Frank Gutch Jr: Emitt Rhodes; Why Bluegrass Needs Gold Heart; Is Getty Images the Spotify and Pandora of Photography; Plus Notes…..
Emitt Rhodes is not a god, but he is as close as anyone I have found, in music at least. To me, he is right up there with Buddy Holly, Elvis, Paul McCartney and the other musicians people seem to want to elevate to godlike status. Decades ago I wrote a short piece comparing Rhodes’ albums to McCartney’s first solo album, largely because they each chose to play all of the instruments, and, well, McCartney did not fare well, but that is just me. Become a superstar and you had better produce like a superstar and while McCartney did become one and hasn’t produced, Rhodes never even had a real chance. His music, though? Quarter notes through the heart. No, he is not a god, but he is among the best of the humans.
I first heard him when he was with The Merry-Go-Round. As much airplay as The M-G-R’s Live got in my little corner of the world (it was Top Ten on every rock radio station in the Willamette Valley in Oregon), it didn’t even dent the Billboard charts. So much for using Billboard as a source, eh, writers? Live made AM radio, upbeat and pop-py, even more upbeat and pop-py. Short, sweet, classic.
I bought the 45 (RPM record, for you young punks who don’t know the term). I played the hell out of it. I also played the hell out of the B-side, an excellent tune titled Time Will Show the Wiser, but lost sight of the band after those two songs dropped off the charts. There was no record store close to where I lived so radio was my barometer. When the songs died on the radio, I had no idea where they went. The 45 remained real, though, and The M-G-R remained in my head if not always on the turntable. This, by the way, was around 1966. One of the great British groups discovered the Merry-Go-Round, and the B side of the single got an A side makeover.
Fast forward to the early seventies, I was fresh out of the army and digging through Eugene’s House of Records bins on an almost daily basis and what do I find? Albums by Emitt Rhodes! Three, to be exact. I bought them all. At first glance, The American Dream stood out, largely because of the inclusion of a song I had heard and was partial toward, You’re a Very Lovely Woman, written very much in the style of the M-G-R I knew (it had been, unbeknownst to me, released as an M-G-R single by A&M). After a cursory few listens, it stood out more as a collection of Rhodes songs than a cohesive album and I later found out that the original pressing of the album did not include You’re a Very Lovely Woman, that song included later to capitalize on what they thought might be the beginning of a rise to stardom based on possible success of Rhodes’ first solo album, titled simply Emitt Rhodes, released on Dunhill Records.
The crux of it was that Paul McCartney had just released his first solo album and played every instrument on it and Beatles fans were beside themselves. To my ears, it was a decent album but nothing to write home about. Rhodes, however, impressed the hell out of me. All Rhodes, all the time. First, the self-titled album. Then Mirrors, circa 1971. And finally, Farewell To Paradise (1973). Three albums which really struck home. Maybe not as albums, per se, because Rhodes’ strength has always been his songwriting and to him the songs were the end of a long process. But those songs…
It took a few seconds for me to get into the solo albums, With My Face on the Floor having a production value I found (and still do find) very pleasant. Pleasant, melodic, harmonic, sometimes upbeat and sometime reflective. Live Till You Die struck especially hard, the lyrics at the beginning driving a truth home— “I have to say the things I feel/I have to feel the things I say…” A moment of clarity in a world of what I felt was chaos. Mirrors was similar, a collection of excellent songs presented Rhodes-style. Truths in song. Short and to the point. “You don’t have to be alone to feel alone/You can love someone and still be alone…”, the chorus of Better Side of Life, giving way to the interlude— “There is a strong possibility that we might often fail to see the better side of life.” One of his best rockers, Really Wanted You, a production tour de force and guitar showcase with a hook I couldn’t get enough of. By the time I got to Golden Child of God, I was really getting him. I mean, I had always like his music, but I was finally hearing him. By the time Farewell To Paradise came along, I was drooling. And leery. Too many times in the past I had heard excellent early efforts which gave way to the most mediocre of the mediocre and knew it was a trap many fall into. Sophomore jinx is what they used to call it. I should have known better. For myself, the album can be summed up in two songs— bookends, though not sequenced as such, for what I feel is his best album yet— Trust Once More and Farewell To Paradise. I was alone, as I had been much of my young life at that point, and feeling it. Trust Once More tore at my loneliness even though I was surrounded by the best of friends and came from the best family I could ever imagine. I bottomed out to the song, playing it over and over, sometimes for days, as I processed feelings I didn’t understand. And when I hit bottom, I would inevitably go to Farewell To Paradise, a song of hope and healing. I don’t know why, but I found his voice reassuring and his music heartening. Of all his albums, it is the one I embrace most.
