Frank Gutch Jr: John Stewart— More Than Just “Gold”; Wayne Berry— Welcome Home

I picked up a turntable for my sister a couple of months ago.  She had found what she said was about twenty of her old albums (it was more like a hundred and fifty) and had the urge to once again hear them.  Mostly they were albums I remember her liking— Percy Faith, Rod McKuen, Enoch Light and the like.  She drove me nuts with those albums when we were kids but I secretly liked a lot of them.  (I did truly hate the Sound of Music, Colleen, but the others were okay).

When I looked in her closet, they were stacked neatly into little prefabricated chipboard shelves, made individual so you could move them and stack them at will.  I began the task of moving the albums, an armload at a time, up the stairs for their new home— a bookcase.  After doing so, I dusted them off and proceeded to alphabetize them (it is a matter of respect for me of the number is not so great).  I found a few gems.  Hall & OatesAbandoned Luncheonette, which I had turned her onto back in the early seventies;  a couple of Moody Blues albums; a collection of old-timey songs of the West (she claims I gave that to her but I don’t remember that), and two albums which I had forgotten about— John Stewart‘s Centennial and Trancas albums.

There is a story behind those two albums.  Stewart had visited me in the basement of Peaches Records in Seattle and had brought me a copy of each— how long ago was that?  1984?  He had handed me the copies and evidently, knowing that my sister would love the music, asked him to autograph them to her, which he was kind enough to do.  I had sent them to her and, just as I thought, she fell in love with them.  Then the digital thing hit and she forgot all about the albums, consigning them to closet and attic space.  Until just recently.

When I dusted off those two, a flood of memories came over me.  Allow me to preface this with a YouTube post I just found in which famed KHJ disc jockey Robert W. Morgan introduces a live presentation by Stewart and band, circa 1969.  You will soon understand why I include this:

That could have been me introducing Stewart, or at least that would have been what I would have said.  I loved his music right off, too, but liked the man even more.  He was a standup guy and so sincere that every time we met I felt exalted in his presence.   I mean, I felt good about myself because after that first meeting he took the time to stop by when he was in town.  To talk music.  To talk business.  To talk about life in general.  I was so impacted by him that tears almost came to my eyes when I held those records in my hands.  And I remembered what I had written about him when I learned that he had died.

I remember it like it was yesterday, hearing that John Stewart had left us. My heart sank and all that was good seemed to disappear. John and I had been acquaintances, of a sort. We had met when a salesman working for a distributor handling Stewart’s own label, Neon Dreams, brought him into the dungeon at Peaches Records in Seattle for a visit. We were introduced and I liked him from the first handshake. I at first felt intimidated, of course. How could you not be when you considered his background— the Kingston Trio albums and before that The Cumberland Three, and after that, the incredibly huge string of solo albums.

The man was a legend if any man in the music industry can be called one. But the man was a man, too, and a good one, and he made any angst I might have had disappear with a smile and that handshake.

I had been a John Stewart fan since California Bloodlines, an album foisted upon me by Gary Haller at Eugene, Oregon’s House of Records (I really need to call him and thank him for all of the music he “forced” on me). Haller made me listen. He put the album in my hands and walked me out the door, telling me to bring it back if I didn’t like it. I think he knew I wouldn’t. Looking back at the number of albums he made me take home, I don’t think I ever brought one back. And he didn’t charge me for most of them. I love that guy.)

So here was the guy who had recorded California Bloodlines standing before me, a member of The Kingston Trio, the guy who wrote Daydream Believer. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have to say anything, it turned out. Stewart had a problem. He had released a few albums through Neon Dreams and was having trouble getting them into stores. Did I have any suggestions? We kicked around a few ideas, him doing most of the asking, myself doing most of the talking. It took maybe fifteen minutes. He had to leave because he was on a promotional junket, visiting stores and radio stations to promote his label. We shook hands and he said he would be in touch and left.

