miles davis

REVIEW: Miles Davis – A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971)


MILES DAVIS – A Tribute to Jack Johnson (Columbia, 1971)

Bear with me, because as much as I love this record and jazz in general, I know very little (technically) about the music. I just know what sounds good to my ears. As far as jazz albums go, this one will be very palatable to rock fans because of the predominance of the electric guitar, especially on the first side, “Right Off”. John McLaughlin plays plenty of cool riffs and funky licks before Miles kicks in with his one-of-a-kind trumpet. Honestly, by the time you get to the end of the track, you will hardly believe that 27 minutes have gone by. It’s that good.  And it grooves, solidly.  Being in a room with this guys must have been a mindblowing experience.  It truly is an awe-inspiring groove that they lay down.

Side two, “Yesternow”, is a slow paced atmospheric piece, over 25 minutes long.  But by the end, it transforms into another one of those surreal grooves.  On this one, McLaughlin plays jagged, mournful and distorted bits over a slow groove. It’s not as immediate as “Right Off”, but some of the playing here (by everybody) is incredible. I love McLaughlin’s wah-wah.

That’s Herbie Hancock on organ, and Billy Cobham on drums.  Incredible.  They are accompanied by Michael Henderson (bass) and Steve Grossman (soprano sax).

As a movie geek, it was a special treat for me to have the late great actor Brock Peters do a cameo at the end, playing legendary boxer Jack Johnson:

“I’m Jack Johnson, heavyweight champion of the world!  I’m black!  They never let me forget it.  I’m black alright, I’ll never let them forget it!”

The album was the soundtrack to a Jack Johnson documentary film directed by William Cayton.  I can’t really go into a deeper analysis of the music (sorry) but there’s a decent Wikipedia article that can do it better than me.

This is a great, accessible album and I strongly recommend this 2005 remastered Sony edition.

5/5 stars

Part 108: Building the Store, Part 2

RECORD STORE TALES PART 108: Building the Store, Part 2

Last time, Statham posted something about a dream he had, of us putting together our own record store. I wish I could have had the experience of opening a store without doing work!  The reality of it varied.  On the couple of times I helped set up a store, it was hardly glamorous.

The first time was when we opened up the first store that I managed.  It was the biggest one so far, lots of stock, all crap. Junk. Shite.  Basically what we did was, maybe starting six months in advance,  just buy lots and lots and lots of stock.  Before long we had, I dunno, maybe 5000 discs, all garbage.  Dozens of Jann Arden, Spin Doctors, Michael Bolton…I had so much Michael Bolton that he took up three fucking rows!  I even had rare Michael Bolton.  Nobody had rare Michael Bolton!  Nobody wanted rare Michael Bolton!  Then you’d go to the Metallica section, nothing.  Kiss, a couple copies of Kiss My Ass.  And we had soooo much country.  We had buckets of country.  And rap artists that you nor I have ever heard of. 

Waltz back over to the rock section and browse the classics.  Did we have any Floyd?  Nothing.  Led Zeppelin?  Just the tribute album, Encomium.  Meat Loaf?  Bat 2, but not Bat.  We had a couple of Rush discs, like Counterparts, but nothing from the 70’s.  No Maiden.  No Miles.  No Dylan.  No Hendrix.

We had no standardized pricing scheme back then.  So, if I was pricing Eric Clapton’s Unplugged at $9.99, the guy next to me might have priced it at $11.99 because maybe he liked it more.  It was very subjective.  Sometimes you knew what a CD was worth brand new and based it on that, sometimes it was so common that it didn’t matter, and sometimes nobody had a fucking clue.  We’d try to fix the pricing it as we went, but it was slow.  After we opened, a customer would come up with three copies of the same album.  “This one is $8.99, this one $9.99, and this one $11.99.  Is that because one is more scratched?”  Logical question!  But no, we just cocked up.

It took weeks to manually input and price all those discs.  Shelving them took a couple more days. Making the header cards, setting things up, all told we were at it for maybe a month.  Then the big day came and we did our opening.  We were only half-equipped:  there was no second computer yet, and only half of our CD players for listening station had been bought.  Signs were still arriving to be put up.

I’ll never forget our sign that showed up that said, “WE PAY CSAH FOR YOUR USED CDS!” 

