Frank Gutch Jr: The Real John Mayall (w Peter Green); Rockumentaries of Note; and Speaking of Notes…..
The first time I heard John Mayall, Eric Clapton completely blew me away, his guitar edgy and new to my ears. I knew Clapton from the Five Live Yardbirds album and that band’s smokin’ hot version of Smokestack Lightnin’, a track I will never hear without stopping to listen (unless drivin’ down the road a hundred miles an hour). After hearing The Yardbirds, it seemed a safe bet to give Mayall a chance and I have to confess that John Mayall With Eric Clapton was pure steroid for what would become a lifelong appreciation of the rockin’ side of the blues.
There was something in that guitar and, I soon learned, that sound which made me not only happy but at times exuberantly so. For about a year, I played the hell out of that album while continuing to play the Yardbirds, convinced that Clapton and guitarists like him were the future of music. I mean, I still listened to most everything else, but my appreciation was on a track-by-track basis. When I was in the mood for Mayall, I was all in.
A year later, I was introduced to an equally talented guitarist who would rise to the top and stay there because of his innate sense of the music he played and the subtle originality he brought to it— Peter Green. A Hard Road did not kick With Eric Clapton to the curb as much as refine my understanding of what different musicians can bring to different genres. I was by that time, I was a huge Clapton fan and ready to follow him anywhere, but Green— he was something else. I would not realize how unique he was until Fleetwood Mac‘s Then Play On, an album which had a tremendous effect on me.
I have followed Peter Green through the good times and bad, and mostly the times were bad after that original rush. I always— always— listened to his music from A Hard Road on, no matter what the situation, though. So was I thrilled when last years John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers/Live in 1967 was released? Absolutely! Live sounds from a one-track reel-to-reel deck are sketchy, true, and you miss a bit of the low-end, but goddamn that music was outstanding! When the announcement that a second volume was being readied, I steeled myself against what were obviously going to be lesser tracks than on the first because usually that is the way it’s done.
Volume One takes the best tracks in terms of quality and performance just in case it doesn’t fly or there is zero interest. That way, you have the best tracks out there, regardless. The thing I was not taking into account was that Mayall himself and one of his biggest fans, Eric Corne, were putting the albums together. Mayall, if anyone, knows his music. Corne is not far behind. They both had more than likely listened to all of the tracks available before making a move. I would assume that after hearing them all, Volume Two was a foregone conclusion. The question is, are there enough fans out there to appreciate recordings which are not quite mixing board quality? The answer is yes, partly because this was Mayall on a roll and partially because Peter Green recordings of this period are rare.
Ah, but there is a third consideration. Mayall and Corne worked like dogs getting these tracks as good as they could possibly be. What I am saying is that I was downright shocked when I heard the results. No heavy low-end, like I said, but the bass was there and sounding good, and the drums were solid. More importantly, Mayall’s voice, harmonica, and organ came through beautifully. For myself, though, it was the sometimes brilliant guitar of Peter Green that made the difference. I loved the rest, but oh, that guitar! It helped that it was a good night, the band firing on all four cylinders, and the set list was primo.
For me, this is pure flashback to A Hard Road, one of the best British blues albums I have ever heard. With four of my favorite musicians of that period— Mayall, Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood. And I thank Mayall and Corne for taking the time to clean up and preserve these recordings. I say this all the time, I know, but I mean it every time I say it. This is good stuff. Volume One or Volume Two? I have them both. For very good reason.
Purchase here and while you’re at it, check out the rest of the catalogue. Those are excellent musicians, my friends, and it is not all blues. When you do, include a note to Eric. He is a good man doing a good thing and needs to hear that we appreciate it now and again.
Punks? In the Pac Northwest? Naaahhh…
Yeah, I knew they were there. By the time I hit Seattle in ’78, The Meyce had gone their separate ways. I only knew because someone tossed a punk zine in my lap which had a featured article on the band— maybe it was either Paul Hood or Jim Basnight, I don’t know. Hell, maybe it was just a Seattle music magazine featuring punk music, but I remember reading it and wondering about it. I worked with Paul and Jim at Peaches Records, the only record store smart enough to hire me, and I heard the occasional comment about the band and the scene. After reading the article, I looked around to see what there was but I couldn’t really find anything. Punks must be secretive, I reasoned, but I talked with Paul and Jim to get a little background and that is what I got. A little.
I had just left San Diego, having been involved in putting on the first (or so they tell me these days) punk show with local bands. The Zeros, The Dils, and The Hitmakers had pulled in a decent crowd when they played the Adams Theater and I had gotten to know a little about the guys in the bands leading up to it. They were good guys. Even Chip and Tony Kinman (The Dils) who delighted in yanking my chain at every opportunity, or so it seemed to me. They were good guys too, though they took their roles as punks a bit too seriously at times. The show went over good, I exited SD for Seattle and got the job at Peaches and all was peachy, pardon the pun.
