Frank Gutch Jr: The Stores Are Alive With The Sound of Music….. plus Notes!

FrankJr2I still get asked why I love record stores.  Still.  Older people shrug their shoulders and the young— well, let us just say that rolling of the eyes seems to be part of their DNA.  Every time it happens, I think, hey, I wasn’t like that.  Well, except for the time that Momma pointed out that Ernie Fields‘ rockin’ In the Mood was a cover of a Glenn Miller song.

I’d heard Glenn Miller and I’m sure I’d even heard their version of In the Mood, but as far as it being the same song that Ernie Fields wailed on?  Cue rolling of eyes.  Also cue not the first of a lifelong string of embarrassments when it comes to music.  I knew I was wrong but it took me three days to admit it.  I loved Fields.  When I admitted the truth, I learned to love Miller too.

listening boothWhy do I love record stores?  Imagine what it must have been like to have grown up in a town which basically had no record store.  I say basically because there were records available in short bursts (one of the drug stores stocked singles for awhile and there was a musical instrument store which rented band instruments and had a small rack of jukebox rejects— that was where I scored my copy of The Blue ThingsI Must Be Doing Something Wrong).  But there was never an actual stand-alone record store.  We had to go at least one town over (Lebanon) to even find hit singles most of the time and if we would have been smart, we would have just made a bee-line to Thompson’s Record Mart in Eugene.  They had all the hits and more and there were listening booths where you could hear the records before purchasing!  Did I like that place?  Hell, yeah!  I remember every purchase I made there, including The YoungbloodsGrizzly Bear b/w Tears Are Falling and Moby Grape‘s Omaha b/w Someday. 

(God, but I have this urge to tell you about the great Columbia Records Grape debacle in which they released five 45s from their first album at the same time.  It’s a classic!  And did you know that Grape only had one of those singles chart?  One!  Well, really chart.  Omaha clocked in at #88 on Billboard.  Hey Grandma made it to #127, but let’s get real.  If it wasn’t in the Top 100, it was bubbling under.  And that b/w?  That was an old record industry term which stood for “backed with”.  God knows why they chose that.)

The thing about Thompson’s was that I didn’t make it over to Eugene that much, Sweet Home being a good 35 miles distant (a zillion in those days), so I really didn’t understand the workings of an honest-to-goodness record store.  It was a place to find my singles and/or order them (it took them three months to get a copy of Sean & The BrandywinesShe Ain’t No Good because distribution was so regional in those days— a topic for another time) and not much else.  Oh, it was exciting to be surrounded by so much vinyl, but that was about it.  Anyway, Momma wouldn’t come in (though she made me go into all of the stores when she shopped) and I was there alone and under the stress of holding everyone up.  Evidently, they had shopping to do, too.

The University of Oregon was my home for the four years after high school.  By that time, I had moved from singles to albums (thanks to the occasional twenty bucks Dad would slip into my hand when Momma wasn’t looking… I often wondered if he would have given it had he known it was to be spent on records).  I mean, singles had pretty much given way to the album by then and the preferred place to buy albums— for myself, at least— became the Bon Marche.  They had a bin in the basement on which they would toss whatever albums they had and I would scour it every time I walked from campus to downtown.  I scored The 13th Floor Elevators first album there because of the cover and, more importantly, because I had heard of neither the band nor the label, a practice which made each purchase a gamble.  Little did I know that that was to become my modus operandi when it came to choosing records in the future.  More times than not, I lost, but I began learning.  I learned fast, too.  The two-to-three bucks per album was a huge investment in a world of 15-cent hamburgers and dime cokes.

