Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Rolling Stones

In the early 60’s when The Ed Sullivan Show was one of the main outlets for actually seeing the bands we heard on the radio, I remember seeing both The Beatles and The Stones and getting into a small competition with my brother about who was better. We both loved The Beatles, but my brother was taken aback by The Stones’ scruffy appearance. I loved it, and immediately became a Stones booster. The early singles I remember hearing-Satisfaction, Ruby Tuesday, Paint It Black, Mother’s Little Helper were just magic to my ears. And the way they looked! They weren’t perfect kewpie dolls like The Beatles, they looked like well-dressed street-toughs.

Mick Jagger and Jr. Wells-October -
70-photo by Dick Waterman

Ultra Rare 1st press mono of their 1st album
with the poster

Throughout the 1970’s, they offered up a string of incredible albums that helped create the idea of album-oriented rock. “Sticky Fingers,” “Exile on Main Street,” “It’s Only Rock N Roll,” “Goat’s Head Soup” and “Some Girls” defined the era for me as much as any albums. They also continued to be the most visually stimulating band. Seeing both “Gimme Shelter” and “Ladies And Gentlemen The Rolling Stones” in the theatre was a frequent and moving experience. I remember seeing “Ladies and Gentlemen” at a movie theatre on Evans and Monaco that later became the Rainbow Music Hall. That movie remains one of my favorite rock and roll documentaries. The band is absolutely at their peak-Mick is the master of the universe, counterbalanced by new boy Mick Taylor’s expressionless performance. While barely moving, he sprays out the most incendiary, fluid lead guitar lines you’ve ever heard. He doesn’t get the attention that many other 60’s peers get, perhaps because of his short tenure, but his playing in that movie stands up against any other lead guitar player of the era. Between them stands the greatest rock star of all time-Keith Richards. If you have never understood the appeal of Keith, I’d point you to that movie. Like some protean form of human quicksilver, he oozes around the stage, seemingly barely conscious, except for the fact that the human riff machine is the chugging engine behind every song, providing the chunky rhythm and memorable hooks to every classic, then stepping up to play the heroic leads on songs like Sympathy For The Devil or Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Even today, Keith is still the coolest. Like a modern-day pirate with a guitar instead of a scabbard, he’s on the ship-friggin’ in the riggin’ for all of us.

Live, The Stones are the only band from the 60’s that still offer a reasonable facsimile of what they once were. Their shows are still thrilling spectacles filled with surprises and songs you actually want to hear. They constantly defy expectation. They are the only band I’ll still travel to see, and when I do it’s never a disappointment, because that magic still exists. I’ve had the opportunity to meet them several times, and interestingly they are the opposite in person. Tiny, chalk-white, humble, polite and sweet they were completely disarming in their ordinary courtesy. When my wife leaned into Mick’s ear and said “I’ve loved you since the 60’s and you’re even better looking in person” he got a huge grin on his face “Thank you daaahling, that’s so kind of you.” How many times has he heard that? A billion maybe? He acted like it was the first compliment he’d ever received. Keith slouched around, his handshake like a dead fish, but he had a wink and a backslap for everybody. He knows exactly who he is-so few people can claim that.

Keith reaches nirvana At Folsom Field,
Boulder 1981
Poster from The 1965 Denver Coliseum show,
and photo from that show

Maybe that’s the real magic behind The Rolling Stones-they represent the pinnacle of rock elite, yet they still seem connected to their roots at some very primal level. They ARE the rock and roll dream. Local boys who done very, very good. Here’s some of my favorite stuff.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Led Zeppelin

 It started with a babysitter. In 1969, my parents went out of town and left me and my brother with one of my father’s graduate students. I was almost 11. She was fun and attractive and quickly figured out that we were young rockers. One night she had to go to her house to feed her dog. She took us along. I remember she cut up a couple of hot dogs for her German Shepherd, and then went over to her record collection and pulled out something she was excited about. “Have you heard this yet?” She brandished an LP with a black and white photo of the Hindenburg going down. I knew all about the Hindenburg because of an LP called I Can Hear It Now, a compilation of news clips that included that famous breathless reporter describing the giant airship bursting into flames and crashing in 1937. I was immediately intrigued. She put it on, and like much great music, it scared me. It was heavy with intense guitar and the singer actually seemed to be screaming. It was very different than most of the stuff I was hearing on the radio. Within a few weeks my brother had procured his own copy of Led Zeppelin I. We listened obsessively. This stuff was earthy and exotic at the same time. The music actually matched that incredible image on the cover-especially the side A closer “Dazed and Confused” which defined heavy to my ears. It was the sound of “gee-wiz” popular music crashing and burning on the ground.

