Frank Gutch Jr: Bryan Thomas: The Dreamweaver; Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer Play Eugene; plus Notes

Frank Gutch young

I have had this idea in the back of my head for awhile now of writing a column with musical accompaniment.  My most fun times at the keyboard are when the mind flows free and the ideas pop up organically— a stream-of-consciousness style, if you will.  My old Army buddy Michael Marino does it as a matter of course, cranking out articles of chaotic beauty whilst explaining the positive sides of marijuana and/or wine or the death knell of democracy in Roswell, New Mexico, of all places.  He is what I always wanted to be— a freethinker— one who allows the words to write themselves out of a sense of moral obligation or whatever he thinks it is.

It is a succeed-or-fail way of doing things but when he succeeds, he creates that which I would create if I could.  Consider this a warning.  The next column you see could well be the results of four (LP) sides of Victory at Sea or Tom Mank‘s entire catalogue, beginning to end, the music rolling out of the tips of the fingers to the keyboard, the ideas courtesy of brain cells activated by Richard Rodgers or Mank and his accomplished cello-playing wife Sera Smolen.  It actually sounds like something Marino would do, though he would use the Janis Joplin or Eddie Cochran template.

licorice_pizzaI do that already, in a way, the ideas spurred by moods or anxieties or, in the way of confession, caffeine.  I would have done it yesterday, in fact, after reading a piece put together by Bryan Thomas.  I met Thomas through the social media, mainly because of a connection known as Licorice Pizza, a record chain in Southern California.  Bryan had come in after I was long gone, but his comments about the chain and those times (the best times he has ever had, according to the article) struck a chord with me because I, too, loved the time spent with the chain.  I mean, I got paid to play and listen to music all day (and night)!  Back in the mid-seventies, that was a dream job!  Not much money, but when the music was outstanding, as it was most of the time, you forgot about food.  And I have to give Jim Greenwood credit— he loved what he did and passed it along to us.  We weren’t starving.  We had all the licorice we could eat.

That was one thing that set LP off from the others.  We may have not been as big as Tower Records (back then, who was?) or had as many stores as The Wherehouse, but we had licorice, free for the taking.  Bryan remembers it— in fact  made reference to it in an I-avoid-the-candy-aisles-at-grocery-stores-just-so-I-don’t-have-to-look-at-the-plastic-jars-of-Red-Vines kind of way— and more than likely survived on it during hard times, but he never knew the thrill of receiving every few months shipments which included— gasp!— grape!  Yep, every once in awhile we would open a box and find the holy grail of licorice and even those of us turned away by the mere thought of licorice, we had eaten so much of it, grabbed a few vines and munched away.  It may seem like nothing to you, but it made us want to hug Jim every time he came in the store.

ronjimgreenwood 001bI don’t think we could have had a better owner than Greenwood.  He created an aura in the stores fairly unique, at least in the concept of urban chains.  He created a hippie paradise of sorts, gluing funky-but-clean (and previously used) burlap bags over the boards you might see in a garage— you know, the ones with holes every four inches or so— which made for a great way to display albums (simple wire racks hung from those walls, displaying sale items or just albums of interest), the backdrop smooth burlap with logos of potato farms or some sort of vegetable conglomerates.  Old barrels were placed strategically around the store, where was displayed product or pots of plants (plants were central to Jim’s vision), and the walls were redwood.  The first time I walked into one of the stores— the one on Wilshire Boulevard at which I would work before opening a store in San Diego— I could almost smell marijuana smoke wafting through the air.  It just seemed right.  And as far as I know, LP was the first chain to use vegetable and fruit crates.  We would get them in, dirty and crusty, many with cabbage or broccoli leaves still stuck tot he wood, and would head to the back of the store to scrub them down with soap and water.  We didn’t sell them.  We used them for displays.

