Both Sides of the River

One of the most interesting aspects of collecting vintage vinyl records has been my introduction to new-to-me artists.

Some names I would recognize but realize I was unfamiliar with their music. People like Jesse Colin Young and Jerry Jeff Walker. Even Jethro Tull, who I had a “greatest hits” relationship with, has surprised me with the beauty of their lesser known material…

And, for a buck or less, why not take a chance on some new-to-you artist?

That’s how I came across the album River by Terry Reid… yard sale, $0.50 per album, decent shape, why not?

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Home, cleaned and spinning on the turntable, I was not expecting the voice that came out of the speakers… a fearless but yet intimate tenor vocal sounding more like a jazz saxophone than a male human.

The voice was imperfect, sometimes a sliding, sometimes soaring, sometimes slurring, jumping octaves with seemingly little regard for rules and regulations of pop songs. This dude was Billie Holiday reincarnate!

How had I missed knowing Terry Reid? It seems I’m not alone. His career arc has served to keep him just below the horizon of obscurity. A quick Google search later and fantastic story unfolded:

In a band as a teenager, Reid was selected to open a show for The Rolling Stones at Royal Albert Hall. Befriended there by Graham Nash, he was encouraged to sign on to Columbia Records.

Just 17 years old at the time, Reid caught the attention of veteran hitmaker Mickie Most, who signed on as manager and also produced Reid as a solo pop star.

A US tour with Cream followed and Reid became a critical, if not commercial, success. That’s when things really got good!

Reid was noticed by superstar Jimmy Page who was reforming a group after the breakup of The Yardbirds. Page asked Reid if he would consider becoming the frontman for his new band…

And Reid declined!

He was already committed to a second album and a world tour supporting the Rolling Stones. He did, however, recommend a singer and a drummer that he thought would fit in with Page quite well: Robert Plant and John Bonham.

Through the end of the 60s, Reid released a self-titled solo album and toured extensively with bands like Jethro Tull, Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix.

Things must have seemed pretty bright for Terry Reid during this time because lightning struck a second time: Reid was asked to join the band Deep Purple! Again he declined preferring to forge his own path.

He then had a falling-out with his management and basically dropped out of the music business for a couple of years while legal matters were sorted out.

A couple years into his legal hiatus, Atlantic Records bought Terry Reid’s contract from Columbia and work began on the album River.

This album really has a loose feel to it, with almost stream-of-consciousness like lyrics. The words in the song feel almost secondary to the delivery.

The band, a shifting lineup of musicians, is anchored by multi-instrumentalist David Lindley and bassist Lee Miles. Drumming and percussion was handled by Alan White (who went on to join Yes) and Willie Bobo on the title track.

Once again critically, if not commercially successful, River captures a moment in time shared by this then 23 year old creative genius.

For fans of River, there was always a rumor floating around that the recording sessions produced more songs that were not included. Perhaps even a whole albums worth it!

In 2016 these rumors became fact as with the release of Terry Reid – The Other Side Of The River.

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Beautifully produced and packaged, this album contains alternate takes and unreleased material from the River sessions. For a fan of Reid and his masterpiece,  it is a must own.

Today is Terry Reid’s 67th birthday. Ever a critical darling, Reid keeps up with a very active touring schedule. Live records, guest appearances on other people’s albums and opportunities keep coming his way. It was recently announced that a team of filmmakers is crowdfunding funds to make a documentary about Reid’s life and career. I donated and I can’t wait! Happy birthday Terry!

I wonder what would have happened if he would have joined Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple? Would those bands have been better? Worse? Would River exist?

I, for one, am glad things turned out the way they did.

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Running Down A Theme

I once dressed as Tom Petty for Halloween. The Tom Petty from the You Got Lucky music video to be exact:

Sure, I could’ve been mistaken for a hobo, or a chimney sweep, or just some dork in a trench-coat and a dumb hat… but in my mind, I was the leader of the dystopian gang the unearthed a boombox full of great tunes! I recalled this failed costume attempt recently while brainstorming dress-up ideas for Halloween 2016.

This memory seed took root and was nourished by news that all 16 of his studio albums will be re-issued in two enormous box sets of vinyl in December. Wow!

A post by Vinyl Stylus fueled the fire and the next I knew I committed four hours last Sunday to watching the Peter Bogdanovich documentary on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers called Runnin’ Down a Dream:

I then spent most of Monday with my Tom Petty/Traveling Wilbury record collection:

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From the 1976 self titled debut Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers through 1985’s Southern Accents, I don’t know that I can name another artist with as consistent multi-album run of great records.

Sure, You’re Gonna Get It suffered from a sophomore slump, but it still has Need Too Know and Listen To Her Heart on side two!

