Frank Gutch Jr: Jim of Seattle and Jaimie Vernon: Sci-Fi to Retro at 20,000 Watts; Plus Notes You Should Take More Seriously

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Goddamn Jim of Seattle…  I no sooner put last week’s column to bed and here he comes along with an album which has had me up nights and all weekend with “We are the Elders… We Are the Elders… We are the Elders…” running through my head on a constant loop.  I can’t stop it and it would drive me crazy if I didn’t love it so much.  See, ol’ Jim came up with this idea… well, maybe I should tell you about his last album because sure as shootin’ you either have not heard it or have forgotten.

gmr-atom-home-banners-jim-of-seattle

This is what I wrote in my “Best of 2013” column:

Jim of Seattle/We Are All Famous…

weareallfamousAs opposed to Jim of Toronto and Jim of Chicago and all of the other Jims out there, eh?  Don’t ask me why he chose to record under that name.  I thought maybe he was raised by wolves and that’s the name others chose for him or something, but no.  Jim chose it for himself.  And just so you know, he does have a last name.  A real one which does not involve Seattle at all, in fact.

When I heard this, I first thought, what the hell?  This guy’s nuts.  Not only is he all over the place musically, but he doesn’t know how to put together a concept album, for concept album was what it was, for sure.  Only it wasn’t.  It was put together like one, each song taking the album in a different direction as if weaving together a tale, but there was no tale.  When I mentioned it, Jim sat back on his throne and clapped lightly because he had wondered whether anyone would notice it.  He spent a lot of time arranging and rearranging the songs and the sequence of songs to give just that aura.  He wanted people to hear it that way.  I did, but I am sure others have too.  It is hard to miss.

When I say “all over the place musically”, I mean that this guy threw in everything but the kitchen sink.  He has rock, classical, jazz, blues and a whole string of influences, some taken to extremes.  For instance, the circus music.  Who would throw in a song sounding like circus music?  HE did and it was partially that which led to the concept album thoughts.  I almost got dizzy listening to the changes from song to song until I started hearing what he was doing.  At that point, the music began to string together, the songs either flowing together or fighting each other as the album progressed.

I applaud Jim (of Seattle) and his efforts on this album.  He put a lot of thought and heart and soul into We Are All Famous.  A lot.  And you hear it track after track.  (stream it here)

Let me throw in a caveat here.  You have to be musically adventurous to really get this album.  Jim isn’t Journey nor is he McCartney.  Neither of those acts have enough chutzpah to pull this off.  They don’t even come close.

Well, this time he went and done it.  This one is a concept album and quite a brilliant one, I might add.  Titled Both the Planet Frank and The Chet Lambert Show, Jim gives us whiplash with a two-sided album on one disc.  Both the Planet Frank, which in a way I wish was named after myself (it is not), is a flash forward to a time of aliens who are more advanced than we currently are (we are, in fact, regressing, thanks to the acceptance of detritus in the form of Donald Trump and his followers), a time in which the world embraces the evident alien culture which has produced such cultural stars as The Elders.

I’m still not quite sure of the exact storyline, having never spent time on Planet Frank (though I have spent plenty in Frankville), but it involves what seems to be a major concert attended by thousands and a whole series of futuristic-sounding songs which are, as stated for the songs on the first album, all over the place.  Couched in electronic rhythms and electronically altered voices and a lot of jazz take-offs (as well as one freaky mash-up of a Devo-influenced version of Wichita Lineman), they follow a musical storyline not dissimilar to an old Buck Rogers episode I saw some years back which involved a tour by a group riding the galactic waves of fame— Andromeda, I think they were called.  Or maybe that is where they were from.  Anyway, their equipment had been altered to reach a sonic point at which humans went crazy and began destroying everything in sight, which was their manager’s intent.  Luckily, ol’ Buck saved the day, though I cannot remember exactly how.  There is no such plot on Planet Frank., if that is indeed where this takes place, but it is a fascinating look behind alien culture and just how universal music can be.

