Frank Gutch Jr: Who’s Who In Rock Music, Maxi Dunn & The Lost Art of Arranging, Bryce Larsen Steals Jane (Again!), and The Lonely Wild…..

FrankJr2I sit at the desk a partial human being once again, the throat still coated with viscous fluids and the chronic hacking reduced to a wheezing irritation of the I-think-I-can variety (irritating but not life-threatening).  I am drinking Royal Crown Cola (as opposed to the preferred Crown Royal) to reduce viscosity, the mind is somewhat sharp though I could easily use another eighteen hours sleep before writing this (I have been waking at 3 A.M. these past few nights) and wonder how far I will go before losing energy and direction.


That’s a laugh.  I occasionally make the mistake of revisiting past columns and usually think, holy crap, I could use an editor, thoughts and errors strewn across a column’s width like pieces of cars in a Hollywood action movie.  Luckily, I remember my intentions and hope that at least they got through (Momma, rest her soul, had this saying about roads being paved with good intentions and, Momma, you were right but it’s three o’clock in the morning and I have a deadline and cannot go into that here), but I wonder.  We all live in our own bubbles, a la Fantastic Planet (Man, there is a movie and soundtrack which blew my mind— that and Fritz the Cat), and even when we communicate, we don’t.  So many people tell me things like, yeah, I saw The Beatles in 1965 as if I could really understand what it meant to them but I can’t because my ears were full of everything Pop from Paul Revere to The Great Scots (you gotta love a band which started out as the Mohawk-wearing The Beavers and ended up Scots wearing kilts).  My point here, of course, is that as much as we would like to think we share experiences, it is never past a certain point.  Put five people in a room, create a disturbance and get five different explanations as to what happened.  Get it?  So please bear with me while I try to put together something coherent— possibly something you can relate to in some small way, if only the experience of attempting to create under the influence (I may just switch to Crown Royal, if things don’t come together better than this).

whoswho 001Who’s Who In Rock Music…

The vast majority of you are wondering about this, I am sure.  I was digging through some boxes looking for my old music magazines and uncovered a volume not unlike those of Jaimie Vernon‘s excellent Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, this one published in 1982 and geared toward the American market.  One William York put it together and while I had been in the record business for some ten-plus years at the time, I had heard not one word about the original volume, published in 1978.  I should have.  Scribner’s published it and one would have thought it would have been stocked in the major book and music stores of the time, but no.

I found out about it through York, who spent innumerable hours scouring the racks at Peaches Records in Seattle where I worked.  Afternoon after afternoon, York was pulling records from the racks and jotting notes into his notebook and, of course, it piqued our curiosity.  One day, I asked him what he was doing and he explained about this book he had put together about rock music— an encyclopedia— and how he was struggling to update it.  An encyclopedia, I thought, mentally rubbing my chin a la Silas Marner.  What is this?  So I questioned him.  Who’s in it, I asked.  (The revised volume would say right on the cover, “The Facts About Every Rock Group, Soloist, Band Member, and Session Player on Record— Over 12,000 Entries”— it was an exaggeration)  Everyone I can find, he said.  What kind of info, I asked.  Names, dates, releases— anything apropos, he said.  Cargoe in there?  Who?  Cargoe.  Nope.  Big Star?  Nope.  Heartsfield?  Nope.  Want the info?  Yep.  So while York was slowly scraping his way through the cut-out bins (We had one of the best cut-out sections in Seattle.  I know.  I bought them), I was going through my collection at home, filling in some holes.  It was a worthy project.

When the book hit the streets, York brought me a copy and thanked me for the help.  It wasn’t much, though in retrospect it means more than at the time.  It is hard to imagine an encyclopedia of rock music today without references to Cargoe, Big Star and The Hot Dogs.  Or Heartsfield.  Or a hundred or thousand other bands, many missing from this volume.

You have to realize that Windows was not quite together at the time, that York was working with quill pen and ink, as it were.  Cross-references— something York insisted upon— were labor-intensive.  Information was not available at the click of a button.  Indeed, as York states in the preface, most information came from album jackets, hence the long and lonely afternoons spent at Tower and Peaches and I am sure at a handful of other record stores in the Seattle area.  He had a bit of help, sure, but only in the sense of a few well-meaning people passing along notes and most of those about their favorite bands.  Vinyl freaks.  They’re crazy about what they’re crazy about.

