Frank Gutch Jr: Bobby Singh— Photo-Chronicling Toronto’s Music Scene; Shari Ulrich & Julia Graff— It’s a Family Thing; A Trifecta of Concept Albums; and Notes…..

FrankJr2Shari Ulrich, in her latest blog, talks about the future from a perspective of the past, her point being that she had not even an inkling of what was to happen while it was even happening.  To live in the present is, in essence, to live in the future because time has no on and off buttons.  Every second we live is another second into the future and another second away from the past.  We experience it on an ongoing basis, the seconds ticking away into minutes and then hours and then days and then weeks until we are at a point we stop (though it never really stops) and look back, wiping our brows and wondering, where did it all go?  And wish that we had maybe paid more attention.

Life is like that.  While we live, we look into a vague future which overtakes us without us even imagining.  We see it, we live it, yet we have no real comprehension.  That life that passed you by while you sat in front of the boob tube would have passed you by anyway, no matter where you were.  No matter where you are, actually, because it is happening to us all right now, as I type.  No matter how much we, as humans, want to break time down into easily recognized segments, we cannot stop the future.  And we cannot change the past.  Then again, we can shape the future and save the past, so all is not lost.  As Stephen Stills wrote, We Are Not Helpless.  We have some control.  Then again, maybe Neil Young had it right when he wrote Helpless.  It is all a matter of perspective.  It is all a matter of time.  And it is all a matter of timing.

nadianbobbyA couple of years ago, I was introduced through the Net to a photographer named Bobby Singh.  I knew nothing about him other than that we shared musical tastes and a few friends who live in Toronto, Singh’s base of operations.  We agreed and disagreed on a number of issues— mostly agreed— and formed a loose friendship centered around music.  Singh attended shows in Toronto and took pictures and began posting them.  At first, nothing really stuck out.  Most were snapshots with the occasional lucky photo of the moment thrown in, mostly of bands I maybe had heard of but knew little about.  Tavern shots.  Good enough to capture my attention, but…..

Until one day, he posted shots from a show at maybe Cherry Cola’s or Horseshoe Tavern or Bovine Sex Club (a bar and not a sex club, for the perverts who actually know how to read) and I started looking closer.  There was something there I had not noticed.  The more I looked, the more I began seeing Bobby’s recent photographic past as it evolved into his photographic future.  And his future is bright.

I began thinking of him in terms of Henry Diltz, a musician-turned-photographer who captured the L.A. rock scene of the 60s like no one has captured a music scene before or since.  I am sure Diltz had no conception of what his future was when he began snapping the shots which would eventually land him a significant role in chronicling the musicians and people and places around which L.A. music would revolve for a time.

You have to understand that Diltz’s success, as with all of the musicians of the scene he photographed, was a matter of timing.  While it was happening, it was only what it was.  As the stars rose, so did Diltz’s work.  It is only in retrospect that it has gained widespread value, though its value was obvious from the beginning.

bobby singhSo, I claim it will be, with Singh.  Somewhere along the line, possibly right after I had noticed his work, he formed Front of House Photography, a “company” geared toward live band performances among other photo services.  I would assume that “front of house” refers to his ability to gain access to the various stages.  Thing is, he shoots from everywhere and from all angles.  He has this “inner eye” as my photo buddy Chito David used to call it— this innate ability to find just the right angle and wait for just the right shot.  Chito had it.  He and I would go out on a photo shoot over a weekend and I would shoot ten rolls and maybe get ten pictures worth putting on paper.  He would shoot maybe twenty shots and get ten and they would make mine look amateurish in comparison.  Singh is that way.  He has patience, a steady hand and “the eye.”  Plus he has real talent.

When I first got to Seattle in the late 70s, I walked into Peaches Records to find a wall of cartoons drawn by wannabe artists.  The Post-Intelligencer, I believe, was hosting this contest and all you had to do was draw a cartoon and post it on the wall.  Supposedly, someone from the paper, hopefully the present political cartoonist just to give the contest credibility, was going to judge them and the winner would receive some reward— possibly an inner connection with the paper itself.  One cartoon made me laugh out loud.  It showed a band on stage with a large crowd in front, various members of that crowd pointing at the musicians and saying “I can do that.”  Such is the attitude most people seem to have toward the arts.  A painter?  Hell, it’s a snap.  A musician?  Gimme a guitar and get out of my way.  A novelist?  All I need is a little time, a pad and some pencils (that is what I once said, though today it would be a computer).  A photographer?  Anyone can take a picture!

