I’ve been having a Summer love affair, Donna Summer that is.
While I’ve been doing a lot of vinyl to digital conversion and recording, and setting up my CTProduced.com blog where I’m going to look at the work and production of Creed Taylor, I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz. A lot.
Kate scored us 2x tickets for the Donna Summer musical. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed it, but if nothing else, it reminded me how upbeat and joyful true dance music is.
Disco will… never be over. It will always live in our minds and hearts. Something like this, that was this big and this important, and this great, will never die.
Donna Summers story is both fascinating and repeated. Both unique and the same. The musical touched on everything from how she ended up living and working in Germany, not as I expected because her Father was serving in the US Military there; how she got involved with now famed producer Giorgio Moroder; how they made the legendary “Love to Love you baby” track; also her relationships; her problems with the 70’s/80’s male dominated music industry; it also briefly covered her abuse by a Priest, physical abuse by her first husband, and the anti-gay incident, finally the cancer that killed her.
These were all part of her life but don’t overpower the musical. These incidents though, were at the time, I suspect fairly common for women in her position. Pictured below is Donna and Paul Jabara. They’d known each other for a long time, and worked together on great songs. Note though how the caption says, without a hint of remorse, that Paul “locked her in a bathroom” to get Donna to listen to a song. The same incident is also recalled in her autobiography[read online], except she says she was “trapped”.
While the musical covered her life and the great music that defined it, and the sets were great and featured some of Donnas abstract paintings, the singers although very good, never quite captured Donna Summers singing style for me. The music was presented out of sequence, but this was to fit the music to the story, which worked. It just wasn’t the chronological view of her recording history, with a story mapped to it I was expecting.
I’m messing about in between other projects with two new websites, after all it’s not that having five already plus twitter, instagram and livejournal is enough, right? Neither are really active yet, one just needs a final kick and some config work, news4tri.com will take over from my livejournal as a source to post triathlon commentary.
The second, ctproduced.com will be my music website. The goal being to post as much information as I can about every album and CD I own that was produced by the legendary producer, Creed Taylor. That currently numbers some 230 albums, allowing for duplicates.
The basic layout will be a simple picture per release, which when selected would take the user to a more detailed page about the release. Each page would include pictures, some form of audio sample, links to youtube tracks, information pulled from discogs etc.
In playing around, I’ve been posting links on instagram and twitter under my “Vinyl to digital:” meme.
I’m looking for feedback. Does a single graphic with some basic information seem interesting enough? What additional detail would be useful on that first page? If you click on the image below, it will take you to an instagram post. The idea being the same sort of post for detail about the album, only more commentary, more detail, and hopefully if I can get the samples and licenses right, more audio tracks.
Leave a comment below, send email to the usually address, let me know what you think, ideas you have.
“I’ll probably still be singing at 65” – Philip Bailey in 1988. Still rockin’ it at 68!
Today, (May 8th) is Philip Baileys birthday. He has given us years of fantastic vocals both with Earth, Wind & Fire, on his solo albums, and with Phil Collins on Easy Lover. Philip was originally a Denver, CO native.
Listen to this 1988 clip of Philip saying in an interview, he loves singing, and will probably still be singing at age 65. Happy 68th birthday Philip!
No, this isn’t a political post, it’s a blatant attempt to launch myself into the ring tone provider market(not!)
As I continue to ramble, sometimes alphabetically, through my 2000+ vinyl album collection, this had been sitting staring at me.
Vinyl to digital: I didn’t really remember much about this album, except of course that it contained the track that begat MAX Headroom. It’s actually much better than I remembered, electro/acid/jazz in many places. https://t.co/yBIE9yTWTu
It cleaned up nicely, and after editing, the tonality seemed pretty good. I’ve done a few personal ringtones before, it’s not complicated. This begged for one and here it is, wrappered at both ends by the iconic triangle. At 23-seconds its a bit on the long side, but still in “fair use” scope.
AI straight at you from 1985.
What I want to know is why are the only funny lines on this show, are the ones behind me?
As I continue to digitize my entire 2,000+ album collection, I’m constantly amazed by the quality and durability of Vinyl recordings.
