Frank Gutch Jr: The Rain, The Park And Other Things I Didn’t Know About The Cowsills But Wish I Had; Top Albums of 2014, Thus Far; and Notes

FrankJr2It is time to eat some words and I do so with remorse.  Those words, spoken when I was young and somewhat foolish and also feeling a bit immortal, I suppose, were tossed at The Cowsills and other groups and artists I found somewhat wanting in terms of musical output.  They were pointed at a string of what I would call “manufactured” bands— those whose music supposedly came from the hit makers— I called it Hollywood music back then.  The Monkees took a big hit, the band put together not really for music but for TV.

The Partridge FamilyThe Jacksons.  Any “family” group.  In later years, I transferred my disdain toward “boy” and “girl” groups and while I have stepped back on that genre, if genre they be, I will never stop saying that they are not “bands” but “vocal groups.”  For me, there is a difference.

I cringe at the thought that a group which did not put itself together or could not play instruments could gain status in the “real” world of music, meaning everything I thought worthy.  Unknowingly, I was setting myself up for a fall because these later years are uncovering information to which I was not privy back then and I regret so many words which came out of my mouth.  A huge case in point is The Cowsills.

This past Sunday I had slept in and it was a bit late when I sat down to eat breakfast with the TV on, a rarity for me that early in the day.  It was a couple of minutes past eleven and I picked up the remote to find something to veg out to while downing ham and eggs.  I clicked once.  I landed on the very beginning of a showing of Family Band: The Cowsills Story (click here for a link to the DVD).  Normally, I would have clicked on but I had heard good things about it from music people I rely upon for information and it made me hesitate.  What I was expecting was an over-produced documentary looking like it was put together by the typical Hollywood producer, most of whom live for the equally lame awards shows the Networks seem to foist upon us weekly.  What I got was an hour and a half which produced equal parts euphoria and nausea— the nausea being the story behind the story, a story of a family gone wrong and suffering huge amounts of abuse, much of it financial.

Say “Cowsills” to anyone who lived during that band’s glory years and they more than likely would respond “pre-fab” (refer to the first paragraph and the term “manufactured), Pop (of course), Hair (which gained massive airplay and even dominated radio in the late-60s in Oregon), and rich.  They looked like they were rich and the media portrayed them as such, but what the media doesn’t tell us, it turns out, is many times the real story.  The game, I knew and had reinforced by watching this documentary, is called Public Relations, which boils down to creating an image to promote the product— the product in this case being a band.  So let us look at what I didn’t know— and please take into account that I was waist deep in everything music back then and should have known.

Cowsills_gold_record_1967One:  The Cowsills were not manufactured, though moves would be made in which the band itself had no part.  They started out as a three-piece, then four-piece and then became a five-piece until good old dad, Bud, decided to insert Mom and little Susan in to make it a seven-piece.  Were the boys happy?  Not a bit.  (If you want the actual information, search the Cowsills website— there is a lot of misinformation out there about the band, I am finding.)

Two:  The family lived close to if not next door to Waddy Wachtel, a musician of no mean status in the music business of today.  Waddy and Bill Cowsill were, in fact, good friends and blossoming musicians on a level far away from the band.

Three:  Dad Bud Cowsill was a tyrant.  He controlled all and the kids, if not the kids and mom Barbara, were subjected to regular physical and mental abuse.

Four:  Dad Bud controlled all financial matters relating to the band.  All of his decisions were final and without dispute.

Five:  When it came time to divvy up the funds, the band was surprised to find that there were none.  To this date, they are uncertain as to where it all went, but they ended up owing a bundle in spite of their constant touring and substantial record sales.

Six:  Dad Bud fired son Bill from the band AND the family over a simple dispute.  The dynamics of the family unit was evidently such that no one complained— indeed, were afraid to complain.

As I watched, my old feelings about the band left a knot in my stomach.  The many statements I had made over the years came back to haunt me.  While I am sure they made no difference to anyone but myself when stated, it makes a difference to me right now, and for two major reasons:

cowsills60sOne, I made the statements about the band without information to back them up.  God, but I wish I could have had the wisdom back then that I have today.  I should have at least “qualified” what I said, though that would not have been enough.  I should have simply refrained from making such statements.  Like I said, I have a knot in my stomach while I write this.

Two, I had no idea the quality of the music they produced.  Sure, we might look at The Rain The Park and Other Things and Hair and Indian Lake as pop-pap, but we would be wrong there, especially in light of the other songs I heard in the background of the movie—  Some Good Years, Shine On Me and the later Going Home and Cross That Line examples of solid songwriting.  There was much more there, evidently, than I knew.

