Jazz giant Charlie Parker was born August 29, 1920; one hundred years ago tomorrow. The worldwide celebrations marking his centennial show just how much of a mark he made on music in his short 34 years on the planet.
Parker looms large in my forthcoming book, Sittin’ In: Jazz Clubs of the 1940s and 1950s (released Nov. 17 by Harper Collins). I’ve just launched a website for the book with sample pages and excerpts, and a companion playlist but today I thought I’d share this fantastic photo of Bird posing with two fans at New York’s Royal Roost in the late 1940s.
I was incredibly fortunate to interview jazz giants Sonny Rollins and Quincy Jones for the book, and this photo is a small illustration of how, as they told me, jazz clubs were among the first places in Jim Crow America where Blacks and whites mixed, in audiences and on-stage. Sonny said “jazz was really where the racial barriers were broken down heavily.” Quincy offered “Back then, it wasn’t about color in the clubs, it was about how good you can play. Racism would’ve been over in the 1950s if they’d listened to the jazz guys.”
More on the book later. Today, I’m going to listen to some Bird.
I’ve been meaning to write about the almost incomprehensible death of Hal Willner (of Covid-19 complications) since his passing on April 7, but to be honest, I couldn’t figure out what to say. There have been some high profile obituaries and tributes (just google his name). My wife just sent me Elvis Costello’s moving remembrance, and that finally got me typing. Like Elvis, I’m taking the personal approach.
Hal with Soupy Sales’ original Pookie puppet, one of his proud possessions
[If you don’t know about Hal, the extraordinary record producer/impresario/raconteur/eccentric and longtime Saturday Night Live music supervisor, and the man who discovered Jeff Buckley, check out the 2017 New York Times article Hal Willner’s Vanishing, Weird New York.]
I first met Hal in 1984, when I was the assistant to A&M Records president Gil Friesen. Part of my job involved turning Gil on to things I thought might be of interest to him. One day John Telfer, the manager of A&M artist Joe Jackson, mentioned Joe was doing a track for a Thelonious Monk tribute album produced by John’s friend Hal Willner. At that time, Hal had only recorded a few tracks, and John was helping him find a home for it. Hal had previously produced a Nino Rota tribute album with mostly jazz artists, but this time, he planned to use a more eclectic mix of rock and jazz artists. I was intrigued.
I spoke to Hal to get more details before pitching it to Gil, who like myself was a jazz fan. Though we knew it wasn’t going to sell millions of copies, it sounded like a great project, and something we wanted for A&M. Pretty quickly we made a deal for the album—and Hal and I became friends.
As expected, none of these were runaway bestsellers that spawned hit singles. But they got great reviews, found an audience, and I think turned a bit of a profit. And we loved Hal and were happy to be involved in supporting great projects like these.
Hal was anything but a traditional record producer; he was more like an alchemist. A typical ‘producer’ might suggest changes to lyrics or an arrangement, or ask a musician to play a part differently. It seemed most of Hal’s work was done before entering the studio. He’d figure out which songs he wanted for an album, and then cast them, with a ‘lead’ performer, and supporting musicians. Hal relished mixing it up, teaming James Taylor with jazz musicians Branford Marsalis and John Scofield, or ‘word jazz’ poet Ken Nordine with guitarist Bill Frisell. I was in the studio for a few of his sessions, and his vibe, there and elsewhere, was pretty relaxed. He got everyone together and let the magic happen, maybe making a gentle suggestion, or asking for another take. And it worked! Those records sounded great then, and sound great now.
As many have noted, Hal was an endearing oddball and a master raconteur. Here’s just one great Hal story.
Hal decided his next album would be a tribute to songs from Disney movies—“I Wanna Be Like You” from Jungle Book, “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” from Song of the South, etc.
He was pretty far along with recording when he came to see me to talk about the album cover (by this time, I’d been promoted to vice president of marketing and creative services). We were excited about the project, and Hal casually let slip that the people at Disney, ahem, might not be sharing our enthusiasm. In fact the lawyers at Disney viewed their copyrights and trademarks as sacrosanct, their holy grails, and weren’t into some weirdo New York record producer putting together a tribute album with a bunch of musicians they’d never heard of. I’ll never forget Hal telling me the Disney business affairs lawyer he met with had a sign on his desk that said, in reference to Disney’s most important character, “Don’t Mess With the Mouse”.
That explains the legalese of the album title: Stay Awake: Various Interpretations of Music from Vintage Disney Films. This was not to be mistaken for a Disney project. I remember a particularly tense meeting with Hal, the Disney and A&M lawyers, and our marketing staff, where we learned we could absolutely, positively use NO images from any Disney anything on the album cover or in any marketing materials. Great, we thought–a Disney based project, and we could barely use the name Disney in marketing or even describing it.
Happily, a few days later, while perusing fine art catalogs looking for inspiration, I had the miraculous good fortune to find a painting by Rodney Allen Greenblat that matched the album’s vibe and title perfectly. Hal liked it and somehow we were able to license it. Phew.
Hal popped up in major events in my life too. In 1984, I met my future wife, Jody Uttal, at my friend Steve Martin’s house (the filmmaker, not the comedian; Steve later became one of Hal’s closest friends.) Literally minutes into the first conversation Jody and I ever had, we discovered we both knew Hal.
Four years later, Jody was pregnant with our first child, Ella. The day before Jody’s due date, Sting was headlining the Forum. We planned on going, but our contingency plan was to give the tickets to Hal and Steve, who checked in with us throughout the day. Eventually Jody started having contractions, and Hal came and got the tickets; he was the last person we saw before heading to the hospital (thirteen years later they both came to Ella’s bat mitzvah, but that’s another story.)