illinoisspeedpressMy senior year at the U of O, a little shop opened on 11th avenue called Chrystalship.  It wasn’t much.  In fact, it was hardly anything— a hole-in-the-wall of a small building, just enough room for a few cardboard boxes full of records and maybe four people.  Our bass player, Sid, had run into Ron Prindle, Mr. Chrystalship himself, and dragged the whole band down for a visit.  I thought Ron pushy and loud until I realized that he had a very dry sense of humor.  He was, in fact, a funny, funny guy and he might not have known his music (I never found out) but he knew me at a glance.  I picked up a couple of albums and was looking seriously at them.  We hadn’t said more than a few sentences to one another but he already knew me better than I did.  “You don’t want those,” he said, and rather gruffly grabbed them out of my hands.  “Here’s what you want,” and he began handing me records he apparently thought worthy.  I think I was a bit pissed because I thought, yes, I did want those albums and who the hell was this guy, anyway.  I bought one of the records he put in my hands— Illinois Speed Press‘s first album.  I was back the next day asking what others he had to recommend.

Prindle had only one other person working at the store, if store it could be called— Jim Swindel.  I would run into Swindel years later when he became sales rep for A&M Records and later a big shot at Virgin America.  He is a good man.  It was a good store.  Hear me when I say that this was the first time that music had become personal but that a store did.  I was drafted after college and when I came back, two years later, Chrystalship had morphed into a major record store, not unlike Tower or Peaches in later years.

frumiousbandersnatchI bought a lot of records from Chrystalship, most fresh off the presses in San Francisco.  Country Joe & The Fish‘s first EP— a seven-incher with Not So Sweet, Martha Lorraine on it.  The Frumious Bandersnatch EP on purple vinyl.  Mad River‘s self-titled album and a score of others.  I loved that store.  I would occasionally walk down to their new location and revel in the vinyl.  There were boxes of albums on the floor, cardboard with the tops cut off— box quantities.  There were albums on the wall.  There was vinyl everywhere.  I was spoiled by the store.  They had box quantities of Cowboy‘s first two albums, Reach For the Sky and 5’ll Getcha Ten and of Pure Prairie League‘s self-titled album and Bustin’ Out.  They had Wilderness Road and Cryin’ Shames and Aum and Ambergris, which made us chuckle a lot because we couldn’t imagine a band wanting to name themselves after what basically was (or so we thought at the time) whale puke.  They had hits, too, of course— I mean, Chrystalship was a full-service hippie record store and a haven for many of us.  But Ron wasn’t in the store as much as he once was and Swindel had left and eventually I found other haunts.

rockinfooThe time between Chrystalship’s first store and the new and bigger and better one, or so they thought, I spent in the Army.  During that period, my record stores were the PX (post exchange) and White Front in Tacoma.  I bought two records at the PX right after I got out of basic— Spooky Tooth‘s Spooky Two and Rockin’ Foo‘s first album.  Every time I walked into the enlisted men’s club with them (the EM club had four record players with headphones for use, an hour at a time), I would spend three or four hours waiting for other guys to finish listening.  As soon as they saw them, they asked if they could hear them and were so anxious that I could not say no.  Music meant a lot to most of us in those days,  Viet Nam hovering over us like a dark rain cloud.

As I settled down for a two-year hitch (I had been drafted), I discovered that friends I knew from my college days had rented a place in Lake Oswego just outside of Portland and I began going there on weekends.  We spent a lot of our time driving around the city, getting loaded and listening to the radio.  Until, one day, we heard this song which had us all freaked out.  Turned out it was The James Gang‘s Fred, which the disc jockey extended through the next track on the album, Stop.  We headed to a little head shop in L.O., walked in and asked for the album.  I think it cost $2.59 or something like that.  That piddley amount ended turning into hundreds.  As we continued our “road trips”, as we called them, the trips to The Sun Shoppe increased and when we couldn’t find what we wanted there, we headed downtown to Long Hair Music Faucet.  Those guys got to know me well.  First time in, I tossed a hundred dollars on the counter and said let me know when this runs out.  Then, I said, what’s good.  They began pointing and I began grabbing and stacking and the next thing we knew, we were headed home with hours of music to listen to.  Over the year or so we did this, we packed home Small FacesFirst Step, Jethro Tull‘s Stand Up, Neil Young & Crazy Horse‘s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and Jeff Beck‘s Beck-Ola, to name only a few.  I look back and think, man, how lucky were we.  If the radio stations didn’t get us, the record stores did.  Life was a musical wonderland.

