Frank Gutch Jr: Confessions of a (Reformed) Vinyl Junkie, Plus Notes…..
I used to have over 10,000 record albums. That is really not that many when you really look at it. More than you could listen to fairly in a year, I suppose. Deep enough to impress vinyl junkies, too many to impress anyone sane. Way more than enough to make my life desolate when it came to relationships.
It took me years to accumulate that number. I spent weeks scouring the same record stores over and over in the areas I lived, many weekends traveling outside the area. I looked at ads in the back of such magazines as Goldmine and BOMP to search the areas I could not search physically. I bought anything that looked promising— albums with thumbnail reviews and nice artwork and cool names— names are very important, are they not? Sometimes I bought on a hunch, sometimes took a calculated risk. Hearing the music was a plus but if that was not possible any reason would do. Three-man hard rock a plus and six-man prog worth a chance. Soundtracks? Not so much but not out of the question. Electronic music welcome, but real electronic music (Xenakis and Stockhausen) rather than the drone stuff they release these days, largely because synthesizers were a thing of the future. Classical fine but I preferred orchestral. Country & Western, yes, but Bluegrass automatic. International, within reason.
I must have had around 5,000 when I felt the need to alphabetize. Not that it really mattered outside of the fact I could never remember on any but the most odd albums whether I had purchased or just seen in the racks. Questions began to take over my searches. Did Scrubbaloe Caine have more than one album? Was this PFM (Premiata Forneria Marconi) album released in all of Europe or just Italy? Eventually it would turn into the absurd— did Focus have focus and questions about The Wombles. By the time I hit 10,000 or so the real questions began to strike home. Like what I was doing with 10,000 albums I didn’t have time to listen to. I dreaded moving, even when there was no such move in the picture. I was fast becoming a basket case.
When moves finally came, the first things I packed were my albums and I did it methodically— alphabetized by box and the boxes by number. Box #1— Mick Abrahams through Alquin/Nobody Can Wait Forever through Box #278— Compilations from Music of Your Life Vol. 1 through Ed Murrow/I Can Hear It Now (1919-1949) (I always placed Spoken Word albums at the end so I could find them easily).
Now, don’t mistake me here. I didn’t have 10,000+ separate titles. I had 10,000+ albums. Many were the same title— say, thirteen of It’s a Beautiful Day‘s first album or eight Cargoe albums. When you could buy them in very good to excellent condition for under a buck, why not? And when they only cost a dime, even better.
It would have been hoarding, I suppose, had I bought them to hoard or trade but I hadn’t. I bought them to give away, although I will admit to have traded a few. You would be very surprised how many people had “lost” that IABD album and could not find a replacement. They could thank asshat Matthew Katz for that, he having claimed the name for himself and forcing David LaFlamme into the courts to settle the claim. For a number of years, IABD albums were rare as hell (or at least, unavailable). Until Katz re-released them on his own San Francisco Sounds label, the profits from which the band never saw a dime beyond mechanical royalties, if that. By the way, my favorite IABD album was Choice Quality Stuff/Anytime, which was very hard to find at the time.
I have probably given away more albums by Cargoe than any other artist. No one seemed to care when the album was released, on the West Coast anyway, and while copies of the album were not plentiful, virtually every used record shop in Southern California had at least one copy, usually at rock bottom prices. Until I found them. I picked shelves bare of Cargoe and Big Star albums, Blodwyn Pig and Jukin’ Bone albums, Barclay James Harvest albums. I found the later Randy Burns albums (I already had the earlier ones which featured The Skydog Band on the covers and, of course, his classic earlier ESP-Disk albums) and individual beauties I would only find once or twice— Heavy Cruiser and Merryweather and SRC (The Scot Richard Case) and so many copies of sixties albums which later would become super-collectible but which then only seemed to be taking up shelf space.
My few girlfriends during those days thought I was a) crazy, b)self-involved (Why? Just because I couldn’t pass a used record store without going in?), and c) too obsessed with music. They also thought I was indecisive because I didn’t care where we went to eat (Why should I care? All the places we went to served food). I should have pointed out that I was, indeed, decisive, and used my vinyl obsession as proof. I should have told them I was preparing myself for advancement. After all, I did work at various record stores and any and all information about music was helpful.
Those 10,000 records did help. I would end up in Seattle at the tender age of… jeez, how old was I?… as a singles buyer, then the cut-out buyer and then the independent label buyer and finally as the head buyer. I was lucky to have a few hit buyers alongside me to take the real pressure off (I was never able to master the numbers game when it came to the hits— I mean, how many copies of an album which makes you projectile vomit do you buy? I’m talking about you, Wham!). And the kids, because everyone I worked with was well beneath my age, kept me apprised of certain artists I would not have known otherwise. Yeah, I was lucky.
