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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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

Billy’s Mojo

I think I first met Billy Ruane in 1988 when I sat in with a friend’s band at the Middle East upstairs. I was back from college on a winter break that turned into a year long hiatus in which I attended a bunch of Billy’s shows. At that time, The Middle East Downstairs was still a bowling alley and until recently, the entertainment upstairs had been mostly belly dancing and other light cultural fare. In the legendary Boston rock origin story, Billy Ruane changed all that in 1987 and lit the fire that still burns in Central Square. In the family of Boston rock, Billy was the crazy uncle who always came with arms full of gifts (even if they were sometimes as mysterious as a trunk full of scavenged biology texts).

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The other night as I wallowed in Pabst Blue Ribbon while watching old footage of Billy at the closing of Mojo Records and making a mix tape in his honor, who should walk in but Roger Miller. In a moment of chance that seems divine, sitting there on the top of the pile of Human Sexual Response, O Positive, Neighborhoods, Lyres, Treat Her Right, Throbbing Lobster, Limbo Race, Wrong, The Dark and Morphine records was Roger’s own 1987 release The Big Industry. Not only is this a significant record for me personally (Roger played twice at my college around this time and was nearly attacked with a machete in my dorm after a show), the release party for this record was the first real rock show at the Middle East. Billy had already been trying book bands in the restaurant’s back room but they had been reluctant. Roger beat him to it for the release of The Big Industry and Billy came back to the Middle East upset that he had been scooped. The next month, in November 1987, he convinced them to let him book bands there for his 30th birthday party. It has remained a hub of the Boston music scene ever since.

Here’s the mix of mostly 80s’ post punk and pop rock I made in Billy’s honor. In fact, I’m not sure he even liked any of these songs. It’s just a mix that reminds me of him and expresses some feelings about his loss that I could not express better in any other way. Plus, its just a bitchin Boston mix. My favorite kind.

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MojoMix4Billy_DJPace.

Track List:
1. Unba Unba – Human Sexual Response
2. Houses R Falling Down – The Dark
3. Manic Depression – Roger Miller
4. Sin City – Treat Her Right
5. Sharks – Morphine
6. Talk About Love – O Positive
7. /one/blue story/ – Wrong
8. Down and Backwards – Limbo Race
9. Boys Town Work Song – Christmas
10. Prettiest Girl – The Neighborhoods
11. I Think She Likes Me – Treat Her Right
12. Yesterday – Swinging Erudites
13. No Reason – Treat Her Right

Over the years, Billy paced me (and passed me often) throughout the Cambridge music scene. A dervish dancing like it was a Dead Kennedy’s show to the mild mannered Kora player he had booked at the Green Street Grille. Shirt open to the navel always. Beer barely in hand. A dapper disheveled Boston rock impresario racing through Cambridge with his heart on his suit jacket sleeve leaving a trail of musical madness in his wake. Who will teach the children to slam dance in their slippers and nightshirts? He booked the Pineapple Ranch Hands and so so many other bands over the years. Hell, I even interviewed him for my dissertation on Boston nightclubs.

Although we were not close personally, we knew each other well after 20 years of bumping into each other at shows. For so many people, Billy was the best friend you saw too little and always had the best time with. Maybe the closer you got, the more likely you were to get burned from his intense heat. But from my safe distance, Billy was a comet that streaked through most of my adult life. Usually when I was having the most fun.

Though I always met Billy over music, in the end I knew him best through records. Over the years, I encountered him often on my rounds. At a yard sale here. At a Goodwill there. Often at Mojo Records in Cambridge. In March 2006 Mojo closed. I was there filming between Sunday March 19 and Tuesday March 21. Billy was there too. Every day. In the end, it came down to a race between Billy and the Goodwill Guys. I guess it always did. This time, I got it on film. Billy was never quite so Billy.

Boston will never quite be the same without him.

Lecco’s Lemma’s 25th

Lecco's Tape Return 2010

All of this seems like it was preplanned. One possibility is that Lecco engaged the services of the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu and somehow orchestrated a rediscovery of 1980’s Boston hip-hop to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Lecco’s Lemma show. In another, Lecco invaded the Media Lab through a wormhole he left back in 1986 and secretly built a tractor beam to draw the Lemmas back home. Whatever the plan, the machine certainly seemed to speak this weekend up in Maine. Let me provide some history.

You see, according to the origin myth, Lecco was the computer that was secretly running the local rap radio show that Magnus started in September 1985 in the basement of MIT. Even then, the singularity seemed near. The tapes (or more properly the songs) were his Lemmas. I have been searching for them for a while now.

