February 45s at Beat Research

Feb45s_600x600

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

February 45s – Magnus Funk Mix

Here is another mix of Magnus 45s – the February 45 Magnus Funk Mix – just in time for the end of the month. I recorded it on February 22, 2014, a year after the passing of one of Boston’s legendary DJs and one of my dear friends, Magnus Johnstone.

I got to play it again on Feb 26th at the fist ever “all 45 Beat Research” with Brother Wayne, Axel Foley and my co-host DJ Flack. Unfortunately, the mixer was lacking outputs, so I wasn’t able to record the actual set. I’m afraid this practice recording will have to do and I am most sorry not to have caught the incredible sets from the two guests. The mix starts with one of my favorite Aretha tunes (I say a little prayer). Even if Magnus was never one for organized religion or prayer per se, the tune seemed appropriately mournful. Moreover, it allowed me to answer her prayer with Lee Dorsey’s classic intro “everything I do gon be funky”. A kind of promise to the man who left me more amazing records than I ever deserved to hear, let alone play.

I’ll try to get a track list together shortly and post it up here as an addendum. In the meantime, enjoy, and keep it funky.

pace

Reverse engineering Louis Armstrong’s record stash part 2

LouisHeadphones
I got a fantastic message about Louis Armstrong’s record collection on Facebook this week from my long time record pal and jazz archaeologist, Rob Chalfen. Way back in the early days of this blog, we (mostly he, truth be told) fantasized about the contents of Louis Armstrong’s record collection. Rob had a lot of informed (and musically annotated) ideas what records he might have had which I dutifully documented in my pre-wordpress LOVE beta site. Despite my ham handed coding, it’s a cool bit of research connecting Louis to Caruso via a horn line in Herbert L. Clarke’s “Showers Of Gold Scherzo” (1912) that shows up in Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” (1928). IF that was not enough, he traced connections to Bert Williams and minstrelsy via two Elder Eatmore routines that Louis versioned and flipped. As I read it now, it seems to stand up as a pretty decent bit of freestyle musicology.

At the time, I think we both assumed that this would always remain the realm of informed speculation, because of course, what are the chances that Louis’s New Orleans record stash remained intact? Right. What are the chances?

Rob recently decided to contact contact The Louis Armstrong House Museum and ask. As usual, he sure has a knack for finding old records.

Here was the original message Rob sent:

hey Ricky, on the subject of Louis’ records, this work of quasi-informed speculation might amuse you, from a buddy’s blog with me a few years ago LOVE1_4 libraryofvinyl.org Reverse engineering Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans record stash
If you have a concordance of Louis’ early 78s I’d love to see it!

And then the nearly unbelievable reply:

Hey Rob! Finally getting a chance to sit down and respond to your message. Your piece was great and interestingly, almost 100% spot on! How do I know? Because as the Archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Louis’s entire collection of records and reel-to-reel tapes is one room away from me. And better than that, when I was hired in 2009, my big project was to create an Online Catalog, which you can browse the link before. The accession number for all of Louis’s tapes and records is “1987.3” so you can search for any artist, just make sure you include 1987.3 as part of the list. So go ahead, search for “1987.3 Caruso” or “1987.3 Bert Williams”….you’ll feel like a prophet! Happy searching and thanks again! http://louisarmstronghouse.org/collections/online_catalog.htm Yours in Pops, Ricky
Louis Armstrong House Museum – Online Catalog
louisarmstronghouse.org
And Happy Birthday a day early!

Happy birthday indeed my man. And good ears, as always. Here’s to many more years of listening together. Keep on sharing what you find and I’ll keep on bloggin it up for the masses.

ChalfenListening

pace

Raggamuffin Hip-Hop Mega Mix

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I don’t think I have ever been more excited to share a mix. This one is truly epic and was nearly a decade in the making. Here’s how my co-curator and fellow raggamuffin hip-hop archaeologist Wayne Marshall put it.

Pace and I have been geeking out over these records since we met a decade ago, and we were scheming on a raggamuffin hip-hop megamix well before we even had an outlet for it. Pace’s collection goes deeeeep, especially when it comes to Boston rap rarities and party-break white labels, and of course my “dissertation archive” (as I like to call my CD and MP3 collection) helped to flesh things out.

Other than being far too modest about his side of the collaboration (“helped flesh things out”…indeed), I could not have said it better.

