Frank Gutch: Lost Sounds Montana: Mining Gold… Time For Dinner: Michael Dinner, That Is… A Night at the Bombs Away With Rich McCulley… And Notes…..

FrankJr2History?  A waste of time?  I have heard that said way too many times over the years.  Admittedly, most of those years were academic years.  I loved the time I spent in school, elementary on, and even considered taking classes at the University of Washington during my tenure at Peaches Records back in the eighties (for fun, not for credit).  There is something about the smell of a campus, be it major college or small technical school, which makes my heart beat a bit faster.  Just the act of learning changes things for me and I love watching people expand their horizons— in positive ways, of course.

initialshockavalonSo when my good friend Tom Smith passed along mention of a Montana musician who decided to go the extra mile for music from his State, I was intrigued.  He passed along a link to an article written (and very well written, indeed) by one Erika Fredrickson for the Missoula Independent, which I visited posthaste  (read it here).   Guess what?  The Hippy Hippy Shake, a song written by Chan Romero, a kid who was part of a migrant worker family which worked in Montana, wrote it.  And recorded it.  While Romero’s version made it to #3 in Australia in 1959, it wasn’t until The Swinging Blue Jeans, a few years later, turned it into a real hit.

Recently, Dave Martens, a musician now playing with The Best Westerns, found out and began to obsess about Montana’s contributions to the early days of rock.  At first, it was just Romero and his song, then The Initial Shock, regional legends who headed south and west to San Francisco in an attempt to make it.  Never heard of The Initial Shock?  You’re not alone.  But they were in San Francisco, just the same.  You can find posters with the band’s name and Martens, in his search, even found a recording of the band— a reel-to-reel tape with The Shock on one side and The Shock backing up Chuck Berry on the other.  Live.

You can tell just by the look on his face that Martens was stunned when the tape proved true.  What a find!  Of course, as Martens said, it is doubtful that the Chuck Berry tracks will ever make it on to any of the compilations he hopes to put together— legalities and all that— but he has a treasure that he can listen to, that he knows has been saved from the graveyard.  All too many historical moments have been buried or lost and this is one he is obviously thrilled to have saved.  Hell, I’m thrilled and I am not what you would call a huge Chuck Berry fan!

Those compilations?  The more Martens found, musically and historically, the more he became obsessed.  Not with Chuck Berry and vulcans1not necessarily with Initial Shock, either, but with Montana’s rock ‘n’ roll heritage.  With all of Montana’s music, really, but especially that which came out of the golden era.  He began contacting as many musicians from those bands as he could— bands like The Chosen Few and The Vulcans and The Frantics (not the legendary Seattle band) and possibly even a band I saw play at the Eugene Pop Festival in 1969, Peter & The Wolves (if they are the same band, that would put to rest my inquiry as to whether the band was a precursor to J. Geils Band, which I have heard more than once).  The more info he received, the more questions he had and shortly found himself inundated with bios and stories and even music.

He put together a group of people to archive the finds and calls it Lost Sounds Montana.  Together, they have formed a coalition dedicated to tracking down everything they can get their hands on, Montana-wise.  Posters, newspaper articles and ads, promo packs, music and whatever else they can find.  Things have gone so well that Martens decided to try to get some help through a fundraiser.  He plans a variety of projects, all toward the ends of getting the music and the information to those who want it.

If you want to get in on the ground floor, you can do it here.  They have some pretty cool artifacts available at different levels including a few original 45s.  I ask you, who would not want it?  Projects such as these are the heart of the garage band set.  Those were heady days, though mostly in retrospect.  Those were days unique in the history of music.  Teen music scenes of a number of areas have been chronicled and collected.  The new-found old music has found its niche among young and old alike.  Information about bands lost to the ages such as Florida’s We The People and Plant Life, Fort Worth’s The Elite and The Cynics, the Pacific Northwest’s The Wailers and The Sonics, among so many others, has been saved through actions similar to Martens’.  Well, maybe not the last two, because Etiquette Records, to my knowledge, has never been totally inactive.  Then again, if they have, it wouldn’t be the first time I would have had to print a retraction.