And then Hal became our (occasional) neighbor. In 1998, I left the world of record labels, and our trips to New York (and hangs with NY-based Hal) became less frequent. A few years later, we moved from Santa Monica to Venice, and a few years after that I was stunned to run into Hal around the corner from our house. It turned out he had rented a guest house about a block from us, to use as his west coast base (I believe he had it until the end).
Hal had a incalculable number of friends and projects, not to mention his wonderful wife Sheila and son Arlo, and his ‘day job’ at Saturday Night Live– so he didn’t make it out here as often as he liked. But when you’d least expect it, Hal would materialize with no warning. Sometimes there would be a text or a call, but more often than not, we’d hear a loud banging on our window, open the shade, and there would stand Hal. He’d come in, and we’d start right back up, usually for at least an hour or two. I’ll never forget the last time—my wife called from downstairs that Hal had dropped by. I came down to find Hal, fresh from a swim at the nearby beach, in swim trunks and flip flops and nothing else, dripping wet. His rickety bicycle was parked in our yard. I went upstairs and got him a t-shirt, which I told him he could keep. It’s such a great image to have for our last Hal sighting.
Hal always wanted to see my latest musical finds (I collect and sell rare records & music memorabilia). In the past few years I remember a deep dive into a huge jazz memorabilia collection I’d bought, and a previously unknown Lenny Bruce tape. Lenny was one of Hal’s heroes, and he helped me figure out where and when the tape was recorded
I never visited his famous NYC studio, but from the photos, his Venice guest house looked pretty similar. Every surface was overflowing with precarious piles of cds, books, ephemera, things falling off tables, a huge chaotic framed print on the wall, inscribed to Hal by his great friend Ralph Steadman.
Here’s a text exchange from a few years ago:
Me: Are you around? “
Hal: Yes-but I got a fucking acting gig as a Jerry Rubin character in “Documentary now”! Strange – you around this weekend?”
Hal as a “Jerry Rubin character”
Hal was very close with Lou Reed, who I’d worked with at Warner Bros. Records in the 90s, and who could be very difficult. He was also friendly with Gail Zappa, Frank Zappa’s wife, who had a similar reputation. In a text conversation, Gail’s name had come up, and Hal wrote “So weird that I got on well with people that no one else did and didn’t get on with people that…well…”
I think that was a reference to the more mainstream music business. Hal kvetched about how, despite all the acclaim his projects received, he’d never get hired by major artists to produce their albums. I’d remind him that he’d staked his territory as someone who made wonderful art projects, not million sellers, and as fantastic as his projects were, the mainstream record labels craved million sellers.
He knew, but…
In my modern Buddhist worldview, people live on in those they loved, taught or in some way touched. It’s a tragedy he’s gone. I can’t imagine what it’s like for Sheila and Arlo. Jody and I send them all our love. But the incredible outpouring of love and appreciation for Hal and his work shows just how much he was valued. And how much he’ll be missed. I think he would have been blown away.
Happily Hal left a lot of tangible work behind (including a fine Mingus tribute and most recently, two various artist compilations of sea shanties). This is music that absolutely would not have existed if not for Hal’s passion, creativity, and vision. So let’s celebrate his time on earth, listen to the records he made, and remember the late but absolutely great Hal Willner.
If you haven’t seen it, here’s the star studded Saturday Night Live tribute to Hal.
Hello everyone, I hope you’re all well, washing your hands frequently, and staying sane.
I’ve been meaning to write about the proliferation of fake sealed records being offered on EBay, particularly ones with bogus “hype stickers”.
Resealed records have always been a problem. In the 70’s, I was friendly with an employee at Tower Records on the Sunset Strip, which had a shrink wrap machine in the back room, and a general manager who claimed “there’s no such thing as a defective record.” I was in Tower’s back room any number of times while employees resealed “defective” records that had been returned to the store. These machines would seal records in loose plastic wrap, and then employees would ‘shrink’ the wrap by quickly moving an industrial strength hair dryer back and forth over the shrink.
Of course shrink wrap machines were used for legitimate reasons too, primarily by US record stores to seal expensive import albums, which were sold in Europe unsealed. ‘Imports’ sold for premium prices, so stores ‘loose sealed’ them, for protection, and to identify them as imports.
Knowing how easy it is to reseal a record, I’ve never understood why people pay high prices for ‘sealed’ albums. The same goes for open albums with intact shrink wrap–when I was a teenager, we used to slide the shrink wrap off albums we didn’t care about, and ‘transplant’ it onto other records we wanted to protect.
As prices for sealed records rose dramatically, so did fraud, with unscrupulous sellers resealing clean records and selling them as ‘factory sealed’. Sometimes they would make fake ‘breathe holes’ in the shrink too. When I saw an expensive ‘sealed’ record I wanted for myself at a store or record show, I’d buy it with the understanding that I could open it in front of the seller, to insure it was in mint condition, and not a ‘re-seal.’
In the past 10 years or so, people have also begun to pay premium prices for sealed albums with ‘hype stickers’, the record store or distributor stickers usually with wording to the effect of “Featuring the hit single…” And of course with premium prices, again came fraud.
For the past few years, a number of sellers on Ebay have been getting very high prices for a seemingly unending supply of ‘sealed’ albums with ‘rare hype stickers’. Sometimes these stickers are ‘previously unknown’. There’s a good reason for that–it’s because the vast majority are fake.
It’s not that difficult to find a clean copy of a scarce album to reseal. Then with a scanner and desktop printer, it’s easy to either reproduce a rare sticker, or with a modicum of design talent, create your own ‘previously unknown’ sticker. And that’s exactly what is happening, on a relatively large scale. Every week I see lots of resealed albums with fake stickers selling on EBay, and shake my head at the poor people who are getting taken.
