A follow up to a 2013 post “Um, Wrong Song,” in which we have a little fun with the confusion of songs with similar titles. For instance, a DJ would likely disappoint his audience if he played the wrong song, like for instance Neil Sedaka’s “Bad Blood” may have been a #1 hit when it was released in 1975 but most listeners would expect the song from Taylor Swift’s 1989.
The backing vocals on “Bad Blood” (the Sedaka one) are by Elton John, by the way. The single was released on John’s MCA subsidiary, the Rocket Record Company.
And if you were in a strip club (it’s okay, dear reader, we won’t tell) and the DJ accidentally played this version of “Cherry Pie,” it wouldn’t set quite the same mood as Warrant song. This version was recorded by Marvin and Johnny in 1954.
There are so many various songs with a ‘rolling stone’ theme, but this 1955 cover by the Fontaine Sisters (the original was recorded by the Marigolds) is not the first to come to mind.
The 1950 song by Muddy Waters, which he based on a 20s tune called “Catfish Blues,” is the presumed namesake for both the music magazine and the band.
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.
Yesterday’s post featured a new album by Jim Blaha which is a side project from his regular work with one of the most popular bands in the Twin Cities, the Blind Shake. His new Jim and the French Vanilla album is in stores today, and he is working on putting together a band to perform the new songs live. Also available this week is The Art of Not, a first solo project by Mike Blaha (billed as Blaha on the jacket). It’s been a dream week for us as huge Blind Shake fans, because the two solo albums really offer a new look into two of our favorite local musicians.
The “eye-catching” artwork by his brother on the jacket offers a hint to the humor inside, and to Blaha’s ability to balance affirmation with self-depreciation. In its own way, The Art of Not is an extension of “Reasonable World,” the catchy anthem at the core of the Blind Shake’s Celebrate Your Worth which extolls “giant girls [and] lazy boys” to “just figure it out.” It’s also a high-wire act where Blaha impresses us with his abilities and leaves us thinking about what he had to say.
Blaha’s delivers The Art of Not one-man-band style in the tradition of “Superstition,” overdubbing himself on guitar, bass and drums in Neil Weir’s venerated Blue Bell Knoll studio. Its rock and roll stripped to its essentials, but hardly lo-fi garage rock. In fact, there’s even an instrumental at the end of each side which recall the awesome (and lushly produced) album the Blind Shake made with Swami John Reis. The sound of The Art of Not perfectly fits the mood of Mike Blaha’s new songs.
Some of the songs, such as “Lemonade” heard here, move along at the old man’s pace of sixty-five beats-per-minute, almost unheard of on a Blind Shake album. The result is a heightened focus on the clean melodies and clever lines which is sometimes lost in the manic pace of Blaha’s main gig. In one of the catchiest moments on the album Blaha falls in love with loneliness (“Loneliness, I Love You”) with the rollicking humor of Camper van Beethoven.
Other songs are more sardonic, especially “Good Girls,” which opens with a contrast of good girls and bad, but quickly widens its scope:
Good world, I always thought you were a sad world Sad world, you really opened my eyes
The two different impulses in so many of Blaha’s songs — self-reliance against self-depreciation — are most stark in a song which doesn’t stand out on a first listen but really sinks into a listener’s ears and thoughts. We hope “Frog & Toad” is a reference to the endlessly endearing Arnold Lobel stories, but it may just be another example of how we here at Hymies enterprises misinterpret songs. The song seems to recognize the two different personalities: the cautious, anxious toad and the confident and courageous frog, who are (in the title of one of Lobel’s stories) friends.
Just a song earlier Blaha encourages us to “take a lemon and throw it at life,” and he’s done a hell of a job of that with this album. Like the new Jim and the French Vanilla album featured yesterday, it seems like The Art of Not isn’t as high on the local music radar as a Blind Shake album, and instead stands on its own. The album is undeniably a testament to Blaha’s musical talents, but also his insight. He’s pretty hard on himself throughout, but also in “Lemonade” he sings:
You’re not so perfect, and I guess that I’m not so bad.
In deference to the fact that they’re brothers as well as bandmates, we’re going to separate the two solo records instead of posting them together. While the two new LPs are similar, they definitely represent the different directions the band has moved its music in recent years.
Blind Shake fans here in the Twin Cities are likely to recognize the last Jim and the French Vanilla recording because a couple of its limited run of hundred copies are still kickin’ around local shops. There was a CD-R before than which is presumably even more obscure — all of this is unlikely to be the same fate for this new album, which is being released by Portland-based punk rock powerhouse Dirtnap Records and given a nice and well-deserved promotional push.
Afraid of the House is an altogether different animal from those stripped-down acoustic-ish recordings. In fact, the opening track, “When You’re Down,” will burst out of your speakers with the same focused drive that has made the Blind Shake a live favorite in the Twin Cities for years.
The last time Jim and Mike Blaha recorded together as a duo was on Shadow in the Cracks, a thematic album on almost oppressively pessimistic themes. Afraid of the House is equally fearful if less focused on a specific setting, even though its a more cathartically rockin’ album than most of what bills itself as punk rock these days. The album balances its dark, Black Sabbath-y themes with the spirit of 60s garage nuggets like this one, making it an eerily apt soundtrack to the times. In one of the album’s heaviest-hitting tracks, “Grow Like Rabbits,” Jim captures the uncertainty of the times.
When you turn to rabbits, no one could complain All the things are backed up and no one takes the blame
We’re not certain what it means, and its hard to understand some of the lyrics on Afraid of the House, but the only one thing which actually complains in “Grow Like Rabbits” is the oceans. And we wondered if we’re hearing a famous rabbit in the chorus of “I Have to Slow Down,” which starts with “I’m late!” Who knows? We here at Hymies Industries are famous for misunderstanding lyrics, but there’s definitely a sense of isolation and uncertainty in both songs.
Jim has enlisted Mike Blaha and Jillian Schroeder of Teenage Moods to bring the full-band Jim and the French Vanilla to the stage, and he tells us rehearsals have gone well. In the mean time, this is an album sure to please long time fans without treading over familiar territory.
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.