Walk On

brownie and sonny

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“Walk On” by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry

It sure is a shame when really awesome records are in a basement flood or a leaking garage, and they end up destroyed. If you’re a collector you’ve surely seen ‘em, gatefold stuck together forever, or jackets so moldy that no amount of scrubbing is going to salvage them.

That’s the story with this crate of cool records someone brought in over the weekend. Some of the records most damaged were from the short, eighteen-album run of Rosetta Records, a label which always has awesome liner notes.

mean mothers

Fortunately, most of them are still read-able, and the albums cleaned up pretty well. We always thought Rosetta Records was named for Sister Rosetta Tharp, the trailblazing gospel singer who we wrote about here back in May. After all, one of its releases was a collection of her songs. We have learned the label was in fact named for its founder, Rosetta Reitz, a feminist writer who had a pretty extraordinary career even before she started making awesome archival records.

Reitz (pronounced “rights”) worked as a stockbroker, ran a book store called the Four Seasons and a greeting card business before she borrowed money for all her friends to start Rosetta Records in 1979. She was already by this time a published author, both of cooking books (she had been a food critic for the Village Voice) and books about women’s issues. She was fifty-five when she started her record label.

Rosetta Records compiled jazz and blues records made by women, mostly from 78s which were in the public domain. These were the same sort of archival albums as the Stash Records collections we posted about a few weeks ago when describing Patty and the Buttons’ vintage smut album. Reitz wrote extensive liner notes with each album, and the gatefold jackets featured a variety of vintage photographs. Some collected single performers, like Ida Cox and Sister Rosetta Tharp, and several had fun themes like Women’s Railroad Blues. Instrumentalists like trumpeter Valaida Snow were also featured with entire LPs.

From the notes to Mean Mothers, the first LP Reitz released in 1979:

“Mean mother” at first sounds like a contradiction. But it isn’t, if you understand its popular meaning. “She’s a mean woman” is really a compliment, meaning this person is serious and will not put up with any nonsense. She is not someone to trifle with or to take lightly. It is a positive view of an independent woman, granting her the regard she deserves as one who will not passively accept unjust or unkind treatment.

Mean women are to be celebrated for being forthright and honest — and for insisting on their dignity. This stance has earned them many epithets however, including one used by some social scientists: matriarch. Matriarch is a dirty word in this culture and its current meaning needs turning around to more accurately convey what the word originally meant — strong woman, a woman with authority who takes responsibility and nutures those she loves and usually anyone else who comes into her orbit.

The label started as a mail order business but eventually found its way into record stores. Reitz estimated that some titles sold as many as 20,000 copies. She remained involved in both jazz music and women’s issues until she passed away in 2008 at the age of eighty-four. Duke University maintains a gigantic archive of her papers, representing the enormous contribution of her career.

And the albums still turn up here in Minneapolis from time to time, thankfully they’re usually in better shape than this one.

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“Good Time Mama” by Martha Copeland

Minneapolis is one of the largest cities in America to toss out Columbus Day and no longer celebrate the life of a genocidal mass murderer. Today is Indigenous Peoples Day in the city, although when you got to the bank and thought Damn! the sign on the door probably said “Closed for Columbus Day.”

There are celebrations at the Minneapolis American Indian Center on Franklin Avenue this afternoon starting at 4pm. Similar events are taking place in Duluth and Red Wing, both cities that have also dropped the archaic holiday.

We’d like to offer a huzzah and hurray to Alondra Cano, who took our friend Gary Schiff’s seat on the City Council two years ago, representing the 9th Ward. She worked very hard to make this change, and was quoted in this mornings paper as saying “It’s much more than a symbolic gesture.”

We had proposed this change here on the Hymie’s blog every Columbus Day for years, and also produced a program about the music of the Native American protest movement for KFAI’s Wave Project in 2011. Re-run for the last time, here it is:

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Our last post linked to a Washington Post article about the challenges of making vinyl LPs as the number of functioning presses in America doesn’t keep pace with rising demand. To the existing challenges — from finding a sound engineer familiar with the format’s range for recording and mastering, to hoping your test press sounds just right, to timing an event to celebrate the whole six to ten week ordeal — add one more potential disaster. Fed Ex might lose your records somewhere in the middle of the country.

And that’s just what happened to one of the two records we released on Friday at the Cedar Cultural Center. Having safely received the first shipment of Ben Weaver’s LP, I Would Rather Be A Buffalo, we couldn’t even figure out what happened to the 45rpm single by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade. One box was entirely missing — and its tracking number useless — and the others disappeared for a more than an entire day somewhere in Ohio, putting it all perilously close to arriving too late.

