Buchanan & Goodman: The Flying Saucer

Here’s one of the first records I bought when I first jumped into the vinyl scene. This isn’t your typical 45, so before you keep reading, just click on the embedded youtube video and hear it out.

If you are like me, then the record probably reminded you of the infamous War of Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, in which Orson Welles narrated a series of “real-time news alerts” about a Martian invasion. As history tells it, the next day, people freaked. But Buchanan (the news radio broadcaster in “The Flying Saucer”) and Goodman (John Cameron-Cameron) had something else in mind.

The Flying Saucer” (1956) is much more of a fun and jumpy sample collection than anything serious or even playable (honestly, I get a headache if I listen to it twice in one sitting). But it was still worth the buy. I didn’t know what I would do with the record when I got it. In fact, I still don’t know. It hasn’t done much but collect dust over the last year. But, even now, I can still feel that it has a lot of creative potential. No doubt I will take bits of it here and there and use them for one of my upcoming projects.

So… Duck back in the alley!

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The Eddy Jacobs Exchange: Pull My Coat

This here is a classic bboy joint I used to dance to in Philly. Actually, I still jam to it here in SF even though it’s in the “memorized” section of my playlist. The reason I picked this record for #45Fridays is simply because my good friend Dick Vivian, owner of Rooky Ricardo’s, gave it to me as a gift, not because it was the holidays, but because he knew I would like it.

I have tons of respect and love for Dick; he has unofficially taken me under his wing as a student, and he truly cares and looks out for me. Not to mention that he can tell a story like no other that’ll have me cracking up all night.

And that’s that. I wish all of you readers have a lovely beginning to the new year. I hope 2012 really takes care of you and that you hit the ground running to reach your future goals. I, for one, will be kicking off the first two hours of 2012 by spinning 45s at the Monarch Lounge.

And as a way to finish off 2011, I would like to give a proper thanks to everyone who has been actively following The 45 Brains, supporting my adventure and the blog, giving me feedback, and for making it out to see me spin. Special shout outs to Nelsa, Gabe, Moses, Bryan, Steven Gee, my whole lab (especially the lovely ladies Liz, Pu, Cindy, and Shifu), Dick Vivian, the Nostalgia King aka Skeme Richards, M3, Platurn, the homie DJ Delgado, and the Control Freaks. You have no idea how much all of your support means to me. And I’m sure I’m forgetting more people – please forgive me, it’s late and I have been working since 8am, but you know I appreciate you.

NYE @Monarch w/Saul Drumm aka The 45 Brains

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Nostalgia in Paris

We are just a few days from closing the year. In reflection, 2011 had many ups and even more downs. Moments have passed when thoughts of giving up ran through my mind, and other times when I felt inspired to conquer the world. It may have been a terrible year, but I have learned a lot through it; although I can’t shake the feeling that it may not have been worth the agony.

hmm.

That was quite the unexpected and dramatic start. What I really wanted to write about was nostalgia, and in a good way.

I recently watched Midnight in Paris at my friend Pu’s house, and the movie really resonated with me. I’m always skeptical about Woody Allen films but this one was perfect. The protagonist, Gil Pender, a writer, hopes to reach a level of poetic grandeur reminiscent of what he considers to be the golden age of writing and art, America in the 1920’s. And I was right there with him. He is full of nostalgic feelings about an age that is seemingly far away. I say seemingly because the beauty and magic of the film emerges when Pender accidentally travels back in time to the very golden era he adores. And there he meets the greats: Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dali, Picasso, Cole Porter, Man Ray, and many more.

Pender gets to meet the men he idolizes and gets a rare chance to flesh out ideas with them, a dream I have always had. And although he is drawn to remain among the greats, in the end, he settles for his own time. The moral of the story being, without spoiling the ending, that one must learn to love the present without trying to live in the past. I, however, find that difficult to achieve because hindsight is 20/20 while “nowsight” is blurry and unclear.

In the present, I wonder about the future. Not in the sense of “what will the future hold?” kind of way. It’s obvious that technological, medical, political (hopefully), and creative advancements are expected in the future, even in the near future. But my wonderment has more to do with reflection. How will the people of the future, how will we in the future, see and understand the current past?

