Frank Gutch Jr: My Music Bubbleth Under
It should be no secret by now that when it comes to music I am drawn to the non-hits, the non-charters, and the obscure. Some of the most beloved music of my past have consisted of artists and songs only the most avant of the garde have treasured— the Little John & The Monks and the Cargoes and, until their fairly recent deification, the Big Stars. It started innocently enough— the placement of Jimmy Bowen‘s By the Light of the Silv’ry Moon on radio station KEX‘s Barney Keep‘s playlist, but it was enough.
The simple and basic rock ‘n’ roll arrangement of the standard classic won me over, as did Ernie Fields‘ rockin’ version of the Glenn Miller big band hit In the Mood, and I started listening closely for others of their ilk. The oddities, the parodies, the unknowns. Not only did it not stop, it went viral and the next thing I knew I was inundated in the “best of the worst” as one of my childhood friends used to say. I can hear him now. “Why do you listen to that crap? We have Elvis and Chuck Berry and Julius LaRosa.” (Okay, I threw that one in myself) “Why bother with the bad stuff?” The answer was basic— I loved the bad stuff. And I didn’t consider it bad!
While digging my way through a fascinating (for me) rundown of the oddities on a site called So Many Records, So Little Time, I caught the bug again. The guy could have been me, but he somehow has the luxury of more time to delve into his world (oh, how I miss the days spent in record stores and listening casually to music). That world is a compendium of the music which caught his ear and his imagination back when rock was just beginning to take shape and take off (meaning the beginning of major label domination). I had read and heard about many of the labels and artists he mentions, but they somehow had been pushed to the back of the mind into that closet which opens only after an epiphany, of sorts. Friend Joe Nick Patoski has been involved in not only a documentary about Doug Sahm, the artist known mainly as the frontman for The Sir Douglas Quintet, but is also involved in a movement to get Sahm admitted to whatever Hall of Fames will have him, the big one being in Cleveland. When I brought up the page for So Many Records, there was a piece on Sir Doug and his tidbits-not-hits. Boing! I knew the Quintet well. So I thought. Years of digging through record bins and collectors’ collections turned up only a few of what was available down south (meaning Texas).
Hall of Fame material, indeed. I only have one story about Sahm. It came via Sahm’s friend and fellow musician Tracy Nelson and cracks me up every time I read it. Lest we think Sahm was a saint, he was actually a boiling pot. From Tracy herself:
I can tell this story with impunity now that Doug (Sahm) is gone, God bless him. He had asked me to not tell this story (laughs) and you will understand why when I tell you. Travis Rivers was our manager from the beginning and all the way through to the end of the band. He was from Texas. I had met Ira Kamin through (I think) Steve Miller. Ira was the only member of the band who wasn’t from Texas— he was from Chicago. He and Powell St. John, who was also from Texas, and I had gotten together and were just throwing things around. You know, we liked the same kind of music. We were looking for a rhythm section. Ira played organ, Powell played mouth harp and I didn’t play anything outside of a little piano. Travis came up to us one day— Travis was managing the two of them at this point— I’m sorry. This is a little convoluted, but it gets linear at a point. Anyway, Travis came up to us and said, I found a perfect rhythm section. Our problem had been that we couldn’t find anybody who played blues or R&B. I mean, all of the musicians out there had just started playing, literally. Pigpen had gone from being a shoe salesman to playing piano. Everyone was just learning their craft and no one was particularly interested in playing R&B, nor did they have any history in that. But Travis said it was a really good funky R&B section from Texas and I said, great. Where’d you find them? And he said, well, it’s Doug Sahm‘s band. Doug, after Sir Douglas had done what it was going to do, had put together a band called, I think, The Funky Blues Band or something to that effect. It was an R&B band and he had brought them up to San Francisco for the same reason we were all there, which was to get discovered. I said, we can’t just take somebody else’s rhythm section. Isn’t Doug going to be pissed off? And Travis said, fuck ‘im. He just ran off with my wife. (laughs) We definitely got the better end of that deal.
Thus began Mother Earth. You see how incestuous music can be? I never would have pinpointed Sahm as the man behind Mother Earth, but you cannot deny history. By the way, if you are interested in reading about Nelson’s take on The Summer of Love (which it evidently was not), just click here.
So Many Records dove into a few Sir Doug tracks I had not heard (nor heard of, really) that I ended up reading the entire column (read it here). I even listened to a few tracks, one of which had this as a preface: Quickly released that September, no doubt in hopes of refueling interest after their huge debut, ‘In Time’ stiffed completely. Shame, just listen to it’s perfection. No other US band quite captured their flawless mixture of Texas and England, a recipe that should’ve easily worked. To my knowledge, only KNAC in Salt Lake City charted it for a week in October at #63. Otherwise, klunk.
From there, it was a short jump to The Move, the UK band noted for, I believe, smashing cars onstage. Why not? The Who were destroying guitars and drums, Hendrix was taking lighter fluid to guitars, so why not? I have no idea how long it lasted, but I do remember a picture of at least one of them on top of an old clunker, sledgehammer in hands. Okay, maybe it was a publicity stunt or another band or maybe I am delusional, but that’s the way I remember it. (Here is a link to So Many Records‘ page) And here is a bit of trivia you might not know. The band was sued over a promotional cartoon depicting Harold Wilson, then Prime Minister of the UK, in bed with his secretary, Marcia Williams. Williams sued and won and as the cartoon was part of the campaign for the band’s hit, Flowers In the Rain, all proceeds from the single went to charities of Williams’ choice.
The Bubbling Under section of Billboard Magazine was my introduction to records I had heretofore not been able to find except by fluke. I can thank That Dorm Guy back when I was in college— the guy who turned me on to Simon & Garfunkel before anyone had heard of them, Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs, very early Rolling Stones, Pentangle, and so many artists who later became standard. He was the only guy I knew who subscribed to Billboard and when he wasn’t really studying, gave me free access to the stack he had at any given moment. I remember the moment I found the chart buried at the bottom of The Hot 100, the list of the biggest selling singles of the week. “What the hell is this?” I thought, if not asked. On paper, a listing of records released as singles which the stores did not stock? Yep. I immediately began scouring the list, writing a list of my own to ask about down at Thompson’s Record Mart. I ordered a few. I received very few.
Today, whilst scanning the Net, I ran across a few charts and thought I would check them out. In doing so, I realize how lucky I was to have grown up in the Willamette Valley where radio was as loose as it was anywhere, I am assuming. Between KGAL in Lebanon and KASH in Eugene, we heard, if only for a short time, records few heard elsewhere. One was Spirit‘s Mechanical World. For a few weeks, KASH added it to their “maybe” list— songs they played which might, if they made an impact, make the regular chart. I found it on a chart on the Net. So let’s play a game. How many of these songs do you remember when they were new? This is what I would occasionally hear on KASH, late night, in 1968.
Not really a hit (in fact, nowhere near it), Buffalo Springfield‘s Un-Mundo was a make-it-or-break-it choice on KASH. They broke it. I liked it but could never get through on those damn radio station lines. Always busy.
This Mitch Ryder track may have gotten airplay in Detroit, but I didn’t find it until years later while dumpster-diving at an oldies store. Ryder had this thing about medley-ing up songs, don’t ask me why. I dug the guy, but it got old.
In all of my experience reading the Bubbling Under chart, only a few reached The Hot 100 beyond the 90s. I was surprised to see Eric Burdon & The Animals‘ Sky Pilot bubbling under at all. The stations in the Willamette Valley slapped this on right away as a breakout. I guess the Wiullamette Valley was not the world, eh?
Erma Franklin was unknown on radio in Oregon. Not the biggest center of soul music outside of the Top Hits. I missed a lot of good soul-oriented music back in the day, but boy did I have a good time catching up! Catch the songwriters on the label? Bert Berns and Jerry Ragavoy. I never would have guessed.
If KASH or KGAL had played Salt Water Taffy, the bastions would have been stormed. Not that the song is horrendous. It’s just a bit too… shall we say Hollywoody? This is the kind of stuff TV would allow while refusing the good stuff.
The Everly Brothers were definitely over except for a couple more by the time 1968 came around. I didn’t hear this until I ran across it on an English compilation album. Not a bad track, really, but they could have done without the over-production.
What I remember about Grapefruit more than anything was the absolutely mind-bogglingly bad cover. Something tells me the label knew little about cover art. The song wasn’t bad, but I doubt anyone was seriously thinking about adding it to a playlist. Maybe just the odd play here and there, but nothing else.
Jeez. What is this? Up With People under an alias? Sunshine Company covers a Youngbloods hit and. Rightfully, bubbles under. What I remember about this group is that they released Happy at pretty much the same times as Blades of Grass and the Blades kicked their asses. A bit too formula for me (and for anyone else with taste).
Carla Thomas hit with a duet with Otis Redding (B-A-B-Y) and a couple of others, but this might have charted had radio given it a chance. A bit of Stax in the Motown vein.
This one may have bubbled under on Billboard but it was a straight-out Top Forty hit where I was. KASH played it right out of the box and it probably made it as high as 20 or so. No one had any idea who or where from were The Swampseeds, but I don’t think they cared. Just enough Pop and Rock to go around.
It’s a year after Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man made The Spencer Davis Group the hottest thing since sliced bread and a year makes all the difference. Stevie Winwood is gone but the group is somewhat intact. The choice of songs is, however, not. A good harder-edged version of Looking Back does not even come close to the previous hits. Still, musically it doesn’t make me want to puke.
I never really understood what happened to the Dave Clark Five. I heard rumors about lawsuits and anger and a few other things, but they were just rumors to me. They pretty much fell off the charts when things started to go bad, though. They did make a good run late with Catch Us If You Can and Try Too Hard, but this remake of Please Stay is definitely too retro to make the charts.
Is there anyone who doesn’t understand why this Yardbirds song did not chart? I’m surprised they even let it Bubble Under.
The Lewis & Clarke Expedition was fronted by one Michael Martin Murphey who would come into his own years later as, not surprisingly, Michael Martin Murphey. When he was young, though, he recorded one album with this band. While they were a decent band, they had run out of potential hit singles by the time they got around to issuing this track, Chain Around the Flowers.
The Gentrys may have had a hit with Keep On Dancin’ (I danced to it many times in my college days), but they had seen better days by the time they recorded I Can’t Go Back to Denver. I wonder if Larry Raspberry had left the band. No Raspberry on the songwriting credits and the voice surely is not his. Again, surprised they even allowed this one to Bubble Under.
Shades of The Mojo Men, The First Edition had a light Pop thing going on. Just Dropped In had hit it big while this one missed big. Still and all, it has that slick, polished thing going on.
Hey! I knew there was a real gem in here somewhere. Also Bubbling Under but worthy of charting was December’s Children with a cool song titled Backwards and Forwards. I don’t know how they could have this toward the bottom of the Bubbling Under chart while placing pure crap like the Yardbirds’ 45 higher. Just goes to show you. I’m surprised KASH didn’t hop right on this one, but at that time they were tightening their playlists. Too bad. This one could have been a contender. It’s a go-go girl’s classic!
Bottom of the list. P.J. Proby. I always thought the best thing about the guy was his name. His voice is a little too warbly to my taste, but what the hell do I know? It got airplay in the UK! Then again, Cream‘s Wrapping Paper was No. 1 over there.
The date on this Bubbling Under chart, by the way, was May 18, 1968. Like the music or not, if you go into it with the right frame of mind, they are fun. I might just do it again in a future column. Maybe head back to ’66 or so. Until then, though, take a look at these….
Notes….. Leave it to the freaking Irish! Here they come, teaching us Americans how to rock. They out rock the country rockers with hooks and more hooks. Or maybe they are more grooves than hooks. I mean, Stephen Young & The Union are coming Stateside to teach us what’s what, and they will if they are anywhere near as good as this video. I live for this kind of stuff! Shades of Whispering Pines and Nocona and every other band holding the country rock flag high!
The new album is titled Eagle Fort Rumble and let me tell you, it is impressive! I haven’t been as high on a group since The Barr Brothers and their Rock with a lot of rhythm and a tinge of country. Some people may call this Americana and that’s okay as long as they listen. I call it rock— country rock in places— or maybe just damn good stuff!
And if you think they can’t pull it off live, think again.
Gott in Himmel! Shaun Cromwell has laid down his acoustic whatever (he plays a variety of instruments) for an electric guitar! Shades of Dan Phelps! Very cool. Feast your ears!!!!!
Marta Pacek is making people turn their heads. Chances are that she will be big enough soon that she won’t need me singing her praises. Just listen. She has that little something extra, nez pac?
In case you missed this last week, here is another Pacek beauty.
Here she is talking about her past:
One year ago.
See what I mean? She’s plenty good enough she doesn’t need me singing her praises. Sometimes it is best to let the music do the talking.
Carl Anderson has been a true favorite since I first heard him harmonize with Carleigh Nesbit (who has a new album on the way). Carl has moved to Nashville to give his music a strong push. I love this guy. His songwriting is as good as I have heard and he has a way of interpreting his songs which sometimes grabs at the heart. Take a listen.
Whoa! The Legendary Shack Shakers are back and grooving as good as ever. Here’s a peak at the new album (which has just been released— hint, hint).
Remember the name of Sharon Koltick? She was the power that fueled Kink Ador, a band I got lost in for awhile. Sharon is back and working on a project known as Missionary. Here is, to my knowledge, their first video.
I hate Nashville. I mean, I hate the formula-driven sound of what Nashville considers Modern Country. I’ve watched this video of Hailey Whitters expecting to hear the formula but for some reason, I really like what she’s doing. There is a sound there which isn’t the standard or something. Each song seems to stand on its own. Take a listen and let me know what you think.
Quite awhile ago, Delta Saints sent me a link to a video of Death Letter Jubilee, a song I liked just for the song title. They are back with a new album and a rhythm-laden leadoff single titled Heavy Hammer I like just as much. If you want to see a good show, everyone tells me these guys put one on.
Tell you what. I’m getting tired. If you made it this far, you are too. So let us call it until next week at which time I will regale you with, uh… well, we’ll see, won’t we? Have any tips on music not getting its just due, let me know.
Frank’s column appears every Wednesday
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“Frank 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.”