Laura spent two days tracking down the packages. There were a lot of phone calls that started with, “Speak to a representative. Speak to a representative. SPEAK TO A PERSON!” And it didn’t get easier after breaking through the automated phone system — most of the representatives were in India, and it seeing as we were connecting over tens of thousands of miles, it didn’t seem unreasonable to suggest we drive the 750 miles to pick the records up ourselves.

Finally reaching someone in the United States, Laura learned where one box was — on a truck traveling to the Twin Cities Friday morning. It was due at late afternoon in Mahtomedi, and would be unpacked shortly after. Finding a single package would be “like finding a needle in a haystack.” But we were welcome to wait for the truck and ask.

And that’s how Laura got to spend the afternoon before our first ever record release show in a suburb we’d never heard of waiting outside a warehouse. She wasn’t the only person waiting, so this sort of stuff must happen a lot. Eventually, someone came out in the parking lot and started asking people their names. “Nope, don’t have it,” he said to the first three. Laura told him she was waiting for the package to Hymie’s. “Oh, the records! I have those!”

 

Fighting Friday rush hour, she made it to the Cedar just as Brian’s band was finishing their soundcheck, shortly before the doors were to open at 7pm. In a reversal of what usually happens, everyone on the stage cheered!

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Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?           –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ben Weaver Buffalo LPListen closely and you can hear birds and animals throughout Ben Weaver’s new LP, I Would Rather Be A Buffalo. It was recorded by Tom Herbers, an engineer with a storied career capturing Minnesota music, in a barn outside Rochester. It’s Ben’s eighth album, and also the first released by our shop through its own in-house imprint.

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7 Inch LabelTomorrow we’re also releasing a 45rpm single by Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade, two songs we are very proud to share with the world. If you’ve been following us here, you’ve already heard the A side, which was featured in a very sweet video shot by Ali Rogers (here) and included footage of the band playing at our block party this past spring. We’ve added the B side of the single at the end of this post.

You may have read this Washington Post article when it was picked up by our local paper last week — one of the plants featured in the article is Cleveland’s Gotta Groove Records, who are the folks we worked with in making these first two releases. You may also have an idea how difficult it has become to press records these days. The cost, the quality and the timing are all very serious considerations — we’re really happy with our experience working with this plant (and would totally recommend them!) but we’ve heard some terribly heartbreaking stories from friends who have had poor luck with other, larger presses: lost masters, entire runs mis-pressed, damaged lacquers and poor communication. And this is all after the long process of learning to play, writing new music, performing it before an audience, and recording what you want to preserve and share.

Those of us who never stopped buying and listening to records are a little confused by the “resurgence of vinyl” craze. None of us understood what everyone was doing with their CDs and iPods, and DJs that don’t play records. We’re baffled that record shops stopped selling LPs for years, though not surprised they jumped back into it once it proved both fashionable and profitable. When asked if records are “really coming back” by new visitors here, we’ve always just said they never left.

Dropping the needle onto a record never loses that magical feeling — it’s sublime no matter how long you’ve understood the physical process that recreates the sound stored in the grooves. And playing one you helped create has been one of the most rewarding experiences we’ve ever had here in the record shop.

While we have been working on these projects, I have been running along the river, which is a unique experience early in the morning during this time of the year — the trees are beginning to show us the fall colors, and all the critters are frantically storing away for the coming winter. It has provided a perfect setting to think about ideas presented by these two records, and what Ben and Brian and so many others have brought to our lives with the music they bring to the shop.

I read Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1836 essay, Nature, for the second time this fall. Emerson is one of those writers one ought to revisit at different stages of life, because they’ll find new inspiration. A young man takes his lessons from Self Reliance and its theme of independence and individualism, but after the world has worn him down a little he can appreciate the more pensive expressions in Nature.

There are passages of Emerson’s essay which fit beautifully with the words Ben wrote for his new album. In the second section, “Beauty,” he describes the benefits our access to the natural world provide for our physical and spiritual well being:

The tradesman, the attorney comes out of the din and craft of the street, and sees the sky and the woods, and is a man again. In their eternal calm, he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired, so long as we can see far enough.

Of course, even in Emerson’s time, urban life prohibited such peaceful repose, and little has changed in the nearly two centuries since. Artificial living continues to leave us both physically and spiritually unfit. Even one of our most base expressions, music, has become sterilized when it is produced in insulated and windowless studios intended to eliminate such nuisances as the wind that rustles the leaves above our heads.

This past week Ben has visited a couple local radio shows, including one of our favorites, KFAI’s Pam Without Boundaries, which happened to be, sadly, on its last broadcast. In his conversation with Pam Hill Kroyer (which you can stream here) and with the Current’s Dave Campbell (here), Ben offers a familiar explanation for his bicycle tour, one we have heard before here at Hymie’s: “There’s nothing harder than driving to Cleveland on a Tuesday night and playing to ten people in a bar, where they’re probably not listening anyway,” he explains. “It’s so inconducive to having the kind of interactions I want to have with people.”

