Losin' It Big at Carnegie Hall
Nebulous Stucco Thing Losin' It Big at Carnegie Hall cassette (NST, 1985)
If you dig way back into the Crud Crud archives you will find my ramblings on the cassette underground. The cassette underground (CU), in case you do not know, was a grassroots music movement which was centered not around one genre but a format, the cassette tape. Because anyone with a cassette recorder could record anything onto a cassette and because all it took to duplicate a cassette was two cassette decks, the medium was the first in which both the making and manufacturing of music was democratic. The distribution of these cassettes was done through a network of zines and catalogs. Anyone with access to two cassette decks and a post office could do a tape label and many did. There are thousands of cassette releases from the 1970s and 1980s, many of them full of great music. Unfortunately, there has been little attempt to document this important movement, and by document I mean to take choice cuts or releases and put them to vinyl. A Nuggets or Killed By Death style series of the best songs from the CU or a single artist series of it's best releases needs to be done. Right now the only folks doing a good job documenting the CU are minimal synth enthusiasts such as the labels Enfant Terrible and Minimal Wave.
Today, you get a bit of Sacramento music and literary history and a small participant in the cassette underground. The Nebulous Stucco Thing were a group of poets, artists, and musicians who performed at art galleries, coffee houses, and a few bars. They were inspired by the Beat poets, Art Ensemble of Chicago, Charles Bukowski, and the Dial a Poem records and played to a mix of hippies, punks, artists, literary types, and freaks. They called an abandoned stucco factory their home (also the headquarters of legendary Sacto punk band Tales of Terror).
I saw the Stucco thing a couple times. The first was at croissant shop at which I was the baker. The place was one of three Sacramento establishments with an espresso machine, thus qualifying it to host poetry-jazz ensembles. The second time I saw them was at a party at the stucco factory, the only place in Sacramento full of bags of stucco and drunken punk rockers, thus perfect for a bunch of loud mouthed poets and music freaks. Both times I saw them I was blown away. Granted, it was the first time I saw anything like the Stucco Thing so I was taken aback by what I sensed as unique; but there were aspects of it that were good beyond the performance. The Stucco Thing contained some good musicians, good poetry voices, and one good singer.
The singer was also a poet and his name is Arthur Butler. As a poet on the page, Arthur was okay, but nothing special. However, in performance the guy was riveting. A tall, skinny, quiet Black guy with goatee and dark shades, he was hipster cool. His delivery was nonchalant, until he started singing and then the room melted, all eyes and ears were toward him. His song "Book of Fear" was a highlight of both the Stucco Thing set and his readings. Part hick, part urban tough guy, Gene Avery was another guy who had the hipster cool going, though Gene was a bit more cocky, a small town Gregory Corso. Here he does "I Wanna Car." He "published" one book of poems called "Hum 4 Cathy," which came in a box and included a cassette with more song/poems. He also played sax.
It is impossible to get a group of musicians to back a bunch of artists and poets with out letting them stretch out a bit, so the Stucco Thing had a few instrumentals. I chose to post "March 2," one of several Ayler inspired marches. And we end with stucco factory resident and longtime artist Steve Vanoni. A fixture in Sacramento's art scene and probably the soul or at least the grandfather of this town's underground art scene, Vanoni penned simple Bukowski-like poems. While his voice is more of a mumble and bark, the music that backed his pieces tended to be the best. Like Avery, Vanoni doubled on sax. There were a few other members of the Stucco Thing, poet BL Kennedy and musicians Harrison Thomas, Herb Krizer, and Charlie Aitkin.
These cuts were recorded on April 9, 1985 and releases as a cassette shortly after.
I Need You So Bad
Allan I Need You So Bad 45 (Thimble, 1972)
This I know: Allan is French. The producer, Max Gazzola, is best known for his movie soundtracks and did some library music. This record was originally released in France in 1970. It did not chart in the US.
What I am guessing: Some smart ass and/or tin ear heard it while he/she was in France and thought, "The Kids will dig this" or "I hate my job, I hate my boss, I am about to be fired, fuck them, I'll put out this Allan single."
The sound: Another vocalist straight out of the "English as a second language/I really really dig Van Morrison" school of singology. Pay attention to the instrumental break because it sounds like the band is lost. I could have played the guitar solo. The drama is riveting. The flipside is an instrumental version!
I got this at my favorite record store. The owner got to know me as "The guy who buys bad records" after I blurted, "Wha-wha-what is THAT" as he ripped the needle off a Yaphet Kotto single with a "Wow! This is bad!" Well, one man's shit is another's shinola. When I asked him to put aside "bad" records for me, I was greeted with a box upon my return. One day I walked in the store and he got really excited. "I have the perfect record for you!" He put on Allan.
(Originally posted 6/15/05)
PS After listening to this classic a thousand or so times, I've discovered one more great thing about this record: The rhythm guitar. It is one of the mostly sickly guitars I've ever heard. It sounds like a box strung with rubber bands.
