Frank Gutch Jr: Meet The Duck (and Other Tales of Woe); A Node to Billy Miller (RIP);
His real name is Steve Suhadolnik but they called him The Duck after a weekend in Seattle with his buddies Newman Newman and Dahlgreen left all three of them practically penniless because of Newman Newman’s hours-long call to his girl back in Indiana while the Duck and Dahlgreen took in a double-feature and (I am sure) trolled Pike Street for hookers. See, The Duck had this thing for hookers, having spent a year in Bangkok living with one. Number One, in fact. He always told me, you ever make it to Bangkok go down to the Thermay Lounge and ask for Number One. Then he would smile, just like in this picture, and smack his lips.
Okay, the lip-smacking was my mental picture, but if you could have heard him talk about her, you might have begun to think that The War was not all that bad of a thing of you could have scored Bangkok as a duty station and Number One, to boot. I don’t care what you say about hookers, she was legend. Why, The Duck said he always sent her out for dinner because whereas a newspaper full of fried rice would cost him two bucks no matter how much he negotiated, she could get the same amount for a quarter. You could say he was quite proud of her. You might could also say that he was full of shit. We never knew how much we could believe of what gushed from his addled brain through his mouth, but when it came to Number One, you could be sure the truth was left far behind. This was not The Duck’s view of the War.
About how he got his name, though. When the three got back to Fort Lewis, they maybe had a dollar between them, and another month until the next paycheck. Newman Newman spent most of his time writing letters to his girl who, I am pretty sure, dumped him not long after. Dahlgreen gained a good fifteen pounds, playing the broke card every meal and getting guys to scrape contents from their plates onto his, the equivalent, I suppose, to lonely girls eating ice cream straight from the container. And The Duck? He swam. See, the swimming pool at Ft. Lewis was free and open long hours, so he swam. And swam. And swam. I think he was in better shape after that month than he had been coming out of Basic. And because he was in the water so much, they started calling him The Duck.
The boy as a young duck. Also, before he could grow facial hair. Okay, this isn’t The Duck at all, but it could have been.
I knew The Duck before and after Bangkok. When he got his orders, I doubted I would ever hear from him again. I have heard from only a couple of Army buddies since being released. It is just the way it is. But one day, shortly after finding a place in Eugene so I could continue at the University on the GI Bill, I got a phone call. The Duck had remembered that I was from Sweet Home (Oregon) and had called my mother to see where I was. Momma gave him my number and there he was on the opposite end of the line. We talked and I heard a certain tone to his voice which said something was wrong without really saying it. He was back home in his old hometown trying to put his civilian self back together but with little luck. Not much going on there, he said. Impossible to find work. Thought he might come down for a visit. And he did.
We headed down to Myrtle Creek to visit another Army buddy, Wes, and drove all over hell and gone. They smoked dope and we laughed and drank beer and pissed on the sides of the roads. Me, I had stopped smoking long before, having had a bad experience in Tacoma before being released. I liked to laugh, though, and taking a piss was as natural as, well, taking a piss, so I was happy as a clam in sauce. By the end of the day, we decided that The Duck would drive home to get his stuff and move in with me. The decision was significant. My music listening was about to be amped up a few levels. (You knew this was going to be about music, right?)
As soon as he moved in, things started going south. I quit school, thus ending the GI Bill. My girlfriend at the time racked up a $400+ phone bill calling her new boyfriend who I found out about only when the phone bill came in. The Duck had drained his remaining stash and we found ourselves one night pooling our sixteen cents to get a package of Jell-o to fill the holes, so to speak. The next day we hit the job line down next to the unemployment office. We both got day jobs digging a trench for a new house development. It was hard and tiring work because it was raining and every shovelful removed was more muck than mud. Digging amongst fir trees is not easy, the roots winding downhill in a variety of patterns. We struggled with it for two days and got paid at the end of each and had enough for a few days food and gas. I scored a short term job building fences and he found day labor elsewhere and we had a few bucks in our pockets. Then he found a job planting trees and I ended up thinning trees. Lousy pay but steady work. When Friday night came, you would have thought we had hit the lottery.