Regardless of how crappy the stock was, it sold!  I couldn’t believe it!  There were only a few decent albums and I figured once they were gone, that was it.  That wasn’t the case at all.  People kept buying the old rap and country discs.  Tanya Tucker?  Check!  We had lots!  And people were buying it!

Then, used stuff started coming in at a rapid pace.  Crazy stuff too.  I remember this one huge Tangerine Dream box set coming in, on the Thursday of the first week.

After we opened and good stuff started coming in by the box full, all the hard work seemed like it was paying off.  But the setting up was long and tedious, and I couldn’t stand Todd, who was also on setup duty.  But who gives a crap?  I spent weeks doing nothing but data entry while listening to music (our own music, which we brought in – of course).  I rocked a lot of Deep Purple those weeks.  It was awesome.

I remember that I had just found two Purple albums that I wanted:  Concerto For Group and Orchestra, and King Biscuit Flower Hour.  I also rocked Purpendicular, which had just come out, as much as I could.   Todd didn’t understand the music at all.  All he was interested in listening to was Floyd, nothing else.  He played Bush once or twice, but otherwise it was all Floyd.  He really, really liked P.U.L.S.E.  And he just murdered Floyd for me, for a long time.

When I listen to albums like Concerto and Purpendicular, it brings me right back to doing data entry in that store.  Not a bad soundtrack to work to.

KMA REVIEW: Kathryn Ladano – Open

This review is a re-press from keepsmealive; please drop by their site too! 

Kathryn Ladano – Open

Kathryn Ladano - Open. Now available.

Miles Davis was once quoted as saying “…I’ll just walk into the ocean and die, if I lose my tone.” All musicians, whether they admit it so freely or not, are seeking that elusive tone that defines them. Granted, Kathryn Ladano has a slight advantage in that the bass clarinet has not been an instrument of choice for most musicians. But therein, also, lies the challenge, and she handily tames the beast. Her tone is clearly the product of long practice, natural creativity and, most importantly, soul.

Part soundtrack to, perhaps, a playfully dystopian horror film, part sound/texture experiment, but all done with intention and purpose, Open reveals mastery behind apparently random strings of notes. For those conditioned by mainstream jazz and pop to expect chordal resolutions, most tracks on this record will not satisfy. And fair enough. From the outset it’s musically made clear that Open is not here to hold your hand. But play it through, especially on quality headphones, until your understanding of the pieces (if you’ll pardon the play on the title) opens. Once it does, there are treasures around every corner, in the low growls, the trills and flutters, the engaging uncertainty of what might happen next.

Scattered throughout, other instruments including xylophone, guitar, piano and a double bass, competently attempt to add to the melee. But it’s Ladano’s clarinet that soars. We’re tugged to and fro at varying paces and volumes, always with the understanding that what you find here, through your willing investment of time and thought, is your own discovery. Real jolts come as well, as after the first five truly hypnotic improvisation tracks comes the startling drum crash intro of Art Show (Improvisation), probably the most mainstream jazz-like song of the tracks here. Later, there’s the wonderful silliness of Evil Kirk, complete with spoken word quotations of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk (provided with obvious glee by Ladano’s brother, Mike).

Open will surely not be for everyone, but for those willing to strap in and hold on, it will reveal itself to be the conceptually strong, musically thoughtful record that it is.

Part 85: Guest Shot – “Selling”

My buddy Statham is back with another guest shot.  This guy has haunted record stores nation wide.  He’s had a lot of experiences, selling used discs, and here’s his perspective in the context of Record Store Tales….

LeBrain & Statham, 15 years ago

RECORD STORE TALES Part 85:  Selling, by Statham

I couldn’t tell you how Mike manages his record collection, though I have a guess. Allow me this imagining: Mike holds on to most of what he buys, because his is a collection built on deliberation, patient searching and care. He only pulls the trigger when he’s getting exactly what he wants. Of course, just about everything he owns is a Special or Limited Edition in some way. I picture him as more of a curator in the Living Library Of Rawk. (Hey Mike, am I close?) [LeBrain:  Dead on.]