Jim gave the managers of each store a lot of leeway, which was a good thing.  It allowed them to adapt their stores to the clientele (which varied greatly, thanks to the different urban environments).  Good ol’ #9 (we named them chronologically) was a few city blocks west of Westwood and in a fairly affluent area of L.A. and was a hippie haven largely because Susie Boudreau, who was smart enough to hire me, was a dyed-in-the-wool hippie.  Her values very much matched mine, those of the back-to-the-earth monkeygripmovement.  She was one of the most positive people I have ever met and everyone loved her.  My favorite story of her revolved around the Bill Wyman Monkey Grip promotion during which the chain gave away free bananas to be eaten during the store experience.  Not the best thought-out promotion, really, as it was Los Angeles and bananas ripen fast in warm climates and before we knew it, the store reeked of banana and was full of fruit flies.  Susie quickly decided that the only way to control the pending catastrophe was to take the ripest bananas home and spend most of the night baking banana bread.  For three or four nights in a row, that is what a few of the employees did and I have to tell you it was nirvana.  I ate banana bread for a solid two weeks, at the store and at home, and could not have been happier.  Of course there was a negative side.  We had to wash a few albums (thank god for the shrink wrap) which stuck albums together, thanks to customers who felt the need to abandon rather than complete their snacks.  Oh, well.

I don’t know if LP had ever had a store-wide sale before I signed on, but you would not have thought so by the preparation and the reaction of customers.  Jim pulled out all the stops for the first one I had ever seen— not one but two searchlights in front of the store, extra licorice and giveaways.  It was huge!  I worked morning and evening shifts (we closed at midnight) and was amazed at the lines at the counter.  The store had only two registers and they were going most of the time and both customers and employees were on a high.  I went outside to catch my breath a couple of times and was regaled with stories of the life of a searchlight operator.  Most of them I could not write here (I really had never met someone who ran a searchlight and was surprised to hear that they, too, had groupies, kind of) but I do remember hearing quite a few names very much in the news, L.A. being somewhat synonymous with Hollywood, and those names not in the best of light.  He was a very nice guy, but he may have stretched the truth a bit here and there.  And then again, maybe not.


Los Angeles was in drought when I moved there.  Every day was, while not maybe hot (except during the Santa Anas), always the same depending upon the amount of smog.  A year after getting there, I was breaking down, longing for the seasons (which Northeasterners limited to two for Oregon, there not being enough difference during the year to warrant four, evidently).  My skin was getting dry, I had trouble producing snot, I sunburned in winter.  Even the ocean had lost its sense of wet, water taking on the definition of it-comes-from-the-sky.  I remember one day of clouds and prayed for rain— even just a few drops— to no avail.  I wanted the smell of fresh rain— dust kicked into the air by droplets, or maybe it was ozone.  Whatever it was, it spelled relief by that point.  It must have been Fall when it finally came and it came in buckets.  Daryl, our manager (and one of my favorite people of all-time), came into the store one evening to announce that it was raining.  I didn’t pay attention because the people with whom I worked had cried wolf way too many times, knowing how frustrated I was at the lack of moisture.  They laughed as I ran to the door to find nothing but sunshine and smog.  Daryl walked over to me and said, “Frank.  I’m not kidding.  It’s raining.”  I walked to the door and finally heard the rain above the music.  It wasn’t raining, it was monsooning!  Wilshire Boulevard was a rushing river!  So I went out front and laid in the gutter.  Not for long.  Just enough.  When I went back inside, I was a happy man.  It didn’t rain again for another month.  I was still happy.  Trust me when I tell you that I truly understood Gene Kelly, if only for once in my life, and it wasn’t about the girl.

My first in-store was Bad Company.  The first album had just hit the streets and while they were getting airplay, they had a ways to go before they were labeled stars.  Me, I was a Free fan of the first water, so I was happy.  Maybe fifty people showed up, which gave us and the band a chance to visit.  Two things I learned.  Simon Kirke, the drummer, was a dog lover and one cool guy.  He took a few people down the street to have a beer, on him, and I thought that very cool (I manned the store so others could go).  The other thing was that because Boz Burrell didn’t show, he was fair game.  I don’t think I have ever heard more jokes about a musician than I heard about Boz that day.  The official word was that he was sick but Kirke had a few other stories.  Is it any wonder I loved the record biz?

