cassettes

#866: Untitled ’94

GETTING MORE TALE #866: Untitled ’94

I didn’t go to the cottage at all in 1994.  I was busy with school, then in the summer met a girl, and finally got a job at the Record Store.  That was all the distraction I needed to stay home.  Girls trumped trees and water.  Priorities!

The first summer at the Record Store was a brand new world for me.  New faces, new names, new music.  Lots and lots of cleaning.  “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean!” went the saying.  A lot of the job was tedious.  Wednesday was “tape check day”.  From A to Z we had to check every cassette in the store and make sure the magnetic security strip was firmly attached.  If it wasn’t, we’d get some scotch tape and secure that sucker.  My hands always felt so grungy after a day of tape checking.

There was always filing to do, and new stock to price.  When we sold a tape or CD, we had to know to re-order them.  How was this accomplished?  Tapes had a little clear plastic sticker on the back.  It had the artist, title and record label written on it.  When we sold a tape, we had to file these stickers in a photo album, sorted by record label.  Then when the boss was ready to order more stock, he’d flip through the photo album and read the stickers.  When we re-stocked the tapes, we had to put the clear sticker back on.  CDs were similar except they were in clear bags with the info written on them.  The bags were used to re-order discs.

When something new was released, we had to make the stickers and bags for those items too.  I remember when T-Rev was hired, he used to leave special releases for me to do the tags and bags for.  Kiss Unplugged he specifically left for me, because it was the first Kiss album released during my tenure at the store.  The first of many.  I drew the Kiss logo on the tag and smiled.  Small things like that meant something to me, though after waiting so long for a new Kiss album, it was quite anti-climactic.

We had also started selling used CDs.  Some of the first I acquired with my staff discount were Sven Gali’s debut and Chronicles by Rush.  Weirdly, I was still buying a lot of cassettes.  Kim Mitchell’s brand new one Itch got the staff discount treatment.

In the early days the boss used to give us weekly homework.  We had to come in with a current top 10 list every week.  This was to ensure that we were familiar with the current hits that people would be asking for.  T-Rev did his homework; I did not.  I felt like I already knew it all.  Before I started at the store, I used to keep on top of “everything the kids were listening to”.  I guess the boss recognized that since he didn’t bug me for my homework every week.

I was glad to have this job at the Record Store when in late ’94 my relationship blew up in my face.  I compensated by throwing myself into the store.  I came in early every day so I could review all the new stock.  Business was fairly slow most nights.  We were not in a high-traffic mall.  We had our regulars and we had our time-wasters.  The drunks from the restaurant next door were interesting.  Some of them even spent money!  None of them were problems, just time wasters.  “Tire kickers” as I call them now.  Then there were a couple notable janitors.  Trevor Atkinson from highschool was one.  I wonder what ever happened to that guy?  He was certainly a time waster.  It’s my theory that he was the cause of the first customer complaint I ever received.

Working in that Record Store was pretty much my whole social life.  I didn’t know anybody at school anymore.  Through the store, I reconnected with highschool and neighborhood friends that dropped by to shop.  Guys like George Balasz and Scott Peddle.  The boss didn’t like his employees to socialize at work, but what could you do?  It was the local Record Store and I was working in it.  I knew lots of people.  He socialized far more than I did, but he was “the boss” so nobody could give him shit for it.  When one of his friends was in the store, he’d chat it up and get me to take care of everyone else.  “Do as I say, not as I do” was another one of his famous demoralizing sayings.

But it was a good job.  The boss used to say he was “firm but fair”.  For the first few years that was true.  For a retail job it was pretty good.  We got to listen to music during the shift and we felt like part of a team.  It was a special place during a special time.  I’m glad I was there before we grew, because that’s when things changed for the worse, from an employment point of view.  But for that brief period in the beginning, the Record Store was a part of my identity.  I’m still really proud of everything that we did there as a team.  I may be critical of some things, but I’m proud of being there on the ground floor when things were about to take off.

#857: Obsessed With Rock

GETTING MORE TALE #857: Obsessed With Rock

As this summer flies by, I’m reminded of seasons past.  My dad always took the same vacations in the summer:  one week in July and two in August.  That means we’d be up at the cottage for that time, and I wanted to be well stocked with music.  Meaning, I had to bring all my music.  All my cassettes, all my vinyl.  Everything.

It was a process, to say the least.  All my tape cases had to be wedged between seats of the car, and I had “a few” tape cases.  Then I took apart my jury-rigged stereo setup and carefully prepared it for transportation.  I taped down the tone arm on the turntable so it wouldn’t fly about.  I packed up all my wires, head cleaners, and record brushes.  My ghetto blaster and record player were loaded onto a seat in the car, with my dad’s old 8-track deck/receiver at the bottom.  I was using it as a pre-amp for the turntable, and it worked after a fashion.

