The weekly podcast about vinyl records and the people who collect them.

DJ Forty Fivan on his new Brazilian music podcast Novedos

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

--by Matt Scott

Forty Fivan is one of the top rare groove DJs and vinyl collectors in the San Francisco Bay Area.  He spins funk and soul records from around the world, and has become an aficionado of Brazilian music.  Long-time listeners of The Vinyl Exam podcast will remember his appearances in the early days of the show.  This author’s personal favorite is his “45 Friday” episode about tracking down Purple Snow’s soul cover of Neil Young’s “Down By the River.”

Now Forty Fivan has started Novedos, a podcast devoted to his deep Brazilian collection.  Offering up nine tracks each episode centered around a theme (the title means “nine of” in Portuguese), the podcast reflects Forty Fivan’s adventurous taste and wide-ranging knowledge of Brazilian music.  There are spoken introductions to each track, with the host sharing stories behind the artists and his own discovery of the records.  

We chatted with Forty Fivan about the new podcast, his recent trip to Sao Paulo, the first Brazilian record he ever bought, and the LP he calls his most prized possession by far.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

The Vinyl Exam:  As a DJ you bounce around a bit between genres.  How did you decide to focus on Brazilian music for the podcast?

Forty Fivan:  I started as a hip-hop DJ in the mid-to-late 90’s, and then I got into breaks and started buying funk, soul, and jazz.  That led to funk and soul 45’s, which was my main thing for a while.  But then I got into Brazilian records about 10 years ago, and it’s become a bit of a collector obsession for me.  I was never much of a completist from a catalogue perspective, but for some reason I wanted to have, like, all of the Brazilian records.  [Laughs.]  When I was thinking about what to do next—because I don’t play out as much as I used to, and I was only releasing one mix every year or so—I came up with the format [for the podcast] of nine tracks, not DJ’d, just played all the way through with a quick introduction into each track.  I went with Brazilian music because that’s been my passion for the past few years.

TVE:  How did you settle on nine tracks per episode?  I know that’s the meaning behind the title.

FF:  Yeah, Novedos means “nine of…” in Portuguese.  It’s gonna sound funny, but I got the domain name www.novedos.com, and I tend to pick things based on that.  [Laughs.]  Also, I liked how it would look geometrically—a nice three-by-three grid of nine album covers in a square as artwork for each episode. 

TVE:  On The Vinyl Exam podcast you talked about first getting into Brazilian music after finding a record in the dollar bin.  How did that lead to the huge collection you have now? 

FF:  I went to Santa Clara University in the late 90’s, and there was a record store nearby called Big Al’s Record Barn.  That’s really where I got my start digging for records.  [A local fixture for decades, Big Al’s closed its doors in 2013.  Owner Al Farleigh sadly passed away the following year. – ed.]   I would skateboard to the store and sit for hours on the floor flipping through 45’s.  In 2004 or 2005, I was still going there regularly and I stumbled across the album Africa Brazil by Jorge Ben in the dollar bin out front.  Jorge Ben is basically the James Brown of Brazil—he’s been releasing albums steadily since 1963.  Africa Brazil is probably his most famous and funkiest record.  It’s not impossible to find, but certainly not something you’d expect to see in a dollar bin in San Jose.  I just randomly picked it up because it looked interesting.  That’s how I got started with Brazilian music – I started with the best and went from there!  I was into mid 70’s funky rare grooves at the time, and one track on the album, “Ponta De Lanca Africano,” is pretty famous in the hip-hop DJ world because it’s got that nice beat.  So I just assumed there would more [Brazilian music] out there like that.  It fit the sound I was into at the time and then I explored more Brazilian styles from there.

TVE:  One of the first tracks you played in the first episode of Novedos was an Arthur Verocai record, which you called your most prized possession by far.   I’m curious to hear more about that record and why you chose it, out of all discs in your collection, to kick off the show.

FF:  I plan to follow a theme for most episodes, but for the first episode, I just wanted to pick some favorites spanning different genres.  So I grabbed everything from bossa nova to psych rock to more poppy, MPB samba stuff, which included my Arthur Verocai record.  

Verocai was a somewhat well-known producer in Brazil who produced for Jorge Ben, Gal Costa, and a few other artists.  He only cut one solo album in 1972 on Continental Records, and it didn’t do well commercially—most copies were pretty much lost.  Then sometime in the mid 90’s, collectors discovered the album and it became known as a mythical rare record, a holy grail.  It was probably the most sought-after record in Brazil, and it stayed that way for very long time.  Luv ‘n Haight records reissued it in the early 2000’s, but the original copies stayed at the top of everyone’s want list.  In 2008 or 2009, I bought a copy on eBay.  It wasn’t cheap, but I just had to have it.  

Then as luck would have it, a few months later, Stones Throw Records convinced Arthur Verocai to come up to LA and perform the album live with a 30-piece orchestra.  It was a no-brainer that I would go to the show, so I flew down to LA. and I brought my original copy of the record to get it signed.  I was very nervous because it’s a $1000-plus record, and here I am walking around a concert holding it.  Then during intermission, Egon from Stones Throw, the emcee of the night, got on stage and gave a speech about how rare the original record is and how nobody has it.  So I used that opportunity to run up to the stage with the record, basically waving him down, yelling, “Hey hey, I’ve got one!”  Egon looked down, and he said, “Who’s this guy interrupting the show?  ….Wait really? An original copy?!”  Then he grabbed my record and held it up in front of the packed auditorium!  And he told me to find him after the show. 