The combination of breakbeats and dancehall-inspired toasting that we capture here (as opposed to the related — and as yet unnamed — sub genre of rap vocals over dancehall inspired riddims) has always been a favorite of mine. I think I first became aware of this style while listening to “Rockers” on 88.9 WERS in the late 1980s. Or maybe it was actually Magnus who turned me on to it on Lecco’s Lemma, come to think of it. Perhaps the first track that really made it clear to me was The Jam (the Shabba Ranks / KRS-One collabo that we ironically do not include in this mix). I know I had registered the “reggae” sound in earlier BDP tracks like “The Bridge is Over” and “The P is Free”, but I don’t think those were the ones that really nailed it for me. Heck, perhaps it was the locally produced hit, Sorry Part 2, by Boston’s own Jr. Rodigan, that caught my attention with its mashup of Tracy Chapman, Soul-to-Soul and that disticntive ragamuffin vocal style that I would only later come to know as Jr. Rodigan’s signature sound.

But I digress. Whenever I first registered the power of this cross cultural concoction of gritty breaks and ragga vocals, it quickly became a passion and I began actively seeking out additional examples, especially local ones, and the earlier the better.

The quest for reggae influences in rap got really crazy when I met Wayne about a decade ago and realized he was panning the same musical streams with a much smaller mesh than I (and watched in amazement as he carefully traced the tributaries of the ubiquitous Zunga Zeng riddim). I was soon sending him micro titrations of reggae influences wherever I heard (and often imagined) them.

As I added this sub-genre to my regular record missions, I found that in the 1990s and early 2000s, these tracks were being overlooked even at even at digger temples like A1 Records in NY, let alone more regional record backwaters. I soon realized that there were both deals to be had in the reggae 12″ bins, and that versions of dancehall tunes sometimes contained precious accapellas and even, once and a while, the holy grail — a previously unknown gritty hip-hop remix. Once I discovered treasure troves like Massive B / Bobby Kondors and started realizing how well mid 90s raggamufin rap tracks held up on the dance floor over the years, I became completely hooked. Indeed, I am still finding golden era raggamuffin gems that have not seen nearly enough light and have included many of my favorites in this mix.

The craziest part of this mix for me is that despite clocking in at a hefty 94 minutes and 48 tracks, we basically only deal with the first decade of this sub genre (from roughly 1986-1994). As we say in the writeup (which is being hosted at the IASPM-US), we didn’t let cut off dates prevent us from developing themes or including some important outliers. And perhaps owing to the almost unfathomable depths of our combined crates, we still had to cut lots of great tracks (from the aforementioned Shabba/KRS collabo The Jam, to Tiger’s rugged Who Planned It which features Q-Tip, and many, many more).

In addition to being happy to finally get this mix out, I am especially excited that we have managed to release it along with two written pieces that provide some important context and may reach some new audiences. The first is a piece by Wayne for Cluster Mag’s special issue on parties that provides “a theorization and historicization of hip-hop and reggae as quintessential party musics.”

>> Wayne Marshall, “When Reggae Roamed the Earth.” Cluster Mag, Issue 4, Oct 2013.

The second co-authored (but definitely Wayne-led) piece has been published at the blog of IASPM-US, which as Wayne puts it: “issued an admirable “call for mixtapes” earlier this year” We could not resist the synergy and opportunity to share this mix — and the idea of “mix-as-scholarship” — with a more academic audience.

>> Wayne Marshall & Pacey Foster, “Hearing Raggamuffin Hip-hop: Musical Records as Historical Record.” IASPM-US / Ethnomusicology Review, Oct 2013.

Here’s the tracklist and the permanent download link for those who want to follow along. I hope you enjoy it, and as Fred would say, yabba dabba doo.

Raggamuffin_Hip-Hop_Megamix_Cover


Pace and Wayne’s Raggamuffin Hip-Hop Megamix Vol 1.