I realize the slippery grammatical slope I’m on, and the scientist in me is screaming for more concrete, understandable examples.

e.g. The 1960’s were only half a century ago. And, having never lived through them, I view them through the lens of nostalgia. I wonder about late night chats with my heroes during their prime. To really figure out what the young Muhammad Ali’s and JB’s had to say when they were starting out. And in 50 years, the 2010’s will also be half a century ago. And I wonder what the kids of 2060 will reflect on most. Who stood out during my time? Who was a paradigm shifter?

I can point to President Obama or Steve Jobs as obvious answers. But when it comes to music, it’s difficult (for me) to guess, or anticipate.

I think most likely this era will be considered a time of rapid technological advancement. And that the young adults of the 2060’s will have nostalgic thoughts about then obsolete landlines, ethernet cables, and dvd players (technologies that are already becoming obsolete). But I wonder what music they will turn to? I want to know the thought pattern of the future kid that sets out to collect “rare” CDs and mp3s from the turn of the century. And brags about how nobody plays vintage music anymore.

In truth, I’m full of nostalgia. It stems from a deep love for good music, which pushes me away from the current trends to the classic tunes. But it is more than just music. I have a love affair with entire eras of American history: the dress codes of the early days, when people used to wear dresses and suits to the movies; the black and white low-budget films; the open space for creativity. Of course I’m referring to a more idealistic nostalgia (this is a common symptom of the disease). I mean, let’s not get it twisted… I’m glad I can vote now haha.

But the question still stands: I’m currently walking around during a time when someone, right now, is doing something so improbably amazing, that it will be considered a turning point for music 50 years from now. But who are you paradigm shifter?

Midnight in Paris is a wonderful movie and I highly recommend it, especially to the romantics in the crowd. Not to mention it has the beautiful Marion Cotillard, who is made to look even more gorgeous and… French than ever before, although I did not think it possible.

Plus she’ll be in the upcoming Batman Movie. Am I falling in love? Maybe if I was born in another time.

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Hear Voices

I got a major exam today so I thought I’d make today’s entry a quick one.

A few months back I was at amoeba (I was record binging during that time) and I saw this well designed cover with a great title and a trippy photograph of this macabre dressed brother. Needless to say, I had to get it.

I got home right away to listen to it, and I remember feeling very confused about how I felt about the record. I can’t say I fell in love with the song “I Hear Voices”, and I couldn’t imagine playing it anywhere outside of my room, or maybe at a halloween party. Regardless, the record was a good intro to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. I read up a little on the man and found out that he was a big influence on rock and roll and that he really pushed musicians to take showmanship to a new level. He was quite the character as you can guess.

Take a listen to the more familiar “I Put a Spell on You”, which is as full of grunts, smacks, bumps, moans, and maniacal laughs as “I Hear Voices”.

Apparently he named his skull-cane “Henry”.

Two more things: (1) Today is the holiday edition of The 45 Sessions w/DJ Sake One. I’ll be celebrating finishing my exam at Disco Volante so come through. (2) If you haven’t, go check out last week’s #45Friday entry by my man Delgado. Tons of good info on a song I’ve always loved.

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Dusty Stax and The Bold Italic Present

This December, I went from 0 to 60 miles per hour in ten days flat.

It started off with DJ Keybump inviting me to kick off Soul Stax with him, his weekly bar night at Tunnel Top. It was a chill vibe, my friends came through to check it out, and I got to try out some new ideas I’ve been holding onto. A few days later on that Saturday, I got to man the upstairs decks at Monarch’s Grand Opening Night for four hours straight, and it was a blast. Thanks to everyone who came out and made sure the dance floor stayed packed and energetic. You folks really made my night and I wish I had pictures! There was a beautiful contortionist who put on a great show and props to Rob for quick and proper distribution of some very delicious manhattans. If you haven’t definitely go check out Monarch, especially the downstairs sound system. And this past Friday I got to relax with Dick Vivian at his shop where I made sure the wine and music were flowing for the Lower Haight Holiday Art Walk.

