Friday, December 4, 2009

Reports of the SL-1200's death...

...may or may not have been greatly exaggerated,

Caught this link from DanceTracks Digital today

DanceTracks News, Technics Not Dead Yet

Great post... far from a nostalgia piece, they do a great job of describing the SL-1200's importance in the development of DJing and looking forward to the importance that newer digital technology will continue to have on the artform.

All that said, I'll indulge in a brief bit of nostalgia... I often refer to the day I bought my "12s" as the second happiest day of my life (with the birth of my daughter being the first). I remember every detail like it was yesterday... rolling into Guitar Center on Halsted in Chicago with a *plenty* of credit on my plastic. I did it big! Two 12s, bright red flight cases... man, I'm tearing up just thinking about it. Must have been '95 or '96, maybe a bit later.

At this point I'd been DJing for many years, but usually belt drive turntables. (Gemini XL BD-10s for those who care) I briefly had a pair of used 12s that I bought when I was in college (thanks Romaine!). I had *no* business buying that pair, and sold them when I "got out" of DJing. But, this pair was mine, I was a grown ass man, and they weren't ever going to be sold back (and they haven't been!)

I guess I must have driven home, but I don't remember it... I remember buying them, then I remember being back at my apartment setting them up. They've been trusty companions ever since. And just to show you how weird I am... I will put a promo sticker on just about any available surface, but never on my red flight-cases, big stars have the "only blue M&Ms" thing, I guess I have this...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Classic Material: Eddie Kendricks - He's A Friend

pressed for time? just listen to the tune... hearing music is way more important than reading about it!

If you have a few minutes... please allow me to share.

Taken as a whole, I think that American popular music is a human achievement that stands up there with the Pyramids and the Library at Alexandria. It is truly, truly majestic. You can't talk about American popular music without talking about the music of Black Americans... and you can't talk about the music of Black Americans without talking about the influence of religious music such as spirituals and gospel.

Now, before you go thinking I'm about to write about Buildin' me a home or Get Away Jordan, I'm not. (Not that there's a damn thing wrong with talking about either of those songs, mind you)

No, I mention gospel because it provides the thematic underpinning for Eddie Kendricks' deep-house banger He's A Friend.

The title track of Kendricks' 1976 Tamla/Motown album, He's A Friend is a wonderful blend of the Philly Soul and Mid-period Motown vibes. That I call it a deep-house banger speaks to my own initial exposure to the tune. Although it rose to #2 on the Billboard R&B chart in the year it was released, I was about 5 years old then... so it didn't enter my consciousness until I was a teenager and heard Ron Hardy bang it at the Warehouse in the late 80s... it's what us DJ types would call a "5am track"... the track you'd play when only the hardest of hardcore dancers were on the floor. Interestingly, it seems that a lot of 5am tracks have a spiritual/gospel flavor. Maybe it's something about celebrations and sunrise... I remember my mom and her friends sitting around singing church songs in our living room at 5 or 6 in the morning after her and my step-dad's world-famous halloween parties (which I DJed, thank you very much).

But, back to the matter at hand... although Jesus and/or God never get shouted out by name, by the end of the first verse, there's no doubt about the "He" that's being referred to. It's an easy pun, but it is truly an inspired vocal performance by Eddie Kendricks.

Vocals alone do not a classic make however, and producer/arranger/guitarist Norman Harris and the other players on the tune lay down an absolutely killer groove. Soaring string and horn arrangements are anchored by a rock solid rhythm section... for the life of me I'm still trying to figure out how the drummer can be locked-in and swing like that at the same time... guess that's why I'm a DJ and not a drummer! Don't even get me started on the rhythm guitar work. This thing has a bridge (2:17) that lesser songs would kill for as their main theme. And the break (3:29)... my god, the break... well, if I were ever in a debate about the why disco edits are wonderful things... this break would be the only argument I'd need.

If you take the time to dig into the biographies below, you won't be surprised by the massive number of hits the personnel have contributed to. Classic.

