Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Beauty of La Vice and Company's "Two Sisters From Bagdad"

La Vice and Company  happily upload to YouTube if it happens.
La Vice and Company 
Two Sisters from Bagdad
Jazzman reissue, limited to 1000 numbered copies
Behold one of two or three LPs that I would actually pay more than $1000 for. This thing is deep in Detroit record collecting legend. Stories that folks have sent angry emails to Popsike asking them to remove completed auction listings so as not to obscure how rare it may or may not be. That hundreds of copies were destroyed in a basement flood. That it wasn’t really that good of a record.
The main driver behind the demand and apocrypha behind this record is the unparalleled funk of the track “Thoughs Were the Days” (sic). Featured on Numero Group’s “Good God” A Gospel Funk Hynmal” comp from 2006, that’s clearly how most folks became aware of this disc. But with literally no more than a handful of original copies known out there, even just getting to hear the rest of the album was a task, one even I was unable to accomplish until this straight full reissue landed in my lap. 
In the hubbub after the “Freedom at 21” flexi-disc had sold for $4000+ on eBay, I half-jokingly offered up a copy of said flexi as a straight trade for “Two Sisters From Bagdad” on the record nerd site Waxidermy. The response was “A one-tracker for a one-tracker.” Even just last week, a buddy deep and dear to this record said everything on this record except “Thoughs Were the Days” was “soft.”
So with the understated, repetitive opening of “Happy and Blessed” and I couldn’t help but feel frustratingly PISSED that I’d gone so long without hearing this. The variety on the album is wonderfully varied, slightly odd and the EXACT thing I imagine when I cannot sleep at night.
Background: this LP is the soundtrack accompaniment to a play of the same name that ran at Music Hall at Detroit’s Center for the Performing Arts for two weeks in August 1973. The production was a flop and the description below may explain why so few copies sold in the lobby of the performance…
“The play was the story of two sisters who met their earthly demise very early in life and were joined together in Heaven. But there was also a character named Jake, who was an agent from Hell whose job was to recruit people from Heaven because Hell was not getting the people they were used to receiving. Well, Jake got a little frisky with one of the sisters and it appeared that one of the sisters became pregnant and the two were kicked out of Heaven and had to go to Hell. Of course, the Devil took a liking to the other sisters while Jake was wrestling with this thing called LOVE.”
(quote from Ernest Garrison, composer/arranger for the album, brother-in-law to “Bagdad’s” playwright, La Vice Hendricks)
To me, odd, hodgepodge neighborhood productions, something only a couple hundred people ever saw, with no filmed evidence and (seemingly) no extant script…this is what I live for. Such a unique snapshot of a time and place, that no matter how in-depth liner notes may go, no matter how clear they explain the premise of a Hendrick’s “personal commitment to introduce non-racial comedy to a city that has been separated by crime, narcotic and racial differences” highlighted by an all-black ensemble…I will NEVER really know or understand what exactly it was like to witness the performance. It is the absolute definition of ephemeral. And honestly, I feel like the songs legitimately smoke and all those record nerds calling this a “one-tracker” are out of their minds. I STRONGLY urge to give this one a listen, even just to appreciate the industriousness of an endeavor, that while failed during its time, is beautiful and compelling near 45 years after its creation.
Side notes: 
- I think the drive behind my appreciation for this record is the same as my newfound and ever-spiraling appreciation for school band and church records. So many unexplored possibilities! So many flops! You’ll never know or find them all…that makes good collecting.
- My mother-in-law and her younger sister were literally “two sisters from Baghdad” (the production got the spelling wrong) living in Detroit in 1973. I oftentimes play fantastical feats of imagination and conspiracy theorist trying to make them the inspiration for this record.
- My grade school put on a production of a play I recall as named “Let’s Put on a Show” in the mid-Nineties. We did similar productions every year. Equal parts musical and spoken dialogue, I am DYING to know who in the hell actually wrote these things? How did they get into the hands of my music teacher? Was this a profitable endeavor for the composer? I believe my brother has a VHS copy of the entire show and I am DYING to see it, to go back and relive the awkwardness (each production had a token “rap” song that always received HUGE laughs from the largely white and moderately suburban parents that, even as a child, felt misguided). We never put on a production of ANYTHING that I’d heard of/seen ANYWHERE else. No “Annie”, no “Godspell”…just some random rinky-dink thing that I’d never hear/see again in my life…AND IT DRIVES ME CRAZY. I’ve gone on here before about the difficultly of a memory that has no outside corroboration…these things PAIN me. Bro is supposedly working on getting a transfer. I will happily upload to YouTube if it happens.

1 comment:

Tim Broun said...

I heard Happy & Blessed at the end of an Andrew Weatherall radio show, and in that context it REALLY knocked me out - I love that track (it reminds me, strongly, of everything I love about Donald Byrd's A New Perspective album). After doing a search and finding out that the album had recently been reissued, I ordered a copy, and have to say that other than Happy & Blessed, I'm left wondering what all of the hubbub is about. I'll keep listening.