Overall it was a busy a month, but also a fun one.

Especially because this Saturday, I got to collaborate with Dick at “A Very Special Winter Formal Dance” presented by Dusty Stax and The Bold Italic. I was looking forward to this event all week because I knew it was going to be classy. Live band? Seriously formal dress code? 50’s and 60’s music? Of course I was excited; and it was rightfully a great night. I got to do some dancing, admire the crowd, and take some great shots. Matter of fact, I’ll let them speak for themselves.

Thanks to all those people, especially Dick, Manny, and Keybump, for inviting me to spin with them. It’s been an honor, and I hope to collab more in the future.

Email 45brains@gmail.com if you want to use any of these photos. All photos appearing on this blog are property of Sama and The 45 Brains, but if you ask nicely I can easily send you high-res copies!

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Cliff Nobles and Co: The Horse

Another installment of 45 Fridays: “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles and Co.

This right here is a bboy classic. I used to listen and dance to this song all the time in Philly and I was ecstatic when I bumped into it shortly after I started collecting records. “The Horse” is the bass-driven instrumental B-side of “Love Is Alright” which features Cliff Nobles singing. I remember being at the record shop, hearing the A-side and thinking, “this song sounds familiar.. but something is off about it”. But once I played the flip I instantly recognized it and had to get it.

Cliff Nobles & Co: The Horse

I thought that would be the end of it but the song popped up again while I was reading “A House On Fire“, a book about the history of Philadelphia Soul. It turns out that the record was produced in Philly (you can see that from the label — “Phil L.A. of Soul”) and that it has a strange story behind it.

Local Philly producer Jesse James and arranger Bobby Martin took singer Cliff Nobles into Virtue studios to record “Love is Alright”; all they had with them were the lyrics that James wrote and an expectation that the in-house musicians would figure out the rest. These musicians (guitarists Bobby Eli and Norman Ray Harris, bassist Ronnie Baker, vibraphonist Vince Montana, and drummer Earl Young) worked with Martin to figure out the melody for the song and soon they were able to get a recording together. And that was it for James. He was so confident that the song was a hit that, when asked about the flip side, he said: “I don’t give a shit, man. Use the backing track”.

And then he left, alongside Nobles, who sang his part and had little else to do that day at the studio. So Bobby Martin, with Frank Virtue and the key musicians, tweaked the backing track and ended up with “The Horse”, which was also credited to Cliff Nobles and Co. And it turned out that James was not as clairvoyant as he thought he was. The record began slowly dying out when it was first released. But then a DJ in Tampa, Florida played the B-side and the song sold ten-thousand copies in a week in Tampa alone. And Nobles, who wasn’t even in the studio when the song was recorded, soon had a hit that sold two-million nationwide. Unfortunately, the musicians who created the song got little more than their session fee. And Martin couldn’t get much more for them when he bugged James about it.

“The Horse” was a lucky turn of events for James and Nobles, who made it big with minimal effort, and it’s unfortunate that the musicians on deck didn’t get more compensation for their work. The good thing that came out of it was that all of a sudden, the guys who put together “The Horse” became locally famous and were highly sought after by Philly producers and labels owners. So karma took care of them, and of James too whom the band refused to work with again.

I didn’t choose this record because it’s a rare find, but because it’s an example of how much my appreciation for music has increased since I started collecting and researching records. I used to listen and dance to this song all the time in college, but I didn’t even know its name! Let alone that it was produced in Philly or that it had a strange story behind.

Also, make sure to check out the upcoming gigs I got lined up.

*Pretty much, all of the info about “The Horse” I found in “A House on Fire”, which is a phenomenal book about how Kenneth Gamble, Thom Bell, and Leon Huff shaped the sound of Philadelphia Soul. I highly recommend it.

 

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The Juggernaut Database

I wouldn’t be taking advantage of my records if I wasn’t listening to them all the time, especially at work or on the go. But I obviously can’t be expected to constantly carry a turntable and a stack of 45s around with me. That’s just silly, but there is an obvious alternative. I just need to digitize the records (easy!) and listen to them on my ipod, which seemingly solves the problem of portability and access.