When I discovered the book this past week, I felt a rush of a world past.  York put in yeoman’s work getting this to press and I wonder just how much he could have accomplished had he had the full computer capabilities available today.  A lot more, I am sure.  It was a great idea.

But as with all projects of this nature, there are caveats.  The book has its share of misinformation.  God knows how it happened, but garbage in-garbage out was around long before computers.  Upon blowing the dust off the jacket, I opened the volume to Bugs Henderson.  I didn’t mean to.  It just happened.  I would like to think that Bugs was there telling me something.  What he was telling me was that he had not died in 1975 and that At Last, his smokin’ hot 1978 album, was not a retrospective, as the book said.  York knew this would be a problem.  He gave contact information for corrections and additions for future updates.  I have no idea if it was ever revised again.  If it was, I never saw it.  For what it is, though, this does quite nicely.

canpopmusicencycWhich brings me to the aforementioned Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia.  Jaimie Vernon‘s work was known to me long before the two volumes were published.  I had logged onto the work he was doing on Canoe a handful of years ago and used it as reference many times.  That work was the precursor to the Encyclopediae (there are two volumes) and impressed me in much the same way as did Who’s Who.  It is an ongoing monumental task and Vernon knew it going in.  The fact that he got as far as he did on Canoe was amazing.  What he has done with the Encyclopediae is even moreso.

True, Vernon has the full power of the computer at his beck and call.  He can reference and cross-reference at will.  He can research while writing.  He can do all of the things that York was not able to do.  So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that gathering information is the mere tip of the iceberg in such an undertaking.  That huge chunk below the waterline?  Editing and editing and editing.  Then, more editing.  The drudgery alone, even while writing about music and musicians you love, is oppressive.  Your eyes cross.  Your mind wanders.  That joke about not writing checks that your ass can’t cash becomes reality.  Ever write a sentence only to find out that what you wrote was not what you thought you wrote?  Ever edit it again and again and each time see it as the sentence you thought you wrote?  I once wrote about Berry Oakley‘s death only to find out that the name I used was Butch Trucks‘.  I found out when Butch himself wrote me an email stating that he was unaware of his death and wanted the details.  Even then, when I edited the piece, I had to force myself to write Oakley’s name instead of Trucks’.  Why does it happen like that?  Maybe because once that path is written on the brain, it becomes the path.  I don’t know.

Well, Vernon has written enough that he is well aware of such traps.  He passed information by people he trusted, double- and triple-checked entries and probably edited out comments unnecessary for the volumes’ purpose.  And he is editing.  Today.  Such projects are never done.  There is always more.  Always.

If you haven’t checked out Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and you say you love music, until you do, you don’t.  Sure, artists are limited to Canada.  So what?  Do you have any idea how many artists there are and have been in Canada?  Hell, half the US charts are and were Canadian!  Do I want a music world sans Guess Who or Ugly Ducklings or Chilliwack?  Hell, no!  Neil Young?  Canadian.  Ron Sexsmith?  Canadian.  Laurie Biagini, Picture The Ocean and Poor Young Things?  Canadian, Canadian, and Canadian.  Gordon LightfootCarolyn Arends?  I used to think Canada was the Northern U.S.  After looking at the encyclopediae, I’m thinking we’re Southern Canada.  Without assholes and rednecks, we’d almost be Canada!  And don’t get me started on Hollywood.

Found!  The Lost Art of Arranging…..

I’m a dinosaur and I know it.  I knew it when I noticed that fewer and fewer albums listed arrangers.  I grew up in a time when arrangers were essential to music— when Duke Ellington relied heavily on Billy Strayhorn, when Count Basie handed out arranging assignments to the likes of Thad Jones, Ernie Wilkins, Neal Hefti, Sammy Nestico, and Frank Foster and when Leroy Anderson was as crucial to Boston Pops as was Arthur Fiedler.  Rock music changed that to a large degree, though, the arrangements being much simpler for a three- or four-piece combo than a full orchestra or band.  Arrangement credits disappeared from most albums unless the arrangement itself was the centerpiece to an album, at which point it was acknowledged though sometimes reluctantly.  I don’t know what happened.  The whole idea seemed to fold itself into production and, well, wasn’t arranging a large part of a producer’s job anyway?

