Frank Gutch Jr: ‘Til Death Do Us Part… A Nod To Musicians Who Left Us In 2015, But First…; Plus Notes!
This is not my favorite column to write. In my youth, death was death, something which happened to everyone else. As a young man, I looked upon it as simply draining the talent pool because by then I was consumed with music— immersed in it to the point that life beyond it was a blur. In middle-age, it began becoming personal— friends and favorites taking the dive either stunningly quick or in dire circumstances.
I passed middle-age some time ago and with each passing second/minute/hour/day/week/month/decade it becomes moreso— a step toward an oblivion which is now obviously inevitable. Death. Finality. The end, my friends….. (click here to read last year’s incomplete but final count)…
While the Grim Reaper may be coming for us all, though, he/she is nothing if not discriminate. We die at all ages and in a plethora of ways and sometimes deserve it, though mostly don’t. We die whether we have finished what we set out to do or not and let’s face it— there is never enough time. Most of us hang on as long as we can, if for no other reason than not wanting to leave what we know and love for the unknown. I know I will be thinking that I could have done more, than I am not done yet, but it won’t matter. When it is time, it is time.
And when it is not, it is not. Before I get into the seemingly endless list of people who passed off this mortal coil, let us give thought to those who did not. If death magnifies anything, it is the idea that life goes on and we should be part of it. This may sound like a plug, but let me assure you that it is not. While compiling information about the numerous musicians no longer with us, I took time to revisit a website which helps people attached top the music business while still alive but in trouble.
I was introduced to this charity organization a few years ago through friend, musician and behind the scenes man Sheldon Gomberg who was then putting together an album, Sweet Relief III. Basically, Sheldon had called in favors from many musicians he had worked with over the years, asking them if they would record a song for the album. The response was such that he struggled to complete the album, having to wait for schedules to coincide so that recording sessions could happen. The album features some of whom became my favorite artists, partially because of their music and partially due to their humanity: Ron Sexsmith, k.d. Lang, Genevieve Toupin, Rickie Lee Jones, and Jackson Browne, among others. When I dug past the album, I found a charity well worth supporting.
Sweet Relief supports so many, as does Musicares, another worthy charitable group, and it has one thing that most charities do not: an option to set up a contribution page for individual artists, genres, or regions. You love the blues, you have the option to contribute to a general fund for the genre or a blues musician in need. A musician who means a lot to you gets in trouble and he/she or someone sets up a page in their interest, you can donate. You want to support musicians in your area, you can donate to that region.
I bring this up because a lot of musicians who have passed within the past year did not just die. They suffered in relative silence before dying. And many times, their loved ones and families were drained of resources while attempting to care for them.
I urge you to check Sweet Relief out, if just to see what they do. Their home page (click here) is easy to navigate and you might be surprised the cool things celebrities and non-celebrities alike have put on the auction block to help their fellow artists.
Click here to read a column I wrote relating to the Sweet Relief III album. There are three available, by the way— I, II, and III, each packed with songs you will have trouble finding anywhere else. And remember, it is all for the musicians.
He That Dies Pays All Debts— William Shakespeare…
Indeed, he does— or she— for Death does not recognize gender. To die is to end and that is all.
Lemmy Kilmister— I saw Lemmy live once, with Hawkwind. At least, I think I saw him because after a masterful set by Man, the stage went dark for a good half hour when all of a sudden all hell broke loose, sirens blaring and strobe lights flashing and even flashing red lights on each side of the stage and we in the crowd were blinded and stunned and shaken, not unlike what I thought one might experience in a foxhole when confronted with a stun grenade. Dizzy and disoriented, I noticed movement onstage and through the fog walked a man-like lizard and the drone took over. I remember little else of Hawkwind’s performance, though the music still occasionally pulses in my veins, the nightmare returning during moments of weakness. I was young then, in my mid-twenties, but had it happened yesterday, I am sure I would have been a puddle of piss bleeding from every orifice and possibly a few newly created ones. That is how I will remember Lemmy— that and the crazy man spitting human excretions into the mic during the video of Motorhead‘s Ace of Spades. Know what cartoon always makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I see it? The one of Julie Andrews singing to the kids on the hillside, the words “Ace of Spades, Ace of Spades” inside her little bubble. I hated Sound of Music. Lemmy turned the hate into laughter.