For one thing, buying cut-outs was a dream job, right alongside buying imports. What? Cut-outs? They were the record companies equivalent to book publishing’s remainders. Overstock or items deleted from the catalog to make room in warehouses or just to cut losses. You have 10,000 copies of Leif Garrett‘s Feel the Need album and you’re selling ten a week? You cut it out. You have a warehouse full of that gawdawful soundtrack album from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you cut it out. Quarter apiece and they’re yours, Skeezix. But they have to be gone by Tuesday. It was the way the business worked back then.
So I would sit in the back corner of my work area scouring pamphlets sent out by One Way and Square Deal and all of these companies which dealt in cut-outs, looking for titles we could sell at a profit. You couldn’t sell me that Sergeant Pepper soundtrack for two bucks or even a buck, but for fifty cents or a quarter, I might take a few. There were enough tin-eared customers out there who didn’t mind the likes of Peter Frampton and The Bee Gees butchering Beatles songs— for, say, two bucks. Anything more than that would have been a hard sell, but…..
The cool thing was, amongst those 10,000 albums I once had (I was frittering them away by that time and the number was slowly— very slowly— dwindling), there were titles which were very sellable. Some I found were even highly collectible.
Case in point: Every once in awhile, I would run across odd titles from Jerry Dennon‘s Jerden Records catalogue. The store being in Seattle, those titles were very sought after. Many had been in print for only a very short time and there was the occasional album which, as far as I could tell, had never been released. I found an album by The PH Phactor Jug Band on the Piccadilly label, a Jerden offshoot label. I found one by Magic Fern and one by The Kingsmen billed as Greatest Hits which had tracks my band played when I was in high school— Long Green and The Climb and Death of an Angel. After Dennon had revived the labels after a long hiatus, he released albums on The Great Northwest Music Company label— mainly the History of Northwest Rock series— and those occasionally showed up as cut-outs.
I remember a guy who knew one of the guys in Magic Fern and asked me how many I could get. I think I had ordered a hundred and received four. When you deal in cut-outs, you were at the mercy of the god of quantity. If they had four, that’s what you got.
It wasn’t all great stuff and that’s where my expertise came in. I knew pretty much what would sell for what price, so it was mostly a matter of weeding out the overpriced and then picking the right titles. Every region had its strengths and weaknesses. What you could sell in the Pac Northwest was quite different than what you could sell in San Diego or Dallas. Or at least enough different to make it a challenge.
Anything Northwest was a plus. Bands like Striker, Bighorn, and TKO were good for a handful, all Seattle acts. Portland’s Quarterflash and Nu Shooz could sell a few. Johnny & The Distractions‘ album on A&M showed up once and I would have bought a hundred if I could have gotten them. They may have shipped ten. Amazing Rhythm Aces ended up around Seattle in the late-seventies and, at that time, were extremely popular. They had supposedly almost sold out The Paramount before I got there— quite a feat for a band with no label (they were having legal difficulties). I had a few hundred of each of their ABC Records‘ titles which we sold for $2.99 a pop. It didn’t take all that long before we had sold out.
One of the biggest thrills for me was finding titles which were not hits but contained excellent music. Gypsy comes to mind. They had put out four excellent albums and had only a modicum of success. Still, the music was so unique and so good that I knew there was a market. Only the last two titles were ever on any of the cut-out lists that I saw— Antithesis and Lock Up the Gates— and I stocked them both. They sold slowly but surely, usually because I spent time on the floor and would find the occasional vinyl junkie (my pal John called them suckers— then again, John was one of the few who spent time trying to sell Gypsy albums himself) who would acquiesce, if only to get me off his or her back. You know those people who say there is no more good music these days? They must not have existed then because we would play Antithesis in the store occasionally and more than one person took it home.
At one time I had Robert Thomas Velline‘s Nothin’ Like a Sunny Day and Johnny Rivers‘ Home Grown in the racks. Two of my favorites of the 10,000 and not at all easy to find at the time. I brought in five copies of an album by an Italian band known as Maxophone of which we maybe sold two, but it was worth having in the racks anyway. We most of the time had copies of Steve Young‘s two excellent RCA albums— Renegade Picker and No Place To Fall.
