Frank Gutch Jr: Death Becomes Relevant (A Look at Musicians Who Passed Over in 2014)…..


People die.  I know they do.  But the closer I come to the end myself, I become more reluctant to admit it.  When I was young, death was funerals.  You knew someone had passed by the crowd of well-dressed people lining the streets in front if a funeral home or the long line of cars passing by with lights on.  Or the number of people at a church on a weekday afternoon.  Or the serpentine of gatherers at a viewing, which at moments seemed to be a national event (the two which directly come to mind involving President Kennedy and Rudolph Valentino).  At that young age, death was a ritual.  I came to hate rituals.


As I grew, my attitude changed, though not regarding rituals.  I became super-involved with music and death became life in its own odd way.  Rock bands used hearses to pack around equipment.  Musicians started to die in unexpected ways— Joplin, Morrison, Hendrix, Parsons, Bolin.  Les Harvey of Stone the Crows was one of the most notable, his being electrocution onstage.  Way too many, it seemed, were dying way too young.  And it changed music.  Is a band ever the same after a musician dies?  The Rolling Stones certainly weren’t after Brian Jones‘ death.  Keith Relf (Yardbirds, Renaissance) was reportedly putting Renaissance back together when he was electrocuted at his home in 1976.  Death was beginning to become music.  Or more correctly, the death of music.

The older I get, the more important death has become.  I have sat idly by while many a musician or someone involved with music has left us and with every death, music is diminished.  Thank the gods for the youth-infusion.  And I’m not talking Bieber or Cyrus.  There are, whether you believe it or not, young musicians of worth out there and they are filling the gaps.  But this is not about them.  This is about the ones we lost.

nevercrywolfBefore I delve into it though, I want to mention another artist who passed over.  Farley Mowat.  Writers are artists, are they not?  Craftsmen (and -women)?  Okay.  But when you master a craft, it is an art, and Mowat mastered his like few others.

You might know him for Never Cry Wolf, the Disney flick, but long before Disney and the film, it was a book.  And a damn good one.  I first crossed paths with him around ’72 after dating a girl named Debby.  Debby’s mother found that I had an interest in literature and, being’s how she was a school librarian (Marylhurst in Portland, Oregon, I believe), she began passing me slips of papers with names of authors I needed to read.  Mowat’s name was there along with Gene Fowler, Ben Hecht, Thorne Smith, H. Allen Smith and so many others I came to know and love.  All were unique, none more than Mowat.

Mowat, an environmentalist, wrote about many things but his best works involved nature.  I knew he was special the second I picked up People of the Deer and discovered the depth of truth.  He made a simple gesture which should have worked seem a disaster, which it probably was.  You see, Canada, in its bureaucratic wisdom, decided they needed to save the Unuit from themselves so the government, shall we say, changed their ways. They forbade certain practices and foods and substituted others in their stead, thereby causing problems unforeseen.  If you find it confusing, imagine the confusion of the natives.  No, I will not tell the story myself.  You should read it yourself.  (Click here)  That and Never Cry Wolf and The Siberians and A Whale For the Killing and Death of a People— The Ihalmiut and a long string of books Mowat-penned.  The last I read was And No Birds Sang, a book which confirmed to me the terror of war.

Farley Mowat was a national treasure of Canada.  His voice will be missed.  The following clip proves it.

I loved this man and I didn’t even know him.

On the music side of things, I have been taking notes all year and am stunned by the quantity and quality of musicians now gone.   Three legal-size pages, front and back, full of names.  Three legal-size black holes because none of us will see them again.  Some you may know but most have lived outside the mainstream.

Morells shake n pushLike Lou Whitney of The Morells.  I was working at Peaches in Seattle in 1982 and either George Romansic or Terry McGibbon, two of the classiest independent label salesmen I have ever met, dropped it in my lap.  It was roots when no one was really using the term— well, no one outside the record business.  The album was titled Shake and Push and was recorded live and, man, you could feel the vibrations even at low level.  It would take the band twenty years for the band to create another one.  I like to think that it was because they knew they could not top it.  It was that good.  Whitney played bass and produced the band.  Excellent job, Lou.  I’m still listening to it.  R.I.P.

