Frank Gutch Jr: For Vinyl Newbies: A Primer On Cutouts and Promos; 5 Seconds of Summer (Is 5 Seconds Too Long); Plus Aural and Visual Gems (Otherwise Known As Notes)

See what I did there? I made it seem like you might learn something. Jeez, the hoops we writers have to go through to make you pay attention. I was thinking I might have to revert go porn, but maybe explaining the fun side of the record biz might help. As Ron Davies wrote and Long John Baldry made famous, it ain’t easy.

Thing is, some of you may not understand it. Hell, I didn’t understand a lot of it even while it was happening, but what the hell. Maybe together we can make sense of it. To attempt to do that, you have to take yourself way back to the Stone Age and the days of Fred Flintstone and that ancient turntable which used a bird as a tone arm. It will also show you that stupidity was not limited to today’s world. Yep, people fell for that shit. That is why you could be sure of two things in any small town in the US— coffee and cigarettes. Better add booze to the mix. Lots of that too.

Well, that turntable is not far from the turntables we used when I was young. No birds, of course, but the idea was the same. Vinyl to needle to amp to speaker.  Same as today, basically, though those today are probably hooked up to digital some way. Digital. We had no clue that 1’s and 0’s could do so much.

But seriously, before everyone had a record player, everyone had a radio. Getting the picture? For years, radio was one of the main sources of entertainment for those outside the cities (and yes, in the cities as well). It supplied news, variety programs, what they would call “reality shows” today (What? You thought American Idol was a new concept? People lacked taste back then too), sports (some of those old announcers were better at play-by-play than all but a few in later years), and music. Not pop music or rock ‘n’ roll, you understand. High-brow. Classical and traditional music. When ratings started falling and money got tight, records began making a real difference, especially at the local level, but it took awhile.

Records really started making a difference in the late-forties and early-fifties when music started making inroads to the youth of the world (or maybe it was just The States back then), signaling the true beginnings of pop culture. Hillbilly was just about to give way to Country & Western and Race records would become R&B and rock. Everything picked up speed and soon it was all about airplay. Everything quickly became no airplay = no money. Naturally, promotion became the name of the game.

The first actual promotional stamps I saw were on 45s (singles) and they were placed there by record labels, rather the promoters. In retrospect, two stick (and stuck) out. Tony Richland and Jerry Dennon.  Richland was one of the biggest, working out of Los Angeles. His name would show up on the occasional 45 , hand-stamped, saying something like “Thanks from Tony Richland”. The name stuck in my head because I had never seen anything quite like it until I saw a 45 by The Little Dippers.

It had been out for a short time and really wasn’t going much anywhere (radio was an iffy game around 1960) when Dennon came up with this idea. Depending on the station, news was usually on the half hour, but always on the hour and disc jockeys needed to program for that. Why not, suggested Dennon, use a short track, preferably an instrumental, to lead in to the news? The Dippers’ Forever timed in at 2:21 and, while it featured The Anita Kerr Singers, was essentially an instrumental with vocal overlay. Radio stations began using it as such and the rest is history. Forever made it in to the Top Ten, reaching #9 on the Billboard charts, and sold a ton. Dennon, who either lived in or at least favored the Pac Northwest, saw an opportunity to mine rock gold and utilized his connections in radio to launch his own company, Jerry Dennon Enterprises, under which umbrella he placed hos own labels— Dennon, Piccadilly, and Burdette. The labels did very well, thank you, and gave the world The Kingsmen‘s Louie Louie and a string of regional hits.

Radio and records joined hand-in-hand during the next number of years to create a dynamic business atmosphere. It seemed like everyone won for awhile, from Dick Clark to The Real Don Steele to Wolfman Jack and Robert W. Morgan and Pat O’Day. The real loser would end up Alan Freed, who was scapegoated in 1962 for accepting money for playing specific records (payola) which ended his career.

The business grew so fast in the late-sixties and early-seventies that record labels had trouble keeping up. While paying money to play specific titles was nixed, promotional items were not. Of all the items available, free records was the most common. Originally just handed to stations and occasionally to specific jocks, they soon felt a need to set up a system. Some labeled the records as promos, both singles and albums. Some cut corners on album jackets. Some sawed into the jackets with a jigsaw or holes were drilled in the corners. That was mainly so the jocks could not return the records to a store for full credit.

Out of this system came the famed White Label Promo (WLP). Not always marked as promos, the white labels gave them away as non-returnables. Eventually the records became somewhat collectible due to the smaller numbers being pressed. (There was a rumor that albums with white labels were better pressings, too, due to being the first off of the line at the pressing plant. I never believed it but still treasured the WLP items I had).