The Weekly Scrivener
I used to write quite frequently on politics, but haven't for quite a while - well, other than cluttering up these posts with my half-baked ideas. I have decided to get back into scribbling about man's most deadly sport. The new blog is called The Weekly Scrivener. Check it out.
Back on Track
Michigan State University Jazz Band Back on Track LP (MSU, 1981)
In the world of record hunting nothing is as frustrating as trying to find good school band records. Doesn't matter if the bands are marching, orchestras, or jazz bands, chances are the record you plop down a dollar for is gonna suck. The hits are so few that you find yourself getting excited over mediocre versions of "Sunshine Superman" and that just isn't right. When you do find a good one, it is a record you hold onto, even though you have a hundred (or a thousand) records that are infinitely better. This Michigan State University Jazz Band album is one of the better school band records I've come across.
As with many a school band, the MSU Jazz Band of 1981 has won several awards at various college jazz festivals. Probably because of the success they (or their band director) decided to lay down some of their best songs. They go into a studio, or, as often is the case, have someone in the school's audio engineering department record them. If the record cover artwork isn't picked out of some stock book a pressing plant hands the music department secretary, than the task gets handed to a graphic arts instructor, who then pawns it off on the star student, who comes up with something deep. A car racing down the grooves of a record isn't exactly profound, so my money is that the jacket came out of a stock book.
After the best tracks are chosen and sleeve designed finalized, off the music and art goes to the pressing plant and after the miracle of science is inflicted upon sound and plastic, a stack of records is delivered to the music department. The students get a cut, hand them out to friends, relatives, and lovers. The friends say they listened to it, when they didn't. The lovers listen to it once, usually in the presence of their musician squeeze...then they file it away. Mom and dad listen to it often and every time kid musician visits home. Eventually all copies wind up in thrift stores and in charity rummage sales, where some rabid vinyl freak picks it up with a not quite so Obama sized flicker of hope that this one is good.
I got my copy of "Back on Track" at a public radio record sale a couple years ago, threw it in a box and there it sat until last weekend when I had enough of the piles of records crowding me and decided to do a purge. Like all, vinyl obsessives, I must make sure I am not getting rid of a gem, so those unlistened to get a quick needle drop before they are sent of to where records go to die (or sold to some sucker on ebay). I hit the grooves of MSU 1981's pride & joy and found well played but pedestrian music director penned bebop and jazz band standards. Among the blah were two standouts - both of them raw and funky - "Tholian Web" and "No Jive".
"Tholian Web" starts off funky enough, a though somewhat stiff drum beat and a blistering trombone section heads the song. There is a striped down drums & horn bit, which then cruises into more group play, guitar comes in and all is cool. But where this thing really takes off is when tenor sax man Don Fabian (now of The Meadow School of Arts at Southern Methodist University). Fabian blazes in like some junior Maceo Parker. It is a very nice solo. The song winds down and then blasts to an end. "No Jive" starts with the odd drummer and Fabian nearly rephrasing his Tholian solo and one it goes.
As stated above, those who are hooked on the hunt for good school band records have warped perspectives regarding what is good and what is really, for reals good. Hopefully this is the later.
Big, Big Love
The Sneed Family Big, Big Love b/w Is It Any Wonder 45 (Cascade, 1962)
A rather obscure footnote in the history of Country music belongs to the Sneed Family. In 1952, up there in Spanaway, Washington, Don Sneed corralled his three sons (ages 9 to 11), shoved them into show biz cowboy outfits and started a band with them. After a few years doing local TV shows and playing in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, they headed south to California and Nevada, gigging at various West Coast venues and casinos. When he was 13, future Buckaroo (as in Buck Owens and the....) Ronnie Allen joined the band. I believe he left before this record was cut. One of three Sneed Family releases, this fine specimen came out in 1962, well into the Sneed boys teenage years. By that time, the "family" had grown to include one more guitarist and a female vocalist. The two songs here are covers - "Big, Big Love" written by the great Wynn Steward and "Is It Any Wonder" penned by Lonnie Coleman, the man responsible or the classic "Rock Island Blues". While this record isn't strange or even rare, I chose to feature it because I just found it in a box of crap, in a closet I was cleaning out, and was taken by the tight playing and sweet guitar. That and it is good music for a blustery day like today.
Japanese Kids Record
"Japanese Kids Record" 7" (Columbia, 1958)
Let us ring in 2008 with a little bit of a record which pretty much typifies this block. And what makes this a Crud Crud standard? Well, I picked this up because it was a kid's record, in Japanese, a language I do not know, which means I had no idea what was on it other than what the cover suggested. Other factors which make this one belong here: It has been aged well, it is a bit strange to ears not seasoned for these sounds, and it cost me all of one dollar. Those, my friends, are things that make the typical Crud Crud record. Please enjoy and have a happy new year!