Frank Gutch Jr: Fish Don’t Know They’re Underwater… Music and Psychedelia 101

FrankJr2So you think you know something about music, huh?  I thought I did too until I started writing this column and getting schooled by people not only more aware of psych than myself but more knowledgeable.  Why, some of my past columns spawned related columns (not mine) at least as long, disputing my claims.  Okay, not quite.  But almost.  Let us just say that, like many of us, the more I know, the less I know.

Just what the hell is psych, anyway?  For a young college dude from Oregon in 1967, it was San Francisco and the Summer of Love, the corner of Haight and Ashbury, Nehru the_peanut_butter_conspiracy_coverjackets, Madras shirts (with their bleeding colors) and marijuana, which had yet to creep into the consciousness as “weed”.  It was Laugh-In and Viet Nam and black lights and lava lamps.  It was Blow-Up and later, Magical Mystery Tour (the former featuring a Jeff Beck-led Yardbirds for one scene and the other a Beatles-infused alter-reality).  Yes, mostly it was music.  Peanut Butter Conspiracy and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and Jefferson Airplane and Moby Grape and Jimi Hendrix and Cream.  A list as long as my arm to begin with because the movement was afoot, but a list which shrank as time passed because if we are nothing else we are a disposable culture and don’t seem to care about the bands which did not wear jet packs supplied by the media and the major labels. (For a quick and entertaining overview of the pop culture side of SF in those days, I recommend reading Mike Marino‘s Haight Ashbury: The Spare Change Tourclick here)

psychedelicWhen the whole genre/scene first began, there were no rules.  As it progressed and the SF scene and Hollywood sneaked its way into the public consciousness, it began to take form.  Some thought psych was anything with a sitar (The Beatles influence).  Some swore by the dress (paisley shirts and Nehru jackets were a big splash).  Some labeled anything spacey as psych (some even marked The Moody Blues such).  Hollywood, with its black light sensitivity, tossed music which fit in with a light show and wrapped the cinematography around it.  The longer it lived, the more complicated it became.  By the Summer of Love, it had out-defined itself and was on its way to redefining itself many times over.  It began taking on a meaning of its own, I guess you could say, and while we added whatever the fad of the day was when it fit, it soon outgrew its own defining structure.  Some progrock fit.  Some classical rock.  Blues rock.  Country rock.  Trying to get hold on it, new definitions reached further.  Americana.  Jam.  Experimental.  It began to be overwhelming.

It has only been recently that I have realized that psych is not just a music genre nor a drug-infused space in time.  It is a state of mind.  I know.  I too have heard it before, but it’s true.  And I can prove it.  Let’s take a little trip (get it?) through what could easily pass as psych if you knew nothing about the era or the artists and were looking only for psych.  Some will be obvious.  Others?  Let us watch, listen and learn.  This is psych— then and now.

The Onslaught…..   Yesterday…..

Only it wasn’t.  Not until the Summer of Love.  It was a trickle and it took the general public awhile to absorb it.  Hollywood would have us believe it was the way of this video but then Hollywood never really knew what to do with it anyway.  By the way, the drummer of The Comfortable Chair is friend Warner Davis who went on to play with Timber and now puts in time with Jack Tempchin.

In actuality, long before Hollywood began exploiting psychedelia (something they never mastered), radio and television was giving us bits and pieces of music like this.  It was folk rock, to be sure, but it helped define a new genre which developed over the years— folk/psych:

To listen to Pink Floyd fans, like the Russians, Floyd did it first.  They may not have done everything, but they definitely helped stretched the envelope.  I once had a chance to see Floyd at the Eugene Guard Armory, but Deep Purple was playing within a couple of weeks and money was hard to come by.  I think tickets were either $2.00 or $2.50.  Man, what I missed!  On the plus side, Deep Purple was pretty amazing.  I just wouldn’t know how good they were for a few years.  Here is a video of a Syd Barrett song, evidently pieced together from odd sources.  Google this puppy.  There is evidently a little controversy about the song and the video.

Meanwhile, the UK was cranking out a whole ‘nother brand of psych, spearheaded by Hendrix and, of course, Cream.  Amps stacked high and volume levels through the roof.  Were it not for those  bands and bands like them, it is very doubtful that this would qualify as psych today, but thanks to them, they do.  Argue all you want about blues roots, to most of us who lived in the Stone Age, this was psych!

