a corner, friends.  I laugh at my naivete in thinking that it would take months or years for PTO to schedule a Portland or Eugene gig.  Seriously.  I’m laughing.

I am also laughing because this is a show I would not miss without good reason.  Their latest album is pushing all the right buttons and keeps getting better and better and I think their playing and my listening are going to peak at the same time.  Am I happy?  More than you could believe.

They started out as an Americana band, of sorts (though what the hell does that mean these days?).  Folk was their core, electric slipping occasionally through the acoustic barrage.  They called themselves Jesse Dee & Jacquie B then and put out a really fine album titled Our Ghosts Will Fill These Walls which nailed my balls to the wall.  There was this song about chopping wood which crawled under my skin and gave me a rash of unheard of proportions.  In my head, I chopped wood all the time, the chorus playing over and over until I thought I was going crazy.

When they announced that they were working on a new album and had changed their name to Picture The Ocean, I freaked.  My mantra has always been don’t fix what ain’t broke and those guys may have been broke but they weren’t broken.  While I waited, I listened to Ghosts thinking that they more than likely could not improve on the formula.  Once again— Boy, was I wrong!  The self-titled album hit the street and I started listening and somehow buried it somewhere amongst the mountain of albums I had and I listened, but not like I should have.  Well, I’m out from under the covers now and let me tell you what a beauty this album is!  This is one of those Linus award winners— the more you listen, the more you get out of it.  I am enthralled by it.  The differences?  The songwriting.  As solid as it was on Ghosts, it is that much better.  These are songs that stick to your ribs.  Favorites at the moment are Everybody Knew and Everything is Erased but only yesterday it was Wake Me Up and Russia?.  They upped the ante with Jacquie’s enhanced presence on keyboards.  It shocks me how much she brings to the songs, especially when the organ dominates.  Nothing fancy.  Mostly chords.  But what chords!  They give atmosphere at times like you wouldn’t believe!  And the drummer, Matt Blackie?  I can’t wait to see him drum.  He has a touch.

The real touch, though— what really cranks my engine— is the open sound of Jesse’s guitar.  I hear guitar all the time— I love guitar— but seldom do I hear chords played straight through an amp without some alteration.  Jesse’s chords are clean.  They resonate when necessary.  They are immaculate in their understatement.

And all three pictures sing.  Three voices but not blended in choral harmony— more working off of one another.  It works,  It works wonderfully, in fact.  Check out their album on their Bandcamp page, then buy it.  Listen closely.  Pay attention to Linus  See how he holds the record?  That cat knows!

Antje Duvekot and New Siberia…..

I fell in love with Antje Duvekot‘s Big Dream Boulevard a handful of years ago.  My mother was failing and I had it for review and there was this song on the album, Anna, I believe, which I could not listen to.  I heard it twice and then made sure I never heard it again.  It is about this lady down South who is dying and as her family surrounds  her all she can see is her father and the fair he had taken her to when she was a child.  I think that was what it was about because, truthfully, I have only heard it twice to this day.  My mother was slipping away from me then and I couldn’t listen because it was both a hauntingly beautiful and sad song and it reminded me that Momma had only a short time left.  I hardly needed the reminder because I lived with it every day and if you really want to know, I was saddened by not being able to hear that song on top of the drama unfolding right before my eyes.  There were other outstanding songs on that album and I gave it a rave review (which it deserved) and tried to put it behind me.  Along came her next album, The Near Demise of the High Wire Dancer and was once again blown away, but that came and went too fast because of all the work piling up at the time.

I almost passed on New Siberia and would have if not for Duvekot’s PR man, John Porter, who warned me against it.  I owed John one for taking care of me with Australia’s Paul Kelly and I thought, well, why not?  Why not, indeed.

Porter hooked me up with music files and I let them sit (again, have I mentioned how busy I have been lately?).  Like a boob.  Last week, I loaded the files onto my MP3 player and took a walk and found what I believe to be Duvekot’s best album yet.  I would never have thought that stepping back would be the direction she needed to take, but step back she did and, boy, have I been swept away again.  It is as beautiful a collection of songs as I’ve heard from any female singer/songwriter and it is produced magnificently.  Mostly, it is voice and guitar, but this is not the Antje Duvekot I remember.  Surely, it is her voice and she does have her own way with her songs, but this is bare-bones and forced to rely on melody and lyrics.  Forced.  Such a word.  There is no force to it.  It flows.  Song after song, Duvekot’s voice breathes as much as sings and hits the spot on every level.  Her voice is better than ever and when they bring in an extra guitar and bass, it complements rather than changes the music.  I’ve heard it maybe six, seven times and am struck by how timeless is the music, how utterly beautiful and feeling her voice.  I rank this album right up there alongside any of those of Dala, and if you knew me, you would know that that is a compliment and a half.

Just yesterday on my walk, New Siberia followed The Fire TapesDream Travel on the MP3.  Dream Travel is to me a fantastic semi-psych album and my first thought was to pass over Duvekot because jumping from psych intensity to acoustic beauty seemed too much of a leap, but I didn’t.  To my surprise, ten seconds in I was in another world.  It was more like passing the baton than falling into less.

Mark the title.  New Siberia.If you’re looking for an album with lyrics which dig deep and has a melodic touch, this is one you have to hear.  I guarantee you I will never make a mistake like that again.  Not with Duvekot, anyway.

Speaking of The Fire Tapes…..

