Recollections of the hunter and his prey

About this blog

This is a blog describing the descent into madness brought about by record collecting. It is primarily about the hunt, the smells, the disappointments, the excitement, and the random occurrences surrounding vinyl records. I listen to them too, a lot, but from my perspective the hunt is what makes collecting records an exciting hobby, although it may be maddeningly frustrating and incomprehensible to those around me.

On the hunt for:

  • Articles of Faith-Give Thanks LP
  • Bhopal Stiffs 10 song demo tape
  • Black Cat Bones-Barbed Wire Sandwich LP
  • Blues Creation - Live LP
  • Freddie Hubbard-Black Angel LP
  • Henry Franklin - The Skipper LP
  • Herbie Hancock-Flood LP
  • Mount Everest Trio - LP
  • Neu!-75 LP
  • Revenant - Prophecies of a Dying World LP
  • Sam Cooke-Ain't That Good News LP
  • Sam Cooke-Night Beat LP
  • Strike Under-Immediate Action 12" EP
  • The Effigies-Haunted Town 12" EP
  • The Virgil Lights - (anything else out there besides the 45?)
  • Watchtower-Energetic Disassembly LP
  • Witchcraft-s/t LP

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Eve Finds

Ahmad Jamal-Freeflight
War-The World is a Ghetto
Leadbelly-The Legend of Leadbelly
The Supremes-Where Did Our Love Go
The Astronauts-Everything is A-OK!
The George Benson Quartet-It's Uptown

I found all these records yesterday. The Jamal disc was a mailbox find (from ebay) which I wanted because its the first disc where he uses the Fender Rhodes, my current favorite instrument of choice. The War, Leadbelly, Supremes, and Astronauts albums (along with the Alex Keack record from the previous post) I picked up from Krazy Kat for a whopping 9 bucks. The Supremes and Astronauts records were also 25 cents a piece but these records surprisingly play very well. The Astronauts disc is the most thrashed, with the cover basically held together with a couple pieces of scotch tape and the vinyl has some pretty bad scratches, but no skips and barely a pop. The Supremes album has one bad pop (luckily on a bad song) but plays very well. The Keack record is actually in decent shape, the vinyl is clean and the cover is still very much intact.  I'm not sure I really needed another Leadbelly record, I do have a nice vinyl box set of his Library of Congress recordings, but it doesn't have the song "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." This one does, so I'm glad to have it.

The George Benson record is surprisingly good. He is another one of those artists where their records just litter dollar bins, but I had never run across this record until now. It came out very early in his career, and has a great upbeat swinging jazz feel accompanied by Lonnie Smith on organ, as well as baritone sax, bass and drums. Benson even does a couple vocal tracks that have more a soul vibe to them, but don't feel out of place on the album.  

I picked this up at the newest vinyl spot in town, Natural Sound. Natural Sound has been around for a while as a new and used CD shop, but just starting carrying vinyl in the last few months. I'll have to dedicate a post pretty soon to some of my finds there, there have been some really great ones. Hopefully the vinyl will help the store stay open, as it never seemed to have much business when I went there.  It never really was one of my favorite places because their cd prices can be worse than mall shops, but its an indy shop and I'd hate to seem them pack it up. But, now that they have vinyl, I think I've spent more money there in the last two months than I have in the over four years I've lived in this town.

Christmas Eve playlist

Back to the vinyl! Yesterday my wife and I made a nice dinner to celebrate Christmas Eve. Not that we care so much about the holiday, but it is a great excuse to drink and stuff our faces. Here is what accompanied us throughout the cooking, eating, and cleaning up.

While we were cooking, we were listening to some Madness and Carl Perkins. The Madness record my wife brought to the collection, and the Carl Perkins record I picked up a weeks ago from a flea market my suegra suggested I go to to check out the vinyl they had. Usually when we cook a big meal it takes a long time, but the preparation went pretty quickly and we didn't even finish the Perkins disc.

