Frank Gutch Jr: Amy van Keeken Releases All The Time EP; Jack Meussdorffer Talks Sand, Quarterflash and More; and, Of Course, Them Pesky Damn Notes (There Will Be a Quiz)…
There was probably a time when one release would not have meant as much to me as it does today. I worked in the record business for so many years I became jaded, the major labels releasing numerous albums each month and the independents trying to squeeze the few that they had through the stampede. I never really cared about the really big ones— it is a part of me I have had since I was very young, this aversion to the stars— and have learned only within the past ten to fifteen years to really appreciate the significance of the lesser-knowns. I get tired of all the pissing and moaning about how the “new” music biz has watered down the quality of music and allowed the less talented to record massive amounts of lesser works. As if they were lesser.
Amy van Keeken is not lesser to me nor are The Green Pajamas nor Gileah Taylor nor Lost Leaders nor any of the other artists who have focused on their dreams and produced a record. In fact, I am thrilled that van Keeken has the chance for she is riding high on my mental charts, her new All the Time EP dominating my listening at present. I revel in her success, which I measure in quality and not sales numbers, and am happy for her because this week is a very special time for her, as it is for every artist when their time comes.
I can say that it is a rejoicing, even. The EP has buoyed me through a good week which would have been not even close to as good without it. If this gets posted on Tuesday, September 20th, as scheduled, it is available for sale today. Check out her pages on Bandcamp and listen and then, if you like, buy. The money is our way of saying to the artist, you are worth it and the music can be pure joy. Click here.
And guess what? In ten days, Angharad Drake will premier the first single from her new work. Who says things just keep getting better? That would be me. This week, anyway.
This Just in!!!!! The first track from the upcoming Daisy House album! It just got even better!!!
Pac Northwest Rock History 101: Jack Meussdorffer & SAND
‘One Record Album on Two Discs For Continuous Flowing SAND!!!’ Sound familiar? I didn’t think so, but to a few of us dinosaurs who inhabited the Pac Northwest back in the early seventies, it was hype of irony— the irony, if that is what it is, being that 1) in 1973 when the album (self-titled, btw) was released, record players which allowed stacking of records were already fast becoming extinct, and 2) the first huge oil crunch happened virtually simultaneously. Yep. Marketing screwed that one up big time. The discs themselves were interesting— grooves on one side and shiny smooth on the other but little else (besides the music) to capture the imagination. The photography was poor and there was little information on the jacket— certainly none that could give you a clue as to what kind of music the band played.
It was a problem the band would have from that point on, the separation of the music from the product. They ended up doing the second album by themselves and that might have worked but for lack of funds and organization, and then there were drugs and, well, you can guess where this is going.
I originally had intended to tell the story, tossing in a few quotes as sweeteners, but have not been able to do that (sometimes writing is harder than you think) and have decided instead to let Jack Meussdorffer tell it, which he will do by way of an interview I conducted with him a number of years ago wherein he talked not just about Sand but Quarterflash and a couple of other music projects he was involved with. He talked of the Pac NW scene of the late sixties and The Warloks, precursors to Notary Sojac and, yes, Notary Sojac too. He talked about his early band, The Echoes, and their place in Portland’s rock hierarchy of the time. He talked about Barnaby Records, the record label to which they were signed, owned by singing star Andy Williams, and the problems involved with the band’s five-record deal, cut to one through unfortunate circumstances.
To be fair, I blindsided him with this interview— called him out of the blue to set up a date for the interview and caught him unawares while he was taking care of an active young son. I am sure he thought it would be killing two birds with one stone because the boy demanded much attention and I was amenable to talk between father/son conferences. Let’s do it now, he said. It was fine by me. So I turned on the recorded and learned more than I ever thought I would about this band I had first seen play the Rainier Beer Sunbust Concert at Skinner’s Butte Park in Eugene that summer of 1971 with, of all bands, Notary Sojac, and would see a couple of weeks later, again with Sojac, at Washington Park in Portland. Those were two of the best concerts I have ever seen, thanks to those bands, and I have taken it upon myself to at least acknowledge their importance to a music scene struggling for credibility of any kind.
Please read this with an open mind. Like I said, this was not a scheduled interview and the timeline jumps around partially because I, too, was unprepared. If you are curious, though, and have any interest at all in the music business and the scenes which support it, you should find it interesting and possibly enlightening.
Here is a timeline of bands which might allow you to follow the interview better. Jack’s first ‘real’ band was The Echoes, which formed during his high school years. After a few years, he joined Sand, then Quarterflash and again worked on more of his own musical projects.
I started by asking about the only poster I could find of the band. He couldn’t picture it even after my excellent description. (I think all I could tell him was that it was yellow)
Jack: It might not have been the same band that recorded. Could be, though. (Rich) Gooch is in the picture, I assume.
Me: I don’t think he is. The band had pretty long hair and were dressed up in hippie garb.
Jack: The earlier members never played on any of the records. They were in the band before I joined.
Me: Really? So Sand was not your project?
Jack: In a sense, it was. When I joined the band, it changed considerably. They were a lot more country before I got in.
Me: But Dan (Ross) was in it at the time of the poster, right?
Jack: Dan Ross and Dan Wilson are actually the guys who started the band. Started the band Sand, anyway. They were together together maybe a year before I came along.
Me: So your joining was part of a personnel change?
Jack: Not changing personnel. They wanted to add. I can’t remember exactly how I met Ross. I had been playing with The Echoes and after that formed a band with one of the guys from that band. You know Marty Stites from The Warloks? It was him and Jim Miller who was Tom Miller, the brother of the bass player from The Echoes‘ brother and a guy named Bruce who was the drummer and had played in a jazz band. We played a lot of my material.
Me: This was post-Warloks?
Jack: Right. After The Warloks. Steve Koski had gone down to L.A. I remember because one of my favorite bands at the time was The Warloks. We were all coming out but The Warloks broke the mold. Portland had a scene of all these bands and The Echoes were in the mix but we were younger than most of the other bands. We copied everybody. That is exactly what we were doing. I wrote material for The Echoes but the fact of the matter is that we were all copying The Gentlemen Wild and Mr. Lucky & The Gamblers. You get the idea?
Me: Yes. You were playing standard Northwest rock.
Jack: Yeah. The Northwest rock thing. The Sonics and The Wailers. I was a kid, kind of a wannabe more than anything else. Anyway, all of those bands around that period were the genre of bands like The Echoes, but we were still doing cover tunes, mostly. And they weren’t the cover tunes The Warloks were doing. The Warloks were doing Yardbirds and all of this hip material. Whereas Mr. Lucky & The Gamblers were doing more or less the standard Northwest traditional tunes. Know what I’m saying? Not that those tunes weren’t hard to do, too, but nobody stretched. We were all wearing outfits. The Echoes wore outfits. The Redcoats wore outfits. The Gentlemen Wild wore outfits. I always put bands into two genres and The Warloks were one which really stretched. In my mind, as far as the guitars and the singer and all of that, they were the hip ones. They were outrageous. When they played, it always blew my mind. They did really cool material. Mister You’re a Better Man Than I. Remember how they used to play that?
Me: I never got a chance to see them and that has been a regret.
Jack: You didn’t? Oh, man! Now, Marty Stites was not the greatest of singers. He didn’t have the range. I really like Marty but the fact is that as much as he tried to carry on with the music, he had somewhat of a rough time of it. But he was in my band. If I remember correctly, Sand and our band did a gig together. It was either one of our really early gigs or maybe the only one we played, but I saw Dan Ross and the guys play. He liked what I was doing and said why don’t we get together. One afternoon we did and he says, you’re in the band. It was just that simple.