Seriously.  I have seen numerous fundraising efforts over the past few years, but I have only seen one this incredibly cool.

Time For Dinner…..

peacheslogoLike most of the people who have worked in the, ahem, record business, I feel like wherever I was, I was surrounded by the best people in the biz.  In my case, I felt a bit— how should I put this— blessed, I suppose.  There is no doubt in my mind that during my tenure at Peaches Records in Seattle from 1978 to 1991, we had one of the best possible crews.  We all loved music, and I mean really loved it, and it showed.  We prided ourselves in finding answers to the many questions customers would bring in and would go out of our way to send them home happy.  We all had our strengths when it came to musical knowledge (mine was the obscure) and when the answer was evasive, we wouldn’t stop until everyone in the store had been questioned.  Sometimes, we even called other stores or, at the least, recommended stores with strengths in the genres the customer required.

licorice_pizza_logoI opened the Pacific Beach Licorice Pizza in San Diego in 1975, if I have my dates right, and the crew there was also incredibly knowledgeable.  But I think the template for my time in retail was cast in 1974 at the Licorice Pizza on Wilshire Boulevard.

I was originally hired by Susie Boudreau, as sharp a person as I was ever to work for and with, but she left a couple of months after I started to pursue a real life (she went to college).  She broke it to me gently because we had become friends in the short time we’d known one another and had shared some very cool moments.  Like the Bill Wyman Monkey Grip promotion that found every Pizza up to their armpits in bananas (they brought in boxes each day for giveaway— I stopped counting the banana peels I had to clean out of the record bins at around 100 or so, and oh, those fruit flies!).  Susie and a lady named Debby who worked there would take home a box or so each night and would stay up till all hours of the morning baking banana bread to bring to us at the store the next day.  You would think I would have gotten tired of it after the first couple of loaves but I never did.  Those ladies could bake!  I hope they knew how much we all appreciated it.

Susie was replaced by a guy who was to be one of my favorite people ever, one Daryl R. Sartanowicz.  I told Susie I wouldn’t last because, truth be told, I had never had a more enjoyable time working for anyone as much as herself, but she told me I was wrong.  In fact, she broke down my defenses by telling me that Daryl, too, was a huge Glass Harp fan.  At that time, finding a GH fan on the West Coast was akin to finding one of those aliens reported to have crashed in Area 51 and I was skeptical.  When I finally met Daryl, the first thing he said was, Susie says you’re a Glass Harp fan.  We bonded right then and there.  Daryl and I loved working together.  We would stay after work to clean up and work on displays when the books were done, sometimes staying until 4 or 5 in the morning (the store closed at midnight).  We never listened to music.  We talked.  Sometimes it was about the Army (during the Viet Nam War, I had been “frozen” at Fort Lewis, meaning they would not allow me to change duty stations— I was classified as a political dissident— while Daryl had spent a year in Nam packing a rifle).  Sometimes it was about music.  But most of the time it related to religion.  Daryl had not long before been saved, as he stated it, and was worried about my place on this mortal coil— or should I say, my place after I tripped off of it.  He was a brilliant man and was truly concerned for my well-being and I could do no less than love him for it.

