Frank Gutch Jr: Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Transistors! (and other fabled foibles of the time)

FrankJr2I should be writing about important things but this week I thought I would take a left turn and explain how we got to where we are, musically.  Or at least one small leg of the journey.

It wasn’t all that long ago that I printed a piece about reality and each person’s perspective of it.  I used Big Star as an example of how reality can be warped (read it here).  I used The Wailers and The Sonics in a similar piece (read that here).  Is there no end to my ego?

Evidently not because what you get from here on out are my memories and my recollections.  So fasten your seat belts, sports fans.  Let’s take a ride on my reality machine (a magic carpet ride, if you will) back to the days when radio was not only king, it was culture!

The Beginning…..

sweethomeSweet Home, Oregon was probably the typical combination logging/farming community during my childhood— the fifties.  Isolated by a road system in progress (most roads were still gravel or dirt), radio and the newspapers were the only real contacts we had with the outside world.  I mean, Portland’s The Oregonian had the best sports section of any paper I’ve ever read (and comics section, too) and television was only for the very rich— there was only one station in the area anyway, out of Portland and out of reach we used to say because even on good days the “snow” blocked out all but the major movements on the screen.  Radio, by today’s standards, would probably be considered lame.  Only a handful of radio stations had the power to make their ways into the little valley pocket and there were only a few people in the town who put up antennae with strength enough to draw in more.

koacMostly and musically, it was Country & Western and what we would later term Middle-of-the-Road, which covered everyone from Rosemary Clooney to Bing Crosby.  There was classical, thanks to fledgling KOAC, the one “educational” station near enough to hear.  A day’s schedule on most any station included news and variety programs and, of course, talk, but real talk and not the inflammatory shock jock talk which blankets the airwaves today.  I loved radio back then and whenever and wherever it was playing, I would stop and listen.

Around 1955 or so, Dad bought a console and our world expanded a bit.  It was a beautiful RCA (I think) and had separate 45 and 78 RPM turntables as well as a full AM dial.  I don’t think it had FM, but I wouldn’t know because the valley was so broken up that the town had no line-of-sight to any station at the time.  Out of sight, out of mind.

Mom and Dad made sure we understood how to use the new radio/phonograph machine but it was understood that they had to be there when we did.  Most of the records were theirs anyway and I remember spending hours in front of the one huge speaker situated behind grillcloth right beneath the radio, listening to records but mostly to the radio.  In the evenings, we sat around as a family and listened to radio programs like Amos ‘n Andy and Suspense and, of course, Your Hit Parade or The Grand Ole Opry.  The radio wasn’t background for us.  If there wasn’t anything we wanted to hear, we either turned the radio off or listened to records.  Everything from Homer & Jethro to The Blue Sky Boys and T. Texas Tyler— Dad had a thing for the country— and Mario Lanza, of all people.

recordplayerIt didn’t take the folks long to realize that if they wanted the console to last, they had to give us kids our own player and that’s what they did— a suitcase model and light enough that us kids could pack it around with ease.  They bought us some kids records and allowed us access to theirs and life was good.  Because rock ‘n roll was finally busting out and so was television.  American Bandstand hit in the mid-fifties (Oregon was a bit behind the times) and right after, a little half hour dance program called “Teen Scene” started broadcasting out of Eugene.  It was a rush to get home to catch “The Mickey Mouse Club” (we all thought Spin & Marty were the coolest), “Teen Scene” and “American Bandstand” all in a row.  The kids around town were going gaga over Elvis, stations began popping up out of nowhere and a lot of them were playing rock.  Life was getting exciting!

You have to understand that until that point, life had pretty much revolved around neighbors.  Coffee brewed in just about every house (except the Mormons’) and cigarettes were a way of life.  If you weren’t sitting inside listening to the radio while your mom visited with the neighbor ladies over coffee and cigarettes, you were walking down the street past neighbors sitting in or leaning against a pickup or car with the radio on, beer in hand.  An afternoon could easily begin with Arthur Godfrey and end with The Fights or a track meet (That’s right, folks!  Oregon and Oregon State broadcast some of their track meets.  How cool is that?).  Until…..

It was the transistor, sister…..

motorolatransistor1For a basic history of the transistor radio, click here…..