This has been a big topic of conversation among dealers, including my good friend Gary Johnson, of Rockaway Records. Gary recently sent me an EBay listing for a supposedly ‘sealed’ album with a rare hype sticker and a Rockaway price tag, noting “I assume that the only real thing in this listing is my 2018 price sticker.” He noted some of these sellers “attach genuine vintage record store price stickers on their supposedly sealed albums to give the buyer “confidence”, but the reality is that it is simple (and common) to remove these stickers from other LPs in shrink wrap and place them on their “sealed” ones. It amazes me how these guys keep finding new suckers. All one needs to do is look at the seller’s other items and see an amazing amount of sealed albums. None of them have any relationship to each other (same label, store, etc). Common sense should prevail, but I guess it doesn’t.”
I agree. There’s no easy way to tell if a record is resealed or a sticker is fake from a small internet photo. But I encourage everyone to be exceedingly skeptical. Check the seller’s feedback, past sales, and other items; if they’re offering many other similarly rare sealed albums with stickers, that’s a big red flag. I’ve been collecting records for nearly 50 years and can promise you, these just aren’t that common. Look at how long the seller has been in business. A few of the sellers of fakes have changed their Ebay ID, more than once. And most important, as I always say, any honest seller will happily give you a written lifetime guarantee of authenticity. If you’re buying something expensive, insist on this.
I’ve written about the proliferation of fake acetates on EBay. Fake sealed records with bogus ‘hype stickers’ are becoming a big problem too. There are of course genuine sealed albums with hype stickers. But I wouldn’t be buying them off Ebay without spending some time vetting the seller, making sure they don’t have an endless supply, seeing if they’ve sold rarities other than sealed albums, and most important, insisting on a written lifetime guarantee of authenticity.
The great Richard Morton Jack of Flashback Magazine has written a highly recommended post about this topic, with illustrations, on his Galactic Ramble blog.
OK record nerds, time for more Hendrix pressing minutiae. For many decades, like most of the rest of the world (or at least Hendrix collectors) I accepted the conventional wisdom that the first pressing of Hendrix’s 1966 debut single, “Hey Joe/Stone Free” on UK Polydor had red labels and a black and white logo. Yes, there were a bunch of variants, with punch out or solid centers, and ones that credited to either “Jimi Hendrix”, “Jimi Hendrix Experience” or “The Jimi Hendrix Experience”, but the version with the red label and black and white logo was by all accounts the earliest pressing (we’ll ignore those variations here, for everyone’s sanity).
A few years ago I saw a copy on Discogs that had a textured label that looked darker red, with an all black logo instead of the black/white one. I shrugged it off, thinking it must be a printing error, but something about it stuck in my mind. One day I decided to see if I could find other Polydor 45’s with that unusual label. “Hey Joe” has the catalog number Polydor 56139, so I just started putting Polydor numbers lower than that into the Discogs database, and soon found 45’s by Valerie Masters (56135) and Normie Rowe (56132) with the same darker red/black type label. So it wasn’t a mistake!
FIRST PRESSING WITH ALL BLACK LOGO
SECOND PRESSING, WITH BLACK/WHITE LOGO
Searching in the other direction, I found the Polydor single released immediately after Hendrix’s debut, Wee Willie Harris’ “Listen to the River Roll Along” had the familiar black label with the red/white logo. Voila! The first pressing of “Hey Joe/Stone Free” was clearly the last Polydor single issued with the all black logo label. When it became a hit, Polydor repressed the single on their “new” labels, with the red/white logo.
VALERIE MASTERS 45, ISSUED JUST BEFORE “HEY JOE”
WEE WILLIE HARRIS, ISSUED IMMEDIATELY AFTER “HEY JOE”
Now I know this is trivia, but it interested me, as I’m sure it will some of you. If you are one of those people, here are links to two posts debunking the popular myth that the first pressings of Electric Ladyland are the ones with the blue type.
It’s been two weeks since Gary Stewart, my dear friend of 44 years, took his own life, and I’m still trying to process it. We met as teenage college students and music fanatics; I was a clerk at the Rhino Records Store in Westwood and Gary was an enthusiastic customer. He was a management trainee at McDonald’s, but eventually we convinced him to come work at the store, and our deep discussions about music continued for the rest of his life.
Me (left) and Gary (right) promoting DIY artist R.Stevie Moore; outside the Rhino store, late 1970’s.
Miraculously, we both went on to have successful careers in the music business. Gary eventually became senior vice president of A&R for the Rhino label, and has been acknowledged as probably the greatest compiler of reissues and box sets ever (his LA Times obituary notes he is credited on over 700 albums). In 2003 Steve Jobs hired Gary as chief music officer at Apple, where he curated iTunes’ offerings and oversaw their ‘Essentials’ playlists. He left Apple in 2011, and launched Trunkworthy, a movie/tv/music recommendation website. The name referenced his car’s trunk, filled with cd’s and dvd’s he thought people NEEDED, and his habit of forcing them on even casual acquaintances. He returned to Apple in 2016 for another run at curating their catalog, and left last year. I still laugh about his career arc—even in his earliest days at the Rhino store, he was a huge fan of ‘Greatest Hits’ albums. In an odd way, he made that artform his life’s work.
Gary was also a social justice warrior; incredibly committed to the underserved and underrepresented, through philanthropy and his very active participation in organizations dedicated to fairness and equality, particularly Liberty Hill, Community Coalition and Laane.
