Frank Gutch Jr: Rain Perry, Mark Hallman (The Shopkeeper), and Congress House Studio; Spotify Once Again; and Notes Hitting the Spot

You can file this one under “and I thought I knew something.”  I just watched a documentary which starts “When I was a kid, music was everything,” a statement as acute to me as author Scott Turow‘s line “It suddenly hit me how much I missed music for which I once felt a yearning as keen as hunger.”  It struck a note so deep in me that I watched  all one-hour-and-thirty-one minutes feeling a kinship with the narrator (and, as it turns out, producer of the film), almost relieved that I was not alone.

Scott Turow

For years, those of us who have been labeled eccentric if not practically insane for our love of music have suffered somewhat alone, though some of us found others to share our illness— years of alone time hiding behind headphones and stereo systems and speaking musicspeak consisting of lines from songs, facts, and opinions other people neither understood nor wanted to while isolating ourselves in a world every bit as fantastic as Dungeons and Dragons or Hobbitville.  I lost three loves to that world, one lady complaining that I loved records more than I loved her, all stemming from my inability to walk past a record store without paying a visit.  The first line of my biography should also be “when I was a kid, music was everything” for beyond the love I felt for my family and friends, it was.

But this wasn’t me.  This was someone who felt like me, loved music like me, but took it one step further.  This was Rain Perry, who felt the urge to put her music on record, music which had developed to the point that it burst from her, three albums worth, and who, realizing finally that music had become a black hole when it came to money, deferred to film.  Backed up against the wall, she wanted to tell a story and, looking around for a defined topic, decided that that story was not hers but that of the musicians she had recorded with and met at Congress House Studio in Austin, Texas.  Mainly one musician: Mark Hallman Hallman, you see, a seasoned musician and veteran of a plethora of bands by the time he came to Congress House, had taken in a mob of like-minded misfits over the years, to record or to help record or just mix music for our ears.  Well, not misfits, but people who fit there better than anywhere else, maybe.  Rain Perry was one.

Very early in the film, Perry states “I loved my producer, and I was not alone” before launching into a series of clips of others praising Hallman as more than human— well, maybe human to the perfect degree— people like Eliza Gilkyson and Tom Russell and Sarah Hickman, who explained Hallman thusly: “I think, in his mind, you’re already perfect and beautiful and he just wants to color it a little bit.”

Ah, a love fest, I thought, and it didn’t bother me.  That is pretty much what you get with superstars these days— musicians who knew one another only through brushes on the road of life now willing to recount “that day that her or she did this or that,” as if they were the best of friends.  It is a template, I sometimes think, and hope that the next time I see a film on musicians, filmmakers do not toss in the star of today to make inane comments about how they were influenced, as if their music held water and would last.  But right after a few musician comments, something happened and it turned out not to be a love fest at all.  Well, not totally.  Evidently all was not joy in mudville.

Perry immediately dives into an explanation of a Thomas Hardy poem, The Convergence of the Twain, in which Hardy evidently explains a meaning of life in that while The Titanic was being built, the iceberg which would doom her was even then forming.  Serendipity to the extreme.

The iceberg in this case is digital streaming.  The Titanic the music business.  Wait.  What?  Not more than a couple of minutes ago,  I was watching musicians praise a studio owner/musician/engineer and now this?

All this before the credits.  Less than four minutes.  On a computer which is plugged into turtles pace and is in consistent stop and go mode.  Ten seconds at a time.  Minimum ten second wait.  It bothered me for a second, but soon I found myself eager for it to stop so I could think, put things in perspective, organize my thoughts.  Perry had told me that the reason for making the film was in the film itself.  And I had it.  I thought.  Oh, how delusional I was.

There are layers in this film I would not get until the end.  True, it is about the shopkeeper, the aforementioned Mark Hallman, and it is about Rain Perry, searching for answers.  Turns out it is also about the music business and how it was and how it is morphing.  It is about the musicians, on the whole a curious lot, trying to find their way through this jungle now being controlled by entrepreneurs and Wall-Streeters and wondering how their music is now co-opted by corporations which did not exist yesterday and yet are all-powerful today.  How they are being forced to play a game they do not want to play and how some are pulling off the road for awhile for a rest.  Like Rain Perry, who for this moment has turned to film.