Daryl R. Sartanowicz took over as manager of #9 when Susie left to begin a new life outside the record business and we became friends— very good friends.  He had been in the infantry in Viet Nam and had taken a beating.  When he returned to the States, he had to regroup, and it wasn’t easy.  He pointed to Jesus as having saved him and I had no reason to question it.  During his born-again phase, he spent a lot of time spreading the word, which in a culture like the music industry was many times a negative.  I remember Susie telling me that she was leaving and that Daryl was the new manager.  I was crushed.  Susie was an excellent manager and became a good friend.  Last thing we needed was an outsider (an attitude I would learn was akin to shooting myself in the ass in future years) and Daryl was that.  He was also one of the best guys I would ever meet.

My beautiful picture

We bonded over Glass Harp, a band not very well-known outside of the Midwest (they were from Ohio), and later, The Ohio Players (turned out we were both future fans of funk), and the die was cast.  He would later take me with him to Pacific Beach in San Diego as his assistant manager.  No one else would have, but Daryl saw through the rough exterior.  When we opened that store, Daryl and I bought a six-pack of 16 oz. Dr Pepper every day to help us do what needed to be done.  Each.  Thank the gods that it only took two or three weeks to prepare the store for opening.  Any longer and we would have been hardcore diabetics.  Daryl was engaged when I met him to a lady he called Diamond Lil.  She was strikingly beautiful and one of those innocents you only read about in books.  I went to their wedding.  I was instrumental in helping Daryl destroy a few brain cells, one of my deep regrets.  He was so hung over when he took his vows that I was surprised he could stand.   Then again, he loved that girl so much he probably survived on adrenaline alone.  It seems like only last week that I checked up on him and found that he was dead.  I will assume cancer.  When I had passed through Denver not long before, he could not see me.  I thought he did not have the desire.  I am now pretty sure it was because he was battling for his life.  I learned a lot from him, not the least of which is how short life is.  I still love that guy and can luckily still remember many of his life lessons.  I hope he is at peace.

Some of you may have read other columns in which I talked about Daryl and Stan Hill (who we would force to sing I’ve Been Everywhere to customers, amazed as we were that he could not only sing it but could sing it so fast you could hardly understand the words) and Jack Ely (who I only worked with a couple of days because I had to head to SD to open the Pacific Beach store— he was the guy who sang Louie Louie for The Kingsmen) and Debbie who made banana bread and did the artwork and Kenny Baker who would tell me to watch the store when his girlfriend stopped by (I just assumed it was for sex, but what did I know?).  There was also this young fifteen or sixteen year-old kid named Chris Ashford.  Chris is the kid holding the PPL album in the photo below.


Chris Ashford, you ask?  And you should.  His is not a household name nor would he want it to be.  When I knew him he was a kid hanging onto the fringe of the record business.  Like Bryan Thomas said, it was a kid’s dream job.  When I first knew him, he was working down the street at Music Odyssey, a new and used record store.  He was basically a gofer, doing whatever the store owner wanted (I knew and liked the guy but cannot for the life of me remember his name)— put up flyers, work the floor, sweep up.  But he wanted a job at LP and he got it.  Susie hired him about the same time she hired me.  He was like a puppy dog, following us around the store, listening.  He soaked up information like a sponge and became quite the go-to source for us, but he was just a kid.  He had braces, fer chrissakes.  But he was a good kid and it did not take us long to realize what an asset he could be.  None of us knew much about country, for instance, but Chris did.  We may have known hit surf but we did know know the underbelly and it was, after all, Los Angeles, a hotbed of surf.  And he didn’t push.  He learned.  That is pretty much what all of us vinyl freaks were doing— learning.  He fit right in.

chrisashfordHe had a connection to Jan & Dean, which have him a certain amount of cache— knew Dean’s kid brother or something.  He knew or was about to know Davie Allan and Dick Dale and would soon have his fingers in a variety of the surf/punk/rock ‘n’ roll scene.  A few years after I left, he was dabbling in records, having formed What? Records, then Iloki, and finally Wondercap.  He started working with bands like Agent Orange and Germs and The Gears and has built a sort of empire, if you consider going broke empirical.  He has dabbled in jazz and recently put together a documentary about The Gears titled Don’t Be Afraid to Pogo.

