Def Rock at Beat Research

Thanks to everyone who showed up on Monday for the Beat Research Rep Da Bean Night. Amazing to hang with 7L, Karma, Lyrical, Nomadik, Polecat/Brick Casey, Def Rock and the Megabug crew and many others while we listened to unreleased Lecco’s Lemma tapes, TDS Mob, T-Max and so much other incredible Boston hip-hop! We all agreed we need to do it more often.

We ended the night with a surprise appearance by Def Rock and Dr. Dooriddle (of Megabug/Monstamind fame) and DJ Richie Gambles on the decks. Check them out rockin’ through a hole in the wall using the random breakbeat records I happened to bring along.


My best record find ever

Those are big words for sure. But in this case, it has to be true. Last summer, while sorting incoming records at the old lab, I flipped past  this copy of Ofra Haza’s Galbi 12″. As it was heading for the “sell/trade” pile (I already have a few), something caught my attention. The record sleeve seemed a little thick. There was clearly something else in there. “Hunh, might be worth keeping her promo shot/press kit, plus, it has an old WERS stamp on it…,” I was thinking as I removed the printed material inside. Then I fell over.

After a year digging into the basement of Boston hip hop looking for its origin stories, my personal grail had escaped me.  I knew that The Source magazine started in Boston (in the Cambridge dorms at Harvard to be precise) and I really expected to run across an old copy. Indeed, lots of folks reported having copies way back when (before the move, fire, robbery…) but I never was able to track one down. Until now. In the most random way imaginable.

Here, in a record I was about to throw away was a copy of The Source, Vol 1, No. 2, November 1988! Not only was it  still stapled shut but it started right out with a list of “hot picks from streetbeat” (presumably a reference to the weekly rap radio show run by David Mays Jon Shecter on Harvard’s student radio station WHRB). Also, nore the appearance of the local classic TDS Mob track Dope For the Folks along with a pile of golden age gems from national acts.  This amazing bit of Beantown hip-hop history was delivered in a way that only the vinyl gods could have organized. It also put a beautiful bookmark on the end of my year-long quest for the foundations of Boston hip-hop. Grail. Check.

Iraqi Metal and MUM Movie

As promised, MUM ripped a hole in the funkiverse last Saturday night. My favorite moment? A toss up between Todd showing up in a space suit with a can of Tang (?) and the bikers showing up late night with a chopper rigged up with a disco ball on a rotating 10″ high pole.

There is a short video here.

Keeping in the video domain, there is a Scion-sponsored screening of the new documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad this Tues Sep 2 from 9pm-12am at the Coolidge Corner Cinema in Brookline. A documentary on an Iraqi heavy metal band complete with a DJ (the ever ill Jayceeoh), drinks and free admission with just an RSVP to Scion. Can you beat it?

Quincy 78 Haul

Last week I brought Chalfen some 78s that washed up in a Quincy yard sale (thanks for the tip Franc). His first e-mail after the fact concluded “thanx for the wild-ass stash of wax obscuranta; i hope you realize you’ve revolutionized the field of Boston proto-jass”. Wha?
His latest continues…
“dr. so far no mention of The Ormsby Disc or Boston Talking Machine Exchange,
but both songs are dated 1904 and by known ragtime era composers:
Make A Fuss Over Me
Music: Theodore f. Morse
Words: Edw. Madden
Madden was later busted for a ‘song-poem’ scam where submitted ‘lyrics’ were added to music, for a price – there’s a whole website dedicated to the form
“What’s the Matter With the Mail?”
Music: Percy Wenrich
Words: Fred J. Hamill (also the publisher)
Wenrich was known as ‘the Ragtime Kid’ and wrote Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet and other hits. so far no boston connection to either tune or composer.”

