Frank Gutch Jr: Brock Zeman: Six Degrees of Separation; Save the Carleton; Revisiting the Sacred Cow Syndrome; plus Notes…..
The name doesn’t have the rhythmic cache of Biff Pocoroba or Phil Villapiano, but it has its own feel to it. Brock. How many people have you met named Brock? I’ve known a couple. Well, one. I’ve heard of a couple, though. Zeman. He’s the first one I’ve ever noticed. I say noticed instead of heard of because as sure as the rains down in Africa (apologies to Toto— the band, not the dog), I will now meet a handful of Brocks and damned if every other person will be a Zeman. I know. Never met a girl named Debbie until I dated one, then every other new girl I met was a Debbie. I’m ready, though. I have practiced and have at least ten or so unique greetings for the Brocks and Zemans about to be unleashed on me.
I first became aware of Mr. Zeman through Tom House, a musician relatively new to me and yet an old friend already. Tom is timeless, in his character and in his music. Zeman knows that and dragged Tom into the studio to record the exceptional Winding Down the Road album. I was sold. But it was Keith Morris, who fronts his own band out of Charlottesville VA (Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers) who turned me on to House. So maybe I’d better start there.
(Truth be told, if I was really into it I would start with Danny Schmidt and Devon Sproule, two popular but under-the-radar musicians who brought Morris to my attention. Indeed, without their help, I might have missed the significance of Charlottesville as a centro-musical force altogether)
Morris and I had not known one another long when Tom House came up as a topic of conversation. I had reviewed his Songs From Candyapolis album, his first foray into the world of recording. Our conversations about that album and the state of music (and professional baseball) gave us common ground. Let me state here that he is one of the funniest and most brilliant people with whom I have parried words, but tossed the funny aside when talking about House. He went out of his way to contact House and tell him I was interested and the next thing I knew, I had an email from Mr. House in my inbox. Are you interested, he asked, and what’s your address. A couple of weeks later I had in my hands two albums and a short history of his life in music. We very quickly became friendly acquaintances if not necessarily friends.
When I told Morris I had the two CDs in hand, the otherwise reticent Morris became loquacious.
Yeah, i wish you could hear “the neighborhood is changing” first, he wrote. it’s his first cd and a great introduction to his music. but those are both good ones he sent. he sent jesus doesnt live here anymore & til youve seen mine, right? or did he send that dark calling? if he sent that dark calling, i’ll warn you–i had that song (dark calling) in my head for half a year after hearing it. he’s like that.
tom house reminds me of charles bukowski an awful lot as an artist. in the sense that i suppose he cares and has cared a lot more about living, drinking, and writing something great far more than he cares about ‘success.’ matter of fact, i think to do what he does, he’s pretty much had to turn his back on the possibility of making any money or getting a lot of attention. it was a choice. if people discover him, great; if not, he still put his world out there. did his thing; wrote his songs; left his art. it’s authentic as it gets. of course, he’d love a bit of attention–like bukowski got at the end there. i hope people discover him, like they discovered bukowski. and like they found daniel johnston. i love daniel johnston, too, but…well…tom’s best stuff is as good as it gets. and yeah, it’s gotten rough for him. health problems & money problems. i’m hoping something happens for him soon. that the universe swoops in like some deus ex machina and redeems the story.
Luckily, the health problems are being somewhat alleviated and the financial? He’s a musician! And not one of those musicians who made the millions when the millions were to be made. He is today’s musician— scraping by, starving, jingling coins in his pants pocket hoping they will reproduce.
But maybe that is what makes him who he is as both a man and a musician. His songs are mostly stark and barren, like a mined mountaintop. They are Appalachian documentaries and backwoods storytelling. They are the songs Alan Lomax looked for during his long run of saving our musical heritage. And House is not a poser. Every desolate scene and grim lyric comes from deep within. They are his nightmares and his commentaries. There is no way he does not see and feel them. You can fake it for a song or two, but not much longer. House is for real.
I knew it when I first heard the opening track of Winding Down the Road, Whiskey Sings Like Angels. It was too true and too real. It struck home, swiftly and deeply.
Whoa. Just checked my notes. Turns out that Morris was responsible for the CDs House first sent me. Morris sent House my address and House took it from there. Just trying to give credit where credit is due.
Where were we? Ah, yes. Brock Zeman. You knew I would get to him, right? The music from the video above? Produced by Zeman, who also played as a sideman. The entire Winding Down the Road album, in fact. House sent me an email just before he sent me a copy and mentioned Zeman’s ability to, uh, create sounds. You work through that album, you hear it. Zeman has a topuch.