Chris is the only LPer to keep in touch with me on a regular basis and I have thoroughly enjoyed following his paths.  What I remember about him is his enthusiasm.  He loved Connie Smith, the country singer— loved her!  And Tuesday Weld.  Oh, the conversations we had about those two.  But Chris is the kind of guy who loves people, so it is not a surprise.

I hated leaving that store, truth be told.  The people were among the best I could have hoped to work with, but I felt the same about the people in the Pacific Beach store and later, the Seattle Peaches store.  When Bryan posted that piece about his experiences at LP, I had to write something.  If only to tell him about the grape licorice.  My God, but that stuff was good!

If you would like to read Bryan’s original piece and maybe find out about the Arts & Entertainment page, follow this link.  The page is varied in content and very entertaining.  Click on this for the link.

It Takes McGraw & Fer To Get Me Out of the House
Or it did.  This past Thursday, in fact.  I missed them the first time through, or maybe the first and second.  I wouldn’t know because I didn’t know.  This time, I wasn’t taking a chance.  When I discovered them, I discovered them and that was all there was to it.  It happened through a PR person.  I can’t remember whether it was a request for a review or notice of a new upcoming album, but it took.  I remember writing something about them, more than likely in one of my DBAWIS columns, and Dave or Mandy sent a thank you and I told them to stop thanking me or they would have little time for anything else as I planned to write more— much, much more.   And I did.  And every time I would get a thank you and each time I would say stop it!  I don’t write about music or musicians unless I like what it is or who they are and in this case the music overwhelmed.  And I am laughing right now because the first thing Dave did was thank me for coming, catching himself as the words were coming out of his mouth, and he vowed never to thank me again.  I told him I would hold him to that, under penalty of law.

dave-mcgraw-and-mandy-fer-maritimeMeeting them was like meeting old friends— or maybe just casual acquaintances with whom you had always hoped to talk.  They are friendly and very warm people and absolutely love what they do, which is mooch off the people while playing music.  I’m kidding, Dave and Mandy, because it is not technically mooching when people practically force you, and yet it is.  In today’s world.  In the olde days, they would be storytellers and troubadours and would have been invited in to peoples homes if for no other reason than to get the news (Fox and CNN didn’t exist in olden times, kiddies).  Mike Meyers at (I assume) The Folklore Society invited them in.  The crowd came along for the ride.

It was a spacious room to play in, just small enough to make it extremely cozy and large enough for the sound to develop.  Ah, the sound…  It was magnificent (after the first song, Waking the Dreamer, when a dude named Pat told them to turn it down).  Okay, it wasn’t quite like that and I really hope his name was Pat because he was a really nice guy who was just trying to help them hone the sound— and it worked.  The following song, Tide Moon Ship Horn, was essentially perfect, Mandy singing beautifully while dancing with what looked like a Stratocaster and Dave on my right, her left, adding full acoustic and an harmonic voice.  I knew it would be just that good because I listened to the song not only on the album but in the video and their voices are magic together, Mandy’s flowing and smooth (with a control beyond what I had imagined) and Dave’s one of texture and grace.  What is grace as it relates to a voice?  I have no idea, but somehow it fits.  They weave through the set, the songs separated not by time and space but by instrument changes, Dave opting occasionally to play djembe (the deep tones were soul deep), Mandy switching guitars.

At one point they had to stop to explain a song, Carillon, which was written about a carillon player in, was it Amsterdam?  It involved the player, in a belfry, and a little dude in a small boat in the water below, and involved the two playing tunes together, right there, the boat swirling in circles as the music unfolded.  I am not going to spoil it here.  Just in case they come to a venue near you.  You have to hear the story and the song to really get what it is.