My treasured Kiss cassettes were not in a case.  They occupied a shelf in my bedroom, with two custom ceramic Kiss bookends.  I placed the bookends and tapes into a plastic grocery bag for transport.  Upon arrival at the lake, I set them all up on another shelf, always in chronological order.  It’s funny to think that I didn’t get an obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis until I was in my 40s.  I was pretty clearly already there in my early teens.

Once I got everything hooked up again at the cottage (stealing extension cords from other rooms), I’d begin blasting the rock.  With OCD firmly in control, I first had to finish listening to whatever tape was in my Walkman during the car trip.  Only then would I choose what I would be listening to that night.

It’s all very clearly obsessive behaviour, but I guess people were not as aware of various mental health issues back then in the 80s.

Then and now, I loved listening to music at the lake.  I liked to blast it, which sometimes earned a noise complaint from the parents.  They were pretty good about it though.  They indulged my musical obsession though never quite understanding it.  I only had one true love and it was rock and roll.

Something else I enjoyed very much was buying new music while on summer vacation at the lake.  There were not many stores that carried anything good.  Don’s Hi-Fi, and Stedman’s were all that was available when I was really young.  They sure didn’t have much.  Still, listening to Priest…Live! when it was brand new, and breaking the seal at the lake was special.  It’s hard to articulate exactly what was special about it.  Your normal listening space is a familiar place.  Most things you hear, you first played in your own home.  When you get to experience an album on less familiar territory for the first few times, it develops a different flavour.  It’s not something you can hear, it’s just something you can feel.  I guess that’s why I always see myself playing darts in the back yard at the lake every time I hear Priest…Live!

Perhaps that is a feeling only a music obsessive gets.

When we returned from vacation, it felt like I would be welcoming my new albums into their new home.  This is where you live now, Priest.  This is where I am going to be experiencing you from now on.

Weird, right?

I never claimed to be normal.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  I’ve often boasted of not just “liking” music, but actually “loving” it deeply.  Maybe the only thing I’m actually boasting about is mental illness!

Whatever.  These are all good memories.  Although I speak fondly of it today, as a kid I would have chosen to stay home if I was old enough.  I missed being away from my friends, my rock magazines, my Pepsi Power Hour and all that stuff.  I missed talking about and listening to music with my best friend Bob.  Truth told, by packing up all music with me and hauling it up to the lake, I was trying to retain one aspect of being at home, which is my music collection.  Today the obsession remains, but I can do the same job with a laptop.  Crazy!  I never would have imagined that as a kid.

There are worse things to be hooked on other than rock and roll.  If it makes you feel so good, can it be so bad?

 

 

 

#847: Taping the Kiss

GETTING MORE TALE #847: Taping the Kiss

My obsession with Kiss was started in September of 1985.  You all know the story.  I knew that the neighbour, George Balasz, only needed two Kiss albums to complete his LP collection.  He needed The Elder, and Hotter Than Hell.  One day Ian Johnson called, wanting to trade some records for an Atari game:  Superman, one of the poorest games in the Atari catalogue.  He could have that stinker!  He was trading me copies of Alive! and the much coveted Hotter Than Hell.  I already knew that I was going to spin Hotter Than Hell over for more trades.

I played Hotter Than Hell once.  Then I called George to negotiate a trade.

By the conclusion of the evening, I had acquired a Walkman, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on cassette, an Abbott and Costello record and an Iron Maiden 12″ single.  Not bad for a shitty Atari game.

Now, technically the Atari game belonged to my sister and I, and she was pissed that I traded it without at least consulting her, but today she understands the monumental significance of her sacrifice.  My Kiss collection had begun.

I owned a record player, but it was a terrible one, so my Kiss focus was going to be cassette.  I asked George to record that scratchy copy of Hotter Than Hell for me.  Between that day in September of 1985 and summer of 1987, I taped just about every Kiss album from George.  The ones I didn’t tape, I bought at the local Zellers store.  Their selection was limited.  For that matter, every store’s selection was limited.  There wasn’t much Kiss available on cassette in 1985 Kitchener.  I had to have them.  I had to get them all.

I can’t remember the specific order anymore.  I probably recorded Animalize off George next.  I say this because it was on the flipside of the 120 minute cassette that also contained Hotter Than Hell.  Those, plus my LP of Kiss Alive, kept me occupied for a few months.

There were only a few vintage Kiss albums you could find on tape in town.  Dynasty and Destroyer were common.  They had been reissued in something called The Priceless Collection, a low budget series of repressings.   The vinyl edition of Destroyer in this series lacked the gatefold.  I got Dynasty in one of the local stores, and a few weeks later, accidentally dropped it into a bucket of wallpaper water.  My dad bought me a new copy right away.  I have an amazing dad.  He always took care of me.

