Frank Gutch Jr: 1971: It Was a Very Good Year… Plus Notes
But first, Brian Cullman has a pretty cool video I would like you to watch. He just released his first album in some years (The Opposite of Time) and is actually attempting to put a band together to play a few live gigs. This is something you don’t want to miss, though the audience may be limited to New York where Brian lives. Anyway, just so you know what Brian has to offer, watch this!
If you have read anything I have written, I hope that you have read about Notary Sojac. They became legends in my mind the very first time I saw them play at a Rainier Sunbust at Skinner’s Park in Eugene back in the summer of 1971. I had seen and heard some impressive bands over the years but what Sojac served up was something extra special. I have not heard many bands who have occupied the same space at the same time— Allman Brothers on their first album; Yes at the time of The Yes Album; Neil Young & Crazy Horse on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; Jethro Tull and Benefit. Seeing Sojac play live was a thrill and I remember laughing a lot at Doug Ness‘s jazzy rhythms and fundamentally sound rudiments, Will Herold‘s prowess on the Hammond B-3, Jim Lowry‘s rolling and sometimes walking bass, Steve Koski‘s and Tom McMeekan‘s opposing but totally in-sync guitars, and Bob Koski‘s incredibly unique voice. These guys swept me away and I had never heard them play a note! They were, in the terms of today, a jam band, I suppose, able to leap quarter notes in a single band and carry what started out as a standard tune to a sometimes chaotic conclusion. Here is a taste of what I heard that day at Skinner’s. This band heralded for me the Summer of ’71. To read more about Notary Sojac, click here.
The summer of 1971. Freedom. After “serving” in the military for one-year-nine-months-two-days-four-hours-and-thirty-five-minutes, I was free to go. I grabbed my fairly new copy of Sticky Fingers and the rest of my collection (which included the first Brinsley Schwarz album, The Faces‘ First Step, Neil Young‘s Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere and Jethro Tull‘s Stand Up and Benefit) and headed back to Eugene and the University of Oregon for some much needed R&R. Music had carried me through my militaristic incarceration, so the first thing I looked for was a record store. Thompson’s Record Mart was still down around Fifth Street somewhere, but that was a long walk. One day, whilst walking toward campus from downtown, I noticed a small hole-in-the-wall shop with a sign out front: Records! It would become my home , though they would move twice before settling in at 258 E. 13th where they are still.
HOR expanded a handful of times over the years, renovating that old house on 13th every once in awhile to make room, but in my mind it would remain that teeny little room, once a mechanic’s/accountant’s window to a car dealership. The rest of the “garage” was empty, but that little room was a mecca.
My first time in, there were maybe five to eight cardboard boxes of records full of mostly bands of which I had no clue. The first album by Grin was there and I picked it up, having heard the early rumblings of Nils Lofgren from a Washington DC article sent to me by a friend. There were a few I had seen in cut-out bins— albums by May Blitz and Sir Lord Baltimore and Help and Glass Harp, all records which I would eventually own but which had to wait for cash flow.
At first, I was a mite disturbed, so few of my favorites at the time in those boxes. I spent as much time at Ron Prindle’s Chrystalship as I did HOR that summer, but something kept me coming back. One was a brother-in-music named Gary Haller, one of the most easygoing guys I had ever met. Gary was always ready to talk music and we spent a few long afternoons reading liner notes and talking about local and regional bands. We would come to rely on one another for information, a connection we both have to this day.
Gary and HOR moved into a funky house on, I believe, Oak Street, that fall. The winter was wet and cold and Gary and I and Steve Delph, who would move to Seattle and become involved with the legendary record store Cellophane Square before opening his poster/frame shop, Innervisions. That fall, though, it was meetings in front of a beautiful fireplace and scouring the racks for albums with which to pick brains. During those “sessions” I learned two things: Make sure you knew what you were talking about and bleed people like Gary and Steve for all the info you could get. They fed the fire with stories and information and friendship and music. While some afternoons saw little business and much of the time was spent sans music, the conversation flowed on a constant basis. Those few months brought Pure Prairie League, Yes, and Uncle Jim’s Music to my attention.
Alas, the Oak Street location, as cool as it was, soon gave way to 13th Avenue and a golden age. Right next to the first Taco Time which was across the street from a small market which sold ice cold beer in bottles, the new location gave HOR what it had not had— foot traffic. Soon, a small group of vinyl junkies adopted the store and started hanging out at all hours of the day and customers began finding it. Gary soon found himself having to build racks to accommodate the steadily growing inventory and the more inventory drew more customers until it was almost too crowded for me at times.
You have to understand that HOR was not standard record store. It lived off of used product, mostly, and most of that depended upon disc jockeys and record company promotion people, who would sell off their demo copies for usually much needed cash. At any one time, fifty- to seventy-five percent of the stock were promos. So it’s not like they were swimming in albums by John Denver and James Taylor and Crosby Stills & Nash. What they got, they sold. And when they sold them, they were gone.