There is an intermission because, well, we can’t very well look at the future and quickly flash to the distant past, not without getting mental and aural whiplash, and here it is, in all its glory.

First time I heard it, I laughed all the way through it.  This, sports fans, is musical genius!  Not a damn original note or word in it but, goddamn, what a song!  Listen closely to the lyrics!  “Anyone who says this is paradise is… in denial…” while sounding like Harper’s Bizarre or a band on the lighter side of sixties rock.

Doesn’t take him (I almost typed “them” because this is too good to have come from one evil genius) much time to switch gears after that, though, kicking full=bore into the retro The Chet Lambert Show, which rides the fifties and sixties rail into early television, touching on territory once developed by everyone from old variety shows to The Brady Bunch.  Maybe a bit of The Patty Duke Show, too, now that I think of it.

More belly laughs from The Planet Frank… okay, Frankville.  Damn it, Jim, this was my big chance.  This is only the intro and it reads like a variety show.  It’s not all camp, though.  Take for instance, this track, which I find amazingly good.

Did you listen closely?  It is called By Inches for an obvious reason.  It is theatrical and emotional and everything you want in a song.  Everything I want, anyway.  One of my mantras in a song.  I tell people all the time, don’t close doors because you never know when an open one can make all the difference.  I tell them that I sometimes look back and wonder where I would be if I had attended Eastern Oregon College like I had planned instead of the University of Oregon where I went.  If I had refused the draft like I had planned.  If I had asked one of the many girls out who I wanted to but didn’t.  If I had taken the job here or had traveled there.  All in a song.

greenmonkeylogo“When the beam fell at the building site it missed his head by inches…”  When I hear lyrics like that, I wonder if I will ever learn to write.  “…and it missed his head by inches…”  I shake my head.  Brilliant.

I don’t really know who this guy Jim is.  We have exchanged emails a few times, my lame questions and his responses.  That’s enough, I guess.  As long as he knows the high regard I have for his music.  As long as he knows he needs to continue not for himself but for us.

I am now wondering more than ever if I would be missed by anyone if the beam had not missed my head by inches.

Another first-rate release from Green Monkey Records, who have given us a long string of albums from artists like The Green Pajamas, Gary Minkler, The OF, and so many others.  Wotta label!  You can check out their catalog (and listen too) by clicking here.

The last time I remember being this taken by a concept album was when I first heard Jaimie Vernon‘s Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts.  Jaimie had first released it in 2008, I believe, and got a bit of a response but I heard it in 2012 or ’13 and I was completely taken aback.  I was going to write about it in retrospect because after hearing Jim of Seattle‘s new album, I pulled Nightmare out and was floored anew.  When I reread the review I had given it then, I decided to just repost it.  It is another brilliant album, this one revolving around radio.  So, whether you have read it or not, set yourself.  Here we go…..

jaimiestampJaimie Vernon (and friends)— The End of Terrestrial Radio in Three Acts

I must listen to hundreds of albums a year— at least sample that many— and there are few which really floor me.  I try to write about the ones which do, though even then the words sometimes escape me and those reviews remain unwritten.  It isn’t easy, writing reviews on a constant basis, so when an album comes along which I not only love but wish I could have been part of— or at least been privy to some of the creative process— it is rare.

When friend and colleague Jaimie Vernon unleashed his latest project on us a few weeks ago, it caught me completely by surprise.  It is a concept album, he explained, about the downfall of Pop radio, and then sweetened the deal with the hint that “The Iceman”, Bob Segarini, was somehow involved as were a handful of friends with whose work I was familiar: Brian Gagnon, Lawrence Ingles, Todd Miller, and Jade Dunlop to name a few.  It revolves around the last Pop radio station in existence and soon to go out of existence, he said, and…..  Well, here it is in Vernon’s own words, borrowed from the liner notes:

jaimienightmare“Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts is a modern morality audio play in three acts that postulates a ‘what if’ scenario concerning the slow demise of terrestrial radio. What if the corporatization of our airwaves becomes so ubiquitous that every last radio station on the planet is absorbed and reformatted out of existence? Pictured: Jaimie Vernon

“What would the final terrestrial radio station sound like on that fateful day when the playlist is transformed and the on-air talent broadcasts across the ether one last time? C.R.C.K. could be that station. A 20,000 Watt FM transmitter located in the remote outpost of Sachs Harbour in the Northwest Territories’ Beaufort Sea at the tip of Banks Island.