It was a neat experience, getting those Kiss albums on tape as a kid.  It was a whole new world to me.  Imagine getting a Kiss album, and hearing for the first time who sang which songs.  You’d try to guess from the titles.  You couldn’t guess from the writing credits, necessarily.  I’d listen to the words and try to figure out what Kiss were singing about.  Wonder if, when I was a grown-up, I would have some of these experiences with the ladies that Kiss were talking about.

I taped a few more off George in the interim.  Sometimes I’d just drop a tape off at his house while he was at work.  I asked him to record Kiss, Dressed to Kill, Unmasked, Creatures of the Night, Love Gun, and Double Platinum. He wrote down the song titles as neatly as he could, and then I made my own covers.  I had a system.  I always had a big Kiss logo on the top half of the cover.  I tried to draw them identically every time.  If it was a single album, I would add a crude drawing of something to do with the album.  On Dressed to Kill, I had Gene in a trenchcoat.  On Love Gun, a pistol.  On the back cover I’d write out the tracks.  But for a double album, I used the bottom half of the front cover to list all the songs.  There wasn’t enough room on the back for a double album tracklist once I cut (or punched) out the two holes for the tape shell.  The back cover also had the year of release, and I drew a symbol on the tape label to indicate whether I recorded it from LP or cassette.  The spine featured a “Dolby stereo” logo.  I was meticulous about keeping all my Kiss tapes looking the same.

The only one of these Kiss tapes that I still have the hand made cover for is Crazy Nights, and I half-assed it because I knew I’d be buying a copy as soon as I could.  I can remember recording Crazy Nights the day it came out from George, and this temporary cover was on the tape that tided me over until I could get a real copy.*

Of course, some were store bought.  Lick It Up was a Christmas gift and I bough Asylum myself.  Destroyer was another early purchase.  I had it before I heard Double Platinum.  I had never heard “Detroit Rock City” before.  I was familiar with some tunes from Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, my first exposure to many Kiss hits.  I found Destroyer to be weird and I was surprised how much George liked it.

A memory that I have of Creatures of the Night is how good that album made me feel.  Listening to that tape in the garage after a day of bullying at school was a powerful experience.  The music was defiant.  The lyrics sounded good.  “Get me off this carousel, you can do as you please, you can go to hell.” Yeah you can!

Once George got The Elder, I taped it pronto.  I remember we couldn’t read all the song titles.  “Escape from the Ish?  What is that?”  He couldn’t legibly squeeze “Island” into the line.  Then I started seeing Kiss cassette reissues in stores.  Creatures came out with Kulick on the cover.  Most importantly, all the Kiss solo albums, which were otherwise impossible to locate on tape, were reissued in early ’87.  I asked — nay, demanded — all four for my birthday.  And because I was so spoiled, I received all four.  I listened to them in alphabetical order three times each.  A lot of the tunes weirded me out.  Too much funky bass.

Last to land in my collection was Rock And Roll Over.  And I recognized, that until Kiss out with a new album, this was the last time I was going to have this experience:  hearing a Kiss song for the first time, guessing who sang what and trying to understand the lyrics.  It was bittersweet.

It turns out, even when Kiss do put out a new album, it’s just not the same.  I don’t feel like I am learning something of Kisstory, like I did with the older albums.  I don’t get the sensation of “Wow, this is a classic song that I didn’t know before.”  It is just not the same.  But I’m glad I had the experience.

* When I got Crazy Nights, I recorded over this tape and re-used the paper for the cover.  Mixed Songs replaced Crazy Nights, a compilation of singles by Dokken, Ratt, Anvil, Helix and many more.

#828: The Ones That Got Away

GETTING MORE TALE #828: The Ones That Got Away

A year ago we did a massive de-clutter.  We had gotten to the point where we accumulated too much stuff.  Especially after Jen’s mom passed away.  We probably kept too much of her stuff out of sentiment.  But in a very short period of time we made massive purge; a painful purge.  And it wasn’t the first.  As you go through life you get rid of things.  You can’t carry all your possessions with you through your whole life.

Although I have forgotten many of the myriad DVDs, books, T-shirts and collectibles that I tossed to the curb, there are some that I now regret losing.  Doner’s regret is a very real thing.  Some decisions were made in haste and others were made without sufficient foresight.

I used to record all of my CDs and LPs to cassette so that I could play them in the car.  Once I had a car CD player, I didn’t need to keep doing that.  Eventually I decided to give away all my excess cassettes and that’s how they ended up in a Thunder Bay landfill.  I only regret giving away a small handful of my tapes.  I wish I had hung onto some of the more obscure ones, and anything that I made cool artwork for.  I guess I didn’t imagine that one day people would want to look at photos of old cassettes and read reviews of them.