Not too long after, Led Zeppelin II was released. Amazingly it had that same image of the burning Zeppelin on the cover again. This time with a sepia-toned photo of the band dressed as World War flying aces superimposed over it. I couldn’t believe their audacity and their confidence. When I heard the single “Whole Lotta Love” on the radio, I just about shit. It once again pushed the boundaries of heavy-with the most punishing opening riff of all time, and a multi-part epic that covers so much ground it feels like you’ve traveled the world in 5 and a half minutes. Led Zeppelin II perfectly describes the end of the 60’s and beginning of the 70’s to me. It has the color and mystery of much of the best stuff of the 60’s but it takes a giant, thudding step forward to a new heaviosity. Years later, when I owned a record store, I learned about and actually got a copy of the rare “Sterling RL.” copy of the album. With recording engineer Robert Ludwig’s initials carved into the trail-off wax, this version of the album is cut much louder than a normal record. It is a profound listening experience.

I can only think of one or two other bands that changed the way Zep did musically. Like The Beatles, every one of their subsequent albums was completely different that the others, and they always seemed to break some new sonic ground. Led Zeppelin III had one of the greatest covers of all time, Houses of the Holy felt like an invocation to a witches ritual, IV contained anthem after anthem, and Physical Graffiti was so full of amazing songs and different styles you just couldn’t believe it was one band doing all this. It still seems like some huge career-spanning best-of instead of just another album in their catalog.

Then there is the photo. Early on in the store, I had a great customer named Steve “Jellyroll” Morton. A true fan and a great guitar player in his own right, he was a big part of the early store. One day he came into the store with a photo. He said, “Did you know Zeppelin played their first American show in Denver?” I didn’t. They had been the opening act for Spirit at Denver auditorium in 1968. Jellyroll had gone to see Spirit, but stuck his camera up over his head and randomly taken a shot of the opening act. The photo was amazing! Jimmy Page onstage playing his psychedelically hand-painted strat with a violin bow. Wow! This could not be cooler. I begged Jellyroll to make me a copy. He finally relented and I proudly hung it up in the store. As it turned out the psychedelically painted strat was stolen from Page shortly after the Denver show. Somehow it got back to Page that we had this picture and he wanted a copy. I contacted Jellyroll and Page was given a copy of this amazing photo when Plant and Page played at Fiddler’s Green. A number of years later, a guy from England called me out of the blue and had also heard about the photo. He wanted it because it showed a rare amplifier in the background. I made him a copy too. Another great piece of Denver rock and roll history. Thanks, Jellyroll!

Jimmy Page at Led Zeppelin's first American show-Denver Auditorium 1968-
with the fated Stratocaster 

And then there was the time I had a whole convention’s worth of record store owners in my living room sometime in the early 2000’s. At just the right moment, when everybody was lit up just bright enough, I slipped in disc 2 of The Led Zeppelin DVD set (possibly the greatest selection of live performances ever assembled of any band) and cued up The Ocean from Madison Square Garden lou-ow-d. A room full of 30, 40 and 50 something hipsters all dropped their jaws and collectively reveled in a moment of pure rock and roll bliss. It was great and to a person everyone came up to me and said some variation of “OMG, I forgot how great Zep was.” It never fails.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Who

Tommy Artwork autographed
 by Daltrey
It all happened between 1969 and 1971 for me. Tommy, Woodstock, Live at Leeds, Meaty, Beaty Big And Bouncy and Who’s Next. What a 3 three year run for any band. Starting with Tommy-the first rock opera. Big, bold, pretentious, full of incredible music. As an eleven-year-old I wasn’t sure what it all meant, but it sure seemed like Pete Townshend was the most ambitious, thoughtful guy in rock. Seeing Woodstock in the theatre was a formative experience in a number of ways, but The Who proved to be the most electrifying part of the movie for me. Townshend’s true-believer energy was just off the hook, John Entwhistle’s stoic reserve and lightning bass runs were the definition of cool, Keith Moon’s manic energy was thrilling and Roger Daltrey’s washboard stomach, golden locks and crystal blue eyes were all things I would never have, but badly wanted. Their music was thrilling and energetic, their lyrics were thought-provoking and searching and physically they were unbeatable. They were the distilled, idealized perfection of the pre-teen “me.” The scared me that I was, and the brash me that I wanted to be.

