Frank Gutch Jr: Space Opera… the Final Frontier; Spotify Revisited (Revisited); Plus Notes

 

Frank Gutch young

I was sitting here navigating the social media this past week when I noticed a rockumentary I thought I had seen before— one on Ed Dougherty, who had headed up Oregon’s connection to rock music back in the sixties, booking acts both local, regional, and national in the Pacific Northwest.  I was sure I had seen it, having written about it in more than one of my columns, but I was feeling nostalgic and took the plunge anyway.

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Never hurts to watch interviews of Paul Revere and Jim Valley (The Viceroys, Don & The Goodtimes, and The Raiders) nor to see the many pics Chuck Stenberg amassed to capture the scene of the times.  Right off the bat, I realized that though I had seen many of the pictures and a few of the video clips, this was not the documentary I had thought.  This was a more mature, more elongated documentary which, while using segments of that old doc, expanded the story.  I was going to watch just the first few minutes, having an workload which has me hunched over from the weight, but I found myself 48-minutes into it before I could pull myself away.  48-minutes into a film close to an hour-and-a-half long.

By the time I had pulled away, I was awash in not just the old memories but the new ones, for Stenberg plopped bands in the midst of those covered previously into my consciousness— international to local. The cool thing is that he did it for the right reasons, those being to give a better view of what had really happened.  Too often, we wrap ourselves up in what everyone knew and remembered— Rolling Stones at the Portland Coliseum, Sonny & Cher and The Mamas & The Papas and Paul Revere & The Raiders at the Salem Auditorium, and Johnny Cash at the Oregon State Fairgrounds.  I mean, I had completely forgotten that The Dave Clark Five had played Salem.  Or Gary Lewis & The Playboys (laugh if you will, newbies, but Lewis was hugely popular in the mid-to-late sixties— in Oregon, at least).  There is so much to see and hear in this puppy that I recommend you pick up a copy, but what the hell?  You can view it here:

And while the viewing progressed, I found myself wondering about so many things.   Why so many people could care less for the lesser bands and yet idolize, beyond belief, the stars.  How different history is the further we get from the actual events.  Why people equate popularity with talent (that one has had me perplexed for years).  Hillary or Bernie?  Ha!  Just threw that one in to see if you were paying attention.

spaceoperasnowCouple the vid with transferring my in-depth history of Space Opera to No Depression, and the whole structure of the music industry as it has morphed became at one and the same time more confusing and more clear.  Space Opera, for those not in the loop, was a band out of Fort Worth, Texas back in the early seventies which actually had a shot at the gold ring.  They came close, scoring a recording deal with a major label (Epic in the US and Columbia in Canada), but died on a vine.  The story as it unfolded is worthy of a motion picture, taking decades to play out and involving such personages as The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, T-Bone Burnett, Clive Davis, and— as they say in the film biz— a cast of thousands.  People who know SO know bits and pieces of the saga, know the people behind parts of it, but not all that many of them know that the band had not one but three albums released during their decades-long journey.

spaceoperacoverI, along with a small handful of friends, was a huge fan, having the Epic album practically thrown at me by friends who recognized it as something I would like.  Byrds-y in places, jangly jams in others, it had everything I wanted— melody and harmony and some of the most adventurous stretches of music I had heard up to the time.  I remember being in stores in Eugene which were tuned in to radio station KEED shortly before they went country and hearing Country Max and thinking, finally, someone found it.  Strange thing, though.  The one station which should have played it, undergound station KZEL, didn’t.  At least not that I ever heard.

The only mention about the band on the album jacket which related to anything geographical was where it was recorded— Manta Sound in Toronto— so more than a few, including myself, thought the band Canadian.  Years later they would be unmasked as a Texas band, though no attempt had been made to obscure origin.