Eddie Kendricks - He's a Friend
From Album "He's A Friend" Tamla/Motown 1976 T6-343S1

Written by:
Allan Felder, Bruce Gray, T.G. Conway
Produced & Arranged by: Norman Harris

Earl Young - Drums
Norman Harris - Guitar
Vincent Montana - Vibes (note: my ears don't hear vibes on the track, but Montana's a multi-instrumentalist and I just know in my heart-of-hearts he played on this)
Allan Felder - Percussion
Ron "Have Mercy" Kersey - Keyboards
Don Renaldo - Strings, Horns


Norman Harris

Vince Montana

Allan Felder

Earl Young

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You know it's time to catalog your records when...

1) You are listening to a mix and hear this absolutely sick track

2) You note the track and then spend the better part of 45 minutes trying to find it online

3) You're looking through your collection for totally unrelated stuff and realize you already have the track!

That's when you know it's time to catalog your record collection.

The track, you ask?  "Cocktail Lounge" by Brother to Brother (Paul Johnson & Gant Garrard) - Dusttraxx, 1999

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chicago Record Stores: Mr. Peabody's

I know I'm sounding like a broken record (bad pun *not* intended.. but there you go) but Chicago is an absolutely awesome city for record stores.

This was reinforced by my visit to Mr. Peabody's out on the South Side, or "South Siiiiiide!" as we native sons say :-) First, I must tell you that I thought Mr. Peabody's had taken over operations from Beverly Records, a south side institution that opened in the 60s. I figured that we were at least treading water in keeping record stores around in the city...Beverly Records gone, Mr. Peabody's arrives, and so goes the circle of life.

Imagine my surprise to learn that Beverly Records was still around and going strong (it'd been forever since I'd been over that way, so I conflated the addresses)
A twofer, sweet... I'll write about Beverly Records in a separate post

Back to Mr. Peabody's... I loved the in
terior! Decorative records all over the walls... a huge autograph wall on one side of the store.... and the records, oh my.

I was in there for maybe 30 seconds when one of the proprietors drops this wicked mix of Dee-Lite's
Good Beat (House heads might think it sounds familiar, the remix is by Pal Joey who did certified-classic Hot Music) Anyways, I snagged the dee lite right away.

I also picked up a couple of other things:

Gonna take a miracle, by Laura Nyro and Labelle
Outline, by Gino Socio

Had a nice chat with Mark Grusane, one of the owners. He helped me ID a track I'd been looking for forever (Sylvester's "I Need You")

A great store holding things down on the far south side!

Mr. Peabody's Records:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Humbled (and inspired!) by the Immigrant Work Ethic

( this is why it's good to go through your archived files every so often... I stumbled across this note I wrote to myself back in 2007... posting it here mostly so I don't lose it again. )

So, I'm having lunch today at Noodles & Co. and I see this guy who looks familiar.  Hispanic guy.  He's having lunch too and it looks like he works at the restaurant. He might be a cook (they appear to have different color baseball caps than the "front of house" staff )

I look a little more closely and recognize where I know him from.  I see him four days a week because he *also* works nights cleaning up the offices at the client site where I'm working.  I'm pretty sure he's an immigrant, based on his english in the various exchanges I've had with him, which consist mostly of smiling and nodding...

As I look at this man eating his lunch, all my reasons (read: excuses) for why *my* life goals aren't farther along ring especially hollow.  I can take care of my family with *one* job, so what is my excuse for not being farther along that I'd like to be in terms of life goals?

I'll spare you the torture of reading more of my introspection, but I was humbled... and I am inspired.  I'm inspired because of a self-image that *knows* that I'm cut from the same cloth as this man.  I've always known this, I've been watching my Grandparents and Parents striving and working their asses off for all of my life.  But I guess sometimes you just need to see it with a degree of separation to be reminded...  So they next time I thank this guy for getting my wastebasket at 6:30pm, I'll be thanking him for much more than that.