maxidunnedmundProbably.  For most intents and purposes.  Still, I revel in the idea if not the actual fact of arrangements when it comes to music and that brings me to Maxi Dunn‘s new album, Edmund & Leo.  Do The Grammys have an Arrangement category?  If they did, as much as I hate the whole idea of The Grammys as they now exist, I would nominate this album, hands down.  Front to back, the album is an arranger’s dream.  It is most obvious in the voices.  Not vocals.  Voices.  They are all Dunn’s and they are magnificent.  This, I think, is arranging.  As I listen, video scenarios pop into my head involving the Maxi Duo and the Maxi Trio and the Maxi Quartet and the Maxi Chorus and, when things come to a head, the Maxi Mormon Tabernacle Choir or maybe some semblance of the specter of Spector.  Maxi upfront with little Maxi’s popping up when needed.  Like targets on a rifle range.  With voices.  They carry me away, these voices, layered in such subtle ways that they can’t help but enhance the message of song.  There is theater in the voices, sometimes uplifting and sometimes stately and vast.  There are highs and lows and pushes and shoves, always appropriate and pertinent to the song.  There are Maxi’s, sometimes alone but mostly together in different combinations and if that doesn’t define arrangement, then I don’t know what does.

Voices are not all there are.  Lay the unobtrusive percussion of Damon Roots beneath the programming and guitar of Peter Hackett and you have bedrock.  Programming.  Hmm.  Could that be code for arranging because there are moments on this record when it seems that all of the music is on a different plane and when it happens, you have liftoff.

If you think this is a cheap way of buying time, you’re right.  I need to review the album but I want to hear it another twenty or thirty times, thank you, because I can tell already that it warrants it, from the jangly guitar pop sound of Change the Record to the over-the-top massiveness of Meteor Shower to the harmonious and odd I’m Only Here Because of You which has a way of sneaking up on you, the voices coming from every which direction.

I remember way back in 1970 or so reading that Joni Mitchell had her own producer, Henry Lewy, and would not record without him.  I am sensing that sort of connection between Dunn and Hackett.  I get a sense of the sum being greater than the whole and that is not to negate either as musician.  There just seems to be something synergistic about the music when both are involved.

Hackett, by the way, has his own little project going that he calls Cult of Wedge.  I shall be working my way in his direction soon.

Bryce Larsen— Goodbye to Jane…..

stealingjaneliveAbout the same time as Dunn began developing the style which would lead her to Edmund & Leo, six guys in Sea Cliff NY jumped from HyJinx to Stealing Jane in one swift name change and became a music legend, if only in my own mind.  One late night in 2009 (it seems so much longer ago), I was tiptoeing through CDBaby‘s new arrivals pages and ran head-on into music I could not quite put a definition to but which quickly became an itch I scratched at every opportunity.  The band had just released an EP titled The Signal and at first I thought it nothing really earthshaking but that only ended up reinforcing my attitude toward “at firsts”.   A few listens later, I was sucked into a vortex of SJ fans city blocks-wide.  I joke, of course, but being isolated on the West Coast with no one who shared my enthusiasm for stealing as many janes as I could get my hands on, it seemed as if only friends and family members of the band were all the support they could muster.  I went on a rampage, writing about and passing along as much information about the band as I could find.  Not long after, the band faltered and then crumbled to dust, the struggle to stay together a bit more than their youthful and changing lives could bear.

A few years have passed now and when I received an email from Bryce Larsen, the band’s lead voice, saying that he was putting together a solo project, I was both apprehensive and elated.  Larsen was definitely the voice of the band and each time I heard a track from The Signal, I was reminded just how good that voice was, but solo?  Stealing Jane was a piledriver of a band, driving through walls and ripping down conventions and attacking love from the underbelly.  They had a guitarist who took no prisoners and an explosive rhythm section and horns— yes, horns— which started where Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago left off and I could not hear Larsen without them.  Until I did.

brycelarsenherestoyouHere’s To You is not The Signal and it should not be because Bryce Larsen is not Stealing Jane.  The voice is the same, yes, and the songs are as solid, though hardly dipped in the acid which made The Signal the classic that it is (and trust me, it is).  The attitude is different.  Larsen has grown up, as far as I can tell, and though he could have left us with a series of lame love songs spliced between light rockers, he didn’t.  The Signal was not a fluke, I now realize.  Bryce Larsen is just one outstanding songwriter.  There are love songs on the new album, to be sure, and light rockers which have a slight latin flavor to them, but there is also a depth which reinforces the depth he has shown with SJ.  A cursory listen to Disappear or Wanderlust or Man Like Me proved it to me and would to you if you gave them half a chance.  The songs don’t want me want to run around the neighborhood banging on doors the way The Signal did, but in a way it does, too.  These songs more than those of the past have more of a chance with the casual listener.  There are ghosts of Ash Ganley and Ron Sexsmith and so many singer/songwriters of worth in Larsen’s work and there is his voice.