Jeez. Look what I did. This did not start out to be a treatise on Rhodes’ career in music— that was the end of his recorded works, you should know. This started out to be a call-to-arms, if you will, because Rhodes is back! Yes, after decades, plenty of time for his fans to convert others to fandom and for his legions to grow, Rhodes went into the studio and produced his first album since 1973. This is good news and I welcome it not for the album which will be but for the fact that it is. I am seeing, long after I thought it dead, the resurrection of a music career of a musician I have admired greatly for years.
Rhodes is, as I type this, in the midst of a crowdfunding campaign. As much as I would like to think that deserving musicians spend their morning workouts a la Unca Scrooge, diving into swimming pools filled with the coinage of their millions, I know it isn’t true. Rhodes, like the rest of us, has had what I would call a life, full of the valleys and peaks we all experience during the journey. He has struggled at times and rode the waves at times, but he just lived like the rest of us. Why didn’t he record after 1973? He may have, but just not for release. But he’s recording now and that’s the main thing.
You can check out his pledge drive (click here) to see what that’s all about, and his old tunes are all over the highway robbers known as digital streamers (the dirty rat bastards). I say that with a chuckle because as much as I hate them for making millions off of the backs of artists, the music is available for listening through their sites and if you have not heard Rhodes, you might well want to hear what I’ve been writing about here. I just think it wouldn’t hurt to send Rhodes a dime or two after you do it. His address? Not surprisingly, he has not given it to me.
You can read more about Rhodes and his new project by clicking here. And hear his first single from the album, Dog On a Chain.
Rhodes is not alone. More than a few are picking up instruments after exiting the music business long ago, the most obvious being Stu Nunnery, who left due to hearing problems. You can read about Stu and his journey in Stu’s own words. They are well worth reading. (click here)
Gold Heart— Resurrecting the Heart of Bluegrass…..
I like most genres of music but I love bluegrass. Not the bluegrass of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, necessarily, though I love them too. I love the vocal bluegrass— the music of Blue Sky Boys and Jimmy Martin and The Seldom Scene. Wherein the vocals are the carpet upon which the instruments ride.
Growing up in the fifties and sixties, I always thought of the genre in terms of Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs because that is what they told us. This, they said, is bluegrass, and yet when bluegrass was played they folded it into country as much as anything. Of course, Bill Monroe was heralded in many a Grand Ole Opry show and and Flatt & Scruggs hit it big with Hollywood and the movies, gaining huge success in the sixties when the movie Bonnie & Clyde used Foggy Mountain Breakdown as background during the famous car chase scene. And everyone knows the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies (The Ballad of Jed Clampett).
For myself, though, bluegrass was the music of the aforementioned Blue Sky Boys, who ripped my heart out with a song titled Tears On Her Bridal Bouquet, who put a lump in my throat with Pictures From Life’s Other Side, who had the soul of Hank Williams, it seemed. Not too long after, Jimmy Martin & The Sunny Mountain Boys became the groups of the moment, carrying the torch with such classics as A Beautiful Life and Ocean of Diamonds with their harmonies I like to call the high lonesome.
Bluegrass hit a peak not long after, The Seldom Scene breaking out of the East like a train on steroids. I first heard about them through a friend who had seen them play, I think, The Cellar Door in Washington DC. He couldn’t say enough about the band, especially John Duffey, who brought the high harmonies to life. When I finally heard them, I not only went out of my way to pick up every album I could find by them, I stocked the store at which I worked with them (Licorice Pizza in L.A. and then San Diego) and made sure that when I got to Seattle, Peaches had a complete selection as well.