Natalie Cole— Was she happy? I read somewhere that she had a bout with drugs and it wasn’t pretty, but I hope that wasn’t true. She had a beautiful voice and used it extremely well and I stopped in my tracks on occasion marveling at what she could do with it. Though I knew her father and his music well, I barely scratched the surface of hers. That may have been a grave error.
George Romansic— This one is personal. I knew George fairly well. We did business together and spent many an hour talking about music and every other subject known to man (coffee was at the top of the discussion list). He was a friend in more ways than one and he turned me on to some of the best music I have in my collection, always knowing the odd artist or group I would enjoy. Through him I found Clannad and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The LeRoi Brothers and so many more, including an all-time favorite, Juke Jumpers, through which I would meet Jim Colegrove, a man of incredible talents. By the time I met George, he was at the end of the Danger Bunny phase of his run as a drummer, having worked through The Beakers and Three Swimmers and a few other oddball Seattle bands. I had no idea he was the rhythm behind the bands and he was the kind of a guy who wouldn’t mention it, he was that humble. For those who didn’t get the chance to know him, George was a peach of a guy and one outstanding human being. I always said that when I was at my best I emulated people I admired. George was the source of much of that admiration. I miss him a lot.
Vic Firth— What can I say? Toward the end of my battles with drums, Firth’s name was all over most of my sticks. I never did master the rudiments, though, Vic. Sorry. And thanks.
Cilla Black— She had hits in England, I hear, but her attempt at breaking through in the States were unproductive. The only real story I have about her is not about her directly, but about a Lennon/McCartney song which was quite successful overseas.
The Mods were a young Beatles-influenced band out of Fort Worth in the sixties and were looking for a B-side for a single they wanted to record. The A-side was a Scott Fraser original titled Days Mind the Time and their search for a B-side uncovered that successful Lennon/McCartney track, It’s For You. The Beatles had not recorded it and Fraser thought it a chance for a coup. From Lost In Space: The Epic Saga of Fort Worth’s Space Opera…
“It was from a Beatles’ songbook,” confirmed Fraser, “and was not difficult (to do) once certain decisions had been made. The Beatles had not recorded the song and I had not heard the Cilla Black recording (incredibly, I heard it for the first time two years ago in 2003), so the arrangement process involved an attempt to guess what the song was like in its original state. I don’t have that songbook, something I deeply regret, but it seems that the song was in E-Flat. Of course, the Beatles would probably not have written it on guitar in E-Flat except by way of using a capo, but all the published songs at that time were in the wrong key. They were being transcribed by pianists for pianists and that goal was better served by transposition in most cases. So the first thing I did was to transpose into D-Minor, where the descending chord pattern of the verse would be easily realized on guitar. I incorporated a finger-picking pattern instead of a strum and the rest was easy.”
Cass Edwards (the band’s manager) remembered the hoops he had to jump through to even get it recorded. “It took some digging to find Lennon/McCartney’s publisher in 1965, but after many transatlantic phone calls, we secured permission to record ‘It’s For You’. I am not sure they really believed that some sixteen year old kid from Fort Worth was serious.”
I have no idea if Ms. Black ever heard the story, but I hope she did. It was music history, if not directly her music history.
Ms. Black died of a stroke which resulted in a fall or a fall which resulted in a stroke. The tragedy of it is that she lay for a number of hours before she was discovered. Doctors speculate that she could well have recovered had she been found in time.
Wilton Felder— Does anyone under forty remember how huge The Crusaders were back in the seventies? They were HUGE! Felder founded that band (originally as the Jazz Crusaders in 1961. They dropped the ‘Jazz‘ in 1970) with fellow Crusaders Wayne Henderson, Joe Sample, and Stix Hooper, back when they were in high school in Houston. Felder, a sax man, was much in demand as a sideman as well.
