Frank Gutch Jr: You’ve Got Your Heads On Backwards, Babies; Indie Labels You Should Pay More Attention To; Rich McCulley and Dan Miraldi— Bookends of the Pop Spectrum; and Whatever Else Comes To Mind…..

FrankJr2But first, a word from our sponsor.  Well, not sponsor, exactly.  In fact, just the opposite.  Well, not exactly opposite.  A few weeks ago, you might remember that I posted a few words about Sheldon Gomberg, the man behind Sweet Relief III: Pennies From Heaven, an album recorded for charity (all proceeds will go to Sweet Relief, an organization committed to helping musicians in need), and before that, I devoted a column to that organization through an interview with Sweet Relief‘s Rob Max.

I am pleased to state that the album is on its way and scheduled for release September 3rd— at least, that is the date listed on Sweet Relief‘s site (having worked in the music business for numbers of years, I tend not to believe anything until the record is in my hands).  On that date, you will be able to purchase the album from your favorite record store, if they order it, and a ton of online sites dealing in music.  It’s a good cause and a damn fine album!  I just listened to Tina Schlieske and bands’ take on With a Little Help From My Friends (the Joe Cocker arrangement, pretty much) and it’s a freakin’ killer!  Cannot wait to hear the rest.  Well, I can, but it will have to wait until this column is done.  That’s September 3rd, sports fans!  Mark it on your calendars!!!

Looking backwards… can kill you, babies, or at least put an incredible kink in your necks, and that’s what most of you are doing.  I have known it for some time but just this past week I decided to take a survey.  By survey, I mean counting posts on Facebook.  By posts, I mean everything posted by my “friends” as defined by FB.  They say I have over 400 of them.  I really have no idea, but who am I to argue?

headbackwardsFor three days this past week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), I kept a tally of music/video/comments-about-music of all of those friends and here is what I found:  We are living in the past.  By we, I mean you.  If my tally has any credibility at all (it doesn’t), we as fans of music have little tolerance for any music produced by musicians who are not “stars” (meaning anyone who has had a major “hit”) or who have not gained godlike status among the hoi polloi.  Here are my findings:

Over 85% of the music posts by my “friends” would fit the oldies category to a T.  Approximately half of those are Beatles-related, a decent percentage Stones-related and the rest would fit into what I shall classify as a “cool” category (meaning that the artists/bands had hits but had not reached the status of The Beatles or Stones but came damn close— among these were Gram Parsons/Burritos, Small Faces, Pretty Things, Eagles, Heart, Tom Petty, etc.).  Although I didn’t include this in my calculations, I would estimate that a good 85% of this category were actually oldies, meaning videos promoting (or actual) music from the old days.  What do they call it these days?  Classic Rock?  If the Foo shits, eh?

The remaining 15% is pretty much split up between indie artists/bands promoting new releases and recent music, and music fans promoting their favorite bands with the occasional PR plug thrown in for good measure.

the-older-generationWhat disturbs me about these numbers is that the older generations, when it comes to music, seem to have stopped.  Stopped listening to new music, anyway, and I’m wondering if that translates to stopping altogether.  Here are some indicators.  Many of the people who posted videos of older music have also used comments (and/or memes) such as “I may be old, but I got to see all the good bands”, “There isn’t any good music anymore”, “There isn’t any new music any more”, “If only bands could write and play good music like (insert ancient fossilized band/artist’s name here).”

This isn’t the way it used to be.  When us old farts (young, then) were growing up, we jumped on new music.  We loved it.  I have racked my brain trying to figure out when it stopped.  At some point, it did.  At some point, a large percentage of us started looking backward.

You know, when I make comments about musicians I think have lost it, at least in terms of deserving kudos for what has become mediocre or at least formula music they produce today, I am not making a comment about what they have done in the past.  I am making a comment about the people who think that the tripe many of the fossils produce today is, on the whole, really as good as they say it is.  Because, on the whole, it isn’t.