On July 11, 2007, I visited Magnus up in his northern lab/studio/record repository. As usual, he is way ahead of everybody else (having moved to high ground long ago with his massive collection of reggae 45s and acres of LPs and 12’s). Unfortunately, on that first visit I only had one night to spend with him. It was great to reconnect and greater still to hear the famed Lecco’s Lemma tapes. But it was rushed. I was only able to record a few tapes before grabbing a couple of hours of shut eye for the long drive home. Not only that, I hadn’t brought a proper tape deck and the good one was deeply wired into Mango’s studio. So I wound up grabbing audio out of a boom box headphone jack. (Somehow appropriate, but not exactly up to even my lame archival standards).

As a result, I was only able to digitize a small fraction of the three wine boxes full of Lecco’s tapes he had kept together. I thought there was a life’s work just in those three boxes, but as I was leaving he explained that there were probably that many more tapes scattered throughout his dozens of boxes of unsorted tapes. I assured him I’d be back soon.

As it increasingly seems to do, time raced along and it was two years later (nearly to the day) when I discovered the second trove. Not in Magnus’s lab this time but in a closet up on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Coming just before the 25th anniversary of the first Lecco’s Lemma show, this new discovery seemed like an clear message from the record gods and perhaps even from Lecco himself. After years of asking around, what’s the chance of finding a collection of 180 show tapes containing the precious on-air performances that Magnus had witnessed (and fondly described) but never recorded? And on the 25th anniversary of the show no less! I immediately called Magnus to see about coming to find those remaining tapes. This time I went prepared with some time on my hands and a tape deck.

Newly discovered Lecco's tapes

This last weekend, on the 25th anniversary of the show, I spent a whole day in Magnus’s lab sorting tapes while he painted. Strangely, we often worked in silence. Sometimes he would amble over to my ever growing piles and dig out a familiar gem. They were always incredible. Tapes of his pre Lecco’s show Reggae Mukassa, original tapes of Gnawa music from the 1970s and of course, many many Lecco’s Lemma demos.

In my secret dreams I must confess I had imagined reuniting the two Lecco’s Lemma tape collections. In more sober moments I also thought it might be either unwise to have them all in one place (what if lightning hit the pile for example) or at best highly unlikely that Magnus would want to part with even one box of the precious Lemmas. Luckily hope prevailed over caution and I mustered the courage to ask him in a statement that was only half a question…”er, well, you know if we get this grant to digitize them, we might need to, er…take some tapes.” The quiet answer was a shudder inducing, “I think I can trust you”. The next morning, his mind-frying coda was delivered over the phone when I called him at work to confirm that it had not been just another diggers dream. “You are the caretaker now.” I had to turn off the video tape to collect myself.

Tapes heading home

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that I got it all on tape. Audio tape of course. But more importantly, video. I have perhaps 2 hours of Magnus telling the story of the show, his own history as a DJ and lots and lots of me digging.

Whether by fate, luck or some cyborgian scheme, somehow the Lemmas returned home just in time for their 25th birthday. I don’t know why I was chosen. Perhaps just because I kept asking. Or perhaps it was part of the plan all along. Either way, Magnus knows I will be a good custodian and that Lecco watches over the Lemmas always.

Happy 25th birthday Lecco. Your Lemmas are home.

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Lecco’s Lemma Trove Two

prime box close

When I got to visit Magnus and the original Lecco’s Lemma tapes I was honored and humbled. Here were the raw materials of one of the oldest rap shows in the country (September 1985) and a critical one in the history of Boston hip-hop. In all of the wonder of that discover there was only one problem…Magnus didn’t tape his own show (or at least not that often). It makes sense. Listening to these tapes it’s clear he was juggling a lot already. The problem is, he did lots of on air stuff. Without the tapes of the shows the record would always be incomplete.

So I began asking around. Lots of people claimed to have tapes of the show. I have a few myself. But when it came right down to it, there just weren’t that many around. But there was one person on my list who I never quite connected with…until recently. I guess I just assumed when he said that he taped the show a lot it was the same as all of us…a lot less often than we remembered. Well. In this case I was wrong.

I finally connected with him this past weekend. As I walked up to the house with my backpack, he stood up from the stoop where he had been waiting and said, “Where’s your truck”. “Truck?”, I replied already taken aback. “What do you mean? How many tapes do you have?” “Like I said, I have boxes, man” was his only reply as he disappeared up the stairs to the archive. I still didn’t quite believe him until he opened the closet door. Then I had to sit down to keep from falling over. He has boxes man.