Chris Ashford over at Wondercap Records is possibly the biggest Connie Smith fan I know.  He knows the influence Weldon Myrick had on country music.  Smith herself names Myrick responsible for the “Connie Smith sound”.  That was not the only sound for which Myrick was responsible.  The man’s name has been on numerous albums over the years.  A pedal steel player of the first magnitude.

arthur-guitar-boogie-smithArthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith is known to the old-timers as the creator of the late-forties hit Guitar Boogie, but most people today will remember him, if they do at all, for being the man behind Duelin’ Banjos.  Smith had a long and impressive career and only (to my knowledge) appeared on one movie soundtrack.  Go figure.  By the way, we went through lots of Smith’s oldies 45 of Guitar Boogie during my tenure at Peaches, but at that time people were looking for the flip, Under the Double Eagle.  I have no idea why.

Ever hear of Velma Smith?  I had heard the name but did not know who she was.  Seems that Chet Atkins found her in the early days of his career and used her in various recordings.  Yep.  Long before the womens movement, Velma was breaking ground in Nashville studios.  Way back when.  Want to know what you don’t?  Click here.

I knew Paul Goddard as the coke-bottle-lensed bass player with the Atlanta Rhythm Section.  I was into the band during their Decca years, not realizing that a handful of  years down the line, they would become huge.  The late seventies would have not been the same without ARS’s So Into You and Imaginary Lover.

blackwidow3Clive Beer-Jones of the UK band Black Widow has died.  He almost got me fired.  Way back in the mid-seventies, I helped open a Licorice Pizza record store in Pacific Beach, a “suburb” of San Diego.  Before leaving L.A. for the more southern land, I plucked Superior (the Pizza’s warehouse) dry, grabbing anything and everything I knew I could sell.  Among the two or three boxes of records were classics like Three Man Army and Three Man Army Two, Sweet Pain‘s Sweet Pain and two albums by Black Widow.  Though we had only five copies of the BW albums, I spent an entire day weaving together a cobweb out of yarn in a back corner of the store.  Our graphic artist, a talented artist named Debbie, cut out huge letters spelling out the band’s name and it was beautiful.  Bad thing was, the grand opening was a week after we opened and by that time, we had sold all five of the BW albums.  Wouldn’t you know it, that night the owner of the chain, Jim Greenwood, gravitated right to the back of the store, curious about the web.  When he asked about product, I had to tell him that the albums were out of print and that we had salvaged five copies from the warehouse.  I stood there while he schooled me in the basics of economics before he moved on.  I learned quickly that whatever could not sell product was not welcome in his stores.  I survived that night, but within a year I was called on the carpet and was let go.  I was a lousy manager, but if Clive Beer-Jones could have heard that story, I would bet that he would have backed me.  God knows why he put the “Beer” lead-in to his last name.  Those were weird times in music.

Larry Henley of The Newbeats died.  Remember Bread and Butter?  His was the high squeajy voice.  That  came out in ’64 and every station in the Willamette Valley played the living hell out of it.  My freshman year at the University of Oregon they released a song titled Run, Baby, Run which radio station KASH glommed onto and would not let go.  I must have heard that song a thousand times in a month period, but I liked it.  Hard to hate any station that sandwiched that between songs like James Brown‘s Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, Fontella Bass‘s Rescue Me and The Grass RootsMr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man).  It was killer radio back then.  Killer.

dickwagnerjohnnyhicks (1)It was not long after my good friend Johnny Hicks met the legendary guitarist Dick Wagner that Wagner died.  Hicks and I had years ago bonded over Ursa Major, one of Wagner’s more metal bands and I know that when he had this picture taken, Hicks was flying high.  One of the few who knew everything Wagner had ever recorded.  Hicks is the guy on the right.  Wagner’s the guy with the hat.  Doesn’t quite look the same without a guitar in his hands.  A resume to be proud of— The Frost, Ursa Major, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper…..