There were others there.  Larry Kosslyn, a cool dude with long styled hair that the girls loved and who was heavy into early REO when they were known as REO Speedwagon, Captain Beyond, Aerosmith, and a number of them harder rockin’ bands of the time.  I remember putting records in the racks one day and as I walked past Larry on the floor, both of us loaded with new albums for stock, we simultaneously leaned back-to-back and air-guitared a dual lead by, I think, Scorpions, then playing on the store system.  It was one of those spontaneous cool moments which makes me laugh to this day.  Kenny Baker was our assistant manager and I never knew a mellower dude.  He was the Pigpen of the stoner set.  When he walked in the room, you got a contact high thanks to the smell of reefer he always carried with him.  A kid named Chris Ashford split time between the Pizza and Music Odyssey, a record store which was just a few doors down the street.  Chris would go on to put out a string of Jan & Dean bootlegs (authorized by Dean Torrence), a handful of early L.A. punk singles, a couple of compilations of punk and surf tracks by bands such as The Halibuts, The Germs, Dick Dale and others before founding Wondercap Records, a tiny label which carefully handpicks its artists, the latest of which are Freddy Cannon & The Gears and, not surprisingly, The Gears themselves.  A fellow we called “Mush” (pronounced Moosh) worked there for a time.  He was from England and was old friends with Supertramp‘s drummer long before they had a hit.  There was Stan Hill, whose spontaneous versions of I’ve Been Everywhere never failed to make me laugh.  We even had Jack Eely work with us for a short time.  He’s the guy who sang Louie Louie for The Kingsmen.  When he left that band, Louie Louie went with him.  His was the Voice!

Frank and the Staff

(L-R:  Michael Dinner, Daryl Sartanowicz, Myself, Bob Mercer, Grits (Steve Wilson) and Larry Clayman)

A guy we called Grits worked there too and all of the previous rambling leads up to him.  His real name is Steve Wilson and he was from Georgia and sounded like it.  First time I talked with him, I thought he was a hick.  He had that southern drawl and talked incessantly about The South and Southern Music, which in itself seemed not to be a bad thing though I feared it would get old fast.  By the end of that first conversation, though, he had me sold.  He was one of the most up guys I had ever met.  When he talked music, you couldn’t help but get enthused, even if you didn’t like the music he talked about.

MichaelDinner1 001Like when he found Michael Dinner.  I have no idea how he was introduced to Dinner’s The Great Pretender album, but I remember him bounding up to Daryl one day (that’s right— bounded!) talking Dinner up like he was the second coming.  Have you listened to it, he was saying.  How about we get him for an in-store.  I dunno, responded Daryl, who always leaned the other way at first when confronted by tornados.  But he’s great, Grits was saying, talking so fast that Daryl could hardly respond.  To his credit, Daryl left it up to Grits in the end, saying that if he could get him to agree to an in-store, Daryl would back it, figuring the odds were long at best.  Well, ol’ Grits was a gambler and he got on the phone to Fantasy Records, probably spewing lies like crazy to get them to listen, and the next thing we all knew, Michael Dinner was going to come to the store.

I know what you’re all thinking.  Who the hell is Michael Dinner?  Well, at the time, Dinner was this young dude who wrote songs and played music in the country idiom.  Actually, more country rock.  The guy happened to also be a freakin’ genius!  He had a Rhodes Scholarship or something and had signed this record deal and had this record ready to go, but he had to go to school!  Brand new album.  A decent chance for success (the first single, The Great Pretender, featured harmony vocals by Linda Ronstadt, Doug Haywood, and Herb Pederson, which gave it credibility in Los Angeles if nowhere else at the time— Ronstadt just then making her move toward Superstardom).  All he needed was one tour, but he had to go to school?!  As it turned out, he played a couple of gigs in L.A. and maybe one in San Francisco— at least, those were the only ones I heard about— and exited, Stage England.  By the time he was done— or maybe in the middle of doing it— he cut another album, Tom Thumb the Dreamer, at which point he set about what he really wanted to do which is work in film and TV.

For the past number of years, I have seen a Michael Dinner listed as producer or director of certain TV programs and fleetingly wondered if it was the same Michael Dinner.  Well, guess what?  It was!   Dinner has worked on a string of programs I have followed over the years— The Wonder Years, Justified, Chicago Hope (okay, I didn’t really watch that one) and Karen Sisco, among others.  At present, he seems to be a gun for hire, slipping in here and there for an episode or two, perhaps preferring the freedom of contracting rather than the slavery of working for the big guys.

