Frank Gutch Jr: From Africa With Love: Dirtmusic, Tamikrest and Gary Heffern; Pandora vs. Pink Floyd: The Digital Distribution Debate Continues; Music History 101; and Notes…..

FrankJr2I’m going back to school.  I’ve been going to school since I graduated, in fact, because if there is one truth in the world it is that as much as we know, we know too little.  About people.  About science.  About truth.  And about music, among a few thousand other subjects.  We are a defective lot which is to say in vinyl terms that we are warped or scratched or that we skip.  Us humans are, in effect, not the top but the bottom of the food chain as far as I can tell because we are the only species who think we know it all.
I know some people who think I think I know it all.  I know because they tell me in no uncertain terms that I don’t, usually after reading a review, following the links and not finding the music to their liking.  Well, I know I don’t know it all but I write about music that I like or even love and I’m doing my damnedest to get people to at least take a listen even if I throw a few phrases in to sweeten the pot.  Sort of an I-made-you-look gesture.  Not to trick anyone, mind you, but to maybe get one more person flailing their musical ears to listen to something they may find as musically interesting or intriguing as do I.  I get that metalheads like metal and that many stoners love reggae, but goddamn it, they have to like something beyond those genres, right?  Especially when mouthing that gawdawful phrase “there just isn’t any good music out there anymore”.  You want to wallow in The Beatles or Rap or Modern Country, wallow all you want, but if you do and those words pass your lips, anyone within striking distance has every right to clock you one upside the head.
That said, I say this:  Gary Heffern, I grant you one free swat.  Make it a good one.  I obviously need something to rearrange the brain cells.  See, Gary has been telling me about Dirtmusic and Tamikrest for some time now and I thought I was paying attention.  I put the names on my list of music to research.  Every time Gary mentioned them, I really meant to follow up, but somehow they kept getting shifted down that ever-growing and ever-changing list until they were out of sight and, I’m sure now, out of mind.  Until this week.  Or maybe it was this month.  Doesn’t matter.  I finally got to them and am now swimming the calm waters of a side of African music I evidently needed to clear my mind.
Until Gary started hammering me, I thought I was African-ized when it comes to music.  I remember Hugh Masakela and Miriam Makeba— well, their hits anyway— and liked them as much as most.  In the eighties, I discovered Ladysmith B lack Mambazo and a ton of music coming out of a healthy music scene around Soweto and gave them what I now see as just a cursory listen (to be honest, I thought I was really into them until these recent revelations).  I found purely through fluke an album titled Gold & Wax by one Gigi (Shibabaw) which floored me and my good friend Brian Cullman, through his radio program Songs On Toast has tried to expand my interest in third world music (he turned me on to a lady named Fatoumata Diawara who has taken up more than a few hours of listening time).  But it wasn’t until Gary insisted that I take a left turn toward Dirtmusic and later, Tamikrest, that I understood what I was missing.
Dirtmusic was easy.  Gary knew I was a diehard Walkabouts fan, having heard them when they first came on the Seattle scene many years ago.  He introduced Dirtmusic as a Chris Eckman project (Eckman was a Walkabout).  The truth was only partial, though.  Dirtmusic is actually a collaboration of Eckman, Chris Brokaw and Aussie Hugo Race.  And others.  I say others because it seems that the borders of the band are the same as the borders of the music— constantly shifting.
My first real listen to the band was the new album, Troubles.  Eckman plugged me into the tunes at my behest and I found myself captivated by a rhythm and sound not quite African— at least, not in terms of what I had known as African.  There was something in the feel, though, that came to me as African and it slowly began to prove to me how little I know of third world music.  My first time through Troubles, the borders came down.  It wasn’t really African.  It was African roots music.  I could deny neither the rhythmic patterns of each song nor the influences brought by the many years experience of Eckman, Brokaw and Race.  Second time through, the borders were gone.  It was becoming just— music, I guess.  Good music.  Music which took me places I had not been before.  So I did me some research.  I found this page which explains to a degree how the band formed and how the music came about (click here— it is enlightening).  And I found this page (click here) which contains just liner notes for Troubles album but which enlarges the band’s story.