houseofrecordsinsideUpon my return to Eugene (I was let out three months early to return to college), I not only found a bigger and growing Chrystalship, but there was a new kid in town.  The beginning of The House of Records mirrored that of Chrystalship in that their first store was extremely limited in product and space.  They rented a small cubicle which was once the service window of a car dealership— a small office with space enough for maybe five cardboard boxes of records and little else.  I found it simply by walking past and noticing the records sign propped up in the window.  Now, I didn’t stop at every sign which proposed the possibility of vinyl, but I stopped at this one.  It changed my life.

For one thing, I met Gary Haller.  Gary was one of three owners of what would become my favorite Eugene record store.  He ran the store, ably assisted by Frank Vignola, and third partner Sheldon Wong bought records out of San Francisco.  Cut-outs, used records and promos.  Promos are the promotional copies handed to sales reps to keep the wheels greased, to get airplay, to get reviews.  Not really intended for sale, the industry was beginning to find out that promos were a necessary evil in the trade.  You bought favors with them.  You needed something, you traded in goods.  I need a little help with the new Marshall Tucker album.  Here’s a hundred promos.  Could you report Santana in the Top Ten?  Here’s fifty promos.  What’s a music director going to do with a hundred promos?  He is going to either add them to his collection, give them away or sell them.  Radio payed shit.  You can bet where most of them went.

houseofrecordsGary, Frank and Sheldon made it pay.  The House of Records had a sliding scale they charged, depending on the album.  A Pink Floyd in excellent condition brought about three bucks.  A Marshall Tucker, two-and-a-half.  A Pure Prairie League, maybe two.  Of course, price was always contingent upon condition.  They had to be clean and in great shape to bring in that kind of cash back in the early seventies.  Gary was careful.  He ran a great shop.

The first record I bought from them was Grin‘s self-titled album.  I had heard about Nils Lofgren‘s involvement with Neil Young‘s After the Goldrush.  I was curious.  Gary sold it to me for a buck.  He said it had been gathering dust and that it deserved better.  I didn’t even feel the hook in my mouth.

Soon, Gary found a house just up the street from the car dealer location and it was a beauty.  Two stories, oak all over the place, fireplace, upstairs bedrooms.  It became clear.  The House of Records.  I got it.

promosticker 001I began hanging out, spending hours on rainy days scouring the bins, reading liner notes until I had them memorized.  Steve Delph, with whom I would become friends, stopped by occasionally and Steve, Gary and I would listen to music, argue and laugh while Gary ironed promo stickers off of album jackets.  On occasion, customers would stroll in, but not many.  It was a great house but on a residential street and traffic was light.  It wouldn’t be long before Gary would move the store into its present location on 13th.  That store was a benchmark store for me.

I started just hanging out.  There were a core of guys who would swing by on a fairly regular basis and we would all stand around and talk and listen to music.  There was Gary and Frank, of course, and The Duck, an old Army buddy who had moved to Eugene.  Darryl would stop by, usually searching for some odd progrock band, and Spider happened along toward the end of my stay in Eugene.  Dorothy, Gary’s girlfriend, was usually at the store, but there were no other females.  The few I dated during that time quickly tired of the whole record store mystique— the time spent listening and conversation which usually centered on music in one way or another.  Us guys would now and again get together outside the store, usually for listening parties.  And every couple of months, we would pile in the car and head for Portland to the Music Millennium, which had the best import record section under the stars, or so we thought.