While we ate dinner, we listen to a couple more mellow albums. I actually just found the Alex Keack record yesterday from Krazy Kat Records for a quarter, and it was the best 25 cents I spent in a long time. I was expecting a surf record, but this is more lounge/exotica along the lines of Esquivel. It was a great surprise from Crown records, which I had blogged about in my first ever post. The Perez Prado disc was probably not the best dinner music, the voodoo suite is great but a little dark and my suegra hated it.

After we finished dinner, we jammed out to a little Yardbirds while doing the dishes. I also just recently picked this disc up at Charlies for a meezly ten bucks, original mono issue and all.

The menu:

-Spinach salad w/feta, olives, and red onions
-Cheese plate with and Irish cheddar, some kind of white cheese from Seattle's Pike Place Market, and smoked mozarella
-Penne pasta with pesto, roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, and portabella mushrooms
-Veggie casserole with zucchini, mushrooms, onions, green chile, marinara sauce and cheese
-Garlic bread
-Champagne (we didn't want to wait until midnight, so why not for dinner?)
-Dessert: Apple Pie and Chocolate Mousse cake from the local Flying Star cafe.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Over-priced reissues

As I work on a response to my previous post, there is a short article over here about all the recent vinyl reissues of old records. I definitely agree with the author that recent reissues of records easily available at most used record stores is really a greedy scam to get people to pay much more for something worth much less. Yeah, artists don't make anything off the used record market, but also many of these artists don't depend on the sales 20-40 year old albums to make a living, if they are even still alive. 

EDIT: Case in point, some decided it would be a good idea to re-release Weather Report's Heavy Weather. Not only is this album a complete turd, it litters virtually every record store I have walked in to. I picked this up in close to NM condition for about 75 cents about a year ago. I'd have a hard time giving this away, but maybe I can now play the vintage angle, instead of getting the new reissue for 18.99 why not get the original vintage press for the same price? Hell, I'll even sell it for half the price of the new reissue...

I want my 75 cents back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

In Defense of Piracy: Democratizing the Public Library

Music is primarily an art form, not just a product to be consumed. I mean this in two ways. First, the logic of music creation follows that of other art forms, literature, painting, sculpture, theatre, etc., not the logic of supply and demand. Music has always been and will always be created as a form of expression regardless of the economic circumstances surrounding its distribution.  Artists create because they have to create, not because it is profitable. Writers continued to write, painters continue to paint, musicians continue to play, not because they know they will receive a paycheck every two weeks, but because of something inside them that requires this form of expression. Second, the enjoyment of art should not require certain financial resources, much like public sculptures and murals, free access to public libraries, taking pictures of anything found or created that one considers art, etc. Art has been maintained in various ways, including certain styles of music (i.e. jazz, classical) not because it is profitable, but because it is considered something valuable, something that represents the beauty and the absurdity within us all.

Free access to museums and galleries (in many places), and free access to books through libraries has not destroyed other forms of art. Why has it come to the point where free access to music has been considered a crime? The absurdity of this crime becomes all the more incomprehensible when we view music as art, not as a capitalist product with a copyright. The fight to restrict music to those who can pay has a striking similarity to those who ban books, to authoritarian regimes who restrict internet access and censor cultural production. Is music revolutionary? Music can be powerful, but I’m not so idealistic to think the message of music will destroy the dominant forms of power. What are they afraid of?

For years, music has been available for free through public libraries, although the selection was somewhat restricted due to budgetary and other constraints. Libraries have not killed music, artists still create, labels still produce music, people still attend concerts. Home taping was considered the death knell of music in the 80s. But surprise! music is still around. 

Think about what it is that libraries provide to our societies. I can go to the library, check out a book, read it, return it, and never have to pay a penny. I can do the same with a compact disc, a vinyl record or cassette (for those libraries that still have them), or a DVD or VHS. Nothing stops a person from copying any of these works, yet a campaign to shut down libraries to protect copyright laws would be unthinkable as many have come to depend on library access or consider it a right.