It’s true that I have the really poor quality stuff yet to come, as part of a dj lot of 90’s trance/techno 12-inch singles, some without covers, and many that were sat in damp or wet conditions. The general usability of vinyl is amazing. Have a listen to this sample from Quincy Jones first album, the track is called: A Sleepin’ Bee
The album is “This is how I feel about jazz“. It was recorded in 1956 exactly 1-year before I was born. It’s a mono recording, and this sample was taken from the album I own, a first pressing. admittedly I’ve cleaned and digitally enhanced the recording I made of the album. You can see pictures of the album and the actual vinyl on the entry in discogs via the link above.
I have working players and readers for most media that I’ve ever worked with and owned. I don’t have working computer tape drives, the sort that we used on mainframes from the 60’s to the early 2000s, or the modern versions. Nor do I have an IBM Mass Storage System for a couple of the cartridges I own. Also missing from my collection is a Videocassette Player(VCR). Although I could get one, I have no interest in collecting video tapes. “Videos” as they became known are perhap the worst example of home tape use(more on this later).
I do have two working reel-to-reel tape decks; a working dual cassette recorder/player; an 8-track player/recorder; a diskette drive: numerous CD, DVD drives and players; heck I even have a videodisc. All those formats though have their problems. Anything based on magnetic media, which would include tapes, cassettes and 8-tracks, as well as diskettes, can easily be ruined by putting them near or on top of something with a strong motor which destroys the magnetic encoding.
They also suffer from read errors. Almost anything that uses tape, uses a rubber or silicone wheel to move the tape. They often usually need a form of tension to hold them in the right place to pass over the head in order to be read. The wheels are destined to either attract dirt, or worse, cleaning with the incorrect fluid, which causes the material on the wheel to become “sticky” or decompose, which causes the tape to stick to it and jam. Tape itself is also prone to decomposition, and wear. It’s not unusual to pick up old cassette or reel-to-reel tapes that have the magnetic material flaking off.
Early “floppy” discs if stored correctly, are still useable, but since they have such small amounts of digital storage, really have no practical use. Yes, you can still get 3.5-inch diskettes and a drive, and the drivers are still embedded in Windows 10. The same can’t be said for 5 1/4-inch and 8-inch floppy discs. Again, these have so little space they are of no practical use today.
Once we moved to laser based read/write heads and optical discs, a whole new era of problems opened-up. CD’s sold as the perfect solution and virtually indestructible, but in practise, they were so convenient they are used everywhere, and the surface quickly became scratched. While they can be re-polished and even re-surfaced, the problem with anything digital is that you depend on the error recovery built into the drive, and if it cannot read the data, and as explained in this video, be error corrected, the optical disc data just can’t be read. If the drive won’t read it, you can’t get at the data in order to correct it.
I have a eight professionally produced and manufactured DVD’s from the early 2000’s that are on triathlon training. I decided it was time to see if they could be sold on ebay. Before listing them, I decided to play each one and ensure it was OK. The oldest of the DVD’s wouldn’t read on the external drive I use for my laptop, no matter what I tried, including simple repairs. It does play in a dedicated blu-ray DVD player. Frustrating.
However, vinyl records always play, even if only poorly. Records suffer from four types of problems, each of which can be corrected, either digitally, or physically.
The first is surface noise and clicks. Basic surface noise is easily removed provided you can find a section of the record that has noise and no music or sound. You simply sample the noise and tell the software, in my case, the excellent open source Audacity, to remove all noise as sampled. Clicks can also be removed, sometime just by software, other times by digitally editing the wave form, for the very small time period, reducing the amplification to the point where the click isn’t heard.
Second, jumps. Where a record is scratched, if the scratch is deep enough, instead of the stylus gliding along the track, the scratch causes the stylus to jump one more more tracks. You can’t physically correct these, but given a digital copy, you can replace the bits. Small, identical sections, for example a few seconds from a chorus and can be cut and pasted over the original jump section. If that’s not possible, again, you can adjust the amplification to make the jump almost unnoticeable.
When listening to music tracks, unlike processing digital data, or watching digital TV, at least in my experience, the faint sound of a jump is often missed as you are immediately processing/hearing the sound that follows.
