Frank Gutch Jr: Answering the Questions, Where Do Houseflies Socialize; You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying; Rolling Stones Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All-Time? Seriously?; Plus Notes

The world doesn’t always go my way and sometimes I get so pissed about that that I have to vent.  GodDAMN if the world isn’t going the way of idiots and psychopaths as the Trump Generation attempts to destroy everything good, but I will be damned if I will let it happen to my music.  That’s right.  My music!  Sure, you have your music— The Beatles and Floyd  and Queen and even Beyonce and Kanye and whoever the hell else.  YOU don’t have to worry.  YOU can find that music and plenty of people who still love that music just walking down the street.  Me, I have to work for it.  I have to scrounge and search and listen and question at every turn.  You think that’s easy?

Maybe when I was 24 and fresh out of the Army, but not when you’re a grease stain on a smudge pot and damn near ready to exit this mortal coil (I’ll bet you thought I didn’t know any Shakespeare).  Nope.  It is hard.  So if you will excuse me, I am about ready to take a look at some of my favorite musicians and if you don’t know them, it means that you have not been reading my column for the past seven or eight years.  Is the music current?  Maybe not, but in my mind all music is current.  Let us step into the past.  My past.  Ready?  Here we go!

Where Do Houseflies Socialize?

It’s a line from a Paul Curreri song and the Jeopardy question to the answer “The Big Shitty”, Curreri’s latest album.  My first question was, will United Statesians turn away from such a title and my immediate answer was, fuck ’em. They have given Curreri little if any support over the past number of years and I am beginning to think the US the worst of countries when it comes to music (outside of producing it). Toss a Pink Floyd box set their way, though, and watch the melee. But this isn’t about my cynical views on the music industry or how a gadget-enthused public is slowly (?) being anesthetized to robot status. This is about music and, boy, does Curreri give it to us.

The Big Shitty is Curreri unleashed and let me tell you, when he unleashes he really unleashes. The album is chock full of dense and intense, heavily layered layered guitar with percussion dominant and pervasive. Vocals change with the track, sometimes chambered and sometimes not, but always leading the way. This album, in fact, is the best example yet of voice-as-rhythm, Curreri singing and talking his way through some of the edgiest songs he’s ever written. Actually, over the edge at times.

The album starts with the beat heavy Nothing’s Changed on the Dance Floor, laying down a groove and working it hard. I could see this being the showstopper, five guitarists sharing riffs and a stage full of percussionists.  It gives way to a classic lesson in funk, The Big Shitty, and then the very Curreri Ju Ju with its slight leanings toward the Third World. Are You There Anymore is an out-and-out rocker and pulls out all the stops in the funky and jazzy Who Got Gang. He really tips the manic scales with The Water Tower (Kill My Teacher), an off-the-reservation rant from the dark side and, man, I’m telling you, you have to hear it to appreciate it. Andy Fyfe at Mojo gave it four stars and I agree with every word he wrote except that he started it with “Mr. Devon Sproule finds his true voice on album seven” and I think relegating Curreri to a Mr. (insert wife’s name here) is a bit too far. Admittedly, Curreri’s wife, Devon Sproule, has a large following in the the UK, probably larger than his, but he is no Mr. He is a musician in his own right and, in my estimation, as good as anyone in rock today.

Like Fyfe said, this is Curreri’s seventh go-round and, no, he has not knocked the world on its ass, but that is more the problem of the world than Curreri. He came from folk and blues roots and slowly developed until a style emerged and he has been playing in that style for years. He learned finger-picking from good friend Danny Schmidt (as good a finger-picker as there is out there), soaked up all the roots he could and lived on the edge, as he has since birth, according to him.  He pushes more envelopes in a day than most musicians do in a month and is always looking for that something extra (My favorite story has to do with recording Schmidt’s Little Grey Sheep and wanting to take a song and delete every third and fifth note or something like that— now that is innovation).

My unhappiness with the United States?  They bought Curreri and Sproule one-way tickets to Germany, or that’s what I think. By not buying their albums. By not attending their shows, or at least not enough of them. By just not. Both deserve better, so they went somewhere where it is hoped they receive better. (Ed. Note: This was originally written in 2011 and, at the time, Sproule and Curreri were looking at the possibility of settling in Germany.  While I am sure they had a good time, it did not happen.  They have been Stateside since the experiment)

Now, I’m certainly not saying that everyone will get what Curreri is doing on The Big Shitty. In fact, it is a solid winner of Linus’s “Several Hearings” award. What I am saying is that it is one of the most creative and innovative albums of music I’ve heard in quite some time. And don’t expect clean. Curreri plays for effect and he at times layers so deep that it will take you several hearings to begin to hear them. I think it’s genius, but like my friends say, what the hell do I know?