While through libraries and other public institutions, many people have access to the greatest literary and artistic creations, for some reason, it is considered inappropriate to have access to the greatest (and no so great) musical creations. To become educated about literature, about painting, and about other arts, requires very little in terms of financial resources. However, to become educated about an equally valid art form, music, regardless if you think that applies to Mozart, John Coltrane, Morbid Angel, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Kanye West, Albert King or the Dead Kennedys, is extremely difficult without a significant financial investment. Music is a record of the human experience, to protect this form of art for the benefit of all, for enjoyment, for enlightenment, for educational purposes, does not require making everyone pay for it, it requires making it available to as many people as possible.

File sharing, music blogs, mp3s, home taping, burning CDs, these are all ways of democratizing art, of creating a democratic library of music that ensures everyone can enjoy a popular form of art.  Lovers and appreciators of music have taken it upon themselves through the internet to revive lost musical creations to educate the young and the old about all they missed because of the absurd idea that only one art form can be enjoyed if you pay for it (while others can be free). The nameless and anonymous individuals who provide music for free are creating a historical record of music that could easily be lost or only enjoyed by a very few. Libraries and other public institutions have failed in this regard, appreciators of music as art have come forward to not only protect, but revive and share what should be available to everyone. 

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Black Friday finds, part 2

Alice Coltrane-Journey in Satchidananda
Funkadelic-One Nation Under a Groove
Isaac Hayes-Shaft Soundtrack

So Black Friday was almost over, but my wife and I happened to notice that a local comic shop was having a sale, so we decided to check it out. I've been going to this shop for a couple years, but I tend to skip it on my normal digging routes because the vinyl selection hardly changes, the owner doesn't give a crap about condition, and a lot of records are really overpriced. But, this time I was pretty lucky and scored the above three records. The Coltrane record is a reissue, but a very nice one and much cheaper than an original anyways. Besides the records, we also picked up a few Godzilla toys, to add the collection sitting atop my Expedit where most of the records are stored.

All in all, not a bad day of hunting.

Black Friday Finds, part1

Brian Auger's Oblivion Express-Second Wind
Billy Cobham-Shabazz
The Galaxy Trio-Saucers over Vegas
Charles Brown-Legend!

Venturing out to record stores on Black Friday isn't nearly as exciting as waiting in line at 5am to get into a Wal-mart, but there were sales nonetheless and I had an alright digging day. The first stop was Mecca where they were having a 30% of all used merch sale, so I pulled all of the above 4 records for cheap. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Shopping through the interwebline

Hoover - s/t
The Crownhate Ruin - Until the Eagle Grins

I need to bring a little balance to this blog. Most of the posts up to this point have been in the jazz/fusion/blues/soul/funk vein, which is somewhat representative of what I've been currently listening to, but not at all representative of everything I listen to, nor what I've listened to for many years. 

I recently acquired the above records through a couple online shops that I frequent incessantly, even if I don't always purchase that often from them. The Hoover record I picked up from Vinyl Junkie Distro based in South Dakota, which carries a lot of punk, indie, and hardcore, including a great selection of used records.  I've come into the Hoover camp relatively recently, and all of their records are somewhat hard to come by. I was lucky enough to snatch this up out of the distro's used section. I'm currently waiting on another shipment from the Vinyl Junkie of a shotmaker 7", a three penny opera 7" and the guyver-one lp. 

The Crownhate Ruin record I found through Armageddon, a record shop in Rhode Island that also sells records online. I've made several purchases from this shop over the last year or so, and I've gotten some great deals. 

While I didn't listen to either of these bands when I was actively involved in the hardcore scene, I did listen to a lot of other bands in a similar vein, such as Twelve Hour Turn, The Red Scare, and Shotmaker. There is something about the style of all of these bands that really grabs me. It is hard to put into words...

