Frank Gutch Jr: Hot Damn! It’s The Hot Toddies!!! Women Who Rock, Part One— Toddies, No Small Children, and Shade….. Plus Notes!

FrankJr2You can’t blame me for being a little pissed.  I just found Stone Darling last week and was looking forward to following them from that point on when what do I surmise?  They’re not really the band that they used to be!  Yeah!  I scour their Facebook page and figure, hey, I’m going to move to the front of the line only to find that there is no line!  They’re playing every Monday in August at The Satellite in L.A., it says.  Yeah, in 2011!  They’re rocking The Echoplex, same city, on April 7th.  Again, 2011!

They’re playing a free show in June.  2010!  I feel like the guy running onto the loading dock at the train station only to watch the train pulling away.  stone darlingWTF?  I swear to God, I feel snakebit!  I mean, I love what those girls were doing and cannot even imagine them not making it, but…..  I mean, at least The Beatles left a raft of albums in their wake.  I have no idea what Stone Darling has left, but you can bet that I will be searching.  There are the tracks on bandcamp (you can download some of the tracks free by clicking here), but I would be willing to bet that there are other tracks floating around out there.  Anyone want to help an old man out?  I’m jonesin’ here!

For some reason I have since been turning up those darlin’s tunes.  They have reawakened my interest in the female side of rock, a side which bubbles under much of the time because of time and energy constraints on my part.  That side needs a fix now and again, though, and I’ve had that digital needle in my arm for the past week, looking and listening.  I had no idea what I was doing when I started.  I only knew that I needed lighter voices and harmonies and a sensitive side to music which only the female of the species can provide.  That guy who played the ukulele and sang Over the Rainbow?  Sorry, man, but I’ll take Judy Garland any day— well, when I’m in this kind of a mood, anyway.  The Beatles and ChainsThe Cookies kicked their asses.  Paul & Paula?  Well, that one’s a tossup.  But pick any song recorded by both male and female band or artists and I’m leaning estrogen.  Today.  Possibly tomorrow and the day after that, too.  When it gets under my skin, I have to scratch.  Must be the pheromones.

So, anyway, I’m a bit unnerved and digging through my long list of bookmarks in the computer (whenever I see or am turned on to something I feel I need to hear or look at, I bookmark it) and I come across this listing which says “The Hot Toddies”.  Hell, I’m always ready to lessen my huge bookmark list by one, so I click.  An hour later, I am researching and listening and sending off emails to people who run the labels these ladies have recorded for and thinking, you know what?  It’s time to revisit my feminine side, as it were.  So set yourself.  We’re taking a ride through the music of three bands I absolutely love and while it is the music which enthralls me, ain’t no man gonna make these sounds.

The Hot Toddies…..

hottoddies1Liquor, water, sugar and spices, served hot.  That’s the definition of a hot toddy, sports fans, and it fits these girls to a ‘T’.  I knew it from the first crunchy guitar chords of  Jaguar Love but, oh man, the chords aren’t everything with these ladies.  In three-girl girl-group harmony, these girls lay love on the line, offering a ride in no uncertain terms:

Last week my boss told me she was gonna loan me her car

So I found myself in the front seat of a brand new Jaguar

Cruisin’ in the fast lane, you may call me a whore

But I don’t give a shit ’cause I know that my car’s better than yours

Jesus!  Gender reversal in full gear!  And the chorus backs it up:

So let me take you for a ride down by the bay

Let me take you for a ride, you might get laid

Let me take you for a ride, we’ll get real far

Let me take you for a ride in my fast fast car

This with crunchin’ rhythm guitar and a beat you can dance to (I give it an 85, Mr. Clark) and I’m not only in music heaven but living a wet dream.  Hot girl + Jaguar = Heaven.  Yep.  I like this one.  (and don’t worry, kiddies.  Not all of their music is rated X)

hottoddies2After a couple of hours, I found that I liked all of the songs these ladies laid out.  Every.  Single.  One.  Why?  Humor, though not all of the songs are comical.  Simplicity, though some of the ideas are rock ‘n’ roll wizardry.  Sound, because they could have easily overloaded the lot of them with Major Label Wisdom (overproduction) which I find more and more disturbing  as I age.  Sincerity, because these ladies are out to have fun and make you have some as well and damned if, in my case, they didn’t succeed.