By this time, I was so involved in the adventure of music that I didn’t care. I began to develop a reputation. No matter what came in, if no one else wanted it, they figured I probably would. Gary started keeping notes. New Buckingham Nicks came in yesterday, he would say. Me: Who the hell are they? Gary: I don’t know but they sound pretty good. (It took Buckingham and Nicks joining Fleetwood Mac a few years later to get them the attention they deserved) It was a conversation we would have many times with only the artist name changed. My collection grew.
Darrell, a fellow junkie, would hammer me constantly about what would become known as prog (short for progressive music). Darrell: Heard Genesis yet? Me: Nope. Darrell: Van der Graaf Generator? Me: Nope. Darrell: You’re missing out. Me: But I don’t like prog. Darrell: You’re missing out. One day, just before I left Eugene for Los Angeles, Darrell invited myself and a few other guys to his place for a listening party. No one else showed. I think I brought over three albums. They never got heard. Darrell put on Genesis‘s Nursery Cryme and then Foxtrot and it was all over but the shouting. Instant Genesis fan. That afternoon, he also turned me on to a band I thought I would never get— Van der Graaf Generator. Pawn Hearts sucked me right in and not long after, I had purchased their entire output to that point.
Thus became my life. From Eugene , a record mecca, to Los Angeles which was an endless source of vinyl on the cheap. Time off spent finding and digging through dusty racks and finding lost treasures. Listening every chance I had to my latest discoveries. Learning about the music and the artists and, in a way, the industry and how it functioned and did not function.
But this is about the early days of discovery— those spent in what should not have been a center of an industry based mainly (at that time) in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. I could not have had a better environment.
I was the first of my friends to get into a handful of bands which would make it big, largely because the bands were not quite ready for prime time. The most obvious example would be that of Yes. I picked up Yes and Time & a Word because Gary thought guitarist Peter Banks was worth hearing and keyboardist Tony Kaye was creating a buzz. Not that the rest of the band wasn’t, but you somehow knew that Chris Squire, Jon Anderson and Bill Bruford were onto something of their own. And when Steve Howe joined, there was no stopping them.
Banks went on to Flash and then I lost track. One wonders what I would have discovered had thew Internet been around. In those days, info was plain hard to come by when it came to the lesser-knowns.
They were plugging this thing called “pub rock” in the early seventies and I struggled to understand. The first two mentioned in ads were the aforementioned Brinsley Schwarz and If. I had the BS album in hand and set out to get the If which was easy enough to find. Their US label was putting big money behind both bands. I understood why, though few others did. They tanked, Stateside.
BS would soon be the band which spawned a young Nick Lowe on the world and they were no slouches. They were talent-packed and, judging by the power of the self-titled album, ready to bend some heads. Stacked vocals, outstanding keyboards and top-flight songwriting were can’t miss. I still haven’t figured how they did. They rolled between hard rock and country, never quite hitting the mark on either. The first two albums were quite exceptional. Quite exceptional.
If, on the other hand, were a whole ‘nother ball o’ wax. Their jazz leanings put off more than a few potential fans and the horns got in the way for others, but I found them quite exceptional. For one thing, their arrangements were surprisingly tight, future greats Dick Morrissey and Dave Quincy able to make two horns sound like a handful. J.W. Hodgkinson had a voice not only unique but perfect for the band’s sound, and then there was Terry Smith, whose guitar was the consummate bridge between rock and jazz. What they provided was rock, for sure, but in a combination I had never before heard. They would go on to release five albums in the States and they would all bump up against the self-titled album in content but never best it. It is a classic.
I would follow Smith on to a band known as Zzebra, who incorporated third world rhythms (mainly African) into their sound, probably mostly due to the inclusion of Loughty Amao of Osibisa on horns and vocals. Smith and Dave Quincy from If made their mark, also, and then (again) there was Smith. The man had a real touch on the guitar and in those days guitar was what I evidently needed. The band would put out at least one more album, the second titled Panic, which was a bit louder and raucous, substituting unknown to me Steve Byrd for Smith on guitar who plays an absolutely beautiful lead on an instrumental and jazzy version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling that sends me soaring every time I hear it. Again, no reaction. At least, Stateside.
I had a good two-and-a half-year run in Eugene and the records began piling up. Glass Harp put out a second and then third LP, both excellent. I followed my obsession with Fleetwood Mac which I had picked up while in the Army. I discovered Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck and fell madly in love with It’s a Beautiful Day, thanks to their Wasted Union Blues which I played incessantly. But it wasn’t all mainstream. My friend Darrell made me pick up a copy of Amon Duul II‘s Wolf City, which I took to like it was candy. Gary was pushing things my way on a constant basis (and in fact, only a few years ago gave me his copy of English Gypsy by English Gypsy, strangely enough because I had told him I had lost mine in a move).
Radio station KZEL was an underground radio monster, starting from square one and becoming legend overnight. They had no playlist as far as I could tell and many of the disc jockeys delighted in playing the hip tracks— Funkadelic‘s Maggot Brain, The Temptations‘ Masterpiece, deep tracks from The Chambers Brothers and Wishbone Ash and Quicksilver and, yes, The Grateful Dead. Occasionally a Mad River track would sneak in and Long John Baldry became a local favorite (the It Ain’t Easy album). Superfly received blanket attention as did John Hartford and James Taylor.
