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.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The White Stripes Live at Dionysus September 16th, 2000

We left Cincinnati later than we should have. A visit to Shake-It Records looms large in my memory and we definitely rolled straight to the club, Dionysus. On the campus of Oberlin College and apparently run by the students there, what could be an easy target to shit on is actually pretty damn cool. I mean, hell, the college I was enrolled in that semester wasn't booking Sleater-Kinney. 

The show itself still sticks out as one of the most transformative the White Stripes EVER played. Like if there was ever so clearly a "before" and "after" moment in the history of the White Stripes live shows, I'd push the pin firmly into the date September 16th, 2000.

I don't recall the crowds the previous two nights (Chicago and Newport, KY) necessarily "getting" the Stripes. Sure, the performances were solid, folks may have even picked up on it a little, but they were big rooms, law of averages probably explains it. But at Dionysus, man, it's a small room, maybe 400 capacity, and with a low stage, the space felt like a and sweaty, probably not being utilized for its intended use and primarily populated with kids who've got NOTHING better to do. Receptors open, transmissions receiving...just give 'em something worthwhile and the response will be wild.

Watching from the merch table at the back of the room, you could feel the band take off. The show starts off interestingly enough (can't ever recall "Your Southern Can Is Mine" appearing so early in a set) and from around "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" onward, its as if afterburners are on full throttle, every move just of-the-moment and powerful and important and happening right in front of your face. 

After futzing around for months, the fuzz feedback mainline of "Dead Leaves" is finally firmly established in the way all would come to know and love it. "Death Letter" is the raucous rail-splitter while the placid verses of "Stop Breaking Down" achieve the song a tempered duality as leveraged by the absolute savage slide of the choruses, while the uncharacteristic off mic screaming in "One More Cup of Coffee" has you realize that mind-bending covers of Son House, Robert Johnson and Bob Dylan poured out one after the other in rapid succession, a most holy trinity of White Stripes heroes if there ever was one.

From "Astro" forward...there's so evidently a transcendent musical connection between the two entities on stage, of the same brain, taking action without thought, a Darwinian evolution that should crawl across millennia transpiring in matter of mere minutes. On a Saturday night. In Ohio.

Listening back now, nearly 20 years later, it STILL gives me goosebumps. The way "Jack the Ripper" (a song they'd goofed on a handful of times previously) melts into "Farmer John" (a song they'd NEVER previously goofed on) and straight into, hands-down, the best version of "St. James Infirmary" the band would ever perform and arguably epicenter of the aforementioned "before" and "after" designations.

To lay ears to the recording now is to hear "St. James" evolving in real time as an arrangement heretofore unknown, just exploratory explosive accents primally bashing away as entree to the song, unrecognizable from its released version, pummeling inauspiciously into the first verse, Jack's voice rich, full, expressive, like a vase holding ten thousand orchids hand-painted by O'Keeffe.  Then completely out of left-field, Jack offers the second verse double time, damn near jazzy or show tune(ful), humbly paying respect to the roots of this Cab Calloway composition. In my recollection of the evening, I feel like I was holding my breath at this moment. As if to ask, timidly, scared, fearful of failure or catastrophic collapse "can they do it?" And wildly, with abandon, Meg is RIGHT there with him, never missing a beat for the next TWO verses. Weeks, days, shit a half HOUR early this would have been impossible. The chops were not there, the telekinetic o-mind wavelength was, previously, nonexistent. And without ever telegraphing the move, out of nowhere, Jack calls verse four back to the explosive accents, half-time, reigning it in with a delightful smirk, at this point completely showing off how shit hot he and Meg are. Just making it up as they go at this point, verse five crosses back to double time, the intensity somehow amplified, improbably kicked up a few notches and culminating into one solitary, strong expositional statement, like a goddamned full-body statue of Teddy Roosevelt, arm outstretched, pointing, confidently, ready to decimate whatever gets in the way. And that, you little maniacs, is when the White Stripes first hit that apex, as if levitating, where they could do no wrong. Exquisite beauty. The reason we are all here today.

