Frank Gutch Jr: Earlier, On Planet Normanium (Part One)— Research Turtles Redux and Baseball As We Never Knew It; Plus N-n-n-notes!
Some things just will not let go. Seven years ago I discovered the Research Turtles. For the last two, I had hoped for a reunion. I now know it will not happen. Even if they got back together, they would be a different band. They have grown as individuals and probably matured musically beyond that band and could never capture what they once had, but for five years I envisioned success and that period gave me hope in a world pretty much without hope, the music business morphing into something beyond my recognition, the Eks and the Westergrens of the world using what I consider stolen music to build huge bank accounts for themselves and others off of the labor of musicians. That Research Turtles do not today exist is not surprising, for who would want to hand their creations to someone else for a pittance while they made millions.
Lots of people, evidently, judging by the numbers of posts by musicians on social media, hawking their wares through Spotify these days. Spotlighted by Spotify. Thanking Spotify, even. Of course, Spotify is not the only gorilla in the room. Just the one weighing 800 pounds and surrounded by brief-wielding lobbyists. (Those would be legal briefs and not underwear, sports fans) But this is not about Spotify nor any of the other corporate barons pickpocketing musicians. This is about musicians. Four of them and, later’ five and even six as the band(s) matured.
They were just kids when I first heard them, though. And when I told Bob Segarini about them, he asked to hear them too. This was his reaction, reprinted from a column posted at fyi.music.ca…
“Warning: I am over the top about this record,” he wrote. “Remember that it’s just me and form your own opinion, but for my money, these guys are the band at the top of my list of who I’m pulling for. So many great new artists out there right now, and these songs make me like them all that much more. We are in another Golden Era of contemporary music, and I for one am loving it.
“About fucking time!”
“I want this album on vinyl.”
“I want this album on vinyl because it is the first collection of songs by a new band that has struck a nerve this deeply embedded in me in I don’t know how many years, and brings back memories of all those great records you got to hear for the first time back in the day, getting up to flip the album over again and again, reading the liner notes while you listened.”
“Could this actually be The Next Big Thing? Is this the band, and the album, that rock fans, especially that rabid branch of musos that call their music “Power Pop” have been waiting for, for decades? Is this the combination of influences, talent, sophisticated simplicity, and personality that launched the last two great explosions in contemporary music, first from Memphis, and later from Liverpool? I don’t want to jinx these kids out of the gate by saying yes, but fuck, does this ever sound like it. Not because it sounds retro or “familiar”, on the contrary, this record sounds NEW, and FRESH, even in the midst of the Indie explosion we are currently experiencing. Unfortunately, most people don’t get to hear all the great new stuff out there. There is no focus, no physical place, like radio and record stores where people were exposed to new music and selected what they liked from the same pile of releases and there was no artist that drove them to radio and record stores to experience new acts until one that was SO undeniable came along and kids started requesting the songs on the radio, and jamming the listening booths in record stores. This release sounds like a watermark. Something that may encourage people to seek out the material, find out more about the band, search the intertoobz, and spread the word both virally, and through the feeling that this music that makes you feel like you are part of something new, and exciting.”
“Now, before you think I’ve got some sort of connection to these kids and their music, let me assure you that although I wish I did, I do not. A regular reader of this column, Frank Gutch Jr, sent me an email asking me if I have heard them. No, I hadn’t, so I asked for an mp3 and he sent me one.”
“I wrote back requesting more.”
“He sent me the entire album.”
“I listened again.”
“I am still listening as I type this column, singing along when the chorus to “Damn!”, hits, “I can feel your heart beat”, and on the pay off chorus of “Mission” singing the unbearably catchy “three, two, one, zee-ro”.
“Judge for yourselves, and I will bet that if you love rock music, if you care about great songs, if you long to hear the kind of rock solid roots displayed here respected and contributed to, you will find yourself hooked like I am.”
“From the Everly Brothers, through the British Invasion, into the New Wave, the punk era Ramones, and the Neil Young/Nirvana/Foo Fighters grunge guitars, these guys, like all great artists, are a product of their love of music, honoring the past, and being able to bring something new to the table. The influences are here, but not in the way or intrusive. They are blended together through the miracle of a real rock band writing and playing real music, into something both familiar and unique.”
“If I was 20 years old, this is the band I would want to be in.”
“I cannot give them higher praise than that.”
I didn’t think then nor do I think now that higher praise could be given. Segarini is The Man when it comes to Pop and Power Pop music, or so I believe. His time with The Family Tree, Roxy, The Wackers, The Segarini Band, and a string of bands I have not found out about until just recently gives him that Dick Clark credibility the vast majority of us will never have. For him to say I like it is high praise. For him to say, “If I was twenty, this is the band I would want to be in” goes beyond praise and directly to the core which makes us music junkies. I am surprised that Segarini and I didn’t have buttons made: “We bonded over Research Turtles” or something to that effect.
