Frank Gutch Jr: It’s Gonna Be a Blues, Blues Christmas; A Look Back at Rich McCulley; Plus Notes

 

I’m not a blues guy, really.  The closest I come to the real blues is B.B. King, maybe— electric guitar a must.  I listened to a little Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee during my college years and there was always John Mayall, who seemed to have the best of the up-and-comers in his band no matter what period.  I accepted Cream as blues on certain songs, which probably tells you more about my non-blues background than anything.  Loved The Blues Project and Paul Butterfield.  Didn’t like Delta Blues.  Stevie Ray Vaughn is pretty much the best blues I have heard.  That should give you an idea of where I am coming from and where I am going because I am going to review some blues albums I enjoyed this year and tell you why.  They will be short and a couple even have stories behind them.

Michael Packer/I Am the Blues— I only knew Michael as a blues player the last few years.  Back in the early seventies I knew him as a country rocker in a band known as Free Beer.  They had an album out on a small label called Southwind which had a distribution deal with Buddah Records.  The album got a fair amount of airplay here and there but did nothing, financially.  It was good enough to interest RCA, which signed them for at least one album.

I first made contact when I received an email from him out of the blue a number of years ago.  I had mentioned Free Beer in a column I had written for Bob Segarini’s Don’t Believe a Word I Say blog and he had stumbled across it and wanted to thank me for being a fan.  That started quite a few years of communication, mostly about his music but also about music in general and, of course, politics.  One thing we agreed upon was what we both agreed was the illegal pirating of music in the streaming “services” such as Spotify, them stealing music and building an empire on the backs of musicians and music people.  We constantly supported one another’s stances on the issue.

Michael died in May of this year.  I will remember him as an integral member of the blues brotherhood.  He worked with and helped a long string of blues people including musicians, session men, venue owners and fans.  He started his Blues For Peace movement, hoping it would catch on and spread the word to the people.

The only Michael Packer album I have at the moment is I Am the Blues: My Story, Vol. 3.  He had promised to send me all that he had of his recorded works but that bastard cancer was hot on his heels and he never got around to it.  I am proud to call him friend, though he was more acquaintance than anything.  Thing is, had we ever met, I am sure we would have thrown arms around each other because we shared so much.  There are three volumes in the series, narration and song.  It is a spoken history of moments in his life and stands as an important addition to the music history of our times.

Safe travels, my friend.

Bobby Messano/Bad Movie—  I was a fan of The Stanky Brown Group back in the day but I had no idea that Messano played with them for a stint.  Wouldn’t have made a difference, though.  After watch the video of Bad Movie, the title track from this year’s album, I was sold.  If I’d been drinking coffee when I watched, I would probably have had to replace my monitor and keyboard,  Funny stuff.  I am happy to report that he is as funny in life as we exchanged a few email which had me bent over in laughter as well.  Damn good album, Bad Movie, if you prefer the rocking side of the blues.  This dude is cool

Altered Five Blues Band/Charmed & Dangerous—  I hesitate to call this mainstream blues, but if you consider sales, this seems to be the most popular style of rockin’ blues and this is one of the best I’ve heard for sometime.  Fielding guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, they play an excellent style of jumpin’ blues, very electric and driving.  Superb vocals and first-rate lead guitar.  And the organ?  Straight out of the 70s and 80s.  I love this album but still am not sure where to file it. As much rock as blues, it is right down my alley.  On Blind Pig Records, which has an excellent roster of artists to choose from.  Oh, all originals too.  You don’t see that that often.

The people over at Bongo Boy Records are working overtime, covering what seems to be all genres known to man and one area on which they have concentrated is the blues.  Four samplers have made their way into the markets featuring some damn fine artists and bands.  Again, my favorites are the rocking ones and there are enough in the four volumes to keep me planty happy.  Here are a couple of tracks from Backroom Blues Volume Four.