They ended that set playing a tune from the new album, one recorded recently whilst they were isolated on one of the San Juans for three months.  Recorded live on not the best of equipment and labeled by them as lo-fi.  As I listened, I knew that lo-fi is the way they would separate demo from completed— the sound solid and there but little twists and adjustments not.  What is I with musicians?  All the time they are apologizing for nothing.  Be kind, they are saying, but there is nothing to be kind for.  The music speaks for itself.

mcgrawferseriouslyThe second set saw the appearance of the banjo, again something about which Mandy apologized.  Again there was no need because Mandy did not play it in banjo mode.  It was guitar mode all the way and though the string sounds were maybe a bit harsher than a guitar, they fit the songs well enough that you didn’t care.  For myself, it was a set of wonderment, all the songs new and fresh and sounding better than I had hoped.

It was fun watching the interplay between the two, between songs as well as during.  Mandy at times is like a coyote when playing, pouncing forwards and backwards in little hops, much as you might see a wolf or coyote do when attacking mice.  Dave is sedate and majestic, lending support where needed but always allowing Mandy the floor.  There is respect.  I would not doubt that when they first met they intimidated one another, for each is a topnotch musician.

When the sets were over, I think everyone thought the concert too short.  Until they looked at their phones, anyway.  Two hours with a fifteen minute intermission?  That’s a full nights work.  It didn’t seem like it, true, but that is proof that you got your moneys worth.

I wish I was a booking agent.  I would love to bring in acts like McGraw & Fer as openers for the A-liners, just to watch the crowd reactions.  And to allow them to jump up a tier.  While I loved seeing them in a house concert setting, they deserve better than that.  Next step, headlining small venues.  Then, the bigtime.

And this lady will be right there with them— I can’t help it.  Gris-de-Lin is too good to ignore.

NotesNow, what say we chow down on some…

Notes…..   Guitarheads should really dig this.  Dan Phelps was invited by Ronin Guitars and Benson Amps to stroll through the musical garden.  This is what they came up with— let us call it The Little Grey Whistle Test.

Us Americans think we own certain genres of music.  Turns out maybe we don’t.  I Draw Slow could easily be from Kentucky or Connecticut but are from Ireland.  There is a lot of music coming out of Ireland these days which claim roots from all over the world.  Good stuff.

To think we thought that the only good thing coming out of Battle Creek, Michigan was cereal.

I try to stay out of politics as much as I can.  Probably something from my childhood.  Dad never allowed religion or politics into the house and when it sprang up, he either asked people to stop or leave, or went outside to have a smoke.  The lines these days are becoming blurred, though, and musicians like Springsteen and Ringo are taking things personally, which could end up being a good thing.  And it is not just issues.  Musicians joefletcherfeelthebernare stepping out for their chosen candidates too.  The latest I found comes courtesy of friend Michael Panico, who is relentless in his backing of artists he likes.  He uses social media and posted a link to a band calling themselves The Tall Teenagers.  When I responded positively, he pointed out that one member of that band had played with Joe Fletcher & The Wrong Reasons.  Never heard of them.  He said I should have, so I checked.  Not only is the guy a twanger of the folk/country variety on a par with some of the artists right now making waves, he puts his music where his mouth is.  He’s a Bernie Backer and played this benefit and probably many others.  I think each and every one of these artists deserves a listen, if only for putting up.  In the meantime, check Joe out in this video.  And take a trip over to The Tall Teenagers‘ page to listen to some impressive rock with roots in ’80s and ’90s punk, or at least that’s how I heard it this morning.  Very good stuff.

Marlon Chaplin.  Shades of the early ’70s.  At least, on this track.  A flashback in terms of musical style.

Pac NW guitarmeister Bruce Hazen uncovered this track from Oz’s Tarmac Adam and passed it along with love.  Hazen in case you didn’t know, spent time with Seattle legends Hi-Fi which included Garey Shelton, Iain Matthews, David Surkamp, and Bob Briley.  Why aren’t there any Hi-Fi videos out there, Bruce?

Here is a fascinating look at musician John Martyn.  If you don’t know him, it is time you did.  He was one of the greats.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

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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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