Articles by Dave Hoenack

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Looking back at 2017, things really slowed down for our in-house label, which released just one 45rpm single this year. That single was good enough to make up for the otherwise quiet year — after a hectic year in 2016, which saw the release of three LPs, a DVD and a 45, it was nice to focus on one favorite project.

Fletcher Magellan, who released that single back in February, was just here with his band last weekend. He also posted a live recording from a “farewell” show here at Hymie’s 2014. Of course, nobody ever really leaves Minnesota, but it was, as he wrote in the notes on his Bandcamp page last week, the beginning of a journey.

This guy is dressed like a pirate.

Seriously, Steve Jordan isn’t just dressed like a pirate, he’s dressed like an awesome pirate. Puffy shirt and frilly pants and awesome boots. And he’s wearing so much turquoise jewelry that it probably rattles when he washes his hands.

And what’s with the eyepatch? 

How did Steve Jordan lose that eye? It doesn’t appear to be just a casual part of his pirate outfit. Wikipedia only reports that he was partially blinded as an infant.

Someone stamped their address on the cover.

Yeah, its the same stamp he used for his return address stamping purposes, but Mr. Gonzalez turned it on his record collection with a vengeance. This copy has a total of four stamps!

It’s not as distinctive as the legendary “Bud’s Music Collection” stamps in a collection we purchased years ago, but it is awesome that we know a guy who lived just off the west side of Cedar Lake owned this album at one point.

Where is the record? 

The jacket had no album. And its been sitting on the desk in our office for nearly a year because it’s awesome. We don’t even remember the collection which contained it, but we do remember at the time desperately checking every jacket for Steve Jordan’s La Camelia.

We had to hear at at least one song from the album, and found it on Youtube:

 

We often find jackets missing their record, or vise versa, but with something like this record we rarely are able to make the connection. Somewhere out there is a loose copy of Steve Jordan’s album and we hope it found a listener who appreciates it.

Steve Jordan was awesome!

Better known as Esteban Jordan, he was a multi-instrumentalist but best known for his accordion prowess. He was such a great performer that Hohner named a model of accordion after him, and he has been called “the Jimi Hendrix of the accordion.” Jordan is a legend in modern conjunto music, but for all the collections of accordion music we see here in Minnesota his LPs are few and far between. Everything we heard online will keep us on the lookout!

We recently read Carole King’s memoirs, and as with many recollections of the golden age of rock and roll, she recounts her early experience discovering music through 45rpm singles. People often describe hearing these songs as tiny little symphonies.

In the liner notes to REM’s b-side compilation, Dead Letter Office, Peter Buck describes writes about why he preferred 45s to albums, concluding that “the things I like best about singles is their ultimate shoddiness. No matter how lavish that package, no matter what attention to detail, a 45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers.”

Some five year’s later Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan offered a warmer view of the single. “What can you do in three and a half minutes that will make us get up and put the needle in the grove time and again?” he asked. “The single must be a distillation of one’s powers, the most exciting slice of noise a person an cram between the lip of the disc and the edge of the label.”

We’ve mused about these different views of the 45rpm single before. Dead Letter Office turned thirty this year, but it collection of oddities is still evidence of the treasures to be found on the flip side of forgotten 45s, and Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds, presents the sea change due to overturn rock and roll a few years after its release in 1991. Both bands were exception purveyors of the magic potential of the sounds to be found in the inch or so of grooves on those seven-inch discs.

Here is a single from 1964 which has so many of these qualities — the tiny symphony grandeur and the shoddiness, and ultimately three and a half minutes (nearly) of magic. The label, Tuff Records, was commandeered by Abner Spector, a songwriter who had been earlier recorded by the likes of Peggy Lee, Billy Eckstine and Sammy Davis Jr. After briefly working at Chess Records in Chicago, Spector — who is of no relation to famed producer turned murderer Phil Spector — moved to New York to launch is own label, landing a hit with “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses” recorded by the Jaynetts.