Let us call Mindi Abair‘s The EastWest Sessions a bonus here because it is not really a blues album, per se.  Actually, that should be Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers because this band could easily make it on their own but would be a whole ‘nother band without her.  The blues roots are there, for sure, though these guys take it to a higher level.

For one thing, this is one good looking band.  It has to be, when they give credit to people for makeup and hair (Elahe Lardizabal and Will Carrillo).  These guys are so cool that they rock when they don’t.  Just check out Randy Jacobs‘ guitar on this one.  Whew!

And can she play that saxophone?  Holy mackerel!  I’ve been hearing her name being bandied about (what the hell is bandying, anyway?) but not loudly enough.  Mindi and band is not ready for the bigtime, they are already bigtime!

Benny Turner/My Brother’s Blues—  Now this is more of what I’m used to.  And what I expect out of guy who spent time with Freddie King in the early days, played with Dee Clark, picked up on the electric bass when they first hit the stores, and who spent a short stint with The Soul Stirrers.  That is one hell of a resume.  So what do I hear?  A lot of what I learned to call R&B— soul mixed with blues, grooves, a bit of funk and a whole lot of love.  Truth is, I don’t know much about Benny outside of this album but this album is a good start.  What I need to do is track his history— pick up on the tunes from the past.  But first, allow me to leave you with this.  And, no, this is not on the album.

This is.

Karen Lovely/Fish Outta Water—  I was digging this new Karen Lovely album and sat down to write a review and sonofagun if it wasn’t produced by Eric Corne who put together one hell of an album a few years ago titled Kid Dynamite & The Common Man.  The music was outstanding but I am pretty sure when I reviewed it I talked about his production skills, which were first-rate.  Since then, Corne has been involved with a number of projects including albums by Kail Baxley, Walter Trout, and John Mayall.  Lovely fits the stream perfectly.

She is not as immersed in the blues as some but you can hear it in her voice even on the songs which lean more toward Americana.  She’s been singing it so long I believe it to be part of her DNA.  A perfect frontlady for a damn near perfect band, as far as I can hear.  Blues for people who don’t especially like the blues, let’s say.

I searched for the perfect video to embed here and this is it— a pledge drive short which lets you hear the music over which Lovely talks about the music, the album and her special cause.  Yes, she too has a cause.  Most musicians do.  Which is why I am an avid supporter.

The Gordon Meier Blues Experiment/Magic Kingdom—  Some blues is made for drinking, some for feeling.  My favorite is made for dancing and leans a bit toward R&B and that’s what Gordon Meier gives us with this album.  I’ve sat in many a bar or tavern boppin’ my head to music such as they crank out and I’ve heard a lot of good bands doing it.  I put Meier’s band right up toward the top.  A great mix, mostly of covers, but covers made for you to clomp around the dance floor, hopefully with a beer in your hand.  Excellent combo.  Damn fine production.

Jim Allchin/Decisions— Allchin and I have had a meeting of the minds.  I want guitar.  He gives it to me.  The guy smoked me a few years ago with Overclocked and followed it up with another beauty, Q.E.D. and I  have been a fan since.  Every time I hear his guitar I wonder what he was doing wasting his time in a Microsoft office making millions.  He could have had twenty albums out by now.  But who am I to talk about the past?  At least we have the puny number he has given us thus far.  Maybe his best work is coming and, if we’re lucky, in mass quantities

The Halley Devestern Band/Keep On Playin‘— I took one look at the lineup here and almost fell off my chair.  Devestern herself has evidently fronted a version of Big Brother & The Holding Company; David Patterson (guitar) played with Shawn Mullins; Rich Kulsar (drums) spent time with The Zen Tricksters, Toasters, and Mickey Dolenz; Tom Heinig (bass) has behind him Lamont Cranston and Mill City Band), and guitarist and keyboard man Steve Jabas played with evidently nobody (at least, he didn’t list any bands of note— I would say how did he get in here except for his playing on this five-song EP).  That’s a lot of good bands, as far as I’m concerned, which makes this EP an album ready to happen.  I hope.  Again, blues roots but straight ahead rock overall.  I liken a couple of the tracks to early Cold Blood.  Devestern, by the way, has a string of albums for you to choose from.  I like her.  Especially with this lineup.  By the way, I have posted this video before.  You just weren’t paying attention.