Later, there were others. Hot Rize blasted out of Colorado, covering the old-time mountain music as well as country and bluegrass; The Bluegrass Album Band, featuring Tony Rice and a slew of others, took over Nashville; Doyle Lawson, a graduate of The Sunny Mountain Boys and The Country Gentlemen and who would gain notoriety as the frontman for Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver. It seemed like wherever you turned, bluegrass was gaining ground.
I am not really sure what happened, but bluegrass lost its grip. While at its peak it crossed lines and brought in fans who otherwise might not have been, it began to be a conduit for Christianity in the secular mind. I don’t know when or how it happened, but all of a sudden music which had been embraced by the general public was slowly being forgotten. There would be the occasional breakthrough such as songs from the soundtrack of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, but the momentum seemed lost.
Bluegrass didn’t stop. The festivals keep going and the music has kept a fairly even presence on the international stage, but its popularity has taken a hit. I attribute it to the timbre of the times, for bluegrass is not the only genre to have taken a dive. All genres have. But bluegrass has a real chance to regain a lot of that lost ground. The music has had a base for decades, thanks largely to the bands already mentioned. Right now, though, there does not seem to be a Seldom Scene to spearhead any real movement, at least large enough to have real impact. But there is one group…..
The sound may be rough but I can hear the music shine through.
I happened upon Gold Heart years ago when their album My Sisters and Me was sent to me for review back in 2009. While it set me back on my heels, it was not ready for prime time time. They were young and oh, so good, but taking school children on the road seemed a bit much. Still, the music. Three angelic voices to stop you in your tracks. And they could write, too. (Check out their website by clicking here)
It has taken them until this past year to really make their move. All three girls are out of school and ready, utilizing the family core as support (father Trent on standup bass, brother Kai on banjo) and have been touring regularly this past year, having just completed a successful tour of Europe. I look around and I see lots of good to excellent bluegrass bands, most worth hearing and seeing. The thing is, there is no one who really has the cache to take it to the next level. Except, in my mind, Gold Heart.
They have the stage presence, the talent, the understanding. Their voices are in complete harmonic sync. They can play and sing like the wind and can put you almost to sleep with a song. And they have the songs.
If Seldom Scene had anything, it was the ability to not just pick the right songs to play but to write the right songs, period. The combination was what brought nonbelievers to the fold, and I am not talking religion here, but music. When I saw Gold Heart play this past summer, I could see it happen in my mind’s eye. A song here to gain attention, a song there to gain more and the next thing you know— well, in today’s terms— you go viral.
Could they do it? Maybe. Whether they do or not, the fact of the matter is that the genre needs something to expand its base. I don’t see anyone else out there who could spearhead a rejuvenation, myself. I am sure there are a few there somewhere. But I know these guys could do it. With the right breaks. With the right bookings. With the right press…..
Getty Images— The Pandora and Spotify of Imaging…..
It was three or four years ago that I first heard of Getty Images. Here was this classic photo of The Yardbirds on stage with the words “Getty Images” embedded over the band, translucent so you could see the band but annoying enough to make me find their head office and kick the crap out of someone. I am smart enough to realize that Getty did not take the photo and the fact that they were seemingly grabbing photos right and left and claiming them as their own made me want to puke all over their CEOs desk. It wasn’t their gall claiming that it was their God-given right that irked me. It was the realization that the photographer who took the picture would never see a dime from Getty’s coffers. Or maybe just a dime.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the big discussions were around Intellectual Property. Remember those days? How long has it been since you’ve heard the term. As far as I can see, the arguments have pretty much been quashed by moneygrabbers who could care less about the legal and ethical questions, preferring instead to jump in with both feet before the legal issues have been addressed. Some of them do not think there is an issue at all, much like the Robber Barons who stole property by lying and corrupt practices. Some think they can assuage those being robbed by offering a plaque and a few pennies. Some, and these are the ones who really bother me most, just don’t give a shit.
Given time, it is possible that the whole Intellectual Property thing could have been worked out, to some degree. The issue at this point is not compensation as much as the fact that the compensation is ludicrous. Asshats are building multi-million-dollar mansions while the legal eagles twiddle their thumbs.
