Frank Gutch Jr: And the Smell of Incense: The Boundaries of Psych, Plus Notes


Ah, Psychedelia! A musical underground which fed on the springs of youth. God knows where it came from or how it evolved (there are many theories based upon preconceived notions which may or may not have anything to do with anything except ego), but it most likely was a media conception: Old people trying to write about things they didn’t understand, looking at the new world through cataracts and prejudice, and that view taking hold.

A world of Be-ins, tuning in, tuning out, mind altering drugs…  No matter. The molecules have had four decades to divide and multiply and morph and while the media can still categorize, they cannot dictate. That is, not unless you allow them to. I mean, that’s what the whole psych movement was all about, wasn’t it? Freedom? Choice?

pinkfloydgarlandFor myself, it was about the music. Okay, and maybe the drugs. But it was mostly about the music and in the world of psychedelia, when the music is good, it is great! Of course, the lines have been blurred. Any mind-altering music can be considered psych these days, be it new age or jam or progressive or even jazz. It appears to be all in the head.

In my head, the germ began eating brain cells decades ago, and has allowed me to limp through even today’s music with an ear for anything remotely psych. With the Internet and sites like Youtube, it is a mental and musical adventure unlike anything I thought I would ever experience. If you’re willing, let me take you through the caves and uncover a few treasures worthy of the genre.

Would You Like Some Acid With That Rock?

murrowreporterremembersIf Phil Lesh, as paraphrased by Grateful Dead bandmate Jerry Garcia, stated that “acid rock is what you listen to when you’re on acid,” then all music is acid rock.   Indeed, it is possible that all non-music is acid rock.  One of my counselors back in my college days of the late-’60s used to pop LSD (or what his dealers claimed was LSD), lock his door and listen to reel-to-reel tapes of historical recordings.  I mean actual recordings of history— Edward R. Murrow‘s A Reporter Remembers, Vol 1:  The War Years, compilations of radio news broadcasts, Presidential speeches— as well as the re-creations of history by Murrow and then new-kid-on-the-block Walter Cronkite, whose You Are There TV broadcasts were quite the rage in the ’50s.  He had on tape an historical reading by John Barrymore of which he was especially proud, treating the reel with every bit as much care as a mother treats her baby.  When he listened to music, it was always classical, preferring the sound and range of the full-blown orchestra to anything electric (guitars, especially).  He thought the use of harpsichord in rock blasphemy and would allow us dorm flies into his room only on occasion for listening sessions and lectures about the evils of rock music, luckily all tongue-in-cheek.  He had a glaze over his eyes most of the time.  I credited it to some sort of mental defect though I later realized that he was probably just stoned all the time.  Behind the incessant smell of incense he burned in his room was this bittersweet odor I came to recognize as the smoke of the nefarious weed.  I always wondered why it took him so long to exhale but figured he just loved his tobacco.

While he was rearranging history and his brain cells, the rest of us were discovering the world of music, and not necessarily confined to rock.  That Dorm Guy I mention occasionally was constantly finding music way ahead of the curve by artists like Robbie Basho and John Fahey and jazz artists such as Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders.  A few of my friends, still hanging on to the folk craze and hullabaloo days, were delving into folk-rock, a few even doing aural diligence with the field recordings of Alan Lomax and others.

jeffersonairplanebaxtersMost of us, though, were enthralled with the oddities of rock, soon not to be oddities at all but quite mainstream, if only for a short time.  My mind was being bent long before I hit college, but nothing like it was when San Francisco began wearing flowers in its hair.  The first time I really understood the momentum of psychedelia was when Jefferson Airplane took off.  Folk-rock, to a degree, their first album Takes Off showed such potential that by the time psych was in full swing, I was swinging right alongside.  By the time they came out with After Bathing at Baxters, I was flying.  And high.  The Airplane to me, and especially Baxters, epitomized what psych and acid rock were all about.  In my head, they were the reason I considered SF my musical home.