Third are warps. A significant warp or bend in a record requires careful heat treatment. I’ve had hit and miss with this, but on the couple of albums I’ve tried, I was able to heat and flatten the vinyl to the point where it was playable, and then required time to digitally correct the sound defects. Given the availability of cheap vinyl records on @discogs and ebay, it’s often worth just buying another copy.
If you do decide to go down this route, you’ll need to carefully heat with a hairdryer, and then be prepared to weight in down with a heavy weight that is totally flat, like gym weights. Also it requires only very little heat and a lot of weight and, and time. I’ve taken two plus hours and yes, I’ve ruined a few by overheating, which causes the grooves to collapse. The warp will be gone, but so is the groove.
The final form of damage is a crack in the vinyl. Success here depends on the original type of record. Shellac 78’s are easily glueable these days. It requires care and any seepage above the surface must be removed. It’s common the hear a loud pop as the needle passes over the crack on each revolution. The pops can be removed digitally. And, yes, I do have a number of 78’s.
Repairing singles/45’s if they have one crack, is often not necessary. 45’s tend to be thinner vinyl, you can place the record on the turntable, and assuming you have a felt or cork matt, gently push down on both sides of the crack and then play it and remove the pops digitally. Albums and singles can be glued. It’s better if you can, to glue just the edges and allow the capillary effect to get some of the glue into the actual crack.
And that’s it. Apart from a couple of records that I failed to fix the warp on, I’ve never had a vinyl record I couldn’t make a passable digital copy of. If you are interested in some ideas of how to physically recover, restore, rescue vinyl records, John Manship from the UK has some great tips.
I have no plan to sell my vinyl when finished. They’ll just sit there in the corner of the living room, looking great, and a perfect archive. You can follow my vinyl to digital journey here, on twitter.
Oh, one more thing. The ease of use and creation of CD’s also lead to massive counterfeit operations, and so while you might have thought that all the piracy action was online in digital files, it wasn’t. This case from 2018 year shows, one of the top sellers of CD’s on Amazon, was in fact selling fakes. You can read about it here or watch the news report here. So CD’s are easy to use, perhaps a little too easy!
And yes, there was a period where bootleg vinyl records were common, less so today but still worth taking great care if you are buying rare records.
Since finishing the book, and this blog post about Maurice White, I’ve been digging through some of my other archives. I found an amazing live performance from the groundbreaking WNET show Soul! broadcast on January 10th, 1973.
The accompanying video, the shows are available via pbs.org in some regions, and via WNET Thirteen, if you can access them. A low res version of which can be seen below via Youtube, is perhaps remarkable for a number of reasons. It documents a group in the midst of change.
The original Earth, Wind and Fire had recorded two albums for Warner Brothers, and then fell apart, as many groups do, with arguments over this, that, money etc. in 1972. This performance featured the core members of what had become EWF 2.0. Cleaves would move on, Ronnie Laws had billing on the recording, but had already quit, others would be added over time.
Featured in this recording were:
Maurice White – Kalimba, Vocals and Percussion
Jessica Cleaves – Vocals
Philip Bailey – Vocals and Congas
Johnny Graham – Guitar
Verdine White – Vocals and Bass
Larry Dunn – Organ and Electric Piano
Ralph Johnson – Drums
Andrew Woolfolk – Sax and Flute
This is the group, plus Andrew McKay, that would go on later in 1973 to record their 4th album, Head to the Sky.
Their dress style hadn’t started evolving yet, here they were dressed, as you’d expect for early 1970’s, their performance style had though. As the last number finished, the group disappeared from the stage, leaving just Ralph Johnson.
Musically, the group show what would become their trademark for the next 10-years, across albums and countless hit singles. The performance opens with one of the best videos of Maurice White playing the Kalimba; his fingers and thumbs rapidly producing what would become a trademark, and unique sound.
Philip Bailey shows his amazing vocal range on, as far as I’m aware, their only recording of , James Taylors Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight. There is, as there alway would be, the omni-present, bare chested, Verdine White and his amazing bass playing.
The group is already tight and the tracks here, some from the 3rd album Last Days and Time including the opening song, Power.
Overall, for me, this recording has all the elements that made Earth, Wind & Fire. Enjoy.