After the concert, I walked backstage with a crowd of people who were following me to see what would happen.  Arthur Verocai came out and he signed the record.  And he looked at the record, looked at me, and said in somewhat broken English, “You must be a very rich man!”  There were also two players in the orchestra that night who also played on the original album, so they came running over and signed next to their names inside the gatefold.  

So that record is by far my most prized possession.  It’s a great record, too—it’s not just rare!  Mr. Bongo Records recently reissued it in higher quality, so it’s obtainable now – but the original will never be topped.

TVE:  You were in Sao Paulo a few weeks ago, and in Episode 3 you shared your finds from the trip.  Tell us about your trip and digging there.

FF:  Well first, I got engaged while I was there.  My girlfriend and I went down to San Paulo for our official engagement trip.  But she knows that I have to go spend my time at the record stores!  [Laughs.]

In downtown Sao Paulo there’s a strip mall packed with ten or fifteen record stores all next door to each other, and I make a trip over there every time I’m in town.  At one shop, Disco Sete, the owner currently loves 80s soul, funk, and rock from the U.S.  So I always bring a stack from here, and we’ll trade 10 records, and I’ll get back some really good Brazilian records.  There is also a store called Celsom – the owner is blind, but he knows where everything is, and his wall of records is always the top, top stuff – it’s not cheap.  If I had been going in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, then [classic Brazilian records] would have been really cheap.  Now the stores know what they have, so you have to pay up.  But you still find good deals because the exchange rate is favorable. 

Carlinhos, owner of Disco Sete Records, with Forty Fivan. Sao Paulo, Brazil. 

TVE:  What can we look forward to on upcoming episodes of Novedos?

FF:  I’ve only covered a few genres so far—it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  I’m excited to get into my compacto collection–the 7 inch records—that’s where things get really obscure.  I’ve been finding a lot of really good one-off bossa nova single releases from the mid to late 60’s.  I’m going to start getting into my psychedelic rock and folk records.  And I’ll do some episodes devoted to specific artists.  There’s a lot of cool stuff coming.

The Infinite Drum Machine

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

--by Matt Scott

Today I wrote a killer drum beat using a hardcover book, a seal, a car engine, and a dollar bill sliding between fingers.  The Infinite Drum Machine is an odd project.  At first glance it looks like a silly novelty -- just a rudimentary drum machine that’d be familiar to anyone who’s messed with sequencing software before, albeit with a deep library of real world sounds to drive it.  But the technology behind it makes it fascinating 

Google's A.I. Experiment group has been conducting ongoing artificial intelligence experiments that deal with machine learning (another recent app that resulted from it is Quick, Draw!, which attempts to recognize users’ drawings) .  Here, the Google folks fed thousands of everyday sounds to a computer but with no information on what each sound was.  Then, using a machine learning-enabled algorithm called t-SNE (“t-distributed stochastic neighbor embedding”), the computer catalogued each noise and grouped them together by category.  

Finally, the machine created map of all the sounds rendered as a multi-colored 2D image, placing similar sounds close together.  So, for example, rattling sounds have their own cluster, ringing sounds are grouped among one another, and so on.  And the computer made all these connections.  

 

Which brings us back to the drum machine.  At random, the simple web app will select four sounds from the database and instantly write a beat for you.  The user can then edit the beat sequence to their heart’s content.  Forget about more cowbell - how about more cow?  Or... more cow’s milk pouring into a glass?  Of course, some sound combination are more successful than others: the app gave me a great beat from a coffee cup being placed on a distant counter, car keys, a projector screen, and an electronic phone beep.  But a combo of a jeans zipper, headphones, water pouring over concrete, and a magnet - not so much.

While the drum machine app is apparently just a fun way for the Google team to demonstrate their cataloguing experiment, it’s exciting to think what creativity may spring from it.  Recording artists have been using found sounds in music for decades to be sure—especially for percussion—but having such a vast, readymade library like this could inspire musicians in a new way.

 

Last Shop Standing - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

LAST SHOP STANDING: THE RISE, FALL AND REBIRTH OF THE INDEPENDENT RECORD SHOP

Records Collecting Dust was a personal survey of record collections, and Vinylmania was a global survey of the different ways in which vinyl obsession manifests itself.  The 2012 documentary Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop, which could be seen to form a sort of trilogy with the other two, takes a look at the history of record stores.  It’s a UK-focused film that looks at how shops in that country weathered the changes of the recording industry.  The film is based on the 2009 book of the same name by Graham Jones, a record distributor who witnessed the changes first-hand as he visited hundreds of shops on the job.

Across a fast-paced 48-minutes, director Pip Piper primarily tells the story through the eyes of various shop owners around the country.  Famous landmark stores are featured, such as London’s Rough Trade East and Chesterfield’s recently shuttered, 105-year old Hudson’s Record and Tape Centre.  Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper vinyl documentary without at least a few notable musicians on hand to praise vinyl and the place independent records stores have in their lives.  In the case of Last Shop Standing, we get to hear from UK icons Paul Weller, Johnny Marr, Billy Bragg, and others.

While the doc has a fair dose of nostalgia and romanticism for the authenticity and superiority of vinyl, and the sense of community that a record store can provide, Last Shop Standing is more interested in the industry story.  In that way, it also makes an interesting companion to the recently released All Things Must Pass, which essentially tells the same tale but from the perspective of mega-chain Tower Records.