Texas knew what they had and had the band had any real concept of what it took to keep momentum, the word would have spread.  They were getting airplay upon release and in fact had been getting airplay before they had even signed.  They had recorded what they purported to be a demo album at Exit 4 Studios in Dallas and had handed the tapes to radio station KFAD which put them on the playlist.  Of course, when you have no product, even the loosest of stations have trouble justifying airplay so even KFAD allowed the tracks to slip through their fingers after a short run.  The disc jockeys, especially Don Swancy and Joe Nick Patoski, remember it, though.  A chance to play music to which no other radio station has access.  A chance to support local boys.  Something that made a difference— to them, anyway.

But Space Opera would be the only real chance the band had at success.  The Epic album.  1973 in the US, 1972 in Canada.  I sigh when I think how close they came.  They had this one track, Country Max— their single, which had AM hit written all over it.  Short, sweet, stacked with harmonies.  Everything AM wanted.  Everything most AM stations outside of Texas ignored.  Perhaps you have heard it.

The band basically came out of a project recorded at Sound City by T-Bone Burnett.  Just a bunch of musicians hanging out and playing music with a possible endgame, but not really.  (If you want the details, check the No Depression website over the next couple of days.  It should be posted soon.  Just type “Lost In Space” in the search box and it should pop up.)  That project would eventually be released on UNI Records as Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill/The Unwritten Works Of and included three future members of SODavid Bullock, Scott Fraser, and Phil White.  The album, as obscure as it was, became a bit of a collectors item when it crashed and burned before hardly anyone had even heard it.  Those three, though, had enjoyed their experience so much that they decided to make a go of it as a band.  It would be some time later, after burning through a few drummers, that they would find Brett Owen Wilson and begin life as Space Opera.

They struggled to get any respect from labels until they scored the Epic contract.  They had tapes other than the Exit 4 masters but the labels weren’t biting.  Indeed, even after playing a spacial showcase for Clive Davis, Kris Kristofferson, and Eric Andersen, they got short shrift, Davis muttering his infamous line, “I don’t hear a single.”  Through an odd set of circumstances, they crossed the border to the north, though, and signed with Columbia/Canada, reportedly the only US band to sign with them.  Through whatever system they had, the album was handed to imprint label Epic for US release.  Not that it would have made any real difference, but you never know.

My heart sank when I realized there was little to no hope.  I thought I would never hear from them again.  Little did I know…..

The band was not disbanded, though how would anyone have known outside the music trade magazines which had little interest in bands going nowhere anyway.  Epic had dropped them and they were on their own, not quite whole yet not quite dissolved either.  It would be a couple decades before they would make another real recording attempt.  Well, at least one which would be released.

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Bullock headed to New York, Fraser soon following, Wilson working in Fort Worth, and White heading to L.A. To record and produce.  When it seemed like they might have another chance, the two now-New Yorkers sent for Wilson and White and they gave it the old college try.  It wasn’t the way it was before, of course, but they were on the same page.  They all wanted an album and for the band to be successful.  What they cam,e up with fell far short, though, and Fraser returned to Fort Worth to get married, Wilson returned to his job and wife, and White headed back to the bar circuit.  Like White told me in one interview, he wanted to play.  They weren’t broken up, just taking hiatus is all, and when Bullock and his wife returned to Dallas from New York, they linked up again.  For themselves if for no one else.

By 1999, they were once again ready to record.  They went into Eagle Audio in Fort Worth and came out with a beauty of an album but no real plan for marketing.  It remained unnamed, meaning it was also self-titled like the Epic album (self-titled for people unaware means that they just use the name of the band and that’s it).  The music was as good or better than the first album, the sound deeper and more, what shall I call it— orchestral?  Judging by the insert from the CD package, it finally hit the street in 2001 to the resounding sound of one hand clapping.  I couldn’t even find a music clip to include here, but I learned to love it and was shocked to find that it even existed.