I'm not assuming this dude is undocumented... and I'm ambivalent about many aspects of the immigration debate here in the States, but we are *so* in-trouble down the road if we make it any harder for people like this to come here (from wherever!)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chicago Record Stores: Dave's Records

This installment in the Chicago Record Stores series will focus on Dave's records.

Definitely one of my favorite record stores in the city, Dave's is *truly* a "record" store. That is, it's all vinyl, no cds!

Now, I'm not hatin' on CDs, whatever carries the good tunes works for me, but there is much to be admired in the purity of Dave's approach.

While you might assume that because of the "vinyl purist" approach, the shop would be snooty, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The proprietor Dave has been in the music business for 25+ years and is a wealth of knowledge. Whenever I'm there, he always has great suggestions for me (and dammit, I always leave spending more than I'd planned!)

There was a period in my collecting where I was easily there once a week. I've become a less frequent visitor since, but my recent trip has reminded my of the place's awesomeness. Although Dave's focus is music, it is a strong case for why independent retail should not perish from the earth, to paraphrase Abe Lincoln (right about now, Dave would be finding some Abe Lincoln themed spoken word album to blow my mind with.... word!)

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Dance Music Space-Time Continuum

It's always been an interesting feature of Dance Music that trends and what's hot/not move very quickly. Although downloads now make this a feature of just about every genre, this was the case with Dance/Electronica when Vinyl/CD were the main formats.

I think that this trend has only accelerated for Dance music now that digital files are so prevalent and many (but certainly not all) DJs are playing out with digital rigs such as Serato, etc.

By way of example, up until yesterday I thought I was somewhat up on the latest tunes, until Beatport and Resident Advisor whacked me upside the head with how behind the curve I am. Of the 50 Tunes in their July Chart, I recognized about 7 artists (15% if you're keeping score at home). That really should be between 90-100%... gotta get my weight up!

Oh, the space-time continuum thing? Seeing how rapidly I got "out of date" made me think of Einstein's description of how time slows down as one approaches the speed of light, something about growing old very slowly... I'm down with that, don't close the spaceship door!

On a slightly different tangent, here's some interesting industry analysis from New Music Strategies

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Record Stores in the Movies

It's Record Store Day Eve, I'm *so* excited :-)

Here's a quick list of some of my favorite record store moments from the Silver Screen

High Fidelity: Jack Black as a snarky record store clerk... John Cusack as the store owner... more great lines than I have time to recount. I still need to read the book by Nick Hornsby. The Cusack character is who I aspire to be (minus the relationship issues)

Empire Records: Plot isn't this film's strong suit, but the main setting is the coolest imaginary record store ever! Liv Tyler and Renee Zellweger don't hurt either.

- - - Honorable mentions - - -

Love Jones: Dr. Wax from Hyde Park is name-checked, although the record store scene occurs in some other store. As an aside, if you want to see some sexy black folks (of either gender) this is good choice.. Nia Long & Lawrenz Tate star... it's a pretty good love story. The soundtrack is killer, highly recommended.

Mo Betta Blues: The scene where Wesley Snipes' character tries to kick-it to Cynda Williams' character is cool. I'd cut my record shopping short if Cynda Williams was waiting on me.

I am Legend: Huh? You heard me... This movie proves that like cockroaches, record stores will still be around even in a post-apocalyptic nightmare vision of NYC.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

All Time Top 5 Albums (for now)

Record Store Day is this saturday, and I like to celebrate it kwanzaa-style, lighting a candle of record-love for a few days before the big event.

So... my all-time top 5 albums (in no particular order)

- Songs in the Key of Life, Stevie Wonder
- A Love Supreme, John Coltrane
- Remedy, Basement Jaxx
- Fear of a Black Planet, Public Enemy
- Kind of Blue, Miles Davis

Now, if I were stranded on a desert island, I'd probably wish for a solar powered iPod... but if I only had a solar powered record player and 5 records, these would be the ones.