Until the invention of the transistor!  (I’ll bet you were wondering when this was coming)  Yep.  A simple thing like the transistor conspired to change the world— well, us kids’ world anyway, because music became portable.  No, not the music itself, dipwad.  The radio!  From that point on, the radio world changed.  Kids had access to music anytime (well, outside of dinnertime and school, anyway) and took to it like a duck to water.  Music became lifeblood to teens and pre-teens.  And radio, realizing the marketing potential, set about milking those teens.

Radio stations changed.  Admittedly, drive times were still the most important part of their day but it began to be less and less so.  Evenings started gaining  market strength.  Then weekends.  Indeed, anytime kids were known to listen, radio stations tried to oblige.

There were restrictions, of course.  Many stations were licensed to broadcast only during certain hours.  My favorite station, KGAL in Lebanon, from dawn to dusk.  KRKT in Albany expanded their time from dawn to midnight.  KASH in Eugene did the same and then, I believe, were granted a 24-hour day, though I can’t recall for sure.  The thing is, teens began to control.  Stations which heretofore had pretty much laid out programming began coming to the kids, asking them what they wanted.  Grand openings for stores and that new invention, malls, started happening.  Radio was there.  Rock shows started happening.  Radio was there.  A festival?  Sponsored by radio.  Car races?  Radio.  Movies?  Radio.  It wasn’t long before practically everything in the every day lives of teens had some attachment to radio.  Teens began to rely on it.  Then they began to become obsessed by it.

Sure, that era would be somewhat short-lived.  TV was waiting in the wings, but that wasn’t something radio didn’t see coming.  They prepared for it.  They adapted.

kashradioThey began including the teen.  Little humor spots like Chicken Man began grabbing audiences.  Paul Harvey and the news became a college favorite at noon (as did magazines like Newsweek, Time and US News & World Report).  Stations began playing games:  Name-It-And-Claim-It where if you got through on the phone to name the artist and song then playing, you won a record.  Make-It-Or-Break-It where you called the station to vote for or against a record— If more positive than negative votes were received, they added it to the playlist.  If not, they supposedly broke the record right there on the air (but knowing the disc jockeys and their love for the music, I would bet that it was sound effects).  You could win tickets to movies and to concerts by being the fifth or thirty-fifth caller.  During certain hours, stations took requests.  Can’t get enough of that Beatles 45?  Call the station and request it.  Hell!  Better than that, dedicate it— to your dog or to your teacher or, like the vast majority, to your latest crush.  Radio was its own world!

You cruised to your favorite station.  You knew every disc jockey at your favorite station.  You went to the dances sponsored by your favorite station.  You put their decals on your car because sometimes, with luck, you got stopped by one of the station’s dee jays who saw the decal and who doled out swag!  T-shirts.  Records.  Tickets.  Certificates for free meals.  Hell, they were giving anything and everything they could trade for away and rock was so popular that a free meal was an automatic for a restaurant needing business.

And they did things.  Cool things.  KGAL sponsored a Battle of the Bands in Lebanon and only the locals were allowed.  The top three winners automatically were signed up for the big Battle of the Bands at the Coliseum in Portland.  Yep.  We sucked, but we played Portland.  KRKT broadcast from inside the brand new monstrosity which was the T&R sign, a huge neon-lit right-by-the-freeway honest-to-God building of a sign (well, it looked like it at the time).  We begged and begged Momma to drive us over so we could see Gentleman Jim Hunter do his show.  When we got there, cars were parked all over, most parents with kids waiting for Hunter to stick his head out from inside the sign, asking parents to turn their radios to 990 on your AM dial, Radio KRKT.  To my knowledge, they all did.  It was surreal, hearing the station broadcast echoed from far and near, just enough out of synch to give you goosebumps.  I can still remember the cheers as Hunter waved and plugged whichever sponsor was next in line.

themherecomesthenightWant to know what radio meant to us?  A lot of us kids picked beans during the summer.  Strawberries, too, but that was too much work for this clown.  So during certain days out at good old Atavista Bean Fields, people would get together and tune their radios to one station and you could hear the music echo all over.  See, the cool thing about bean fields (they were pole beans) was that each row had thick wire which ran along the bottom and top with thick string (top to bottom) so that the vines could climb.  Those thick wires were a natural antenna.  That little radio that sounded like a cheap CB radio became a full-blown monster when attached to the wires.  All you had to do was place it on a pole where the wire ran across the top or, if you had one with a strap, hang it on the wire.  Man, if you thought Them‘s Here Comes the Night or The AngelsMy Boyfriend’s Back sounded cool on Dad’s great sounding car radio, you were in for a treat!  As many as twenty or thirty radios blasting the same song at the same time— now, that was something else!  I know because a handful of years ago I ran into a friend from high school, ol’ Steve Richards, and the two things we talked about (after the amenities) were how good the music sounded out at the bean field and how cool it was to have ice cold pop at lunch (we used to freeze the cans so that they would be thawed right around lunch time).  Ah, good times.