Me: So all of a sudden you are a member of Sand.
Jack: Yeah. Dan Wilson was the lead singer at that particular point and his voice was low and gruff. They did country cover tunes really well. But half of their night was always country. And Ross wasn’t playing pedal steel then, either.
Me: Is that right? He started out on regular guitar?
Jack: Right. Then he wanted to get a pedal steel and when he did he fell madly in love with it. In fact, he got one of… Have you ever heard of Danny Shields?
Jack: Well, he is an old country guy. He died about two years ago. Shields was a complex character. He was one of those guys who had been in clubs since he was like eleven and had a one-liner for every single thing. It never stopped. Never. Always with the one-liners. He was a walking encyclopedia of corny jokes. Funny stuff. Well, he had this old steel that he had built. Danny Shields was the ‘S’ in MSA. Ever hear of it?
Jack: Well, MSA was kind of a famous pedal steel. They were an offshoot of Sierra. I forget what the other letters stand for. The ‘S’ was Shields and the ‘M’ was this other guy. The third was Reece Anderson. Anyway, they were all pedal steel players and engineers, by the way. Machinists by day and pedal steel players by night, which seemed to be kind of apropos at the time because all of those pedal steels were on cables. Before they moved up to rods which is what they use now. The cables would stretch and then break and it was all kinds of weird stuff you would have to go through with the cables. There were nights I would have to jerry-rig Danny’s steel, soldering his cable attachments so he could finish the rest of the night. That is why Danny always referred to me as… what did he call me? Johnny Rig or something, because I was always messing with something. If I wasn’t working on my van or truck, I was working on something else. I made all the cables for the band and wired everything and owned all of the amps, stuff like that.
But it is a little known fact that Sand was together about a year or so prior to my joining. And that was with Steve Williams. Gooch was not in the band originally. We met Gooch through Steve Koski because Koski and Jim Lowry (Notary Sojac bass player) knew him and said if you want a really good bass player, this guy is really, really good.
Me: What was the deal with Ken Lomax (Sand‘s bass player) at that time? Were you looking for a better bassist?
Jack: You see, when I joined the band I immediately set my sights on changing it. Ross agreed. He was bored with it because it was so country-oriented, you understand. Ross wanted to stretch and he was writing material that really stretched, even though some of it was country-flavored.
Dan Ross, interestingly enough, never completed high school yet is an intellectual. He’s a guy who sees music and knows it. He is really incredible that way. He has a natural gift for it, if you know what I mean. I suppose you could say the same thing about me but Ross was much more technical than myself. He could hear something and come up with jazz chords for it. He was always trying to write jazzier, like jazz/country or something. A lot of people used to say that that was what the band was. The music has elements of jazz in it, for sure. And for him to do that, he needed a better bass player. At least, a more interesting bass player. We wanted a bass player who could solo, who could play around us because we wanted to do all these nuances of chords, of guitar solos. In fact, guitar solos is what we wanted to base the band on and we needed a bass which was busy and creative in its own sense. Counterpoint is one of the hardest things for any musician to do. Like doing (sings melody line), like in Mystery (a Sand tune) and then singing a harmony line which is completely contrary to that. That was the hardest thing to do in that band.
I don’t know if you know this but we tried to put the band back together when I was in Quarterflash. We did a reunion gig. It was the last night that The Last Hurrah was open. It was so hard. I couldn’t believe how hard it was. I was thinking, all the nights I sat there playing this stuff thinking I could do it in my sleep. And it was so bloody difficult to play solos and sing over it. I didn’t appreciate the difficulty until that night.
Me: You guys were intense, though, when you got into it. I saw you play numerous times and when you started playing, you sometimes floated off into your own little world.
Jack: Yeah, we could get out there.
Me: I suppose it would become somewhat second nature. I mean, you and Ross used to play off of one another a lot.
Jack: Yeah, trading solos. We did a lot of that. Anything we liked the night before we would go over at rehearsal the next day. It was like, hey, remember that lick that I played… dahdahdah… yes, I remember that. Well, let’s incorporate that into yet another section of the solo. That’s how the solos kept getting longer and longer and more involved with more nuances. Because we added things at every rehearsal. Some of it came from jamming but for the most part we didn’t jam. We knew what each guy was going to play almost each and every night. Even though it may have seemed that it wasn’t that way. I knew people who were under the impression that we were winging it all the time, but…
Me: You guys were too tight to be winging it. There us looseness to jamming and you guys turned on a dime. It may sometimes happen and it is a thrill, but when it happens all the time you know it is something that has been worked out and practiced until it is really down.
Jack: At the same time, I always felt that we were somewhat realists. As it was, most of the things we were playing we were stretching. We were stretching… for our chops, we knew we were stretching. Just to be able to play the same way every night was a challenge. Winging it, in some ways, would almost be a lot easier. I mean, if you weren’t up to snuff that night, you could kind of take it easy. Those arrangement came out of rehearsing a lot of hours every day. We lived in the same house. Our days, usually, were getting up in the morning, smoking a bowl of pot, eating a huge breakfast and rehearsing. We would rehearse until two in the afternoon, take a break, go get lunch, and come back to rehearse some more. That went on usually every day.
Me: From the time you joined the band?
Jack: Dan and I would start on acoustic guitars. We would go off and write. We might spend a couple of days writing and bring some things to the band and if they didn’t work, we would go back and hash it out some more. So it would generally start with Dan and I. So I guess when I say rehearsing, part of that time was writing.
Me: That’s why most of the tracks on the albums were Meussdorffer-Ross compositions? You collaborated on a lot of things?
Jack: Almost everything. But it wasn’t necessarily in any set way. A lot of the time, I would have an idea pretty much completed except maybe a couple of lyrical things and then would go to him and he would embellish upon those ideas. Many times, he would bring to me— like in the case of Mystery, he came up with sort of a melody and said, what do you hear from here. So I took it and wrote the lyrics while he had basically written the music. A lot of the music came from him, though it depended upon the tune. It was pretty much a 50/50 thing. It was more that way than any other writing endeavor I have been around.
Me: Back to The Echoes. How long did that last?
Jack: I was in The Echoes around four or five years. We were together a long time. That was my high school band.
Me: No wonder you were playing Northwest style rock. That’s the way you got gigs back then.
Jack: Yeah, well, toward the end we were stylizing a bit. We dropped the outfits and started playing a lot more of my music. We were kind of in that hippie genre. We were longhairs. Then, basically, everyone in The Echoes went nuts. LSD pretty much did us in. It didn’t really affect me that way but a couple of the guys went completely berserk on it.
Me: And that was it for The Echoes?
Jack: Yeah. That and I was pretty much tired of playing with the same guys. I had played with them for almost five years and we weren’t kids anymore, you know? And when I ran into Dan, it was a serious thing. Although the band with Marty Stites was also serious and I liked it and all, it just didn’t have that spark. I mean, I got together with Dan that one day and I knew immediately. I mean, we didn’t labor over it. I had an opportunity to join the band and he said do you want to join and I said yeah. That afternoon. The first time we got together we wrote a tune, you know?
Me: So you joined the band after that one day. Did he ask you or did he just say you were in.
Jack: If I remember correctly, they had some kind of a band meeting about it. I remember because Steve Williams… well, the band had to okay it and that kind of stuff. I came to them with material and we tried playing some of the things during rehearsal. We played some of my songs and that was what Dan was intrigued with. He liked my writing. He liked the tunes. He thought, hey, this could work out great. We’ll have more material. They were in a bind because they would run out of material almost every night. They would have to repeat songs. And we did it anyway, Sand did. We would repeat one set a night. Hence the reason why some things got longer and longer and longer. It was partially out of necessity.