In years past, any time I have done a major de-cluttering, I’ve thrown a massive garage sale.  Sorting through and pricing items gives you some time to process what you’re doing, and make final decisions.  It’s an ideal way of getting rid of stuff.  But even so, I have made mistakes that I regret now.  My childhood rock magazine collection — what I would give to have some of those issues again.  They would come in handy with what I’m doing now.  I had just about every issue of Hit Parader from 1987 through to 1990.  From there I moved on to RIP, Metal Edge and the various guitar magazines available.  When I purged my magazines, I hung onto just a small handful, but knowing they were irreplaceable, I kept all my M.E.A.T.  Thank God I did!  I’d never be able to replace them all if I hadn’t, and those things have been invaluable research sources.  At least I know my magazines went to a good home.  My old friend Len came to the garage sale and took every one.  I know he is someone who would appreciate them for what they are.

I got rid of the magazines when I got married.  I had to make space for my awesome new wife and her boxes and boxes full of clothes!  Around the same time, I passed all my old Star Wars toys down to my sister Kathryn.  Again, I have no regrets.  They went to the right person to care for them.  I admit I do get a nostalgic craving to hold my Han Solo one more time, but I think that could be arranged if necessary.

More recently, I’m kicking myself for giving away all my Star Trek DVDs.  All the movies (I had the double DVD collector sets), and all the seasons of the Original Series.  The entire “Fan Collective” series, which were so good.  Gone in one trip to the Goodwill store.  Decision made far too quickly and I’ve been regretting it ever since.  Why donate instead of sell?  Because we were trying to do this very quickly.  Hiring an organizer is expensive.  Getting a couple bucks per disc wasn’t worth trying to hawk them all.  I put them in a huge bag, dropped them off at Goodwill and tried to feel good about the regained space.

Don’t get me wrong — I needed the space.  But my purge went too far.

So now I have to re-buy all the Trek movies.  I can do without the series as they are all on Netflix, but I need the films back.  I don’t know what to buy: blu-ray, DVD, whatever has the best content?  This would have been simpler had I just kept them all.  A couple weeks ago I re-bought an old Star Wars comic that I somehow lost.  It must have left the house accidentally jammed between something else because I never would have gotten rid of issue #47, “Droid World”.  It’s the only issue that means anything to me and the only one I want to have.  I used to try and draw all the different robots inside over and over again.  Cost me $5 to replace, but oh well.  Never should have left the house.

At least I didn’t let a single CD go.  That organiser tried, oh did she ever try.

“So what are we doing with these?” she asked about the three CD towers and numerous mountains of dics in my workspace.

“These are all staying.” I replied bluntly.  “These are my life and they are non-negotiable.”

“You know that you can put all of this on a computer now and not have to worry about storing all of these?  I mean when can you listen to all of this?”

The same questions everybody asks.  Everybody who’s not a music fan that is.

“I’m putting them on my computer all the time.  That’s what this setup is for.  But I collect CDs, some of these are irreplaceable.  I love them all.  I could tell you where I got almost every single one.  I read the notes inside.  I look at the artwork.”

Trying to explain it was like talking to a wall.  “But all that stuff is online!”  She was begging me to reconsider but guess what.  I still have all my CDs.

Still trying to work on a decent storage layout, but I’m not a carpenter.  I can barely hammer a nail.  I need people to help with stuff like that.  It’ll happen one day.  But the discs. aren’t. leaving.  And just on a logistical level, I need to have my music backed up to a hard copy like CD anyway just in case something happened to my 2-terrabyte digital library!

 

I would never recommend hiring a professional organiser to any of my music fans.  They won’t understand your needs and you could end up making mistakes.  Don’t make the same ones I did, but do stick to your guns when it comes to your albums!

 

 

#818: Alive and Wandering through the memorabilia bin with Gypsy Jayne

GETTING MORE TALE #818: Alive and Wandering through the memorabilia bin with Gypsy Jayne 

I wouldn’t have heard of Gypsy Jayne if not for Raw M.E.A.T.  Volume 1, specifically.  That compilation of underground bands from Ontario included one called “Wildside” with a killer, pro-level track called “Ready, Willing & Able”.  They had a guitarist, Johannes Linstead, that could really wail.  Their sleazy rock vibe had more in common with Roth-era Van Halen than current bands.

The year after, M.E.A.T magazine informed us that Wildside were now Gypsy Jayne and had a demo tape called Alive and Wandering for sale.  This demo tape, good enough to be a major release EP, showed Gypsy Jayne had world class songs:  Seven tracks including one classical guitar instrumental as good as anything coming out of California in the summer of ’92.  I’m fortunate enough to know that, since I ordered the tape upon the magazine’s recommendation.

On August 10 of 1992, guitarist Johannes Linstead wrote me a thank-you note, packed up my tape and mailed it from Oakville, Ontario.  A few days later it arrived here in Kitchener, and I was seriously impressed upon first listen.  I played it a couple times in quick succession.  Gypsy Jayne were exactly what I wanted to hear out of a new band in 1992.  No grunge, no dark depressions, just grooves and riffs and hooks and incredibly solid performances.  Even in the present, I still ranked their demo at 4/5 stars when it came up for review.