Tracklist

Pace’s 1st mini-set:

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Ragamuffin Rub-A-Dub-Apella” (1987)

UTFO, “Pick up the Pace” (1985)

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Ragamuffin Hip-Hop” (1987)

Soul Dimension, “Trash and Ready” (1987)

Asher D, “Asher’s Revenge” (1988)

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Brutality” (1988)

Boogie Down Productions (BDP), “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Wayne’s 1st mini-set:

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Shinehead, “Know How Fe Chant” (1988)

Just-Ice ft. KRS-One, “Moshitup” (1988)

JVC Force, “Puppy Love” (1988)

Masters of Ceremony, “Sexy” (1988)

Just-Ice, “Lyric Licking” (1988)

Masters of Ceremony, “Master Move” (1988)

Shinehead, “Gimme No Crack” (1988)

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Pace’s 2nd mini-set:

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Don Baron, “Young Gifted and Black” (1988)

Longsy D & Cut Master M.C. “Hip-Hop Reggae” (1987)

Sonya Alleye ft. Junior Rodigan, “Sorry Part 2″ (1989)

Prento Kid, “Killer” (1997)

Motion w/ Ruffa “Gangsta” (1995)

Waynie Ranks, “Send Me” (1992?)

Wayne’s 2nd mini-set:

Poor Righteous Teachers, “I’m Comin Again” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Easy Star” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Shakiyla” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Ring the Alarm” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Generals” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Strictly Mashion” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Bebo” (1991)

Daddy Freddy, “Raggamuffin Soldier” (1992)

Pace’s 3rd mini-set:

Unknown, “Sound Bwoys Revenge” (199?)

Cutty Ranks, “Armed and Deadly” (1996)

Lady Saw, “No Long Talking” (1996)

DJ Excel, “Off the Hook” (199?)

Kenny Dope, “Axxis” (1992)

The Filler, “Rockin Mix” (199?)

Kenny Dope, “Supa” (1991)

Jamalski, “Let’s Do It In The Dancehall (TNT Hip Hop Mix)” (1990)

Roxanne Shanté, “Dance To This (Dance To Cee’s Zunga Zunga Mix)” (1992)

Jamalski, “A Piece Of Reality (Your Name Here Mix)” (1992)

Wayne’s 3rd mini-set:

Raw Fusion, “Hip Hip/Stylee Expression” (1991)

Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride” (1992)

Dr. Dre, “Lil Ghetto Boy” (1992)

Dr. Dre, “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” (1992)

Daddy Freddy, “Jah Jah Gives Me Vibes” (1992)

Jamal-Ski, “Jah Jah Vibes” (1993)

Jamal-Ski, “Texas Rumpus” (1993)

Born Jamericans, “Instant Death Interlude” (1994)

Jamal-Ski, “African Border (Skeffington Mix)” (1993)

Slick Rick, “A Love That’s True, Part 2″ (1994)

Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra - Theme from S.W.A.T.

Perhaps the most precious experience for a record junkie is finding a grail record that you never knew existed. That’s just what happened to me last week as I was preparing the MagnuSoul Mix Volume 1. Being a Boston native with a love of funk, breaks, Caribbean records, and groovy 60s and 70’s TV and movie themes like S.W.A.T. and Shaft, finding a local record that pulls all those things together was beyond even my wildest dreams.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

This version of the S.W.A.T. theme (originally recorded by Rhythm Heritage and famously sampled by L.L. Cool J for “I’m Bad”) is clearly part of a tradition of steel band covers of popular soul, funk and R&B songs. Many of these have been archived on compilations like the Light in the Attic series West Indies Funk, but to my knowledge, this one has never appeared anywhere else.

Indeed, there is remarkably little on the web (or local print media) about The Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra. The record lists Kelvin Griffith as its Captain, which I assume means musical director (though I must say that mysterious nautical/aerospace phrasing only adds to the record’s appeal for me). The record was released in 1976 (during the height of the short lived S.W.A.T. show) on what seems like a local label (Roots Records 01), although no address is provided so its hard to be sure. These cats were clearly incredibly talented musicians and I love that they paired the fuzzy, funky, low brow kitsch of the oft-versioned S.W.A.T. theme with the ultimate highbrow of a Beethoven violin concerto. The levels of genre blending run deep on this one, but apparently, this was part of their act.

According to the folks over at Boston Carnival Village Kelvin Griffith was involved in the Boston Carnival from its second year in 1974. I was also able to find a small article about the group in, of all places, Mass Media, the student newspaper at my very own UMASS Boston! According to the very hard to read digital text, the band was made up of a dozen or so Trinidadians ranging in age from 12 to 32 playing “a little bit of everything – tunes by KC and the Sunshine Band, Mozart, Sousa, and Stevie Wonder, as well as some current West Indian hits”. The inclusion of the Beethoven B side is apparently not some kitschy recording trick as much as an accurate reflection of their diverse live sets.