Buying cut-outs did not come without a sense of guilt. I have known and been around musicians all of my life and I hated when they got screwed, whether it was being stiffed after a live gig or being shorted on royalties. With cut-outs, the artists had no real say and most of the time saw no recompense for those albums. In the ideal world, the artist would get paid for every album sold. In the cut-out world, they didn’t. The reasoning, I suppose, was if we get a nickel for every album we cut-out, you’re shit out of luck. The vast majority of musicians I know who recorded for major labels received little more than mechanical royalties and many of them did not even get that. I justified stocking them for the music and the exposure for the artists. I hadn’t been working for Peaches in Seattle for more than a couple of months when John Hammond Jr. walked in the door asking about one of his albums he had recorded on Atlantic Records. I sold him the five copies we had at cost. I know he appreciated it because when he left (after a good fifteen minute conversation about what it was like touring with a toddler daughter) he shook my hand and offered to put me on the guest list at The Rainbow Tavern across the street. I would have taken him up on it, but…..
I bought import albums too. Every bit as fun as cut-outs. Some came through small independent record distributors like City Hall and Bayside. Most came through equally small and independent import dealers. My first experience with imports came via Music Millennium in Portland, Oregon.
I was living in Eugene at the time and a few of us would caravan up the freeway every month or so. I can remember my first day there, barging in the door, asking where the imports were and heading in the direction that was pointed only to be called back for The Intergalactic Trading Company‘s “worksheet.” It was a mimeographed sheet of paper (sometimes two) which gave a thumbnail review of newly arrived albums. We would scour the list for tips and seldom left without buying a few of the albums listed. A few years later, whilst working at Licorice Pizza in San Diego, I would attempt something similar. It didn’t work, largely because our imports were purchased through the head office and the turnaround time on imports was horrendous. It does you no good to talk about an album you won’t see for six months.
I have often wondered what would have happened if I had hung onto most of the albums I had at my collections peak. If I had kept buying and reached 20,000 or more. I woke up one morning and realized that it had been dragging me down for years. There were too many and the duplicate titles became more a source of guilt than anything. I sold a few, I traded a few and I gave away a lot. My mantra became “if someone wants an album more than yourself, give it to them,” and I sometimes had to force albums on certain people. Until one day I gave a Cargoe album to a friend who professed to love the band only to find out later that he had turned around and given it to someone else. Then I added a codicil: If and when you decide to get rid of it, you have to return it to me. It would have been impossible to enforce, of course, but it let people know that I was not just handing off the album out of hand, that it meant something to me.
I mentioned that some of my ex-girlfriends thought I was crazy and obsessed with my albums. I prefer to think that I was crazy and obsessed about the music. There is a difference and always has been. They called me a collector as if it was a dirty word. I collected, true enough, but thought of myself as an enthusiast. They said potato, I said potato. On the surface, everything looked great, but sometimes you can’t fucking win.
An aside: I just checked the Music Millennium‘s web pages to double-check info about Intergalactic and it states that it had not formed until the mid-seventies when a fellow named Archie Patterson joined forces with the Millennium crew. I left Oregon in early 1974 for the vinylly greener pastures of Los Angeles, so Intergalactic had to have been around before that. Or maybe those brain cells have left the building. When it comes down to it, though, whenever it happened, it was a high point in my junkie existence.
Notes….. Hot damn! No Small Children does it again! A trip to the moon and back! All on the fiery exhaust of rock ‘n’ roll! Man, I love these ladies and cannot believe that they are not sweeping the country with their sounds. One of the best of the under-the-radar bands going. I love their take-no-prisoners attitude and positive vibes. When you are done watching this, check out their bandcamp pages and listen closely. It is what you whiners out there have been crying for— good music. Outstanding music, actually!
If you haven’t dipped your ear in Chloe Albert’s music pool, you’re missing one of the best of the female troubadours. Chloe does it all— write, sing, play— and she does it so well! Listen for yourself. Here is her latest video.
When it comes to Undergrunnen and genre, there are no rules. They refuse to play inside the circle and have come up with some killer tracks. They are possibly the most innovative group of musicians out there— playing rock anyway. Here are samples. (They are from Norway, by the way)
Vieux Farka Toure (with one of them accent marks over the ‘e’ in Toure)? Julia Easterlin? I have no real idea who these people are (though I have seen Toure’s name listed fairly recently), but am intrigued with the sample of music provided in the video. Man, there is some damn fine music happening worldwide these days.
Sandy Denny fans have to be excited about next months release of outtakes, TV appearances and the like titled I’ve Always Kept a Unicorn– Acoustic Sandy Denny. I knew of her way back in the late-sixties but became enamored with her music through Fotheringay, a folk-rock band of the very early seventies consisting of Denny, then-husband Trevor Lucas, guitarist Jerry Donahue, drummer Gerry Conway and bassist Pat Donaldson. While Denny was the focal point, the band was exceptional and from everything I have heard was the band she was most comfortable with. There is a lot to be said about the pressures of a solo artist and the lack of same in a band setting. There are lots of demos and BBC appearances in this set. FYI.
Sandy with Fotheringay, my favorite period of her career. I wish I could find the whole video.
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.”