(Editor’s Note: Wilton was also an amazing and accomplished bassist. He played the iconic and trend setting bass on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, and scores of other hits, as well as both sides of my group Roxy’s last single before becoming the Wackers, “Tickets”, and “Listen to the Music”. A wonderfully warm and funny man as well as an insipring musician.)
How could people not know about The Crusaders? And what a loss to the music world. Here is a sample (and I’m not talking Joe Sample (it’s a joke, son):
Billy Joe Royal— I was drafted into the Army back in the fall of ’69. The only contact I had with the outside world for over eight months was the radio. Billy Joe’s Cherry Hill Park got played about once an hour, swear to God, and I loved ever damn second of it. Basic training, you see, was a bit like losing your senses. When they took away social contact, the music became even better.
P.F. Sloan— When I was a freshman in college, I couldn’t think of a better song than The Grass Roots‘ Mr. Jones (Ballad of a Thin Man). Supposedly, the band had won a recording contract with Dunhill Records, possibly because of winning a battle of the bands. Dunhill took the band into the studio, junked the band, kept the singer for that one track and then recorded an album around it, the band consisting mainly of Sloan and collaborators Steve Barri and Bones Howe. What came out of it all was my favorite Grass Roots album of them all, Where Were You When I Needed You. Live For Today, the album recorded by a band manufactured by the label, broke out huge and the legend of The Grass Roots grew, but for pure folk rock, I don’t think the first album could be beat. Some of the best folk rock songs ever written. Not long after, I discovered an album by Sloan titled Twelve More Times and I became a Sloan fan forever. There will never be another P.F. Sloan.
Jack Ely— Ely was the guy who sang Louie Louie on the hit version recorded by The Kingsmen. To my knowledge, it was the only Kingsmen song he sang on. Ely, to capitalize on the strength of Louie Squared after parting ways with that band, formed his own band which he originally named Jack Ely & The Kingsmen. The Kingsmen threatened to sue, so Jack renamed it Jack Ely & The Courtmen. They got a record deal with Bang Records and released a second Louie Louie, renaming it Louie Louie ’66, and the rest is history. Jack and I shook hands once when I worked in Los Angeles for Licorice Pizza, a record shop. We talked about Oregon and the guard armory circuit for teen dances and Portland and Eugene and a few other things. Then I headed south for San Diego and he stayed in L.A. for a short time before leaving for the northlands. I have always treasured that conversation. I seldom came across people from Oregon down there. Southern California was nice and all but it had its own culture and I never adapted. Jack is gone now. It sucks. I mean, he sang the biggest hit version of Louie Louie, you know? Want to read more? This is probably more than you ever wanted to know about the song. Click here.
Jim Ed Brown— When Three Bells hit the airwaves in ’59, hormones had just begun ripping my twelve-year-old life to shreds. I was like Pepe Lepew, floating on scents and fumes. I could smell perfume from a mile away. My dad had to lock me in a cage at night. My mother put a leash on me. I was every father’s nightmare. I’m blaming guys like Jim Ed Brown and songs like Three Bells. How could anyone expect a guy to control himself when songs like this were being played?
Stan Freberg— Few out there probably remember Freberg. He was a groundbreaker and a creative force. Rather than try to explain, I think it better if you check out these columns by fellow DBAWIS writer Doug Thompson. As much as I thought I knew about Freberg, I learned again that much. A fascinating character in advertising, radio and TV. Click here. And here. Trust me. It’s good stuff. And we are less for not having Freberg around anymore.
Ray Charles— No, not that Ray Charles. The one who put together The Ray Charles Singers. Sonofagun. I always thought they were one and the same. Boy, do I remember this song! This Charles done pretty good. Perry Como thought so.
John Renbourn— Guitarists may come and guitarists may go, but there will only ever be one John Renbourn. I happened upon him when he was a centerpiece for Pentangle, back when folk was traditional and the sheep were scared. I am amazed at his output over the years. An exceptional musician. Ladies and Gentlemen, chances are you have never really heard Pentangle. Welcome to another dimension.