In the early seventies, certain labels began to realize that they had created a monster. They had not foreseen the used record crazed growing like it did and began looking for ways to stop them from being resold, claiming that the records belonged to them, no matter who they “loaned” them to. They tried suing, taking records directly out of the racks of certain stores, stamping them with identification numbers (which might have worked, if anyone had taken the trouble to actually keep paperwork on them), and trying to get some back after a certain period (by then, the records were usually already sold to a used shop or so ratted out nobody wanted them anymore). I watched one guy who worked for Columbia Records come in to the House of Records in Eugene and stack up all the CBS records in the racks and try to take them. Gary laughed and told him to put them back in the  racks or leave, at which time he huffed off, saying he would be back with the authorities. The authorities must have had more important things to do because we never saw him again.

A few years later I got my first real record store job (meaning pure retail and no used) at Licorice Pizza in Los Angeles. They had a small half-rack of cut-outs which sold from anywhere from 99 cents to a buck-ninety nine. The store didn’t sell all that many, though in just a couple of years cutouts became a sensation. The store which did sell a lot of cut-outs was Pacific Discount on Sunset in Hollywood. They had two huge bins at the entrance to their store, all records priced at 69 cents. I had talked Gary at the House of Records to let me buy a few records in L.A. to send to Eugene. Good titles, but he stopped it when he got his 75th copy of Steve Young‘s Rock Salt & Nails album. I could not pass up a good thing, even at the risk of bankrupting the store. I still consider that one of my most important purchases, whether Gary could sell them or not.

I hit Seattle in 1978 and landed a job, thanks to Marty Feldman (no, not THAT Mary Feldman, but he was a great guy anyway) who needed a singles buyer. The first couple of months I handled hits and oldies while writing up returns for hours on end so Peaches could survive. When the store was somewhat cleaned up, Marty handed me Imports and Cutouts as a thank you. Now, all of the buying of Imports and cutouts was done through the head office. All I did was choose quantities of titles on a list.

The company was in trouble. One way to alleviate the money trouble was to switch stock from store to store by title and for our store it worked perfectly.  These titles were on the list:

Cargoe/Cargoe— 200 to 300

Big Star/#1 Record— about 200

Big Star/Radio City— 200-300

All four Amazing Rhythm Aces albums on ABC Records— 300 or so each

I got so excited I called instead of sent the request. The Cargoe and Big Star titles were already gone. We got all of the Aces titles. Took us about a month to sell them all at $2.99   each.

We got a lot more from various stores. Product already bought, sitting in plain sight at other stores, as good as dead. Our cutout sales went up for the next month. Way up.

Not long after that, we were the lucky recipients of an MCA cutout dump. It appears that they needed to clear out space in a few of their warehouses and sold off thousands of album as cutouts and even gave us ad money to help sell them. Here is what we got:

75% of the entire ABC/Impulse jazz catalogue. True, some titles were small quantity, but many counted 25 and above. Titles by McCoy Tyner, John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Elvin Jones and a ton of others. There were so many records that we placed them in stacks on the floor so people could walk through the garden, as it were, and grab anything they liked. Lots of older MCA titles, too. I remember when the shipment came in. You would have thought it was Christmas, the old geezers standing next to the boxes, unopened, drooling. I actually let a few of them help me open the boxes and price the records. It was a party. Most went for $1.99, but there were titles from $.49 to $4.99. We (meaning I) priced them according to what I thought the market would bear. As har as I know, no one went home unhappy.

That cutout gig was one of the funnest buying gigs I ever had. After the bankruptcy was settled and Seattle became a stand-alone store, I was in charge of the whole thing. I was smart enough to pass along the catalogues to a few of the more knowledgeable people before ordering. One thing I knew was that ego gets in the way of buying. I tried to let others chip in.

Whenever a new catalog came in, I would take it home.  Things got hectic at the store and I was always flailing my arms hoping not to sink. At home, it was quiet. I could think. Certain distributors were good for certain genres. Scorpio out of New Jersey was one of the largest and best. Getting their catalog was like getting that Christmas catalogue everyone talks about these days. Albums from a quarter up to about $3.00 a pop and you got to choose. One Way was decent. Square Deal out of, I think, either Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo came up with some beauties out of the Pac Northwest, including albums released (or maybe not even really released) by First American Records, Dennon’s followup distributor to Jerden Records. I remember seeing The Kingsmen/Greatest Hits and an album by PH Phactor which I had never seen on First American’s lists. Bought them both. Sold every copy. We also bought copies of the first two Pac NW compilations on First American, which we had been selling at regular price until we could no longer get any.

See what I mean? It was fun! Everybody wanted my job! And the boss wondered why I refused to do anything else. He wanted me to manage one of his stores. I knew that I would be fired within a month if I did that and, anyway, I loved the indies. Nothing more fun than ordering the oddball titles. It kept me alive and connected.