Bob Segarini, the guy who basically owns this little column, and I talk about it.  How radio was the engine which ran our generation.  If you’ve been reading this column, you know that he grew up in Stockton.  We shared stories when we first met and slowly came to realize that every teen’s experience was pretty much the same back then.  Maybe the music was a bit different (Oregon was, on the whole, a white bread area when it came to music so we missed out on what Billboard labeled “Race Music” in the years preceding rock ‘n roll— Bob missed out on the regional and local “hits” we had in Oregon— we decided it was a trade-off).

Ah, yes.  My point.  My point is that the transistor was responsible for most of that.  The transistor radio, to be exact.  I’ll bet they don’t teach that in schools.  They should.

The Digital Music Service Debate Continues…..

Someone once said, “Time flies when you’re having fun”, and I’m glad it wasn’t copyrighted because by now I would owe him or her a few billion simoleons because not only have I said it my whole life, I’ve lived it.  Of course, at the rate the music digital services like Spotify and Pandora pay, it would more than likely total about eighteen dollars and a few coins.  Yeah, that’s about right, I figure.  Twenty at the outside.  Because that’s about how much artists are getting paid for thousands and thousands of plays on their “services”.  You know what’s really strange about the situation?  I seem to care more than the artists.  I hear bitching and moaning and I hear grumblings, but what I don’t hear are voices.  Just the other day whilst scanning Facebook, I ran across of musicians I respect very much, thank you, and they seemed to be as pissed off as I was.  I just got my check, one said, and the other one said, yeah, not worth the paper it’s printed on and then the other one simulated cusswords and anger.  But when I asked them if they wanted to talk about it, that I as a writer was ready to take on the issue, they disappeared into the ether.  They became the equivalent of those guys who bitched and moaned about bad hours and low pay and got pumped up but wanted you to approach management which you did only to find that they had disappeared.  Just like these supposedly angry musicians.

I know it’s not easy, but I think people are making it too hard.  Some artists are overthinking.  They hate the idea that their music is fodder for venture capitalists, especially when they see the pittance they are allotted.  They hate losing control over their “product”.  They want fair compensation for the work that they do and have done.  Yet they hand Spotify and Pandora and others of that ilk their music with little thought.  Or maybe a lot of thought.  What does it matter when the deed is done.

Last week, I headed down to the Calapooia Brewing Company for a John Cage Fight.  Well, it was actually an evening of experimental music with JD Monroe and Dave Trenkel of Xenat-Ra.  You know.  Pounding rhythms and moog and squawking geese with the occasional groove breaking out here and there.  Well, Dave and I sat down and had a confab between sets and he reminded me that he had mentioned a site geared specifically toward artists getting screwed:  Says on the Google search page, “Artists For an Ethical and Sustainable Internet”.  I’ve just begun to dig.  The guy who organizes this page has done one hell of a lot of work and obviously cares.  So do I.  Why don’t musicians?

nospotifyEven Dave said it isn’t that easy.  The big fear that artists have is being lost in the blizzard and, boy, have we had a sustaining blizzard since this whole digital thing came along!  I mean, if you have your music on Spotify, he said, you at least have exposure.  True, that.  But at whose expense?  And when were the rules on intellectual property changed?  And by whom?  And why aren’t indie musicians pulling their music from the digital sites, especially after seeing what little if any good it is doing them?    Well, I have a lot of reading to do (and research) before I get to the bottom of the whole thing, but someone changed the rules.  Someone’s making out like bandits and it ain’t the consumer, pal.  They’re getting everything they want (besides access to Jon Gomm‘s music) and they’re getting it when they want to and for the right price (assuming they go the free route).  Guess what, you musicians who think Spotify is a great thing?  You’ve given away your rights to your music.  Without thinking and without doing any real research, you’ve given your music away.  Sure, you’ll be compensated (in twenty years you might get back that C-note you should have paid that bass player who sat in at your request five years ago).  Good luck beyond that.