…their latest album Dream Travel continues to grow on me.  They ride the San Francisco side of psych with touches of maybe Mazzy Star and the like when they space out.  Well, maybe more like my latest folk-psych favorites The Winterpills.  There is something about the male/female voices which is very Pills-like and I find it captivating.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that The Fire Tapes had entered the studio to work out an EP for WarHen Records out of Charlottesville.  I haven’t heard the music yet, but word is out that the sessions have been going extremely well.  Perhaps we can expect a step toward that After Bathing at Baxter’s hint we got off of Dream Travel, or maybe a dip in the deep end of the Winterpills pool.  Or  maybe both.  Regardless, after spreading The Fire Tapes all over my psyche, I am convinced that it will be well worth hearing.

Dream Travel, by the way, is still available as a free download.  Go to this page and listen and if you like it, grab it.  Then keep your ears open for the new EP.

About Vinyl…..

Not more than three months ago, the discussion was going hot and heavy in the music forums over the negatives and positives of digital vs. analog (CDs and downloads vs. vinyl).  The alternative communities seem to have this idea that analog is where it’s at, that digital recording drains the very lifeblood out of music.  I’ve heard it before and I suppose I am damned to hear it many more times.  Everyone has an opinion.  My opinion is that each song/album stands by itself.  What comes to the format comes out of the way the music is handled before it gets there.  Anyone who blanketly states that vinyl is better, period, is a (to quote Monty Python) ass.

See, getting an album or song ready for release is a process.  How that process is handled makes the big difference when it comes to final outcome.  I have compared CDs to vinyl at times and found no differences and at other times with other albums have found great differences.  The thing is, what you like is what you like.  Argue all you want, you will never convince me that vinyl is always better than digital.  It just won’t happen.  You will also never convince me that originals are always better than remakes.  If you haven’t learned yet that music has to be considered in a vacuum, you’re just not paying attention.

That said, there is one thing I miss more than the analog aspects of certain recordings.  The packages.  I miss liner notes.  I love the booklets they sometimes include in CD packages, especially the sixteen page ones filled with historical info, but how cool would it be to have those in a form where you didn’t need electron microscopes to read the fine print?

Just a thought.  Oh, and as long as I’m thinking, when you as a musician are ready to package your next album, please choose your colors with more discrimination.  Yellow on orange may look pretty but is sometimes damn near impossible to read, or haven’t some of you figured that out yet?  Class over.

Notes…..  This just in!  Newly discovered (well, I just discovered them) Marshburn is heading back into the studio this next month, barring act of God or Congress.  I haven’t quite completely wrapped my head around their latest yet (Miss Spelled For Emphasis) but Jesus Christ!  They just released it to the public August 5th!  Still, good news is good news.  I hear a lot of potential in these guys.  And it is something to look forward to…..  Huffamoose‘s Craig Elkins continues working his latest album I Love You with this sweet gem of a video for the song, Most of the  People.  I do believe Elkins has a bit of Randy Newman in him, whether he admits it or not.  The animation is killer…..    Speaking of Pokey’s family, here is a video of Pierce Ternay and EJ Simpson way back when they played guitar and bass, respectively, for Philly rappers The Goats.  It’s live and in your face.  They later went on to form Maggi Pierce & EJ with Maggi Jane.  Pierce and Maggi now appear as Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing in the group Hymn For Her— masters of the cigar box guitars…..  I was just digging through my notes, looking for my interviews with Seafair- Bolo RecordsTom & Ellen Ogilvy in preparation for an article when I decided to do a bit of a search to see what was out there.  I found this little piece written by rock historian Peter Blecha for  Blecha, as always, does a standup job writing about two people who were very important pieces of Pac NW rock history.  If you like Pac NW rock at all, you should read this…..   Again, September is the month of 2012’s Monterey Pop Festival, a tribute to the original event, let us say.  The date is September 29th and the lineup is intriguing, to say the least— Big BrotherIt’s a Beautiful Day, The Standells, David Freiberg (Quicksilver), Sal Valentino and The Beau Brummels (hopefully, together) and my pick for band to see, Sopwith Camel.  Sounds like a festival.  Information is available at their website,…..  Knitting By Twilight’s John Orsihas announced that his new solo EP will be available shortly.  If you don’t know KBT or Orsi, the music is a lesson in electronics and progrock.  Orsi also plays in Incandescent Sky and KBT’s Karen Orsi plays with Herd of Mers.  I have been an Orsi fan since KBT’s Riding the Way Back, an EP which reminded me of seventies electronic-oriented prog.  Good stuff…..  Here’s a trip for all of you who have an interest in radio and hippiedom.  My buddy Mike Marino is writing a series of pieces on rock music and radio.  Mike and I became friends at Fort Lewis back in the days of the Viet Nam War and have remained so since.  He is a wacky sonofabitch in terms of writing style, preferring what he calls the cerveza style (meaning that he learned to write by stacking the Coronas on his table and pounded the typewriter until the beer was gone).  Music is not hos only subject.  He has written a book about weird places as travel destinations (The Roadhead Chronicles) and has a number of things available as e-books and the like.  The first two installments of his music and radio days, a series he is partial-titling Dead Air, are posted on his Facebook page and you can go from there, should you desire.  I’ve been waiting for this series.  The guy was a disc jockey for decades and was also a concert promoter in Detroit back in the MC5/early Seger years.  Check him out…..  Again, I know I’m forgetting something or someone.  Please chalk it up to dead brain cells.  If anyone happens to be at Alberta Street Pub tomorrow night to see Picture The Ocean, yell “Frank!” between sets and let’s have a talk.  Keep the faith…..

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.”

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