I kept just about everything I ever got in the mail from a rock band.  While searching for memorabilia, I found the letter from Linstead still inside the original mailer for the Gypsy Jayne cassette.

“Dear Mike, glad to see you support original metal.”  If you get a chance, we’d appreciate comments you might have on our music or musicianship.”  Signed, Johanne Linstead.  Not only could the guy play guitar, but his penmanship was impeccable.  Of course I wrote him back immediately.  I believe the words I used regarding the musicianship were “blown away”.  Johannes never wrote back again but I was obviously happy to have received his note in the first place.

Just recently, I received two separate inquiries about Gypsy Jayne in one week.  Johannes Linstead is now an established world class flamenco guitarist.  But I hope he hasn’t forgotten his metal roots.  Perhaps Gypsy Jayne is primitive compared to music he performs today, but it is certainly an accomplished recording for its genre.  Nothing to be ashamed of, surely.  There is a demand for a Gypsy Jayne CD reissue.  My old cassette is barely listenable and the only reason to listen is the incredible music.

It’s very pleasing to hear from fellow Gypsy Jayne fans, so if you have heard this band and also wish for a CD reissue, leave a comment below!  Songs like these should be available for anyone who likes classic rock to buy and enjoy.  They deserve to be recorded in rock history as one of the great “shoulda-woulda-coulda” stories of the Canadian 1990s.

 

 

REVIEW: Sven Gali – In My Garden (1992 Promo cassette)

SVEN GALI – In My Garden (1992 BMG promo cassette)

One of the great perks to a M.E.A.T Magazine subscription was getting free promo tapes in the mail.  One of the bands that M.E.A.T had been hyping was Sven Gali, who had a major label debut on deck with BMG for release.  We were all curious what Sven Gali sounded like…and then this promo tape arrived, previewing three of the tracks!

The lead singer can make or break a band, and Sven Gali had Dave Wanless.  Mr. Wanless had the power reminiscent of another successful Canadian, a certain Sebastian Something who was out there ruling the concert stages.  Wanless also had the right look, and of course a pretty good band!  From the ranks of Billy Idol came veteran drummer Gregg Gerson, joining with Dee Cernile (guitars, R.I.P.), Andy Frank (guitars), and “T.T.” (bass).  They could rock.  They had soloists arguably more interesting than the guys in Skid Row.  And, as evident in this tape, they could write hooks.

“Freakz” wasn’t the lead single, but it could have been.  Rebellious rock attitude, tires smoking down a dark alley, guns blazing…and just a pinch of funk.  “When you gonna learn, baybay!” screams Dave Wanless, and just know he’s got at least one fist raised when he’s singing it.

Up second is a track that did become a single, the dark ballad “In My Garden” (an edit version).  This world-class ballad has all the right ingredients including chorus hooks, a place to shout along, and perfect guitars.  In the early 1990s, if grunge had not derailed the rock n’ roll train, bands like Sven Gali (more aggressive than the 80s groups but not abandoning solos and choruses, and with an ear for musicianship) would have been the next wave.

The last track on the tape is the borderline thrash of “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow”, ironic in hindsight since Sven Gali only managed two albums before being submerged by the flotsam of the mid 90s rock scene.  Skid Row comparisons are easy to make (in a positive way), but there’s one major difference between Skid Row and Sven Gali.  That is Sven Gali still have their original singer where Skid Row do not.  (They have a new track out called “You Won’t Break Me” to be followed by a CD in 2020.)  They might not have exceeded the fame of Skid Row, but they might just end up having more material with their original singer….

This cassette whet the appetite for the eventual album, which maybe suffered from too much material, but on tape these songs sound ace!

4/5 stars

Check out the credits.  Photos by famed photographer Floria Sigismondi, who took just about every memorable photo of every 90s band you can think of.  Today she’s a movie director!  She’s the reason this tape looks so cool.

#796: Improvisation

GETTING MORE TALE #796: Improvisation

When I need a particular piece of audio hardware today, I just have to decide what I want and order it.  It’ll be at the house two days later.  Oh, I need some more RCA cables to plug my tape deck into my PC?  No problem.  What colour and how long?  We have become soft and spoiled today, with the convenience of everything we desire at our fingertips.  Want a frozen turkey delivered to your front door?  No problem.  I’ll get you a turkey.  Or RCA cables.  Anything.

In the 1980s, we had to improvise.

When I first discovered music, the second most important music-related activity (after listening of course) was taping.  It was the easiest, cheapest way to get new music and there was a social aspect to it as well.  You had to borrow an album from someone, go to their house to tape it, or vice versa.  Most kids had a budget price dual tape deck.  I had a single-deck Sanyo, eventually getting a dual deck boom box for Christmas of 1985.  By today’s standards, recording tape-to-tape on a cheap deck yields horrendous results.  In 1985, it was the next best thing to owning the album yourself.  If you were in a hurry, you could use the high speed dubbing feature but that always created speed and warble issues that we could even hear as kids.  Regular speed dubbing was the only acceptable way to copy a tape.  However sometimes we had to think outside the box.

