Frank Gutch Jr: Norton Records: After the Flood, Music Millennium: Back to the Future (Vinyl)

FrankJr2“That’s it.”  That is the final word in this video Norton Records posted on Vimeo not long ago.  Not, “That’s it, we’re done.”  More like, “That’s it, there is nothing more to say at this time.”  Head Nortonite Billy Miller had just given the rundown on the work being done to salvage as much as possible from the devastation they had incurred from Hurricane Sandy and a heartbroken Mirriam Linna had showed us the warehouse where boxes of vinyl lay piled in heaps like dunes on a beach (wall-to-wall) and, truth be told, that was it for those comments because they and a whole host of volunteers had and have a mountain of work ahead of them.

Remember the pictures of the garbage on the streets?  The piles and piles of water-soggy furniture and trash which had at one time filled a home or business with what made it special?  Well, there it is.  Linna walking across a beach of vinyl destruction with salvageable goods in her hands.  A thirty-year accumulation of a business built on dreams from the ground up.  A soggy mess.  (Watch video here)

zanteesThirty years ago this would have been a blow.  Today it is a blow to the heart.  Billy Miller is no longer the brash, in-your-face rock ‘n’ roller who rocked his way into record label credibility and Mirriam Linna is no longer boppin’ those drums like she used to when they both joined the Statile brothers and Rob Norris in The Zantees.  They were young and ready to take on the world and they did, creating what I can only view as one of the best collector’s labels anywhere.

For thirty years they have been keeping the music alive and not just for profit.  They got into it because of the music.  Way back.  Waaa-a-a-y back.

I have no idea where I came into contact with them or how it happened, but it did happen.  I have a short piece in one of the Kicks magazines which proves it did.  I have an autographed copy of Rockin’ In the House by The Zantees which proves it did.  I have a handful of old copies of the Norton Records catalogue.  And I have memories…..

hurricane_esqueritaBilly and Mirriam were my first contacts with much of the music I missed.  While I had heard stories of Hasil Adkins, I had not actually heard him until they shamed me into listening.  Esquerita was only an odd face (and a whole lot of hair) as far as I was concerned and Link Wray was little beyond Rumble.  I really didn’t want to go backwards at that time (the late seventies and early eighties).  I was having a hard time keeping up as it was.  But, like I say, they shamed me into it.  They wrote so enthusiastically of the music they were into that I found myself sneaking peeks at the above-mentioned artists, and more.  They were responsible for my affinity towards The Real Kids, one of Boston’s many forays into the world of Power Pop.  They reawakened my interest in a lot of the old Sun Records releases and made me realize the worth of amazing artists like Warren Smith and Billie Lee Riley and Charlie Feathers and, much later, did me and the world a huge favor by releasing a series of CDs featuring the music of the Fort Worth Teen Scene of the sixties.

They made music fun!  45 RPM records, the little records with the big hole, became a today thing with them as opposed to the collector’s items they had already become.  They pressed albums and EPs on 10-inch vinyl.  They dug into the vaults (or had other people do it) and uncovered gems which may have stayed there forever.  And the artists!!!!!  They made deals with people attached to labels long since demised—  Chattahoochie and Cha Cha and Etiquette and so many others— for music barely marketable at the times the deals were finalized.  They flooded the market with music, if you consider limited pressings a flood.  They didn’t have the money to press thousands but then they didn’t have the interest from consumers, either, so they pressed in the low hundreds— in many cases, I would be surprised if they pressed more than a hundred.  I laugh when I think of the music lost and found— of Thee Midniters (whose Whittier Boulevard was a mainstay of the old Lloyd Thaxton Show out of L.A.), of Bobby Fuller, of The Wailers and The Sonics.

va_work_it_on_outFor myself, Billy and Mirriam still make music fun.  They still back the music and the bands and still look for those oddities few know about and even fewer have heard.  You want proof?  Follow this link.  This page is a collector’s delight!  I’m from the Northwest and was searching out everything local and regional back then and I have yet to hear many of these tunes or these bands.  Now, you have to be weary, yes, because the music wasn’t all Raiders and Sonics and Wailers.  Many of these were not hits for a reason, BUT (and I use that word a lot, but…) they are prime examples of the period because, oddly enough, they are from that period.

