Minnesota has a rich history of independent record releases and unique record labels. An A&R man from Numero Group once told us he thought the Twin Cities was the “private pressing” capitol of the world (private press is a record-guy term for self-released music). We certainly do have a lot of unusual local releases going back into the sixties, and more coming out every month it seems!
Last month the City Pages’ music blog named Minnesota’s top ten record labels in a post that also included a variety of “honorable mentions.” We were a little disappointed our friends at Piñata Records (Southside Desire, Narco States…) weren’t mentioned, and genuinely shocked that Minnesota’s most original, unique record label was also not added at least to the second list. We’re talking about Roaratorio Records, of course, which has released everything from avant garde jazz and modern classical to noisy indie rock and lost sixties psychedelia, all in dynamic, beautiful jacket. Listening to each album on this label has been an unexpected surprise. Today we’ve assembled a playlist of some tracks from favorites of ours.
The first Roaratorio release was an album by soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, a genuine jazz legend who took traditional jazz attitude into the avant garde beginning in the 1950s. We’ve never seen a copy, let alone heard it. The album was limited to 399 copies and each was painted by Judith Lindbloom (you can see several samples on the Roaratorio site).
By the time we started carrying Roaratorio releases here at Hymie’s copies of that first album, Sideways, were selling for big bucks to serious jazz collectors. The label’s most recent release then was not a limited pressing, but it was a pretty awesome treat for record collectors anyways — Family Evil is the first release of recordings by a “lost” California band from the 60s, Crystal Syphon. It’s hard not to compare them to the Jefferson Airplane or Quicksilver, but they really had their own sound.
Although Roaratorio doesn’t seem to be in the business of digging up old, unissued recordings, it’s pretty awesome they took on this one. Family Evil is sort of a psych rock version of what archival labels like Numero Group (or the Twin Cities’ own Secret Stash) are doing. Here’s another album of “lost” recordings they collected.
The songs on My Pipe Yellow Dream are composed and arranged Rodd Keith, but were issued under a variety of names and feature a variety of lyricists — he is considered the best known figure in the strange world of “song poem” production. Take a look at this advertisement we found in a 1978 issue of Batman.
Basically, you’d send your poem in to this address, and they’d let you know they liked it and could produce it for a fee. You’d send them a check and they’d give your poem to a guy like Keith, who would compose and produce an arrangement to suit it. Then they’d press a few 45s and send them to you. Sometimes your song was collected with those of others on an LP. As you can imagine these records are pretty hit-or-miss. Sometimes there’s a lazy disinterest to the arrangements, other times a stunning intensity. The lyrics are about what you’d expect for amateur poetry. These records are as rare as they are unusual, and Rodd Keith is considered to “the ‘Mozart’ of the song poem genre” (we found that on wikipedia). There have been several collections of his work including an earlier CD on Roaratorio, and it seems possible given the scarcity of many of these singles, that there’s more to be found.
My Pipe Yellow Dream is a surreal document of this musical subculture — it wasn’t quite a scam, because the people who sent poems, and then money, eventually got what they expected: their poem as a song on a record. It might have had absolutely no chance of ever becoming a hit, or of even being sent to a radio station as often promised, but there it was. Your song.
Gussie is one of the best Roaratorio releases, but it is almost as impossible to find as the Steve Lacy album. It was limited to 436 copies, each with an original pencil drawing by Anne Elias on the cover. We have always loved the artwork on our copy, but can’t remember ever seeing another. Bet they’re all really cool looking. The album inside is just as unique as each jacket for this limited edition — the recording of George Cartwright’s Curlew was made in 2001 at Gus Lucky’s Gallery (which is no longer open) and is completely improvisational. They didn’t even start with a planned set list. Davey Williams performance on electric guitar is particularly awesome throughout.
A couple years later George Cartwright connected with Andrew Broder for another live recording (that’s the same Andrew Broder who recorded the Hymie’s Basement album in the old record shop with Yoni Wolf). In all the years we shopped at the old Hymie’s, before taking over the business, this was the one of the only new LP we ever bought there (the other was Willie and the Bee’s Out of the Woods). Although it is sort of electronic-based, the Broder/Cartwright collaboration is most appealing for its intimate qualities. At times it sounds like the Sam Rivers/Dave Holland recording from the 70s, at other times almost classical — like Schubert’s Moment Musicaux or something. This is a great lazy Sunday morning album.
