Frank Gutch Jr: My Journey As Brought To You By…..

FrankJr2The Corona School of Writing, Weinhard’s Private Reserve, record labels (major and independent) and just about everyone I have ever really known.  So I sit here quaffing the ice cold Weinhard, waiting for that writing buzz and wondering where I will go with this because I have no real idea where I am going, only where I have been.  I have been lucky, lucky like I cannot believe, but not lucky of my own making.  I have been surrounded by good people— no, people more than good— and it is time I pay tribute to those and those things which have made me who I am.

sheedI am currently reading a book by one Wilfred Sheed, a writer I am sure few of you know but one who was at one time quite popular.  The title is My Life As a Fan and it is, mostly, about baseball.  Sheed, I am finding, was as big a fan of baseball as I am of music and I was quite taken by his comments about the dynamics of that in his life.

There is one section which deals with a supposed great known as Frank Reagan who played football for Penn in the very early forties.  Reagan, it seems, as great a football player as he was, was overlooked by Life Magazine as any kind of sports honoree.  Sheed, in the book, asks why.

The Reagan issue in fact loomed over all the other football issues that year, he writes, because to judge from the local press, this was one of the two or three greatest football players of all time:  yet he didn’t even rate Life Magazine‘s second-string backfield.  It would take me a couple of more years to adjust the focus and see local heroes as the minnows they usually were in the larger scheme of things (after which the temptation became to underrate them).  As it was, I felt that a monstrous injustice had been done to a very great man.  Although I had never known Reagan personally, the Horans across town spoke well of him, and who better than the Horans?

What makes children the rich comic characters that they are is their uncanny sense of perspective.  For several more years, for instance, I would believe that Adelphi College must be a major power because it came at the beginning of a football guide I picked up once.  And if Adelphi was so hot, could Pratt and Upsala be far behind?

One of the first things even the most obtuse sports fanatic cottons to right away is that he is “different,” a deviant, but a harmless one.  Unlike intellectuals and homosexuals, he has a place in the gang, though a humble one like the court jester’s.  “Ask Sheed— he knows everything.”  You have to be a little weird to know all that stuff, and weird can never be the best thing to be, but you’re all right, you’ve turned your powers to benign, good-guy purposes.  “What do you do. Sit up all night and study that stuff?”  There is no right answer to this, but you’re probably better off with “Yes.”  It’s better to be a crank than a genius. 

roadheadchroniclesMy life mirrored Sheed’s to a large degree, only my chosen field was music.  I substituted Paul Revere and the Raiders’ Doc Holliday and The Wailers’ Kent Morrill and The Blues Magoos’ Peppy Castro for the likes of Enos Slaughter and Jack Kimbrough and Augie Leo, the sports greats of Sheed’s early childhood.  Until I left Sweet Home, those who knew me well shook their heads at my obsession with the “almosts”—  the artists who got little or no airplay, the “bubbling unders.”  And, no, I didn’t stay up all night studying the stuff.  I just put the transistor radio under the pillow and listened to whatever station broke through the ether.  Dad always wondered why I needed new batteries (though I think he knew).

Mike Marino is responsible for the Corona School of Writing, though in my case it is the Weinhard Private Reserve School, my never having developed a taste for Corona.  Years ago, I was on a quest to get Marino to write.  A disc jockey by profession, he would send me letters full of information about Detroit rock from the late sixties and early seventies— things I thought he needed to document.  Every time he would send a letter, I would send him a reply which said, basically, you need to write this stuff down.  Eventually, he started to.  He started putting a six-pack of Corona on the floor next to his desk and started typing and would quit when the beer was gone, or so he said.  The next morning, he woke up to some sloppily-typed but excellent stream-of-consciousness pieces about the MC5 or Salem Witchcraft or Frijid Pink or The Grande Ballroom— stuff I loved to read.  It wasn’t all music.  Indeed, very little of it was music until recently.  He’s been doing it for a few years now— subjects ranging from corsets to road travel to the Old West— and it has gotten so automatic that he cranks out more in an hour than I do in a week.  Tonight, in his honor, I have placed my six-pack of Private Reserve on the floor next to my chair.  When I can no longer see the keys— three beers ought to do it— I will quit.