Zeman has a touch on his own albums too. Eleven of them, I believe. Ten, I have yet to hear but hope to soon. The one I have heard, Pulling Your Sword Out of the Devil’s Back, Made mt Top Ten of 2015. Wait. So did Tom House’s Songs Like Dreams… More Like Blood and, no, Zeman did not produce that one. He could have, though. The man has a vision for both himself and for others he chooses to work with.
Which brings us to Lindsay Ferguson. Zeman produced Ferguson’s Chameleon album from last year and it is a music and production gem. Zeman had actually sent me a link to a video of a track from that album, Donal Og, which I found beautifully intriguing. There is an English trad/folk bent to it but I, supposedly swamped with work and stacks of CDs and albums I have yet to hear, assumed that was it. Ferguson, I thought, was a folkie. God, but how wrong I can be. But you can understand my mistake, right?
Of course, I should have known. Apologies, the second half of the video, is hardly traditional. Ferguson, in fact, switches things up quite nicely on the album, even bringing in rapper JOFO who works out of Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, on two tracks. One of the best mixture of genres I have ever heard.
Am I getting this right? The whole six degrees thing? I find it fascinating— the close friends you have who are also good friends with people you know but have no clue that they know one another; the people you meet because you know someone; the paths which intersect. It sometimes freaks me out.
Like right now. I never would have thought that by contact with Schmidt and Sproule that I would have followed this path. I read something on the Net just today about the Dr. Seuss dude who had submitted this first Cat In the Hat work 27 times to no avail and was ready to give up when he happened upon a friend who had just started working with a publishing house. Bingo. Said something to the effect that had he been walking on the other side of the street, he might well have never become a real, published author. Goes to show you. Life is a crap shoot. Don’t give up.
Oh, and just so you know. Zeman and Blair Hogan, who play on the Sweat video above, played most of the instruments on Chameleon. You can hear it. Zeman’s a freaking music genius, swear to God.
Save The Carleton?
Crowdfunding to save a business? Not a popular thing here in Oregon. You go into business, you need to have your shit together. Period. Or you would think so by listening to certain people talk. That’s what business is all about, right? You take the risk and if you do it right you succeed. If you don’t, well…..
Well, The Carleton in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is hoping crowdfunding will be the answer to their ills. Turns out, the 1% and their lackies, the government, are building some kind of huge multiplex series of buildings across the street from that venue and, naturally, things are so screwed up that business is way down. So they decided to try it this way. Send them a few bucks and they will try to keep the business running until construction is done and business returns to normal.
While I know that certain people are tiring of the whole fundraising thing, in this case I don;t think it is bad at all. The venue has been a supporter of music and musicians for years and has a reputation throughout Canada (and is even fairly well-known here in The States) which points to it as a perfect beginner or ender of tours. Many of my favorite musicians have played there and speak highly of it.
Watch the video to get the lowdown and then consider five or ten bucks. A good venue is a good venue and when it’s gone, it usually is gone.
Let Us Revisit Sacred Cows…..
Back in 2012, I brought up a subject I have always found fascinating— what separates the hoi polloi from the stars. We see it all the time— extreme love for an actor and nothing but vitriol for another or, in its less extreme form, intense love or apathy. I have struggled to understand it my whole life, watching my favorite bands swept aside by those of lesser talent or, in the case of movies, watching the same-olds getting the juicy roles whilst others are assigned to the scrap heap. If you want to know why I haven’t been to the movies in years, it is the fact that I can no longer stomach certain stars in any roles because I have just seen them too many times to care. But that is what they think we want and maybe that is what most of you want. But how are those decisions made? Here are some comments from a DBAWIS column published in 2012:
I follow Jaimie Vernon on Facebook not because he has anything to say (kidding, Jaimie) but because he has a way of pushing buttons that bring out the worst in people. When he’s pissed or maybe just mischievous, he can bring out more of a knee-jerk reaction than an “I Love Obama” placard at a Tea Party convention. And he did. Last week. I can’t quite remember what he posted originally, but I do remember the responses, many of which make me shake my head. They weren’t pretty. His response to those was a bit of an I-get-this-kind-of-asshole-response-every-time-I-post-something-not-glowing-about-the-(insert iconic idol here). In other words, he, like myself, does not love The Beatles just because they were The Beatles and God forbid he make such a statement public.
