Frank Gutch Jr: Jim Colegrove, The Early Years; Small Label Magic; plus the oh so magnificent Notes…..
His name is Jim Colegrove but I know him by his AKA, Coolgroove, because that is how I want to know him. He’s no youngster, a few years older than myself (I’m a fossil), and has been a guitar playing fool all of his adult life and most of his childhood. If I asked him if he thought when he was young that he would be still playing today, I am sure he would say no. It was a dream back in the fifties when he got his first guitar. He has relived that dream every day since because when he isn’t playing music, he’s thinking it. He got the bug early and the reason I’m telling you is that I got the bug too. I had a chance to live it but in those days you had to be a special breed to stick it out. I had the talent. I just didn’t have the discipline. Jim had (has) plenty of both.
To give you an idea of who Jim really is, perhaps you have heard or heard of Teddy & The Rough Riders, Bo Grumpus, Jolliver Arkansaw, or Great Speckled Bird. Jim was a member of each. He did studio work for Bobby Charles, Todd Rundgren, Nick Gravenites, Bob Neuwirth, Eric von Schmidt, and Borderline. He worked sessions with Paul Butterfield and members of The Band. He also played briefly with Orleans around 1971, before that band had their hits, Dance With Me and Still the One. I knew most of this, but I really knew Jim from his work with Fort Worth’s The Juke Jumpers, who played boogie and jump in the very early eighties which made my heart sing. Yep, Jim has credentials.
This is no my-life-changed-when-The-Beatles-played-Ed-Sullivan story. That stuff is for youngsters. Jim was playing before The Beatles were even The Silver Beatles. He was playing when John Lennon formed The Quarrymen— when they were called a skiffle band. Ask a kid today what skiffle is and they would laugh and say, no, man, it’s Skittles! And they wouldn’t care enough to want to know, unless it had something to do with Skittles.
Life was different back in the fifties, like living on another planet. Certain areas had phone service, but you had to share a line with other families, what they called a “party line.” In order to get a private line, you had to pay a premium. Television was just making its mark on the social landscape, but was pretty much limited to the bigger cities— no cable or satellite hookups then, my friends. In fact, the only satellite I can remember back then was Sputnik, the USSR’s miracle orbiter and a wake-up call to conservative politicians like Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin (what is it about that state?) who when he opened his mouth made even us grade-schoolers ashamed to be American. He wasn’t the only one, but he was the most visible and the most vocal, and a harbinger of what could be if something were to go drastically wrong.
It wasn’t the best of worlds, maybe, but there was a lot of hope and a lot of it came in the form of the new world order which welcomed teens into the fold. Conservatives bitched like hell about teens and music, teens and sex, teens and alcohol and cigarette consumption— teens and just about everything, to be truthful. But when it came time to pass the plate, the second face presented itself because they knew that teen money spent just as well as adult. Which is why radio changed.
Before that change, though, radio had a major impact on even future rocker Jim Colegrove. Set your wayback machines for the fifties, sports fans, and let Jim Colegrove take you on a magic carpet ride through a world most of you missed, mostly in his own words. This is the beginning of a career in music when the business was barely a business, a career which has now spanned decades. Told mostly in Jim’s own words.
Hold on there, Jim. Let me finish here. Radio in the early- to mid-fifties was pretty much what it had been through the thirties and forties— programming provided by the networks, arts programs, live music, news, religious presentations, even book readings. When programming became too expensive for smaller stations to afford, though, live programming and network hookups gave way to local radio, most of which was music.
Jim lived in Ohio. Ohio born and bred, in fact. And he remembers radio as a way of life.
During my freshman year in high school, he wrote in his memoirs, I discovered the local (radio) DJs. In Dayton, the two rock ‘n’ roll stations were WONE and WING. At night, a DJ named Gene ‘By Golly’ Barry spun the latest hits. He used to take requests by mail and would dedicate songs for kids— (‘this goes out to Jean from Johnny’ kind of a thing)— and I started tuning in after supper while I did homework.
