In Chris Reimenschneider’s Star Tribune story about the Suicide Commandos new album, out last week, Chris Osgood quipped that the band is “one the one-album-every-39-years-plan. It’s worked well for us so far.” The album’s release also marked a revival of the Twin/Tone label, always a subject of local music lore.
For the Suicide Commandos, who earned more attention for adopting a highway in 2015 than for their reunion recordings on a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady released by the Current a couple years earlier, Time Bomb should merit some much deserved recognition outside of the Twin Cities. Truth is, we might like it even more than that 1978 classic, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record.
The Suicide Commandos were Minnesota’s punk rock pioneers — bands like Hüsker Dü, the Suburbs and the Replacements came in their wake. While the Commandos have said it was the passing of Tommy Erdelyi, the last surviving original Ramone, who inspired their decision to record again, it can’t help but have been influenced by the recent reunions of the ‘Burbs and ‘Mats.
But Time Bomb is everything that Songs for Slim, the hodgepodge Replacements ‘reunion,’ wasn’t. It’s a helluva record you’re proud to put next to those ultra-rare local classics, whereas Songs for Slim is a record you feel stuck with because, well, it was for a good cause. The twelve new Commandos tunes are laden with wry humor and the sort of insight that comes with age, all laid over riffs and hooks most bands would love to add to their repertoire. The trio has been playing occasional shows together for at least a decade, but its still amazing that Time Bomb sounds like the work of a tightly-rehearsed act working a regular gig.
The single was posted on Youtube earlier this year and although it’s not as incendiary as their legendary “Burn it Down” video it sure whet our appetite. And absolutely everything about Time Bomb delivered on the promise.
Any record which cheerfully name-checks the great Dave Ray is going to satisfy us, but its actually the darker descriptions of being in a band (in “Hallelujah Boys” and the small-town bar portrait “Pool Palace Cigar”) which stick to the ribs, if you’ll pardon the expression. The album also offers descriptions of disastrous relationships in Dave Ahl’s brooding “Frogtown,” and the ensemble written “If I Can’t Make You Love Me” (which concludes, naturally, with “I’ll make you hate me”), but its overall impression is sealed by the final two tracks by Steve Almaas and Osgood, respectively.
Time Bomb isn’t an especially political album, but there are unsurprising undertones. Ahl and Osgood performed on the streets during the 2008 R.N.C. protests in St. Paul, after all. The closer, “Late Lost Stolen Mangled Misdirected” is a catchy anthem in the Social Distortion tradition about holding on to some hope even though you may feel all of those things in the title because sometimes “broken things get resurrected.”
And his fourth album is forty-six years old. Of course, most of the songs on his albums were already hits for other artists. In addition to his long association with Dionne Warwick, he also wrote songs for artists like Marty Robbins and Dusty Springfield. He is probably one of the most-covered songwriters in American history.
Actually, if we had to choose a favorite Burt Bacharach record, it would be the soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but all his movie scores are pretty great.
Andy Warhol didn’t design the cover of this Impulse Records LP by Dannie Richmond, although he certainly inspired its eye-catching design. Credit for the photograph of Campbell’s soup cans goes to Chuck Stewart, who took hundreds of photographs for the label. He also worked for Reprise, Mercury, Verve and Chess Records in a career that included work on over 2,000 LP jackets.
Jazz fans would recognize many of his iconic pictures, notably many of Coltrane’s middle 60s albums such as Impressions and A Love Supreme. Our favorite of Stewart’s photographs is the one of Richmond’s regular employer, Charles Mingus, lighting a pipe in his coat and hat on the cover of The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.
Dannie Richmond played drums in Charles Mingus’ groups for more than two decades, and even led Mingus Dynasty after his friend passed away in 1980 from complications associated with ALS. Most collaborators came and went through the Mingus Workshop, some leaping off to larger careers and others leaving for personal differences, so Richmond’s tenure is particularly remarkable. We recall reading that it was after a show in Minneapolis when Mingus went off on the band and one of our favorite jazz musicians of all time, pianist Jaki Byard, left. We couldn’t find that story, so it may be one of the many apocryphal tales of his temper.