While it is true that anyone can take a picture, few can take a real photograph!  Trust me.  There is a world of difference.  Singh is fast becoming a master.  His shots have depth, color and imagination.  He uses lighting and angles to accentuate moments and more often than not, I am sure, comes out with a gem.  Look closely at the pictures below.

July Talk 2fer

Here is the story behind the pictures.  The band is July Talk.  Whilst playing a gig in Toronto, vocalist Leah Fay, barefoot on stage, stepped on a staple.  Rather than stop playing, she continued and guitarist Peter Dreimanis (at least, I think that is Dreimanis) removed it, mid-vocal.  The second shot is Fay doing repairs with a little saliva.  Now, if I showed you the pictures without explanation, you would have no idea what really went on.  The explanation makes the pictures, which are damn impressive, even better.  This is how legends are made.  Xprime 2-14This is why Bobby Singh is a future legend.

Bobby Singh is slowly accumulating a plethora of pictures like that— of bands of distinction like July Talk, of bands on the way up like Xprime, and of bands just starting out.  He is, in effect, doing exactly what Henry Diltz did in the L.A. of the 60s and 70s.  He is chronicling a period of music, a piece of history taking place right before his eyes.  If you live in Toronto, it should be before your eyes, too, but times have changed, haven’t they?

Indeed, they have.  And I can think of no city with a more exciting music scene than that of present day Toronto.  Mark my words.  Fifteen or twenty years into the future, music fans are going to look back to that city and these times and make Singh the Diltz of today.  They are going to recognize the talent of Singh and the vibrancy of today’s Toronto music.

Want proof?  Check this out:

Things I love about Singh’s work:  1.  He avoids the inevitable microphone-blocking-face shots.  2.  He has an unerring sense of composition.  3.  He captures moments of real worth— if not athleticism, a facial expression or moments which actually show without explanation how the band members work together.  4.  He has ways of getting entire bands in a shot, without obstruction, and that ain’t easy.  5.  He uses the lighting to his and the bands advantage.

Truth be told, I probably won’t be around for the coffee table book sure to come out of his work, but I will pay good money if I am.

Shari Ulrich— When an Album Is Not Just an Album

ulrichgraffShari Ulrichand I go way back.  We’ve never met but we might as well have.  She pushed her way into my consciousness upon arriving in Seattle in the late 70s.  Local radio station KZAM, noted for playing deep, deep tracks by folk-oriented acts, had latched onto The Hometown Band‘s self-titled album and would not let it go.  Feel Good, a tune written by Ulrich, got regular airplay alongside songs by Bruce Cockburn, Reilly & Maloney, Jim Post, Danny O’Keefe, and others of the acoustic persuasion.  I hadn’t been in town a month before I had that album in hand, spurred on by Feel Good and a couple of the other tracks KZAM played.  A couple of years later, she (out of necessity, I assume, plus opportunity) began a solo career which has carried her through to today with sidesteps to Pied Pumkin, the band she was in before the Hometowns; UHF, a band formed with Bill Henderson (Chilliwack) and Ray Forbes; and BTU, with Barney Bentall and Tom Taylor.  Thanks to those early years, Ulrich became quite the staple in the Northwest, especially home province British Columbia.  She has had a long and varied career.

EverywhereIGo_350Which is not over by a long shot.  Back in January of last year, Ulrich’s daughter, Julia Graff, came home with an interesting proposition.  Graff was attending McGill University and had to line up a project for her “Masters In Music in Sound Recording” degree, if degree it is, and asked if Ulrich would agree to be recorded for the purpose of said degree.  Ulrich consented but had a problem:  how to write enough for an album in a month’s time.  Under pressure, she cranked out ten songs and probably a couple more just to make sure, packed her bags and headed to Montreal and McGill’s Schulich School of Music to record.

I’m sure it was a learning experience for all involved but you wouldn’t know it by the results.  Everywhere I Go is a triumph, front-to-back.  The songs, all written by Ulrich except one (a light ska-rocker written by one Zac Doeding), are to my ears the best she’s ever written and the performance— well, let’s just say that Graff’s trial by fire served its purpose and then some.  Graff was forced to pay, though.  Ulrich put her to good use in her supporting band on the tour supporting the album.  Good use, indeed.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Shari Ulrich with the help of Julia Graff and Ted Littlemore:

By the way, the picture on the album jacket is one Ulrich took when Graff was just a child— the character to her left being Louie, a person of the fur-bearing variety.  It was a natural, Ulrich writes, “the two of them seeming to gaze off into the mysterious future.”  How quickly the future becomes the present and how quickly the present becomes the past.  You can hear it in the music.