Me: Still, it worked.
Jack: Well, you have to figure, look how long you had to play in those days. Those clubs, they were brutal. If you played 9 to 1:30 in the morning, that was four hours of playing and that was a lot of material.
Me: So after you joined the band, what happened then? You said something about Rich coming in to play bass…
Jack: Yeah, well, we hadn’t really thought about getting rid of Ken (Lomax). But we thought he was kind of weak. Anyway, Rich came over and played one afternoon and it was the same situation. We knew right away we had to have Rich in the band. And it was a really bizarre situation because little did we know that he was on the run from the military. He was AWOL from the Army and we didn’t know why. One of the things we could never figure out was why he was really nervous all the time. Like, freaked out nervous. We could never put our finger on it and of course he never told us. He always moved from address to address and half the time we couldn’t get hold of him because he had up and moved somewhere else. We wondered why. We knew nothing of his family life.
The Wandering Kind-Rich Gooch (far right)
Me: Did everyone get along with Rich?
Jack: Oh, yeah. We got along with him okay, but he stayed very aloof. Then one day there was a knock on the door. This was well after Sand was established, right before we got our record deal. It was the FBI. Fortunately, my father knew a psychiatrist who happened to be a retired admiral from the Navy. The band couldn’t get anything done because Rich was going away. They were making an example of him and they were making it clear that they were going to make an example of him. I mean, it was so crazy. Rich is probably the most passive guy you could ever meet. He wasn’t about to shoot a gun. What they did in Boise in those days, if they thought you were going to be a conscientious objector, the police came out about dawn, dragged you out of bed, threw clothes on you, handcuffed you if they had to, and then took you down to be drafted. There was no choice about it. And that is basically what happened to Rich. They even took him out the night before. Can you imagine? They took out two-by-fours, solid wood, got him drunk and tried to break his legs. He has these huge gouges in his legs and ankles where they tried to snap the bones.
Me: He did this with people he knew?
Jack: Yeah. His friends.
Me: Not to change the subject but I don’t want to forget this. I have a tape of some unreleased Sand stuff. It sounds like part of it is a live rehearsal of Who You Trying to Fool, then another song, then a country song which sounded like maybe Buffalo Springfield or Flying Burrito Brothers. Would any of those tracks be from the second and unreleased album?
Jack: No, no. That’s all probably from the first album. (Note: It wasn’t)
Me: Those are outtakes?
Jack: Or maybe some early demos. We did a lot of demo tapes. I remember on one of our demos4, I took a live tape— it was a really good live tape— and thought, hell, let’s us this for a demo. We used to do that. We thought if it sounded good, we would try to demo those songs rather than go into the studio and re-record it all. We just shopped the live tape. Of course, it didn’t work very well, but…
Me: So who did you record this second album with? Was it just you guys and…
Jack: Do you mean Head In the Sand?
Me: No. The album between.
Jack: The one that never happened? We didn’t do anything with it.
Me: Who backed you?
Jack: Nobody. We didn’t do a second album. We had been signed to a brand new label. Ken Mansfield had arranged it. We had signed the contract. I forget what the name of the label was. What happened was that this guy who was putting up the money for this whole label got into a horrible motorcycle accident and was killed. We even got to the point— I will never forget this— it was one of the most embarrassing moments of Sand. We came back to Portland to do this huge farewell gig. We sold out the Chiles Center at the University of Portland. It was packed with people. Huge gig. Providence was also on the bill. It was like this big “we’ll see you later” kind of thing, right? The next day, we found out that this guy had gotten into the motorcycle accident. No label. No money. No record deal. And we went, what? So all of the songs that we were shopping at that particular point— Harry’s Factory and I forget the names of the other songs— really neat material— a nice segue between the first album and what would become the next, Head In the Sand— well, more of a segue than it is now, because Head was completely different than the first album.
Me: Certainly, but some of the other tracks… Ballad of a Dead Man…
Jack: We wanted to get away from country. We were vehemently against it. We were all listening to Todd Rundgren wanted to be more like Steely Dan, if we could. If there was any possibility. Maybe we were setting our sights too high.
Me: I don’t know. Do you mean you wanted more of a jazz feel?
Jack: Yeah. Ballad of a Dead Man is jazzy.
Me: And the jam in the middle is more jazz-fusion than you were wont to do. What happened to the tapes? The ones with Harry’s factory and the like on them?
Jack: I don’t know. We didn’t really do much demoing on those because we were getting signed on the basis of material from that first album. On the promise of material for the second. You see, it was one of those things. We weren’t even off the label. We had a five album deal with Barnaby. So we had to call Andy Williams personally. I remember the phone call. We said, gee, Mr. Williams, would you please let us off your label because we have this other deal and blah blah blah. And here we had impressed him and he said, really, I don’t want you off the label. We could have done another record. We were willing to do another record. Of course, on a budget this time. It wouldn’t be any $250-thousand dollar budget, but they were willing to cut us a check. And the problem, of course— this was another one of those Ken Mansfield things which Ken had put together and we thought was a done deal. We had signed the contracts. We will probably never know what happened to them, but we signed them.
Me: So you’re saying that that possibility of that second album disappeared with them saying we want you to do a second album and you saying, no thanks, we have this other deal going?
Jack: Well, yeah. We asked for a release and once we were released… I remember we called him back and said, never mind, we’ll do a second album but of course it was too late then. We had already been released, see…
Me: So those tapes with Harry’s Factory were tapes that just you guys did?
Jack: To tell you the truth, I don’t even know of we had them on tape. Some live versions, maybe.
Me: Would you do me a favor and when you’re sitting around making guitars or whatever, when the names of the songs come to you, could you write them down
Jack: Some of the songs, like Painted Eyes, wound up on Head In the Sand. But some of them… We had such a bad taste in our mouths that anything from that period we kind of disowned. I will have to think about it. But it wasn’t so much that we didn’t want to do the songs. We felt like we had better material to replace it with. And when we got back home and played this farewell gig… No kidding, man, we were playing for the door the next weekend at one of the clubs. It was embarrassing. And nobody was coming out to see us, either. We knew people who were pissed off. Here we;d done this big deal and had charged a lot to get in, like we were happening, and then… You know. Nobody realized the ins and outs of it and we felt terrible about it, but…
Me: Do you think people really took it personally or do you think you have that reaction because you were so embarrassed?
Jack: It was us.
Me: You were embarrassed.
Jack: Yes. Horribly embarrassed. It was humiliating. The whole experience. Of course, then we didn’t have a record deal and we couldn’t get a record deal. We couldn’t get shit happening.
Me: So you tried.
Jack: Yeah, we did.
Me: So after all of this happens, you’re back to playing taverns and clubs.
Jack: Yeah. We came back and were playing Frankenstein’s and wherever else. We were thrust right back into the same scene again.
Me: How long was it between the farewell gig and the cutting and release of Head In the Sand?
Jack: It wasn’t all that long. The first album came out in ’73 and I think Head came out in ’76. But it seemed like forever.
How Head In the Sand happened was we met this girl whose father had a lot of money from this trucking company. Dana Monroe was her name. She was from the South. She came into a club one night and it was back when cocaine was flying everywhere and everyone was doing tons of it. See, we weren’t making any money. So here was this woman who put up money and we went and got block time at Recording Associates and I had finished my degree in recording— in engineering, I should say— and thought, well, we should just do it ourselves. We went in and spent months at the studio doing the Head album.