After the deaths of the three other members of SO, Bullock decided it was time to give it what he described to me as one last go— finding the Exit 4 tapes and tapes recorded from the mid-to-late-seventies, two very separate eras in the bands existence.  He released it in 2010 under the title Safe at Home, the cover art a picture of the band in front of their “practice house” in Williamsburg NY just before moving to Toronto to record the first album.  The Exit 4 tapes included early versions of Country Max and Over and Over as well as Still Life, which would show up in a different version on the 2001 release.

David Bullock, by the way, has recently released an EP and is looking to put some gigs together, possibly using players from the areas he is going to play.  Of course, everything is contingent upon money and booking agents and everything else which pushes music to the side.  If and when he gets it together, I will be letting you know along with information about what you can do to help spread the word.  Bullock is a good man and a musician worthy of way more than he has received.  The EP is titled In the Waking World and is available through CDBaby (click here).

There Is Something Rotten In the State of Spotify…..

no_spotify-300x166I have taken a beating since announcing my alliance (some time ago) with the forces who wish to crush Spotify and its corporate ilk.  The main complaint is that I should stop being a crybaby and accept the world as it really is.  All I have to say to that is that if that is really the way the world is— people bowing before the great god Corporatus without complaint— then things stink more than I have a reason to believe.  I would make my arguments once again but have decided to repost a section of an older column in which I let others make their complaints.  The CDBaby question has been addressed but I leave it in for the questions asked by people not familiar with the situation as it stands. From September of 2012:

When it rains it pours and shit is pouring down on Spotify lately and not just from anti-corporate commandos.  If you read this column, you might remember my first attempt at trying to figure out the positives and negatives of Spotify.  I wrote that column because it was premiering in the States and I had no concept of what it might do for or against the independent artists I support.  I referred to them as an 800-pound gorilla and I do not apologize for that.  When any multi-million dollar entity steps in anywhere to the fanfare of the various forms of mainstream media, red flags go up in my head.  Over the years, I have learned that the “present business model” is more than likely a more pleasant way of saying that they’ve found a new way to fuck someone.  After all, they always say, it’s just business.

Well, that is certainly not what musician Jon Gomm thought.

jon_gomm_web“The return on plays is tiny,” Gomm wrote to me,  “a miniscule fraction of a penny for each play.  People can listen for free, which I am all for, but you’re better off providing that facility on your own website or bandcamp.com so people are in the right place to make a purchase if they choose to. (Note: Spotify does not yet sell downloads through their site in the States)

“The biggest problem for me is that the major corporate labels have, as I understand it, bought up what amounts to a majority stake in Spotify, so they potentially will be paid whether their artists get paid or not.  I, as an independent artist, have made a decision to not be part of the mainstream industry for many reasons— artistic, financial and ethical— and the last thing I would choose to do now is to help fund them or legitimize them.  Indie artists on Spotify lend it a coolness, a cachet and a sense of ‘giving back’ to struggling artists whom sites like CDBaby and bandcamp support.  Spotify does nothing towards deserving that as far as I can see.”

So did that start a stampede toward the exit doors at Spotify? Not exactly, but many independent musicians are pulling or refusing to place their music on the site.  In an article written by James Holloway and posted here on Nov. 24, 2011, the question was Is Spotify Fair To Artists?. The most glaring example that it was not was that Lady Gaga, for a million plays on the site, was paid a mere $167 dollars (Euro).  Unconfirmed, of course.  Spotify stayed strangely silent as that ridiculous figure made the rounds on  the Net.  Was it true?  According to the article, “speculation in the media since has put the actual royalty paid per play between $0.0013 and $0.002, which would mean $1,315 – $1,855” was actually paid.  Is that fair?  Many people look at the amounts paid through licensing for music venues and radio and say hell, yes.  Those do pay less.  What they don’t understand, though, is that there is a difference.  The music at venues and on radio are not recyclable.  You cannot go back to that station or back to that venue and hear the same music on demand.  Does it make a difference?  Of course, it does.

You have, with Spotify, instant access to their entire library of music (and they say, in the future, videos).  You can program your own station, so to speak, and that is what the public is learning to do.  It is not a crapshoot like radio.  It is not controlled by a manager of a bar.  You hold the magic button that brings the music to you.  Pretty cool, huh?