Are you getting any of this?  Do you even care?  And I ask this question  because though you as a group are happy to accept free music, you do not want to pay for it.

Right after the opening credits, I see Hallman in the studio seemingly laying down some slide guitar on a track, after which he says  “I am extremely thankful that my doors are open, you know, and that’s big for me.  That’s why I do the ritual.  It symbolizes the good fortune that I have had, to be able to keep the people coming in and making music.”  The ritual, it seems, is the sweeping of the welcome mats and the turning of the sign from closed to open.  The ritual of the shopkeeper.

It’s no wonder people love this guy.  At one point he says this— “Congress House is an instrument, basically.  One big, beautiful instrument.”  Not a word about himself as a producer or as a session man.  A few words about his journey getting where he is (it all revolves around Navarro, a band in which he played and whose journey brought him to Boulder, where things started to happen.  You have to love the humility.  You have to love his caring nature.  He is the kind of guy you learn more from by hanging around and watching than from mentors who actually try to teach you.

Ever hear a musician named Trent Gentry?  Neither had I, but after watching this documentary I am going to correct that.  A simple overview of Trent recording voice back in 2014, unaccompanied, to a voice accompanied, to an overdub by Stephanie Daulong, to the completed product stuns me.  The process.  The simplicity.  The final result.  It makes me gasp every time.  And I can’t help but think this is why we need studios.  This is why we need producers and engineers and sidemen.  It can be done in a bedroom or bathroom with decent results, yes, but to achieve what I just heard…

Carole King is part of this story, as is the aforementioned Russell, Hickman, and Gilkyson.  So are Bradley Kopp, who has worked with Hallman for years, and Ani DiFranco, who I think would be a delight to interview or just be around, Iain Matthews, who ended up playing with Hallman in Hamilton Pool, and so many more.  I would love to give details but what would be the fun in that?

I will tell you that Jon Dee Graham is part of it, too, and takes on the task of teaching us all what the hell happened when formats changed and, finally, digital distribution changed the whole psyche of purchasing (or not purchasing) music.  Standing in front of graphics and charts, he pulls no tricks when calling out the industry for what it is— full of inequities.  No bullshit.  Four times he interrupts the flow to make points and make points he does.

Before I forget, here’s how I even got involved with this.  I am mainly a music reviewer and few have ever approached me about documentaries or DVDs, but I got an email a few days ago from Ms. Perry.  She had read a review I had written of Charlie Faye‘s album, Wilson St. and hoped I would be interested in looking at the film.  The more we emailed, the more interested I became until she just sent me a link to the full documentary.  I watched it all the way through yesterday.  I am watching again as I type.  Sometimes things are just meant to be, you know?

Wait!  I did mention that Charlie Faye is part of this, too, right?  There is even a point toward the end of the film that shows Faye and Betty Soo and even maybe fellow Fayette Akina Adderley performing a sixties-style girl group song, possibly at a Congress House party.  Pretty cool.

One thing about the film, though.  Graham’s breakdown of the breakdown of the music industry fueled my jets again, so I am now going to segue into a piece I wrote about Spotify a few years ago.  I, like Jon Dee, do not like Spotify.  In fact, I hate Spotify and everything they have done.  See, they snuck in beneath a cloud cover and established a system which only supports, financially, themselves and their investors, stealing music to do it.  That’s right.  I said stealing.  Their idea is typical of any investment group.  Set up a system before laws can be applied for any kind of equity.  Make a deal with major labels, offer songwriters and musicians a pittance (hell, it’s not big enough to be even considered a pittance) and full speed ahead, no matter who gets hurt.  I am disheartened when I see musicians accept such an unfair system as many do in this film.  I chalk it up to no balls, but what do I know?  Anyway, here is something I wrote back in January of 2013.  As you can tell, it still applies… to me, anyway.

Why I Hate Spotify

I’m tired. I mention this at the outset because this inevitably is going to turn in to one of those stream-of-consciousness tirades in which logic does not play a part. But I don’t care. I need to get something off my chest and I don’t care if you stop reading right now, but the stench of what is wrong with the music business has me gasping for air and there is little oxygen available. But before I start…..

