Frank Gutch Jr: While Most of Us Talk, Some of Us Do— Grass-Tops Recording; Record Store Day Goodies; Media and Politics— The Hot Topics Are Nothing New; Plus Them Incredible, Edible Notes

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Don’t look now, kiddies, but in spite of all the mumblings and grumblings of a plethora of naysayers, the music industry is reinventing itself.  Not at the top, of course, where one (Universal) or two (are any others left?) keep eating the detritus remaining from the Great Music Holocaust of the late-90s and early-2000s.  Rather than change the model, executives at the various major labels would rather go down with the ship, hopefully while clutching that pot of gold in the form of those golden parachutes being handed out by corporations which claim to lose money but which seem to be able to find millions enough to buy out contracts of those leaving the fold. (How do you spell bribery these days?)  They hang on, but not because they are competent.

They hang on because they control not just the music but the media.  They hang on because they are not a company but one arm of a mighty corporation owned by Nestle or Monsanto or any of the monsters we have allowed to grow until they are big enough to eat us all.  Mostly, though, they hang on because they are what we, as a whole, know.  I keep telling people that it won’t be that way forever, just as The Beatles will not always be the end-all of modern music.  Those of us who grew up with the music industry in its infant stages and The Beatles constantly in the background will eventually die and with that so will The Past.  If that was not the course of nature, we would all still be listening to Beethoven and Bach and… what was that other guy’s name?  Surely all of what we will have after won’t be groundbreaking or new, but does it matter?  It will be music and it will be absorbed and there will be enthusiasts (now known as “fans”).

What form will it take?  Possibly not one, but many.  Not all of them will be financially viable, at least not in terms of what we have been used to.  Not all will be successful, either.  But they will be and to be is to do and to do is to be and dooby-dooby-doo as Sinatra once sang or said.

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There have been a handful of labels rising from the ashes of the phoenix.  Bloodshot and Yep Roc come to mind— both built on a foundation of independent alt bands.  New West has built a reputation on the basis of eclectic taste, having among their artists albums by Stephen Bruton and Vic Chesnutt to accompany their newer acts (Giant Sand, Young Rebel Set, The Deslondes, to name only a few).  Tom Dyer up in Seattle reactivated Green Monkey Records, a label dedicated to old and new alike, having reissued numerous albums by the likes of The Green Pajamas, The Life and The Icons and having issued albums by Gary Minkler, Jim of Seattle, and The OF.  Labels are popping up everywhere, it seems, but few hold the values of Grass-Tops Records.

I am sure Fosburgh thought a lot about this before putting the plan into action.  Finding the music of Robbie Basho undoubtedly was the moment of truth, but the music was there already.  He is too young to have lived through “the revolution” of acoustic music, but when you’re in tune, you are in tune whether you know it or not.  From Basho, it has been a trail backward, an intense search for the cult of acoustic steel string guitar, and he is doing his job well.  Grass-Tops has re-released not only albums by Basho, but by other little known but excellent artists like Alan ‘Blind Owl’ Wilson (yes, the same harmonica player who bolstered Canned Heat) and  Dennis Taylor, with more to come.  For the new, well, it has mostly revolved around Fosburgh and fellow conspirators Christoph Bruhn and Hayden Pedigo (who just this past week went off and got married, by golly), with a side trip dedicated to travel courtesy of Mariano Rodriguez (Praise the Road, which has garnered praise from The Aquarium Drunkard, among others).  Not much, you say?  Hell, they’ve just started!

(An aside)…  Lest you think that the Al Wilson release is an actual album, it is not.  But,seriously, dig this, stolen from the Grass-Tops website:

alan_wilson_harmonica_lesson-232x232This is a complete (uncut) recording of a harmonica lesson given by the legendary blues musician, Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson, who would go on to experience international fame through his work with the 60s blues/boogie band Canned Heat.

This recording was made in order that Al’s student could take the tape home and play back certain sections for reference. The name of the student in the recording and the exact year the lesson took place are unknown.

Our research suggests that this recording is highly likely to have been made in 1964, while Al was still living in the Boston area and before he founded Canned Heat with his friend and fellow record collector, Bob Hite.