The Southland’s (Still) Bleeding….. @ 20,000 Watts

jaimienightmareI don’t think I have heard a more impressive concept album than Jaimie Vernon’s Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts.  I have listened to it once a day since receiving it a few weeks ago and feel the same exhilaration each time.  The concept, if you remember (and even if you don’t), is based upon the last Pop radio broadcast by a terrestrial radio station and if you don’t think it important, you’re braindead or a young buck who is too young to understand what radio was to us dinosaurs (Boomers, to you).

Radio at one time was the media for teens and, before that, for pretty much everyone (though there were newspapers and, yes, they were rich and powerful, as hard as that is to imagine).  Vernon put together an amazing pre-story around radio CRCK and wrote a number of songs, many with help from Brian Gagnon, to make that last broadcast memorable, to say the least.  He brought in Bob Segarini to host the “broadcast” and added Jade Dunlop for color and produced a string of radio-isms— ads and segues and everything to make it believable.  It would be equal to any of the Cruisin’ series of albums except that Cruisin’ used actual songs and ads, recreating disc jockey pratter and other tidbits from scratch.  Vernon and friends created everything from scratch, creating a fully original hour of what that last broadcast could easily be, songs and everything.  Truth is, I listen daily because I am enamored and envious.  I would be proud to put my name on a creation such as Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts.  Just the written parts.  The fact that the songs, too, are first-rate caught me by surprise.  Writing one good song can be daunting.  Writing an album’s worth is just short of amazing.  Yep, each song (with a couple of exceptions, I believe) were written specifically for the album— a series of songs covering numerous genres, just the way it was during the heydays of radio.  I talked with Vernon last week and he is putting out a second “disc” (both will be in digital format until the world changes— again), this one being just the songs.  At first I wondered why, but the more I listen to the album, the more I realize just how good the songs are.  They deserve a chance to be heard outside of the radio format without the disc jockey talk over intros and outros.  They are that good.

whitemansionsBut this really isn’t about that album.  This is about White Mansions, an album which comes to mind every time I hear Nightmare.  Back in 1978 when it hit the streets, A&M Records thought they were really onto something.  They had star-power, an excellent concept and a string of topnotch songs.  I think some at the label thought it a shoo-in hit.  While I suppose it didn’t fail, it was not the smash they wanted.  From the perspective of retail, it flopped, that perspective being counted in returns.  Returns, in case you don’t know, were records returned to labels because stores had overbought, for one reason or another.  One day, I will outline the machinations of the record industry of old for you.  For our purposes here, let us just say that it didn’t sell as well as expected.

The record itself was risky.  The music was more country than anything, which worked well considering that the “stars” were none other than Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter as well as Bernie Leadon, and John Dillon and Steve Cash of The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.  Let us call it a “Country Rock Opera,” shall we?

The Cliff’s Notes version of the album is straight out of Gone With the Wind.  The South, proud and defiant, tells The North to stick it on a variety of issues, only one of which was slavery.  The North says, “Oh yeah?” and the fight is on.  At first, it looks aces for the southerners, their military handling pretty much everything handed to it.  Eventually, though, problems arise and combine to place a cloud of doom over their land.  By the time we get to the end, the Drifter (Waylon) drives the musical nail in the coffin with Dixie, Now You’re Done.

How could it have missed?  I wonder about that every once in awhile.  Perhaps it was the timing— the world not ready for such a project.  Perhaps it was the label— I mean, how do you promote an album like that, especially if you’re a label not in tune with country music?  Perhaps the concept itself was too big for the average listener to comprehend.  Perhaps the album needed more Waylon and less of everyone else, for Waylon was the real name at that time— and yet how could you tell the story without the others?  Well, not without, but with less?