Of course, there were bands, mostly not accepted, who made waves within a minority, but it was a minority so enamored with the music business that it became an influential minority.  They peeled back the layers of band after band and came up with musicians who later became quite influential themselves.  One of those bands was Soft Machine.  The band sported names which would have tremendous influence over a prog rock scene which was just waiting to happen:  Robert Wyatt, Kevin Ayers, Daevid Allen, and Mike Ratledge.  When you compare this with what was happening then, this is out there though only a handful understood it at the time:

Ever hear of Juicy Lucy?  Undoubtedly if you have, you think of Robert Palmer or Elke Brooks.  Before those days, they were The Misunderstood, a rock band out of Riverside, California which ended up moving to the UK and teaming up with John Peel.  They were forerunners of the music which would fill auditorium-style music halls like The Fillmore and The Grande Ballroom (Detroit).  Not only did they have that electric psych sound, they are reputed to be one of the first bands to create a light show for their gigs.  From Ugly Things Magazine:

The band are known for having pioneered the live light show. Campbell initially soldered a guitar jack to a car light bulb and plugged this into the extension output behind each amp. This simple idea produced visual music, as the response between the guitars and the lights plugged into the amps was identical. They first showed this feature at the Hi Ho Club in Riverside in early 1966. They also played with lights at the Marquee Club in London in mid 1966. An advanced, multicolored, large scale version of this “light show” or “visual sound” system was being planned in London when the band were forced to retire. Another feature of their visuals was getting all three guitars feeding back using different tremolo settings, thereby leaving the stage flashing with musical lights.

Heavy.  And pretty damn cool.  Here is one of the early offering from the band:

I always thought The Paupers were a Vancouver BC band, but that may have been because they played a bit along the Left Coast back in the day.  They are reported to have played The Monterey International Pop Festival as well as spending more than a few nights at The Fillmore.  One listen to this track will have you wondering how the hell they could have been from Canada.  Then again, a whole slew of the bands we have learned to associate with SF were not from there.  When you’re trying to make it, you go where they want you.  Bill Graham obviously wanted them.  THIS is what most people back in the day called psych:

Meanwhile, on the Right Coast, Florida had their own scene and one which in retrospect was every bit as vibrant as others.  Today, people have a tendency to write We The People off as garage, whatever that is.  I have walked into more than one dance hall to hear bands play music like this.  When there was a light show, it felt like psych to me.  And I didn’t even smoke back then.  When I contacted Wayne Proctor to ask about this track, he replied:

“I guess I would have to go with this one, because it’s the most accurate version I played lead guitar, Tommy Talton on bass guitar, David Duff on rhythm guitar, Lee Ferguson on drums, and Randy Boyte on Hammond B3 organ. I sang the vocal, with Randy, Tommy, and David doing the “hey!” parts! Thanks, man….”

I really never thought of West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band as psych and yet a number of their tracks fit quite well.  I was adventurous enough to have lucked onto these guys through the old Record Club of America which sent you a Schwann Catalog and practically dared you to order out of it.  WCPAEB‘s Part One was only one of many albums I purchased blind (and deaf), others being The Free Spirits self-titled album, The Peanut Butter Conspiracy Is Spreading, The Third Rail‘s  Id Music and The Remains‘ self-titled album on Epic Records.  They were all on the fringes of psych, in retrospect.  Here is WCPAEB‘s entry into the psych/pop sweepstakes— one of them, anyway:

The Paupers weren’t the only band at Monterey Pop.  But, of course, you already know that.  Moby Grape was there too and did it up right nicely.  No need to talk about these guys, is there?  They are legendary.  Here is a video from Monterey:


Even The Byrds crossed over.  Here they are in 1970 at the Fillmore East:


And then there was Quicksilver:


If any one band exemplified SF besides Quicksilver and the Dead, it was Jefferson Airplane.  If you want to know something about these guys, here is a great place to start.  Do it when you have some time.  It is a documentary and a damn good one:


Of all bands and songs, though, this is the one which defined psych for the vast majority of people who did not buy into the SF or Brit scene.  The Strawberry Alarm Clock— Incense and Peppermints.  It was #1 with a bullet on the psych chart:


And Today…..

What can I say?  Psych is alive and better than ever, as far as I’m concerned.  Some bands are straight-on psych, playing in the same vein as those in the sixties, some are more spacey, still others have more of a folk base to what they do.  Here are a few for comparison’s sake and what better band to compare with than Seattle’s The Green Pajamas.  The Pajamas have been around for a number of years and  have never failed to make my ears perk up, especially when they dip into the psychedelic paint bucket.  If you’ve not heard them, you have missed something.  Here is one of my favorites, this one from Poison In the Russian Room:

The UK’s The Soundcarriers freak me out with their ability to capture psych at its purest.  Here is a video of I Had a Girl from 2008.  Pretty Seeds-y with the keyboards, eh?  I love these guys!