Me: What was the story behind the album in terms of marketing and all of that?
Jack: It was all on me. I did all of that and I didn’t do much because we had no money.
Me: You know, one of the biggest complaints I’ve heard about that album was what the name of the band was.
Jack: Biggest complaint about the Head album?
Me: Yeah. Were you aware that when the album is listed, half of the time people put it under ‘H?’
Jack: I did not know that. I had no idea.
Me: When I first got on the Internet I had to contact a guy who was selling the album on eBay and tell him the name pf the band was not Head In the Sand, but Sand. But that was what a lot of people thought the name of the band was.
Jack: That’s funny because it is on Ostrich Records… and says Sand on the rib. (Note: It actually says, Sand, Head in the…)
Me: Evidently people didn’t pay much attention to that. Because you are still being referred to today by some as Head In the Sand.
Jack: That’s funny. It says to contact Sand. I’m looking at the back of the album now. I told Marv and Rindy (Ross, of Quarterflash) that I didn’t have any copies of the album and they said, we have one, we’ll give it to you. I was giving these things away… like I was telling people, you can’t have one, you have to take a box.
Me: That’s tragic, Jack, because it is a good record.
Jack: Well, I think it’s a good record. There are some interesting things on it. I think. Ballad of a Dead Man. Painted Eyes. Some of Danny’s best steel work is on Decide.
Me: It was certainly well-recorded.
Jack: It was okay. It will be interesting when I get my room done and I can play the records again.
Me: It wasn’t as commercial as the first album. You didn’t have a lock on that three- or four-minute track.
Jack: We thought Second to Something was going to be the single.
Me: But you never got that far?
Jack: No. Well, we never got any airplay on that record at all. Nobody was promoting it.
Me: And you did all of the marketing?
Jack: Yeah. I did everything. The packaging. I mean, I hand-stuffed every one of those records. Every single one of them. We put a bumper sticker in there. I got poly-lined sleeves, which was extra money. I had it pressed on pure vinyl— virgin vinyl. We spent a lot of money doing that. We pressed 5,000 and I had to hand-stuff all of that. We had a lyric sheet and a picture of the band. So it was one of those things. I overdid it in that regard. But there was plenty of money in those things. When I saw what it cost to actually manufacture records, I thought, it isn’t expensive. We should be able to market this thing. Let’s give a bang for the buck, you know? Let’s give all this stuff away with it. A nice idea. But I had no management. Or, I mean, I was the management.
Me: At that point, was the band getting along okay?
Jack: No. This was where Dan and I started to get strained. It was mainly because I spent so much time trying to keep the band together and he thought we should get back to what we originally had done, which was writing music. We wrote a lot of music. We were writing pretty fast. And the more I had to manage, the further away from that I got, and by the time we got around to my sitting down and playing, I was bushed. I didn’t feel like doing it, you know? My love for it… that first album took it out of us. It took it out of me, anyway.
Me: How long was it between your joining the band and the release of that first album?
Jack: I joined the band in 1970. So we were three years into it at that point.
Me: And you were basically working the same tracks all that time?
Jack: Basically, yes.
Me: Was there a burnout factor at all?
Jack: Well, we had a real problem playing clubs to begin with. We weren’t danceable. We weren’t really a band you would come out to dance to. Although at the clubs which accepted us, we were fine. But we would get booed off the stage, virtually, when we left Portland. We had gigs, I swear to God, where people threatened to beat us up. I’m not kidding you. We played the Redmond Rodeo one time, we left there with our… That was another Andy Gilbert gig. Oh, they do country— they are a country band. And, of course, we get there and we’re not country. We’re longhairs! This was the Redmond Rodeo, okay, back in the day. And they were going to beat the shit out of us and shave our heads. We were scared to death, man, and that’s no joke. They had done it to the band the week before. So we took apart mike stands while we were packing our gear. We got the hell out of town. We canceled our motel room. We didn’t even stay overnight.
Me: Did you play the whole gig?
Jack: We played the gig, but we were warned. We had guys out front pullinv out pocket knives and pointing at our hair. It is finny now, but at the time it wasn’t funny. And we constantly got stuck in those kinds of things thanks to Andy Gilbert. I mean, what does Andy Gilbert know, really? Andy’s the kind of guy who just wants his commission and didn’t really give a shit. He constantly booked us as a country band because, in his mind, we were a country band, but we were the farthest thing from a country band.
Me: Why would he do that? Because you had a pedal steel?
Jack: We could pull out some Buck Owens tunes, which we did that night. We played the same one over and over about 20 times in Redmond and I will never forget it. Because they said, the next one better be a country tune, goddamnit. And we’re going, heh. None of that— what did they call it— faggot something music. You know. Like we were trying to fool them. Like we didn’t bother with those tunes. But we got a lot of gigs like that. It wasn’t unusual at all. And it wore Dan down. Dan got to the point where he worried about what we were going to face when we would walk into those gigs. We were trying to be serious, but it got to be not a lot of fun.
Me: Do you think that had you been outside of rural Oregon or, say, in a big city that things would have been different?
Jack: I don’t know. It clearly didn’t work in Seattle. In Seattle, we once got fired halfway through our first set. The owner came up to us and said get the fuck out. I will never forget it. They called us funeral music.
Me: You’re kidding me.
Jack: No. I remember this distinctly because Dan embedded his pedal steel— he threw his pedal steel so hard that he embedded it into the wall of the club. Then we left. We got out of the bar and the pedal steel was still embedded in that wall.
Me: Which club was that?
Jack: I forget. It was funny because I think it was in Longview and not Seattle. But anytime we got outside of Oregon, man… Washington was really into rock ‘n’ roll back then. We weren’t that genre at all. We were just way too… Get this funeral music outta here! It happened a lot. We played colleges, you know, where people knew us and the stations played our music. That was fine. But clubs were just disastrous.
Me: Were clubs mostly the gigs you got?
Jack: Yeah. And it got to where we wouldn’t even accept club gigs anymore because we were tired of being humiliated and also, when we got fired, we never got paid. So we got to thinking, why do we need this stuff? So we started booking primarily colleges and the colleges were just great. The colleges were fantastic. It was night and day. Those were weird times. We’d get yelled at and fired one day and the next we would walk into a 1500 to 2000 seat gig at a college and they loved us. They knew all the songs and they sat down and listened and just loved it. So in that regard, we were constantly scratching our heads and going, well, which way is it. You know? And the clubs had more of a negative effect on us, too.
Dan got into cutting hair and and got involved with the beauty thing and could see making a good living off of it. That was back when beauticians made a lot of money. He would much rather have been doing that. He told me. I would much rather be cutting hair than playing in this fucking band. Toward the end of the band, he showed up late and would occasionally leave gigs early. I would look over and he was just gone. We got to the point when Attilio joined the band, we worked up sets. They were non-Dan Ross sets. So we could function. And we started playing without him and finally we said so long. We said just go away.
Me: Did he know he was bumming everyone out so much?
Jack: Oh yeah, he knew. Frankly, he didn’t care.
Me: Do you think it was an excuse?
Jack: Well, he just did not want to do it anymore. I know he was sick of playing the same material all the time. And we weren’t doing a lot of writing because I was usually pissed off at him. When he would show up late for gigs… it’s hard enough having to worry about making a living without thw worry of whether a guy is going to make a gig.
Me: Was it a long time coming, a slow deterioration in his attitude?