Mysterious. Boston. Ragtime??

ormsby 1520 what's the matter with the mail
ormsby 1507 make a fuss over me

He’s referring to this rather mysterious pair of 78’s that turned up at a garage sale in Quincy. The elderly gentleman having it was some kind of collector finally ridding himself of the detritus of his career. Of course, I asked if he had any records. After producing a smattering of random rock 45″s, I asked if he had any older records. “You mean 78’s? Someone took a hundred yesterday.” Not expecting to find anything left, I had to give one look and found an apparently untouched stash in the garage, well out of reach. These (apparently) rare discs contain Ragtime from Boston in the (last) oughts. More on this one as it emerges. For now, check the audio (click the records above) and the pics from the night we first heard them.

Europe’s Society Orchestra Animation!

Yup. You read it right. Another incredible find from Rob Chalfen (local archivist and itinerant Jazz historian). This one is so amazing, I could not sleep on it.

James Resse Europe was one of the first African American musicians on record and was a critical link in the transition from Ragtime to Jazz in the early part of the last century. A less well known fact is how two ragtime dancers, Irene and Vernon Castle, contributed to the development of Jazz by broadly exposing Europe’s music to white society audiences.

Reading Eileen Southern’s foundational The Music of Black Americans, it becomes clear that African American bands were the performers of choice for dance parties starting at the very beginning of the republic. Nothing much had changed by the time the Castles got back from Europe where they had been performing their diluted, African American derived Ragtime dances to society audiences in 1911-12. Upon returning to the states and hearing James Reese Europe’s unique brand of stompin’ and swerving ragtime (aka proto Jazz) in 1913, they decided to team up. This combination of high society dancers performing “cleaned up” African American derived dances to the stomp and swerve of Europe’s Society Orcestra was to become an irresistable combination. It led to national tours and the first recording of an African American Orchestra by a major record label among other important firsts.

It also led to a film reel made in 1914 called Social and Theatrical Dancing and the publication of a dance instruction book called Modern Dancing later that year. As ever, Europe’s Society Orchestra provided the music. Just a little while ago, Chalfen found the book. In it are plates of the Castles doing some of their famous dances, including the Castle Walk. In the background is Europe’s Society Orchestra.

Ever the Ragtime Quasi-Experimentalists, we realized that if we animated these plates, we could create a short film of Europe’s Society Orchestra performing in 1914. And that’s just what we did friends! While its kind of badly registered, the animation below gives you some feel for the vibe in the room. Amazingly, you can even see the fiddle player bowing. If you listen to this Europe’s Society Orchestra Castle Twofer.mp3 which contains two songs Europe wrote for the Castles around that time (“Castle House Rag – The Castle’s in Europe” and “Castle Walk”), you get an even better sense.

I hope to do more with these plates soon (like scan them properly rather than photograph them with my little digital camera). But for now, enjoy this rare look at one of the most important musical/dance combos in history.

Record stores are so 20th century

Being a data junkie, I decided to do a little more research on what appears to be a national trend in record store closings. No big surprise, but the news is not good.

Here’s a chart I made from some data I dug up in Plunkett’s Entertainment and Media Industry Almanac (Jan 17, 2002).

The chart looks at the changes in where people purchased music over the last decade of the 20th century. Notice that the trend line for record stores is dramatically down. I find it particularly interesting that the trend began well before the internet crept in in the late 1990’s. Looking at the growth of the “other stores” category, it makes me think that there are actually two intersecting trends going on. One is the general trend toward buying everything at big megastores and the other is the gradual decline of record sales generally. While much more data is required to draw any conclusions about causality, the basic trend looks pretty undeniable to me.

Luckily, none of this will affect the hardcore diggers who seem to find piles where none should exist.

Mashistory Vol. 2.: The Sour Cream Control Committee

Sorry I have been so sour of late. Let me lighten the mood with a little thing I have been thinkin about for a while. Of course, it has a Mojo connection too. So let me start there.