Again, Gomm doesn’t think so.  He likes the idea of listeners choosing his music, but, on Spotify, at what cost?  If he gets the magnificent sum of even $0.002 per listen, what is he gaining?  Or losing?  Obviously, he loses the one thing he treasures most— control.  By keeping his music on the site, he gives all control to Spotify (well, within the boundaries of the agreements made by that company).  All control, as regards that site.  That is something he chose not to do.

Consider that Gomm is relatively new to the music game.  He is not, like Cowboy and Springsteen and Bob Segarini tied to the major label system. The majors can hand Spotify anything it has.  Will any of those bands or artists see any return beyond mechanical royalties, if that?  Chances are, no.  The majors have hidden behind their “we own you until you pay us back” mantra for decades.  It is the backbone of their continued existence.  Every format change and new digital subscription system needs the majors.  There is an umbilical cord between them.

copyrightOf course, The Copyright Act of 1976 will change that, right?  No.  The labels are at the present time challenging that act and hope to defeat it and, anyway, it only applies to music from 1976 on.  All of the music recorded before then?  Owned in perpetuity by the labels and their owners.  There does indeed seem to be, beneath the surface, something rotten in the state of Spotify.

Here’s a red flag.  Spotify, like the major labels, have refused to give access to their records.  Contracts with the labels and with the sites which supply the music for them to hock (like CDBaby, etc) are, for all practice and purposes, in absentia.  They toss around numbers, yes, but until outside sources can verify them, are they viable?  Hell, I could tell you that I’m paying you a certain amount, but without verification the numbers mean nothing.  Record labels have kept their books closed for decades.  Musicians have tried to gain access just to find out how much they still owed against chargebacks (fees charged for tours, recording, etc).  They haven’t been given jack shit.  Why should we believe the new gorilla in the room?

It’s not all about royalties, either. This past weekend, Australia’s Hannah Gillespie posted a question regarding the placement of her songs on Spotify.  She is independent and not major label and was told her songs were available through the site.  She wondered how.  Is there possibly an implied contract within the CDBaby world which allows them to place her music without her knowledge?  Has Spotify been grandfathered in to the usual basic contracts which promise to sell downloads and physical product at an agreed price?  And if so, are musicians and labels notified?  That is a question which should be addressed if it has not been already.  I mean, I absolutely hate Wal-Mart.  I hate the idea of Wal-Mart.  If I do not want my product to be sold by that company, should I not have the right of refusal?  I think Hannah thinks so.  (By the way, Hannah’s latest album, All the Dirt, is a freaking monster of an album.  Do yourself a favor and check it out)

Sigh.  You do not know the anguish I experience over such things.  I have watched musicians get the shaft ever since I started buying records back in the fifties and I hate it.  Without the music, the major labels and the new digital subscription sites would have nothing!  And yet they claim everything.

billjacksonposeThe latest grumblings from the underbelly comes via down-under’s Bill Jacksonand ex-Seattleite Andrew Davenhall (The Diving Bell).  Jackson struggled with uninstalling Spotify this past week and had to visit Yahoo to find out how.  He wrote (on Facebook):  “It ain’t ever too late!! – after hitting the ‘Deny’ Keychain pop-up a hundred times with no success, I found out it was harder to trash this program than just trashing the Application…so here’s the instructions if you need them to uninstall via the Library Folders in your Mac..” at which time he posted the link to the answer he found on Yahoo Answers.  Now, ol’ Bill is a pretty mellow guy and you can bet that if he’s getting pissed at the way Spotify programmed their application so that you could not uninstall it easily, there is a reason.  Bill’s reaction is pure metaphor for Australia’s head of Spotify finding a kangaroo head in his bed (for those who are movie-challenged, think The Godfather).