The fact that the only printed information I can find on this group comes from my own college paper is just the kind of coincidence that makes even the most rabidly atheist among us believe in vinyl forces beyond our control. Indeed, it is rare to meet a real record junkie who does not practice some form of animism (whether publicly or privately).

Mass Media 4-24-79

My buddy Rob believes he used to hear this group in Harvard Sq. back in the 70’s and 80s but has no recent info about them. I would love to hear from anyone else who remembers them or knows where any of the members are now. More and more, I dream of a proper record label to re-release local gems like this! Maybe some day. But for now, I hope you enjoy my humble digital offerings here.

MagnuSoul 45s Vol. 1 – Hot Pants Monkey Dance (Mama Don’t Allow No)

MagnuSoul45s_Vol1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MagnuSoul45s Vol.1

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of Magnus mixes. I’ll be saying more about all this as soon as I can get my head around it and talk more about the plans for his record (and other) collections. The short version is that on Memorial Day weekend 2013, Brian Coleman and I went on an epic mission to get the remainder of our dear friend’s record collection. That Sunday evening, a group of his friends (many of whom remain active in local college radio!) gathered to begin sorting, organizing, and marveling at his legendary taste.

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Close

This whole process reaffirmed my core idea that (certain? all?) record collections represent important cultural documents that are worthy of preservation as collections, and reminded me how quickly all these high falutin’ ideas turn into matters of boxes, brute force, and storage space. It also reminded me how records, and record collections, bring people together in a way that digital media just don’t (no, not talking about dance floors here, you know what I mean). As we all sat in the piles and sorted our friend’s records together, we shared (mostly musical) stories about him, marveled at the choices he seemed to have made, and in the process, discovered new connections and paths through places and times we shared with him. As we discussed how (and where) to preserve and continue to share his amazing spirit and musical collection, we agreed that a series of Magnus mixes would be the best way to get started. So that’s just what I have done.

MagnuSoul45s Vol.1 All

One of the greatest things about getting to know his record collection has been realizing how much he loved funk, soul and R&B (especially female fronted northern soul groups). Although this is not that surprising given everything else he liked, we literally never discussed this side of his tastes, spending most of our time on classic rap, world, reggae, jungle, trip hop, electronica, etc. It has been great to get to know this side of him and to continue learning amazing new tunes from him. It’s almost like he were here with me, and in a way, he is. A record collection like this is a great teacher even without a proper tour guide.

As I sorted 45s over the last few weeks, I seemed to keep digging up dance tracks about monkeys, hot pants, funky worms, and family. So I threw em all together in a summer soul 45 mix I call Hot Pants Monkey Dance (Mama Don’t Allow No). Like all my mixes, it’s a crazy quilt with many threads cross cutting it in various directions. But mostly, its just a funky ass soul/funk 45 mix fresh for Summer 2013 c/o our friend Magnus. I hope it heats up your barbecues, beach trips and rec rooms this summer.

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Funky Worm

TRACKLIST

Ohio Players – Funky Worm
Reparata and the Delrons – Mama Don’t Allow
Shirley Ellis – The Clapping Song (clap Pat Clap Slap)
Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata
Les Tres Femmes – Listen to Your Mama

MagnuSoul45s Vol1Listen to Your Mama

Norma and the Heartaches – Hot Pants
Ohio Players – Skin Tight
Calhoon – (Do You Wanna) Dance Dance Dance
Bettye Scott and the Del-Vetts – Down, Down, Down
Cameo – Just Be Yourself
Michael LeGrair – Hustle on Down (Pt. 2)

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Hustle on Down

Otis Redding – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
The T.S.U. Toronadoes – Getting the Corners
The Barkays – Son of Shaft
The Beginning of the End – Monkey Tamarind
Les Cooper andd the Soul Rockers – Let’s do the Boston Monkey

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Let's Do The Boston Monkey

MagnuSoul45s Monkey Tamarind

Earlham College Radio Blues 1986

Rob Jones ca. 1986 Richmond, IN

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Shades_of_Blue_11-12-86_SideA

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Shades_of_Blue_11-12-86_SideB

At Earlham College in the 1980s, Rob Jones (R.I.P.) did an incredible series of radio shows on our college station, WECI FM. These included a blues show called Shades of Blue, and two audio collage shows (Root Of An Out of Focus and Kandy Korn). While I seem to have lost my only tape of Kandy Korn (rumor has it that others exist), here is an early Shades of Blue show from November 1986.