But I keep thinking these tell the story of Gary the music icon and committed activist–not Gary the person. The Gary I knew was a big, sometimes awkward, occasionally goofy guy. He remembered dates like nobody I’ve ever known: “Sparks at the Santa Monica Civic? That was December 3 & 4, 1975. They opened the show with…” He had more friends and acquaintances than anyone I’d ever met. There were 400 people at his 60th birthday party. I don’t think I could have paid that many people to come to mine.
Loyal to his friends, generous beyond measure, dependable as can be, when I think of Gary I think: reliable, insightful, committed, perfectionist, unwilling to settle, occasionally guarded, vulnerable, obsessive, brilliant, excited, voracious, neurotic, self-effacing, beloved. As my wife Jody would say, Gary was dear.
At the 2010 Rhino store reunion; l-r Rhino’s Garson Foos, me, Gary.
The thing I’ll miss most is hugging that big bear of a man and our obsessively nerding out about music. I have lots of music fanatic friends, but I can’t think of anyone I’ve talked to more about music than Gary. When we first met, I knew much more than he did about music and records. But pretty quickly his musical knowledge overtook mine in a big way. His taste was so broad and encyclopedic, his interests so all encompassing. Gary listened to everything, read incessantly, remembered everything, was always looking for new music, and went to shows many times each week. His passion seemed to know no bounds.
As we aged, and his interests broadened to incorporate films, plays, television and movies, Gary was forever trying to get me to listen to new things, watch new TV shows, check out movies, etc. When Apple hired him for the first time, he took his signing bonus and bought 150 box sets of the first season of ‘The Wire’ and sent them to his friends. Crazy? Absolutely. But I had to admit, I’d never seen it, and once I’d watched it became one of my favorite television shows ever.
As a record collector and dealer, I always have more records in my ‘to listen to’ stack than I have time for, along with a pile of unread books, magazines, and a list of movies I’m interested in. Gary was always trying to turn me on to new things, but I protested. “Gary”, I’d say, “I don’t have enough time to listen to and watch what I already have”. If I’m watching a movie, tv show, or listening to a record, and I’m not loving it, I move on to the next thing. Gary would NEVER do that. He always found something interesting in everything. Eventually he came up with a line about me – – “for you it’s got to be an A”. Exactly right. But for Gary, everything had something to offer.
I’m so glad we were able to spend an evening together the week before he died. We had dinner, went to see The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (an unreleased tv special from 1968), and sat in the theatre lobby and talked for more than an hour. We discussed his present state of mind, his depression (my term; more about that below) and of course music. He said he was doing better, and seemed like it. We A&R’d the acts in the movie in detail—we agreed The Who were the best thing in it, and for Gary, his favorite 60’s group. We were both surprised at how good Taj Mahal was, and disappointed in how ho-hum the Stones were (they went on at 2 AM and were exhausted, though Gary was more forgiving than me, happy to see them performing Beggar’s Banquet material live). We were surprised to see in the credits that the guitarist playing with Jethro Tull was Tony Iommi, who soon went on to Black Sabbath. That led to a long riff about which bands the casual music fan would be able to name all the members of—something we both were amazed we’d never thought about before (we decided: Beatles & Stones yes, The Who maybe, but not many beyond that). I told him about the time a few years ago when I interviewed Pete Townshend for a Joan Jett documentary; and we both, once again, acknowledged how lucky we were to have met and worked with some of our musical heroes. It was like hundreds of conversations we’d had over so many years. Eventually our energy faded, we headed to the parking lot, I gave him a hug and a kiss, told him I loved him, and we headed to our cars. Never for a second did I think this would be the last time I’d see him. But it was.
I will miss Gary for the rest of my life. But I’m fucking glad I got to know him and spend so much time with him for so many years.
April 27, 2019
I’m working with Richard Foos and Harold Bronson on an event celebrating Gary; to be added to the mailing list email email@example.com
I wrote this on April 12 after hearing Gary had died:
I met Gary circa 1975, when I was a clerk at Rhino Records, and he was a customer. We became close friends pretty quickly, and eventually I was able to convince him to leave his job at McDonalds (he was a management trainee) to join us at the Rhino store. Gary had confided in me about his struggles, and I wanted to write this for his friends.
Just so everyone knows, Gary knew how much he was loved. He may have brushed it aside when told so, but he knew it. A few months ago at lunch we had a very frank discussion—he was depressed, lamenting not having a job, relationship, having spent too much of his Apple money and not knowing what the next chapter of his life was. He was obviously suffering, but didn’t sound remotely without hope. I emphasized to him how unique and employable he was, knowing an impossibly lot about music, and having come from Apple, and that there would be many companies that would want to know about their inner workings. We spent a long time brainstorming ideas for a new job (he took notes), and he referred to his next chapter in subsequent email as Gary 4.0. I invited him to write something for my blog which he wanted to do and was working on. I told him again and again how beloved he was and how much good karma he had. He also told me that he owned his house and had enough money for at least 10 or 15 years, and that he was cutting back on going out and spending to make it last. He was fully engaged in finding solutions to his issues, and wrote me the next day “And yes, I know just how ok I am-and how much, on every level, I’ve got-I always have really.” A week or so later he wrote apologized for not getting the blog post to me sooner, saying he was working on it and ’that’s on top of two networking calls/meetings a day-with exercise and meditating thrown in for good measure.
I followed up with him regularly; he went on a meditation retreat (which he didn’t love that much, but was doing more meditating on his own), and he was definitely getting mental health care, He alluded to a medical thing, but told me it wasn’t serious, and that he was fine.