I was a bit surprised, though, because in Seattle it seemed that, as in SD, there were punks with no real scene. Paul complained about gigs, which were scarce. Jim complained about it too, but turned toward more New Wave with his new band The Moberlys to see if that would help (I think it did, a little, at least in terms of getting gigs). While Jim began helping build his new bands reputation, Paul not much later headed south to San Francisco to join Craig Gray‘s new project, Toiling Midgets, which still makes music today. I talked with Craig a few weeks ago— interviewed him, actually. I wish I had asked him about his band The Insurgence which had called Vancouver BC home. To see if he recalled a real scene or not. It must have been there but I didn’t see it. Nor did I read about it.
So after talking with Craig, I searched the Net and when what to my wondering eyes did appear but a documentary supposedly covering the punk scenes in the Pac NorthWest. Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, mainly, with side trips to Olympia and Tacoma. Maybe a mention of Portland. So I watched it. All one-hour, 48-minutes and 24-seconds of it. It explained a lot. When I could hear and when I could see.
NW Punk Rock: 30+ Years of Punk Rock, Vancouver BC to Olympia WA is not the easiest to watch. Put together by, I assume, a guy named Dave (credit is given to TheLandofTheDave Productions), the clips were filmed between 2004 and 2006 and is a retrospective, of sorts, many of the band members lined up at that time to rehash the past. Technically, I could give you a number of problems from setting up in places with too much ambient noise to playing music which obliterates words you would like to hear (mainly reminiscences of musicians, the scene and the venues). The lighting is way too low on a few clips of shows. But those are a small price to pay to get a point-of-view look at the punk scenes at that time and in those various places and, truth be told, people entrenched in punk should not care about such things anyway. For there is lots to see and hear.
Like DOA‘s singer singing through a Reagan mask (do they even make those anymore?). Like The Dishrags reliving their move to Victoria at the tender age of fifteen. Like Paul Hood talking about The Meyce. Like Mark Arm (Mudhoney) recalling the scene when he was with Mr. Epp & The Calculations. Like a whole series of band members talking about the positives and negatives of the punk scene (from “it was great” to “it was dangerous.”). How bands got together. Which things worked. Which things didn’t. Be forewarned. There are a lot of ‘fucks’ in it, from song titles (The Rickets‘ Don’t Drink the Water, the Fish Fuck In It to common descriptive phrases to “Punk is two words: Fuck you!”
The bands are intriguing as well. A certain amount of the bands are chaos-on-stage— pure anarchy in the Northwest. Others are raw but on-point. A couple are not punk at all— at least, what I could call punk— but live by the heavy beat. The most fun for me to watch were the true anarchists— four or five musicians in a rage, not having a clue as to what the others were playing. That, to me, is true punk. Rage magnified.
Of course, now they have names for every kind of music— speed metal, surf punk, country punk, post punk. Crap, I couldn’t keep up if I tried. But that’s the real joy of this. It is what it is and, luckily, caught on clips and transferred to film. In some places, it looks as if the infamous Dave is just throwing bits and pieces into a blender. In others, you strain to hear what someone is saying while pounding beats from another room obscure the words. And the fact that I was made to strain tells me that this was worth watching— for me. And the names— The Furies, Subhumans, The Fartz, The Insurgence, The Enemy, Dreadful Children, Zipgun (whose singer holds the mic with both hands, one gripping the mic end and the cord, almost as if he is afraid that someone might rip it out of his hands and he has no money to buy another).
If you watch this, be ready for raw. That said, if you are ready, this delivers.
So I see this. St. Louis. First thing that pops into my mind is radio station KSHE. I’m thinking maybe this one will talk about that much-venerated station because those call letters are synonymous with good music. They played Heartsfield and Gypsy and Pavlov’s Dog— artists who got no love from commercial stations. They played deep tracks before deep was deep. They supported not only the city’s youth but the musicians by throwing concerts no other town would even attempt. And that is why whenever those bands played St. Louis, they played to thousands.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Head East and Mama’s Pride pulling fans from all over the area? Packing out theaters and large outdoor venues? In Oregon, most would say “who?” In St. Louis, they were playing the same stages as Jethro Tull and Poco and Jefferson Starship. Because the disc jockeys got to write their own playlists. Because they loved music as much as their listeners. Because they did it for the right reason— the music.
I dove into this with a prescience, expecting to see the aforementioned Gypsy and Heartsfield and Pavlov’s Dog— rare bands in terms of film clips— rare bands in terms of airplay. I was a mite disappointed, truth be told. There were no long monologues or dialogues about those bands. There was a poster here and an album jacket there, but they weren’t a part of the story outside of the fact that the station played their music. No, what was there were the standard stories about the big rock bands of the day and that was pretty much it.