Davenhall, main man behind the rock group The Diving Bell, had a similar problem and posted about it not a day later than did Jackson.  His Facebook post looked like this:  “When Spotify elected to open it’self (assuming it was the most important application) on my dock, it took several flushes before I could send it swirling down the Internet.”  When I asked him if I could repost his comments in this column, he replied “Affirmative.  I deleted Spotify.  I thought to myself, ‘How fucking arrogant to not only auto-activate a music app (at whatever volume) before my browser but then make the user scramble to shut it off and put it away so the browser could fly.  Who the FUCK do these door to door SALESMEN think they are??? GOODBYE MR. SPOTIFY!”  Man, remind me to never piss him off.

Here’s the thing.  If Spotify is this golden child we were led to believe, why all the hidden secrets and computer-generated folderol?  Why claim to be the savior and yet embrace the tenets of the devil?

A few of my good friends use Spotify religiously.  It is their equivalent to radio, as I said before, and a downright wonderful thing as far as they are concerned.  Again, the question is, at what cost?  And at whose cost?  When I first began investigating Spotify, I saw positives and negatives.  Since then, the boat has tipped toward the negative.  Part of it is me, I know, and my continued distrust of anything corporate (Corporations are people, my ass!  The Supreme Court can shove that ruling between their cheeks!).  Part of it is the lack of transparency all corporate structures within the music industry share.  Part of it is my unending faith in music and the people who create it.  A lot can be said for doing things for the right reasons.  Musicians will kick the industry’s ass every time on that score.

There is one thing Spotify and outfits like them will never do.  They will never kill the spirit of the music.  The music is in our hearts and our souls, a place they will never be able to reach, as much as they would like to.  Support your musicians, local and otherwise.  And please, support live shows.  Live shows are the backbone of the indies these days and they need your support to keep going.  Know what I found out?  They’re fun!  So much fun that I now have a running list of musicians I want to see and their tour schedules to make sure I don’t miss them if they come through Oregon.  You might consider doing the same.

These thoughts are brought to you by the gallon of coffee I drank this morning.  Caffeine:  My Drug of Choice!

I remember that morning.  I blame the coffee.

Well, that should give the people who know little about my attitude toward streaming services pregnant pause.  While they are pausing, how about we get to the…..

NotesNotes…..  Good news— really good news to kick off this week’s Notes section.  The Band Known Formerly as Lavacado, now See By Sound, are laying down tracks as I type.  It was reported this last Tuesday that Tal Goettling (Son of Man, See By Sound) is tracking some killer vocals for what will eventually be a new release.  Son of Man, if you’ve read my pieces on them, were my favorite of the Seattle bands during the Grunge Age.  No, they weren’t Grunge, but they came close on some tracks.  One of the bands picked to hit, but missed.  Goettling has been back in the game for some time now, having recorded tracks with the aforementioned Lavacado.  This could get interesting.

Don’t think I wasn’t surprised last year when No Depression had their annual “Which Ten” contest in which each writer or subscriber gave up a list of ten albums for consideration as best.  I had found the John Stickley Trio not long before the voting began and could not, in all conscience, ignore it.  The band danced around a number of genres— sometimes presenting one, sometimes fusing many— always with a musicianship of the best caliber.  They started off strong enough but by the time the votes were counted had fallen toward the bottom.  Since then, many in the ND community have found the band and are beginning to talk.  Here is the reason why:

It has been quite some time since I’ve seen Andy Prieboy playing out, but it could be I just missed him.  I won’t miss him this time around, though.  He has written some beauties (and performed them too) and none better than this, the classic Tomorrow Wendy.  There is a whole story behind this song.  You should take a few minutes and look it up.

More insanity from Cincinnati’s Mad Anthony.  If you have never seen these guys live, I heartily recommend it.  They’re like cartoon animals, body parts separating at the joints but always in time to the music.

Daniel Martin Moore really knows his way around a song.  He is touring.  If he hits your area, it would be a good bet.

Let’s call this a heads up…..

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank 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 Frank bottle capone 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.”

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