Frank Gutch Jr: Rockin’ the Universe with The Claudettes, Rich Krueger, Gris-de-Lin, Tobias the Owl, Jerry Castle, Banners Raised, Andrew Ryan, Larkin Poe, and Stop Light Observations… Plus Notes

Holy shit! I am practically crying, the music gods are being so good to me.  Just discovered a band which is killing my brain cells and making me enjoy it! They are called The Claudettes and are out of Chicago and I am in love! Lordy, I must have somehow done something really really good. If I could only figure out what it was…

Which is how Notes would have begun had I decided to leave this in the Notes section.  The Claudettes, though, deserve more than just a mention. I guess if you had to put it in industry terms, they deserve a Grammy. I hate to say that because over the years I have lost faith in the various awards programs which  have been promoted by the various entertainment entities.  Grammys stand at the top of that list. My choices have never made it to the final list. Most have never even been nominated. Sometimes I consider this a living hell, being forced to watch the masses accept what they are handed by a system they do not understand. Do you know why sales for winners skyrocket the day after winning a Grammy? Because people have lost the ability to know what is good. They have to be told. As a result, I am slowly losing the will to live.

But I kid! Because for every winner there are hundreds of losers bolstering my love of and for music. Losers? Bah! Only idiots think in terms of winners and losers. Real humans think in terms of music! And, boy, do I get a rush from The Claudettes. They make me want to study them and what I am learning is like peeling an onion, one layer at a time.

The first two albums, 2013’s Infernal Piano Plot…HATCHED! and No Hotel were not band albums, per se. Johnny Iguana supplied piano with Michael Caskey handling drum chores. Yana was brought in to handle the vocals on No Hotel. By 2015, though. Iguana had settled on Berit Ulseth on voice, Zach Verdoorn on basses and guitars, and Matthew Torre on drums. This lineup was different. This lineup became the band!

There is an insanity which emanates from the fingers of Johnny Iguana which bolsters the music of their latest album, Dance Scandal at the Gymnasium. He pounds and he scrapes and threatens the keys at every turn with an unseen ferocity which leaves me wondering what is behind the rage, if rage it is. He was a punk first, a bluesman second (or perhaps they coincided). The early Claudettes recordings have a certain Paul Revere Like Longhair feel to them, piano-driven roots obvious, but they soon grew out of that, reaching deeper into the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and beyond. So many genres began to rear their heads, sometimes in a span of only a few bars, that the jump from riff to composition became less of the former and more of the latter as time passed. By Dance Scandal, the early phase had coalesced into more mature (and at times downright demented) presentations.

Dance Scandal, the track, is frantic, a soundtrack to the dark side— a modern day fight scene from West Side Story only boogie woogie-style.  Take off the woogie. I’m thinking maybe straight boogie. Taco Night Material borrows from Holland’s Gruppo Sportivo, though Iguana claims he had never heard that band (not surprising, considering their lack of popularity in the US), and Utterly Absurd, which ends the album, has a vestige of that early Revere style. And you have to love the song titles— Naked On the Internet, Death and Traffic, Influential Farmers (no farmers were hurt during the recording of this song— well, no influential ones, anyway).

God knows where Iguana would go if left on his own and we can be thankful that he has surrounded himself with bodyguards of exceptional talent. Berit Ulseth handles all correspondence for him, posing as vocalist for the band (as well as thumping on the occasional cowbell, I would bet). Her head-bopping is world class. Zach Verdoorn is personal bodyguard and confidante when not working up outstanding bass lines and screaming guitar solos. And then there is Matthew Torre, making sure that things do not get too chaotic by slamming those drums around.

Chances are these guys won’t be heading to Portland anytime soon. Not many venues between Chicago and Oregon, I guess.

Check in again later when I expose the blues connection. In the meantime, watch the videos and check our your local venues to make sure you don’t miss them when they come through.

Richard Krueger got hold of me the other day. See, I wrote a very positive review of his album Life Ain’t That Long and now he thinks I have taste. I have new songs, he wrote. Would you like to hear them? And then listed a good fifteen topics he included in one titled Don. How long is it, I asked, expecting at least fifteen minutes (one for every topic). Little over five minutes, he said, before sending the demo. All I can say is that this dude is on a roll. He rolled out the lyrics on a red carpet and boy, can he write! It will be awhile before the song is completed, but you can hear similar tunes by picking up Life Ain’t That Long. Soon to be a classic. Never heard Rich? I will let the music do the talking.