That album was their first as a band and is still available, by the way. On CD, if you go the cdBaby route (I, myself, prefer physical product) or digitally from the Research Turtles’ website (for FREE).
To be fair,chronologically, there was an earlier Research Turtles album, but not really. You see, the band was originally a cover band called The Flamethrowers and were playing parties and the like around Baton Rouge, where Jud Norman, the frontman and bassist for the band, was going to school. They were quite popular and were loose enough to change musicians as needed, depending upon gig. That changed when Plaid Carpet guitarist Logan Fontenot joined the band.
According to Fontenot, Moving from Plaid Carpet to The Flamethrowers, I went from carrying the band to being the young guy out of his league. I was scrambling to keep up with these other guys who had already done the circuit, had already played in front of huge crowds and were all super-talented. This was myself, Jud, Joe and Blake. Later, the original Research Turtles lineup.
So I played a bunch of shows with The Flamethrowers, Jud had written the Time Machine EP and had expressed an interest in playing some of the original songs he had written, so we got together and learned them. He had pretty much recorded Time Machine on his own but had not yet refined it. As he was putting the finishing touches on it, I got to go into the studio and throw out a few ideas regarding the mixing. He finished it and was ready to release it as The Flamethrowers and keep everything in one package, but we ended up talking to a friend of his who had I think graduated with his older sister, Rosie. This friend worked for a music company in New York City called Woozyfly. They were a small music promotion company trying to give bands a leg up. We sent them the EP and said we need your advice. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know anything about the music industry. She ended up being the one who suggested that we separate our original music with another name. That started a two-month long effort to find a second band name. I don’t remember what the other name options were, but they were pretty bad. (laughs)
When I joined, see, it was pretty much Jud’s band. When we played our first show, it was basically just the EP Jud had recorded. So it was all of his guitar parts and all of his vocal melodies— all of Jud’s ideas— that we were replicating on stage. It got to the point that we had a show booked where we were going to play only our original music. The day of the show, Jud walked in and said, hey guys, I got it. He threw out the Research Turtles name and explained it and, at first, we all said no way. After I thought about it, though, I said, well it kind of sucks but let’s just do it. At that time I was really into The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand and that whole dirty New York leather-wearing scene. I wanted a name that depicted that. When Jud said ‘Research Turtles‘, it went against the grain of what I envisioned.
I think our first gig as Research Turtles was at Luna’s in Lake Charles. There were three bands and we opened. We played and it was okay, but it wasn’t super-smooth. At that time, Jud and the other guys were living at Baton Rouge, so I was making drives every weekend so we could play or practice. We didn’t get as much practice time as we would have liked. We played the songs on the EP, Damn and the others, but we had written some since then that were more hardcore and riff-heavy. The songs similar to Damn went over really well. That’s when we started to realize that we needed to start gravitating toward that sound— Pop, but harder.
After that first gig, there was a lot of practicing and a lot of writing. Jud graduated from LSU and moved back to Lake Charles and Joe transferred to McNeese State, also in Lake Charles. Blake was at McNeese by that time. So since we were all in Lake Charles, we start getting together a lot more.
We started writing after the EP was released but weren’t sure if we were going to be able to record any of the songs. We just wanted to write new songs. Some ended up being okay, but some of them really stunk. I remember one moment where Jud said, okay, I’ve been playing this one riff over and over and I can’t seem to stop. It ended up being the intro riff for Let’s Get Carried Away. So he’s playing the riff and we all started adding things and trying to come up with the verse beat and the verse feel. When we reached the point that I thought a solo was needed, I hit the first note wrong, but from that point on the song poured out of us as opposed to us struggling to write it. It was very surreal, but it worked. That was the point that I thought, man, we can do this. I think it was also at that point that Jud felt, okay, Logan has talent and he can put some stuff out there. I think that was when he initially started to trust me. It was almost as if at that moment I had finally proven myself.
The First ‘Real’ RT Album…
It looked like the lineup for The Flamethrowers and Research Turtles would stick, so Jud threw himself into overdrive and, along with the other members of the band, started writing. Ideas flowed (such as what happened on Let’s Get Carried Away) and the music became more of a shared experience. Before long, they had what they wanted— enough songs for a full album. The question was, where to record?
Jud’s dad, Rick Norman, put out feelers. One came back. A fellow lawyer who had attended LSU Law School with him had a client, Justin Tocket, and suggested the band contact him. They did. A deal was reached and the writing and rehearsing began in earnest. There was a recording studio just down the road in Maurice, Dockside Studios, which looked like it would be a fit, too. They checked it out and arrangements were made.