The first act of the film (the "rise" of the title) covers the explosion of recorded music in the 60's and the rise of the 45, and the boom that followed throughout the 70s and 80s.  Piper and Jones also touch upon some of the less savory practices that many shops took part in, including record companies' regular practice of influencing the charts by giving away loads of free records to mom-and-pop shops to sell.  

The movie's second act - the "fall" - focuses on reasons stores ran into trouble in recent decades. For a U.S. audience, this section may be the most interesting, as some the reasons the film gives are specific to the UK: discounted CD sales in supermarkets, and a legal loophole that made online CD sales there tax-free.  Other reasons will be more familiar—the rise of downloading, escalating rents on main commercial streets, and record companies' attempt to kill off vinyl in favor of the CD for the sake of increasing profit margins and getting fans to re-purchase their collections.  

The last third of the doc covers the "rebirth” of record stores in recent years—the film especially gives big credit to Record Store Day—is somewhat tempered by the fact that shops in the UK have gone from 2,200 to 280 in number by the time the film was made.  The film ends appropriately on a simple plea to support your local record stores, and avoids sentimentality.

Last Shop Standing is currently available for purchase on the film’s website, rental from various digital providers, and streaming on Amazon Prime.


This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of a documentary review series. 

*  The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.

Vinylmania - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

In the beginning there was silence.  Then came sound.

Humans searched for a way to entrap it, hoping they could keep it…  and tame it.

At the dawn of the third millennium, music seemed to be all around us.

In every place.  At every moment.  But where does music come from?

--

These are the opening voiceover lines of the 2012 documentary Vinylmania: When Life Runs at 33 Revolutions Per Minute, and it immediately gives you an idea of what you’re in for.  In last month’s review of 2015’s Records Collecting Dust, we remarked that the film didn’t bother to ask why its subjects love and collect vinyl, and we described that film as having “an open-hearted attitude” with “no trace of elitism or snobbery.”  Take the polar opposite of those observations, and you’ve got a rough sketch of Vinylmania.  But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. 

In fact, what makes Vinylmania enjoyable is that it has such a clear a point of view: vinyl is the best way to listen to music, vinyl is real, and the people who love and collect it know they are the true music listeners.  For anyone cynical of vinyl as a relevant medium in the 21st century, Vinylmania will be off-putting.  But for vinyl collectors, the film plays as 75 minutes of preaching to the choir.  One London-based DJ urgently proclaims that “the CD is a lie… the people who told you they sound better 20 years ago were lying, and they knew they were lying!  Nothing sounds better than vinyl.” 

The film is directed by Paolo Campana, a DJ and filmmaker based in Turin, Italy who assembled the film from almost a decade’s worth of footage.  It might be an indie-minded project (a Kickstarter campaign helped fund the DVD release), but Vinylmania has a varied and accomplished visual look. Campana provides the voiceover throughout the film himself, offering poetic, charmingly nonsensical lines like, “Gazing at these grooves, I feel like I’m traveling inside of them.”

Covering an array of different subjects related to vinyl, Vinylmania tends to ramble a bit, but the movie works as an episodic travelogue.  Campana begins by detailing his own vinyl obsessions—for example, he irons his 7-inch sleeves and hangs them out on clotheslines to dry—before branching out to interview others.  Over the course of several segments, Campana travels between London, San Francisco, Tokyo, Prague, New York, and other international locales to interview DJs, collectors, record pressers, and album cover artists. 

What emerges is a well-rounded study, biased as it may be, of why and how vinyl maintains such a big presence decades after it became obsolete in many people’s minds.  Campana is riffing on the different reasons vinyl can be so seductive: he visits the Japanese manufacturer of a laser record player (vinyl as technology), observes tourists at the Abbey Road zebra crossing (vinyl as iconic artwork), and profiles a number of record stores (vinyl as a product and as a hobby).  Campana seeks out people that share a passion for vinyl from different perspectives. 

All in all, while there are aspects of Vinylmania that may make some viewers’ eyes roll, the film serves as a positive, well-rounded celebration of vinyl and the different ways we obsess over it.

As of this writing, Vinylmania is available to stream on Amazon Prime (warning: this version is missing English subtitles for the many scenes that require them), digital rental or purchase through Amazon, or on DVD through the film’s website.


This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of an ongoing documentary review series. New reviews will post on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Catch the next review on December 10, 2015. 

* The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.  


The Roots of "Lightnin" Hopkins

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Wasup Examiners, it's Sama:

Like many of you, I love reading the liner notes of old blues albums. These tend to be stories written by someone involved in the production of the LP or, occasionally, by a music journalist or critic of the day. The stories are historical, funny, and almost always insightful. And many are worth sharing. 

I recently bought The Roots of "Lightnin'" Hopkins from Originals Vinyl in San Francisco. The album was recorded by Samuel Charters after a long hunt for Lightning, and it was initially released in 1959 on the Folkways label under the title Lightnin' Hopkins. The version I have is a 1965 repress by Verve Folkways and it sounds great. I especially love the story behind this album, so much in fact that I decided to reproduce it here for your enjoyment. Below, you will find the story written on the back of The Roots of "Lightnin'" Hopkins by Samuel Charters. It's a story about finding a nascent blues legend, getting him a guitar, and a bottle of gin. 