Rather than talk about Stacy Jones‘ album (which is damn good), I would rather toss in a few live videos so you can see her perform.  Perhaps you could tell me what that big square gitfiddle really is.  Also, I have seen very few harmonica players of the female varity.  I dig her.

Her latest album is titled Love Is Everywhere.

I won’t say much about The Jon Spear Band, either, except people kept telling me about them and I finally got around to listening to them.  Whew!  This is a band which should be headlining any blues festival they show up at.  That is Dara James lead guitar.  Holy mackerel!  Those are beautiful sounds!

That is the title track from Hot Sauce.  It’s a killer!

Rich McCulley doesn’t play the blues.  At least, I don’t think so.  I was sitting around last week, listening to his latest album, Out Along the Edges, and was reminded of how I was taken by him the night he played a small restaurant on the edge of the Orego State University Campus— The Bombs Away Cafe.  It was a tough gig— the sound not the best, the room very small, the crowd respectful but not really supportive— but Rich played on through like the trooper he is (like all musicians are these days, if they want to make any impact at all).  So I thought I would repeat the few paragraphs today.  If for no other reason than he deserves it.  Anyone who says it is easy being a musician these days is not a musician, that’s all there is to it.  This is what I wrote back then— over four years ago.  The cafe is still there and still supporting music and Rich— well, he doesn’t make it up to the Pac NW all that much, though he did play at Music Millennium in Portland at a customer’s appreciation thing Terry Currier puts together every year.  Hopefully, he will be back soon.

Rich McCulley— Demo-ing the Bombs Away Cafe…..

I call it “demo-ing” because Rich McCulley was all alone last Friday when he entered Corvallis Oregon’s Bombs Away Cafe so instead of getting the signature full band sound as recorded on his last two albums, Starting All Over Again and The Grand Design, the crowd got what sounded like demos. Guitar played through a small amp. And voice. One. And I dug it. For one thing, it was an electric guitar. I don’t know what it is about acoustic guitars, and McCulley could easily have played one that night, but I am tired of them. I want my music plugged in for some reason and when it is presented bare-butt as it was, even better. Give me music as it was written and I’m a happy man. Throw in a few missed notes and a wonky chord here and there and I’m even happier. I don’t know why, either. Maybe it’s the honesty of the thing.  (Photo: Rich McCulley and Tom House)

Of course, it wouldn’t matter that much to me because I recognize McCulley as more of a songwriter than performer. He performs ably enough, but after hearing the aforementioned last two albums I am convinced that his strength is in his songs. I have referred to him as the Popmeister here and there because he has an unerring sense of chord progressions and melody and seems to embed the perfect hook or two in every song he writes. Yeah, I knew the songs before they were played. It makes a difference.

Had the others heard the albums, they would most certainly have been more appreciative, though they were appreciative enough. They were respectful. After the third beer, they were even more respectful. Ah, the life of a musician, huh?

Kim Grant introduced me to McCulley’s music. She has introduced me to lots of music over the few years we have been acquainted and I would be the lesser had we not “met”. Kim is a publicist and wraps her heart and soul around what she terms “roots music” or “Americana”— Los Angeles roots music, to be exact. There is a group of musicians who hang out together there and who produce music in varying settings, always with roots in mind. It includes the sadly overlooked Adam Marsland; Evie Sands, who just missed the brass ring in the sixties but whose legend grows daily; Grant Langston, who exudes “alt” through every pore; and Todd Herfindal, the other bookend on the Popmeister shelf.