I washed dishes while I listened and smiled the whole time, occasionally running into the computer room to check on the name of a track which struck me as special.  I mean, they stretch boundaries with their lyrics here and there but the music— the music fits!  That Ain’t Right is a lament of sorts, but with tongue so firmly planted in cheek that, just as mother warned, it probably gets stuck now and then.  Check this out:

Last thing I want  (last thing I want)

Is to leave you high (leave you high)

High and dry (leave you high and dry)

One month and you’ll have to use your hand

Oh baby, I hope you’ll understand

That ain’t right

Hope you know what I mean

Three fingers and the vaseline

In the end, she’s pregnant (as if you couldn’t see where this was going).

I told my lover and he said no way

He said the doctor told him that he was shooting blanks

That ain’t right

Momma’s gonna kill me

Knocked up at seventeen

Don’t you know what I mean

Knocked up at seventeen

hottoddies3What do they do at this point?  Rock their way off the stage, choogling all the way.  A perfect ending to a song I not only like, but love for the lyrics.  Goddamn but good songwriting is plain good to hear now and again, you know?

These ladies dip their wicket into a number of musical styles—   fifties girl group/doo-wop, rock ‘n’ roll, punk, new wave, sixties pop, surf.  A couple of times I heard strong whiffs of The Go-Gos, but not in a copycat kind of way.  They have a way of making the genre fit their style.  You can hear it on songs like HTML, a computer-savvy look at “meeting” people on the Net which made me laugh out loud when they used “Double-U-Tee-Eff” in just the right way.  They rock out on songs like Photosynthesis, a New Wave rocker worthy of Research Turtles (if you don’t know their music, you should).  Boys On Bikes uses solid bedrock bass to drive what could be their most “commercial” song, meaning that I could see kids taking the hook and running (that’s a fishing reference for you non-fishermen).

They have a video on YouTube I find both exhilarating and disturbing.  Exhilarating because it is a solid version of Seattle, a song which should have had that city rocking when it was released.  Disturbing because it was more important to talk or yell than listen to the band, which I always find very rude.  Well, it was  filmed in Modesto.  Maybe that is Modesto’s whoop-te-doo.  You can watch it here…..

Oh, I’m sure there are critics that have and will come after these girls with a semblance of vengeance.  It’s what we do, us writers.  We hear something we are somewhat attuned to and if it’s not precisely what we want, we crucify it.  Not me.  I’m out for good music and, if possible, good fun and these ladies give me both in copious quantities.

If you find what I’ve written intriguing at all, you can begin streaming their music here.  I say “begin” because they have a few EPs/Albums  posted.   Just go to the right of the page and click on an album jacket to be magically transported.  It is worth it.

And if you want a free download of a sampler of artists signed to The Hot Toddies‘ new label, Tricycle Records, I highly recommend it.  Click here…..

No Small Children….. 

nosmallchildren3aThey are school teachers by day and wenches and bitches by night.  Their words, not mine.  Wenches and Bitches is indeed the leadoff track to their recent EP titled Dear Youth and you can bet if the kids could hear it, they would petition to be transferred en masse to any one of these three ladies’ home rooms.  A teacher who rocks out?  No-brainer!

My connection to these ladies took root a number of years ago when I discovered The Lisa Parade and, to me, a mind-blowing album titled Finding Flora.  I was on a quest to find the best and most buried music out there and while this may not have been the most buried, it certainly qualified as among the best.  The band teetered on the edge of breaking out at the time, having scored the theme for a short-lived TV sitcom called Miss Guided (I didn’t miss an episode, though I believe there were only five or six and the network played russian roulette in their scheduling of it).  Had Miss Guided succeeded, there is that possibility that The Lisa Parade might have succeeded also and then where would we have been?  Probably not talking about No Small Children.

heidiThe Lisa Parade was fronted by Lisa Parade, by happenstance, and I made contact with her and waited for her to become a star (she could easily have been) and found that she had played with an all-girl rock band called Heidi a few years previously and that they, too, had flirted with success, having recorded a demo for Warner Brothers Records (things didn’t work out).  Lisa, through the Net, introduced me to Jilly Blackstone and Jilly and I struck up a conversation about Heidi and her musical works in progress and her hopes for a future as a composer and performer.  The contact was off and on with long periods of silence and it was a long time before Jilly told me of her illness.  She had cancer.  She lived between what must have been bouts of pure hell but, Goddamn, she loved her music and a few times, out of the blue, I would get a message saying that she was sorry but she just hadn’t felt up to doing much and then would try to update  her musical doings.  Jilly finally lost her battle.  I found out when Lisa posted a message which between the lines told me that Jilly B was no longer walking among us.  It was a shock.  (Band members as shown in the photo are, L-R: Janet King, Lisa P, Jilly B, and Susan Lutin)