This is his Richmond’s LP as a leader, and he brought in Byard, and also two different distinct guitar players, Toots Thielemans (heard on this track) and Jimmy Rainey. You’re hearing “High Camp,” a Gary McFarland tune, but much of the rest of the album is hammy pop covers.
Richmond appeared on a number of jazz albums outside his work with Mingus, including Chet Baker’s classic Chet Baker Sings album in 1958 and about a dozen records by George Adams and Don Pullen. He briefly toured with Elton John’s band and played the drums on three early albums by the Mark-Almond Band.
Interestingly, Richmond was a little older when he began playing the drums, having first been a saxophonist in R&B groups before he met Mingus, who encouraged him to take change instruments. He often performed as a sort of sidekick, as in his backing vocals on “Fables of Faubus.” In his sprawling autobiography, Beneath the Underdog, Mingus describes Richmond as his “heartbeat.”
Early last year we welcomed Fletcher Magellan‘s debut disc Became a Stranger as ” an inventive pastiche of the country tradition” and added it to our regular rotation of local favorites to play here in your friendly neighborhood record shop. In that post we wrote, in part, “there’s a sense that Became a Stranger is a labor of love — not just for the settings of its eleven songs, but the great arch of country music from its early roots in string tunes like Kelly Harrell’s “Charles Guitteau” recorded in 1927, to its revival as “Americana.”
And we invited Fletcher Magellan to join a much less historic tradition, our in-house label’s series of traditional American music at 45rpm. The two new songs out this weekend join singles by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade and Tree Party, as well as a growing collection of LPs by local artists we have released.
The ‘double A side’ single includes a song which would have fit nicely into Became A Stranger last year, as well as this song, “Lady Tarantella,” which has shades of Fletch’s earlier work as a member of El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus. The picture sleeve drawn by Whitney A. Streeter are in the style of classic storybook records.
We thought “Lady Tarantella” felt like a sort of a photo negative of the Stones’ “Spider and the Fly,” and likewise features a shared lead but instead of two guitars weaves an electric guitar part with a distinctive singing saw. Fletcher Magellan’s band has grown since releasing the CD last year, and they have become one of the Twin Cities must-catch Americana acts. We’re thrilled to add this single to our catalog!
Fletcher Magellan’s release show for the new “Lady Tarantella” single is an early matinee this Sunday at the Icehouse. Details on their website here. Our old friend Ross Fellrath will open with his famous flamenco guitar.
Last week we put this jazz compilation on the turntable, expecting a set of live recordings from the famous Savoy Ballroom. The album is actually just some classic recordings by groups who frequented its legendary stage, including Cab Calloway and his Orchestra, who perform this tune titled “Ebony Silhouette.”
Hinton was about twenty-five years old when this tune was recorded, and already considered one of the best in his field. This and a 1939 recording called “Pluckin’ the Bass” were some of the earliest features for the string bass in swing jazz.
Hinton had been married for sixty-one years when he passed away in 2000. He and his wife Mona spent as much time together as possible, and she even accompanied him on the road in those early years, which was not common at the time. They had one daughter. A couple other interesting things about Milt Hinton is that he loved photography, and took thousands of pictures throughout his career. They are collected together in a New York City archive. The other interesting thing about Hinton is that he never drove. He was in an accident when he was young and chose not to drive a car.
The compilation, incidentally, has a very similar layout and design to the Stash Records collections, with the notes on the back even in the same font. It appears on what we think is one of our favorite new labels, however: Tax Records! It’s both a hilarious name and also a hilarious label design.
Sound 80 founder, Herb Pilhofer is pictured at left on the back of his LP, Olympus One. In addition to showcasing the studio’s capabilities, like the flexi disc which appeared in yesterday’s post, his records had really awesome arrangements and performances from local musicians.
This first album in our continued survey of recordings from the famous studio which was located here in our neighborhood is also an instrumental record, but its a smaller group. Pianist Tom Prin is still playing here in Minnesota but from its exclusion from the discography on his website (here) we suppose this album may be his first.
Two for the Road features Prin’s trio, with singer Penny Perkins joining them for a few tracks. The selections are all standards and the playing in the Oscar Peterson Trio vibe. The album was released on Sound 80’s own label.