Guess What, 5 Seconds of Summer, You Are a Boy Band, Like It Or Not…

 

I watched a half hour program on AXS-TV this week about a band out of Australia calling themselves 5 Seconds of Summer and could not make heads nor tails of it for a number of reasons, the most prominent which was they live on another freaking planet! Not the band, necessarily, though they certainly think more highly of themselves than I do (and by a long shot), but the people talking about the band. Is the music business so schizophrenic that the heart cannot understand the other blood organs. Apparently, it is.

At least three people talked about the band, supposedly coming at them from points of their expertise. The two guys sounded pompous in their explanations of both the band and the State of Pop Music, In other words, they rambled without saying much of anything. One lady was listed as a “presenter”, whatever the hell that is, and sounded like some sort of PR person, and the other, listed as Sunna something, Masqueraded as a music journalist of some kind, though I could not figure out what kind.

The whole program was basically a rundown of the band’s career, which has not been all that short, and a look at music video after music video of their hits. I should put quotation marks around hits because though they were and are certified, I again wonder on what planet. I almost laughed when the supposed experts and the band members themselves talked about the videos as they flipped from one to the next to the next without any discernible change in style, though they claimed otherwise. All I heard was Bieber, Bieber, Bieber, Bieber— formula pop for the masses. To listen to the boys in the band, you would have thought they were more Pink Floyd.

It struck me that music is schizophrenic in more ways than one. Whereas the people on this program thought that these guys had something, I couldn’t hear what it was, but a few million viewers thought they did. It has always been that way, I guess, my early days separating MOR from Pop from Rock from Country & Western from Classical from squawking geese jazz… You know where I’m going with this.

I think if the panel they had lined up weren’t so damned smug with their answers, I could have just written the boys off as wannabes and put them behind me, but when supposed journalists throw a few thousand words together which either make no sense or are there to blow smoke up people’s asses, including their own, I get ticked. The truth is that there are so many bands better than these kids which do not get attention, let alone money, that I want to round-robin  their panel, which was not a panel, really, but individuals blowing smoke on their own and spliced in.

The boys did make one point, though. They did not want to be called a boy band. Of course, one kid said that was because they played instruments. All I could think was, sound like a duck and you’re a duck, Percy.

I didn’t know there were close to 225 million  eleven year old girls on this planet.

Or 127 million 8-year-old wannabes.

If I wanted formula, I would just listen to Modern Country. But I think these guys may have something to say, though I think they cut 5 Seconds too much slack.

Where the hell are my Rolaids? Ach, it doesn’t matter. It’s time for…

 

Notes…

We keep getting closer to the release of the new album by Ireland’s The Minnows, Michael Rafferty keeps telling me, but I haven’t seen it yet. I think Rafferty and band might have fallen into a black hole, yet videos keep popping up. The first was back in 2016 when they put one of their songs, What Was I Supposed To Do, behind a video of two friends and lovers who had agreed to walk away from one another years before finally meet once again. It brought tears to my eyes, and still does, possibly because I had no one to meet myself and at moments have felt the clutch of the heart when loneliness overcomes.

Or maybe it was Oh, Man, which also showed up in ear ly 2016, heralding the impending release of that still-not-released second album.

Or Come Home Soon, also released on video in 2016.

I would be upset if it wasn’t for the fact that their first album, recorded and released in the late 1800s, wasn’t so goddamn good. Leonard Cohen Was Happy Compared To Me is to me what Dark Side is to Floyd purists. I still listen to it fairly regularly just to hear their signature harmonies. Still, Rafferty, don’t try my patience. For you who have missed it, here are a few samples.

What’s a roonkin, you ask? Hell if I know. I did say they were Irish, right? You don’t even begin understanding them until that fourth Guiness.

Bill Carter. Here’s a guy who should be getting a lot more respect than he is being given. Sure, musicians dig the guy, but I’m talking about music fans. Take a listen to Crossfire. Maybe it will change your mind.

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SHEL has yet to let me down. I dig these guys.

The Division  Men, huh? I likee.

Alistair Greene plays Billy Gibbons and Tom Vickers. For all you ZZ Top fans out there.

Meanwhile, over in yonder gully, Sideline is makin’ some noise.

Be back next week when we will go over the financial investing errors of various bands in the early-seventies.

=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.”

2 Responses to “Frank Gutch Jr: For Vinyl Newbies: A Primer On Cutouts and Promos; 5 Seconds of Summer (Is 5 Seconds Too Long); Plus Aural and Visual Gems (Otherwise Known As Notes)”

  1. I once asked Pat O’Day about the instrumentals they played before the news every hour. I wondered if the promotions people ever targeted promotion for those spots (“bumpers” in radio lingo). He said no, but I wonder. I heard and then bought more Booker T & the MGs than I ever would have without those bumpers.

  2. […] then Capitol artist Garth Brooks began calling for the heads of owners of stores who sold promos. (Read about them here) In the way of explanation, Currier had resisted the temptation of turning rust to gold. He did not […]

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