Friday, May 21, 2004

GULCHER RECORDS, THE UNTOLD STORY!

When you think about the great independent underground rock & roll labels of the seventies, which ones come to mind? OK bright ones, let's limit it to the United States since there were a whole batch of wild and woolly companies over there in England as we all know...lessee, howzbout Bomp? Hearthan/Hearpen?? Back Door Man??? Dangerhouse???? Ram/Max's Kansas City????? There certainly were a number of small ones that were floating around on this side of the chasm and I'm sure I'll think about a couple dozen more after I post this blog, but (in cast you didn't know having missed the opening title schpiel) the one we're going to talk about today is none other than Gulcher, a label that gets my vote for being one of the better self-issued punk-oriented ones in this line, a company that had a vision and direction to go in, and guess what, they did just that as their fine (and vast) array of product will point out to you!

Gulcher sprang forth from the early seventies Bloomington Indiana hippie college scene with a slight difference than all of those other hippie college scenes of the day. Sure, there was a lotta natural-eating and spiritual rejuvenation going on at Indiana University in Bloomington during those days just like there was elsewhere across the fruity plain, but what set this college town apart from all the rest during those early-seventies post-protest times was that small germ that was brewing, that miniscule seed that most probably wouldn't notice at least until the end of the decade when this unmerciful monster sprung itself forth to shake the karmic klass outta its purple haze and wake them up to the harsh realities of rockism!

This "seed" was evident in a microscopic but thriving underground situated in Bloomington, an underground that, although nobody probably knew it at first, was one that would make the next immediate generation of college kiddies throw away their patchouli and pay attention to what Unca Lou was telling us all along about how you should spend your rock listening time. Or so we thought. Actually, the generation that should have taken the message to heart was just as head-burrowed-up-the-ass as their hippie brothers, only instead of Joni Mitchell wallowing it was the corpulent rock of Styx and REO Speedwagon that spoke for their bong-riddled existences. And when the generation finally discovered the big beat, it was no longer that big and psyche-twisting, watered down by years of REM-inspired mewlings and half-hearted and half-baked performances mixed in with a world-saving attitude that only made the great sounds of the originals seem less stoic in many ways, come to think of it.

Anyway, while the college kids were playing the introspective neurosis game, there was a fine, breathing scene brewin' up in Bloomington. Its health could be discerned by not only two fanzines,((Due to Circumstances) BEYOND OUR CONTROL and INITIAL SHOCK {COPIES NEEDED!!!}), but an independent label (Bar-B-Q) and at least two groups of some local notoriety...the Dead 'n Zappa-ish (but don't let that scare you totally off!) Screaming Gypsy Bandits and MX-80 Sound, a mad guitar/bass bedroom duo consisting of two sometimes-Bandits named Bruce Anderson and Dale Sophiea who would later be joined by not only some drummers but members of another local aggregation called Chinaboise, an ahead-of-their-time bunch that, although showing the same Zappa/John McLaughlin influences as MX-80 Sound, came close to what a lotta the just-post crackup new wave bands were doing in 1982, and eight years before the fact!

Anyway, BEYOND OUR CONTROL, despite some good reviews in the pages of Greg Shaw's BOMP!, wasn't exactly what you would call a totally gonzoid offering...it was more or less a "genzine" which covered a wide range of styles within its early-KICKS-ish pages, and those acts reviewed could include some that fit in more or less with what the thrust of this blog is all about. TRANSLATION: although John Denver was featured on the cover of issue #2, BEYOND OUR CONTROL editor Bob "Bear" Richert felt free to let the cream of the early-seventies proto-punk fanzine mafia (Kenne Highland, Eddie Flowers, Scott Duhamel etc.) more or less have some free reign within his pages, resulting in some pretty good rave-ups twixt the fringe jacket hippie and prog rock coverage giving us yet another reason to search out these early spazz writings especially in the present world where boring rote and low-energy puff has replaced the manic attack that could be found with ease during the "Golden Age of Rock Criticism (1969-1976----give or take)."

By 1975 BEYOND OUR CONTROL was out and GULCHER was in. GULCHER was punk rock personified, at least for the people who bought sixties garage band records and kept their ears open with regards to what was going on at CBGB during those transitional times. (These were the pre-Pistols days, of course.) The first issue of this tabloid was the punkiest of the lot with loads on the MC5 and Dictators plus writers the caliber of Lester Bangs and Richard Meltzer joined in on the fun, and although later ishes weren't as grabbing there was a lotta neat energy to be found (not to mention a New York Scene note from Thurston Moore complete with tough-punk cigarette in mouth photo-booth snap!). And frankly, I think the BEST thing to come out of all this mess was the Gulcher record label. Not only did Gulcher release all of the Gizmos recordings (even those later ones with no original members!) but reissued the MX-80 Sound debut EP originally released on Bar-B-Q, some early John Cougar demos (well, I'll pass on that!) and, as punk settled into new wave into gnu wave, a buncha things that I didn't really care about given that at the time (the early-eighties) it all seemed to go clunk down the toilet! (The Social Climbers LP with ex-Screaming Gypsy Mark Bingham was a noted exception.)