A couple of months later, he found his way into the basement again, this time by himself. He wanted to follow up on a couple of things about which we had talked. I offered him my chair and I sat on record crate pieces and we spent a good half hour going over the finer points of retail, but it was not all that. We talked ethics (one reason he had walked away from the major labels was their considerable lack of them) and we talked philosophy. We talked music and music fans and ways to promote yourself as a human being rather than a performer. He seemed to be looking for that magic window to the listener’s soul and was having a hard time finding it. Sales weren’t that great, partially because many stores wouldn’t carry his records. (Ah, the days when record stores were everything…) We must have packed a three hour conversation into that half hour and when he left, we shook hands colleagues, if not friends.

He stopped by pretty much every time he came to Seattle after that, or when he had the time, at least. That maybe added up to five or six more times. I always marveled that he could walk by five or six people in the basement without even a glance. To be fair, they were young (much younger than myself) and they were ignorant of the importance of folk music in the 60s. A few knew of The Kingston Trio, but never put the man walking past and the group together.

Stewart died in 2008 and while he left us a large body of his works, I miss our visits. To my knowledge, he never took his success for granted. Or his lack of success, in certain instances. To him, life was never just another day at the office. He truly was one of the good guys.

For an intriguing look at Stewart’s “visibility” in the UK back in ’71, click here. It is like fan club news or something. Worth a scan.

I made reference to Stewart at various times.  He was a yardstick for me— a measurement of how human we should be.  Not long after the above piece was posted, I wrote this in reference to musicians and fans as a whole:

Musicians are people, too. As a society, we have a tendency to think of stars as unapproachable, as better than most of us and at times as god-like. Maybe some are— unapproachable, that is— but the good ones are as human as anyone. Many times I have talked with musicians, telling them that I saw them at one time or another and would have said something but didn’t want to bother them and to a person, they all said I wish you would have. John Stewart, who filled a life with his music, told me that when people responded to it, it was a sign of its worth and that he wanted that contact— in fact, needed it. Sometimes we as fans forget that— that musicians are not gods, that they do not live in a vacuum, that they buy clothes and cook and eat food and have fights with friends and family members, just like us. And they, like us, take pride in what they do.

While listening to Centennial and Trancas, I felt a presence.  I relived those few conversations Stewart and I had had.  I almost smelled the wood of the crate pieces I was sitting on.  Some moments live forever, I think.  Those were some of mine.

Gold may have been Stewart’s song for the masses, but those two albums were mine.

Wayne Berry— Deja Vu All Over Again… 

Oh, the stories I have told about Wayne Berry— with his permission, of course.  I take every opportunity to mention him whenever possible.  He is another one of my picks-to-click from the old days, having started (from what I could tell at the time) with a band called Timber and an album titled Part of What You Hear.  I came across it very organically.  I read  a thumbnail review in a copy of either High Fidelity or Stereo Review (they were magazines, kiddies) and headed down to the nearest White Front to pick up a copy.  Surprisingly enough,  they had stocked it.  Probably the easiest sale they ever made.

I took that album back to Fort Lewis where I was stationed, dropped the needle and was hooked.  Years (actually, decades) later I was to find out that that was not Berry’s first effort, that he had previously recorded a solo album for Capitol Records which was not released.  Little did I know…

But I learned.  In the meantime, I was taken on a musical journey through another Timber album (Bring America Home on Elektra Records), a solo album (Home At Last on RCA Records), a second solo album for RCA which turned to dust on release (ostensibly a contract dispute, but it was more complicated than that), and an album by a band which reunited Wayne with fellow Timber member George Clinton (Volunteers/Volunteers for Arista Records).

