Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where the Music Comes From

One question I occasionally get is “where do you get the music you play?” Well, the short answer is that I bring it with me in a plastic milk crate to the studio every week (which also explains why taking requests is difficult when I’m live in the studio: at any given time, 75% of the music I pick from is still at home), but I’m sure that answer does not satisfy everyone. So, I thought I’d talk about my “Artifacts From the Tin Cave” a little bit.
In the spring of 1967 I used my birthday money to buy an LP called “The Best of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.” I only mention this because I still have that copy and have even played tracks from it on Stuck in the Psychedelic Era. I guess that marks the official beginning of the current collection I use on the show. That LP, however, is the exception rather than the rule. Most of the vinyl I use is from a collection I have been building up since the late 70s, when I found a copy of Cheap Thrills in near-perfect condition at a thrift store in Albuquerque. Up until that point I had been perfectly content to maintain a collection on tape, most of it on 2-track or 4-track reel-to-reel, although I had a few cassette tapes I made for listening to in the car as well.
I did not immediately abandon my tapes, however. In fact, I managed to have at least one working reel-to-reel machine throughout the 80s, finally putting my Pioneer and my dad’s old Revox into storage in late 1989. One consequence of maintaining my tape collection was that I had copies of virtually every album I ever wanted, and thus was only spending money on new stuff and obscure older albums I had not been able to tape. As the new stuff became more and more corporate (Journey, Foreigner and the like), I got more and more into the obscure older stuff, discovering bands like the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band and forgotten albums like the Animals’ “Animalization”, usually in thrift stores.
The true core of the vinyl collection I was beginning to build, though, was 45RPM records. I had always had a fondness for them, even when they fell out of favor in the early 70s, and by the end of that decade I could be found scouring every thrift store I could find looking for gems from the late 60s. I even went so far as to buy new 45RPM reissues of songs I couldn’t find the originals of, or had unplayable copies of. When it became clear that CDs were here to stay many small market radio stations decided to rid themselves of all their old vinyl, some of which had been sitting in boxes in basements for several years. In a few cases I was lucky enough to be working at those stations and was able to build up my collection relatively easily. Although many of those 45s were water damaged in a flash flood a few years ago, I still play some of the survivors from time to time. There are quite a few B sides in particular that I have not been able to find anywhere else.
Eventually I had to start replacing my old reel-to-reel tapes, mostly with CDs, although I continued to build up my collection of 45s. Most recently, though, I have had the pleasure of being able to ransack the original WEOS music library, culling about 200 LPs from the thousands that had been stored in one of the dorms at Hobart & William Smith Colleges for the past several years.
Sometimes, though, it just isn’t practical to search out vinyl copies of obscure recordings. Likewise, there are times where the only available vinyl copy of a record is just too trashed to use anymore. Luckily, there are companies that specialize in restoring old music and issuing it on CD. Many of them put out occasional collections of songs by artists that may have only issued one or two songs in their entire recording career. Thanks to them, I have been able to locate many recordings that I otherwise would not have had access to.
As for all those old tapes, they are still in storage. I suppose most of them would be considered usable from a quality standpoint, but there are ethical issues to consider. As a retired songwriter/musician, I believe in using only authorized recordings on Stuck in the Psychedelic Era, even if it means spending my own cash to do so. It’s for this same reason that I don’t use bootleg recordings or MP3 copies, no matter how good the audio quality is. It’s just something I won’t do. (My own compositions that I use for opening/closing themes and music beds are another matter. I gave up on the idea of ever making any money from them years ago, so feel free to make as many copies as you like, once I get a place to upload them to.)
Anyway, I hope that answers the question about where the music comes from. I’m still adding to the collection, although pretty much all my music purchases in the current century have been for use on Stuck in the Psychedelic Era. After all, even if they don’t acknowledge it even to themselves, all collectors have a deep down desire to share what they have collected, even if it’s just to brag about it.

1 comment:

  1. Great show last night Webb! I didn't have time to call in and harass you or make a request but I did here you hawking a website for the show. It will be pretty interesting read knowing your obscure knowledge of music and controversial and vocal political view points. Next step is to get you a Facebook!

    PS, Currently listening to David Bowie, who is kind of Psychedelic in his own way.