Frank Gutch Jr: Music Millennium: Still Weird After All These Years; Meet Sid Hagan; Plus Them Glorious Notes

It plays like a loop in my head, the first time I visited Music Millennium. I remember the drive to Portland from Eugene, parking down the hill on East Burnside, the walk up the street and even opening the door. Had I filmed it, it could not be any more clear. I had been in many record stores before— in  fact, the guys with me were all denizens of Eugene’s House of Records— but this was different. This was the famed Millennium, the seller of imports, the mecca of what record stores should be as far as many of us were concerned. Tower Records may have had stores open at the time (it was the summer of ’72, though I have been saying ’71 for years and have only recently discovered my mistake) but the Pac Northwest didn’t know it. Why should we have cared? We had the Millennium!

It wasn’t always the Millennium, of course.  At one time, it was a Piggly Wiggly. Stop giggling, Millennials. At one time, Piggly Wiggly was a major grocery store chain. Kind of like Amazon but with real stores selling food. I had always thought it an East Coast chain because we didn’t have any in the Valley, but Portland had a few. Maybe one. I don’t know. I didn’t live there.

That first time through the door I could not imagine food being sold there. To the right was a counter behind which a guy stood. He looked up, we shouted imports, and he pointed straight ahead. Two bins. Today you might say “only” two bins, but two bins of imports seemed like a hundred. Two of the guys darted for the bins, I stopped to ask a question. Whoever it was handed me a mimeographed sheet of paper explaining it might help and I grabbed an extra few— one for every one of us. When I look back, I wonder if that might have been Don MacLeod or Dan Lissy, the co-founders of the store. Don was well known to Gary Haller, co-owner of the House of Records, but Gary was not with us that trip so he could not confirm.

By the time I got to the bins, The Duck and the other guy whose name I have forgotten had already stacked a quantity of albums on top, ones they wished to peruse at leisure when they made it to the end. The Duck? He was an old Army buddy who, when he exited the Army,  returned to his hometown of Prosser, Washington until he showed up on my doorstep in Eugene a few short months later. No prospects in Prosser, he said, so I invited him to stay. The Duck and I were friends and if we shared nothing else, it was music.

The Duck quickly became part of the HoR gang and there we were, sifting through imports like eight-year-old girls playing with Barbies. (To read more about the story behind The Duck, click here) I would like to say that we talked and shared while searching but it was more like assholes and elbows as we desperately tried to one-up one another. I swear that if one of us dropped an album (any album) on the floor, it would have been a scramble of epic proportions to recover it. God knows why. Neither of us had much money. I was more than likely limited to a twenty and The Duck not much more and imports were expensive, most going for a minimum of $5 or so at a time US records sold for less than three. There was something about imports, though. If we were limited to so few, we wanted to make the right choices.

The Duck’s major choice was Bakerloo, Dave Clemson‘s band before he joined forces with Colosseum.  I think they were three-man, though I would have to look it up to be sure. Mostly what I remember was a pile-driving sound of guitar over pounding drums and booming bass guitar. My choices included the first album by Help Yourself, unavailable in The States, and Grobschnitt, the first of a long stream of German albums I would eventually purchase. A year later, The Duck dubbed me Krautrock King and I would have been if I’d had more money, but I was only a serf compared to the guys I saw filling up their racks with the likes of Thirsty Moon and Neu and Guru Guru (I still laugh every time I think of my favorite album by then, called Kang? Kang? Guru! Guru!. Hell, that might not have been the title at all but that was what was on the cover and that’s the way I remember it.

The way the history books have it, the import arm of the Millennium, The Intergalactic Trading Company, did not happen until 1976 but I could swear it existed that day of our first visit. That was what the mimeographed sheets were all about— thumbnail reviews of the albums which actually made it to the store (many were “zeroed”, a term used when the distributor had none to send). I was sure those sheets were the doings of ITC. Then again, I once remembered this girl and when I met her later…

There was something very special about that store— the location, the era, the bursting open of what would become a multi-billion dollar enterprise. At the Millennium, for myself at least, it was all about the music. And the people. I did not know Terry Currier when he bought the store. I was living in L.A. and then San Diego before I moved to Seattle in 1978. But when I got to Seattle, word got to me quickly that the store was still there and, in fact, bigger and better than when I left. True that the golden era of imports had petered out to a degree, the big chains being serviced by distributors like JEM and the like, but Currier had made the original store a destination for vinyl lovers everywhere.

The music business was changing by the day then, major labels having found the gold at the end of the rainbow in mass marketing. The idea was simple. Putting big money behind proven winners made them bigger winners and filled up the company’s coffers quicker. Better one Saturday Night Fever than a hundred lesser hits and especially a thousand financial duds. All of a sudden, advertising money became attached to the support of mega-hits. Welcome to the world of skewed research and record and radio reports. They had always been there, true, but now stores more and more bought into the game.

