Frank Gutch Jr: A Short Word About John Stewart; When a Label’s a Label, When a Label Is Not a Label, and When Labels Suck the Life Right Out of Music; a Research Turtles/Flamethrowers Update— Plus Notes…..
I remember it like it was yesterday, hearing that John Stewart had left us. My heart sank and all that was good seemed to disappear. John and I had been acquaintances, of a sort. We had met when a salesman working for a distributor handling Stewart’s own label, Neon Dreams, brought him into the dungeon at Peaches Records in Seattle for a visit. We were introduced and I liked him from the first handshake. I at first felt intimidated, of course. How could you not be when you considered his background— the Kingston Trio albums and before that, The Cumberland Three, and after that, the incredibly huge string of solo albums.
The man was a legend if any man in the music industry can be called one. But the man was a man, too, and a good one, and he made any angst I might have had disappear with a smile and that handshake.
I had been a John Stewart fan since California Bloodlines, an album foisted upon me by Gary Haller at Eugene, Oregon’s House of Records (I need to call him and thank him for all of the music he “forced” on me). Haller made me listen. He put the album in my hands and walked me out the door, telling me to bring it back if I didn’t like it. I think he knew I wouldn’t. Looking back at the number of albums he made me take home, I don’t think I ever brought one back. And he didn’t charge me for most of them. I love that guy.
So here was the guy who had recorded California Bloodlines standing before me, a member of The Kingston Trio, the guy who wrote Daydream Believer. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have to say anything. Stewart had a problem. He had released a few albums on Neon Dreams and was having trouble getting them into stores. Did I have any suggestions? We kicked around a few ideas, him doing most of the asking, myself doing most of the talking. It took maybe fifteen minutes. He had to leave because he was on a promotional junket, visiting stores and radio stations to promote his label. We shook hands and he said he would be in touch and left.
A couple of months later, he found his way into the basement again, this time by himself. He wanted to follow up on a couple of things about which we had talked. I offered him my chair and I sat on record crate pieces and we spent a good half hour going over the fine points of retail, but it was not all that. We talked ethics (one reason he had walked away from the major labels was their considerable lack of them) and we talked philosophy. We talked music and music fans and ways to promote yourself as a human being rather than a performer. He seemed to be looking for that magic window to the listener’s soul and was having a hard time finding it. Sales weren’t that great, partially because many stores wouldn’t carry his records. We must have packed a three hour conversation into that half hour and when he left, we shook hands colleagues, if not friends.
He stopped by pretty much every time he came to Seattle after that, or when he had the time, at least. That maybe added up to five or six more times. I always marveled that he could walk by five or six people in the basement without even a glance. To be fair, they were young (much younger than myself) and they were ignorant of the importance of folk music in the 60s. A few knew of The Kingston Trio, but never put the man walking past and the group together.
He died in 2008 and while he left us a large body of his work, I miss our visits. To my knowledge, he never took his success for granted. Or his lack of success, in certain instances. To him, life was never just another day at the office. He truly was one of the good guys.
For an intriguing look at Stewart’s “visibility” in the UK back in ’71, click here. It is like fan club news or something. Worth a scan.
Green Monkey Records: When a Label’s A Label…..
You can thank Tom Dyer for this next segment. Whilst scrolling through Facebook updates last week, Dyer posted a banner of GM album jackets and as I perused them, I noticed that it did not include that of the label’s latest release, Slam Suzzanne. I was thinking of writing a review of that album (and I will) and liked the banner well enough to send Dyer a note intimating that if he had included SS in the banner, I could have used it. A couple of minutes later, the banner magically appeared, On the Floor With Your Mom included. The immediacy of the act pounded home everything that I love about GM. They are polar opposites of today’s business models of Wal-Mart and Amazon and all of the other box-store-mentality and soulless companies. They have heart. While that heart is not confined to Dyer, he has surrounded himself with people of like mind and heart and has resurrected a label put to rest, somewhat, in 1991. I say somewhat because Dyer did not completely separate himself from the music at that point, just the business. Here is the banner I saw (look closely at the album jackets— that’s a solid lineup of artists) and afterward, a look at the history and ideology of a record label which is truly a record label and not just a big-box structure handing out music as a commodity.
