Frank Gutch Jr: John ‘Buck’ Ormsby: Maybe Out of His Tree, But Never Out of His League; Plus, Artists Who Should Have Made It (A Musical Roundup)
This morning was cold and wet with a chill that went to the bone, the clouds threatening, the rain off and on but somehow consistent. I knew it would be. Yesterday, my friend John Hicks had posted a message that Buck Ormsby had died. No way, I thought, because I had had contact only a few days previous— just a note, but contact. When I approached Hicks, he said that he had found out from Ormsby’s son’s page. He sent me the link and there it was. We are sorry to report… and the words became a blur. While it hardly seemed possible, Buck was gone. Is gone, for none of us will hear from him again and that is truly a sad thing.
I was glad that Hicks was the one to reach me first. Buck used to stop by the Peaches store in Seattle to check up on things (he had Jr. Cadillac product there, on consignment) and to say hello. He knew most of us in the basement by face if not by name and was ready to talk or listen at the drop of a hat, unless he need to be elsewhere. He was a music legend but you would never know by talking to him. Quiet and unassuming, most would probably have not noticed him in a crowd. Unless it was a crowd of five— mainly, The Wailers and the aforementioned Jr. Cadillac. But Hicks knew him, as well as Howie and Nate and Mark and a few other guys who worked with us. They all knew him.
I only got to see Buck play with The Wailers once and it was an eye-opener. They headlined a dance at the Albany Guard Armory in the late-sixties— or should I say co-headlined, for the other band, The Sonics, was riding a string of radio hits while The Wailers had only a few. But The Sonics opened and by the night’s end, it fit. Don’t get me wrong here because The Sonics were outstanding but when The Wailers took the stage… well, they were professional! They went way beyond the music and worked the crowd of teens into a frenzy and I walked away in wonder. (Read about it here) I told Buck about that night decades later and he just smiled. Buck didn’t take praise well unless it was from close friends, and most of them rarely handed it out, or maybe had already handed out enough so that the respect was understood.
The last time I had a long talk with Buck was in the early-eighties. He was playing the bar scene with Jr. Cadillac and was hoping to rejuvenate Etiquette Records, the record label he had started with fellow Wailers Kent Morrill and Rockin’ Robin Roberts. The label had put out four Wailers albums and two Sonics albums as well as numerous singles during its existence. Morrill had been getting inquiries. He wondered if there was a market. There was this label in Europe, he said, and I let him talk and then pointed out the problems with distribution and international law, not that I knew anything but wanted to make sure he considered them. He walked away still wondering and ended up making a distribution deal. I found out later that it did not work out. The next time I heard from him he asked about Norton Records, saying that he was talking to Billy Miller and Miriam Linna. I told him they were two of only a few I would take at their word. Buck made the deal, I am sure not because of my response, a deal which worked out to everyone’s advantage.
It’s funny, but when we did get a chance to talk, we talked mostly about Jr. Cadillac. He loved that band and all of the guys in it. I remember one day Buck, Ned Neltner, and Les Clinkingbeard came by and one thing led to another and… well, there were laughs aplenty.
I assure you that none of us are laughing right now— Buck because he can’t and the rest of us because it doesn’t feel right. I cannot help but turn the corners of my lips up, though, when I think what a great guy he was. The kind of guy about which legends are made.
I thought about dedicating this whole column to I had a completely different column planned when I heard about Buck and then thought I might write just about him, but I don’t think Buck would have approved. He was never one for the spotlight but always for the music, so I have decided to toss up a mixtape, of sorts. Songs that I thought should have been hits by artists who should be better known. I know that everyone is into The Sonics these days, but at one time few knew them beyond the Pac Northwest, so I’ve decided to kick things off with a little Etiquette magic. I first head The Sonics‘ Louie Louie driving into Corvallis on the bridge. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was so taken aback I could easily have driven off the bridge into the Willamette River. I knew the crunch. I just never thought it would be applied to the classic Northwest anthem.
The Pac NW has produced some damn good music over the years (I can hear most of you replaying grunge in your heads) and a lot of it should have caused waves but some just did not get to the right ears. Ticktockman totally blew me away with their 2012 self-titled album. Tight, powerful (to say the least), and rocking!
I seldom hear from my old friends anymore. I think they are tired of my whining about the inequities of life, and I don’t drink much anymore either. But Joe Lee, who drums for both Johnson County and The New Method Blasters up in Seattle, shared the stage with Kink Ador a few years ago and sent me a link to this video, using the term “real deal.” After watching the video, I knew why. I wish I could have caught their act when they were in this configuration.
Pat Blythe is always talking about summer anthems. I think people have gotten away from what they used to be. They are supposed to be up and loud and major-chorded to the max. A few years ago, friends told me Sheryl Crow had recorded the perfect summer anthem. No way she could put these guys in the back seat. Meant to be played LOUD!
While I am a bit over-Americana’d these days, I like the best of what is there. I thought this was among the best there was six years ago. That is one boatload of talent on the stage and they do an excellent job on this one. Give a hand to not only Rusty Willoughby but Rachel Flotard, Maggie Bjorklund, Barb Antonio, and Barrett Martin. Less than 1,000 hits a year? No wonder everyone thinks the music business is going to shit.
No Small Children have been making waves the past year and rightly so. I might say that their acceptance has been too long coming. Before Lisa Joy Pimentel joined NSC, she was fronting The Lisa Parade and had two exceptional albums to her credit (still does, in fact). Here is a track from her first album with that band, Out of the Funbox. This is as good a Pop song as you can get. Click here.
And I would be remiss if I did not include NSC‘s superb take on Jilly Blackstone‘s Mystical. This one sends chills down my spine every time I hear it.
Say what you will about MySpace, but that is the only site on which I can find certain tracks, such as The Dementians‘ P-Whipped. This track is not only good, it’s hilarious! One of my favorite bands which fell through the cracks. You like this, you should check out some of their other songs. Click here.
To my mind, Charlottesville’s Paul Curreri is one overlooked major talent, possibly the most overlooked of any musician I know (of). He has traveled light years and put together a string of adventurous and meaningful albums, all worth hearing. Ain’t nobody sounds like Paul and I know a ton of musicians who would agree. Here are a couple for your ears to chew on.
The Green Pajamas. The best and most prolific band the Northwest has ever produced. Over thirty albums and not a clunker in the bunch. This is from Green Pajama Country.
It was September of 2009 and I had crossed the mountains to Sisters Oregon for their folk festival mainly to see Danny Schmidt, a guitar picking genius if ever there was one. It was early on a Saturday morning, the sun was out and already threatening to bake the few thousand who attended and I was in dire need of a coffee, so I followed the wafting breeze of promise to the Sisters Coffee Company’s restaurant/store for a cup. While waiting in line, I heard music worthy of a listen, so when I got my cup, I headed toward the sound. There in this little park with nothing but a banjo and a small PA system sat Shaun Cromwell, singing and playing his heart out to a small crowd, most of them with coffee cups too. I was mesmerized as was the crowd, which was growing by the minute, also entranced by the sound. There was something in his voice and his presentation which made me stand for half an hour, barely moving, the songs and his demeanor totally captivating. He had come for the workshop and the chance of playing on one of the stages but was relegated to this little park to play for the wanderers seeking respite from the heat and, like me, a caffeine boost. When he finished, I waited until well-wishers shook his hand and thanked him for his music and then approached. I found him to be humble and quite respectful, thankful for the opportunity to play before an appreciative audience. I walked away knowing that I had found a musician worthy of attention and wrote a review of the CD he had handed me with a promise to send his new one when it was ready. I listened to The Turning of Clocks on the drive home that night. A few weeks later, a copy of Folk-Worn Prose made its way to my mailbox. It hit me like a load of bricks. Largely due to a duet he had done with one of my absolute favorite singer/songwriters, Devon Sproule. Not long after, Devon, during a long flight, put together a video which she posted on YouTube of this song. There were dancers and characters and the feel of the past and fit the song perfectly. Unfortunately, it disappeared from YouTube so I cannot show you what I considered to be the melding of music and film that was I Am Undone, but at least you can hear it. I cannot believe that the rest of the world has not discovered Shaun and his music, at least not in the quantities he so rightfully deserves. When you hear this, you might well agree.
Steve Young died this past year. I loved the man;s music and respected him as a person. When I mentioned this song he had recorded with another favorite, Jim Post, he laughed. He said he had done a few of these one-offs, as he called them, and that one was a lark. I was never sure whether he was positive or negative about the song, but I loved it. Two of my favorites— two ships passing in the night— both central to my record collection. Even many Steve Young fans missed this one. By the way, if you ever get a chance to listen to Post’s Colorado Exile album, I highly recommend it.
No, this isn’t the Lisa O’Neill from Ireland, and yet it is. She was from Ireland at one time but is not the folkie most people recognize. This Lisa moved to Vancouver BC in 2000 and eventually put out an album titled Partner, which caught me totally by surprise. I remember her sending me an email once in which she expressed an interest in changing her name because of this other Irish Lisa O’Neill. I told her not to, that she should trust the music. What a dope I was, eh? Last I heard, she was working on songs for a second album and then… nothing. It is sad for me to think she was not able to use her one excellent album as a springboard for a music career. Then again, maybe she did and I just have not found her yet. I can hope, can’t I?
I still struggle with the fact that Randy Burns made virtually no impact on the West Coast. Well, I should not say “no” because he definitely got through to me. I love everything he has done— it is the combination of his voice and his songwriting— but this was the one which started that love affair. From the late-sixties at the beginning of the real folk/psych era.
They weren’t forty years ahead of their time. Five Man Electrical Band was right on time. Trith is, we are forty years late, and possibly too late. No wonder the aliens left. In case you missed it.
I was disappointed and a half when The Fire Tapes exited, stage left. The potential was there to be a very influential band. I only wish they had had a chance to really develop as a band.
I have a deep love for the early days of folk/psyche when Simon & Garfunkel were fresh on the music scene. There is something intensely mental about the music, the layers or maybe just the melodies and harmonies carrying songs away. Like this one by Seattle’s Sage Run.
What can I say except that this is the soundtrack to my life. I got the Zeppelins and The Stones and the Michael Boltons whether I wanted them or not. These are the ones I chose. They kept me from putting a bullet in my head, I believe, and were more than deserving of a shot.
No Notes this week. I am working on putting together a fine collection of newer videos for next week, including the new one from Wisconsin’s Dead Horses. It’s a good one.
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.