Frank Gutch Jr: Dumpster Diving For 45s, Ken Nordine….. Plus Notes To Die For

FrankJr2I feel sorry for kids these days.  They do not know the pleasure of the 45 RPM record.  They do not understand the thrill of buying a hit and finding a song on the flip side that gets as much or more play time as the hit.  They do not know, in this day of pay-per-track that they should be getting two songs for the price of the one.  It’s the law.  Or should be.  I am sure that asshats at corporate chuckle every time us idiots order a song, knowing that they are shortchanging us.  Yep, we used to get two songs.  Like I said, it was the law.  Labels and distributors, though, write their own laws these days.  I know I’m a dinosaur, but anything less than two is a fuck you to us music junkies.  Well, fuck them.

Here’s the thing.  When it comes to music, 45s are the real gems.  They used to tell us what the nits were.  In fact, if it wasn’t released as a single back in the sixties, it had no chance.  No single = no airplay = no hit.  Period.  Album tracks came later, mainly with the advent of FM radio.  Sure there were exceptions, but they were just that— exceptions.  The odd Beatles track.  An occasional B-side.  In reality, the charts belonged to the single.

Moby-Grape-Michael-Ochs-ArchivesIf anyone knew the criteria for the hit single, he or she kept it a well-kept secret.  Labels spent tons of money and put their best people on it, but success was happenstance at best.  There were trends, of course, but trends lasted as long as public attention and the public was fickle as hell.  When the big money hit in the sixties (and even before), label people became as superstitious as baseball players, trying anything and everything to avoid the dreaded “sophomore jinx,” the complete lack of sales following the big breakout.  Indeed, there was a psychology to radio and it got more involved as the rewards grew.  Finding the city in which radio was amenable to “breaking” the record (making it a hit through massive airplay).  Creating the gimmick to end all gimmicks (Columbia Records found that releasing the entire Moby Grape album on 45s wasn’t it).  Papering the stations to guarantee airplay (when the feds came down on radio for payola, a la Alan Freed, they just changed it to “promola,” giving everything but money— a mere technicality but one accepted by the powers that were).

Oh, it got ugly out there, sports fans, but not as ugly as it was to become.  Back in the day, radio and music (and even jukeboxes) were pearly white compared to the mess later practices created (that would be the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll you may have heard about already).  But the sleaze factor was minor before that.  It was still fun to browse through the racks at the local record store (remember those?) and hand pick your next favorite, even if they were influenced by major label advertising.  Thinking you were making your own decision was almost as much fun as making it.

buckinghamssusanI remember all of the hubbub about The Buckinghams.  I remember every damn radio station in Oregon’s Willamette Valley playing Kind of a Drag to freaking death.  I remember wishing Chicago would sink into whichever Great Lake it borders.  I was ready to poke my eardrums out with pencils— #2 pencils, in fact— but the gods took pity and finally moved it down the charts until, one day, it dropped off.  I hated it!  As soon as it disappeared, though, I became enamored with the band.  They put out single after single and I bought them all.  Don’t You Care, Mercy  Mercy Mercy, Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song), and Susan.  Every damn one of them.  I still have Mercy and Hey Baby.  I kept them for the picture sleeves.  Don’t ask me why I still love those songs.  I just do.

I think The Buckinghams get too little respect these days, though I remember when The Who received just about as little.  Some of the used record stores in Seattle when I got there in the late seventies had more Who albums than any other artist’s.  It seemed like thousands of them.  Mention the band in a bar and you’d get thrown out.  Girls would stop dating you if they found out you liked them.  Swear to God.  I was in Second Time Around one day when a guy tried to sell their entire Who collection.  The guy behind the counter wouldn’t even look at them.  And all of you Who fans who want to argue the point, step outside.  I’ll be out as soon as I finish my beer.

skyboysbacking 001For the smaller bands— i.e., the ones without major backing— 45s were a godsend.  When you can barely afford gas, recording a complete album is out of reach.  Two songs, though.  Every area has bands and/or artists which/who prided themselves on having physical product to sell.  The old hey-we-have-a-45 ploy.  Seattle’s Skyboys put out two 45s that I picked up and am glad I did.  They had been plugging around Seattle for a few years before I got there and hit their stride what with the Urban Cowboy western dance craze and all.  When they played The Rainbow Tavern on the weekend, the lines went around the block, even on rainy nights.