They followed up Woodstock with Live at Leeds a live set just as incendiary as Woodstock but all housed in an incredible gatefold sleeve filled with pictures, posters and paperwork-a pirate’s ransom of clues to who these guys were. I obsessed over that album like few others. The poster and pictures adorned my walls, I memorized every detail of the contracts and memos, and the songs lived on my turntable non-stop. Their version of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was a pounding masterpiece. Shit, the whole album rocked like nothing I’d ever heard. The long, jammed-out “My Generation” that anchored side two covered so much ground. I wanted to see this band live (it wouldn’t happen until Keith Moon’s final tour in 1975-but well worth the wait).

When The Who By Numbers was released in 1975, Budget Tapes and Records on Colorado Boulevard ran a promotion whereby you could color in a copy of the cover and enter it into a contest. For some reason, I never turned it in, and kept it all these years. Years later, when I got a promotional poster that advertised the very same promotion, I framed it along with my colored-in entry.

For my 12th birthday, my brother gave me Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy, a collection of their early singles, and again the wonderful music within was more than matched by the incredible cover. Showing a group of English youth hanging out on a grimy stoop with the adult Who wistfully looking at them out a window, you turned it over and they had morphed into the adult band on the stoop, looking cooler than you can imagine, with the kids now looking out the window. It spoke to both the youth and the young man in me. It remains one of my favorite album covers.

Pete Townshend at Denver’s Mammoth Gardens (now the Fillmore) 1969.
Photo by the great Denver rock photographer Dan Fong

The final piece of my obsession came into view as four English millionaires pissed on a stone monolith on the cover of their masterpiece Who’s Next. It still remains one of the most mature and far-reaching albums of the era. When they sang “Black ash from the foundry/hangs like a hood, But the air is perfumed by the burning fire wood” on Love Ain’t For Keeping I understood that rock lyrics could reach for more than a teenage crush-this was poetry.

Pete Townshend in Chicago 1969-Giant reproduction hanging in Twist and Shout-also taken by Dan Fong

Pete Townshend remains the gold-standard of thoughtful rock stars. He has publicly struggled with the meaning of rock and roll to a functioning adult. He continued to search, but never quite matched that magic period at the dawn of a new decade when he and his band flew the flag for rock music that spoke to the brain as much as the hips.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Pink Floyd

Just holding an LP by Pink Floyd immediately takes me to a very special place. From my first experience with them, they have been the exemplars of what mysterious, art-rock looks like. In 1970 our local PBS station (now known as Rocky Mountain PBS) aired “An Hour with Pink Floyd,” which was recorded at KQED studios in San Francisco on April 30, 1970. Because it was on PBS it inherently had our parents blessing. Little did they know! The show featured the band playing six songs ripped from the beating heart of their super-psychedelic post-Barrett period. My 12-year old mind was blown. Atom Heart Mother confused, Grantchester Meadows and Green Is the Colour soothed and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and Careful with That Axe Eugene terrified me. Much of the music I hold dearest started out scaring me. It’s true, my first reaction to Bitches Brew, The Shape of Jazz to Come, Live Dead and Electric Ladyland was fear. These records pushed the limit of traditional song and imagery into more adult realms. This wasn’t verse, chorus, verse. This was staring at yourself in the mirror until you had to look away. Yeah-that’s for me! After seeing An Hour with Pink Floyd I went with my brother to Underground Records at 724 S. Pearl St. and purchased Ummagumma. 18 years later, I would buy Underground Records at a tax auction and turn it into Twist and Shout. I was again, thrilled and scared by this album. The cover was awesome, especially the back cover where two members of the band’s road crew stood in the middle of a country road surrounded by all the band’s gear artfully displayed in a giant V. I was so sold on this band!