Tom Dyer: Dyer’s so Northwest that he has moss growing on one side and has to adjust himself to sunlight.
I have no idea whether that is a Dyer quote or not (it was presented to me as such), but I have it down as one so I’m going with it. The thing is, if he didn’t say it, someone who truly knew him did. The guy bleeds plaid. He gets disoriented if he can’t see trees. If it doesn’t rain for three days, he sues God (numerous suits pending). He knows Sasquatch personally (some even think he may be Sasquatch). He still thinks baseball is an indoor sport. God, I got a million of ’em and not one of ’em funny.
Dyer has vinyl for blood. Before Green Monkey, he was involved with Everybody’s Records in Seattle, a well thought of chain of retail stores, attaching himself during that run to a long string of musicians and music fans as well as record junkies in the process. Out of little acorns, great oaks grow.
The label started back in ’83. Dyer, a musician himself, had his ear to the ground and was aware of a growing Seattle music scene beyond the accepted bands of the day, those plucked by major labels here and there plus the new wave and punk acts. He wanted to record himself, of course, and had friends who wished to record also. So that year saw the first two GM releases— Tom Dyer‘s Truth or Consequences and a compilation of local acts titled Local Product, which featured The Fastbacks, The Bombardiers and The Queen Annes, among others. Both were cassette only. The budget was less than a shoestring. Three more cassettes found their way to market in ’84 (by Me Three, Dyer, and The Bombardiers). Growth was slow but steady. By 1986, the stable of artists began to stable-ize (get it?) and GM was on its way. That year, The Green Pajamas recorded a landmark 45 (Kim the Waitress b/w Jennifer) and a compilation album of Seattle bands titled Monkey Business (featuring The Fastbacks, The Green Pajamas, The Walkabouts, and Prudence Dredge— all bands of consequence in Seattle music history). (Oddly enough, copies of that LP— vinyl, of course— are available from the label. Click here for information)
Without going into too much detail, “Mach One” (as Dyer calls it) lasted through 1991 with single Jeff Kelly (of The Green Pajamas) albums released in ’92 and ’95. In retrospect, the label was much more viable than it appeared to be during this period, the artists gaining cachet as word slowly spread, many of the projects now considered collectors items.
When Dyer pulled the plug in ’91, he did so reluctantly and, in fact, kept his fingers busy and his eyes open. He continued to record on his own and kept contact with many of the musicians.
He reactivated the label in August of 2009, what he calls the “Mach Two” period. Sensing a reawakened interest in the label and its artists, he put together a 2CD compilation of the Mach One days, titling it It Crawled From the Basement and containing 47 tracks from 32 artists, a veritable smorgasbord of eighties and nineties “lost” classics. The printing presses have been running ever since.
I wondered, though, why he would dive back into the deep end considering the doom and gloom reports of the music business over the past two decades. So I asked him— What the hell, Tom?
I decided I wanted to do more audio stuff than I had been doing for a while once I completed my doctorate in April of 2006,he said, though rather surprisingly to me, I recorded 15 songs by myself and various children the last year I was working on my dissertation. As my graduation present to myself, I upgraded to a Pro Tools system.
In November of 2006 I moved back to Seattle. On March 4, 2007, I sent my daughter my first Pro Tools song, so I had that up and running. I started thinking about creating and releasing the GMR Anthology. On June 20, 2007, I sent out my first emails to bands from back when, saying I was going to get this together. August 2009 is when the Anthology was released. Howie (Wahlen) basically joined the party at that point. (Note: Howie is the same Howie I refer to regularly, he and I having worked together for a number of years at Peaches Records)
Part of the time in between was learning Pro Tools and Mastering – all new for me. I did a warm up mastering project just to go through the process. That essentially ends up being Tom Dyer Vol 2 – Instrumentals. I was writing the copy, planning the record release party, getting the web page built, all that stuff.
