Everyone’s In On It

 

Goodwill Gets

I can’t speak to everybody’s home town or metropolitan area, but the vinyl renaissance has struck the Puget Sound area in a big way.  From Seattle to Olympia the interest in vinyl has grabbed everyone from young hipsters to old farts like me.

I’m a member of the Vinyl Hoarders group on Facebook.  Just to follow some of its threads, there is vinyl fanaticism world-wide.  Posters boast of their collections in the hundreds of thousands of records.  Another asked what’s the most people have paid for an album, and lots of hundreds and even thousands of dollars weren’t rare. (Just for the record, I’ve never spent more than fifty bucks on a record–The Seeds.  It was a gift.)

At least here in Pugetopolis, interest and demand has driven the cost of vintage vinyl up with the housing market-not enough homes, and way too many buyers. Just as prospective home buyers would find themselves fortunate to live within an hour of Seattle for less than 350K, a record buyer would find themselves fortunate to find a nice vintage album for less than ten bucks and twenty or more is not unusual. For sure there are still some places to pick up albums, even desirable albums for less, but chances are you can’t pick and choose the records you really want for less than ten dollars. And don’t get me started on reissues and repressings where the cost can begin in the mid-teens (if you’re really lucky on Amazon) and often run up to forty dollars.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression.  I don’t hate  record dealers for charging what the market bears.  For small, local record stores, they are in a desperate struggle to stay open and compete with places like Amazon, Target and other big boxes that can easily discount new vinyl.  And it’s not like old vinyl is falling off trees into their laps like it did in 1992 when CD’s were all the new thing. My local record store increases their vintage inventory by investing in storage units, sight unseen, and hoping the contents don’t  include 2,000 copies of Moon River by Andy Williams.

One place I’ve often been able to luck into some great records is my local Goodwill store. I’d drop in and more often than not there are large loads of Trini Lopez, Al Martino and Andy Williams.  I have snagged old Tom Jones and Vikki Carr records-because my wife loves them.  I’m certain at least one of my five copies of Whipped Cream by Herb Alpert an the Tijuana Brass came from Goodwill.  Sorry, I’m always looking for the perfect cover. But every now and then I run across something truly good. Meddle by Pink Floyd.  Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin.  A spectacularly nice copy of Good-bye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John.  A nice anthology by The Drifters. For a dollar each at my local Goodwill.

Today I needed to stop at Goodwill on an errand for a friend.  The used records are right by the door, and today the rack was stuffed.  And not with terrible stuff.  The first record in sight was a decent copy of Free-For-All by Ted Nugent, whom I’m boycotting because he’s a ridiculous piece of shit. But there was more.  Lots of country stuff that didn’t do it for me. But there were three albums I picked up and checked for condition and said it was a go. A 1973 pressing of Jeff Beck’s Truth–yes! A decent Roy Orbison collection.  A collection of songs by The Platters. All easily worth the buck Goodwill charges for vinyl records

I did the rest of my shopping, went up to the front to pay.  I about choked when the clerk came back with a price of 13 bucks.  I double checked my receipt, records are now $3.99 each. No more dollar vinyl at Goodwill.  No refuge from the market and rolling the dice at the craps tables. Goodwill has joined in the overheated vinyl market.

To be fair, the records are all nice, and each was worth at least the four bucks I paid for them. Why shouldn’t a charity profit from them?  But it’s sad that Goodwill is no longer a place I can shop for albums for pocket money. (Because I rarely have much cash.) Sadder is that I can afford to spend more, but there are lots of kids buying vinyl, or those who have less money than me, who probably added to their collections from what they found there, and suddenly that is 400% more difficult

Will I go back, will I buy from Goodwill again?  Probably.  But only if there is another reason for me to be in the store.  And I’ll be a lot more picky about what I do buy.  Nothing on spec, nothing unusual.  No more Tom Jones, or Vikki Carr.  No Tony Bennett or Petula Clark, because those AREN’T worth four bucks.

