Frank Gutch Jr: In Anticipation of Moon Palace; The Space Opera Trilogy; and Notes and Nothing But the Notes…..

The stars have finally aligned, sports fans!  You can delete my queries about Carrie Biell because I have found her after a ten year search.  I should say that my buddy at KEXP radio, Tom Smith, found her.  Well, maybe a friend of Tom’s.  Or a friend of Tom’s friend.  Ach!  It doesn’t matter.  The important thing that she is found.  The other important thing is that she is writing again and has already jumped back into the deep end of the musical pool.

L-R:  Bryn Santillan, Darcey Zoller, Jude Miqueli, Carrie Biell, Cat Biell

She isn’t coming back solo.  At least, not right off.  She has cast her lot with a band calling themselves Moon Palace, with twin sister Cat Biell (Lucy Bland), Bryn Santillan (Wishbeard), Darcey Zoller (Tenderfoot), and Jude Miqueli (Tenderfoot, Wishbeard), an amalgamation of up-and-comers on the Seattle scene.  They played their first gig last week at The Sunset Tavern (in Seattle, of course) and judging by Carrie’s reaction, things went rather well.

Carrie, for those unaware, released an album titled When Your Feet Hit the Stars back in 2007 which I found overwhelming.  She pulled out all the stops and lay her innermost thoughts and feelings on the table for us all to hear and see and it easily finished that year among my top ten picks.  In fact, I found it so impressive that I have written about it numerous times and have been awaiting a reprise.  If Moon Palace be it, that is fine with me.

Don’t expect anything quite as personal or illuminating with Moon Palace, though, as they are a full rock band in quest of an audience.  Seattle will help supply the latter if they provide the music, I am sure.  They have been recording at Hall of Justice and Avast and the album is being finished by  Aaron Schroeder at Pierced Ears Recordings. They hope to have a single next month with a full album not long after.

This is all music to my ears.  I shall keep you apprised.

The Space Opera Trilogy…

Space Opera/Self-Titled (1973)

Space Opera/Self-Titled (also referred to as Space Opera 2) (2000)

Space Opera/Safe At Home (2010)

I took a ride this week.  The rain has become oppressive here in Oregon and I plain needed to get out of the house.  Usually when I take a long drive, I take along five or six CDs which need to be listened to for the purpose of review or whatever, but just before I picked them up I decided I needed something different.  I had a friend once who was a huge Pink Floyd fan, see, and more than once he lined his Floyd albums up in order of release, sans compilations, and listened to them one after another all the way through to the last one.  Of course, I knew another guy who, when he lived in the frat house, used to stack cases of quarts all the way to the ceiling, right next to his armchair.  His buddy Scott did the same.  And they drank until it was gone, forsaking food and sunlight.  If they hadn’t had to, they would have not moved from those chairs at all, but God, whose name they used in vain regularly (especially after the first case was consumed), had foiled their plans with a totally unacceptable system for voiding urine.  The pledges (being those on probation before being given full status) crawled past the door to their room barely breathing for fear of being called to climb the ladder to replenish a beverage, usually paying with a few push-ups or some other punishment devised by the alcohol-sotted minds occupying said chairs.  In a way, it was a sad thing to watch as they were otherwise two very intelligent people (Scott was, in fact, a freaking genius, common sense aside).  Them crazy Greeks, eh?

But let’s see… Where was I?  Oh yeah.  Floyd.  The guy told me once why he did it.  I have no idea what he said, though, as I figured anyone who would waste that much time listening to music I couldn’t get away from even at Nordstrom’s or Macy’s couldn’t have much to say anyway.  But the idea struck me.  Space Opera had released three albums, years apart, and I had never listened to them consecutively.  I was in a Space Opera mood, so why not?  I grabbed the three and headed out the door.  Little did I know that it was going to change the way I listened to the band.  And here I thought I knew everything…..

It isn’t really a trilogy.  It couldn’t even remotely be  considered such.  The three albums are they only three we are likely to see (or hear), though, so forgive me if I consider them such.  According to David Bullock, the only surviving member of the band, there are many hours of tapes, just none approaching the quality of those already released.  Those three albums, though, cover pretty much the entire musical output of the band.

The first time I heard Space Opera was at The House of Records in Eugene.  The album had just been released and I was known as the resident keeper of all music country rock, so Gary, who owned the store, tossed me a copy when I came in the store one day.  As usual, I was wearing the funky cowboy hat given me by a friend who got tired of me transplanting the hat from his head to mine every time he came over.  One day he just gave it to me.  And started calling me Cowboy Bob.  I took it home and put it on the turntable and heard what I was certain was a hit.  Titled Country Max, it had everything I loved about the bands I was then excited about— Pure Prairie League, Cowboy, and Uncle Jim’s Music— slight country twang but with a rock base, harmonies, and musicianship just far enough outside the lines to make it interesting.

Canadian they were (I would find out in the future that they weren’t) and sounding every bit as American as they could.  I was hooked.  Radio Station KEED in Eugene picked it up and it looked like the band was on its way but somehow the bottom dropped out and they disappeared from the station playlist and, as far as I could tell, from the face of the planet.  Not that I cared.  I had my copy.

For the next few weeks, I spent a lot of time with  that album, needle-dropping my favorite country rock tracks which, now that I look at the album, were few and far between.  There was Prelude No. 4:

and Blue Ridge Mountains.

And… and that was it.  Hold on a minute!  I had been hyping the band as country rock for so many years I had somehow forgotten to listen to it?  Evidently so.  Not another  country rock track to be found, though there were occasional moments.  What the hell?

I’m driving and even in the rain Oregon is beautiful, especially in early spring crossing the Coast Range, but I am confused.  I knew there was the odd track of what I would call prog rock, but,,,

I reached a turnout and pulled over so I could look at the CD cover.  A close look at the song titles told me what I should have known but didn’t.  Space Opera was not a country rock band.  They were prog rock as much as anything.  I should have known.  From Country Max to Holy River to Outlines to Guitar Suite.  A jump from harmonious country rock into the bowels of excellent but obvious prog,

ending with a massive and sometimes cacophonous symphonic piece of guitar magic:

My God, how did I miss this, I thought to myself.  Every time— and I mean every time I described the band, I said country rock.  Somehow I had become so complacent about the music (probably about the thousandth time I listened) that I didn’t even think.  I just said.  By that time, I knew the music by heart and it played in my head as much as it did on the stereo.

While it wasn’t as blatant as it was on Side One (yes, kiddies, this was released with Sides One and Two), it played through Side Two.  The occasional step into country rock but only occasional.  There were plenty of prog rock bands out there, to be sure, but none like Space Opera.  As Side Two played out, I wondered what I had missed on the others.

Back to the real world.  I had thought the band Canadian (the only information provided on the album jacket was the recording studio at which the album was recorded— Manta Sound in Toronto).  The assumption was that if it was recorded in Toronto, the band was Canadian.  Assumptions.  The bane of mankind.  They were in fact, from Fort Worth, Texas, a place that could not have spawned more artists had it been nuked.  The story behind the band and the album was as lost to me as hieroglyphics from King Tut’s tomb.  Enter John  Reagan.

Reagan is one of those guys you want on your team when things get tough— loyal, tenacious, sincere.  He had read a piece I had written on Tulsa’s/Memphis’ Cargoe and asked me if I thought I could do one for Space Opera.  The Cargoe piece took two years of research and interviews.  I did not want to spend that much time on Space Opera.  I can get the guys to talk, he said.  Give me a little time.

Unfortunately there was little time left.  Brett Owen Wilson, the band’s drummer, had already died.  Scott Fraser and Phil White were both ill.  Only David Bullock was available at all times.  We started by trading emails.  It turned into a question answer session which spanned close to three years.  I received a few emails from Fraser and conducted two interviews with White.  Neither would see the final product.

Bullock took me through the band’s existence slowly and in as much deatil as he could provide.  He sent me a second album they had produced around 1999 and released in 2000 (Space Opera 2).  He walked me through each stage of their lives, from The Mods through Whistler Chaucer Detroit & Greenhill to Space Opera which was a viable entity until the passing of Brett Wilson.  He basically laid his heart on the table because this band was every bit as important to him as were his friends and family.  I once wrote that SO were the epitome of a band of brothers.  I believed it then and I believe it now.  They went through extreme ups and downs together and never lost sight of the importance of the band and the band’s music.

I had no idea the 2000 album even existed.  I dove in and heard a much more mature and probably less stressed band.  From Bullock’s opening track (Welcome) to his ender (Still Life), the songs floated and rocked danced through what I deem a rock opera.  The roots, based firmly in folk, jazz, classical and rock, were more amplified than on the first album.  The recording deeper.  The vocals more applied.  Each band member was afforded space with the exception of Wilson, who wrote only in the context of ideas toward the others songs.

It was a step forward and a step back, Bullock and Fraser revisiting the Whistler Chaucer days with sidesteps into traditional folk and at the same time writing other songs in the present.  Fraser gave the album the glue— four verses from Awake plus two modern works.  White added a straight out rocker about Madame Blavatsky, a character he found very intriguing, and Who’s Calling, a step back to the old country rock he loved so much.  Bullock, in addition to the two songs mentioned above, added Vieux Carre and Mother Nature and Father Time, each based in the folk idiom he had loved since a youth.

The album was magnificent (I am sorry that there are no examples available to share) and promptly fell into a black hole.  The problem was, as it always was, the mountain was too steep to climb.  The music business was crumbling at the time, CDs losing prominence as a format.  They had no idea how to market the album.  There was no real infrastructure.  As far as promotion, there was little to none.  Radio was failing.  The band refused to play out.  They resorted to word-of-mouth which did them little good.  I was a huge fan and could find little to nothing on the Net.  So they waited.