If you’re interested in Blood on the Tracks, which includes the most famous recordings from Sound 80, we recommend reading this fantastic book co-authored by Kevin Odegard. A Simple Twist of Fate tells the story of how Dylan came to re-record a number of the songs from his classic 1975 album here in Minneapolis, and also how the performers on those sessions were never credited on the record, which has sold more than two million copies. Kevin was kind enough to give us a copy of the book some time ago, which we later loaned to an employee at Orfield Laboratory and sadly never saw again! We suppose if its going to end up somewhere that’s the appropriate place.
And of course there is this legendary oddity from the Sound 80 story, an album which was all but lost until it was reissued in 2013. Our own Dave wrote a story for City Pages about the reissue of The Lewis Connection, talking to Pierre Lewis about how most copies of the album were accidentally thrown away along with the master tapes (Numero Group’s reissue of the record was taken from Pierre’s last sealed copy). People still joke the band was so broke they couldn’t afford two N’s and that’s why their name is misspelled on the cover.
Collectors prize copies of The Lewis Connection because “Got to be Something There” features the first appearance of Prince on LP, although the highlight of the track is his future sideman Sonny Thompson, who wrote the song and sang lead. It was recorded at Sound 80 by an earlier version of the band, the Family (not to be confused with Prince’s later side project of the same name). The balance of the album was produced at other studios, like Chris Moon’s MoonSound down on 57th and Stevens — the songs written and arranged by Andre and Pierre Lewis are exceptional modern Minnesota soul, fortunately saved from obscurity by the reissue.
So many different kinds of music were being recorded inside the Sound 80 studio — for instance, the album often citing for sparking the Twin Cities punk rock scene, The Suicide Commandos Make A Record, was produced in the studio in 1977. Although their original run was brief, the Suicide Commandos inspired
It’s original release on Blank Records was hardly a big seller, but the album has since been reissued on CD by Mercury Records. The Suicide Commandos have reunited in recent years, performing benefits shows, busking outside the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, and releasing a 10″ split record with the Hold Steady produced by Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current. The band has also adopted a 1.5 mile stretch of highway in Minnetonka.
We’ll leave it to the more serious archivists to figure out what was the last recording made in the Sound 80 studio before the building’s dormancy and eventual resurrection as a renowned research facility. To close out our collection of interesting recordings produced there we have chosen the sometimes maligned second album by Willie and the Bees, Out of the Woods. Hymie’s may have contributed to the under-appreciation of this album, having once found at Ax-Man Surplus a big box of unopened copies and slowly selling them over several years for five bucks a piece. Sure, Out of the Woods is not as good as Honey from the Bee, but its hardly fair to compare any album to the Bee’s debut.
We have something really funny planned for tomorrow’s post here at Hymie’s central, but we’re sure to re-visit the recordings from Sound 80 in the future. These past two collections of interesting records are only a small sampling, and we’ll keep recording a track and taking a picture of others as they turn up here in the record shop. As always, thanks for reading!
Hymie’s Records sponsored a customer tour of Orfield Labs in May 2012. Why did we invite our customers to tour a research facility in our neighborhood? Because the building was once home to the Sound 80 recording studio, which had a long history on the cutting edge of the industry.
Today, Orfield Labs is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records because its anechoic chamber is the “Quietest Place on Earth” at -13 decibels (you can read more about it here). We’ve stood in that room with others, and its a surreal experience. The building is also noted because Sound 80 was the earliest digital recording studio in the world. In fact, it is believed that the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s magnificent recording of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring and the album by jazz group Flim and the BBs were the first digital recordings to be released commercially. The SPCO album earned a well-deserved Grammy. We featured that album in a post you can find here. These recordings were just a few of the many made in the Sound 80 studio.
The SPCO made a second recording at Sound 80 which is not as famous, but nearly as enjoyable. Our copy is, unfortunately, pretty played. Still, in the selection below you can get a sense of both the studio’s potential and the SPCO’s talent. Like the Appalachian Spring album, their recording of Franz Schubert’s fifth symphony was made direct-to-disc, meaning the analogue lacquer was being cut as they performed. Records like this were popular with audiophiles in the late seventies and early eighties because it was believed that bypassing tape produced a cleaner reproduction of the performance. Relatively few classical records were made in this form, and we think the SPCO’s is one of the best.