Speaking of bands which didn’t sell, ELO hit upon hard times after radio pummeled the public ad nauseum in the mid-seventies.  I went to see them once but only because Jeff Lynne had been smart enough to have hired Mick Kaminski to play electric violin.  Kaminski had previously played with Joe Soap, a UK band which I would much rather have seen.  The truth is that radio had overplayed ELO so much that the only album which sold for years afterward was OLE ELO, a hits compilation.  Around ’77 or so, their label, United Artists, released a couple of 45s on colored vinyl, hoping that it would spur sales of the then new album, A New World Record.  It didn’t.

If I ever meet the people responsible for the late-seventies and early-eighties medley craze, I’m going to punch them out.  The first one I ever heard was Stars On 45.  That was bad enough, but when every mother and her son started doing it, it practically drove me crazy.  Even the buttheads at Fantasy Records got in the act, piecing together a CCR track titled Medley USA which packed in six CCR hits in a little over four minutes.  They didn’t even pick one of the good ones.

Sometimes a record comes along that you can only purchase as a 45.  I was a huge Tarney Spencer Band fan and was extremely disappointed when their two albums, Three’s a Crowd and Run For Your Life failed.  In what I hoped was a show of support from their US label, A&M Records, they released a version of The Everly BrothersCathy’s Clown which I grabbed the second it hit the racks.  Good thing, too, because the single and the band tanked shortly thereafter.  I never understood why, either.  It was a solid version of a great song and the band— well, let’s just say that there were 200 lesser bands having more success.  Go figure.

I love it when artists write songs for specific towns.  Which artist/band was it that wrote a song and inserted different cities into different versions, obviously hoping the bardswallawalla 001song would be a smash somewhere just because the city was a focal point?  Interesting idea.  Well, The Bards from Washington State put out a song titled Walla Walla, hoping that the millions who lived there would pick up on it.  Two problems.  The millions were more like thousands and the song wasn’t close to their best.  Still, it sold to Bards fans, as few as we were by national standards.

Most of you already know this, but for the few who don’t, let’s talk promos in the 60s through 80s.  Ever check out a record for sale on eBay?  Ever wonder what the various acronyms mean?  (No, I’m not going to tell you what that means— look it up!)  I mean, besides the standard grading VG+ and NM and the like?  My favorite has always been WLP.  When I first started messing around on eBay, even I stumbled upon such “phrases.”  It’s not like WTF (you would have to be a complete idiot to not get that one).  And it has LP in it, so I immediately thought LP.  I was wrong.  It stands for White Label Promo and used to be a huge part of the record business.  See, the first number of albums or 45s for some labels were pressed as promotional copies to be passed along to radio, magazines, newspapers and the like.  Many were earmarked “Promotional Use Only” or some equivalent.  The industry eventually tired of pandering to the system that was and dropped the white labels, which seemed to me the passing of an era.  I miss the white labels.  But then, I miss the old record business, as feudal as it was.  That does not mean that I want to go back, though.  There is more music out there than ever and it is just as good as it ever was.  If you don’t think so, you’re not listening.

littlestevenvoteFor those who bemoan the lack of music as protest just have not been paying attention.  True, protest songs can be hard to find, but the way the business has evolved, everything is hard to find.  This isn’t the golden era of folk, sports fans.  We don’t have a Bleecker & MacDougall anymore.  We don’t have Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan and a whole host of other musicians lining up against the government or the bureaucracy.  We have the Internet, and if there is a better way for a song to hide in plain sight, I haven’t found it.  We also don’t have people lining the streets, though we should have.  While we sit here braying and baahh-ing (that’s a reference to asses and sheep, for those who need references pointed out), we’re being led to the slaughter.  Want a cause?  Pick one.  Global warming?  Erosion of individual rights?  Fracking?  Ownership of property?  There are virtually thousands of issues to protest.  The question is, why aren’t we protesting.  We are, whether you believe it or not, destroying the planet as I type!  By not fighting the assholes who place the importance of money over the life of the planet and its future.  Funny thing is, while asshats participate in the destruction of the world, their childrens futures crumble as well.  They aren’t human, folks, these people who want everything and right now.  No human being would consign their own children to the world they are destroying.  Talk about “No Future.”  Where are The Sex Pistols when you need them?!!!  (The following video brought to you by Sean Kelly and your friendly neighborhood nuclear facility)

But enough about 45s for now.  Let’s talk about….

Covers and Tributes…..