Excerpt from side one of Andrew Broder/George Cartwright
Scraps and Shadows is our favorite jazz album on Roaratorio. There is another Joe McPhee and Chris Corsano album on the label (Under a Double Moon, recorded two years earlier) but it doesn’t have the same intensity and focus of this one. Maybe it’s that each track of its seven tracks (recorded at the Sugar Maple in Milwaukee) are dedicated to people, nearly all jazz musicians. Some are well known, others not so much. “For Paul Flaherty” is for the saxophonist with whom Corsano has worked and is the most exciting track. For this post we chose “For Jim Pepper” because, in part, we’re huge fans of his music as well.
Drummer Kevin Shea gives The New Nixon Tapes a little more rock & roll drive than the McPhee/Corsano albums. Talibam! tears through two exciting side-long tracks on this free jazz jam. Daniel Carter, who alternates between the flute, trumpet and alto sax, is joined by Ed Bear, who is credited as playing tenor and “feedbacksaphone.” There is a synthesizer played by Matt Mottel working in between them — the results are sometimes chaotic and confrontational, and other times beautiful and melodic. This passage below is from the end of the second side, which, like the songs on Scraps and Shadows, is a tribute of sorts.
Excerpt from “Organist Dick Hyman, whose Art Tatum Studies Crowdsorcerers Swallow the Cornucopian Logic Of…”
The Knife World album is probably the best-selling Roaratorio Records release — it’s a guitar/drums duo (think thrashier Bloodnstuff) with a knack for infective early indie rock-sounding riffs. And the best part is the album’s incredible b-visual 3D jacket! It’s not the first album with a 3D cover (we’re not certain but we think that was the 1974 Grand Funk Railroad album Shinin’ On) but it does have a unique feature in that the viewing glasses are contained inside the album’s label!
The following excerpts are copied from the back of Roaratorio’s release of Pauline Oliveros’ orchestra work, To Valierie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of their Desperation. The album collects two performances of the piece, its 1970 debut and a 1977 reproduction.
Shortly after it was published in 1968 the SCUM Manifesto by Valerie Solanas fell into my hands. Intrigued by the egalitarian feminist principles set forth in the Manifesto, I wanted to incorporate them into the structure of a new piece that I was composing. The women’s movement was surfacing and I felt the need to express my resonance with this energy. Marilyn Monroe had taken her own life. Valerie Solanas had attempted to take the life of Andy Warhol. Both women seemed to be desparate and caught in the traps of inequity …
In the score all players have a non-hierarchical role. The parts for the piece are the same for each player and within the given guidelines each individual interprets their part differently. If any player starts to dominate the musical texture, the community that is created by the piece absorbs the outstanding sounds back in to the collective.
You can read Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto here. It was received as a satire along the lines of Swift’s “Modest Proposal” until she shot Andy Warhol at his New York studio, the Factory, on June 3rd, 1968. You can, of course, find most of Marilyn Monroe’s films online and we’ll leave it up to you whether she deserves more recognition, as Olivaros has written, as an actress. We think she does, but we’re not big fans of her singing.
If you’re interested in Pauline Oliveros, you can find out more about her forty year (and going) career in music on her official website. She is a highly regarded accordionist, the author of five books about music, and a pioneer of electronic art music. Important Records recently compiled a twelve-disc collection of her experimental electronic music from the 60s (and it’s already sold out!).
So there’s a short tour of Roaratorio Records. Most of these titles are still in print and we have them in stock at the shop — you can also buy them direct from the label if you’re reading this from outside the Twin Cities (check out their site here). They have just released a new Rodd Keith collection (their third) and will soon put out a Sun Ra album (Other Strange Worlds, which we are very excited about — hopefully it’s a sequel to the Strange Worlds collection of the BYG/Actuel albums and contains similar, awesome recordings from 1970-1).