Storytime

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The Hymie’s blog is taking a couple days off for a camping trip with the kids. While we’re gone we’re posting a few favorites from the past with woodsy themes. This post from a couple years back features two versions of the story of Little Red Riding Hood, as well as a link to third.

A few people have pointed out we post a lot of records which were intended for children. Some are ironically adult-themed or weird, and some are just awesome to listeners of all ages. We listened to a lot of records as a kid, and we still feel like kids when we listen to them now – working here doesn’t make us feel like a kid in a candy store, it makes me feel like a kid in a record store!

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(“Jack and the Beanstalk”)

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(“Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”)

These 78s by Al “Jazzbo” Collins was one our kids really dug, to use hip vernacular. They were into it, man. We don’t know if they knew what to make of it, but they wanted to hear it again and again, baby.

Collins was a disc jockey back when working at a radio station had something to do with music. He hosted a few TV shows over the years, too, including “Jazzbeaux’z Rehearsal”, which featured boiled egg spinning contests. For a short period of time (in between Steve Allen and Jack Parr) he was the host of the Tonight Show – someday that fact is going to come up in bar trivia and you’re going to look like a freakin’ genius, all thanks to the Hymie’s blog.

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(“The Three Little Pigs”)

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(“Little Red Riding Hood”)

Last week we posted some saucy 50s 45s, including “Stop Whistling Wolf” by Eve Boswell (check it here, yo). There’s a cookin’ rockabilly version of the same some by the Maddox Brothers & Sister Rose, but don’t check Hymie’s for it – we already did and we haven’t got a copy. Little Red Riding Hood songs are a lot of fun – the most famous, of course, is by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. Another favorite of ours is by the totally underrated 90s punkabilly group the Gr’ups:

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(“Red Riding Hood”)

We probably shouldn’t, but we play that record when the kids are around – what a great band! No Idea recently reissued a compilation LP called A Li’l Lost 1992-1994, which I enthusiastically recommend and would be thrilled to special order for you.

A record we haven’t played for my kids is George Carlin’s Toledo Windowbox, a comedy album with a charming before/after jacket (already post on the blog here) and a lot of drug humor (it is, after all, the album on which Carlin describes his work as “Goofy Shit”). Here is his interpretation of the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – it kind of sums up things up for today:

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We’ve been posting our favorite Rolling Stones songs for years, but not so often than other group from across the ocean, whose claptrap caterwauling isn’t for us (to borrow a phrase from industrialist C. Montgomery Burns). As much as we love their albums (even Steel Wheels) we’re not planning to see them perform at the baseball park tomorrow night. Sixty-five dollars for nosebleed seats is just out of our zip code.

Lately, we have been reading Keith Richards’ 2010 autobiography, Life, which was loaned to us by Wynona blues guitarist Mike Munson. just before we realized “hey, there’s brand new copies on the shelf here in the record shop!” Its a pretty entertaining read, if you’re a fan.

Early on, Richards provides a description of the record-collecting culture which revolved around American blues records, and which undeniably shaped the Rolling Stones. It reminds us a little of the way the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music inspired the folk revival of the 50s and 60s, and how a predominantly urban culture embraced the rural music of the so-called “old weird America.” The way Richards writes with reverence about American records (not just blues music but early rock and roll too, like Buddy Holly or Little Richard) suggests maybe we don’t always choose the music we love. Maybe its something already there inside us, waiting to be discovered.

Mick and I must have spent a year, while the Stones were coming together and before, record hunting. There were others like us, trawling far and wide, and meeting one another in record shops. If you didn’t have money you would just hang and talk. But Mick had these blues contacts. There were a few record collectors that somehow had a channel through to America before anybody else. There was Dave Golding up in Bexleyheath, who had an in with Sue Records, and so we heard artists like Charlie and Inez Foxx, solid-duty soul, who had a big hit with “Mockingbird” a little after this. Golding had a reputation for having the biggest soul and blues collection in southeast London or even beyond, so Mick got to know him and so he would go round. He wouldn’t nick records or steal them, there was no cassettes or taping, but sometimes there would be little deals where somebody would do a Grundig reel-to-reel copy for you of this and that. And such a strange bunch of people. Blues aficionados in the 60s were a sight to behold. They met in little gatherings like early Christians, but in the front rooms in southeast London. They was nothing else necessarily in common amongst them at all; they were all different ages and occupations. It was funny to walk into a room where nothing else mattered except he’s playing the new Slim Harpo record and that was enough to bond you all together.

