Frank Gutch Jr: SWEET RELIEF MUSICIANS FUND— Giving Back While Paying Forward, Some Thumbnail Reviews, Plus Notes That, If Repeated, Can Make You Sound Intelligent, Even If You’re Not…..

FrankJr2This is important.  Please read carefully.

It’s coming!  It’s almost here and you probably don’t even know it.  Like that stealthy Sequestering thing the good ol’ boys slipped into the budget bill without anyone noticing, Sweet Relief is readying their third compilation album— on the sly, as it were.  Don’t know anything about it?  I’m not surprised.  Producer/Engineer (and sometimes musician) Sheldon Gomberg has held the information close to his vest and the people at Sweet Relief (and Vanguard Records) are only on the cusp of letting the dogs out.  But it’s coming.  July 9th.

sweetrelieflogoThe artists?  It’s a lineup and a  half.  To my knowledge, all songs were recorded by Gomberg at The Carriage House in L.A. and all of the recordings will be exclusive to this disc.  Gomberg’s friend Ben Harper is on it alongside Jackson Browne, k.d. Lang, Sam Phillips, Ron Sexsmith, She & Him, Eleni Mandell, Genevieve Toupin, Joseph Arthur, Shelby Lynne, Tina Schlieske, Rickie Lee Jones, and the recipient from the proceeds of the very first SR effort, Victoria Williams.  Stellar artists, stellar names, good people who gave up time and money for the cause.  I mean, it’s not like they just popped into the studio for an hour one day, folks.  It takes time and effort to record a project like this.  And “time is money” is more true for a musician than many other professionals.  A musician’s work is never done, from the conception of a song to the staging of a show to the travel such shows demand to a world of other things you cannot even imagine— or maybe you just take for granted.  8 to 5?  That’s for grunt labor.  Musicians wake up and fall to sleep with work on their mind.

sheldongombergHopefully, I will be doing an in-depth interview with Gomberg about the conception of the album, the processes through which the songs made it into and out of the studio, and what it was like working with the many artists and musicians.  Keep an eye out.  If I conduct the interview properly, both you and I should learn something.

This album may only be a fundraiser, folks, but it is a major one.  One of many for Sweet Relief because that is Sweet Relief‘s goal:  funds.  See, they are a charity, but not the kind of charity you usually see, because they are also part of a community— a community within a community, if you will.  The music community.

Look.  I am a skeptic.  When Gomberg contacted me about SR, my initial thought was, no.  I remember the scandal that rocked United Way and I have seen the charts unveiling the percentage of money collected which actually makes it to those in need.  I am an idealist.  I remember when charities supposedly existed in a financial vacuum, all funds making it to the needy.  But I am also a pragmatist in the sense that I now realize that charities do not and cannot work that way.  So my first question to Rob Max, one of the two people who head the charity, was where does the money go, or, more specifically, do you appropriate a portion of the funds raised to administrative costs?

“To overhead?” Rob asked, wanting to make sure he addressed the proper question.  “Yes.  But since my friend Bill Bennett took over operations at the charity in 2009, we have consistently kept our administrative costs to between seven and eleven percent.  If you go by charity watchdog groups, that is rated excellent.”

My mind a bit more at ease just from Rob’s quick and forthright response, I began to dig.

SweetReliefAlbum1It turns out that Sweet Relief is an offshoot of what was supposed to be a one-time effort.  Victoria Williams, it seems, had some major medical problems which left her beneath a mountain of debt, so she organized the recording of a benefit album to help allay the debt.  Many major stars stepped up, including Giant Sand, Maria McKee, Pearl Jam and Soul Asylum, each one giving their own slant to a Williams song.