Of course Goodwill is entitled to do what they will.  Of course they should try to funnel as much money into their good works as they can.  But it is just as clear they’ve jumped into the marketplace, and it will be interesting to see if their sales match their ambition.

 

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Happy 2018!

Embarking on another year of collecting and listening. 2017 was a good year for the old vinyl pile.  During Christmas break one of my projects was to create an Excel spreadsheet of all my records.  Somehow my bunch o’ stuff wasn’t properly recorded on Discogs, plus I thought it was important to just in case the Russians hacked into my Discogs account and started selling off my records.

My record collection crossed the 1,200 threshold in 2018.  That’s all my records, including country, jazz, folk and comedy.  My rock and  r and b, which I keep together, is just a few short of 1,100.

In addition to just being a whole lot bigger than at the beginning of 2017, I really feel my collection has broadened and grown deeper.  I’ve consciously added much more to my collection of R and B, including BB King, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Lloyd Price, just to name a few. I’ve also added made sure to catch those Hall of Fame inductees whenever possible.  My addition of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Blood Sugar Sex Magik gives me records by 175 of the 220 performers in the Rock Hall.

But just as importantly I’ve been able to have some fun.  I picked up a couple of cheap LP’s by Bonnie Guitar, a country star from Seattle, who founded Dolton Records.  Dolton eventually signed The Ventures from Tacoma, and the Fleetwoods from Olympia.  In any case, I may be spending far more time and money on records than I should be, but trust me, I’ve having a blast doing it.

But, as I’ve said before, the end of the line is coming, and I’m running out of room.  I don’t think being full up will ut me out of business, but it will means some challenging choices ahead.

What I’m Listening to

Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Preservation Hall Jazz Band–So It Is

My favorite stop on Dave Grohl’s musical road trip through America, HBO’s Sonic Highway, was his stop in New Orleans.  I am a big fan of music from that city, and its influences.  The Meters, the Neville Brothers, Alan Toussaint, Randy Newman, I just love ’em.  But one of the subjects of Newman’s doco was The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.  I’m not sure I can give a history of their work, but they were founded in the 1960’s to preserve New Orleans Jazz legacy.  They are the “house” band in the city’s Preservation Hall. I loved Dave’s interview with bassist and  frontman Ben Jaffe, who is much younger than many of the band’s musicians.

In April of 2017 The Preservation Hall Jazz Band released a new album, So It Is. and I decided to give it a shot.  Just to be clear, what I know about jazz you can put on the pointy end of a pin.  But it sure is enjoyable.  Very much an Afro-Caribbean influenced record, but just a pleasure to listen to. Not as traditional as one would expect New Orleans jazz to be, but that’s not a bad thing.

Roy Orbison–Mystery Girl; Crying; Rock the House

I love Roy Orbison.  There, I’ve said it.  I’m out of the closet. I can’t account for it, because I really don’t care for the teen idol genre that emerged in the States in the early sixties just prior to the British Invasion.  Orbison had such a gorgeous voice, and his songs were often so dramatic that it sets him apart from the others-whoever they were.

Orbison doesn’t fit the mold of the teen idol.  He looked like a geek.  Albeit a geek with a guitar, riding a motorcycle or driving a convertible, with a hot girl next to him.  But still a geek.  But that voice.

I mostly love the hits.  Orbison was a great hit-maker, a master of the 7″ single.  “Crying.” “In Dreams.” “Only the Lonely.” All Orbison-penned classics that took advantage of his clear tenor that burst effortlessly into a piercing falsetto. Each song the tale of the broken-hearted.  Orbison was the master of the discarded love ballad, the man left in the gutter by the woman he loved. And the production, oh my goodness is over-the-top orchestral and embellished with heavenly choirs.  If your life really is over, this is the way for it to be remembered.

The best of Orbison’s records are those on Monument Records from 1961-65. Even those are uneven in their quality.  The good songs are really, really good and the less good ones are sappy and less good.

I’ve chosen a simple strategy for having some Orbison in my collection.  I picked up a copy of At The Rock House.  It’s an early example of Orbison’s efforts at rock-a-billy.  I haven’t listened to it yet, but it contains the best of his Sun recordings. Not Roy’s long suit, I’m sure, but worth having.