As stated in the video above, this label is about the music and the musician.  In other words, Fosburgh and cohorts basically took the major label paradigm and turned it on its ear.  Idealistic?  Absolutely, but many solid foundations have been built on idealism.  Again, kyped from Grass-Tops:

We believe that all artists should maintain the rights to their own music, not the record companies. All artists who release under our label maintain all rights to their own work after the initial run (CD, vinyl, etc.) of a release sells out. This assures the artist that they will not be left unable to re-issue an album once it is out-of-print.

We (the record company) are also protected in that, for a period of two/three years (or whatever we negotiate), an artist who publishes with us cannot publish the same material with another label. For that two/three year period only, Grass-Tops retains exclusive publishing rights. After the set period, all rights default back to the artist. This protects us, but frees the musician. Music comes from the soul — record companies should be set up for reasonable profit, while respecting the artist and their craft.

Grass-Tops Recording is not about fitting a certain image or criteria within the industry. We are about featuring the best artists from both past and present, wherever they may be found, and drawing attention to the importance of artistic craft in an increasingly distressing and fast moving industry / world.

Say what you will about the old days, but there have been very few willing to make the deep commitment to the artist and the music.  Indeed, the major labels have gone out of their way to develop legal precedents to screw the artist so that they, the major label, can exploit and profit from the music.  Can I hear you say “digital streaming?”  Those screams you hear from the halls of justice are the labels claiming that they own the rights to music in perpetuity.  That they own the rights at least to music they have released prior to 1972.  They they and only they should be licensed to collect monies beyond mechanical royalties and fuck the artist who wants to see the books.  You will never convince me that Ahmet Ertegun and David Geffen and Clive Davis and all of the other “heads of state” have always been for the artist and musician.  The legend says yes for some, but the reality says no.  Not always and in most cases, not at all.  It is a business, after all.

We won’t know how this idealistic stance will play over the next few years until they are past (to a few these will be the mystical days of future passed), but we can hope.  I, for one, believe these guys can do it— that they can avoid the inevitable pitfalls of other idealistic artists and entrepreneurs.  A part of it will be in their choices of the artists with whom they do business, but most of it will be in their hearts.  Life can make you tired sometimes, tired of the constant buffeting of reality, against having to defend your ideals, tired of watching the world run amok.  I assume that during those trying times, they will pick up their guitars.  I wish them luck and good will.  You can access their website here and their music here.  I heartily recommend that you do.

Record Store Day— Even I Want a Few of These…

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Just checked in with Terry Currier at Portland’s Music Millennium about the special limited edition titles being released on Record Store Day (That would be the 18th of April for those of you calendar-deficient).  Now, I admit to not knowing a hell of a lot about what’s going on in the biz these days, but I have to scratch my head.  Are these titles being released specifically for RSD, or are labels tossing in oddities just to pad the catalog?  I thought so at first, but zeroing in on a few has changed my mind.  Here are some collectibles worth it for the music alone:

animalsweregonnahowlThe Animals/We’re Gonna Howl Tonight LP…  If you aren’t pumped for this one, you don’t know much about the early period of The Animals.  When they first hit the states, I was steamrolled by their powerful R&B base.  Songs like Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood and Boom Boom totally floored me.  This one contains live tracks compiled from performances in  1964.  In mono, no less.

Courtney Barnett/Brand New Song b/w Close Watch 12”…  If you haven’t plugged into this lady’s music, you’re behind!  I’m hoping her new album (Is it really titled Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit?) is going to break out nationally here in the States.  She has a certain pop genius about her.  Like on this song:

Whew!  She’s Australian, you know (Notice the accent?), and doesn’t play your grandmother’s music (Unless your grandmother is ultra-cool).  The B-side to the 12”. by the way, is only available through this release.

baseballprojectminus5The Baseball Project (and) The Minus Five/Redeyed in Austin EP…  I don’t care if you like Scott McCaughey or not!  It’s baseball season!  Scott used to sit in the bleachers with us (along with the other Young Fresh Fellows) at Everett Giants games back in the early 80s.  Three tracks each by the two bands.  Limited Edition.  Red swirl vinyl.  About what I have learned to expect from the fine people at Yep Roc Records.

Blitzen Trapper/Harvest…  Hey!  These guys are Pac NW!  They play N. Young’s entire Harvest album live at Portland, Oregon’s Doug Fir Lounge.  Where I saw Denmark’s Alcoholic Faith Mission.  Wouldn’t buy this (I’ve heard enough N. Young for two lifetimes), but if they should ever cover any album by AFM, I’m in!