Speaking of Detroit (home of Dick Wagner), The StoogesScott Asheton passed away.  Detroit takes another hit.  Swear to God, if anyone ever puts together a comprehensive look at Detroit rock in the sixties and seventies, I will be the first to buy a ticket.  I never really got The Stooges, myself, but all of my friends did.  They had to have had something going for them.  Then again, all of my friends love The Clash too.  Hmm.  I think it’s a conspiracy.  Don’t know if Scott was playing here, but if he is, he’s the drummer.

Acker Bilk?  I know the man’s music well but had no idea he was still alive until they announced his death.  When I was a kid, Stranger On the Shore was one of those all-ages songs on which radio thrived.  Released at then end of what we then called MOR (Middle of the Road) and the takeover of what was becoming known as just plain rock.  Love the music or not, you have to admit that he had one hell of a name.

Was there any more of a weird ending than Casey Kasem‘s?  Maybe that of baseball’s Ted Williams…..

I was a huge fan of The Association back in the day and was shocked to see that guitarist/vocalist Larry Ramos has left this mortal coil.  I don’t think there were better AM songs in the sixties than Along Comes Mary, Windy, and Never My Love.  That band screamed hits.  In the video below, Larry is the dude on the left.

Man, Ray Kennedy is gone.  Kennedy is probably best known for co-writing Sail On, Sailor with Brian Wilson, a song I really loved until I heard KGB‘s version.  KGB was a band put together by Kennedy, Mike Bloomfield, and  Rick Grech (Family, Blind Faith) which put out two albums in the seventies.  What they really put out, though, was a singles version of Sail On, Sailor that I found much more to my liking than the Beach Boys‘, it having more soul and less AM power.  I know.  Brian Wilson is a sacred cow.  But that’s what I hear.  It is also interesting to note that Kennedy played in an L.A. group in the sixties calling themselves Group Therapy.  I used to get the KGO magazine and GT was all over that zine.

When I was in San Diego in the mid-seventies, The Crusaders ruled the roost.  They had hit records, got massive airplay and played the city on a fairly regular basis.  I shake my head, thinking about the long long life of that band and its ability to get people not really into jazz to listen.  I met him one time.  A very nice man.  Very nice.  That’s Joe Sample on the keyboards.  He was an outstanding player.

I picked up The Youngbloods‘ Grizzly Bear/Tears Are Falling 45 when it was released, thanks to a writeup in Billboard Magazine.  I was not disappointed. When the album was released, I hopped on it and became a dyed-in-the-wool Youngbloods fan.  My favorite over the years has been their Earth Music album, largely due to Jerry Corbitt‘s influence.  I truly believe that his best songs are on that album.  I rubbed metaphorical elbows with Jerry years later when he bought his first solo album from me.  Seems that he had been flooded out and lost his entire record collection.  No worries anymore.  Jerry has moved on.  I have been listening to Earth Music a lot lately.  Perfect dish washing music.  Man, the memories.

cosimomatassaWhenever I think of New Orleans, I think of Cosimo Matassa.  My good friend Joe Lee had bought me a book titled Walking To New Orleans (released in the States as Rhythm and Blues In New Orleans) which laid out a complicated history of the music which took over that city back in the early days of recording.  Matassa’s name was all over that book.  The guy had worked with Fats Domino, Dave Bartholomew, Lee Dorsey, Dr. John, Little Richard, Ray Charles and a raft of others.  His recording studio put out a long string of hits.  Even though he retired his studio back in the eighties, his presence was still felt in the region.  His death was an historical loss as well as a musical one.  Truly.  If you want to know more about the scene and the man, click here.  One of the best books on music I have ever read.