It is hard now, looking back on it, to remember that when this album was recorded Lightnin' Hopkins was almost unknown to the folk world. A Few of us who had been collecting blues records had some of his old releases and he had stopped recording, and it had been three or four years since anyone had seen him. A cook in the French Quarter in New Orleans told me that Lightning was his cousin and gave me a Houston address for him; so I made an effort to find him every time I went through Houston. Finally, I decided to hang around Houston until I'd found him. He hadn't recorded for some time and I was writing The Country Blues so it was important to locate him to talk to him for the book, as well as to try to record him again. 

Lightning was going through a difficult period, and he was had to locate. He wasn't working anywhere; he'd even put his guitar in pawn. I slept on cushions on the floor of another collector's - Mack McCormick's - floor and we tried to find Lightning in Houston's Dowling Street section. Lightning was lying very low, and no one told us anything that was of help except a pawnbroker who had the guitar. His files had an address for Lightning that turned out to be a large ramshackle building in the middle of a littered patch of open ground. A small boy sent us from there to Lightning's sister; she sent us on to his landlady, and she sent us on to two or three bars where she though Lightning might be. Lightning still didn't turn up, but we were noticed as we drove through the neighborhood. I had an old green Chevrolet coupe that was easy to identify. Mack had to go to work the next morning, but I went down on Dowling Street, and at the first red light a car pulled up beside mine and Lightning rolled down the window and asked me if I was looking for him. 

Lightning and I talked on the street corner for a moment and he decided that he could do some recording for me that afternoon if I could get some kind of guitar. He had a friend with him and the three of us drove around for an hour trying to find a store that would rent us an instrument. When we finally found an old accoustical guitar in a pawn shop Lightning stopped in a music store for some strings and in a liquor store for some gin and we went to the shabby room he was renting in the back of a small wooden house not far from Dowling Street. I asked him questions about himself as we drove, but he said very little, obviously uncomfortable and very distrustful. Despite this, however, we were able to work together, and we did an album in his room. He sat in a worn chair near the bed, I set up the recording equipment inside the door. Lightning was completely unfamiliar with long playing records and I had great difficulty explaining to him that two sides of a record meant more than two songs, but it had been some time since he'd done any singing and he was anxious to begin recording again. Before he finished he'd emptied the bottle of gin and begun to think back over some of the disappointments and the unhappinesses of his life. He finally seemed to forget that the two of us were in the room with him and the blues took on an emotional quality that Lightning was caught only a few times in his years of singing. I was as tired as he was when he finished and we realized that the light was fading in the window behind him.

For the first few weeks after the record was released I was worried about the response to it! Some of the folk blues enthusiasts I'd played it for had disliked it. They didn't think he sounded like Leadbelly. The blues was still so little known to the urban folk audience that only a handful of self-conscious folk blues singers were accepted as performers. It was the jazz audience and the jazz magazines that first began writing about the record, but they were only a few weeks ahead of the folk magazines, who after their first confusion, realized that Lightning was one of the great contemporary folk artists. I was living in a basement in Brooklyn during that summer and people kept dropping in to see if I had any other pictures of Lightning or any material that hadn't been included in the album. Within a year Lightning had begun singing at folk song concerts in Houston and there were nine Lightning Hopkins records on the market. His career as a folk artist had begun.

I worked with Lightning again a few years later, and we both laughed at the afternoon we'd spent together, as we drove to the recording studio. "Who would have thought it would come to all this," he said, shaking his head. He looked just the same as he had when I'd first met him. He was still as thin, still as intent looking, but then he'd been poor and worried, living in a shabby rooming house, his clothes worn and a little out of style. As we drove to the studio now, he'd just gotten back from a concert tour of Europe. He was going to appear at Carnegie Hall the next night; then he was going to fly back to Houston where he now lives with his wife in a home he's recently bought. He was wearing a fashionable suit and expensive shoes and there was a sense of self-satisfaction and quiet pride as he talked about what he'd been doing and the places he'd played in recent months. In some ways he hadn't changed at all, but in others I felt with his new success he has finally found, at the age of 52, some stability and a new maturity in his life. 

Of all of Lightning's many recordings I still find this one, his first long playing record, his most exciting. There was an intensity to the blues, a freshness to pieces like Blind Lemon's "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean," and a robust vigor to the up tempo numbers like "Come And Go Home With Me." He'd done most of them before for his old 78s, but it had been some time since he'd sung them, and it had been years since he'd worked without a heavy rhythm section accompanying him. He's recorded most of them again but on this first afternoon there was an excitement at finding something in them that he'd half forgotten. It may have been that he was finding something in himself, as well, that he'd almost forgotten, and that was to give his life a new meaning and a new direction at a moment when he'd begun to think that his career had ended.

- by Samuel Charters, courtesy of Folkways Records

Records Collecting Dust - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

The only thing vinyl collectors enjoy more than searching for records is the opportunity to talk about their collections.  The new documentary Records Collecting Dust has a simple mission.  San Diego-based filmmaker Jason Blackmore took his camera into the living rooms of 30 or so punk and alternative musicians and label owners, including luminaries such as Mike Watt of the Minutemen, Jello Biafra of The Dead Kennedys, Keith Morris and Chuck Dukowski of Black Flag, and many more, and he asks them all to tell stories about their record collections.

