Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Almost Spring! Let Us Celebrate With a New Alcoholic Faith Mission Album and Baseball!!! Plus Notes…..

frank-pic1

Yep.  Denmark’s Alcoholic Faith Mission is releasing a new album, their first in three years, and it’s a beaut.  This column, in fact, originally started as a tribute to the band and its run but, as usual, life got in the way (my brain stopped functioning) and I promise a future column will go into the band’s history as well as numerous videos they have produced over the years.

Not much has come out of Denmark, rock-wise, over the years.  Let’s see, there was Kim Larsen & Jungledreams in the eighties and before that there was Larsen’s earlier band Gasolin, but I struggled to name or even to find on the Internet a band of note calling Denmark home.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t any, rather that the US is a pompous country full of its own self-worth which prides itself on ignoring music and musicians on an international scale.

The new album, titled Orbitor, leans heavier toward synthpop this time around.  It will be available on vinyl and CD (I tried to talk them into putting out an 8-track, but they shot it down right off the bat).  Album hits the street February 20th.  (Link here)  Watch for it and check in for the full lowdown on the band and whatever dirt I can find out about it.  In the meantime, feed on this:

By the way, if you want to see the band as I saw them on May 11th of 2012, I was at this show.  It doesn’t do them justice (the sound isn’t the best).  They were outstanding!

I’m Cheating Here…..

The truth is, I plain ran out of gas again— well, energy, anyway.  Not a lick of creative juice left in the old frame.  So I figured what the hell?  It’s getting close to baseball season and I actually have two pieces I had written in the past archived, so why not?  The second involves music, the first does not.  So without further ado, batter up!

ROD OSTER & THE HOUSE THAT FAITH BUILT (The Real Field of Dreams)…..

I am from Oregon.  I grew up with the best sports page in the world, that of The Oregonian newspaper, and as a result had an early schooling in baseball, which at that time spanned numerous leagues and organizations.  The paper covered them all as best they could.  I tell people that when the Portland Beavers of the Pacific Coast League traded Sudden Sam McDowell to the Cleveland Indians, we thought it really was a trade.  The Beavers, as far as us kids knew, were the Pros.

Baseball was everywhere in those days.  There were town teams and mill teams and business leagues.  There were minor leagues and college and high school leagues.  There were barnstormers and I can even remember people walking to the ball field to watch a pickup game or two.

My father talked a lot about baseball.  He had seen Satchel Paige pitch with one of his many barnstorming teams once in Omaha.  He coached and played in the Midnight Sun League during WWII when he was stationed in Alaska.  He loved the game.  One team he mentioned a lot was The House of David.  Dad looked upon them not just as baseball players but as entertainers.  When you saw them play, Dad would say, the final score didn’t matter.  What mattered was that you had been entertained.

One day, while doing some research for an article I wanted to write about the Silverton Red Sox and the semi-pro State League in Oregon, someone told me I should go beyond the books and papers and talk with some of the players,  After asking around, I tracked down Johnny Pesky and did a short phone interview with him just before he retired from the Boston Red Sox organization.  Unfortunately, I lost that interview, possibly during one of my many moves.  I do still have an interview I did with one Rod Oster, who I found out had played not only with Silverton, but with the House of David.  This article came out of that interview.

They were the House of David. They had long hair and beards when it was considered an aberration. They belonged to a religion little known and even less understood. They were one of the premier barnstorming baseball teams of pre-WWII. On occasion, especially in later years, they invited outsiders to join— not their religion, but their team— and provided Silverton, Oregon’s Rod Oster his very own field of dreams.

longjohntuckerFirst baseman John Tucker was one of their drawing cards. Oster, who played with the House of David the summer of 1941, remembers him well. “He had an illegal first base mitt,” he said, “about yay long,” showing with his hands an extension a good eight inches beyond the norm. “You’d throw someone out and he would flip his arms around (he had looong arms) and catch the ball on the wrong side or between his legs. He was fun to watch.”