Neko Case/Fox Confessor Brings the Flood LP…  I’ve been looking for a copy of this long out-of-print album.  Thus far, my favorite album by Ms. Case.  On red vinyl.

Dandy Warhols/Rule OK LP…  What can I say?  Never available on vinyl, to my knowledge, at least in the States.  1995 recording, albums hand-numbered (2000 in quantity), gatefold cover— two 12” LPs pressed on audiophile quality colored vinyl.

Gwar/America Must Be Destroyed LP…  On two 12” 45 RPM discs and with pop-up art?  I think it’s pretty cool (and if you don’t you have no sense of humor).

Plenty more, too.  But they also have a bunch of what they are calling “regional focus” releases.  My guess is that they are available only in the areas the artists call home?  That’s a guess.  Check these out, though:

bettercallsaulJunior Brown/Better Call Saul Theme 7”…  Better Call Saul fans will be all over this one.  It’s a limited run, of course, and I would guess that the region will be that surrounding New Mexico, being’s how that is where the program is filmed.  Perfect, too, because Junior is from that area.

Alex Chilton/Jesus Christ 7” EP…  Produced by Jon Tiven, three tracks which evidently appeared on Chilton’s Bach’s Bottom LP.  I’m assuming that this one will be available in areas surrounding Memphis.

Bee Gees and pop music fans will freak when they find out that popmeister Emitt Rhodes and buddy Chris Price cover two BGs tracks on this colored vinyl 7” release.  Rhodes does How Can You Mend a Broken Heart and on the flip Price does Please Read Me.  While I would rather have some original music from Rhodes, I know it will make an impact.  Southern Cal, maybe?

The Shoes/Primal Vinyl LP  Being a lifetime Shoes fan, I might have to travel to Chicago to pick up one of the limited run on this puppy.  Includes an unreleased live track and a few others which are making their appearance on vinyl for the first time.

Various – The Ork Complete Singles Box Set (7”)…  I used to have a few Ork singles in my collection by Television, Richard Hell, Alex Chilton and Chris Stamey & the dBs.  I have never even seen the others in this collection.  Definitely for the collector.

These are just a few handpicked items which struck my fancy.  Just scratching the surface.

Where Is Edward R. Murrow When You Need Him?

murrowI’m talking politics and as much as I hate it, politics controls all.  True, at this late point in the game, money controls politics— well, it’s more obvious these days— so I guess you could boil it down to money.  Sure.  Why not?  Thing is, it has happened before.  We got lucky the first time— the first time to my recollection, anyway.  As fast as things are these days, we might not be that lucky this time around.

What am I talking about?  Why, the slow destruction of our country and planet by the psychopaths to whom we have given power.  By Ted Cruz and Lars Larsen and Paul Ryan and John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and so many more.  Why do I refer to them as psychopaths?  Isn’t it obvious?

But this is, as Yogi Berra once said, nothing more than deja vu all over again.  The big difference is that we have a media controlled by the aforementioned money and while John Stewart and his ilk are trying to stem the madness, money may have the upper hand.  Could the right wing have gotten away with fracking, selling natural resources to foreign entities, allowing wholesale killing of animals necessary for life to continue (bees) and continuing down the path of environmental disaster (climate change) back in the 50s?  Not then, thanks to an American attachment to truth and a handful of people, Murrow included, who fought the good fight.

That fight was Murrow’s legacy in a microcosm.  But not his alone.  Many people aligned themselves with Murrow— Howard K. Smith, Fred Friendly, Don Hollenbeck, Eric Sevareid and a whole host of newsmen who would become known as “Murrow’s Boys.”  They battled— oh, how they battled— and while I knew something was going on, I couldn’t really grasp the details until later.  All I knew was that Murrow and the boys were attempting to do good and that there were evil forces in the world against them— or maybe it was them against evil.  I don’t know why I knew it.  I just did.

I remember the Joseph McCarthy broadcasts wherein Murrow, allowing the Senator to hang himself with his own words, used just a few of his own to drive the nails into McCarthy’s coffin.  I remember the CBS Reports “Harvest of Shame” broadcast many years later and I remember feeling a connection to him and his fellow broadcasters.  True, part of that connection may have been that during most of those years, we only got two channels and watched CBS News exclusively.  But there was something else there which made me take sides at certain times.  It wasn’t until the other night that I took the time to scan my volumes of Murrow and Murrow-related tomes and articles and saw what it was.  It was truth.  And it was, back then, not all that different from today.