Jack: Well, we stuck it out until ’80. Something like that. ’79 or ’80.
Me: So you were together from ’70 until ’80? A ten-year run?
Jack: Yeah, about that. I think it was late ’79 when we played our last gig. And Dan wasn’t in the band then.
Me: It became more of a keyboard-oriented band at that time?
Jack: Well, Attilio was in it and I was doing very little of the original Sand music. We couldn’t do it, actually. Because I was the single guitar.
Me: So you changed your whole direction?
Jack: I started writing my own songs. I kept doing what I had been doing and at rehearsals, if Dan showed up, we would work on something of his. But most of the time he didn’t show. We rehearsed without him and we got used to it. Everyone was pissed off at him around that time. But, you know, it is understandable. I couldn’t say it was Dan’s fault. He just really did not want to be in the band any more, he wasn’t into it, and we were kind of making him do it by browbeating him.
Me: It was the original members plus Attilio at that time?
Jack: No. We had changed drummers. For awhile, we had two drummers, Steve and Ted Affholter. Ted was on the second album some. So was— what was his name.. Garland? I forget. God, I loved his drumming. He was also a friend of the Koskis.
Me: Oh yeah? I’m going to have to ask Steve (Koski) about some of this stuff. He was filling me in on some of the Notary Sojac things. He still has a lot of the information in his journals— gigs and set lists and stuff like that.
Me: Yeah. He kept a journal he would write in after every gig. The other Soja6c members told me he used to sit in the back seat of the car after a gig and, with a flashlight, write notes. So he would write about everyone who played, highlights, lowlights…..
Jack: It’s great that he did that. It’s the same thing with me when I started ditching the Head In the Sand albums. I had a lot of Sand stuff. I do have the original scrapbook, so I do have a lot of old, old Sand stuff too.
Me: I forgot about your Hawaii connection. I remember contacting this guy who was selling a Sand album on eBay. He had sent a note to a buddy of his who lived in Hawaii. And this guy forwarded the email and was freaking out that I had even heard of you guys.
Jack: Yeah, we were big over there. It was a really weird thing. There were promoters who said, you know, you could almost headline over there. And we were saying, what are you talking about? I mean, we were starving over here.
Me: According to this guy, it wasn’t almost. He said one radio station loved the record and played the hell out of it.
Jack: The only place we sold the second album was in Hawaii. I never got paid for it but I sent them quite a few. Two- or three-hundred records.
Me: Was there a lot of that going on during that run? I mean, not getting paid for gigs and albums?
Jack: There was. Nothing came in from Barnaby, of course. We weren’t surprised. We had a lot of money out and never saw a dime from anything. There has never been a check. Well, I think we did receive one. We tacked it up on the wall because it was to Dan Ross for fifteen cents. I carried it around for years and finally threw it away. But we used to laugh about it because the postage was worth more than the check.
Me: Did your deal with Barnaby include publishing?
Me: So they took the publishing money and applied it against your bill?
Jack: They are not supposed to. Fifty percent, airplay money, you can’t do that. That goes directly to the writer. But that’s how they get 100% of your publishing. What they do is tell you half goes to airplay and half goes to publishing and we’re going to give you the airplay money. Well, they aren’t giving you the airplay money. You get that anyway. They can’t take that money away from you. So we thought we were still retaining 50% of our publishing. No. The way they would scam you is to say, we’re letting you have what you already have, which is the airplay money. They took 100% of the publishing but called it 50/50, see.
Me: Did you play Los Angeles while you were down there?
Jack: We played a couple of gigs with a band called Ambrosia, who were shopping around for a record deal at the time. We played a place in Long Beach. I forget what it was called but it had an old bi-plane that hung from the ceiling. It was a really neat club. But, yeah, we did a few gigs down there. Not many. People didn’t seem to like us so well down there. I mean, our music wasn’t really the kind of music you like right off the bat.
Me: You are saying your music is an accumulated taste?
Jack: I think it takes some listening to. I mean, people who liked it loved it. But I don’t know if they liked it right out of the box. They probably had to hear it a few times.
Me: Did that ever bother you? Or did you just not care?
Jack: Sure, I cared. It was a very discouraging thing for all of us.
Me: Did it change your writing style at all?
Jack: I’m writing a lot now and I think why is that I don’t give a shit anymore. I mean, I really don’t care whether anyone likes it or not. But yeah, I got real concerned whether or not anybody liked it back then. As a singer, I used to get panned a lot. Which cut to the quick. Particularly during the Quarterflash time period. I tried to write songs I hoped people would like. That reallt wasn’t how I had written music in the past. In the past, if I liked it I liked it. In other words, I wasn’t trying to make it successful. When you poignantly try to write in a particular style… Marv Ross was really big on that. With Quarterflash. He actually listened to current records. He would listen to someone like Duran Duran and all of a sudden would write songs that sounded like Duran Duran. He could write in veins. For myself, I’m either writing or I’m not. And when I try to write like someone else, it’s a disaster. It has no sincerity. It loses all of that aspect.
Me: Did you know Seafood Mama at all before you signed with Quarterflash?
Me: Had you ever seen them?
Jack: Yeah. I didn’t particularly like them. None of the guys in the band particularly liked them, to tell you the truth. It was just that they had a record deal and were asking us to join.
Me: Do you know that after playing one weekend in Seattle, the next time they came up people lined up around the block to get in to see them? I never heard it, but…
Jack: We sold out shows in Portland. When we first put the band together and were still playing as Seafood Mama.
Me: You were still in the band when they were still calling themselves Seafood Mama? The way I understood it was that Marv and Rindy had signed the record deal and the label was forming the band around them and that’s when they changed the name.
Jack: They did. The way that all came down was that the label did not like the band. The label supposedly came up to see the band and said yuck. No way. They said, we know you already have a hit (they used Portland as a test market). The reasoning was that if you could make a record happen in Portland, you could make it happen almost anywhere and they had statistics to back it up. And Seafood Mama had already released a single (Harden My Heart) and were successful. That is why the Quarterflash version of Harden My Heart was almost the exact version as on the Seafood Mama 45. Anyway, I was playing around Portland in my band which was known as Pilot— which was the guys who formed the meat of Quarterflash except Clay Smith, who didn’t make the cut. Marv came in one night and said, well, the label (Geffen) has decided we can’t tell anybody, but we need to get rid of the original members of Seafood Mama. We need a new band. And the premise was, Marv wanted to have a band more like Fleetwood Mac, as an example. By adding me. So that there would be another singer/songwriter. And so he could also write for another male voice. He was getting tired of always writing for Rindy. And that appealed to me. He knew me as a bandleader and that I had always been a bandleader. I didn’t know how it was going to work out, but I needed a vehicle for my material.
Me: So you knew them from before.
Jack: I knew Marv, sort of, but I didn’t know him well. I knew of Seafood Mama. They played a lot of swing— country swing— and were very eclectic. They were a hippie band when hippie wasn’t popular. But it was popular here, locally, because we had a big contingency of hippie-types. Marv and Rindy gained quite a reputation doing that. They were doing things Sand would have been doing— I swear to God, it reminded me of when I first got in the band, because half of their playlist was country-oriented stuff. They had a fiddle player and all that. But, you see, when the people from Geffen saw them, they heard only the one song and wanted us to formulate music around it. Because that was what was happening and they knew they had an instant hit. In the course of two weeks of being in that band, we were number seven on the charts.
Me: How did the connection between you and the Rosses and Geffen come about?