I do have a copy of Cryin’, which is Roy at his best.  The title cut, his cover of “The Great Pretender”, and his version of “Love Hurts” (yes the same one performed by Nazareth in the 70’s) keep things interesting. But much of the rest is just okay.  Competent, but there is a certain level of sameness.  Only so much milk of sadness in the world.

Rather than try to pick up all the Monuments records, I decided on an anthology.  Not my favorite, but finding good vintage Roy isn’t cheap, and it’s just not worth it to go new at twenty bucks or more a throw. So, I ordered the Monuments Singles collection.  It’s on the way, so I haven’t listened yet.

But Orbison’s comeback album, Mystery Girl, from 1988 shouldn’t be overlooked. David Lynch had used “In Dreams” in Blue Velvet, and Orbison caught on with the Traveling Wilburys supergroup, so he was in the public eye.  ELO alum and Wilbury colleague Jeff Lynn is the producer, and the mix of songs is very good.  Not just the broken-hearted ballad, though there is some of that too, listen to “You Got It,” ” The Real World,” T-Bone Burnett’s “(All I Can Do Is) Dream You,” and my favorite, “She’s A Mystery to Me,” in collaboration with U-2.  Great stuff.

I’ll be done searching for Roy Orbison after the Monuments collection, but if some fell in my lap, I’d happily take it.

 

A new(ish) Eric Johnson Album? The Apocalypse is Truly Upon Us.

Eric Johson Live

I heard Eric Johnson for the first time  shortly after his 1990 album Ah Via Musicom was released.  The song I heard was “White Cliffs of Dover” a soaring guitar instrumental that was unlike anything I heard before. I didn’t know the name of the artist or the name of the song, but each time I heard it on the radio, I knew I had to have it. Eventually I did snag the CD probably in 1994 or 1995.

When I played it for Pat, my musician son, he couldn’t care less.  It was the grunge era and being a guitar virtuoso was not only unnecessary, it was to be avoided at all costs. Kurt and Kim didn’t play all those notes, and Pat wasn’t impressed by those who did.

I was heartbroken.  It was a great album with a great balance of rock and jazz-influenced songs that really showcased a rare guitar talent. Johnson even sang a bit, and his voice, if unspectacular, was not unpleasant. And if that guitar didn’t move your feet, well, check your pulse, ’cause I think you may have a serious health issue.

I was heartbroken again when I began acquiring vinyl a few years ago and after three plus years have learned that Ah Via Musicom simply isn’t available on vinyl.  It was pressed in 1990 and again in 2011 by FridayMusic, but both were produced in such limited quantities, they simply aren’t available–at any price. Note: FridayMusic will re-press Ah Via Musicom and release it February 2, 2018. I think I know somebody that will pre-order a copy.

Though Johnson’s second record isn’t very available, his first, Tones, is.  I snagged a copy and gave it a supportive listen, and really enjoyed it.  Not quite where Musicom will be, but very enjoyable.

On Monday I was strolling through High Voltage, wondering how to use my 20% off card, when I took a despairing look at Eric Johnson’s small section, and ran across a very exciting looking album: Eric Johnson Live in Austin Texas.  It was released on vinyl  in November 2017, a recording of Johnson’s appearance on Austin City Limits.

It’s a two-album set, with songs on only three of the four sides.  As a live album, not real exciting.  Remember, it isn’t a concert album, but a performance in front of a live T.V. audience. The song choices are split between those that appear on 1986’s Tones and those on Ah Via Musicom, which wasn’t released until 1990, two years after this performance. Johnson is a noted perfectionist, whose catalog for a long career is eeny-teeny, 14 albums with five of those live performances and on anthology. So it’s not surprising it took two years from the Austin Show to the AVM release.

Johnson opens with a stirring version of “Righteous” from Musicom and plays a nice mix of songs from the two records.  “Trail of Tears” and “Emerald Eyes” from Tones are both excellent examples from the earlier record.