Records Collecting Dust is a charmingly DIY affair.  Shot on the cheap and with seemingly little to no crew, the film is made up almost entirely of interview footage, plus a few oddly placed interludes of live punk performance footage.  With each interviewee sitting among their personal stacks and shelves of LPs, the film simply rolls from one geeky topic to the next: the first record each musician ever bought, the stores they frequented as kids, favorite 45s, and so on.  

From Records Collecting Dust website

At first, the name-checked artists are unsurprising—with many of the subjects having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, there’s repeated mention of early exposure to the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Kiss.  But Blackmore digs deeper and finds several amusing stories behind the collections.  As the film goes on, the records being discussed become more obscure, many leaning towards early hardcore punk titles from SST, Dischord and others. 

It’s wonderful to see a profile of vinyl collecting that has no trace of elitism or snobbery.  The film has a distinctly open-hearted attitude: this is the music we love, and this is the way we discovered it.  Despite the interviewees’ punk backgrounds, these folks are relatable to anyone with a music collection.  In one sequence, John “The Swami” Reis (Rocket From the Crypt, Drive Like Jehu) explains, without a trace of irony, how much he used to love “On Top of Spaghetti,” as he drops the needle on an old children’s turntable to play his favorite excerpts from the song.  And any notion of pretension is dispelled by the sequence near the end where the subjects discuss their most recent vinyl purchases, some of which include Lana Del Rey and Kendrick Lamar. 

From Records Collecting Dust website

Records Collecting Dust doesn’t bother to ask why its subjects love and collect vinyl.  That idea is simply taken as a given.  There’s thankfully no discussion of the rise of digital streaming or downloading or a plea to save or support independent record stores.  Blackmore is simply interested in documenting these people and their record collections.  His focus is narrow. 

What comes out the film is a feeling that’s not specific to the individuals being interviewed, the particular records or genres they love, or even necessarily vinyl records.  It’s about the idea of discovering and enjoying art that means something to you, and finding a way to share that enthusiasm with others. 

As of this writing, Records Collecting Dust is available to stream on Amazon Prime, and for digital rental or purchase at iTunes, Amazon and on their website


This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of an ongoing documentary review series. New reviews will post on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Catch the next review on November 11, 2015. 

* The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.  

Matt Scott, Photo by Ryan Jones

The Wrecking Crew - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

The Wrecking Crew, released in theaters and on video on-demand this past spring after years in the making, profiles the loosely defined collective of L.A.-based session musicians that played on an astonishing number of famous pop records in the 1960's.  It is commonly understood by many music fans that some of the biggest American groups of that era didn't play the instruments on their own recordings.  The Beach Boys and The Monkees are the most prominent examples, not to mention The Byrds, the Mamas and the Papas, The Association, and countless others.  But it's perhaps not as widely known that many of those recordings featured the same cadre of players.  The crew also played as Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass, and on countless film and TV themes and soundtracks.

Given the many music documentaries released over the past decade or so that have focused on a certain recording studio culture – namely Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Muscle Shoals, and most recently the Oscar-winning 20 Feet From Stardom – it was surprising that there wasn’t already a documentary about the 60's L.A. scene out there.  Actually, The Wrecking Crew was in production all along, having been assembled by director Denny Tedesco on and off since 1996.  The film premiered at festivals way back in 2008, and Tedesco had apparently been struggling to raise funds to license all of the recordings used in the film so it could finally be released commercially.

Carol Kaye in session

The Wrecking Crew is refreshing for a music industry documentary in that it is content to simply be a loving profile of a group of talented people.  Tedesco doesn't feel the need to inject drama or tension into the film as many other directors have.  The stories of the legendary music that these players created are compelling enough, as are the personalities of the musicians that Tedesco focuses on the most.  Prolific drummer Hal Blaine (most famous for his iconic drum intro on The Ronettes' "Be My Baby" and his role in The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds) was the self-professed ringleader of the crew and gets most of the attention here.  Some players who later became big name artists in their own right, like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell, are present as well.  But the movie's most memorable character is Carol Kaye, the ubiquitous bassist and rare female session musician at the time.  Kaye is so sharp and witty in her interviews, and has a charming story ready for each song she’s asked about, that she really deserves her own film.  (Interestingly, Kaye has since angrily distanced herself from the film, claiming that it inaccurately portrays the era and she wishes she hadn’t participated.  She is also adamant the group was never actually called "The Wrecking Crew" at the time, and the term was coined by Blaine years later.)

Tommy Tedesco sitting on the stool, on guitar

The film does focus too much on the director’s late father, Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and to a distracting degree. The younger Tedesco had said that he was persuaded at a late stage to make the film more personal, and he did so by editing in sections throughout the film that offer his own sentimental voiceover narration over home movie footage of his father.  The approach is not only unnecessary, but it gives The Wrecking Crew a disjointed, more amateurish feel than it otherwise would have had. 

But it's great to see a documentary that takes a look at talented musicians that are not household names without feeling the need to argue that they were somehow slighted.  The Wrecking Crew musicians in the film recall the era with pride (and Kaye points out that they were all well paid at the time).  20 Feet From Stardom put forth the idea that its subject back-up singers deserved to be stars by nature of having great singing voices, and they were robbed of that dignity. The Wrecking Crew, on the other hand, acknowledges that for these hard-working professionals, who were at the top of their game and creating some of the most memorable music of the century, the work was the reward.


This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of an ongoing documentary review series. New reviews will post on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Catch the next review on October 14, 2015. 