“That album moved about 250,000 units,” Rob said, slipping into shop talk. “And we are hoping greatly that those fans might want to circle back.  We are also waiting to hear from Sony, hoping that they would be willing to license back those originals to us in some form, most likely digital.  We are assuming that many of the people who never had the digital version might look at that as an opportunity to pick it up along with Sweet Relief III.  In other words, we are going to try to renew that package in digital form, maybe a special package where you can get that and SRIII and the second, which featured the songs of Vic Chesnutt.  We are still working on that but you are certainly welcome to print it.  By the way, we moved about 50,000 copies of the Chesnutt album.  So, if you just use the numbers, that’s 300,000 people, give or take, who bought those originals, which we hope would be a link for people to maybe look seriously at the third project.”

Getting product to the market  can’t be easy, so I had to ask.  I mean, I had been awaiting word from Gomberg for the go-ahead for a year or so, but after the first few times, all I got was a Ralph Kramden “omina-omina-omina…..”.

“Well, we needed to get the recordings done,” explained Rob, “and we thought it would be easy, but with all of the contracts and the artists’ relations with their labels and getting it all aligned, it took a lot longer.  Getting all of the proper papers signed is what took so long.  We’re a charity and people normally respond to us as a charity, but business is business.  We had to go through a lot of processes.”

Processes which had to be learned in an on-the-job training sort of way.

robmaxRob Max“When Bill Bennett and I took over SR back in 2009,” he said, “it was only a national charity based in Los Angeles.  I realized that Musicares, which is part of The Grammys and is ten times our size or larger, really had a hold over the music industry and that we were a smaller second charity.  Two things became obvious.  Firstly, people do not want to give to charities which do the exact same thing.  The second was that in order to get donations from those supporting Musicares, we had to show them that we are effective somehow else.  Otherwise, we were going to struggle.  Quite frankly, the charity was struggling when we took it over.  I realized that the first thing we had to do was to let people decide where their money was to go.”

Indeed, anyone looking seriously at SR‘s website could not help but notice the difference in the types of donation opportunities.  Pardon me while I emphasize the word “opportunities”.  You will understand when you finish reading.

For one thing, you can donate by region.

“I can tell you that our fund in San Francisco is doing terrific,” Rob said.  “We have a lot of interest up there, so the money we raise for the San Francisco Bay Area Fund stays to help musicians in that area.  That’s why we do regional funds and that’s why we do genre funds.  Because it allows the music fan or whomever is donating to say, you know what?  I want to help artists in Chicago or I want to help blues musicians.  That was part of the reason we separated the funds into segments.

musicares“The other thing we did was set up a directed artists fund.  We realized that Musicares and Actors Fund and all of the other charities who help the entertainment world…  There is a maximum of how much our grants can be because so many people need help.  So as an organization, our general grant is maybe $500.  Musicares is maybe $1500 to $2000 and I think Actors Fund is about the same.  Well, we started realizing that a lot of people have tremendous financial difficulties and when they get help from these charities, a month or two later they’re in the same boat.  And all of the other charities, because they are so much bigger and have more structured physical bylaws…  See, our charity was designed for flexibility.

“So we started what we call Directed Funds.  The first one was for Richie Hayward of Little Feat.  Richie had liver cancer and we got together all of these artists like Jackson Browne and folks from the Eagles and Toto and Chicago.  With their help, we were able to raise over $100,000 for Richie.  So that he wouldn’t lose his home and was able to get the health care he needed and his family wasn’t devastated through his illness.  Since that one fund, we have done dozens of directed artist funds.

“Which are not just for musicians.  We will help anyone who has been in the music business professionally in just about any capacity.  I just started another fund— for sound men.  See, the sound man for Blues Traveler, Bo Mahoney, has Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  We set up a fund for Bo and Blues Traveler is doing a benefit concert and families and friends of the band are doing the work.  By the way, the directed artist’s funds never get help from the general fund.  It is all done separately.  All of the work for directed funds is done by friends and family of the person for whom they are Bo-Mahoney-267x300raising money.  We manage the funds, of course.  And in the case of Bo Mahoney, seven percent of the funds raised is going to go to help other musicians in San Francisco.  The advantages are that this way, the artist or individual gets a larger fund created and other musicians get help, besides.