We stocked the fridge with beer and called our friends and that night the house was full and the music cranking. He had brought a few albums down but was all over mine. One thing we shared was music as an adventure. Soon we would be spending weekends over at The House of Records digging through the racks and carrying home anything and everything we thought worthy. And not long after that, it was long caravans up to The Music Millennium in Portland to scour through the import racks. Imports. God, but I loved the smell of foreign vinyl in the morning.
The Millennium was also the home of The Intergalactic Trading Company, their import arm. They used to mimeograph sheets with thumbnail reviews of recent arrivals— The Dog That Bit People, Grobschnitt, Gomorrha, Epitaph, Titanic, Satin Whale. The list seemed endless but we only found a few because the titles were limited and it was first come, first served. The Duck was lucky enough to grab the last copy of Bakerloo, Dave Clemson’s band before, I believe, he joined Colosseum. He found Greenslade and a string of Prog bands. I delved into Popol Vuh and Budgie and Karthago and more.
Add the imports to what we were finding at The House of Records and you can almost imagine how crazy things got. When the weekends came, each of us brought home an armful of albums and would fight over access to the turntable. We began to hate one another’s choices just because they weren’t ours. The Duck got more and more into Prog. I got more and more into the unknowns. I would leave sometimes when he would play certain albums. He would talk all the way through mine.
One day, and I don’t know how it happened, we stopped fighting. My system wasn’t the best but it was adequate and I had what I think was either a Roberts or Pioneer cassette deck and he challenged me to a road trip fest. It was simple enough. I would record a track and then he would and then I would until we had a ninety-minute tape at which time we would head out to the car for a road trip, the alternating tracks a soundtrack for the drive of the moment. And for some reason, his music began to become my music and vice-versa. I laugh now, but it took me awhile to realize that not long after we started this process, I had become a bigger fan of Colosseum than he had ever been and I noticed numerous times when we would be hanging around the house and The Duck would dig through my records for something he wanted to hear. Road trips. Who knew?
Duck and I roomed together for a year and then it was time for me to test the waters in L.A. One of the best years of my life. I learned a lot.
A Node to Billy Miller
…which is somewhere between a nod and an ode. He is gone, you know. It’s not like we didn’t see it coming but the reality of it blindsided so many of us. It seems like he had been there forever, brash and young, passionate, positive, but as much as he accomplished, he had so much more to do. Like Greg Shaw, he had plans and when he accomplished one thing, ten more were already added to the list. Musicians to uncover and records to repress or maybe press for the first time. So much to do, so little time. After decades of playing music, writing and promoting not only his own business (that of Norton Records) but those of so many others, and rejuvenating careers, posthumously and otherwise, of so many artists, time just ran out.
My first contact with Billy is a blur in my mind and yet such a turning point in my life. It revolved around the Pacific Northwest music of the sixties— The Wailers and The Sonics and all of the other artists now accepted but pretty much lost then. I don’t remember who contacted who or whether we had done business at that time (Norton was relatively new back then and just beginning to gain traction), but when he found out I had “lived the dream” as he referred to it in a letter (the dream being having been there as the Pac Northwest music scene unfolded), he asked if I would write a piece for a new baby he was birthing, Kicks Magazine. Knowing of his band at the time, The Zantees, and some particulars about the Norton/Little Ricky labels he had created, I signed on. As a writer, I was pretty much a one trick pony back then, limited to the Pac Northwest, but it was the trick he was looking for. So I sat down and pounded out a short piece on music as it was in my youth and he was thrilled. The piece itself was not all that spectacular but I think he appreciated by unbridled enthusiasm (we did share that when it came to music) and he sent me not only a copy of the magazine hot off the press but the new Zantees 45, autographed by Billy and partner-in-crime Miriam Bop-a-Linna which I still treasure today.