B.B. King— I saw B.B. once back in ’71. He was damn good. And what a band! When he walked off the stage, the band must have kept playing for ten or fifteen minutes. When it became obvious that no one was leaving, he came back out, sang a song, played guitar, and went to the front of the stage, band blaring on, to shake hands. He definitely gave you your moneys worth. And speaking of hands, watch his. He had a style all his own.
Chris Squire— I found Squire early on in his Yes run (which evidently spanned 47 years until he was forced to hang it up due to illness). The first album, in fact. I listened a lot to the band’s first two albums, the self-titled Yes and Time and a Word, fascinated by the intricate rhythm section and the guitar of Peter Banks. I wasn’t quite sure what to think when The Yes Album was released, but soon found myself playing it at full volume. It was on that one that I truly heard Squire’s genius. The man had one hell of a run. A good one. I’ve Seen All Good People is probably my favorite of theirs. Strangely enough, I stopped listening right there. I don’t know why. I just did. I would hear their songs at people’s houses or on the radio and enjoy them, I just had no use for the rest of their catalogue. I wonder about that even today.
Sam Andrew— San Francisco took a big hit when Big Brother & The Holding Company‘s Sam Andrew passed away. While I was no huge Big Brother fan, I feel a twinge whenever any musician from the psychedelic days pass on.
Lesley Gore— It ain’t just her party anymore. Of her many songs, my favorite is You Don’t Own Me. It seemed like that one was not just a teen anthem but a song for all.
Don Joyce— What is this? My pal D-no used to play Negativland‘s Helter Stupid while we worked. I loved it— just enough creativity and music and craziness to make me bob my head and sing along. I thought they were incredible! While searching for a video to place here (Don Joyce, a Negativlander, recently died), I came across this. I watched it. I am stunned! I had no idea. And I will bet that you didn’t even know Negativland existed. If you did, I give you a point. If you’ve heard them, I will give you five. If you owned or own at least one of their albums, fifty. The big jackpot goes to anyone smart enough to have collected them all. While you ponder this, watch the video. It is eerie as hell.
My mother always told me not to bite off more than I could chew. She also told me to be aware of girls who wore sunglasses on the tops of their heads. Here I am, chewing away and realizing that I have only barely scratched the surface of those who are now gone. It scares me, the amount of talent lost. Kim Fowley. Rod McKuen. Don Covay. Jack Holder. Edgar Froese (Tangerine Dream). Ray Barretto. Clark Terry. Ron Edwards (Music Machine). Billy Sherrill. Ronnie Gilbert (The Weavers). James Last. Ornette Coleman. Harold Battiste. Buddy Buie (Atlanta Rhythm Section). Buddy Emmons. My God! The list goes on forever!
I cannot do what I originally intended. There is neither enough time nor space. I’m sure some of you want to go to work tomorrow (hey, here’s an idea— read it at work!) or perform your usual menial tasks. Did we really lose this many in one year? Probably more. I am pretty sure I missed more than a few. I’m tired. And depressed. We shall take this up at some time in the future. In the meantime, let us look into the future.
News Leading Into 2016…
Stu Nunnery recently announced that he is heading into the studio early this year to record a new album. It will be his first album since the release of his self-titled release on Evolution Records back in 1973. Nunnery has not been able to record for decades due to a serious hearing problem which has, due to modern technology, been somewhat corrected.
David Bullock has been discussing putting a band or a few bands together to support his new EP, In the Waking World. He has put some feelers out to agents and musicians to test the waters. Bullock was one of the founding members of cult favorites Space Opera and the sole survivor of that band.
Carleigh Nesbit released her new album over the holidays. Titled Come Out of the Kitchen, it is a logical extension of her first album, Flower To the Bee, released a few years ago. The songwriting is solid, the performance is first class and the production first-rate. Click here for more info.
Fellow Charlottesvillains Morwenna Lasko & Jay Pun have finally released their latest, The Hollow. Had they not done something soon, I was going to walk back to Charlottesville for some serious chatting. What I have heard is very impressive, indeed. Here is a taste. Oh, and you can order it from their website (click here).
Jeff Ellis claims he is wrapping up his latest album. If you have not heard Jeff, it’s time you did. He has a real touch when it comes to writing and is a lyricist of the first order. If you want to scope him out, I suggest logging into his website or plugging into one of his handful of videos he has placed on YouTube. Again, here is a taste.