They would still be waiting but for a phenomenon I still don’t understand.  And it seemed to happen all at once.  The first album was remixed and released for the first time on CD.  Word got out about the second album.  Where there was silence, there was now loud chatter.  Tapes of an album the band had recorded to shop record labels back in ’70 and ’71 were found and were in good shape.  As Bullock began looking into the possibility of releasing that, he also dug out other recordings from the archives, tapes recorded in the mid-70s, after the first album failed.  The result was the release of a third album containing those songs titled Safe At Home.

By the time the third album hit the streets, the history of Space Opera had been written and posted.  This was the album I had been awaiting.  Throughout my “talks” with Bullock and others, I had heard of those legendary sessions which they dubbed The Exit IV Tapes because they were recorded at Exit IV Studios.  I also had been hearing of Bullock’s and Fraser’s side trips into what I term “chamber rock,” a synthesis of folk, jazz and chamber music.  The bread which sandwiched the only major label album they would ever record (the label was Epic).

I was very surprised to find songs there which they included in the “earlier” albums.  Country Max is there in what is termed a “demo” version, but it hardly sounds demo to me.

So is Over and Over:

…and Still Life.

My God!  I listen to Safe At Home and wonder what the hell A&R people were hearing because what I hear is music way beyond most of that period.


L-R:  Scott Fraser, Phil White, David Bullock, Brett Owen Wilson

By the time I returned home I confess to having a new understanding of the band and its music.  Music I thought I knew backwards and forwards.  Prog rock?  I don’t think I ever used the term when talking about the band.  But it certainly is.  And classical rock.  And chamber rock.  And jazz rock. And plain ol’ rock.  These guys did it all.

Just so you know, I could have contacted Bullock about the different albums and how the songs came to be, but I didn’t want facts to get in the way.  And they didn’t.

If you are at all interested in the story of the band, and it is a fascinating one, you can find it on the No Depression website by clicking here.  And I may have arranged the words, but it was written by David Bullock with help from a number of people including Rex Farr, Michael Mann, Scott Fraser, Phil White, Don McGilvray, Susan Colegrove, Claudia Wilson, David Graves, John Carrick and others, to whom I apologize for not being able to recall their names.

But wait!  It’s not over!  Let us have some fun with the…

Notes…

I remember the first time I saw Alialujah Choir‘s video for A House, A Home.  I was taken aback by the massive harmonies and began a frantic search to find them.  In doing so, I found a whole label (Jealous Butcher) of music produced for the right reason and by the right people, including The Decemberists, Perhapst, Laira Veirs, Norfolk & Western, and others.  Like Hannibal used to say— “I love it when a plan comes together.”  This is the video which started me on my butcherous journey.

This just in— brand new video from Devon Sproule‘s new album, The Gold String.

A Seattle flashback.  I wasn’t in Seattle at this time but I heard of Child all the way down in San Diego.  Hell of a band!

Why do I only hear of Brandy Zdan when SXSW hits?  This lady writes and sings in a variety of styles and deserves more attention than she is being given.

No Vacation has been getting a lot of attention on the social media.  After listening a couple of times, I am still unsure.  Perhaps it is because I am not a real fan of the genre, whatever it is.  I mean, I don’t dislike it, but…

Most of the time I have Australia on my mind but it seems the Aussies (well, before the Orange Shitgibbon) dream of California, like Munro Melano, whose new video is right here:

A handful of years ago I bumped into the first West Virginia musician I ever met (at least, that I know of), Jeff Ellis, and he in turn introduced me to a plethora of topnotch musicians and a thriving music scene I had no idea existed.  I have since been blown away by artists the likes of Bud Carroll, Mark Cline Bates, The Carpenter Ants, and Ona, to name only a few.  I now add to that list Tim Browning & The Widowmakers.  If you think WV is all hick (and it’s amazing how many people outside of that State do), you need to do some research, starting with this:

You gotta head to the Midwest to hear Zombie vs. Shark, by Godzilla!

I have written about Susanna Rose before.  There are elements of so many of what critics call Americana artists these days in her songs (this song is more folk than anything).  Album release date is April 29th.

Elkhorn is a project put together by Jesse Sheppard and Drew Gardner.  They put twelve-string up against electric guitar with electronic shades and paint an absolutely beautiful portrait on this video of The Black River which will be released on an album of the same name.  This is damn nice stuff, sports fans, and something you should look for.  On Debacle Records out of, where else(?), Seattle.

=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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: In Anticipation of Moon Palace; The Space Opera Trilogy; and Notes and Nothing But the Notes…..”

  1. Peter Donato Says:

    Thanks for the Space Opera piece. I loved that first album, just got it on CD some time ago. Was not aware of other stuff by them, much appreciated

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