Caveats: Top 5 lists are ridiculous... Limiting to only 5 forces me to ignore vast swaths of the musical landscape... no Rock? No classical? No "world" music? ridiculous.

I engage in the top 5 ritual in honor of Record Store Day (and the film High Fidelity) ...and Comic Book Guy.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Whiny Musicians / Good Documentary

I recently had a chance to check out the 2005 documentary Before the Music Dies courtesy of it's a pretty decent film.

The general topic is the sad state of "big music" (circa 2005).  Although the film is a few years old, the general description of the prevailing trends in the industry remains accurate.

Some things that made me chuckle
  • Good musicians' tendency to think they're particularly insightful and/or profound as commentators:  Lots of big names in this one commenting on things... Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Eryka Badu, Questlove, Branford Marsalis, Bonnie Rait, etc.  Let's just say that not everyone was equally deserving of camera time (although Badu was pretty funny)
  • How the more things change, the more they stay the same:  I found it humorous how all these "serious artists" bemoaned the manufactured pop stars of the present day... how it's all about image and not about the music!  This of course ignores the fact the pop stars have been "manufactured" since the dawn of recorded music.  It's probably the same way our great grandparents talked about Fats Domino and our grandparents talked about Elvis... I know it's the way my parents talked about Run DMC!
There was interesting commentary from former major label record executives and the film also spent some time profiling Doyle Bramhall II... a Blues Rock artist who was a great example of a major label "failure" who's achieved critical acclaim and a solid career.

The highest points in the film are when the artists talk about what motivates them to do what they do, including particularly transcendent scene where an older blues man talks about his love for playin' the blues.  I'd definitely recommend it for artists and students of the industry (which I think most "serious artists" should be!).

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Digging is dead, long live digging

I'm working on putting together a deep house mix for my Mom... in the course of pulling together a rough playlist I've been adding a fair number of tunes to my wantlist... listening to a bunch of Ron Hardy mixes from back in the day "the day" being the mid-to-late 80's (props to Gridface and Sueno Martino for the great resource, highly recommended)

I'm noticing an interesting phenomenon... as I run across tracks that I don't have, I'll google them... and at least 50% of the time if not more, they're available on youtube. Now I love my vinyl, but that's friggin awesome! I know, it's also illegal, but hell... so were the re-press bootlegs of disco classics... and those would still be hard to find! and anyway, I'm the poster child for digital music availability stimulating demand for physical product.

I'd probably not be so geeked about it if I didn't have Serato Scratch as part of my setup... but I do, so I am.

I do however ponder the fate of the physical record collection as a signifier of one's love of music ...dare I say connoisseurship? They'll pry my vinyl from my cold dead hands (thanks to a traumatic early adulthood record collection liquidation that's too painful to recount now)... but let's be real, my collection has always been utilitarian... it's not like I've got a bunch of 8-track tapes sitting around.

So, vive la Youtube! (Unless it's my intellectual property, in which case, where my lawyers at?!?)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Chicago Record Stores: George's Music Room - Out of the Past Records

Started on the photo essay project. After some hemming and hawing, the warm weather convinced me to leave the crib and start visiting (and revisiting) shops to take some snaps. Before getting into the store details, I've noticed that two stores a day seems to be a comfortable pace. So, what I thought would be 1 or 2 posts will in all likelihood be an ongoing series. I guess that's good for my blogging frequency!

George's Music Room (RIP?)

Made it out to George's around 3:45pm and they were closed... on a Saturday? I could see promo materials inside, but it was too dark to see if they were still carrying product. There as also a PODS container in the back... not a good sign. Going to try contact them by phone this week and will report what I find out. (I did take a couple of pix of one of DZine's murals (before he got all "high art" on us! just kiddin' bro!)