Instead he has planned to tour on this new album by bicycle, performing in farms and nature centers instead of bars, and participating in projects such as prairie restorations along the way. Details for Ben’s tour to New Orleans, which he has called It’s All the River, can be found on his website here. It’s a plan which again recalls Emerson, who famously wrote, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Way up above we promised to post the B side of Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade’s new single, and its fitting we should. It was a conversation with him at the picnic table in our garden which led to the creation of a record label based in this shop — and since announcing these two releases we have started building the plans for the next several.

Over the years we’ve expressed our love for the flip side of a single several times (recently here and here), and so it was with a sort of reverence for the irreverence of the B side that we approached the first ever issued on our own label. Brian brought to us a song he described as “classic Family Trade” which we could hardly resist.

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“Glad for Every Burden” expresses just how we feel about all the work that has gone into these two records, and into this record store. All of it has been a blessing, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ben Weaver and Brian Laidlaw and the Family Trade will both perform at the Cedar Cultural Center on Friday October 10 (details here). Both new releases from Hymie’s will be available. They will also be reading at Rain Taxi’s Twin Cities Book Festival on Saturday (details here).

 

Recently, after moving a large collection to the record shop, we discovered one of the boxes contained not albums but a variety of books. Many of them were jazz biographies, and one — Duke Ellington’s 1976 memoir, Music is my Mistress — has proven to be an especially enjoyable read.

One of the most remarkable things is its appendix which lists all of the songs he composed during his career in their copyright order — from “Blind Man’s Bluff” in 1923 to the four-part Togo Brava suite written in 1973 it takes nearly thirty pages to list them all!

ellington flaming youthHere is a song from early in his career (1929 according to this book) which was re-recorded many times over the years. It is on this RCA/Victor compilation of the 1927-9 band, which features several Ellington Orchestra alumni who worked for Duke for decades — one could hardly imagine the Orchestra without Johnny Hodges or Harry Carney for instance.

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“The Mooche”

Our favorite era of Ellington’s enduring Orchestra is the 1940-2 incarnation known by fans as the “Blanton/Webster Band.” We posted about bassist Jimmy Blanton not long ago (here). One could spend a lifetime collecting only Duke Ellington record, and always have plenty of great jazz to listen to — his music changes so much from decade to decade based on the distinct personalities that make up the Orchestra, and it would take a post longer than this to list all the favorites of jazz listeners.

From his autobiography, Ellington describes the process of fluctuation as members come and go:

The cats who come into the band are probably unique in the aural realm. When someone falls out of the band — temporarily or permanently — it naturally becomes a matter of “Whom shall we get?” or “Whom van we get?” It is not just a matter of replacing the cat who left, because we are concerned with a highly personalized kind of music. It is written to suit the character of an instrumentalist, the man who has the responsibility of playing it, and is almost impossible to match his character identically. Also, if the new man is sufficiently interesting tonally, why insist upon his copying or matching his predecessor’s style.

In other words, if we are completely satisfied with the horse and buggy, who invent an automobile or airplane? In the first place, when a man is needed, I personally scarcely even know which way to look for a replacement. I haven’t the slightest idea whether the grass next door is greener or leaner. So someone suggests so-and-so, and we send for so-and-so, and get him. We play together a day or two, and then I inquire whether or not the new cat likes what we are doing, having already watched his reaction in the band. If he likes it, he is invited to stay.

Everybody agrees he’s a nice guy until one day, sooner than expected, one of his other selves breaks through, or one of his more eccentric sides show. Then I confess, or one of the other cats in the band hollars, loudly, “Duke, you never miss!”

Our new man has come home to the home of homies. He manifests his acceptance of the honor bestowed upon him, and settles down to the prospect of welcoming the next new so-and-so.

So far as we recall, there were only three discs by the Carpetbaggers, an awesome trio from Edina whose music fell somewhere in that sweet spot between honky tonk and rockabilly. We were fortunate enough to see ‘em play a couple times — they were just as good live as they are on record.

country miles apartBut the sad part is that we loaned two of the discs to someone years ago, and only noticed they were gone this morning when we went to hear their hilarious parody of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy.” The only disc we have left is their first, Country Miles Apart.

At least this one has some of our favorite song by the Carpetbaggers, especially “Always A Pallbearer,” which was an original by Jim Magnuson. The best songs on their discs were the originals.

Not sure where these fellas are today, but there are at least a couple fans of their music still around — and there’s an old friend whose going to get a call today about a couple CDs they borrowed ages ago.

If you like this song, you can see a couple awesome performances on Youtube — “Sober Again” and this song from a 1997 in-store at Garage D’or, the legendary record shop which was on Nicollet Avenue (one of us was there that day!). They were a great band who would probably be a huge hit in the local country/roots scene today.

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“Always A Pallbearer”

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