* The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.  

Matt Scott, photo by Ryan Jones.

The 45 Sessions Finale

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Wasup Examiners - It's Sama:

It was August of 2011, and I was only 2 years fresh in San Francisco. Skeme Richards and Supreme La Rock, aka "The Butta Brothers", were coming to the Bay Area. They were booked to spin at a party in Oakland where the DJs played only 45s.

The party was called The 45 Sessions.

My then-girlfriend was in town from the East Coast and I invited her to come to Oakland with me. I remember we had Vietnamese food beforehand. I remember that, because of BART (the Bay Area's rail system), we arrived way too early to the party and left just as it was starting to get hot. I remember that I got a signed copy of Rashaan Ahmad's newest album; it's hanging behind me as I write this. The reason I remember all of these details is because I wrote them all down in a blog I was keeping called "The 45 Brains".

Here's a short quote from that blog about my first 45 Sessions party in 2011:

But in addition to learning, I was there to have a good time with my lady. So I danced with her, did some tops when she went to the restroom, and at the end of the night I had gotten in one quick set. And one extra nice thing about this specific 45 Session was that Raashan Ahmad was releasing a limited edition clear LP. I saw Raashan with Crown City Rockers a while back at the Independent and it was a show not to have been missed. I have to support underground hip hop so of course I picked up the LP. Overall, a great night that got me inspired to rush home, put some albums on the tables, and hop back on the digging train. Can’t wait for the next Session.

In the years to come, I supported The 45 Sessions. Not out of some sense of loyalty to it, but rather because I loved going there. Every time I went, I learned something new, I heard something new, and I became friends with someone new. A few of the guests featured on The Vinyl Exam are friends that I met through The 45 Sessions. And future guests will also be in that group. It was a fun party that I looked forward to each month.

The 2011 flyer.

The 2015 flyer.

But now it's 2015. Again, Skeme Richards and Supreme La Rock, aka The Butta Brothers, are booked to play at The 45 Sessions. This time, the "Last" 45 Sessions. I invited my friend Ryan, who is now the photographer for The Vinyl Exam, and we made our way to Oakland. This time I rented a car so I can avoid BART-imposed curfew. At least this way we can go at a reasonable time and leave late. 

There was a lot of foot traffic outside of The Legionnaire. We saw a table full of 45s, each selling for a buck or much more. It was our newest friends from VAMP records, Tracy and Fernando. We high-fived, hugged, and chatted a little bit. DJ Platurn, the spearhead of the party, was outside too. I wanted to thank him for throwing such a great event for such a long time and that I was sad to see it go. But I did not get a chance to do that. Instead, Platurn told me to wait outside as he dashed in. When he came back he told me that Ryan and I were now on the guest list. A gesture that showcases Platurn's appreciation for the community he helped create.  

Inside, the party was already hot. I saw a sea of people, young and old, all sweaty from dancing. The floor never stopped moving. If you tipped your head back and looked up, you would notice that there was something leaking from the ceiling pipes. It would drip on the dancers and they would brush it away and keep dancing. I couldn't help but think that even the Legionnaire was sweating. 

The all-star cast of DJs brought their best work, no one took it easy. As expected, Mr. E and Shortkut absolutely murdered. Platurn, Enki, and The Butta Brothers were one-upping each other, with each set being more fire than the last, and each song making the dancers thirsty for more. Jerneye kept his end of the bargain and showed off that light touch all MCs must have. And a highlight of the night was when E Da Boss went on a creative trip that confused some and had others in a trance.

Ryan and I stayed to the very last moment. Platurn passed out signed posters, said a few words, and that was that. The end of the party. We drove home.

The 45 Sessions is something special to me, and it was something special for the Bay Area. Platurn, Enki, E Da Boss, Mr. E, Shortkut, Jerneye, and my man DJ Reggae Delgado who was not in attendance. This collective of Bay Area creatives brought talented DJs to Oakland from all over the world, they cultivated a community, and most importantly, they threw a great party. I will miss The 45 Sessions. 

Here are photos that Ryan took from that night.

A final note, I spoke with someone at the party and he suggested that The 45 Sessions might just be taking a long hiatus. So there might be hope for a future session.  

Ryan Jones Joins The Vinyl Exam as Photographer

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Our newest member, Ryan Jones.

Last week we announced that Matt Scott has joined The Vinyl Exam. Today we want to announce that in addition to a new writer, we also picked up a photographer! Ryan Jones is a good buddy of our host Sama. The two work a floor apart as scientists, they buy records together, and are always on each other's case about this or that. Please join The Vinyl Exam in welcoming Ryan to the family!

Here is Ryan's bio:

Ryan is a relative newcomer to the vinyl scene, but a long-time analogue fan. He has been an avid photographer since 2008, and specializes in 35 mm black and white photography. His photography career began rather unceremoniously when he discovered his father’s film camera in a dusty corner of the house, and began experimenting with the anachronistic world of film in the post-modern age. He still uses the same Minolta X-700 camera today. His current favorite film photographer is Chris McCaw but he has always loved the classic works of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams and Arnold Newman. 

Ryan is also a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco and specializes in the study of epilepsy and dysfunctions of neural communication. He is also a strong promoter of public science education and co-created the website www.knowingneurons.com in 2012. He has since moved on to producing the science podcast, Carry the One Radio, with Sama and others.