Berry’s music history is way more than that, though.  He grew up in Nashville, spent time with Felice & Boudleaux Bryant, shared a few cups of coffee with John Loudermilk, traveled miles to see Peter Paul & Mary who became friends, recorded with Paul Stookey… and all of this while he was in high school.  Not long after, he traveled to Los Angeles with Tommy Talton, with whom he wrote songs, before putting together Timber and before Tommy returned to Florida where he teamed up with five other guys to form Cowboy.  That’s the short of it.  The long can be  read on No Depression, a story related to me by Berry himself.  Oh, the details…

After Volunteers, he dabbled in music, writing songs and recording demos.  He scored a couple of sweet deals writing those songs but eventually opted out, finding a spiritual path more to his liking.  He didn’t stop the music, you understand.  It just became less of a priority.

Very recently, Berry decided it was time to give it another go.  In spite of his problems with labels, the missed timing on projects, the problems which combined to prevent his financial success, the music still pulls at him.

He is putting together a group with whom he is in the process of recording his first album in decades.  More than that, though, he has decided to work on something very near to his fans’ hearts.  He is going to put together just about everything he has ever recorded for release.  The unreleased Capitol album.  The Timber albums.  Both of the RCA solo albums.  Volunteers.  He has a number of demos in the can, too, and those I am sure will be included, and with luck he will include some of his Christian recordings— songs recorded during  his ministry.

The prospect of hearing his music en toto has me excited, to say the least, and hearing the new songs too.  He sounds excited too.  Very excited.

Consider this a first shot across the bow.  Who knows what he will have in store for us?

If you want to know more, Berry is on the Book of Face (click here) and there is the No Depression link above.  This is a chance for us all to watch someone who has done it so well over the years do it again.  I look forward to it all.

Those words I used for John Stewart in the first part of this column could well be used to describe Berry as well.  A good person is a good person.  As much as I hate to admit it, there just aren’t enough of them these days.

Tommy Talton— Somewhere South of Eden

Wayne Berry knew Tommy Talton back in the old days.  Berry was struggling to find a direction in his life and Talton had just ended a stint with a few bands in Florida, We The People having scored airplay and a few regional hits.  From what I heard, Talton was visiting Nashville when Berry and he just threw their sleeping bags in the back of Berry’s car and headed to L.A.  They were going to set the music business on fire.  They may not have, but they eventually found my ears , Talton with Cowboy and Berry with Timber, and I was glad for it.

I have no idea how long they worked together in L.A. but it could have not been that long.  Not long after getting there, Talton decided his chances were better back in Florida so he left Berry to fend for himself and headed home, eventually co-founding Cowboy.  While he struggled with Cowboy on the East Coast, Berry struggled with Timber on the West.

I met Talton once in Los Angeles when he was playing with The Gregg Allman Band.  I was working a shift at Licorice Pizza on Wilshire when this stretch limousine drives up to the front of the store and these long-haired freaks pile out.  Basically, it was Sea Level and Cowboy minus a few parts.  They pretty much stopped the action, customers and employees gathering around to see what it was all about.  It was a few minutes later that Talton showed up, holding what looked like a silk jacket in the air and whooping it up.  It was one of those jackets being brought stateside by the various military personnel returning from Viet Nam.  Shiny fabric with a stitched dragon, I believe.  Talton was pumped.  So were we.  He ended up wearing that jacket for the photo which turned out to be the cover for the Talton/Stewart/Sandlin album, Happy To Be Alive.

Talton was very cool as were the other guys.  I spent a bit of time talking with David Brown and Chuck Leavell.  Both were looking for new albums, saying that being on the road kept them from hitting record stores and keeping up.  I showed them what I could find, knowing they wanted albums topping the charts— Steely Dan and the like.  Me, I was more familiar with Cowboy, for whom we had a decent display, thank the gods.

I did an interview with Talton many years later.  He remembered that jacket fondly, saying he wish he still had it.  I have to admit.  For a musician, he was quite the clothes horse.

Talton has just released a new album titled Somewhere South of Eden and it brought back a rush of listening to his albums over the years.  His voice is as good as ever, his guitar work immaculate, and his songwriting topnotch.  Doesn’t hurt to have one hell of a band behind him (The Tommy Talton Band, in fact) and man, he still knows how to use horns.  I love horns when they’re done right and right is how they’re done on this album.  Check this out.