Anyway, the movie is great. It has a lot of insight into the band, personalities, and the recording industry of their heyday. It It also has great guest appearances from the usual suspects.

 

Happy Birthday Mr. Berry

I’ve been thinking a lot about Chuck Berry in the weeks leading up to his 90th birthday.

It started when I happened to see the documentary/concert film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, recently. The all star concert (and contentious backstage interview segments) filmed in St.Louis just days before the subject’s 60th birthday.

I was reminded how, upon seeing the film when it was initially released, it felt like artists paying tribute to a legend by giving him a send-off into the golden age of retirement. It also felt like Chuck was having none of it!

Then they released a vinyl copy of the Voyager “golden record“, the Space Bound compilation to the cosmos, including Chuck’s Johnny B. Goode.

Then the articles started showing up in my newsfeed. Everyone from Rolling Stone to Esquire magazine paying tribute to one of the greatest pioneers of rock and roll music.

Today, my social media pages are full of well wishes for Mr. Berry from former students like Mick Jagger and little Steven Van Zandt.

For my part today I am going to break out my copy of The Great Twenty-eight, the phenomenal compilation of Chuck’s 1955 to 1965 recordings for Chess Records.

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So happy birthday Chuck Berry, we couldn’t have done it without you!

PS… today, on Chuck Berry’s website, he announced that he would be releasing a new album in the coming year… his first since 1979!

PSS… just heard the news that Phil Chess, one of those most instrumental in getting Chuck’s music out to the world, passed away Tuesday at the age of 95. RIP Mr. Chess!

Cirque du So-Love

I had previously written a post about the remixed remastered reimagined versions of Beatles songs that were the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil production of Love.

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My wife had seen the production on a previous trip to Las Vegas. She had never really been a Beatles fan, but came back singing the praises of both the show and the music.

We recently had occasion, owing to a family wedding, to visit Las Vegas and Love was on our to-do list.

The specialty theater was near capacity on the Thursday evening we visited the Mirage casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip. Sheer curtains trisected the stage and cables, ropes and ladders hung ominously over the black void just one row and one isle away.

Incidental music, while people were coming and going toward their seats, was familiar Beatles, but in instrumental form. The ushers expertly guided lost zombies to their proper rows, the lights dimmed and the fog machines started running full tilt. Characters emerged from somewhere off stage and hastened us all to welcome the production.

As the lights came down the experience begins with the familiar tones of the song Because. Actually it was just the familiar and lyrics, these were stripped bare of the music we’d all been accustomed to and really set the stage for the remainder of the production.

For the next 90 minutes dancers, acrobats, magicians and contortionists filled the stage, and the sky above, with one interpretation after another the 60s seen through the lens of this reimagined Beatles music.

As a Beatles fan, it was fun to try to pick out characters from their songs and other more obscure references about the band in the production. Of course Sergeant Pepper played a recurring role, as did Father McKenzie, the girl from She’s Leaving Home, Eleanor Rigby and Jude.

Many of the props reflected icons from the Beatle years, especially prominent items and characters from Yellow Submarine. Several Volkswagen Beetles were featured and at least one had a license plate that read LMW 28IF.

The show was fantastic and these little details made it especially thrilling for a Beatles fan. If I had it to do over again I think I would try to relax a little bit and not attempt to be a know-it-all… a Beatles who’s who scorekeeper as the thing was going on. There was a certain Wizard of Oz, pull the curtain back, attempt on my part, just trying to figure out how everything worked. It was a little like going to a magic show and trying to decipher the illusion rather than letting yourself get caught up in the moment.

In doing so I totally missed some of the more subtle experiences; the bubbles used in the Strawberry Fields segment smelled like strawberry for instance…

The bottom line is I would highly recommend this show to anyone who happens to find themselves in Las Vegas. Love has been presented in this theater twice a night for over 10 years now… who knows how much longer it will be in production?

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Ps… while in the Las Vegas area, armed with a car and some time on my hands, I hit up a few thrift stores looking for vintage vinyl. I managed to score a couple dozen mid fifties to early sixties Jazz records. I’ll likely blog about the cream-of-the-crop some other time but had an interesting experience with our TSA security trying to get them home. I got pulled out of security line and had to explain the odd image on the X-ray machine in my carry-on bag:

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Lucky for me the TSA agent was an old guy so he knew what a vinyl record actually was!

Me And Kenny

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Kenny Loggins.

It all began in the early seventies with the Loggins penned Danny’s Song… but I’m sure it was the Anne Murray version that I came to love first.

Soft rock hits like The House On Pooh Corner competed along side like-themed songs of the day Muskrat Love and Disco Duck.