millenniumvinylI remember my first visit to the Millennium like it happened yesterday.  There were five of us and we barged in the door like we owned the place, which we did in a way.  No one else was there at the time and we said “Imports” to the guy behind the counter and he simply pointed to the back wall.  There, beneath a big sign which said (not surprisingly) Imports were a couple of bins of the prettiest import record albums we could imagine.  I remember it being “assholes and elbows” as my father would have said, each of us staking out our ground by stacking albums toward the rows we had not yet gone through, as if it were a God-given right to be first through the racks.  By the time we each got to the end, we headed to our own corners to read liner notes and make choices.  When we were done, we headed to the counter to check out, each one of us purchasing a precious handful of British and German and French imports.  They were double the price of American albums, but it was worth the price.  I began my collection of Kraut Rock that day (meaning bands and albums from Germany), scoring Grobschnitt and Thirsty Moon and Satin Whale.  I also scored the first Zzebra album, which featured Terry Smith and Dave Quincey from If.  I can’t remember what the other guys bought with the exception of The Duck, who bought a copy of Bakerloo, one of Clem Clempson‘s bands.

We would make that trip a few times during the next year or two, marking Music Millennium as (like Michael Fennelly recently stated) sacred ground.  Those were the early days of the Millennium— the days of Don MacLeod.  Between Don and brother-in law Dan Lissy, I think, they had us covered on the import side.  They called the import arm The Intergalactic Trading Company and supposedly sold records worldwide.  We didn’t care.  All we cared about was what they had in the racks.

Present day owner Terry Currier bought the store in the early seventies and has kept the spirit alive.  Currier is, without a doubt, a one-man advertisement for what has been good in the music industry for forty years.  Which is why I still drop by whenever I’m in Portland.

porntheaterBy 1974, it came time to leave Eugene for the heart of the record industry on the West Coast:  Los Angeles.  My sister and brother-in-law lived there and after much cajoling on Momma’s part agreed to put me up while I got on my feet.  My plan was to work within the structures of the major labels, showing them where they were going wrong when it came to marketing.  My first job was running projector at a porn palace/stripper theater.  Had to eat.

When I wasn’t screening outstanding films like My Sister, My Lover and What She Craved and between films slapping eight-track tapes of soul classics into the player so the girls could dance (“Totally Nude”, like the sign outside said), I was walking and taking buses through a vinyl wonderland.

For instance, Pacific Discount Records on Sunset in Hollywood had four bins of cut-outs they refreshed whenever needed.  I don’t know how many copies of Steve Young‘s classic A&M album Rock Salt & Nails I bought, but it was a bunch.  Why would I do that?  I bought them for The House of Records.  Gary would send me a check and I would send him back albums.  I mean, fifty-nine cents for Rock Salt & Nails?  A bargain!  Of course, after the first twenty or so, Gary said no more.  Only so many Steve Young fans in Eugene, it turned out.  That wasn’t the only album they had.  God, but what I rankinwouldn’t give to be able to dig through those racks today.  I’ll bet I missed albums which later became super-collectable.  (An aside:  I did score a copy of Kenny Rankin’s Mind-Dusters Mercury Records, 1967— which I kept for myself.  A few years later, a guy who worked at Licorice Pizza in Hollywood called me at the San Diego store because he’d heard that if anyone knew where to find rare albums, I was the guy.  He had a customer asking about that Rankin album.  It was Robert Redford.  I sent the record to the Hollywood store with my compliments.  Never heard a word back, the bastard)

While digging through the racks of one store, a guy told me about Aron’s.  He practically whispered it, like it was secretive or something.  Turns out, Aron’s was a used record gold mine.  Each morning, people would line up outside the door, some carrying boxes, for the mad dash to the racks.  They would shove and push and toss records into the boxes and then, when the chosen bins had been perused, would head to an out-of-the-way corner to check their stash for condition.  There were only a few that extreme, but it goes to show that what they had was worth that much trouble.  Truth was, you never knew what you would find.  Today’s stores— the vast majority of them anyway— allow employees to grab any collectable they wanted, leaving the customer high and dry.  Manny Aron, evidently, placed customers first.  While I am sure that not every collectable album made it to the racks, enough did so that the reputation of the store grew into mammoth proportions.  I, myself, can attest to a few hundred gems still in my collection, all purchased for the unbelievably low prices of anywhere from a dime to 67 cents.  Yep.  My favorite bin had the odd prices of  10¢, 33¢, and 67¢.  For those prices, I purchased albums such as Glass Harp‘s self-titled album, Heartsfield‘s self-titled album, Cargoe, Big Star (both #1 Record and Radio City), and albums by the likes of  Caravan, Emitt Rhodes, Van der Graaf Generator and a plethora of others.