Especially during the pepper game, Oster remembered, for which the team was famous. Once a game, between innings, Tucker, Andy Anderson and Doc Talley became a blur of arms, legs and mitts, doing on the field what the Harlem Globetrotters do on a basketball court. A lot of the fans considered that alone worth the price of admission. Oster sat through many pepper games and claims to have enjoyed each and every one thoroughly.

Oster had started that summer playing semi-pro baseball with Valsetz, a semi-pro club sponsored by a lumber company. His job at the local sawmill was contingent upon him making the team, but that had been no problem. One day early in the season, after a game against the Albany Oaks, he was approached by a representative of the House of David. Chick Hauser, an Oregon boy then catching for the Davids, suggested they take a look at Oster who he remembered from his days with the Silverton Red Sox. They did, liked what they saw and asked him to sign. The pay was $160 a month to just play ball (no mill work included) and he jumped at the chance. “In 1941,” he allowed, “$160 was a lot of money.” Plenty, in fact. He signed.

He joined the team in Tacoma, Washington. Hauser immediately introduced him to Tucker, who took one look at the crew-cut and the clean-shaven face and said, “Well, kid, looks like you’re going to have to let everything grow.” That was one stipulation, Oster explained. You had to grow hair and a beard.

The hair grew and Oster was off on a fantasy summer. He found the Davids an unorthodox group, especially Tucker, Anderson and Talley, the three who belonged to the religion.

They traveled first class. They drove from town to town in three brand new Buicks and ate at the best restaurants. While the hired members of the team could eat foods of their choice, Tucker and his cohorts invariably ordered eggs. “Those guys ate eggs every way they could be prepared,” chuckled Oster. “Hard-boiled, fried, scrambled, poached— you name it.”

houseofdavidteam

“People sometimes ask me about this cult business,” said Oster. “Well, there was nothing like that with them. None of them had money. They worked!”

The team itself kept only what they needed while on the road. “Every third or fourth day, one of the Davids would wire money back to Benton Harbor. There was evidently no use them carrying, I don’t know, hundreds of dollars or whatever it was.”

The subjects of the House of David gave all of their worldly possessions to a common treasury controlled by the commune at Benton Harbor, Michigan. They swore not to eat meat, to practice celibacy and to live according to an “apostolic” plan laid forth by their founder, one Benjamin F. Purnell. In return, they were promised immortality.

According to Oster, “they had farms and in Benton Harbor, they had a big hotel. They all had jobs. And if they needed a pair of shoes or clothes, they would just go down and get them. It was a lot like the Army.”

There were thirteen on the team at any given time, a number that required any player to be ready to pitch at a moment’s notice. Certain days, they would play a double-header in the afternoon and drive 50 miles to an evening game a few towns away. The brutal schedule made roster changes common.

As an example, before a game in Reno, Chick Hauser came to the park with a girl on his arm. He’d been drinking and tried to tell Tucker he was quitting. Tucker told him to come back in the morning to talk it over. “He came down the next morning,” Oster remembered, “and he still had that gal on his arm, so we left him right there.”

He smiled wide when he mentioned the Kansas City Monarchs. While with the Davids, Oster played against them a good 50 times. The two teams shared a booking agent, so the scheduling was natural.

satchelpaigeAlong with the colorful banter, the singing and carryings on of the Monarchs, Oster remembered the great Satchel Paige. “When I faced him in ’41, he was still a young man and had to be throwing into the 90’s. Sometimes, you’d just turn to the ump and say, ‘Sounded a little high, didn’t it?'” Oster claims to have hit Paige’s pitches every once in awhile, explaining that once in awhile against Paige was an accomplishment.

 Every season ends, and when the summer of 1941 ended, Oster returned to Silverton. In February of 1942, he joined the Aviation Engineers and spent the duration of WWII building airfields in Europe. When he was released in 1945, he joined a reactivated Silverton Red Sox team and played with them until they folded in 1954.

When I talked with Rod Oster, few people asked about the House of David. They had faded into the nonessential past, dwarfed by wars and disasters and the struggles of everyday life. To the kid shortstop who lived that dream of a summer, the House of David lived as they lived on and between the fields of 1941. To him, those were truly the fields of dreams.