My next major experience with the band came when the movie Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii was shown at midnight at The Vogue Theatre on South Pearl Street. Once again, I was both excited and terrified by the futuristic music the band was creating. Once again, I went to Underground Records and headed straight for the Pink Floyd section. This time, I was greeted by a strange album with minimal information. It just said Pink Floyd Fillmore West. My brother told me it was a bootleg and encouraged me to get it. I saved my allowance over the next few months, and when I finally had 15 bucks saved up, we went back and I got it. We breathlessly listened to it.  The album gave no clue what songs the band played at the concert, but we were excited when the program was very similar the PBS special. On the back of the album, you can see the home-made setlist I typed up on my father’s Royal typewriter. (the same one on which he wrote 10 novels). I was so psyched. This was going to be my band.

I continued to follow Pink Floyd, buying every one of their new albums the day it came out, and eventually finding all their older ones. I also got heavily into Syd Barrett and his two incredible solo albums. His descent into madness stuck with me throughout my young life and remains a poignant touchstone to the reality that art and madness often walk a parallel path. When Wish You Were Here came out I was 18 and the messages of alienation and societal oppression could not have been more timely for me. Again, the artwork was so memorable. Instead of covering the album in clear plastic shrink-wrap, this album had a custom blue shrink, so you had to buy the album to see all the artwork.

Animals promotional item. Last week I mentioned Corey over at Furthur Frames.
This piece might represent the apex of his work for me. It’s hard to see in the picture but the display is
3 dimensional and the pig in the bottom half is hanging in there and can swing freely.

And, ultimately, this is what is so great about Pink Floyd. Every move they made was intelligent, beautiful, calculated. They are the ultimate art-rock band.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Jimi Hendrix

Famous Flying Eyeball by Rick Griffin
Poster from the Denver Pop Festival June 1969
Final show by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

To my mind Jimi Hendrix is one of the three greatest rock stars. When I say that, I am putting a big emphasis on the “star” part of that phrase. I’m talking about people who are both extraordinary as musicians, but who also embody another quality which sets them apart from other mere mortals. Their behavior, dress, politics, etc. all become part of their fame, and very consciously so. Some get there and recoil or struggle with it. Leonard Cohen, Laura Nyro and Van Morrison spring right to mind as people who while unreal musicians, are not comfortable rock stars. For the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis, Keith Richards and Jimi Hendrix though, they seemed to live it every second. They couldn’t not look cool, break rules and get away with it, or look great on stage come hell or high water. I have some interesting proof of that last one. Once, when pricing some Jimi records a Polaroid photo fell out. It was Jimi on stage. No information other than the date Oct. 68. It is a beautiful representation of any given moment of Jimi. Eyes closed, deep in a solo, he still looks entirely poised and in control. His clothes are great, his hair looks big and beautiful-it’s a perfect image of Jimi, but it is just one random second caught on a Polaroid in the fall of ’68. When you think about it -have you ever seen an image of Jimi where he doesn’t look great?

Mystery Polaroid

 The other two guys have ultimately managed to survive with much of their dignity and reputations intact, but Jimi Hendrix tragically died at 27 leaving nothing but a legendary reputation. His guitar playing is beyond compare-the best players still can’t figure out how he did what he did with the technology available to him. Hi sense of style, while very groovy, still looks incredibly cool. He played with gender, race and lifestyle like he owned them-which of course he did. The three albums (four if you count Band Of Gypsys”) he made during his lifetime are unimpeachable from both a musical and a cultural standpoint. They sound better with each year that passes, and their influence on successive generations of musicians is titanic. Other than a couple of the Buddy Miles-led songs on Band Of Gypsys it’s hard to find anything less than transcendent in his catalog. His music was both earthy and rootsy while being a million miles ahead of anyone else. “Are You Experienced” could be the greatest debut album in history, Axis: Bold As Love defines psychedelic hard rock and Electric Ladyland is perhaps the most ambitious two LP set of the 60’s (I know, I Know, White Album, Trout Mask Replica, etc.). Band Of Gypsys is simultaneously soulful and heavy pointing to two directions he might have pursued had he lived. He was scheduled to jam with Miles Davis shortly after he died-the mind reels.