I hate to rant.  I try to be positive, I really do.  But when what seems like the vast majority of musicians toss aside their music to pay homage to artists and music which have been paid homage enough, I cannot stay quiet.  There is something evil at hand.  You know it when you go to a concert and are regaled with everyone’s songs but the musicians on stage.  You know it when an entire album is played, front to back, by musicians who had nothing to do with that album.  You know it when stars or unknowns line a stage to pay tribute to a musician and his/her work, kissing ass all the way.  You know it when supposed music fans pay good money, sometimes more than standard concert price, to see such extravaganzae while refusing a three dollar cover charge to see original music performed by musicians many times as good or better than those paying tribute.

Gene-Clark-No-Other-608x598The most obvious of these tributes (besides the Heart Stairway to Heaven abomination) is the Gene Clark – No Other tour.  It would be a modern day equivalent of Blind Faith, had BF decided to play cover songs.  Iain Matthews and members of four bands (Fleet Foxes, Beach House, Grizzly Bear, and The Walkmen) have recently traveled the US playing the songs from Gene Clark‘s No Other album, start to finish.  I assume fans are attending in droves.  Clark is, after all, today’s musician-of-the-moment.  What disturbs me about this is that if the same lineup were playing original music, few would care.  Have we come to the point that we have to have a gimmick to attend a show?  And when did the gimmick become more important than the music?  And don’t tell me everyone who attends these shows knows either Gene Clark or No Other.  For all the praise being heaped upon Mr. Clark, that was a good but not exceptional album.  Wouldn’t matter, though.  Covers are covers, whether one song or an entire album.  Again, out back, as soon as I finish my beer.

If There Need Be Tribute, Let Us Pay It To Ken Nordine…..

Word+JazzWhat the hell did Ken Nordine do, you ask?  And just who the hell was he?  He, my friends, was the guy who voiced over a number of commercials on TV— the guy with the deep poetic voice who made you look up when you were reading or ironing.  He had “that voice,” you know?

I first became acquainted with him when I visited an old Wherehouse record store in Pacific Beach, a suburb of San Diego, around ’75.  Licorice Pizza was opening a new store a couple of blocks down and one of that Wherehouse’s employees was switching over, so we dropped by to say hello.  When he saw us, Dyno vaulted the turnstyle and greeted us with open arms, long and frizzy hair down to his shoulders and a grin stretching from ear to ear.  His real name was Rohn, but I wouldn’t know that for awhile because he remained Dyno to us, that being his favorite phrase.  It was short for dynamite, the top of his glee button list (mine were “cool” or “far out” and still are), to be used whenever something good was in the works.  We all talked for awhile and Dyno, in a short fifteen minutes, became one of those guys I wished I could be, he was so cool  (far out, too).

Before we left, he had dragged me to the stores cutout bin and forced a copy of Ken Nordine‘s How Are Things In Your Town? into my hands.  I think it cost 69 cents and Dyno had his arms around my shoulders as we walked up to the register, telling me that it was cheap at ten times the price and I wouldn’t regret it.  Good thing there were no used cars for sale.

I took it home and stashed it among the handful of records I had brought down from Oregon and the few I had purchased since.  A couple of weeks later, I pulled it out and put one of the records on the turntable, opening the gatefold jacket to read the liner notes in hopes of figuring out who this cat was— I use that terminology because ten seconds into the first track, “cat” he became.  The music was jazz but the voice was unique as hell, the deep-textured tones able to make windows vibrate when played loud.  There was no singing.  It was poetry.  Beat poetry, of a sort.  The subjects of the songs?  Time.  Love.  Life. The rare and the commonplace.

Nordine had this ability to string together words and phrases, sometimes quite ordinary in written form, that sucked you into a musical Twilight Zone.  He placed you in a dark bedroom at two in the morning or sucked you into pipes which carried you to the beach.  It was sometimes poetry-of-the-absurd, but it was an absurd which made me laugh and smile and feel warm all at the same time.  I got lost in Ken Nordine.  Every time.

I searched for information, and it was not easy in those days.  We had no Internet nor did we have places we could call and there were no information kiosks that I remember.  We did have card catalogs and a few reference books at the libraries.  One made reference to articles written about Mr. Nordine and gave the necessary information to find the correct magazine or newspaper issue in which the article or mention appeared.  That’s right.  We had to find the issue itself, unless it was copied to microfilm of microfiche.  The Dark Ages.  But I did it.  I found that Nordine had recorded a number of albums, many with the backing of a Chico Hamilton group, that he was known for voiceovers for commercials and movie trailers.  For certain nordinesoundsinspaceperiods, his voice was much in demand.  His voice had been used on RCA RecordsSounds In Space in 1958, had recorded on a project for the US Army titled Radio Rebus in 1961, and even did a guest shot on H.P. Lovecraft‘s H.P. Lovecraft II album in ’68.  But what he will probably be most remembered for were his Word Jazz albums, the first of which was recorded in 1957 for Dot Records.  Those were the ones I heard on the album I had bought.