The most notable instance of improvising with what we had was using speakers as impromptu microphones.  It’ll work if you have nothing better to use.  We used speakers as microphones frequently back then, but what about copying music tape to tape?

Let’s say I was making a mixed cassette, and that mix was going to have some live songs on it.  There was no practical way to do a fade-in or fade-out on a low end dual tape deck.  In this case, I would use a Walkman as an audio input to my recording deck.  The sound was, shall we say, harsh.  But you could do it.  You could take a cable and go right from the headphone jack to the microphone-in jack on the deck, but that sounded pretty terrible.  A better way was to use a cable that had a headphone jack on one end, split to RCA left and rights on the other.  But I didn’t have one of those.  I had to make it myself by splicing one to the other.  Improvisation!  We couldn’t just buy everything we wanted.  Cables are still expensive today and finding the right ones in stock at a given time wasn’t a guarantee.  You made due with what you had until you could afford to do better.  Using the Walkman’s volume control, I could now fade in any live track I wanted.  A small thing, but I was already ambitious.  I enviously eyed pictures of mixing boards in guitar magazines.

Another issue I had was recording vinyl.  I had never heard of a preamp.  But I realized that my old turntable sounded better when plugged into something else first.  My parents had an old receiver with an 8-track deck and radio.  The 8-track didn’t work anymore but I used that gigantic unit to boost the signal from my turntable, before going into my tape deck.  The sound was messy to say the least, but at least I was able to listen to and record my LPs.

I had a little shoebox full of stuff I needed to push my audio capabilities, a small but mighty toolbox of essentials.  A tape head demagnetizer.  Isopropyl alcohol and lint-free wipes.  A record cleaning kit.  A little magnetic screwdriver for taking apart cassette tapes.  A gnarly pair of grey RCA cables that were the top of the line that I could afford.  My prized possession:  an RCA Y-connector.  That baby enabled me to take a mono signal, like from the family VCR, and split it to faux-stereo for recording to cassette.  Until we got a stereo VCR in the early 1990s, that Y-connector saw weekly usage on my Saturday mix tape sessions.

I had a little soldering kit that I could use to splice wires together, but one thing that I could never fix was a cheap set of Walkman earphones.  The kind with the little foam earpieces.  Utter shit, but that’s what we all had.  The headphone jacks on those things would not take long to start shorting out.  You’d go from a stereo signal to a mono signal to no signal back to mono without even moving it around.  I tried everything and could never fix those damned shitty earphone cords.  So you’d buy a new pair for $10 at the local Bargain Harold’s.  Those would be good for about a week before starting to give you problems.  Otherwise, everything that broke had to be fixed.

Maintaining your tape deck at home was essential, hence the isopropyl alcohol.  Hold your breath, dab some of that on a lint-free cloth, and gently clean the rollers and capstans inside your treasured boom box.  It would be remarkable how black that cloth could get.  I used my tape deck a lot.  I was constantly cleaning it, but it always had speed issues.  This was probably more due to poorly made, tightly wound cassette tapes than the deck itself.  Still, those old Sanyo tape machines were not designed to be worked as hard as I worked mine.  If I had known what a Nakamichi Dragon was back then, I might have been more motivated to get a part-time job!  But such machines were not available on an eighth grade allowance, nor was such a beast even known in these parts.

Using my limited resources, I was able to listen to and record from every format I had.  My turntable was so old that I could even play 16 and 78 rpm records (not that I had any).  Then a new format came along that slowly but surely digitised my entire world:  the compact disc.  I received my first CD player/tape deck for Christmas 1989, a mere four years after my first dual cassette.  An eternity in teenager time.  A significant fraction of my life to that point was spent meddling with tape decks and cables trying to get them to do what I wanted them to do.  Now this compact disc comes along, allowing me to hear the most perfect audio I’d even been exposed to.

My first CD player on top of an old Lloyd’s 8-track/radio/receiver.  The old setup!

I remember playing one of my first CDs, Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, for my buddy Bob and his brother John.  I skipped ahead to “Time For Change”, and then fast-forwarded to the fade out.

“Just listen to that!” I said with a proud look on my face, as I cranked the volume all the way to 10.

After a pause, John asked “What are we supposed to be hearing?”

“The silence!  Listen to that silence!”  There was no static on the digitally recorded, mixed and mastered fade out.

Bob and John weren’t as excited as I was, but the compact disc represented a new standard.  The stuff I had wasn’t going to cut it forever.  Soon, as long the source was digital, I was making mix tapes that sounded better than store bought.