It’s great to hear Rob’s voice and selections after all these years. If you listen to the whole show, as I did while digitizing it, I think you will agree that he covers a deep, wide, and tasteful range of well notated selections. He was one of those people who explored the edges of human experience and always came back to tell you the fascinating tale. Until one time he didn’t. Like many of these explorers, he was always creating soundtracks for his travels and (tall)tales. However, unlike most, he always found the deepest shit to do it with.

His musical tastes ran from Sonic Youth to Sonny Terry to Sweet Tee and back by way of Glen Branca and NY post-punk outfits like James White/Black or The Offs. However, I always thought he seemed most at home in the blues. At 22, Rob knew more about living and playing the blues than anyone I have met before or since. The Shades of Blues show was where he let that love shine.

I had many incredible adventures (musical and otherwise) with my brother Rob over the years. Even back then, some of my favorite times were spent with him virtually, listening to (and occasionally taping) his radio shows on WECI. This tape of Shades of Blue provided the soundtrack to many long car and bus trips between Boston and Richmond between 1986 and 1990. In the early 1990s, it remained on heavy rotation until I finally gave up on tapes when CDs took over in the mid 1990s and mp3s replaced them in the oughts. It has been in a box of “my most precious tapes” ever since. Until today.

I love that the internets lets me share it with you. Rob would be so psyched to know that we are listening to Shades of Blue here in the future. Just squeezing donuts.

R.I.P. Rob and love to my Earlham family.

Mastermix radio show on WERS in 1983

Boston_80s_College_Radio_Tapes

The title of this blog becomes increasingly ironic the bigger the piles of cassettes become around here. But then, they are mostly tapes of records, or at least radio shows of records and music made with other records. So that’s something. They are also revealing long lost tales of Boston’s largely overlooked urban and dance music scene in the 1980s. This new little collection also provides some important pre-history for the Leccos’s Lemma show, Boston’s first rap radio show that started in 1985. Allow me to offer a little context while you listen. I hope you like scratching.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Mastermix Show with Hosh Gureli on WERS 88.9 FM 5-21-83

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the Lecco’s Lemma story, but those who are just getting here may consider starting with this piece from the Boston Phoenix. There have been big new developments on that front and Chris Faraone did an amazing job telling the tale of the tapes and the couple of crazy caucasians who kept them all these years. Just this past Sunday we finally got the whole collection together for the first time.

The proximate cause of this reunion was a visit up to see Willie “Loco” Alexander to collect the last two boxes of his Lecco’s Lemma show tapes. While conducting an interview (more of a paean to our pal Magnus really), Willie pulled out a small pile of other local college show tapes that he had set aside. Luckily, I was running video at the time. Watching it now, it’s cringe worthy how giddy and excited I become as he rattles of titles of shows I have never heard of with dates descending back into the electro infused daze of early 1908s. But then, these are the moments I live for. One of the most incredible and earliest in the pile was this tape of the Mastermix show on Emmerson’s WERS 88.9 FM from 5-21-83.

Although there is not much on the internets about this show, one of the first mentions I found brought me back literally full circle. It was in a comment left by Matt Reyes on my old blogspot site in a post called “Magnus Carta: Boston Hip Hop History” about the Lecco’s Lemma show. Wat?! Here’s what he said back in ’05. I had completely forgotten the reference to the Mastermix show.

Magnus Johnstone was always a bit ahead of his time where music was concerned. He’d discover, devour, disseminate, then depart once the next new thing came along. He was into reggae, Chicago house, Kraftwerkian electro, all before they became widely popular. And then in the early 80’s he got in on the ground floor with hip-hop. In 1985, he got a radio show on MIT’s radio station WMBR 88.1 FM, on Saturday afternoons, and would play the newest rap records from Spin City, Skippy White’s, Nubian Notions, and Nancy’s Record & Book Store downtown. Although some rap had been heard previously on WERS 88.9’s “Special Edition” (Cosmic Crew, pre- Def Jam Beasties, UTFO’s “Roxanne Roxanne” in Hosh Gureli’s 1984 Mastermix), that show featured mainly current urban dance like Jonzun Crew, Shannon and Freeez. Kiss 108 had played “Planet Rock”, “Jam On It” and “Rapper’s Delight”, but that was really just for novelty’s sake. And Boston’s preeminent black music station, WILD 1090 AM, utterly refused to play rap at the time. So hip-hop fans from all over Boston tuned in as best they could to Lecco’s Lemma, this tiny signal down at the bottom of the dial. The origin of the show’s title was that the whole thing was being run at the behest of a master computer named Lecco, and these songs were the “lemmas”, or things he desired.

