Monday, March 11, 2013

Vinyl

Well here comes another written entry. I played mandolin with my friends in the band that I began with, The Back 40, on Saturday. It was a fun night of many kinds of live music in a great hall in Minden, NV.

Lately I have been into my bluegrass mode. I feel like I am playing pretty good. It is that time of year where I begin to think of things to work towards. I’ve been at the mandolin since the summer of 2004. It is the kind of instrument that can take years and years to get where you want to be. I have heard the same thing about banjo. I’ve had a year or so working through this particular performance plateau, though I think I got here shortly after moving to Kentucky in late 2007. There are things I would like to do on the instrument, but it really comes down to practice (which I never do). Jamming at a bluegrass festival is like practice, but more about speed, volume, and reactionary improvisation. That means I try to play stuff that is different than the other mandolin players in the jam circle. On stage, I find that loud gets more of a response than does correct. Plus, body language can go a long ways in assuring an audience that you know what you are doing (when in fact, you have completely messed up your break).

Music on Vinyl
In 1997 I had moved to the Silicon Valley and started to put a lot of pieces of my life together that are still with me. For instance, my Martin HD28 guitar has never left my side and sounds really great to me still. In the face of a lot of out-of-print music and a challenging cost of living (being a geologist during the dot-com boom after all), I started messing with vinyl records. The first out of print LP I got serious about was the legendary Buckingham-Nicks, recorded prior to their inclusion into Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, 2013 is the 40th anniversary of that LP and is rumored to be released on CD for the first time (but I wouldn’t hold your breath). The first turntable I used was a really junky thing, but I quickly moved to a yard sale Technics SL-Q2. I put on a decent cartridge, the Shure M97xE. Palo Alto was to birthplace of Windham Hill records, so it explained the great number of quality records I was finding in thrift stores. I wish I had been more serious about them at the time. I am trying to say that I was really after out of print, or not-good-enough-to-repurchase LPs. My next find was sitting in a record store in Santa Cruz, the amazing double LP set called URGH! A Music War, featuring live music from the 1980 rockumentary of the same name.

I got into songwriters which led me to great LPs like Rodney Crowell’s ‘Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.’ This may have well been my first experience with ebay, and shipped from Washington for ~$6. Texas songwriter Steven Fromholz was unknown to me before Lyle Lovett’s 1998 release ‘Step Inside This House’. It was about that time that I began the website for Guy Clark, and found that the artwork of vinyl records was a big part of the fun. Scanning in a 12’ record was not that fun on my little old laptop. 1998 was quite a while ago. The website is still up, though I don’t do much there.

In 1999, I traveled to Memphis to work on the New Madrid seismic zone. Through some amazing twists, I found myself in Nashville watching Guy Clark at the Douglas Corner Cafe. In 2008, I was briefly a resident of that neighborhood. But the point of these last few paragraphs is to try to set the stage for my random trip to the home of country music where I found out of print records I really wanted. The main one was Albert Lee’s solo album that featured the track Country Boy. I am a huge fan of Albert Lee’s and was ridiculously happy about finding that record. But tying back to something else I just wrote, I got three Fromholz LPs as well.

So fourteen or fifteen years ago I started to deal with vinyl again. My first allowances were spent on records in about 1979. I like vinyl fine, but I like digital music too. Sure enough, all of the out of print records began to reappear at amazon while I was in graduate school. A CD remaster pretty much always sounded better than a recording I made from a used vinyl on my modest set up. So this changed my perspective for a time. Until about 2006, when I found that some guys that had become my friends, The Loved Ones, had released their second LP on vinyl back in 1993 or so. (Better Do Right). I went to a reunion show on Valentines day 2007, and learned they had covered George Torrance’s version of Lickin’ Stick. That 2007 reunion really began my efforts on this blog as a matter of fact; it was my first entry “to go and do stuff and shoot pictures along the way.” Here it is. A few months later I picked up the George Torrance 45.

But then something happened. Oh yeah, love. Love makes you stupid. But Love was also the name of a great band and Sundazed had re-released their seminal album Forever Changes on 180g vinyl at that time. I picked it up and was beginning to really enjoy putting on a record and just groove out. Tom Petty’s then-new Highway Companion was great to enjoy on vinyl too. (It still is). Then I moved to Kentucky and everything went into storage, and life went to hell and back a few times.

Until three weeks ago. The turntable is back up, and spinning on what was supposed to be a campstove/utility table that I built last summer. (see that here). Even though my craftsmanship is rough, it is nice to have furniture that I made around. Sitting on the platter of the turntable was the same George Torrance 45 I left there when I left Reno for good in 2007. You can hear it here if you’d like. Momma come quick and bring your lickin’ stick. And I am back in Reno.
Turntable going again, Andrew D. Barron©2/25/13 [iPhone 4S, Hipstamatic 261]
I find vinyl to be exciting. Hell, I shoot with film cameras, and Polaroids for that matter. It just goes with the whole deal, that I did nerdy things well before it was cool or hip to do so. Now if only playing bluegrass music could become a hipster activity. . .

I inherited all of my grandpa’s Lps, most of which are Merle Haggard and Chet Atkins. My early days with country music can be traced back to those records I spun with him in about 1993 (wow, some twenty years ago). I later got more Merle LPs from a cousin name Nathan who used to play with my grandpa in the late 1970’s. All told, I have a few hundred LPs. The trouble is they are buried deep in a storage unit and I was only able to unearth one box of about 60. So I started getting some new vinyl. It is a trip to be right back in 1980, repurchasing a 2010 repressing of Devo’s second album Duty Now For The Future. I am unashamedly a Devo fan; it started so early for me.

There is a thing called Record Store Day, and in 2012, Sugar Hill released a repressing of 1000 copies of the 1980 seminal bluegrass LP Skaggs and Rice. This was very deliberately my first new vinyl purchase in six years. It’s great for a 28 minute long record. My worlds have recombined over music of vastly different genres but released at the same time. Other interesting 180g vinyl are reissues on Townes Van Zandt offerings, and for the first time on vinyl, Steve Earle with The Del McCoury band’s 1999 The Mountain. I am looking forward to spinning a these a few hundred times.

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