As much as the results were often dicey, improvising with audio equipment was tremendously fun.  Working with your hands, the satisfaction of getting something to work the way you wanted…it was a fun way to spend a Saturday in the 80s.  Even if the only people who got to hear your handiwork were a handful of your neighbourhood friends and classmates.

 

REVIEW: Little Caesar – Little Caesar (1990 cassette)

LITTLE CÆSAR – Little Cæsar (1990 DGC cassette)

I missed their first EP, Name Your Poison.  None of the local record stores knew who Little Caesar were, but rock magazines like Hit Parader were already tootin’ their horn.  When their major label debut Little Caesar hit the shelves, it was none other than Bob Rock in the producer’s chair.  “Chain of Fools” was selected for the lead single/video, which was probably a mistep.  It did show off Little Caesar’s knack for crossing Skynyrd’s southern rock innards with soul, but a more mainstream rocker like “Down-N-Dirty” would have been less of a shock to the uncultured longhairs of 1990.

Soulful blues rock was all the rage in 1990, with the likes of the Black Crowes and The London Quireboys hitting the charts.  Was Little Caesar just one too many bands?  They didn’t have the impact of the other two, though they certainly stacked up in the quality department.  Lead howler Ron Young’s lungs are enviable, with a southern gritty drawl and authenticity to go.*  The rock continues through “Hard Times”, which puts out a killer street rock vibe, able to tangle with any Hollywood competition.  “Chain of Fools” serves to show off Young’s limitless talents, but as a hard rock adaptation, falls shy of their original.

Diversity points are earned for a stellar ballad called “In Your Arms”, delivering on a solid soul vibe.  Young’s voice is the focus, revealing depth track after track.  There’s a darker turn on “From the Start”, foreboding but with anthemic chorus.  The first side’s closer puts you in a “Rock and Roll State of Mind” with a harmonica-inflected blues burner.

Gotta big monkey and he’s on my back,
It’s warmer than China, it’s better than crack,
It’s burnin’ like fire, it’s takin’ my soul, yeah,
So damn addicted to rock ‘n’ roll.

You may as well call this one my theme song.  The history of rock is delivered in under five minutes.

White boys stole it back in ’55,
Turned in to disco in ’75,
Said it all started with “Blue Suede Shoes”, yeah,
For years brothers called it just rhythm and blues.

Tell it how it is, brother!

Money can’t buy it ’cause it can’t be sold,
If you say it’s too loud, then you’re too fuckin’ old.

Flip the tape.  “Drive it Home” takes the car/sex metaphors to a dirtier level.  On, Ron, I bet you’d like to drive it home!  Another dusky ballad called “Midtown” changes the mood and the groove.  A ballad with balls and a banjo?  Then, “Cajun Panther” is its own descriptive, but the slippery guitar will hook you right in.  Greasy slidey goodness from Creedence county.  The next song, “Wrong Side of the Tracks” is actually closer to the mainstream and doesn’t stand out amongst more unique material.  Unique like “I Wish It Would Rain”.  It may be another ballad but its southern flavouring make it clearly different from anything on the radio in 1990.  “Little Queenie” nails the soul-rock vibe one last time, going out in style, but also with a song that doesn’t really sound like a closer.  Perhaps a little song shuffling would have put “Little Queenie” in a better spot to showcase its strengths.

Sonically, since this is a Bob Rock production, you already know what it sounds like.  It’s a big sounding album that captures the band in top shape and presents them in an appropriately dressed frame.  It’s a 12 track album and although that was becoming the norm, Little Caesar would have been a more effective debut if it were 10 songs, focusing on the ones that made it unique.

3.5/5 stars

 


* Tragically, Ron Young was killed in 1991 by a time-travelling Arnold Schwarzenegger, in Terminator 2: Judgement Day. **
** Fake News.  But he was in the movie and did get his ass kicked.

REVIEW: Smoke on the Water – A Tribute – Various Artists (1994 cassette)

SMOKE ON THE WATER – A Tribute (1994 Shrapnel cassette – tribute to Deep Purple)

This baby can be expensive to acquire on CD, so let’s give ye olde cassette tape a spin.  It’s not been played in over 20 years.  This review is with fresh ears.

The backing band on this tribute to Deep Purple consists of:  Deen Castronovo (Hardline/Journey – drums), Jens Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen – keys), Todd Jenson (Hardline/David Lee Roth – bass) and Russ Parish (Fight/Steel Panther – rhythm guitar).  Each track has a featured singer and lead soloist.  Let’s dig in.

First up:  “Speed King” by Yngwie J. Malmsteen with Kelly Keeling on vocals.  Keeling is on the sandpapery side of Joe Lynn Turner here, while Yngwie gets to jizz fanboy style all over the fretboard.  The star might actually be Jens Johansson’s keyboards but this is an unfortunately very cheesy version of “Speed King”.  Woah, Keeling just nailed an Ian Gillan scream!  Nice.