What was I thinking? I was mostly thinking that all the work I had done in the 80’s was completely forgotten. I thought it was worthy and deserved an historical place in the community. I am a somewhat historically-inclined person, so the Anthology was my art statement. I wanted to do it to a standard that I was happy with and that I would remain happy with long after. I told a story in the notes. I did not know (or much care) how the story would be received. The story would at least be told.
By the time I released the Anthology, I had clearly decided I was going to keep this rolling. I started putting out more stuff, but it is all reissued material until April 2011 when the All New Icons was released. Since then, eleven releases of new stuff and five reissues. My plan going forward is to do both. My only other “deal” I made with myself is that I am going to keep releasing Tom Dyer stuff, regardless of popularity. I have seven releases of my music out now since 2009: three new, four of old stuff. I’ve probably got two more releases of old stuff I’ll get around to at some point, but right now I am mostly interested in the new.
New, indeed. Dyer is presently working on a solo album which will cover tracks by many Pac NW artists, presumably within the parameters of those artists’ styles (though looking at what he did with The Sonics‘ The Witch on his latest album, I Ain’t Blue Anymore, I wonder). The album is tentatively titled History of NW Rock Vol. 1 and will be aimed toward the Pac NW fanatic. Like I said, the guy bleeds plaid.
There are other projects in the works, too. More Green Pajamas-related stuff, some new bands in the offing, maybe another Jim of Seattle or Eric Lichter if we get lucky, though the label is not about luck. It is about music and the people who make it.
Green Monkey Records reflects what the record business was in the early days— well, my early days— music-driven. Sure, money has to enter into it. Dyer and his cohorts just prefer to minimalize it.
Visit the GM page here. And be sure to check out their AotM page (that would be Album of the Month, for you newbies). They are streaming The Purdins this month, 12 Songs from their Greatest Hits. You can practically smell the fir trees. And they have a ton of albums for streaming in the AotM archives, as well, and not all GM. Some real surprises.
When a Label Is Not a Label— The Active Listener….
I have been listening to a lot of psych music lately and it can be attributed to a guy who has plugged into Bandcamp under the moniker The Active Listener, a New Zealander named Nathan Ford. Here is a guy so entranced by psychedelic music and its branch genres that he one day decided to start a blog to spread the word about the music he was discovering. Obviously, he became somewhat obsessed and eventually ended up a lightning rod for others searching for the same type of music.
That rod is attached to a page (or pages) he set up on Bandcamp (theactivelistener.bandcamp.com) as well as his blog page (active-listener.blogspot.co.nz). As fans of psych found the pages, the interest began to spread and the next thing you know, Ford made deals with many of the obscure bands and artists to help sell their musical wares. Specifically, those deals involved posting and selling their music on Active Listener pages for a share of the cut. See what I mean? When a label is not a label? And yet, is it not? In essence, anyway?
Of course, it didn’t start that way. One day, with time on his hands, Ford started searching the Net for music, but not the music he knew. The music that was similar to what he knew and liked. One of his first real discoveries was, not surprising to myself, The Green Pajamas.
During one of my frequent Beatles-obsessive stages I probably spent a day googling the word “beatlesque” and seeing what came up. Naturally Green Pajamas came up more than once, and I found them and it was great. So I ordered five or 10 CDs and have loved them since.
I started up a Facebook page for the blog and every time I reviewed something, the band which album I reviewed would share it, and other bands they were friends with would see it. So social media had a lot of people sending me things to review. But I also spent a lot of time on sites like Bandcamp looking for things tagged ‘psychedelic’. And there are other sites where people have a similar sort of taste to me. There’s a lot of it out there and lot of it very inventive.
It wasn’t a huge step from writing about the artists and the music to setting up pages for its sale. And the fact that Bandcamp is a streaming site makes it relatively easy to give the music wings, as it were.
