Frank Gutch Jr: Ray Brandes, Gary Heffern, Jim Call and Javier Escovedo: The Denizens of San Diego, The Big Research Turtles Giveaway, (and pssst! There Are Notes)…..

I know a go-go girl.  Not one of those Studio 54-types who more than likely considered it a job or a chance to take her dancing to a higher level, but an honest-to-God go-go girl who danced because it was (and still is, thankfully) in her blood.  Her name is Elaine McAfee Bender.  I will be writing about her go-go life soon.  I know a girl who sings about go-go girls.  Well, about go-go girls in the modern world.  Her last album, in fact, is titled A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World.  Her name is Laurie Biagini.  I will be writing (more) about her soon, too.

But today, I stumbled upon a guy who used films of go-go girls and dancers in a video which has dominated my computer screen all morning.  The song (Lucky Man) knocks me out.  The guy is Ray Brandes.  I think I’ll write about him now alongside a few of my other San Diego friends because as disparate as they are, musically, they encompass what San Diego meant and means to me as a center of music.  You see, I lived in San Diego for three years back in the mid-seventies and the town was just starting to wake up to music of its own.  Mostly, it was radio and radio revolved around a chicken or something (okay, what started out as the KGB Chicken, an idea promoted and nourished by radio station KGB, and evolved into the San Diego Chicken— and yes, there was a lawsuit).  Yep.  Top Forty radio ruled the roost.  Clubs which had music had dance music so the vast majority of what you would hear on the bar circuit was a collection of the crap hits of the day and the very recent past (unfortunately, one of those tunes was Bungle In the Jungle, a song which had and has me convinced that Jethro Tull, after three excellent albums, had pretty much shot their wad).  As with Los Angeles, if it wasn’t from L.A. it wasn’t viable, though the walls came tumbling down with a rash of Brit-rockers like Fleetwood Mac (well, they were part British) and Gary Weaver raking the charts.  Original bands?  There were some but no one was listening outside of that small handful which seemed to always be there.  There was always original music and there were always people there to listen, no matter how few and no matter how invisible.

But like it happens so many times, most of those bands had no real place to play.  The venues were out for money, the businessman’s equivalence to blood, and music be damned.  So I thought, hey, if we can get musicians and venues on the same page, we might be able to change it (or at least put a dent in it).  I co-owned a record store called Scratchin’ the Surface and used it as a base for a possible movement.  I put an announcement in The Reader, San Diego’s free entertainment newspaper, to that effect.  A number of people came to the first meeting, among them future members of The Penetrators (Jim Call and Gary Heffern), and the lead guitar/vocalist for up-and-coming punk rockers The Zeros, Javier Escovedo (then known as Spunk).  There were others there, musicians of a handful of genres.  Most came to see what they could get out of it.  The second meeting, most of the others were gone, but there stood (and sat) Call, Heffern and Escovedo.  Call and Heffern, in fact, were not even really musicians yet.

Call had this little Casio keyboard he had bought and it had a cassette recorder and player built right in whereby he could record these spacey science-fiction movements he experimented with back then and he would play his music in between screenings of movies at this theater at which he worked as a projectionist.  He carried that keyboard everywhere with him, though he did not bring it to any of the meetings (there were only a few).  He was a dapper young man and always had a good looking lady on his arm (and he was suave enough to offer his arm, believe it or not).  Little did he know that within a couple of years, he would be sharing the stage with the young, high-school-aged Heffern, brash and in-your-face as he was then and later.  There was no one as enthusiastic at the meetings as Heffern, the one who had the least to gain.  For him, the music was everything.

Tony and Chip Kinman (The Dils) were there, though they may have missed the first meeting.  Josef Marc and Jeff Scott (The Hitmakers) saw the possibilities and offered to help in any way they could.  Missing were a handful of people who would later become the core of what would make the scene in San Diego viable— Ron Silva, Dan McLain (later, better known as Country Dick Montana), Steve Potterf and others.

What came out of those meetings was one punk concert featuring The Zeros, The Hitmakers and The Dils and the germ of what would make SD a punk hangout if not destination.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t there to see the movement take hold.  I left shortly after the concert happened, blazing a trail to Seattle.

