Educating you so you don’t educate yourself

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spotlight on percussion

This entertaining program was produced and directed by Ward Botsford for Vox Records in 1955, and appeared as box set even though it is a single LP. Spotlight on Percussion presents the sounds of more than sixty percussion instruments followed by examples of their use by classical composers ranging from Handel to Hindesmith with many stops in between.

The program is narrated by radio personality Al “Jazzbo” Collins (who last appeared on the Hymies blog here), and features Arnold Goldberg and Kenny Clarke as the percussionists. The album also includes an interesting interview with the engineer, Rudy Van Gelder, best known for his work with jazz artists, including on some of the recordings for which Clarke is famous.

Ward Botsford had an extensive career as a record producer with a keen emphasis on obscure or unrecorded classical compositions. He also produced spoken word albums for Caedmon Records, recording writers such as T.S. Elliot and Gertrude Stein reading their own works. Beginning in 1979 he had the opportunity to reissue music from EMI’s catalog through Arabesque Records, a subsidiary of Caedmon until Botsford and a partner purchased it. After Botsford’s retirement the label went further into jazz, but still includes new and reissued classical recordings as well.

Here are two selections from the program of Spotlight on Percussion.

The first offers insight into the role of percussion in several places, such as unprecedented appearance of the tympani in the D minor scherzo in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and the brilliant use in Saint-Saen’s Dance Macabre. This second launching the tradition of dancing skeletons, from Disney’s “Silly Symphony” in 1929 to Michael Jackson’s “Ghosts” seventy years later.

In the second section Kenny Clarke performs a variety of material while Collins introduces the percussionist’s role in a jazz group. He was, even by 1955, one of the most influential performers in jazz, for his role in early bebop recordings by Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and others. Clarke is credited with creating the ride cymbal pattern, which became a foundation of bop rhythm (here’s Tony Williams performing an example of the ride cymbal). You’ll hear this and other familiar bebop innovations in his improvisations on this recording.

nifty chart

The final feature of Spotlight on Percussion is the big book included in the box, which contains an extensive and interesting history of percussion. There is even this nifty chart of instruments and their use, range and history.

distins drumThe history includes fun trivia, like the story of Distin’s Monster Drum, exhibited in England in the nineteenth century. The book also includes more details about the recording and production of the record than you’ll find in any other record (except maybe one recorded for Dave and Sylvia Ray’s Sweet Jane label), and even pictures of Rudy Van Gelder cutting the master to disc.


The Declaration of Independence wasn’t actually signed on July 4th, although the final language was announced by the Continental Congress on this day in 1776.  The vote itself, inside Philadelphia’s Independence Hall (then known as the Pennsylvania State House) took place two days earlier. It made for a suspenseful scene in second episode of the miniseries John Adams — you can learn a lot more from cable television than you ever did in school.

The most remarkable part of the story is that nobody’s certain King George II ever received a copy. There There were about 200 broadsides produced by a Philadelphia printer (you know, keepin’ it local) John Dunlap.  There are 26 known copies today, including one recently found in England’s National Archives in Kew, and another found in a Pennsylvania garage sale. Whether or not an actual Declaration, listing grievances against the King, was ever delivered to his highness is highly uncertain.

This 1961 documentary album by Stan Freberg recreates the conversation between Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin as the thirty-one year old member of the Second Continental Congress traveled to Franklin’s home to get his signature on the Declaration of Independence.

Both Jefferson and Franklin were members of the “committee of five,” who were assigned the task of declaring independence from the British crown. The other members were JohnAdams, Roger Sherman and Roger Livingston — you can thank Livingston that you and we, here in Minneapolis, are part of these glorious United States, for it was he who negotiated the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Adams had nominated Jefferson for the job of creating the Declaration’s first draft. The two became bitter political enemies over the course of their lives, only to reconcile through the encouragement of Dr. Benjamin Rush, who also signed the Declaration of Independence on July 2nd, 1776. The correspondence between Adams and Jefferson, now elder statesmen removed from the political fray, has provided historians with enormous insight into the United States’ formative years.

Adams and Jefferson both passed away on the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1826. Adams was at home in Quincy, Massachusetts, and Jefferson on his plantation at Monticello near Charlottesville, Virginia. They were preceded in death by Franklin (1790) and Rush (1813). The last surviving signer of the Declaration was Charles Carroll, who lived until 1832.

We hope you have a safe fourth of July as you pursue happiness. Your friendly neighborhood record store will be closing early at 5pm.

teenage rebellion

An alarming report from the underground.