Just so you know, the boy can rock too. This is a teaser from his upcoming album.
Maxine Dunn, where are you?!!! It seems like forever since she released Edmund & Leo, an album which really set me back on my heels. She has a touch of the sixties in her, but just a touch— Petula Clark, Sandie Shaw— you know what I’m saying. Of course, she had to go off and have a baby, without my permission, but she seems pretty happy about it and the kid is thriving (though I am sure Maxi could use a bit more sleep). Well, it’s coming, this album. Here is a song to prove it. Or maybe she’s just pulling the wool over my ears. Listen here.
Huzzah! Winston Norrish is alive! Alive, I tell you! And supposedly working on a new Norrish Reaction album. I am astonished how well the first NR album is holding out and am anxious to hear what he comes up with this time. If you missed that excellent first album, here is your chance to correct it. Click here and listen closely. There are some fine, fine tunes there.
Monster Atlantic, the Roanoke band which grew out of cult favorite Sinking Creek, has a new album in the works. Titled Sunken City Radio, it promises to have a little more punch than the Sinking Creek project. I likee. Listen here.
Brian Cullman has his new CD up for pre-order on Amazon. Titled Opposite of Time, it is a little less ambitious, production-wise, than his superb All Fires the Fire album. Release date is set as February 26th. Seriously, both of Cullman’s albums are worth having. Why, there is this track on All Fires titled No God But God that… but I get ahead of myself. You can pre-order by going to this page. Heartily recommended.
All we need now is a new one from Laurie Biagini and she swears it is in the works. The past year, Laurie had some battles with her health but has come out the other end in good if not great shape. Probably great, now that I really think about it. I am hoping for something very soon.
While we wait, though, why don’t we take a look at some
Notes….. Tom Mank stopped by my house last year, accompanied by wife and fellow musician Sera Smolen, who is quite the cellist. I was handed a couple of personal concerts and an appreciation of their enormous talents. This past winter, Mank and Smolen headed for their now annual visit to The Netherlands and Belgium where they have gained quite the following. Accompanied by Terry Burns and Ron Kristy, they took the music into a new dimension. Here is an example, aided also by the voice of Jeannie Burns. You can find out more about Tom and Sera by clicking here.
Years ago I ran into Dala quite by accident and have been following them since. Soon, one half of Dala, Sheila Carabine, will be releasing her solo album. Here is the first shot across the bow. The Oak and the Maple. And here is a link to Dala’s website.
Back in the very early 2000s, I happened upon this band called SOMA out of England. They played soft, somnambulant music— floating, melodic. In those days, they seemed to want to label it shoegaze, whatever the hell that means. When I first saw and heard this video by Halie & The Moon, SOMA was the first thing which came into my mind. Nice stuff, this. You can check out the band by clicking here.
I’ve moved this one further into the Notes segment than I normally would because my ego is already all over everything I write, but this is quite the honor. Charlottesville’s Keith Morris and I have been friends for awhile now, me being only one of a growing number of fans, and he actually saw fit to include my name in his latest trailer for his new album. Only cost me fifty dollars, too. I’m kidding, but I would not be surprised of I got a bill from him in the near future. Seriously, though, The Dirty Gospel is among my top picks of 2015 for more reasons than one. Here they are— The Crooked Numbers— in all their psychopathic glory.
I still have a hard time getting my head around the purported fame of The Stooges. Like the belated idolatry of Big Star, it seems like the people promoting the greatness of the band are mostly after-the-facters— younger people who weren’t there when Iggy and band had a hard time making a living outside of a small number of punk clubs and Detroit. Sometimes I think the hype behind the band, like that of Big Star, is bigger than the band itself ever was. Still, you have to admire what people have come to believe, even if the statements made today are not even close to what they might have said when the band was struggling toward, uh, fame? I am on the fence about this clip about The Stooges’ Ron Asheton. It seems a bit much to me. But I have friends who would crucify me for such blasphemy. Let the clip stand for itself.
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.”