Bhind the counter on the wall, Mojo used to have a great collection of Whipped Cream and Other Delights knockoff records. The original Herb Albert album has become iconic among record people, partly because of its omnipresence and partly because, well, it has the super sexy picture of Dolores Erikson covered in whipped cream on the front. This is the record that is virtually guaranteed to appear in every pile of records that you ever encounter. From the sheer frequency of its appearance, it seems that everyone in the 1960’s must have had a copy (if not two). According to this chronology, not everyone bought it, but a whole lot did. In 1966, “Herb Alpert sold 13.7 million albums in a 12-month period, an unprecedented achievement.”

Perhaps as a result of its iconic status, but certainly reiforcing it, there have been innumerable delicious tags for some of the ones I found.

Mojo had all of them it seemed. All but this one. I had always wanted to give it to them, but frankly, I just couldn’t part with it. Can you blame me? Maybe you will after you hear the first track on this SourCreamControlCommitteeTwofer.mp3. It’s the signature, Alpert tune “A Taste of Honey”, but tortured and Klezmerized in a way that seems almost too perfectly terrible to be accidental. Come on, listen to that modulation again, Peter.

I follow the Sour Cream with another of my favorite Alpert mashups. This one by the Evolution Control Committee was originally released on the 1994 Gunderphonics casette and then came out on a 1996 7″ as “The Whipped Cream Mixes”. Widely regarded as one of the first A+B mashups, this bastard pop classic set the standard for genre the blending hillarity of the mashup craze to come. According to info available at ECC site, Rebel Wihtout A Pause mashes Public Enemy, “The Rhythm, The Rebel”, Prophets Of Rage EP with Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, “Bittersweet Samba”, Whipped Cream and Other Delights. My favorite thing about this track is how the juxtapositon recontextualizes the “break” in Bittersweet Samba with Flav’s introduction somehow making its squareness seem super hip.

I have always wondered how they actually constructed the track. I sat with a guitar and plunked along to see if the pitch changes, and it doesn’t. That means it was not done live on two decks. They must have used some kind of editing system. Was it digital? I’d love any more info anyone finds on the method behind this madness.

Either way. I think these two tracks belong together somehow. Enjoy.

Long live the death of vinyl

As it turned out, I was a week early. Mojo survived well into the week of March 20, 2006. After lumbering along like a wounded analog Kong valiantly battling the digital biplanes, Mojo finally closed its doors on Friday, March 24, 2006. I had planned to document the moment of its official demise. But as one day bled into the next, it became clear that there was not going to be “a moment”. There were a whole series of them. Some were more hillarious than poignant, but they were all tinged with sadness and the kind of frenzy you get when there are too many records to take but the prices are too great to pass up. Here’s my haul from Day 1. Those crates are all dancehall 45’s.

I was there more often than not that last week. Luckily, I took to bringing my camera and wound up getting some great footage, along with all the wax. I also met some local dudes who had already documented two closings and are working on a movie. I’d love to see that footage, so get in touch if you read this.

Amazingly, there were still gems turning up late into that week. Several boxes of 45s from some 1980’s wedding DJ appeared. As I flipped through, I noticed Blondie’s “Rapture” because of the picture sleve. What do you think came next? Yup. Queen, “Another one bites the dust”. Having just spent a week putting together a lecture/demo on The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steels, I knew I had to look at every 45 in there. (Not to mention the double coincidence of finding “Another one bites the dust” at the Mojo sale). Even though I have both tracks, it seemed wrong to separate these old friends after so many years together. I took them both. Now they can hang together in my 45 box for another few decades.

I guess the absence of heavy diggin surprised me more than anything else. I mean, I was pulling James Brown records on King out of that pile on Tues and Wed. And new stuff seemd to titrate out all week as the final solution settled. With all that, it felt like there was less interest overall than you might expect. Even on the last day, there were Sly and Robbie picture discs on the wall. (Where did those wind up Mike?)