A few songs later and unexpectedly, Jack just starts making shit up off the top of his head. We've labeled it "Just Keep On Walking (improv)" here and that, again, you lucky freaks, is the first time the White Stripes ever just made something up in front of a crowd. Said approach would be responsible for some of my personal favorite moments from the band (including "Little Cream Soda" even though I wasn't even there to witness it in person) and straight into "Screwdriver." Jack teases, if only for a moment, the drawn out and confrontational manner of both the MC5's "I Just Don't Know" and the Gories "48 Hours" and yet somehow builds upon it. Goes further. Creates distance. Catches nirvana. 

Leaving the stage after said culmination, you can hear the crowd just losing it. Apeshit. The opening act, who almost certainly no one there even knew of prior to this evening. EVERYONE was urging them to return for an encore, including the members of Sleater-Kinney, who were all but pushing Jack and Meg back onstage. Really, truly, this never happens, it should never happen, yet witnesses to history and this tape prove, "Let's Build a Home" just smokes before the tape runs out in a brief moment of Basinski-esque disintegration.

I'm a bastard when it comes to hyperbole...I HATE when people blow shit out of proportion. I don't have time for it. But I honestly do not think the White Stripes ever played a more perfect show. Yeah Manaus '05 was bonkers, Tasmania '06 is electrifying, Mississippi '07 brings tears, Detroit Institute of Arts, Peel sessions...there's no shortage of GREAT shows with this band. But ones where everything clicks. Where the band is almost a visage in hyper-speed while their surroundings are but props calcified in amber, where it feels like the incalculable number of nerve endings of every last synapse of every living being in the world were all connected onstage that night...well, damn, Oberlin it is. Because while those other shows may carry more emotion, may explore further depths of the catalog, or engaged multiples of more fans...September 16th, 2000 was the catalyst that enabled all of them to ever happen.

So for that, I'm grateful.

Listen Here

Addendum - OR - Shit That Didn't Make Sense Publishing Anywhere Else But This Blog

- The previous night in Cincinnati we stayed with Patrick Keeler of the Greenhornes. One of the factors that caused us to have to drive straight to Dionysus was that Patrick was printing out a custom illustrated cover of Jack Lawrence to accompany the CD-r of the (at the time yet-to-be-released) Greenhornes self-titled album he had given to Jack White. Seriously, the color printout was taking FOREVER. Easily twenty minutes. And after it had completed, Meg was all "Well, I want one too." And we just couldn't wait, we had to say "next time" or something like that. I don't think she ever got her custom cover. There were cool as hell, Saturday morning cartoon-esque illustrations of all the Greenhornes as I remember but I don't think they ended up ever being used anywhere. Would love to see them again someday.

- At Shake-It I got a copy of the Queens of the Stone Age "The Lost Art of Keeping a Secret" 7-inch

- First band onstage this evening was C.O.C.O.

- Smoking was "suggested" prohibited at all of the shows on this tour because Corin of Sleater-Kinney was pregnant (though it was messaged in a way so as not to divulge the reasoning)

- An autographed pizza (or half pizza? a slice?) was sold at the merch table this evening

- Sleater-Kinney opened their set with a version of "Fortunate Son." I have a stone vivid memory of seeing a European-style CD single of S-K's "You're No Rock and Roll Fun" with "Fortunate Son" as the bonus track, at some record store over the river in Windsor, probably no more than a year after this gig. I didn't buy it and for YEARS I searched for another copy. Only since the robustness of Discogs has really become self-evident (the past four years?) have I realized that this CD legitimately does not exist. I have no idea what I actually saw in that Canadian record store and I think about it FAR too often.

- After the gig a gaggle of us made our way to a campus house party and were explicitly NOT let in. The whole "who invited you?" kinda attitude. Really, in all my years van touring with the Stripes, I don't recall ever even ATTEMPTING to go to a party after a gig. It was just...never on the agenda. So really, to me, it didn't seem like that big of a deal to not be allowed in. But Carrie of S-K thought it so hilarious that she actually told the story in her autobiography AND as part of an animated short film.

- After not getting into the party, we made way back to S-K's hotel, where Janet let me, Jack, and Meg crash in with her in her room. We watched "My Bodyguard" on tv. On tour with Pavement the year before they had given us their "day rooms" and I thought THAT was pretty generous, but Janet foregoing her once-every-three-nights solo room and even sharing a bed with Meg so that we could rest in relative comfort was such a selfless gesture that I am still amazed by it today. Tried to pass that same generosity on any time the Dirtbombs were lucky enough to be in hotels and an opening band on tour. If ever a rock and roll road tradition to further promulgate, my vote goes to this one.

- Next night was at Little Brother's in Columbus, another really good show. Sleater-Kinney did an unreleased song that night that they were just calling "Wipers" which, to me, sounded like "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult. Don't think that song ever turned into anything. Maybe a year or two later I remember seeing some tape trading page where someone claimed to have a recording of the Stripes. All I can remember is that their online handle was something along the lines of "Veganxterrorist" I've never been able to confirm they actually recorded the show, I have never found a copy of even been aware of anyone else who has ever heard it. These are the kinds of odd brain wrinkles that still keep me up at night and I'm afraid that I will die without ever getting a definitive answer on. Such is life.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Every Thought I Have Ever Had About the Melvins' "Lysol" Album

Writing late at night feels like the first time in forever, but with the Discogs livestream DJ set tomorrow, I need to be fully focused on that task at hand so knocking this one out with a doozy.

For nearly twenty-five years, the Melvins have consistently been one of the bands I have most enjoyed. Amongst a catalog that is just too vast to completely comprehend (let alone listen to or own) Lysol is without a doubt the record of theirs I have listened to more than any of their records.

The music, for starters, is sublimely perfect. Every note, every extended bout of feedback, every snare hit...there is nothing in the entire running time that is superfluous. Each action is essential in serving the larger statement.

Weirdly, when I first bought this record (roundabout July 1996 based on the Car City Records pricing sticker) I always listened to the sides in reverse order. So forever in my mind, the album starts with “Sacrifice.”

Seldom does a cover song surpass its original version. Never does it elevate to the level that the Melvins ascend to with their complete recontextualization of Flipper’s work.  Now don’t get me wrong, Flipper’s version of “Sacrifice” is really, really solid. One of their finer moments. But the Melvins….shiiiiiiiiiiiiit. At various moments of my life this song has fully encapsulated my reason for existing. It is, to this day, my go-to record whenever I’m setting up any new or reconfigured stereo equipment. I just know every last quiver the needle is supposed to make as it glides over this slab of wax, encoded into the dust that vibrates into strings that helix into the building blocks of my form. I may overuse this term (and for that I apologize) but I will absolutely fight to the death when I wholeheartedly exclaim that the Melvins’ version of “Sacrifice” is PERFECT.

The rounded bass tone, the dissonant squeal of the guitar feedback curdling into the song at the 36-second mark, the snare (triggered to a single snare hit sampled from Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker”) coupled with cannon-strength bass drum, room for those two stutter syncopated with all kinds of personal inflection and style, the whole thing really just being six notes repeated over and over and over for over six minutes, literally getting better and better the louder you play it, the lyrics blatantly anti-war and military industrial complex...I could live inside this song for days.

Follow that with a brief segue into “Second Coming” straight into cover of “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” (both originally by Alice Cooper) and the dusty, Western vibes feel almost anathema as to what I would’ve expected from the Melvins at 14 years old.  But man, it somehow flips the script and just works, bordering on Dust Bowl murder ballad vibes. I am only learning right now, at 1:36am, that Dwight Frye was an actor born at the turn of the century best known for playing maniacal characters in Universal horror films like Dracula and Frankenstein. Still, twenty years later, I am having trouble removing everything here from the Melvins, in my mind it all comes exclusively as their creation. 

Good moment for an aside...most copies of this record come with NO information other than the band name and band member first names. When I first sat with a copy freshman year of high school, I had NO way of determining anything about this music, what side to play first, who wrote the songs, just nothing. It was mysterious and alluring and gave me just enough entree to not be that concerned about the lack of context. Not until buying a CD copy of Lysol in 2008 did I realize that the album DIDN’T begin with “Sacrifice”, let alone that there was a song on it called “Roman Dog Bird.” Furthermore, the songs are mastered in a way that they all run right into each other, no telling where one ends or begins, so much so that on the CD it is just one 31-minute-long “megacomposition.” That shit is confusing! But oh so worth it.

The album ends on “With Teeth”, a song centered around a chord progression that I have trouble describing in any way other than optimistic, triumphant or positive. As a vibe that is NOT common from the band by any means, it showcases here well, with little effort it could be some weird half-tone or down-tuned demonic, but if anything, this album is full of odd pseudo contradictions.

Occasional Melvins drummer Coady Willis once said to me “I just can’t believe I get to play ‘With Teeth’ every night. That song is so important to me, meant so much to me when I was younger” and just little things like that, the insight into someone else’s perspective, gave me a wholly new perspective on a song like this. 

Circle round to the start of the album, “Hung Bunny” is an anti-song for nearly seven minutes, all wrung out power chords left to dissipate into the ether, drum accents barely punctuating anything, buried vocals that sound like disassembled chanting, avoiding annunciating any words, rather just honed in on differentiating vowel sounds. And THEN, around the 7:50 mark it kicks into an insistent, drum-propelled middle portion limbo, before settling on quintessential instrumental doom-inspiring Melvins 101. 

Quickly, without warning, it crash lands into “Roman Dog Bird” And not until now, 2am, twenty four years of listening to the album, do I know that the first damn lyric on the album is “Lysol to get me high”

I didn’t think I could love this album any more. But somehow, with revelations like this, I do.

Another good moment for an aside: the title Lysol caused this album to get tied up in all kinds of legal trouble. The term “Lysol” itself is trademarked, and the then-owners (Sterling Drug) actually sent an undercover operative to the Boner Records (greatest label name ever) warehouse, posing as a journalist. Right before the release, records ready to roll out the door,  Sterling drops the hammer, thousands of copies of the LP and CD need to have the offending words covered with black tape, crossed out with black marker, just completely asinine shit. Ben Swank recalls unwisely removing the tape from his copy as a youth. One of my prized Melvins-related possessions is an original copy without any signs of tape or marker, the title there in all it’s infringing glory. When Boner re-issued the album in 2015, they changed the title to Lice-All which is the perfect kind of clever. 

Additionally, I’m just finding out now, at 2:15am, that Lysol was marketed as a feminine hygiene product in the late 1920s and was even utilized to induce abortions for women who could not obtain them legally….giving me a whole new perspective on this album title, which previously I had just thought was a clever, snide response to Nirvana naming their debut album Bleach.

Whether you consider it the end of side 1 or side 2, all is transcendentally immortal. The cover is based on the sculpture Appeal to the Great Spirit, itself already depicted as the logo for the Beach Boys vanity label Brother Records and a Keef Hartley Band album cover...the image signals importance, something greater than us, a resignation of oneself to the higher power, all ideas I sincerely feel are embodied in this recording, while the center labels and printed inner sleeve match in a dizzying red/black/white flower pattern, hypnotic upon closer inspection and the feedback buzzing.

I can honestly say here, without any hyperbole or stretching of the truth, this album is one of the greatest rock and roll records ever made. Top five material. There is no overselling this one. Lysol is absolutely essential to any self-respecting record collection. No excuses. Everything about it is just exemplary. 