While my early teens were heavily influenced by David Bowie, my late teens and in some respects the rest of my life was heavily influenced by the sound, and especially the mystical guidance that seemed to be coming from the group, led by it’s founder and bandleader, Maurice White.
White’s spiritual approach gave endorsement to my own uncomfortableness with my Christian upbringing and doubt that a single “God” existed. I never met White, but in the way you idolize someone, I thought I knew him through his music. I didn’t at all.
The book itself covers all the key phases of his life, and especially the struggles and troubles he wanted people to know about. His youth in Memphis was shocking. Yes, I guessed it wouldn’t be good, as a black kid in Memphis in the 40’s and early 50’s but it was worse than a white kid from England born in the 50’s could imagine. In many ways, I assume the events described, meant that Maurice spent much of his life searching for meaning, and examining ways to find context for what had happened to him.
As well as his long path through music until he hit success with Earth, Wind & Fire, the books chronicles Whites, obvious to me, struggles with commitment and identity. We all need stories in our lives to make sense of them, to understand why you are, who you are, and the book covers Whites journey to understand his stories. Notwithstanding all that Whites’ story really had some great commentary and lessons on surviving in the music business.
Surprisingly, NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), doesn’t seem to have an interview with Maurice, but it does have interviews with Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Larry Dunn, all of which are really interesting and add great context.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I saw them live, but in the “long, hot” UK Summer of ’76, I stopped one afternoon in Dunstable to get a drink. We’d been out at the disused quarry on the A5, practising motocross. I was riding my Honda XL125.
Nextdoor to the corner store/newsagents I’d stopped at, was a tattoo parlour. Back in the 70’s tattoos were not the fashion items they are today, my dad had a traditional, simple knife and heart tattoo on his left arm, but few people I knew did. I walked in, hand drew the logo that I’d seen on EWF albums, and asked for a tattoo. Not only had the tattoo artist not seen the shape/sign before, I had no idea what it was.
These days of course, with the pervasive internet, you’d just google and look up tattoos on pinterest and see what you can find. Of course these days I know it’s the astrological sign for Jupiter.
Like many, my interest in EWF faded in the Mid 80’s as the group fragmented, and the focus drifted. As I work to digitize my entire vinyl collection though, I’ve once again found their tight music, soaring vocals, and inspiring lyrics a great launching point for many parts of my own story, which started on the 23rd night of September. Kalimba.
I’ve been meaning to write this in time for the anniversary of his death for at least the past 3-years. After really enjoying his Hidden Conversations album [youtube playlist], I put it on my to-do list and here it is. I’ve tried not to just repeat all the other obituaries and rather make this more of a retrospective.
I don’t recall precisely when I became aware of Terry, sometime in the late 1990’s. Probably in some activity or performance around the 1998 release of his Timepeace album. My favorite Callier track, as I suspect many of his UK fan base was the eponymous Ordinary Joe, only bettered by the Nujabes 2005 album remix version.
Terry and his music reminded me why, and rekindled my love of soul music. His style, reminiscent in many ways of Gil-Scott Heron, lyrics often protest or love based. The ying/yang of soul music.
Callier, a Chicago native, he grew-up in the same Cabrini neighborhood as Major Lance, Jerry Butler, Ramsey Lewis and Curtis Mayfield also Charles Stepney, and via his early recording on Chess, house drummer Maurice White, who with Stepney went on to create the Earth, Wind and Fire sound and extravaganza. That area of Chicago was a petri dish for soul music. Callier though was largely undervalued and overlooked in the US. His style, his music, and his personality didn’t fit into a music business stereotype.
Part preacher, part activist, gentle soul, unassuming, and real Dad, Callier was renowned for making short term decisions based only on what was right. He effectively quit the music business in the mid-80’s to become a full time Dad and support his daughter who decided she wanted to stay in Chicago and attend high school there.
By the mid-90’s though, Callier got caught up in the whirlwind of being an American black musician is the UK. It’s something that happens to you, and for you, if you let it. Unlike the American music scene, where you still have to fit into a predetermined stereotype, and your music has to be classified within a narrow band, so it can be sold across a vast market. It Britain, your music has to be good, not exceptional, and YOU have to be adopted, and malleable enough to adapt to the your adopted market.