Vernell Hill was a member of the Jaynetts, who are remembered as a one-hit-wonder for the song, although they did record a couple additional singles as well as some songs to fill out an LP in the hodgepodge fashion of the day. Hill was credited on that LP as Ethel Davis and appeared on the cover, but the additional Jaynetts recordings were sung by a revolving lineup.

 

Hill’s only single, “Long Haired Daddy,” was released in 1964. It was reissued by Roulette Records, and remains largely a lesser-known relic of the era ready to be rediscovered.

 

Last week our family watched The Star Wars Holiday Special, a 1978 program which lives up to its reputation as basically the worst thing that ever happened anywhere ever.

It’s truly remarkably that they kept making Star Wars movies after the holiday special disaster, but an even more extraordinary fact is that only two years later they returned to the holiday theme with Christmas in the Stars.

RSO Records also released the Empire Strikes Back soundtrack by John Williams and the London Philharmonic Orchestra as well as a great story album of the film (subtitled “The Adventures of Luke Skywalker” and narrated masterfully by Malachi Throne). The label’s unprecedented success in the seventies was due in large part to brilliant crossover marketing between film and popular music — notably with a string of hits from Grease and Saturday Night Fever. Still, when compared the millions RSO invested and lost in the Bee Gees/Peter Frampton Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band film, a Star Wars Christmas album was a wise investment.

The album reportedly sold out its initial pressing of 150,000 copies, although its hard to find anything endearing about it besides the painting on the cover by legendary Star Wars production artist Ralph McQuarrie. It is, we suppose, less terrible than the holiday special, but something about a lecture on the meaning of Christmas from Anthony Daniels just doesn’t sit well. Apparently the single “What Can You Get a Wookie for Christmas (When He Already Has a Comb?)” enjoyed airplay, but we suspect this was largely on the Dr. Demento Show.

Christmas in the Stars does carry two special distinctions for record collectors. First, it was one of the earliest digitally recorded and mixed records after those amazing albums made here in Minneapolis at Sound 80. We think the Flim and the BBs album and the SPCO recordings are much better than Christmas in the Stars.

And second, the song “R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas” (credited on the single to The Star Wars Intergalactic Droid Choir and Chorale) is the recorded debut of Jon Bon Jovi. At seventeen, he was working as a custodian at the Power Station, a legendary New York recording studio run by his cousin, Tony Bongiovi. Whether or not this is canon — and whether or not Bon Jovi could make an appearance in a future Star Wars sequel — is now up to the people at Disney.

 

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This morning’s Star Tribune included a piece from the Tribune News Service about Carl Vinson, a Georgia Congressman who led the effort to fund an expansion of America’s Navy between 1934 and 1940. It was due to this foresight that the United States so quickly recovered from the devastation at Pearl Harbor and was able to fight a war on both oceans in the following years. A thousand-foot aircraft carrier with a compliment of more than six thousand service men and women bears his name today.

It’s a detailed but brief historical story we recommend to anyone who may be interested. There are of course many other remarkable stories to mark the seventy-sixth anniversary of the “day which will live in infamy,” including witness accounts by survivors and the recently discovered wreck of the USS Ward in the Philippines. The Ward is believed to be the first ship to fire at the Japanese, after it discovered a submarine about an hour before the notorious sneak attack at Pearl Harbor. It was later destroyed by a kamikaze attack in 1944.

Compilations of Christmas jazz often include “We Free Kings,” a 1961 adaptation of the carol by Roland Kirk. The album of the same title was a breakthrough for the multi-instrumentalist, in part introducing his uncanny ability to work familiar melodies into his music. Late in that decade he recorded half an album, Rahsaan Rahsaan, on Christmas Eve at the Village Vanguard.

The program included on the album, his first to use the swami-like name Irene, doesn’t include any holiday music per se. It does close with risqué blues titled “Baby Let Me Shake Your Tree,” which Kirk credits to “an old gypsy blues singer.” It seemed like as good a place as any to post this year’s first Christmas song.

We have a rule in our house about shaking the Christmas tree. Also about letting the cat climb it.

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