What I’m really hoping to find out (because I have this intense curiosity about it) is what happened to that intellectual property debate that the record industry refused to drop until the digital music services came along?  I mean, is it no longer important?  Could it have to do with the fact that Spotify handed the major labels something like 30+% stock for access to their catalog of music while the labels cut artists’ compensation down to horseshit?

Look, guys (and I am talking to every one of you struggling musicians out there), if you don’t put up, shut up.  Bitch all you want about not getting paid for your hard work or struggling to make ends meet, but if you aren’t willing to do something beyond bitching, I’m turning a deaf ear.  You don’t mind your stuff being on Spotify or Pandora?  Fine by me.  Just don’t expect any sympathy from my quarters.  Those who do care and do something—- anything— I got your back.  Give me something to work with.  Let’s spread the word.

And on that note, let us dig the…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Here’s a hell of a kickoff to this week’s Notes— a thirteen-plus minute video from Spain running down Ken Stringfellow‘s latest album, Danzig In the Moonlight, in music and interview.  I’m impressed.  Watch here.  You’ll be glad you did…..  Sometimes I think it’s just me, then I see or hear something which makes me realize that, no, it’s not me, it’s just damn good.  That’s the way I felt when I watched Sydney Wayser‘s “Kitchen Concert” video.  Look, I know that I know her music backwards and forwards, but it didn’t happen overnight.  Check out the video and when it’s done, click over to Sydney’s Bandcamp site (the link is in the YouTube post) and hear what she has done in the studio.  It’s fantastic stuff and all Sydney.  One of the few musicians out there I really, really get.  Watch here…..  As if Toronto doesn’t already have all the good stuff, they have a Folk Alliance encounter coming up.  February 20th through the 24th.  The Chelsea Hotel.  Is that right?  Lots of music and lots of talk.  Hopefully, there will be a conference on the digital music deltasaintsservices and how they’re raping the artists…..  Man, the videos are coming hot ‘n’ heavy.  Here’s the new one from The Delta SaintsDeath Letter Jubilee (watch here) (these guys are freakin’ hot!) and if that ain’t enough, My Jerusalem not long ago placed this video on YouTube (watch here).  It’s a killer!…..  Rough demo sent to me by good friend Joe Lee, who is responsible for my Kink Ador obsession.  Lucky Grrrl‘s Fighter.  I like.  Recorded in a garage.  Listen here and if you want more info, click here…..  Segarini once again proves that he will do anything to get in a music video.  Here he is crashing the Xprime party to a waltz which isn’t even a waltz.  Luckily, he restricts face time so you can enjoy the music.  Jane’s Modern WaltzWatch it here…..  Whereas radio used to be my go-to source for entertainment, the past few decades have pretty much pushed it to the background.  Imagine my surprise when Kim Grant, PR Person Extraordinaire, began broadcasting Americana on InTraffickMusic at eleven in the morning (Pacific) Mondays through Thursdays.  It’s only an hour but it’s a solid hour of music discovery.  You can use this player, if you’re of a mind, to listen yourself.  That’s 11 AM every Monday through Thursday.  You never really know what you’re going to hear.  Reminds me of the good ol’ days.  Click here…..  I swear I don’t know how Darrel Vickers finds all of the stuff he does, but he found an old/new album that caught my ear and drug it twenty yards:  Lockets/Camera Shy.  They’re calling it Dream Pop and I believe it.  Very shoegazey and melodic.  And the really cool thing is that it is available on VINYL!!!  You can listen and purchase through their Bandcamp page (click here).  Limited to 500 copies!  Seriously, if you like smooth, ethereal and melodic pop, you need to hear this.  Outstanding! Think SOMA or Amelia Jay…..


Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Who Will Save the World? The Mighty Transistors! (and other fabled foibles of the time)”

  1. Great article, Frank—–what memories, info, and history that we all were a part of—-thanks for reminding me of the radio “BEAN WIRES” really cool memories and sound s of the times and era we both lived and enjoyed in. Rudy H— SWEET HOME< OR

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