I heard Elvis and Little Richard and Fats Domino and Chuck Berry— all the R&B stars who were charting at the time. The music was different from that which I had heard when I lived in Springfield (He had been born in Springfield but his family had moved when Jim was still a youngster). It spoke to me in a real sense and I accepted rock ‘n’ roll as gospel, as pretty much all teens did. And it wasn’t long before the basement table held the Silvertone turntable and a growing stack of 45s, the medium of the message.
About the time I started buying 45s, I started hanging out with Bill Gamble. He had played his guitar for me once or twice and I had been invited to his basement workshop where I saw his tape recorder and other electronic gear. At that time, I knew I had to get a guitar and learn to play. The next Christmas, I got my first guitar as a present, a $40 Orpheum flat-top. That was a great guitar. My mother bought me an Ed Sales guitar method book from a mail order ad and that was my first instruction.
The fall of my junior year, my mother bought me a new Gibson flat-top guitar. It was a beauty, a professional instrument, and gave me real credibility as a guitarist. At that time I was learning from any source available— radio, records, TV, songbooks, and other musicians.
Until then, I had worn my hair in a flat top. I let the sides grow out and combed it back in a ducktail. I went to every dance I could and danced with any girl I thought a good dancer. I entered dance contests and usually finished in the Top Three.
Life was good as long as music was involved. He listened to it, danced to it, but more than anything wanted to play it. In a band? He was happy enough just playing with the guys in the basement, but one day…
… a guy named Dick Fischer approached me and asked if I would be interested in playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I was lukewarm about it. I had been playing baseball with another guitar player, Gerald Whitt and Whitt told me that Fischer’s sister was going with a guy who sang and played guitar in a band called The Saints. They played with Clay Eager‘s show up near Springfield at a place called The Barn. Clay was a popular WLW Country & Western star and The Saints were featured on the same bill at Clay’s club.
The story I got was that this guy named Ted Grills was playing guitar with the band and was occasionally allowed to sing. It seems that he was so popular with the girls that the leader of the band, Bob Ernest, was unhappy. Fact is, Bob finally decided to not let Ted sing at all, so Patty, Fischer’s sister, told Ted to start his own band, so he did. Both Whitt and a guy named Ted Sharp were recruited right off. Whitt asked if I wanted to come over and practice with them, so I loaded up the Gibson and head over to Fischer’s house to check them out.
(After we chose the name), as the days passed, I became more enchanted with the idea of The Teddy Bears. It wasn’t the greatest name in the world, though, and sooner than we expected, there was a band with the same name with a hit (“To Know Him Is To Love Him”). A name change was imminent. We decided to have a contest that paid cash to name the band. We took entries at our dances at Skateland every week. The response was practically nonexistent. The names were horrible, at best. Our road manager, Richard Craig, finally came up with The Thunderbirds for lack of anything else. That soon morphed into Teddy & The T-Birds. In the meantime, The Teddy Bears’ Rock ‘n’ Roll Band, as it said on our bass drum head, tried to get a guest gig wherever we could.
My first appearance with the band came that Spring when we played a guest set at The Melody Show Bar in Springfield. We lugged the amps onto the stage and plugged in our guitars while Fischer took the seat behind the headliners’ drum set. The reception was less than enthusiastic which came as a surprise to me. I thought we sounded pretty good.
The gig situation was slim to none after that, but we continued practicing every week. When Whitt graduated, he got married and quit the band. We were down to a trio. That was the Summer of ’58 and Grills asked if I would play lead guitar. I was reluctant but Grills told me I could do it and let me take his Old Kraftsman guitar and amp home to practice. I practiced until my fingers were raw. The guitar was strung with heavy flat-wound strings and the action was high. You couldn’t bend a note if you knew how, and I didn’t. But I sure loved having an electric guitar at my disposal.
