Frank Gutch Jr: From Goodnight Moon To Goodnight Songs and Beyond: Famed Children’s Author Still Alive In Prose and Song, or Are You Glad To See Me Or Is That a Grammy In Your Pocket?; Jeff Ellis: A Day Late and a Dollar Short … Plus Notes, as few as they are

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Goodnight stars; Goodnight air; Goodnight noises everywhere.

So Margaret Wise Brown ended her classic childrens book Goodnight Moon, a bedtime book for the ages.  Until I received a message from Charlottesville musician, Keith Morris, he of The Crooked Numbers, I had never heard the name nor knew of the book, to my knowledge.  How I missed it I don’t know because not one person of the multitude I asked later was ignorant of its existence, though few recognized the name.

Goodnight Moon was and is, evidently, a yardstick by which many childrens books were and are measured.  It was THE go-to book for mothers and grandmothers and probably even fathers during my childhood— the ones who cherished their children and their childrens childhood.  From what I understand, it was the most widely read, silently and out loud, childrens book of all-time.  In the States, anyway.

wellgoddamn 001My father would never have read it to me, preferring instead the pages of Outdoor Life and Sports Afield, but he would have had to had my mother been aware.  Instead of the flowing child/adult prose and poetry of Ms. Brown, I grew up on stories of quail hunting and fishing the Great Northwest.  Indeed, the two pictures we had hanging in our house for years were magazine pages ripped from those magazines— one depicting a fox amidst pheasant, looking for dinner, and three Canadian geese calling their brothers and sisters in for a rest.  Oh, and the little grumpy guy who served as one of the memes of our day with the caption, “Well….. GODDAM!”  (Photo copyrighted by J.G. White, 1943, Atlanta, and reprinted here through courtesy of the Gutch Family Archives, LLC)  No, no Ms. Brown for us kids, but we didn’t starve for reading material.  There were always Childrens Stories of The Bible and Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Little Golden books and records.  Still, after reading the recent Goodnight Songs and listening to the music created for those pieces by Tom Proutt & Emily Gary, I can’t help but wonder what I missed.

Margaret_Wise_BrownRecent.  The words in the book were written decades ago and were discovered through an odd set of circumstances by publishing agent (though agent she may not be) Amy Gary.  I mean, the stars in all the universes have to align for so much good to come from such circumstances.

But first, a few words about Ms. Brown, who you might not know.  Margaret Wise Brown was at the top of the publishing game when she died in 1952.  She was in France, conferring with various writers and authors and composers, when she experienced appendix trouble.  The French doctors successfully removed the offending organ, but the prevalent post-operative procedures in France at the time was bedrest.  Brown wasn’t as convinced as the doctors, even going so far as to consult her doctor in the States, but in the end acquiesced.  How long she lay in a bed I don’t really know, but it was a long period, and when she was released, everything seemed fine.  Unfortunately, when the doctor asked her how she was, she said “Great!”, did a quick can-can kick and shortly thereafter fell to the ground, dead.  A blood clot had apparently torn loose.  She died of an embolism.  At forty-two and with a future as bright as the sun.  A future never to be.  And yet…..

Along comes that spider (Ms. Gary) and the door to the future opened.  Amy Gary had co-founded a publishing concern in 1989— WaterMark, a company which searched out works for publication, but mostly re-publication.  The idea was to uncover out-of-print books to pass along to major publishers.  Without going into the actual details, let us just say that the company accumulated the rights to reprint eight books which Disney, which was just starting a new publishing entity, scooped up.  Amy and Co. also worked with, among others, Pixar and Lucasfilm.

During her pre-Watermark years as a library sales rep for Doubleday, librarian friends planted a seed in her mind, asking her why she didn’t pursue the out-of-print works of Margaret Wise Brown.  “I decided to contact the author’s sister, Roberta Rauch, about that possibility,” Gary told Publishers Weekly.  She did some research and finally tracked her down.  The meetings that took place opened up a whole new world.

From that article in Publishers Weekly— (read the full article here) :

amygary“Sitting on the floor of Roberta’s house, looking through old copies of Margaret’s books, I followed a hunch, knowing how prolific she had been,” said Gary. “I asked Roberta if any of her sister’s unpublished manuscripts existed, even though I assumed that if they had, someone would have already found and published them.” Gary’s hunch was more accurate than her assumption. Rauch replied that there were indeed many of Brown’s manuscripts stowed in a trunk in her attic barn, a stash that included her undiscovered songs.

After six months, during which, Gary said, she was “on pins and needles,” Rauch finally retrieved the manuscripts from the trunk and shared them with Gary. The two worked out an agreement that Gary would develop and find a publisher for a picture book collection of Brown’s songs, but it was not a quick process. “Margaret sometimes used phrases from her previous publications in her songs,” explained Gary. “So researching the rights to her lyrics took many years.”