Shopping online for records is a weird feeling. In one sense, I can really get the records I want, although many times I've been less than satisfied with the condition of the record I purchased. When buying a record from a local shop, I know exactly what I'm getting, there is no false advertising. Plus, the hunt online for a record is not quite as satisfying as the shock of finding some unheard of but amazing record at a shop, or finding something I've been looking for for years. The online hunt is a little too sanitized for me. I dread the days when nothing arrives in the mailbox, but I don't get the same type of satisfaction as I do after digging in a shop for a couple hours and coming home with some new finds. Even so, my online hunting has become somewhat fanatical, I'm always checking ebay for that great buy it now deal, or hoping that my major wants have all been posted for auction in the hour since my last check.  There is a list of online shops I visit almost everyday, if not several times a day, to see if somehow the holy grail of records has been posted since the day before. A lot of this fanaticism is due to my work. I work on my own in front of a computer all hours of the day. In between entering data, reading journal articles, keeping updated on the news, or writing a paper, I constantly check my list of vinyl sites. It's not healthy.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friends selling their records!

A couple weeks ago I found out a friend of mine had decided to sell off his record collection. It took a little while before I was able to check out his records, but this was what I came away with.

After spending most of the night with another friend at the Dragonforce show, we headed over to a small party where some friends were trying to play the board game "Class Struggle." Luckily, the guy selling off his records had hauled them all over the party so I could flip through them and ignore the game. Unfortunately, he also had a Prince Buster record that he wasn't ready to sell, so I'm still waiting to see if I can get my grubby hands on that. But, still an fairly decent and cheap batch of records. 

The Stevie Wonder record is just ok, but it does have this great song Superstition on it. About a week ago, my wife had a found a bunch of Sesame Street videos, and one of them was an amazing live performance of this song. If only I could buy a record of the Sesame Street performance...

Anyway, I feel a little bad for my friend selling off his records. I went through a similar phase several years ago, and somewhat regret the decision to purge so many records. Hopefully he doesn't regret it down the road.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Organ sounds from Venezuela

Tulio Enrique León Ordoñez - Este es el ritmo

I know almost nothing about this record, but it is a pretty entertaining disc of organ music of Latin standards by a Venezuelan artist, and 2 originals. My guess from the back cover is that this was released in the late 50s or early 60s. The title track is definitely my favorite, as it has a sort of creepy lounge feel reminiscent of lucha libre movies from the 60s.

I picked this up about a week ago from a local thrift store that my wife and I happened to notice on our way to dinner. Generally, I stay away from thrift stores when hunting for records, but since my wife loves thrift stores, I always end up checking out the pile of shitty and unplayable records that typically inhabit these waste dumps. The last time I actually bought a record at a thrift store, about a year and half ago, I picked up some terrible Moody Blues record that I still regret purchasing. I may make it my goal someday to collect as many Moody Blues records as possible and invite all the record collectors I know (all three of them) for a cathartic burning of the plague of every record store.

Anways, this most recent thrift pickup wasn't too bad. I picked up this record, which is in great condition considering it is a Latin American pressing (anyone who has shopped for records in Latin America knows that Mint does not actually exist here), another record from Colombia of a group called Los Corraleros that is absolutely wretched, and a pristine copy of Emerson, Lake and Palmer's Pictures at an Exhibition. 

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Today's finds, part 2

Chicago Transit Authority-s/t
Alice Coltrane-Transcendence

I found these records and the local Charlie's Records and Tapes. Right when I walked into the store there was really loud, Korn looking guy, that was talking to everyone he could in the store. As I started digging, he began talking to me and ended up being pretty nice, but a little too intense. Record digging is a very solitary activity that requires intense concentration, and talking to someone means I'm not looking at records. I found out this guy was in town from Alaska to see his friend fight in the Fightworld International match that was going on at the local convention center. Seems like a long trip to check out a fight, but I guess I can understand his enthusiasm at the record store as digging in Alaska is probably pretty disappointing. He told me the best thing about digging is meeting people and talking about records, and learning about new music from other diggers. Nope. The best thing about digging... is digging. If there is something great to be found, I don't want some other schmuck to find it before I do, or miss out on something while making small talk with some stranger. 