Mike, as a writer, is unique and prolific as hell.  He lets his fingers do the writing and I am sure is as surprised as I am where they go.  He has a “pop culture” book out titled The Roadhead Chronicles which makes me chuckle,  a madman’s look at irrelevant history which is entertaining as hell.  I wrote a review on it in which I stated “Pop Culture guru Mike Marino looks at the ’60s and beyond through his own kaleidoscope, where rock met revolution. Spewing quips like a psychedelic lawn mower run amok, he drags us, more than likely kicking and screaming, through a past few of us knew and even fewer would admit. This is Truth barred from the history books— or as Marino would put it, the Red, White and Screwed. Could transistorradiocause nausea, night sweats and loss of appetite. Void where prohibited.” What can I say?  The dude is deranged.  And he taught me everything I know.

I know what I remember and I remember the early radio days with extreme fondness.  The pre-transistor radio days when you had to keep the sound down because the folks, who reluctantly let us kids at the console, were trying to read.  I remember the transistor days when I would beg my sister to use her transistor because they were expensive (like 15 bucks or something like that— a lot of money back then) and I couldn’t afford my own and, looking back, how amazed I would be that she would usually let me.  How in high school years I would place that sucker underneath the pillows and listen until I fell asleep listening to stations from as far away as Kansas and even Philadelphia (ah, that wondrous ozone layer…).

And the music…..  the early Paul Revere and The Wailers and The Beatles and all of those bands you have read about or heard.  I loved them all, but I treasured the oddballs.  The Frank Reagans and the Augie Leos, if you will.  I latched on to everything I had never heard before like I would never hear them again, and some I didn’t.  I developed a phobia.  So many songs passed through and disappeared that I would switch stations at certain times of the day to see if one of them were playing the song I had first heard just last night or last week on that other station and was usually disappointed.  The oddballs were so rare and the competition was so stiff that, many times, it seemed as if certain stations boycotted a song just so they couldn’t possibly be seen as following the competition.  When you were #1 in a market, you couldn’t follow anyone.  They had to follow you.

millenniumvinylBy the time I got drafted (’69), radio was still an influence but the album market had kicked in enough to take up the slack.  I began reading reviews and scouring the racks.  Anything was game, but there was a psychology behind it.  The cover had to be good (or at least original).  The liner notes couldn’t be hype (and in those days, finding liner notes minus the hype was a big order).  The label had to have a track record, though I could always find reasons around that.  After awhile, I began looking for longer songs— over four minutes or even five minutes— and when I found one with an eight- or nine-minute track, it was a serious consideration.

The stint in the Army helped.  Once a month, they would hand me just short of 200 bucks and I would make plans to hit record stores, always with specific records in mind.  By the time I was done, I would have an armful of records, maybe one or two of which were on the list.  The Home Shopping Network would have loved me.

houseofrecordsOf course, most of the records I bought back then were from department stores— Meier & Frank, The Bon Marche, Penneys.  By 1971, though, when I was released from the Army, record stores were happening and it seemed like pretty much everywhere.  I found The Sun Shoppe in Lake Oswego and The Long Hair Music Faucet in Portland and then in Eugene, where I had returned to the University, The House of Records and Chrystalship.  In those two stores, I found both friendship and music and they would define my future.

Ron Prindle ruled the roost at Chrystalship.  It was no more than a hole-in-the-wall on 11th the first time I bought records there and they had no more than three cardboard boxes full, but there was not one throwaway in the bunch.  I learned more about music from San Francisco and, later, Chicago and L.A. and New York, than I ever thought I would know.  Prindle was a crusty son-of-a-bitch too, grabbing records I had gathered and tossing them back into boxes while replacing them at his will.  “You don’t want that,” he would say and grab it, sometimes forcibly, before jamming a supposed better choice in my hands.  “Nobody will be listening to that in five years.  Here— here is something which will stick around.”  He was seldom wrong.