Here are a few photos that Ryan took. Come back tomorrow for more photos that Ryan took at the 5 Year Anniversary of The 45 Sessions. 




All Things Must Pass - Documentary Review

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Is anyone nostalgic for national chain record stores?  There was a time—and it wasn’t too long ago—when they were everywhere, in practically every mall and every other shopping center in your suburban town.  We can probably agree that most of these stores still don’t inspire much fondness in 2015.  Does anyone pine for the days of flipping through $18.98 CDs at Sam Goody or FYE? 

But Tower Records was different.  Tower we miss. The supermarket-sized stores had character, and were by far the best option for music fans that didn’t have access to independent stores in cities.  Tower Records locations were individually curated by different buyers, always had a robust selection, and clerks were knowledgeable and appropriately snobbish.  Tower stood apart. 

Actor Colin Hanks’ new documentary All Things Must Pass gives us the surprisingly compelling story of Tower Records, and it aims for and achieves a wistful, almost poignant tone.  The film charts the store’s history from its beginnings in the back of a Sacramento drugstore in 1960, through the opening of landmark shops in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York at the height of the vinyl era, its year of $1 billion dollar earnings as an international chain and franchise in 1999, and its bankruptcy and closure only five years later.  The story naturally overlaps with the trajectory of the record retail industry in the late 20th century, from the boom of pop music in the 60’s to the death knell for many shops, caused in part by big box stores (and of course, Napster), by the turn of the millennium.

In some ways, Hanks’ film is your typical classic rock-centric music doc.  It has obligatory talking head interviews with go-to cred lenders like Dave Grohl and Bruce Springsteen, and the emphasis is on the late 60’s and early 70’s as the heyday of… well, everything.  But All Things Must Pass has enough craft behind it to make it stand apart.  Hanks’ editor Darrin Roberts deserves a huge amount of credit for taking what is essentially a business story and making it move at a brisk, energetic pace.  And writer Steven Leckart was smart to focus the narrative on the colorful, eccentric characters behind the Tower company itself, including several former clerks who worked their way up to become board members.  Founder Russ Solomon, who sold those first records in Sacramento and led the company until its final days, serves as the chatty, charismatic lead character, and he elevates the film with his witty personality. 

There’s also an impressive amount of vintage footage of the flagship California stores in their 60’s and 70’s prime, much of it apparently sourced from TV news, in which hordes of customers swarm the aisles with stacks of records under their arms.  It really conveys how big of a deal these stores were at the time, and how they functioned as cultural meccas for their respective geographic areas.  Memorable among these clips is a hilarious scene where a glam-era Elton John pours through the racks at the L.A. store with his limo driver at his side, dutifully carrying his boss’s vinyl haul.

All Things Must Pass missteps only when it reaches too far for sentimentality, most notably in the film’s conclusion.  Without giving too much away: Hanks clearly felt he needed a hopeful denouement so his movie didn’t just end on a tragic note with Tower’s 2006 liquidation.  What he came up with unfortunately comes off as stagey and inauthentic in a way that the rest of the picture doesn’t.

Admirably, Hanks does succeed at capturing the attribute of record stores that really is worth being nostalgic for—the community and social hub that developed among customers and clerks back when physical media was the only way to hear music you wanted outside of radio and TV.  That vibe was present in the room at the screening of the film at the SF DocFest in San Francisco in June, where the audience was full of former employees from the city’s shuttered North Beach store, all cheering as familiar faces came on screen.

update: The movie will be released this fall in theaters by Gravitas Ventures.


This piece was written by Matt Scott and is part of an ongoing documentary review series. New reviews will post on the 2nd Wednesday of every month. Catch the next review on September 9, 2015. 

* The Vinyl Exam does not take credit for the photos you see above. If you know who took these shots, let us know and we will gladly credit them appropriately.  

Matt Scott. Photo by Ryan Jones.

Matt Scott joins The Vinyl Exam as Writer

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

I have some excellent news to share with you all!

Photo by Ryan Jones

The Vinyl Exam just got a new addition to the family; Matt Scott is officially joining the crew. Our host Sama has known Matt for a little over a year now. Sama and Matt frequently jam together, with Sama on drums, and Matt on bass or guitar or keys or singing or even drums. Matt is, without a doubt, one solid and multi-talented dude. We are super excited to have him come on board as a writer for The Vinyl Exam.

Here’s Matt’s Bio:

Matt writes about music every week at Today’s Song Is. When he’s not collecting rock and soul records, Matt can be found either playing keyboard and other odd instruments with the San Francisco-based Brass Animals, practicing copyright and trademark law, or debating the merits of various burgers.

To kick things off, Matt will be writing an on-going review series about music documentaries. There will be a new review every second Wednesday of the month, starting tomorrow. 

And stay tuned, we have a few more members to introduce! All in due time.

I Forgot to be Your Lover

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Wasup Examers, It's Sama:

As I mentioned at the end of January, I became a contributor over at the daily music blog "Today's Song Is". Given my love for 60's soul music, it seemed apt that I manage the Throwback Thursday section of the blog. To keep things interesting, I decided to choose songs based on a particular theme each month. For February, I chose the theme of "love, longing, and loneliness", given Valentine's day and all that. It's really not too difficult to find a soul love song, but it is tough to find a song that hits you every time. Below is a run-through of my February posts over at TSI (with slight additions). Let me know what you think.


