Thursday, December 31, 2020

Why Cassettes are the New 45s - OR - Using the Discogs Blog As A Bully Pulpit to Talk About the Cassettes I Desperately Need and Will Pay Unseemly Amounts of Cash For

(I wrote this a few years back for the Discogs blog celebrating Cassette Store Day and realized that I hadn't shared here yet, looking back I think it still reads well)

I can’t imagine that I’m the only one. 

A few weeks back, I dug through the mounting detritus in my basement and pulled out a box filled with upwards of 200 cassettes. Commercially-released mementos, aspiringly amorous mix tapes, amateur teenage boombox condenser mic yawps, one-of-a-kind live soundboard recordings of unmemorable also-rans, unlabeled Maxells that are most likely PXL 2000 video all truly runs the gamut.

At the ripe old age of 36, my cassettes have never been so unimportant as to be thrown away, yet it’s been a good 17 years since they’ve been legitimately necessary. Prominently displayed? Forget about it. These little plastic time capsules were treated more worthless by the majority of my generation than perhaps any other format of any other generation. Of course they got trashed...they’re just cassettes!

I’ll go to the mat arguing that Baby Boomers didn’t disown their vinyl as virulently and that a majority of Gen X-ers are still clutching them CDs. I can’t speak to Gilded Agers and their Edison cylinders, but old Millenials are seemingly dumping tapes at an alarming rate.  The “old” is a disclaimer I tack on so as to feel slightly less lame in identifying as one. Generations are made-up anyway...but I regress.

So why the title of this essay? Because the delayed discovery of 45’s has fueled the collectability and establishment of important, influential, hyper-specific genres for decades. The non-hit garage renaissance (via Pebbles, Boulders, Back From the Grave), the underground punk hierarchy (Killed By Death, Hyped to Death), basement funk and backyard soul (Numero Group’s Essential Soul series), drug burned hard rock (Ultimate Bonehead, Brown Acid) and surprisingly, even dark country tunes (Hillbillies in Hell, Twisted Tales from Vinyl Wastelands) are all PRIME examples. 

The difficulty is, there are no more unheralded genres hiding on 45’s. They’ve all been identified. These genres are not all necessarily completely mined, but flags have been planted and the colonies established. This paves the way for cassettes to be ready for their close-up. As the mid-Fifties through the mid-Eighties found most entry-level, outside-the-mainstream music was explicitly on the 7” format, cassettes would take that same status and hold it for a brief ten to fifteen year period. 

Right now, as we sit here scratching our assess, enterprising labels are already tapping the cassette undergrounds. Light in the Attic’s wonderful I Am the Center and The Microcosm compilations are both at the forefront of the “PINA” genre (private issue new age) that was often issued on obscure cassettes. The enterprising hip hop reissue outfit Dope Folks similarly mines “random” or “golden age” hip-hop that pulls largely from obscure cassettes from the late 80s and early 90’s. Hell, the recent Alice Coltrane collection compiles recordings that were originally only released on cassettes via her ashram in the early 80s. It’s already happening!

In my mid-Nineties adolescence, the cassette was clearly the lowest bar of entry. No one I knew was making vinyl and CDs were an even more-unobtainable strata of enshrinement. With the slightest bit of drive and a bare minimum of investment, the cassette was well within the grasp of the entirety of my immediate still-not-in-possession-of-a-driver’s-license musical orbit.

For a long time, I’d assumed that “cassette culture” started exactly in 1982. Maybe because it’s my birth year, maybe because it’s the year Duran Duran released “Rio”, but I’d never given much thought to any possible prehistory. So imagine my delight in discovering Vinyl On Demand’s compilation American Cassette Culture: 1971-1983

The research, context and insight let loose in this 12 x LP / 2 x 7” boxset is downright staggering. Folks were working in (and releasing?) cassettes as far back as 1971? Shit, Ron Asheton was still playing guitar in the Stooges at that point! I wholly welcome the mind-challenge to reconfigure my brain into understanding the beauty and timeline of this subculture. Kudos to Vinyl on Demand...and don’t sleep on the British Cassette Culture box either!