Out of the Past Records

Took the bus up Pulaski to Madison and started walking West (about 5 blocks to Out of the Past). Wow, this stretch of Madison is a rough neighborhood! I grew up on the South Side in a somewhat rough neighborhood and I felt like a white kid from the suburbs. It's been a minute since I've seen folks on the street selling loose "squares" (cigarettes, if you were wondering). I'm not kidding, I think I saw about three drug deals (not to mention the brother drinking beer on the bus on the way back). But, I also saw an 11 year old girl proudly carrying her framed Barack Obama poster home from the store... the juxtaposition gave the "Change" campaign slogan some powerful resonance for me.

Was I on an Obama tangent? My bad... Back to the store. You know good things are in store when Kool & The Gang's Summer Madness is playing through a speaker on the sidewalk as you walk up! Amazing amounts of records... I walked in and in 2 minutes had found the group Change's 2nd Album Miracles (R&B fans will be aware of their first LP, Change which contained the classics A Lovers Holiday, usually referred to as just "Holiday" and Glow of Love... "Glow of Love" featured a then young and unknown singer named Luther Vandross who just... puts. it. down!). So, I immediately broke my "no purchases!" rule, but I was highly disciplined otherwise (full disclosure: I also bought a poster of the Maxwell St. Market (aka
"Jew Town" as we called it back when I was growing up.)

Everyone was helpful a the store, there were folks hanging out, a little kid in there (who stayed underfoot... watch out, little man!). Great vibe. The kicker? These guys probably have close to a hundred thousand records and their online presence? Under construction... Hey, I know a bit of computer stuff... I smell a barter arrangement down the road!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Spoiled for Choice - Chicago Record Stores

Inspired by a book I recently read, I'm planning on getting around town to take some pictures of the remaining independent record stores in Chicago.

figured it'd be a fun little project for my upcoming Zoe-less weekend. As I started compiling my list of places to hit, I figured I'd be able to knock it out in a day. I was happily wrong... It's going to be a two to three day project! (despite the dire straits of the mainstream record industry, we've still got over 50 independent retailers holding it down in the Chi)

Granted, this map will probably be a little less crowded next year... but then again, it may be *more* crowded... stranger things have happened.

Anyways, the map-points on the South Side are the target for Saturday, I just have to keep telling myself: pictures only! no buying! (a brotha's got some personal IMF-style austerity measures going on)

Monday, January 26, 2009

President Obama

In a word... wow!

I recently returned from President Obama's inauguration in D.C. and simply don't have the words to describe how awesome it was to be out there to witness the event.

Obviously there are plenty of places to get details and stories about the day, so I won't add to that pile... I'll simply say:

* It was awesome
* it was kinda cold
* it was kinda crowded
* It was awesome

Did I mention it was awesome?

Quick highlights

* Seeing my man Barack get sworn in!
* Representing for Chicago at Busboys & Poets Cafe on 14th & V
* Hanging out with Rebecca, as cool of a Wrightson sister as ever there was
* Seeing Reese, Galina, & Family (including Maurice's Mom and siblings)

Lessons that will remain as the details fade

If you've followed the story of Obama's election at all, you've likely heard interviews with this or that black person... famous, or not famous, who has said something along the lines of: "I never thought I'd see this day."

Well, I was definitely one of those people who never thought they'd see this day. I always knew this day would come, it's just that I was pretty sure it wouldn't happen in my lifetime... and I thought my daugther might live to see it.

A black president was one of those things that was "theoretically possible", like teleporting, or living on Mars. Something to be pondered maybe, but something ultimately destined to be experienced by future generations.

And now, this formerly "theoretical" possibility is a reality. What has this taught me? It has shown me that there is no need for a "theoretical" qualifier as I look at the possibilities of this world. Things yet to be made reality are possible, plain and simple. Put differently, it helps me to more clearly see "dreams" as challenges, as calls-to-action, as things within reach.

And Ed, Reese, et al... before you go clowning me, I'm fully aware that all my blathering was just a wordier rendition of "Yes we can"... deal with it!

A few pictures from the trip (do slideshow mode for a taste of the mad narrative skills, yo.)