I think what’s killing music, or at least the music industry, is that look backward.  The one that doesn’t stop.  The one which goes with the statement, “I don’t know music, but I know what I like.”  To the people who think that way, I say this:  That fork that’s in you (because you are obviously done)?  It is killing you, too.  You just don’t know it yet.

Let’s Talk Labels…..

45_labelsI know!  I’m always talking labels.  Bands signed to labels, label catalogues, labels in the shapes of devils— labels, labels, labels!  But, hey, if I didn’t think you didn’t need to know (assuming that you really want to know), I wouldn’t do it.  Honest to God.  Labels used to be important, like brand names.  Like names of companies (nee corporations).  There was a time that labels cared about the artists they signed— were, in fact, proud of their rosters.  If you look at the majors, you know that that‘s long gone.  Hell, most of the major label people are not even sure who is on their label anymore, but wait!  They didn’t back in their heyday, either.

Well, this isn’t about them.  This is about a handful of small companies (some, very small) which formed around the music and not just any music.  Music they loved!  Made by artists they admired.  This is about a small group of labels who actually care about the music they produce and sell!  Too much?  Okay, I’ll step away from the italic key.

A handful of these labels are more like families than businesses.  I mentioned WarHen  Records last week, and WondercapModern Peasant, for those who like their music rare (Cook it just enough for it to lose the squeal, Purvis!) and BOMP, purveyors and surveyors of all holy on the New Wave and Punk scene.  I talk about those labels a lot, partially because they were spawned by the music and not the Devil’s Greed.  There are others, though.  Let’s talk.

Global Recording Artists…..

pop-culture-press-logoBack in the Summer of 2007, forty years distant from The Summer of Love, I was assigned by Luke Torn of Pop Culture Press Magazine to track down the likes of Bob Segarini (Family Tree), Tracy Nelson (Mother Earth), Peter Albin (Big Brother & The Holding Company) and Dehner Patten (The Oxford Circle and KAK) to get some comments about that glorious period in San Francisco.  Boy, was I surprised when I was pummeled with more negative comments than positive, Gary Duncan pointing to the drugs and sexual abuse as the side the media did not cover, or maybe did not want to cover.  His words gave me a whole new slant on Flower Power and the whole Acid = Love thing and I walked away somewhat stunned.  Evidently, what the media passed along were soundbytes amidst chaos— the reality somehow (maybe purposely?) left on the cutting room floor.  And it was not just Duncan who pointed it out.  They all had stories to tell about the street scene as they saw it and the media didn’t.  Even Rolling Stone Magazine tiptoed around the cowpies, preferring instead to spread the love with only the occasional look at the dark side.  (You can read my interviews with Duncan here and with Segarini here).

It was Duncan who introduced me to Karl Fredrick Anderson (the IIIrd).   Anderson is the man behind Global Recording Artists.  Though it took us awhile to get to know one another (we danced around for some time before sniffing each other’s butts and deciding everything was kopacetic), we eventually became colleagues, if not friends.  I wrote about music.  He produced and sold music.  It was good enough for us both.

quicksilverOur first conversations revolved around Duncan.  Anderson admired Duncan a lot and had a handful of both Quicksilver and Gary Duncan (L) albums on his roster.  There was even talk of a documentary, though that has evidently been sidelined for one reason or another.  When the Pop Culture Press issue was completed, Anderson and I would visit occasionally, the subjects always about music in one form or another.  As we got to know one another, we found that we had much in common.  I was fanatically independent-minded, so was he.  I raged against the machine, better known as the Major Labels.  While he didn’t rage, he empathized.  I pulled for the little guy.  He was a little guy— pulling for the little guys.  He had a roster of artists living in and around San Francisco, none of the names familiar to me outside of Duncan.  He spent a bit of time bringing me up to date with his roster and we have remained in touch ever since.  Not constantly, but enough for me to know what is going on.