You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying…

…is the first track on Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers’ first and self-titled album, but that’s all I needed to know these guys were special. I say “these guys” because as much as Muth is the voice and the songwriting genius behind the band, they are indeed a band. To be sure, Muth could set out on her own at the drop of a hat but she didn’t and won’t. Not for awhile and not until it is time for the band to dissolve.

She’s from Seattle and was teaching pre-school when she started hitting the open mikes and coffee shops to hock her musical wares. That’s where the early fans found her and that is where Country Dave Harmonson found her. Harmonson is not new to country, having spent the better part of 40 years smelling the stale beer and inhaling the cigarette smoke on the tavern circuit. He was a veteran and if veterans don’t know anything else, they know music and what Harmonson heard definitely fit in that category. Muth was rough but ready and willing and after the connection was made, they set about putting together The Lost High Rollers and as soon as Muth had the songs ready, headed into a studio.

What they came out with was a stunner. Not only are the songs outstanding, the production is immaculate. Muth’s voice, upfront and recorded to perfection, rings true on each song, from the Country & Western-style You Only Believe Me When I’m Lying to the lonesome and lost folk of Never Be Fooled Again, the former good enough to make you laugh and the latter to wring tears from a dry sponge.

I found her through Steve Hoffman’s Music Forums, a member having posted a link to her music. Always ready for something better than the average, I followed the link and fell in love. Then I backtracked to the Forums and read the comments. I rejoiced with those who agreed with the poster and mentally threatened mayhem for those who didn’t. They are lucky I am not a Vin Diesel. Truth be told, I am not even much of an Elmer Fudd, but if thoughts could kill the Forums would have been bloody hell that day.

I wrote a review and sent it to Muth and she wrote back, thanking me and saying she would keep me posted and, goddamn, a handful of weeks later I got this note saying they would be playing The Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove, a mere 60 miles away, and I went.  And I’m glad I did.  It was a great evening and even though the crowd was small, the music was incredible.

Not long after, Signature Sounds Recordings, who had been promoting the album as one not on their label but one not to miss, approached Muth and signed them for a second album. The resulting Starlight Hotel made its way through the mail when it was completed with a personal note about another Axe & Fiddle engagement and this time the crowd was larger and I had a chance to sit down with Muth and talk to the guys and have seldom had as good a night without the swilling of beer (I had to drive). It was maybe two or three in the morning when I got home and I was so wired I couldn’t sleep, so I sat down and wrote a review. If you’ve paid attention at all you know what I wrote.

Suffice it to say that I avoid any and all of those country gala affairs they broadcast these days. I get that Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley and Lady Antebellum are on top, though top means much less now than it did 20 years ago. I get that Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are fan favorites. What I don’t get is how Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers are not. And this, simply put, is why I hate Nashville.

The Top 100 Guitarists of All-Time? Seriously?

Rolling Stone and their damned 100 Greatest lists.  If anything drives me more batty, I can’t think of what it is (except what Trump does on a daily basis).  I know it is not just Rolling Stone but a number of musicians and writers and there is an algorithm of some kind to come up with the final result, but you would think someone would edit the list or maybe look at it before posting what with the number of musicians left out who should be included and the numbers who should not.  I had no idea it bothered me so much and had for so long, but damn if I didn’t just uncover a column I had written back in November of 2011. Every time I see lists like this I get heartburn.  Here is what I wrote then:

It didn’t take long for fans and critics to hop on Rolling Stone magazine’s latest debacle— 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. In fact, it didn’t take long before my small circle of music-oriented fiends (and that is fiends, my friends) started their round-robin of comments, positive and negative. The most telling comment I received was from good buddy Ed Hurdle who was ready to storm the Bastille the second the list was posted.

Now, ol’ Ed is not your average critic/fan. Ol’ Ed has spent a lifetime listening and dissecting and coddling every form of music genre and format yet to be devised and he knows music, by the gods, and is not afraid to share. To paraphrase his comments, the list was a sham and a travesty, not for what was there, but for what was not there, and there, my friends, is the crux of the problem. Write a list and put “greatest” or “all-time” next to it and expect a shit storm, especially when it comes to entertainment, for entertainment (including music) in this day and age belongs to the people. And not necessarily the people who voted, many of whom are musicians. Aren’t musicians supposed to know music? Evidently not. Ed points to “the greatests” inclusion of Johnny Ramone (#28) and lack of Phil Keaggy as proof.  He is not wrong.