I am constantly wondering how one band curries public favor while others remain virtually unknown— how some artists are considered untouchable in a world which glorifies desecration. If I posted a list of my favorites musicians, a large percentage of people who might stumble upon it would blast me out of the water with the who’s-thats and if-I’ve-never-heard-of-them-they-can’t-be-worth-a-craps. Most, of course, would simply glance and move on because it would not be worthy of even a short response. Time wasted. I have better things to do. But God forbid I say something not positive (let alone negative) about Michael Jackson or The Beatles or The Rolling Stones (though, oddly enough, negative comments about Justin Bieber are most welcome) without 90% of readers pulling out the guns and threatening death.
I don’t get it. Some of what The Beatles produced was mediocre, at best, by the members of the band’s own admissions. Yet point out the shortcomings of, say, an Octopus’s Garden or an Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and you invite hate mail? I have to be honest with you. Thriller didn’t thrill me nor has anything Prince. As I stated in last week’s column, most Stones offerings after Exile are pure crap. The Beatles’ solo albums? El stinko, though certain songs stand up well enough. And I key these to make a point. These are my own opinions. If you disagree, I understand. After all, music is personal. But when many of you throw it in my face and refuse to let it go, I am forced to respond. I prefer not to. I prefer to smile and move on, but some people seem to have this need for confirmation.
In my head, those people do not deserve a response. What they deserve is therapy. If something as innocuous as a less than super-positive stance toward your favorite artists pisses you off, you’re in trouble. Judging by the handful of responses I got regarding my stance toward superstars in last week’s column, I would have to say that there are way too many loose cannons on the musical landscape. I’m not angry, I’m just sayin’.
I’m also sayin’ that if any one of those who responded negatively have actually taken time to listen to any one of my suggestions regarding today’s music, they are one amongst, well, hundreds. I want to say millions but days like today I feel like there aren’t even a million in the world who really gives a shit about music anymore. And as much as I know that’s not true, I hope it makes my point.
And thanks for the suggestions, but those things are much too large to be placed where you proposed.
With that out of the way, why don’t we get to a few…..
Notes….. It seems a decade ago yet tomorrow that Ruth Hazleton snuck a copy of her and Kate Bush‘s outstanding (and I mean outstanding) Declaration album into a Bill Jackson parcel. Thus began a new path, both forward and backward, in my search for music. Only two originals graced that album, one each by Ruth and Kate, and they were excellent and normally I would be disappointed. Covers are not my thing. Back in the seventies, though, there was a movement afoot which preyed upon the traditional and produced some of my favorite music of the period known universally as “trad folk.” Thus began a lifelong attachment to bands like Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span and Pentangle and Silly Wizard and so many others. This movement is afoot once more thanks to efforts of musicians such as Kate & Ruth, as they are known. It is not just the music, though I love every note of it. There are stories in the songs, like the one behind Katy Cruel, the song in this video. How did I put it in my review of the album? This is folk in the tradition of very early Sandy Denny and Maddy Prior and the tradition of the downtrodden everywhere. Let us hope we wake up before the Monsantos and trade partnerships bury us all. Long live tradition!
Slade is the band of the week here at DBAWIS (they really aren’t, but sometimes I like to play like the big boys do) and this just popped up on the Net. I first heard the band when the Slade Alive! Album and fell in love with them. That was 1972 and the album purportedly climbed the British charts all the way to #2, but it did diddley squat in the States. That didn’t affect my enthusiasm for the band, though, In Like a Shot From My Gun sending my hippie-fied body into throes of ecstasy and making me wish I still smoked— pot. Even at that young age, I had given it up for music. We all have our own vices, eh? Anyway, this is a video from 1969, three years before they would scramble my brains in a very British way.
OMG!!! Lots o’ big stars from the UK actually knew who those guys were! Even Ozzy (though he was probably not all that sure):
But, hey! Why stop with the beginning? Here is the full documentary!!!
I sometimes laugh at how different the different parts of rock music were which affected the US and the UK. I mean, Cream‘s Wrapping Paper a #1 song?!!!
Oh, I don’t know, Ginger. Kinda sounds like Adele to me.
Or Acker Bilk.
Bet Cream was glad they never shared the stage with Noddy and the boys. Or did they?
You might have read some of my comments regarding Jon Gomm, UK’s guitarist-extraordinaire. Gomm and I share a disgust with the current streaming situation regarding Spotify and Pandora and the like. He is one of the few who has been able to overstep the roadblocks common to the struggle of the musician these days. This just in. This is one reason why.
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.”