Another good record store story is the time a guy named Daniel came in to the store on Alameda and told me he had gone to the Regis Field House concert on Valentines Day 1968. He told me he had just returned from Vietnam and he was at the concert the day after and had recorded it himself. He was a bit rattled in the details but I convinced him to bring the tape in and let me listen to it. I wasn’t getting my hopes up. About a week later he came back with a tape and after much assuring, let me take it home. It was incredible. A really good recording of the Denver show. At one point, Hendrix says, “Good to be in Denver-a mile high!” So clearly it is that show. He plays a totally unique jam that night I’ve never heard anywhere else. Daniel resurfaces every decade or so and has me make him another copy of the show. I hope he’s still doing well. The Regis show, and the posters that go with it, and the fact that Otis Taylor jammed with Hendrix late that night at the legendary Family Dog on Evans make this show an important part of Denver music history.

Poster and handbills from Jimi's Regis University show 
Denver 2/14/68

His records have really always been highly desirable since I’ve had the store. Most artists’ popularity waxes and wanes but Hendrix is evergreen in our racks. When I get a new piece of stereo equipment, the first song played is very important. It has to be something that I know inside out, that has great production dynamics, and that still gets me excited. For years, All Along The Watchtower from Electric Ladyland has been that test song for me. The minute that monster guitar part comes screaming out, I’m right there. Jimi’s the greatest!

Jimi in a record store 

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Blue Note Records

Within my first two years of being in business I got two big introductions to Blue Note records. The first came when a guy named Bob came into the store. I immediately recognized him as a guy who used to work at Kingbee records on Evans near D.U. He then went on to work at Record Revival (later Jazz Record Revival) on Broadway. He was always a nice guy and had recommended a few albums to me over the years that I really liked. This day he was selling a handful of CDs. He pointed one out to me. “You ever heard this one?” He shook his hand like he was putting out a match. “Hot Stuff.” The CD was Cornbread by Lee Morgan. I took it home that night and played it. It was indeed a magnificent jazz album. Morgan had such a strong tone and melodic sense on trumpet, his band was red hot and the recording was really present and snapped with the tight arrangements.
The second event came when someone dropped a stack of free magazines at the store. It was a guide to independent record stores nationally. I thumbed through it and was surprised to see our store in there. I’ll never forget it. They said we were a good store with a lot of nice used stuff. Then the author explained how he had gotten a couple of rare Blue Note pressings for way less than they were worth out of our racks. I was stung. Not by the loss of revenue, but at the perceived lack of knowledge. It changed the way I approached my job. I thought, if I’m going to do this, I have to know at least as much as the average customer (a ridiculous thought-there is no average customer).  It gave me a kick in the ass to both really learn about label variations and to understand better what the mystique was with Blue Note.
It took a few years before we got to the point that we were buying large collections every day, but it did finally happen, and I started to see some Blue Notes come through the door. A regular character who bought a lot of jazz named Shelby passed away and his family sold his records and he had a handful of great titles. They were beat to shit, but I decided to take a couple home and try them out. I will never forget the sense of revelation I had when I put that first original Blue Note pressing on my turntable and the exciting sound recording mastery thundered out of the speakers. I had never heard a record sound so alive! And remember this record looked like hell. Once the needle fell into those grooves, the scuffs and grime disappeared and, like magic, it sounded like you were in the studio with a room full of great players. I would learn this was no fluke. Blue Note records were largely recorded by a man named Rudy Van Gelder in his home in New Jersey. A dentist by trade, he loved jazz and sound, and he combined those two passions to create an undying legacy. The first generation or two of Blue Note are unparalleled recordings. Van Gelder’s abilities, the musicians, the times, and the pressing technology-I’m not sure exactly what all the factors were, but nothing sounds like a Blue Note.

