Frank Gutch Jr: Thompson’s and Chrystalship: The Changing of the Guard; A Video Guide to Boulder’s Zephyr; and A Short String of Notes

The first record store I ever frequented was in Eugene, Oregon— Thompson’s.  I wanted to put “Record Mart” behind it but I am not sure how they labeled themselves.  A building on the north end of the city, not too far from Skinner’s Butte, it was small, square and as I remember it, white, with large storefront windows behind which racks of records were displayed, mostly 45s, a small wall of listening booths, and stereo equipment— lots of it.  I have no idea how I found out about it, being a small town boy who hardly ever visited the big city (and to me Eugene was big and a city), but I found myself one day, after much begging and emotional pyrotechnics, entering this Taj Mahal of vinyl.  I remember it like it was yesterday.

I think I may have gone in looking for one of the Moby Grape singles or possibly The YoungbloodsGrizzley Bear b/w Tears Are Falling, but I can’t really remember, so many  years have passed. I do know that they were two of the handful of singles I bought from Thompson’s that summer (Omaha being the Grape track of choice), singles which I covet to this day.  Momma waited out in the car as I shyly thumbed my way through a small rack of new releases and made my choices, big city Eugene teens bumping my country bumpkin ass to the side at will.  I eyed the listening booths, wishing for time and expertise to navigate my way through what to me was the Gates of Heaven, but with Momma waiting, I made my purchase and exited, a last glance confirming that this was a place I wanted to spend hours in— a true mecca of music.

I did visit Thompson’s a couple of times the next  year, going in with a long handwritten list of wants, coming out with maybe one on the list and a few unknowns.  My visits were constricted to those involving my sister who had left the mile-high University of Denver for the more comfortable and regional University of Oregon, but when Momma was in the mood, whenever we visited she would swing by Thompson’s on the way home, telling me to not be too long.  Visits for which I am forever thankful.

I don’t really know why I never went back the next year when I went to the University myself, but it may have been that I was slowly being dragged over the the Dark Side— that of albums.  My favorite haunts became the mundane— the University Bookstore, Bon Marche, and for cut-outs, Pay Less Drug Store.  Pay Less had one fairly large rack of albums which contained albums I had never heard of and I would slog through it maybe every two weeks.  That is where I purchased my first copy of The Family Tree‘s Miss Butters album for 69 cents  (and a few other less worthy titles).

But a couple of years later there was a new kid on the block— Chrystalship.  Many in Eugene and, later, Portland, will remember the stores, upbeat and large, records displayed on walls and on the floor in open boxes.  Here is what I wrote in one of my columns from 2013:

From that point on, it was album time and, boy was that a whirlwind of a time. It began innocuously enough— a Thirteenth Floor Elevators album here, a Grass Roots album there (and not the later sappy Roots but the Roots with roots, if you know what I mean). Ron Prindle started Chrystalship out of a small room on 11th (or was it 13th)? in Eugene. Chrystalship would become the largest freestanding onestore I have ever seen not long after moving to Portland. They never expanded beyond the one. Ron brought in real oddities— the Country Joe & The Fish 7-inch EP with the original version of Not So Sweet, Martha Lorraine on it; the Frumious Bandersnatch 7-inch on purple vinyl. Visiting him was like handing him my bank account number. Here, you might like this new Illinois Speed Press album he would say and would dig into my stash to find an album I had picked but he didn’t think worthy and would substitute. It was a habit I would repeat while I was in the Army. I would walk in the door at Long Hair Music Faucet in Portland or The Sun Shoppe in Lake Oswego with money in my hand, throw it on the counter and say, what do I need, and they would point to a wall containing the first Brinsley Schwarz or the first James Gang or any number of albums which I would grab until the money was gone. I loved those days. They didn’t have quite the adventure of the earlier days of the 45 treasure hunts, but I found some amazing music on those walls.

I was wrong on at least one count.  Chrystalship did have a huge store in Mall 205, but they also had the one in Eugene and the one at The Galleria in downtown Portland.  For some reason, I thought they had just moved product from one location to another, but no, they had expanded.

I wish I had a picture of Prindle.  He was elfish, though not small, bushy-eyebrowed and full of mischief.  He made me laugh, though his sense of humor was off-centered (in a good way), and I think he cut me a lot of slack (I was not the brightest bulb in the room at times) because when it came to music, I was adventurous.  He had an impish grin which made me wonder if I was being pranked, not unlike that of Clarence of “It’s a Wonderful Life” but more devilish whenever it spread across his face, but I always liked being pranked by him.  I have met fewer people who had a drier sense of humor and few who enjoyed sharing a laugh as much.