Last week we had dinner, went to see the Rolling Stones Rock ‘n’ Roll Circus film in a theater, and sat in the lobby for an hour or so afterward talking. He was again upfront about what was going on, and seem to be somewhat better, and said he was. We talked about ketamine being approved for depression, and I think he was going to ask his therapist about it. I am pretty sure he told me he was seeing his psychiatrist the next day and was going to discuss changing his anti depressant, but I’m not positive about that. We discussed and I sent him a link to an Israeli film on a study where PTSD survivors were dramatically helped with MDMA/ecstasy. He wrote me an email this Monday telling me he really enjoyed it, and how it gave him a deeper understanding into a similar therapy a friend of his had tried.
I’m writing this to let his friends know that Gary knew he was depressed, had reached out to me, and I’m sure to others, was talking about it, trying to find a solution, and getting mental health care. In no way did I think he was suicidal, but obviously I was wrong. But he was doing his best to try to help himself. Gary was always working on himself, trying to be a better person, of service to his friends and humanity at large.
I loved Gary and always will. In my modern Buddhist worldview, reincarnation isn’t about being reborn into a new body. It’s about how the departed continue to live on in those they loved, taught, or touched in some way, and how their energy is carried forward by those they leave behind. I can’t think of anyone who put more great energy into the world, and so Gary will be reincarnated in each of us.
A large percentage of the items we see advertised as having been signed or inscribed by Bob Dylan are forgeries. We’ve seen many fake signed albums, inscribed albums, magazine pages and handwritten lyrics offered online*. Some are being offered by shady dealers, and others from reputable sellers with no idea they are selling fakes. Just this week we were sent a list from a reputable seller offering multiple forgeries. Some of these “lyrics” have even displayed in exhibitions as authentic Dylan handwritten manuscripts–but they are most certainly not.
We always advise potential buyers to insist on a written lifetime guarantee of authenticity. Any reputable seller will be happy to provide this. If a seller will not, that should be a huge, flashing day-glo fluorescent red flag.
For those who enjoy the real thing, here’s an extremely rare clipping from the UK radio and television guide Radio Times, listing the poorly documented BBC-TV play The Madhouse on Castle Street, boldly signed in 1963 by one of its stars, Bob Dylan.
Wikipedia notes The Madhouse on Castle Street was broadcast by BBC Television on the evening of 13 January 1963…The production featured the young American folk music singer Bob Dylan, who soon became a major musical star. The play was made with electronic video cameras, although recorded onto film rather than tape. The only known copy of the play was junked in 1968, as was the standard practice of the time, despite the fact that Dylan and lead actor David Warner were by then famous. Although extensive searches have been made by the BBC, only partial audio recordings of four songs sung by Dylan survive….[Director Philip] Saville had seen Bob Dylan performing in New York City in 1962, and in December that year he contracted Dylan to come to London for three weeks to star in Madhouse on Castle Street, in spite of Dylan’s complete lack of acting training or experience. This was the performer’s first trip outside of North America. Dylan was originally supposed to have played the leading role in the play, but during rehearsals it became apparent that he lacked the ability to learn lines – stating that he would rather “express himself in song” – was lax in his time keeping, and would often wander off to smoke cannabis…Dylan performed songs commenting on the action in the manner of a Greek chorus as the new character Bobby, essentially playing himself. At the conclusion of the play, Dylan performed “Blowin’ in the Wind”, one of the first major public performances of the song.
This clipping, dated January 10, 1963, is a review of the broadcast, which ends “Appearing as Bobby the hobo is Bob Dylan, brought over from America especially to play the part. Only twenty-one, he is already a major new figure in folk-music, with a reputation as one of the most compelling blues singers ever recorded. The song for which he is best known is ‘Talkin’ New York,’ about his first visit to the city in 1961. A skilled guitarist, his special kind of haunting music forms an integral part of tonight’s strange play.”
This is the only example of this article we’ve seen. At the time of his appearance, Dylan had only released his self-titled debut album and despite the hype of the article, was largely unknown. (We have sold this but wanted to post it for interested fans.)
[Recordmecca’s Jeff Gold examined over 5000 Dylan handwritten items while appraising The Bob Dylan Archive for his management. He continues to be astounded at the amount of fake Dylan material out there.]
*Happily, as far as we know, there have been no forgeries of Dylan’s signed lithographs.
Yesterday was a terribly sad day, the memorial service for my friend Robert Matheu, rock photographer, raconteur, author, music historian and above all loving family man. With his wife Sheryl he had three beautiful young daughters, Ruby, Rose and Veronica. Bob died of an accidental drowning on September 21, at the age of 63.
Bob’s Stooges book was a pictorial and written appreciation of the band that invented Punk, with essays on the group’s history by a collection of respected critics and writers. Some years later, I decided to do my own book on the Stooges, but from a different perspective, based primarily on long interviews I’d done with Iggy Pop, and a collection of rare Stooges memorabilia.
When I told Bob about my project, he couldn’t have been more supportive, helpful, and available. He was an expert on the band and had been around for much of their history, so I convinced my publisher to hire him to help me forensically research and clear photographs. We spent many hours analyzing who had taken uncredited photos, searching for photographers, turning up previously unpublished pictures, and analyzing where images had been shot. I remember Bob pointing out a snake armband that Iggy had apparently worn only once, at the Ford Auditorium show in Detroit in 1973, which nailed down where a group of photos had been taken. I though it extraordinary that here was a guy who had written his own book on a subject near and dear to his heart, graciously and generously helping me get it right on my project, which in some minimal way would compete with his.
Iggy with his snake armband, at the Stooges March 27, 1973 show at Detroit’s Ford Auditorium. This was their first show after the release of Raw Power. Photo by Robert Matheu.