Jack: Marv and Rindy came in to one of Pilot’s gigs because Marv had been a Sand fan and so had Rindy. They knew all about Sand and the song Critical Times, which they loved. They said they thought it was a hit song and and told me about their record deal. They had first asked my drummer if he would join and of course I told him he was a sellout and a loser of he took the gig. They had not offered me the gig yet. Then they offered me the gig and I was talking everybody into doing it. It was a record deal, you know, and I was very conscious of that fact. You want to know what my honest opinion was? Hey, maybe I will make some money off of this. They were selling out. The first gigs we did were billed as Quarterflash, formerly Seafood Mama, and they were selling out everywhere. I couldn’t believe how many people came to see them. They had a hit single and I would have been foolish not to do it. Look, I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I liked working with both Marv and Rindy. I really did. But I’m just saying that they weren’t my thing. I was into Pilot, into my band, because we were doing all of our own music and had been together only six months. And I really liked that band. I thought we were great. That was with Rich Gooch again, you know.
Me: So that was death knell for Pilot and the beginning of Quarterflash?
Jack: In one fell swoop. You see, originally Marv was only going to take a couple of us. Myelf and the drummer and then Gionardo, the keyboard player. I mean, to join the band.
Me: What were the recording sessions like?
Jack: They were fine.
Me: Who produced?
Jack: John Boylan.
Me: What did you think of him?
Jack: He was fine. Nice guy. We did two albums with him. We hung out with him quite a bit. He was sort of like a mentor for us. He’s still a vice president at CBS, I think. (Note: This interview was conducted around 2006 or so) I am pretty sure he had a gig for life. That is the way he used to term it.
Me: So the first album comes out and it’s a huge national hit. And you guys are now playing arenas?
Jack: Yeah. Our first tour was with Loverboy. We got on the tour bus here and split to head out with Loverboy. Those guys were pretty smart about it. They would tour about 250 days of the year and take time off to do an album, then go on tour again. They particularly toured the bad weather states at the bad time of the year. Because even if their album was not at the top of the charts, they could still sell out. Very smart maneuver on their part. A lot of bands won’t tour North Dakota in winter. The weather’s too bad.
Me: I can understand that to a degree, but if you have the fans there…
Jack: Anyway, we did that and then we started headlining. Our first gig with Elton John, we were the headliners.
Me: Was that just after he had signed with Geffen?
Jack: I still have the original note he wrote where he came up and thanked me. What a sweetheart. He came backstage with flowers for Rindy and said I just wanted to thank you guys for helping me out because my career is in the toilet. He was originally with Bernie Taupin but hadn’t been with Bernie for some time. We got to be pretty good friends on that tour. He was one of the nicest people I have ever met. He wasn’t like the jerks in Loverboy who were so full of themselves. Elton was just a great human being. I always tell this story because it will tell people what kind of a guy he really is. Elton thought that Critical Times was one of the best songs that the band did and he would stand by the side of the stage every time we would play it. It was a bit disconcerting. I mean, I would look over and there was Elton standing there listening to me sing. I mean, I’ve loved him since his first album.
Anyway, we were playing the last gig of that tour at Madison Square Garden and the night before I had gone to a party with him and a couple of his band members and happened to mention that my parents were going to be there for the show the next day. So he had his manager rush out and get Oregon newspapers flown in so he could have something to talk with them about. My parents show up and he says, I understand it was raining in Portland yesterday. The weather. But who would go to all that trouble? Do you hear what I am saying? Of course, it was the highlight of my parents visit. They will never forget that, you know. So that tells you everything about the guy. He’s like that. Of course, he also told me that he had more money than God. He had so much money he had no idea what he was worth, and that was back in the day. He said he owned over a dozen castles. He said he had managers to manage his managers.
Me: Were your parents supportive of your music?
Jack: Not until I became successful.
Me: So the whole Sand thing was a washout for them?
Jack: No, they liked Sand okay. Of course, Sand had gotten some national recognition. They saw the music thing as kind of a lark. Was I going to be a musician and were they into that? No. They looked upon it as a passing fad. I am sure they would argue that point now, but I know it for a fact. My dad was not into it at all. He did become a consummate fan when I joined Quarterflash. This was the guy who wore the buttons to work everyday.
Me: What did he do for a living?
Jack: Stock broker.
Me: So when you joined Quarterflash you immediately became Jack Charles instead of Jack Meussdorffer? What was that?
Jack: The label asked. They said, wow, that last name and I said, yeah, no kidding. I’ve had to live with it for a long time. They said would you have trouble going with just Jack Charles and I thought, that’s my name. Why not? (Charles is Jack’s middle name) My parents were livid. They didn’ like it. I thought, God, not to have to deal with that…
Me: It caught me off-guard. I had to look real close to be sure it was you. I was thinking, wait a minute, that’s not Meussdorffer. Then, after looking awhile, I thought, yeah, that is Jack Meussdorffer.
Jack: Well, I couldn’t really argue with the label. It only takes the umpteen millionth time of somebody saying how do you spell that. Boy, that’s a mouthful. You go through that yor whole life and you learn to hate it. But I didn’t care.
Me: Still, it is your name. I have always hated that about the business anyway. Everyone always going for the simplest thing, you know, to help you reach that common denominator. I’m always thinking, if you give a shit about the band or artist, you should spell their names right on the album jackets. I don’t know how many album jackets I’ve seen with misspelled names…
Jack: Nothing would surprise me when it comes to the biz.
Me: Well, you have been on that side of it. I’ve worked retail all my life. From that side, it used to irk me tremendously. Especially when it involved someone in whom I had invested, let us say, a lot of musical emotion.
Jack: But you can imagine a name like Meussdorffer. How badly is that going to get bastardized? Think about it. I mean, nobody could ever spell it right to begin with. I mean, I had to constantly correct people on that and I thought, God, I can finally get around that one. It wasn’t like I was changing my name. I was just using my middle name. It was perfectly rational to me. I didn’t think anything of it.
Me: So it really irked your parents?
Jack: Yeah. Because there aren’t very many Meussdorffers anymore. There are only three or four in the country. My dad was proud of that whole thing. Well, I don’t know if he really was, but it was mentioned. Like I said, when it became established that the whole thing was going to be successful, he was for everything, in general.
Me: So Quarterflash put out the two albums. Then what? Did they have a deal for a third album?
Jack: Yeah, they did. And they did a third album. And there is actually a fourth album. A third and a fourth on different labels. When I left the band, they went down to do their next record— and this has been a bone with me all along. I was supposed to be getting percentages off of that album, but they had already split up all the percentages with the Seafood Mama guys. They had already divided up all the money from that record. So we didn’t derive any revenue at all other than playing from that record. None of the guys in the band. The old Seafood Mama guys got it. So I cut a separate deal with them. They were supposed to pay me X amount of the percentages because I had songs on that album. The problem was, the third album went in the toilet. They had spent a ton of money on it and the way Geffen figured it, they didn’t care what band members were on it, they didn’t care what deal I had, when they lost all that money on the third album it came out of the residuals from the first album. I expected to get paid for that but I have never been. It is one of the things I don’t talk about and so much time has gone by… I probably would have had rights to go after it and yada yada yada, but I didn’t. I mean, the only reason now I would like to have it is for my kids.
Me: You left the band after the second album?