A number of years ago, maybe the early eighties, there was this little import label which scoured the US for anything of interest from the old days— weird country, early rock, pancreatic spasm music.  The guys who owned White Label Records dug about as deep as you could, uncovering tracks by bands which were only released in, say, Paducah or Poughkeepsie or Pipestone, if at all.  The albums they released were veritable treasure troves of musical gems and I grabbed each one as they came into the record store I then worked at just to see if I recognized any of the band and artist names, which happened all too seldom.  But it was fun and the music, while not always being the best recorded, was always worth hearing.

That is part of what Miller and Linna bring to their label(s).  That is dedication to the music, to detail, to the spirit of the times.  That is why we need to support Norton Records!

Followed that link yet?  Notice The Wailers and The Sonics albums?  More importantly, did you notice the collections?  The 45s?  Man, that is some collection of amazing stuff, isn’t it?  Those are the kinds of things you see all too seldom.  Did I mention attention to detail?  Always part of Norton’s modus operandi.  Always part of what they are and who they are.

traintonowhereDo me a favor.  Visit their website.  Scour the catalogue.  If you have ever thought about delving into the racks for either yourself or a friend, now is the time to do it.  They have a lot of people helping them dig out (another indication of who they are) but so many of us are so far away.  The best thing we can do is support the cause.  Buy an album or CD.  Buy a 45.  Maybe they won’t be available for a short time (it will take them a certain amount of time to piece together what they have and what they will need to replace), but do it anyway.  And do it now.  This stuff is worth having and especially worth giving to a friend.  There is a holiday coming up, after all.

Music can be a bond.  I bonded myself to Norton years ago.  It has been a great experience.  If you love music, it could very well be the same for you.

Billy?  Mirriam?  I see people coming out of the woodwork from all over.  Take heart in the fact that what you built, so many of us have found and find worthy.  Things will get better.  And we will help you get there.

And Wailers/Sonics fans?  Here is a link to a piece I wrote about those two bands some time ago.  For those from the Pac NW, I hope it will bring back good memories.  For those who aren’t, it is a night which stands alone in my memory.  A true Battle of the Bands.  Click here…..

By the way, here’s an interesting aside.  When Billy and Mirriam started Norton, they released their LPs under Norton and their 45s under Little Ricky.  Think about it.  Consider it a challenge.  It will come to you.

Music Millenium— A Return to Vinyl…..

musicmillenniumI remember my first time visiting Portland, Oregon’s Music Millennium.  It was the summer of 1971 and I was fresh out of the Army and all of the guys who hung out at Eugene’s House of Records planned a caravan up I-5 just to dive elbow deep in one of the best Import sections imaginable.  They had this arm of the store called Intergalactic Trading Company  which specialized in (mainly) European import albums and, boy, were we pumped.  I remember charging in the door and yelling at the guy behind the counter, “Imports!”, and him not responding but pointing straight ahead.  I’m sure I wasn’t the first to be so abrupt and I know I wasn’t the last.

Those racks were a Valhalla of rock music of the day.  You couldn’t find many of these records anywhere else and I could understand why.  They were double the cost of American LPs— many, a whole $5.95 or more!  Still, we saved our money, price be damned, and it was worth it.  We would shove each other out of the way, reaching for anything and everything and after we stacked up enough to warrant a closer look, we headed to our own corner of the store to look closer, hovering over the stack to prevent others from looking over the shoulder.  See, it was a crapshoot.  They ordered from distributors overseas and got what was on hand, not what was ordered.  If The Millennium ordered five copies of Bakerloo, for instance, the distributor might have only two or one.  And, to make matters worse, mail-orders got first crack.  So they would send out a list of albums received and give thumbnail reviews and if their regular customers did not want it, it got placed in the racks.  At least, it seemed that way to us.  We wanted what we wanted and we didn’t know what that was until we found that they were already out of stock.  Funny how every album they didn’t have was the one we wanted, even if we’d neither heard of nor heard it.  I mean, I was very upset that they didn’t have The Dog That Bit People.  And yet when they had three copies of something, the interest waned.

thirstymoonGod, but I loved those trips.  I grabbed a lot of records over the months before I left Oregon for SoCal:  by Grobschnitt and Satin Whale and Thirsty Moon— yes, I was a krautrock fan.  And even though I dove into the racks at the House of Records with equal abandon, the domestic albums were never the finds that the imports were.  I had convinced myself that the British pressings were better and the music was more exotic or something.  Thus began a walk through darkened woods with the first Average White Band album long before they hit it big in the States and Phillip Goodhand-Tait and Nick Drake and The Alan Bown and the like.