My own collection, by comparison to the above supposition, is completely scattershot. Finding/buying and selling CDs are fairly equal parts of the hobby, for me. Sure, I have a lot of things that I’ve found over the years that I will never sell. Some just have good monetary value (while also being something I want to own), some are out of print or from very limited print-runs. Some are autographed. I have complete (or nearly complete) collections of artists I love, and I’ll never break those up. Some are artists that were new to me at the time, and were great discoveries that have stayed with me since. I have discs that I bought, or was given, that have sentimental reasons for staying in the collection, as I associate people and places with albums/songs. Anyway, I call all of these the Anchors, the ones that have followed me everywhere.

But there is another, majority portion of the pile of CDs which I consider to be fluid. Unless I’m filling in gaps in a collection, many (if not most) of the CDs I buy are on speculation. I’m always wondering what things sound like, trying new artists out. Now, added up over the years, these purchases have spanned almost every genre. I’ve heard a lot of music. I remember that C’Dement on Ste-Catherines in Montreal had a huge 2-section sale bin by the front door where the constantly-rotating stock of CDs were priced from $0.99 to a maximum $5.99. I could load up on music, sometimes getting as many as ten discs for the price of one new release. I REALLY liked that. Such a great way to expand my horizons. Sadly, that place, like so many I used to haunt, is no longer there.

There are lots of reasons I sell discs. I have moved around quite a bit, so I sometimes unload CDs in bulk just to avoid having to lug them (and to get funds to help with the move). Clearly, not many of these are Anchor CDs. Sometimes I buy a disc because I like a song I heard, and the rest of the disc doesn’t cut it (and then I eventually tire of the song I liked), so out it goes. Sometimes people give me discs, thinking I’ll like it, and… well, no. And sometimes I think I’ll like a CD, but it turns out that it just sucks. That happens more than it should.

ANYWAY. How does any of this relate to LeBrain? Easy, I sold him a lot of CDs over the years that I dealt with him at his store. I always looked for him. He knew the score. Let me tell you, I’ve been “helped” by others (at his store, sure, and in many, many other shops across this great land of ours), and a lot of them just didn’t get it. Most often, I’d get someone who would offer me far less than things were worth, knowing they could then sell it for more and thus turn a profit. They could only hope I was an idiot. I am not. What these people failed to realize was that I spent a lot of time in record shops, and knew generally what things were worth or were priced at currently. This is especially true now that we have the wonders of the internets. Often was the time I’d hear what they offered, know it for the piss-take it was, and refuse. I’d just pack up my CDs and go.

Other times, there’d be a teenager behind the counter. And, all deference to them and their raging hormones (surely some of them must know what they’re doing), most just didn’t know what I was giving them. Honestly, if it wasn’t Top 40 or mainstream, they had no idea. Their offers were always laughable, and I should mention that I generally consider my expectations to be fair. One time, while they went through what I’d brought in, I was browsing the shelves and asked for Dead Kennedys. I was jonesing for it, and thinking I’d get it on trade. The kid looked me right in the face and honestly asked “Who?” Man, I wept for the future, that day. So as a rule, until they’re done bursting their spots, I tend to stay away from selling CDs to the youngsters.

But Mike was different. Sure, over time, we built up a rapport. But even the first few times I brought in a shoe box of discs for trade, he was fair and knowledgeable. He’d pick up this or that disc and have a comment about it, or a band somehow related to it. He never once tried to undercut me with less than what something was worth. Mike was unafraid to comment on what I had, too, often in humourous ways. I’ve already told these pages about the Jewel Incident, and the Zeppelin Incredulousness. Such was Mike’s way. Often, with other places and people, I felt I had to watch as they went through each disc and explain what it was. I could spot looks of indifference and/or confusion from across the room. But I knew I could trust Mike to competently sort through the pile on his own (thus freeing me up to browse for new-to-me things while he worked).

Mike respected, too, that I was up for trying new music, and always had a helpful tip or suggestion on what to try next. I hardly ever took the cash (unless I really needed it) when I brought stuff to Mike. I took store trade instead. Not only did I get more for my stuff that way, but I’d get some new music and happily be on my way… until the next time, when we’d do it all over again.