Jack: Yeah. I had my own personal problems, which I don’t really need to go into. I had also written three albums of material. I made it very clear that I expected some of that material to be on the next album. So tell me which ones you are going to use. I was pretty forceful about it. Come on over and hear this next batch of tunes I have. Pick one. And the real drag was, for the third album— as a matter of fact, for the second album— we were playing six songs to packed arenas playing my songs, like Party Down and One More Round To Go which were supposed to be on the second album. I was promised they would be but ended up not being on it. Because the fact of the matter is, Marv knows that each song on a record receives the same amount of money. It doesn’t matter. Right? They all make the same amount of dough. So as far as I could see, he wanted to fill the slots with his own material rather than mine. So it got down to, well, this song’s not me and I would go, bullshit. If you really wanted the song on the album, it would be on the album. While we were going through this, the album was delayed. He would say I need three more songs for the album and I would say I have all these songs and he would say no, not those. So I was a bit pissed off about that aspect of it. And frustrated.
Me: Was that the end of the band as far as you were concerned?
Jack: Yeah. Also, I was a wild party boy. I was a party animal and they weren’t really up for that. To a destructive point. I was pretty out there. I was bad news.
Me: When it came down to you not being on the third album, how did you find out?
Jack: Work on the third album had not even started yet. It hadn’t even been talked about. One day, I had Marv and Jay come over— Jay Isaac— and said I have all this material and I want you to pick some songs. I was more forceful about it than I had ever been. We had a meeting the next day. And the meeting was, maybe it’s best if you have your own career. Jay wanted to be my manager and said he’d get me a record deal, no sweat. We’ll get you a record deal. Based upon the success of Quarterflash, don’t even worry about it. You have all these great songs. Put together your own band. So I put together Mien Street. It was so much more fun than being in Quarterflash. I was just going to do it for a little while, but then they said why don’t we just make it a permanent thing.
Me: So Mien Street was a direct result of Quarterflash?
Jack: No. But I was writing and had enough material to start my own band because I had been writing for Quarterflash, is what I’m saying. The material was there. Plus I had a lot of tunes that we had played in Quarterflash that had never appeared on any of their records. I had a lot to draw on. Even on the second album I must have submitted 30 songs and they accepted two and a half. I mean, I didn’t expect that much more but I expected a third. I thought that would have been fair. But it was either a) Marv didn’t like the material or b) Marv wanted the royalties, and you certainly can’t fault him for that. Marv was also writing and whose songs are you going to pick? Yours or someone else’s? Who is to say what would have been successful and what wouldn’t, right? But I can guarantee you that if no one hears the songs, you will never know. Even in the case of Critical Times it got sort of the shaft because it was the last single they released from that album and was after everyone had stopped playing the first album. I mean, try to get airplay without Rindy singing. It was tough after they stopped playing the first album.
Me: Did you have words with Marv and/or Rindy about what you thought was going on as regards your songs and your position in the band?
Jack: Oh yeah. They knew. Hey, I liked being there and I wanted to stay there on that level. I mean I had worked my whole life to attain some measure of success and I wanted it to stay there. So it was a bummer all the way around. I would get those funny looks, like, we like that song. In fact, we like it so much that we’re going to be playing it for the next six months, but when it came down to recording it, it wouldn’t make the cut. And I would go, well, this is bizarre.
Me: Did you get the feeling that they were blowing smoke?
Jack: The fact of the matter is that they are very smart people. And they weren’t as esoteric as some people thought. This was supposed to be like a Fleetwood Mac one-for-all-and-all-for-one. Well, it wasn’t like that. It was really Marv and Rindy’s band, okay? Like it is now. And we were all sidemen and if we didn’t like it we could get another gig. It wasn’t like Sand. Sand, in the early days, was a real all-for-one-and-one-for-all entity. We always felt that way. But you know, I always have felt that success and money spoils everything. You know what I’m saying? If you want to use Fleetwood Mac as an example, they were hardly ones who got along. I mean, constant squabbling over and who’s doing what and power plays and all kinds of shit in that band. Which is the way it was with me. I mean, I am an easy going guy now but at that time I don’t think I was easy to work with. Because I was constantly going on about my stuff. It got kind of embarrassing at times. I thought why do I have to keep asking these guys?
Me: You took it personal.
Jack: I took it very personal.
Me: Was it a period that was very tough for you comparatively? Say, compared to Sand?
Jack: It was the hardest time for me as an artist mainly because I was writing so much. I mean, with Mien Street, we could almost play a whole night with nothing but my songs. That was a lot of material.
Me: Could you compare the periods of the two bands— Sand and Quarterflash?
Jack: With Quarterflash, Marv had a real sensibility about the band and he was really good at what he did. He is a really talented guy. A really talented guy as regards pop sensibility. You have to understand, Sand never cared about that. We didn’t know anything about it and we really didn’t give a shit. In fact, we saw most of what was successful as being corny. We were tired of being the antithesis of being successful. In terms of pop sensibility. Although we appreciated a good pop tune. Pretty much anything went in that band. You can tell from the musical arrangements.
Me: So with Quarterflash, was everything pretty structured by the time you joined them?
Jack: No. I could see that I was an influence right away. For sure, because Rindy and I used to sing harmonies and you know where that came from. But at that particular time, Marv was very structured in terms of of how he saw the band. In the beginning, the first thing we did was a videotape and we looked terrible. So we got this guy up from Warner Brothers and he worked with us on our stage presence and we put together a whole show and made damn sure that everything was played right. We used to agonize over these live tapes because we looked and sounded so bad. You reach that professional a level and the whole thing becomes the show and how good it sounds live and all that kind of thing, so we nitpicked that shit to death. To painful levels, man.
Me: Did you feel comfortable in that kind of environment?
Jack: I was okay with it but I didn’t particularly want to hear the live tapes after a gig, no. I wasn’t into that.
Me: Did you take any flak?
Jack: No. Fortunately, for me, not a lot of mistakes were made on my part. The one nice thing about being in Quarterflash was that I really didn’t have all the heat. Rindy did. So, you know, there’sa flat note coming out of the saxophone, which could happen and did. That’s going to hang out there more than some small clam by a guitarist. Plus all the focus was on her.
Me: When you were on the road, did you hang out as a band?
Jack: Marv and Rindy were pretty much together on their own. They were a couple and there were some logistical things that only make sense. Like they would have a stateroom on the tour buses. Of course it made sense. There were two of them. I don’t think it was meant as anything other than what it was, but us band members would rib them about it. But, yeah, we hung out together. It was very congenial. What a great time it was, in fact. Let’s face it, man. I was playing a club one night and the next night I was being hauled around in a limousine. It was exactly the kind of stuff you love to do. Right? I mean, how would you know until you have been there, but I can tell you it was mindblowing how fast it happened. It was in the course of bottom to top in two weeks.
Me: Did you and Rich ever look at each other and say, man, how did we get here?
Jack: Yeah, but it was all down to business at that point. Sand was all about creativity and being musicians. We didn’t care about making money. In fact, if we weren’t making money it was fine with us as long as we had enough to get along. You had to get comfortable with that because that was six guys living in a house together. We needed breaks away from each other, if anything, we were around each other so much. Whereas with Quarterflash, everybody was married— well, most of the guys were married— and that went along with making money. They had payments to make and stuff. None of that stuff ever entered into the equation with Sand. Sew what I mean? We were younger. It was a different thing.
Me: Getting back to Sand, what kind of relationship did you guys have with Notary Sojac?
Jack: We loved playing gis with them because they were so different than what we were. Yet their following liked us and ours liked them. We were different enough but had some of the same things going on. A lot of times, they would play ballads— Tom McMeekan‘s stuff, man. I loved his singing.