Ok, so I'm being a little sarcastic, but record store jabber is some of the most awful conversation that takes place in this world. This is a sample:

Korn dude: "Aww man! They got some Grace Jones records!"
Me: "that's cool..." (but thinking, I don't give a shit, don't talk to me)
Korn dude: "I wonder if they have any Kraftwerk records here, they got everything in this store!"
Me: "I doubt it, I occasionally see Kraftwerk records around town but its pretty rare." (but thinking, why don't you just look and shut up about it, besides the selection is pretty lame)
Korn dude: "Yeah, I bet everyone keeps those all locked up."

Then there is the awkward silence. Is it appropriate to turn my back on the guy so I can look at more records, or do I just dart for the counter and be happy with what I have in hand?

Anyway, the records I found were decent. I really dig the Chicago record, which is something 18-year-old me would have broken my kneecaps for saying. But, it has a great mix of catchy pop songs, hendrix style guitar jamming, all thrown in with some varying mix of soul, funk, and jazz/rock fusion. The Coltrane record was a little disappointing, her earlier material is much better, but its worth at least a couple more spins.

Today's finds, part 1

Quincy Jones-Walking in Space
The Ramsey Lewis Trio-Another Voyage
Miles Davis-My Funny Valentine
Milt Jackson-Sunflower
Freddie Hubbard-Red Clay

I had a really good day of digging today in some of my local shops.  These five all came from We Buy Music. This store was originally going out of business starting last spring, but then ended up moving his store across town because he needed to get rid of more of his records. The owner had a pretty decent sale going on for about the last six months, but now its ended, so it seems he is no longer retiring. I'll have to ask him about it next time I visit. But, lucky me, he said since I'm a regular he'll stick hook me up with the discount, I just have to wink and nod and say obscure things to him if there are other customers in the store until he remembers to give me the discount. Should be interesting... although there are hardly ever any customers in the shop, I can't wait to ask him about that one thing he talked about that one time he did this other thing, and so on...

Anyway, the real gem of this bunch is Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay. I had never heard any of these records before I picked them up, which is always somewhat exciting and nerve wracking. There is nothing worse than picking up five records that are all terrible. Red Clay is from 1970 and features most of Miles Davis' sidemen. It is a somewhat unique bridge between the hardbop of Davis' earlier quintets and the fusion of the late 60s and early 70s. While most of the tracks are in the hardbop vein, Herbie is playing electric piano on most tracks and there is the occasional funk and rock beat. I haven't been blown away like this in a while by a random find. I would definitely put this up there with other classics like Coltrane's Giant Steps, Rollins' Saxaphone Colossus or Davis' Round About Midnight. 

The Quincy Jones and Ramsey Lewis discs (along with the Miles Davis disc) were all dollar bin finds, and are pretty amazing themselves. I was completely unfamiliar with any other works by these artists, but I picked up the Jones disc based on the presence of Roland Kirk and Freddie Hubbard, and the Lewis disc had some electric piano. I am currently a sucker for anything with electric piano right now, and the Lewis disc does not disappoint. 

The Milt Jackson disc is definitely the weakest of the five discs. I hate the vibes, and I knew I wasn't going to like Jackson's vibe playing here easier, but I thought the presence of Herbie, Freddie, and Billy would make up for it. Not really. Its not a really bad record, but for me, the vibes are about as classy as blowing in coke bottles, and they are way too loud in the mix. Freddie's playing is decent, but Herbie is barely audible.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Drunk blogging with Brian Auger and the Trinity

Today was a very long day, I took my second and last comprehensive exam before I move onto the dissertation stage of my degree (I'm working on a Ph.D. in political science). I had to answer three questions and I had nine hours. I turned in a 41 page essay and finished in 6 hours, which meant I had time to decompress at the record store before going out drinking with my fellow exam takers. I ended up spending quite a while at one of my favorite local record shops, Mecca Records and Books, listening to a bunch of random records before deciding on bringing home this album by Brian Auger. 

I have never listened to anything by Brian Auger before, but luckily Mecca is one of those stores where you can actually listen to most items before you buy, so this sounded pretty good after checking it out. I didn't really feel like picking up a bunch of records today, since I also received in the mail my Flower Travellin' Band-Made in Japan and a copy of Miles Davis' On the Corner. The trip was more about getting my mind off of political science, and there is nothing better than just flipping through records and listening to a bunch of unheard of albums. I was thinking about also picking up a Lydia Lunch record called Honeymoon in Red, and a Fred Frith record, but Brian Auger's psychedelic rock/fusion thing caught my attention.