Heidi, as far as I can tell, had a chance but as it happens all too often, their biggest supporter at Warner Brothers was removed at a critical moment and the project was dropped.  The band hung on for awhile but nothing was happening and eventually they all went their separate ways.  Lisa’s was toward the Parade and while she kept contact with Jilly, outside of occasional reunions, they worked separately.

findingfloraLisa put out two albums with The Lisa Parade, both testaments to her depth of talent.  The first, Out of the Funbox, is an exercise in Power Pop and Pop, the songs riding waves of melody and harmony way beyond what I’ve come to expect, even from the best.  Finding Flora takes another step forward, beat and hip hop spicing up Lisa’s mostly upbeat and melodic creations.  I have no idea how either sold but I can tell you that they did not sell enough.  Certainly nowhere near the numbers they deserved.

Since then (Finding Floraclick here to listen was released in May of 2009), Lisa has been dabbling here and there, probably trying to find direction.  That direction comes in the shape of No Small Children, a three-piece band of no small consequence.  The Pop is still there but now it is couched in stacked amps and attitude.  Even the name emphasizes the change.  No Small Children is reference to the freedom one has when children are not the center of life.  These chicks ain’t kids anymore.  They even put it in song.  Check out the chorus of Wenches and Bitches:

Women delivering rhythm from our souls

Some people say that we’re wenches, we’re bitches

Livin’ the life even though we’re kind of old

It might be true that we’re wenches, we’re bitches

Stack a few Marshalls behind these dames, turn it up and you have The Lisa Parade honed down and on steroids.  Track by track, they rock out and punk out and even anthem out (Mystical, written by Jilly Blackstone and recorded here as a tribute— and what a magnificent tribute it is).  They sing of being cranky (I’m Irritated) and being hungry (Salad) and getting older (Dear Youth).  They rock and shuffle and dance.  They freakin’ make me laugh with their wall-of-sound rhythms and vocal harmonies and their view of life.  And make me tear up with as near perfect a version of Mystical as will ever be recorded.

I could go on and on about how they’re working in the studio right now (I can hardly wait) and how cool is Lisa’s husband, Bob Marlette, who twists knobs but knows to stay out of the way because you can hear in her music that Lisa needs that freedom to create.  I could give you a more complete nosmallchildrendearyouthhistory of Heidi and The Lisa Parade and might in the near future.  Right now, though, is not the time.  Now, you should listen.  To a couple of tracks off of The Lisa Parade‘s Out of the Funbox album (follow this link and click on Can’t Speak and Girl).  To the full Finding Flora album (link two paragraphs above).  To No Small Children’s Dear Youth EP (click here).

‘Nuff said.  But you’ll be hearing more about these ladies.  Lots more.  Guaranteed.

Shade— the band…..

You know those desert island lists people are always asking about?  You know— which albums would you choose if you knew you were going to be isolated on a desert island forever?  I’ve always thought them a bit ridiculous, just as I think lists of “greatest guitarists” and “best songwriters” ridiculous.  I mean, there are just too many albums to choose from— great albums— and I couldn’t put one together if I tried.  And the lists I’ve seen other people put together would pretty much limit my chances for survival because you can bet your ass that I’m not setting foot on an island with a music menu of Beatles or Zeppelin or any of the other superstar bands/artists whom most people would choose.   I think ten million listens to Stairway To Heaven (not of my own choosing— I worked in record stores for years and just when you thought you might have heard it for the last time, those asshats would release another “best of” or box set and there we’d go again).

Not that I don’t think about such things.  I am on my desert island all the time, see, and every album I choose to listen to is no less of a choice.  I get in moods (don’t we all?) and am never sure which choice I will make until it is made.  Luckily, most of my time is spent digging through a pile of albums and EPs I have yet to hear, so my “choices” are mostly not.  But when I want to hear something with which I am familiar, I have favorites.  In fact, I have a few that I have actual urges to hear.  Shade‘s Highway and One Last Show of Hearts are two.

shade1At one time, Shade was a band but members have dwindled down to Jane Gowan and part-time member Tim Vesely (Rheostatics, The Violet Archers), if even that.  As far as I can tell, Jane has allowed the band to fall into limbo, which does not preclude an occasional show or possibly new recordings (fingers crossed).   Even so, I have two albums to which I can turn when I get the itch, which is more often than you might think.