To Currier’s credit, he resisted. I’m not saying he took an anti-major-label stance, but he did not play the game the way the labels might have wanted him to or many other store owners did. He stood his ground when he knew he was right, argued when he thought he was right, and tried to reach a meeting of the minds when he wondered about what was right. He began drawing lines in the sand and the labels tried to get him to cross them and let us just say that he became somewhat resistant.

That resistance came to a public head when Capitol Records and 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 sell promos. But he knew of many stores that did and felt that they were being unfairly targeted. The label suggested that perhaps advertising money should be withheld from those stores and Brooks came right out and stated that not just promos but all used stock should be barred from resale. Like he was God. What did Currier do? He broke out the barbeque!

He declared war on both Capitol and Brooks, using his favorite weapon, The Truth! He invited anyone who wished to to bring their Garth albums, CDs, or whatever down to  the store so they could barbeque them, a move which gained plenty of publicity for the plight of small record stores everywhere. It worked so well that Currier scheduled a run down the West Coast, doing the same at various record stores who invited him. Read what I wrote about it back in 2011 when I first started writing for DBAWIS HERE

The resulting tension between record companies and over a hundred independently owned record stores eventually resulted in a coalition of sorts— the IMRA (Independent Music Retailers Association).  Whenever a problem became apparent, phone lines lit up and the information passed along to others who might well be facing the same problem in the future, or present, as the case may have been. Currier was a key link but bowed to the will of the majority whenever something came up.

When the digital crunch came, the Millennium suffered along with the others. Sales figures dropped drastically and Currier and others were constantly putting heads together to solve problems as they occurred. At its peak, there were three Millenniums. Soon there was again one.

An Aside: I still hear arguments about what happened to music when the digital crunch hit. While it is true that file sharing was a huge part of music’s “business” demise, the major labels had been laying the groundwork for years. The business had grown for some decades and were at their topmost point grinding out an incredible amount of records/CDs/tapes like crazy. It happened partially because the labels’ model began including various “incentives” to keep things growing, like a looser credit system, a revised return system, and advertising for stores which purchased a certain amount of product. As mentioned above, the credit system became a major problem for both the smaller independent stores and the major labels. Some labels actually created a “tier” system to set prices— you had to meet certain criteria to receive discounts or an advertising budget. If Russ Solomon at Tower Records was good at anything it was selling space. You want your records in my stores, you meet my criteria. And, no, it wasn’t as simple as all that, but that was the basic idea. Labels were plain afraid to curtail any incentives given to Tower because they relied upon the huge sales of that company to keep the numbers rising. When certain labels announced they would be pulling back on those incentives to smaller stores and non-chain stores, the small store owners became irate. Eventually, the labels did just what they should not have— they began not selling to smaller accounts, forcing them to buy records at a higher price from a regular distributor. Soon, Tower was selling certain records for less than what a small store owner paid for them. The result was that the smaller stores began disappearing. The labels saw it and didn’t really care. By the time the problems reached the Towers and The Wherehouses and The Peaches chains, labels were looking at a razed landscape. Few stores to be found in which to sell their goods. Add that to the advent of the digital revolution and you can basically see who was responsible. The labels shared most of the blame. They were greedy and short-sighted and as much as they would have loved to have put the onus on digital, the people who knew what had happened knew better. This was the new landscape foisted upon all stores, but the smaller independents felt immediate impact. Most were forced out of business. Only a few survived.

A few years ago, Currier was up against it. Sales were way down and things looked somewhat hopeless, especially when they found that the infrastructure of the store need work. The roof leaked, a few structure problems needed addressing. Someone mentioned to Currier that he should try crowdfunding. I know Currier. I know what it took out of him to admit that he needed help. What he did not realize was how many people felt The Music Millennium was theirs, too. It had been a cornerstone of not only the neighborhood but of the entire city. When word hit the street, the response was overwhelming. They reached their goal and the store still stands— I would venture to say doing better than it has for quite some time. While it may have started with the music, it spread way beyond it. Save The Millennium became a battle cry and reunited many of us who had relied on the store and Terry Currier for years, some of us not even realizing it.

The reason I write this is that I talked with an old friend the other day— Danny Drinkwater. Danny took over buying singles at Peaches in Seattle when I was handed cutouts and imports. We became immediate friends and laughed our way through the few years until he left for greener pastures. We never lost touch. Turns out, Danny has ended up at The Millennium, for now. Not because he needed a job but because Terry Currier needed someone to ease the load, as it were. During that conversation with Danny, I realized just how much that store had given me over the many years since walking in that door so many years ago. I realized that I had bragged about that store more than any other, that many doors were opened to me because I had been there in the beginning phases, that so many of the records I truly loved had been purchased there. Danny invited me up to visit him at the store. I have been threatening to visit with Currier but, truth be told, I hate taking time away from what he needs to do to get things done. But I will be going up there soon. With luck I can have a decent lunch with both of the guys, though to see them and talk with them I would settle for gruel.

Piggly Wiggly. I never would have thought that a grocery store chain would have such an impact.