Right now I jamming to it as I write this post, a little buzzed after going out with the other poor souls that had to suffer the exam process as well, and after having a slightly less than coherent argument over voter registration and voter id with my wife. 

Monday, October 27, 2008

88 Fingers Louie

This is 88 Fingers Louie's first 7" from 1993 on Go Deaf Records. I just sold it. Why? Its absolutely horrible, but rare. I love this band, and I picked this up years ago used in a Chicago record store, but its only gotten a handful of listens over the years. 

When I was growing up in the Chicago 'burbs, I was introduced to punk rock through going to VFW shows of bands like 88 Fingers Louie, the Bollweevils, Slapstick, 30 Seconds Deep, Hashbrown, and other Chicago bands of the mid-90s. I think 88FL was one of my favorites because their guitar player was an obvious metal head, with long hair and white tennis shoes, and definitely stuck out from the rest of the band and the scene. 

I have this really bad habit of needing the entire discographies of my favorite bands, despite the fact that most bands only have a few good records, and if they stick around, manage to put out garbage for years on end. This bad habit explains why I actually own the 80s albums by Deep Purple and why I continue to buy all the new Cure albums. Selling off this 88FL record was somewhat therapeutic in that I let go of an absolutely awful record that for some reason I felt like I needed for the "collection." Hopefully I don't regret it, but I am at least consoled in the fact that the money went towards the purchase of one of my major wants, the Flower Travellin' Band's-Made in Japan. When it arrives I'll post some pics of my FTB collection.

The psycho geography of record fairs

This was posted over at waxidermy, but definitely deserves a read. Here's a sample:

So thank god for record blogs, where you can hype your recent finds, and attempt to increase their worth through the osmosis of the sound-file. This sometimes back-fires as records described as KBD punk monsters on the blog or in the Ebay description have sounded a bit like poorly played REO Speedwagon to these ears, and described “Acid Folk masterpieces” have come across like James Taylor or the hippie couple in Mike Leigh’s “Nuts In May”. Pure gloating is also an option. An obsessive Swedish psychedelic fatso posts photos of his latest rare record finds, like others post photos of their cats or their grandchildren. This comes across as a bit sad, lonely and unhealthy. 
I’d rather hang with the goths and their frikandellen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Black Mass Lucifer

This Black Mass Lucifer record has a lot of sentimental value for me in terms of my personal evolution as a record collector. My entry into record collecting really started with punk rock and hardcore, primarily because when I began going to punk shows, most bands at the time only had seven inches for sale, or if they had full lengths, their LPs were always cheaper than the CD. What does this have to do with satanic moog music? This record was the first important addition to my collection that I had picked up more as a collector than because it was cheaper than a CD. I had absolutely no idea what it was when I bought it, and it was the real loner in my collection for a long time afterwards before I began to branch out musically and become a more serious collector. Even after several purges of my collection, this record has stuck around and still gets the occasional play.

I bought this record probably about 10 years ago, maybe longer, at Dodd's Records in Grand Rapids, MI. This shop was always a strange place for me when I was younger. I don't think the owner had realized music was still being made after the mid-1980s, and so I typically had no idea what most of the stuff was in his shop. It was stuffed full of LPs of all genres, as well as a lot of cassettes and a handful of CD's. I primarily went there to buy record supplies, like sleeves and the occasional record box. The one thing I never liked about this shop is that all his records were sealed (I have to look at the vinyl before I purchase), even though I never did get anything here that wasn't mint. I'm not sure how much longer this store will be around, or if its even open now. I was there two years ago and picked up a few unspectacular records, but the owner is incredibly old and works by himself. Its amazing to me Mr. Dodd has kept this store open; I wish I could go interview him and find out the history of the store. Its almost like a time warp walking into this place, and I bet he has some great stories about Grand Rapids and the changes he has seen over the years just working at his shop.