As stated, I pulled up roots for SoCal and, later, Seattle before returning to Oregon and, man, was I surprised to see the Millennium still there!  Not just there, but going strong.  A guy named Terry Currier had bought the store, from what I understand because he too loved the store and its emphasis on music, and I would stop by on occasion during my trips down to Oregon to visit the parents.  It was a great store when I left.  It became an even greater store under Currier.

The business has changed over the years.  Vinyl was virtually melted by an industry even then intent upon destroying itself and CDs took over with the promise from that industry that it was the best move for everyone involved.  Tapes became history.  Everything became history except digital and even then, the industry messed with it.

currierdriverWe could still be dependent upon that industry if they hadn’t been so insulated, but they were and are now against the ropes.  They probably claim to have brought back vinyl but we know better— that it was music people who brought it back and the industry itself seems to be devoid of  that beast.  No, they had little to do with it though they may be one of the reasons for its success, if success it becomes.

It is a future, though.  Currier saw that awhile ago.  But how much of a future is still questionable.  Enough, at this point, for Currier to put his money where his mouth is.  The Millennium just recently gutted the classical side of the store, see, and have stocked it with vinyl, new and used.  It is a side of the business Currier always avoided, but one he must embrace.  The business demands it.

Which is good all around, as far as vinyl freaks go.  While so much of the populace had no idea what it was like back in the day to fondle a record or read an album jacket, it is finally an experience we can once again all enjoy, should we choose.  Could it save brick and mortar (meaning actual record stores)?  We’ll see, but it could.  There is something about the experience of a record store which could turn a lot of the uninitiated into consumers— buying an album on impulse, reading album jackets, sharing music with strangers in a public environment.  Let is hope it takes hold.  We are becoming so isolated what with all of those little electronic gadgets that at times I think we’re on the brink as a species.

If you’re ever in Portland and you get a chance (and if you’ve never been in a record store beyond those of the Towers or Peaches), I recommend a visit to The Millennium.  Talk to the people who work there.  Talk to other customers.  Find out what it was like back in the day to discover music on your own without being on your own.

And if you’re not in Portland but you know of a record store in your area, go there.  It’s time to give the box stores a what for and use the Mom and Pop’s for what they can do best:  Selling you something they hope you will love.  I mean, an album is hardly a widget.  Many of them are alive.  Ask any music freak.

Label Me This, Batman…..

Yep.  I love the labels.  Not the major labels, of course, but that has to do with the fact that those bums are working off of a paradigm which would have shifted toward the artists by now without the legal roadblocks the labels have had implemented.  Nope.  I dig the small labels.  I dig tiny WarHen Records out of Charlottesville with its commitment to seven-inchers and colored vinyl and picture sleeves and marketing the artists as artists.  I dig Red House Records for its commitment to quality and to their artists— a roster which would be considered a major label but for its insistence that it will not lose its way.  I dig Signature Sounds for its roster, also, mainly Winterpills and Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers whose very existence makes my listening so much more enjoyable.  I dig Compass Records because they signed the very, very impressive Dala and if you’ve not heard them you really should.  And I dig Green Monkey Records, but you already know that, don’t you?

gmchristmas4If you don’t, you haven’t read any of my columns.  I mention Green Monkey more than any other label because they are trying more than any others to do things right.  You don’t have to go any further than their website to see it.  Right now, for instance, they have Christmas music streaming there.  Christmas music you cannot buy anywhere else.  Pac NW Christmas music.  You can hear it and, should you choose, purchase a download.  All proceeds go to The Millionair Club of Seattle.  It’s a good cause.

To get to Green Monkey, just follow this link, and if you have trouble connecting, be aware that they’ve had a bit of trouble with their server lately, so check back.  They should have it up and running shortly.  And disregard the info about GM in the Notes section.  I’m just too lazy to delete it and, anyway, I’m afraid I might delete something important not in this little rundown.