And it is here that the world of past radio glories and current radio collapse collides in a farewell to a format that not only informed my own musical growth but was the audio thread that connected nearly four generations of pop music fans in the Western Hemisphere.”

Is that a great idea or does Vernon just make it sound great?  I would have to say a little of both.  I mean, the idea is not necessarily original— I’m sure there are albums out there which have toyed with the basic idea and, of course, the Cruisin’ series of albums recreated a string of albums featuring the hits of a specific year in the radio format of many of the top disc jockeys of the 50s and 60s.  But no one to my knowledge has done it exactly like this.

segariniIn the first place, Vernon not only wrote and recorded most of what made it to disc (or into digital format) but created a scenario far beyond that “actual” day of broadcast.  His liner notes, in fact, lay out the complete history of radio station CRCK, bringing us up-to-date just in time for that final broadcast.  The lead-in for the album is the dial-twisting we have heard many times— well, us old-timers anyway.  I grew up on it, the various stations crowding their ways through speakers as the listener searches for station of choice.  The fact that it stops on CRCK and Brian “The Iceguy” Campbell is the kickoff, Segarini then hosting a similar program for Sirius under the name Bob “The Iceman” Segarini.  Art reflecting life?  Possibly.

It is the first in a long line of coincidences and parallels to the real world.  The placing of the radio station in Sachs Harbour takes it far out of the reach of the rest of the world, that town being well north of the Arctic Circle, and while the station broadcasts, it is with a sense of isolation.  Not only the last Pop radio station in existence, but the last Mom and Pop radio station.  Think about it for a minute.  For those of a certain age, it is the darkest of science fiction.

Vernon, though serious, cloaks it all with a stunning sense of humor.  Bringing in Segarini, a good friend and someone with whom Vernon has worked with more than a bit, was stroke of genius, his off-the-cuff delivery just off enough to fit the whole concept but not drive it into serious ground.  Indeed, “The Iceguy” sounds as much Red Green as he does disc jockey, plugging everything from Sterno to beaver shooting to a store called Bill’s Bait & Beer because there ain’t two things in the whole world that go together better than that.  Vernon even includes a funeral home ad— fake, of course, but oh so appropriate given the theme.

sharon_jaimieOf course, none of this would work minus music and in the end it is the music that holds it all together.  Vernon went out of his way to include songs by Lowe & Brow, San Diego’s Atomic Enchiladas, The Terra Cottas, The Hudson’s Bay Brothers (think about that one for a bit), and Sydney Australia’s The Modern Punk Quartet, et. al.  That would be hell of a lineup, folks, if the bands existed.  They don’t, of course.  The thing is, the album is put so well together that it is hard to believe they don’t.  The songs, all Vernon-centric except two (Frank Marzanos Drink Her Goodbye and Jim Lowes I Feel the Beat), are first rate and the production the same.  You can hear influences of The Beatles, ELO, Klaatu and others, but the songs stand on their own.  In fact, I hadn’t even realized that the musicians on each of the songs are pretty much the same in odd combinations until maybe my tenth listen.  I had somehow fallen into the fantasy and for me The Middle Americans and Atomic Enchiladas had taken on a form as real as any I could imagine.  In fact, I began to worry about myself.  I began having this urge to search the band names on the Net just to scope out their discographies.  Pictured above: Sharon and Jaimie Vernon

Any real drama must come to an end, and this is true drama in odd form, and Vernon wraps it all up with the sign-on of new kids in radio town, CWSH, and the smoother jazz format.  Pop radio is no more.