PPLLicPizza 001

Prindle would go on to build a sort of empire in Oregon, moving his store north onto Willamette Street, Eugene’s main drag, and becoming a centerpiece for the downtown when city fathers decided to block traffic, creating a natural mall.  I look back fondly on that store, the records scattered about the floor in boxes, the tops cut off to show the albums ripe for the picking.  He had a wall of albums, too, and not just for the hits.  I remember Cowboy and Pure Prairie League and, later, Space Opera on that wall, the covers displayed for anyone to see.  And Prindle, cartoon character that he was, was on the floor a lot of the time, talking up his favorites of the moment— reading people and divining what kind of music they would love, whether they knew it or not.

I learned that trick from Prindle— that reading people thing.  You had to befriend them first, give them a chance to be who they were and to feel comfortable with who you were, before gently cajoling them away from The Beatles or The Stones toward what they would love just as much but might never find without you.  When I left Eugene, I headed for L.A. and a two-year (just short of, anyway) stint with Licorice Pizza where I perfected the technique.

heartsfieldtroubadourLos Angeles was such a different world.  I was lost.  I thought the labels needed someone to sell their product, but they knew they didn’t.   Their way was allowing the product to sell itself, with a little help from radio airplay and a few ads.  The music, as far as I could tell, was only good after sales had been established.  There were a few who were there for the music, of course— the real music and not just that which put money in the corporate coffers.  I met a few— Bill Graham at RCA Records, Bill Follett (he’s second from bottom, left) at Polygram— but they were few and far between.

Susie at Licorice Pizza took a chance on me, though, and I was again back at retail.  It was the right record store chain at the right time for me.  Jim Greenwood, who owned and ran the chain, had set up a string of smaller stores throughout the L.A. Basin and was building his own little world within the hugeness that is L.A.  I got there in ’74 and only knew Licorice Pizza because of the radio ads— “Hi, this is Jim from Licorice Pizza and, boy, do we have some deals for you…..”— Greenwood’s voice as distinctive as that of Janis Joplin only more friendly and warm to the touch.  I didn’t know the guy (though I would later), but if I’d had money I would have bought a used car from him.  As it was, I ended up buying records.  He always ended his ads with “and remember, you get it nicer at Licorice Pizza.”  And you did.  Susie made sure of it.  The number one rule was not that the customer was always right but that the customer was a privileged human being and we were to act accordingly.  For myself, it was no act.  If I wanted to turn people onto my music, I needed to make contact.

I found it was easier in L.A. than Eugene.  Eugene was slower and life was good and people talked with one another more.  In L.A., life was not as fulfilling for a lot of the people.  They were scratching to get by, in most instances, and music was an escape.  When you walked into a store, you didn’t expect the sales people to really talk with you beyond the sales talk.  Going the extra mile made them ready to listen as well as talk.  The fact that it was music made it perfect.  I met a string of customers during my tenure with LP, who are friends to this day, all because of the music we shared.  Mark Allen Tinkle, Seth Dudley and Michael Cariola, to name only a few.

My beautiful pictureI moved to Pacific Beach in San Diego less than a year after starting work at LP to open a new store.  It was the apex and nadir of my run there.  I worked next to a great group of people, the leader being Daryl R. Sartanowicz, one of the best people I will ever know.  I made new friends— Barry, who had a frisbee-catching dog named The Bag (they actually did a couple of half-time shows at Chargers’ games);   Dave Wood, whom we were destined to know as Dave the Breadman (later shortened to just Breadman) because the only thing we knew about him was that he worked for Orowheat and would bring us by loaves of past-the-date bread;  Mark Allan Tinkle, whom I knew as Smirk Alvin Dinkle because he always used the three names together and made me laugh a lot.  We had a guy named Dyno working with us— Rohn Trieglaff— who always used “dyno” instead of “heavy” or “far out” whenever anything was better than good, so we just called him Dyno.  Kymba worked there, or maybe it was Kimba— one of the most up and sweet ladies I’ve ever met.  And a sweet little Latina named Debbie who did exceptional art work for our displays— I was in love with her attitude.  She didn’t know what down was.  And Rick Stern.  Rick played panginny every time he found a card room which fielded a table.  He loved it.  He was also a character and loved a laugh as much as anyone, whether the purveyor or brunt of the joke at hand.