If any one thing impresses me about this is that Ford has somehow stayed true to the idea. I have tried something as simple as compiling tracks for CDs and it isn’t easy. Good music has a way of being invasive to formula. Ford somehow avoids it.
True, he floats around the edges at times, placing folk and space albums in the mix, but I agree with his choices. There is something about the feel and not the technical aspects of some music which allows it placement among the true psych music— that of, say The Beatles during their Strawberry Fields Forever phase or early Strawberry Alarm Clock. Call it a feel or a thread or anything you like. When I hear it, I hear it.
The first artist I found attached to The Active Listener was an album by Beaulieu Porch, a “group” with which I was already familiar. There is a retro Brit/psych feel to their music which I really enjoyed. Be assured that had I heard it on The Active Listener‘s pages first, it would have struck home as hard. I was quite pleased to see the connection.
Ford has even seen to putting up a series of samplers, most of which you can get by naming your own price. I highly recommend streaming and purchasing them, if you lean toward pop psych music at all. If you know of any of the bands or tracks on any of the samplers, let me congratulate you. You are strides ahead of those of us trying to catch up. In case you think you don’t have time to type the letters and numbers into a search box, here is a sample: http://theactivelistener.bandcamp.com/track/let-me-drift-away-live. Man, I love this stuff.
If you love it too, you should plug into theactivelistener.bandcamp.com (click here). There are many albums and EPs already listed and the list is growing by the week and sometimes day. Most of it is killer.
When a Label Is Completely Devoid of Soul…..
it becomes corporate and musically dead. Such has become all of the major labels, heading toward major label, thanks to a supreme court refusing to consider anti-trust cases. It has been years since I have heard anything from the majors which even hints of soul, outside of the typical PR rushes they (it) feel obliged to push into the public arena on occasion. (Remember, name recognition is everything, boneheads) The latest statement from the heartless bastards at UMG, for instance, is that payments to “legacy artists” (those who released music on major labels before the establishment of digital download structures) are getting way more than they deserve. Considering the fact that they are getting practically nothing, I have to take askance.
The key to the argument is whether downloads are a “sale” or a “license,” the difference being that license would mean slightly better payouts to artists and, assumingly, songwriters, etc. The pittance they are awarded now is a joke, especially in the light of the millions being raked in by “the majors” in the spirit of, shall we say, “public domain.” I know it isn’t public domain, but it is similar in that the labels are claiming that they own the music and to hell with everyone else. My view is extreme, but one I believe true in the essence if not the eyes of law.
The fact of the matter is that record (now “music”) companies stacked the deck in their favor from the beginning. Their attitude of “sign first and we’ll talk later” and “don’t worry about the fine print” gave them an advantage, but that didn’t mean it was ethical. The cartoons I saw depicting the Great Ogre Business sweeping the contract away from the unsuspecting artist before the signature was even completed is the view I have. The business was built around legalities and money and you can say all you want about the buyer being aware, it just wasn’t and isn’t right.
When I worked for the Forest Service back in the sixties (I was part of a survey team), we ran across old rusted iron rails just off of the lava beds in the Cascades of Oregon. What the hell are these, I asked the boss. I mean, there was maybe a hundred feet of track and nowhere they could go. Back in the old days, the boss told us, the federal government used to give railroad companies a square mile of land on opposite side of the tracks they laid as an incentive to build the various railways. All they had to do was send proof of the existence of the rail lines, mile by mile, with a request for “payment” (i.e., deeds for allotted property). So they laid a hundred feet or so of track, brought in a shell of a steam locomotive by wagon, set it on the track, heated rocks on the opposite side of the “locomotive” so that when photographed, it gave the appearance of an actual working train, got a representative of government to sign off on it and they were awarded land. Free, or for the cost of the trouble. A few timber companies gained a lot of land that way, yet when the truth came out, those in power shrugged their shoulders and declared it to be too late. They grandfathered it in. Of course, the next guy who attempted such a thing…..