A great current example of this is Gregory Porter. He’s already Nationally famous in the UK, sells out the largest venues and can regularly be seen on TV. He is even front man for his own series on the BBC, Gregory Porters Popular Voices.
Callier was not just exceptionally authentic, after years of neglect by the US music industry, he was excited to absorb the admiration and inquisitive demand from the UK music industry, and especially the artists. Calliers music blossomed, not just his past work, but his future work. The story of how Acid Jazz founder Eddie Pillar contacted Callier and brought him back to music, is included in pretty much every write-up about Terry, including this obituary from his hometown paper, the Chicago Herald Tribune. In a Guardian article/interview by Tom Huron, following Calliers death in 2012, Pillar himself tells how this came about.
Hey, wassup? It’s Terry, Callier, I got a new way to flow for Ordinary Joe, you know!
and with those words, as he opened his return to music and introduction to the UK at a sold out 100 Club in London, 1991. In the years that followed via both label agreements, and through exposure getting absorbed into the emerging UK hip-hop scene. Over the coming years, Callier was involved in Giles Petersons UK label, Talkin’ Loud, stable-mate Urban Species; this low-res home recording of Callier and Urban species on the autonomous Later with Jools Holland, shows Terry in great form playing the soul man to the hip-hop
Callier, like many others, including Alexander O’Neal have found the UK Soul, Jazz, Dance music scene much more compelling than the USA. It’s geographically smaller, much more diverse, less racially profiled and it’s had a successful business span of 50 plus years, and continues today.
It’s easier to perform live, you can get to most of it within day. Musicians and fans can stay home, or at the very least avoid flying to get to gigs. Word travels fast, and there is a national media who broadcast news and tv, that doesn’t require you to spend months on a tour bus in order to spread the word. Most of all the charts are not segregated. When you make #57, as Terry did with Love Theme from Spartacus, it was behind Madonna, Simply Red, RUN-D.M.C. and everyone else, not in a narrowly defined segment.
Calliers real impact can be measured by the fact that the BBC, and the major British broadsheets(the serious papers), The Guardian , The Independent all ran obituaries as well as the New York Times, Most remarkable though, perhaps, was the 2012 Terry Callier Tribute Concert at the Islington Assembly Halls. The youtube video, below, captures the beauty of Terry and his music. His original version of Love Theme to Spartacus.
I would rather be playing music, but what’s important isn’t always what you want, and what you want isn’t always what’s important. Isn’t that the truth?” – Terry Callier
was the title of a great John Miles track from a 1976 John Miles album called Rebel. Strangely although I loved that track, it was one of the many I for the most part gave away, or sold for next to nothing in the Spring of 1983 when I moved to New York. I can remember to this day renting an estate car for the day and loading up the vinyl I wasn’t going to keep, and driving down to Kentish Town in London and offloading it all at some used record shop.
Of the some 2,000 albums I have now, I’ve been working through the general soul, jazz, dance, and disco albums from A-Z, over the last 2-years. I’ve learned a lot, and often go back and remaster favorite albums.
Remastering music, often involves compromises, since we’ll never hear the music as clearly as the musicians and engineers did at the time of recording. Not only don’t we have the instruments in front of us, we don’t have the same range of speakers. Even the music on standard commercial CDs is encoded at 16 bits, versus 24-bit recording in the studio.
Still, I think I’ve finally made a breakthrough. I’ve always recorded at 4800hz, 24-bit, but finally I did an album today that’s as good a the same album on ripped from the CD version at 24/4800.
Vinyl to digital: final it’s taken me from Alexander O’Neil to late in the P albums to finally re-master a vinyl album to what I consider to be nearly as good as the CD version.
I figure that’s some 200 albums. Many of them were poor quality, scratched up, a couple definitely smelt of party beer from the 70’s (I don’t like beer!) and even with a rigorous cleaning, they were never going to sound like CD’s.
Every now and again I buy an MP3 Version of a track from Amazon to compare with the ones I’m doing. While most are good, or better than mine, some from Amazon are poor quality copies of vinyl albums, you can even hear the clicks, amazingly.