Frank Gutch Jr: Gypsy: Rock and Roll Nomads – The Documentary; Steve Lalor R.I.P.; Plus a Few Delicate Little Notes

Back in the days when music ruled the world, we all had our benchmarks. The night The Beatles played Ed Sullivan. That day at Altamont. The many deaths of greats and those who would have been greats, from Buddy Holly to Duane Allman and too many others. Musical moments which marked where you were in your life and how important music was. Because music used to be that important.

It was late summer, 1971, and I was in Denver with my mother, visiting relatives. Momma and Grandma decided they needed to go shopping so we headed over to the Westminster area where they had this huge (by Oregon standards) mall— lots of dress shops, food places, sporting goods stores. While they gamboled about, I searched for and found, surprise of surprises, a record store. I can’t remember which one but it was smaller than the Music Millennium in Portland but larger than most I had found up to then. Lots of records, quite a number of customers, and a sound system which stopped me in my tracks. It wasn’t the sound system but the music. I stood in one place for a good five minutes just listening and finally went up to the counter to ask who it was. “Gypsy,” the dude said and handed me the album jacket. I stood there reading everything there was to read, engrossed in a sound I had never quite heard before— jazzy and punchy with vocals and harmonies as smooth as you could hope for. When the side ended, I thought about asking them to play more but, realizing that it was a place of business, handed them the album jacket and headed to the “G’s” to grab a copy. So you can hear what I heard, I place this audio snapshot of the entire first album as evidence.

The album may not have changed my life, but it changed a part of it. I fell hard for that band and over the next handful of years cheered loudly (to no avail) as each of the next three albums were released. The first, the one I purchased at that store, was on the Metromedia label and was self-titled. Why the store had been playing it I have no idea because the album had been released months before (1970) and was not, per se, a “new release”. The second, In the Garden (1971), I found later that year at The House of Records in Eugene, Oregon, also on Metromedia. The next two albums (Antithesis and Unlock the Gates), released in 1972 and 1973 respectively, found a home on RCA Records— the production a bit smoother and the music slightly more commercial. All were better than good, all had that distinctive Gypsy sound, all should have been hits. That is not opinion. That is fact.

So what happened? That is part of the reason this documentary is so important. Gypsy wasn’t the only band to release superb albums in the seventies— or any decade, truth be told— only to fall through the cracks. I could name a bunch, some only now getting the credit they have deserved over the years. What happened? Each band has a story and each asks the same question. I wish I had the answers. Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads chronicles the band’s existence, to a large degree, and until understanding that, all is speculation.

The story entails a rock band, The Underbeats, very popular on the Minneapolis teen circuit of the early- to mid-sixties— one of three which ruled the roost in the area. James C. Johnson led that band and, thanks to the draft, had to serve in the military, much of that time in Viet Nam. Doni Larsen made a deal with Wally Walstad to fill in for the two years Johnson would be serving and, two years later, true to his word, Johnson came back to once again lead the band, which then also included James Walsh, who had joined at the same time as Walstad.

Though I had been a fan for years, I had little information about the early days. Pre-Internet, it was always hard to get information and once you got it, next to impossible to vet. For years, all I knew was that The Underbeats was the name of a previous band. Little did I know that the name of the band when it moved to Los Angeles was still The Underbeats. This, to me, is fascinating and crucial information, as were the stories about recording the first Gypsy album, getting the gigs at Gazzarri’s and, later, The Whiskey

Fascinating and crucial seems to be the core of Rock & Roll Nomads, but lack of time allowed left many holes unfilled, stories untold. I loved the last 30 minutes or so of the film, those covering James Walsh’s picking up of the Gypsy flagon to not necessarily continue the legacy but to add to it. The James Walsh Gypsy Band is important in the grand scheme of things, but I would rather they had saved it for another film— an addendum. For me, Gypsy died along with Enrico Rosenbaum. Rosenbaum was the core of the band— or I should say, the writing core. God knows I loved every one of those guys because each and every one of them created the sound and creativity and without them the band would not have been the same. James C. Johnson, of course, who founded and kept the band alive, from The Underbeats through Gypsy. Doni Larson not only does an excellent job covering the high and low points of the band but played solid bass (and judging by what he said, handled many of the managerial chores as well. Jay Epstein, whose drumming was the driving force behind the time changes and the beat. James “Owl” Walsh, the man who made the organ scream and who supplied the signature high vocal harmonies. And Enrico Rosenbaum.

According to the film, Walsh and Johnson wrote songs and collaborated on the expansion of more than a few Rosenbaum tunes into what I consider classics, Dead and Gone (11:07) and Tomorrow Is the Last To Be Heard (5:48) from the first album prime examples. But the songs themselves were all Rosenbaum.