But after digitizing about 150 records (~300 songs), I realized I was returning to an old pattern of play. Even though I had the records at home, transforming them into an iTunes list of song names really depleted the music of something… essential. It felt like business as usual and reminded me of how things used to be before I started The 45 Brains. But fortunately, I have taken drastic measures to avoid this “digital corruption” by starting a new project.

I call it “The Juggernaut Database”.

I’ll be straight about this, this new project is hard work and will take a long time to complete. But the beauty of it lies in the work required to complete it. In essence, the problem I was beginning to have with my digitized collection was that I was losing touch with the physical records. I was filtering all of the sensory information associated with vinyl down to a bland pill, to just another song name in a list. My interaction with the music was becoming passive, as it once was long ago. In contrast, The Juggernaut Database aims to remedy this issue by forcing me to interact with each record I care about. For instance, I recently input a batch of 30 records into The Database and it took me about 5 days of on-and-off work, that I did in the mornings between the hours of 7-9am. And the effects are immediate. Let me walk you through my 7-step program.

(1) The Batch

There are a lot of steps that need to be taken before a record enters The Database. So you’d assume it may be best to go record by record, focusing on one 45 at a time. But instead, I decided to batch a bunch of records (30 to be exact) into a “working pile”. I try to pick different artists and labels for diversity’s sake and this has a surprising added benefit. Songs in the working pile come to be associated with each other because they go through the process together, which means I handle and listen to them as a rough 2-3 hour mix instead of on a song-by-song basis. Each song now fits within the context of the batch.

(2) The Raw Scan

The most obvious thing that is missing from my digitized collection is the visual information of each record. By which I mean the colors, scratches, stickers, and designs that make each record unique. The Raw Scan is integrally important, and it takes forever to get through! But I get to feel, handle, and see both sides of each record and therefore develop a strong connection with the record.

Step 2: The Raw Scan

Step 2: The Raw Scan

(3) The Album Cover

Next, I open up photoshop. Each scan (for a batch of 30 records, that’s ~60 scans!) is rotated, cropped, and transformed to bring out all the beauty inherent in each record. This opens up the potential for future artistic work too.

Step 3: The Album Cover

Step 3: The Album Cover

(4) The Digitization

This part is obvious and necessary. I go from vinyl to AIFF (not mp3) because you can attach meta data and the sound quality is practically the same as a wav file. I attach my mixer to my macbook pro and record on audacity (free software, eh). I play the records straight off of the 1200s.

(5) The Transition Playlist

I put all of the newly recorded songs into a temporary playlist; this is my favorite part. Here I BPM each song, pick out a genre that makes sense to me (I have my own system that I adopted from Dick Vivian), and I repeatedly listen to the batched songs at work. I finally attach an “album cover” to each song which is basically the cleaned up scan. The ~60 songs will sit in this transition playlist, as a rough mix, for as long as I need them to. Until I feel that I know each song by heart before I move them out into…

(6) The Juggernaut Database

Here, I don’t search for songs by name, but instead pick them out by the “album art”, just like I would if my box of 45s was in front of me. Each record is also numbered and I input the information into a mega-excel file.

Step 6: The Juggernaut Database

Step 6: The Juggernaut Database

(7) The Purple Sleeve

Once a record gets put into The Database, it gets a new purple sleeve and a sticker with the song names and BPMs. I got the idea for this from DJ Foxx Boogie who told me that DJ Froz1 does something similar. So when I’m home I can immediately see how much work I have in front of me because only a small fraction of the collection has this color sleeve.

Step 7: The Purple Sleeve

Step 7: The Purple Sleeve

And that’s The Juggernaut Database; a.k.a. the way for me to re-establish my connection with vinyl. Each record now requires an inordinate amount of work and effort from me, so I no longer feel disconnected when I’m at lab and listening to my digitized playlist. The songs aren’t just abstract files on my computer but instead maintain a more meaningful existence. And searching for songs in The Database now has that “at home” feeling. Overall, I would say it takes about 30 minutes for a record, from start to finish, to enter The Database, but the time is all worth it.