My luck ran out after about six months as a manager of the Pacific Beach store.  Daryl had left to open a new store and, truth be told, I sucked as a manager.  Big-time.  I did my best but like Lennon or McCartney, I was at my best with Daryl there to hone my edges.  Alone, I was a weak substitute of what I had been.  I took the job too seriously and worked myself into the ground.  When the axe came down, it was a blessing for all.

This photo of me was taken by a kid who used to hang around the store.  I hated having my picture taken but he was so cool about it, I allowed it.  The fact that he did this at all made it worthwhile.

fivedollarbill 001a

 

After a number of months looking for work, I ended up starting a record store with good friend Lance Anderson, against my better judgment.  Those people who always say don’t go into business with a friend?  They are right.  Lance and I started out okay, but had made the big mistake of hurrying things along and not heeding the adage “Location, location, location…” which, like “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha” had been repeated so many times I no longer heard it.  One year and it was done.  I was ready for Seattle.

the-penetrators-sensitive-boy-world-recordsGood things came out of that, even.  For one thing, I met three legs of The Penetrators thanks to that store— Gary Heffern, James Call, and Dan McClain.  Heffern, who is the main subject of a story involving a sieve and a can of shaving cream, had told me one night that he was going to be in a band.  The Penetrators ended up being that band.  Jim Call had to suffer through an evening or two of my falling-down-drunkeness when he ran projector at a local movie theater.  He had purchased a Casio keyboard with the built-in cassette recorder to work on music and shortly after I met him, joined the band.  Dan McClain owned a record store called Monty Rockers and Lance and I stopped by a couple of times to visit.  Dan was one of the coolest guys I ever met— friendly, talkative, entertaining.  He was also a drummer and we talked drumming, us drummers being a different breed, evidently.  Dan would shortly thereafter take on the moniker “Country Dick Montana” and sing and drum for The Beat Farmers after spending time with The Penetrators and a few other SD bands.

peacheschristmasWhen the store came to an end, so did my run in SD.  The weather was driving me nuts.  It never changed.  I grabbed what little gear I had, left my records behind for my roomie Rick to send on when I got the money, and headed to Seattle where I would eventually end up at Peaches.  It wasn’t easy.  The lady who did the hiring took one look at me and said no.  I looked around the store and wondered why not, but it was her call.  I asked if I could stop by now and again to check and she said okay, so every week I would walk into the store and be turned right around by her glare.  One day I walked in and she wasn’t there.  I asked for a friend of a friend who had told me to say hello and he came out and we talked for a couple of minutes.  He asked me if I would come into the back room with him because he was busy and I did, both of us talking music and records and our mutual friend, Greg Biggs.  The guys’ name is Marty Feldman (he rolled his eyes every time it came up) and he had a tic in his voice.  Nothing expansive, but noticeable.  We talked for half an hour and I offered to help him break down a few of the boxes he was working on (he was writing returns for the major labels, something I will explain maybe in a future column) but he refused.  He just wanted the company.  A couple of days later, he called and asked if I wanted to be a singles buyer (that’s the little record with the big hole, sports fans) and I said sure and the rest is history.  After being there for less than a week, I was in the back room with Marty helping him write returns.  Marty was thankful and so was I.  Some things happen for a reason.

I had never seen a store as well-organized as that one.  Floor people were responsible for a section and had to know that section as well as possible.  A blues harp/sax player of some local repute, John Hodgkin, held down the blues and jazz, a classical music nut and ethnomusicologist held down classical and “new music,” a catch-all category for everything not large enough for its own little corner (electronic, spoken word, etc).  Sandy and soon-to-be great friend Howard Weiss handled that.  George Fuller, a Southern boy, was the rock genius, and Rastaman Fredrico took care of the reggae and international sections.  The thing is, when someone was looking for something off-the-cuff, you knew who to send them to.

bendanieldollyBen Daniel, the store director, was responsible.  Store director, you ask?  What the hell is a store director?  Well, I will tell you.  Peaches was so damn big that you needed someone as a liaison with the head office.  Ben spent much of his time in his office talking with label reps and the head office, but was on the floor as much as time would allow.  He knew the people working with him and gave them, as did Greenwood at Licorice Pizza, as much rope as was needed.  Ben and I seldom disagreed, largely because we were working toward the same goal— maximum sales and profits— but always with love of music as the energy source.  The gas that drove the engine.  And, yep, that’s Ben with Dolly.