When I began working with Howie Wahlen at Peaches in Seattle, he was a die-hard fan and tried to sway me.  Howie was, in fact, a huge fan of The Partridge Family as well, which made him suspect, but I slowly got over that.  And here is something you may not know (I thought I knew but never got confirmation).  The Cowsills were directly responsible for The Partridge Family.  The fact that they couldn’t act (thought Susan Cowsill says to this day that she can) caused the Network to bring in the actors who became that TV-icon band.  Yup.  If they could have acted, it would have been The Cowsill Family and Danny Bonaduce would have had to find another avenue toward fame.

Not long ago, I started to give a little.  I had this 45 by Bridey Murphy that was very enjoyable and I saw Cowsill among the names alongside Wachtel.  It was good, as far as I was concerned, and looked but never found anything more by the band (because there was nothing more by the band, I found out later, unless there were unreleased tracks still in the can).  It gave me hope, though.

Bob Segarini would have some influence too, mentioning The Blue Shadows and posting a song on the Net for all to hear.  The positive words he had for Bill Cowsill had me second guessing my earlier take on the band.  I was ready after that to give the band a second listen.  A second serious listen.

Anyway, so they put together this movie/documentary and  Robert Hinckley of The New York Daily News wrote a review of it which was published March 5, 2013.  Here is part of what he wrote:

Without forgetting The Strawberry Alarm Clock and with no personal disrespect toward any member of The Cowsills, it’s hard to think of a less consequential band from the 1960s.  So let’s just say ‘Family Band’ an hour-and-a-half documentary on The Cowsills, can’t rely on the music to keep us engaged.  Unlike The Monkees, The Cowsills didn’t create teen pop that you don’t mind humming once in awhile.

Let this be a prime example why you should never take a writers words at face value.  Either Hinckley had never heard the music (chances are he heard only the three or four hits) or he went into it with his mind already made up.  He chose instead, as so many writers do, to focus upon the sensational, and there is no doubt that it was quite sensational— the family-from-hell aspect.  Two points:  The Strawberry Clock were and are one hell of a band as I think maybe were The Cowsills.  And The Monkees are only more hummable because the media (which includes The New York Daily News) spent time making them superstars while ignoring others of equal status, musically.

In spite of all the troubles, The Cowsills persevered. I now have a different perspective on the band and their journeys.  I know their music will sound different to me from here on out.  Because there was some good music and some good years…..

You know what?  I’m ending this segment on a positive note.  What with all the problems the band and the individual members have had over the years, it seems fitting.  You all remember the news reports out of New Orleans back in the Katrina days, right?  The Cowsills lost brother Barry in that hurricane.  This is the way I prefer to remember him.

The Best Albums of the First Half of 2014…..

Anyone who knows me knows where I am going with this.  A look back at bands and artists I write about probably too much but in my head, not enough.  The year started out gangbusters and has not let up an iota.  Album after album have crossed my desk on their way to the CD player and I am happy to say that among them were stunners and killers.  For instance…..

No Small Children/Trophy Wife…..  I never thought they’d get there, at least not with physical product, but they did.  One of my favorite releases of 2014, Trophy Wife, but I am also including the band’s 2013 EP Dear Youth because the CDs were not pressed until 2014 and I consider that reason enough.  These ladies are crunching Pop with a touch of soul and are deserving of way more attention than they are receiving.  Major artists?  You bet.  I saw them in Portland a few months ago and they blew the windows out of the place.  They will no doubt be somewhere in the mix when the 2014 best ofs are announced.  Take a gander.  And turn it up!!!  And check out their website, too!  Click here!

Jaimie Vernon/Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts…..  I know I talk about this album a lot but I can’t help it.  If any album can possibly take down an album like Trophy Wife, it will be this one.  A genius concept album handled beautifully by Vernon and crew, straight out of the Twilight Zone.  It is the last broadcast of Pop music from the last remaining terrestrial Pop radio station on Earth and they nail it down so well that I laugh all the way through it, it is so good.  Faked (meaning fictional, sports fans) but oh so true to what radio used to be I can’t help but chuckle.  And yeah, I laugh at outstanding guitar solos, too.  Maybe too much.  After the No Small Children show, I could barely talk my face hurt so much.  Listen to the entire album here.  It’s free and more than worth it.

Chris and Gileah/Chris and Gileah…..  Even if Chris and Gileah Taylor’s voices weren’t so magically blended on this album, it would still be among my top picks.  I have been following Gileah for a number of years now and am enthralled by her songwriting.  She has the ability to take what could be a nice, familiar song and take it one step further with the odd chord or lyric.  The melodies and harmonies are superb and Allen Salmon‘s production and session work is topnotch.  That aside, the vinyl package is immaculate.  The record weighs a ton (Is this what they call 180 gram?) and the gatefold jacket is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity.  If any record has said to me “vinyl is back,” it is this one.  In fact, this album is good enough to put in my will just to make sure the person who gets it will appreciate it.  And, if you so desire, visit Chris and Gileah’s website here,

Zoe Muth/World of Strangers…..  Zoe’s back with another solid album full of originals leaning toward the country side of life— the real country and not that fake Nashville stuff.  This makes, what, three and a half, counting the Old Gold EP?  And not a loser anywhere.  When she hits, she hits hard and she hits hard on this one.  Zoe belongs to the 50s and 60s era of country performers, the era which had Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn and Lynn Anderson and singers of that ilk.  Not that her sound is dated, just that her music would slip in their without a blip on the radar screen.  I met Zoe once.  She is as nice as she is talented and that counts for a lot these days.  Here is her website link.

sageruncoverSage Run/The Beginning and End of War…..  Set yourself.  David Stace-James, the man behind Sage Run is back with a vengeance.  We had chatted on the Net a few times after his excellent first album hit the streets.  He had no idea what he would do to follow it up.  Well, what he has done is strides further than I thought he would go.  The concept is simple.  War sucks.  What is not simple is how to really convey that.  What David did was create songs around what sounds like actual scenes from a movie, say, or a play.  The ambient sounds and layers of activity mix with the music to create thunder and lightning if not a volcano of emotions and the actual songs fit the theme like I cannot believe.  Comes with a pamphlet which explains the album in three parts per song— the story, “behind the scenes,” and lyrics.  Again, a first-rate album.  I have only listened to this twice thus far and I am blown away.  To see what is going on with Sage Run, click here.

Joseph LeMay/Seventeen Acres…..  This guy came out of nowhere as far as I can tell, but this album is good enough to have writers all over putting it on their lists as an album of worth.  I could say that he is a singer/songwriter but the music is so good it sets itself apart.  I mean, this guy can write!  Unfortunately, he is already stepping out of my boundaries.  I only write about the Indies— the artists who need an ear.  He won’t need me for long, if ever again.  He is going to be big even in this era of struggling musicians.  And I wish I could say that I was the first to tell you, but his train is gaining steam as I write.  This album is a step above.  Read more about Joseph here.

Scheduled for the near future:  Part Two of the Jim Colegrove Story;  a look at Portland’s legendary Notary Sojac;  a piece on Portland’s Sand as seen through the mind of Jack Meussdorffer;  and more.  Also will try to catch up on my listening and reading and pass the worthy along.  Summer’s here, though, and no one seems to be giving me the links I need to Music Notes smallkeep ahead of things.  As minimal as they are, here are this weeks…..

Notes…..  And the floodgates open.  Dan Phelps at Oceanographic Records tracks drums on a Claire Holley song for an album to be released… uh… next year?  Didn’t Dan say next year last year?  It’s taking forever for Holley’s album to make it to the public ear but trust me, the two songs I’ve heard are damn good and worth the wait.  Here’s a preview.  And a link to Claire’s site.

I wanted to put this in the 2014 picks up above but decided that it was definitely 2013 and not close enough to fudge.  This video should show you why these guys have a strong Midwest following.  I give you The Burning River Ramblers.  Again.


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.” 

4 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: The Rain, The Park And Other Things I Didn’t Know About The Cowsills But Wish I Had; Top Albums of 2014, Thus Far; and Notes”

  1. Cameron Carpenter Says:

    Great story Frank. Del Cowsill, son of Bill (I believe) plays with one of my artists Alan Snoddy. I saw him perform this past Friday night. I will send him your story,

    • Thanks, Cam. I am at present revisiting the Cowsills entire catalogue and am very surprised at how well the music holds up. Seeing Bill in his interview was quite heartbreaking. In fact, the whole thing caught me offguard. I’ve been reading about Snoddy. Time to take the dive and see what he’s got.

  2. One correction Frank…”Howie was, in fact, a huge fan of The Partridge Family as well, which made him suspect, but I slowly got over that.” That should read “huge fan of the Monkees.”
    I know it can be easy for some to confuse the 2 TV shows.
    Great article and review of the movie.
    Now if you will excuse me, I’m on my way to Indian Lake. There’s a scene I should make.

  3. […] sourced from original mono tapes.  If you missed my column about The Cowsills, I recommend you read it here or find an alternative source because their history as a family and a band is both intriguing and […]

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