Here’s a great example of a classic Bob story. While putting my book together, Bob sent me this 1981 photo he took backstage at the Second Chance Saloon in Ann Arbor, at one of Iggy’s Solo shows.
Iggy is posing with his former Stooges bandmates, a barely recognizable Scott Asheton and his brother Ron. When I asked Bob about the photo, he deadpanned “When the Stooges reformed, Ronnie said over and over in interviews that he hadn’t spoken to Iggy since 1974. When I showed him this photo, he said ‘sure, I was there, doesn’t mean I spoke to him’”. Naturally, that quote became the caption in the book.
Iggy’s authorized action figure based on a photograph by Robert Matheu.
I feel very lucky to have known Bob, and am still somewhat in shock that this vital, funny, talented, helpful and loving guy is gone. You can see some of Bob’s photographs at Camerapress, RockPaperPhoto, and on his website, which also has poignant remembrances by his daughter Ruby and friend Brian J. Bowe. Also well worth your time are pieces on Bob by our longtime mutual friend Heather Harris in DetroitRockNRoll Magazine and her FastFilm blog.
Bob, you are already missed. You made a lot of people happy, and lucky for us, we have the indelible memories, stories, photographs, and most important your family who carry on your legacy. Rest in peace.
For years, Hendrix collectors have argued about which version of the UK Electric Ladyland came first–the one with the white type or the blue type.
In 2014, I posted what I hoped would be the final word on what I called ‘The Blue Type Hype’, about the mistaken notion that the blue type version was the earliest pressing. (If you’re one of the 98% of collectors who couldn’t care less about this, I invite you to move on to something more interesting.“) If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can read my earlier posts on this topic here and here.
Here’s the short version: The white type version came first. In the earlier posts, I cite numerous reasons why, including testimony from UK collector Edwin Pouncey, who bought the white type version on the day of release; and my discussions with David King, who designed the cover, and told me the white version was the original, and the blue version came about because Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding were upset about the small size of their photos inside the gatefold. The blue type version was an attempt to mollify them, done by the printer, and though it featured larger photos of Mitchell and Redding, it had flawed blue type, so eventually Track Records reverted back to the original version with the white type and smaller pictures of Mitch and Noel.
First version: White type, smaller photos
Second version: mottled blue type, larger photos
Despite this, people still argued, prompted by misguided (and worse) Ebay sellers insisting that the blue came first. And then…a few weeks ago, wandering the internet, I found a post by the esteemed UK music writer and archivist Richard Morton Jack, with a clipping from the November 16, 1968 issue of UK music paper Top Pops, which features an Electric Ladyland display in the window of the London boutique I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet, just as the album was released. As I stared at the photo, I realized this clipping provided definitive proof the white version came first.
From Top Pops, November 1968
How? If you double click on the scan above, in the lower left corner of the photo you’ll see the inner gatefold of some copies of Electric Ladyland in the display, and they are clearly the white type version, with the smaller photos of Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell. When I wrote Richard about this, he graciously sent me another photo of the window, where it’s even easier to see the inner gatefolds (with white type/smaller photos) of three albums.
Look at the albums in the lower left corner
The smaller photos & white type clearly visible in a close up
So there you have it. Definitive photographic evidence from an Electric Ladyland display in London, published just a few weeks after the album’s release. While this confirms what the album’s designer told me, and Edwin Pouncey’s first person account, I have no doubt I’ll get emails from people with some twisted rationale for how it can’t be true. But it is true. As Public Enemy said, “Don’t believe the hype.”
Recordmecca.com is proud to offer what can truly be described as one of the rarest records in the world.
We have just listed on Discogs.com a previously unknown Canadian vinyl copy of Prince’s legendary TheBlack Album. In the 30 years since The Black Album was cancelled by Prince, no Canadian copy has ever surfaced—and in fact this extraordinary rarity had never even been rumored to exist.
Prince cancelled The Black Album one week before its planned release in December 1987; and paid for the destruction of more than 500,000 copies that had already been produced. In the 30 years since, only eight U.S. copies of the 1987 vinyl LP have surfaced. Remarkably, five of these were discovered in 2017 by a former Warner Bros. Records employee in their closet.
Recordmecca owner Jeff Gold, a former Executive Vice President/General Manager of Warner Bros. who worked with Prince, sold the newly discovered copies for his former co-worker; the last copy selling at auction in February 2018 for $42,298.
Reading about the newly discovered copies of The Black Album in Rolling Stone, a former Canadian pressing plant employee contacted Gold with his own incredible story. In 1987 he was working at CBS’s Toronto pressing plant, which pressed records in Canada for Warner Bros. and other labels. When The Black Album was cancelled and the copies that had been pressed marked for destruction, he kept a single copy for himself. He never realized its rarity or value until reading about the 2017 discovery. After considerable research and inspecting the album in person, Gold confirmed the authenticity of this ultra-rarity, and is now offering it for sale on Discogs, in conjunction with the Recordmecca.com website. The price is $27,500.
The all-important vinyl disc is in Near Mint condition, having been played perhaps 2-3 times. The black card stock cover, with just the catalog number printed on the spine, has minor scuffing and a few very minor small scratches, two of which have been carefully touched up with black ink. The original off white paper innersleeve has handwritten pressing plant notations and a “Library” stamp. As this copy was taken off the factory floor and never shrink wrapped, there are no stickers or shrink wrap.
For Prince collectors, and record collectors in general, this is a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to obtain a unique rarity. With Recordmecca’s written lifetime guarantee of authenticity.
Original copies of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, mistakenly mis-pressed with four still-unreleased tracks, are among the rarest and most valuable records in the world. A stereo copy sold for $35,000, and a mint mono copy would easily fetch $25,000, though one in that condition has never surfaced. It’s rare that a previously undiscovered copy surfaces, but I’m happy to report one just did. And remarkably we acquired it from the original buyer, who had it in his collection for 55 years.