Here is an even more detailed recollection from DJ Spinelli (Ed Note: Check out his amazing list of DJs including lots of local ones!)

Hosh Gureli (88.9 WERS) – One of the best DJs in the early 80s here in Boston. Known as the “Mastermix” on 88.9 WERS, he was far ahead of his time with mixing/remixing/editing and everything else in between.

His style of mixing wasn’t just “mixing one song into another” like most would do. Instead, he would have 3 or 4 songs going at once, throw some edits in and then go into another 3 or 4 songs (keep in mind, this is back in 82/83). Fortunately, I have many tapes of his mix shows that I recorded back then.

Interestingly enough (during the late 80s), I was in a “Battle Of The DJs” contest with Hosh at Faces nightclub in Cambridge and couldn’t believe I was going up against him (which he won, of course).

There are countless people in the Boston area that can thank Hosh for being an such an inspiration to them – myself included!

In case you missed it, let me repeat the most important line for you: “Fortunately, I have many tapes of his mix shows that I recorded back then.”

Mind = blown.

Dear DJ Spinelli, let me take this moment to publicly thank you for keeping your tapes of this amazing show and preserving Boston’s musical history. I think I can speak for all past, present and future Beantown beat heads and club kids when I say “we would sure love to hear some of your tapes”.

DJPace

Honk 7! Eureka Brass Band Bonus Track

Honk is here again! The seventh collection of activist street bands has been the best so far (despite some light rain last evening). Yesterday I had a blast wandering around Davis Square with my buddy Will, both of us with our little digital recorders vacuuming up audio all over.

The whole thing (but especially the high tech field recording aspect) reminded me of a new record I recently rescued from the trash. In the now familiar sequence, a friend was getting rid of the last mildewy pile of old LPs and I was the last to look at them before they hit the trash. Mostly light 70s and 80’s rock and random things like the Flashdance soundtrack. Ahhhh, but what’s this?!?!

Folkways Music of the South Vol. 10 Been Here and Gone. “Oooh…I’ll take this one! Thanks!” People seemed slightly perplexed as they watched all the popular (and perhaps their favorite) records banished to the trash while only this oddity was rescued. One man’s trash…as they say…and what a treasure it is!

Been Here and Gone - Music of the South Vol 10

This album originally came out in 1960 as an audio companion to a book of the same name. The tracks on this volume are selected from recordings made by Frederic Ramsey between 1951 and 1957. It is essentially a greatest hits compilation of the Folkways series “Music of the South” which began in 1955. The PDF of the liner notes are available free from the nice people at the Smithsonian if you want more details (and beautiful pictures as well).

The piece I wanted to share is the wonderful street recording of the Eureka Brass Band in New Orleans. In addition to the amazing performance that really heats up toward the end, I love the ambient crowd sound and the little discussion you hear between a man and a woman you hear throughout (listen for her mention of “Rock and Roll”!). If the content wasn’t good enough, its also on YELLOW VINYL!

Eureka Brass Band – Street Recording ca. 1950s

I have fresh batteries in my recorder and am off to Day 2 in Harvard Square!

It comes from Brockton!

While preparing for a talk this week on Boston Hip-Hop history, I stumbled on a youtube video of kids in Brockton, MA breakdancing in the 1980s. I think I got there while looking for info about Ronnie Ruff, a dope Brockton DJ/Producer/MC from way back.

I could not resist making a little re-edit of the original video replacing the CVS-inserted (yet strangely beautiful) audio with the Ronnie Ruff track, “It Comes From Boston“. Now I loved the original mind you and need to give props to Dennis, all his Brockton (East Side) breakdancing friends and especially his mom, who apparently was handy with the Super 8 (thanks MOM!). But adding the Ronnie Ruff track just seemed too perfect. Apparently, the gods of Hip-Hop agreed. Notice the reference to “frosting” right as the cake comes out? That was complete luck. I just dropped the audio in and it lined right up. I must be doing something right.