Those people stayed, though, and there were more.  I hadn’t been in Seattle more than a year or so when I received a copy of Substitute magazine from Tom and Tim Griswold and Jacqui Ramirez asking if I would like to write a piece for their new punk-oriented zine.  I did, about The Sonics or Wailers probably, but it could have been about the world of 45s (which was making a huge comeback amongst the punkers).

A couple of years later, I was bitch-slapped when a copy of The PenetratorsWalk The Beat crossed my desk.  I did a double-take which almost gave me whiplash.  Shortly before leaving SD, see, I ended up at this party with Heffern and the Griswolds and Ramirez and a handful of others and Heffern swore that he was going to start a band.  He accosted everyone there individually with the tales of his lead-vocalist-prowess and swore he would do it.  I laughed because I had heard it all before, but I loved the enthusiasm.  That night, as I visited with what to me were kids, age-wise, I saw people who could make a difference.  They were only a handful, but they had the energy of a thousand and it was positive.  They loved their music.  I mean they loved it!  So when I saw the pictures of Gary Heffern and Jim Call and Dan McLain on the back of the album jacket, people I knew, and Chris Davies and Chris Sullivan, whom I was about to, I laughed again.  All I could think was, “sonofabitch.”

Escovedo and The Zeros made their impact.  Relatively quiet and reserved offstage, they became monsters onstage and while not wild were loud with attitude.  It would not be too long before Javier would pack his bags for Austin to join brother Alejandro in the True Believers and he was off like a shot, following his dream.  He has done well by his music, but he will always be that skinny little kid with that beautiful young girl on his arm, because wherever he went in those days, she went.  Heffern tells me they are still together.  I guess some things are meant to be.

It probably wasn’t big, numbers-wise, this burgeoning punk/new wave scene, but it was enough to bring people together decades later to listen to the old musicians play the old tunes.  Heffern sojourned to SD just last year to partake in a punk reunion of sorts and the Internet became rampant with people recalling the different shows they had seen and the different places they had been.  The family that pogos together stays together or something like that.

I loved San Diego but it became too much to bear, the weather fluctuating little, summer to winter.  I had lived there for three years when one morning I rolled out of bed— it was Christmas morning— to see the same surfer with the same surfboard I had seen every day heading down to the beach, the only difference being that during summer he wore swim trunks and that morning he wore a wetsuit.  I knew I had to get out of there or go crazy, so I left.  I left behind the music just when it was getting interesting and just when it had some punch.  It also had something to say.  Them punks weren’t playing the music just for the fun of it, though it had to be great fun or they would not still be doing it.  They shared an attitude and a philosophy and a lifestyle.  And they shared the present (that present, anyway) and now, the past.

What happened to them?  Javier stayed in music, playing whenever and wherever he could.  He and Hector Penalosa have recently rejuvenated The Zeros and are touring internationally.  He has also just released a solo album which you can preview here.  Good stuff.  Heffern is in Finland, having returned to his homeland after only recently finding out that he was culturally kidnapped from his family as a child and sent to the States to be adopted.  He still plays and writes and has formed a loose collective of extremely talented musicians they call Beautiful People.  You can see a documentary about the whole adoption debacle (and it is absolutely fascinating) by clicking here.  And you can watch a video clip of a news story about The Penetrators here.  In fact, if you’re smart, you will plug “Gary Heffern” into the Youtube search engine and check out his many videos (here’s one of his most recent of a song titled Hand of the Devil).  He has led one hell of a life (and is still leading one, thanks be to the musical gods).  Jim Call still calls San Diego home and is really more of an artiste than artist.  He supports a variety of music/arts projects, the latest being (and if I get this wrong, it is because you tell me so very little, Jim) Nicey Nice.  I mean, when you go to one of Call’s gigs, it could be anything from cupcake art to performance art to a full-on ballet with farm animals.  The guy’s mind is always ticking.

So is the mind of Ray Brandes.  Brandes came along in the second or third wave of San Diego bands which fed off of power pop and punk.  I was in Seattle and missed it, but there they were— bands like The Crawdaddys and The Penetrators and Brandes’ own bands The Hedgehogs, The Tell-Tale Hearts and The Town Criers.  There were others, but I couldn’t tell you who they were.  The Beat Farmers, of course, but the only reason I know that is because Dan McLain was an acquaintance and a member of both The Penetrators and The Crawdaddys, both favorites after the fact.