The record itself is a black mass performed by Mort Garson on a moog synthesizer that was released in 1971. I know very little about this record, but Garson did release a number of other moog-based records based on other (non-satanic) themes. Its a fairly enjoyable record, if you are into dark-sounding electronic music. It definitely has the feel of a soundtrack to a cheesy slasher flick from the 70s, but its worth a listen if you can find it. 

Saturday, October 18, 2008

In Search of the blues... pt. 2

If you haven't yet, read part 1 of this post first.

This sleeve came with my recently purchased copy of Miles Davis' E.S.P. and served as a faux newspaper for Columbia Records to promote other artists on the label. The short description of Leadbelly, intended to promote an upcoming record of his and other blues artists, is telling in what it leads readers and listeners to think of as the black experience and what the blues is supposed to mean.

"Leadbelly is generally thought of as a folk singer. But one look at the man and you can tell that he lived the blues. He had a scar on his neck, ear to ear, from a knife fight. The fight ended because he was left for dead. In 1917 Leadbelly was sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing a man in Texas. He literally sang his way to freedom eight years later by writing a song for the governor and obtaining a pardon. Instant Replay. In 1930 Leadbelly was sentenced to ten years in a Louisiana prison for assault with intent to kill. He composed a song for the governor, and by 1935 he was out of prison, making his first commercial recordings. They were blues (What else?)"

Besides the somewhat racist overtones of this description, the selling point for Columbia was that Leadbelly was an authentic blues musician, because he had experienced misery and violence in his life. Hamilton spends a lot of time in her book on Leadbelly, and suggests the above story is highly implausible, but was embellished to promote a certain image.

The liner notes on these records of Robert Johnson, the most famous of delta blues singers, does not deviate from the above script. In the liner notes of Vol. 1, it states:

"Robert Johnson sang primitive blues about women. His references were earthy and only thinly disguised. He lived the life he sang about and which ultimately killed him."

Nevermind the fact, as Hamilton discusses, we know very little about Johnson's life and the evidence surrounding his death is more myth than fact. Even the liner notes go on to say how little is known of Johnson, but somehow we are led to believe he sang about his experiences, and this makes his music authentic and primitive.

Even more telling is an interesting footnote at the bottom of the liner notes of the same record:

"Country blues artists are usually distinguished from city blues artists by almost exclusive use of guitar accompaniment or other semi-legitimate instruments like kazoos, harmonicas, jugs, slide whistles, washboards and washtub basses. City blues artists are generally accompanied by piano, and guitar, bass, drums and occasionally one or more brass and reed instruments. The style of a country blues artist is generally more primitive and direct than that of a city blues performer."

Even here, we are lead to believe that city blues is less authentic and "real", the country blues artists, such as Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, are more primitive and better representatives of the "authentic" blues. Somehow, the black experience in the cities is implied here to be less valid. As Hamilton mentions repeatedly in her book, The white pilgrims and record collectors tended to denigrate black popular music and attempted to keep "true" blues musicians from moving to the city, as this would somehow corrupt their abilities to transmit the primitive black experience from the countryside.

In search of the blues... pt. 1

Several months back I read Marybeth Hamilton's In Search of the Blues. Here is a brief synopsis (courtesy of Amazon):

Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton-we are all familiar with the story of the Delta blues. Fierce, raw voices; tormented drifters; deals with the devil at the crossroads at midnight. 

In this extraordinary reconstruction of the origins of the Delta blues, historian Marybeth Hamilton demonstrates that the story as we know it is largely a myth. The idea of something called Delta blues only emerged in the mid-twentieth century, the culmination of a longstanding white fascination with the exotic mysteries of black music. 

Hamilton shows that the Delta blues was effectively invented by white pilgrims, seekers, and propagandists [i.e. record collectors] who headed deep into America’s south in search of an authentic black voice of rage and redemption. In their quest, and in the immense popularity of the music they championed, we confront America’s ongoing love affair with racial difference.