(Not long after), the three of us went to Chillicothe to play during a break at the local Moose Lodge. After hearing what a real rockabilly band sounded like, I was scared to death to play. Donnie Bowsher, leader of the headlining band, performed from a wheelchair, having been stricken with polio. He had released a couple of records, one of which (“Stone Heart”) was a hit both locally and nationally. His brother Roger played bass and sang harmony, and they had a piano player and a lead guitarist named Hoppy who played a Fender Stratocaster, the first I had ever seen. They were really good, especially Hoppy on that Strat. By the time we got to play, I was extremely nervous. I sat on a chair and can’t remember if it was because I had no strap or if I was too nervous to stand. We played to a semi-receptive crowd and hit the road. That was my first gig as a lead guitarist. In all of my years, I would never be that nervous again.
There was a song by Bobby Freeman on the radio then titled “Do You Wanna Dance” and it had bongos. I got the idea that we needed a bongo player in the band and suggested that we ask my good friend Phil Ackerman to play them. Phil picked up a two-bit set of bongos and, voila, we were a four-piece band.
We played our first paying job that summer and made $5 apiece. It was at the Crystal Lake VFW Hall and it became a regular gig for the band. Bill Trimmer attended and suggested we add a bass player and applied for the job. He thought the fact that he had never played the instrument was no obstacle as he had played tuba in the marching band and figured a bass was just a tuba without strings. He borrowed the standup bass from the high school and we were a five-piece.
That was a great summer, playing in a band and teaching swim lessons at Greenacres Club. In August, I turned seventeen and was ready for my senior year.
That name change? It wasn’t to be their last. Somewhere along the line, another band had adopted a name using Thunderbirds. Actually,
Another band released a record using the Thunderbirds name, so we made a list of possibilities. We had an upcoming gig at Crystal Lake and had yet to pick one and I thought I had a good one. Ted’s full name was Theodore Roosevelt Grills, so I told Ted to introduce the band that night as Teddy & The Rough Riders. That name stuck for seven years.
(About Greenacres). They had swimming parties on Friday nights which were open to the public— a swimming period after which they had a dance on the patio. Usually, a DJ played records, but one night a DJ from WING in Dayton made an appearance to spin the records. His name was Jim Smith. I had once met him. So I talked with him about records and asked him to play a couple of them for me. I had seen recording stars perform at Skyland Skateland when Dave Hall had DJ-ed a dance there. Carl Dobkins Jr. performed with a vocal group called The Seniors. Others performed there too, including Jimmy Craig, Bill Parsons, Sonny Flaherty, and Miss Toni Fisher, who would go on to have a big hit with “The Big Hurt.” I asked Jim if he had ever had performing artists and he said whenever he could get one. I mentioned our band and he said he was interested.
We sent him a tape of the band and that Fall when school started, he scheduled a trial appearance at Arcanium, Ohio. That day, we loaded up the equipment, followed him to Arcanium, and set up in a gym. He played records for an hour and then introduced us and we launched into our set for what seemed like a strange crowd of teenagers. They went wild, especially the girls. You would have thought we were Elvis. Sure, there were artists promoting their records, but mainly by lip-synching them. We gave them the real thing in real time, something totally new to them.
Jim was elated and gave us the princely sum of $25, five bucks a man. He scheduled us for more gigs and promoted us on radio. Mentions of our band on WING began to gain us a reputation.
Things began to happen fast.
Phil wanted to try playing piano, but he could only play in the key of C. He did pretty well until the first chord change and then would stumble. Eventually, he adapted and played piano anywhere we played which had one available. Of course, when he started playing piano, we noticed we weren’t tuned to concert pitch. In fact, we were tuned two steps low so the songs we had been playing in E were actually in C. We adjusted. We had to.
When an old upright piano became available, we picked it up only to find that it would not fit through the basement stairway. Dick’s dad just grabbed a saw and cut the stairway out. With the stairs removed, we then lowered the piano into the basement at which time Dick’s dad rebuilt the stairway. After that, we had a piano in our practice room.
The dream of every artist in those days was, like today, to record.