A similar thing happened in records. The record companies wrote the laws because no one in government knew anything about it (sound familiar?) and the laws became the structure of the business. No one really looked at the legal matters to see if they were fair. They bowed to the “experts” (representatives of the record companies). And, like baseball, justice was sucked right out of the business.
So when UMG made the statement that they paid “legacy artists” more than they were obliged, I had to laugh. Of course, these asshats never rely on the force of logic. They stated at the same time, as backup, that “these artists have taken too long to take legal action, as their payout structure was announced in 2002.” What did Shakespeare say about lawyers?
Basically, the whole thing revolves around a couple of lawsuits filed by Ron Tyson of The Temptations and Bo Donaldson who fronted Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods against UMG for under-payment of royalties. What was surprising was not the UMG stance but the coldness with which it was delivered. You can read the Digital Music News article here: http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2014/05/28/umgdownloads
Many of my friends say that my take on the whole digital distribution thing is naïve and idealistic. All I can say in refute is that I maybe don’t know law, but I sure as hell know right from wrong. And what UMG is attempting to pull off here stinks to high heaven.
UMG vs. Green Monkey Records or The Active Listener? In my court of law. UMG loses. They aren’t even close to being in the same league as Tom Dyer and Nathan Ford.
Then again, why take my word for it? Here is what David Byrne had to say. Click here.
Update: Research Turtles and The Flamethrowers…..
It seems like only yesterday I was trumpeting the news about Research Turtles, the boys from Lake Charles, Louisiana, who were going to bust out of the South to be a band of notice. I still listen to the music and think it could have happened but in these days and times of the music business, everything’s a crapshoot. Not all that long ago, the dream was crushed when Jud Norman, the guy behind the Turtles and their sound, walked away with the Research Turtles name, leaving The Flamethrowers behind. Jud had decided to give up the glories of playing taverns and bars for a future and returned to school. The others…..
The others, it turns out, kept throwin’ flames, something they evidently are damn good at, and their legend continues to the present.
Before Jud exited, the four members had decided they needed to expand their sound, so they looked around and found Wesley Royer, who played keyboards in both the RTs and FTs. After about a year with him, Jud decided to leave and the band looked around again, this time picking up Taylor Lee to replace Jud on bass and added Dominique Meyer as vocalist.
The reason I bring this up, other than these guys were one of my heartfelt picks-to-click, is that The FTs published a photo on their FB page that I thought pretty damn cool. I contacted them and asked if I could use it and they referred me to J.K. Morton, a photographer of some talent, judging by the pictures of the band that I have seen. I would have put The Flamethrowers’ name across the front, but it just didn’t seem right, somehow. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is a class shot of what became of the other half of the RTs— The Flamethrowers, as they exist today. My thanks to Mr. Morton for allowing us the use of the photo.
Notes….. I think what caught my ear on this one was the semi-Blind Faith guitar riff and the country rock flavor. I kind of like the name of the band, too. Simpleton & Cityfolk. Here’s the vid:
Pickings are slim this week, for some reason. Artists must be on vacation or something. But there is good news. The band Fisher is finally to the point that they can post some tracks from their new album— works in progress, they call them. What I’ve heard so far and what you can hear now is damn impressive. To be released on their impending album, 3. Click here.
I spoke too soon. Franklin and Moselle who play together as Crushed Out just informed me that they have a kickstarter for their new album, Teeth. Let me tell you, these guys are two of the hardest working musicians I have ever seen. They have completed nine— count ’em, 9— full tours of the US in the past few years and have played everywhere from big halls to campgrounds. Their shows are parties and they sound like a four or five piece group rather than the two that they are. Check out this page, listen to the music and, if you like, grab a preorder for one of the digital downloads, CDs or LPs (that’s right— vinyl!) they have available. And more importantly, look for the band’s name and if they come to your area, go! They are a gas! Here’s the link to the kickstarter page: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crushedout/crushed-out-teeth-album-pre-order-12-vinyl-lp-debu
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.”