Johnson’s playing just leaves me with my mouth open.  How does he do this?  He is melodic.  He shifts easily between jazz and rock forms. Johnson is incredibly fast, but never sloppy.  Just a pleasure to listen to.

“Steve’s Boogie,” “East Wes” and of course “Cliffs of Dover” from Musicom are also on this record.  Thirteen songs in all.  Each provide a rollicking good time. The record  closes with “Are You Experienced?” by Jimi Hendrix, one of the 3J’s that inspire Johnson, the others being Jerry Reed and Jeff Beck.

This record makes not being able to get a copy of Ah Via Musicom a little bit easier to bear.  If Johnson lacks a stunning stage presence, well, I came to hear the music, and it is spectacular. Definitely a welcome addition to my collection

 

Connections

When I was teaching middle school social studies many years ago, I became enamored of creating a web of connections between artists and sub genres of rock music.  From Leadbelly to what was then the Grunge era I’d spend hours looking at books and trying to determine the connections artists-bands and musicians-had to one another, and I never ceased to be amazed at their relationships.

To a certain degree I’ve tried to represent that in my record collection.  It isn’t always possible; there simply isn’t enough space or enough dollars to be a completist.  But today I picked up a couple of records I’ve always wanted to have in my collection because they kind of close a circle of relationships I really wanted to represent.

When I was in my first year out of college I picked up a copy of Sweetheart of the Rodeo by the Byrds.  I loved the Byrds, had a couple of their records.  I tossed it on the turntable, gave it spin and quickly put it back in the sleeve and never listened again. I’m sure I had a look like I’d bitten into a big sour lemon.  I’m sure I was disappointed it didn’t sound like Mr. Tambourine Man.  Somewhere along the line, it went away.

Today, I’ve matured a bit, and think its important to understand the emergence of country rock in the development of bands like The Eagles, or the mid-70’s  careers of Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young, or the Americana sound of the ’70’s Grateful Dead.

Sweetheart of the Rodeo, that appeared out of the reformation of the Byrds to include Gram Parsons is part of that. Took it home, threw it on my living room stereo and enjoyed the heck out of it. Very traditional country, with lots of steel guitar, banjo and madndolin, but some very good stuff. Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman are the remaining founding Byrds left, but they join Parsons, and a cast of collaborators including guitarist/songwriter John Hartford and sound great.

A couple of re-arranged Dylan songs, Woody Guthrie’s ode to “Pretty Boy Floyd”, a Merle Haggard tune, and Parsons’ own “One Hundred Years From Now” and “Hickory Wind.” It is a very pleasant record to listen to, and I can guarantee I will hear it more than once.

I also picked up a copy of G.P., which is Gram Parsons’ excellent first solo recording.  He only did two before his drug overdose death in 1972. Even less familiar to me than Sweetheart, I really wanted to pick this record up because it is recorded with Rock Hall of Fame guitarist James Burton, and a young Emmylou Harris on vocals.  What I know about country music I can put on the head of a pin, but I love Emmylou Harris. A bit more traditional country than the Byrds record, it is still very good and quite listenable.

Parsons is a pivotal figure.  He took the folk/rock sound of the Byrds in an entirely new direction.  Eventually Hillman left with Parsons to form The Flying Burrito Brothers.  Harris would eventually emerge from her grief after Parsons’s passing to have an illustrious solo career that continues today.  She’s worked with Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, a host of others.  Her collaboration with Mark Knopfler on All the Road Running a few years ago was phenomenal.

I won’t buy records that I don’t like or won’t listen to.  When I began my vinyl journey a few years ago, I made myself that promise. The Byrds and Gram Parsons gives what I have a bit of stretch without pushing it off its foundation.  If I stuck with what I listened to in ’77 I’d still just have hair bands and John Denver.  (Makes me shudder just to think about it.) If you need to step outside your comfort zone, these two records are worth a listen.

