I’ve been collecting rare records and music memorabilia for 46 years, and just when I think I’ve seen it all, something surfaces that blows me away. This is one of those times.
Yesterday I listed on the Recordmecca site an impossibly rare–and possibly unique–reel to reel tape of rough-mixes for an unreleased Van Morrison studio album. He recorded it in 1975 for Warner Bros, and remarkably, in the 42 years since these recordings were made, no copies have surfaced and the (excellent) music remains completely unknown. That’s all the more remarkable in an era of YouTube, file sharing and rampant bootlegging.
Morrison released no albums between 1974’s Veedon Fleece and 1977 A Period of Transition. Explaining his three year absence in a May 1977 Rolling Stone interview with Cameron Crowe, Morrison said “I didn’t really go anywhere. I just had to stop. I wasn’t getting out of it what I wanted…it just wasn’t worth the hotels and the airports and all that. I’ve been doing this since I was 12. I personally reached a place where I wanted to take it apart so I could put it together in a way that I could live with it, and could maybe even be happy with it.”
This process included several much-publicized abandoned album projects. One of them was a nearly completed LP with jazz producer Stewart Levine (on which Morrison was backed by most of the Crusaders. “I backed off from it because it wasn’t feeling right. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do a whole album.”
The origins of this tape are best explained by the accompanying letter of authenticity from record producer Sunny Levine-
“In the fall of 1975 Stewart Levine (my father) began work on an album with Van Morrison (then signed to Warner Bros. Records). Levine assembled a stellar cast of musicians to play on the record and they spent two weeks recording at the legendary Record Plant studios in Sausalito, California.
Levine, Morrison and the thoughtfully casted band got along great and the sessions were a joyful experience. Morrison was very relaxed and sounds extra soulful as you can hear on the tape. The whole tracking experience was a pleasure with no drama in sight.
They went away for a week and planned to put the finishing touches on the record, which would have been the Tower of Power horns, followed by mixing. When they returned to the studio, Morrison and Levine had an argument that abruptly ended the sessions and that was that! The record was never released…
I have had this tape since we packed up my childhood home 20 years ago. I had it transferred to digital at the Bernie Grundman mastering facility. It is the only known evidence of these recordings.
Personel: Joe Sample-piano, fender rhodes, wurlitzer/Jim Gordon-drums/Ed Brown-bass/Mel Brown-guitar/Arthur Adams-guitar.
I hereby declare this tape to be authentic, one of a kind and not a copy. (Signed) Sunny Levine
Stewart Levine is an acclaimed American record producer known for his work with Simply Red, The Crusaders, Dr. John, B.B. King, Joe Cocker, Labelle, Sly Stone, Minnie Ripperton and many others.
The nine tracks included on this 7 1/2 IPS, half-track reel to reel Dolby tape comprise the entire planned album. They are “You Move Me”/”Grits Ain’t Groceries”/”Don’t Change On Me”/”We’re Gonna Make It”/”It Hurts to Want It So Bad”/”The Street Only Knew Your Name”/”Down To Earth”/”I Have Finally Come to Realize”/”Joyous Sound”.
Obviously not many collectors have a half-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, and so a high quality digital transfer is included. And no, you can’t buy this and release it. We’re selling this tape as a collectible only, for the buyer’s personal use. Copyright remains with original rights holders; no transfer of rights of any kind are implied or included. (And sorry, we are not able to make copies of this tape available to anyone except the buyer).
Crazy! Who knows what will show up next.
Jeff Gold April 6, 2017