With this new Talton and an impending Wayne Berry album on the way, I am in hog heaven.  You can sample the album on Talton’s cdBaby page (ckick here).  The only complete track there is We Are Calling, which is outstanding, but they give you a good minute and a half of each song so you get the idea.  If you want to hear complete tracks, they are posted on YouTube.  Review imminent.

With that, what say we get to this weeks…

Notes…

I am not going to say that Charlottesville’s Keith Morris isn’t political at all, just that the recent situation with the Nazis/extreme Right has brought it out more than usual.  I hope to talk with him this week to glean what I can from him regarding the invasion of his home territory by these inhuman forces.  In the meantime, here is a video he put together for his new album, a song recorded before even a hint of the tragedy occurred.  Listen closely.  The lyrics are crucial.  The music?  Shades of the early seventies for me.

New video from Tift Merritt with Eric Heywood on pedal steel.  Old timey but spacey.  I dig it!

This afternoon I heard a musician I will more than likely only write about this once.  I only heard two tracks— a cover of Motorhead‘s Ace of Spades and a pounding rocker titled I Love You I Don’t Love You I Don’t Know, but that was enough to make me think she is going to break out big.  She has had three other shots which I shall assume were Lisa LeBlanc‘s lesser efforts, shall we say, because if any one of the three had the synergistic energy and power of those two  tracks, she would be a household name by now.  The album is titled Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen? and is going to catch a lot of ears and drag them twenty feet, at the very least.  The person who narrated the short piece on CBC Radio also mentioned a “blistering banjo solo.”  I never thought I would hear blistering and banjo in the same sentence unless it had to do with those on the tips of fingers.  I mean, if you don’t like this, you have a serious problem.

She is hardly unknown.  Her videos have thousands of views, but no one came to me and said, hey, you have to watch this and I don’t understand why.  Her songs from the past maybe are not as rocking as she is doing now, but, goddamn, they stand on their own and  are as good as most videos getting hundreds of thousands of hits.

I don’t think I have seen a musician I would like to see live (that is “live” with the long i and not the short one) more than LeBlanc.  That banjo in her hands is more a battering ram than anything.  And her attitude on that instrument matches her attitude toward her songs.

If this doesn’t convince you, I suppose nothing will.  Lemmy, I hope you had a chance to hear this before you checked out.  On a freaking banjo, no less!  I think I’m in love…

Starting an Earthquake has roots going back to Emma Jo & The Poets Down Here and 49 Stones, a Missouri band which had potential but never could quite get over the hump.  Those roots have ended up expanding into the harder rock with shredded vocals (I have no idea what the genre is called) and while I am not a huge fan of the genre, I am damn impressed with their video, released in November of last year.  That bearded guitarist is, I believe, Garrett Cox, who plays one mean guitar!

PR man Adam Dawson recently pointed me toward a new video by one Amilia K. Spicer and I am thankful.  There is a lot to like from her, I do believe.  This is just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak.

Man, I don’t know how I miss so much music.  It disturbs me.

The Burning Hell?  Great name for a band.  Just so happens that they have an oddball song out right now I find rather intriguing, especially lyric-wise.  Wouldn’t mind visiting the town they are in in this video, either.

New album scheduled for release by Lilly Hiatt‘s label, New West Records.  It’s kind of about David Bowie, but it’s not.

I didn’t think I cared much for Calico The Band, but this song has me rethinking that.  There is something about it…..

I make no excuses for my love of Courtney Marie Andrews‘ music.  She has a straightforward and honest way with it, one which strikes deep.  Here is her latest video… Irene.

Lisbee Stainton is another personal favorite.  I have been following her for a few years now and she just keeps getting better.  Here she is doing a live version of a track from her new album, Then Up.  Good, good stuff!

Sometimes all you need from a woman is enough syrup on your pancakes.  Eileen Carey

=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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