Lesson? Music shouldn’t be a passive experience. Take action and engage with it!

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Eddie and Ernie: Bullets Don’t Have Eyes

Last Friday marked the start of something new for The 45 Brains. Friend and fellow vinyl enthusiast, DJ Delgado, put up a great blog entry on Rappin’ Duke that got me excited. I saw it on his feed with the hashtag “#45fridays” and asked him if this was the beginning of a new tradition. And, being the 45 aficionado that he is, Delgado was game. And now the start of a soft collaboration is underway.

Delgado got the ball rolling last week, so that means today is my turn to write about a record, and what better way to kickstart this joint than to write about another dynamic duo in honor of The 45 Brains x DJ Delgado.

The 45? Eddie and Ernie: Bullets Don’t Have Eyes

I was first turned onto this song by DJ Primo at the “Escape from NY Pizza” spot in the Mission. I was there to catch him, Nick Waterhouse, and DJ Lucky spin slow jams to a hip crowd and to learn about 45s. While waiting for my slice to heat up, I half-jokingly asked Primo to teach me everything he knows about soul music. He explained to me his method for finding new records and then told me to look up “Bullets Don’t Have Eyes”. A day later, I ordered the record online and played the waiting game.

Recorded in 1972 and put out by Ever-Soul (a Daptone subsidiary) decades later, it’s one of the last recordings by Ernie Johnston Jr. and Eddie Campbell. Check out the back cover to read about how David Griffith came upon this jewel. And not to mention that NERDTORIOUS nodded to it about two years ago. The comments on that blog post are pretty informative because Eddie Campbell’s son, Christopher Campbell, says that his father wrote the song and did all of the vocals for it too.

“Bullets” is not the only Eddie and Ernie record I have, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s also one of the few 45s I own that has its own album cover, which is a plus. And recently, DJ Forty Fivan put out this amazing mix that featured “Bullets” as the 4th song. I’m definitely late to the game on this record but I wouldn’t sleep on it if I was you. You can easily find $10 copies online.

Well that’s it for this installment of 45 Fridays. Just wanted to point to a record that gets many plays at my house and to a dynamic duo that released many velvety tunes. Now, keep an eye out at DJ Delgado’s blog “Musings From the DJ Booth” and definitely check out his Mixtape Mondays section.  He should be dropping a 45 mix soon enough.

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So Many Good Memories – RIP Bobby Mozia

Three weeks ago, on October 22nd, I woke up happy. I had a great time at The 45 Sessions the night before and I was excited about starting a new organization system for my record collection. But about ten minutes after waking up, I notice a text message from my best friend Nelsa: “Call me asap. Something happened”. I start praying that it was nothing serious but I rushed into the backyard anyways to make sure I got full service on the phone.

My best friend and brother, Robert Mozia, had passed away. He was 24 years old.

I’m not going to make public the anguish and devastation that comes with this kind of loss. Needless to say, I really hope no one has to go through something like that. I took two weeks off from work, music, and my other projects to spend time with my support network in Philly, to connect with and support Bobby’s family and friends in these awful moments, and to recover my senses. And I honestly have to say that it hasn’t been easy. But time heals most wounds.

Bobby on our Pacific road trip, at Salinas leaving the dubious Motel 6

Now I’m back in San Francisco, back to work, and back to music with a new found motivation and outlook on life. There’s nothing like losing your best friend at 24 years of age to really force you to see things differently. Before Bobby’s death, I forgot how fragile life could be and I expected my loved ones to be there for me into old age. But in reality, one second they could be there, and the next? Poof! That’s all it takes sometimes. So if I had to give anyone any piece of advice, it’s this: while you’re here, invest yourself in others. Show them how grateful you are that they are there for you and there with you. And push forward with a grounded respect for death.

Enjoying tall ones at a restaurant in Long Beach with my brothers: Muzzy, Joey, and Bobby

And that’s what I’m going to do. As of October 22nd, 2011, I re-dedicate my efforts in life to Bobby’s memory. As his friend, I got to see him knock out every goal that he ever set out for himself and he has inspired me to do the same. “No excuses, just results”, he used to say. And with that, I’m back on track with my science, finishing up my responsibilities to my program, and now jumping even deeper into the 45 scene.