I also found out that Dirtmusic goes all the way back to 2007.  Gary had to have been telling me this whole time.  Makes me wonder what I thought was so all important that I didn’t listen.
I didn’t listen when he talked Tamikrest either.  Gary, in fact, made it easy.  He posted videos on Facebook.  How hard could it have been to have clicked once and listened for six or seven minutes?  Evidently too hard, for where I was then.  Oh, what I missed.
Turns out, the band is from Mali and they are Tuareg.  It’s a people— a clan.  Back in the early nineties, the country was involved in a civil war and I’m not saying that it changed things all that much, but I;m sure it did.  If nothing else, it brought the people face to face out how fleeting is life and how important are the things you take for granted.  For many of the artists I have known, those thoughts have sustained them in their art.
Again, their story is a fascinating one (click here) and, to goad you into doing so, let me say that there is a strong Seattle connection.  Like I said, the borders are falling and not a little of that is because of music.  Here is a recording from a live performance in Berlin:
Gary Heffern is not from Africa.  He was born in Finland and was taken from his family when he was a child and found himself in San Diego, an American whether he wanted it or not.  When I first met him, he was a lost kid who wanted more than anything to be immersed in the punk movement of the late seventies and early eighties and, in fact, got his wish, first with SD’s The Penetrators and later with a multitude of bands.  During that time, he lost his way and left Southern California because he knew that if he stayed, he was a dead man, drugs taking him further and further away with each day.  He recuperated, thanks to a slew of friends he did not know he had, became an integral part of the Seattle music and arts scene and eventually found his way home to Finland, where he lives today.  Gary is as much a poet as he is musician and he is best when he combines the music and words purposefully.  Here is a video he put together with a band known as Beautiful People, a collective of musicians from Finland:
And if you are at all interested in his story (and it is a mindboggler), check out this three-part documentary on Youtube (click here).
Pandora Takes Off Gloves, Pink Floyd Doesn’t Flinch…..
pinkfloydgarlandPink Floyd has Pandora backpedaling furiously while taking a stance.  The situation is this:  Pandora has been aggressively lobbying Congress to lower royalty rates broadcasting interests must pay to use music on their digital distribution services (read Pandora, Spotify, MOG and the like).  Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason submitted a letter to USA Today which called Pandora’s move to back lowering rates to artists basically a typical corporate move (in other words, pure bullshit) and Pandora, seeing public relations being flushed down the toilet (because let’s face it, if you had a choice between believing PR people who make their living lying or Pink Floyd, who would you choose), made a move to assuage the band’s rancor.  Their tactic?  Question their statistics.  Eighty-five percent, they are saying, where did that figure come from?  You Floydians are obviously being misled (I’m surprised they didn’t throw in a comment or two about Obama and the Fed).  Why, we’re all for the artist.  (Read about it here)
What is this?  Round three or four?  Nine?  I’ve lost track of the number of statements and rebuttals being tossed around by people involved in this whole digital distribution fiasco.  The thing that bugs me is how this thing came about in the first place.  Why did someone not stop the process and say, wait a minute.  Let’s see what this whole process entails.  Instead, they allowed a whole string of “services” write their rules and evidently the government handstamped them without a clue.
Another thing bugs me as well.  Pandora and every other business organization which lined up to divvy up the Golden Calf are just that— businesses.  They each, I assume, had a business model to follow.  If Pandora did not, and judging by their whining, they either did not or miscalculated greatly, why should they have to ask for laws to be adjusted so that their business model can survive?  Is it the governments business now to rewrite every rule to business’s liking?
At this point, it should only be a matter of numbers when it comes to tabulating payouts, not survival.  Should Pandora survive?  Should any of these “services” survive?  Just asking the question should tell you which side I am on.  For once, Floyd and I are in lockstep (unless, of course, they fall for Pandora’s lame argument that the numbers they need are justified).  Now, if I could only find out which one’s Pink, I could die a happy man.