Kip Winger and Tony MacAlpine team up for “Space Truckin'”.  Tony goes his own way with the solos, innovating as he goes.  This is…pleasant?  There’s some kind of spark that’s missing, and when you’re playing “Space Truckin'” you need to put accelerant in the tank or you’ll fall flat.  Studio sterility has replaced spontaneity.

You gotta hope Glenn Hughes and John Norum can shock some life into “Stormbringer”.  They can!  Of the guitarists so far, John Norum (Europe) is the one who has the right feel for Deep Purple.  Glenn’s great, but doesn’t get to play bass, and here’s part of the problem.  You can hear that the backing band recorded the songs and then the featured players recorded their parts over them.  In a perfect world you’d have Glenn plotting the way on bass too, gelling with the backing band in a united groove.  That can’t happen when you record this way.

One guy who manages to inject his song with personality is Richie Kotzen.  He’s got the funky “Rat Bat Blue” and is granted both the lead vocals and guitars.  Yngwie returns on “Lazy” and he’s teamed with former Deep Purple singer and his own former bandmate, Joe Lynn Turner!  Yngwie plays appropriately on this strong but fairly bland track.  And that’s the cue to flip the tape over.

Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big) gets the vocal and guitar honours on “Maybe I’m a Leo”, which frankly is too slow and lacks groove.  Paul’s vocals, however, absolutely nail Gillan’s on the original.  Things turn stale quickly when it’s time for “Smoke on the Water”.  Russ Parish takes the guitar slot while Robert Mason (Lynch Mob/Warrant) sings.  Far more interesting is “Fireball” with Don Dokken and his future Dokken bandmate Reb Beach.  Don sounds a bit overwhelmed by the demanding song, but hits all the requisite notes.  The brilliant Jeff Scott Soto takes the driver’s seat on Mk I’s “Hush”.  This veteran vocalist (Yngwie/Journey/man more) makes mincemeat of your ears, absolutely killing it.  Soto is absolutely the vocal star on this album (one that includes Glenn Hughes)!  The final song goes to Tony Harnell (TNT) and Vinnie Moore (UFO).  They busy-up “Woman From Tokyo” a bit too much with unnecessary fills, but Moore does some really cool picking during the quiet section.

Though interesting, Smoke on the Water is far from an essential addition to your Purple collection.  There are already so many tributes out there.  The most interesting was T.M. Stevens’ Black Night which re-interpreted Deep Purple according to his New York sensibilities.  He had Joe Lynn Turner, Vinnie Moore and Richie Kotzen on his album too!  Then there is the more recent Re-Machined, featuring Iron Maiden, Metallica, and more Glenn Hughes.  Considering the CD prices these days, place Smoke on the Water fairly low on your priority lists.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Poison – “Stand” (1993 promo cassette)

POISON – “Stand (CHR edit)” (1993 promo cassette single)

What is a “CHR edit”?  It’s a special single edit of a song specifically intended for “contemporary hit radio”.  In other words, Top 40.  So, when “Stand” by Poison was selected to be the first single from 1993’s brand new Native Tongue album, it had to be trimmed for length.  Getting Poison on the radio was going to prove to be an impossible task, so why make it harder by giving them a 5:16 long track that they definitely wouldn’t touch?  “Stand” was shortened to 4:21, with much of Richie Kotzen’s delightfully idiosyncratic guitar licks getting the axe, along with some of the choir.

The cassette you see here contains two edited versions of “Stand”:  the 4:21 “CHR edit” and another at 4:30 simply called “edit”.  The differences are in the guitar solo which starts to deviate at the 2:28 mark.  It’s in interesting curiosity, a peak inside the minutia of thinking that goes into marketing a song.  “Hey, this format needs another nine seconds of song, leave in some guitar solo.”  Is that how it worked?

The tape has both edit versions on both sides…twice.  2x2x2=8 times total, that you will hear “Stand” by Poison, if you play it all the way through.  Call the CIA and let ’em know I have this cassette; they can use it with their enhanced interrogation techniques.  I’ll sell.

On that note I can all but guarantee this cassette has never been played through, ever.  It was sent to the Record Store about a year and a half before I started working there.  The owner hated Poison.  Hated — with a passion.  There is no way he played this tape in store, ever.  I rescued it from a giant, forgotten stack of promos that were stuffed into a bin.  All garbage.  “Don’t take any of those,” said the owner.  Eventually all that junk was slated to be thrown out when the only location that sold tapes changed formats at the end of 1996.

This tape is valuable for one thing:  it reveals the true North American release date for Native Tongue.  Currently (August 2019), Wikipedia claims Native Tongue was released on February 8, 1993.  That’s impossible because the 8th was a Monday.  New releases came out on Tuesdays.  This promo cassette clearly states on the back that the forthcoming album Native Tongue was retailing on February 16 — a Tuesday.  You’re welcome, internet.

Otherwise, this cassette is fairly useless.

1/5 stars