“So we found a way to help musicians who needed greater help.  We’ve had funds which raised as little as $5000 and as much as $300,000 for an artist battling severe cancer.  That’s where we found we could really make a difference.”

Indeed, as I navigated my way through SR‘s website, I was surprised at the number of funds already set up.  There is a fund set up specifically for cancer; funds individually set up for eight different regions; funds set up for five different genres of music.  And when the need arises, it seems likely they will expand to cover those needs.  They even have a site set up on eBay for bidding on different donated items.  Sometimes there are none, but sometimes there are many.

In case you’ve wondered about all of the concerts and shows that have displayed the SR logo, the organization does have connections to venues and the like, but they seldom throw shows themselves, if ever.

“There are all different levels of concerts we get involved with,” Rob said.  “What we like to do is be listed as a charity of record.  That way, we’re not involved in production and we don’t deal with expenses.  When a concert is done, they just write a check.  That is one reason we have been able to keep our overhead so low.  If we were concert promoters or producers, we would have a lot of expenses to deal with.

“Where we really are helpful, though, is the situation in which local people want to raise money for someone on  a local level, whether they are trying to help a local musician or, really, it could be a concert for anybody.  Our experience helps those people avoid the pitfalls, or at least manage them.  We will go over a list of things with somebody, like making sure they’re  not spending too much on the venue, that they’re getting things donated like they should, helping them build a team, showing them how to sell tickets and how to raise more money at the door.  There are a number of things and we do it because there have been so many folks with good intentions who put on shows but end up making no money.  And it is really not that hard , if you follow the list of guidelines, to make as much money as you can for the person they are trying to help.  So we’ll take time to help anybody if they reach out to us.”  Thus the earlier comment about community.

sweetreliefalbum3While talking with Rob, I could hear the machinery grinding.  I could hear him thinking as he talked, a lot of what-ifs and how-can-we’s bouncing around in his brain.  For instance, he was attempting to maximize Peter Max‘s impact on the SRIII album.  He pointed out that the main reason for pressing vinyl was due to Max’s artwork.  He put it, simply, “They (Vanguard) mentioned a special vinyl pressing because Max did the artwork.  And we’re talking with Max about maybe doing some special lithographs or perhaps even something on vinyl for the cause.”

I don’t know if Rob is a musician, but he has a musician’s mind.  It’s going all the time— ideas, processes, results.  I know he is thinking today about something they can do tomorrow or the next day.  To help someone.  To make something better.

Remember that release date:  July 9th.  More importantly, remember Sweet Relief.  Was it last week that I wrote that I could have saved myself from foolishly spending $12 by keeping a list?  You should do that.  Maybe not all the time, but some of the time.  Maybe one day you might notice the SR logo next to a concert notification and decide to drop that $10 or $12 you saved on a concert.  Maybe you could buy the album— Rob said that they hoped to keep the price around $10 to $12, if possible.  Just as good, how about sharing this column and anything you find that promotes Sweet Relief‘s mission?  What?  I didn’t tell you?  Here it is, straight off the SR website.

“Sweet Relief Musicians Fund provides financial assistance to all types of career musicians who are struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems. In other words, Healing Musicians in Need. We all have received so much out of music, it’s time to give a little back!”

Album Thumbnails…..

I haven’t been pointing to the indies as much as I should lately, so I would like to make up for it a little.  Here are some short reviews of albums that are denting my head of late.