Later radio-friendly edits of Your Mama Don’t Dance and Angry Eyes solidified Kenny Loggins’ spot as one of the great soft rock hippie songwriters of the era.

I lost track of Kenny in his solo years… until this happened:

Although these movie masterpieces weren’t really my thing, they made Kenny’s music culturally iconic above and beyond whatever he could have done otherwise.

I rediscovered Kenny Loggins music over the past couple of years, both with Jim Messina and solo. I find it to be earnest and soulful, even funky at times! Sure, there’s a lot of sappiness in there too, but sappy can be good when you’re in the right mood.

I got to see Kenny and his fantastic touring band here recently. His debut solo album, Celebrate Me Home, came along. It was like visiting with an old friend.

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Sometimes You Just Need to Chill

The best of tool I have in my HiFi Arsenal to achieve chillness is a pair of headphones:

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Having to sit tethered to your stereo is a great way to avoid all of those pesky life distractions; cooking, cleaning, working… you get the idea.

To boot, adding a set of headphones to your HiFi rig can extend your chilldom into the late night/early morning hours.

I decided to get chilly recently and do a comparison of my collection* of vintage and not so vintage headphones. Here’s a rundown ranked for your enjoyment:

**

Realistic Nova 10:

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From the early seventies. Some realistic branded headphones were actually made by reputable companies. The Nova 10 is not one of those. These things are cheap lightweight plastic and uncomfortable! To boot they sound like poo! They’re lacking in both low and high frequency with just a punchy mid-range. I found some specs on these things online and they were, let’s just say unimpressive.

Zenith 4 channel:

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These things are heavy and bulky but, because there are two speakers in each can, they are pretty comfortable. Used here in stereo mode, they are pretty muddy sounding and lack anything resembling a high-frequency signal. I’m keeping them around because they look neat and, someday, I will own a quadraphonic source that I can not enjoy through this horrible sounding headphones.

Panasonic EAH-20:

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These headphones have slightly better high frequency than the last couple of pairs but the size of the earpiece is rather confining. There is a flat-screen just inside of pad that rests right on your ear. The plastic ear pads are hot and the speakers to sit so close to your ears that these things seem loud in comparison. Overall the sound of these cans is best described as congested, everything all stacked up on one another with no separation between the individual bits of music.

Koss K-6:

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Circa 1971 now we are getting into some of the hi-fi headphones! The K-6 has a roomy earpiece with a curved cover over the top of the speaker that fits your ear really well. These have good bass response and mid-range but are still lacking in high frequency. Even so, this is the first usable pair of headphones I’ve tried today. Just OK.

Koss KO-727B:

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Also from 1971, these headphones have a sound somewhat like an equalizer set to a :-). They accentuate the low frequency and the high-mids and have slightly better high frequency response than the K-6. To boot, out of all of these hard-shelled  can type headphones so far, these seem to isolate  external sounds the best. The 727 B are definitely a keeper.

Sony MDR-V600:

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These have been mine since 1995. I mixed a lot of live concerts and radio programs with these headphones. They’re lightweight and comfortable. The first truly full range headphones I’ve tried today. They’re a little bit bass heavy but still give good detail… detail that was lacking in the ’70s Koss cans. I can now hear reverb layers, echo and other bits of material in the source.

Sennheiser HD 201:

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These things are lightweight (under 6 ounces) and sit low profile over your ears. The sound is a bit thin compared with the Sony and they do lack a bit of detail but are more balanced on the whole. The cord with these is like 20 feet long so it also makes it easy to get positioned across from your stereo rig.

Sennheiser HD 650:

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God I wish these things were mine! Unfortunately they’re just on-loan from a good friend (who now wants them back!) The generous earpiece is covered in a microfiber material that is super comfortable for extended listening. The first thing you notice is that the frequency response is flat, flat, flat! You don’t hear a booming bass or a sizzling symbol, the sound is almost too perfect! They are very detailed and you can hear things from the source material that you missed with most of the other headphones here. One thing that I’m having trouble describing is the bass response. It’s very percussive, not in a booming way, but almost like you feel the beat of a bass drum in a live setting. It’s unlike anything I’ve heard from any other speaker or headphone before. The only hesitation I would have in buying these headphones is that they need power! Trying them out on a portable source like a phone or an iPod was not enough to drive the headphones. I had to use an external headphone amplifier to match the volume of the other headphones. The other potential drawback is these cans have an open back so if you are listening to them in a confined space, everyone else gets to enjoy your music too! The final criticism, also having to do with the open back design, his these were the least sound deadening headphones here. I could hear a lot of things going on in the room that were silent with the other cans.

