Gulcher Records, originally out of Bloomington, IN, produced some of the more important work of Midwest Artists in the '70s, such as the Gizmos, MX-80, and even John Cougar (Mellencamp). Label owner Bob Richert has, since the CD revolution, been releasing lost works by many of the artists that appeared on the label, or leased out to him through connections. Here is a recent batch of material Bob sent me to review.
Gulcher Records is determined to release just about every possible show of Indiana’s own indie rock band, THE GIZMOS, and may even eventually match Pearl Jam’s releases show for show. “Live In Bloomington 1977/1978”
(www.gulcher.gemm.com/) is the latest Gizmos 2-disker, with over 2 hours of material. And while the first disk is recorded only a year before the second, the difference is a river’s width. The ’77 version is the classic Ted Niemiec, Kenne Highland, Rich Coffee, Eddie Flowers, et. al (Gizmos are one of the largest populated bands in underground rock history), a loose conglomeration who modeled themselves more along the lines of the MC5 and Sonics than the Ramones. Their songs could run from the sublime (“That’s Cool”) to the ridiculous (“Human Garbage Disposal”, “Pumpin’ to Playboy”). All this is evident in the two shows represented from 1977 (one of which introduced by Gulcher label-mate, John Mellencamp, then known as John Cougar). The ’78 version, represented by five shows, is the phase two Gizmos (the one I saw play at Max’s Kansas City). Ted also fronted it, but the rest of band was mostly new. They continued playing some of the classics of the old phase (e.g.,“Gimme Back My Foreskin”, “Ballad of the Gizmos”), but there are also a bunch of new tunes, and some covers (like Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” and the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me”). While missing the high-end personalities, this band could hold their own as they are much tighter. There was something to the absolute weird charm of Gv.1, and the development of Gv.2. Actually, I wonder if Gv.2 should have even been called the Gizmos, but whatever, this is a fun document. Lots to listen to and lots to enjoy. – Robert Barry Francos
Keeping up the Gizmos ethos into the modern era is MYKAL XUL with “Gizmo My Way” (www.gulcher.gemm.com/). Mykal covers 12 songs by Kenne Highland (with other Gizmos of the period, such as Solomon Gruberger, Ken Kaiser, and yes, Mykal Xul). So, if you’re unfamiliar with the Gizmos, these names here and above may not mean much to you, but how many people could name members of the Sonics these days? Recorded from 2004-06 in the Hoosier territory of Whiteland, Mykal does a good, if barebones honor to the early Gizmos with songs like “Juvenile Delinquent”, “Refrigerator Rappin’”, “”Nobody’s Girl”, a tribute to Andy Shernoff of the Dictators, “Ode to Adny’s Dics”, and I’m guessing more recently, “Webzine Pussy”. Mykal definitely has the Gizmos methodology down, but with a whole lot less musicians floating around. Plain, simple, and to the point. Midwestern, funky rock’n’roll based on two chords and I-IV-V, a Kenne canon. Kenne definitely deserves as much a tribute album as the Fuzztones, and for now, I guess this is it. – Robert Barry Francos
CRAWLSPACE is a power trio led by ex-Gizmo (see a trend here?) Eddie Flowers, whom I had always thought as cool (along with Kenne and Rich C). I’m not sure when they recorded “The Spirit of ’76 (www.gulcher.gemm.com/), whether this reflects to ’76 or that when they taped it, but it’s an bizarre little document. Basically, it sounds like they went into a room with a cheap tape recorder, plugged into their amps, and recorded it live. The sound is muddled and way over-modulated, and the band performs more like they are making up the playing together as they’re, well, playing together. There are a few original songs (including the noise-fest “Theme For a Wet T-Shirt Contest”) and a lot of covers, like the Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil” (at over 8-minutes plus 3 minutes of what sounds like a beach, gunfire and helicopters….hell yeah, I listened to the whole damn thing), Mark Lindsay’s “Just Seventeen”, Gizmos “Califawnia Gurls”, the classic “Hey Joe” (via Patti Smith), and even Allan Sherman’s take on “Rat Fink”. Sometimes it’s a bit hard to listen to, but it also sounds like they were having a lot of fun jamming away. – Robert Barry Francos
The JOSHUA JUG BAND 5 (www.gulcher.gemm.com/) CD is a compilation of two separate previous releases, an eponymous one, and another called “Damascus Doldrum”. I’m not sure what to make of this, or more importantly at the moment, how to describe it. JJB5 play the kind of music you may find in some of the trendier New Age bookstores. It’s a bit dissonant, but at the same time the sound is very chant-worthy. Mind you, with exception of a couple of chants here and there, this is solid instrumental with lots of esoteric sounds and echo effecting – thereby affecting – the whole zigheist of the tone (and sometimes it’s atonal). The pieces (I don’t know if I’d use the term song) are about 10 minutes each, are nearly psychedelic, and run into each other. At over an hour long, there is a lot to digest, even when the melody is a round, repeating with variations. It is well recorded, and reaches what it attempts. It’s a bit too harsh to be used during massages, but it’s not far away from having an oil lamp projected onto a screen at the old Fillmore. – Robert Barry Francos
Well, on the “Warp Sessions 1972/1973” (www.gulcher.gemm.com/), THE SCREAMIN’ MEE-MEES & HOT SCOTT FISCHER has proven something I have felt for a while: Not everything that is recorded is needed to be added to the musical historical document. I know I’ve made tapes as bad as this of bands and no one is ever going to hear them. The first of the two disks is recorded on a balcony in 1972. Basically, it sounds like shit for so many different reasons. First, the recording itself is terrible; it’s like listening to it on a distorted cell phone. Because it is a free-form rave-up taped onto crappy equipment, it just sounds bad. I get the feeling they were trying to achieve what the Velvet Underground did on some of their more out there material, like “European Son” (they supposedly do a cover of “Sister Ray” here, but it’s unrecognizable), and I respect that, but perhaps under other circumstances it may have been successful. Disc two (Lou Reed help us) is two sessions recorded in a basement. The sound quality is much better, but I can’t say the same for the style. Still nose, still off key, continually abrasive. Thing is, while I am not trying to say DON’T do this, I’m asking why. This is what’s below lo-fi…lower-fi? – Robert Barry Francos