Little-BoatRITA HOSKING/Little Boat I started listening to Rita years ago.  Her people are mining people, you know, from somewhere around the Shasta Mountains in Northern California.  She completely captivated me with her ability to pull off the true feel of mountain music on the first couple of albums that I heard.  She’s back with a new album and while there is no mountain music on it, she brings her whole family into the studio with Rich Brotherton and his wife Kathy to produce what I think is her most complete album yet.  There is a country rock feel to this reminiscent of Cowboy and early Emmy Lou Harris.  My first thought on hearing the first track, Parting Glass, was that I’d heard it somewhere before.  Thing was, it was so good I didn’t even care.  Only seven songs.  Way too short for music this good.  Oh, and it’s daughter Kora’s recording debut.  She aced it.  (Rita’s website)

JIM OF SEATTLE/We’re All Famous—  This guy must be a complete mess in an OCD kind of way.  He threaded nineteen songs and movements together and has me wondering whether We Are All Famous is a concept album or not.  I couldn’t really put a story together, even after numerous listens, but the music makes me think I’m missing something.  Think circus, modern classical, Pop, Broadway and so much more.  Neither for the squeamish nor beginner.  This is the real deal.  Listen here, but be aware that this is not the album, though it does have some tracks from the album.

JERRY MILLER/New Road Under My Wheels—  While this isn’t the Jerry Miller from Moby Grape, this is a Jerry Miller you might want to acquaint yourself with anyway.  The album is Country and Western straight out of the fifties, the guitars at times a flashback to Merle Travis or Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West.  Miller brought in a handful of singers to handle vocals and they do a damn good job, but the real story comes out of the amps.  That Miller guy can play!!!  A must for guitarists who want to hear what real Country & Western guitar sounds like!  (Jerry’s Signature Sounds web page)

elksinparisERIC LICHTER/ELKS in Paris  I’m not listing this because I’m a huge Green Pajamas fan, honest, he said, and I’m not.  Eric, who plays drums for the GPs, teamed up with Ken Stringfellow to put out a very, very fine Pop album.  So fine, in fact, that Courtesy of Trees and A Plan So Beautiful are bouncing around inside the cranium like crazy.  I remember The Box TopsThe Letter doing that when I was a kid, but I hated that song (okay, I may have learned to like it since).  I love those two songs, though, and in fact everything on this album.  Lichter knows how to write a song, that’s all there is to it.  (Listen here)

CASSIE TAYLOR/Blue—  Cassie is a bass playing monster of a force when she wants to be, but this is a Cassie of another kind.  In fact, this album is more light R&B and soul-oriented than blues.  Her voice is light and mostly soft and the two songs which involve female background vocals are freakin’ killer.  In fact, I listen to Black Coffee once a day, whether I need to or not.  The organ on the chorus is food for my soul.  Good stuff.  Check out her Facebook page.

WHISTLEKING/The Lost Tapes of a Seventies Bar Band—  I can thank fellow DBAWIS writer Jaimie Vernon for this one.  Jaimie evidently knows these guys and posted a short rundown of this album.  I bit.  I’m still biting.  They became The Kings, you know.  But when this was recorded, they were Whistleking, kings of the bar circuit.  And that’s what you get.  Seventies bar music.  It takes me back to my days in San Diego when I occasionally needed a beer fix and had a couple of bucks in my pocket.  The bands were maybe not as good as these guys, but the music was similar.  Nothing like watching guys and gals bumping butts to Show Me the Way, huh?  And half the songs are originals, so don’t think this is throwaway.  After all, those were the days, my friend…  Click here…..

softhillschromatismsTHE SOFT HILLS/Chromatisms—  Every once in awhile, when I need a Floyd or Moody Blues fix, I find a band which will do it, and that is no longer Floyd or The Moodies.  I’ve heard them enough to last a hundred lifetimes.  No, I find a band which captures the feel but is refreshing and original.  The Soft Hills fills that bill very well, indeed.  And they have a few albums and EPs, released before Chromatisms which are equally as good.  You can listen to them all here.  They blew me away.