I’d left town eventually, but even then I would mail a box to Mike for trade or cash from his store rather than deal with the nits in the shops where I was currently living. And at some point, I heard that Mike had left the store and moved on to another, unrelated job. It was a loss for them, a gain for whomever got him next. And too bad, as I understand it, that the next job wasn’t putting his music knowledge to work. The man’s an encyclopedia.

With the exception of one fellow out West whose knowledge and ability I trust as on par, I have rarely met a record store employee with Mike’s capabilities and fairness. My collection has gained many Anchors, and is miles (and even Miles…Davis that is) better for having dealt with him.

Part 60: Back to the Start

Holy crap!  Part 60 already?  I hope you’ve been enjoying the Record Store Tales so far.  For this sort-of-but-not-really-special edition, I’m going to take you back to the start. 

Marko Fox asked me today, “LeBrain, how did you get to be LeBrain?”  Well, it was a unique set of circumstances Marko.

1. Obsession.  Ever since I was a kid I think I was an obsessive-compulsive collector.  I had to have every Star Wars figure, I had to have all their names memorized, I had to have it all.

2. Rock Magazines.  The first rock magazine I ever bought was an old Circus special on Kiss.  All my friends seemed to know all the important details about bands:  Which guy was the bassist and which played guitar, the names of the members, the brands of the guitars.  I decided to needed to catch up and so I started reading magazines.

3. The Power Hour. This MuchMusic show ran for an hour, twice a week.  Two hours of pure rock a week!  I taped them religiously and never missed one until I got my first part-time job.

4. Columbia House.  Remember them?  Buy 11 CDs for a penny, get 2 free, and only have to buy 8 more at regular club prices within the next two years?  We got Columbia House when I was in grade 11, my sister and I, and we split it evenly.  I read the Columbia House catalog cover to cover every month.  So that meant I not only knew who Iron Maiden was, but also Miles Davis, Bell Biv Devoe, and Alan Jackson.

Those four factors sealed into my brain and endless stream of musical knowledge and listening experience that has only grown with the the birth of the Interweeb.

Jump-cut to 1994.  It is July.  I just started at the record store a few days ago.  My boss is having me file discs to get to know the inventory.  He is shocked that I know where to file Miles Davis.  He is surprised that I know which Alan Jackson album has “Chattahoochee” on it.  He asks me how I know this stuff?  I tell him, “Columbia House!”

It wasn’t too long before I was teaching him things, too.  I remember I bought a disc for stock by Pigface (Fook).  The next day he took me aside, holds up the CD, and says, “What is this that you bought?  You paid $4 for this?”  I said, “Yeah.  Side project of Ministry.”  That was when I became known as the guy who knew the side projects from just about everybody.

He was more than happy to stock something if I told him I know it would sell.  With him knowing what was going on with the charts, and Trevor knowing what was happening with new rock, we were a formidable force.

So there you go, Marko.  That is how LeBrain became LeBrain.  You’ll note that two of the four contributing factors don’t exist anymore, so perhaps there could never have been a LeBrain if not for the 80’s!

Part 6: The Record Store, Year 1

Myself on the left, Trev on the right.

We were pretty slow most evenings.  You could study for exams at work most nights. Fridays got busy, but Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights were dead.  That didn’t mean we doing nothing.  Rule #1:  “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.”  We had scheduled to do something every night.  Mondays was cleaning the mirrors which lined the store walls.   Tuesday was putting away new stock, which always came Tuesdays.  Wednesday was checking the security tags on every cassette in the store.  Every fucking cassette.

For the first 2 months or so, it was just me and the owner.  Once September hit, he hired this other guy, Trevor.  I didn’t like him at first, he was the “other guy”.  He was the same age as me, also finishing school at the same time as me.  We shared similar musical interests.  Influences we shared:  Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, The Four Horsemen, Kim Mitchell, Rush, and any bands with amazing drummers.  Over the course of the years, he introduced me to:  Steve Earle, Oasis, Metallica, Megadeth, Max Webster, anb Buddy Rich.  I give him a lot of credit for expanding my horizons during those days.

A lot of memorable releases came out that first year.  Superunknown and Purple were already out, but I was on board for some major ones.  Nirvana Unplugged was the biggest release of the fall 1994 schedule.  There was an Aerosmith hits disc, a Bon Jovi hits disc, and the Eagles reunion album which was absolutely massive.