In 2011, Gary placed the book with Sterling, knowing, she said, “what a beautiful job” the publisher had done with its 2007 picture book version of Peter Yarrow and Lenny Lipton’s Puff the Magic Dragon, illustrated by Eric Puybaret, which is also packaged with a musical CD. “Roberta and I felt strongly that Sterling was the best match for Goodnight Songs,” said Gary.

What Gary found was a treasure beyond her wildest dreams.  Over 1200 works, she said, though many were snippets and not fully realized works.  Many were complete enough to be worked into publishable pieces and there were the occasional gems— like six completely scored pieces.  Yes— music and accompanying words.

Few realize, said Gary, that Ms. Brown was more than poet or child’s author.  She had dreams of what we would call multi-media interests today— TV and radio and music and lyrics and theater and what have you under one umbrella.  Indeed, she saw a great future in radio and TV.  She envisioned a midday radio program for children which involved, much like Good Night Moon, progressive steps toward nap time.

(Brown) had hoped to have a radio show, Emily Gary, the musician who wrote the music along with Tom Proutt for Goodnight Songs, told me.  The opening track is called “The Noon Balloon” which was supposed to transport children, along with other songs, to their midday nap.  Brown had all of these grand ideas about utilizing her words, making them into music.  She did work with composers, but it never turned into a long-term thing.

ivestwolittletrainsThe truth was, it didn’t have time to.  According to Amy, it was in the works.  Brown did sign a three record deal with Columbia Records— six songs as records in those days had only two sides, the album being a book which contained a series of two-sided discs placed in a notebook, of sorts.  Three songs from those sessions made it onto record (Two Little Trains, Where Have You Been?, and The Barnyard Song), the sessions never completed due to Brown’s tragic death.  Burl Ives, a musician who later became well known for his work in the childrens field, was vocalist.  Brown also had signed a six-record deal with Young Peoples Records— 12 sides, basically stories with little songs and philharmonic music.

I don’t want to let too much out of the bag because Amy Gary is presently working on an in-depth biography of Ms. Brown.  There are twists and turns which you shall have to wait for and a few surprises as well.  Suffice it to say that there are certain things, for the purpose of this piece, that you should know.

margaretwisebrown#1— Brown, in anticipation of her future work in the media, went out of her way to buy  back any music rights she had forfeited in the course of her published writings.  Amy Gary has been doing research along those lines as well since she was handed the “lost” writings.  Amy knows that if future releases are to be in line with the essence of Margaret Wise Brown‘s philosophies, they have to be protected.

#2— Brown worked with not only Ives but many others, including Rube Goldberg, Rosemary Clooney, Oscar Hammerstein and others, so this dabbling in the music world was more than just dabbling.  She had a vision.

#3— Brown not only wrote poems, prose and music for children (though the music was a once and future thing), she was responsible for a new vision of what that music would entail.  She in fact worked with a variety of music people, just as she had with illustrators, to make the arts more amenable to the young.  She felt and quite honestly that the works for children up to her time were inadequate and most times missed the mark.

#4— Brown wrote not only for children but for adults.  Few of her songs made it onto records, but at least one did— even though it was on a childrens label:

Which, by the way, was recorded after Brown’s death.

Goodnight SongsThe Beginning of the Continuance…..

Goodnight Songs


When Amy Gary found the trunk full of notes and memorabilia, she may have had an inkling of what was there but the musical side of Ms. Brown had to have been an eye-opener if not a huge surprise.  When I talked with her, I got an overwhelming sense that the more she researched, the more she respected Brown and her sense of right.  No doubt she was thinking of Brown’s dreams and how she could help make them reality.  Conjecture, true, but you could hear it in her enthusiasm if not her voice.

God knows what happens when one falls into a cache such as Brown’s, but beyond the rise in blood pressure and excessive pounding of the heart, there has to be a confusion of sorts— for the first little while, anyway.  How best to handle this, what to do with that?  Indeed, my first reaction would be to dive in and publish or release the most important documents, but I’m an idiot.  Gary is a professional.  Even in the excitement of the find, she knew enough about publishing to know it had to be handled carefully.  So she took her time.

Some of that time involved Proutt and her sister-in-law, Emily.  Whether she had them in mind as a musical source at first, I’m not sure, but the connection was eventually made.

L-R:  Tom Proutt, Andy Thacker, Emily Gary, Jeff Romano

According to Proutt, his and Emily’s side took a good ten years.

We ended up going through the collection and wrote music for different pieces which were our favorites, he said.  We looked at some 800 pieces, but some were like three lines long.  Some of them were written on napkins and all had been transcribed to word files.  When I saw something that struck me, I thought, let’s go for it, which was maybe three or four dozen of them.  Amy, also searching, settled on 25 or so and we settled in. 

Once she shopped it, there were more conversations about the pieces and the songs which came out of them— conversations which evolved into selection of the final songs. 