And he knew his music.  Maybe not like I did, for I was more encyclopedic, but he knew the guts of it.  He knew what made certain bands better than others and knew the various trends almost before the public did.  I remember asking him why he filled his floor with open boxes of albums.  I mean, it was not the most elegant of displays and took up a lot of space.  He said that people felt more attached to their music when they could touch it.  Before that time, I thought I and a few of my friends were the only ones who felt that way but he proved me wrong.  I spent half an hour watching people circle boxes with Cat Stevens and Cowboy and Moby Grape and Quicksilver albums, only one title to a box (which normally came in a count of 25), until they reached down and grabbed their choices of the moment.  That Eugene store sold tons of albums out of those boxes.  Like I said,  Prindle knew his stuff.

When Chrystalship folded, I lost all contact with him.  I think back to the visits we would have at the Eugene Downtown Mall store and the times we would meet with Sid Spear, our bass player, at the student union at the U of O for soup (for awhile, they made four different homemade soups every day and they were outstanding).  He made me laugh a lot.  I hope he still walks among us.

Before I leave the subject, when the store was in the little cubbyhole, Prindle had a helper— one Jim Swindel.  Whenever I stopped by and he was there, it was a laugh fest.  The guy knew how to turn a word.  A number of years later he walked into the Peaches store in Seattle as an A&M salesman/promo guy.  He would later work for Virgin America and, I think, maybe Island Records after he left A&M.  Man, that guy could spin a yarn

The Cool Thing About the Internet…

… and, conversely, the cool thing about certain music sites, is that you can find information nevertofore available regarding music and subjects related to it.  Just this weekend, I uncovered an old thread I had participated in on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums page regarding Boulder band Zephyr.  When I first started searching the Net for information on bands and artists, it was frustration at the least.  Lots of information (and misinformation) about Floyd, Beatles, Stones, Michael Jackson.  Almost nothing about Cargoe, Space Opera, Steve Young, Cowboy or any of the many unknowns and lesser-knowns.  That’s why I started calling people.

First up was Steve Young.  I had seen Young play at The Backstage in Ballard, Washington some years before and knew that Tim Otto had booked that show, so I set about contacting Otto who was perfectly okay with my contacting Steve is he was amenable.  He was and Otto sent me his phone number.  That resulted in a piece titled Steve Young:  Reluctant Son of the South.  (You can read it here)  Next up was Cargoe.  I figured a phone call might be the ticket, so I checked the White Pages in Tulsa for Max Wisley, figuring that there couldn’t be too many Wisleys named Max out there.  We made contact and it resulted in a piece titled Beautiful Sounds and Memphis Blues: The Story of Cargoe which will be placed on the No Depression website as soon as we can get the kinks worked out of the new program.  A friend had seen the article on Cargoe and asked me if I would consider writing one on Space Opera.  After much finagling and convincing on my and my friend’s parts, they agreed to participate and that ended up here.

I have written short pieces, long histories, thumbnail sketches and unrecorded opuses to various artists and bands, but this is not about me.  This is about my inspiration.  That old thread on the Hoffman site got me to thinking that there might be more out there since I last looked.  There was.  I ran across not only videos of tracks from the three major label releases Zephyr was afforded, but a video of two tracks from their last (and self-produced and -released) album, Heartbeat.  I may or may not take up the challenge.  Until I decide, though, I thought I would give both Zephyr and Tommy Bolin and Jock Bartley fans a look at what I found.  Before posting them, though, allow me to qualify the videos.  My favorite, by far, album by the band was their third, Sunset Ride.  It was smooth, jazzy and very well-produced.  The first two were harsh and bluesy (I could never quite get beyond Candy Givens‘ voice on the early albums).  The Heartbeat album lacked focus, what I consider a completist album (for those who loved the band, regardless of how they sounded/what they played— I fall in that category).  So when you listen, don’t give up on all of the videos because one did not impress.  If you don’t like it, go on to the next.  In fact, for those not into the bluesy side of things, go straight to the Sunset Ride tracks.  You won’t regret it.

Please keep in mind that some of the vids do not sync with the music.  They are being posted for both the pictures and film shots as much as the music.  This, sports fans, is music history.

Like I said, the early part was immersed in blues and most of my friends followed them because of Bolin.  Myself, I was on the fence about the possible success of the band, with or without Bolin.  It took Sunset Ride to make me a true fan, but fan I became, and an avid one.