And my personal favorite…

It has been a long time coming, but Gris-de-Lin‘s album is finally here. Your Ghost was released in April of 2016 or thereabouts and she has spent the past couple of years working her ass off. I think the thing I like about her most (besides her music, of course) is her willingness to take chances. Here are two videos which will give you an idea of who she is and what she does so very well.

I have Sheldon Gomberg to thank for finding Tobias The Owl. I know the guy (and as far as I can tell, it is one guy— even though he referred to a band, he was solo on the one live video I have seen). Perhaps he performs like may do these days— solo and in a band.

If the sound is a bit rough for you, try this…

Gomberg had been working with him in the studio when he asked if I wanted to hear what they had accomplished. After checking with Tobias to make sure it was okay, Sheldon plugged me into the brand new album which will not be released until August. Tobias is a folkie, for sure, but crosses the lines between folk, soft rock and straight rock at will. He sports a decent voice— actually, better than decent— and writes up a storm. Some of the best of the songs of this genre I have heard in some time. The album is smooth, melodic and flowing and the production immaculate.

There seems to be a movement to return to the mainstream side of the melodic tunes right now and this album, to be titled A Safe Harbor for Wayward Echoes, is right up there with the best of them. I have to admit to having burned out of soft rock during the mid-70s, the whole Los Angeles scene so dominant as to drive me crazy, but a few decades has softened the edge. Beautiful is beautiful and that is pretty much what he does. That is Tobias The Owl. Mark it on your calendar. As of this moment, scheduled for August 28th if this year.

Ah, before I forget, Tobias duets with Laura Veirs, Ben Harper, and Inara George on three of the tunes. Nice stuff, indeed.

My God, it has been two years since Jerry Castle released his Not So Soft Landing album. Seems like just last week to me. Castle was one of the handful of new artists who heralded the move to mainstream mentioned above. Not So was packed with songwriting gems, so good that they tossed genre to the curb. I have often wondered how well the album sold, but that information seems top be controlled by dirty rat bastards who, if they cannot sell information, will sit on it indefinitely until the market appears.

Well, Castle has a new album on the way, too, and it is quite like nothing he has ever attempted. The core of the story wraps around a father of two who, while going through a divorce, begins to come unhinged and then, as if things could not be worse, the elections of 2016 fall on him like a ton of bricks.. You remember what that was like, right? Takes him out of his game completely. The single, Lil Bit, is scheduled for release in April with the album scheduled for June 22nd. Man, that is heady stuff. The title, Brand New Hello, has me scratching my head, but I am sure a few run-throughs of the album will stop the itch.

Truth be told, I am anxious to see where exactly it goes and to see, if it works well, whether Castle will take it further. When they are done right, concept albums are the best. The last two to knock me upside the head were Jaimie Vernon‘s Nightmare @ 20,000 Watts, a masterpiece of futuristic sci-fi in music/radio format form (review here), and Jim of Seattle‘s knockout sci-fi/fantasy rock opera of sorts, Both the Planet Frank & The Chet Lambert Show (review, kinda, here). Each of those had me freaking out. Now, I don’t expect Castle will follow the mildly insane paths taken by Vernon and of Seattle, but whatever he does, it could be damn interesting and maybe even intriguing. Stay tuned.

I don’t suppose anyone remembers me writing about this band from around Corvallis calling itself The Game Played Right? A lot of potential, I thought. Well, one of the two guitarists (both were way ahead of the curve) has surfaced in a band known as Banners Raised. They are metal with a touch of that screaming metal where the voice sounds as if it is being run through a woodchipper? Forgive me, I am just not sure what the genre is called. Well, that is what these guys do and I have to say that they do it well.  I just wanted to toss a couple of videos out here because they are gearing up to release a new album when they complete their new video. When it is done, we will post it, but until then you can see what they are all about by clicking on the videos below.

