Frank Gutch Jr: Bubbling Under in the Swinging Sixties; My Father and the War; Plus Notes

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Rock ‘n’ roll radio.  There was nothing like it.  It was fresh and exciting and exposed teens to a whole new world beyond their doorsteps.  If the fifties had cracked the egg, the sixties had spilled the eggs guts.  All over the place.  Humpty Dumpty magnified.  Omelet City.

Sweet Home OregonI started listening in the fifties, though the programming was limited, especially in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  Not only was the reception iffy (sitting in a little valley surrounded on three sides by mountain and hills did not help), the stations were limited.  Only a few had signals strong enough to fight their ways into tiny Sweet Home, where I grew up and most of those eschewed rock ‘n’ roll for the more lucrative programming of news and variety programming left over from the forties (which television was just beginning to co-opt) or the Country & Western and  middle-of-the-road programming which had been a favorite of loggers and farmers since long before I was born.  But on occasion a program— say, Barney Keep‘s rock show on KEX in Portland— would bleed through, if only for a few hours a day.

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Slowly, though, almost through osmosis, rock began coming on and then taking over.  True, we had to suffer through the occasional Lawrence Welk or Doris Day tune but they soon would be left behind for everything Pop, from the brash to the Hollywood smooth.

American Bandstand 2As grew the number of stations, so grew the genre, too.  While at first the stations pretty much played a national playlist following, say, an American Bandstand format, some stations began to break out of the mold.  The truth was that with each new station, the competition grew and the potential audience was limited at the start.  Add to that the fact that the recording industry was on its way to becoming a behemoth, record companies pressing 45s as fast as the pressing plants could accommodate, and modern music was all of a sudden a real force.  Teens and dispensable cash were the watchwords of the day.

My teen years would fluctuate when it came to radio, all depending upon availability of stations and their playlists.  It didn’t take me long to pick a favorite station based upon one song (I listened exclusively to KEX for a time because they were the only station in the area playing Jimmy Bowen‘s By the Light of the Silvery Moon, an upbeat rock version of the old standard).  It didn’t take long before disc jockeys began to be important (nothing worse than a voice not unlike that of Ben Stein introducing a new Gary U.S. Bonds track) and when the playlists began expanding, all hell broke loose.

Most stations stayed with the tried and true on the whole, but the competition eventually became so fierce that they looked for anything to separate them from the pack.  Some developed playlists, limiting their heavy rotation (those songs played most often) to twenty or thirty.  Some opted for 40.  Some opted for 50 and threw their nighttime broadcasts ti the winds, allowing the DJ to prlogram those gours themselves (those were few, but did exist).  Many went for games (“Make It or Break It,” wherein listeners voted to add or nix songs from the charts— “Name It and Claim It,” where listeners could win records), some involving large amounts of cash or prizes like trips or tickets to upcoming shows.  It, in effect, became a free-for-all, at least in the Willamette Valley, and it was fun to watch.

It was at this time that I discovered charts.  Some radio stations started putting their weekly playlists on paper, at first mimeographed and later worked into small pocket-sized fold-out listings of songs played and their rank.  I began grabbing any I could find (friends would even bring me those they found in other towns printed by stations outside our range) and would compare them— week-to-week and even station-to-station if I had the right ones.  I reveled in the “this week-last week” lists and looked closely at the “new” adds, usually toward the bottom.  The “picks” were mostly disappointing but occasionally a station would stick its neck out and pick an album outside the norm.

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Some, though, listed a few new but too-early-to-tell picks, and that was where my eyes went first.  This was the section which looked into the future.  This was the equivalent to Billboard Magazine‘s “Bubbling Under,”  I would find out later.  The songs listed here were, on the whole, hit or miss.  It opened up a whole new world.

Until then, records and the music thereon had been a somewhat limited world, a world controlled by the stations you heard and the record companies supplying them with records.  You didn’t start out thinking about what was beyond those, largely because there were already so many.  As the weeks flew by, you began to realize that there were so many more records and songs you weren’t hearing and that so many of them were fading into the past so quickly that you might never get the chance.