The lineup for the self-titled album was Jud Norman, Logan Fontenot, Joe Norman and Blake Thibodeaux. Jud was worried about the money, so they spent a lot of time preparing to limit time needed in the studio. There was no doubt that it was going to be Jud’s album, but the dynamics were beginning to change within the band structure.
During the work on that album, I was the only one who offered comments, said Logan, like that sucks and, man, we can’t do that. (laughs) Everyone else hung back and Jud and I would get into it. Sometimes both of us would shut down and would be at an impasse. It was interesting partially because that album was where Jud and I found out how to work with each other.
See, I was always intimidated by Jud. He is an enormously talented writer and a great vocalist. Going into that album, it was about my trying to get input into the songs. I didn’t argue just for the sake of it. If I thought my idea was worth it, I would say, Jud, you need to shut up for five seconds and listen to me.
Jud did. The resulting album, Research Turtles (hereto referred to as self-titled) was, according to the handful of writers and critics who found it, a gem. Powerpopaholic.com said “for a debut, this is more than enough to get excited about.” Power Pop Criminals picked up on Bob Segarini‘s take, giving them a verbal two thumbs up. Radio Six International ended up naming the self-titled album Album of the Year for 2010.
With the secret out, the Turtles were ready to make their move. The question was, which move? Let’s see. They needed a manager. They needed a plan. They set up a Myspace page and plugged into the social networking sites. They talked with people— people who said they knew things. And they tried to work with a few people. Nothing seemed to work, at least not the way the guys envisioned it working. They plugged away at The Flanethrowers gigs because that was where the money was, but the dream was Turtle-based. Then, just as it looked as if there was a light at the end of the tunnel…..
The Best Laid Plans…
Just when things looked like they were coming together, things started to fall apart. Jud’s brother Joe announced that he was quitting the band and applying for law school. It took the whole band by surprise.
The timing was weird because we had just gone to Nashville, said Jud. We had a music attorney up there who had set up meetings with the William Morris Agency and Sony and Universal and ASCAP— people like that. So we went up for a couple of days and met with all these bigwigs. They were telling us they liked our music and gave us all their contact info. Basically, we got advice on what we needed to do. And a week after we got back, Joe has this epiphany and says I don’t want to do this anymore. It was weird that it happened right at that time. Right when everything was looking up. I said what do you mean? What have you been putting in all of this time and effort for?
Joe could probably give you a better answer as to why, but I’m sure it had a lot to do with me and the way I was as a band leader. I used to be kind of rigid and if he didn’t do what he was supposed to do, I would get on him. He’s pretty sensitive when it comes to things like that. He probably took a lot of things personally that were just business to me. Like, you’re supposed to put up flyers today and why haven’t you. Little things like that.
That and I don’t think he was quite ready to commit to something the way Logan and I were. I want to chase the dream.
Indeed, he wasn’t. In fact, the decision to leave the band was a personal one not really having to do with the band.
I left because my heart really wasn’t in it, Joe said. I wasn’t interested in playing a bunch of shows, taking band pictures, updating websites, and all the other things that are necessary to make it as a small town indie rock band. That whole life style wasn’t appealing to me. I was dividing my time pretty evenly between school and music and, as a result, felt pretty average at both. I decided I needed to pick one. I felt bad about it for a while, but now I am 100% sure that I made the right decision.
I think if we had been successful right off the bat, Jud continued, if we had landed a label deal, everything would have been fine and it might have worked out, but that’s not how it happened. It is sad to me because I felt like he went through all the shit, the bad gigs and now it feels like we’re on the uphill. I wish he could have enjoyed more of the successes. I know he enjoyed reading some of the reviews we got from the self-titled album, but I don’t think he got to enjoy some of the later things.
But I think Joe is happy now. He wants to do his own thing and has his own band, Bobcat. It looks like he’s going to law school and will be doing that whole deal. I think he’s in a good spot and that makes me happy.
Joe’s leaving put the band in a bad spot, though. While they had few gigs scheduled, it took the wind out of their sails. Jud and Logan put their heads together to figure out the next step. Jud had a handful of songs ready to record, but without Joe… to be continued
Now Pitching For the Browns, Gooseball Fielder!!!
While Jud and Joe hold down the music side of the Norman family, father Rick plays games. I am halfway through a novel titled Fielder’s Choice which is part Shoeless Joe, The Natural, You Know Me, Al and Rhubarb, four of my favorite fictional accounts of the world of baseball. Everyone knows Shoeless Joe, of course— loved the book, hated the movie— and probably The Natural (again, loved the book and hated the movie— but chances are few of you have ever read H. Allen Smith‘s excellent and humorous look at the major leagues through the eyes of the guardian of a cat which ended up owning a baseball team— Rhubarb was made into a movie as well and was fun to watch though not great— or the whimsical account of White Sox pitcher Jack Keefe, whose story is told through a series of letters written to a pal, You Know Me, Al. Rick Norman does, I am sure, because he immortalizes another character worthy of Ring Lardner or any of the authors mentioned here— Jackson ‘Gooseball’ Fielder.