This is supposed to be available on August 17th as a streamer, a download or a DVD.  Mark that date.  And will be available on iTunes a couple of weeks after.  You can get information here if you have any questions, or contact Rain Perry on Facebook.Please tell me, who is Arnold Grizzley? I got a 45 when I moved to Seattle back in ’78 by Grizzley and the only information I have ever been able to find on him are from people who want to sell their copies. Who’s Makin’ Up the Rules is a beauty of a record, a hard-driving cross between The Fabulous Thunderbirds and Captain Beefheart, and even while I was working at Peaches Records in Seattle, I could find no one who would admit to any knowledge (Arnold was supposedly from the Pac Northwest). I think what initially captured my attention was the picture sleeve— a crazed looking Jethro Tull-type caricature on the front— a madman, and critical quotes written on the back over a picture of that same madman in a different pose. It cracked me up first time I read it and it cracks me up today. It begins with “What the critics say” and goes on in Variety-style hype to list six quotes with attributes. “Arnold Grizzley screams angry rock and roll with the spirit of James Dean and Johnny Rotten” the first says. “Lord have mercy.” Rev. Walter Pierce/Presbyterian Daily Mirror. “The Godzilla Band (Arnold’s backup band) pumps out rock and roll with the best of ’em” says another. “…if only Arnold could sing.” Thom Sintos/New Wave Review. “A new national anthem for every red-blooded American with an authority-figure complex.” Art Magellan/Psychology Now. “I told Arnold he’d end up sounding like Wolfman Jack if he kept screaming like that, but he wouldn’t listen.” Dr. Phillip Norby/Chicago General Hospital. “I just wish Arnold would cut his hair.” Mrs. Thelma Grizzley. Which set up the piece-de-resistance— “This is a fucking great record.” Arnold.

Is it good? I think it’s great. As Dr. Norby said, Arnold does sound a bit like the Wolfman and the band? Impressive. Side One is a mere 2:50, classic single length, and smokes. Side Two is 7:00 and is stretched into a semi-psych jam and a half and is, according to what is written on the label, recorded live, complete with freak-out mid-section. It was released on Wolf Records, a division of Music Farm, Inc. out of Seattle and I asked around for years. If anyone knew anything about ol’ Arnold, they weren’t talking.

I love this record. I used to put it on what they called mixtapes back in the day, between The Sonics and maybe The Live Five. No one ever commented. No one even seemed to notice. Didn’t matter. I loved it. That’s what counted.

But to the point. Arnold sings about what makes me tired. Everything, but mostly music. Well, not the music exactly, but everything that surrounds it. The business. The emotional problems. The apathy. Everything.

What spurred this is yet another article about digital streaming, this one published in The New York Times. “As Streaming Grows,” it states, “Royalties Slow To a Trickle.” It is nothing I didn’t know. It has been going on since the streaming companies planted their flags on Internet turf, claiming the “land” in the names of their respective sovereigns. If you don’t know who they are, you’ve heard of them: Spotify, Pandora, Grooveshark, Rhapsody and others. Businesses which came out of nowhere to take possession of what is not theirs so they can bring riches to King Corporation. True, the business was in chaos, thanks to major labels and their steadfast refusal to address the digital situation until it was too late. Thanks to peer-to-peer sharing which shared that which was not theirs. Thanks to a consumer public which thinks music is produced by rich musicians who don’t deserve any pay for their work. Thanks to various legislative bodies, the majority of their members in the pockets of anyone with money. Thanks to people who have become so enraptured with themselves that they take and take and take and give back only that which assuages their guilt, if anything at all.

If you’ve followed my writings at all, you’ve heard it all before. You may be one of the many who are tired of hearing it. Hence, my disillusionment. At moments like these, I wonder if any of it really matters. I feel like I’m preaching to the deaf.

But to get back to the source of my exhaustion— the article. It is yet another look at the problems facing artists and their struggle to survive as artists. Nothing really new except maybe the stark contrasts in position. For it is now the “business model” versus the musician. And to listen to asshats like Sean Parker, it is only business.