The kids kept me honest at Peaches.  I call them kids, though they really weren’t.  They were young, but they were as fanatical about their music as I had once been about mine.  Without them, I most certainly would have ignored The Replacements and The Bodeans and UB40.  I possibly might have even missed some of my real favorites such as Squeeze and Negativland, whose album Helter Stupid still crushes brain cells when I find time to listen.  They forced me to listen to The Blasters and The LeRoi Brothers and True Believers (they were shocked to know that I had many punk and New Wave 45s from the mid- to late-70s, even The Zeros’ Wimp and Suicide Commandos’ Match/Mismatch, evidently holy grails of some kind for young punks).  We traded info all the time and challenged one another, though they hardly noticed I was paying attention.  I was and I was thankful for it.

I finally gave it all up in ’91.  Peaches was being dragged down thanks to a changing music landscape and the stores’ inability to adapt quickly enough.  My salary was too much for the store to bear and I headed south to Oregon, knowing that my parents needed me there.

The people and the music made my life what it has been and it has been good.  I wrote a piece on The Wailers and The Sonics awhile back and one of my good friends from San Diego, Tom Griswold, found it and passed it along with a comment about how finding those bands, thanks to myself evidently, was so influential to him.  These are the kinds of threads which make you realize how lucky you really are.

I leave you with two thoughts.  One:  Never assume that what you have to say is unimportant.  You would be surprised what even the seemingly menial words can mean to someone.  And two:  Never assume you are responsible for anything good.  I have learned that if anything good came out of my life, it had more to do with the people surrounding me than myself.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  A little Chris and Gileah kicks off this columns’ Notes section.  A beautiful song, A Seaboard Song, off of their new album,  titled Chris and Gileah.  But as an aside, before you go there, let me say how freaking impressed I am with the vinyl on this album.  The pressing is immaculate!  The best I have ever heard and it weighs a ton!  Is that what a 180 gm weighs?  Damn!

I won’t limit this to fans of Phil Keaggy, but they will be the ones most impressed.  I discovered Keaggy the summer of 1971 when, by luck, I stumbled upon the first Glass Harp album at The House of Records in Eugene.  His guitar playing completely blew me away.  I have been following him since.  The sound isn’t the best, but it is good enough for you to hear what the guy can do with a guitar.

Another one to file under noone-tells-me-anything— here is the Shook Twins‘ kickstarter video (it’s over now, sports fans) which I wish I would have known about during its run.  These ladies (and their band) impress the hell out of me, so I thought I would share this before it fades into oblivion.  They are asking for money, of course (that’s what kickstarters are all about, after all), but that’s not why I plug the video in here.  I want you to see the Shooks themselves as human beings.  They’re from Northern Idaho and, yes, they wear plaid.  Now living in Portland.  Oh, they are psychics, too.  Included are clips of them as little girls predicting their musical success.  Here is their website so you can see and hear even more.

Just in time to make it into this week’s column, Erin Lunsford linked me to this video of her group Erin & The Wildfire performing Best I’ve Ever Been from the band’s EP.  She has a magnificent voice, I do believe.

I used to swing by Rhino Records in the early 70s on my way to and from Licorice Pizza on Wilshire, my place of employment.  You never knew who you would run into— I once spent a good hour talking with the Rhino guys and Wild Man Fischer, met Robbie Krieger there, and members of Asia and Honk (we used to sell the soundtrack to Five Summer Stories by the boxload during the summer months, it being the ultimate surf album at the time and the movie as big as Rocky Horror Picture Show would later become).  This is Rhino co-owner Harold Bronson at the time with two rock personages I will now never have a chance to meet.

rhinoramones

=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.” 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: