Frank Gutch Jr: A Journey and the Soundtrack to my Life; Angharad Drake’s New Album; The Big Bright In the Studio; Plus Notes…
And I don’t mean the band Journey recently inducted into the supposed Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. God knows what those clowns think when they make their choices but when I look at the possible choices they could have made besides those guys… well, I won’t go there. Let me just say that I understand when people are upset when I make such statements because they have a soundtrack to their lives as well, but this isn’t their column, is it? I look at it this way— Journey had hits, yes, and made CBS one hell of a lot of money, but they didn’t have an original bone in all of their collective bodies and you will never change my mind. Hall of Fame? Not even close. Not while the hundreds more deserving are locked out. Change that to thousands.
I have been thinking a lot about it. How could people who supposedly know something about music make such a choice? It is beyond my comprehension, but they did. I have come to the conclusion that they did not have my journey (no pun intended), that they just do not know any better. Still, I blame them not only for poor HoF choices but Top Forty radio (I never listened to a “Boss” station unless there was no other choice), morning radio personalities (I don’t remember their names but I am referring to those obnoxious clowns who used to call people at six or seven in the morning to ask them stupid and even asinine questions while I assume peeing their pants due to their wit and cleverness. I hated those guys. I still do. But hell, why stop there? I also blame them for talk radio and Trump. And disco.
I see they had some kind of tribute to The Bee Gees the other night on TV. I was a huge Bee Gees fan in college. The whole dorm floor was. Certain days we would leave the dorm room doors open and tune all of the radios to KASH radio— call it communal radio, if you will. When you stood in the hall, the music went right through you and when a real favorite came on and we turned it up, it was transcendent. KASH was all over New York Mining Disaster 1941 but played Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will Show You almost as much. To KASH, it was a double-sider. Ah, thos early years. Then Barry had to go nuclear with the falsetto. The debate on the social media the day after the special was whether their later music was disco. Must have been the same lame-os who voted Journey in. Of course, it was! And deserving of the same center field magic the rest of disco received. Of course, you must take into account that I also consider John Travolta a hack and the disco era a black hole for music.
Which makes me wonder how certain people live on the other side of the universe than myself when it comes to music. By the time I got to high school, I began to realize that many of my classmates did not really care about music. Oh, they liked to dance (any excuse to rub up against a soft body) and they listened to their car radios and transistors. But they just didn’t get it! To them, a burger was a burger! That was crazy talk!
I grew up listening to Momma and Dad’s records. It was a small conglomeration of 78s and 45s picked up during my childhood and comprised of everything from Mario Lanza (a booklet of 45s pressed on transparent red vinyl, one of which became one of the few opera songs I ever really loved— La Donna e Mobile) to The Blue Sky Boys (a real favorite, I struggled for years to find a copy of Tears On Her Bridal Bouquet, a transparent blue disc that I played until it was dirt gray, and found it only on the Internet) to Six Fat Dutchmen, Red Foley, T. Texas Tyler, and Dad’s favorites, Patsy Cline and Teresa Brewer. When us kids started adding our own, the collection started growing by leaps and bounds.
I remember sitting alone and playing Red Foley‘s Old Shep and T. Texas Tyler‘s My Dad Gave My Dog Away over and over, tears running down my cheeks. Boy, was I a sap.
My first real record, other than my Little Golden ones, was a 78 of Ten Little Indians and I suppose I played it enough but what I really played was the flip side, The Sullivans or maybe Hey, Sullivan. It was about a huge family of Sullivans who were having a barn raising and they called across the valleys and canyons to gather the clan. I would laugh through ever chorus which went something like “Sullivan and Sullivan and Sullivan were there, and Sullivan, Sullivan, and Sullivan were there…” I can’t remember what happened to it precisely but I came home from school one day and Dad said he had accidentally broken it. Made sense to me. Those old 78s were heavy as hell and shattered like glass when you dropped them. In later years, I started to think that maybe… but, nah. Dad wouldn’t have done that, would have he?
I can thank Mr. McLain, my junior high band teacher, for my love of classical music. The band was run on a merit/demerit system, see, and you could accumulate merits by submitting written works about composers and musicians. Well, I accumulated well over a hundred because I was always mouthing off and needed the cushion. Basically, I copied pages right out of biographies from the school library— stories of Brahms and Beethoven and Shubert and Schumann. Not realizing it at the time, I began to search out the music written by the composers whose lives I was researching. As a result, I received a fairly decent education classical music. Momma noticed it. A salesman knocked on our door one day, selling Longines Symphonette box sets of the classics, and she bought me one. When Dad got home, he blew up, saying we didn’t have the money to spare. Which caused Momma to blow up and yell about how she stocked the goddamn refrigerator with beer for Dad practically every day and if we could afford beer for him, we could damn well afford things for us kids. Dad stomped out of the house to smoke a cigarette, something he did every time he lost an argument (which he seldom did) and I settled in to await my box set. It probably took a month or so and I was beginning to think maybe Momma got scammed but one day, there it was. I can still smell the new of the print (each of the twelve records came with a booklet about the composers and the compositions included) and the vinyl. I also used to stop by the drug store every other Tuesday on my way home from school because that was when the new magazines came in. Man, there was nothing like the smell of a new magazine. I think the box set cost twenty bucks or so which was a lot of money back then. I had the best Momma in the world. I think Dad also realized what a great deal he had been handed. That twenty bucks kept me out of his hair for a good year, at the least.
I should also mention my love for Leonard Bernstein‘s Young Peoples Concerts. Every time it came on TV, I was glued to the screen
Soundtracks became popular during my pre-high school years and I began delving into them. Modern big bands brought back the big band sound— Si Zentner, Billy Vaughn, Bert Kampfert, even Lawrence Welk had hits. Enoch Light became a darling of the hi-fi set. Richard Maltby scored with Theme from the Rat Race. Arranging, for me, began to be a destination for sound.
Victory at Sea, a TV series, turned me on to Richard Rodgers, serious composer and not just the guy who worked with Oscar Hammerstein and Lorenz Hart. The music from Victory at Sea, I later found out, was written by Rodgers but arranged by Robert Russell Bennett, from short vignettes recorded by Rodgers of maybe two minutes each. To my mind, a truly magnificent work.
Between the rock ‘n’ roll and the rest, I was losing ground fast.
By the time I graduated college, I was beginning to really stray from the beaten path, largely because all of a sudden there was so much more there. Radio helped, because I was living in a Valhalla of music radio where it seemed that every station was struggling for the competitive edge. When one radio station was not playing records yet to reach the charts, if at all, another was. Radio KGAL (Lebanon), KRKT (Albany), KFLY (Corvallis), KASH and KEED (Eugene), KZBY and KSLM (Salem) fought hard to overcome the powerhouse out of Portland, KISN. You never knew what you were going to hear and when I heard it, I grabbed on for dear life.
Fresno’s The Road Runners came through the valley to play an armory gig in Albant and stopped by KGAL. The disc jockey put them on the air without a word, looking for any excuse to give the station a leg up over the others.
KASH hopped on anything local for awhile, featuring Eugene’s The Moguls and Little John & The Monks as well as U of O-based The Critters. The Moguls billed themselves as “ski rock” and in their early years played in ski gear. Must have been hot as hell onstage what with the ski pants and sweaters.
KASH and KBZY locked onto Salem’s The Live Five and played the hell out of each single they released over a two year period.
Even the great and powerful KISN picked up and promoted Don & The Goodtimes, a staple of Willamette Valley rock since Turn On hit it big as a regional hit, Don having formed the band not long after exiting The Kingsmen because he was too young to tour (or so I have been told).
And I followed them all. Anything off the national charts was fair game.
College took me a step further out. I ran into That Dorm Guy and he turned a lot of us new-to-college music freaks on to early Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel before they hit it big, Odetta and Tom Rush and Phil Ochs— we got a lot of Ochs because That Dorm Guy hated war and corporations and especially, goddamn them, the Military-Industrial Complex! It seemed for that one year that he was the record industry because he called so many shots before they were fired. Not everything he pointed at was successful but enough that we looked upon him as a musical guru.
Probably the period which took me out of the mainstream forever was the few years I spent in Eugene after I got out of the Army. I started hanging out at The House of Records in Eugene (and, yes, it is still there) and deep-searched the entire store numerous times. What I didn’t find my friends helped me find and my record collection began taking on an interplanetary feel. My old friends would stop by and would dig through the few hundred I had accumulated after being back for a little over a year and find maybe ten that they had any real knowledge of. The rest were pure mystery. Most would stick on James Taylor‘s Sweet Baby James or maybe Quicksilver Messenger Service if they really wanted to hear something, but few returned. The real vinyl junkies, of which there were only a few, pulled out the albums they had not heard and, after a few questions, would test the waters. Some hard and fast friendships were formed when that happened, some solid to this day.
Sigh… I started out to explain why my girlfriends always left me and why so many of even my best friends think I could mellow out a bit when it comes to music but I sense that I have failed. I’m not surprised. I used to tell my old girlfriends that I wasn’t much different than guys who were into cars. After awhile, I began to realize that those guys didn’t take cars with them wherever they went. For some reason, I always had music in one form or another. But let me say this— I do not apologize for stopping in to all of those small used record shops. It wasn’t a hobby. It was, and is, a passion.
Angharad Drake— A Treasure From Down Under…
True, I have been writing a bit about Drake lately but also true that she deserves it. This weekend she will release a beautiful album titled Ghost which at the moment has me totally enthralled. I must have heard Baby a hundred times since the video hit the social media and it is still the gem I thought it upon first listen.