billmumyAnderson was the guy who filled me in on Bill Mumy— you know, the kid from Lost In Space?  I had received a copy of one of Mumy’s albums from FAME, a site I write for on occasion.  I asked Anderson about it and he gave me an ear full. In fact, I am now the local expert on the Mumy man.   Anderson’s the guy who heads-upped me on The Strawberry Alarm Clock‘s reunion album, Wake Up Where You Are.  He kept me apprised of Nirvana (no, not that Nirvana but the Nirvana which roamed the UK around 1969 or so— they re-released the album awhile ago— good stuff).  Sky Saxon (The Seeds)?  John Yorke (The Byrds)?  Chris Darrow & Max Buda (Kaleidoscope)?  All GRA artists.  The label even has a DVD of Maria Muldaur live in concert, as well as two DVD collections of concerts featuring many bands and members of bands from the golden era of San Francisco (this is fascinating stuff!).

He also has, MP3 only, a variety of Gary Duncan releases, Quicksilver and otherwise.  To see a full catalogue, click here and prepare to be amazed.  Oh, before I forget, he also distributes the old Accent Records catalogue, including monster guitarist Buddy Merrill, and has some on vinyl!!!  (click here)  Damn!  It’s worth knowing him for that alone!

If you’re smart, you will scour the site for oddities.  GRA has a bunch!

Homina, homina, homina— Norton!

nortonMan, you have to be old to get that one, but again, not that Norton.  The Norton I am talking about is Norton Records, founded by rockers Billy Miller and Mirriam “Bop-a” Linna.  The label which was flooded by Hurricane Sandy but which, because they did everything right, survived with a little help from their friends, who are many.  I remember the early days of Norton.  I remember Miller and Linna putting together the first issue of Kicks Magazine, a zine which screamed attitude.  I remember the small numbers of releases, the albums on Norton, the 45s on Little Ricky.  I watched them slowly turn from a label into a label and distributor and watched the catalogue grow and grow until I thought they would collapse from the weight.  But they didn’t.  They kept growing until Hurricane Sandy ripped into New York, virtually bankrupting Norton on the spot.

Sandy didn’t reckon on the tenacity with which Miller and Linna would hold on, though.  She had no idea of the resiliency of the label nor the numbers of businesses and people who would band around it.  She was no match.  None at all.  And today, Norton stands tall.  With a little help from their friends.

Oh, what a catalogue they have, too.  Stacks of albums and EPs and 45s, some of which were saved from the graveyard by the fanatic collector’s genes in the bodies of the people who built and others who support and have supported the label.  An incredible array, I would say.

etiquettesleeveFor one thing, they have the old Etiquette Records catalogue, the label of Pac NW legends The Sonics and The (Fabulous) Wailers.  They have reissues of rare recordings by The Bobby Fuller Four, Esquerita, Hasil Adkins, Link Wray, The Real Kids, plus extremely pre-Sir-Douglas-Quintet Doug Sham.  They have the Fort Worth Teen Scene series, the Kim Fowley collections, and a whole string of items collector’s would have killed for (before Norton tracked the music down and made them available).

They’re loaded up on vinyl like you can’t believe— 7”, 10” and regular LPs.

They have books and magazines galore.  Man, they even have sheet music, for chrissakes!

If you have any sort of leaning toward the past, you really should check these guys out.  It’s a trip just navigating through the catalogue.  Click here.

ESP-disk…..

espdisklogoNever heard of ESP-disk?  I’m not surprised, but you have to understand their history to know why.  This label was one of the very early New York labels, pulling music from a long line of jazz, folk and avant-garde musicians from around the area.  I first heard of it when a handful of friends picked up on The Fugs and the soon-to-be Pac NW favorites Holy Modal Rounders and forced me to listen.  Not long after, I found Randy Burns, a second-generation folkie from the Bleecker and MacDougal days, Sun Ra (because they made me), Gary Peacock, Pearls Before Swine  and Jayne County.  And that isn’t even as weird as they got.

