Earlham College Radio Blues 1986

Rob Jones ca. 1986 Richmond, IN

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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

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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

DJ Red Alert Tape

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Tonight I will have the honor of being in the studio at WMBR in Cambridge at the Musenomix show for an interview with hip-hop legend Kool DJ Red Alert!! Clearly the man needs no introduction. Tonight, Dana and the dudes at Musenomix will celebrating his industry-defining career from 10PM – 12AM. From an early start as one of Afrika Bambaata’s DJs with cousin Jazzy Jay, to his 11 year run on NYC’s Kiss FM and much much more, this man has literally been there since the start and helped define the music that defined a generation. A true hip-hop legend.

For me, the night has a special personal significance as well. Although I never got to hear Red Alert live on KISS back in the day, my friend Rob used to tape the show regularly and bring these little time capsules of hip-hop culture back out to Indiana with him where we went to college together. Few memories are as sweet as driving all blazed up with Rob through the winding roads of Richmond Indiana late on a warm spring night rockin’ Red Alert’s show. That was back in 1988 or so.

Somehow, I wound up with one of these tapes and it remained a critical touchstone for me long before I ever picked up two 1200 and crappy Gemini mixer to begin my training. I used to listen to that tape and try to imagine the techniques the DJ’s were using cut, mix and strobe those records. Their ability to remix my favorite songs live in real time, literally made me want to become a DJ, which I eventually did.

Back in the late 1980s, I had yet to see any of those things done live and didn’t know any turntablists personally. So, like many aspiring DJs who came up before the proliferation of internet lessons, I tried to learn from the tapes and records I heard, imagining the techniques and slowly training my hands to do what I heard as best I could. In many ways, this tape has served as a goalpost for my own evolution as a DJ over the years. I have yet to make a mix even half as as good.

It remains a prized piece of my audio collection and a fond memory of my long departed best friend, Rob. Here are the first two parts for you. Headed off to the studio now to hear from a legend!

Red Alert Pt.1

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Red Alert Pt.1

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The original DMX

…was from Boston?!?! Back before Earl Simmons became known as the NY DMX, a Boston Beatboxer by the same name was tearing up local mics. I had not realized that the DMX we have come to recognize was also originally a beatboxer who got his start around 1984. I guess given the timeline, a DMX vs DMX battle was a possibility. Note to the hip-hop historians: Could we still put this battle together as a follow up to the infamous A-Train vs Solo Battle? (Yeah NYC, we won that one hands down). DMX (NYC) and DMX (Boston), you down?

Anyway, a while back I got a request for some Boston DMX and being the keeper of the tapes, it is my responsibility to provide. Here is the classic DMX/LeCarr routine from the Leccos Lemma show ca. 1986. There are so many amazing things about this routine to me. From the quotation of Trans Europe Express, Inspector Gadget AND the Pink Panther to the huge number of people in the background shouting and cheering along to the whistle beatboxing (which according to A-Train we invented) to the seamless tradeoffs between these cousins, it’s another example of how Boston was right there at the start (and all along really).

DMX LeCarr Spring1986B by LeccosLemma

You want more? Here’s the Beantown Beatbox Extravaganza!

Leccos Lemma Beatbox Extravagana B by LeccosLemma

Respect to Magnus, Willie and Matt (the original Lecco’s Lemma archivists).

Musenomix 3-2-11

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On March 2rd, 2011 I joined Dana Scott and the gang down at WMBR (88.1 FM) for the second installation of my Boston Hip Hop tribute and Lecco’s Lemma Archive sessions. It was epic, if I do say so myself. I dropped some classic Boston 90s ish by artists like God Complex, Polecat, Tmax, Motion, Prento Kid (not from Boston but with Boston production by Underground Productions) and more. We also rapped about some history, had some laughs and nearly melted the decks with all the Boston heat.

Heads were bobbing off their necks in the studio as always happens when I break out the mid-90s Underground tracks (respect to Brad and Dow, the least appreciated producers out there in the Bean IMHO). Man, people have been sleepin’ on Boston’s lost classics for way too long now. Its amazing to us elders, but for all the really deep underground 90’s stuff (and earlier), there’s a new generation of ears out there who are feeling it hard. Lots of catz and kittens who are down with the underground now were still making macaroni art for gold stars when some of the Best Boston Beats dropped in 1995-1998. Listen for yourself.

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Respect to Boston’s old school….too many to name…you know who you are.

Thanks for studying your history Musenomix. Keep that flame alive and maybe, just maybe, hip-hop can still bring down Babylon like it was always supposed to.

PEACE BOSTON!! (Happy birthday UMMF!)

Lecco’s Lemma MLK Show 1-18-86

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Given the long silence over here you might have thought the Lecco’s Lemma tapes had gone missing again. Never. Its just been a busy time over in the academy (with tenure decisions looming and papers piling up). We also had some grants out for digitization that didn’t come through so its been me ripping them in my spare time – which slows things down for sure. We might need to crowd source this after all. Then again, UMASS just launched a new archival studies program and I met the new director who seemed to immediately get the importance of this collection. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, with political shootings making their ugly re-appearance in the USA and the renewed interest in the power of words to change minds (for good or ill), seemed important to remember the peaceful principles built into the foundations of hip-hop. So I decided to go digging in the Lecco’s tapes for the MLK episode I was sure I had seen. Indeed, there it was. Lovingly illustrated and notated as I had remembered it.

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Lecco’s Lemma MLK DAY Jan 18, 1986
and @ http://soundcloud.com/leccoslemma
Here’s the first side for you. Definitely reminds me of the core principles of hip-hop. Peace. Unity. Love. Having fun. If you need an extra reminder, check the vid below. It will all become clear again.

Peace to you on this MLK day 2011.

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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.

pace.

Lecco’s Lemma Trove Two

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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

Boston Beats and Rhymes Day 3

Boston Beats and Rhymes Day 3

I took a week or so off since the Beantown Beats and Rhymes fest, but here are the links for the last day finally.

Part A 3-4pm
Part B 4-5pm

Its all up at WZBC for a bit longer, but grab it while you can. Thanks to Chris Faraone for comin’ by on the third day and bringing some of the latest local heat and classics from the last decade. I gotta confess, I spent much more time digging into the early years and left a lot of the more recent stuff to future efforts.

WZBC wall

I also have to thank Brick Casey again for coming down on the second day. As we were getting packed up I was snapping shots of the tectonic layers of local music history captured on the densely stickered, tagged and postered walls of WZBC. Among the Bentmen stickers and band posters from the 90s, there was the original Street Poets poster tacked up on a wood paneled wall next to an old milk crate. Apparently, Casey has been subliminally promoting down at ‘ZBC since the mid 1990s. Who knew? And who put that poster up?

Street Poets

Thanks again to Scott for having us down and to Brian for manning the decks!

Peace to the Bean in 2010.

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Boston Beats and Rhymes Day 2

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Thanks to Brick Casey (aka Polecat) who braved the snow storm yesterday to come down to WZBC and talk to us about the 1990’s scene in the Bean. Casey came up in the 4 Corners neighborhood of Dorchester and released a couple of early 1990’s underground gems under the name Polecat. Out Ta Flip is one of my personal faves. The Ruffa Mix features the gravelly Buju-style vocals of Dorchester’s own Ruffa and hints at the deep roots of the ragamuffin hip-hop sound in the Bean. More on that today as we round out the last of the 1990s and head into the Oughts and beyond. Happy 2010.

Here’s the audio from yesterday (Part A Part B).

P.S. Although it wasn’t snowing in the studio, I was sure dressed for it. Maybe I need to get a new hat too.