For one thing, the conservatives then were on a tear.  Communism, you see, was on a quest to conquer the world and there was at least one Commie i-led-three-lives-1-sizedaround every corner and probably thousands.  Those crazy Commie bastards were out to get us upstanding Americans, wonderful as we were, by any means necessary.  I knew they were bad— enemies, in fact.  They straight up told us so (I Led Three Lives used the communist menace as its sole plot).  But in all the telling, things didn’t seem quite right.  Maybe it was their total insistence.  Maybe it was the language they used.  Maybe it was the people they “chose” to tell us.  I mean, McCarthy was not the most well-spoken individual nor was he particularly friendly looking in any way I could fathom.  And it wasn’t just McCarthy.  The country was full of passionate idiots back then just as it is now.  When I close my eyes, the pure ugly, inside and out, of people like Ted Cruz and John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan scare me because they are empty, hateful and, as far as I can see, beyond redemption.  They could care less if the world collapsed tomorrow as long as it helped make their points.

Here’s the thing, though.  As I leafed through the Murrow books, I began to see a pattern.  We are living the 50s all over again and not realizing it.  Well, I lived it, young as I was, and just a few days ago saw the corellation.  The same issues.  The same bigotry.  The same hatred.

“Harvest of Shame” is not the only news documentary (I guess we can call it that now) which strikes to the heart of America’s shame.  The following broadcasts also struck (and are striking) home— See It Now: The Case of Milo Radulovich (in which Radulovich was fired from the Armed Services because his father and sister were accused of having Communist leanings);  Murder and the Right to Bear Arms (a stand against the NRA— that should sound familiar);  The Business of Health (a look behind the health care system, including its practices regarding patients— aha!  Another topic of today!);  and Murrow and crew even took on pesticide manufacturers in a broadcast on The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson (Getting this?  Monsanto all over again, or should I say before the fact?).

Want to see something really horrific?  Watch this!

Maybe things were not as different as I would like to think, but as my dad would have said, “There is something bad wrong going on here.”  He only said it when things were definitely going south.  He would be saying it now, if he was alive.  Unlike most of the media.

But enough of that.  I also spent a bit of time scouring the Net for good music Notesvideos, which I shall present as…..

Notes…  The more I hear Jeff Ellis, the more I like him, and I’m doing it backwards.  Here is a song from 2009— a look at the West Virginia few of us see outside of the mountaintop mining and tourism vids.  Ol’ Jeff kinda hits the right notes in this one:

I have never really been a fan of Linda Ronstadt on the whole (chalk that up to years in retail music having to listen to her all the time) but there is one song which completely overwhelms me.  On it, Ronstadt sings harmony with The Seldom Scene, one of the top vocal bluegrass bands of all time, and what a job she does.  This is what harmonies are meant to be.

The other day, a few friends of mine were discussing their favorite song by Steve Young (and again, NOT the football player!).  Of the ones Steve did not write, it was a tossup for me— Utah Phillips’ Rock Salt & Nails and Terrye Newkirk’s My Oklahoma.  I don’t really know why, but Steve owns those songs.  If they didn’t have such lousy politics, I might even like the State just for this song.

Hmmmm.  This seems to be boiling down to States.  Okay.  Here is a song I’ve loved for years— Montana Song by David Ackles.  Ackles suffered from genre (meaning radio refused to play his stuff) until FM Underground came along and revived his music for a short time.  Montana Song I used to liken to Aaron Copland, had he been born a generation later.  The arrangement is impressive, indeed.  Full orchestral magic.

I remember when no one really cared about Oregon and its bands.  Those days are long gone.  We’re loaded these days— including a band that has a new album out— The Alialujah Choir.  They got harmony!  Good stuff!

Sacri Cuori, a band signed by Glitterbeat Records, will be making waves with their new album, Delone.  Catch this spaghetti western-style title track.  Listening to this, I can almost see Jason Robards Jr. in that dusty trenchcoat and crusty beard, lighting that cigar.  Fistful of cool.

=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.”

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