See, here’s the thing.  I contacted Brandes over a year ago for information regarding Gary Heffern, about whom I was writing a review.  Ray was kind enough to give me the information I needed and we kept in touch through Facebook.  He made comment on Facebook now and again about his own music, but never enough to make me think it was an important thing (though I should have known by then that to musicians, their music is always important).  I never bothered to follow a link, though I did once link to an article about SD music which Brandes had written.

Until this morning.  This morning, I felt like hearing something I hadn’t heard before and clicked on a link to the video of Lucky Man (click here)and heard something which made me look up.  There was something about it— the punchy gritty feel without too much grit— and it completely captured my attention.  So I have spent the afternoon trying to track down who he is and where he came from and I’ve found that it isn’t easy.  Brandes has, for one reason or another, made little of his music available for listening, though he does have a number of videos online (You can get to his subscription page by following the link to any of his videos and clicking “subscribe”) and a Myspace page with certain tracks posted.

Of the videos posted on Youtube, the most intriguing are those of The Tell-Tale Hearts, a handful of tracks I would describe as “mixing board tapes” recorded in 1985 at The Cavern in Hollywood.  While the only things to view are photos of the band, the music makes it more than worth your while— the sound straight out of 1964 or ’65 with whiny Farfisa organ and Mystic Eyes-style harmonica here and there.  It was a hell of a night, from what I hear, and I can’t help but wonder how much more is in the can from not only that night but others, either live or in the studio.

I guess it’s time to do some research, sports fans.  I’m thinking this Brandes guy is worth a little effort.  Think I’ll send him a note and see what I can come up with, and while I’m at it, I might just pass along a bit of information about the San Diego I deserted.  Stay tuned…..

Research Turtles Are Giving Away the Store…..

That’s right.  Giving it away.  Starting October 18th, Research Turtles will be handing out music for free download.  Not sure of the details right now, but word has it that everything they have available will be included— for sure, the new EP, Mankiller Part 2 of 2.  The name of the game at this point in time is live gigs, I guess.  The thinking is let them know who we are, musically, and we will win them over.  I cannot imagine too many people turning away from the boys, who have a real knack for everything from crunchy power pop to smooth pop.  They live on melodies and harmonies, folks, as well as crunchy riffs and if that’s what you like, what have you got to lose?  That’s starting October 18th at this site—–  http://researchturtles.com.

For those who want to know who they are, I have posted the first three chapters of six of an in-depth story of the band which you can access at rockandreprise.net/rt1.html.  The last three will be posted soon, so keep checking back.

Notes…..  It’s evidently Leonard Cohen Day here at DBAWIS.  In my inbox:  Sylvie Simmons‘ new biography of music icon Leonard Cohen has hit the bestsellers lists all over.  You want to know what makes the man tick?  Try reading I’m Your ManRead a rundown here…..  And speaking of Cohen, The MinnowsLeonard Cohen’s Happy Compared To Me is still in my all-time favorite Top Ten after, what, three years?  They will be releasing a live album and from what I have seen of the videos leaked to Youtube, it will be a stunner.  Check out all of their videos here.  Hell of a band…..  It has happened!  Lisbee Stainton just announced that come March of this next year, she will be headlining her own tour!  The incredible amount of hard work and the faith she has in her music has triumphed!  Don’t know who Lisbee is?  Watch this…..  Here’s a hint at what it takes to keep things going as a musician, folks.  Will Kimbrough has just posted on his blog that he is diving in with both feet on both a new album and a fund for a laptop so he can update his website while on the road (which is practically necessary because he seems to ALWAYS be on the road).  So he’s fundraising.  And hoping.  Hoping that fans will realize that they are not just handing him money, that he has something to offer in return.  What does he have?  He has reached back into his Will & The Bushmen footlocker and says, make an offer!  He has tons of promo material and things pressed and printed to support that legendary band (It’s how I found Mr. Kimbrough, folks, and one of my prized possessions is a promo tape handed me by the Capitol salesman in Seattle— Thanks, Russ— which spliced pieces of interviews between songs).  Why not plug into his blog site and get his personal email address and ask.  He wants you to!  But don’t waste his time.  Do it only if you’re really interested.  Here is the url for his blog.  Let’s show him some love…..  I could post stuff like I’m going to here for a whole ton of albums, but today I am listening to Whispering Pines‘ new self-titled album and if you are ancient like myself and remember the early seventies when country rock and rock intermingled, these guys do it as well as anyone, including the bands who were there.  A freaking killer of an album if you dug the first Wilderness Road, Cat Mother, and Cowboy albums, and so many others which were criminally ignored back then.  Do yourself a favor and take an aural peek here…..  Those who like their music more on the folk/Americana side should love this live recording of Shook Twins, Brown Chicken, and Colorado’s excellent Elephant Revivalrecorded at The Oregon Country Fair this past July 15th.  Normally, I wouldn’t say much, but the quality of these recordings are above the norm, not to mention that the performances by all involved are stellar.  Don’t listen to me, though.  Click on this and it will take you to a page where you can stream or download (the download is free).  Seriously, this is good stuff!  (and the player on the page is the best I’ve heard— it sounds outstanding)…..  In my world, there can never be too much Green Pajamas and evidently in some other people’s worlds as well.  Here is a video recently posted on Youtube by one Catherine Psy of The Night Miss Sundby Died, one of many excellent songs worthy of a video.  Well done.  And if you haven’t yet taken the Pajama jump, you might want to do so by picking up a couple of collections of earlier tracks recently released on album— The Complete Book of Hours and Summer of Lust, available from Green Monkey Records.  Killer tracks from the early days and every bit as good as anything they’ve ever done (with the exception of All Clues Lead To Meagan’s Bed, which is now miraculously available as a download from Amazon). And while you’re checking out Green Monkey, be sure to listen to head monkey Tom Dyer‘s new album, I Ain’t Blue Anymore…..  Guitarist Frank Hoier and drummer Moselle Spiller, formerly doing business as Boom Chick, have been forced to change their name.  They are now playing as Crushed Out.  They call their style of music “honky tonk surf” but I call it freaky rock ‘n’ roll.  It is raw, minimal and very fifties and sixties.  If nothing happens between now and then, I will be attending a show at Sam Bond’s Garage in Eugene on Nov. 10th.  I’m pumped!  Hoier had a solo album he released a few years ago which I loved! (Read the review here)  I still do, actually.  Anybody in Eugene who wants to join me, it’s going to be a party!  If you want a preview, stream one of their older albums here…..  Here they come again!  Seattle’s Ticktockman are releasing four more tracks (it’s a four-track EP, friends) and they are killer!  These guys completely caught me by surprise with their earlier self-titled album, a progrock fusion work of art, and have me convinced they are one of the best things to come out of the Pac Northwest recently.  You can stream the EP (and buy it, if you so desire) by clicking here.  Killer stuff, I tell you…..  It’s no secret that I think New Siberia is Antje Duvekot‘s best album to-date, so when I saw that Paste Magazine was premiering the new video of one of the songs from the album, I gave a big thumbs up. (View video here)  A friend of mine asked me why I was giving Paste a plug.  Hell, if it helps Antje make new fans, why not?  It’s not about politics.  It’s about the music…..  Did I mention this in last weeks notes section?  The Soundcarriers, a UK band which lives and breathes their own kind of psychedelia, have released  a couple of tracks really worth listening to (and picking up).  This Is Normal is a strange ride through a psych fantasyland with voice supplied by actor Elijah Wood (You can stream and buy the track here).  The flip is Boiling Point and, well, it’s another classic.  (Stream or buy it here)  I really dig these guys.  There are very few, if any, bands doing what they do, soundwise…..  I know I’m missing things I want to plug, but my mind is pure fog.  Be sure to at least click on the links to show support for the music.  And if you don’t buy, at least let them know you’re listening!

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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Ray Brandes, Gary Heffern, Jim Call and Javier Escovedo: The Denizens of San Diego, The Big Research Turtles Giveaway, (and pssst! There Are Notes)…..”

  1. […] Back in 2012 I wrote a DBAWIS column which centered on the San Diego punk/new wave scene of the late 70s.  Gary Heffern recently pointed it out to some people and asked me to post the link.  While I seldom read my own stuff except for purposes of research (I stopped years ago when I realized how much I repeat myself), I found the requested column and read it again.  Some rat bastard deleted my original column and replaced it with a piece by someone who knows how to write.  Oh, well, I’ll post the link anyway.  This, my friends, was San Diego, about 1977 or so.  Click here. […]

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