With college came the real breakthrough:  an introduction to Billboard.  This was the national bible of music for rock radio, I soon realized.  This was THE book.  Billboard, alongside Cashbox and Record World covered radio and records from different angles.  Billboard, though, became the industry standard.  I had never seen any of them until I ran into That Guy my sophomore year.  He subscribed to all three.  Every time I would stop by for a visit, he would take a break from studying to light up a pipe (tobacco, my friends), put on a record (he turned me on to the oddballs of rock music, from The Fugs and Pearls Before Swine to very early Simon & Garfunkel, Odetta, and John Fahey, among others), and, if it was already read, toss me the latest copy of Billboard or Record World or whatever music magazine he had which was newest.  I scoured and listened while he talked about music and its importance to society and, strangely enough, the economy.  He was convinced that radio was THE wave and that television would soon fade in popularity.  It may sound strange now, but he made a good argument, as faulty as it later turned out to be.

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I became enamored of the U.K. Charts, to which Billboard gave a few column inches.  A short listing of both known and unknown bands.  I remember seeing a track by Cream topping the charts and wondered what Wrapping Paper would sound like.  There was a new single from The Who titled Substitute.  That Dorm Guy found an ad through which I could order them from England and I did.  I thought Wrapping Paper was a joke and couldn’t imagine it being #1, but the flip, Cat’s Squirrel, knocked me out.  Substitute?  A total home run.

Sandie-Shaw-Theres-Always-Som-471962Now, you have to understand that back then records were not distributed worldwide nor did stores get them on the same day.  I had those 45s weeks or even a couple of months before the US saw them.  It was a crapshoot, of course, because radio was not playing many of the 45s I ordered, but it was fun.  I found groups like Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich and The Pretty Things long before the US ever had a chance to accept or ignore them.  I became a huge fan of Sounds Incorporated, though I played hell to find the album anywhere.  Small Faces and Sandie Shaw became solid favorites and although I wouldn’t hear Chris Farlowe until I bought the Colosseum Live album, I first heard of him on those charts.  What a glorious time it was.  Adventures in music.

So know that it should be no surprise that I became obsessed with Billboard‘s “Bubbling Under the Top 100.”  Basically, it listed the almost-rans and the future possibilities— fifteen or so of them.  Some would go on to become huge hits (mostly through radio flukes, disc jockeys having discovered that they were what the fans wanted, or through reissuing the single at a later time with proper promotion).  Most, though, were lost to the times, to become collectors items in the not too far future and super collectible today.  To be fair, many of the singles were hits in certain regions, and this is where the Willamette Valley comes in.  Being surrounded by radio stations in deep competition allowed program and music directors a bit more leeway than normal, so they dug deep.  I could list a number of songs I thought were huge hits because they got so much airplay on KGAL (Lebanon), KFLY (Corvallis), or KASH or KEED (Eugene) but never made the national charts.  Those were the ones I looked for.  Those were the songs closest to my heart.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the whole chart thing was how many songs most of us have never heard of (unless we were in a certain area where radio played them or we bought albums by those artists.  Check out this KISN chart.  The chart itself is pretty tame, but look at the “new” listings.  Half of them I have neither heard nor heard of, and I was a mere 90 miles down the road..

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I confess to stealing the following Bubbling Under chart from this page (click here), but do it for good reason.  This chart holds a few examples of hits in my world and probably in a few other places.  Music is a strange place.  Buck Ormsby of The Wailers once told me that The Sonics received airplay in Orlando, Jacksonville, and Boulder.  He had to mail LPs to the disc jockey so he could sell them to keep the songs on the station chart.  It may sound weird, but that is how cool radio used to be.

As for the actual Billboard Bubbling Under lists, I was awash in a handful of unknown artists every week.  Some I could order and did from Thompson’s Record Mart in Eugene, but only a few of them came through.  Years later, when I was on the hunt, I would come across a number of them in used record bins, none costing more than a dollar.  Artists and titles such as The Gants/(You Can’t Blow) Smoke Rings, The Woolies/Who Do You Love, The Road Runners/I’ll Make It Up to You, and The Great Scots/That’s My Girl (Rotten to the Core) and Don’t Want My Love.