MichaelDinner2 001But I digress.  When the day for the in-store came, Grits was a freakin’ mess.  What if no one shows, he said.  What do I say to him?  I mean, it was obvious that this was personal to him.  He loved that album. He should have.  In retrospect, it had everything one needed to be a success:  Produced by the legendary John BoylanLinda Ronstadt‘s original backup band after she left  The Stone Poneys;  recorded by Paul Grupp at Capitol Records/Hollywood, Fantasy Records/Berkeley and The Record Plant in Sausalito; and Linda Ronstadt herself.  To be fair, she was not the big name then that she became, but she was well on her way and she only sang on three songs, but those songs were magic.  The one thing the album didn’t have, though, was a market.  One friend said that it was a bit too country for rock and not enough country for country and airplay suffered because of it.  In those days, radio ruled all and genre was the name of the game.  No airplay, no sales.  Not a strict rule, but in this case, strict enough.

Dinner had a voice a bit north of Randy Travis— the texture smoother and the tone higher.  He had a feel for the music and was a solid songwriter.  Artists who had less made it big and, hell, he had some Rhodes scholaring to do anyway.  Chalk it up under opportunity missed.

I don’t even remember what happened that day.  Dinner showed up with Bob Mercer from Fantasy Records and we all talked and eventually they left.  It happened so fast and we were all jabbering so much that it seemed like a dream.  Cool thing was, Grits pulled it off.  He put his ass out there and made it happen.  For awhile after that, we treated Grits with a bit more respect, I think.  I learned a lot from his positive attitude.  I learned from everyone at that store.

I didn’t learn enough, though, because the next thing you know, I headed down to Pacific Beach in SD to open a new store and ended up getting fired.  I deserved it.  Without guys like Daryl and Grits around to cool my jets, I was a train wreck waiting to happen.  But that’s a story for another time.

Rich McCulley— Demo-ing the Bombs Away Cafe…..

mcculleytourI call it “demo-ing” because Rich McCulley was all alone last Friday when he entered Corvallis Oregon’s Bombs Away Cafe so instead of getting the signature full band sound as recorded on his last two albums, Starting All Over Again and The Grand Design, the crowd got what sounded like demos.  Guitar played through a small amp.  And voice.  One.  And I dug it.  For one thing, it was an electric guitar.  I don’t know what it is about acoustic guitars, and McCulley could easily have played one that night, but I am tired of them.  I want my music plugged in for some reason and when it is presented bare-butt as it was, even better.  Give me music as it was written and I’m a happy man.  Throw in a few missed notes and a wonky chord here and there and I’m even happier.  I don’t know why, either.  Maybe it’s the honesty of the thing.

Of course, it wouldn’t matter that much to me because I recognize McCulley as more of a songwriter than performer.  He performs ably enough, but after hearing the aforementioned last two albums I am convinced that his strength is in his songs.  I have referred to him as the Popmeister here and there because he has an unerring sense of chord progressions and melody and seems to embed the perfect hook or two in every song he writes.  Yeah, I knew the songs before they were played.  It makes a difference.

Had the others heard the albums, they would most certainly have been more appreciative, though they were appreciative enough.  They were respectful.  After the third beer, they were even more respectful.  Ah, the life of a musician, huh?

Kim Grant introduced me to McCulley’s music.  She has introduced me to lots of music over the few years we have been acquainted and I would be the lesser had we not “met”.  Kim is a publicist and wraps her heart and soul around what she terms “roots music” or “Americana”— Los Angeles roots music, to be exact.  There is a group of musicians who hang out together there and who produce music in varying settings, always with roots in mind.  It includes the sadly overlooked Adam MarslandEvie Sands, who just missed the brass ring in the sixties but whose legend grows daily;  Grant Langston, who exudes “alt” through every pore;  and Todd Herfindal, the other bookend on the Popmeister shelf.

