Thursday, September 30, 2021

Rough Francis "I'd Be Your Doggie" b/w "We're Gonna Make It"

 Rough Francis

"I'd Be Your Doggie" b/w "We're Gonna Make It"

scum stats: 500 copies on blue vinyl

I am a simple man. I don't seek worldly treasures. I want not for gewgaws and baubles. On the real, all I'm truly looking for is a weird record to fill the pit of my blackened bottomless heart. Once or twice a year. That is all.

I became aware of the Rough Francis single around 2008. I played an ever-so small part in getting the world more acquainted with the band Death, a trio of Black brothers from Detroit who'd recorded some ahead-of-its-time proto-punk back in 1975 before seemingly disappearing into the mist.

Once people started to catch on and know more about Death and eventually reached out to me (I had written about them prior to any modern release/reissue of the material) I was lucky to have one of the sons of one of the original members of the band get in touch with me. 

The knowledge of the existence of Death, even amongst the progeny of its members, was zero. So these kids, who grew up listening to the likes of Black Flag and the Dead Kennedys, had their minds sufficiently blown upon finding out that dad and their uncles were creating some unholy punk scree in the family domicile on the East Side of Detroit back in the day.

As they dug deeper and deeper into the attic and family archives, they made me aware of a lone single released under the name Rough Francis. As I was told, Rough Francis was uncle David Hackney (guitarist in Death) doing his own thing, seemingly out-of-step with whatever could be considered "current" in 1991. I was sent a cassette dub of the two songs, quite possibly the last time I was ever hipped to music of an older, archived nature on a cassette tape. 

The standout track is the b-side "We're Gonna Make It." I remember the Hackney nephew's description along the lines of that the tune was kinda country sounding. And while I don't necessarily agree with that, I don't hard disagree either. The plaintive tone is warmly reminiscent of 70's country and western crooners, but the canned horns and (seeming) approximation of a lead sitar melody has me recalling "Abbey Road"-era Beatles. 

And the inherent message of "We're Gonna Make It" just rings SO true in light of the travails of major label tease, self-release scream into the void, decades of slogging it, David prognosticating that folks were someday going to care about the band Death, handing over the master tapes just before his own can't help but feel the emotion in it all. 

I put the Rough Francis record on my mental "want list" and didn't pay it too much mind.

Over the years, I'd find myself pondering here and there how, for such an unknown (and arguably undesired) single, it had NEVER turned up in my constant searching. The nephews, in a fit of tribute, named their new band Rough Francis, starting out merely covering the tunes penned by Death and eventually branching out into their own original material. 

Cut back to a couple weeks back, I got an email from a trusted Detroit record dealer, Steve. Our interactions have only ever been over email and he knows my reputation as a "Detroit" guy, so he'll share with me things he's found and/or is looking to sell from time-to-time. It is a seemingly simple courtesy that he pays me that I am never slow to marvel at. Being removed from Detroit on the regular, THIS is how I stay in touch with my preoccupation with music from the place of my birth. 

Anyway, he'd recently visited a record store far off the beaten path (one I haven't been to in 25 years) and pulled a wide-ranging pile of weirdo Detroit and Michigan 45's. Some cool Otis G. Johnson related singles, a $700 gospel 45, impressive stuff. And amongst that pile was a lone copy of this Rough Francis single, to which he asked "Do you know anything about this?"

The collector's dilemma. I have not always put myself on the morally defensible side of answering this question.  Record collecting is a balance of informed guessing, straight up knowledge, and dumb luck. So easy it could be to say "Eh, I dunno, looks interesting, I'll give you $10 for it." And without any other info out there to be gleaned on the record, I could merrily hop-scotch away, happy with the spoils of my deceit, tra-la-la-ing away to the next hopeless mark with a pile of precious desirables clean for the taking using nothing but my guile and mind games.

But I ain't got time for that bullshit anymore.

Without hesitation, I share everything I know about the record and my extreme desire to get my grubby little paws on it. I express some interest in a handful of the Otis G. Johnson singles too and directly offer $50 for the Rough Francis single.

He responds with prices on the Otis titles and says he's gonna hold onto Rough Francis for a minute.


So then I got COVID and spent 10 days locked in the guest room of my house and seemed to forget about most of this while I just stared into the mental black hole of my cell phone and laptop screens until springing out with everything but my sense of taste for liquids intact. 

Steve reached out asking if I was still into the Otis stuff. I told him I got COVID and reconsidered. He said in trying to find out more info about Rough Francis that he'd reached out to Archer Record Pressing and Death's management seeking more details. 

I told him based on my experience, Archer's archival invoices stop at 1986 so he wasn't going to get any information from them about a single from 1991. But based on my knowledge about the plant and other releases that Death (and their off-shoots the 4th Movement and Lambs Bread) had pressed at Archer, they probably did 500 copies and that they would've all been on blue vinyl.

He responded saying that the manager confirmed my suspicions and that he was still going to hold on to the record and think about it.

After 13 years of never even SEEING the single, I figured he'd holler back at me in another year and ask for $200. And I'd be perfectly content paying it.

It's not that I even think the record is worth anything near that amount of money. That's not the point. I oftentimes veer into the world of consciously and conspicuously OVER paying for a record, almost as a matter of resigned deference to forces larger than myself. I will happily rid myself of $200 and all that could otherwise bring/do/change in my life (not much, I know) in exchange for the peace of mind that I no longer have to be "on the hunt" for this 30 year old piece of reconstituted fossil fuel. 

(I understand there's an argument that the record absolutely IS "worth" $200 if I am willing to pay it. But that's a deeper quagmire than I have time to parse today)

I'm sitting on my couch a few days ago and a 45 mailer arrived with Steve's return address on it. "Oh shit" I think. "He sent the Otis singles before I could tell him I'd changed my mind!" I slice open the packing tape and am immediately dumbfounded. 

Steve sent me the Rough Francis single accompanied by a handwritten 
note saying...


This is much better served in your collection. Glad I found it, enjoy!


Does this change my life? Does it change the world? Does it truly matter to anyone, the record itself? Not really. Does it make me smile any less? Absolutely not.

What I find taking precedence in my life as I creep toward the crippling age of our interpersonal interactions. Connecting with other people in the world through whatever barriers and boundaries (self-imposed or otherwise) separate us. Finding connection amongst ideas and thoughts, being receptive to new and challenging ones, never remaining static or intractable in our lives or beliefs. Giving, whether based on need or based on where something SHOULD be. That is my goal.

And thus I am far more moved and will treasure this record THAT much more as opposed to if I had just thrown a pile of money at it. An acquaintance that I know only through the digital email realm thought it far better to just give me this record than to sell it to me. A small, easy gesture, that just resonates beyond the complexities of capitalistic exchange of culture and commodities and harkens back to all the hunters in the prehistoric tribes working for the common promulgation and continuance of us all. 

These moments, however fleeting, are the foundation of what keeps me optimistic for the never-ending future that lies ahead of us. I hope and strive to put the same positivity and good vibes out into the world for others as others have divined in my direction.

Determine what the things are that you love. Seek them out. Live a life open to ideas and experiences. Share everything. That is all that will matter.