Parker is a board member at Spotify (and was formerly attached to Napster). The article states that “he believed Spotify would eventually attract enough subscribers to help return the music industry to its former glory.” If, that is, they can continue screwing the artists, I am assuming. “I believe that Spotify is the company that will make it succeed,” said Mr. Parker, who is also a former president of Facebook. “It’s the right model if you want to build the pot of money back up to where it was in the late ’90s, when the industry was at its peak. This is the only model that’s going to get you there.”

And I have to ask, get who there? As long as it is Spotify and, more specifically, him, I am sure he doesn’t much care.

Indeed, I am beginning to wonder if anyone cares. Musicians moan and bitch but I don’t see many of them pulling their music from Spotify or the others in protest. Songwriters moan and bitch but if they have a deal with a publisher I am not sure they have any power beyond that afforded by those deals. True music fans moan and bitch but let’s face it, if the people they are supporting don’t care, why should they?

Oh, I’m not giving up, but at times like these I think about it. When musicians curse Spotify but won’t do anything about their situation, I have to wonder why I care.

Then, just when I’m ready to throw in the towel and start writing about dung beetles or maybe just plain dung, a Jon Gomm comes along and does what I think all musicians and songwriters should be doing— pulls his music from Spotify with not so much as a “by your leave” and controls his own destiny, sans machine. And a glimmer of hope appears in the distance.

See, there are questions which should be answered and are not being addressed. Questions like who is makin’ up the rules and do they even have authority to do it or are they just bluffing their way in, hoping that if they are already established, whatever comes after will not affect them. Questions like who makes decisions on how much to pay for “plays” on digital services and why there was absolutely no negotiation at all. Questions like do these companies even have the right to use the music the way they are using it?

Well, I don’t know, Arnold, who exactly is makin’ up the rules, but I can tell you straight out that there are few ethics involved, if any. And you can bet that if asshats like this Sean Parker clown has any say, there won’t be. So Spotify is the best business model with the greatest chance of success, eh, Parker? Well, I hope someone takes a class action suit and shoves that statement right up your ass. You and Spotify deserve each other. You both suck!

(Read the full New York Times article here)

Now that that is behind us, what say we take a gander at some…

Notes…

There is this Toronto cat who records under the name of The Dementians and knocks the ball out of the park more often than not.  Here is one of his latest tracks.  I really dig this guy.

 

New video from Brad Byrd passed along from Justin Levinson.  Not really country not not really not either.  Good stuff.  You make the call.

Popmeister Rich McCulley has a new album out titled Out Along the Edges.  Here is the video of a track from that album of the song The Pilot.

I have no idea why my friends are not talking about SHEL.  I have posted the occasional video and have made comment but no one is responding.  Maybe this video will turn some heads (the other videos should have).

Hot damn!  This time, the video gets posted in time to add to the column right away.  Here is the latest from The Green Pajamas, live!  Three-Way Conversation!  God, but I love these guys!

Here’s an interesting video from Lilly Hiatt.  I plan on stopping by if I ever get back to Nashville.  She makes her coffee in a french press.  I’ll even bring the coffee.

Selwyn Birchwood.  Like the name.  Like the groove.  A video to make Segarini envious.

The Wolf Creek Boys.  The name should count for something, eh?  I like it, partially because this isn’t ’81.

Not really sure what I think of this one, but I dig the fact that his voice isn’t buried in drawl.  In fact, I think maybe Ruston Kelly might have something here.

The Spinto Band.  The cure for seriousness.  Or would that be serioucity?

Lydia Lunch is back with a vengeance!

Down under is loaded with music we seldom see or hear in the States.  Here is the latest video from Courtney Barnett labelmate Jen Cloher.  God save us.

=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.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: Rain Perry, Mark Hallman (The Shopkeeper), and Congress House Studio; Spotify Once Again; and Notes Hitting the Spot”

  1. John Brooks Says:

    Frank,
    I learned many things watching “The Shopkeeper” and I am convinced that is because Rain Perry is a “storyteller”.
    She was able to use her songwriting skills in film in a very human and loving way about what it takes to make records and survive in this new era. I no longer listen to “free” music. I subscribe. I only wish the producers and musicians could get more of my money.

    • I wish everyone had your sense of pay for play, John. And she did mention to me that the documentary was in the way of a fourth album, in a loose kind of way. Hell of a film. Brought the studio and the people there to life for me.

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