gratefuldeadSan Francisco had a music scene beyond all others at the time, as far as I was concerned, equal to that of the entire UK.  And the Airplane were just a small part of it.  Bands were coming out of the woodwork, thanks largely to Bill Graham and Chet Helms, the promoters behind The Fillmore and The Avalon.  And Graham wasn’t one to just harvest the local fruit.  He put SF on the map as a destination for musicians, worldwide.  Still, the real core of the scene when it started were the locals, and there wasn’t anyone who drew a crowd like The Grateful Dead.  The Dead, in fact, had the longest and most successful run of all the Bay Area groups, becoming international superstars and playing a lot of shows their own way, eschewing the establishment which had grown up with and begun to control music, from pre-creation of music to the stage.  One look at this documentary, titled Grateful Dead – Dawn of the Dead and the Rise of The San Francisco Underground, will give you a good idea of what was going on.

Of course, I could not in good conscience even mention SF without mentioning Quicksilver Messenger Service, a band made for the jam-centric style of music which music freaks began to embrace.  When I interviewed Quicksilver’s Gary Duncan a few years back, I was surprised to hear him say that the band’s success caught everyone by surprise, largely because they never played a song the same way twice, something which seemed to be a benchmark among many bands of the time.

And then there was Santana.  At the time, I didn’t consider them even remotely psych.  Since then, after shedding pounds and pounds of brain cells, I’m not so sure.

The Soundcarriers

soundcarriers-coverA few years I discovered Ophelia Hope, a Norwegian concoction which took me back to the sixties in very cinematic fashion.  Their self-titled album swept me away with a lounge sound in a movie atmosphere and the late sixties, once thought dead, slowly crept back into my soul.  It is a magnificent album, full of jazz- and folk-tinged songs which recreate at times the aura of earlier days.  It is also the germ which led me back to psych music.

Not long after hearing them, a friend mentioned a UK band known as The Soundcarriers.  They had just released an album called Harmonium, a supposed psych masterpiece.  I got one.  I listened.  While it tripped around psych, it leaned more toward acid rock and progrock and I wondered, why call it psych?  Well, things change and when I went back to hear their earlier album, I understood.  Harmonium is an excellent album, being a rock side of the aforementioned Ophelia Hope, but their earlier music hit the psych nail on the head.  Watch this video of I Had a Girl and tell me it doesn’t belong in a psych-ploitation movie.

A Cat Coughing Up a Hairball…..

That’s what KAK has always brought to my mind.  Not the music, mind you, but the name.  Out of the Davis, California area, they rode into San Francisco on the coattails of Quicksilver, the Airplane and The Dead and grabbed the brass ring, a recording contract with Epic Records.  One album and one “film” (video, today) later, they dissolved and disappeared.  That video, thanks to corporate asshats who think they have a right to everything including live-giving water (oxygen is more than likely next), the video has been pulled from YouTube.   This will give you an idea of what they were like though.  This is pretty much what was considered psych back in the day.

Norrish Reaction – When Psych’s Not Quite Psych…..

…but is close enough.  When their album came across my desk a couple of years ago, I was quite taken by their propensity to dance around the edges of the genre, jamming here and mind-tripping there.  The key to their music is of course the writing of Winston Norrish, who was musically savvy enough to surround himself with musicians who not only “get” his music but are anxious to play it.  Their one self-titled album stands alone, at present, but one can hope that a followup is in the works.  This video should explain not only their music (listen closely, much of it is buried beneath talk) but their attitudes toward the album.

Pajama, One Each, Green…..

greenpajamasbw2009600There is no one— no one— better at the psych bridge than Jeff Kelly of The Green Pajamas.  His imperfect voice is perfect for his compositions and his guitar wields psych magic.  The Pajamas have been a favorite since their beginnings, but they have been a renaissance in my ears since the release of Poison In the Russian Room, which has on it three or four of the best songs I have ever heard from them.  This video is a bit rough, but for myself I would rather have been at King Cobra the night this was recorded than at any Beatles or Led Zeppelin gig ever performed.  Kelly tiptoes around the edges of the psych garden so well that you almost don’t even notice— until the instrumental bridge.  When the guitar begins to sing, you understand.  Is this psych?  You tell me.