Ronnie Ruff

There are so many things I love about this video. Having grown up in Boston in the 1980s, I just love how it looks. Like home.

I also love how it transitions from hanging out with dad in the yard, to a quick dinner shot (mom was probably too busy making, serving and cleaning it up to run much tape) and then right to the impromptu breakdance parties in the street and driveway. Cardboard/linoleum + boombox + dope tapes (probably off the radio…maybe Lecco’s Lemma?) + friends = mini-kid block party. In this sense, the emergence of Hip-Hop was so very local and fractal…every neighborhood had at least one kid who could rhyme, dance, DJ or at least had some dope tapes and a boombox. Some neighborhoods had lots. The little block parties that happened all over sometimes got much, much bigger. Then it went global and the rest is history. But back then, before the big money got into it, it was more about your friends, their moves and who had the better boombox.

I especially love that the length of the video allowed for the shoutouts at the end and find it funny that we don’t get one for his own town…Brockton! (I have secretly considered doing a re-edit of the track to replace all the refs to “Boston” with “Brockton”. If someone posts a good “Brockton” drop, I am on it).

Another amazing aspect of the video (that only became clear after talking to Dennis this morning) is the way Hip-Hop attracted kids like a tractor beam and then mixed them together. When I watched the original video, I immediately noticed the older dudes who make a cameo appearance early on and then disappear. Apparently, these guys were from East LA and were out visiting one of the neighbors and came over when they heard the music and joined in. They were probably in their early 20s whereas the rest of the kids were early teens from Brockton, MA. Hip-Hop apparently bridged the significant differences between them. It just proves that one upon a time, kids loved Hip-Hop enough to forget their differences for a minute and just dance. Some of them still do.

Peace Boston

Pace

Look out for the OVC (poster)

OVC poster by way of Saturn

OVC poster by way of Saturn

The other day, I walked into the front room and was flabbergasted to find a little-known piece of Boston’s Hip-Hop history casually laid out on Ken’s Klipsch speaker as if I were meant to find it. This would seem like a magical manifestation under almost any circumstances given my fascination with Boston’s Hip-Hop history and the mindboggling connections between the Jonzun Crew and Sun Ra represented by this little paper triangle. The fact that I had recently been dreaming of building Pyramidal subwoofers makes it seem more like an intergalactic message dropped there by the Man From Saturn himself.

Although there is now a fair bit of information available about the OVC, when I wrote my chapter on Boston Hip-Hop, Tompkins had yet to release the mindbomb How to Wreck a Nice Beach and there was almost no information anywhere about the cryptic reference in the title of the Boston electrofunk classic Pack Jam (Look Out for the OVC) by the Jonzun Crew.

PakMan_Boston_Intl_Records

As I did research for my article, I kept re-wondering “What the hell was this OVC anyway?!” Having whined about it enough to the right people, I learned the answer shortly after it was (re)discovered but swore a solemn oath to keep the story to myself. Which I of course did. Take my word for it, this whole OVC thing was seriously secret info only a few years back. Even now it’s a bit esoteric and the fact that the OVC is the link between Sun Ra and Hip-Hop still seems almost impossible. If you are not quite sure what the hell I am talking about, here it is in one ghastly sentence:

Boston’s Jonzun Crew was connected to Jazzman/Intergalactic traveler Sun Ra via the OVC (the Outerspace Visual Communicator), a light show-producing keyboard that was designed by MIT-affiliated inventor/funk keyboardist Bill Sebastian and used in several Boston Sun Ra Shows and one film.

Now even if you are not a Boston obsessed music obsessive like me, this is a pretty amazing story. For me, its fundamental. In fact, the whole Boston-Electrofunk-Sun Ra connection is a critical piece of evidence that Boston was an important (and overlooked) source for Hip-Hop’s electro/cosmic elements. Seriously, find me a place where early Hip-Hop and Sun Ra connect other than in Boston. Whatever your beliefs about the importance of the Bean in providing some of Hip-Hop’s deepest connections with intergalactic beings, at the very least the OVC deserves a special place in the story of the birth of Hip-Hop (and its Beantown roots).

Since I could not run this down in the chapter given my oath (and could never have done it better than Dave anyway), allow me to offer a few annotations to the now mythical story of the OVC. (Oh to have stalked the beast into the gloamy evening underbrush with Dave and Brian back in the dark ages of ’09…sigh.)

