Rob Chalfen's House of Wax: The Harvard Ethno Stash
Welcome to the first entry in the Library of Vinyl Experience (L.O.V.E.) online. L.O.V.E. is a cultural and educational organization dedicated to preserving, researching and representing the experience of the "vinyl" record. This online version will digitally preserve and represent segments of large and/or thematically coherent collections of rare and interesting recordings. We will focus on music that is old enough to have entered the public domain and will disseminate this music along with curatorial and contextual information about it via a wiki. By incorporating this publicly available (but rare) and culturally important content in a wiki community, we will:
1. Make it available to a wider audience under creative commons share alike non commercial licenses;
2. Collect and disseminate ethnographic and structural data about the content (e.g., perceived similarities among items, relationships among items) and make this data available to members of the wiki for research purposes under share alike non commercial licenses; and
For a structural view of collaborative networks in a cultural market (and an illustration of the kind of research we envision) see my dissertation work on nightclub talent buyers.
Enjoy your visit and come again soon!
How appropriate that the pre-Wiki Webstation begins with the Hawaiian War Chant (aka Ta Hu-Wa-Hu-Wai). This is one of my all time favorite Hawaiian tunes and one that we used to play in the Pineapple Ranch Hands.
The story behind this riff includes the intersection of lots of social and informational networks. While there are some distant connections I will get to in a moment, the most proximate one for this entry is the connection I have with Mr. Rob Chalfen. A producer at the the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge, MA. and music maven of the highest order, Rob has spent most of his life in pursuit of records of the African diaspora (esp. old Jazz and Blues 78's). Conversations with Rob are like real-time journeys through an interactive version of Ken Burns' "Jazz" series. Except in Rob's version, there is as much room for Sun Ra as for Louis Armstrong.
In the store, I found a collection of Decca 78’s labeled Hawaiian/Tahitian on the spine. Having been in a Hawaiian band and knowing that these records sometimes contained hot jazz versions of traditional hapa haole songs and meles, I opened them up. As it turned out, it was a pristine collection of old Decca 78s. I didn’t know any of the artists, but I recognized several of the songs, including the one pictured above. Mostly, I was happy to have something to bring to Rob’s for our next “show and tell". Many weeks later, I was at a small thrift store in Boston and found another pile of 78’s. Among all the broken Guy Lombardo records and bad vocal jazz were two old 78’s on Okeh (one by Cab Calloway and the other by the Hoosier Hotshots). Now I really had something to bring to Rob’s – so I called him. As usual, he had been even busier than I and had found something even greater, stranger, deeper and totally amazing.
Apparently, over a year ago, in a bookstore near Harvard Sq., Rob had noticed 4 books of 78 records in a box on the top floor behind some junk. He recently went back and bought them for $40. What he had just purchased was an old collection of someone’s 1940's “world music” collection. With a little beat research, he was able to put some of the pieces together. In the collection were some lacquer dubs made at the Harvard radio station of poets reading on the air. At the time (1940’s), the only way to copy someone’s music was to cut a copy directly onto an acetate or lacquer dubplate using something like a Presto recorder. No 5 Gigabyte ITunes library sharing available back then all you MP3 hoarders! But don't feel too bad. Apparently music "piracy" has been going on for some time and the music industry has not died yet. What is the line between the artistic interest in free access/creativity and the commercial/private interest in copyright protection and profit? Check out the Creative Commons for new developments on this. See my dissertation work on the relationship between collaboration and creativity in a local cultural market.
Luckily Rob's records were on lacquer as the acetates likely would have oxidized and "flaked off from the base horribly". They also provided the clue that helped him tentatively identify the collection.
Given that 1) cutters were somewhat rare and, 2) the Harvard radio station surely had one and, 3) that access to the station was probably restricted to professors, students and staff, Chalfen surmised that he had stumbled on some "egghead professor’s ethno collection” from the 1940’s (or as he called it, "proto-lounge").
But to me, the greatest of them all were the Hawaiian records from Arizona. Of course, in the shadow of the magnificent Ethno Stash, I could never had mustered the gumption to share my paltry collection of 78’s. Luckily, I had gone first. The Calloway was kind of straight. Strike 1. The Hoosier Hotshots were doing a novelty song called “The guy who stole my wife,” that I liked when I played it at home for its campy jug band kitsch, but sounded more like a silly send up of the real thing here in Rob’s temple of Wax. Strike 2.
However, I hit it with my little Hawaiian/Tahitian collection. Whew. Apparently, Dick McIntyre and his Harmony Hawaiians had also appeared in Rob’s new ethno collection, along with tracks by Augie Goupil and his Royal Tahitians. The Hawaiian War Chant Riff above represents our free association journey through several versions of the Hawaiian War Chant and beyond. It starts with Andy Iona and his Islanders doing Ta Hu-Wa-Hu-Wai followed by the Dick McIntyre version. The riff continues with the popular Spike Jones version and ends with Augie Goupil doing Vana Vana (an unrelated but swingin track from the AZ pacifica stash). I couldn't resist including The Pineapple Ranch Hands version of the Hawaiian War Chant as a final future nostalgic treat. Enjoy!