The film covers the Superjam which took place in St. Louis in 1977, radio station KSHE‘s involvement in the regional popularity of the band and lightly glosses over the death of Rosenbaum (most claim it was suicide, the official cause of death, but many did not accept it). The Superjam gig, by the way, was Rosenbaum’s last with the band.

The holes… the holes. Thanks to a number of friends (specifically Julie Taylor Halyard), I made contact with Randy Cates who replaced Willie Weeks who had replaced Doni Larson as bassist in the band and a few holes were filled in. (Weeks played bass on the In the Garden album) After talking with Cates in 2012, I wrote this:

Talking with Randy, I learned how much I didn’t know about Gypsy. How misconceptions grew over the years and muddied reality. How the music happened organically rather than in the vacuum I had always imagined. I learned of problems and situations and of the highs and lows they all experienced. I learned how Rosenbaum (Rico, to Randy) died and his importance to the band and that Gypsy played on bills with groups now considered “classic” (meaning more popular than Gypsy ever dreamed of). I learned that many thousands of fans did see them live and that my conception of them playing in small town taverns between stripper acts was delusional (how else could I explain the fact that in all of my years in the record business, I met only a few who had heard of them and none who had actually heard them). How could a band back then open for Chicago or Poco and remain virtually unknown?

Randy set me straight. He kept saying things like “and I’m not exactly sure how this happened” and “someone else might know” but he knew— not always the little tiny details, but enough. Set yourself. This is not the Cliff’s Notes version of Randy’s involvement with Gypsy, but it is necessary to really understand…..

“Prior to Gypsy, I was playing at The Cellar in Fort Worth, which was an after-hours place,” Randy began. “I was playing with John Nitzinger at the time and there was a band from L.A. playing there whose guitarist was Tony Peluso who later played with The Carpenters on all their hit songs. He told me I needed to come to L.A. and said he would help me find a gig there, so I sold my 1955 Chevy Nomad, bought another car, rented a trailer and was off to Southern Cal. I lived in a cheap hotel for awhile, then rented an apartment near Sunset and Highland. I got some local gigs by using the gig board at a large music store on Sunset. From those, I got a gig at The Brass Ring Club out in the Valley. The band was called The Blue Rose Band. Terry Furlong, who later played guitar for The Grass Roots, hired me. We played Sundays. After about a month, the drummer was hired by Delaney & Bonnie and a new drummer was hired— Bill Lordan from Minnesota, who was between gigs and was waiting for this gig with a band called Gypsy. When we played the Blue Rose gigs, the members of Gypsy would come in to see Bill and I became friends with them. This was just before the In the Garden album (the band’s second). After a bit, Bill left to plays gigs with Gypsy and to do some recording. When Bill left, Dewey Martin of Buffalo Springfield took over on drums. One Sunday, Gypsy’s road crew comes into The Brass Ring and says Willie Weeks is quitting the band right after they finish recording to join Donnie Hathaway‘s band. They wanted me to play bass. My reaction? When do I start?

“No date was given, so I kept playing with The Blue Rose Band. I got a call from a Texas friend, Jerry Lynn Williams. He needed me for some dates to showcase his tunes for Capitol Records and others. They were mostly club dates and record company showcases. Snuffy Walden and Johnny Nitzinger‘s old drummer, Linda Waring was also in that band. It was a great band, but we didn’t get paid much. No money. It was time to go. Snuffy moved to Denver and Linda went back to Texas. After about six months, Gypsy was still not ready for me. I moved back to Fort Worth and my old gig at The Cellar. One day I get this call from Snuffy asking me to come to Denver. He was working with a band called Afrodity and the bass player wanted to play keyboards, so they needed a bass player. So I went to Denver. Two months later, the guy decided he wanted to play bass again so there I was, in Denver and out of work. So I head for L.A. A long drive back! When I arrive there, I have no place to stay, so I go by the Gypsy house in Laurel Canyon to see what was happening. I knocked on the door and Timmy, the road manager, opens it and says, ‘Perfect timing!’ I moved into the house that night and the gig was on!

“It was a big house off of Laurel Canyon Road and everybody lived in it. Well, Jim Johnson lived in his own house and Jim Walsh was married and lived in his own house, but all of the road crew, myself, Rico and his girlfriend and Bill Lordan lived in that house. It had this huge living room where we had all our gear set up. When we were in Minneapolis, we rented the bottom floor of a vacant building in the Northeast section.”

Didn’t you audition or at least play for them, I asked.