BIGOTRY AND BASEBALL: From the Mouth of John Rocker (and the Musical Mind of Keith Morris)…..

John Rocker?  Who the hell was John Rocker?  I had just finished listening to an album by Charlottesville’s Keith Morris, an album which contained a song about baseball— Cross-eyed John.  I emailed Keith right away.  Who is this Cross-eyed John guy, I asked.  John Rocker, he said.  You don’t know about John Rocker?  I said I didn’t.  Keith started telling me and as he talked, both the happening and the song came into focus.  Yeah, I heard about some guy who was benched for being a bigot.  He was the guy?  Yep, Keith said.  That was him.  And that is who the song is about.  I listened again.  I laughed.  Yeah, now it made sense.  So I wrote this piece.  Keith Morris, for those who don’t know, is one of the funniest and most creative people I know.  He fronts a band called The Crooked Numbers out of Charlottesville and writes some of the damnedest songs I’ve heard.  Of course, I had to ask him about some of them to find out what they were about.  Just like I did for Cross-eyed John.  No one ever told me writing about music was supposed to be easy.

KEITH MORRIS:  Out of Left Field…..

keithmorriscrookednumbers

Jay-sus! Here we go again. Every summer, with the heat and onslaught of baseball we get blasted with John Fogerty’s supposed classic homage to the game, Centerfield. Nothing against Mr. Fogerty, who in all probability wrote the song with a semblance of heartfelt sincerity, but if that is the best we can do, let’s kill baseball. Hell, let’s kill rock music while we’re at it and throw in classical and reggae, to boot.

You see, you want to glorify the game or a player in the game these days, you need to go for the throat (or the crotch for those more into the violent permutations of the real world). You want a real baseball song, go for Cross-Eyed John. A literate look at baseball-as-life rather than the major league sanctioned baseball-as-Hollywood, it is no Centerfield and certainly no Take Me Out to the Ball Game. It is Taxi Driver to MLB’s Peter Pan and it kicks Centerfield’s ass.

When Keith Morris sat down to write Cross-Eyed John, it was tribute, though doubtful the kind of tribute the game sanctions. “It’s about race,” Morris says. “It’s about celebrating the Negro Leagues.” Play the song for Bud Selig and more than likely he would disagree (though being the diplomat he supposedly is, he would not admit it). Morris doesn’t care. The song had to be written.

“It started out as Appalachian gospel,” he related, “based as it was on an old Appalachian gospel song. I was watching snake-handling videos and got way into them and went for that ‘trance’ feeling.”

Okay…..

“The song makes sense on a number of different levels,” he went on. “it’s not about baseball (ed. note: WHAT?) but about people who are fucked in the head and backwards (ed. note: Ah, so it is about baseball…). But it is about something that really happened in baseball.”

Okay, now I’m confused.

“It’s about John Rocker, who insulted all sorts of minorities in an article in Sports Illustrated. In fact, ‘Mr. Schuerholz’ is a reference to the John Shuerholz who was general manager of the Atlanta Braves who had to deal with that ridiculous situation. Rocker was such a cartoon of a person anyway that you couldn’t take a stand on that situation without looking ridiculous yourself.

“The Rocker thing was a good jumping-off point to address race and how it is still a problem. Not just in the South, but certainly in the South. It’s stupid at this point, but it is still present, so I contrasted the Rocker nonsense with the Negro Leagues at the end of the song. You have this great story of the Negro Leagues and the great people who were involved with it back then. When I started reading about it, I found this whole world which was incredibly triumphant in the face of all sorts of oppression. THAT is the story, man. THAT is the story that we as a culture should have gotten— the triumph over our ignorance and hatred— but we’re such a stupid culture, we never seem to really get it.”

john-rockerIndeed, we don’t. But Morris did. The song is track two on an album (Songs from Candyapolis) which has nothing else whatsoever to do with the game. Musically, it is a gem, feeding from the trough of Leon Russell (Morris claims he has never heard Russell) and feeling church-born-and-raised. “I said, he ain’ got a brain, oh no no/He ain’t got no brain…” it begins and Morris is off and running through the elysian fields, strewing wildflowers everywhere. No slow motion fantasy run here. It’s a shot from the Needle of Truth.