I eventually found a job at Licorice Pizza and found it a bit difficult to make it out to the store except on odd days, but I made a huge effort to do aronsrecordsthat while I lived in the City of Smog.  When I left L.A. for San Diego, one of my biggest regrets was the lack of those morning conversations with Jesse Klempner, then an employee and later owner of Aron’s.  I never once talked with him without learning something about music.

If you had wheels in L.A., you had access to just about anything you might on vinyl and at a decent price.  I have records in my collection right now with price stickers identifying the store of purchase—  Music Odyssey, Zaad’s, Zed’s and so many more.  I forget the name of the store which specialized in film and soundtrack music, but they had albums you could not find anywhere, and for those of us strung out on rock, they had boxes of throwaways under the bins.  Those throwaways have been the core of my collection ever since.

I was allotted only a year in L.A. and was glad of it.  There were days you could hardly make out the buildings as you drove down the freeways and it wasn’t an atmosphere a boy from Oregon appreciates.  When the opportunity came to move to San Diego with Licorice Pizza, I jumped on it.  It was nirvana, comparatively, though I missed the record stores.  San Diego had its stores, though, the biggest being The Arcade, downtown.  They had a decent collection of used albums but what separated them from others was their 45 racks.  They had a huge table in the main room of hundreds of 45s, from yesterday to what seemed like the turn of the century.  Though I never found one in the racks with a picture sleeve, they did have some in white sleeves which told you to ask at the counter.  I’m sure a few guys spent their hard-earned cash on nothing but.  The atmosphere was mellow, casual talk all the time between employees and customers and, not surprisingly, between customers and customers.  More than once I heard someone ask an employee a question only to have it answered by another customer.  Sometimes, that customer would practically be an employee, showing others what they might be missing.  Those guys, like myself at The House of Records, practically lived at The Arcade.  When I went there, it mostly felt like home.

San Diego had its share of stores over the three years I lived there.  Swap-a-Tape had two or three freestanding stores which looked like those Kodak kiosks you used to see where you could drop off your film to have it developed.  Mostly, they dealt in cassettes, but they had their share of albums, too.  I found mint copies of Wailers, Wailers Everywhere there as well as mono copies of Here Are the Sonics and Sonics Boom!.  A buck apiece.  I told the guy I would pay more because they were certainly worth more, but he said that they hadn’t sold for a buck for some so he figured that was market price.  He acted like he was happy that the records had found a good home.  I think he was.

There was Blue Meanie inland in the El Cajon area.  They were a massive supporter of everything old and new which fell under the umbrella of new wave and punk.  Anything Beatles was featured and their fanzine collection was amazing.  They carried everything from New Music Express to Melody Maker to Crawdaddy and Bomp! to Kicks.  I bought more than my share of Crawdaddy from that store.  Man, I miss that mag!

montyrockersadAnd there was Monty RockersCountry Dick (Dan McClain) of The Penetrators and Beat Farmers fame owned it.  Before he slipped from grace and fell into the fiery hell that was rock ‘n’ roll.  Oh, he loved the store, but he really loved performing.  What a character!  We barely knew ye, Dan.

I woke up one Christmas morning and stuck my head out the window to see the same surfer I saw every morning heading down to the beach with his surfboard under his arms.  The only difference between then and summer was the wetsuit he wore.  I knew I had to get out of SoCal.  I was going crazy.  Next stop:  Seattle.