Lecco's Lemma Trove 2

I left with one box containing 64 tapes of the show. He still has two more. Rounding down, lets say there are 60 tapes per box. That’s 180 tapes. Two tapes per show on average is about 90 shows. Since the show only ran for three years, that’s more than half the shows EVER! With this and Magnus’ original tape collection we will be able to compile a pretty complete picture of 80s Boston hip-hop.

Needless to say, there will be much more to say (and more importantly hear). I’ll be putting stuff up here and on the new Lecco’s Lemma soundcloud account all year. After all, September 2010 is the 25th anniversary of the first Lecco’s Lemma show in 1985…so bust out the tape decks people as we run it down for y’all.

Peace to Magnus and DJ Spin (the first Lecco’s archivist) and all the Lecco’s Lemma alumni out there!

Lecco's Lemma Show Tapes Close

Cuz Faulkner’s Books Bibles and Records

Cuz Faulkner's 1965 Desk Close

Rob Chalfen came by recently to listen through some more of the Lexington 78 haul. Along with the Brian Rust book, he brought some recently discovered pictures of his original Wax Vallhala – Cuz Faulkner’s Books Bibles and Records on Columbus Ave in Boston, MA. (Close inspection of the picture of the facade makes me think it was 979 Columbus).

Cuz Faulkner's 1965 Front

As any reader of this blog knows, Rob is both a good friend and a walking encyclopedia of early music of the African diaspora. By the age of 12 he had absorbed his family’s pretty extensive 78 collection and was taking trips from the family home in Newton down to the South End to dig for old jazz and blues records in the prodigious piles at Cuz Faulkner’s.

ChalfenAtCuz Faulkners1965

I was particularly struck by the confluence of pictures and dates here. All these shots are from a trip Rob made in March, 1965 with his dad (who brought the family camera). He was 12 1/2 and already knew more about early jazz than most of us will absorb in a lifetime. Rob pointed out the MLK calendar above the desk and noted that it was jut one month before he was to arrive in Boston to lead a march of 50,000 on Boston Common.

Cuz Faulkners 1965 Chalfen Diggin

Sitting here this MLK day 2010, with with images of Hati and Cuz Faulkner’s crossing paths on the internet, it feels like the world is simultaneously imploding on itself and launching new technoutopic wonders distractions by the moment. I stare into these old photos longing for a simpler place and time. Of course, that moment was no less horror filled (Kennedy was killed in ’63 and the cascades of calamities in ’68 were a mere three years hence). But somehow, the notion of a white pre-teen record geek from Newton taking the trolley down to sift through Cuz Faulkner’s 78s in search of the origins of jazz provides some strange solace. I guess it just makes me long for a dusty room full of records, the optimism of youth and the sense that the future was yet to be written. For whatever reason, sitting here at the end of history, this little window into a not so distant past feels comforting. Like its not so far away after all.

Anyway, I have been so fascinated with these shots and struck by the timing that I e-mailed Chalfen asking for more detail. Who told you about this place? How did you wind up with a Nat Hentoff curated record collection as a 12 year old? What do you remember about Cuz Faulkner and his place. Here’s his reply.

[Snip]

Lessee…. I think Henry Schwartz, the great Boston Expressionist painter & pal of my dad’s hepped me to it. He was a classical 78 collector & prob discovered it trawling around for Columbia Vivatonals…My dad dropped me off / picked me up on the occasion when he took these shots, but often I would just schlepp in there from Newton Corner on the trolley, hauling my portable phonograph…The owner had a helper who lived nearby on an upper floor, who’s name I think was Milton or Mr Milton, a thin, hangdog older black man – i would yell up at his window & I even tossed gravel up to his window to wake him up, no doorbell…after a spell he would slowly make his way down & open the place up for me…I could easily spend 5 hours in there without any consciousness of time whatever…Next door was a black barbershop – I wandered in there once on a break from my record trance, looking for small talk, and all conversation ground to a halt upon the the intrusion of the white boy. I only met Cuz on a few occasions…I recall him in a 3 piece suit, cigar, of somewhat florid speech, a neighborhood pontificator; or that could just be an artifact of my reconstruction. He always had a few friends hanging out in the front of the shop, shooting the shit; what they made of me I can’t imagine. On the date shown in the photos he regaled my father about how unusual I was, most kids today have no appreciation etc etc, while I clutched the bag of that day’s gleanings, one of my best hauls ever. When I got it home I found I had taken the wrong bag, or it had been switched on me, I never found out which. I got a bunch of Nat King Cole records of no interest to me whatever. Calls back to the place discovered nothing, or so they said. Evidently it had been sold to someone else. I was devastated. I can still remember some of the records I lost. Curiously, Nat King Cole died almost immediately therafter.