“No. They came out to see The Blue Rose Band when I was playing with Bill and more or less just offered me the gig. Of course, they weren’t ready for me yet, hence the trips to Texas and Denver. Well, when I got there and saw their itinerary… They were the house band at The Whiskey and had a tour with Poco lined up. There were gigs at The Fillmore East and The Fillmore West and there was The Atlanta Pop Festival. The money wasn’t that great back then. It was the opportunity!

“We went right into writing tunes and working on the third album. We played out on some gigs, but mostly it was working on tunes. I could tell right away that those guys had been together for years. When Rico started singing a song, the other two guys (Walsh and Johnson) would start singing and it wasn’t five minutes before they’d have it. There was a natural harmonization between the three of them.

“We recorded Antithesis in L.A. at the RCA Studios. They had huge studios in the RCA Building there on Sunset Boulevard. It was the first album I did with the band and I poured my heart and soul into that thing. I think I played, especially on the song Antithesis, some of the best lines I’d ever come up with. And I wrote the single for the album— “Day After Day”. I wrote the music and helped Jim Walsh with the lyrics. 

“You see, I left Texas for L.A. because I wanted to get away from the three-chord blues changes. Fort Worth has always been more of a blues town than any other style of music, but I grew up playing Motown. I loved Motown. Moving to L.A. was my way of getting away from the blues and getting into what I really wanted to play, if I could find it. And Gypsy was it. They were more soul and R&B as opposed to blues and rock. It was a perfect fit. See, what you had there was a soul rhythm section with three fabulous vocalists who blended beautifully. It was a real treat. I felt like I had found my niche.”

Cates was obviously a full-fledged member by the time the third album, Antithesis, was released. Then Gypsy hit the road.

“We were mostly an opening act in the larger venues,” said Cates. “Whenever we played in Minneapolis, like at the State Fair or The Depot or any of the bigger clubs, we would be headliners, but most of the time we just opened for bigger acts. At The Whiskey, we would open for acts like B.B. King or Taj Mahal or Rod Stewart— a lot of the acts who came to Los Angeles to debut albums. When we played The Fillmore, we opened for Poco and when we played The Fillmore East, we opened for The Allman Brothers, I think. At The Atlanta Pop Festival, look at who all played there. But we were never a headliner. We never had the opportunity. We never had the popularity.”

And even with their connections, they made few gains. Like with Chicago. Their fourth album, Unlock the Gates, used Chicago‘s horn section.

“How that came about was that the band had a softball team,” explained Cates. “Back in the early seventies, it was cool especially in L.A., to have softball teams and we would play other bands’ teams. We had jerseys and everything. We were good friends with Chicago and played them and opened some dates for them, as well. On those dates, we played some of the new songs and the horn players liked them, so we asked if they would be interested in recording them with us and they jumped at the chance. When we were recording, Terry Kath,Chicago‘s guitarist, was in and out of the sessions the whole ten days.”

What about the move toward Christian rock? Unlock the Gates had not only songs which hinted of Christianity, but a cover which promoted the idea.

“Rico was Jewish,” Cates said. “I can’t remember who did the song, “Jesus Is Just Alright With Me”The Doobies? Well, Rico wrote “Is That News?” and “Make Peace With Jesus” as a pun on getting a hit by using Jesus. It wasn’t a spiritual thing at all. There were lyrics, and I can’t remember exactly, which were “I believe I’ll join in too”. If you think about it with those words in mind, you can see it was just a spoof on getting a hit using Jesus’ name. 

“And the album design? We had nothing to do with it. RCA’s art department came up with that. We had no say about how the album was going to be laid out. So they put us in eagle wings. We were supposed to be angels, but they put us in eagle wings! It was deplorable, we thought, when we first saw it.”

So the album did nothing and then the band began to fall apart, I submitted.

“Exactly,” said Cates. “Not getting to the top was what really split the band up. There was frustration. After RCA released us, we were cut back to local band status when we moved back to Minneapolis. We were playing around Wisconsin and Iowa and North and South Dakota. Maybe once in a great while, we would play Chicago. But mostly we played the five-state area around Minnesota. And we played mostly as a four-piece band during that period because Rico had moved back to L.A. We would occasionally get a big enough gig that he would come back, or maybe we would go there, depending on where the gig was. But, yes, there was a lot of frustration at the end. Especially when I left and went back to Texas.”

That move to Texas proved to be final. Oh, there was a Gypsy, off and on, but without Cates and without Rosenbaum. They would occasionally record, but only 45s and only on a small label.