In fact, McCulley and Herfindal are joined at the musical hip, both having that sense of Pure Pop which highlights their songs more than their performances. They recently recorded albums featuring a few co-written songs, Herfindal even titling his album after the collaborative Pop gem Right Here Now. I heard McCulley’s version first, but when I heard Herfindal’s, I was floored. How two musicians could record the same song with who I assume were the virtual same musicians and come up with songs which are both so alike yet so different is beyond me to fathom, but they did.

So while I was sitting in my own little corner sipping a cold pint of Ninkasi Pilsner, I reveled in the minimalist sound. I loved hearing McCulley blow a chord progression and while not pretending to cover it up, soldiering on to the end as a pro should (note: it only happened twice). I loved the lower key presentation than was on the albums and I wished only that a couple of my good friends were there to share it with because they, too, understand and appreciate the difference between solo and band. Alas, besides the few who were slogging down the brew oasis-in-the-desert style, there was only the sound man, who spent the entire night moving from one place to another to hear the music before returning to the board to adjust the sound. He was relentless. What an effort!

I talked with McCulley a little before the show and during the break and am delighted to report that he is as nice a guy as I could expect. He was traveling with his wife and his two-year old boy he named Jarvis after his very good friend and fellow musician Duane Jarvis who had died not too long before Rich’s son was born. I could sense the melancholy as we talked about him and changed the subject quickly because it was obviously still too soon. We talked about his wife,Anna Maria Rosales, and her musical life which is just now taking wing as regards the playing out and recording and songwriting. We talked about Los Angeles and making it in the music biz and a bit about Music Millennium in Portland where he was scheduled to play a set the next day for the store’s Customer Appreciation Day.

Rich McCulley, my friends, is a humble and grateful man, as simple as that. Gigs like the one I experienced have a tendency to make you humble— when only a few people show, it is hard not to be. But he is grateful. To be playing music. To be recording music. To have the friends and family he has. For the talent inherent to make music people want to hear.

It was a good night. A very good night. Thanks, Rich. Next time through, I will be there again, this time with a few friends. We’ll make it a party.

Blues and Rich McCulley?  I have enjoyed writing (and reposting) this.  But it is time to end things, so let us take a look at a few…

Notes…

Friend Steve Renfro sent me a link to this video by Chris Smither and I have to say that it has me rethinking Statesboro Blues.  I’ve been a fan of Smither’s for a time now and hadn’t dug into his videos and am now on a quest.  Some outstanding live videos I’ve missed.

Leah Abramson has a new album coming out and, evidently, she is featuring the players who helped on the album.  Catch this beautiful instrumental by Jim Guthrie & JJ Ipsen.  Outstanding!

Has The Bert Berns Story hit the street yet?  This could be a killer documentary as there has been a lot of controversy regarding his status as songwriter, producer, label owner.  Hopefully it will illuminate issues heretofore pushed into the background.

My suggestion for you is you clomp on over to Glitterbeat TV’s YouTube channel and log on.  There’s more going on there than there  is anywhere on the Net.  Tapping the motherlode.

That Sonny Smith dude is good!  I think I dated one of the girls he was drawing on the beach and she hasn’t changed a bit!

Fellow writer Peter Montreuil found this little video and passed it along.  I have always loved watching people in real situations.  This was an open casting call, so the images are of people doing what they will when faced with a camera.  Nice song too.  From Waves That Stray.

Folkie Michael Veitch posted this video on one of the hottest days of the year here in Oregon so I probably passed right by it.  What a beautiful video.  I mean, the memories it brings!

Northwest musician Fred Cole recently passed away.  I mention it because Cole had spent time in The Weeds (also Weeden) with Steve Koski, who went on to co-found legends Notary Sojac, the little band that didn’t.

Koski remembers the days of Weeden well and mentioned Cole to me many times.  The Weeds eventually became Lollipop Shoppe and released one album on UNI. RIP.

Even when The Barenaked Ladies are derivative, they are fun.

=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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