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