Know what?  I’m getting tired.  Time for dinner and a nap.  But before I go, here is some more things you should scope out.  Yep.  Time for…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  While I am not the only Mist and Mast  fan on the West Coast, I am one of the most loyal.  I just got word that the band will be touring again for the first time since… God, it seems like forever, and their first stop will be Eugene!  At The Wandering Goat, to be specific.  On June 1st.  I’m chomping at the bit!  Click here to hear ten reasons why!  Hot damn!  I’m a happy guy…..  Guitar and drums, guitar and drums.  You would think that you would need more to make a really decent impression, wouldn’t you?  If you trhink that, you haven’t checked out Crushed Out and Red Rattles, who make guitar and drums the core of their sound.  And you can now add The Blue Stones to that list.  Nadia Elkharadly, in last week’s column (which, if you missed, you should search out), included this video, calling the song an “earworm”.  I hope there is medicine for that because I have it.  I won’t need it yet, but…..  watch here…..  I’m not sure I should be saying anything about this (please forgive me if I shouldn’t be, Gileah), but I just found out that Gileah Taylor will soon be recording a new album with husband Chris Taylor (Boy, I hope I got that right).  Why is this good news?  I have followed Gileah since lucking on to her outstanding The Golden Planes a handful of years ago.  Since then, she has produced project after project (some albums, some EPs) which have bowled me over.  The latest contained five tracks left over from her Ghost Train sessions— Gileah, Ava Quigley (whose voice graces most of her work) and a lady named Molly Hodges.  It is titled You Are Golden and the songs lean more toward The Golden Planes more than her work with Ghost Train.  Remember, new recordings imminent.  And as lon g as I’m plugging Gileah, here is a link to a double-EP she released not long ago— What Kind of Fool/A Crooked Line.  Good stuff…..  And under the ask-and-you-shall-find category, Stone Darling has just notified me that their I Stopped Missing You Today b/w Angeline single on vinyl is once again for sale.  It is limited edition and killer!  These girls know how to rock!  Click here.  Oh, and while you’re at it, listen to the other Stone Darling music available.  Like the Out Takes 2009-2011 three-song EP (which right now is a FREE download) or their take on a Funkadelic song, Can You Get To That (outstanding and also FREE)…..  It has been too long since I mentioned Tom House— the musician, not the baseball player.  I occasionally return to his amazing The Long Winding Road album for sustenance in a world of music sadly lacking in terms of supporting the best.  There is a folky fog which envelops him in my head— a look into the dark even when the song itself is  not dark.  No doubt, few of you have bothered to track him down.  Here, I give you a link— all you have to do is click and listen.  Because Someone’s Digging In the Underground…..  Anyone out there remember Heartsfield?  I sure do and I’ve been following them for the past number of years, having found them again because of the Net.  Turns out, Phil Lucafo of that venerable band has just released a solo album titled One Block East.  You can read about it and listen to a couple of tracks by clicking here.  I saw Heartsfield back in ’75 or so at The Troubadour in L.A.  It was one freddycannonof the best live shows I’ve ever seen…..  I remember hearing Freddy Cannon back when I was in high school.  Palisades Park garnered airplay on every rock station in the Willamette Valley and then some and Freddy was quite the ticket for some time.  Well, looks like he’s back at it (though he  never really left).  Word has it that he is in the studio recording again, this time with L.A.’s The Gears.  It is the brainchild of good friend Chris Ashford at Wondercap Records whom I have known since my days at Licorice Pizza back in the early seventies.  Chris is best known for his early L.A. punk/new wave releases by such bands as The Germs, Agent Orange, KAOS and others on his What? label.  These days, besides working with The Gears and Freddy, he is working with jazz artists Elliott Caine, Sam Phipps, and David Winogrond.  And is working on a rockumentary.  The guy never sleeps.  You can dig into all of his stuff at  Go on!  It’ll be fun!…..  The Young SinclairsSam Lunsford is readying his new album for release on— wha?— digital, CD and, uh, cassette?  Waiter, I’ll have what he’s drinking.  He must know something I don’t.  The Sinclairs have quite the East Coast following but have not really made inroads on the Left.  Coast, that is.  Maybe it is an attempt to make SF and L.A. take note.  You can check out what Lunsford is doing by checking out his new video.  Click here…..


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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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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