We know Jagger and Richards were fans of Slim Harpo, because they covered his “Hip Shake Thing” on Exile on Main Street, even giving him a shout-out. Harpo borrowed the beat and melody for his tune from Bo Diddley. These are all favorites of ours. We posted about the three versions here.

There would be these muttered conversations about whether you had the bit of shellac that was from the original pressing from the original company. Later on, everybody would argue about it. Mick and I were smirking at each other across the room, because we were only there to find out a bit more about this new collection of records that had just arrived that we’d heard about. The real magnet was ‘Hell, I’d love to be able to play like that.’ But the people you have to meet to get the latest Little Milton record! The real blues purists were very stuffy and conservative, full of disapproval, nerds with glasses deciding what’s really blues and what ain’t. I mean, these cats know? They’re sitting in the middle of Bexleyheath in London on a cold and rainy day, “Diggin’ My Potatoes”… Half of the songs they’re listening to, they have not idea what they’re about, and if they did they’d shit themselves. They have their idea of what the blues are, and that they can only be played by agricultural blacks. For better or worse it was their passion.

And it certainly was mine, too, but I wasn’t prepared to discuss it.

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“Uncle Josh on a Bicycle” performed by Cal Stewart.

cal stewartThis was first released as a cylinder by the Columbia Phonograph Company between 1898 and 1900. It was reissued on a 78rpm record as we know them now by the Victor Talking Machine Company seven years later.

Blue guitarist B.B. King passed away today at the age of eighty-nine in his home in Las Vegas. He will be remembered by countless fans and musicians as one of the most influential performers in the history of American music.

lucille LPWe think one of the most inspiring things about King’s life is how much he performed. Even into his seventies the “King of the blues” played 250 shows a year. Audiences could always be counted on to hear about his very special guitar, named Lucille. He often explained how the Gibson ES-355 “saved [his] life two or three times,” attributing extraordinary feats to the guitar.

The origin of the guitar’s name also provided an exciting story for King’s audiences: he would explain how he was playing in a hall in Arkansas in 1949 when a fight between two men knocked over the kerosene barrel which heated the room. After evacuating with everyone else, King ran back in to get his guitar, which had cost him thirty dollars. He was later told the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille.

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“The Raven” kind of loses something in this 1960 interpretation by Buddy Morrow and his Orchestra.

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poe for moderns LP

The 1950 adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ story “Gerald McBoing-Boing” has been entered into the National Film Registry and preserved by the Library of Congress. Animators regard it with reverence as it is one of the first short films to successfully experiment with limited animation, which at the time was more of an aesthetic decision than one driven by financial considerations. Limited animation, which uses as few in-betweens or transitional cells as possible. This became the basis of inexpensively-produced “Saturday morning cartoons” like the ones these record shop owners grew up with (Fat Albert, The Smurfs, etc). Limited animation does not necessarily preclude quality, however, as Gerald McBoing-Boing demonstrated in 1950. At the time this short film was a distinct break from the realism of the Walt Disney features.

Having enjoyed this fun short film, you’re surely wondering why we posted it — it’s because the cartoon was inspired by a record!

gerald mcboinbboingGerald McLoy (ie Gerald McBoing-Boing) first appeared not in one of the good doctor’s forty-six delightful books, but on a record produced the year before by Capitol. Radio personality Harold Peary, known then to listeners as Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve from Fibber McGee and Molly, narrated the story.

The remarkably versatile bandleader Billy May provided the music (his humorous collaborations and swinging arrangements know no bounds: we have previously posted music he produced for comic Stan Freberg, here and here, and singer Peggy Lee, here).

The story was adapted for film by P.D. Eastman (author of Are You My Mother? and the epic Go, Dog, Go! among many other essential reads) and Bill Scott (who we know best as Bullwinkle J. Moose). This little 78rpm record is at the nexus of so much talent!

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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