The Crackle of 78s and Record Store Memories


While last week I struggled a bit with my post-operative pain-reduction opiate-derived haze, the last few days have found me up, walking, talking, thinking, moving, rehabbin’, writing, interviewing, plotting, scheming, making music, listening to lots of it, and sitting up straight as an arrow on a sturdy chair with some lumbar support. Today I bought a bagel, got a haircut, found a lightbulb, ate an apple, and have been listening to that great eight-disc set from Yazoo Records called Times Ain’t Like They Used to Be. It features music of the 1920s and ’30s. Fiddle tunes, banjo songs, rags, jigs, stomps, religious selections, blues, and some of the best traditional American music culled from 78s. They got lots more too, like that R. Crumb collection pictured here. A great record label indeed.

The other night I visited the website of an old friend from England that I’ve not checked in on for quite a while. I guess you could say it lives on the edge, as it’s a music collector’s site where hundreds of fans come to talk about any and every type of musical fetish one can have, and they upload their record collections to share. Records. Vinyl. Plastic. Most everything is pretty damn old. And ranges from the very popular to the absolute obscure.

Reading through all the notes and stories that people write reminded me of the customers we used to get at the record store I worked at about thirty years ago in Santa Monica. Straight out of High Fidelity (the film, not the magazine). The guys who wanted Japanese pressings of all of the Johnny Otis Savoy recordings, who talked about Jam singles and EPs, needed the German mono version of the Fantastic Baggys’ album, bought picture discs and colored vinyl, would argue about who was the best or who was the worst, and would come in with lists of songs that Carol Kaye played bass on.

What ever happened to those guys? I’ll tell ya. They live on my friends website. And there’s got to be hundreds more just like it and thousands of people still into it. Some folks sit around and reminisce about the old days and ask whatever happened to the neighborhood record shop. And others have used technology to recreate a virtual experience of it. Like I said, it lives on the edge. But it’s out there.

I’m not even gonna get into all the television shows and films I’ve been watching during this recuperation thing, but I will mention a documentary called The Last Mogul which is about the life of Lew Wasserman, the man who, along with founder Jules Stein, helped build MCA (Music Corporation of America…now Universal) into the giant media company that it eventually became. From the Jewish ghetto of Cleveland, to Chicago and New York City, and eventually Hollywood, although it focuses mostly on the film industry, there is plenty about how the music industry was built from the ground up. MCA booked almost all of the early big band acts, from Jelly Roll Morton to King Oliver to Kay Keyser, into the speakeasies during Prohibition, and are credited with creating the modern touring industry that we have today. Mobsters, molls and musicians. A great book when I read it years ago, but an even more interesting visual and audio history. Netflix it.

I had to skip seeing Lucinda Williams twice last week, and also Dom Flemons. He played a free show down in the city at Madison Square Park on a threatening damp but ultimately dry Saturday afternoon. It might have been some of his videos I watched or the reading of an extensive interview he did a few years back, but he got me into this “back to the past” funk that I’m in. Tell you what, next time he comes rollin’ around, I’ll not miss it. He’s a helluva performer. 

How’s you email inbox? Mine overflows every day, and for the past three weeks I’ve been unsubscribing each morning to all sorts of newsletters and companies and charities and whatever. Publicists and marketing companies? For the most part, gone. Hey musicians — save your money. If you need to turn someone like me onto your music or promote a new album or tour, just find me here and hit the contact button.

Here’s one giant exception to that rule. Hearth Music. When Devon Leger sends me a message talking about someone his company represents, I listen. Because it comes straight from his heart. Or hearth. The man has great ears, is an accomplished musician himself, and has built a marketing firm (the big tent version, that can cover soup to nuts) that represents some of the finest traditional, folk, bluegrass, and Americana music being made today.

Case in point: Meet the Locust Honey String Band. Based in Asheville North Carolina, the band features singers Chloe Edmonstone on fiddle and Meredith Watson on guitar, with the banjo pickin’ of Brooklyn New York’s Hilary Hawke, from the duo Dubl Handi. Their new album is in heavy rotation here in the Hudson Valley farmhouse, fitting in right along with all those killer 78’s from Yazoo, with the early string bands and Southern musicians. Grab a copy of Never Let Me Cross Your Mind and put on your dancin’ shoes.