The new Tragically Hip, Day For Night, came out on a Saturday.  We sold out by Sunday.  The boss drove down to Scarborough to get more on Monday.  Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy came out on vinyl the week before the CD was released.  We got just five in.  He didn’t expect it to sell, but we sold out before my shift even started.  Interestingly, none of the customers planned on playing it.  They either a) didn’t even have something to play it on, or b) were keeping it sealed as a collector’s item.  It definitely was a cool package.

Some poeople have a “swear jar”.  We had an alarm jar.  If you forgot to de-tag a customer’s purchase and thusly set off the alarm, you had to put a dollar in the jar.  We would use the spoils on our annual Christmas dinner.  It created some friendly competition between us.  That first Christmas is when I started working directly with Trevor, and I started to like him due to his excellent musical taste.  But in the alarm jar game, we were always about equal.  Sometimes you just forgot!

One lady may well have stolen something and set off the alarm, and I’ll never know, because, well….  As she was walking out the alarm went off.  I asked her to come back in the store and check to see if she had something from another store that may had set it off.  She was so upset at the alarm, she really wanted to show me she had nothing on her person.  So, she removed her top.  “See I’m not hiding anything in here!”  Covering my eyes, I told her it was quite alright, I believed her, and she could go.  First time I’d been flashed on the job.  Not the last.

She wasn’t even drunk.  They actually used to serve alcohol at this mall.  There was a licensed restaurant right next door to the store.  The regulars would start in the morning and keep going.  You’d see them in there every day, and they’d wander in completely plastered.

We had a few regular psychos at that mall.  There was Johnny Walker, who would just walk around the mall talking to himself, all day.  Literally, all day.  The story goes that he was quite rich.  He didn’t need to work, wasn’t capable of work, and just came to the mall and walked around all day, talking to himself.  Sometimes he would argue with himself and he had been ejected from the mall a couple times.  He came into the store a couple times but never caused any problems on my shifts.  One time, he even bought a cassette.  It was like the madness turned off.  He spoke to me, bought the tape, and walked out.  Madness set back in, and he’s off arguing with himself.  I wonder what happened to Johnny Walker?  He’d been walking the malls since grade school, sometimes changing malls when he got permanently ejected from one.

Then, there was Sue.  Sue had been in an accident years before, and had a walker.  She moved very  very slow.  She had a bit of a crush on the owner.  She stalked him relentlessly and gave him Christmas gifts.  She’d park her walker right there in front of the counter and talk his ear off for hours.  Hours!

One day, a large Japanese woman was shopping.  The owner said, “Go ask that lady if she needs help.  Then he stood back and waited.  I didn’t know it, but he had just given me my first challenge.

“Hi, can I help you find anything today?”

“No thank you though,” she answered, then almost immediately, “Do you have Soundgarden?”

I showed her what Soundgarden we had both new and used.  We also had the latest copy of M.E.A.T Magazine, and Chris Cornell was on the cover.  I’ll never forget that detail.

“Do you like Chris Cornell?” she asks.

“Yes, he’s actually one of my favourite singers.”

“Oh!  Really!  I love Chris Cornell.  He’s sexy.”

It was too late now.  I had opened Pandora’s box.  She opened the magazine to his picture inside.  She went on:  “I like when he wears his sexy black boots.  Chris Cornell wears black Doc Marten boots.  Do you know the boots?  Chris Cornell wears black Doctor Martens boots.  Do you like Doc Marten boots?”

I was on my own.  The boss just stood back.  I couldn’t even figure out a way to improvise my way out.  I was a rookie  I decided that this woman was most likely a lil’ crazy and I played the polite card.

“Yes, I do…”

“Chris Cornell is sexy.  Did you know that Soundgarden had an original bass player who was Asian?”

I did know that.  “Yes, his name was Hiro Yamamoto…”

“Yes Hiro Yamamoto.  He is Asian.  There are not many Asians in rock bands did you know that?”

This went on for a good 20 minutes.  After she left (not without asking my name, fuck!) my boss came to speak to me.

“That’s your first lesson.  Don’t get into conversations with customers.”