James Walsh ended up putting together a new band and called it The James Walsh Gypsy Band, but as good as they were, it wasn’t Gypsy.

And there was a reunion show. In St. Louis, of course. In 1977. There was a radio station there, KSHE, which played Gypsy on a fairly regular basis. A couple of the people I met from St. Louis, when they finally left, were shocked to find that Gypsy was not nationally famous. Two of only a small handful I have found over the years who even recognized the band’s name. Both echoed my discontent at the failure of the public to embrace the band. And for some reason we all three blamed the public even when we knew it was not their fault. After all, they had to hear them first.

Randy Cates moved back to Fort Worth and never left. He became a jeweler, by trade, but he would more than likely tell you that he is a musician, first and foremost. He plays in a band with Dave Millsap, a musician Cates has known for years. He also plays in a ten-piece show band which occasionally ties up with symphony orchestras for special concerts. He played a couple of recent gigs with Johnnie Red & The Roosters and has no trouble finding musicians in search of a top of the line bass player.

He obviously loved those days with Gypsy, but doesn’t talk about them that much. Maybe it’s because people don’t care but more probably it’s because people don’t know. For decades, I have been telling people that Gypsy was as important to me as The Beatles and the reaction I get is the famed dog-tilted-head. If we were cartoons, a bubble would appear over their heads with a big question mark, as if to say “What the hell is he talking about?” or “This guy is crazy.” Or, more likely, “Who cares?”

I know I’m not crazy because I am not alone. Randy Cates is there. He knew what the band had. He knew they could have— should have— made it. But they didn’t.

Gypsy is gone. They were gone in 1979 when Rico ended his own life. The details are not as important as the fact that an incredibly unique artist died. I found out years after the fact. I was working in Seattle at a record store at the time and not one person, if they knew or cared, said anything. Not around me. To this day, when I think of Enrico Rosenbaum, I feel an emptiness. I am pretty sure Cates feels a bit of that same emptiness because he knew Rico— personally.

“Rico was Gypsy,” he told me early on in the interview. “He had help from Jim Johnson and James Walsh, but Rico was Gypsy. He was the main songwriter. He was the main guy.”

 I love the band. I love everyone who ever played in the band, but I feel the same. Rico was Gypsy to me, too. Even with the incredible talent surrounding him, he was the main guy. Sometimes R.I.P. just isn’t enough.

I have softened my stance about Rico since I wrote that. He was the core, but the members of that band were so good individually, I cannot really point to one person. The combination, though, was overwhelming. Not necessarily on the recordings, though there too, but in the live performances. The few people I have met who saw them live have raved about their abilities, both instrumentally and vocally.

One more thought. At the end of the film, certain people point to the band signing with Metromedia instead of Atlantic (Didn’t I mention that both labels offered them deals?) as the reason they were financially unsuccessful. While it is true that Atlantic was already a powerhouse in those early days of rock music, it does not mean that they could have turned the corner with Gypsy. I submit, in fact, that the opposite could have been true. Atlantic’s structure was somewhat staid in terms of what they would and would not allow and I cannot imagine them handing the band the deal Metromedia did. If you look closely at that first album, it was not only a double album, it was produced by Rico, Jim Walsh, and Glen Pace, who was probably handed the job of co-producer because of  his work on the boards. That is equivalent to the deal that Space Opera got when they signed with Columbia Canada. Virtually unheard of. No, if they had signed with Atlantic, the chances are good that the album would have come out quite different and who knows how different. The power of the band, the stacked vocals, the lengthy songs might not have been as key. Maybe the studio would have been wrong for that band and that moment. One never knows. No, I submit that the label’s marketing departments were not even close to the importance of the recording of the album. Timing, I think. It all comes down to timing. Well, mostly, anyway.

Gypsy: Rock & Roll Nomads gets a very high rating for the information presented, especially that of the early days. Maybe 85 out of 100. Had they questioned the band members in real depth as to the recording of all four albums, the stories of touring (I give them an A++ for their short segment on touring in Canada), and their thoughts and emotions as the story unfolded (they did a very good job but could have dug a bit deeper), I would have given them 100.

My opinion? Every real Gypsy fan should have this. Every person who wants the real story behind a band’s struggle to make it in the sixties and early seventies should at least watch it. And the rest should be aware. God knows we have enough Beatles and Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers docs and clips floating around. Without bands like Gypsy, those mean nothing in terms of what really went on. The superstars were the lucky ones. I prefer a little reality.

You can order the DVD here and let me tell you, you get way more than your money’s worth, including bonus features and deleted scenes.

Steve Lalor… R.I.P.