I know a few people who take me to task for my stand regarding the artist. There is a reality, they say, and the legality will not be changed anytime soon. And I have always replied, what legality? These clowns stepped in and set up shop after a few closed door meeting with the crooks at the major labels. The same asshats who are being taken to court by major artists such as Springsteen. They are neither blameless nor do I think that they have rights to music in perpetuity like they claim.
So here comes Getty Images, scarfing everything they find and claiming ownership. Just like Spotify and Pandora and the like do through the auspices and dirty deals with the major labels. Do they have the right? I admit to there being gray areas depending upon situations. Do they care? Hell, no! And thus, their problem. Their image.
Taken from Wikipedia:
Beginning in 2008, Getty Images has created controversy in its manner of pursuing copyright enforcement on behalf of its photographers. Rather than pursue a policy of sending out “cease and desist” notices, Getty typically mails out a demand letter claiming substantial sums of damages to owners of websites which it believes have used their images in infringement of their photographers’ copyright. Getty commonly tries to intimidate website owners by sending collection agents, even though a demand letter cannot create a debt.
One photographer noted: “courts don’t like to be used as a means of extortion.” In one case, Getty sent a church in Lichfield, Staffordshire, a £6,000 bill for photographs used on its website, apparently placed there by a church volunteer. In this case, the church offered to pay Getty what it thought was a reasonable amount. The diocese’s communications director said:
“Getty was not playing ball or following the normal litigation or dispute resolution procedures and [I advised the church] to ignore them. We don’t deal with bullies; we deal with l;egal threats appropriately. I told [Getty] by letter that’s what [the church was] doing, that we were not going to play, and didn’t hear any more.”
The Guardian described other instances in which Getty or other stock photo businesses dropped the matter when a website owner refused to pay or hired a lawyer. A law firm was quoted as saying: “Once we get involved generally Getty does back off.”
In 2009, Oscar Michelen, a New York attorney who focuses on such damages claims, said: “The damages they’re requesting aren’t equal to the copyright infringement,” and “there’s no law that says definitively what images are worth in the digital age.” He called Getty’s effort to assess four-figure fines “a legalized form of extortion.”
In an effort to combat online copyright infringement, in March 2014 Getty Images made over 35 million images available free for non-commercial online use via embedding with attribution and a link back to the Getty Images website. According to Getty Images executive Craig Peters, “The principle is to turn what’s infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that’s valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer”.
The obvious question to be address is what are “some benefits.” More than likely something along the lines that the digital streamers are paying recording artists? More than likely.
This is the picture that I mentioned earlier. It was purchased as part of the Michael Ochs Archives started by Phil Ochs’ brother when he found pictures being tossed into dumpsters behind the offices of major labels. Major labels used to do the same with records. They called them cutouts and, no, artists didn’t get paid for them either. The question is, who should get recompense for the use of the photos? Getty, who purchased them outright, trying to corner the market on work with which they had nothing to do? The record labels, who basically gave up the rights to the photos through short-sightedness, a disease inherent in the industry from the beginning? Or the photographer, who was paid for his or her work (or was he/she?)? These are the questions which should have been addressed before the wholesale selling of product by corporations which either legally or illegally sold them.
Someday soon, I will go into the whole business of cutout records and the things it entailed. And maybe some court cases against the major labels, which somehow always ended up behind closed doors with gag orders in place.
That said, what say we turn things positive again and scope out some…..
Notes… Plenty of people out there attempting to turn people on to good music. I had not heard of Eliza Rickman until Michele Kappel-Stone passed this along. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen an autoharp and what an intriguing voice! I can hear some fascinating future releases from this lady.
If this doesn’t scream 80s Hollywood punk, I don’t know what does. I would have loved to have heard what music emanated from the Screaming Sirens.
It’s no secret that I have become a fan of Colleen Brown, one of many worthy musicians calling Edmonton home (do the Oilers still play there?). Here is a video interview of Colleen from a year and a half ago in which she talks about her then new album and the recording thereof, and other things as well. She just finished up a tour with David Celia, plays in a band with Amy van Keeken called The Secretaries and is picking up steam as I type. I love listening to musicians talk about their craft/art, the past and the future. Seldom is there not a germ of truth about something.