That said, how about some…

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I’m an old man.  I have little strength left to do a happy dance or chase after bank robbers and yet this morning I could run a mile (though it might take me all morning).  You see, Jane Gowan, a name you hear quite often if you pay any attention at all to the music I follow, just announced that Shade‘s One Last Show of Hearts is now available in what she calls “tactile form” (To myself, that’s “physical product”).  I have been trumpeting the talents of Ms. Gowan and one Tim Vesely (her partner in crime re: Show of Hearts) for some time now and am still convinced that they fly way too far under the radar for the music they create.  I heartily recommend that you go to Shade‘s Bandcamp page (click here) and take a listen to an album which has not diminished but grown in shade1stature with each listen I have given it (and I have given it many).  Start with Peace of Mind and work your way backward.  It is hellaciously good Pop music.  Then, order the CD.  Shade has an earlier album, too— Highway.  One day soon, I am going to write in depth about Gowan and, hopefully Vesely (Rheostatics, The Violet Archers).  I love their music way too much not to…..  This by way of Stealing Jane‘s Bryce Larsen (who has just completed a new album).  Non-profit youth center The Sad Cafe is struggling to stay afloat.  It is a venue for all ages and supports a lot of local and regional bands and the youth who love the music.  You might want to check them out.  Stealing Jane will be reforming for at least one show in January to benefit the center.  Click here…..  “One, two, Kalamazoo”?  They paid somebody for that drivel?  If I had a T-Mobile phone, I’d be chucking it into the nearest lagoon after watching that insipid ad.  And what is this clapping every time someone kisses or gets married in a movie.  They never used to clap at weddings, did they?  Makes me want to puke…..  But on the brighter side, Jubal Lee Young has been working toward his new album and says it is going to rock a lot harder.  Jubal started his music career rocking out.  I guess this means he’s returning to his roots?  Can’t wait…..  It’s that time of year again.  I can tell because for the third year in a row (now watch someone correct me), Green Monkey Records is streaming a new Christmas “album”.  Basically, for this year, Prez Tom Dyer put out the word and asked for submissions.  Seattleites Green Pajamas and Jimm McIver (The Life) and a string of others have handed music over.  The album is available for streaming here  and for sale (download only, I’m pretty sure), the proceeds going to The Millionair Club in Seattle.  I believe the Millionairs were one of the earliest of the feed the people organizations.  Watch someone correct me there too.  I’m just too lazy right now to look it up…..  Speaking of that Christmas album, you have got to check out Green Monkey‘s entry into the Holiday Video Sweepstakes.  Merry Christmas Capitalism is a pure in-your-face statement about Christmas and all it stands for and is a great plug for The Millionair Club as well.  Watch it here…..  Anyone remember any of my references to the band Stealing Jane?  Well, they just posted that they will give access to various live tracks the band has recorded over the past numbers of years.  All you have to do is email stealingjanelive@gmail.com and put “YES!” in the subject line.  I’ve already emailed mine in…..  I swear to God, I am surrounded by greatness every step of my life!  Just found out that Darrell Vickers, who graces DBAWIS readers (and us writers) with the occasional (but always outstanding) column, was/is in a band called Don’t Tell Betsy and that they released a track back in 2010 about, surprise!  ZOMBIES!  Yup.  Pretty cool, too.  With lines like “Promise you won’t eat me tonight”, you know it’s a ballad.  Watch here…..  Getting closer:  No Small Childrenhave announced that they have just sent their EP off for mastering.  For those not in the know, NSC is Lisa Joy Pimentel‘s new outing as a rockin’ guitarist with a three chick combo.  I say chick because Lisa says chick.  I’ve heard one track.  It’s a killer…..  I see a ton of people are wishing Javier Escovedo a happy birthday, but if they really wanted to do that, why not just buy his album, City Lights!  And yes, it is available on vinyl.  Click here…..

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.”

3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Norton Records: After the Flood, Music Millennium: Back to the Future (Vinyl)”

  1. Love the Music Millennium. Only been there once, but Terry and the guys welcomed me with open arms and let my artist, Dave Rave, hang a musical shingle and do some in store performances. Gotta get back to Portland for this and Powell’s Books 🙂

  2. […] bail them out of what could easily have been a game-ender.  I wrote part of a column about it (read it here) and was amazed at the response.  It seemed as if everyone cared.  They had earned it.  Such […]

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