Perhaps the magazine did not mean greatest. Perhaps they meant most popular or most visible. And all-time? It should not surprise anyone that names like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, perennial winners on the you-have-to-love-this-or you-have-no-credibility circuit, are there. And you certainly cannot leave off names like Brian May or Prince, God forbid. And the Top Ten? Look at it. With the exception of Eddie Van Halen, it reads like it’s 1970 all over again.  I guess the world came to an end then, musically, eh?  About the same time as did Rolling Stone as a viable music source.

Let’s face it, once and for all. Lists which include “greatest” and “best ever” and even “most popular” are suspect at best. Had Rolling Stone outlined the parameters— had they explained the criterion— maybe. But the way they did it? Pure crap. And that is not to say that the names on the list lack credibility. Only that their position in the world of reality does not match their position on the list. How can it when such luminaries as Django Reinhardt and Christopher Parkening and Andres Segovia and Antonio Carlos Jobim and so many others are in the running?

I have to admit that Ed Hurdle caught me by surprise. I used to be the first out of the gate when it came to such lists, but I’ve evidently mellowed with age. I know the list is bullshit. I also know that there are guitarists not on the list who have done work as worthy if not more worthy than many of those listed. Who are as good or better guitarists. Who are as good or better musicians. And who are as good or better human beings. Why not? It is personal, after all. Ol’ Ed thinks so. So do I. So let me give you some examples of guitarists you may or may not know who did not make Rolling Stone‘s “greatest.” Out of appreciation for all the things ol’ Ed has turned me on to, let us start with…

Phil Keaggy— It was summer of 1971. I was fresh out of the Army (drafted, the bastards!) and foisted upon an unsuspecting Eugene, Oregon where I found and frequented The House of Records which, along with Chrystalship, supported a growing vinyl habit. On one of my earliest visits to HoR, I stumbled upon a band called Glass Harp. I bought it, took it home and became a staunch Keaggy fan upon first listen. A three man group which did not play metal or acoustic? Oh yeah. Three guys who sounded like four or five, thanks to the nimble fingers of Keaggy. Synergy. That’s what it was. And that’s what they called album two. I saw Keaggy at The Paramount in Seattle in ’79 or so with The Phil Keaggy Band. I saw him play through a little Fender Princeton amp placed on a chair and miked. I saw him make sounds no one else could then make and it is doubtful that many could make them now. Keaggy is a master. And he says he’s still learning.

Tommy Emmanuel A Top 100 List without Emmanuel is no list at all. You can quote me. Aussie Emmanuel spends a lot of his time touring the world and amazing fans while a lot of the Top 100 can hardly get a gig at home. The man is a fingerpicking whiz and plays in an incredible variety of styles. You want to know how I found out about him? Guitarists told me. Good guitarists. They said you want guitar? He’s where you go. Reminiscent of the time on Dick Cavett when Hendrix talked about this kid who was recording an album at Electric Lady Studios. Basically, Hendrix said, you think I can play? I just heard a kid named Keaggy. He can play! I wonder if Hendrix ever saw Emmanuel play.

Dean ParksParks is not as well known as he used to be, but he played on a few millions albums back in the seventies. He played with an incredible number of musicians on an incredible number of albums and ten-to-one most of you didn’t know it. I would list them if I had the time and energy but, thanks to the Internet, you can find them listed here. The man is a freak of nature. He can play just about anything you need at the drop of a hat and play it well. More than one musician has walked out of a studio shaking his head at the magic Parks just performed.

Hugh McCrackenOne reason I like hanging out with vinyl junkies is that most of them know about Hugh McCracken. McCracken is one of those session men who played with a number of artists including Gary Wright, White Elephant, Nick Holmes, Paul Simon and Steely Dan, among others. Nick Holmes, in fact, said of McCracken that he was “the greatest rhythm guitar player— for a singer/songwriter— to ever walk the Earth.”  If you want to hear what rhythm guitar (he plays lead, also) can do for an album, check out Holmes’ Soulful Crooner album. I’m sure that one eluded the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Albums” list. Can’t those guys get anything right?

Jerry DonahueSome guitarists are flashy and some are just plain tasty. Donahue fits in the tasty category. I first heard him on the Fotheringay album, that Sandy Denny project from around ’70. Actually, it wasn’t really a Denny project as much as it was a band and one fine band at that. Sandy had just left Fairport Convention and stepped into Fotheringay before going solo. I read an interview once in which she said leaving Fotheringay may have been her biggest mistake. She was happy with that band. When you hear their one excellent self-titled album, you can hear why. A large part of that album is the smooth and super-tasty guitar work of Donahue. He makes the guitar sing like a voice in the choir. He also played with Fairport Convention as well as playing on numerous albums by major (and not so major) artists.