I got tickets to see Dickey Betts when he played the Santa Monica Auditorium decades ago.  J.J. Cale opened.  It was just J.J. Sitting in a rocking chair, a wide-brimmed hat covering his eyes.  He never looked up nor did he move away from the microphone which was placed on a short stand right in front of him.  Strange show but the music was good.  Especially when compared to Dickey, who was so drunk he kept slipping from his barstool.  Something about his birthday or something.  Let me just say that had Cale not been as good as he was, strange notwithstanding, I would have asked for my money back.  I give this guy credit for doing the best downer version of Goin’ Down I’ve ever heard.  And this sounds like heavy metal compared to what he sang that night.

I look at my list here and I have not even scratched the surface.  Let me give you a few links for people who passed on this year in case you want to do a little research.  Just click on the name.

Mike Mirro (Umphrey’s McGee)Saul Zaentz (Owner, Fantasy Records)— Graeme Goodall (co-founder, Island Records)—  Tom Skeeter (Owner, Sound City Studios)—  John Fry and John Hampton (Ardent Studios)—  Glenn Cornick (Jethro Tull)—  Franny Beecher (Bill Haley & His Comets)—  Nash the Slash—  Tim Hauser (Manhattan Transfer)—  Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons)—  Rick Rosas (CSNY, Joe Walsh, Neil Young, et al)—  Clive Palmer (The Incredible String Band)—  William Clarke (Third World)—  Chip Young (Nashville producer/guitarist)—  Tommy Gough (The Crests)—  Bob Montgomery (Songwriter)—  Dave Gregg (D.O.A.)—  Brian Goble (Subhumans, D.O.A., The Skulls)—  Mark Loomis (The Chocolate Watchband)—  Jean Redpath—  Manitas de Plata—  Raphael Ravenscroft (Played sax on Baker Street)—  Paul Craft Nashville songwriter)— Ernie Chataway (Judas Priest)—  Randy Coven (bass for Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen)—  Maria Kolokouri (Astarte)—  Tim Williams (Suicidal Tendencies)—  Gerry Goffin—  Jay Traynor (Jay & The Americans)—   Jerry LaCroix (Edgar Winter, BS&T, Rare Earth)—  Jim Keays (Master’s Apprentices)—  Joe Lala (Blues Image)—  John Spinks (The Outfield)—  Johnny Ray Allen (The Subdudes)—  Steven Fromholz—  Billy Rath (Johnny Thunder & The Heartbreakers)—  Alvin Stardust

My God!  What a task!  I will have to fill you in on the rest of these at a later time.  Deadline looms.  Plenty more.  It was a tough year.  We can be thankful that we had the musicians, though.  Some mighty fine musicians put to rest.  And they left us the music.  List continued next week.  Promise.  Take us out, Jimmy—


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.”

3 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Death Becomes Relevant (A Look at Musicians Who Passed Over in 2014)…..”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful tribute Frank, and the links that are included. #Old Records Never Die — Ian Hunter.

  2. […] I recently wrote a column about musicians who tripped off this mortal coil in 2014.  I thought it would be easy— or somewhat easy.  I had written a piece about musicians’ deaths in 2013 and it wasn’t all that hard.  I can only think I wasn’t paying much attention back then because I spent hours on the 2014 column, researching and organizing and writing, and the numbers alone were overwhelming.  I steered clear of many of the media-covered musicians, keying on the ones which had made an impact on me.  That was, of course, unfair, and this is an attempt to right that wrong.  So here is the continuation of the previous column, or an attempt to at least balance it to a degree.  This is Part Two.  You can read Part One here. […]

  3. […] I passed middle-age some time ago and with each passing second/minute/hour/day/week/month/decade it becomes moreso— a step toward an oblivion which is now obviously inevitable.  Death.  Finality.  The end, my friends…..  (click here to read last year’s incomplete but final count)… […]

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