Selig and his horde of corpulent corporate heads will not worry their heads about it. They have legal departments and PR people to handle the flack (already we are forgetting the steroid mess thanks partially to the sleight of head of those ‘experts’) and have bigger and better fish to fry. And they’re frying them, Centerfield blasting away in the background. Morris, in the meantime, will be frying up fish of his own (probably in a Weber) and is currently working on putting together a second album. He says he has written enough for four and, no, there are no plans for sports-related cross-promotion. The major leagues have a thousand rebuttals to every Cross-Eyed John and Morris can barely afford the fish he’s frying.

In the meantime, we might as well all resign ourselves to another long, hot summer of Centerfield blasting away between short shots of the theme from Jeopardy. While it is doubtful that Morris will be there, if he is, he will be the guy in the Homestead Grays baseball jersey. The pretty lady to his side, wearing Kansas City Monarchs gear, will be Jennifer, his wife. She’s the real hero here. She has to live with the guy, although dollars to donuts she doesn’t have to hear Centerfield. Well, not all the time.

Since this article was written, Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers have added a new album to their repertoire, Love Wounds & Mars, which makes no reference to baseball— or John Rocker— whatsoever.  Keith still has that Homestead Grays jersey, though, and Jennifer that Kansas City Monarchs jacket.  Of course, Rocker didn’t play for those teams.  Probably wouldn’t have been good enough anyway.

Which brings us to…..

Music NotesNotes…..  I knew it would happen sometime.  Down under’s Courtney Barnett time warps us back to the late sixties where this would have been an AM smash hit!  Rhythm, hook, lyrics… damn, I like this!  Album due out in Australia in March.  US distribution?  I hope so!  And maybe a tour?

It isn’t often I find new insight into music I have already heard and filed in my head, but music chronicler Jim Caligiuri down in Austin has me completely rethinking my take on James McMurtry.  It will take me a few weeks to assimilate the article/interview because it will also entail relistening to the McMurtry which has been collecting dust in my collection while I burned Rome, so to speak.  I knew McMurtry was good, I just didn’t know how good.  Just listen to these lyrics (and the music too).  I need a beer.  Wait, make that a short case.

Of all the bands I can think of, Canada’s Xprime makes mainstream rock worth hearing more than any other.  Here is a limited link to a track from their EP which will be released sometime this summer.  Click here and bop your head.  Do it twice.

If I could afford it, I would buy stock in this guy.  Carl Anderson.  New album to be released early April.  It’s Daytrotter, folks, so you know it’s good!

You young kids need to see films like this to fully understand that rock and roll was around before they called it rock and roll.  It also explains the various views of history.  Rosetta Tharpe has always had a presence in US music history, but mostly as a footnote.  Elsewhere, she was considered a treasure.  This documentary is an hour long, but is well worth the time.  Bookmark it if nothing else.  This, sports fans, is what is called “The Roots.”

Drummer Todd Marvin of Seattle’s Lavacado passes along information that the band has added a guitarist, one Tim Bethune to lighten vocalist Tal Goettling‘s load.  They are writing in preparation for more studio work.

Someone told me not long ago that Dylan was recording an album of Sinatra songs.  Don’t know why it took him this long.  He hasn’t done much since Highway 61, in my opinion, except for the occasional halfway-decent song.  Very occasional.  And while most of the old folk are so proud of living in the past, I am quite content to let them listen to the past.  Hey, I have an idea!  Why doesn’t everyone record an album of Sinatra?  I mean, as long as they don’t seem to care about doing anything original anymore, why not?!

=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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Almost Spring! Let Us Celebrate With a New Alcoholic Faith Mission Album and Baseball!!! Plus Notes…..”

  1. […] a handful of weeks ago.  If you like real baseball, you might want to check those out…  click here.  And even if you don’t, here is a video which give you an idea of what baseball once […]

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: