Frank Gutch Jr: The Music That Made Me Who I Am…..
It was my birthday last week. I’m not saying it because it matters much to me— less and less as each year passes. I mention it because of the things friends tell me, most of which reminds me of who I am and the paths I have taken to get here. I mean, none of us plan to be who we are— it just evolves.
I could tell when Gabrielle Gewirtz sent me a pleasant little message and songs from her, to my knowledge, only album began playing in my head. Gabrielle was one of the early non-successes in my rejuvenated writing career (I wrote for a time in the mid-70s, took a break and then started writing again around 2005 or so). I loved that album (Wide) and wrote about it numerous times. I met Nick D’Amato and a young fellow named Clancy who I thought should by now be world renowned through it and it served to solidify what I already knew— that music was music in spite of eventual acceptance or rejection by the masses.
The Masses. The term grew in concept shortly after I got out of the Army in the summer of 1971. I found The House of Records in Eugene, Oregon and with it hundreds of albums I never would have otherwise heard. Music not ready for primetime. Music either unheard or unaccepted by The Masses. The Masses were what made Elton John a king and Journey so big. The Masses. I am not sure I like the concept.
I cannot remember the first record I bought there but I can remember the important ones: Cowboy‘s Reach For the Sky and 5’ll Getcha Ten; Pure Prairie League‘s self-titled album and, of course, Bustin’ Out; Heartsfield‘s first album. Robert Thomas Velline‘s Nothin’ Like a Sunny Day Velline being the real name of Bobby Vee). I could give you a list as long as your arm— both arms, in fact. It was a wondrous time. I bought Grin‘s first album there because Gary Haller kept trelling me it was Neil Young-related and I was a huge fan of his first two albums. And there were the obvious favorites after that— Marshall Tucker Band‘s first, Van der Graaf Generator’s H to He, Who Am the Only One and later, Pawn Hearts. Spooky Tooth‘s You Broke My Heart So I Busted Your Jaw (Spooky Two had helped me make it through my tenure in the Army). Jim Dawson‘s Songman.
Bill Puka. The local underground radio station, KEZL, turned me on to Dalton & DuBarri, Pacheco & Alexander, Jimmie Spheeris (The Original Tap Dancing Kid completely overwhelmed me), Stu Nunnery (who, coincidentally, is back after a decades-long hiatus due to hearing problems).
I walked out of the House of Records with a handful of albums every time I visited, which was practically every day. Hard not to when they had daily deals— three $1.50 albums for $4, three $2 albums for $5, three $2.50 albums for $6. I seldom left without three. I got to be such a regular that Haller, along with getting sick of having me hang around all the time, would toss me the occasional freebie. I loved that place. It is still there, by the way, a few blocks off of the UO campus on 13th. I stop by whenever I am in town.
Two albums I bought there stick out— Cargoe‘s self-titled album and Big Star‘s #1 Record. I bought them for the covers— shiny and slick with exceptional photography. Cargoe first. When I took it home, I was impressed enough to head back the next day to pick up #1 Record. #1 Record became my favorite, the music poppy and melodic with excellent hooks and chord changes. To my ears, it was an easy sell. Cargoe had a bit of that as well, but they were a bit more complicated, the chord changes more adventurous, the songs more developed, the sound a result of intense production as much as the music itself. A couple of months later, Cargoe would overtake Big Star in terms of the amount of airplay on the old stereo. Cargoe was the subject of my first published record review thanks to Barry Glovsky at Fusion Magazine. I sat down with a pot of coffee one night, discouraged by efforts to get people to take the album seriously, and took my frustration out on the old Sears portable, pounding the keys so hard I am surprised they did not break. I didn’t say much about the album but I did make a few disparaging comments about Goats Head Soup, which had music fans in a dither at the moment. Other comments had to do with biting bubbles in the bathtub and probably pulling heads out of asses. Glovsky evidently thought it amusing enough to publish it (though my personal feeling is that he liked the record, too, and wanted to give it exposure). That resulted in a letter from one John King, who had just been hired as the promotion man for the record label, Ardent Records, and a few promos of, eventually, the Cargoe single (Feel Alright b/w Tokyo Love), the Cargoe three song EP, numerous promo singles by Big Star, an album by Brian Alexander Robertson, and a band calling themselves The Hot Dogs. I thought it was cool, getting promos in the mail. And notes from King and John Fry, head of Ardent. Later, it would turn into an interview with Fry, an interview which contained the whole heartbreaking story of a dream crushed by reality. If you want to read the interview, and it is an excellent one thanks to Fry’s openness to discussing anything and everything pertaining to Ardent, click here.
I love that Cargoe album. Years later I would write a story about the band’s travails and might one day talk Mr. Segarini into allowing me to publish it here. A number of things came about because of that story. For one thing, I made contact with Cargoe members Bill Phillips and Max Wisley as well as two radio disc jockeys who were crucial to the band’s progress— Jim Peters and Robert W. Walker. I was contacted by a guy in Oklahoma, one John Reagan, about maybe doing a similar story about Space Opera, a Fort Worth band from the late-sixties and early-seventies whose story was equally angst-riddled. And I ended up writing for a magazine based out of Austin, Pop Culture Press, then run by two people for whom I have enormous respect— Luke Torn and Kent Benjamin. See how this works? When it comes to music, we’re all in it together (unless we are hired guns to perpetuate the likes of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber).
The Space Opera piece is my most read work outside of a small piece I wrote about having seen The Wailers and The Sonics battle it out at the Albany Guard Armory decades ago. (You can read that here) People around Fort Worth and Dallas obviously loved that band and I still receive emails from people who just discovered the article, telling me stories about seeing them play live or their experiences with the band members outside the scope of the band. FYI: I am currently working on a history of Cowboy and have plans for similar pieces on seventies Portland, Oregon band Sand and, of course, the legendary Notary Sojac. I only hope I live long enough.
The funny thing about Cargoe is that they became my yardstick. When people talked about albums they loved, I brought up Cargoe. When people boasted about their record collections, I asked if it included Cargoe. When people talked guitarists or bass players, I mentioned Tommy Richard and Max Wisley, members of Cargoe. Songwriting? Wisley and Bill Phillips of— you guessed it— Cargoe. It became a joke to many of my friends but I was serious. In fact, if you asked most of the people with whom I worked at Licorice Pizza in L.A. and San Diego (’74-’76) and Peaches in Seattle (’78-’92), they would probably laugh. They thought I was crazy. I may have been.
By the time I got to Licorice Pizza, I was somewhat set in my ways. For some reason, I was slowly developing an aversion to the hits. It had not taken full effect, but people began to notice. I plugged Pure Prairie League, Cowboy, and Heartsfield to death, begging Los Angelesians to toss aside those posers, The Eagles, for some good country rock. (To be truthful, I didn’t mind the first album, although I got really tired of hearing Take It Easy and Peaceful Easy Feeling, radio playing them three or four times an hour, it seemed) They began calling me Cowboy Bob because of the worn cowboy hat I wore all the time.
I wasn’t all country rock then, though. I worked with a guy we called Larry the K who was a rocker and we slowly worked our way through Scorpions, Aerosmith (the first album), and early REO (before they turned sappy and started having hits). K and I banded together to personally promote bands such as Camel and A Foot in Coldwater, bands with very little label support. We were huge supporters of a lot of Capricorn Records artists, most notably Captain Beyond, whose albums floored us. K eventually branched off to embrace bands and artists such as Elf and, later, Dio, while I headed to the softer sounds of Barclay James Harvest and Randall Bramlett, but we were never far apart. Those were really good days.
For a short time, I stepped into a pile of punk for some odd reason. The scene was just starting in San Diego and leading the charge were Zeros, The Dils, and The Hitmakers. Outside the locals I began listening earnestly to Pere Ubu, Suicide Commandos, and even The Gizmos (what was I thinking?). I liked all of the bands stepping up out of the soft rock gene pool and spewing spit and vomit. Maybe it wasn’t all that impressive musically, but they by the gods made an impact.
By the time I got to Seattle, the new wave bug was dissipating, though there were more bands to fry. The Meyce, Three Swimmers, The Heats (who started out as The Heaters in spite of that name being already taken by a band from, I believe, Southern California). I began paying attention. Soon, The Meyce became The Moberlys and Toiling Midgets, members of The Heats began new life as The Brandos, and other bands began morphing right before my eyes. It would soon give way to a mid-eighties rush of musicians ready for primetime, though the fans were not— The Green Pajamas, The Life, Young Fresh Fellows, The Posies, Red Dress, Walkabouts, Fastbacks and the like. Good bands with cult followings. Bands and artists I supported even though I could not see a breakthrough happening. Labels were there, as well— PopLlama, Green Monkey, Sub Pop, to name only a few. It just seemed so much easier to get behind the local bands.
If I made an impact anywhere in that store, it would have been in the local artists section and the cutouts. At the time, it seemed natural to contact Jerry Dennon at First American Records and Tom & Ellen Ogilvy, who were in the process of reactivating Bolo Seafair Records. Each had a solid presence in the sixties rock scene of the Pac Northwest, each was willing to talk and to help. We put together a promotion we called Northwest Music Days and put old xeroxed articles and promo pics of Northwest bands on the wall up front. All Northwest artists albums were on sale for the duration of the promotion, including 45s sold to us by Dennon and the Ogilvys. All were displayed and the music played. It was never about sales. It was about the music. It made an impact among the people who had grown up in the Northwest, many of whom knew the bands, the music and their importance. And it was fun. We had a huge reaction among the artists. Jim Page and Reilly & Maloney stopped by (they were huge in Seattle) as did personages such as Barry Curtis (The Kingsmen but then playing with Herb & The Spices). Andy Parypa (The Sonics) came in for a chat. Also Jim Valley (The Viceroys, Don & The Goodtimes, and later, Harpo with Paul Revere & The Raiders), Buck Ormsby (The Wailers), Mark O’Connor (who was just about ready to leave the Pac NW to make a big splash in Nashville), Tiny Tony (of Tiny Tony & The Statics, who had a huge Pac NW hit with Hey Mrs. Jones in 1962), Isaac Scott (a blues guitarist of renown), and so many more. It was spread out over a couple of weeks so it wasn’t a zoo, but it got its share of attention.
Big stars stopped by on a fairly regular basis (Neil Diamond, Dolly Parton, Heart (of course), Paul Stanley (Kiss), Cheap Trick among them), but I focused on the up-and-comers (Paul Collins Beat, Jim Ringer & Mary McCaslin, The Dinosaurs, et al) because by then it was written in stone, which is pretty much what my brain had turned into according to the people I worked with. We had what would be considered superstars of blues, which included James Cotton, Buddy Guy, and three others I cannot remember because of dead brain cells, and Gatemouth Brown came into the store when he was playing across the street at The Fabulous Rainbow. It was a great place to work partially because it never really felt like work (though it did fall into that category when I would have to listen to a new Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen album three or four times in an afternoon). It was time to leave when it was over, but I missed the place. Mostly, though, I missed the music.
So when the opportunity rose a good decade later to write about music, I jumped at it. Dave Pyles at the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange welcomed me into the fold and the already anti-hit attitude which I had had even as a child kicked in. FAME helped it along because they did not deal with the major labels and stars except on the odd occasion. I found myself swimming with the unknowns and I relished it.
Among the first two albums to grip my ‘nads were the aforementioned Wide and Jess Pillmore‘s Reveal. Gewirtz marketed her album under the name Gabrielle, for which I chastised her as it was damn hard to find on the Net, but when I found her site I bookmarked it and passed it along. The album itself was balm to the soul, production beautifully understated and far away from what I had been used to from the major labels. The songs were excellent, especially She Smiles with its inherent rhythmic beat and Gabrielle’s full-on vocal style over solid bedrock chords, No Sign No Sound which is a carpet ride of ethereal proportions, Whose Life which digs within and leads in to one of the best covers I have heard of Cyndi Lauper‘s most excellent Time After Time. The album blew me away. About the same time, I became aware of Jess Pillmore, a daughter of Cowboy‘s Bill Pillmore. She had a couple of albums (actually, an EP and an album) with one on the way and I asked for a copy of the new one. Titled Reveal, it caught me completely by surprise. For one thing, it was just enough off the mark to make it unique. For another, it was my introduction to Dan Phelps, who produced and played on it. It is a cornucopia of styles, from the jazzy talking blues of Atlanta to the dream-inducing Open My Mouth, both works of depth and quality. The really cool thing about this album is that much of it morphed in the studio or just before. Jess gave me the rundown in an interview and the story is fascinating— how Atlanta started as one thing, turned left and became something altogether different. It wasn’t the change but how much it changed and boy, did it! I knew that Don’t Show Me was a track written from the very depths of her soul, almost to the point of feeling sorry for her, but it wasn’t. Not really. But, my God! The way she squeezes every ounce of pain out of her to make the point. And that point is emotional pain. It is absolutely heartrending, especially the way Phelps molds it. You have to hear the song and pay close to the production to really know what is going on, it is so masterfully done.
Research Turtles caught the rocker side of me and turned it inside out. They had just enough AC/DC and Led Zeppelin in them to plant me against the wall and just enough Pop to take me back to the sixties. That they weren’t afforded the credit they deserved upset me enough to flatten a few tires and punch a few Republicans. This is another yardstick album. When people want powerpop, these guys (along with The Incurables) are my answer.
This is very cool (and will shock some people, as I am noted for discarding cover songs on general principle). The Incurables doing a track from Big Star‘s #1 Record. My thanks to Mary Lee Roth, who posted it on Youtube.
Nick Holmes is both old and new to me. I found 1973’s Soulful Crooner while hanging out in Eugene, but actually made contact with him a few years ago, thanks to Brian Cullman. Cullman had contacted me after reading a piece I had written re: Holmes and his stint with the experimental group White Elephant and the next thing I knew, Holmes had sent me a note. Not only did Holmes have other albums out, he was working on a new one. We have passed notes back and forth over the years and between Brian and Nick, I am keeping my fingers in the pie. Cullman, by the way, is readying his new album for release soon after a long hiatus from recording his own songs. I will keep you posted.
Next week, if things go as expected, I will be reviewing the new Picture The Ocean album (that’s right, Jesse and Jacquie have finally moved their asses from the couch to the studio and gotten something recorded) as well as featuring a behind the scenes look at a musician brought to my attention by said Jesse: Amy van Keeken. No video this week. I will save it for next week’s column.
The whole idea of this was to give you an idea why I write about the music I write about— an explanation of why my choices of subject are so far below the radar. It’s the music which keeps me going and these are the people making what makes my heart tick.
Which tells me you could do with a few…
Notes… I have a few vinyl LPs from the recent past. One I really treasure is New American Farmers/Pharmacology. Their choices of songs blew me away and their originals are topnotch. And I love it when they let loose. Here they are, letting loose. Listen to that frealing guitar!
Here is something way way cool. I knew and know Andy Guzie as a member of Providence, a Portland band which signed to the Moody Blues’ Threshold label in the early-70s. (They were damn good!) Here is the original lineup of Guzie’s much earlier band out of New Brighton Minnesota, The Fair Children, reliving the glory years. Outstanding!
You may think this another excuse to plug Kate & Ruth‘s new album Declaration and you would be partially correct. The truth is that I am fascinated by the creation of art and the music and painting in this video strike a note with me. Artwork by Cindy Minogue.
Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer are back at it again and I’m beside myself with glee. Just listen to the way they work together. Beautiful stuff!
Melissa Payne brings The Odin Quartet in out of the cold to put together this beautiful video/song. This lady is one hard worker and deserves all of the success she has been having.
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.”