Fast forward to the early oh-ohs...suddenly and without any warning, Gulcher records is BACK, only now it's Gulcher CDs (with an Italian label reissuing much of the material on good ol' vinyl) and besides putting out a lotta the original stuff that not only made the Gulcher experience so fun (like all of the Gizmos material, though no Social Climbers is in sight!), there's new stuff comin' out that one might think is way outside the Bloomington scope like heavy metalloids Thundertrain and basement legends the Screamin' Mee Mees, but that's cool by me since all that stuff has the seventies BLAST to it that made these groups so enticing to being with! And yeah, there's a lotta blare here that doesn't quite fit into MY scope like the wave-y Dancing Cigarettes, but we just won't talk about that!

Anyway, here are five recent Gulcher CDs you might want to know about. First one is from a batch I got a few days before Christmas which I thought was fitting, since amongst the CDs in that package was Gulcher's own offering to the yuletide season entitled HAVE A VERY GULCHER CHRISTMAS. Naturally I waited until May to play the thing, but in any case I found this CD a mix of great, good and feh stuff that makes the CD on the whole...actually OK. Good stuff includes tracks from the likes of Bloomington regulars Angel Corpus-Christi, Ted Neimiec (ex-Gizmo with the seventies power-pop underground sound down pat!), Rich Stim, Stalingrad Symphony as well as Crawlspace, who are Gulcherian only due to past relations. (Ex-Thundertrain singer Mach Bell does a great sixties-punk number with "His Elves," adding a cowbell clank to it in order to still show us he's heavy metal all the way!) Average stuff includes MX-80 (still in their mid-energy post-metal phase), Kenne Highland (coulda done better) and the Korps. Feh includes a good portion of the rest, especially this group called the Pansy Division who do a song called "Homo Christmas," but I better not mention it and incite the gay peril (and their straight lackeys!).

The Screamin' Mee-Mees clock in with two recent CDs, LIVE FROM THE BASEMENT 1975-1997 and GARBAGE COLLAGE. The former collects single, EP and sampler sides (including not only their tres-punky debut but the rare version of the Silver Apples' "Oscillations" complete with an oscillator!), while the latter's a selection of a whole slew of unreleased low-fi tracks too scraped for normal release consumption, or so one would think after giving these "outtakes" a listen. I guess the Mee-Mees making music for years on end in their basement is kinda like me writing for fanzines for years on end in my bedroom as well getting perhaps less respect inna process, but really, do you think we care what people think about our respective callings???

And finally, here are a coupla thingies from Angel Corpus-Christi that you just might like...when ACC appeared on the scene with her I LOVE NEW YORK tape in 1985 I was one person who was jumping up and down figuring that here was ONE lass who still remembered what the the seventies were all about (and I don't mean disco!), and the best thing about it was that she was doing it all right in the midst of the snoozerama eighties to boot! Subsequent releases varied, but even if I didn't cozy up to some of it I never totally wrote the woman and her band off, no matter how gnu wave-y they may have looked (not necessarily sounded!). (And I really must have a soft spot for her, because she played on the totally horrid X-tal album and I never blamed her for that atrocity!)

ACCORDION POP VOL. 1 (you mean there's gonna be another volume of this stuff coming out???) is just Angel and her squeezebox doing a buncha oldies and newies for a cassette-only release back in 1985 that I can't recall seeing mentioned anywhere! When Angel does the old stuff like "Sleepwalk" and "Love Me Tender" she sounds like some kid in Junior High playing at the school talent show in 1959 and coming in third place to a virtuoso violinist and the class jock pretending he's Ricky Nelson. On the new stuff she sounds like she's at some 1979 accordion recital playing the new hip sounds in order to be "with it." Either way, she works out fine.

On THE 80'S, Angel's best moments from that period in time are collected, and though I woulda preferred everything to have come out as it did those many years ago this makes for a nice "greatest hits" package. Some glaring omissions such as "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" (with Bruce Anderson's blaring lead guitar) do appear, or better yet NOT appear, but I find the selection and programming pretty snat and Angel weaves her way around seventies New York rock, a sixties revival (remember that?) tune off the ROIR GARAGE SALE cassette, as well as a tribute to film great John Cassavetes that fits in well after watching JOHNNY STACCATO reruns on TV!

There's more in the oven, from the Chinaboise one I reviewed in the latest BLACK TO COMM to the 1982 PLAYETTE tape now being reshaped for CD purposes, and there may be others, hopefully to include the C-Minus Humans, Poetraphonics (so obscure that a request for a tape back in 1987 rendered me NO copies!) and loads of surprises inside and outside the traditional Gulcher sphere (the Social Climbers PLEASE????). Whatever the case, don't pester me with your inquiries...write right to the source at gulcher.gemm.com for more information, and slippytown.com has 'em as well (sorry, blog STILL not printing up my link inserts!).

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Scotty D said...

Way back in teenhood I attempted to write songs with my fanzine buds Kenne Highland and Eddie Fowers--by mail! Good stuff,brought back some cool daddy memories. Where is Eddie Highland today? If you get the chance check out my blog-www.culturevulturetime.blogspot.com

Scott Duhamel

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