While the material on these sets is largely experimental, things like the Galen tracks really broke through and impressed me. But they didn’t connect with me. For that, I have to have some closer tangential connection to the music. Like the two cassette releases from Dirt Squad.

While merely a blip on the radar of any sort of scene or larger historical importance, Dirt Squad were the kids I knew, kids who lived just down the street, who I went to school with, who played the church fairs and local coffee shops, who were JUST big enough to be able to record and self-release their own cassettes, but not much bigger to do anything beyond that. 

For some unremembered reason, I never made an effort to possess these recordings when they came out back in 1996 and 1997. Maybe they’d sold out of ‘em quickly. Maybe I was too deep down my Nirvana bootleg rabbit hole, maybe I thought the band wasn’t THAT cool (they were just in high school, they were just fucking around, I knew better than they did), but for whatever reason, I did not grab these. The closest I got was that my little sister Angela (cooler than she’d ever know, cooler than I’d care to admit) owned one of these cassettes. A house fire and three moves later, it’s lost to the wind and either (both?) of these cassettes are at the absolute pinnacle of my wantlist. Consider this here my standing offer of $150 for original copies of either of the Dirt Squad cassettes. I’m looking at you suburban Detroit.

If memory serves, I think one tape was done in an edition of 60. I can’t imagine the other title existing in any significantly higher quantity. 

The tunes are varied, with thank-yous that list Ass Ponys, Violent Femmes and Sonic Youth and that only gives a tiny snapshot of what you might hear. My favorite track was “Cookie Jar” which showcased  a three-chord riff signature reminiscent of Dave Grohl’s “Pokey the Little Puppy” from his LATE! release on Simple Machines, itself a badass limited cassette if there ever was one.

Songs like “Milk River” and “Harper Ave” are both references to the east side suburbs we all haunted. Without even having the audio to these at hand, the mere mention of the titles brings me back to corduroys, ironic thrift-store t-shirts, bumming rides, secondhand smoke and the unprovable teenage feeling that SOMETHING amazing could happen at any moment.

In hindsight, this band was MADE for me and I was too busy affecting cool to truly realize it. The players were regular guys, from my neighborhood, singing specifically about my surroundings and I was too deep into impenetrable Melvins’ lyrics to take notice. Fifteen’s a bitch.

In the same realm as Dirt Squad was Mad Cow. I think some of the guys in Mad Cow were a little bit older. One of ‘em had a Marshall half-stack, and that was just not in the realm of any high school student I knew of in ‘97. Plain and simple, these guys were St. Clair Shores’ greasy-haired answer to Nirvana. With song titles like “Release Me” and “Die for Living” it may have aged closer to the realm of Silverchair, but the first time I saw them (dropped off by my dad at a coffee house across the street from the Macomb County Community College campus), it blew my mind wide open. 

The band was inarguably GOOD. They’d rehearsed. They had effects pedals. The exuded an attitude. Everything emanating from them pushed me to work THAT much harder on my own musical endeavors. I bought a hand-dubbed cassette off them that night, hand-labeled, with the only thing remotely resembling artwork being the “O” in “cow” barely illustrated to depict a cow face. Or a cat. Everything else on the j-card is literally just Bic pen scribbled text. An anti-release if there ever was one.

I’ve long searched for more material from these guys, but it is one of the more difficult queries I’ve ever typed in to Google. Even knowing band member names and high schools has proven fruitless. I know they had a later song called “Consta-poppin” and would not be surprised if they recorded a cover of Nirvana’s “Moist Vagina” as they absolutely SLAYED that one live. I’ve long been tempted to bootleg release this thing, as I think mid-to-late Nineties grunge parodies of sincerity is possibly the last “movement” that could even possibly have a Back From the Grave-worthy re-discovery.