Once Again, Music History 101…..
bigstar3rdYou’re forcing me to go over old subjects, sports fans.  Now, I am a fan of Big Star and all and I know they’ve become legends of a sort, but this last concert has me concerned.  With all due respect to Jody Stephens and the other cast members, the ‘Third’ tour is little more than a tribute band playing tracks from sessions which were better left on the cutting room floor and before you start screaming for my head, yes, I’ve heard it.  In fact, I heard it long before the vast majority of fans who now claim Big Star as their own even though they weren’t there anywhere close to the beginning.  John Fry at Ardent Records sent me a copy (a test pressing) after I had written a review of Cargoe’s lone album, recorded for and released by Ardent before Big Star’s #1 Record hit the streets.  He didn’t send it for review purposes.  He sent it, I think, because he could tell what a fan I was of both bands.  I listened.  A few tracks were decent.  On the whole, though, I found it average at best.  Essentially, it was an Alex Chilton solo album— a bunch of demos slapped on vinyl so the label could try to get the band a deal with another label.  See, by the time it was recorded, Ardent was basically toast.  A sinking ship.  The Stax bankruptcy made sure of that.
Big Star      for a Bill Ellis storyNone of that matters, of course, unless you are a diehard music history freak or one of a multitude of fans who believe in the legend of Big Star.  And I’m not badmouthing any of you.  Big Star put out two of the best albums of the seventies.  ‘Third’ was not one of them.
There is something going on in this country and possibly the world which has me more than a bit disturbed.  There is an idolatry surfacing which is not music-centric but legend-centric and it is changing the whole landscape of reality.  I realized this a few years ago and wrote a piece about the phenomenon, which I had hoped would subside by now.  Instead, it has exploded to the point that not only can the present ‘Big Star’ play a concert and be accepted as Big Star, it wouldn’t even matter if Jody Stephens, the one surviving member of Big Star, wasn’t there.  They could call themselves ‘#1 Record’ and play as a tribute band and people would flock to hear them.  It’s happening all over.  Hell, there are even Journey tribute bands, for chrissake!  Journey was hardly worth hearing at their peak!
But I digress.  Here is what I wrote in the article mentioned above:
“I never really felt like Big Star was part of the Memphis music scene at all.  I just finished reading Robert Gordon’s book It Came From Memphis and, quite frankly, that was the first I’ve ever known of most of the ‘Memphis Music Scene’.” — ANDY HUMMEL,  Big Star, from a 2001 interview with Jason Gross for the Perfect Sound Forever website
“It’s taken 30 years, but we’ve finally reached a point where you can hardly throw a pop bottle at a major rock concert without hitting a Big Star fan.  And if the bottle’s full, when they come to, they’ll inevitably swear that hardly anyone knows about them (Big Star, that is).
“It’s interesting.  The growing fan base is enough to keep the band going even today, though the band has not really existed for years.  True, there is a Big Star living off of the name and a convoluted lineup consisting of the Biggest Star, Alex Chilton, and the core of the Posies.  And their jangly, hook-filled guitar sound does strike a note with the fan, but for those less enamored it’s more akin to expecting Creedence Clearwater Revival and getting John Fogerty with a few studio musicians.  I mean, if that’s what you want, fine, but it isn’t Big Star.
“What we really have is a case of the legend overtaking reality.  It’s Martin Strothers all over again.  You know.  ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate?’  Cool Hand Luke?  Hello?  Is this mike on?
big_star#1“The truth is that whereas Big Star is a minor supernova in today’s rock world, during their actual existence, they were barely a lit fuse.  Yet somehow, the legend has given credence to no less than two books about 70s Memphis rock and a history of anything and everything Big Star by Brit Rob Jovanovic.  Not only that, but numerous Big Star CDs and 60s and 70s Memphis compilations line the shelves of music stores everywhere (that is, if you’re lucky enough to know where one is anymore).  Hell, it practically takes a supercomputer to handle the Google responses to a Big Star/Chilton query on the Net.
“So allow me to mouth the Big Question— What the hell is going on?  And allow me to mouth the answer— we are, once again, rewriting history.