Record Store Day: Harvest Moon

Harvest moon

I knew Boogie Records would have a Black Friday sale, and I just didn’t know if I could get there. I was on the hook to help son Pat move, and honestly I’m trying to cut down my purchases a bit.  Black Friday is also another Record Store Day, kind of RSD Part Deux. I did myself a favor Thanksgiving night and tried to figure out what I might be missing out on.

The short answer was not a lot.  A lot of 7″ records, which I will not touch A few semi-interesting titles-a new Tori Amos, Brian Setzer live and a few others.  At the very bottom of the list was the only album that really caught my interest–Harvest Moon by Neil Young. I went down to the record store hoping there might be a copy, and lo, it was as if it had my name on it.

1989’s Harvest Moon is one of my favorite Neil Young albums.  It is one of his great acoustic records along with After the Gold Rush and Harvest. But it’s recorded in a much less tumultuous time and is much more introspective.  Guest artists include Linda Ronstadt, the late Nicolette Larson, and Hall of Fame keyboardist, Spooner Oldham. I’ve got a well-used CD copy.  Had to be CD, because it was never released on vinyl, at least not in the States. I’d listen to it constantly in my car. It was good enough to survive the two waves of my CD purges over the past three years.

The vinyl recording is bright and clear, as you would hope.  It is, in my view, superior to the original CD recording. And the songs remain great.  Ten songs spread over three sides of two LPs.  The fourth side has an etching of the cover photo, a nice but needless touch.

There are no weak tracks on the album.  All of them feature Young at his best as songwriter and performer. The album begins with the lovely and loving “Unknown Legend.”  In a catalog totaling hundreds of songs, it would be in my Neil Young top ten. While this album has nothing as anthemic as “Southern Man” or “Rockin’ In The Free World,” the environmentally-themed “War of Man” is thoughtful and moving.  The ten minute anti-digital music opus “Natural Beauty” is a great song.

Don’t know what the future availability of this record will be.  If you’re a Neil Young person, you should definitely have a copy. It was $29.95 on Black Friday, which seems to me a pretty fair price.

REM Re-releases a classic

Automatic for the people

Though I am infamous for my impulse buys, I planned ahead for last week’s release of REM’s Automatic For the People.  I asked my local record store to order me a copy and they most kindly did so.  Started listening to it on Saturday and haven’t really stopped.

For some reason I thought I had a CD copy somewhere.  I don’t. I had a bunch of REM discs, but not a copy of Automatic.  And that’s weird, because I love “Man in the Moon,” and “Drive” so much. So buying the album was just a super opportunity to listen to a great record.

REM was a great band, and they were a wonderful ensemble with vocalist/keyboardist Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills, and drummer Bill Berry creating a unique sound greater than the sum of its parts.  This is particularly evident on Automatic For The People, arguably the band’s best work, certainly its most commercially successful.

There are no weak tracks on this record.  All the great songs-“Drive,” “Everybody Hurts,” “Man on the Moon,” and “Nightswimming”-are there and sound superb with the analog remastering.  The sound is very clean.  It comes with nice liner notes and a digital download.

Two things struck me most about the record.  The first is Peter Buck’s guitar.  On many songs Buck plays a simple supporting role, but every so often he offers a line so powerful, for me at least, he simply takes over the song.  The guitar lines in “Drive” or “Man in the Moon” or “Orange Crush” from Green are examples.  I say that with the recognition that Buck doesn’t like to solo, or be intrusive, but for me his part can sometimes be so powerful, and that’s what I’m left remembering. Buck has to be one of my top five guitarists.

The other aspect of this album that really is evident in the mastering of this record is the orchestral backing arranged by John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin fame.  They are so much more clearly articulated and in greater evidence on this record than they are digitally. They don’t overwhelm the song, but do offer another dimension that I found lacking in previous listens. They only appear on five tracks, but I really enjoyed them.

The remastered version of Automatic For the People is simply super.  It’s not silly expensive, and considering the original 1992 LP release, during vinyl’s black hole days, cost eighty bucks or so; it was likely not an album I would likely ever own. I can only say thanks to all four of them, who supported its remastering and release.