I just keep thinking back on what it must’ve felt like to have to tape and mark all those original copies of the tedious, how demoralizing, what a set-up to give-up. But if anything, this record is only that much better because of the lore behind it. Getting busted does not stop greatness. Even if it’s 2:55am.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

In-Depth on The Spike Drivers "Often I Wonder"

The Spike Drivers

"Often I Wonder" b/w "High Time"

So working remotely this past week has been...challenging. No matter how much you tell a three year old that dada is "working from home" the fact that they just wet their pants and are staring at their father like HE created the problem, well, you just suck it up and you clean up the piss.
I usually write these ramblings from the friendly confines of my office. But having only stopped in there twice, briefly, over the past week, means I'm a little out of my element for contemplation, selection and concentration. At least three times since I've started this essay I've had to threaten "going to the office" in order to get the six-year-old to stop braiding my hair, the three-year-old from climbing on top of my shoulders, or the 18-month-old (as of today) from staring me down like a Wild West duel.
Additionally, the bulk of my new arrival vinyl sits in my office. It's where I have my packages sent, where I can listen in peace, where I have a door I can close to prevent people from entering without permission.
But at home, shit, anything goes. My records here are a little more haphazard, a lot more older, and shockingly more difficult to trawl through. I must've spent 25 minutes just trying to find something I thought was worthy to write about. Granted during that time I discovered a copy of a gospel record I had recently put on my Discogs wantlist, asking price for only available copy $300 plus, so I actually saved money in the process.
While digging through 45's, Violet the 6 and 11/12ths-year-old calmly sat nearby on an overturned crate and asked me, "Dada, why do you like records so much?"
I paused. I thought. I blanched at the fact that I had no immediate answer at hand. It's almost embarrassing to say it even. But oftentimes it's the simplest questions, asked from the most unexpected perspectives, that give you the most reason for deep, introspective thought.
So now, with the tiniest bit of hindsight, I'm saying to Violet...
When we want to be sad, records can help us be sad. When we want to be happy, records can make us happy. Records tell us stories. Records help us understand who we are and where we've come from, while giving us hope for who we can become and where we are headed.
When I ask Violet why she likes records, she says "I like records because it's the best."
Amidst the clutter I was initially scared that I could not find this 45 in my stack of all the other Spikes releases, including exotic South American, Japanese and Australian releases, though I quickly remembered I'd spun it at my last DJ gig and happily found it safely amongst my "going out" case.
I am hard-pressed to invoke a more perfect song than "Often I Wonder." The minor key, Eastern-influenced string pairings present the bass guitar formulating one-of-a-kind figures while the lead guitar threads breezily in-and-out, all of it light years beyond anything else that was happening in Detroit in 1966, shit, probably better than just about anything else in the WORLD at that time. Push comes to shove, I would put this on par with the first Velvets album...but otherwise...unparalleled.
And when the 90 second long fuzz guitar solo drops in...just pure delight, chordal overtones ringing out in ways that I could never fully explain or understand, other than that they FEEL special, like they were woven with the microscopic filament of a thousand electric eagle feathers.
Spending the past twenty minutes trying to transcribe the lyrics here has me taking stock, so moved by the beauty, precision, choice and deployment of these words. Hitting me harder and harder with each replay.
In full, from my ears (and if someone can definitively decipher my question mark, I am offering up a prime Jack White or White Stripes or whatever test pressing I can make happen for the effort and for reading closely) the lyrics are...
Often I wonder
And try to remember
The splendor that I once had known
Days free from scheming
Were days full of dreaming
When seemingly all could I own
I flew to the moon on a thousand delights
Was washed in the sun's warm and mellowing (maddening? meadowing?) sights
That caressed me and blessed me through ten thousand nights
Filled with longing and raging for love
But circling round me
A feeling has found me
That can comprehend where I'm in
Stripped of illusion
I flee the delusion
That man is a creature of sin
Wow. Stunned. Don't think until right NOW have I fully absorbed these lyrics. Now they feel sewn into my soul.
Furthermore, the flip side "High Time" is, while more stereotypically 1960s pop-psychedelia, as precise a double-entendre as you could wish for from '66, with a solo and biting tone just as fierce as "Often" and as a sublime pairing as you could hope for.
(necessary asides...there are no a-side or b-side distinctions on this single, the record is self-released by the band, the label name Om is as much a sign as I need to know that they weren't dabblers in the esoteric, "Often" clocks in at a phenomenal 5 minutes 45 seconds at 45rpm and whomever the genius is that cut this single deserves a medal)
I speak in pure honesty when I say that this single should cost $500 and it would be worth every penny. I seem to recall back ten years ago or so that Ted Lucas' family was selling copies on eBay for $50 a pop. I think that is where this copy came from. I feel blessed.
In some ways I feel like as a counterculture we're STILL just trying to catch up to what both Lucas and the Spike Drivers accomplished over fifty years ago. Divining inspiration from unexpected places while imparting our own coloring on it all, pushing the envelope and trying to advance our worlds and open ourselves up to varied experiences.
While trying to press on and make all this happen, an unexpected Uber Eats delivery of White Castle burgers arrived on our doorstep, I told them no one here ordered them, they left then returned minutes later saying they were from my mom. I instantly sent her a text saying "You son of a bitch."
Not long thereafter, deep in my writing, girls running around helter skelter, Navy stinking up the place with a diaper that needs changing (yeah, we gave her the White Castle), a balloon delivery shows up on our doorstep, individual balloons for each of the three girls, with a note that said "Navy, Happy 1 1/2 birthday. Love, Gigi."
I texted mom immediately "You son of a bitch again."
I can't imagine however many more weeks we have to live like this. Take care out there.

Friday, February 28, 2020

First Ever (?) Press From The Grande Ballroom, The Detroit News December 13th, 1966

So I was only told this was the "first" press or write-up about the Grande anecdotally, but even if it's not, the early, outsider's view of the scene is something worth your five minutes to read if you have even the slightest appreciation for Detroit rock and roll. Enjoy.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Rubye Shelton and Her Enduring Influence on Kanye West

Rubye Shelton

God’s Going to Destroy This Nation +3

scum stats: 500 -1000 pressed I'd guess, good luck finding a copy

The record that got me on the front page of Pitchfork.

I assume by now that most of you have heard the story of the catalog number of this record being referenced in the artwork for Kanye’s new Jesus Is King album. If not, here’s the jist: 

In short…I’ve been stockpiling my own database of Archer Record Pressing numbers for the past 11 years. And once I saw Kanye’s art, a week after the album was released, it SCREAMED at me as clear as day “That’s an Archer number.”

But not until NOW did I actually have a copy of the record. I paid a respectable $96 for this wrecked copy on eBay and with my SugarCube system this disc plays like a dream.

(the SugarCube basically removes scratches, pops, ticks, surface noise in real time. CRAZY technology and apparently the one I have is already been surpassed by an updated one. we can talk about this all at a later time.)

Holy shit is this record the real deal. Nothing but voice and tambourine and enough chills to cool the most fiery pits of hell. Released circa 1969/1970, you would not crazy to think it’d been recorded FIFTY years earlier. Raw, emotional…this is EVERYTHING that music is meant to be.

I have no insight as to why Kanye would reference this on his album cover…but anyone with the tiniest bit of discerning taste can hear that this record is worth it’s weight in gold…as evidenced by folks who paid upwards of $800 for this BEFORE it was ever Kanye-touched.

I just wonder if Ye sits around and sings about Rubye "I made that bitch famous."
I’d argue she’s done the hard work here…these songs get MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION and it’s been reissued but even that version seems impossible to find. Yeesh.

Part of me wants to frame this sucker, as it holds for me a moment where the absolute nerdiest thing I do in my life showed some sort of value outside of my own brain, but honestly, these songs are too damn good. I need to keep on playing it.