Paul CurreriHe’s young, he’s brash and he handles the guitar like a good logger handles an ax. He writes songs which are on the edge and makes them edgier with his instrumental legerdemain, sometime spewing licks like a chipper. Choose an acoustic style of blues or folk and he can play it. Rock out and he’s a rock star. Curreri just released his seventh album, The Big Shitty, and one reason it’s so damn good is his guitar. Oh, he doesn’t consider himself a guitar player, per se. He thinks he’s a complete musician. I think so, too, but I can’t get past his guitar. He’s that good.

Tommy RichardThis one’s personal. Richard was the guitarist for Cargoe, a Tulsa band transplanted to Memphis with high hopes of becoming the next big thing. And, no, they didn’t. Become the next big thing, that is. What they did was record and release an album which should have been that springboard but which was instead a financial disaster. Not the band’s fault. The label folded. If interested, you can read the story here. But to get back to Richard. His work on that one album vaulted him to the top of my guitarists-worth-hearing list and it has remained there since. Sometimes, all it takes is one album.

David SpinozzaAnd sometimes it takes only one track. I had heard of Spinozza when I found the aforementioned Soulful Crooner album, but had not yet heard him. It didn’t take much at all. It was the third track on side one, titled Grind It Out, and Spinozza’s part was all too short but convinced me that sometimes less really is more. Spinozza’s tone was sharp yet clean and took the song to another level. It may be the tone or just the confidence he exudes, but it has stayed in my head as one of the best solos I’ve ever heard. Spinozza went on to play with James Taylor and John Lennon and Paul McCartney, amongst others, but I will always remember him as the guy who inhabited White Elephant alongside Holmes and McCracken. The company you keep, maybe?

Larry Coryell— Here’s a guitarist who has been on more than one “greatest” list regarding the instrument. Coryell started out with groundbreakers The Dynamics back in the very early days of real rock (meaning when Rock ‘n Roll morphed to Rock) and never stopped. Thanks to Coryell, I picked up an album by The Free Spirits who played jazz rock before jazz rock was invented. I also found a side of jazz which I could easily have missed, his solo albums dancing around and experimenting with the genre. Perhaps he’s too old or too passe for those who contributed to the formation of RS’s list. Maybe groundbreaking doesn’t count.

Drake Levin— Yeah, I know. Paul Revere & The Raiders. Not obscure at all. But Levin did more for Pac NW rock than you might imagine. Few guitarists in those early garage bands ignored Levin, who had a style quite unlike any other. And I’m not talking the later Hollywood Raider productions. I’m talking about the Here They Come Raiders in their lean and raw and hungry years. Those who only saw the band on TV would not recognize the blue collar Raiders who played their asses off night after night just to make a living. Those were formative years— years of frivolity and fun, yes, but also years of working on routines and honing musical skills. No one worked harder than Levin.

Mick RogersHey, if you’re going to pass out awards on uniqueness, you have to pass one to Manfred Mann’s Earth Band‘s Mick Rogers. A very small percentage of the audience who embraced Do Wah Diddy Diddy and The Mighty Quinn followed the band through its various phases, but the ones who did were rewarded with cutting edge music, much of it enhanced by the guitar of Rogers. He had a brash, distorted style when he soloed and yet played the consummate band member within the context of a song. This is a guy you have to hear to appreciate. My favorite examples of his work are from Glorified MagnifiedLook Around and Meat. Listen to those and tell me he should not be considered…..

Allan HoldsworthHe may hold a small percentage of the credibility of a Page or a Clapton, but he is an amazing guitarist. Amazing! He vaulted a band called Tempest into classic status with loud, blistering guitar which lived in its own universe. Back then, the early seventies, music freaks loved them, guitarists loved them, but they found little audience. Holldsworth would take his guitar style to Soft Machine (Bundles) and on a short solo ride before laying back and enjoying the ride. I tell you, you have not heard guitar like you will hear on the first Tempest album nor will you ever hear anything quite like the work he did with Soft Machine. Classic!

