Thursday, December 20, 2007

Playing Santa is always fun this time of year. When you are selling one-of-a-kind items like we are, you need to make sure they get down the destination chimney, and we thank the U.S. Postal Service for doing what they say they will do. At the same time we've been adding new items from interesting collections, and today I'd like to focus on the once ubiquitous 45 rpm single.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, it was quite usual to go into a store and buy 2 songs for 99 cents or less-- cheaper than iTunes? (I wouldn't know, we play records, tapes and CDs around here). The kicker was, they had what was called an "A" side and a "B" side. If the promoters had their ducks in a row, the "A" side would have been heard on the radio, getting you to buy it. And the "B" side was just there because it cost not much more to manufacture 2-sided vinyl records than it did to make them one-sided (which they were back around the turn of the 19th-20th century).
If you really wanted your money's worth, you might actually play the "B" side. It might be horrible, or it might be awesome. There was no telling.
There were also 45 rpms that seem destined for radio stations instead of stores. The radio station might think it was a normal record, and they might be encouraged to play it, but there was no intention of pressing mass quantities unless the record hit big on the radio. Today these can be found in various collections and they are called "promos," or "white label promos" or such (many had white labels instead of the consumer-color coded ones).
If you're familiar with the Charles Manson murders, they occurred at the home of Terry Melcher, who started life as Doris Day's son and became a record producer in his own right. We have acquired some white label promos of some of his rarest psychedelic rock issues, by Glad and Grapefruit (not sure what's with the one-word "G" names).
Psychedelic garage rock was all the rage in 1960s and band names reflected the freewheeling spirit: Crome Syrcus and We Ugly Dogs are 2 great ones.
And, behind ordinary names are some very unusual records. What ever became of Don Thomas, who sang what could only be described as a gringo "corrido" imagining what it is like to die slowly in the jungles of Vietnam.
And, for those of you who think "Dazed and Confused" is a Led Zeppelin song, perhaps you haven't heard the original by Jake Holmes.
Moving on to immortal 45 rpm singles that made history and are still treasured 40+ years later: how about an original Volt white label promo of Otis Redding's "Dock of the Bay." Or an original Beatles Yesterday/Act Naturally, one of the most perfect singles of all time, recalling Top 40 radio, a format which could accommodate bland, string-padded pop (Yesterday), and Buck Owens style Bakersfield country (Act Naturally), as long as it was by the Beatles. And conveniently, these tunes were on opposite sides of the original swirl-labeled 45 rpm single. How about a virtually mint copy of Theme from Shaft by Isaac Hayes.
There are many more than I can list here, but let's end with a couple of doozies: can you guess who did the original of Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots?
And, as much as I love the A side by Captain Paul and his Seafaring Band, the B side is actually better: I wanna be a life guard.
Outside the snow is falling and friends are calling "yoo-hoo"

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Joel Dorn, the "Masked Announcer," just passed away at the age of 65. His passing is mourned because of his enormous influence on keeping jazz, blues, r&b, and its variants, such as Western Swing, in front of the public long after big music corporations moved on to more lucrative pastures. He was involved with many hit records but I write here to tell only of my one "fly on the wall" experience in the control room with this genius of American music.
The Rhode Island band Roomful of Blues, with Duke Robillard in the lead guitar chair, had turned on legendary songwriter Jerome "Doc" Pomus to Jimmie Vaughan and the Thunderbirds, and thus Pomus was collaborating with Dorn on an interesting and as-yet (as far as I know) unreleased session at Regent Sound Studios in Manhattan.
In the recording studio was the Roomful horn section, collaborating with Vaughan's band in an album that hoped to recreate a classic Texas blues sound augmented by roadhouse horns in the precision style of Roomful. It was late summer 1977 as I recall.
Pomus and Dorn were at the controls, and the bands were in awe, looking for direction. Dorn's patented studio style was to let the musicians do their thing, and these club hardened players did just that.
I had recently met Doc Pomus and his invitation for me to come to the session blew me away. None of these guys had any record company support and everything was coming out of their pockets. Pomus had royalties from his hit songs, and as he described it, "Joel makes a lot of money with Leon Redbone," one of the artists in his production portfolio.
The sessions went fine and were notable mainly for being so untainted with commercial considerations. Time and again, figures such as Joel Dorn and Doc Pomus made music for love and not money. At the same time they refreshed America's musical legacy by making new music with old ideas.
Dorn produced albums as diverse as Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M and Leon Redbone's Double Time. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Les McCann and Eddie Harris, Asleep At The Wheel, Roberta Flack, and the Neville Brothers all benefited from his touch. All of them "reinvented the wheel" rather than striving for a pinpoint blast at nanoculture. Bette Midler and Leon Redbone are still out there doing it. R.I.P. Joel Dorn.
Another passing of note: Laura Archera Huxley, age 96. Known as mostly as the widow of Aldous Huxley, I highly recommend her book You Are Not The Target if you can find a copy.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Ralph Guldahl never really had a tremendous desire to win. So despite being born within a year of Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead, and being equally talented, he is not a household word in golf circles as the others are.