(“Born to Add” by Bruce Stringbean and the S Street Band)

(“Me Going to Munch You, Munch You, Munch You” by Cookie Monster & the Crumbs Unlimited Orchestra)

Folks come in fairly often looking for a “cheap turntable.” Of course, unless you hit on an awesome thrift store or garage sale find, this isn’t really something which exists anymore. We remember the days when box stores like Best Buy sold a fairly decent Technics or Sony, but that’s nearly as distant as the time Tom Petty fought with MCA Records when they wanted to raise the retail price of Hard Promises to $9.98. A good turntable just isn’t cheap anymore and given their popularity, not on the shelves for long.

Historically, Gen Xers like ourselves acquired turntables without much effort. Our parents’ friends often gave us theirs, since it hadn’t been used in years, or we simple went into Mom and Pop’s basement and stole the one they’d forgotten. When one of us used to commute by bicycle we’d find them on the curbs in nice neighborhoods on garbage day, and strap the new prize to a rack on the back. Yep, the coveted turntable was once like the television is today.

There’s a graveyard of turntables here at Hymie’s, from a vintage Brunswick wind-up (which belonged to a friend and is kept on display in the shop as a little tribute) to a couple of those goddamn Crosleys which poop out within weeks of opening the box. The turntables you see stacked in the back room of the shop all need some love of one kind or another. They’re not simply missing belts or needles — they need to be taken apart and fixed. This, along with the fact we sell them far more quickly than we find the time to fix them, is why there’s never a huge selection of working turntables for sale.

We’ve all become so spoiled by the fact there’s three dozen types of ketchup in the grocery store that we expect the same everywhere else we go. It’s just not so with turntables, especially the elusive “cheap turntable.”


Consider, for instance, the time which went into a Technics 1900 which came with a large collection we bought last summer. Its tone arm lifter didn’t function, meaning its auto-start also would not function, and more importantly that when it reached the end of the album the auto-return would drag the needle across the surface of the album.

Vrrrrrrrrrrrroooooooooomp! You know the sound.

What happens with a turntable sits for a decade or several is that its lubricants turn to sticky goo, sort of like pine sap. On other machines this freeze the platter in place. This is especially common with the classic BSR “stackers,” which at one time were about the most common record players in the world and when cleaned can be very durable. On these classic direct-drive Technics, which are no longer in production, the sappy gunk most often seizes up that tiny, essential little plastic rest.


The rest is raised and lowered by a piston inside a metal shaft and a spring, and its connection to the auto-start, auto-return and cue switch functions are controlled by a plastic cam. Cleaning these parts requires a tedious deconstruction of the turntable. First one turns it over and removes the screws which hold the tone arm assembly and basic casing in place. When loosened you can remove the switches and cover plate seen in the first photograph, and you can work the casing carefully around the tone arm, as in the picture just below.


Now you’ve nearly there You have to remove the remaining screws holding the turntable assembly to the rest of the mechanical parts and lift it up carefully. You must be gentle so you don’t damage the tiny leads which carry the signal from your stylus through the tone arm, and eventually out to your amplifier, your speaker and your ears (otherwise you’ll double your work). You also have to raise the tone arm assembly carefully so it remains properly connected to the levers and gears which control the various automatic functions (auto-start, auto-return, repeat, etc).

While you’ve got the machine disassembled, its a good idea to give everything a quick tidying, too. If you have a can of compressed air its nice to get any junk out of there, and its a good idea to clean the pitch control contacts with a de-oxidizing solution. If this isn’t something you do every week, the ten dollars you’ll spend on those couple cans will be an investment to last you half a lifetime.




Finally you’re there. The white plastic piece you see below is the lifter cam, and its your culprit. Remember the Vroooooooooooomp! sound? Its all this guy’s fault. In the picture the spring which holds him taut has already been removed, but he was so stuck in place the spring was stretched to its limit. You remove a screw which holds the lifter cam in place and the tiny c-clip holding the spring over the piston. All of these parts, and all of the washers installed with them, need to be scrubbed with rubbing alcohol,using Q-tips and a tiny flathead screwdriver, until they’re free from the sticky lubricant. When this stuff is really stubborn, especially on older players, you may have to use a soldering iron or a hair dryer to heat the area up before you can make any progress. The piece onto which the lifter cam is covered with a tiny metal sheathing, and that has to be scrubbed too. One finally clean and dry they’re all re-lubed, this time with a dry lubricant which can be silicon- or graphite-based (meaning you won’t have to make this repair again for a couple more decades, ideally). Then the entire works needs to be re-assembled without disrupting the other functions, all of which were working when you started.