There is something about how Drake handles a song which makes me think she is above and beyond. She has a quality of a Joni Mitchell or a Sandy Denny to me. A sincerity that so few have or have had. That little something which is missing in the vast majority of songs. And she just keeps getting better.
I can hear you now. What? This again? Why not? It is not wearing itself out yet as far as I am concerned. Back in the seventies or eighties it would have been a smash and Drake an impending superstar. God, the things I do for you all.
Big and Bright— In Fact, The Big Bright…
It seems like forever ago (it was actually September of 2015) that I wrote about The Big Bright. They had just released an album of covers titled I Slept Thru the Eighties and I, being of sound mind and body, though it insane because who the hell wants to hear a whole album of covers. Turns out, more than I had thought. It actually turned out to be quite the exception, their choices of songs extremely palatable and, oh, those arrangements. What they basically did was pick out a series of eighties hits and reworked them. Made them better, as far as I was concerned. Much better. Some barely recognizable.
Well, they are working on a new album— at least I hope it’s a full album— and if it is anything like this last one, whewie! Here is what I wrote about it.
I hated cover songs with a passion until one day a band calling themselves Big Bright released an EP titled I Slept Thru the 80s and a cartoon bubble with a question mark began hovering above me. They didn’t just cover the songs, you see, they altered them. They created a whole new musical atmosphere. They smoothed out rough edges of a whole string of 80s Pop and Powerpop tunes by the likes of The Bangles (“Walk Like an Egyptian”). INXS (“Don’t Change”), Ray Davies (“I Go To Sleep”), and Echo & The Bunnymen (“Ocean Rain”), leaving only the bare core of the original upon which to rebuild. The songs are soft, melodic and floating and are, in fact, new songs, thanks to arrangement. The band calls the songs “New Wave Nocturnes” and they are a window to what covers can be and, to myself, are supposed to be. Something exciting, something new. A listen to this video, recorded live in what looks like a hallway, should clarify.
Recently, I have become a slave to arrangement when it is done well, and between The Big Bright and Winterpills (who also released an album of covers titled Echolalia), I am in pig heaven. Oh, I never would have even listened to Big Bright but for the inclusion of Ollabelle’s Fiona McBain and Glenn Patscha in the group (the bonus was the discovery of Liz Tormes, listed on the band’s website as a “neo-noir singer/songwriter,” a term I have embraced after hearing her own music). Patscha, in fact, brought the band to my attention and I am sure I tried to beg off but he insisted, more than likely asking me just to give it a chance. I’m sure I told him I hated covers. I’m sure he scoffed. You can change that to “hated.” The Big Bright indeed struck a note.
A note which has me anxiously awaiting whatever they come up with. Mark your calendars.
Oh, hell. One more, eh?
No period of Sandy Denny‘s career hit me as hard as that with Fotheringay. I loved what she had done with Fairport Convention and her early solo stuff, but thought Fotheringay to be a real band as opposed to Denny and band. She did an interview with Rolling Stone not too long before she died in which she professed the same thoughts, somewhat. Funny how we give up the periods in which we are happiest for a chance at even bigger fame, usually at the insistence of others. Then again, it seemed at times that she ran from happiness.
Pat Blythe posted this video in her last column. I listened and liked it, but… It’s almost midnight now and I am struggling to finish this column so I revisited the video as I am working and now realize that there is no but. David Gogo has a beautifully clear guitar tone when he plays the blues. I’ve always said that Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest” lists were absurd and I still think it, but if this guy is not on the list, it is way beyond absurd. Pat, I stand corrected. I should have listened closer.
I will be writing a review of Wes Swing‘s new album soon but wanted to give you a listen to his latest video. Good, good stuff. I will be posting and reposting his work a bit over the next few weeks. Needless to say, I am impressed.
Some extremely interesting releases coming from Real Gone Music soon. For one thing, they have compiled the works of Jesse Ed Davis (Red Dirt Boogie— The Atco Recordings, 1970-72. Davis was one of those guitarists you pulled in when you needed a real pro. They are also releasing one of Larry Coryell‘s early albums, At the Village Gate. Guitars galore.
The Record Company has just released a video of a track taken from their latest release, Give It Back to You.
I suppose if you have to cover someone’s songs, they might as well be Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s. Beth Garner does an excellent job on Hubbard’s Snake Farm. I really dig this one!
Beth Ditto‘s new album, Fake Sugar, won’t be out until June, but goddamn! If the rest of the album is as good as Fire, it is gon’ be a hit!
The last four videos I kyped from Alternate Root Magazine. Those guys find some of the best videos out there! Thanks, guys!
Another “why didn’t someone yell me about this guy” moment. An outstanding track! I need to check out John K. Samson, for sure!
Frank’s column appears every Tuesday
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
“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.”