Meet Sid Hagan

You would think he was the second coming of Lost Leaders. When he tracked me down, it was at the suggestion of Keith Morris (of & The Crooked Numbers fame. Paul Curreri co-produced and played on his new album, SERE, and Devon Sproule sang on it. I evidently am the only one not from Charlottesville in this story. But, in a way, I am not. Years ago I discovered Charlottesville and its vibrant and important music scene and have followed it closely since. It brought me to Hagan, just as it should have. This is my kind of music from my kind of place.

The connection to Lost Leaders should be an automatic for my friends. Byron Isaacs and Peter Cole have picked up on a lot of the values that made early seventies rock so good, though most are just finding that out now, and have produced an album (Lost Leaders) and an EP (Heavy Lifting) that takes me back to the days of Dave Mason‘s Alone Together and Steely Dan‘s Can’t Buy a Thrill and a large number of lesser known albums of the day which waylaid me on my journey to the rest of my life. The seventies were incredible. The seventies were magic. The seventies were, for me, the best rock music period I had ever experienced. Actually, I say that about most periods, but I mean it this time.

Lost Leaders know it. Sid Hagan should too. I can tell. They have the feel and the sound and the emotion I heard over and over again back then. The same sense of creativity and purpose.

As we passed messages back and forth he slowly loosened up and revealed himself. There is a lot to know about Sid. This is his first solo project, though he has played on a lot of projects. He began his music journey back in the days of which I speak, running into walls on a fairly constant basis. He has struggled with the music and gotten lost in it. Things could have been better at times though he doesn’t really complain, only makes the statement. He credits Devon Sproule for being instrumental in getting him back to writing, Paul Curreri for his work, especially in the studio. He credits the musicians, some of whom laid down the tracks years ago. He is humble and says he didn’t put this album together for accolades or fortune. He says he just wanted it out there and I have a feeling he is not lying, but I have yet to meet a musician who doesn’t care what people think of his or her music.

I have listened to Sere numerous times over the past just-less-than-a-week. It is beautifully recorded and a treat for the ears. It strikes notes I had thought might not be struck again. It struck hard on the last track, just as it should have. You never want to put your strongest track first, an engineer once told me. It is better left for the last unless it finds its own place. I don’t know. Maybe Sere is not the strongest track. Maybe the rest of the album makes me think it is. Maybe I needed to hear the rest before I was ready.

I will be reviewing the album soon. It is not an easy task, reviewing albums like this. There is always so much to explain or maybe nothing at all. I never know. If I know anything at all, I know how very important these songs are to Sid Hagan. I can tell by the obvious care put into the songs and the recordings. I can tell by the way Curreri handled it and by the superb vocals Sproule added.

Albums like this makes me wish I could be the Maxell Man, ensconced in that overstuffed armchair, the sound from the speakers blowing my hair back. I don’t have long hair anymore (though I do have hair, thank the gods) but I would grow it for that experience and this album.

http://www.okthenrecords.us/sid-hagan.html

With that, what say we get to them damn…

Notes…

Gott in Himmel! as that German guy in The Blackhawks would say. Sweet Talk Radio is on the verge of releasing another album! I thought I might have to walk down to SoCal and rough them up a little, but they say it is practically done. And this is indication that it might be.

I found STR many years ago when they appeared on an album by, I think, Atomic Factory, and never looked back. The combination of Tim Burlingame and Kathrin Schorr is truly music to my ears and when  they scored a couple of songs in the TV program, Haven, I was thrilled. Here is what one of them looked like. Oh, before I forget, the new album is titled Horology and can be found here.

I had no idea who were the Copenhagen Collaboration until I watched this video. It features two members of Alcoholic Faith Mission. Can anyone clue me in one who the other artists are attached to?

Sometimes you have to kick up your heels a little. Or not. Wood & Wire

From an impromptu appearance in Europe— The PosiesKen Stringfellow and pop maven Mimi Schell.

Say what you will about The Cowsills, they put out some damn good music. I completely missed this song but after watching a documentary on the band called Family Band: The Cowsills Story, I really wish I hadn’t. Going back through the old albums, I was stunned at how well the songs held up over the years. And all I can say about Some Good Years is that regardless how they would have fit in musically in 1990, it should have been a hit.

No family should have gone through what they went through. I’m sure there were worse cases, but I can’t even imagine them.

For those who know something about the band, here is an absolutely fascinating interview with Bill Cowsill, who very much later ended up in a Canadian group known as The Blue Shadows, one of those bands which might well have made it if life hadn’t gotten in the way.

For those who know a little Morse Code, here is a message from Elouise regarding Moral Code.

You Are Wolf

I like the new Courtney Barnett album a lot!

Why aren’t The Tillers a household name?

Charlie Parr is back!!!!!

There is something about Ned Hill

=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.”

One Response to “Frank Gutch Jr: Music Millennium: Still Weird After All These Years; Meet Sid Hagan; Plus Them Glorious Notes”

  1. Bob Darlington Says:

    This was sent to me via a Canadian friend, what a great read,so much truth in there mate, and sadness at times. But hey, I enjoyed it very much, thank you.

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