I found Shade through the BC band, The Beige.  They had just released an album, El Angel Exterminador, which blew my socks off  (this would be 2010) and Gowan, who had played trumpet on that album, sent me a message asking if I would listen to her band’s new album for possible review.  I did and, well, they made the list— the desert island list, which doesn’t exist but maybe does.

I have been trying to define what I love about this album (Highway) since I first heard it but have never really been able to get it down.  Definitely the simple production techniques.  Tim Vesely seems to want to avoid the traps of the bells and whistles many people use to hide what they deem defects.  Vesely prefers that the music stand on its own (his Violet Archer albums are an excellent example of less is more).  As a result, what you get is what you get and, in this case, it couldn’t be better.  For one thing, Gowan has a songwriting technique which is simplicity itself.  Melody, harmony and just enough surrounding it.  It is magic to my ears.  It doesn’t hurt that her and Mary Harmer‘s voices blend so well, either.  In the end, you get nothing flashy.  You get bare-butt Pop.  The more I hear it, even these three years later, the more I like it.  If I didn’t have this on a desert island, it wouldn’t be long before I would regret it.

gowanveselyGowan followed it up with One Last Show of Hearts with the group honed down to just Gowan and Vesely.  I don’t want to say that it is more of the same because the songs are different, but, yes, there is that patented Gowan touch in the songwriting.  Again, it didn’t take me long to hear the genius of the simplicity.  Voice, voices, instrument, instruments— downright Spartan in structure.  I love it.

Gowan supported the album with one of my favorite video clips, a simple instrumental outtake of the track which ends One Last Show over a speeded-up Gowan and Llynn Kellman setting up for a house concert.  The music is reminiscent of Neil Young‘s The Emperor of Wyoming and the high-five at the end is pretty cool.  Watch it here.

You can stream both albums on Bandcamp.  Highway hereOne Last Show of Hearts here.  Bookmark them.  Listen only when you’re ready.  They’re worth it.

You know what?  Not only was it fun writing this column, I’m thinking of making it a monthly or so thing.  Lots of women rocking out these days.  Many are deserving.  Stay tuned.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I remember Carla Olive when she was a card-carrying member of Hashmagandy (she still is).  I always picture her with a Gibson SG cranking out leads behind Toni Vere‘s vocals.  With the Trio, she is beginning to come into her own.  I am getting anxious, awaiting her next release.  In the meantime, I (and you) will just have to content ourselves with this collection of videos spliced together.  I expect great things from here on out.  Watch here…..  I’m sorry but I can’t resist.  Buddy Nathan Hill posted this video clip of Tom Waits on Fernwood 2Night and it cracked me up.  I saw Waits at SDSU around ’75 or so and I laughed so hard the first fifteen minutes that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the show because my head hurt so much.  First time I’d heard Emotional Weather ReportWatch here…..  God knows, I love Charlottesville.  One of my favorite lines is that C-ville has more musicians per capita than any other city on the planet, so when I ran across this piece about that city and musicians’ struggles to survive there, I read it with intense interest.  I suggest you do also, if you have an interest in the changing face of the music scenes throughout the world.  Fascinating ashleymcmillenstuff.  Read here…..  Speaking of Charlottesville, Stuart Gunter has been trying to get me to listen to Ashley McMillen for some time now.  I finally caved.  What did I think?  She ain’t country, like I’d thought.  She’s rock ‘n’ roll Pop.  All the way.  Straight To You (listen here) is a straight on rock ballad, of sorts, with Georgian Company sound on the backup.  Fine song, excellent production and vocals.  Okay, Gunter, you win…..  I am shocked and amazed!  Turns out a certain number of musicians and music fans hate the ACM Awards as much as I do.  They have a live blog running during the program during which, I assume, they talk trash about the awards as they happen.  You gotta love it when people other than yourself can smell the pile…..  That damn Darrell Vickers is blowing the hell out of deadline day.  He posted this video of one Ana Popovic smokin’ the vocals and guitar with one hell of a backup band.  A killer track.  Hell, it’s always a killer track when a lady plays guitar like she does!  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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