Quite the difference, eh?  I would like to think it was the exit of Mr. Bolin and the entrance of Mr. Bartley but I am not so sure.  Sometimes it is time for a band to make a move and the harsh blues thing had gotten them pretty much nowhere.  The dominance of Candy Givens on the Sunset Ride album made all the difference, though it did not hurt to have a band presence as opposed to a personality presence.  The band split up for a short time, probably due to Candy’s penchant toward drugs.  Bartley joined Firefall and Zephyr disappeared until reforming for one last project: Heartbeat.  The focus was gone, however, and it was to be the last thing they ever did.  Not too long after, Candy was dead and the band a distant memory, even in the minds of fans (though not the ears).  Here is a video of the last gasp.

The story behind the band intrigues me to this day— the drugs, the success, the failures, the deaths.  Candy Givens should be remembered as one of the greats because the band had a good run and she was one hell of a shrieker.  I personally would take her over Janis Joplin any day, but what do I know?  None of my favorite bands ever make it.  The hazards of being a bottom-feeder.

I don’t remember the date of the issue, but a number of years ago Goldmine Magazine ran an interview with David Givens which filled in many of the holes in the band’s history.  For enthusiasts, I heartily recommend you track it down.

Era For a Moment…

That, sports fans, was EFAM’s Shelby Carcio belting out a vocal on Enough, a song from their album When Earth Meets Sky.  When I heard it I prepared myself for unmitigated success which would have booted them right out of my collection (success is my kryptonite), but it never happened.  It should have.  They were as good as any hard rocking band at the time.  And today, too.

The band has just released a new single, Fight the TideYou can listen to/order it here.

Tim Vesely…

Canadians may know Tim from Rheostatics but I found him through Jane Gowan who fronted the band Shade (she now fronts The Real Shade, readying an album for release as I type).  When I first heard Shade, she went out of her way to point to Vesely as producer (he, in fact, is producing the new album too) and mentioned his work in The Violet Archers, the band he formed after leaving Rheostatics.  I picked up on their first two albums and became enthralled with Vesely’s sense of Pop and Power Pop.  He has that certain touch which makes a song much better than it would be in someone else’s hands, you know?  Check these out.

Chances are Vesely has been recording in between gigs and bands and has tons of never before released tracks in the archives.  Perhaps he should consider gleaning out a few and putting together a retrospective?  That may be dreaming but my mother always told me I was a dreamer.  Please note that Philip B. Price of Winterpills just released a retrospective of his career titled Without Your Love I’d Be Nowhere At All and is one of the best releases of this year, to my mind.  Just saying that it can work.  Perhaps Vesely is working on it right now?

Years ago, Jeff Kelly and Laura Weller released an album titled Beneath Far Gondal’s Foreign Sky which I called a collection of “Wuthering Psych”.  Stepping back into another era, the duo who plays under the moniker Goblin Market, used the Bronte’s as inspiration and came up with a fascinating take on what could have been that era’s music of choice.  I recently revisited one of their videos which confirms my take back then (the release of the album, not the era of the Brontes).  Still holds true.

It seems like just yesterday that Albany, Oregon (or maybe it was Corvallis) band The Game Played Right caught my ear.  Their music was outside the norm, thriving on odd chord changes, always changing rhythms and a driving force in the form of two guitarists who were polar opposites but who worked so well together I could hardly believe it.  They were good but had a bit of work to do.  I said as much in an article I wrote and, wonder of wonders, the kids listened.  Not for long, though, because the band did not last all that long.  Well, recently, one of those guitarists, Joseph Maxwell, got hold of me and apprised me of a new band he was working with— Banners Raised.  I will be featuring them sometimes in the near future.  In the meantime, here is TGPR in the studio.  I have no idea which guitarist is Maxwell but that’s okay.  He doesn’t know who I am either..

Tommy Womack sings about life passing him by (if life it is).

When music is the driving force.  Chris Cacavas, Gary Heffern, and Steve Wynn.

I’m just playing now, so let us move on.  There aren’t that many this week, but here are this weeks…

Notes…

 

New from Parsonsfield

Two weeks ago I wrote about Caroline Cotter and her new album Home On the River.  Cotter has just started a long tour to support the new album.  I suggest you check out her touring schedule and if she’s playing anywhere near you, go.  It will be worth it.  Here is her first (and latest) official video, in case you have not heard her before.

I have heard Inara George before but I wonder if I ever really listened.  I like the flow of this song.  Everyone I have talked to who knows her music loves it.

A good five years ago I wrote a super-positive reviews of a Tillers album.  There was something about their reach into the past which intrigued me.  I am still intrigued.  And impressed.

Shades of Charlie Faye & The Fayettes…  this is Whitney Rose!

If the rest of Contrails‘ new album is similar to this track, I’m in.  Excellent song!

I posted this months ago, a video featuring the James River around, I assume, Richmond VA.  Dig the driving beat.  Ladies & Gentlemen, The Bush League.

=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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