Sound 80 still exists today, but the company is located in the 41-floor Campbell Mithum Tower downtown (its the one which comes to a triangular peak). According to their website, most of their work today is in the advertising industry, for which co-founder Herb Pilhofer did all kinds of work during his career.
Today and tomorrow we thought we’d listen to some tracks from the enormous variety of records we’ve seen over thee years with Sound 80 credits on the jacket.
The back of this first album by James Strilich tells us the singer “introduced this recording selection during an engagement at the Belle Aire Yacht Club on Lake Minnetonka,” and the collection of covers sounds like the sort of songs you’d hear in a yacht club lounge. We’ve always had a soft spot for albums of popular standards by amateur lounge acts, and this one has its highlights. Strilich’s delivers Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read my Mind” with a rich tenor over a vaguely ominous keyboard and cordovox backing. Other tracks touch on bossa nova and other seventies lounge standards like “For the Good Times.”
Herb Pilhofer produced the 1973 album Carry It On by Tom Johnson and Guy Drake, which features a large group. The album includes a seven-piece horn section and a ten-piece string section. Pilhofer himself performs electric piano on the album.
Pilhoffer’s own records reflect the same high level of production quality, as well as memorable arrangements. This promotional soundsheet included a “thanks” to Johnson & Drake, so its may have come from the same recording session. The record was actually a promotion for Eva-Tone, who made the flexi-discs down in Deerfield, Illinois, featuring tunes written and arranged by Pilhoffer. The other side explains how you can promote your music or business with similar soundsheets.
Also appearing on Carry It On are bassist Billy Peterson and drummer Bill Berg, who were the house rhythm section at Sound 80. The two were also founding members of Natural Life.
We first featured the awesome fusion band here in a post of privately-pressed jazz albums from Minnesota. Their three albums (an an early solo record by tenor Robert Rockwell called Androids) are very difficult to track down, even here in the Twin Cities, and even more difficult to find in nice shape. People liked them so much they wore out their copies!
This is probably as good a time as any to point out that we don’t have all these records in stock at your friendly neighborhood record shop at this time. As they turn up, we have recorded them and taken a picture to share here on the blog. Some are not in particularly high demand (nothing personal, Mr. Strilich) and others — like this album by McDonald & Sherby — sell for big bucks to serious collectors.
Another album collectors have asked us about since we first posted it is the first of two featuring Gyp Fox. The bluesy, Dead-ish First Rays appeared in 1978, and on the back notes the band was from Winona. It was recorded at Bob Behr’s “studio” (which suggests maybe it was his house) but mastered at Sound 80. A second album by Fox, Ghost Dance, is more polished and professional sounding, still with a Winona address for the band’s management. This track called “Gettin’ Keyed” from First Rays was one of the highlights.
The SPCO’s famous recording of Appalachian Spring is often said to have been the first commercially sold digitally recorded album, but it was in fact made at the same time as this jazz record by Flim and the BBs. An interesting aspect of the legacy of these early digital albums is that because the experimental machine used to record them was disassembled in the late 70s, there is no way to produce a proper reissue of them.
Jimmy Johnson, nicknamed Flim, was backed by pianist Bill Barber and Sound 80 veteran Bill Berg (the BBs of the group’s name). While a popular local group composed of successful session musicians, the band is best known for the unique nature of their first two releases. Their self-titled album was intended to be another direct-to-disc production, but the acetate disc produced from the session turned out poorly, and they released the back-up recording, made on the same 50.4 kHz digital processor used for the SPCO recording, in its place. This made their album noteworthy as only the second ever commercial digital recording. Flim and the BBs later recorded their second album in the studio as well. Tricycle became the first non-classical compact disc to be released. Both these sessions were produced by Sound 80s chief engineer, Tom Jung.
This seems like a good place to leave our survey of Sound 80 records for today. In tomorrow’s post we’ll hear Prince’s first appearance on an LP, and some great tunes by the Suicide Commandos and Willie and the Bees. And of course we’ll also hear many of these musicians back up some folk singer from Hibbing, who has been meaning to get around to crediting them on his album Blood on the Tracks for forty years or so.