Seems like only yesterday I posted my first video by Kora Feder, daughter of Sean Feder and Rita Hosking of Cousin Jack. I think the last time I was so much taken by a young artist going solo it was Phoebe Bridgers, whose career has been on the upswing since she was just a kid. Feder evidently has inherited the parents genes and is following her music-loving heart, cranking out the occasional song for our listening pleasure. Here is a new one, Marigolds, recorded in my favorite recording studio— the bathroom. Seriously, Emily Wells recorded a whole album in her kitchen and bathroom and it sounded like it was recorded professionally. In a studio. BTW, Rita’s new album, Frankie and the No-Go Road, has been released and will be reviewed shortly. Another classic from Kora’s mother.
Just found this. Accapella and quite stunning. October Project.
I knew a guy who had two 90-minute cassettes of different versions of Hey Joe. I’m pretty sure this was not on either one. If you’re going to cover a classic in a different style, it had better be at least this good. There are enough mediocre covers in the world as it is, thanks to this getting-on-my-nerves trend. I cut Tim O’Brien a lot of slack. He has earned the right to cover anything he wants. Then again, he brings a lot to whatever song he deems worthy.
File the next two videos under “things you find when you’re not looking.” I was following a link for my man Drew Gibson‘s new video (which is exclusive to hometownsoundsdc.com right now— I will post it next column and you WILL want to see/hear it it is so good) and ran across a musician named Sara Curtin of whom I had been woefully unaware. Two videos— one live and with a backup singer named Phredley— both knockout impressive. I shall be doing some research on this lady, for sure. In the meantime, I shall be watching these more than a few times, methinks.
While Nashville cranks out crap, there is this. The music shines right through the mix. Gold Heart. I love this band.
The Madisons got it together enough for a video. These guys have a great sound, the violin and trumpet adding twists I have only heard from another of my favorites, The Lonely Wild. This is one of the more twangy of the tunes on their new album, titled No One’s Ever Gonna Know Your Name, and I dig it. You need to hear the whole album to get the breadth of this band, though.
Back when I worked at Peaches, the kids were into all of those bands-with-a-beat such as The Blasters, The Stray Cats and others. Because of them, I was exposed to one of my more favorite rockers, The LeRoi Brothers. Those guys rocked and I find myself now thinking the same thing about Churchwood, fronted by old LeRoi frontman Joe Doerr. A couple of weeks ago, a couple of pictures were posted for the LeRoi’s entertainment and I asked Joe if he would mind if I reposted them here. Being the gracious and cool guy that he is, he said yes. Here are two parts of the thread, one a comment on one pic, the other a comment on the other. Joe, of course, is the commentor (or would that be commentator?).
The first is, I hope, a shot of The LeRois. The second of Kim Wilson with The LeRois.
That pose I’ve adopted is a nod to the “good old days” Chuck Wimbrow mentions: when Don was in the band, I used to have to wait till the end of each set before I’d get on stage to perform 3 or 4 songs prior to the break. I’d have to make these “entrances” that always seemed awkward to me. So I decided to make them a bit more interesting for everyone involved. One night, I can’t remember where we were — out on the West Coast somewhere — and we found this cage on wheels backstage. I have no idea what it was for, but I climbed inside and acted like the Wild Man of Borneo or some other side-show freak. Mike Buck was inspired; he said, “You ought to get one of the stage hands to roll you out onstage in that thing when we call you up.” So I did, and it worked — the crowd ate it up. After Evan joined the band, our performances got even crazier and more frequently so. I remember finding another weird rolling box/cage backstage at a club in Stockholm and I did the same thing there. The Swedes went wild. That might have been the same night that crazy pic somebody took of me putting a make-shift turban on Kim Wilson was made. Talk about a classic shot — again, I wish I could remember who took it. Anyway, in this photo from Irving Plaza, I’ve adopted the famed “caged wildman” pose. Good old days, indeed.
Thanks to Mike Buck, I got to see this photo again this morning for the first time in about 30 years. It’s one for the books: backstage at a gig in Helsinki with Kim Wilson circa 1983 or ’84. KW was without his trademark turban, so I came to the rescue with a bar towel. Much razzing ensued. I’m pretty sure Kim was thrilled.
See why I love doing this? It’s almost as good as being in a band. I have been in a few, you know. But those are stories for another time.
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.”