Bobby escaping the even more dubious "Vagabond Inn" - so many good memories

Take care Bobby. Thanks for everything and more. And especially for jumping in to hold me up whenever I needed it.

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Reaching Sherlock Holmes Status: Level I

When I was a kid, there were two people I wanted to be: Bruce Wayne and Sherlock Holmes. I idolized these two heroes because of their planet-sized intellects, their use of science and logic to solve crime, their almost egotistical level of self-confidence, and above all, their unparalleled detective skills. I would, literally, train myself by solving hundreds of logic puzzles in order to one day become as good a detective as Sherlock and Batman. I even pursued a career in science because it gave me a chance to use my detective skills to solve biological puzzles that no one in the world has figured out yet. And even today I still read Sherlock novels and I occasionally tap into my collection of Batman comics. Not to mention I’ve expanded to the likes of ColumboThe Question, and Nero Wolfe.

So I hope you can guess that I approached my entry into the vinyl scene with that detective mentality. When I started I had nothing more with me than some vague ideas and a few preconceptions, and now I am striving to reach “Sherlock Holmes Status” (otherwise known as “The Bruce Wayne Directive”).

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“Yes, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one ‘Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos.’ In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. It is a point which is continually turning up in criminal trials, and which is sometimes of supreme importance as a clue.” (Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign of Four”)

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Level I: Knowledge

This is the very first step to reaching Sherlock Holmes Status. You have to accrue as much knowledge about the field as possible. I do this on a daily basis regardless of the topic. In science, I make sure to scan the vast literature for new discoveries and I’m always reading publications as they come out. For music, I read blogs and books, I follow up on DJs I respect, and I constantly use my record collection as a springboard for research. If you give me a soul artist’s name, then you can rest assured that by that night I would have searched the internet or any books I have lying around for her singles, what albums she’s dropped, who she worked with, what label she favored, and any memorable and noteworthy anecdotes in her life.

But it’s not enough to just have breadth, to reach “outwards” and accumulate tons of facts. Your knowledge base has to have depth as well; it should reach “downwards”, deep into the subject matter. It’s not enough to know that to get sound out of a record you have to put the needle down on it and have your speakers turned on. In order to reach Sherlock Holmes Status, you have to know how the needle translates those tiny bumps in the groove into sound. If you don’t know then you were like me a while back. So figure out how your record player works by doing some research, or ask me if you see me, or better yet ask someone who really knows and takes apart turntables like lego pieces (which is what I did to find out myself).

And this brings me to an important point. I know that reading books and blogs is not enough when it comes to something like music, which is, almost by definition, social. You have to talk to people. Just make sure you consult with the experts, i.e. those people who have been in the scene for far longer than you have and are holding on to gems of knowledge. Do not be afraid, but always be respectful.

And most importantly, I listen to music constantly. While I work, when I wake up, before going to sleep. I’m always humming, or singing, or whistling, or nodding my head to some song that’s stuck in my head. Aside from knowing the people and the history behind the music, you have to know the music itself. Hell, I’m jamming right now as I write this.

In essence, I have just outlined the recipe for reaching Level I, and I follow it religiously. I read blogs, books, or anything I can get my hands on (here is a student’s honor’s thesis on Lavell Kamma that I was turned onto by reading up on The FUNKY16CORNERS blog). I ask questions and I spend my weekends at the record shop chatting with Dick about music (the man is an encyclopedia). I even looked at my needles under a microscope to understand the intricate details of the design (lab perk). And even with all of that, I have not even come close to scratching the surface, and I wouldn’t say I’ve reached Level I.

But here’s the best part.

Even when I do reach Level I, I can never leave. This part of the quest is ongoing and never ending. And, as my mentor would say,  I have to always keep a baseline state of “I Don’t Know” while I continue to accrue new knowledge.

Stay tuned for Level II.

“The Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study”. (Sherlock Holmes)

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