February 5 - Mad Lads - “I Forgot to be Your Lover"

The Mad Lads are a tremendous group from Memphis. This cover of William Bell’s 1968 soul driver was featured on the B side of one of their later albums, A New Beginning (1973).   

Their hit single “Don’t Have to Shop Around” is worth checking out. It features Isaac Hayes and Booker T doing work on organ and piano.  


February 12 - Barbara Mason - “Yes I’m Ready"

Another favorite tune by the Philly native. Released in1965 on the Arctic label, this heartfelt song was written by Barbara Mason herself. If you are interested in what later became known as the Philly Sound, this would not be a bad place to start.


February 19 - The Notations - “I’m Still Here"

A sweet and wonderful 1971 cut by the Chicago group, The Notations. If you find anything by them, pick it up and give it to me.


February 26 - Kenny and Tommy - “Some Day"

I found this 45 in a batch of records my cousin sent me from her father’s basement in Philly.

What can I say about Kenny Gamble and Thom Bell that has not been said already? These two, with Leon Huff, were the purveyors of the "Philly Sound” and produced some of the best soul acts around. “Some Day” gives you a sense of what these two young producers were capable of; they could have done just as well performing music as they did producing it. It’s difficult to imagine what Philly soul would be without them. For those interested in more, check out the book “A House On Fire”, a wonderful read. 


Let me know what you think of these cuts; do you like any? hate any? have your own love songs in the bag that you think I should share? Leave a comment below or send me a message over on twitter @TheVinylExam. Also feel free to recommend a theme-of-the-month for me to stick to over on TSI. I like a challenge.

Sama becomes a contributor at Today’s Song Is

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Wasup Examers, it’s Sama:

I am excited to announce that, as of today, I have become a contributor at the music blog Today’s Song Is. This opportunity will allow me to share the music I love with even more people.  

For those who are new to it, TSI is a daily music site that features hand-picked songs. It was started in 2012 by Andrew Horn as a simple song-of-the-day blog. Two years after, Will Rocklin took over and reshaped the mission of the blog to be about sharing new, underground music in need of publicity, and to promote bands that are currently on the road. Recently, the blog has had a leadership change; it is currently being spearheaded by Matt Slevin, keyboardist for the San Francisco-based band Brass Animals*.

Matt asked me to head up TSI's Throwback Thursday, which is less about promoting new music and more about showcasing some great cuts from the past. Every Thursday I will share a song that I like and that, I think, deserves your attention. Joining TSI will give me a chance to do some homework and hopefully highlight some tunes that will inspire you to go searching.

To kick off my tenure, here is the song that made me want to seriously learn how to play blues guitar: “Catfish Blues” by Lightnin’ Hopkins. It’s without a doubt my favorite version of this constantly covered blues classic by Robert Petway (1941). Make sure to listen with headphones on to get the full stereo effect.

If you liked “Catfish Blues”, then check out this episode from The Vinyl Exam’s archive that highlights another song done by Lightnin’ Hopkins and covered by Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and RL Burnside. 

If you have a song that you think I should feature on Today’s Song Is or on the The Vinyl Exam, then reach out to me! Post a comment below, tweet at me (@TheVinylExam), or send me an email: thevinylexam [at] gmail [dot] com. 

To automatically download our podcast episodes, subscribe to The Vinyl Exam on iTunes. And if you want a daily dose of music in your inbox, sign up for Today’s Song Is.

*Full Disclosure - I play aux percussion for Brass Animals.

Salazar on Somebody Please

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Wasup Examers, it's Sama:

Our episode this week was about 2 versions of a song called Somebody Please. In the episode, I played clips from Billy Keene's rather funky version, and from the slow, more anguished interpretation by The Vanguards. Because both versions were released in 1969, I couldn't figure out who did the original, and who was covering the song. 

So I left it up to you listeners to help me out. And Indianapolis-based DJ Salazar reached out with this information:

I was not familiar with the Billy Keene version. This is one of my favorite songs and I believe it’s a Vanguards original on the L & M (LAMP) label written by James Davis who also wrote Can I Call You Baby by The Pearls another Indianapolis soul group on the same label.

I also asked you folks out there to let me know if you find another version of Somebody Please and Salazar pointed me to this great R&B cut by K-Ci & Jojo. It's in the same vein as The Vanguards.

Thanks Salazar for the info, and for listening to our show!

For the rest of you, here's Episode 27 in full:

And Can I Call you Baby by The Pearls is a great, slow-mover too:


In the Soul Kitchen Dance Party

Added on by The Vinyl Exam.

Bay Area people, pay attention:

This Friday marks the debut of the "In the Soul Kitchen Dance Party". My very good friends Harry Duncan and DJ Slopoke have come prepared to bring you something old and something new, something soul and something blue. The two vinyl-slingers will be holding it down at a spot called Doc's Lab, a new club that replaced famed comedy-room, The Purple Onion. I do hope to see your face in that place! 

Here's the info you need:

WHAT: In The Soul Kitchen Dance Party featuring Harry Duncan with special guest DJ Slopoke spinning rare and classic deep soul and funk 45s

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 28th Doors open at 8 pm. Music begins at 9 pm.

FREE ADMISSION AND ALL AGES ARE WELCOME

WHERE: Doc's Lab, 124 Columbus Ave. near Jackson in North Beach, SF

Doc's Lab, is a new nightclub and restaurant located where The Purple Onion used to be.

FOR MORE INFORMATION -> click here.

[sama]