It was a beautiful package— a first class gatefold jacket, a 24-page 12X12 booklet containing outstanding historical black & white photos borrowed from the Library of Congress and outlining the story.  The package alone was worth the price of admission.  Add to that three of the best songs Waylon ever recorded and you too would have expected it to sell.  And it did.  Some.

legendofjessejamesA couple of years later, A&M backed another album by Kennerley, this one written about Jesse James.  This time, they went so far as to place stickers on the shrink-wrap which said “The Legend of Jesse JamesThis is not a soundtrack album.  It is a conceptual album musically portraying the life and legend of Jesse James.  The central characters of Jesse James’s lifetime are portrayed in song by Levon Helm as Jesse James, Johnny Cash as Frank James, Emmylou Harris as Zerelda James, and Charlie Daniels as Cole Younger.”  Albert Lee got a mention on the jacket and others involved were Roseanne Cash, Rodney Crowell, and Kennerley, et. al.

Once again, the record was released with fanfare.  I mean, with the names involved, it would have to have been.  Once again, the album sold a bit and then stalled.  A&M put the albums to rest.  Kennerley and everyone else moved on.

For myself, those were two of the best concept albums ever recorded and until I heard Nightmare, they were at the top of my list.  But there is something about Nightmare which has me in its grip right now.  I have been trying to write a review for days and haven’t found the right words yet.  They will come.  And when they do, I will let you know.  In the meantime, if White Mansions and The Legend of Jesse James sound intriguing, you should follow up on them.  And as for Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts, you do know that you can stream it in its entirety, don’t you?  Click here and be amazed.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I no sooner had turned in my column last week when I hear from Simone Elyse Stevens, vocalist for Bonsai, explaining that she did, indeed have a video available for that band and that her lawyers would be contacting my lawyers or something like that and would I mind altering my former truth to the real truth and I, of course, being of sound mind and body and always helpless when it comes to the ladies, said sure.  Like I said.  Baby blues.  Well, here it is.  The full-on teaser for the Bonsai EP, available now.  With five tracks and not three.  Seriously, when I get things wrong, I really get things wrong, but I swear I didn’t mean to.  Ladies and Gentlemen, Bonsai:

This, new and fresh, from down and under’s Hannah Gillespie, who put out an album a year or so ago which knocked my socks off and still does.  A brand new track— it is way too long between tracks.  Then again, that time was spent producing and hopefully training little Kai, the newest of the clan.  Click here to hear A Pretty Little Wedding In the Woods.  And if that whets your thirst, wait until you hear All the Dirt, which you can by clicking here.  This is world class.

Plucked from last week’s BobChart, this video pick by 94.9 The Rock’s Doug ElliottThe Pretty Reckless/Heaven Knows.  The question is, would you watch/listen to this if the blonde wasn’t hot?  I would, but I loved Ram Jam‘s Black Betty, too.

I’m having flashbacks.  A couple of summers ago (My God, has it really been that long?), Cam Carpenter talked me into driving north to Portland to see a band from Denmark called Alcoholic Faith Mission and I was swept away.  It was an amazing show and quite the musical experience.  One of the best shows I had ever seen.  Here is a live in-studio version of a song they played that night.  Very low-key compared to what I experienced and to what is on the album, titled Ask Me This.

I’ll be a sonofabitch.  I just found a video recorded at Portland’s Doug Fir Lounge the night I was there.  The sound is a bit raw, but this is what I saw.  I was at the back toward the bar and the sound planted me against the back of my seat.  Cam, I owe you one (or twelve).

Goddamn, I’m falling in love with them all over again.

Man, I listen to music all the time but when my batteries run low, I gravitate toward the soft and beautiful.  This video was put together by Shannon Curtis from pictures she had taken over the past few years, a lot of that time spent on the road.  They fit the music perfectly.

I was flicking channels the other night and came across this movie with Rachael McAdams, so I stopped for a few seconds— she being really cute and all— and this music in the background caught my ear and dragged me twenty yards.  The song was as close to Parrish & Gurvitz I have ever heard, right down to the floating semi-pedal steel guitar, so I dropped the remote and ran ion to the computer room to do a search.  Turns out it was (and is) a band calling themselves Phosphorescent.  Man, I love that Parrish & Gurvitz album and have written about more than a few times.  Here you go.

The End


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: Bobby Singh— Photo-Chronicling Toronto’s Music Scene; Shari Ulrich & Julia Graff— It’s a Family Thing; A Trifecta of Concept Albums; and Notes…..”

  1. Reblogged this on FoH Photo and commented:
    Thanks Frank for the very kind words!

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