We met a local songwriter who had connections with ARC & Sundown in Chicago— big publishing companies which could help you record and release a record. We worked with a lady named Mrs. Munier (mun-yay) (who we referred to as ‘Spider Woman’) and her husband who we dubbed ‘Frenchy.’ We recorded several of their tunes but I have no idea what happened to them,
I began writing songs in 1958 right after joining the group. One of my first compositions was a tune titled “Zombie Rock” about a graveyard experience with ghosts who liked rock ‘n’ roll music. I played the tune a few times with the band, mostly requested by my buddies who knew I had written it.
Ted sang a couple of songs I had written. We recorded them on Dick’s Webcor tape recorder when we rehearsed. The dream, of course, was to put out a 45 and become famous. The Munier episode went nowhere, so we continued our search for a record connection.
As our popularity increased, we began playing more DJ hops with the DJs at WING. There was Bill Henry, Stan Scott, and the legendary Gene Barry. He was the hippest of the hip, the guru of local DJs and a jazz pianist, to boot. We did a gig with him in Richmond, Indiana one night and Gene seemed to dig the band. We became friends with him and his sidekick, Rocky. He began talking us up during his broadcasts on WING and our popularity zoomed.
On a band note, we got new jackets: blue plaid sport coats. We had our first promo photos taken that Fall in Bill trimmer’s den. We played school hops throughout the Miami Valley, special events, teen dances, and even played on a local TV show, “The Rising Generation.”
At a hop in Springfield at Memorial Hall, we ran into a singer named Billy Bryan who had a record titled “Cradle of My Arms” out on the Blaze label. Billy told me he was from Connecticut and had played piano in a band there and asked if he could sit in on piano. He played with us on ‘Roll Over Beethoven.’ He was even dressed in our outfit of blue blazer and gray slacks. Billy went on to have some big records under the name Gene Pitney.
The band decided to give the recording thing another go and tied up with an entrepreneur named Bill Einbinder, whom Dick had met at the gas station he worked at.
Bill was a songwriter with record label connections. We got together to discuss tunes for the band to record. Bill had written some so-so tunes and had swung a deal for Herbie Smith, a local artist, to record. He scored a session for us at Don King’s studio in Dayton. King had a studio in his home and a number of artists recorded there. We laid down some tracks and listened to the playback. They sounded fair but not great. So we worked on new material.
Bill wanted an instrumental. It was his idea, in fact, to record “Zombie Rock” as an instrumental. We worked up a second instrumental and Bill said we should record them both. Bill liked the tunes and suggested an Indian theme. He had written a song called “Tomahawk Rock” and said we could use the title. We shortened it to “Tomahawk,” named the other one “Thunderhead.” I was credited as writer of both.
We recorded four sides: the two mentioned, “Target,” and “Lonely.” Bill took the masters to Chicago in hopes of leasing them to Chess Records. He also decided he wanted to be our personal manager. Since we didn’t have any better offers, we agreed.
After a time, it was obvious that Bill just wasn’t getting the job done, so we got him to release us from his contract and signed with WING DJ Bob Holliday (pictured right in photo with DJ Jim Smith and a contest winner), who had just moved from Cincinnati. Bob was concerned with getting us a record deal. He suggested going to Cincinnati to King Records to record and offered to pay for the session. He got Eddie Smith, who had worked on all of the James Brown sessions, to engineer. The session was long and we recorded a number of tracks, among them new versions of “Tomahawk” and “Thunderhead.” After listening to the playback, we thought we finally had something on tape that was good enough for a record. The question was, who would issue it?
Holliday made connections with a Louisville label known as Tilt. They agreed to release “Tomahawk” as a single, but Holliday wanted to make sure that there were no links remaining to Chess. We decided that I would fly to Chicago to visit Chess and then go on to New York to see a lady named Mrs. Care at Ricar Productions. So I took my first plane airplane ride to Chicago. All I knew about Chess was that Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Etta James recorded for them, which was impressive to say the least.