That same night I first saw Mad Cow, a ska-punk band called Hole in One was also on the bill. Supposedly named after a porno flick, these guys were tight and polished in an entirely different way. Pretty sure they played clubs downtown. They probably even owned a van. Their release Copyright Infringement certainly gave off that impression. 

Shit looks downright professional, from the dual unauthorized use of the Elias Brothers Big Boy figure on the cover art and an “Empire Strikes Back” book/record audio sample to start the tape, prominently showcased through the slick audio quality. Even if the label name is the insanely sophomoric Elks Doin’ It Rekkids, songs like the accusatory “Mike’s Not Straight Edge” (complete with recorder solo) and the hardcore studio-filler of “Bob Sagat” are beautiful nigh-pro products of their time, horn sections and all, inspired by quasi-local heroes Suicide Machines and Mustard Plug, but still irreverent and attitudinal to impress.

I bought this cassette for $5 from the locker of Cliff Kost, the lead singer of the band. For how much I may disown ska-punk in my mid-thirties, I cannot shake the truth that buying a tape out of a high school locker may be one of the cooler things I’ve done in my life.

One cassette that I’ve been itching to release is a previously undocumented, self-recorded and self-released tape by the Come-Ons. Before their pop-soul tunes had sprouted out of the burgeoning Detroit garage scene of the early Aughts, the duo of Pat Pantano and Deanne Iovann were slumming it in Pittsburgh. In what could possibly be chalked up to a fit of homesickness, they laid down stellar covers of the MC5’s “Tonight” and the Stooges’ “Dirt.”

Man...the solo on “Dirt” is bonkers. As the two of them is just drum and bass in tandem, they get the extra punch with the solo being what could only be described as a HARD lean on ALL the keys of a 1960s Farfisa organ. Just attitude for days. Beautiful. Dirty. In the red. 

I’ll be damned that it took working on this essay for 15 hours before I finally realized I had overlooked the most noteworthy cassette in my pile.

In late 1997, an aptly-named teen trio called 400 Pounds of Punk (also from St. Clair Shores), recorded a handful of tracks in a makeshift home studio at 1203 Ferdinand Street in Southwest Detroit. The tracklist is a sparse four songs, with the snotty “From the Garbage Bin” being my personal favorite. An unlisted hidden fifth track is a rude cover of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” with vocal duties shared by the band’s lead singer Jamie Cherry and one of the session engineers, a then-unknown Jack White.

The cassette, titled He Once Ate A Small Child is, as far as I can tell, the rarest physical release of a Jack White performance. And prior to the mention here, the release was completely undocumented. I doubt more than a half-dozen people even knew about it.

THIS is why cassettes are the new 45’s. Because there’s still so much to discover there. If I can personally rattle off these handful of releases that are otherwise non-existent both informationally and audibly in any reasonable modern Internet many other tapes are languishing in despair in moldy basements across the country? Across the globe?

If my inchoate ramblings here can serve to ANY legitimate purpose, dig out your own box and start uploading and cataloging. I thank you in advance and the rest of the world will thank you later.


HOLY SHIT!?!?!?! What does this even sound like? I am unaware of any mention of this ANYWHERE outside of Discogs. I NEED THIS AND WILL SPEND A MORTGAGE PAYMENT ON IT. User readytodie, get a hold of me, please!

I swear I saw this for sale at Car City Records once. I am not kidding that I have dreams about it.

There’s one available now, I may just buy it before they publish this article. This band is WAAAY underrated. Expect their stuff to go crazy at...some point.

Bootleg Russian copy of the Stooges “Fun House”? Sign me up.

I’m a sucker for local Michigan compilations.

I mean, sure, why not.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Insane Michigan Record Auction From 1987...

As much as I've spent my life loving history and collecting records...I find so very little documentation of the history OF collecting records. But last week the wonderful Dante Carfanga came through with a previously unknown-to-me monster of paper ephemera. From an estate he was involved in clearing out, he found the original photocopied auction sheet for an absolutely insane set sale / auction of Michigan garage 45's from 1987.

First off, this list is just an incredible guide as a starting point for Michigan garage collecting. I remember riding in the Hentchmen's van back from a gig in Cleveland back in 1998 and John Syzmanski was looking at something like an old issue of Goldmine magazine and saying that it was frustrating to see how cheap records USED to go for. And now, I myself understand that feeling, as I've obtained many of the records on this list for many multiples higher than their 1987 going rate.
As a twenty-plus year acolyte of Michigan garage rock records, the sheer depth of what was on offer here in a single auction is downright staggering. The fact that the absolute godhead single by the Keggs (which seemingly landed on most everyone's radar with its inclusion on the 1985 issue of Back From the Grave - Volume 5) is available here, barely two years later...boggles the mind. This is a record of which only 100 copies were pressed and even now, 53 years later, there are only believed to be about a dozen copies known in collections. 

Furthermore, the understanding that Death, while not really considered a "garage" band, per se, yet still existing under that same spiritual umbrella, was known and on offer to collectors this far definitely raises my eyebrows. Ever since I'd become aware of the band, roundabout summer 2006, I was aware that the band was three Black brothers from Detroit.

But as the Death single itself has no pictures along with it and the label obviously doesn't say "these guys are Black" I to this day am still curious as to WHO figured out that the Hackneys listed on the Death single were the same Hackneys listed on the psychedelic Christian music on the 4th Movement records (which DO have pictures and, you know, they're Black). In my mind, the people who enmeshed in Hendrix-worthy fuzz guitars praising Jesus don't often intersect with those geeked about a proto-punk monster taking aim at politicians. The auction doesn't answer that question of who put two and two together in regards to Dannis, David and Bobby Hackney, but it does show that at least amongst the deepest die-hard collecting circle, the "Politicians In My Eyes" single was already on their radar.

Closed out with the auctioneer's wantlist and a guide as to labels that he's interested in "most" records from (he apparently did not care for soul or country music) and this just serves as a fantastic snapshot of a moment, maybe ten years or so into the actual garage "collecting" game, which seems downright quaint now in the light of instant informational access and purchasing power provided via eBay and Discogs. Remember...this was all done exclusively through the US Postal system! At this point I am aware of just ONE dealer who still operates in this manner, prior to COVID still mailing out hard copies of his auction list...where protocol dictates you send a letter listing your bids, include a check as a form of pre-payment (as you almost certainly will not win ALL of your bids, you will receive a refund check back) and then wait a month or so to find out what shakes out. So archaic, but hell, once a year, I'm up for it.

Apparently Mr. Stricker who compiled this auction passed away back in 2007 and it's a shame because based on these few pages here, he seems like a guy I would've really liked to know.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Alice Coltrane Early Years

I think the first time I heard Alice Coltrane went to Cass Tech was about 2005. A friend had told me the high school still has the harp that both Alice Coltrane (nee McLeod) and Dorothy Ashby studied on. With a desire just to see a picture of her from that time, I started going through old Cass Tech year books and was surprised to not only find no photos of her, but not even one mention of her name. Read the sources, emailed other jazz musicians from Cass at that time, and started to think she didn't actually go there. With the press clipping below from The Detroit Free Press, I was on the path, and a quick perusal through the 1955 Northeastern High School year book found the stunning pic below. And the equally as captivating group pic. Seems like Washington Post once correctly reported on her alma mater, but I'm still in the dark as to HOW this became accepted as fact for seemingly decades. Any insight?