It is wartime (the Big One) and Fielder has developed what he calls a gooseball, a pitch thrown from somewhat down under and one which has a tendency to rise when correctly ‘thowed.’ Norman’s character tells his tale through Fielder who speaks in the vernacular (whose vernacular I cannot say but the hint is it is Down South). He’s just a kid but he somehow makes it to the Majors and then overseas (it is wartime, after all) and into a Japanese prison camp. As he tells the story to a major (it must be some kind of debriefing thing), Gooseball slowly becomes a character worthy of Damon Runyan— a character who has no idea he is one. The result is a lot of odd situations which had me laughing out loud at times and chuckling at others. It is baseball but it’s sometimes the damnedest kind of baseball inhabited by some of the damnedest people you’ve never met.
I have known Rick for seven years and we have talked about everything from the music biz to law (he is a bona fide counselor) to food to football but somehow the subject of baseball evaded us. Rick played, you know, for the LSU Tigers and he knows the game but he also knows writing and humor and blends the two into a rib-tickler I have been having trouble putting down (and not because of my arthritis, either).
There are three in the series— Fielder’s Choice being the first, of course, then Cross Body Block, ostensibly about Goose coaching a football team, then Bat Day. I plan on reading them in order and will keep you posted as I make my way through.
One other word— I have been a huge fan of the books of W.P. Kinsella since Shoeless Joe fell into my hands. Norman’s characters reflect a bit of what Kinsella’s have done in his fictional accounts of baseball, but more importantly they take as much from the politically incorrect novels about life on the reservation. The combination is magic.
You can check out Rick’s works at his website (click here).
Them crazy Normans, eh? No wonder they gave them their own planet.
With that, what say we get to the…
Wisconsin’s Dead Horses have been making quite an impact with their new album Cartoon Moon. Here’s why.
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The more I hear this track by Thom Hell, the more impressed I am. Very subtle background vocals and a melody which grows on you. Songs like this are what made Underground Radio go mainstream.
There are going to be a few thousand writers hopping on the new documentary about Peter Green which will hopefully set the record straight. The man went through some rough times, but the devil is always in the details. For many of us who lived that period, Peter Green’s band is the only Fleetwood Mac we’ve ever accepted. No offense to the Buckingham/Nicks configuration.
Well, Rumer has gone and done it again. She’s postponed the release of her new album, This Girl’s In Love: A Bacharach & David Songbook, until November 25th. If you want to know why this makes my heart sink (while giving me something to really look forward to), watch and listen to this and then tell me her voice is one of only a few which could have possibly pulled this off.
A true flashback to the days of Modern Folk up to the time of Nick Drake, Will Varley steps up to the level of the most excellent Riley Walker in dragging us back while pushing us forward. An outstanding song by a musician who should make headway with his new album Kindsdown Sundown which I predict will turn more than a few heads.
And if you’re bored with the same old, here is something a bit different— The Robocobra Quartet. This track puts me in an almost trance-like state.
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Even though I thought it a bit late, I was happy to see Otis Clay get a small portion of what he was due before he passed on. Here is a tribute to one of the classiest soul singers of his day. Proceeds go to charity. Check it out and donate if you have a few extra bucks to pass along to The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.
This, from Trevor Hall re: Standing Rock:
Back in the early seventies, there was no band more important to me as Gypsy. None! And it freaks me out that there were others in the country who felt the same. Even though Gypsy was the house band at the Whiskey for a short time, Los Angeles had no clue as to how unique these guys really were. St, Louis knew, though, and all because of a radio station— KSHE. The station became legend in my mind because whenever I found someone who knew and loved Gypsy, they inevitably had found the band through KSHE— many while just traveling through town. Here is the trailer for the documentary regarding the band and the station. Man, I only wish I could be back there to see it.
A handful of years ago I became enamored with a group out of either Kansas or Missouri calling themselves Emma Jo & The Poets Down Here and, later, 49 Stones. Seems the guitarist and bass player, brothers, Brett and Garrett Cox, have resurfaced in slash-and-burn outfit known as Starting an Earthquake. Pretty powerful stuff.
Is it any wonder Oregon prides itself on The Shook Twins?
We all know Terry Manning as the engineer at Ardent Studios and the man behind the board or in the mixing room working with artists like Otis Redding and The Staple Singers, among others. This is what he is doing today— sounding like an updated fifties-sixties pop star. Beautiful stuff. And he has lots more out there for you to discover. Let your journey start here.
A little tongue-in-cheek protest song I can relate to:
After The Nerves, there was Jack Lee…
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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.