Mighty Baby…..

Is prog psych?  This band makes me wonder.

The Strawberry Alarm Clock…..

Leave it up to Hollywood to exploit music and musicians at every turn.  This clip, from the movie Psych Out, is a watered-down media-hyped version of what Hollywood thought psych was, but that certainly was not SAC’s fault.  Rainy Day Mushroom Pillow was only one of the excellent tracks from their first and much-maligned album.  SAC will remain in my heart one of the truly original bands of the 60s.   And dig those clothes!

spiritalleyTake two top Tulsa, Oklahoma radio disc jockeys from the ’60s, plop them down four decades later with a second generational child unit who can play guitar and write and a drummer just happy to be there and you have Spirit Alley.  Musically they are all over the place but when they put together this video for a song titled Aztec, they brought a morphed sense of psych into the 21st Century.  This is what decades of music and voice-over work does to you.  Right after they completed the filming of the video, they put them in straitjackets and carted them away.  Unfortunately, they escaped and are still out there, hopefully doing good and not evil.  Where is J. Edgar when you need him, anyway?

As if that isn’t enough, back in the ’70s, Amon Duul II was trying to send us all on a mindbender.  Consider this a warning.  Acid rock?  Psych?  I don’t care if the so-called pundits call this Krautrock or not, there is something else going on here.  Animation by Ralph Bakshi.

Not to be outdone, here is a mind warp of another color.  Popol Vuh.

Remember what I said about Jeff Kelly and his guitar?  It carries this song over the psychedelic edge.

I think more dope has been smoked to this song than almost any other.  Procol Harum

To cap this all off, file this under I-can’t-believe-these-guys-were-from-Texas.  A real favorite from the pop/psych side of music.

Music Notes smallNOTES…. News just came down the pike that the beautiful and talented UK songstress Lisbee Stainton‘s latest album, Word Games, is now available on vinyl! Say what you will about vinyl, I am almost wishing that I was a young pup, just so I could scarf up LPs like this.  180 gram and gatefold sleeve?  I mean, I already love the album.  Hearing it on vinyl would be a bonus!  You can check her out by clicking here…..

My heart be still!  This morning, in a short and understated post on Facebook, there appeared this announcement announcing the beginnings of a new album (the third) by band Shade.  “The making of the 3rd Shade album has officially begun.  So far so fun.  More details to come,” the statement read.  File this under “No one ever  tells me anything.”  This time, though, I don’t care.  I am just happy it’s happening.  This is a track from their first album Highway, circa 2010, I believe.

And this one always reminds me of Neil Young‘s The Emperor of Wyoming.  It’s the feel, you understand.  And, yes, there is a vocal version (and a damn good one too) on their second album, One Last Show of Hearts, which featured ex-Rheostatics and Violet Archers member Tim Vesely.

You can stream either or both on Shade’s Bandcamp pages—– here and here.

Again, I cannot say enough about Seventh Fire Records‘ 7” vinyl subscription series.  For the true indie music fan, this is what it’s all about— the adventure.  It is not necessarily a new idea but one that has been retooled for the present day.  Four 7” singles per year released three months apart.  You really don’t know what or who you are going to get, but that’s the key!  You are getting not only something incredibly rare, you are getting the personal side of the music.  Seriously, watch the video and if you see what I see in terms of not only the music but the personal side and the history of it, you will end up subscribing.

Every once in awhile, I have to pull out this video by Beachy Head Music Club to remind me what’s really important.  Features the irrepressible Duggy Degs.

Texas is so freakin’ overloaded with topnotch musicians and music it begs the question— how the hell can people love their music so much and vote in those goddamn asshole politicians all the time.  Which is probably answered by the fact that Texas musicians were and are so buried in their music they don’t pay attention to much else.  Which was Townes Van Zandt‘s point in this documentary about his life.  If you haven’t seen this, you need to.  This will explain a lot more about music and musicians than all of the tributes and award shows on television— all of them!  Be Here To Love Me is not just about Townes, but the musicians who hold their music close to the vest.  Thanks to Joe Phillips for bringing it to my attention.


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.” 

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