If what you have in mind is the Byrds-y jangling of guitars, there is no one I’ve found who does it better these days than The Grip Weeds.  They take psych into the depths.  Or out into space.

If that isn’t enough, how about this bit of Hollywood psych/pop from three years ago:

See what I’m getting at?  So many songs and a lot of them, though not truly psych, can qualify, depending upon state of mind.  So let us close this with a look and listen to two of my favorites when it comes to tripping the psych fantastic.  The Fire Tapes, who recently went on hiatus, and The Winterpills, who are finishing up an album of cover songs to be released after the first of the year.  Seriously.  It’s been far out, man.  And heavy.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  Portland songstress Lindsay Clark has announced that her new album is nearing completion.  Final mixing will take place right after the holidays.  You can listen to her last album, Home of the Brave, here. *****  With Christmas coming up, some people are looking for the seasonal goods.  I just found out that Kathrin Shorr of the group Sweet Talk Radio wrote and recorded an album of Christmas songs with friend and fellow musician Chris Standring titled Send Me Some Snow.  You can purchase it via iTunes (just search for Standring or the album title).  If it is anything near what Kathrin has written for STR, it is topnotch.  If Christmas isn’t what you’re looking for, music-wise, I suggest checking out both of STR‘s albums.  Here is a sample, a song used in an episode of TV’s Haven:

New Sandrider album Godhead hits the streets today, though it has been listed as a preorder for a month or so.  More excellent hard rockin’ crunch.  Their first album completely knocked me out.  You can order the vinyl LP at the Good To Die Records’ store.  Here they are performing a track from their first album, live on KEXP:

And you can plug into my favorite track from that first self-titled album by clicking here.

And while I’m standing on the heavier side of the music pile, might a suggest a run over to Modern Peasant Records for a listen to their latest, John Wayne’s Bitches.  If you want a taste, here is a video from 2010 of them doing a track from the new EP, Fuck Off Baby.  I don’t believe the vocalist is with them anymore, but that is a guess.  Even so, these ladies are ghosts of punk/new wave past:

The new EP can be listened to in its entirety on their Bandcamp page (click here).

Seattle’s Ticktockman is working toward finishing up their first salvo on their new album.  Completing the recording and video as I type.  These guys floored me with their self-titled album and followed it up with an outstanding EP titled Calling Out the Hounds.  No word on title yet and the details are sketchy, but I can’t imagine it being anything but freaky good.  Here is a video from that first album which I think is Pearl Jam/Alice In Chains good:

I received a very pleasant surprise last week when a copy of Kink Ador‘s new six-song mini-LP showed up in the mailbox.  Free World finds the band in excellent KA form, vocalist and bassist Sharon Koltick continuing the journey to fame (if not fortune, thanks to the new music industry paradigm) alongside guitarist Nick Hamilton and drummer Josh Lockridge.  Everyone I’ve talked with who have seen them— even DBAWIS‘s own Nadia Elkharadly— says these guys are amazing to see live.  Here is a video from the new release:

Just for comparison’s sake (and because I can), here is the first video I ever saw of these guys.  I’m still reeling:

Laurie Biagini just yesterday posted her latest video.  Her latest album, Sanctuary of Sound, is her best yet and this video proves it.  She puts the videos together herself, I believe, and it takes a lot of work.  Do me a favor and at least check it out.  Even if you don’t like her girl group/sunshine pop style.


  Charlottesville’s Keith Morris and his band The Crooked Numbers are gearing up for an album release party this Dec. 13th.  What?  The album has been out for months, you say?  Well, not really, according to Keith.  Here is what he says about it:

“yep, frank, we finally have a cd-release show scheduled for ‘love wounds & mars’. it’s friday dec 13 at the southern w/ matt curreri, koda kerl (chamomille and whiskey) and friends, and lord nelson.

the obvious question: what took you so long, keith? two things: first, we made all those videos for the record, and that process took time. my idea was to get the songs out there first, gain an audience for it, and then do the cd-release show afterwards–kind of a promotional campaign in reverse. i did it that way because of my experience with candyapolis –when i realized that as soon as you do the cd-release show, all press, reviews, etc tend to stop.

second thing was that we needed some backing. it’s been a 6 month process signing on with county wide here in charlottesville, but it’s been a big help. it’s just the way this town works. amazing how fast things changed after that.”

The album is titled Love Wounds & Mars and it’s a good one!  Here is a taste:


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.” 






One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Fish Don’t Know They’re Underwater… Music and Psychedelia 101”

  1. You talk a lot. 🙂

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