*Other than the Sennheiser HD 650, all of these headphones came from thrift stores and ranged in price from $1 to $3. So, if you are interested in adding some old cans to your set-up, keep an eye open there!

** as a source I played one of my go-to records, Dire Straits – Making Movies, on my dual 1219 turntable through a Fisher 400c reciever.

 

The Original O-Reginald

I found a minty copy of Elton John‘s debut album locally recently.

No! Not that one! His 1969 DJM (Dick James Music) release Empty Sky, distributed by Pye records!

I’m constantly amazed at the diversity of records and record labels I find here in Spokane. We are a military town, which I’m assuming accounts for many of the “import” albums I find here in the wild.

Even so, I’ve never even found the mid-70s re-release of this album in my years of digging… I never expected to find the original in translucent vinyl.

It is a John/Taupin collaboration and hints at much of the style and substance that would come from that collaboration over the next decade. Players include Caleb Quayle and Roger Pope who would revolve in the Elton John orbit for years to come, and Troggs bassist Tony Murray. It even contains what may be the first collaboration of John’s most famous drummer, Specer Davis Group alumni Nigel Olsson, on the first song, side 2.

A few of the songs would inhabit B-sides of later singles and be rehashed in early live appearances, but my favorite song is the second song on side two entitled Sails.

Hindsight album reviews claimed Empty Sky held no hidden gems… but did portend the future of the Superstar recording artist. I suppose that is correct in the sense that none of these songs included on this album are played in perpetuity on classic rock radio stations. As I spin this record, this is the first time I’ve ever heard any of these songs! But I guess, for me anyway, that would be the case with almost every Elton John album produced since 1976.

So, if you’re an Elton John fan, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Empty Sky, whether the original British pressing or the reissue… it paints a really good picture of what this artist was like at 22… before fame and fortune. An Original O-Reginald!

Ticket To Ride

Today marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles final ticketed live performance at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

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Although it doesn’t seem like it was predestined to be the end, the trials and tribulations of their 1966 tour took such a toll that the group decided unanimously to stop “the madness”.

Although there are bootlegs out there of the Candlestick Park concert, the only live Beatles have is the 1977 release the Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. Selections off of this album were recorded in August 64 and August 65 at the iconic Amphitheater.

I have two copies of this album, both received as gifts.

My first copy was given to me by my friend Tiny (who is actually and above average size human being). My best friend in high school, Tiny and I went to Hawaii as two 18 year olds on a post High School fling before my enlistment in the Air Force. Less than 12 hours after arriving in Honolulu my appendix ruptured and I spent whole vacation in the hospital. Tiny was on his own until my parents arrived to take care of me and keep him company. He managed to find a used record store somewhere in town and got me this copy of at the Hollywood Bowl to try and lift my spirits.

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The second copy was given to me by my friend Chris. His father, Bill, was a music aficionado and had a great record collection. Several years after Bill died in a tragic accident, Chris inherited his father’s record collection and, in a stunning act of generosity I still can’t get over, turned them over to me! Bill’s copy is an oddball pressing from Uruguay.

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So tonight I’m going to kick back and listen to both copies of The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ll remember the kindness of friends and think about how lucky all those 40-some-thousand Candlestick Park attendees were to be at The Beatles final concert that night 50 years ago. They had a ticket to ride.

 

It’s a Coincidence

So I’ve been doing pretty well at the thrift stores and yard sales this summer of 2016. I’ve managed to score several albums on my want list and even a few Holy Grail items!

But one recent vinyl find spurred on some research: did the story inspire  the album?  Or did the album inspire the story/movie?

The movie in question was a 2004 low budget-alternative, turned box office smash, turned cult film called Napoleon Dynamite:

The album was my newest acquisition to my expanding Elvis Costello record collection: the 1986 album Blood & Chocolate:

So, how are these two things even remotely related? It turns out the movie title is exactly the pseudonym used by the pseudonym that is Elvis Costello:

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… and he had used this pseudonym as far back as 1982. So, the movie’s director Jared Hess had to be a massive Elvis Costello fan right?

As it turns out, not so much. To this day Hess remains adamant that he heard the name from an old Italian man he met while doing a Mormon missionary work near Chicago Illinois.

I’m not so sure, maybe someone should ask Pedro?

Regardless, Blood & Chocolate has been on my turntable pretty much non-stop since I brought it home last weekend. It’s a fantastic record and has risen to the top of my Elvis Costello favorite list. (Plus, in numerous interviews about the subject, Hess admits to being a huge hip hop fan, so screw that guy!)

Now on to my next mystery: is Leonard Cohen actually Al Pacino?

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