Bubbling Under

In this list, four were smash radio hits in the Valley on at least one and, in a couple of cases, more stations.

Seriously, I cannot imagine radio at that time not playing those songs, but they didn’t.  Well, maybe in Chicago, the band’s territory.

Here is another intriguing aspect of charts.  Since I have never really been away from the radio and record scene for any appreciable amount of time, I was shocked to find that of all the radio memorabilia, the charts are the most collectible.  I know people who have drawers full of them.  To a man, they would not even let me copy them for information.  God knows why, but they seem to feel it would devalue their collection or something.  That’s what happens when music is turned over to fanatics.

My Father…..

dadalaska 001My father was a World War II vet.  He hardly ever talked about it, though.  He didn’t talk about anything he thought might upset us kids.  Neither politics nor money troubles nor his part in the War.  I only knew about it because there was a picture I would see now and again of Momma and dad with him in his uniform and because once a year he would break out the old footlocker he kept in his closet for airing.  When I was very young, I rifled through it, finding an old artillery shell (which I still have), a practice grenade, lots of small photos take in Alaska when he was stationed there— 3 X 2s I think they are.  Some were battle pictures taken on the island of either Kiska or Adak, though everyone tells me that there was no fighting on Adak.  Hell, Dad said he wasn’t anywhere near those islands, that when they moved his company out, he was guarding a train of gold from the mines being carted down to boats.  His Army buddy Harold Armstrong said different.  I would not be surprised if Dad didn’t say that to us just so we wouldn’t know.  He had nothing good to say about war.  He had little to say about The War.

He did talk about George the Greek, though, a guy so ugly that when he was a kid, his parents made him hide under the bed until company was gone.  I knew it wasn’t true and he made it sound like George was telling the story.  No matter how many times he told that story, we all would laugh.  Especially Dad.

One night when he was drinking, he told me about the kid who came in from the rifle range, laid his Browning Automatic Rifle down and killed a soldier at the end of the barracks.  He had evidently not had the safety on and it accidentally went off.  Two lives ended right there. About the time he and Harold and Buck Pilgrim took part in a game of Craps.  Dad got hot and couldn’t lose but he was drunk as hell and didn’t know it.  Harold said that Dad kept raking in the money and scraping in between his legs and Harold and Buck kept picking it up and stuffing it in their shirts.  When the game was over, they all stumbled home.  When Dad woke up the next morning, he looked around and just figured he had lost it all.  Until Harold and Buck dumped two shirts full of cash on his footlocker.

He almost went to the stockade for slugging a ninety day wonder.  The guy was giving Dad shit at the rifle range and tried to pull rank.  Dad told him he would take orders from him when he was on his rifle range and the guy said something and Dad knocked him cold.  The officer on the range, knowing he could do little else, had Dad taken to the stockade.  That afternoon, the commanding officer at Ladd Air Base was waiting for the baseball game to start and asked what the hangup was.  The officer told him that he had to put him under arrest.  The colonel, when he found out why, blew up and sent a couple of Mps to get Dad.  Dad was the coach and by the gods no one was going to interfere with his mens’ recreation.  Dad said he got busted but also got a lot of free beer out of it.

The picture you see here was taken before the US entered the war.  It was for a training booklet, supposedly showing enlisted men how to dress for cold weather combat.  I brought him home from the hospital— his last hospital visit, it turned out, and there was a package waiting for me.  It was a book titled The Forgotten War Volume III: A Pictorial History of World War II in Alaska and Northwestern Canada.  I said, hey Dad, look at this and opened the book to the first page and it was this picture of Dad.  He had had a stroke, you see, and was failing fast and he started crying.  I often wish I could have talked with him at that moment, but he had lost the ability to speak a few months prior.

Dad hated war.  So did I.  I just wish we could learn how to end them.

Which brings us to the infamous…..

NotesNotes…..  I should not have to repeat myself as much as I do.  None of us here at DBAWIS should.  We dig, we discover, we pass along so much good music you don’t know about and I figure the least you could do is take a listen now and again.  This is hard work, sports fans, and inasmuch as we do it fo the love of the music, we take a personal interest in the musicians and people behind the music too.  How hard could it be to take ten seconds to click on a video to hear or see whether you like an artist or not?  I would venture you take much more time to photograph your lunch for posting on Fakebook.  I mean, when I found Kip Boardman, I was stoked!  What are you waiting for?  More Led Zeppelin?  I roll my eyes back in my head.  THIS is the kind of music most of us are missing.  THIS is why I stick with music.  Ten seconds.  You don’t like, click on…..

Here’s another Canadian on the edge…  Petunia.

Must be that time of year.  Here comes Seattle’s The Of top knock our reggae woolie hat things off and ashow us what’s what.  Good stuff!

Never heard of Truls Morck until The Active Listener, who is a force and should be a major force among musical Facebookers, posted this.  I am freaking impressed!  If the whole album is this good, I have got to get it!

“…then there’s the money.”  Excellent lyrics from Mr. Terry Tufts in his protest song (yes, I said protest) Dirty Little War.  For those who miss the social consciousness of music, this is one of  too few (but still a good number).  For those who like good music, this fits for that too.  Tufts, for those who are unaware, has been doing the music thing for decades and has put out some damn fine music.  His heart is in the right place too.

My buddy Stan Twist calls The Green Pajamas Seattle’s finest band.  No doubt about it.  They have a track record that is impossible to beat.  Stanley used this to make his point.

If I want to make a point, I usually use this one.  It blows me away every time.

I don’t know whether to be elated or deflated.  Back around 2007 or so, a lady named Cydney Robinson released an album titled Spokesman for the Shoeless.  To say it impressed me would be a vast understatement.  Nothing really happened with it which was a great disappointment to me and I thought I would hear when new songs were being prepared.  Nothing.  I checked YouTube just tonight and I will be damned if she didn’t go off and record without telling me.  Here is a video for a song titled Run Like Hell from 2010.  A bit toned down from the Cydney I knew and loved, but good nonetheless.

And here she is, just last year.  Cydney, you done my heart wrong.  Who loves ya, baby?

No Depression magazine has decided that it is time once again to be a magazine.  They have kickstarted (are kickstarting, actually) the attempt and so nodepressionlogofar it looks like a success.  They are at 39 thou of a 40 thou goal.  This may just be the future of print.  Pre-selling.  There are still lots of people who love print and are willing to pay a premium to get their hands on the good stuff.  I pulled out some of my old issues of ND and thought back to the old days (somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago), going down to the Borders and Barnes & Noble (we had no news/magazine shops in my area, unfortunately, or I would have shopped there), scanning the racks for ND, Pop Culture Press, Ugly Things, etc. and even went back further to the days of going to the Music Millennium in Portland (it was about a 65-mile drive) to buy some import LPs and a copy of Zig Zag, my favorite music magazine of choice at the time.  Rolling Stone?  Haven’t read one since ’74.  Since they became more GQ than music.  Trouser Press?  When I could find them (they sold out very quickly).  BAM (Bay Area Music)?  Phonograph Record?  God, but I loved the days of the music press.  Anyway, should you be so intrigued, here is the link for the No Depression kickstarter link.  These guys covered everything from the latest out of England and the UK to boot-stomping country to Screaming Trees and their ilk.  Click here.

Many people from Charlottesville have told me that the Hogwaller Ramblers were a supergroup of pickers way back before I’d even heard of C-ville.  Needless to say, the musicians heard here have gone on to fame and fortune while keeping the music close to their vests.  Here’s a sneak listen of what it was like.  Some music just doesn’t get old.  Not like disco, anyway.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Wednesday

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.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Bubbling Under in the Swinging Sixties; My Father and the War; Plus Notes”

  1. Tap Ennud Says:

    Pretty amazing there are many of us to look back on this. 50th high school reunion this year, Wow!

  2. Where do you find the music??! Can’t help myself – love your writings!

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