From the outset of this music blog I have set out as a curator to remember interesting albums that someone else turned me onto, usually from another MP3 blog or from other sources. I describe the blog as “the ideal A/V section of your public library, helping to chronicle unheard, rare, forgotten or challenging music and offer it up for research”. It is the A/V section of the public library that somewhat inspires today’s post.
In 1990 I was a sophomore at Hume Fogg High School in Nashville, TN. Hume Fogg is a magnet school, a school that attracts the best students from the entire metropolitan school district. I have always tested well and I was able to fool their board into thinking I was an appropriate student. I am a drummer from a family of drummers, but by 10th grade I had mostly played in orchestra and school band, with the occasional foray on my oldest brother’s drums. I knew what to do with them when I sat behind them, but did not own my own. Hume Fogg had as an arts elective a rock & roll band class called Pop Ensemble as well as string orchestra and band (no marching band as the school had no football program). I so desperately wanted to be in Pop Ensemble but the school did not provide instruments, I had no drum set and another kid named Ian Plummer was already the drummer. In 1990 I got my lucky break. Ian broke his leg in a soccer match and was unable to play drums for six weeks. I was called upon to play with the Pop Ensemble for the fall concert in Ian’s place on his drums.
One of the songs that Pop Ensemble teacher Mr. Myrick wanted us to learn for the performance was “Take Five” by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I didn’t really know jazz all that well and had not heard the song. Mr. Myrick suggested I visit the public library to find the recording. So one Saturday I took the Number 3 bus from home into downtown Nashville and visited the main branch. I walked upstairs to the A/V department and had my life change. Though I didn’t really know it at the time.
The A/V librarian was, as most music geeks are, kind of unkempt, bespectacled, and happy to share his vast knowledge of his music collection. I walked in with my bad long hair (the metal mullet) and glasses, wearing a Led Zeppelin t-shirt, asking him if the library had a copy of “Take Five”. Of course it did, the librarian informed me, and then proceeded to ask me if I was a fan of Zeppelin. I said you betcha, and he walked over to the shelves and pulled out Time Out, the Brubeck album with “Take Five” on it and then handed me three other albums. He said, “If you like Zeppelin, give these a try and let me know what you think when you come back”. The three albums were Weather Report’s Heavy Weather, Billy Cobham’s Spectrum and Return To Forever featuring Chick Corea’s Where Have I Known You Before. I didn’t much care for Heavy Weather but I was completely blown away by the other two.
I had by this time begun to absorb progressive rock. I grew up with Rush, at that point my acknowledged FAVORITE BAND EVER, and some friends in school had turned me onto Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, Gentle Giant and King Crimson. Thanks to that bit of background I was prepared for these three jazz-fusion classics. Heavy Weather sounded cheesy to me then, and still does to this day. A bigtime sellout by Joe Zawinul and company that was actually several albums in the making. It took me years to discover that the earlier Weather Report albums are not only just better than the later ones, but were pretty awesome impressionist post-Bitches Brew albums. Spectrum was kinda rockist and featured the “Hot For Teacher” heavy metal boogie made famous by Van Halen, obviously stolen from Cobham’s “Quadrant 4”. But Where Have I Known You Before…it reminded me of some of the instrumental passages from ’70s Rush albums but rawer, weirder with stranger chords, no lyrics and a heady dose of that “8th grade science class movie soundtrack” sound. Meaning, it sounded like the 1970s. Fender-Rhodes electric pianos, wah-wah guitars, cardboard drums, Moog synthesizers, phase shifting, and the most mindbending structural turns and soloing. To quote Michael Stipe, “It. Spoke. To. Me.” I recorded this album on one side of a 90-minute cassette, with Spectrum on the other side, and returned the albums the next week. That librarian sent me home with so many crazy albums over the next five months…Live-Evil, Black Sabbath’s albums (to that point I’d only heard the greatest hits We Sold Our Souls For Rock & Roll), Camel, Amon Duul, and so many other weird musicianly albums. It is to this unnamed librarian that I owe a distinct debt for turning me onto music that to this day continues to fascinate and affect me.
This post is also timely. In two days I fly back to Nashville to meet up with my brother to see Return To Forever in concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, almost exactly 21 years after I discovered the band’s music. In celebration, I present the album that kind of started it all, the first domino to fall that led me along the path I’ve followed since.
A note about this album. In December 1990 I got my own vinyl copy of Where Have I Known You Before at a flea market near the airport in Nashville for the princely sum of $3 (I also got their next LP No Mystery at the same time). Two months later my parents divorced and I moved away from Nashville back to Owensboro, KY where I am from. In the fall of 1991 I was visiting my oldest brother who still lived in Nashville near Centennial Park and I walked from his apartment to the Circuit City that used to be right outside the park and purchased Where Have I Known You Before and No Mystery on compact disc, you know, to “upgrade”. These were the West German pressings (as by that time no one cared for fusion and the CD’s weren’t in print yet in the U.S.) and, honestly, weren’t an improvement on the vinyl. But it was 1991 and vinyl was dead, y’know? I still have that CD (or at least a CD-R of it…I sold nearly all my CD collection in 2006 but not before I CD-R’ed the good stuff) and just this year found another vinyl copy. Listening to it again proves the lie that CD’s always improve on vinyl. I’m no analog snob. I don’t always think vinyl is better. I do think the mastering job on that first CD pressing was lousy (as are many early CD pressings, usually mastered from the mix for vinyl or cassette and not remastered to take advantage of the wider bandwidth of compact disc) and this particular copy that I digitized up for you sounds much more full and richer than the very flat CD I’ve been listening to since 1991. I will certainly be trading this one out for it in my iPod. Anyhow, I hope you dig on this recording. It’s my Ground Zero as a serious music nerd.
SOURCE: The original 1974 Polydor pressing of the LP -> Sony PS-T22 turntable with the V series cartridge -> Technics SA-EX310 stereo receiver -> Lexicon Lambda USB i/o -> Adobe Audition. No EQ, no cleaning up, no click removal, etc.