Bill Luckey at Sterling Publishing had a say in things as did Amy.  Tom and Emily, not so much.  They locked down twelve songs and it was a go.  Goodnight Songs was on its way.  Ten-plus years— twelve songs.

tomemilyposterThe process was simple enough.  After the twelve were chosen, Tom and Emily began recording in earnest and with no contact with the publishing side outside of Amy.  Each “department” was on its own.  So I asked Tom if it was similar to just making an album.

Absolutely, he said.  There was a period of time during which we were recording tracks which didn’t make sense as album cuts.  Like I said, some of the pieces came from three or four lines (of poetry or prose) and I and Emily turned them into songs.  But there was no collaboration.  I felt confident from the very first.  I knew the time period and the music was being honored.  Mostly, I would come up with something, then Emily would add or change things.  The process was awesome.  I felt a real connection with Margaret Wise Brown and (felt that) whatever someone handed me that she wrote, I could channel.

Tom and Emily evidently channeled Brown well.  The book and CD have been getting excellent reviews and have placed them in the early running for a nomination for a Grammy.  The thing is, there is a process.


For Childrens music, Emily explained, there are a couple of rounds of voting.  The first round involves members of The Recording Arts AcademyThe ballots go out October 15th.  If you make it through that, a panel of listeners specific to the Childrens category whittle it down to five and those are chosen as Grammy nominees.

Emily has been working hard on that first round.  It has involved networking and listening and making everyone from the Academy aware of the CDs existence.  The music, too.  It is available as a download through CDBaby.  I took time and Tom and Emily had to jump through hoops, but it is done.  For those not wanting the book/CD combination and especially for those tied into the digital format, you can download the music here.

While the voting has already started for Goodnight Songs, the actual Grammy presentations are scheduled for February 8, 2015.  I cannot imagine that this album will not be among the five finalists, but I couldn’t imagine anyone but a heartless prig voting for George W, either.  We’ll have to see if someone accidentally misplaces the nomination a la Bush’s military records.  jeffellis1Could it happen?  Stay tuned…..

Jeff Ellis— A 2014 Pick Hit Released In 2013?

If you have not heard of Jeff Ellis, don’t feel alone.  I hadn’t until last May when Ellis’s buddy, musician Mark Bates, told him to contact me. Ellis sent his latest album, Learning How To Live, and I thought I listened but evidently I didn’t.  I remember hearing a folkish collection of acoustic songs which didn’t really impress me enough to warrant a second listen.

I don’t know what the hell happened, though, because when I picked the CD off of a stack this past week, I was buzz-sawed with an album right up there with the new Winterpills and Barr Brothers albums— more mainstream but easily as impressive.  Folk?  Not the first track, Where Your Memory Can’t Be Found, a smoking rocker with outstanding upbeat vocals and some hot lead guitar by someone I have never heard of but have now—- Bud Carroll.  Carroll surfaces on a less rocking but as-good song later on the album, pushing the commercial side of, say, Tom Petty or his like.  Mark his name.  I have.  Mining Town has roots in the folk music of the backwoods of the East Coast if not Ireland, the story one of the mines and their troubles, the refrain “when this mining town shuts down”  repeated over and over in the chorus.  I hear Petty again on Hanging Around and some fine country rock on Always, and there are more.

But by far and away, my favorites are the pop-py Lovers Were Made For Days Like This, the chorus uplifting and harmonies stacked high enough to give me chills (and, oh, that beautiful twelve-string guitar!) and the intensely folk/psych song Lullaby which echoes the late-sixties and early-seventies as few others I’ve heard.  I don’t know how to describe them except to say that they are world class— world class.

When I contacted Jeff to ask a few questions about the album, he said he wasn’t worried about sales, that he only wants to save the music for his children.  I only wish I had children so I could save it for them, too.

And that’s it for this week, I suppose, except for a few…

Music NotesNotes…..  Maxi Dunn has been working very hard in the studio since the release of her excellent Edmund & Leo album and has just released her first song from her impending album, due Spring of 2015.  If you know Maxi’s work, you will not be surprised.  It is another unique pop gem.  Again, her production and vocal arrangements shine.  Listen here.

Chuck Stenberg, the man behind the EJD Documentary which ran down the importance of Ed Dougherty and his place in the history of Northwest Rock, just posted this little clip.  A bit of Happening ’68, the post-Where The Action Is TV program hosted by Paul Revere and Mark Lindsay.  This clip keys on the semi-finals of a round of their Battle of the Bands, won by Salem, Oregon’s Morning Reign.

Chicago’s Filligar (pronounced fill-a-grrr) just keeps coming out with the good stuff.  Among my favorite mainstream bands (along with Rival Sons) bringing mainstream back to its former glory.  Check out their latest album, Hexagon, and watch this video of new music to come.


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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