I found this book fascinating unlike most music-related books out there, primarily because its theme of the search for authenticity is relevant beyond an understanding of the blues or the manias of record collectors. In this book, white record collectors and other researchers had preconceived notions of what black music was supposed to represent. To them, the blues represented the uncorrupted black experience, and they had little tolerance for the nuances, subtleties, contradictions, and emotions that are not only part of life, but that did not fit into a rigidly constructed idea of authentic black music that is only about oppression, sorrow, and misery. 

According to the reviews on Amazon, it seems some people are pretty upset about Hamilton's claims and attack her for supposedly lacking real knowledge of the blues. But, this book isn't really about the blues per se, but about those who recorded, collected, listened, promoted, and marketed the blues. 

Looking at some the blues records I own, I am now struck by how much Hamilton’s story rings true. Much of the liner notes that accompany the records tend to stress the authenticity of the artist as a selling point, rather the music on its own merits.


Some examples:

On the back of this John Lee Hooker records released on the Everest Records Archive of Folk & Jazz Music, there are several telling quotes:

"John Lee Hooker is one of the few authentic blues artists left in this country today.... While Jazz is still a struggling infant and spirituals are on the uprise in America, authentic blues is being sung less and less throughout the county."

There is no deliberate snubbing of this art form; on the contrary, it is most welcomed. The truth of the matter is that the authentic blues of the John Lee Hooker type was spawned and nurtured in the misery, ignorance, and destitution of the Negro in a particular American society. "

The notes in their entirety are in the picture above, they should be readable after clicking on the image.

Next up is Howlin' Wolf's Moanin' in the Moonlight.

This record also has some pretty choice quotes.

"In contrast to the ballad, which tends to present an over-idealization of life, blues presents a factual accounting which more often than not is sad rather than happy. The blues tells of trouble, of faithless men and women, of disaster. But with a true human touch, it also tells of hope...."

"Many of the aforementioned aspects of folk music and blues will be readily discernible in these sides by Howlin' Wolf. His primitive quality, it may be stated, goes hand-in-hand with the authenticity of his material. Like all folk artists, Howlin' Wolf is a songwriter too, and the songs in this album are all his own. In the true folk tradition, the story each song tells is straight from the heart of Howlin' Wolf."

In both cases, these records make the claim that these singers are authentic, leading the listener to believe that the artists have actually suffered the events in their songs. Unlike other forms of music, the blues is about "factual" events, it is presumably more true, more historical, than other forms of music and it is because of these qualities that the blues should be appreciated. Whether or not these two artists, or blues singers in general, are singing about actual things they have felt or experienced is beside the point. The point is we as listeners are led to believe so, which somehow makes us feel more connected to what is "primitive", "authentic", and "true." 

to be continued...

Friday, October 17, 2008

"You must be one weird guy..."

At least that is what the clerk at one of my local record shops said when I bought this:

Right, and he listens to the Swans and kinda looks like this guy:

In all seriousness though (no intent here to insult a local clerk, he's really nice!), I've sort of been keeping my eye out for this Michael Jackson record. A few months ago while having dinner and drinks with some friends, they played Off the Wall for us and I really dug it. My love of Michael goes way back to my childhood when another friend and I would blast my Bad tape and take turns jumping on the bed and singing along at the top of our lungs. And no, we didn't have any other friends at the time as you might guess.

After leaving the store, I also found that Michael has his own special surprise for me, a dead spider in its web. (The record store in question re-shrinks all their records, so while I always ask to check the vinyl before buying, I rarely open gatefolds to see what dirt, tags, and other weirdness lay inside).

Also on this visit, I managed to pick up the following records. Davis' ESP has been on my hunting list for a while, as well as the Maiden album. Living in New Mexico, Iron Maiden is the equivalent of the holy grail, so I was somewhat surprised to see this available at a reasonable price. Not sure why I got the Gentle Giant record, I'm a sucker for cool fantasy covers. I guess that explains why I have a pile of Yes records that are extremely painful to stomach. 

The collection

Check it out
last updated 05/17/09