“The first time I noticed it was in the 70s.  Being a native Pacific Northwesterner, I cut my teeth on the armory and teen fair circuit of the 60s and music was as important to me as it was for most young kids of the day.  I say this only to explain that I knew the bands and the music and the scene and the fact is, it wasn’t really close to what has been written.
TheSonicsBoom-CDHP-0“Let me guess.  I say Pacific Northwest and the first group that pops into your mind is The Sonics, right?  Maybe Paul Revere and the Raiders if you leaned away from the harder edge.  But they were only two cogs in the Northwest wheel.  We were inundated in bands of varying success and popularity, from The Daily Flash to Don & the Goodtimes to The Frantics to Mr. Lucky & the Gamblers to….  well, you get my drift.  So why is it that the vast majority of interest in the scene circles around The Sonics?  How is it that The Sonics can elbow reality out of the way?  The mere fact that it does is an example of rewritten history.
“It is a simple matter of logic.  You start with A, move to B, then to C, then to D.  Now, A to B is a given, but the chances are progressively greater that the further along you move, say from A to D or A to G, the chance of solid logic (and reality) fades.
“Big Star may be a good place to start when you think Memphis, but there was a lot more to it at the time than them.  Cargoe made the trek from Tulsa and beat Big Star from the Ardent gate, being the only Ardent act to chart on a national level.  Moloch rocked the houses and eventually morphed into Jim Dandy and Black Oak Arkansas.  The Hot Dogs’ tadpole studio sessions evolved into a live frog act.
“There were many others.  But they did not constitute a ‘scene.’  They were all musicians not unlike those who permeated the Pacific Northwest, trying to play music and survive. The cohesiveness was in the music and the survival, not in the banding together for a musical purpose. The same for Seattle and grunge, and the Athens, Georgia movement of the late 70s and early 80s. The same for all of rock music. I mean, would there have been a British Invasion without The Beatles? Would rock and roll have died without Elvis? Think about it.
“The truth is that truth lies somewhere between the poles and always has. In music history, it is a matter of perception. The problem arises when we apply today’s perception as reality. So be aware, all of you young musicologists out there. When you step beyond the music, you take a chance of warping any future conception of the reality you know. If you don’t believe me, just ask Andy Hummel. Of course, what does he know? He was only there.”
Just a little food for thought.  And please, don’t bother sending any hate mail.  I know many of you hold Big Star in high regard, but they weren’t gods.  And that was a long time ago.  There are artists out there today working their asses off who are as worthy as Big Star during their ‘Third’ sessions.  If you want a list, just let me know.  I will even supply links, if you so desire.
The notes are a bit thin this week, but they are still…..
Music Notes smallNotes…..   Let us start off with the whole idea of house concerts.  One of my favorite places is Berkeley and Berkeley House Concerts and, no, I’ve never been there, but I’ve been watching their schedule closely for the past year.  These guys have a definite understanding of what to do and how to do it.  More importantly, they know their music and artists.  Lately, they have been plugging a Michelle Malone show.  Never heard of her?  Neither had I, but after reading about her on Berkeley’s site and watching a video, I do now.  Dig a little slide work and some acoustic blues?  Dig this!
Buck Curran of Arborea points out music he thinks worth a listen here and there.  This morning, he pointed to a video by Jeff Zentner.  I find it intriguing in that Buck has a real finger on the acoustic, third world and traditionally-oriented side of things— that of artists like Robbie Basho and Pentangle and the like.  Zentner, on this song at least, is electric and more toward the dark side, the music layered with a very slight dissonance.  Buck has mentioned Zentner before.  Fire In My Bones makes me think it’s time I hear for myself.  Click here****  There is not a Strawberry Alarm Clock fan out there who would not be interested in this in-depth and fascinating interview with the Clock’s George Bunnell.  That band personified (and personifies— that’s right, they’re back together) what I used to call Hollywood Psych, a side of psych Hollywood exploited in its movies for teens.  The thing is, they were (and are) much more than Incense & Peppermints.  They were, in fact, a killer band complete with a jazz/rock side few other bands of the time had.  Read about them 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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