He joined the PGA Tour in 1932, and nearly won the 1933 U.S. Open. From 1937 to 1939, Guldahl won 3 majors: 2 U.S. Opens ('37 and '38) and the '39 Masters. He won three straight Western Opens (1936-38) at a time when the Western Open was considered by tour players to be a major. In his brief PGA Tour career, Guldahl won 16 tournaments and finished second 19 times.

He quit the Tour in 1942, returning only briefly in 1949. He was not a technician but instead had an unusual swing that really worked for him. He was said to be calm, deliberate, and stoic on the course.

The towering, 6 ' 2" Texan Guldahl focused on his game rather than his showmanship, though many commented on his habit of combing his hair before executing a shot. Ralph simply stated: "it checks my pace and helps me to retain a confident composure."

He wrote the 1937 book "From Tee to Cup: By The Four Masters," bringing in the Masters: "Woods" by Gene Sarazen; "Long Irons" by Denny Shute; "Short Irons" by himself; "Scoring Zone" by Johnny Revolta; and "Putting and Puzzle Shots", with tips from all four.

Having analyzed golf swings in the book, and then never re-entering tournament play again, he caused some fans to speculate a case of "Paralysis by Analysis."

His own explanation is that he was not that much into winning. From 1959 to 1987 is was Director of Golf at Braemar Country Club in Tarzana, California, and his signature sandwich is still on the Guldahl Grill Room menu.

And, for your golf-swing-analyzing friend who has everything, consider a gift of one of the few remaining original 1937 editions of From Tee to Cup, signed by Guldaul himself.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On Sept. 9, 1954, a young rockabilly singer played at the grand opening of a shopping center; he was paid $10 to perform on a flat-bed truck parked in front of the Katz Drug Store. The next day he began a long session of recording at a local studio. He worked for hours on several song covers which were never released.

Finally things fell into place while he and the studio group were covering the 1948 r&b hit "Good Rockin' Tonight." Later that day, or maybe the next day, he recorded a pop tune he had heard in a movie, "I don't care if the sun don't shine."
These two sides became Sun 210, released on Sept. 25, 1954.
That night, Elvis appeared at the Eagle's Nest Club with the Tiny Dixon Band. The single record release, Elvis' second, would not hit big. But artistically, this Sun single represents one of the best performances of Elvis' career.

This is the original Sun 210 single. There's something special about owning it.
As life neatly arranges itself into archives with the help of computers, this unmistakable artifact reminds us of the mechanical and agricultural age when popular music started to rock and roll, as if creating a vulgar secular church.
Condition of the grooves in this Sun rarity is very good, and both sides play through nicely, with all the excitement of early Elvis on wax.
The label has some ring wear but no markings. There's a slight smudge on the author credit of "Good Rockin' Tonight"-- the word "Brown" can be read but not the word "Roy." (Both Roy Brown and Wynonie Harris had previous hits with this song). The artist credit is Elvis Presley Scotty and Bill.
Details suggesting an authentic original are the round punch marks on the label, for juke boxes, which usually distinguish originals. Previous ownership cannot be determined though it seems to have arrived previously undetected in a batch of beat-up old Frankie Avalons, Cadillacs, etc. Trail-off numbers in the deadwax are U-130-45-72. The record is in a plain white sleeve. It is worth well over a thousand dollars.

Monday, December 3, 2007

It's the first snowstorm of the year in Northern New England. Here's the view from the office. And here are some titles from the store with "snow" in them. After that, I write in the style of the New York Times columnist who I find so epigraphic, Verlyn Klingenborg.

merv griffin i never has seen snow

The Angels: Snowflakes and Teardrops

Snowflakes are Dancing by Tomita

Kenny and Corky: Nuttin' for Christmas and Suzy Snowflake

1907 book Delilah of the Snows

Snow White Rock Christmas by the Vibra Corporation

Anyone who can think about snow at the same time that it is snowing is in privileged company, clinging to the whim of weather however precariously.
Will it reach a half a foot high? A foot? More? There's nothing to do but watch or check back later.
Unless you're driving a salt truck or a snow plow. You could do the same thing over again several times today.
Is it going to affect business? Is the power going to be out? Is the furnace on its last legs? Got some wood and a kerosene heater handy? Got some fruitful indoor work to do? Want to go out snowshoeing?
Should I start shoveling snow? Crank up the snowblower? Nothing like a snowblower blowing snow back on you.
Can we still sell something today?
Perhaps, because we have customers where it isn't snowing.