The PDF file Vernon sent me shows the insert, marked Disc 1.  Turns out that there will be a second disc.  Basically, it will be the music from the “radio broadcast” minus the radio patter and with all of the proper lead-ins and lead-outs— just the music.  It will also include bonus tracks, from tracks relating to the “broadcast” to others written during the time period the album was actually being recorded.  Soon, he promised.  When time and energy permit.

Am I impressed?  I am totally knocked out.  Each day I find time to listen, and always all the way through.  It isn’t getting old— any of it.  The music, the vocal palaver, the humor cheers me up.  It is radio as it should be.  The fact that the music and characters are weaving an audio tale of creative consequence fascinates me.  You want to hear it?  It’s streaming here.  Do yourself a favor and pop a cold one, lay back and hear it for what it really is.  This will be in my Top Ten of the year, easy, and it isn’t because I know that guy.  But, just for the record, I know that guy.

I do know that guy, I am not ashamed to say.  He is an excellent writer (The Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia, Vol. One and Two; True Tales From a Cemetery Cop; Life’s a Canadian… Punk; and others— and he is working on an authorized biography of Canadian music legend Skip Prokop as I type), a musician, a record jaimiesharonbullseyecakelabel owner, and the source (and butt) of many a fine joke, some but not many  of which are even printable here.

That record label, Bullseye Records Canada, has recently been resurrected and Jaimie has been working hard to get the full catalog up and running.  Good artists, good music (and oddities such as Nightmare) and a fascinating story behind it all.  I will be writing more about Bullseye Canada, but if you want to get a head start, you can check out and sample the product available by checking out its Bandcamp page (click here).  And Jaimie assures me that there will be much more added in the future, both old and new.

Know what?  It’s almost over.  As soon as we check out the…

NotesNotes…..  Newsflash!  Dave McGraw & Mandy Fer are asking for you to watch their latest video and possibly donate to a fund to help preserve Mt. Grant.  If corporations had their way, there would be no mountains left (check out mountain-top mining for just a portion of info on what corps are doing/want to do).  Let’s put a sock in it!  But first, here is Need a Mountain recorded in the Outback.

When I was a young man, I was often taken aback by the differences between a musicians ability to sing and talk in English.  It sometimes astounded me to learn that certain artists could speak little if any English, in fact.  These days it happens less, thanks to a worldwide movement to teach English in countries like Germany and France and Japan.  My wonder has not lessened, though.  I have no idea if Albert af Ekenstam can speak English or not, but I am impressed with his lack of Swedish accent and his ability to dig deep on this solemn song.  There is no accent in the soul.

Adam Marsland over at Karma Frog Studios has always had a soulful heart as the new Pacific Soul Ltd. album, The Dance Divine, shows.  Here, Adam and crew takes The Beach Boys’ God Only Knows and drags it back to 1969 or so for a treatment and a half.

So now I can hear where Freddy Fender got that cheesy organ from.  Ha!  Good pop from Rob Martinez out of Karma Frog.  Definitely dipped in a sixties batter and deep fried. 

This is not new but it is beautiful and I have a thing for beautiful and am tired of waiting for the new Burns & Kristy album.  I am sure the new one will be a knockout but dollars to donuts you have not heard them before.  If you love melody and harmony as much as do I, this will be an ear cleanser.

Christy Hays has been working her ass off working on her music and has made great strides.  This may just be a shedwater moment.

Holy mackerel!  Here is a new track from Deep Sea Diver‘s latest.  If I had heard this without knowing, I would have thought it was one of my favorite bands, The Soundcarriers!

Dominic Valvona over at Monolith Cocktail has uncovered this little bit of European Pop.  Ladies and Gents, Gurrs.

West Virginia’s Jeff Ellis pointed us toward a stark music video by colleague Chris Keesey.  The video is of Shawnee, Ohio, but the sentiment is universal (and the song impressive).

And in keeping with the theme, Donovan Woods.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

dbawis-button7Frank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at Frank bottle capone time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.

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