My mom was a typical hit parade/big band swing fan bobbysoxer of the late ’30s…she got the discarded records from the jukebox at her dad’s resort in Gloucester when the were changed over by the distributor, at least once a summer, mostly white big band stuff, Goodman, Miller, Dorsey. (Though I think her copy of “South” by Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra (1928) came from it too). Her girlfriend dated Nat Hentoff when they lived in Dorchester, c ’39/’40, while he was at Boston Latin, see Hentoff’s excellent “Boston Boy – a memoir”, Knopf 1986. Hentoff was already doing radio in Boston at WMEX and wrote jazz reviews while at Northeastern. He was the jazz guru of their set, leading forays to the Savoy Ballroom and other live jazz venues, making sure they were steered away from Commercial Crap and towards the Real Thing. He would lead expeditions to Boston Music Company, Kreys and other downtown record outlets and recommend what was hep amongst the new releases, mostly the 4-record sets then being reissued of classic ’20s jazz for fans of ‘real’ (small combo) jazz, jazz record collectors and other unfortunates: King Oliver, Armstrong Hot 5, Bessie Smith, Frank Teschemacher, Ellington’s Cotton Club band, no Bix for some reason. Sets of early New Orleans Revival stuff like Bunk Johnson. Also misc stuff like pre-war Chicago blues (Big Maceo, Art Hodes), and then-current 52nd St small combo jazz (Cozy Cole, Jerry Jerome & his Cats & Jammers, Chu Berry/Roy Eldridge, Big Joe Turner, Basie, Ellington, Billie Holliday, Eddie Condon, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, Muggsy Spanier, Boogie Woogie (Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis), Capitol’s 1943 New American Jazz set, Coleman Hawkins. This constituted the bulk of her collection, prob @ 200 records, which I discovered in waves at various points growing up. So to a great extent my formative musical consciousness was curated by Nat Hentoff. Plus my dad’s classical piano playing & records. Plus the jukebox.

My folks would stack them up on the changer when I was bored on rainy days, age about 4, and I would watch them spin with hypnotic fascination. ( I could go on in this mode but that’s prob another essay, this is only part of the tale of my wax obsessions)

[Snip]

Peace on this MLK day 2010 and thanks to all the people trying to bridge the false divisions among us. Keep the dream alive.

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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.

Flipville

The day the records stood still

I’ve been out in Milwaukee for the last week on a writing retreat (and visiting my wife who started her MFA in dance here this summer). I gotta say, its a gem of a town. Great music, art, dance and…records. In my typical style, I had to seek out the dankest, darkest, deepest piles. Along the way, I wound up at Flipville Records where I spent the better part of two days digging til my hands turned black. Aside from the somewhat high prices for standard stuff, there are lots of gems to be found here. I was particularly excited by the boxes of soul 45s that seemed like no one had looked them over in years. I took care of that.

I simply flipped when I found this holy grail of a record for a buck.

Flipville gold

Despite thinking lots about whether early hip-hop djs were rockin this 45 (and if so how) I had never seen or heard the original pressing (though it was obviously high on my “want” list). Needless to say, I flipped on Sunday when it titrated out of the piles at Flipville. Sure, its scratched a bit, but for a buck, hell yeah!

As luck would have it, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee has some 70K records (I’m meeting their archivist music librarian tomorrow to talk shop). So I went directly there to listen.

Beat research

As I sat intently waiting for the break, I was marveling over the fact that this iconic jam was split up on two sides of the 45. I was imagining teenage dancers in the heat of some impromptu dance party stopping to flip the record right in the middle of it (did some keep on shaking it while the DJ flipped the wax?). So funny/analog. Side one passed with no break. Flip. Then, just as my hope was wearing out (along with my memory cause I couldn’t quite remember how deep in the track it came), there it was, on the very last grooves of side two. It seemed so odd that the break that became one of the most sampled in all of history appeared almost like a coda on this original pressing. Amazing how retrospective sensemaking works (and also record karma). I had to think that I was doing something right cause the record gods were sure smiling on me today.