Freewheelin’ was Dylan’s second album, released in late May, 1963. Though Dylan’s 1962 debut album featured only two original compositions, eleven of the thirteen tracks on Freewheelin’ were written by Dylan.
For reasons still not completely clear, just prior to the album’s release, four of the songs that had been planned for inclusion were replaced with four newly recorded tracks. Some speculate that because CBS television’s censors wouldn’t let Dylan perform “Talkin’ John Birch Blues” on the Ed Sullivan Show, the CBS-owned Columbia Records pulled it from the album. Others note that the four “replacement” tracks were recorded after the album was completed, and were simply too good to be left off (they included the Dylan classics “Masters of War” and “Girl From The North Country”.)
In any case, replacement masters featuring the new songs were prepared and shipped to Columbia’s pressing plants, the artwork was changed, and the label released the revised album.
Except–and this turned out to be a very big deal–someone at one of the pressing plant didn’t get the message, and a small number of copies were pressed using the old stampers, with the four songs that had been replaced. In the 55 years since the release of Freewheelin’, a very few copies have surfaced that play the four “withdrawn” tracks–only two stereo copies are known, and perhaps 20 mono copies. No one has yet solved the mystery of why so few copies escaped Columbia’s pressing plants.
I recently found what is very likely the first printed mention of the rare Freewheelin’ in the January-February 1964 issue of The Little Sandy Review, a folk music fanzine run by Dylan’s Minneapolis friends Paul Nelson and Jon Pankake. In “Jay Smith’s Column” Smith writes “I’ve talked to a few people who bought The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and got four different songs from those listed on the album. Of these “odd” copies, Girl From The North Country, Masters of War, Bob Dylan’s Dream and Talking World War III Blues are omitted while Rocks and Gravel, Let Me Die In My Footsteps, Gamblin Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand and Talking John Birch Blues are added. I wonder how many of these “collectors items” were issued…” Interestingly, Smith then writes about the Harry Belafonte album that Dylan played harmonica on.
I searched for a copy for nearly 10 years, finally buying one in the early 80’s for $1000–a huge amount for a record at the time. In 2012, I bought a second copy from an Arizona woman who discovered it amongst a box of records her late uncle had given her.
And then, a few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend of a friend, Larry (last name omitted for his privacy). Larry lived very near me, and a few days later, I was sitting in his living room, looking at his original Freewheelin’, and listening to his story. He recalled “Dylan’s first album came out while I was in high school. I didn’t know who he was at the time although I bought that album later. I started going to [U.C.] Berkeley in January 1963. At the end of semester I drove up to Vancouver with my sister and brother-in-law. At the end of June I was back in LA. I bought the album during that summer, at a record store on Pico Blvd. in West Los Angeles. This is only a guess but I probably bought after being back in LA for a few weeks. I used to listen to [radio host] Les Claypool on Saturday nights and I think I heard some of the songs that way. At the time, I was disappointed and confused that the songs listed on the cover were not all on the record, especially “Girl From the North Country’”.
Happily, I was able to buy Larry’s copy, for as we figured out, considerably more than a thousand times the original purchase price.
This is only the second copy I know of to have come from the original buyer. An acquaintance of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, bought his copy in Berkeley, CA. in 1963. Likewise, he was disappointed that the copy he bought didn’t have the tracks listed on the cover, but also decided to keep it. I wonder if any copies were actually returned to record stores by dissatisfied customers?
Over the last 47 years, I’ve checked thousands of copies of “Freewheelin’”–but have never found an original. If you want to check yours, here’s what to look for:
Original copies have matrix numbers ending in -1A on both sides, and include these four songs: Rocks and Gravel/Let Me Die In My Footsteps/Gamblin’ Willie’s Dead Man’s Hand/Talkin’ John Birch Blues. Stereo copies list the rare tracks on the labels; mono copies list the replacement tracks. In either case, the record must play these four songs, not just list them on the cover or labels.
Regular copies have matrix numbers ending in -2 or a higher number, and include these four songs: Girl From The North Country/Masters of War/Bob Dylan’s Dream/Talkin World War III Blues. The labels list the correct tracks and the disc plays these four songs.
And one more thing: Original Canadian copies and some promotional copies of Freewheelin’ list the rare tracks on the cover or labels but play the regular tracks. For more details, check the excellent Dylan discography site “Searching For a Gem” – scroll down 1/3 of the page.) If you find one, please let me know !
This copy has been sold but you can read more about it here.
We’ve just listed on the Recordmecca site the only known example of the earliest known Pink Floyd concert poster–or perhaps more accurately, a poster tied for that honor. Previously undocumented, this poster advertises seven events (including two shows featuring The Pink Floyd, with Syd Barrett) presented by the London Free School during October 1966 at the All Saints Hall in Powis Gardens, London.
These were probably The Pink Floyd’s third and fourth shows under that name, and took place nearly 5 prior to the release of their debut single, “Arnold Layne”. Pink Floyd had a good deal of name confusion prior to these shows–according to Glenn Povey’s definitive book Echoes: The Complete History of Pink Floyd, prior to the London Free School shows, they had alternated between a number of names, including The Tea Set, Pink Floyd Sound, Pink Floyd, before settling just before these shows on The Pink Floyd (during this time, they were even mistakenly billed as The Pink Freud!) And of course, by the time of their second album, A Saucerful of Secrets, they had jettisoned the “The” and reverted to Pink Floyd.