They evidently have re-released (or maybe released for the first time, digitally) the entire catalogue, covering everyone from William Burroughs to Charles Manson to Timothy Leary on the eclectic side, to Albert Ayler, Bud Powell and Lester Young on the jazz side.

You want oddities?  How about these:  Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Har-You Percussion Group, Old-Timey Custard Suckin’ Band, and Slavonic Cappella Ensemble.  No, I haven’t heard any of these, but it sure has me curious.

arboreacoverThey also have listed an album by Yma Sumac, whose voice supposedly ranged two octaves (which they tell me is quite a lot).

Here’s something pretty cool.  The label has been reactivated.  Not long ago, friends, Buck and Shanti Curran, who perform together as Arborea contacted me with information about their latest release, Fortress of the Sun.  I have been an Arborea fan since hearing their excellent House of Sticks album a handful of years ago.  I am pleased to report that Fortress is even better.  They have an eerily beautiful space/folk sound which hovers between ghostly and European trad/folk.  Highly recommended.

When you’re ready, take a deep breath and click here.  If you have any adventurous spirit at all, you will have a blast.

Tricycle Records…..

hottoddies4I got to Tricycle through the auspices of one of my guilty pleasures, The Hot Toddies.  I was messing around on the Web one night and someone inadvertently mentioned the band and I followed the link and, voila!, a new fan was born.  There is a New Wave sense to the music they write and play and if anyone’s a sucker for the combination of girl group and power pop, it’s me.

Like WarHen Records, Tricycle is tiny, but tiny does not necessarily mean less.  They put music out either as they deem it worthy or maybe as the money allows.  Next to the Toddies, they have artists such as Teenage Sweater and Geographer and The Frail.  Again, I haven’t had the time to really dive in to the music, but will soon.

I absolutely love labels like this.  They are the ultimate in the adventures-in-hearing searches I conduct when time allows.  And just for incentive, they allow free download of their latest sampler so you can hear before buying.  Click here.

Rich McCulley and Dan Miraldi—

W139This Friday, I will be sipping a beverage at the Bombs Away Cafe in Corvallis, Oregon.  Rich McCulley is blasting through town on a quick run through the Northwest, playing the next day at Music Millennium‘s Customer Appreciation Barbeque.  I thought about heading up to Portland for that (hey, free food and drinks, people!) but opted instead for the Michael Fennelly in-store appearance this past Tuesday.  Gas ain’t cheap, you know?  And, yes, the in-store was worth it.

I am looking forward to the McCulley show.  I assume that he will be playing solo and that’s fine with me.  The man is a master at writing Pop songs and while I would like to hear them in a full band setting, they are good enough to stand bare-butt.  Plenty good enough.  And when I say Pop, I mean pure Pop.  Melody, harmony and hooks galore.

Cleveland’s Dan Miraldi has the hooks, too.  His last outing, Sugar & Adrenaline, completely knocked me out and squirmed its way into my Top Ten for last year.  He is back with a vengeance with a six-song mini-LP/maxi-EP titled Devil At Our Heels and I like what I’ve heard, but just got it yesterday and need more time to listen.  He punched up the amps a bit, opting for the rock ‘n’ roll approach and it sounds good.  We’ll see how it stands the test of the next few days, but I believe it will do right fine.  The kid’s got talent.

You know who else has talent— Charlottesville’s Carl Anderson.  Here is a track recorded at WNRN Radio about a year ago.  It is from his excellent Wolftown album.  New album pending.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Being a musician is one thing.  Being a musician who wants to record is another.  Being a musician who wants to record for a major label is something altogether different.  Here is a link to one musician’s story, one Casey Stratton, who went from indie to major in a long, drawn out process, suffering the frustrations most musicians experience.  It’s an hour and a half long, but it captures a behind the scenes look few of us see. 

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

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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