Here’s To You is available this week.  You should take a few minutes and stop by Larsen’s website (click here) or, if you are truly adventurous, stop by Stealing Jane‘s Reverbnation page (click here) and listen to Mess, one of a number of excellent tracks from The Signal EP (you can purchase it here).  If you do, turn it up.  If you want to read what I wrote about the EP, by the way, it is available here.

The Lonely Wild…..

lonelywildthesunIt is no secret that I am a sucker for the smooth side of country, folk and pop and when those come in one package, all the better, so when roots maven Kim Grant played a track from their Dead End EP on her Town & Country Internet radio show a couple of months ago, I was all over it.  The band has a lot of what I love— harmonies, a very slight twang and songwriting which channeled the sound of spaghetti westerns and early seventies country rock.  I was evidently born a fan because I got these guys immediately.  They got me, too, in the form of an email begging for more music and info and I am pretty damn pleased to announce that a new album, The Sun As It Comes, is being released this week and it is already available for streaming.  Of course, at this very moment you can only access two tracks, but the band is promoting the fact that they are streaming it, so I’m sure that will be corrected forthwith.  (click here)  Ach!  I’m an idiot.  Here is the correct link!  Click here…..

They are fresh off a successful stint at SXSW and are preparing to sweep the States, beginning in their home town of Los Angeles.  Log on, take a listen and if you like what you’re hearing (from what I hear, many did in Austin), check out their Facebook page for tour dates.  With luck, they will be coming to a venue near you.  If you want to see what you will miss if they don’t, watch this.

As for Kim, you can hear her broadcasts Monday through Thursday from 11 to 11:30 AM (PDT) on the link provided above.  One half hour of music handpicked by her and probably music which you have not heard before.  Without Kim, I would be woefully unaware of The Lonely Wild (or Nocona or the plethora of other bands she has recommended) and would be musically worse for the wear.  Thanks, Kim.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Damn!  Another chick trumpet player.  They’re all over the place!  This one is a key player for one of my new favorite bands, The Lonely Wild.  New album on the way.  Dig this!….. This just in from Randy Burns:  He is going into the studio this summer to record an album for Wepecket Island Records.  For thos who don’t know (and there are just too damn many of you out there), Randy completely blew me away way back in the early seventies when I stumbled across his older album Song For an Uncertain Lady.  I became a fan and from that point grabbed anything I could find by Mr. Burns and the Skydog Band.  Should you wish to hear folk music from the late sixties tripping around the edges of psych, this is one you should check out.  Click here…..  WarHen Records is expanding its library not only with an impending album by C-WarHenSOB7Inchersville rockers Dwight Howard Johnson, but a single by powerhouse C-ville band Sons of Bill.  As few items as they have available (here is their page), they are becoming a powerhouse…..  Speaking of Nocona (I did, you know— scroll up), they have just posted their first music video of a track, Brimstone, from their impending album.  I dig it.  Click here…..  Speaking of chick trumpet players (I mean, if they call themselves chicks, it’s okay to use that term, right?), here is a video of No Small Children and a track from their Dear Youth EP.  And, yes, it includes a picture of Lisa actually playing a trumpet!  No props for that chick.  Did I mention that the band is comprised of elementary school teachers.  I would have killed to have had teachers like that in the third grade!  Click here…..  While we’re all talking about child abuse, it seems to be out of the sides of our mouths.  I mean, the vast majority of us don’t like it, but we mostly push the thought into the background.  Not Cyndi Dawson of The Cynz.  She and the band have posted this video to promote the awareness of what is for the children a horrific situation.  Leave Her Alone has a jangly sixties feel to it and, yes, it’s a good track, but it is also a warning.  We have enough problems in the world without putting them on the shoulders of children.  Watch here…..


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.”

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