They turned me on to Dalton & DuBarri, Pacheco & Alexander, Megan McDonough and Jimmie Spheeris. Ah, Jimmie Spheeris. I can still hear Soul Tumbleweed wafting from the huge Sansui speakers.
The speakers! Just before I got out of the Army, I ordered a few pieces of stereo gear from Guam. A Sansui AU-317 amplifier, a Dual turntable and two huge Sansui speakers which I think were five-speaker, four-way jobs. I loved that system! When it came time to crank it up, I could, but mostly we kept it sane because I had moved into a very cool neighborhood in Eugene and loud music could have upset them. Having long hair was enough of a problem. No sense in rilin’ up the old folks, you know?
Ratchell caught my ear one day, this band from L.A. They pronounced it Ray-chul and I loved what they did— smoky lounge rock with a groove. Many years later I would have a chance to thank them for the music, running into them in San Diego just before they signed with Warner Brothers as Couchois (pronounced Coosh-wah).
As for 1971 itself, it wasn’t all that great of year when it came to the hits. Tony Orlando & Dawn, believe it or not, topped the Billboard charts with Knock Three Times, followed by The Osmonds‘ One Bad Apple and Janis Joplin‘s Me and Bobby McGee— three horrendously tacky songs, to say the least. Thank the gods The Temptations were around to buck things up a bit with Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me). Three Dog Night gave us Joy to the World, a song to make the strongest projectile vomit, but the Rolling Stones negated it with their superb Brown Sugar and the last album I ever liked by them— Sticky Fingers. The Honey Cone and Want Ads beat out Carole King and It’s Too Late, The Raiders‘ Indian Reservation made me turn in my Paul Revere & The Raiders fan club membership and James Taylor bottomed out the Top Ten with You’ve Got a Friend. I loved Sweet Baby James. It’s the only album Taylor recorded that I gave five stars.
And there were hit albums— Mountain/Nantucket Sleighride, Nilsson/The Point, Carole King/Tapestry, Jethro Tull/Aqualung, Alice Cooper/Love It to Death, War/All Day Music, Paul McCartney/Ram, Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On, Allman Brothers/Live at the Fillmore, The Who/Who’s Next, Van Morrison/Tupelo Honey, Led Zeppelin/IV, and The Kinks/Muswell Hillbillies, to name a few. I’m not arguing that this is not an impressive list.
But I was busy burying myself in Cowboy‘s 5’ll Getcha Ten, Gary Wright‘s Extraction, Little Feat‘s first album, Barclay James Harvest‘s Once Again, Caravan‘s In the Land of Grey and Pink, Bloodrock‘s 3, Flamin’ Groovies‘/Teenage Head, Fanny‘s Charity Ball, Gypsy‘s In the Garden, Buzzy Linhart‘s The Time To Live Is Now, Hawkwind‘s In Search of Space, Crabby Appleton‘s Rotten To the Core, and It’s a Beautiful Day‘s Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime. Some by choice, some thrust upon me by friends. And wasn’t 1971 the year Daddy Cool invaded the US from Australia?
The only real difference between those lists was airplay. Had any one of the albums from my list gotten blanket airplay, there is no doubt in my mind that they would have been hits. Well, with the possible exception of Hawkwind whose music may have been (and was, to my mind) far beyond the average music fans’ understanding.
Yes, 1971 was the year I really got the bug for the indies (or the albums which do not get the attention they deserve. We’re on the same page, on the whole. I’ve heard all of your hits, World. If you could have just heard a few of mine.
Speaking of Indies, what say we take a tiptoe through the…
Notes….. I heard something in Fleurie which has made me look for her or at least take note when I come across her name— something floating and eerie and melodic and, in this case, beautiful. I have no idea who she is or whether she is signed to a major label, but she intrigues me— her sense of space and use of voice. I usually save videos like these as examples of mood music or the space-time continuum, but I have a feeling there is something more here. She may well be destined for bigger and better things…..
I wouldn’t have believed it, but it turns out Italians can sing better English than most Americans speak. From Italy’s Moustache Prawn— Something Is Growing. Nice stuff.
Here’s a decent Power Pop break for you from The Sherlocks. I like it.
Here’s new relating to Petra Haden, who made waves a few years ago with her version of a Who album. She was way ahead of the curve. From Howlin’ Wuelf Media: Bar/None Records is re-releasing the first two Petra Haden albums, Imaginaryland and Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out April 8, digitally and on vinyl. This will be the first time either album is issued in the latter format. Vinyl freaks, this is your chance! I assume the numbers will be limited!!!
New album coming from The Hotelier in May. Here’s a teaser.
There are a lot of bluegrass and country bands out there but only a few really have the ability to pull off what Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice pulled off with The Bluegrass Album Band. Town Mountain, a band out of Asheville NC, does though and they prove it song after song. A bit more country here and a bit more bluegrass there makes the music as roots as you can get. Here is a sampler video to prove my point. This is good stuff.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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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.”