Side note: Surely someone who won a spelling bee would change their name to Turiyasangitananda later in life.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

I Had No Idea What I Was Doing: Tales of Rock and Roll Archiving in the Digital Age


Last year I had the privilege of speaking at Albion College's Schleg Memorial Lecture. I put on a collared shirt, tried not to swear too much and luckily, the A/V department filmed the whole thing for posterity. Enjoy.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Stooges Live at Goose Lake

I've spoken more about this record more than ANY OTHER RECORD we've ever released. Even White Stripes records that have been out for more than twenty years. Shit, even records I've PLAYED on. That's saying something. Thanks to an extra effort from a boss Australian publicist, Dave Laing, along with the hard work from the usual Ken Weinstein in the States and I could not be happier with how this has been covered. Rock and roll.

The Detroit News

The Detroit Free Press

ABC Radio Australia

The Oakland Press

The I-94 Bar

Loud Magazine

Mixdown Mag

Gimme Zine

Rock and Roll Globe

RRR Radio

Sydney Morning Herald

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


So the one-year-old woke up at the crack of 6:15, ready to start shit while the rest of the fam was peacefully slumbering.
My wife spoke half awake “your turn” and for the purposes of keeping the peace, I grabbed Navy and just got the hell out of upstairs. Let them sleep.
Once downstairs, I just didn’t really feel like popping on Daniel Tiger for her while I lazily get updated on the day’s news on my phone. So gauche.
So I plopped her into the stroller and took off. No route, no plan, no TALKING. Just whichever direction strikes my fancy, one intersection at a time.
Walked past Swank’s old house. Past my old house. Past the house of the guy that set Gram Parson’s body on fire at Joshua Tree.
I noticed things that had escaped the view from my car window…a birdhouse thirty feet up on a tree, historical markers, garbage spilled out in back alleys.
We must’ve walked for ninety-minutes and I cherished every moment of it. Felt like a solid start to the day.
Come this morning, Navy is squealing again at 6:20 and it doesn’t take me two seconds to grab her, get downstairs, in the stroller and back out for our romp.
By the kid’s schools, past the destroyed houses, along the golf course, up and down significant hills. Not brave enough to try and explore the BMX course hidden in the woods with a kid in tow, but definitely ready to check it out on my lonesome.
All that being said…it just felt like a happy, beautiful, wonderfully invigorating way to start the day. Took a shower, gave the whole fam a kiss and made my way into the office 9am adjacent for the first time in three months.
The following day I took the two eldest in their two-seater stroller to the real destination. I had been too shy the previous day, but now I was ready to venture toward adventure. 
You see, the public Shelby Bottoms Golf Course, not a half mile from my house, has been closed to golfing since the tornado on March 3rd. But sometime since then, the Nashville parks department has put up signs around the perimeter saying that while golfing there is currently prohibited due to extensive damages to the cart paths and the irrigation system, the space is open for all OTHER park activities. Walking, jogging, picnics, literally lists no restrictions. 
Said revelation has been an absolute game-changer. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the family is there pretty much every other day. The breath-taking EXPANSE, this massive green tableau, and man, I can't explain to you...the place is EMPTY. NO ONE else is there. In the dozen or so visits we've made in the past two weeks, I've seen no more than a dozen other people in the vast acreage before us.
Even one step further, last week, with the rest of the family passed out early, I strolled out of the house around 9:30pm trying to see how quickly I could get there on foot. EIGHT MINUTES. And with the darkness inviting, I clambered across a former putting green and into the beautiful ink dark realm.
Standing there, in the middle of the park, frogs bellowing, a train off in the distancing roaring dull-ly, like distant thunder. Man, it's been a minute since I've felt so alive, so grateful for my natural surroundings. 
Rumor in the neighborhood is that the city is contemplating NEVER turning the park back over to golfing. Whether there's any validity to that or not, all I know is that I am deeply grateful for the time I've spent there recently. This legitimately feels like the first time since I moved from Detroit 11 years ago that I have a legitimate interest in my neighborhood. While it's slightly embarrassing it's taken that long to open my eyes, I am all the more receptive to what more I can look forward to discovering.