But back to the poster. These shows were benefits for the London Free School, a community adult education project inspired by American free universities. The organizers of the LFS included Floyd managers Peter Jenner and Andrew King, and the producer of their first single, Joe Boyd. Though short lived, the London Free School helped give birth to The Notting Hill Neighbourhood Service (an early drug and legal advice center in London), the Notting Hill Carnival, the International Times underground newspaper, and the UFO Club (an important venue in the development of Pink Floyd).
Other performers on the poster include the British free improvising group AMM, future Pink Floyd collaborator Ron Geesin, and Joel (listed on the poster as ‘Joe’) and Toni Brown, recently arrived from Timothy Leary’s psychedelic community at Millbrook, billed as providing light projection for The Pink Floyd on October 14th.
The poster is printed on thin green stock, measuring 20” x 30”. It’s in excellent condition, with a small name written neatly on the back. And as we said above, this is tied for the earliest Floyd poster. On page 38 of Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s book Inside Out, there is a tiny photograph of a different poster advertising these same The Pink Floyd shows, but only the Floyd shows. Printed by Floyd co-manager Andrew King’s girlfriend, Wendy Gair. As the poster listed here includes two dates prior to the Pink Floyd shows, it’s likely it was created before the poster in Mason’s book, but it’s impossible to say definitively. We know of no other example of either. (it’s $12,500).
In many years of selling music collectibles, I always get the greatest satisfaction when I can find the ‘perfect home’ for something. Sometimes it’s placing something of great historical importance in a museum collection. Other times it’s helping a longtime collector fill a hole in their collection that’s been vexing them for decades. A few weeks ago I had a particularly satisfying experience with none other than Quincy Jones.
I’ve been working on a jazz-related book and wanted to interview Quincy for it (he was a respected jazz trumpeter and arranger before his incredible success as a record producer and label executive). I’m friendly with Quincy’s grandson, musician and record producer Sunny Levine, who arranged for me to pitch the interview, and my friend and former boss Mo Ostin (the legendary longtime head of Warner Bros. Records, who is close to Quincy) told me to drop his name too.
Coincidentally, I’d just bought a large jazz memorabilia collection, which included a concert program for a German date on Lionel Hampton’s 1953 European Tour–on which Quincy played trumpet, alongside Art Farmer and the legendary Clifford Brown. The program even had a ticket from the gig pasted inside. According to Quincy’s Wikipedia page this was a pivotal tour for him–“it turned him upside down, altering his view of racism in the US“. So figuring it couldn’t hurt my chances for getting an interview, I sent the program to Quincy.
Quincy’s assistant Alyssa told me he’d loved it, and soon after I had my interview. Then she sent me a link to this posting on Quincy’s Facebook page, which blew me away. The ticket pasted in the program was from the day Jolie, Quincy’s first child was born, a daughter he didn’t meet for three months, because he needed the money he was making on the tour. Quincy wrote “It’s heavy to think about all the memories this one ticket holds!” And amazingly, Jolie is the mother of my friend, Sunny!
I can’t claim any of this was intentional, but I certainly found the perfect home for this program. Thanks for the interview Quincy, and for a great story too.
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).
In 1983, legendary artist Robert Rauschenberg designed the album cover for Talking Heads’ fifth studio album, Speaking in Tongues. Rauschenberg’s cover, with three spinning plastic discs and a clear vinyl LP, all packed in a vacu-form clamshell, was too costly for regular copies of the album; so the album was issued with a conventional (David Byrne designed) cover and a limited edition Rauschenberg version. In 1984 Rauschenberg won a well deserved Best Album Cover Grammy Award for his cover.
I read the article with interest, as I played a small, but critical, part in the Rauschenberg /Talking Heads alliance. I’ve never written about it before, as it’s not much more than a good anecdote. But I wrote a note to article’s author, Abigail Cain, thinking she might enjoy the story, and am posting it here.
Someone just sent me a link to your Robert Rauschenberg/Talking Heads article, and I though you might enjoy the REAL story about how Talking Heads met Rauschenberg, and the cover came about.
On August 12, 1982, Talking Heads played Perkins Palace in Pasadena, CA. At the time I was the assistant to A&M Records president Gil Friesen, and among other things, was executive producing the soundtrack for an upcoming James Bridges film, Mike’s Murder. Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of Talking Head had their own band, Tom Tom Club, who’d had a few hits, and I wanted to see if I could get them to do something for the film, so I arranged a screening for them while they were in town to do some shows.
The day before the Pasadena show, Gil got a call from Ace Gallery owner Doug Christmas. He told Gil his friend Bob Rauschenberg was coming to town and wanted to see Talking Heads, and asked Gil if he might be able to get them tickets. Gil and I had seen the band a few days before at the Greek Theatre, and were both excited at the prospect of meeting Rauschenberg and seeing the band again, so Gil invited Bob and Doug (and me), and arranged for tickets.
The night of the show, Gil’s girlfriend was stuck on a delayed flight from New York, so I ended up taking Bob, his assistant Terry Van Brunt and Doug to see the show. We were in a stretch limo, and Bob drank not a little bourbon on the way. He was wonderful company and sat next to me during the show, whooping it up. At one point he clapped me on my back and said about David Byrne “he looks just like E.T!” (in a reference to the size of Byrne’s head).
After the show, I took everybody backstage to meet the band (I had probably gotten passes through Chris and Tina, who demurred on doing anything for Mike’s Murder; Joe Jackson ended up doing the soundtrack.) I introduced them to Bob, and eventually some of the other band members, who I hadn’t yet met, came over. I introduced myself, Bob and the others. Bob said, enthusiastically, “who’s doing your next album cover.” A few of them said, pretty much in unison “YOU ARE!”
And so it came to be.