The Daily Flash Pictured L to R: Steve Lalor, Don MacAllister, 
Jon Keliehor, Doug Hastings. 
Photo by Jini Dellacio

Once upon a time there was a band called The Daily Flash and a member of that band was Steve Lalor. They were giants in the Pac Northwest, having shaken off the the mold of Seattle for the sunny reaches of SF and L.A. and having signed a record deal which brought a song to the teens titled The French Girl. The song was not an original, having been written by Ian Tyson, but it was an original in the sense that the arrangement reflected the semi-baroque sound of one of the bigger bands of the day, The Left Banke. And it got one hell of a lot of airplay in Oregon and Washington.

I had connected with Steve a fewars ago, hoping that we might do an in-depth interview about the band whose story was much in need of repair, as far as I knew. We talked about going over the various points in the band’s existence— the struggle to survive in Seattle, the problems and successes in recording, the friction between the band and Boyd Grafmyre which supposedly ended in the band leaving the Seattle area, the winding down of the band itself— and made plans to set up a schedule.

I am sad to say it never happened. The band had reformed and most of Steve’s energies were being chewed up with the energy it took to make The Daily Flash once more a viable music option in today’s world. That it happened at all is a tribute to the exceptional musicianship and friendship among the  members. They played a lot of shows since reforming and made a lot of fans, old and new, very happy.

Well, Steve stepped off this mortal coil this past week, stunning his many followers. It was unexpected and a surprise, but what isn’t these days? I wish I had pushed harder to get the information needed to put together the long article I had in my head— a tribute in words to a band which affected me so much as a teen. I wish Steve hadn’t died. I wish the band had had more success. I wish…

There was a time I hated being in the Pac Northwest because I sometimes felt cut off from the rest of the music world. At times like this, I wonder why. We had access to so much music the rest of the world missed, not the least of that produced by The Daily Flash.

May you rest in peace, Steve. You have earned it.

With that said, let us move on to some…

Notes…

The old days of painting a house has led to this, a new video by CLARA-NOVA. It was a number of years ago that I alternated tracks from albums by Goldie Wilson, a Seattle band of note that I thought had a fairly good chance of success, and Sydney Wayser, whose The Colorful album I thought an excellent springboard to fame and fortune. Sydney never quit, though was forced to step aside from a couple of her earlier projects, and after certain legal troubles changed persona, emerging as CLARA-NOVA. Her latest album under that moniker is an example of triumph over evil and this, her latest video, is an example. May she continue her uphill rise.

First album I ever heard from Neil Merryweather was Word of Mouth and I’ve never been the same. The guy’s put out more records than there are atoms in the universe, swear to God. He just posted this one this week. I’m digging it.

Emily Wells keeps banging her head against the drumheads and coming up with outstanding music. I first found her when she released Beautiful Sleepyhead and The Laughing Yaks, worth it for the title alone. I remember pictures of her recording in her kitchen and bathroom and thinking, for the true musician, whatever it takes. She has come a long way and has many more miles to travel and I will be there listening as long as my road goes. 

 

Nicki Bluhm is out and on her own and will undoubtedly turn some heads which ignored her in the recent past. Her run with The Gramblers gave her a base. Now she is taking that base to the bank. Here is a taste of what we will here from her new album…

Okkervil River puts teamwork back into music. 

It is sometimes amazing what three voices can do. Low Lily 

Henry Jamison‘s mechanics really suck when it comes to baseball, but his baby is a Real Peach

 

Keith Morris & The Crooked Numbers have finally deigned to grace us with a new album. I would be upset at the length of time it has taken but for the political struggles which have made Charlottesville a center of protest against bigots and white supremacists. Keith takes his music seriously. So do I. From the new album Psychopaths and Sycophants 

 

My good friend Ben Daniel swears the new Fantastic Negrito album is going to be huge. He sent me a link to this as proof. No arguments here. Taking the subliminal out for a long walk. 

 

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore. The first mix of bluegrass and hip hop I have heard thus far. The times they are a-changing.

=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: Gypsy: Rock and Roll Nomads – The Documentary; Steve Lalor R.I.P.; Plus a Few Delicate Little Notes”

  1. Trapper Graves-Lalor Says:

    Though it’s a nice obit for my Steve, the black and white of him is my copyrighted photo and needs to be acknowledged as such.

    • Trapper Graves-Lalor Says:

      You know, when you can give Jini Dellaccio credit for her photo of the Flash, it’s pretty bogus to not only crop my photo of Steve without permission, conveniently wiping out my copyright, but to not give me written credit for the photo is pretty low. Steve would be incredibly disappointed, and you do his memory no favours.

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