I mention this now because I pulled the album out the other night (I had thought it lost) and listened again and, again, the safe warm feeling washed over me as he sucked me into that alternative universe of words and jazz.  Don’t let the word “jazz” throw you.  It is background music for some of the most amazing mind trips one could possibly have gone on in those days.  It was a precursor to A Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Nordine having chosen to stay home.

I will always think of Dyno whenever I hear Nordine.  One glance and he evidently had me sized up.  More than once, we talked of Nordine and our first meeting.  We both agreed it was predestined.  His full name is Rohn Trieglaff.  He will always be a friend.

I am putting together a list of impending releases we all should be searching out, not the least of which is the new No Small Children.  Stay tuned.  Really good music just around the corner.  But now, it’s time for…..

Music Notes smallNotes…..  It’s here, sports fans.  Belfast’s The Minnows are allowing a free download of their brand spanking new Live from the Belfast Barge album and it is sweet!  They have been a true favorite of mine for a handful of years now.  I love these guys!  I’ve heard portions of this album from a few videos they posted a year or so ago and the quality is excellent.  Don’t miss out!  BTW, they have not yet put a time limit on this, but I wouldn’t drag my feet if I were you.  Better safe than sorry.  Click here!

If you haven’t heard of Dirtmusic, you haven’t been following my column.  This is taken from their new post of this next video:  “Dirtmusic‘s previous album Troubles, released in June of last year, was recorded in Bamako, Mali in the dark days of the 2012 political upheaval. A propulsive collection of cinematic Afro-rock, Troubles for the most part rose out of improvisational sessions involving Hugo Race (Fatalists, Bad Seeds) and Chris Eckman (The Walkabouts) of Dirtmusic and the nimble, balafon driven Ben Zabo band. Malian luminaries like Samba Toure, Zoumana Tereta, Aminata Wassidje Traore and Virginie Dembele from the Rokia Traore band, brought exhilarating vocal and instrumental contributions to the collective.  Here is the new video of Red Dust.

If I have to have covers, they had better be as unique as this Andrea Schroeder version of David Bowie‘s Heroes.  Otherwise, you’ll play hell to get me to listen (unless there is a reason beyond the song itself).  I am actually quite taken by this, and I didn’t particularly care for the Bowie version, truth be told.

While it is true that I do just not have time for established label artists or stars, I make an exception for Greg Laswell, who records music for my soul, evidently.  I haven’t heard a song of his I didn’t like, including this one from his new album, I Was Going To Be an Astronaut album.  All remakes of older songs, but songs which evolved beyond what they were when originally recorded.  Totally different versions, see.

I only include PR when it’s not really PR.  Here is the explanation behind Abramson Singers‘ excellent light-pop track, Lose-Lose, which almost did not make the cut on their latest album, Late Riser.  Here is what Ms. Abramson says:

“Hey friends, we have a new music video for the song “Lose-Lose.”

This song almost didn’t see the light of day. Written originally as a pop song exercise, I left in lyrics that were pretty silly. I wasn’t sure I wanted it out in the world, but as it turns out, it’s a catchy little number that people enjoy.  We decided to give the song a video with the same irreverent spirit. So here is a video of Lose-Lose starring the up and coming cat video sensation, Buster P. Kitten. Make sure you watch until the end to see the result of his kitty-cam adventures!  Starring my wonderful cat, Buster P. Kitten, video by Flick Harrison.”

I love these guys.

=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.” 

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Dumpster Diving For 45s, Ken Nordine….. Plus Notes To Die For”

  1. Oh, yeah! The thrill of going to Sun Rexall Drugs and flipping through their 45s and finding your favorite radio song! And that wonderful flip side that got just about as worn out as the hit. The records were about a dollar each and you could find all sorts of offbeat stuff. I have several records that were Dallas-area hits made by DJs here, and they’re good. (“Telephone Man” by Meri Wilson is a particular favorite.) They happened to survive several moves and my mother’s house fire because they were in the carrying case I used to take around to my friends’ houses. My turntable also went with me in its case often. Sometimes we got an ALBUM for a birthday, and we didn’t want to hear some of the boring songs, so we were frustrated that it wasn’t singles! Remember the automatic changer and stacking records? (To fixate on the first few paragraphs of your post)

  2. […] excellent.  I wrote a piece on 45s (you know, the little record with the big hole?) some time ago (you can read it here).  Today, I will concentrate not only on the present but the […]

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