At Chess, we entered a very small area which contained a glass booth similar to one you might see at a theater. We told the receptionist who we were, she checked a list of appointments and then pushed a button which allowed us entrance to the inner offices. We met with Phil Chess, he agreed to return our masters and release us from previous agreements. When business was concluded, he took us out to lunch where we met his brother, Leonard. They were very cordial hosts, partly, I believe, because Bob was a DJ in a major market— a valuable potential market for their product.
Leonard mentioned a recording session scheduled for that afternoon and invited us to attend. We accepted. Ralph Bass, who had arrived at Chess that year from King Records, headed the session which, as it turned out was for The Moonglows. Harvey Fuqua was at the piano and The Moonglows, Bobby Lester included, surrounded a microphone. There was guitar, bass and drums as well, along with a number of people just hanging out. They did several takes on a song which went something like: “Junior, you’re in trouble all the time/Sometimes I think I’ll lose my mind/You’re standing on the corner/Doin’ what you oughtn’t ta/You must be doin’ wrong.”
Bass was mystified by the onlookers. “Where do they come from and how do they get in?” he asked no one in particular.
The Moonglows did another take and began to clown with the lyrics, which sent Bass into a fit. Etta James, who was scheduled for a session right after The Moonglows, came in and we were introduced. She was a short, stout woman with short blond hair. As the session ran down, we left, opting to catch a White Sox game. Nellie Fox won it with a home run in the bottom of the 9th.
When we were certain that the masters were back, Bob received contracts for our first single, to be released on Tilt. We headed to King Studios in Cincinnati to work on the master of “Thunderhead.” Jack Sanders and his friend, Ray Harris who played with The Carnations, wanted to enhance the tune. We dubbed my guitar lines and added a few vibe notes in a couple of spots for effect, then re-equalized the whole thing. They had picked “Thunderhead” as the A-side. The record (Tilt #778) was issued in November of 1960, but they got the labels backward, listing the titles “Thunderhead” and Tomahawk” on the wrong sides. We decided to go with it because it didn’t really matter. They were both instrumentals.
(While all of this was going on), I had told Bob about the great hops they used to have at the Avondale Club the previous year. I suggested setting up a similar thing at the club on Sundays. He did. In April, the Avondale Club was swinging again with “The Biggest Hop in Dayton.” Recording artists out promoting their latest records began stopping in to perform. The Rough Riders backed up a number of them: Jackie Dee, Charles Brown, Lenny Welch, Bobby Vee, Jack Scott, The Five Keys….. It was like old times except it was happening on Sundays.
Bob got one of our fans to start a fan club for us, complete with memberships with our picture printed on one side. The record was Pick Hit of the Week on WING and moved right onto the charts. It was a pick hit on WAKY and WKLO in Louisville, too, where Jack Sanders was a DJ. By November, the sales were so strong that London Records signed a deal with Tilt to distribute the label nationally. On New Year’s Eve, 1961, we played a Bob Holliday hop and welcomed in 1961. Things were really looking up.
We will leave Mr. Colegrove and cohorts here for the time being and will hopefully pick it up sometime in the near future. Will Teddy & The Rough Riders break out nationally? Will they become national and maybe international stars? Or will they, like so many do, crash and burn, taking their dreams down with them. Stay tuned to DBAWIS radio, same time, same station, to find out.
Lock Up Your Daughters, The Modern Peasants Are Coming…..
Just when you’re pretty sure that Oklahoma really is the center of Bible Belt Hell, something comes along that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you think, well, maybe not. I mean, next to Wisconsin and North Carolina, Oklahoma holds its own when it comes to the absurd right wing of the human race. Wait! Better throw Arizona in there too. Every time I see the comments which come out of the mouths of their politicians… Oh yeah, and Texas. Jeez, I just can’t focus when it comes to politics.
I can focus when it comes to music though and Oklahoma has the seeds of what could be one of those musical movements which occasionally becomes a darling of the alternative and then mainstream media. Well, maybe not mainstream, and you’ll know why when I tell you about them.