The really new kid on the block is not a kid at all. Andrew Ryan works out of St. Louis (which he spells Saint Louis, which had me wondering if they were two separate places— they’re not). He put the egg before the chicken, recording an album first and then putting together a band, though guitarist/vocalist Marie Marotti was there through the whole process. I have been talking with him for a short time and as he fills me in, the more intrigued I become. He is more of a talking poet than a vocalist, working his way through the various songs on varying levels. The songs are honest and forthright and tell stories beyond the norm.

For instance, the song Out of My Head in Ryan’s own words: The song “out of my head” is written about one of my best friends who was shot and killed one night in St. Louis out with some friends during the summer olympics. I was supposed to go with him and the others but for whatever reason ended up staying in. So after all of that happened I wrote the song and his mother used it in a video for his tree ceremony. They put his ashes in the ground with an oak tree at a local park which was really nice.

Ryan has stories behind the songs and behind the scenes. When the time is right, I hope to sit down with him and hear the whole story behind the musician and the man. In the meantime, here is a link to Ryan’s bandcamp page.

My old boss at Peaches has been on my ass to check out some of the bands which are turning Charleston SC on its ear.  Two stand out and are bands I more than likely would not bother with mainly because they are already popular beyond any means I have to help them. They are damn good, though, so here are a few videos of Larkin Poe and Stop Light Observations.

And as long as we’re jammin’ in the van, let’s end it with one of my favorites, Filligar

What say we hit them…


Frank Secich (pronounced sess-itch) last week brought a musician to my attention named Demos Papadimas who is presently working on an EP which, judging from this video, might be well worth hearing.  Being recorded at Ampreon Recorder in Youngstown, Ohio.  I had forgotten that Secich’s old band Blue Ash was from  that fair city, the home of Glass Harp.  Have they included GH in the R&RHoF yet? If not, screw them.  And watch this video.  That Demos guy has got something to say.  And sing.  And play.


Notary Sojac. God knows I love those guys, but many people, including fans, did not realize that they were, in effect, two bands? (Well, the truth is that they were many bands, evolving as they changed personnel) The last band changed enough that they changed the name to, simply, Sojac. I was already in L.A. by then, attempting to revolutionize the record business, when Steve Koski (now Riihikoski) sent me tapes of not only Notary Sojac, but Sojac. It took me awhile to adjust to the newer, jazzier format but I did. That was the first time I ever heard Cam Newton.  In fact, the picture of Sojac in this video is the first time I had ever seen a picture of Cam with Sojac. Or Sojac, at all. All of these people have been part of my musical journey. I am now in fairly constant contact with many of them and, if I can get my act together, will fill in many of the holes in their long and maybe-not-so-illustrious careers. The “not so” relating to financial success more than anything. This is Sojac.

And this is Notary Sojac.

I’m With Her has been bending ears and will continue to do so now that their new album See You Around has hit the streets. I can’t help but be impressed with the voices, the playing and, especially, the arrangements. It’s as if some music id meant to be.

Ever wonder how a music video is created? Here is the background behind the shooting of Bobby Messano‘s Bad Movie vid. Before we get started, though, let me say that Messano is one of the funniest musicians I know. I had almost as much fun slipping messages back and forth with him than I did watching the video (which still makes me laugh, after numerous screenings). First, “The Making Of…”, then the final product.

The banjo player/gunman? None other than Thom Bresh. Look him up.

News just came in that Tower Records’ Russ Solomon has died. While drinking whiskey and watching the Oscars. I don’t know about the Oscars, but Russ was known to have an appreciation for the spirits. I remember he used to visit stores and immediately introduce himself to the floor people. A class move from a class guy. RIP

Seriously, sports fans, have you checked in with Birch Pereira & The Gin Joints at all? I wrote a glowing review for No Depression which included a very cool music video. The album will drop this Friday and you shouldn’t miss it.  FYI, here is the vid.


Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at

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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Rockin’ the Universe with The Claudettes, Rich Krueger, Gris-de-Lin, Tobias the Owl, Jerry Castle, Banners Raised, Andrew Ryan, Larkin Poe, and Stop Light Observations… Plus Notes”

  1. Peter Montreuil Says:

    Nice work, Frank! Only you could work the fight scene from West Side Story and Larkin-Poe into the same column and pull it off!

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