Well, that was not all of it. It also told the story of how a corporate middle-management staffer took San Francisco legendary DJ Tom Donahue‘s deep track format and turned it into a huge winner. Shelly Grafman worked for the outfit that bought the station back in the late-sixties and gave disc jockeys a dream job— playing the music they loved. It took awhile for the format to take St. Louis and the surrounding area, but when it did, it took it by storm. Hit single? No thanks, but how about this amazing track from the same album. Eleven minutes long, but if you stick it out, you will understand.
While playing tracks like Gypsy‘s Dead and Gone and Heartsfield’s Music Eyes, the station opened up ears that would never have been really open. St. Louis could have been just another city listening to Hendrix and Zeppelin and The Stones (yawn) but they were handed a gift. That is what this documentary is about. The gift that was KSHE.
People who loved AM radio will love this. An also-ran station kicks big money’s ass. I chuckled through all 56 minutes of it. I knew it could be done. KASH in mid-sixties Eugene could have done it. But it took Grafman and St. Louis and KSHE to pull it off. One of the most enjoyable hours I have spent recently.
What the Hell? A Look Back at Rock ‘n’ Roll in 1973?
This really caught me by surprise a few years ago. A National Film Board of Canada presentation of a look back at rock ‘n’ roll. When I was growing up, looking back was not an option. It was full speed ahead. But by the time this was filmed, it was time. Rock ‘n’ Roll was giving away to rock and that’s what is shown. The Rolling Stones at the Montreal Forum, Mick Taylor on lead and a stage full of what I thought of as pretension. Mick Jagger heading to the side of the stage to grab what looks like rose petals to toss around the stage. You have a bottle of whiskey and pour it on the front row, okay. But taking rose petals out of a box full of them and held by a stooge? That was what rock music was becoming. The Academy Awards, rock-style. Yes, I was already jaded. If it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t cool. But I still could not take my eyes away from the scene— Keith Richards actually seemingly enjoying playing the guitar, Bill Wyman wailing on that bass, and Taylor standing to one side, looking almost terrified, as if he might hit a wrong note. No Charlie Watts, though you could see the drums up on the riser and you could surely hear the pounding rhythm of Jumpin Jack Flash. Quick cut to Ronnie Hawkins in what I assume is a limo trying to explain rock ‘n’ roll. But set yourself, there is more. Flash to people talking about rock culture (or, more aptly, pop culture) and then to narration giving you the numbers (“It is now a two billion dollar a year business…”, “and a mere 540 million for professional sports”) and you realize that you are in kitschland. Not then, of course, but watching it today, for sure. This is like looking back at the propaganda films the US government made us watch in schools in the fifties. And I find myself really enjoying it.
For one thing, the film goes behind the scenes of the record industry itself— radio, recording, A&R (signing and working with the talent), the stores (there is a great clip at Sam the Record Mans store, one of the biggest in the world at the time). You see Whiskey Howl getting signed, rehearsal and live performances by Crowbar, an interview with Zal Yanovksy of The Lovin’ Spoonful who talks about getting busted and then setting up dealers for busts to get out of his. They even tell you that Muddy Waters doesn’t come to Montreal anymore because he can pull the audiences. All from the viewpoint of the Canadian record industry.
The slightly less than one hour film is on YouTube in three parts. If you like behind-the-scenes music history, this is entertainment.
Notes….. New single from Les Amazones d’Afrique is dedicated to raising money to help victims of rape in the Congo. If anything can rejuvenate a decimated music industry, I would think that dedication to cause would. There is something about the African beat…..
Here is a band you really need to check out. Actually, an old band. I found out about Eggs Over Easy through a piece in Zig Zag Magazine, at the time my favorite music zine. Hell, they were from The States and I had seen the album but was unaware. Well, I picked up the album and put it in high rotation for awhile and really liked what they were doing. They may have had a cult following in The States, but I don’t know where. Certainly not in Oregon. But wait ’til you see this vid. The influence this band had in the UK! Check it out!
They have a three LP box set available from Yep Roc Records. At least, that’s what this teaser says.
When you eat this fast, it is impossible to talk without your mouth full. Case in point: The Two Tens.
This isn’t protest in the same way Phil Ochs and early Dylan was (hell, it might not be a protest song at all), but I’ll take anything I can get these days. And I like it.
Field Mouse has a new track out and an album on the way. You can hear Out of Context by clicking here. And if you like that, check out this track from three years ago. I’m liking these guys.
I cannot stop listening to The Silver Lake Chorus. Their voices are haunting and downright gorgeous. And their new Remix album is now available from Six Degrees Records (click here to stream). This is a version of a song which will be on the new album but is the original version. Tell me this isn’t outstanding!
One half of The Westies, Michael McDermott, strikes gold with this Dylanesque tune. From the album Willow Springs. I hear influences of Springsteen and Dylan but total wrapped up in McDermott. This guy is one ace writer and lyricist.
Swedish Death Candy reminds me a bit of early seventies psych bands like Mighty Baby but without the histrionics. Very enjoyable.
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
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