A number of Blue Note recordings became some of my favorite albums. One in particular blew my mind. Eddie Gale’s Ghetto Music is an incredible mix of jazz, funk, gospel and conscious soul unlike anything else. It is cosmic and earthy at the same time. It’s one of the records I’ve tried to turn people on to over the years. Finally, an original mono copy of Lee Morgan’s Cornbread came in to the store. I couldn’t believe it. I was so excited. I took it home that night and breathlessly put it on the box. I wish I had the words to convey exactly how amazing that first listen was. From the opening notes of Larry Ridley’s bass and that first blast of horns from Lee, Jackie McLean and Hank Mobley I couldn’t believe how present the music was. You could literally feel the room the album was recorded in. You could see where each player was in your mind’s eye. This was why I was collecting records. This exact feeling of presence-like you were there. I have played that record, I’ll bet, a thousand times. When people come over and want me to show off my stereo or collection, the night will always include Cornbread, usually with me holding the record up and saying “this is why we are still in business!” And I believe that. The specific magic contained in a well-pressed piece of vinyl is something that can not be undervalued. It is the medium through which the magic of music can best be expressed (short of live performance). After the many, many playings, Cornbread has lost none of that magic. The record still sounds amazing-no surface noise, just the pulse-quickening greatness of the original session. It is my go-to audiophile recording. Nothing sounds better to me.
The magic and mystery of Blue Note is well known in the collecting world. They are rare as hen’s teeth and highly sought after. Thus, the prices have become very “dear” as it were. Even so, if you see a nice one, and if you are excited by the art and science of recording, as well as great jazz-there is no more rewarding investment to be had in the record collecting world.
Here are some of my favorites.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Autographed Records

I’ve never been motivated by autographs. Whenever I meet famous people it rarely occurs to me to ask them to autograph something. Not everyone feels this way. Over the years I’ve seen that there are people who ONLY care about getting autographs. The art is secondary, or actually irrelevant to the getting of the signature. Thus, in the course of buying millions of records I have come across a lot of autographs. I’ve kept a few over the years. Here’s some of the best.

The ultimate autograph story;
When Jill and I first got together I had an enormous record collection, and she had a sweet little collection of stuff she had mostly bought in the 60’s. I had many of the same records, so early in Twist and Shout’s history I sold her records in the store. She didn’t care, but I really regretted doing it, because they were a tangible part of her early life. At the time however, I felt they were essentially worthless because she hadn’t taken care of them, and she had written her maiden name on each of the covers. I now seek out exactly that type evidentiary artifact that illuminates an individual’s past. It is one of the most important and touching parts of this whole collecting thing. I could also go into the entire cyclical nature of records coming in to stores repeatedly. The same records surface over and over, and the only way we know this is people tend to personalize the possessions that mean the most to them. Fast forward 30 years. We have purchased a large collection of records from a young man who is selling his recently deceased father’s effects. His father, it seems, was one of those autograph guys. Hundreds of his records are autographed, but this guy took it to another level. For instance, if he found out say, Dave Mason was playing in town, he would find every record Dave Mason ever played on and get it signed. Thus, there were records by all kinds of other artists with Dave Mason’s signature on it. Funny. Anyway, as I’m getting to the end of the collection I look down and there is my wife’s maiden name staring back at me from the cover of a Donovan record. I recognize her handwriting immediately. Just below it is a beautiful Donovan autograph. Like a deck of cards flipped out into space the pieces of history suddenly formed a pattern. This guy’s father had bought the Donovan record from me (probably) years ago, gotten it autographed by Donovan, died, and now Jill’s record, which she bought (possibly at the first Tower Records in her home town of Sacramento, Ca.) in 1966 was back in my hands in 2018, enhanced by an autograph. Now there’s a great record store story!

- Paul Epstein

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Obscuro LP Finds

My dear friend and former employee Peter Fast used to say “You CAN tell a book by its cover.” When it came to records we both firmly believed that in many instances a weird, interesting or unexpected album cover could lead to the discovery of a lifetime. Anyone who has gone deep in the record collecting game has probably discovered some of their favorite albums just flipping through and having their eye caught by a strange image. How many times have I looked at a record, said to myself “what is this,” put it on the headphones and thought “wow, this needs further exploration.” Literally, some of my favorite albums have been discovered this way. Working in a record store obviously gives one the crash-course opportunity to explore anything that looks even slightly interesting. Sometimes it turns out to be crap, but sometimes it opens up an entirely new world of musical exploration. Let me share a few of my favorites with you.

Howard Roberts - Antelope Freeway - one of the all-time greats. Straight jazz session guitarist takes a completely weird and psychedelic trip with the help of super producer and onetime Colorado resident Bill Szymczyk.

Bobby Brown - The Enlightening Beam of Axonda - Gentle Hippy making strange music with homemade instruments. Cover sells itself.