I had been in Seattle a number of years earlier.  When I was stationed at Fort Lewis during my military days, a few of us guys would pack up every so often and spend a weekend in the city.  The University District, mainly.  I remembered the days of the U-District record stores, mainly Campus Music, where I learned more than I ever needed to know about bootleg records.  I don’t think Campus was around by the time I made it back, but there were a handful of shops ready to drain my pockets of coins.  I bought more dime and quarter albums from Second Time Around than I would care to admit.  Odd titles.  Unknown artists.  My kind of stuff.

goldenoldiesMostly, though, I spent time at Dean’s Golden Oldies.  I loved that place, though my first time in, I debated whether I would even come back.  Dean was a crusty old butthead, I thought, the first time we talked.  He was blunt and to the point and responded to only what he wanted to.  I walked out with a The Choir/It’s Cold Outside 45 which cost me a whole dollar (I offered to pay more and was ignored) and swore I would never go back.  The next week, I found myself returning, this time in a better mood, I guess, because I found Dean not only a nice guy but a funny one as well.  His sense of humor, dry as English toast, had me in stitches and while that didn’t happen every time I stopped by, it happened enough to make the store one of my regular haunts.  I have to admit that I thought I knew something about old 45s.  Dean proved to me that while I may have known something, my knowledge paled compared to his.  He specialized in original 45s, kiddies.  Collector’s items.  Vinyl gold.

cellophanesquare1I didn’t hang out at Cellophane Square as much as I wanted, but that had a lot to do with my new found job at Peaches Records.  I was hired as the singles buyer and was totally in my element and I loved the job, as much as I abhorred (and abhor) corporate box stores.  I proved myself, worthy helping the store manager Marty Feldman (his real name) write returns and adding oldies 45s to my daily duties.  It wasn’t long before I was also given cut-outs and imports.  My cup runneth over as did my allotted time and energy and what started out as a possible romantic relationship with Cellophane soon dwindled into an “if-only” one.  If only I had more time.  If only I had more energy.  If only I wanted to hear music all the time, every day instead of the six solid days I was forced to listen.  I loved music, you understand, just not the music which was getting airplay at Peaches— the hits.  Nothing like listening to a Rolling Stones album three or four times a shift to sour you on not only the album but the Stones.  Eventually, what little time I had off, the last thing I wanted to hear was music.  I started reading.  I would watch the news just so I could hear people talk instead of sing.  Still, I would walk into Dean’s and buy a single now and then.

Dad was a logger.  To him, the woods was Valhalla.  He got up most mornings chomping at the bit to get out there amongst the monsters he logged (those trees on Axe Men are what Dad called peckerpoles— I think you can figure out why).  I loved the woods too, but my Valhallas were record stores.  He thought I was crazy because there was no money in records.  Then again, he loved music in his own way as much as I did.  I got it from him and Momma.

Record Store Day?  Every day is record store day to me.  And to others, too.  Look at it this way:  a record store to many of us is more than a store, it’s a home.  Just to prove it, next week I’m going to let others have their say.  If you think I’m crazy, wait till you hear what they say.  Stay tuned…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  A couple of columns Ago, I mentioned Stone Darling, an all-female rock band out of Southern Cal.  I don’t believe their EP was available when I wrote about them, but it is now.  These girls play outstanding fifties/sixties-style rock.  Click here and give them a listen.  Then download or order the vinnieactual, physical CD.  What a concept, eh?…..  No Small Children continue their recording ways.  They will reportedly have a ten-song album ready for release sometime this Fall.  In the meantime, should you need a fix of three-chick rock (and I mean rawk!), click here…..  Did I post this last week?  Vinnie Zummo‘s video/song tribute to The Beatles.  You should see this.  Very Yellow Submarine.  Click 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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Stores Are Alive With The Sound of Music….. plus Notes!”

  1. I have an old flyer from Long Hair Music Faucet advertising “Love” “River & Nostradamus”. The heading reads, “Faucet Sails Production”. The venue was the Elk’s Temple at 11th & Alder August 1st (no year). The tickets were sold at Longhair Music Faucet and Music Millennium for $3. This is from the 60’s. If you are interested I can send you a picture.

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