And of course we had the drunks.  I remember one jolly drunk came in that first Christmas Eve.  We all wore ties Christmas Eve, that was the tradition.  It was a tradition I kept every year to my last year at the store, even when I was the only one left who still did it.  This drunk came in, a big Grizzly Adams dude just reeking of alcohol.  He was definitely in great spirits though.  First he asked us why the ties?  The quick-witting Trevor answered, “I’m wearing mine because it makes me feel important.”  We laughed.  I then went over to see if he needed help finding anything.

“Hi there!” I began.

“Not yet, but I will be when I get home.  Hahahaha!” he answered.

Ultimately the jolly drunk guy couldn’t remember what to buy, so he bought $100 in gift certificates for his grand kids.  That was a great sale, and the best part was that it turned out to be $100 of pure profit for the store.  The bearded drunk guy probably lost it, because all my years with the store, they were never redeemed!

After Christmas, the owner confided in Trevor and I that he was going to be opening a second location.  This location would be in Waterloo.  It would be easily accessible by one high school, two universities, and one college.  He would be splitting his time between our store and setting up the new one.  Ultimately this meant he’d be in much less and we’d be getting more hours, and also bhe was bringing a new guy in.

I walked in one Tuesday to see this black-bearded behemoth behind the counter.  It was kind of awkward because the owner didn’t introduce us at first.  I looked around for an hour, stealing glances at this big grizzly bear of a man with the thickest blackest beard you can picture.  Finally he introduced me to Thomas, later to become Tom, the legendary founder of Sausagefest.  Ahh, but that comes much later.


Tom was a wicked cool guy who expanded my musical tastes even further than Trevor had.  Tom and I had many influences in common.  I had met another kindred spirit.  Influences:  Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Van Halan (not Van Hagar!) and Johnny Cash.  Music he would introduce me to:  Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Fu Manchu, and the whole stoner rock scene in general.  His place was plastered with rare Marillion posters.  Tom was serious about music.

Tom was so serious about music that it was actually hilarious.  Kids, this is the difference between liking music and loving music.  Nobody loves music as much as Tom.  Dare I say it, Tom loves music even more than me.

One night in Toronto, we visited the big HMV on Yonge St.  Tom was methodically working his way through every decent section of the store.  Long after Trevor and I had finished shopping, Tom was just finishing browsing rock.  With a handful of discs by Rainbow and Saga, Tom would then announce, “OK…I just have to check country.”

20 minutes would pass.  “Alright…on to jazz.”

20 more minutes.

“I just have to check blues.”

10 more minutes.

“Oohh…I wonder if they have the soundtrack to the Godfather.”

Checkout.  Trev, Tom and I usually checked out of that store $200 lighter.  Each.

Then, repeat.  We walked down the street to Sam’s, and finally to Virgin.  Rock, country, jazz, blues.  Every store.  That was Tom, three stores, one night.

Seriously those early days at the store were the best times I ever had working.  Working hard or hardly working?  No, we worked hard.  If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.  We ran that store with the owner making guest appearances, adding to it with our own creative ideas.

I graduated school in the summer of 1995, and hadn’t decided on my next move.  After that I was putting in increasingly more hours at the store.  It gradually built up from a part time job to full time.  When the new store opened, Tom split hours between the two of them so there were plenty of day and night shifts available, usually alone, which were the best times because you could play whatever you wanted!

I remember Tom walked in one night when I was playing Dio.  Back in 1995 you could not play Dio in a mainstream record store.  That would be like the equivalent of playing Michael Bolton in one today.  He was so far removed from what was selling at the time.  But I was rocking out to Holy Diver and Tom appreciated that I had the balls to do it.

Tom went to a lot of concerts.  After we had bonded over the mutual love of metal, I joined him and many of my future Sausagefest friends at a Black Sabbath concert.  It was Motorhead opening on the Sacrifice tour, and Black Sabbath headining, supporting their final studio album (17 years and counting!) Forbidden.  They played at Lulu’s Roadhouse just down the street.  A few weeks later we saw Queensryche in Toronto on the Promised Land tour.

Trev, Tom and I would have many adventures.  Such as that time seeing Kiss in…ahh, but that’s another story.  Before I talk about Tom and Trev again, I need to tell you a really shitty story.