In fact, McCulley and Herfindal are joined at the musical hip, both having that sense of Pure Pop which highlights their songs more than their performances.  They recently recorded albums featuring a few co-written songs, Herfindal even titling his album after the collaborative Pop gem Right Here Now.  I heard McCulley’s version first, but when I heard Herfindal’s, I was floored.  How two musicians could record the same song with who I assume were the virtual same musicians and come up with songs which are both so alike yet so different is beyond me to fathom, but they did.  Want to check it out?  Here is the link to a sample of McCulley’s versionThis is Herfindal’s.  Both released at right around the same time.  And there are more.

So while I was sitting in my own little corner sipping a cold pint of Ninkasi Pilsner, I reveled in the minimalist sound.  I loved hearing McCulley blow a chord progression and while not pretending to cover it up, soldiering on to the end as a pro should (note:  it only happened twice).  I loved the lower key presentation than was on the albums and I wished only that a couple of my good friends were there to share it with because they, too, understand and appreciate the difference between solo and band.  Alas, besides the few who were slogging down the brew oasis-in-the-desert style, there was only the sound man, who spent the entire night moving from one place to another to hear the music before returning to the board to adjust the sound.  He was relentless.  What an effort!

I talked with McCulley a little before the show and during the break and am delighted to report that he is as nice a guy as I could expect.  He was traveling with his wife and his two-year old boy he named Jarvis after his very good friend and fellow musician Duane Jarvis who had died not too long before Rich’s son was born.  I could sense the melancholy as we talked about him and changed the subject quickly because it was obviously still too soon.  We talked about his wife, Anna Maria Rosales, and her musical life which is just now taking wing as regards the playing out and recording and songwriting.  We talked about Los Angeles and making it in the music biz and a bit about Music Millennium in Portland where he was scheduled to play a set the next day for the store’s Customer Appreciation Day.

Rich McCulley, my friends, is a humble and grateful man, as simple as that.  Gigs like the one I experienced have a tendency to make you humble— when only a few people show, it is hard not to be.  But he is grateful.  To be playing music.  To be recording music.  To have the friends and family he has.  For the talent inherent to make music people want to hear.

It was a good night.  A very good night.  Thanks, Rich.  Next time through, I will be there again, this time with a few friends.  We’ll make it a party.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  There are three thousand new pop songs a week these days, I think, and only a few break through the white noise to my ears.  Pop songstress Audrey Rose just released a video I wasn’t sure about (thanks to a very produced modern keyboard-oriented background), but a few more listens convinced me that her voice counter-balanced that studio-induced sound nicely.  If you like modern pop, here is a song you should hear and maybe will:  Show Me SomethingClick here*****  Some of you know that Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & The Raiders) is back on the circuit and has a new album out.  He has been touring with a band put together by East Coast wonder boy Gar Francis and the combination is magic.  If you had told me Mark would be back and sounding this good even twenty years ago, I would have said no.  Goes to show you what I know.  Want to hear what the sax-playing maniac sounds like today?  Here you go!!!  “Rock ‘n’ Roll makes you young!

To learn more about Bongo Boy Records, Mark’s and Gar’s current label, click here*****  Lisbee Stainton announces the release of the first single from her new album, Word Games.  Stainton has been working on the album for a few months between tour stops in her  native England and will be putting together a series of dates there to support it.  Her last album, Go, impressed me enough to forever put her on my list of musicians to watch.  At present, you can only pick the single up through iTunes, but that should change quickly.  Click here to listen and/or purchase*****  When I got to Seattle in the Spring of ’78, a club opened called The Bird.  It was evidently an early attempt at a punk club.  Here is a film from the opening of that club and a look at the people behind Seattle’s first generation of so-called Punks.  Fascinating in retrospect because I know a few of these people, mainly by reputation.  Click here*****  Music fiend Harry Hoggard has been on a mission to prove that Fort Worth is, pound for pound, one of the best music cities in the world.  I think he pretty much sealed it when he posted this video on Youtube.  Ladies and Gentlemen, The Keys Lounge Allstars!  First time I watched this, I half expected them to segue right into the Yardbirds arrangement of Smokestack Lightnin’!


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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