I have followed the whole Norton thing from the beginning. The catalogue was amazing even in the early days. Esquerita. Hasil Adkins. Artists long forgotten except among afficianados were trailblazers for Billy. He was a music archaeologist if nothing else. Fort Worth. The Pac Northwest. He looked for and found the scenes worth excavating. And he appreciated others excavating as well, distributing like-minded labels such as Relic and even White Label, a record label I discovered when I was working retail, stocking every title I could get my hands on because of their tenacity in finding not only records to reissue but many unreleased tracks from the smallest and oddest and saving them from the rock ‘n’ roll graveyard.
Billy and Miriam are legend for not only doing what they did but for being members of the real rock ‘n’ roll community. As I sit here, occasionally leafing through Norton’s 20th Anniversary Mail Order Catalog (Man, am I glad I hung onto this one), so many things come to mind. Their unselfishness when it came to artists. Their willingness to promote others. Their pride in the depth of catalogue. Their dedication to the music. I used to laugh inwardly when I thought of Norton because in those early years, I am sure that Billy and Miriam would have starved (and probably did) to get that new 45 or compilation released.
It seems like only yesterday that Hurricane Sandy ravaged their warehouse. I don’t think there was anyone out there who really cared about music who did not at least pass the word along that Norton was in trouble. And they all banded together to help bail them out of what could easily have been a game-ender. I wrote part of a column about it (read it here) and was amazed at the response. It seemed as if everyone cared. They had earned it. Such should be the lives of all good people.
My heart goes out to Miriam, who had been with Billy since almost the beginning. Losing Billy is hard for us who loved him and what he had done for music, but for her I am sure it is truly heartbreaking.
Norton Records will go on, though it will seem for awhile that the heart has been ripped asunder. Miriam will undoubtedly keep the dream alive as best she can. We can help by making sure others who have not found it yet, do. Call it a nod to Billy.
Christ, this has been a tough year.
Boom Boom, Long Before the Lights Went Out
For all of us dinosaurs, the good news is that Freddie ‘Boom Boom’ Cannon is still working the yards. His latest is a 45 titled Svengoolie Stomp b/w Svengoolie Stomp Sing-Along. Evidently this Svengoolie character has a nighttime horror movie program on a cable channel (I forget which one but I seem to be thinking METV) and needed a theme song and, well, Freddie will sing anything once, or so his fans claim. Semi- Monster Mash-ish it is and the package is beautiful. It is a seven-incher with picture sleeve and is pressed on transparent orange vinyl. THIS is the kind of record I would have swooned over in my youth. Available from Wondercap Records.
And while we are on the subject of Wondercap, they have in their catalogue a 10-inch album of Los Angeles punk which is classic. Titled What Is It? (The label it was released under was a predecessor of Wondercap called What? Records) it has tracks by the punk bands I remember as up-and-comers before I left SoCal— The Germs, The Skulls, The Spastiks, The Dils and others. Ten inches of Power Punk with a bit of surf thrown in for good measure.
With that, what say we dive into some tasty…
Notes….. Turns out Australia’s Kate Burke has a sister-in-law and that sister-in-law has a banjo and a voice and took said instruments into the outback (or a backyard) and recorded this. When I first saw and heard it, I thought it a film from a bygone era. Not many people sing about shoes these days, at least not like this. Musicians, if you think you need a studio to produce music of worth, hear what Cathy Burke does outside of it.
So many people have chimed in on what this past election means to them. This is what it means to Glenn Patscha, musician and, evidently, cinematographer. Sometimes things are just hard to put into words.
It ain’t new but it is evidently being re-released (or at least reworked). All I can say is, speaking of Leroy Anderson… Ladies and Gentlemen, SHEL!
It’s the new track by James Williamson & Maia and I like it!
Courtney Marie Andrews has been getting to me a lot lately. She’s hitting me like Zoe Muth did a handful of years ago. Take a close listen. Once again, I am late to the party. Then again, she is so good I’m just glad I made it.
A little drivin’ mania from Dearly Beloved.
Back when I was living in San Diego in the late-seventies, the folk scene was alive and well. One thing gaining steam at the time was fiddle music and a subset of that was what they called the Cape Breton style. Evidently, Cassie & Maggie MacDonald are playing in that style and making quite the name for themselves. I have been very impressed with everything I have heard from them. Here is their EPK for your perusal so you can judge for yourself.
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.