As for Ross and Sand and Sojac and Koski, those were the only bands I ever saw which had a guitar playing dual leads with the pedal steel. Reason enough to love them right there. Dan’s thing was the fuzz tone and the fuzz tone and the pedal steel was a perfect marriage. See, Dan had his own tuning on that pedal steel. It was different than everyone else’s. He sat up for weeks— he was up most nights— trying to figure out how to pull this string up and that string down— you know, trying to figure out the instrument and set it up the way he thought it should be. Do you know anything about stuff like that?
Me: I have to say that pedal steel is way beyond my comprehension except for sound.
Jack: It is mind-boggling. Because you have some strings being pulled up and others being puled down at the same time. There are all these possibilities. What made Dan’s pedal steel so incredibly different was that he tuned it just slightly different. He tuned strings in an unorthodox way. To an unorthodox pitch. He would pull them in different places. But, God, to have to think about that. It is hard enough to look at a piano and see all those notes and figure out what you’re going to play, with it being fixed. But when you have things in flux, where you can raise and lower the pitch, it brings up all kinds of possibilities. It was a trip, man. I would see him writing things down frantically and he would say, that won’t work because when you pull it up to this… and I would go, okay, whatever. I’m out of the room, man.
Me: What did you think when he said I got it and you worked out some things and it sounded great?
Jack: But here again. What we could do in the studio and what we did live… We were so damn out of tune live. I would be going “My God!” half the time. Sometimes the pitch would just make a cat howl. I mean, my God! And when I would try to reproduce the vocals we had on that first album, it was very hard to do.
Me: Yeah, but you pulled it off. I saw you guys a few times. Some of the things may not have been perfect, but I attributed a lot of that to the venue or the sound system.
Jack: Well, I am hyper- hyper-critical to pitch and the pedal steel is not that forgiving of an instrument. If it is even slightly out of tune, you’re going to sound like you’re pulling cat tails all night long.
Me: So what would you do after a set, say, if the pedal steel was not in tune? Just ask Dan to tune it?
Jack: We would have to do it in the middle of sets, sometimes. It was not unheard of for us to stop and me say, this sucks, tune that thing. And it took forever for him to tune it and then everyone would have to tune to him. Because by the time he got through with it, he would be in a different place than we would be, pitch-wise. The beauty of being a keyboard player is that you have a constant there.
Me: Which is why you enjoyed that last period of…?
Jack: Mien Street?
Me: Was Attilio in Mien Street?
Jack: No. I had two keyboard players— Kerry McCoy and Rob O’Hearn.
Me: How did you tie up with O’Hearn?
Jack: I kind of knew his brother. His brother (I assume, Patrick) was more my age. I was putting together a band and I heard… well, he was playing with Missing Persons at the time. He also played with Frank Zappa for years. Let me tell you about Frank Zappa. He tortures musicians. I don’t know if you have ever heard about this, but he puts them through such hell— of course, Zappa is dead. But to audition for Frank Zappa was one of the worst things that could happen to anybody. He would throw a manuscript at you that nobody could play. That was one of the ways he would kind of size you up. So if he put you on as a bass player, you would have to be really, really, really good. And O’Hearn is a very accomplished guy. Well, I heard that he had a younger brother. I mean, the guys in Mien Street were a lot younger than myself. I was 30 and they were seventeen or eighteen. So I basically went around and got the best of the best. I got a couple of young kids who had pop sensibilities along the lines of Peter Gabriel or the like, which was really the kind of music I wanted to move toward. And I got jazz players for the rest of the guys.
Me: Where did you find the girls?
Jack: I had actually hired a couple of black chicks. I had written a few songs where I wanted this real black sounding thing. Did you ever see Mien Street?
Jack: I had a lot of songs with call and response— you know, where they would answer you, kind of back and forth. It turned out these two chicks who sounded so great in sessions would never show up for rehearsals. They were flakes. In fact, they were the biggest flakes I have ever seen in my life. We hadn’t even got the band together and they weren’t showing up. Well, I had heard about these sisters, the Linns, and they went so far as to even put a whole dance routine together. I mean, they were really good. People came out to see them, not me. Because they danced. They had choreography for every song that they had come up with on their own.
Me: Gave you another dimension?
Jack: Completely. Let’s face it. And they were good looking. I mean, a guy in a club may not like me, but they are surely going to love watching girls dance. It worked out really well and I paid them about half of what I paid band members because I didn’t consider them musicians. Which was a really shitty thing to do, in retrospect.
Me: Did they mind?
Jack: Oh. God. They bitched about it. But what was I going to do? We were an eight piece band, for Chrissakes. I mean, how could I keep the band functioning while playing in the clubs? It was hard. Plus, I had a cocaine problem at that particular point in time.
Me: Tough to get over it?
Jack: Oh, yeah. A lot of my problems, musically, revolved around that narcotic. I had actually been offered a record deal with Mien Street. The guy said, I have heard of your reputation and it concerns me. It was with CBS which had some good labels at the time. I mean, cocaine was part of the schtick for awhile but it was no longer fashionable, if you know what I mean. But it turned on me and as a result, it turned on my career. It turned on everything. I had to get around to stopping it. It took a few years for me to want to stop it. I am glad I walked away from it. I cannot imagine dealing with it now. That was about ten years ago. Maybe longer than that. I can’t tell anymore.
The conversation from there degenerated, if that’s what it can be called, into the personal— family, his guitar shop, his struggle to save his patent on the teardrop guitar design. He had moved on. But I was still in the past. One night at this lounge in Eugene, I got drunk enough to get onstage with them and pound a cowbell, probably to everyone’s embarrassment. I remembered that during the interview but was afraid to bring it for fear that Jack would remember. Nothing like being berated decades after the fact.
I chuckle now because I have worked with and known a number of people who have partied with the likes of Dio and Heart and Nirvana and the like. I always love hearing their stories and have only mentioned mine with Sand and Notary Sojac and Herb & The Spices in passing, but I wouldn’t trade mine for theirs. Ever. Those were bands I loved and still love to this day. My thanks to Jack Meussdorffer for allowing me the opportunity of having my questions answered.
And now, how about we visit…
Notes….. Tom Mank sent me a CD of Burns & Kristy not all that long ago and it knocked me out, it was so good. They have a way of sweeping over you with their melodies and harmonies that you don’t even realize it and I confess to becoming a fan on the spot. They have a new album coming out soon and are crowdfunding and I feel the need to let you hear what they are about. This is their video from the funding page (which you can access by clicking here). Listen closely. It is beautiful stuff. And, yes, it is geared toward the Spiritual, but if you leave that out you are missing some of the best music being written and performed these days. And Tom Mank? He is a good friend— one I always listen to when it comes to music.
Here is the second video from Crushed Out‘s new album, Alien Ocean. I have seen these guys live. They put on a great show. And the new album is very impressive, indeed.
Early this morning this popped up on my computer screen. How does stuff like this happen? Before I knew it, it was over and I had this urge to watch it again. So I did. I am intrigued. Elephant Stone.
Sometimes you have to give Canada its due. From Claire Lynch.
I started watching this half expecting to click onto something else fairly quickly. I watched it all the way through and then watched it again. I half expected to listen to maybe thirty seconds of Vaneese Thomas‘s new album The Long Journey Home and move on. I am still listening. No wonder. Vaneese is the daughter of Rufus Thomas and sister to Carla Thomas and Marvell Thomas. Lotta music in that family. You gotta hear this. Lotta history too.
Have I shared the Afro Celt Sound System with you at all? If so, you got lucky. If not, my bad. Just enough pop sensibility with rhythm backing for the discerning.
Speaking of hits, this should be one. Rumer.
Southern Culture On the Skids tiptoe through the tulips…..
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.