The label is Modern Peasant Records based out of Norman and they are anarchy on record. I was first introduced to them by friend Nathan Hill, whose band at the time, The Putters, had released an EP. He sent it as a gift (I would say “courtesy,” but there was no expectation beyond the cursory listenexpected of a friend) and I accepted it as such, except that I am cursed with this critical attitude when it comes to music. I listened and, when I had listened enough, I wrote about it. It was titled Got Something For Your Daughter and the title alone told me all I needed to know about it. I knew Nate and I was sold. Wouldn’t you know there would be more. The next offering, Good Friends With Your Mother, was as good if not better. What I heard was right up there with the truly independent New Wave music of the late 70s— Zeros, Dils, Pere Ubu, Dead Boys and bands like that— rough, true, but that was what sucked me in.
I dig this label. Zombie vs. Shark, Putters, The 667s, and now Red Cities and John Wayne’s Bitches. These are bands around which to build a label. And no guessing, either. You either get it or you don’t. I get it. In fact, I wrote a review of sorts of the new 667s new album, Cheer Up Buttercup. I was in a mood. Read it here. Then go listen to it here. It will do you good. Trust me.
John Wayne’s Bitches— listen here.
Zombie vs. Shark— listen here. (And click on icons to the right to hear more)
The Putters— listen here. (And again, the icons)
There is vinyl available on some of these items. You’ll figure it out.
By the way, the label is out of Norman, Oklahoma. You happen to be in the area, look the guys up. Hell, take sleeping bags. They’ll put you up. That is what good labels do, after all.
The Thing About This Is…..
Labels are popping up all over the place. Good ones. Unique ones. I may start a weekly or monthly spotlight on the little guys. Maybe. It might be kind of fun.
But right now, it’s time for those incredible edible….
Notes….. We can finally put a date on that new Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers project. Zoe announced just this morning that the album, to be titled World of Strangers (barring act of God or Congress, of course, and since when has Congress done anything), will be available on May 27th. Now, if we could get a bead on when the new Honeycutters album will hit the streets, I will be a happy man. Amanda?…..
Speaking of news, this just in from David Bullock of Space Opera fame: He has been recording tracks for an EP at Ben Fold‘s recording studio in Nashville. He says one more session should do it, but I never count my chickens. Working with him on the project are James Pennebaker, Michael Rhodes, Chad Cromwell, and Kenny Greenberg. While Bullock has recorded since the Space Opera days, the truth is that the band were an ongoing project until Brett Owen Wilson exited, stage left, back in 2005. Phil White and Scott Fraser followed not too long after, leaving Bullock the last remaining member. No date for completion of the EP, but I will keep you updated as the project advances.
You think songwriting’s easy? Well, it can be. Just watch this video of the songwriting duo of Ferd and McBertostein from Highlight Bomb and learn how you, too, can live in luxurious splendor from the wheelbarrows of cash you can earn! Just remember, the magic happens during the third beer. Which is why this session produced nothing. They stopped after two. All kidding aside (and these guys were kidding), they are working on songs for a new album they hope to have ready by the summer. Which means the first of the year, if you know anything about musicians and their timetables.
I got turned on to Bailiff what seems a lo-o-ong time ago and the guys kept saying, new album soon. Well, it’s almost here. To celebrate, they did a live session which you can download for free! Take a listen and download away, if you so desire. Personally, I’m really digging these guys!
I was plugged into the SF Scene back in the late sixties. Eugene, I think, ran an umbilical cord straight down I-5 so we could get our music fixes as they happened. A band I got turned on to early was Sons of Champlin, who were a bit outside the “commercial” psych of the day (back then, if it came out of SF, radio termed it psych). Why, you might even call this jazz, wouldn’t you say? I love this. Brings back memories. From 1968.
One of the bands joined at the hip with No Small Children is he East Coast’s Bow Thayer & the Perfect Trainwreck. After watching this video, I can understand why. You never hear Thayer’s name mentioned much on the Left Coast. This should help change that. This os a hell of a track.
Here is a song posted back in 2009 by Jimmie Vaughan and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I missed it but Too Slim somehow knew it and reposted it for me to see. And I am passing it along to you. A lot of soul in this song.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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“Frank 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.”