Friends - One of John Abercrombie’s first albums from 1972 - a jazzy, funky, surprise.

Wilburn Burchette - Opens The Seven Gates Of Transcendental Consciousness - an impressive outsider guitarist with a lot on his mind.

Victor Brady - Brown Rain - Psych album led by a steel-drum player - sounds like a cross between Gentle Giant, Red Krayola and The Esso Steel Band.

Tripsichord Music Box - Gentle S.F. Psych with an absolutely haunting cover.

Médico Doctor Vibes - Liter Thru Dorker Vibes - Indescribable Calypso, Funk, Reggae, dark dub weirdness from 1979. Like walking through stoney molasses.

Harvey Averne Barrio Band - Another session guy makes his own statement with this great boogaloo, r&b masterpiece.

Ernest Hood – Neighborhoods - saved the best for last. An inexplicable album of great beauty and intimacy. Hood uses guitar, synths, zither and field recordings to make music that is simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic. One of the great finds of my life.

Paul Epstein

Tuesday, June 30, 2020


Iconoclast, auteur, philosopher, social commentator, genius. My relationship with Frank Zappa began, like it did for many, in 1969 with the release of Hot Rats. The cover of that landmark LP so captures the late 60’s mindset: beautiful, a little scary and just plain weird. Musically, it was a heady thrill ride of heavy guitar, big ideas and jazzy chops. It seemed miles ahead of most stuff on the radio. 1971’s Fillmore East-June 1971 was my next stop. Juvenile, hilarious, rude-it defined underground to me. It was the musical equivalent of an R. Crumb comic book. In ’73 and ’74 Zappa struck gold with Overnight Sensation and Apostrophe, which were loaded with FM hits that, again perfectly captured the gestalt of the era. You can see, at the time I was sort of drawn to those Zappa albums that rose to the commercial surface and actually got radio play. I was also lucky enough to see him in concert several times and was both blown away and mystified by these dense, instrument heavy bands slogging through labyrinthine compositions at breakneck speed.  Later, I started to recognize the artistic diamond mine that the Frank Zappa catalog was. It has been one of my greatest pleasures over the last 20 years to try to wrap my arms fully around the depth and breadth of this incredible artist’s output.

C.U. Events Center 1981
I have found every period of Zappa’s output to reward repeated listening. Few artists had as grand a vision that they held on to for an entire career and actualized to the level of Frank Zappa did. He had fearless determination in the face of stupid and corrupt labels, a largely indifferent public, money woes and a never-ending stream of amazing, but undependable musicians. The sheer number of world-class players who passed through his various bands is staggering. The best of the best appeared on his records and on stage. As for Zappa himself, his energy as a composer, arranger, performer, producer and promoter of his own (and others’) output is almost hard to believe. It seems, from his pre-teen years onward, Zappa never took a break - not until his untimely death from prostate cancer in 1993.
I enjoy it all, but the first 10 years (66-76) of his career represent the apex of his artistic growth. He did not stop innovating for a second in that period. The span of musical ideas from Freak Out (1966) to Grand Wazoo (1972) to Roxy And Elsewhere (1974) is hard to take in. From psychedelic parody, to orchestral rock ensembles to a science fiction soul review, Zappa seemed to be the master of all he surveyed. Starting with 1976’s Zoot Allures something seemed to change with Zappa. His musical ideas remain lofty, but his lyrical thrust took on a slightly darker tone. Always prone to social criticism, his observations accurately reflect the spirit of the post-Watergate, coke-fueled disco era. It ain’t pretty! But then, sometime in the mid-80’s when I had my first record store, I got a bootleg copy of Zappa’s unreleased masterpiece from the 70’s Lather which was a sprawling, confounding, multi-genre box set. I was completely inextricably driven to dive back in to the Zappa universe. 
Toward the end of his life, he shifted his focus back to the strictly musical with releases like Yellow Shark and Jazz From Hell. Since his death, his widow Gail and now his son Ahmet have taken his legacy into the future by releasing as many albums of his music as he did in his own lifetime. It has been a thrilling ride studying Frank Zappa’s life work. The dense, percussion-heavy, guitar lead ensemble sounds of his compositions are immediately recognizable and never fail to thrill me and bring a smile to my face. - Paul Epstein