Sun Ra at Mass Art

But first of all, where did the poster come from? Did Sun Ra really show up and leave it up front? Most likely not. Originally, this poster was from a series of shows at Mass Art on June 26-29, 1980. Most recently, it arrived by way of Roger Miller who had it floating around in the Alloy Orchestra van. Being a fan of Sun Ra, a gobsmacked bandmate asked if he could have the artifact for his ephemera collection (since it was just laying around the van anyway). Apparently Roger gave it up gladly claiming “to have plenty of them”. Wha?! Sometime after that point the cosmic communique was left on the speaker where I found it. But frankly Ken did not seem entirely sure about any of this, really. Maybe its more plausible that Sun Ra did drop it off.

Wherever the thing came from, it got me sleuthing around again about the OVC. I returned to Dave’s book, of course. Then I went looking for digital crumbs on the internet which I have assembled together here for you. This re-search turned up the following known and semi-known bits of additional info arranged in a rough timeline of the OVC and its interconnections with the Arkestra via Bill Sebastian and the Jonzun Crew.

1973 – Keyboardist/inventor Bill Sebastian is playing with the Johnson Brothers and invents a keyboard light show that plays the band’s name in lights. Perhaps the fractal-electronic seed of the OVC had been planted. Go read the whole awesome interview with Michael Johnson (did you know he and Maurice Starr did a bunch of backing tracks at Sugarhill, for example?). That same year, Sebastian sees sun Ra play in Boston (where was this show?) and spends the next five years building the OVC.

Sometime before 1977 – Sun Ra and the Arkestra play at Paul’s Mall in Boston. According to Warren, they were promoting Space is the Place so this show had to be before 1977. Please go see his amazing pictures of this show. Here is one I borrowed for this post.

1977 – Sun Ra plays the Cyclorama in Boston. No info on this show yet.

1978 – According to Tompkins (p. 117), this was the year Bill completed the OVC in Ore City, Texas. At around this time, Bill was placed at the Starsystems Loft on Thayer St. in Boston. Apparently Sun Ra and Bill spent some time together there using the OVC.

1979 – Sun Ra plays The Modern Theater in Boston. This is a week (or two) long run at which The OVC appears for the first time. Waren’s recollection of the show contains a nice reference to the OVC:

“He [Sun Ra] was to perform at a now-defunct theater in Boston, and it was to be a week-long run in which the Arkestra was joined by light artist Bill Sebastian, who had crafted an extraordinary device (the Spacescape light organ) that gave a dazzling visual accompaniment to the music. The photos of Ra and the Arkestra on the back jacket [The Other Side of the Sun] were taken during the band’s two-week stint at Boston’s Modern Theater in 1979. (Obscure digression: if you happen to see the film The Verdict with Paul Newman — filmed in Boston around the time of these shows – watch for the distinctive triangle-shaped flyer for these shows next to him in the scene where’s he’s chatting on an outdoor payphone.) Anyway: Two photos on the rear jacket of this LP show members of the band playing in front of Bill Sebastian’s eyeball-melting Outerspace Visual Communicator, an amazing light-sculpting device”

Back of the Other Side of the Sun

1980, June 26-29 – Mass College of Art. The OVC was clearly in full effect at this point, as was its inventor, who apparently spun around dressed as some kind of space Wizard. Perfect.

1984 – Sun Ra visits a new “OVC-3D” at the Johnson Brother’s studio, Mission Control. Somewhat earlier in 1982, the OVC was placed at Sebastian’s Munster-esque mansion in Roxbury, MA.

1986 – Sun Ra’s “Calling Planet Earth” video is released. Bill and Jonzun worked on this video with the Arkestra and it contains the best footage I have seen of the OVC (though it is still a little unclear to me how many of the effects were done with the OVC and how many were post production). The video once lived on the YouTube, but the only version I can find now is this one which I scraped off of the web:

Can we get a reissue/better version of this, Bill? Anyone?

More recently, rumors have been circulating around town that Bill and/or Sun Ra may be rebuilding the OVC. There is a tantalizing video called “The Return of the OVC” that claims to be footage from 1986. I can’t be sure what it all means but I hope posters about it keep showing up.

I’ll be looking into all of this as soon as I get that Pyramidal Subwoofer built. In the meantime, keep your eyes out for the OVC (or at least another poster). It may be appearing soon at a future mythical reunion show near you.