Tossing out my lists

Once again I’m staring at the end of the road in terms of storage space.  I still have a ways to go, with room for maybe 200 more albums. My collection currently stands at about 1,120ish.  It’s more than I ever thought I would own.

Screenshot (3)

A couple of weeks ago my Discogs wantlist stood at over 100.  Today it stands at 14. 

I confess to having spent pretty freely on my collection. I buy as cheaply as I can whenever possible. But in the Puget Sound region these days, vinyl really isn’t very cheap.  The bargains are gone and records have taken the same path as home prices. Last weekend I bought Argent’s Ring of Hands and This is Johnny Cash for five bucks each at Rainy Day Records in Olympia.  I about died and went to heaven.

I’m lamenting nothing.  My record collection is big.  And honestly I’m really happy with it.  The question really isn’t the obvious one–how do I get more space? No I’ve angled and wangled, and found ways to get more, and now I am peaceful with the space I have.

No, the real question is what to do with the space I have left?  I asked this question in 2015.  I asked again in 2016.  I asked last spring.  I’ve made lists of the records I own, and I’ve made lists of the records I want to have.  I’ve made want lists on Discogs.  I’ve created Excel spreadsheets of vinyl I’ve gotta have.

Last week I destroyed my lists, sort of-almost. With the boundaries of my collection constrained, I decided I didn’t need to be bound by some fixed desires.

My list was huge, well over 100 records, filled with must haves.  I no longer know what a “must have” is.  I do know there are artists I’d like to represent in my collection, artists I’d like to listen to.

With the news today he is dead, the time has come to add Fats Domino to my collection.  The amiable New Orleans fat man got rock and roll off the ground with his boogie woogie piano and I’ve long searched for just the right album.

I have no James Brown, and I certainly want to add Live at the Apollo to my collection, and perhaps one more.  Maybe Sex Machine or Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.

There’s a zillion more LP’s I know I can add, but the most fun buying I’ve done is just walking into a record store and choosing something interesting.  Hence the Argent and Johnny Cash records.  The real fun is sorting through vinyl, and remembering-hey I know these guys.  I gotta have this.

What Am I Listening To

Right now I kind of have my face stuck in the World Series, but before it all began on Tuesday I was listening to anything Kathleen Hanna.  I’ve written about her before, after watching the documentary The Punk Singer a few years ago.  Hanna was the focus of the fem radical punk band Bikini Kill from Olympia, WA in the mid 90’s.

Since watching the movie I’ve managed to acquire a few bits of music here and there.  I got a copy of Yeah, Yeah, Yeah as a re-released LP by Bikini Kill.  It’s not an easy listen to me.  It’s loud and angry, as punk usually is, but I can’t make out the lyrics.

I also picked up a copy of Le Tigre, the first album by the same name.  It’s a CD I grabbed at High Voltage in Tacoma.  This is a dance pop record with political overtones.  Very fun, often wickedly funny.  Deceptacon is a great song about dating. Their third album is This Island, on a major label, and is one of my very few must-have vinyl purchases.  But it’s not cheap and hard to find.

In that same trip to Rainy Day records I also snagged a copy of Run Fast by The Julie Ruin.  I’d describe it as a record kind of halfway between Bikini Kill and Le Tigre.  Not as light and danceable as the Le Tigre, with more direct political speech.  It was recorded in 2013.

The common denominator for all these performances is Hanna.  The musicians she plays with are all great, but there is little question she is the straw that stirs the drink. Her vocals run the gamut of screeching revolution harridan, to collaborator and spokesperson on the Le Tigre stuff.  She even had a charming and remarkably tender song, “Just My Kind,” on Run Fast.

What intrigues me most about Hanna is that there is little question who is in charge.  And whether she is screaming, shouting, or singing her lyrics, there is often a sly wink that goes with the words.  A certain mockery of male establishment, the media and everyone else that leaves women exploited, less than men, and vulnerable in the slow dance of the mating ritual.  Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin, give it a listen.  Different, but worth your time.

Index Cover Shoot, Sept/Oct 2000, NYC