Afterwards, the lifter rest needs to be adjusted to the proper height, so it neither disrupts play nor fails to raise the arm high enough to protect the stylus and records during auto-start and auto-return. Once assembled and adjusted, the turntable has to be tested for an afternoon, so you’re sure one of your customers won’t get home and find something else has been damaged in the disassembly and reassembly process. Most turntables have a damaged stylus by the time they make it to the record shop as well, so there’s the job of properly balancing and aligning the replacement.

We have always said we fall in love with most turntables which come through the shop — this is in part because we often spend half an afternoon performing surgery on them. When you think about the intricacy of the interlocking parts of a machine like this Technics 1900, they’re remarkably elegant. The many articles we’ve seen in recent years about the ‘resurgence of vinyl’ often cite the physical appeal of albums and the larger artwork on their jackets as a factor which distinguishes them from digital media, but seldom recognize how much ore enjoyable owning a turntable can be. We have many favorite models, and enjoying the beauty of them isn’t really so different than enjoying a classic car show or building a boat inside a bottle.

But they often require knowledge, patience and skill to repair. There is also often an investment in parts and supplies. This is why there aren’t always “cheap turntables.” When choosing which project to work on next, we try and get at least a couple record players repaired each month which will cost under fifty dollars, but many like this Technics 1900 go for more than that online in ‘as is’ condition. Even at a fair price, it was gone within a day or so, and the customer who brought it home has told us it performs fantastically and sounds great. We have meanwhile moved on to the next project, which yesterday was a Sony linear tracking turntable (what’s this?) which has a problem with the tone-arm motor.

If you enjoy looking at beautiful turntables, or if you’re looking for a fully-restored classic console stereo of quality turntable, you should really visit our friends at Vintage Music Company. They also have the largest selection of 78rpm records you’ll find anywhere, and they are where we most often by needles for our own records players here at Hymie’s.

So there’s an explanation of the turntable graveyard here in the shop. Some may never be fix-able, and others are being kept so they can one day donate a part or two to another. Others are on the ‘donor list,’ waiting patiently for a part. Most are just waiting until the day we have the time and resolve to get in there and fix something like a tone-arm lifter.

little red 1little red 2A remarkable relic from China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Songs of the Little Red Guards is a 10″ album from the late 60s with a similar package to the Ella Jenkins and Pete Seeger records American children were putting on their Fisher Price players at the time.

Although sung by a children’s choir, the songs reflect the turmoil of the times, in particular the re-establishment of Mao-ist orthodoxy. Titles such as “Let’s Help Pick Up the Rice Left in the Fields” and “Growing Vegetables for the Armymen’s Families” hint at the legacy of the famine which followed Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Foward while others enforce the Communist Party’s doctrine.

One of the most interesting songs is a tribute to Lei Feng, a relatively unknown soldier whose memoirs were published after his death in 1962 as Lei Feng’s Diary. The book expresses his admiration for Chairman Mao Zedong and the sacrifices he has made for the revolution in the form of selfless acts. The soldier was the subject of a propaganda campaign, and his story became part of the compulsory curriculum in schools.


An iconic poster of Lei Feng

The Red Guard was a student movement which began in 1966 in the middle school attached to Beijing’s Tsinghua University. After receiving recognition from the CCP the group quickly established itself in nearly every school in China. With the Chairman’s personal endorsement at a rally that summer, the group became an essential part of his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.

Party leadership in Beijing struggled to control the Red Guard, which became increasingly divided into factions as it grew, potentially out of control. The campaign against Capitalist or bourgeoisie remnants became violent in places, where assaults on Chinese cultural relics quickly became assaults on individuals. The People’s Liberation Army began suppressing the Red Guard’s most radical elements in 1967, and it was entirely eliminated, often with brutal force, by the summer of 1968. The Chairman, whose enormous personality cult was greatly enhanced by the Red Guard, was alleged to have a tear in his eye when he last spoke to Red Guard leaders.


A Red Guard poster featuring the watchful Chairman

If you’d like to learn more about the Red Guard or start such an organization in your own school, you will likely enjoy Carma Hinton’s 2003 documentary about the Cultural Revolution, Morning Sun. If you still think it’s a good idea, we have a little red book for you.

The fact that these two records ended up in the same crate by the time they got here is one of those things that makes this job so interesting.

husbands frustrated housewifetitleSelection from Husbands, Love your Wives by Gene Jakubek, S.J.

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