I was able to hang out long enough to get priceless footage of the last days of Mojo. There was the race between Billy and the Goodwill dudes cleaning out the dollar bins. There was the ubiquitous (and mysterious) Folk Man. There was the soundtrack to “How to succeed in business without really trying” in the window, right under the “going out of business” signs. There were the demolition dudes cutting up the bins themselves. I got it all on my mini DV. Witness.

it made me a little sad to see the records at Goodwill, by the time I got to the one in Davis Sq. only a few days later, 5 bins (like the ones above) had disappeared. Amazing, that with DJ culture goin strong and enough people willing to buy THREE BINS of records in as many days, its hard to make a go of it as a storefront. Yet with pressures from E-bay and other online outlets, it is inevitable. Everyone is feeling the pressure to go online. But as we do, local ecologies suffer in strange ways.

I get the sense from my travels that used record stores are closing everywhere. Either that, or becoming Amoebas. I’d be curious how the trend looks to others, but to me, it seems that the days of diggin in the new arrivals bins are limited. At least around here. Keep the faith Loony Tunes, Mystery Train, Nuggets, Cheapo and all you other wax preservationists out there.

Most of all, thanks to David, Mike and all the Mojo patrons who put up with me that last week. I am gonna miss the Mojo. Not to mention the records.

The last days of Mojo Music

Today, another name is added to the growing list of used record stores that have closed in Boston over the last few years. Remember these?

Disc Diggers, Mars Records, Phase 4 Records, Record Hog, Smash City Records, Mystery Train. Not to mention Biscuit Head, Calabash, and all the other small independent stores that come and go (but seem to go more than come).

Yup. Mojo music is closing today. While it is just one more in a long series of used record store closings in the area, this one hits close to home for me (figuratively and literally). Mojo has been a favorite stop on my route since it opened in the (mid?) 1990’s. From their extensive dollar and inexpensive new arrival bins to their listening station and crates of 1980’s reggae singles, this has long been a local mecca for me. Reorganizing my records recently, it seemed that every 5th one had a Mojo label on it. This is where I got my Winston’s “Amen” single and the Chakacha’s classic “Jungle Fever”. I can’t even count the blissful Sundays spent diggin through the dollar bins downstairs.

Needless to say, I have spent a lot of time in there lately. Just recently, I had arrived early enough that no one noticed me slip down into the dusty basement. Some two hours later, I staggered up the stairs, bleary eyed and clutching some strange disco and kids records. Taking one look at me (and not realizing I had come in earlier), David hollered from behind the counter: “Just waking up there, Pace?”. We had a good laugh, but I might as well have slept over these last few weeks. When their 50% off sale hit, I probably looked through half the records in there. The other half? I saw those when they came in 😉

Those younger folks among you might be laughing at this point. “Dude, you can get all those records on line now. Helooooo.” Yeah, I know you can get almost any record you want on E-bay and Gemm (if not on a brand new compilation at Dusty Groove). Guess what? It’s not the same. Sorry. As more and more of our media consumption becomes computer mediated and collaboratively filtered, we loose something unique and irreplaceable (even as we gain variety along with a repetitive stress injury).

Since the beginning of the record industry, small local stores have served as watering holes for local musicians, collectors, audiophiles, vinly junkies and other music obsessives (and just plain wierdos). In their capacity to attract people seeking information (customers) and people seeking to dispense it (often too much of it, for too long, when you didn’t even ask for it) used record stores are places where the very threads that make up the fabric of musical culture are woven.

Just a few weeks ago, I was in Mojo’s and Peter Wolfe wandered in. As he laughed with David about some inside joke only two local music mavens would understand, I realized how big a hole Mojo is going to leave in the social and cultural fabric of Cambridge.

At least the Plough is back. I’ll be there later, trying to drown out the echo of the sound of the lock closing on the Mojo door this one last time. (If I am lucky, maybe they’ll lock me in there!)

We’ll miss you Mojo.