Jim AllchinIt’s still a bit early to tell, but if Jim Allchin can last, he will be on a list or two one day. Allchin is a cross between Chris Cain and Stevie Ray, embracing Cain’s smooth and occasionally horn-laden blues while channeling Vaughan’s screaming guitar. His latest album, Overclocked, has all, of the hallmarks of a future great— choice of material, production, arrangement— but it is the guitar that wins you over. Does he belong on a “greatest” list? Perhaps not yet, but that is nothing a couple more albums should take care of. (Ed. Note:  He is making a good argument for himself with the release of his latest album, Decisions)

Scott FraserSometimes you have to throw in a dark horse and Space Opera‘s Scott Fraser is mine. Fraser was a Fort Worth boy and a music prodigy, of sorts.  By the time rock hit the Fort Worth scene, he was ready and willing and spent a couple of years with local favorites The Mods before joining fellow Space Opera cohorts in Whistler, Chaucer, Detroit & Greenhill before morphing into Space Opera itself. If you need proof of his guitar skills, you need go no further than the first self-titled Space Opera album released on Epic Records in the US. Specifically, Guitar Suite. Here is a track inundated in guitar like you have probably never imagined. I have cleared rooms with this song, and I have made good friends. Funny how that works. Musical proof that “one man’s sweathog is another man’s wife,” as some used to say before political correctness took over the collective consciousness.

As for Rolling Stone, you have to give them credit. If their lists do nothing else, they give fodder for discussion. I just wonder if that kind of discussion isn’t a waste of time. Maybe not. While my ears reject any mention of Page or Clapton or even Hendrix (sorry, Jimi, but I can only take so much), they are open to names I do not know and there were more than a few— most buried at the bottom, but there nonetheless. My bottom line is if the music is good, the music is good. I accept the fact that the idols of the masses are there for a reason. I wish the masses could accept the existence of others. It is a boring world which does not progress and the world of Rolling Stone bores me.

Time to set the wayback machine for the present.  Not many videos this week but the ones I have are pretty damn good, so let us head to….

Notes…

Gris-de-Lin has been singing the praises of Joe Gideon since I discovered her music a few years ago.  She just posted this video on the social media.  I think I get it.

I have been doing a lot of research into my musical past and right now have Seattle’s Skyboys on loop.  Since engineer/producer Jim Bredouw put the bands unreleased album on disc (The Unreleased Album: Seattle, 1977) I have been buried in music and thoughts of the old days, wondering what if it had been released?  Could the band have made it?  I certainly think so, but the music business then was all records and radio and there were other factors as well, so who knows?  Here is a video of former band members Tom Kell and Chris Middaugh recreating some of that old magic.  I remember Middaugh as one of those pedal steel players who, had he stayed with the band, should have become legend.  In my mind, he is just that.

The Green PajamasJeff Kelly passed a link along to a musician I had missed— one Aldous Harding.  Listening to the guy introducing her was as intense as the song she performs here.  I will be doing a lot of research on her.  If any of her other songs are as beautiful as this, I do believe I will become a fan.  BTW, she’s from New Zealand.

Flashback time.  Here is a song from Randy Burns, pre-Skydog Band.  Back in the old folk/psych days.  Burns had such a unique voice and wrote such good songs!

The Greens have it!  Amazingly, both Green Monkey Records and The Green Pajamas timed it just right once again!  Another Pajamas live video posted just in time to include in this weeks column.  This time, featuring Eric Lichter.  Very cool.

Texas is so freakin’ overloaded with topnotch musicians and music it begs the question— how the hell can people love their music so much and vote in those goddamn asshole politicians all the time.  Which is probably answered by the fact that Texas musicians were and are so buried in their music they don’t pay attention to much else.  Which was seemingly Townes Van Zandt‘s point in this documentary about his life.  If you haven’t seen this, you need to.  This will explain a lot more about music and musicians than all of the tributes and award shows on television— all of them! Be Here To Love Me is not just about Townes but the musicians who hold their music close to the vest.

Steve Young appears in this film clip.  Just for a second.  Don’t blink.

Jeff Kelly, an original Green Pajama, has dragged me down many a dark alley.  The guy has this uncanny sense when it comes to alternate universes or something.  When I saw this video, I began to research Louise Brooks and found myself somewhat at odds with reality.

Take two top Tulsa, Oklahoma radio disc jockeys from the ’60s, plop them down four decades later with a second generational child unit who can play guitar and write and a drummer just happy to be there and you have Spirit Alley.  Musically they are all over the place but when they put together this video for a song titled Aztec, they brought a morphed sense of psych into the 21stCentury. This is what decades of music and voice-over work does to you.  Right after they completed the filming of the video, they put them in straitjackets and carted them away.  Unfortunately, they escaped and are still at large, hopefully doing good and not evil.  Where is J. Edgar when you need him, anyway?

They are called The Soundcarriers and have been a favorite since I first saw this video a number of years ago.

=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.”

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